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Happy Birthday, Jo
By Ann


"Tootie, what are all these balloons for?" Natalie stepped from the kitchen, cookies and diet Coke in hand. She and Tootie had arrived at Mrs. Garrett's a day early. The older woman had asked her former charges to attend a birthday celebration dinner for Jo.

"Huh? Oh, I'm helping decorate for Jo's surprise birthday party." Tootie leaned away from the ladder to secure the last piece of tape in place.

Natalie plopped down on the couch and shook her head at the banner proudly wishing Jo a happy 30th birthday. "Jo doesn't want a birthday party; she told us the last time we visited her, remember?"

Tootie carefully climbed down the ladder. "Well, Blair said that Jo didn't really mean it."

"Tootie, how many times has Jo ever said what she doesn't mean?"

The other girl frowned, obviously deep in thought. She couldn't come up with a single moment where Jo had been anything but sincere, and most of the time, she'd been quite adamant about her wishes.

"Can't think of any, huh? You want to know why?" Natalie paused dramatically. "Because there's not one!"

Tootie walked over and sat next to her friend. "But Blair said . . ."

Natalie quickly interrupted. "And that's where you made your mistake, Tootie. You listened to Blair. If I were you, I'd tear down these decorations and tell Jo you didn't have anything to do with whatever Blair's come up with."

"But Nat, Blair invited Jo's mother. We have to do something. We can't ask her to a surprise party and not have a party."

"Well that certainly would be a surprise alright." Natalie gobbled down her last cookie and put her can down on the table. "Okay, Tootie. I guess if Jo is going to kill you and Blair, she may as well kill me, too. Let's finish these decorations."

Tootie smiled and moved over to the table to retrieve more streamers and balloons.

"Hmm, I wonder who's having the party. I can't believe we had to park two blocks away. I guess that's what we get for letting Natalie and Tootie beat us here and get the parking spaces in Mrs. G's driveway." Jo closed her door and waited for Blair to climb out before she hit the door locks. She quickly glanced around, deciding that Mrs. Garrett's neighborhood seemed safe enough to leave her new Lexus.

Jo looked back at the car and smiled. Gesturing over her shoulder, she said, "Blair, I can't believe I let you get me a car for my birthday, a high priced one at that."

Blair grinned at her lover. She'd started on Jo weeks ago, feeling her out about the cute little SVU. Finally, Blair was able to convince Jo that 30 was a milestone and deserved to be celebrated with a milestone gift. Of course, she'd had to cancel the Lamborghini she'd ordered. Jo would've never accepted it.

Jo reached for Blair's hand. "I'm just glad you gave up on that big birthday celebra. . . Wait a damned minute." Jo looked at the cars lining the block before coming to a dead stop on the sidewalk.

"You didn't." Jo gave Blair an accusatory look.

Giving her so very classic innocent expression, Blair responded sweetly, "What?"

"You did. Damn it, Blair; I told you I didn't want a birthday party. I just wanted to have dinner with our friends."

"Well, dinner will be served."

Jo turned and started for the car. "I'd rather go through a drive-thru. You go to the party, and I'll pick you up later."

"Don't you dare run away, Jo Polniaczek. I went to a lot of trouble to find some of your old friends. You are going inside, and you are going to have a good time." Blair placed her hands on her hips, readying for a huge fight.

Jo wheeled around and stomped towards her lover. "Oh, no I'm not. I didn't tell you to call anyone, so it's your fault if your 'troubles' are all for naught."

Blair pulled out her ace in the hole. "Your mother's here."

"What?" All the color drained from Jo's face. Her mother had stopped speaking to her when she'd told her that she was moving in with Blair. Well, actually it was when she explained to her mother exactly what she meant by 'moving in.'

"She wants to make amends, Jo." Blair offered softly.

Jo glanced towards Mrs. Garrett's house. "My mother's in there?"

"Yes, Jo. She said she wouldn't miss your 30th birthday for anything in the world." Blair stepped next to Jo and took her hand.

"Okay, let's go." Jo started towards the house, tugging her lover behind her. "But next time, Blair, no surprises."

Blair crossed the fingers of her free hand. "I promise, Jo; no more surprises."

Inside, Natalie peeked through the curtains. "Quick! Someone get the lights; they're coming up the walk."

Mrs. Garrett flipped the switch, clouding the room in darkness. Natalie bumped her way to the back of the room; there was no way she was going to be the first one killed.

