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Take A Ch-Ch-Ch-Chance

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Leslie’s phone buzzes softly against a stack of municipal permits splayed across the top of her desk.

She’s been responding to emails and trying to look busy while the cameras are still here, although any of the footage they’ve gotten will probably only be used in pick-ups. While she’s passionate about many aspects of her job, she’s sure that some parts are certainly less glamorous and interesting to watch on film. (If this were one of the days where she had to go over the city’s contracts with landscapers or the Department of Transportation people that repaint the basketball courts and parking lot lines, well, that would be a different story. Those meetings tend to get pretty heated, pretty quick.)

 

On this particular afternoon, however, she welcomes the distraction. It’s a personal email from her AIM account, something that’s so inactive it may as well not exist, but the contents within the email are another thing altogether.

 

She shoots up from behind her desk, the cameraman immediately taking her frenzied movement as a cue to follow her down the hallway towards the City Management offices. She heads straight towards Ben’s office, but doubles back just a bit and regrets it as quickly as she turns to the right. The camera almost bangs right into her and she’s sure she has an awkward look on her face because the lens stays focused on her even as she cringes and tries to nonchalantly redirect them both towards Chris’ office.

 

His assistant tells them to wait just a minute while he finishes up a phone call to the Mayor, smiling more at the camera than at Leslie, as she asks them to take a seat.

 

Only a few seconds after they settle down, Chris bursts out to greet them. “Leslie Knope! What a nice surprise, to what do I owe the pleasure?”

 

Leslie does a quick scan of the area before flipping her phone open and showing Chris the text message she’s been holding onto from a few moments ago. “It’s Ben’s birthday. Today!”

 

Chris beams back at her, nonplussed. “I am aware!”

 

“And you didn’t think this was something worth sharing with anyone because…”

 

He smiles softly, something Leslie’s come to know as a sign he’s gravely serious. “Ben is very private about his personal life. He doesn’t enjoy celebrating his birthday with others.”

 

Leslie makes a few aborted attempts at responding before she gives up and continues to gape back at Chris.

 

“I gave him his birthday present this morning, discreetly. If you want to give him a gift I’m sure he’d appreciate it. Although it’s probably best not to make a scene. Like I said, he’s very private.”

 

“This is…” Leslie grinds her words out one by one, barely able to articulate her horror. “I can’t… We have to throw him a party! How can we not throw him a party? We threw Jerry a party! Dozens of them!”

 

Chris’ smile remains upturned only at the edges of his mouth. If Leslie had the presence of mind to focus on something besides the idea that there were people who didn’t like birthday parties, she’d be terrified by the seriousness of his expression. “Leslie—”

 

“Am I going to need to send you an invitation or can I just count you as definitely in the ‘will be attending’ column?”

 

“Leslie, I really don’t think—”

 

“No, okay, I’ll send you one. Will you need a plus one?” Leslie starts backing towards the door, while still facing Chris and the camera.

 

“Leslie, his birthday is today. I don’t know what kind of party you could possibly--”

 

“Not sure? Okay, well you have until tonight to decide. Sooner is better though! I’ll need to do a rough numbers count ahead of time. Plus, bringing a date may be kind of weird since Ann will definitely be there. You know Ann, right? My beautiful, model-like best friend whose heart you broke two weeks ago?”

 

Chris tucks his hands in his pockets and nods. “Yes, of course I know Ann.”

 

“Okay, just checking that you’ll behave yourself. Bring another present. Party starts at seven—” Leslie glances at her watch, her back bumping blindly against Chris’ door jamb, “—thirty. Seven thirty, seven forty-five-ish. See you then!”

 

The camera stays on Leslie until she’s backed all the way out of eyeshot just before giving half-visible wave from outside the door. After a beat, it flicks to where Chris remains standing helplessly behind his desk. He frowns.

 


###

 

Leslie rallies the troops and calls in exactly three favors.

