Waiting in the empty house, everyone. It's a surprise party. The only party Paul knows how to throw. She'd never suspect. Scarf around her neck like a scarlet letter, she smiles wildly, pressed up against the wall, away from him. Surprise!
"You got me," she admits, and welcomes them all. Susan and Bill, Paul and Adam and Adam's oft-mentioned friend Brent. Aunt Allison. No Andrea; that's something broken that she still hasn't fixed. Marlene is there, and Sean: "Everybody. Here! In my house!"
She thanks them all, pretends to feel pampered. "Look at me, I'm forty-three!" Paul loves a speech; she watches him speak, worried.
"And I want to say thank you too. Thank you, Cathy! For being born. Since her birthday is in July, she's a Cancer. A crab. And Cathy can be a little crabby at times, especially in the morning. And whenever I chew my food. But underneath that sometimes-hard exterior shell, there's a soft, warm, incredible person whom this big Taurus bull has been lucky to love, and will continue to, for the rest of our long lives. Happy birthday, my little Cancer."
The irony does not escape Marlene.
Samantha spent most of the flight trying to revive her Blackberry, because it had all the lists on it. She knew she couldn't pay the deposits back in midair, but she wanted to be sure she had everything covered and that she wouldn't make anybody mad. John's mom: Kind of a bear, to be honest. And she wanted her approval, as one does. Normally this is not the kind of thing that would bother Samantha -- it's one of the reasons John loves her -- but in this case it has to do with one time John made a joke, quick and sharp for him because he's usually so quiet, and there was a glint of pride in his mother's eye, an honest surprise, that made her love John's mother a little bit more. Plus, she needed something to do with her hands.
Paul explains in private that the party, after which of course Cathy will be cleaning up, is something of an apology. Or if not an apology, an attempt. It's her birthday, her special day, and he's painted over the rougher parts just for today. "And who doesn't love a surprise party, right?" He thinks. "Maybe you!"
Maybe Cathy hates a surprise party. Any of a number of loving gestures that become burdens, even before she planned to escape to the Bahamas with her artist. Maybe Cathy hates a surprise party, Paul says, with loving finger guns -- a private joke, she is the uptight one -- "But we don't know 'til you get one!"