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From the first text message, followed immediately by an in-person announcement, Ann has been dreading the birth of Leslie’s baby. No, not the actual birth, but the thing that goes with it. The baby shower. Traditionally planned and hosted by the mother-to-be’s best friend.

Ann Perkins is not afraid of challenge!

But. She is really scared of this.

+

Leslie hits the rewind button in iTunes, getting in one more listen of “Ice Cream” by Sarah McLachlan. Unlike playlists she usually creates, this aims to relax instead of inspire. Wind down instead of wind up. But, to be sure, it still has threads of inspiration. “Me” by Paula Cole is a classic story of self-empowerment, and Leslie is always happy to find a place for it on a playlist.

She finishes her memo to the city council, outlining her recommendations for improvements to accountability and transparency measures. It’s a little controversial, but it’s her job to get in the mix and not be afraid of getting her hands dirty.

Colleagues,

Please review the attached memo. I trust that you’ll find it both enthralling and thought-provoking. I have two hours blocked at our next meeting for discussion.

See you on Monday! Enjoy the rest of this beautiful weekend.

In service,
Honorable Mayor Leslie Knope

She’s halfway through an email reply to Ken Hotate about the Wamapoke’s plans to build another concert venue when Ben comes in, frowning. “Full of Grace” is playing, and Leslie puts up her hand. “Say what you will, Benjamin, but this Canadian goddess and her Lilith Fair taught your wife how to love and live.”

He bends down to kiss her, then does something disruptive but altogether adorable: he sinks between her knees, on his knees, and kisses her growing belly. “Hello baby,” he says quietly, but then, like he always does, shakes his head like he can’t believe he just did that, and he gets up. “Hi,” he says, then takes her laptop with him in one smooth motion and stands back. “Leslie, I’m not kidding about work. You’re cut off on the weekends.”

She reaches for her laptop, but he evades her grasp, pulling the laptop higher to chest level, then above his head as she gets up and continues to reach for it.

“Do you think I could bribe you? You can get laptop time if you rest?” Ben pleads.

Leslie considers it, but she does not negotiate with terrorists.

Or, people who steal her laptop when she’s trying to work.

+

Ann searches in her phone and hits Call.

“Hey.”

“Ben! Hey. It’s Ann.”

“Yup.”

“Are you -- did you just grunt?”

“Sorry. I’m putting the crib together. I’m a pretty smart guy, right? No. I’m really smart. And I can’t figure this out. Do you think this is any indication of how I’ll be as a dad? Like if you fail this test, assembling furniture, there’s no way that you can raise a non-serial killer child?”

Ben isn’t kidding. It’s probably not very nice, but Ann enjoys when Ben goes too far around the bend. “No, but--” She holds back her teasing indulgence of his delusion. “No. Of course not. Besides, do you think Leslie will let you raise anyone other than a future Supreme Court justice?”

Ben sighs, and it sounds like relief. “Other acceptable career trajectories include United Nations Secretary-General and President of The White House Project.”

“Right. So, anyway, Ben, I’m calling with a probl -- no, not a -- I need your help.”

“Why are there so many Allen wrenches?! Sorry. What do you need?”

“Leslie’s baby shower. I’ve... totally been working on it for months, but now -- okay. It’s Leslie, right? She had confetti cannons at my half-birthday. At the surprise party she threw for me. I can’t compete!” Ann scribbles idly on the envelope in front of her.

“I know what you mean. You remember the balloon ride for our anniversary.”

Ann sighs. “So you see what I’m saying. All I have is,” she looks to her written, messy list, “Handbags, green, Daniel Craig, sunshine, pigs in a blanket, water slides, and baby lions.”

“You forgot waffles.”

Ann lays down on the floor and closes her eyes. She wishes she has a cold compress for her forehead.

“Ann, I think you’re freaking out a little bit. Talk to Marlene. I’m sure she could help.”

