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Many Happy Returns

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Bobbie missed her birthdays back during her school years.

Admittedly those were days when, birthday or no birthday, she'd had to get up indecently early in the mornings to wash, bumping shoulders with a mass of other quarrelsome schoolgirls, and then go to the headmistress's office to sit through another annual improving speech about the importance of right and virtuous behavior as one blosssomed into womanhood. Bobbie had usually managed to bring in a cricket in a matchbox which she stealthily released as the lecture went on, but it was still a bit of a chore.

But her chums always gave her things, flowers unlawfully picked from the school beds, pillows unevenly stitched with "Many Happy Returns," the Birthday Card someone had bought years ago which now was passed from girl to girl and displayed by her bed until it had to be passed along at the next birthday.

After lunch Bobbie would sneak out and play hookey, catching a ride on the back of a passing cart to go down to the seaside, where she'd buy marshmallows and toffee and maids-of-honour, and a deck of cards with the two pounds her mother'd sent her in the post. She came back in the late evenings all candy-sticky, her stockings falling down around her ankles.

These days she was a young lady, which wasn't anything like as much fun.

To be fair (which Bobbie was, occasionally, to very specific and well-beloved individuals) Lady Wickham had thrown a pretty fruity party. The latest play had taken off, and so they were flush. Her mother had spread out in a rather lavish way, and there were musicians and ice cream and a lemonade fountain and half of London milling about in evening dress. Bobbie herself was conscious of looking rather toothsome in her new green silk tulle dress. But it was all a little...dull.

Matters weren't helped by the fact that Lady Wickham had also managed to dig up yet another matrimonial prospect, this one an MP with a wet mouth and wispy hair. The blighter had attached himself to her elbow and Bobbie, who had vast experience in these matters, could see that he was working himself up to a proposal. And she couldn't help noticing that the cake, of which he kept offering her pieces, was suspiciously bridal in design. Bobbie was giving serious thought to pushing him into it, when she caught sight of Bertie Wooster coming in, and brightened.

"You!" she called, and pointed a j'accuse finger. Bertie stopped in his tracks, and Bobbie stormed up to him, with her prospective fiance shuffling hurriedly behind her. "You've got some dratted nerve, Bertie Wooster!"

Bertie opened and closed his mouth like a goldfish, his eyes wide. "What...?"

"How dare you show your smug jammy face here," she went on, in happy outrage.

"But...you invit...?"

"After what you did to me! Did you think I could just forgive that?"

"Forgive...?"

"Oh, Bertie!" She stared at him, making her lower lip tremble for a moment, and then just as one of the onlookers was about to start plucking at her sleeve, flung herself into Bertie's arms. "Oh I do, I do forgive you. I could never help myself with you!"

Bertie's arms around her were stiff as wood, and his eyes had gone huge and panicked. In the breathless silence surrounding her on all sides, Bobbie heard a punch glass fall and break, and the muffled thump of her mother fainting.

She grinned into Bertie's evening jacket. Her birthday was looking up.