Elizabeth looked at the list of names and dates. "Peter, Mom, Dad, Neal, June, Diana, Clinton, Sara…" her voice trailed off. She realized she missed a name and she had no idea what date to list beside it. "Mozzie," she whispered to herself. "When is your birthday?"
She leaned back and tried to recall any time Mozzie might have mentioned his birthday. Nothing came to mind. El grabbed her cell phone and made a call to the one person she suspected could answer her question. "Neal, hi, it’s Elizabeth. I have a question I hope you can answer."
"Hello, El. Ask away. You know I’m happy to answer any question I can."
A smile crossed her face and she reached down with her free hand to scratch Satchmo’s head. "I need to know Mozzie’s birthday."
The man at the other end of the call laughed then replied, "Which one?"
She paused scratching Satchmo's head and let out a soft laugh. "He has more than one?"
"This is Mozzie we're talking about."
"True," El chuckled. She resumed petting Satchmo. "Do you know his 'official' birthday, the date on which he was actually born?"
"No," Neal said. "I can tell you the four birthdays I know of, but I don't know if any of them are his official birth date. Since he was orphaned, I'm not sure even he knows his official birth date."
"Tell me the dates you know."
"El, what are you up to? Why do you need to know Mozzie's birthday?"
"I was entering birthdays in my planner and realized I didn't have Mozzie's." She kept her real reason to herself. She wasn't ready to share that just yet.
"You have my birthday?"
"Of course, I do, Neal." She smiled to herself. "Do I need to plan a surprise birthday party for you next year?"
"No, no. I don't think it would be kept a surprise," Neal chuckled then continued, "but it could be fun to see if you could keep the other players from spilling the information."
"We'll see, Caffrey." Elizabeth tilted her head. "So, those birthdays of Mozzie?"
"Sure, the ones I know are March 15th, July 14th, August 15th, and September 17th. Notice anything significant about those dates?"
"Let's see, March 15th is the Ides of March, July 14th is Bastille Day, and I know September 17th is the date the delegates started signing the Constitution. But I'm drawing a blank on August 15th."
"It's the date marked as the day India gained independence from British rule."
Elizabeth laughed. "Why am I not surprised to hear that the dates he claimed as birth dates are related to rebellion and freedom?"
"Because it's Mozzie?" She heard Neal's smile in his voice.
"Exactly. Too bad those dates have already passed. Oh well. Thanks again, Neal." She hung up and patted Satchmo's head. "Well, Satch, I've got to figure out how to throw a birthday party for Mozzie. What date can we give him for a birthday, hmm?"
Satchmo tilted his head, licked her palm then let out a soft whine.
"Okay, okay, let's go outside. You'll walk; I'll think."
Two weeks later, after researching dates she thought Mozzie would like as a birthday, she settled on November 5th, best known as Guy Fawkes Day. El hoped Mozzie would like being associated with another day of rebellion and freedom.
She made a list of what she wanted for the surprise party. Then one by one, Elizabeth made calls to arrange for the specialty foods. Once she'd ordered the food, she started working on the invitations. A smile curved the corners of her mouth up as she practiced her calligraphy on each invitation. She mentally went over her invitation list – her husband, Neal, June, Diana, Clinton, even Sara. "Neal and Sara, here's hoping you can get along for a night, for Mozzie's sake."
El gazed at the list, her head tilted to the side. She thought of a name to add to her list, but she needed help finding that person. For several seconds, she plotted on how to find out the number she needed. If she called Mozzie, he'd become suspicious. Neal was another option, but she wasn't sure he'd know. A smile slowly spread across her face. Her husband could help with this one.
One quick phone call and she had what she needed. Another phone call and she had the pièce de résistance of surprise gifts for a surprise party for Mozzie. The woman at the end of the phone seemed surprised and touched that El wanted her at the surprise party. She wrote and addressed the final invitation, a smile wreathing her face.
"You know I'd do anything to help out." Peter smiled up at her then shook his head. "But I'm still not sure why you picked today to host this party."
El hopped down and flashed her husband a smile. "It's Mozzie. Today is Guy Fawkes Day, a day commemorating rebellion. What better day to establish as Mozzie's special day?"
Her husband chuckled, shook his head. "You make a good point." He slid an arm around her waist and pressed a quick kiss to her lips. "So, who's invited to this shindig?"
"June, Diana, Clinton, Neal, Sara…"
"Hmmm, are you sure about having Sara and Neal in the same room? Is our furniture in danger?"
Elizabeth shook her head, a smile on her face. "I talked with both of them. They are on friendlier terms, and both have said for the sake of Mozzie, they would set aside their differences."
Peter nodded. "Okay, anyone else?"