The idea of talking to Leslie’s mom is terrifying. In fact just the thought of it is making her sweat a little bit. In the middle of her panic, she realizes something important. “Hey, Ben, how come you don’t have any ideas?”

“Again. Balloon ride. Which took us to a Bon Jovi concert -- where we met Bon Jovi. What makes you think that I -- and besides, my child has nowhere to sleep. I’m a little tied up here.”

She loves Ben, but sometimes she hates Ben. “Okay.”

“No, seriously, I’m kind of trapped between two pieces, and Leslie’s at work. Can you come over?”

She hangs up on him, but picks up her purse and heads out the door to the Knope-Wyatt house.

+

Ben sends Leslie a text: Pack a bag for the weekend. I’ll pick you up at home at 6. No more details.

Leslie calls Ben’s assistant every 15 minutes on a detail-discovery mission to no avail, and when she gets home she packs up quickly, then turns the house upside down looking for clues. Ben comes home when Leslie is in the middle of dumping the contents of his sock drawer onto the floor.

She shrugs. “You shouldn’t have said ‘no more details.’”

He puts their bags into the car and spirits them away quickly before Leslie can do more detective work or damage.

“I just want to be on the record as liking surprises,” Leslie says.

“I know.”

“But I equally do not like surprises.”

“Okay,” he says, like he’s really considering what she said. “I’ll tell you. We’re going to--”

“No, no, no!” She yelps, smiling. “Tell me. Wait, don’t! Okay, tell--”

“You’ll know soon enough,” he says mysteriously. But, of course, sneaky bastard Ben manages to evade her questioning when they park at the airport, go through security, and take the loopiest path ever to their gate.

They stand in front of the booth, and Leslie turns to Ben, giving him a big, wide smile. “Washington, D.C.?”

He nods, smiling. “I know push presents usually include diamonds, and usually come after you give birth, but -- I mean, how weird is that phrase? Push present? There has to be a more artful way to say that...” He trails off, as he usually does at the end of a rant, and smiles again. “We’re staying at a hotel that used to be the post office. We’re going on a White House tour, and both houses of Congress, and all the Smithsonians that we can fit into a long weekend.”

Her eyes are bright and wide. “And the Mary McLeod Bethune Memorial?”

Ben shakes his head. “I don’t know who that is.”

Leslie tilts her head to the side, sighing. “Ben, she was a visionary educator and civil rights leader, and was an advisor to FDR.”

“Well, I guess I’ll learn a lot about her when we go to her monument.”

“You will. I’ll also fill you in during the flight.” She squeezes his hand. “Can we go find some candy corn?”

He nods, squeezing back. “We can try.”

+

In the middle of her meeting with Marlene, Ann makes up an excuse and jets out of the room. She tries to calm her breathing, back braced against the wall.

She followed all of Ben’s instructions to the letter, but she cracked under pressure, under the pressure of Marlene’s steely gaze and relentless questioning. Her head tips back against the wall and her eyes close.

This is just a baby shower. This shouldn’t be so difficult. Maybe she can break up with Leslie so she doesn’t have to plan this.

“Perkins. You can’t blend into the wall. It doesn’t work like that.”

Ann opens her eyes to see Donna’s face in close up. “Hi Donna.” Donna backs up, giving Ann a curious look. “Donna, have you ever planned a baby shower?”

Donna looks like she’s thinking about it, wracking her brain. “No. But I have planned a lot of bachelorette parties. Strippers, shots, Mardi Gras beads, jeweled body piercings... the usual.”

Ann shakes her head. Leslie won’t like any of those things.

Then again.

“What do you think pregnant women like shots of? Milkshakes?”

+

Leslie kicks one leg out from under the covers, suddenly too warm for the layers on the bed. She rolls over and stares at Ann. “Ann, whatcha doing?”

Ann throws another handful of popcorn into her mouth. “Watching Order of the Phoenix with you.” She snuggles in closer to Leslie. “Although you’re using way too much of that cocoa butter, to ward off stretch marks, I love it. You smell like cookies.”

