Notes: Written in the Reunion-verse, circa 2029
Author’s Note: For rachel_wilder on the occasion of her birthday.
Jason’s birthday has never been full of surprises. Lyla tries, every year, but inevitably her plans get spoiled, or her gifts get found, or she gives up in the frustration of trying to plan the perfect party and lets it all slip to him anyway. Jason tries to be gentle on her, but he finds it endlessly amusing that for all her attempts, he always manages to find his gifts before they’re even wrapped.
His 40th falls on a Saturday, which is filled with lazy moments, a too-large breakfast, and all the wonderful things he enjoys doing with his family. It’s not a surprise, but he thinks Lyla might just have gotten this one perfect for all her not trying. He’s enjoying a dinner of barbequed ribs and chicken with corn bread and five different kinds of salad when Lyla realizes she forgot the icing for the cake.
“I made a homemade cake,” she offers. “To surprise you.”
The sheepish grin on her face erases any frustration Jason feels about having to run out to buy the final touches for his own birthday cake.
“Get some wine too,” Lyla adds, leaning down to kiss him on the way out. “I’ve got some plans for later.”
She grins wickedly at him and Jason feels even more sure she has planned the perfect birthday after all. In the back of his mind he wonders if this isn’t all a ruse to get him out of his house though. He knows how important surprising him is to Lyla, and there’s a chance she really could pull it off. He changes into a clean shirt before he leaves for the store, and takes extra time picking up party-type foods while he’s there. Nothing they wouldn’t consume anyway, but if his loving wife is going to throw him a surprise party for his 40th birthday, he’s damn well going to have buffalo wings to go along with it.
When he returns home, the entire house is dark. A warning bell sounds in his brain—this has classic surprise party written all over it. Jason grins to himself that he had it figured out. He thinks about who Lyla might have invited over as he gets out of the truck. Probably Tim and Tyra down from Nashville, and maybe Matt and Julie would have come up from Dillon. Their friends from the neighborhood of course, and Smash, who Jason worked with regularly now. He had wanted a quiet night, but it would actually be nice to see his old friends together in one place. It would definitely be a great way to celebrate a milestone birthday.
He opens the door to the quiet house, entering with as much noise as possible to warn the surprise party guests that he’s home. He flicks on the light switch, illuminating the large front room and reveals…nothing.
Jason pushes into the house, peeking into the den on the side (too small for a party anyway) and in through the kitchen and dining room towards the back of the house. Nothing. No one anywhere. Not even his family.
“Lyla?” he calls.
“In here,” comes the faint reply.
Jason follows the sound of her voice down the hallway towards their bedroom. Lyla is lying on the bed, her hair wrapped in a towel, flipping through a magazine.
“Hey, did you get everything?”
“Uh.” In his anticipation of the supposed party, Jason had forgotten the groceries in his truck. “I did, but I couldn’t carry everything. I’ll go back out.” He peeks behind the bedroom door (as if anyone is going to fit back there) then glances back at Lyla. “Where are the kids?”
Downstairs. Of course! Everyone would be hiding downstairs in the rec room. It was the perfect party place, and he wouldn’t accidentally walk in on them getting ready.
“Cool, I’ll go help Dylan with that new lego set he got.”
“Okay hun, I’ll get the cake started. You mind going back to the truck for the icing?”
“Sure.” Jason turns around and moves back through the house. He pauses at the top of the stairs to listen for noise from downstairs. All he can hear is the television playing cartoons. Good cover.
He goes out to the truck and grabs the grocery bags. Balancing them in his lap, he pushes back into the house and rushes straight through the living room towards the kitchen.
“Okay,” he calls to Lyla. “I’m going downstairs.”
“Okay,” she calls back, a laugh in her voice. “And I’m walking out the hallway.”
Jason looks up as she exits the hallway, her damp hair falling straight down her back. She’s wearing yoga pants and fuzzy slippers. She definitely does not look ready for a party.
Lyla leans down and kisses him on the head as he maneuvers his chair onto the lift to take him down to the basement. A seed of doubt forms in his stomach. This does not seem like party activities, but she has to throw him off the scent—that’s the point! He presses the button to take him downstairs, watching the floor rise up to meet him as he inches downwards. At the bottom he releases the brakes and rolled forward into the rec room. The kids are sprawled on the couch; Emma is hanging upside down staring at the television and Dylan is immersed in his handheld game.
No one else is here.
“You guys want cake?” Jason asks.
“Cake!” the kids scream in unison. They clamor past Jason to race up the stairs. Jason turns, dejected, and rolls back onto the lift. He has to admit he’s disappointed. He hadn’t even wanted a big party, but then he’d gotten himself so worked up. Damn it anyway. He has to enjoy whatever Lyla had planned for him. Cake with his family and wine with his wife sounds lovely. He even had Buffalo wings if he really wanted them. This could be a great night!
The lift slowly brings him upstairs. At the top, he leans down to unfasten the straps and whips around to face the living room.
Jason stops, stunned. Their entire living room is teeming with people. Where he had seen the everyday décor of their living room just minutes before, now there are people, food and party favors. There are clusters of black helium-filled balloons tucked into every corner. Jason sees so many familiar faces they all swim before his eyes. Front and central stand his wife and kids, smiles breaking their faces.
“Got ya,” Lyla says slyly.
Jason nods and smiles. He rolls forward as his friends came up to him one-by-one. Julie leans down to hug him as Matt stands by her side. She rests a hand on her very pregnant belly.
“When do we get to meet this one?” Jason asks.
“Another month or so. We just picked up the pink paint today,” Julie replies.
“Pink?” Jason asks, grinning at Matt. “Give me a call if you need advice changing baby girl diapers.”
“You mean give me a call,” Tim interjects, stepping up to slap Jason on the shoulder.
“Sure Riggs, we all know you’re a pro with the ladies,” Smash adds as he leaned in between Matt and Tim’s shoulders.
“Boys, boys,” Tyra adds as she leans down to give Jason a hug. “Can we knock off the pissing contest for five minutes to let this old fella enjoy his birthday?” She grins at Jason and wraps her arms around him. “Happy birthday.”
“Thanks,” Jason says to her. “Thanks for coming…all of you.”
“I think he’s in shock,” Lyla says, laughing. She punches her arm up into the air. “Finally!”
“I kind of suspected something…” Jason starts.
“You did not!” Lyla accuses him.
Jason relents. She is mostly right. It was only the dark house that had really tipped him off, and even that was a ruse. “How did you do it all? I was just in here.”
“Lots of prep work,” she replies. “And you’d be surprised how many people we can fit in the kid’s rooms.”
“I was in the front closet,” Smash adds.
“I thought you gave up hiding in closests years ago, Williams,” Tim says.
“Okay, okay,” a voice says, the gathering of friends parting to let the man through. Eric smiles down at Jason and offers his hand. “Happy Birthday, Jason.”
“Glad we could be here,” Tami adds, reaching in to hug him.
Jason smiles and shakes their hands, but his stomach is in knots. He can’t believe she actually pulled this off.
“Relax,” Lyla whispers in his ear. “You want a drink?”
Jason looks up into her eyes, grinning. She looks so happy that she had surprised him. Her happiness was the best gift he could of asked for. He nods and accepts the beer someone produces in front of him. Lyla moves away and Jason looks around to see his close neighbors and friends from work spread throughout the room. They were mingling with his old friends from high school like there was no division of friendships. Everyone in the room was there to celebrate with him. It was the best birthday present ever.
Even if the balloons all read, ‘Over the Hill’.