“We’ll have our own, private, family Thanksgiving or Memorial Day or whatever.”
“Surely not New Year’s,” said his wife, the boys’ step-mom. “Surely not New Year’s in, like, March.”
“Why not?” he said. “We’ll just pretend it’s New Years. So we don’t miss out.”
Late in the morning on the 4th of July, upon awakening to the sound of the kids next door throwing firecrackers at each others’ feet out on the front sidewalk, the boys were hurried through an Easter breakfast of eggs and jelly beans and hustled into the huge walled-in back yard.
“Boys,” said their father. “There are three dozen eggs hidden somewhere in the back yard. Though they appear to be real eggs, they are actually very expensive fakes. Very expensive hollow fakes.” He arched his eyebrows roguishly. “Inside each egg you will find a cash prize. Some of them have pennies, dimes, quarters, some of them have ones, some of them have fives, tens and one of them, only one, has a one hundred dollar bill hidden inside of it.”
Chet and Kenton, the two older boys, cheered.
“But why do we have to celebrate Easter on the 4th of July?” asked Manny. He was the youngest; 11 and skinny, wearing one of the many Expertologists t-shirts from the attic and a buckskin jacket despite the summer heat. “You’re actually here on a holiday for once, Dad. So I think we should skip Easter, celebrate the 4th today, since it is the 4th today, today it is, and then come back to Easter.”
“Have you looked at a calendar recently?” asked the boys’ dad. “What comes first? Easter or the 4th of July?”
Next door, out of sight on the other side of the wall, a string of explosions made someone shriek. It sounded so fun.
The boys had been searching for eggs for ten minutes when they realized their dad and step-mom had slipped away. They didn’t need to try the back door to know it was locked. Kenton had found four eggs and made seven dollars and 25 cents. Chet had found six eggs and made twelve dollars and 36 cents. Manny hadn’t found a single egg. Nor had he looked for one. As soon as he noticed the adults were gone, he shimmied up a tree near the wall, hopped down into the neighbor’s yard, and ran down the street to buy fireworks with his own money from the tent erected in the grocery store parking lot.
Twenty minutes later Chet and Kenton heard someone banging on the back yard gate from the outside. “Let me in,” yelled Manny.
“Why didn’t you just use the gate when you left?” asked Chet as Manny came into the yard with an armload of fireworks
“What are you doing with those fireworks?” asked Kenton. “Buying them now so we’ll have them on hand when we celebrate the 4th of July as a family?”
“Nope,” said Manny, and he walked over to the base of the giant oak that contained the tree house. He loaded the fireworks into a basket that was connected to the tree house by a rope that ran through a pulley. Then he climbed up the ladder, pulled the fireworks up behind him, and disappeared from view while his older brothers watched.
“We’re supposed to be celebrating Easter,” called Kenton. “As a family?”
There was no response from Manny.
“Come on, Kenton,” said Chet. “If he doesn’t look for eggs, that’s more eggs for us, which means more money for us.”
“It’s not about the money,” said Kenton, turning away from the tree house and following Chet. “It’s about celebrating what we’re supposed to be celebrating.”
A frantic whirring sound came from the tree house followed by a bang then Manny’s exaggerated laughter and applause.
Ten minutes later, Chet and Kenton had found three more eggs a piece and Manny had nearly exhausted his limited supply of fireworks. He was just considering looking for a few eggs as a means of possibly funding another run to the fireworks tent when he heard Kenton screaming, “It’s eating it! It’s eating it! It’s eating one of Dad’s eggs, Chet!”
Manny stuck his head out the window and saw Kenton hopping around in a circle and pointing to something under a bush as he yelled. Chet was running towards Kenton from the other side of the yard shouting, “What? What’s eating what?”
“A snake!” shouted Kenton.
Manny jammed his last three firecrackers in the back pocket of his jeans, sprang onto the zipline that ran out the back of the tree house, and whizzed down to the ground, landing with a perfect forward roll on the grass. He jumped to his feet and ran to where Kenton was making the scene, beating Chet by an easy three strides.
“Cool,” said Manny, squatting next to the bush and squinting down at the snake. It was a dull green color and a foot and a half long with the egg not quite halfway into its mouth. “It can’t get its mouth all the way around it.”
“Yes it can!” said Kenton. “Their jaws unhinge!”
“Really?” asked Manny. “I hope we get to see it do that.”
“No!” said Chet. “That might be the hundred dollar egg!”
“Oh no!” said Kenton, putting his hands over his eyes. “What if it is the hundred dollar egg and the snake swallows it?”
Next door, a bottle rocket misfired and broke a window and someone screamed with joy.
“Just pull it out of its mouth,” said Manny, looking around for a twig to prod the snake with.
“We’ll get bitten,” said Kenton.
Manny laughed. “How’s it gonna bite you with its mouth full of egg?”
“It’ll bite us as soon as we get it out, dummy,” said Chet.
“Watch this,” said Manny. “I’ll scare it into letting go.” He took his last three firecrackers out of his pocket, twisted the fuses together, and set them in the grass a few inches away from the snake. Then he pulled his ever-present lighter out of his pocket and lit the fuses. The boys stepped back as the fuses sparked and hissed.
“This isn’t going to work,” said Chet.
Kenton stuck his fingers in his ears
The firecrackers exploded with a loud snap and a burst of light and smoke. The snake jerked in terror, its whole body flopping sideways before going slack and lying motionless.
“Is it dead or just pretending?” asked Kenton.
“I think its dead,” said Chet.
Manny stepped forward and nudged the snake with the toe of his sneaker. It didn’t react.
“You killed it,” said Kenton, his voice hollow.
“Big deal,” said Manny, and he bent down, grasped the snake just behind the head, and pulled the egg out of its mouth. He held it out to Kenton. “You found it.”
“I don’t want it,” said Kenton. “Killing animals isn’t supposed to be how you celebrate Easter.”
“It’s not Easter,” said Manny. “It’s the 4th of July.”
“I’ll take it,” said Chet. Manny handed him the egg. Chet took it in both hands and gave it a good twist. The egg collapsed inwards with a crack and runny, yellow yolk gushed out through Chet’s fingers and dripped to the ground, sprinkling across the dead snake.
“Where’s the money?” asked Kenton.
“Shut up, Kenton,” said Chet, crouching to wipe his hands on the grass. “There’s no money in it. It was a real egg.”
“You found it, Chet!” The boys turned to see their dad grinning down at them from the back deck. He was shirtless and his outdated tattoos blurred together in the glare of the sunlight off of his pale skin. “You found the hundred dollar egg!” He laughed. “Keep looking for the rest of them. There might be more surprises!” He turned and went back into the house, almost certainly locking the door behind him again.
“Chet,” said Manny. “How much money did you find?”
“19 dollars, uh, forty-some cents.”
“Let’s go,” said Manny.
And even though the back gate was still open, one after another, the boys shimmied up the tree and hopped the wall, Manny then Chet then Kenton, already arguing the merits of sparklers versus jacks versus spinners versus fountains versus cones.