Felicity wasn’t sure how she ended up with friends. She knew that even in this fluffy world of rainbows and butterflies there were loners. If asked before her new life, Felicity would have definitely assumed she would be one of them. Yet here she was, frozen in the doorway of the café, relieved that she hadn’t actually shot anyone with the two guns in her reach when they jumped out and shouted “Surprise!” Sally walked up to her and fixed a cardboard cone with crowns printed on it on Felicity’s head.
“Happy Birthday, Felicity!” Sally beamed at her, blushing slightly. Right, it was her false identity’s birthday. She’d noticed it earlier in the week, but it slipped her mind this morning. Felicity took in the entire scene. The Cinema Critics were there. Teddy, of course, and a variety of people she knew in a variety of ways. General Morris was missing, he was attending a summit of some kind, but the largest present on the table was from him. Felicity’s eyes landed on John Howle who looked like he was recovering from a heart attack. He was probably the only one who realized how dangerous startling Felicity might be. That set her in motion.
“Guys…” She said in a sappy touched voice with a smile. “You didn’t have to do all this.” Felicity waved her hand at the room.
“But it’s your birthday!” Sally looked aghast at the idea of not doing something.
“Yeah.” Teddy agreed, looking absurd in a goofy hat. “Now come in here and say hello to everyone.” Felicity allowed herself to be led around the room. Joining in conversations and marveling at who was there. How had they known to invite Old Joe from the junk thrift shop a few blocks away. Joe told her an animated story about his best friend’s birthday some sixty years ago, while Felicity listened fondly and Teddy laughed at all of the right times. She got in a heated debate with Marlene, of the Cinema Critics, about how realistic some things were in spy movies. (Felicity lost the debate because she couldn’t exactly announce to the room that it was possibly to shoot a man and defuse a bomb in thirty seconds because Felicity had once done it in half that time.)
“Whose idea was this?” Felicity asked between conversations, eyeing Teddy suspiciously.
“Well, I noticed the date.” Teddy answered, completely unashamed. “But Sally put together the party.” Sally ducked her head in embarrassment. A small grin touched the corner of Felicity’s mouth. “Joan,” The owner of the café where they worked, “Couldn’t make it, some family thing, but she paid for all of the food.” He waved his hand at the buffet.
“Well, thank you.” Felicity said. No one had ever thrown her a party before. She couldn’t even recall ever receiving a present. Even if it was the wrong day, it was probably the best birthday she’d ever had. Sally beamed and dragged her off to talk to another group of acquaintances, followed by a bemused Teddy.
After a while, Felicity managed to sidle up beside the always suspicious John Howle. “I’m surprised to see you here, Mr. Howle.” She murmured. Howle eyed her. He hadn’t been startled by her approach. She respected that.
“I’m surprised to be here.” He admitted. “It seems that Sally is under the impression that we are close.” Howle watched Felicity. “She’s hard to say no to.”
“Very,” Felicity agreed. “Though you looked positively terrified when I walked in.” She smiled innocently at him. “Why might that be?”
Howle considered his next words carefully. “I didn’t realize that it was a surprise party.” He answered. “I was unsure how you would… react.” Howle’s words were thinly veiled truth, and Felicity appreciated the dual meaning.
“You think I don’t like birthdays?” Felicity’s smile widened. The corners of Howle’s mouth twitched.
“I think you don’t like surprises.” He raised an eyebrow. “Am I wrong?” Felicity shrugged.
“Yes and no.” She replied, enigmatically. “I’m surprised you’re here.” That could mean anything from the party to Howle’s job as chief of security to him actually standing there talking to her. “But,” Felicity paused, considering her own words and decided the truth would confound him more than anything else. “It’s a pleasant surprise.” For just a moment, Felicity looked at him and offered a rare, genuine smile. It was far less comforting than the one she had adopted since settling into her new life. That killer’s smile certainly would have disturbed anyone else in the room, but Felicity knew that John Howle could handle it. “I’m glad there’s someone who understands me.” John Howle’s expression was so utterly perplexed Felicity had to laugh. “Enjoy the party, Howle.” She moved away from him. A self satisfied glow settled itself around her. She had been right. Her smile hadn’t perturbed him in the slightest.
Felicity tensed as the lights went out, but she didn’t pull a weapon or duck for cover. Sally and Teddy walked out of the kitchen singing (badly in Teddy’s case) carrying a cake bordered by candles. The candles created a warm glow in the dark room. If Felicity were poetic she’d find a metaphor for the light that her friends were throwing into her life of shadows. But Felicity wasn’t romantic enough for that… Not yet. Everyone around the room began to join in. Sally slid the cake on the table, presenting it to Felicity.
“Make a wish.” Sally smiled, her face shadowed in the dim light. Felicity looked around the room. Her friends were cloaked in the darkness of the candles. Howle stood farther back and almost unseen, while Sally hovering over the candles was the brightest. Felicity leaned over and blew out the candles.
For the first time, since she’d started her new life, Felicity didn’t make a wish. She didn’t have to return to the shadows. At that moment… She didn’t want to.
…And that surprised her.