“So what’s this leadership meeting supposed to be about?” Cassie asked Julilla as they climbed the stairs.
“Fourth of July.”
Cassie hadn’t realized it was almost Independence Day. Who could keep up with dates any more? Since the pandemic, each day was like every other. She had even overlooked her birthday. Not that it mattered. Getting older was nothing to celebrate when you were infected with a retrovirus that would kill you before you were out of your teens. “We don’t celebrate our own birthdays,” she said. “Why should we celebrate the nation’s? Do we even have a nation any more? If there’s no more government, there’s no more country, right?”
“Beats the hell out of me.” Julilla pulled open the door to the patio and kicked the doorstop into place, muttering about “irresponsible brats” who let the doors fall shut, trapping the hot summer air inside.
Their leader Mundo and his girlfriend Kayleen were waiting on the shaded deck, along with the guard commander Alex and lead forager, David. Cassie sat as far as she could from David, ignoring the way he leered at her.
“You’re late,” he said.
“We were rewinding our sundials,” she snapped.
Kayleen blinked, not understanding the complex joke. She asked no questions, though, and reached for a bottle of sunscreen.
“You’ve got enough of that,” Mundo told her. “We’re not going to live long enough for you to get melanoma. Did you bring a pen? I need you to take notes.”
With a sigh of annoyance, Kayleen set the Coppertone aside and picked up a purple felt tip.
“What we need to decide,” Mundo said, “Is whether to celebrate the Fourth, and if so, how.”
“When is it, exactly?” Cassie asked.
“Don’t you ever look at a calendar?” David sneered.
“I’ve never seen one around here. Have you?”
Mundo waved a hand for silence. “It’s the day after tomorrow. The Thespians have invited us over for a production they’re putting on in conjunction with the Operatics. I think it’s going to be a musical.”
Cassie cringed. The last thing she wanted to deal with was another crazy performance by the tribe of kids living at the theater. Didn’t they have better things to do than go around declaiming and pantomiming? The whole world lay in ruins, and their answer was to write scripts and songs about it.
David saved Cassie the trouble of being the first to decline the invitation. “I don’t want to watch those freaks prance around in wigs.”
“And what are they going to do, exactly?” Julilla asked. “Set the Declaration of Independence to music and reenact the Battle of Bunker Hill? No, thanks.”
“The little ones might like some kind of celebration, though,” Cassie offered. “I think it’s good for them to celebrate holidays. It gives them a sense of normalcy.”
“There’s nothing normal about the Thespians,” Julilla said.
“I meant maybe we could forage some fireworks or something.”
Everyone looked at David.
“What? I haven’t seen so much as a sparkler since the pandemic. I could set something on fire for them, though, if you think that’ll make them happy.”
Mundo rubbed his face in frustration. “So it looks like we don’t have any good ideas for how to celebrate.”
“I don’t see why we should bother,” Julilla said. “Two hundred and forty years ago, a bunch of rich white guys told their government to stuff it. Big deal.”
“It’s more than that,” Alex said in his best ex-ROTC manner. “It’s about celebrating our freedom to choose our way of governance. It’s about honoring the sacrifices of those who died so we could be free.”
The little group lapsed into silence, thinking not of men in powdered wigs fighting for a free and independent nation, but of their parents, teachers and leaders. The death of the adults had left them struggling to understand their freedom and bewildered about how to make order from the wreckage.
“Creating a government is hard work,” Mundo admitted.
“So is keeping it safe,” Alex pointed out.
“Freedom isn’t all it’s cracked up to be,” Cassie said. “It’s a lot of responsibility.”
David frowned and looked away. “It’s harder than I thought, I'll grant you that.”
Kayleen had been taking notes and now Mundo looked over her shoulder. “What are you writing, babe?”
“That freedom is hard. And that we should be glad we’ve made it this far.”
“So you think we should celebrate our own independence?”
Kayleen shrugged. “David’s right. It’s a lot of hard work.”
“Besides,” Cassie said. “We’re not really independent. We’re all in this together. What we should celebrate is Dependence Day—learning to get along when we’re all so different.”
Julilla agreed. “I can roll with that.”
Heads nodded, Kayleen made a few notes, and Mundo said he’d put the matter to a vote after dinner.
“But what are we going to do to celebrate this so-called Dependence Day?” David wanted to know.
They all fell silent again.
“Well,” Julilla finally said, “I guess it doesn’t matter, as long as it doesn’t involve Thespians.”
“Too bad the potatoes aren’t ready to harvest,” Cassie said. “Potato salad would be perfect.”
“I still think we should set something on fire,” David said.
“I’ll take ideas from the floor after dinner.” Mundo glanced around the group for confirmation. “We’ll do this thing democratically.”
“Democracy is what we’re all about,” Alex agreed.
“It's almost as hard as freedom,” Cassie pointed out.
“Got any better ideas?”
She shook her head. “Beats the alternatives.”
“Then we’ll take suggestions from everyone and put the best ideas to a vote,” Mundo concluded. “God bless America.”
“God bless us,” Kayleen corrected him.
“God bless someone,” Julilla said, standing and stretching. “We could all sure use it.”