"What's this one for?"
Francis looked up at the handful of what looked like long, thin matchsticks that his brother Lenny was holding out to him, squinting as he attempted to make out for himself what he was showing him. It took him a few moments to be able to decide.
"It looks like sparklers," he told him. "Where did you get those?"
"Incoming," announced Wendell's voice from a distance.
Francis hadn't even had time to turn to look towards the direction it seemed to be coming from before a plastic bag whacked him in the back of the head. Giving a brief cry of surprise and some indignation, Francis pivoted towards the doorway, where Wendell now casually leaned against the frame, Darlene coming up behind him as he watched and slipping herself beneath his loosely circled arm. Both grinned at him, Wendell with self-satisfaction at having hit him precisely where he had aimed, Darlene's smile slyer, only turning up her lips, as Francis bent to pick up the bag to inspect its contents.
"Fireworks," he discovered, removing each box one by one, before looking up at the twins for an explanation that he half dreaded in coming. There was no holiday today, and the only reason other than that he could think of for the twins to purchase fireworks brought images of possible torture, carried out by their all-too-eager hands, in place of the likely more fast and merciful alternative of more powerful explosives.
"Yep," was Wendell's simple affirmation, as Darlene smirked, her voice emerging in a purr as she lightly stroked her fingertips over her twin's side, her head tilted to touch the top of his chest.
"Oooh, the boy can read. Give the smartypants a prize, Wendell."
Automatically backing up a step, all too well remembering what Darlene's idea of a "prize" had been when he was a kid around Lenny's age, and how many times it had taken him to stop being gullible enough to take her at her word, Francis persisted in his line of questioning. "Well, what are they for? Because if you take them down to the girl in the basement…and you end up catching the house on fire…David's gonna-"
"David's at work. Our beloved, busy bee breadwinner," Darlene pointed out with a roll of her pale blue eyes, now tapping her fingers rather than stroking them over Wendell's skin.
"She's right," Wendell confirmed, as the ball of his own thumb rubbed over Darlene's shoulder with slow but pressured strokes. "So what exactly would he do, if that was our choice?"
Nothing, Francis had to admit to himself. Still, he wasn't that keen on the idea himself, if that were the intention. They moved often enough as it is, and did more than enough to draw suspicion on themselves, without setting their house on fire for the sake of…what? Pissing David off? Seeing if they could do it as an idle distraction from boredom?
"Uh..." he started, then glanced at Lenny, hoping that the youngest of the siblings would speak up against them. It wasn't likely; Lenny adored both the twins and was generally enthusiastic to any suggestion they had, however reckless. But on the few occasions that Lenny was hesitant, they usually did listen to him. Whether or not he was aware of it, Lenny carried the most influence of them all.
Already tiring of the mind games she and Wendell had begun to set up, Darlene rolled her eyes again, then pulled away from Wendell to walk forward. Snatching the bag of fireworks from the ground, she shook them in Francis's face.
"They're for Lenny, dumbass. He wasn't out of his cage early enough to see fireworks this year on Fourth of July. There was a year round stand on 145, so we got some. Come on, Len, come outside and we'll show you how it's done."
"What is it? What do they do?" Lenny asked with enthusiasm as he bounded out the door after them both, almost skipping with his excitement. Darlene laughed, in the genuine manner that carried true enjoyment and amusement rather than the cynicism that Francis was accustomed to hearing directed at him or David; it seemed only Wendell, and now Lenny, could bring that out in her.
"You'll see…we'll start with the sparklers, then we'll let you set off the rest."
Francis followed more slowly, some practical matters of even this idea, admittedly preferable to setting off fireworks in the house, but nonetheless carrying some issues. For one thing, he wasn't very sure whether fireworks were allowed in their neighborhood at all, particularly when it wasn't a holiday. It was possible some nosy neighbor would take the noise to be gunshots and call the police, or that they would even if they knew the genuine cause, just to be jerks. This being the twins and Lenny in question, they could still manage to set something or someone on fire. And for another thing, it wasn't even dark out yet.
But the smile he had seen on Lenny's face, sparkling in his eyes, kept him quiet, and he simply followed, watching Wendell look down at Lenny to give careful instruction before lighting his sparkler, motioning for him to begin to move it.
"Go Lenny! Run! Wave it around!"
Lenny laughed in a loud, startled burst as his sparkler began to flare, twirling in a circle and hollering with delight when its sparks streaked around him in a long line. With short, static jerks of his arm he watched the bright orange and red make shakes in the sky. Within a few moments Wendell and Darlene had theirs lit too, and they joined him in waving their arms, drawing and writing in the sky, then engaged in a playful battle of sparks, engarde- ing their flares as best as they were able and often narrowly missing hitting each other's clothing or arms. As Francis watched his brothers and his sister from a few yards away, listening to their laughter, watching their easy smiles, he smiled too, then began to make his way to the abandoned sparkler box.