The sound of the door opening was followed by Blair's voice. "Hello? Anyone here?"

"Surprise!" The light flicked on and dozens of people jumped out from their hiding places. Jo didn't even have to act startled; the synchronized yell combined with the sudden light was enough to cause her to jump. Her mother's face was the first she saw.

"Jo, I'm so sorry." Rose Polniaczek whispered as she walked towards her daughter. Jo smiled and met her mother half-way, pulling the older woman into a hug. The partygoers all applauded the reunion even though most had no idea what they were clapping for.

Hours later, the guests slowly began to depart, each giving Jo their best wishes once again on their way out. Finally, the last one partygoer stepped through the door. An exhausted Jo sat on the couch between her mother and Blair while Tootie, Natalie, and Mrs. Garrett slouched in nearby chairs.

"Whew, that was quite a party." Mrs. Garrett smiled and looked around the room, regretting the cleanup despite the wonderful time she'd had.

"Oh, don't worry, Mrs. Garrett, Tootie and I are going to help clean and straighten everything."

"Me, too, don't forget me." Rose piped up, thankful to pitch in. The party had been the perfect opportunity to make up with her daughter.

Jo grinned. "Well, since I'm the birthday girl, I think I'll take a little nap while the rest of you clean up the mess."

A pillow flew through the air, hitting Jo in the head, and the brunette quickly grabbed the flying missile and turned towards Natalie, ready to retaliate. The ringing of the doorbell put a stop to her plans.

"Who could that be?" Mrs. Garrett stood and left the room to answer the door.

Blair quickly ran the party list through her head. "Huh, I thought everyone who sent in their RSVP showed. I wonder... oh, wait a minute. I don't recall meeting Bernice um, Bernice . . . oh it's an Italian name. Anyway, I didn't see her tonight. Maybe it's her."

Jo whipped her head around. "Holy shit, Blair. You invited her?"

"Jo, language," Rose slapped her daughter on the arm.

"Ow, Ma; don't you realize who Blair invited? It's Moose Falconi; no one's called her Bernice since we were three. She beat the shit out of Terri, remember."

Another slap made contact. "Ow, Ma; stop it, would'ya? I can't afford to have any bruises. I'm sure ol' Moose is here to make good on the threat she made the last time I saw her."

"Hello, won't you come in?" Mrs. Garrett's voice filtered into the living room.

"I am so dead." Jo contemplated running and hiding, but then her friends would have to deal with her old nemesis. Standing, Jo pulled her shoulders back and glared at the doorway, hoping Moose had gained a ton of weight so she could at least outrun her.

Mrs. Garrett was the first to step into the room, and the fact that her eyes were about to pop out of her head didn't bode well for Jo. The woman following her had to practically duck to make it through the door. Jo's mouth dropped open when she got a good look at the other woman.

"Wow, they're growing them big in the convent these days." Natalie blurted, showing that she still had the knack for speaking her mind.

All eyes fastened on the rather large nun.

"Um, Moose? Is that you under those robes and habit?" Jo's steady voice belied her desire to shout for joy. If Moose was really a nun, there was no way she'd stuff Jo down the garbage disposal as she had threatened to do years ago.

"Actually, I go by Sister Bernice, now. How about you, Jo? Are you still as arrogant as you used to be?"

Jo's 'no' was drowned out by a chorus of yeses. Silence ensued until Sister Bernice finally broke out in laughter. The others joined in while Jo looked on. She was just about to protest everyone having a laugh at her expense when she realized that although she'd mellowed quite a bit, she did have a tendency to be strong willed.

Smiling, she walked over to the nun. "Hey, Sister Bernice. Would you care for some cake?"

"I'd love some, Jo."

"Okay, I'll be right back." Jo grinned and walked out the room. Blair waited a beat before she excused herself and followed her lover. She found Jo standing in front of the kitchen table, staring down at the cake.

"Are you alright?" Blair moved to stand next to Jo. Reaching for the knife, she cut a slice of cake.

"You know, Blair. I planned to go kicking and screaming into my thirties, but it's not so bad after all." She held out a plate for Blair to slide the cake onto. "I didn't realize how lucky I am. Thanks for the party, Blair."

"You're welcome, Jo. Now, what do you say we go back and join our friends?"

Jo took the plate from Blair, and then took her lover's hand. Grinning, she pulled Blair towards the other room. It was time Moose was on the other end of the surprise.

The End

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