T minus 5 days
“But neon green soda? It just looks toxic!” Nia says, her volume increasing over Tess’s shout of, “You mean awesome.”
The debate is par for the course for a drive home from school, but it is getting a little intense. That is when Chelsea first broaches the subject. “Hey, guys! Hey! I meant to ask. You know, Raven's birthday is coming up. What did you usually do?”
“For mom's birthday? Last year Nia and I made breakfast. The French toast was pretty great, if I do say so myself.”
“That's because mom came and ‘helped’. And that's not what she meant, Booker,” Nia says. “She's had friends over a couple of times— you know, you were there, Aunt Chels. But usually the four of us just went out for dinner. We didn't do a lot.”
“Hmm.” It's not a big deal. Chelsea has only been thinking about this for, oh, just over a week now.
“Why, what were you thinking, mom?” Levi pipes up.
“Mm? Oh, I don't know. I know Devon’s the king of surprises and everything but we could try… Or, do you guys have any ideas?”
“Oh dad doesn't do surprise parties on birthdays,” Nia tells her.
“He says because you know something’s gonna happen, it's not Optimal Surprisin’.” Booker says.
“And so Auntie Rae won't be expecting a surprise party on her birthday?”
“Hey, that's true! Nice thinkin’, shortstack.”
“Yeah Aunt Chels, let’s do this. What do you think, Booker?”
“I think it totally beats my original idea that I had planned in detail for ma’s birthday.” Chelsea hears. And then “Hey, ow!” She smiles, and listens as the subject returns to the merits of realistic versus outrageous flavour colors of food.
“How would you like to eat a purple burger?” Levi starts. “After a while it just gets weird.”
“Are you kidding? I'd love to eat a purple hamburger!” Booker says, and Chelsea allows herself to tune out.
T minus 3 days
“Chinese? Auntie Rae likes it, and that new restaurant is supposed to have a good vegetarian selection too.” Levi says, looking away from the TV.
“So we're not even considering staying in? I could cook, we could get cake and ice cream. It would be more… restful.” Chelsea continues chopping at the counter, popping a carrot piece into her mouth.
“No!!!! That's okay, you don't have to,” says Booker. “This way we can all relax and enjoy.”
“Booker, honey, your mom’s voice does this exact guilty high-pitched thing too.” Chelsea laughs. “It's okay, I can take a hint.”
Levi coughs. “Anyway, I looked at a few other places. We could go to our usual pizza place, we already know we like it. Or there’s the Indian place a couple of streets down, you know the one we ordered from last month?”
“Oh, yeah, I remember. Hmm. I do like the sound of this new Chinese place, Wok, you said? Do you think the girls will agree?”
“Tess is the one who told me to check it out, she said she heard it was good. When I called they said they had a room for parties, and if we let them know in advance they’d help us set up the surprise.”
“That’s great, sweetheart. And what about you, Booker?”
“Yup. Nia and I talked to grandpa, he said he’d be here. And that Uncle Cory might be free, but he won’t be sure ‘til the day before.”
“Good. I talked to Eddie, he says he can drive down. It’s been so long since I’ve seen them. She’s going to be so surprised! I can’t wait!” Booker freezes for a second, staring off into space, and then turns back to her. “You know, just now? That was so like Raven when… uh, I mean, how long do you think Nia can stall her when they go shopping?”
“Uh, stall? They’re both having fun, Aunt Chels, they’re shopping. You don’t need to worry.” He clears his throat, looking at Levi. “But you know what, your stay-at-home idea wasn’t that bad. Maybe we should go with that.”
“Are you sure?” Chelsea says, watching her son goggle at Booker.
“Yes. I’m sure. You could cook, or we could order in. Either way. Let’s have it at home.”
T minus 2 days
“Okay, listen up, guys.” Booker says, and Tess and Nia huddle around him. They have PE, and they’re supposed to be warming up before basketball, so their little three-people huddle isn’t very conspicuous. Tess jumps in place, and Nia stretches her arms half-heartedly.
“We had all agreed to the Wok, but I had a vision that mom was going to find out about the surprise party somehow. So I told Aunt Chels we should do it at home. Only, today morning I had another vision, mom is going to find out about the surprise party at home too. This means someone among us will mess up. We have to stop that from happening without letting Aunt Chels know how we know what we know.”
“Okay. But should we ask her to switch the place again or something?” Tess asks.