“All my life I’ve been trying to smell like cookies,” Leslie replies. She sighs, so happy to be lounging around with her best and most beautiful friend. Ben coming in to deliver hot chocolate before going to work is like icing on a wonderful cake of love.

He hands a mug to Ann, and hands Leslie’s to her with an accompanying kiss. “Okay, I won’t be gone too long. I’m only teaching one class and then I’m going over a paper with one of my grad students. You two are okay?”

Leslie takes a gulp of her beverage. “I’m fine. We’re fine. I’m a grown woman, and Ann is a very capable soon-to-be doctor, and we have chocolate covered pretzels and regular pretzels.” She smiles. “We’ll be fine, Dad,” she says, mocking him, but somehow the mocking turns into tears as she pictures Ben as a father, which he’ll be in a few short months. “You’ll be so good, Ben,” she says, choking on tears. “You’re going to be so amazing.”

He’s careful of her mug as he hugs her. “It’s just one class on regulatory politics, Les, but thanks.”

“No, I didn’t...” She gives him a watery smile. “You’re welcome. I love you so much,” she says, her words finishing fiercely.

Ben tucks her hair behind her ear. “I love you, too.” He stands and salutes Ann. “Future Dr. Perkins.”

She gives a wave of her hand, like a knight to his public. “Dr. Wyatt.”

“Oh, stop,” he drawls, clearly enjoying it in spite of his words. “Bye,” he says to Leslie before leaving the room.

Leslie leans back against the headboard and finishes her hot chocolate in a few big gulps. She wastes no time in saying, “Ben doesn’t want to have sex anymore. It’s like he’s scared he’s going to hurt me or the baby, and he’s just not. I can totally take it.”

Ann quickly fumbles for the remote, mumbling something about “not in front of Harry and Cho Chang.” She presses pause. “So why don’t you tell him that?”

Leslie shakes her head. “I’ve tried! But he thinks I’m made of spun sugar. And I’m not. I’m made of sturdy, strong steel beams -- but, you know, in like a feminine, sexy way.”

“Leslie, I think he’s just being protective of you, which is a good thing. You’ll just have to seduce him.”

Leslie gets a faraway look in her eye. “Seduce him? I can do that. Hmm.” She sinks back under the covers, so cozy, buried until only her eyes are visible.

Ann presses play. “I always get a little nervous when you talk like that. You don’t have to plan, you can just... talk to him.”

“Ann, don’t worry, I already know exactly what I’ll wear and exactly what fruit I’ll--”

“Okay, yup, got it, you can just, yup.”

+

Ann bumps into Jerry at the supermarket in the juice aisle.

“Gosh, that’s a great question, Ann. I think Leslie would love something very warm with close friends and family. You could host it at your house and have champagne for the guests, and sparkling cider for the mom-to-be, children, and alcoholics. And brunch with quiche, fresh fruit, and waffle desserts. I think Leslie would love those games that people play at showers. Just a beautiful, simple celebration.”

Ann lets out an aggravated sigh. “Thanks, Jerry,” she says, bumping Jerry’s cart as she advances away from him down the aisle.

+

Hello Baby. I’m your mother
Hello Baby. I’m your mother Hi Sweetheart. I’m your mom and I love you very much. I can’t wait to meet you. You are so, so, so special and I can’t wait to teach you how to ride a bike, hear about your first women’s studies course, attend your law school graduati

“Leslie, what are you writing?” Ben asks, peering over her shoulder.

She covers her laptop screen protectively. “It’s just a first draft. A letter to our baby, Alice Paul Knope-Wyatt.”

Ben considers it. “Eh, it’s okay. I’ve heard better.” He lays down in bed next to her.

“I still like Elizabeth Cady Knope-Wyatt,” Leslie suggests helpfully.

“Yeah, I know you do.” His eyes shift away, and his face grows soft. “What about Margaret?”

“Like Thatcher?”

“No, not -- my mom. After my mom.”

