“What about the boys? Are they safe? Where are they?”
“Yes. They’re locked in one of the storage rooms.”
“Are you sure they can’t get out?”
“They’re going to be doing the Macarena in coconut bikinis. They can’t go anywhere.”
Every year, Team Improv tried their hardest to take a vacation. A week, or even just a weekend, when they let someone else deal with the country’s problems and they recovered from their dangerous lifestyle. No cover stories, no explosions, no pretending — other than pretending to be normal people on a normal vacation, of course.
This year, their vacation overlapped with Riley’s birthday, so she got to pick their destination. A few days anywhere in the world. She wanted to spend her birthday drinking Mai Tais on a warm beach with her family. She chose Hawaii.
But fate, or destiny, or Oversight — or maybe just international terrorists — had other plans for them.
Their much-needed and looked-forward-to vacation was pushed back because the world needed saving, again. Everyone was upset about it, but they did their job and actually came home completely physically unscathed, for once. Riley decided to consider that repayment from the universe for ruining her birthday plans.
So after their late-night mission debrief, Riley drove to her quiet little apartment. It was so late that the team had decided to save their after-mission fire-pit night for the next day: Riley’s birthday.
Riley went to bed, a part of her mourning the plans they had made that had gone FUBAR, but the rest of her was infinitely grateful that none of her team, her friends, her family, had been hurt. They were still going to celebrate. That was all she really needed. She fell asleep looking forward to a night of beers and laughing and cracking fire.
Jack’s apartment building, due to poor plumbing in the pool house, had flooded the ground floor. Unfortunately, Jack had a ground-floor apartment. Fortunately, Mac’s spare room had been dubbed “Jack’s room” for years. So after the mission they weren’t supposed to go on, Jack, Mac and Bozer all crashed in the living room.
There would be no fire tonight, no celebratory beers. Tomorrow evening, Riley and Matty would come by and they’d celebrate then — a poor substitute for their Hawaii vacation.
Jack was exhausted. Their mission had taken a lot out of everyone, especially as they thought of where they could have been instead. Sunny beaches instead of cold and rainy stakeouts. Swimsuits instead of TAC gear. Boozy cocktails in place of Molotov. And no amount of dreaming could make the umpteenth cup of bad coffee taste like a piña colada.
The mission was simple, and went well, and no one was hurt. Jack supposed he should be thankful, and he was, but that didn’t change the fact that they all had wanted and expected to be somewhere else.
And poor Riley. A part of the reason Jack felt so bent out of shape was because of how much he knew she was looking forward to a perfect luau-birthday.
It took maybe another five minutes of wallowing in his own annoyance for Jack to jump to his feet, startling a dozing Bozer and a seriously spaced-out Mac.
“That’s what we’re gonna do, boys, we’re gonna make one!”
“Make what?” Mac asked, shaking himself out of his daze.
Jack paced around, too caught up in his ideas to hold still. This must be how Mac feels all the time, no wonder he’s always fidgety… “We’ll make a luau right here. A bit of Hawaii for Riley’s birthday. We can put it together before she gets here tomorrow night—”
“And surprise her with a mini-vacation,” Mac joined Jack in his pacing. “We could get stuff for Mai Tais, set it up at the bar…”
Bozer interrupted with an enormous yawn. “This sounds super fun, guys, but I’m beat. I’ll cook whatever you want, but it’s gonna have to wait at least eight hours. I’m going to bed.”
As Bozer shuffled off, Mac and Jack continued to ignore their own needs for sleep in order to plan. They too eventually gave in to sleep, but not before they had a list of everything they wanted to do and make for Riley.
Riley woke up around nine to a text from Jack:
Happy birthday, baby! We’re moving fire pit night from 8 to 6 tonight, figured we’d do dinner for you too <3 Bozer’s so excited he’s already banned Mac from the kitchen and is cooking up a storm :)
Riley smiled. No matter how many times they explained to Jack that emojis did the exact same thing as spelled out emoticons, and had a wider variety, Jack stuck stubbornly with his semicolons and numbers.
See you at 6 then, and thanks , she sent back, and called up her mom to see if she’d be interested in brunch.
Bozer was indeed cooking up a storm. The three of them had spent all morning running around LA to find everything they needed. Paper flowers, real flowers, tropical fruit, drinks, the works. Jack bought something he refused to show anyone, but they couldn't help but notice that the bag was from a costume shop…
They enlisted Matty at around three to help set up, and by five thirty, everything was finally ready for Riley’s party. Except for Jack’s secret bag.
“Alrighty, guys, everything is lookin’ fantastic! Now for the pièce de résistance! Mac, Boze, follow me. Matty, we’ll be practising in the closet.”
Matty raised an eyebrow as Mac and Bozer followed Jack with bemused expressions and more than a little trepidation. She knew what was in that bag of Jack’s (Jack never let it out of his sight, but she was curious, so she tracked his recent purchases). She snuck back to follow them. She saw a blond head duck into the garage storage closet, and the door shut behind him. Matty crept up and locked it, just as she heard Jack say from the other side of the door, “Okay, boys. No one’s leaving this closet until you can prove to me you can do the Macarena.”