 

First, Tom leaves for the grocery store to get a cake (in return she promises that she’ll sit through a Twilight movie of his choosing – only one, she stresses – everyone has their limits).

 

Second, she gets bumped to the front of the pizza delivery line (since she helped raise two of the three hundred dollars needed for the Joe’s Tomato Pies team shirts for the little league baseball season) with fifteen assorted heading towards the Snakehole in just over two hours.

 

Third, one of the regular DJs at The Bulge offered to coordinate with Freddy to make sure that they played some of Ben’s weird indie-hipster music and whatever else the party requested (which she got for free because Emeka thinks she's fabulous).

 

She’s hosted banquets with less notice, but for some reason things just feel more pressured. This needs to go well. Ben deserves it. He’s got to have a great party, a really great party, so he’ll know what he’s been missing.

 

Leslie hits send, the e-vites and informal nondisclosure agreements go out, and she lets out a deep sigh of relief. “Now, I just have to show up and make sure everyone has the greatest time they could ever possibly imagine.”

She smirks at the camera pointed at her across from where she’s sitting. “That’s the easy part.”

 

###

 

She texts Ben to meet her at the Snakehole Lounge for a drink at eight-thirty. She debates having him walk in to the room and everyone yelling surprise from there, but opts instead to wait out front on the sidewalk. She’ll call Ann to ready the crowd and lead Ben unknowingly into the greatest birthday party he’s ever had (planned just under four hours in advance).

 

She’s been waiting for no more than thirty minutes after her text before she sees his car pull into one of the empty spots on the opposite side of the parking lot. She calls Ann, tells her that “Screech is entering the building,” and puts a hand to each of her cheeks in an attempt to calm herself. With all the planning and secrecy, she’d hate to be the one to spoil it because she couldn’t stop grinning at him.

 

It wasn’t really her fault, though. The grinning, that is. He has a very adorable face and it was going to be really hilarious to watch it react to the thirty friends and coworkers inside screaming “Happy Birthday.”

 

He ambles up towards where she’s standing with a lop-sided grin. “Hey!”

 

“Hey, hi.” She grins back. She glances around, the cameras either hidden or waiting inside.

 

Ben looks around, his smile turning down. “Why are you out here waiting for me? You usually find a spot inside and start knocking back daiquiris first.”

 

“What? Me? No.” Leslie knows she’s supposed to get him to walk inside, but the awkwardness means that trying to force him in may set off mental alarm bells. So, she rocks on her heels and gives a stilted laugh.

 

Ben’s face turns even more puzzled. “Is something wrong? You seem… like there might be something wrong.”

 

She laughs again, even shorter and more forced than before. “I’m just out here because—” she looks around for anything that might prompt a decent excuse. “I was smoking and they don’t let you smoke inside. Ugh, civil liberties. How dare they consider any opinions but my own!”

 

“You don’t have cigarettes... or a lighter.” He sticks his hands in his front pockets and leans closer to her for just a second before pulling back, his face still smugly unconvinced. “And you smell like vanilla, not smoke.”

 

Leslie puts a hand to the back of her neck, trying not to let that affect her. Affect her plan, she means, of course. She’s off her game because of the high-stress situation, not because of the neck sniffing. Plenty of guys have sniffed her neck and she even knew the names of a good half dozen of them, so. It's the other thing, the high-stress one, just like she originally thought.

 

She decides quickly that a brief explanation of what’s going on is probably in order because pushing him in would probably trigger a flight or fight response (although she's ninety-percent sure she can take him). “Look, Ben. I know it’s your birthday. I got a text from AOL and the fact that I haven’t used that account in months means that I was clearly meant to know this information whether you wanted me to or not. Your birthday was listed when you registered and it sends out reminders to your coworkers and I’m your co-worker, or your friend, or your co-worker with benefits. The benefit being friendship, obviously. I like you a lot, Ben, you deserve to enjoy your birthday. So, you can remove your date of birth from Facebook but you can’t remove it from my brain – or my datebook, since my memory isn’t the best and I might not remember next year without marking my calendar, but the point stands – and – and – ” Leslie trails off, taken aback by the look Ben’s directing at her.