Leslie tries to search Ben’s eyes but he evades her. “Oh, of course,” she says. She nods. “Margaret Knope-Wyatt. Perfect.”

He looks like he wants to get out of this immediately. “We’ll put it on the list.”

“No, I mean, that's it. That name is perfect. That's who she is. And we'll tell her she's named for an amazing woman, who I didn't meet but who I've heard nothing but the best about, and raised an amazing man who's an amazing father.”

Ben looks like he’s been entirely struck and overwhelmed. He fights a smile. “I'm really looking forward to meeting future Ben, Leslie, and Margaret.”

“Me too. That’s why I’m writing this.”

“I know. But maybe... maybe you can add a little flexibility? If she doesn’t help to elect the first female president, she’ll still be a wonderful person.”

Leslie snuggles into Ben, into his nook. “I know that, dummy. If she cures cancer, that would be okay, too.”

+

April twirls in her desk chair. “Cat-dog hybrids. Black padded rooms. Murderous robots,” she suggests.

From his perch on April’s desk, Andy suggests, “A rollerblading party. Mouse Rat will play.”

Ann shakes her head. “I don’t know why I keep asking people.”

Ron gets up from his seat to lean against the door frame. “I couldn’t help but overhear. Baby showers are a welfare state for babies. It’s no way to start a life.”

Ann throws the large planner she’s been toting around to the ground, followed by her heavy bag filled with med school textbooks. “Look, I just want to throw Leslie a kick-ass party. She’s amazing, she’s the most important person in my life, and I want her to know how happy we all are for her, dammit!”

The office falls eerily quiet and Ann clears her throat. “Okay.” She picks up her stuff. “Okay, I may have overreacted. Um. You guys will get your invites in the mail. Thanks for your help!”

+

The baby is born a month early, right after Thanksgiving.

Margaret is fine, just small, and will stay in the hospital a little longer than average. Ben is holding her and standing by the window when Ann comes in with a large stuffed elephant.

Ann beams. “She’s so gorgeous! Even more so than in the picture!” She reaches out and strokes the super soft skin on Margaret’s face, and settles in next to Leslie, giving her a huge hug. “I’m glad she’s here, but I have to tell you, I’m a little bummed. The baby shower was going to be epic.”

Leslie motions for Ben to hand Margaret over, and he does, reluctantly. “Tell me everything, Ann.”

Ann props the elephant in the corner and goes back to Leslie’s bed. “We were going to hold it at J.J.’s, and they were going to make you a cradle made out of waffles. And! It's only been recently discovered, but Little Sebastian had a colt before he passed. Little Little Sebastian.”

“No way!”

“I know!”

“Oh, beautiful, perfect, inventive Ann. I love you so.”

“Little Little Sebastian. What a get, Ann,” Ben adds, and Leslie whips her head to look at him. Her eyes narrow, suspicious, and he puts his hands up. “No, seriously, Ann, that sounds like a great party. We should still do it. Margaret can attend in person.”

Ann turns to Leslie. “Hey, would it be okay if I--”

“Oh, of course, you’re going to be like a second mom to her,” Leslie says, but she still has a hard time passing her to Ann. She does, though. Ann holds Margaret in her arms and stares down into her weird, wrinkled face. She’s perfect.

Later, when Ann leaves with tears in her eyes, Leslie and Ben are curled up in bed with Margaret. Leslie’s still crazy sore and exhausted, but the glow of this new person and the accomplishment of bringing her into the world have not yet stopped sparkling. Leslie leans her head against Ben’s shoulder.

“I’d only say this to you. I’m kind of... disappointed. I thought she was going to be a new year’s baby. That would’ve been, just, an extra dose of special,” Leslie confesses, feeling silly but righteous.

“But she’s already extra special,” Ben replies, and Leslie nods, too tired to say anything else.

They stare at Margaret, moon faced, happy, and tired. She is full of promise and light, and possibility and potential. But mostly she is here, early but right on time, and everything changes and stars anew today.

/end.