“No, it doesn’t matter where it is if mom’s going to find out either way.” Nia says.
“Exactly.” Tess says. “So there’s no reason we should have it at home, right?”
“Oh man, you right. I’ll talk to her today, have her talk to the restaurant people, and— Yes, Coach Spitz we’re coming! We’re warmed up, and no, no, no nonsense here, none at all.”
T minus 1.5 days
The door opens moments after Chelsea is done talking on the phone. The timing is perfect. Suspiciously perfect, even, but Chelsea just waves at Rae.
“Hey, Chels, how is my lovely best friend doing tonight?” Rae says, dropping into the sofa beside Chelsea, and leaning against her shoulder. “Do anything interesting today?”
Chelsea smiles down at her, looking away from her book. “I’m, uh… good? And nope, nothing that would be of interest to you.” Rae raises an eyebrow, but doesn’t say anything. “And how was work?”
“Ugh, girl, I don’t want to talk about it, I don’t want to think about it. Paisley's all about this new canine swimsuit line, which she's brilliantly gotten someone else to design. Doggie speedos? Lemme just say, I am glad to be home.” Rae shudders, and Chelsea pats her arm in sympathy.
“Isn’t it funny, of the two of us, you’re the one working with dogs?” Chelsea says, and Rae laughs silently, before sighing.
“When you put it like that, well. None of us are doing what we thought we’d be doing, are we?” Raven glances sideways at her, that look in her eyes Chelsea’s been seeing more and more these days— the one that makes her heart flip for no reason at all.
“I know what you mean. Though I guess a few things are like we’d have imagined.”
“I can think of one or two,” Rae whispers back.
The next time Chelsea glances at her, she’s fast asleep. Chelsea slowly shifts away, setting a pillow under Rae’s head and pulling the throw over her. Before getting up, she kisses Rae’s forehead. “Goodnight, Rae,” she whispers, and Rae smiles in her sleep.
She switches the lights off before she makes her way to the boys’ room. Nia is sitting up with Booker, waiting impatiently. Levi is already asleep.
“I talked to the restaurant. We’re finished planning.” Chelsea tells the kids. “I hope you guys aren’t gonna want to change your mind again.” Booker twitches. “What.”
“It’s just… what if mom finds out?”
“Even if she does, I’m sure she’ll love the party.”
“But we want it to be a surprise!” Nia says.
“Is it possible she overheard you on the phone? Or maybe you slipped up and said something? It’s okay, you can tell us.” Booker adds.
“What? No! What is going on? Is there something you guys want to tell me?”
“Nothing, I just had this feeling, and— I really want the party to— but you’re right. Goodnight, Aunt Chels,” Booker says, and Nia gets up to return to her room, taking Chelsea’s hand.
Chelsea gently disentangles herself. “No, talk to me, Booker. A feeling, like a psychic feeling?”
“YES! What? NO!! Why would it be psychic? Psychics aren’t real, pfft, what are you even talking about?”
Chelsea smiles and sits down beside him. “Alright, let me see. Every time we decided where to host a party you had one of these feelings of yours, making you feel certain Rae was gonna find out, and so you made me change my mind. How am I doing?”
Booker stares at her wordlessly. Nia sputters, “How did you? What— Who??”
“How long have you had these?”
“A little after you two moved in.” Booker looks at his blanket.
“Oh honey, why didn’t you talk to your mom about this? To either of us?”
“I didn’t think— I thought mom would overreact.”
Chelsea tilts her head. “Hmm. But you didn’t think she wouldn’t believe you, right? Or make you feel… different? Or love you any less?”
“No. I just— I don’t know what I thought.”
Chelsea hugs him, and kisses his head. “Now I won’t tell your mom, but I really think you should. I think you’ll be glad you did.”
“Okay. Thanks Aunt Chels.”
“You’re very welcome. And now about the party...”
T minus 1 day
The day before Raven’s birthday, she gets a new vision. This one where there is no party, only a small cupcake. Now it isn’t that Raven needs a party, or that she would be unhappy celebrating with the four people she loves the most in the whole world, and Tess, but after four straight days of surprise party visions— she is honest enough to say she is a little disappointed. Especially about vision #3. That one had been pretty awesome.
She blinks, and Chels is poking at her while Raven has been zoning off packing lunches. “Huh. What? Did you say something?”
“Are you okay, Rae?”
“Yeah, sorry, I’m good.”