"The guest of honor." El turned away from her husband. "And maybe a special guest."
"Special guest?" He arched a brow.
"I'm not sure if she's going to show, but I…" She trailed off in a sigh. "Remember when I asked for Sally's information?"
"Well, I invited Sally."
"Sally as in The Vulture? El…" He let out a resigned sigh when she nodded. "She knows who you are and where she'll be?"
"She said for Mozzie she'd take the risk." Elizabeth stood on tiptoes and gave her husband a kiss. "Given the number of times he's helped you, I just wanted Mozzie to have a special day."
"Let's not forget how close you two have become."
"You're not jealous, are you?"
Her husband shook his head. "Nope. He may be paranoid and delusional, but I like the little guy. I also appreciate his willingness to help us. Most of all, I'm grateful he's kept you safe on a few occasions."
She smiled and kissed him again. "Good, because tonight I want us to celebrate all that is Mozzie."
Peter gave another nod. "What else do we need to do?"
Elizabeth gazed around. "Well, all the decorations are in place, the cake is in the kitchen, and we'll get the ice cream out of the freezer when we get the warning text. That leaves putting marshmallows in the ice cream cones."
"Marshmallows in ice cream cones?" Peter furrowed his brow.
His wife smiled at him. "To prevent ice cream from dripping out the end. One of those handy little tips I learned from Mozzie." She dropped mini marshmallows into the ends of half a dozen cones, humming as she worked and occasionally looking up to gaze at her husband.
The doorbell rang, and for the next twenty minutes Peter and El welcomed their guests. First, Clinton and Diana, then Sara. They all sipped wine while waiting for Neal, June, and the guest of honor, Mozzie.
Peter's phone buzzed and he waved his hand at the others. "That's Neal. He's coming down the street with June and Mozzie. They'll be here in a few minutes." He grabbed the ice cream from the freezer and opened the container before setting it on the table.
"Take your places, everyone," Elizabeth ordered in a soft tone. She moved toward the door and waited for the doorbell to ring while the others hid. She opened the door and smiled at the trio standing on her doorstep. "Come in, come in," she said, stepping back.
June pressed a quick kiss to El's cheek and winked at her. "Thank you again for the dinner invitation."
"You're welcome, June. Peter will take your coat." She waved the other woman in then turned her head to flash a smile in Neal's direction. "Neal, so glad you could make it tonight."
Neal held up a bottle of her favorite pinot noir and grinned at her. "A gift for the hostess." He strode by her.
El's smile grew when she saw Mozzie.
He bowed then offered her a second bottle of wine – her favorite Beaujolais. "Mrs. Suit, thank you for your gracious invitation."
Elizabeth kissed his cheek and nodded. "You're welcome, Mozzie. Come on in." She grinned when he tucked her hand in the crook of his elbow. When they stepped into the living room, the others yelled, "Surprise!"
Mozzie dropped her hand and stared.
She leaned over. "Surprise, Mozzie. Happy birthday!"
"Mrs. Suit, I, I don't understand." He leaned closer and whispered, "It's not my birthday."
She smiled, nodded. "I know it's not your official birth date, but everyone should have a special day to celebrate with friends. Since you are known to have multiple dates as your birthday, I chose this one."
Elizabeth watched Mozzie. He stared at the birthday banner, the food on the table, and the guests now milling about. He turned to face her. "Mrs. Suit, this is…"
A wide grin covered El's face. "Why, Mozzie, I believe you've been left in a state of speechlessness."
The bespectacled man nodded then offered her a shy smile. "Thank you, El," he whispered. "This is the sweetest thing anyone's ever done for me."
She kissed his cheek. "You're welcome, Moz." El nodded toward the table. "I picked what I hoped were your favorites."
Mozzie crossed the room and stared at the food on the table. "Gluten-free brownies, bubblegum ice cream, and bendy straws for our drinks. You remembered," he muttered.
El made her way into the kitchen, opened a box on the kitchen counter, placed the candles on the cake then lit them. She turned toward the dining room and began singing, "Happy birthday to you…"
The others joined in – "Happy birthday to you. Happy birthday, dear Mozzie. Happy birthday to you."
Elizabeth set the cake on the table and waved Mozzie toward it. "Blow out your candles and don't forget to make a wish."
Mozzie closed his eyes, took a deep breath then blew the candles out with one long gust. He opened his eyes and laughed as the candles flared back to life. "Well played, Mrs. Suit."
One by one, she snuffed the flames of the candles, laughing as she did. "I couldn't resist, Moz." She straightened and offered him a cake knife. "You get the first piece."
He took the knife and started to cut a corner piece. "Is it…?"
"Gluten-free?" El nodded. "It is."
Mozzie put a piece on his plate and turned to hand it to El.