 

“Leslie, I like you a lot, too.” He smiles and moves in a few inches closer to her.

 

She’s just over shared to the extreme so her brain is a bit confused by his reaction, a bit annoyed by his reaction, if she’s being honest. She’s just rambled on for two minutes and he’s able to respond in a neat little sentence? What kind of crap is that? More specifically, he replies with a sentence that had almost nothing to do with what she was trying to get across to him.

 

Leslie blinks in the dim alley. The only light is coming from the yellowing streetlamp at the edge of the parking lot and the neon lettering of the club’s sign. She thinks over the inflection in his voice and the sentence – the way too short sentence – which sounds like he cherry-picked the part that he wanted to hear most and – and – her mind follows her mouth’s suit, trailing off.

 

It trails off with reason, that is, when Ben closes the remaining distance between them presses a soft kiss against her not-quite-closed mouth.

 

Oh,” she mumbles against his mouth.

 

It’s practically inaudible but for the sound it makes in her throat, definitely closer to a moan than anything resembling words. Ben tilts his mouth a bit and then they’re kissing in earnest, tongues and hands going all over the place, everything. Maybe she even lets out an actual moan or two, before they end up pressing against the brick and mortar of the club’s exterior for balance.

 

Everything’s going great and Ben seems poised to go in for a genuine boob grab (instead of your standard subtle grazing that he’s been building up momentum with), when someone clears their throat from a few feet away.

 

They shoot apart like Mentos and Diet Coke, wiping at their reddened mouths and turning to where Ron has his hands casually tucked in his suit jacket pockets and eyes discreetly averted towards the night sky.

 

“Sorry to intrude. But if you’re ready, there’s a few dozen people inside waiting to eat bacon-topped pizza and Tom’s spaceship cake. I’d very much like to start calling dibs on what’s to be mine.”

 

Leslie fixes Ron with a disappointed glare. She's managed to make out with the guy and keep the party a secret, yet Ron’s here half a second and has already spoiled it. He gives a brusque nod and turns back around, smiling to himself, as he re-enters the club.

 

“Party?” Ben says, hand still wiping at the edges of his mouth. “There’s a party in there?”

 

“For your birthday, like I said.” Leslie smiles. “I wanted it to be special.”

 

"Wait— my birth—" Ben blanches. “I’m— sorry. I clearly misinterpreted what you were saying. I thought. Oh, god. And I kissed you. I don’t do birthdays for this exact reason. Things always go wrong. I’m sorry, I shouldn't have—”

 

“Hey, shh—” Leslie cuts him off, leaning forward a few inches and giving him a short kiss. Her hand darts up to put a palm to his cheek. “It takes two to kiss, okay. Now, chill out. Relax. Have a happy birthday.”

 

His eyes soften and his mouth turns downward into his trademark upside-down grin. Leslie takes his hands in hers and pulls him lightly towards the club entrance, he follows her lead.

 

He opens the door, letting her through before him. His mind still on Ron’s earlier words. “Spaceship cake?”

 

Doctor Who. The store said it was a Doctor Who cake. Tom said they put the Doctor’s spaceship on it.”

 

He scoffs. “The Doctor has a time machine that happens to travel through space. I don’t know that I’d call it a spaceship, exactly.” He considers it a beat, before turning back to Leslie. “Why a Doctor Who cake, can I ask?”

 

“Well, there were a lot of options. I told him to ask for whatever their nerdiest one was. Slam dunk, if you ask me.” Leslie winks back at him as she pulls the second entryway door open to where his friends and colleagues have gathered near the front of the club.

 

Ben’s already grinning when the cameras zoom in and crowd screams surprise.