The din of the exploits coming from the back room was barely overpowered by the action movie that Pop Pop had on the living room TV.
As with any other day the boys were crazy but today was a tipping point. Maybe it was the cotton candy from Easter or maybe they had been cooped up for one day too many.
In any case they needed out.
Jakey wandered out with nothing but a sagging diaper that held on by a thread. Now, it is unsure what transpired first.
Pop Pop either opened the front door for fresh air and took a breath of his "funny air" or he was already well into his pen when he decided to clear the room.
All Jakey knew for sure was the door was open and it was amazing outside.
Giddy with the possibilities he ran to tell other Jacob of this brilliant opportunity.
SJ ran out to confirm and both nearly sprinted for freedom without a second thought. As luck would have it, the sun shone brightly through the crack of the swaying door.
"Where are my sunglasses?" SJ asked no one in particular.
"SHOES!" Jacob clambered for his shoes.
In a scramble both went through their own personal checklist to leave.
SJ put on his shoes (on the wrong feet), fought to put Jacob's sunglasses on his clearly larger head, and took his 8th of orange juice. Being a........
brother, he looked at Jacobs progress on his own prep to traverse the wider world.
Jacob had placed his snow boots on without socks, remained minimalistic with his well-worn diaper, and pulled the building blocks out to play.
They were as ready as they'd ever been. All there was to do was leave, but there was an unexpected obstacle.
There in the door frame stood the silhouette of their least seen Aunt. Without a word, she stepped inside and closed the door.
The boys were too busy mourning their lost adventure to even greet her.
She stood in her weathered steel toe sneakers with the too long laces, dark blue jeans, and oversized graphic tee.
She looked at her father who had been roused by the racket and still getting his bearings while yelling indiscriminately.
"Hey! Hey! Settle down! Go watch T- OH hey honey! How's it going?" He blurted when he noticed his youngest. "You got anything for me?"
Ann just looked through her tattered aviators and opened the door where a burly man handed her a bag from out of sight. She walked over and placed the package on the coffee table.
"Thanks honey! You know I appreciate it!" Ann only nodded. He turned her attention to the boys still lamenting their fate.
"OH! How cruel a fate is this!? To be relegated to this prison!" She placed her hands upon her face.
She smiled and continued, "Mommy's still working at the doctor's office and Daddy has more driving to do so WE are going to the park."
At the word 'park' the mood bounced back to joyous heights. The boys charged the door, but a leathery wing, as if with a view of space, caught them both and forced them back.
"You're not going like that!" the wing folded and was reabsorbed into Ann.
It took some coaxing and bribes but within 15 minutes the boys were ready to go.
With full travel cups, a bag of toys, and a lunch box the trio bid their goodbyes to Pop Pop and got in 'The Black Diamond'.
The SUV was as always imposing and looked as Mafia as any other thing Aunt Annie had acquired during her business ventures.
A were-fox pulled back and looked at Aunt Ann for direction. She gestured for the drivers' seat and lead the boys to the back where they happily clambered into their nice seats.
She personally buckled each in and sat between the two. The burly man from before, a large orc, shimmied into the passenger seat and slammed the door.
The fox glanced in the rearview at Ann who was going through messages intently on her phone. Without a glance she ordered, "Jaycee Park. Back way"
"FAST! Fast!" the boys cheered in unison. A quick nod from Ann signaled to make the ride 'fun'.
And the ride was fun. Taking turns going 50 mph. The fox, a skilled all-terrain derby racer, gave the boys the ride they'd wished for.
Much to the dismay of the orc white-knuckling the 'oh-shi' handle.
When they had arrived, the park appeared...almost normal. With cars of all shapes, sizes, and conditions the clientele was clearly as assorted at the cars assembled.
One suburban was unloading with what appeared to be a triplet of undisguised changeling toddlers around Jacob's age,
while a trailer without a vehicle revealed a centaur who appeared 12 to 14 stepping agitatedly while his mother was imposing a life lesson on financial responsibility.
Other various mythological creatures from young to mature had gathered. Too many to note.
The boys could barely contain themselves as Ann unbuckled, removed, and escorted with an iron grip to the fenced in area marked appropriate for young children.
When her grasp had been evaded the boys scattered and busied themselves with exploring their new environment and making new friends.
Ann felt relaxed for the first time in a while. Jaycee Park had mixed history. When The Collapse had reached Strasburg, Jaycee park was the least of the residents' concerns.
But under the guiding hand of Ann and those who "worked" with her, this event had been planned to a tee. A return to normalcy amidst the cut-throat climate that had settled on the globe.
It really was like Strasburg was a bubble. No extreme weather, no serious crime, no apocalypse.
She was pulled from her thoughts by the feeling of being watched. She turned to the orc that was patiently waiting. He nodded towards the tent next to the basketball court.
It was air conditioned and filled with tense faces.
She made eye contact with every guard on duty of the fenced area, a safety measure, receiving a nod from each.
There was a lot riding on this event.
Not only was it a reprieve of the seriousness for the residents of the town, but this also acted as symbolically staking Strasburg as the territory of the 'unnaturals'.
(What do you want to read next? The boys making friends with magic creatures or drama of running an organized syndicate?)