“Good.” Chels grins at her before going out to sit with the kids with her breakfast plate, and starts whispering with them.
“What’ch’y’all talkin about?” she asks, and smiles, shaking her head when she gets the expected chorus of “Nothing!”
“Alright, then, I’m going to work. I’ll see you when I pick you up, buh-bye.” Maybe if she gives them an opportunity to plan, the vision will come back.
T minus ½ a day
“Hey, mom? Can I talk to you?” Booker says, and she hides a smile. She hasn’t had a vision yet, but if she’s right, this has something to do with her birthday. Booker leads her to his room, and she follows obligingly.
When he leads her to his bed and says, “Please, take a seat,” though, she begins to suspect she’s wrong.
“I have something to tell you, and please don’t get mad. Or freak out.” He remains standing.
She pulls him down beside her, and wraps her arms around him. “Anything, Booker. Tell me.” She feels him sigh.
“Now, you might not believe me, but I want you to give me a chance, okay? I have psychic visions.”
“You WHAT?!!! When did this—?? How did you?? Oh my goodness, Booker!”
“Mo-m… tight…” he wheezes, and she loosens her arms around him.
“Oh, I’m sorry! I’m so excited! When did you have your vision? Whom did you tell?! What did you see?”
“You… believe me?”
“Yes! I… uh. Haha. Funny story, I get visions too.”
“What? You’re not… you’re serious? That’s why Aunt Chels…”
“Of course I am!! Now tell me everything. What did you see? How did you know? When was it?”
“I... um. Actually, um, I’ve had them for months, ma, I just didn’t know how to tell you.”
“No, it’s okay.”
“I just… really, mom.”
“Hey, hey, it’s alright. You told me today, didn’t you? Baby, I’m not mad. And look, it’s not like I was the greatest role model either.”
She feels him sag against her. “It didn’t start out as keeping a secret, it just happened.”
“It’s alright. You know I love you, sweetheart, and I’m so glad you told me now.” He hugs her tighter.
“I love you too, mom.”
Raven sighs. “And what’s this you were saying about Chels?”
“She figured it out yesterday, and told me I should tell you. That I’d be glad if I did.”
Raven smiles. “She’s smart, that one.”
“So you wanna tell me what’s been going on?” She says, getting up.
“Well, you kept seeing our party plans, and I kept seeing you seeing our party plans.” Booker says, letting Raven pull him to his feet.
Raven gasps. “Wait, so this has all been— How did you guys— I saw a cupcake!”
“She told us we’d have a cupcake tomorrow, so we’ve all been thinking about it.” He walks to the door, and pushes it open.
“But then what about—
T minus SURPRISE!
“Eddie? Cory? Dad? Oh my goodness! This is—”
“Aunt Chels, how did you— ?”
A few hours later
“I wondered where you went off to.”
Raven turns to look at Chels walk out onto the roof deck, and holds out her hand. Chels takes it, nudging her over to sit beside her on the deck chair.
“The kids in bed?”
“Booker and I... we talked, today.” Chelsea stiffens a little, beside her. “And Chelsea, I—”
“There’s still Nia to talk to.” Chelsea looks away.
"Yeah, tomorrow, the three of us, we,” Raven shakes her head, squeezing the hand in hers. “But you, Chels, you figured it out, you talked to him and you—”
“You think I should have told you yesterday, huh?” Chelsea tries to take her hand back, and Raven doesn’t let her. “I was wondering if I should, I promised Booker I wouldn’t, but you would want to know, and—” she hangs her head.
“No, you listen to me.” She takes her other hand to cup her face, to make their eyes meet. “I’m so glad they have you, that I have you, I love you so much, Chels.”
“I love you too.”
“No, I mean I… ah.. you—” she gasps as Chels kisses her, feels her hands winding into Raven’s hair.
Chels leans back after a long moment, to tuck a strand of Raven's hair behind her ear. “ I love you too, Rae," she repeats, and Raven can't help her smile, delighting in the one that mirrors it on Chelsea's face. "You know, it's midnight. Happy birthday."
Raven kisses her again, dropping the hand in hers and raising it to Chelsea's neck instead, sighing against her mouth. She feels Chels shudder, and when she pull back a moment later, she's still smiling. "Y'know, I gotta say, I was definitely not expecting this surprise." Chelsea drops her head to laugh, and Raven can't do anything but hold her tighter.