She shook her head, slipped the knife from his hand. "That's your piece. I'll serve the rest." She smiled. "Do you want your ice cream with your cake or later?"
"Do you have cones?" he asked.
El nodded. "Of course, and I put mini-marshmallows in the ends. And before you ask, yes, they are of the organic and kosher varieties."
He grinned at her. "I'll wait. Cake first, ice cream later."
With a smile and a wink, El began cutting other pieces of cake and setting them on the saucers she had set on the table. Each guest took a plate and a fork then settled into chairs in the dining room and living room. Pleased with herself for the success of her surprise party, Elizabeth took a piece of cake and sat next to Peter on the sofa.
"It's time for gifts," El announced after everyone finished their cake and she had collected their plates. From used tech gadgets from the Bureau or Sterling-Bosch to a knife hidden inside a fake banana – something Neal claimed he bought from Mozzie at some point – everyone shared a good laugh over the various gifts and Mozzie's reactions to them. El held her gift back as the last gift he opened. She hoped to time her gift with her other surprise.
When Elizabeth handed Mozzie her gift, he held it for several seconds, gazing at her. They shared a smile then he opened the package. He stared at the digital photo frame, silent once again. Judging from his expression and his silence, Elizabeth counted her gift as success. She took a sip of wine.
He looked up at her. "How did you…?"
She smiled. "Finding a photo of you with each guest wasn't the easiest thing in the world, but with the aid of cell phones and the cooperation of your friends, I was able to dig up several photos."
Mozzie stared at the frame, shook his head. "I thought the party itself was amazing, but this goes beyond amazing." He touched the glass when a photo of Sally and him popped up on the screen. His finger moved across the glass and he whispered the hacker's name.
Ellzabeth glanced at the door, wishing for a perfectly timed knock. No such luck. She let out a soft sigh. With a louder resigned sigh, she watched Mozzie make his way outside to the patio.
"El?" Peter rose from the sofa and made his way to her, taking her hand in his.
"This party was supposed to make him happy, not send him out to our patio with a sorrowful look on his face." El tugged her hand from Peter's and followed Mozzie outside.
She paused, turning her wine glass in her hands, and stared at him. He sat in the furthest patio chair, staring transfixed at the frame he held.
"Did you know I always dreamed of a party like this, Mrs. Suit?" He let out a wry chuckle. "All those years in the orphanage, hoping, wishing, and dreaming my parents would come back to claim me. Dreaming of a day when we were all one happy family again.
"As each birthday passed, I realized they were only dreams and wishes, nothing more. I gave up hope. Mr. Jeffries made sure I received some gift, usually a book, but still no parents. When I left Detroit, I created a new birthday for each identity. I stopped wishing for a special day, surrounded by family and friends, with cake and ice cream." He lifted his gaze. "Until tonight."
Elizabeth sat next to Mozzie and took his hand. "And tonight?"
"Tonight, you showed me that I don't have to have a family to celebrate a special day."
"That's where you're wrong, Mozzie," she said, giving his hand a squeeze. "Look in there. See those people? Your family's in there, people who care for you and want you to be happy."
Mozzie looked in the window. "They're not the family I dreamed of."
El chuckled. "No, they probably aren't, but each one of them likes you, genuinely cares for you and your wellbeing." She patted his hand. "Sometimes the family we choose is stronger than the family into which we're born."
"I always dreamed of a perfect family. A mother, a father, their children in a two-story house with a white picket fence." Mozzie sighed. "The group in there isn't that perfect family."
"I think I'd take our imperfect family any day." El nodded toward the window. "Those people in there care for you, Moz. From Neal to Peter to June, even Diana and Clinton." A smile spread when she saw Sally standing next to Neal. "So does she."
Mozzie looked up. "Sally?" He turned his head and stared at Elizabeth. "How did you convince her to come, to come here where she knew she'd be surrounded by the suits?"
"She's here for you, Moz. It wasn't hard to coerce her once she realized it was a party for you." El smiled as she watched Mozzie move toward the door.
He turned and tilted his head. "Why did you select this date to celebrate my birthday?"
"Because you seemed to select birth dates associated with rebellion and freedom." El shrugged. "So why not Guy Fawkes Day?"
Mozzie chuckled. "Once again, Mrs. Suit, well played." He smiled broadly. "Thank you for the best birthday party and best birthday gift ever."
She watched him open the door. "I love you, Mozzie," she murmured.
He paused in the doorway, glanced at her over his shoulder. "I love you, too, Mrs. Suit."
El watched him cross the room to hug and kiss Sally. She lifted her glass, swirled the wine, and toasted the pair. "Best party I've ever planned," she murmured to herself, before sipping her wine. "Well played, indeed."