Sniggering at the boys’ confused spluttering, Matty went back to the living room to wait for Riley to arrive.
Riley was running just a little late, but it was just Mac’s house: as long as she got there before the main attraction, an eleven-minute late entrance was no problem.
She didn’t bother knocking. She rarely did — they were family by this point. And the moment she opened the door, her senses were flooded. Mac’s house looked like a small oasis. Flowers were everywhere; both real and fake, and somewhere there were hidden speakers playing the sound of gentle ocean waves, wind breezing through palms and bright birds singing. Smells from the kitchen permeated the whole house, tangy and sweet.
She walked farther into the house, unable to keep an enormous grin off her face. She reached out to touch a potted hibiscus.
“The boys have been working at this all day.” Riley jumped. She had been so preoccupied by the transformed house that she hadn’t noticed Matty on the couch.
“It’s amazing,” Riley said, then looked around. She expected to see the boys in the kitchen: Bozer maintaining whatever it was that smelled so good, Jack sneaking bites, and the pair of them shooing Mac out before he made the fridge explode (again). But they were nowhere in sight.
Just before she could ask Matty where they were, however, she heard sudden shouts and loud banging, and heard Bozer yelling for Matty.
“What’s going on, Matty?” Riley asked, noting a smirk and a glint of fiendish glee in Matty’s eyes.
The loud pounding continued. It didn’t sound much like dancing to Riley, it sounded more like someone (probably Jack) trying to bust down a door.
“What about the boys? Are they safe, where are they?” Riley was ready to spring into action, her training kicking in at the sound of her friends in distress.
“Yes. They’re locked in one of the storage rooms.” Matty gestured for Riley to follow her, and began leading her to the garage.
The garage was definitely the source of the racket. Riley toned down her training-born reflexes. “Are you sure they can’t get out?”
Matty’s smile worried Riley somewhat. She would have called it an evil grin if she hadn’t had so many encounters with actual evil grins in her time as an undercover operative. Either way, Matty was very pleased with herself and the noises coming from the locked storage closet, which were starting to sound more annoyed than panicked.
(“Hold on, guys, I can get us out, just hold still—” “Matty! Matty we’re locked in! Can you hear—” “Move aside, Mac, one more good shove oughta do it!” WHAM! “Ok, one more shove…”)
“They’re going to be doing the Macarena in coconut bikinis. They aren’t going anywhere.”
Riley smothered a laugh, and walked to the door. She quietly unlocked it and turned the handle. If she timed it just right….
Instead of thudding into the door, Jack’s attempt to bust it down led to him sprawled on the floor as Riley yanked it open. This time, Riley couldn’t stifle the explosion of laughter that came from the sight of Jack, who was indeed wearing a coconut bra and a grass skirt, in a heap on the floor.
Matty snapped a picture, which made Jack look up and glare with as much dignity as he could muster. Then his eyes fell on Riley, and he scrambled to his feet.
“Riley! You’re here early!”
“I’m actually late,” she laughed. “What in the world are you wearing?”
Jack grinned. “Always knew I could rock a kilt, how different is a grass skirt, really?” Then he looked to the closet, which Mac and Bozer had not yet vacated. “Oi, you two! Git out here, I’m not gonna be the only hula girl!”
Riley and Matty both hollered with laughter. All three of the boys were wearing grass skirts of various colours — Jack’s was a natural green colour, Mac’s was electric lime green, and Bozer’s was a blinding pink — with coconut bikini tops. And very pink faces. Riley could even see the tips of Mac’s ears going pink, though he was smiling sheepishly.
Jack grinned at his pupils, and said “Alright, ladies, let’s mosey on over to the beach and show our birthday girl what we’ve been practising.”
Dusk was falling over LA, but tiki torches burned softly on the deck. Mac (who had changed hours ago into board shorts and a tank top) was mixing drinks at the bar. So far he hadn’t blown up a single thing, despite his proximity to the kitchen.
Bozer was lighting the fire pit. He also had changed, wearing shorts, a t-shirt and an apron. He had truly outdone himself with dinner, and everyone was full and happy.
Jack was still in his grass skirt — though he had swapped the bikini top for an August Burns Red t-shirt — and was regaling Matty with a story from the ranch. Riley was only half listening; something about his cousin and a jackrabbit.
Mac sat beside her, handing her the Mai Tai he’d made, and sipping something pink and fruity. She smiled as they clinked glasses.
The dancing had been absurd and hilarious. Watching three grown men in coconut bikinis doing the Macarena would have been funny no matter what, but her best friends? That had been something else.
Jack had been the leader of the dance, with a goofy grin on his face. Bozer had actually been surprisingly good at the Macarena, though he got a bit excited at one point and accidentally whacked Jack across the chest. And Mac, though his movements were quite graceful, hadn’t got the timing down. He was always at least a beat behind the other two.
All in all, Riley didn’t think she had ever laughed harder.
And now, her stomach was full, she had a drink in her hand, and was surrounded by her family, laughing and happy and safe. That was all she had really wanted for her birthday. An improvised vacation was just as good as the real thing, in this moment. And in fact, she thought as she looked at all the things they had put together to surprise her, maybe even better.