Birthday love for the fabulous Mistress Mary Ann...

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Let's all sing together now, with my boys as backup:

I don't know but I've been told
(I don't know but I've been told)

Someone here is gettin' old
(Someone here is gettin' old)

Sound off
(This one's)

Sound off
(for you)

Happy Birthday

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *


By Hedeia

Tap tap. Tap tap tap tap tap.

"Tris, what are you doing?" John called from the bedroom.

Sure, HE can bellow from the bedroom. But if I do it, it's all


"Um, nothing!" I called quickly.

Tap tap. Tap tap tap tap. Tap tap tap.

"Are you making that noise?" I heard his footsteps in the other room. Ack!

Quickly I stuffed the umbrella back in the stand and turned to face John,
spreading my hands as wide as my eyes.

"What noise?"

"That tapping noise." John frowned.

"I didn't hear anything," I said innocently.

Tap tap. Tap tap tap.

Damn her!

John lifted an eyebrow at me.

"Uh...that tapping noise?" I asked, trying to psychically transmit a STOP vibe
through the ceiling, up to her floor and to her umbrella.

John cocked his head. "It almost sounds like Morse Code."

"Oh, I'm sure it's nothing. The neighbors are probably just...¦tap dancing. Or
something," I added as the tapping grew more insistent and -

Oh my goodness. I don't know if I've ever heard that particular word in
Morse Code before. My ears burned.

"Well, should we go to bed? It's late." I smiled at John.

He glanced at his watch. "It's seven thirty," he reminded me.

I yawned and stretched, careful not to overdo the act. "And I am just beat!"
I exclaimed. "C'mon...I'll make it worth your while..."

The corner of his mouth quirked. "Mr. Cates, you're trying to seduce me!"

I giggled and pulled him back toward the bedroom.

Thank goodness for our squeaky mattress - it almost drowned out the
increasingly insistent thumping on the ceiling.

What had I gotten myself into?

My cell phone rang the next morning and I ducked into the bathroom to answer
it in private. "Hi! Did you get the stuff?" I asked. I found myself
breaking out in a cold sweat thinking of what I was about to buy. My hands
shook a little bit. My breathing quickened.

I was going about it in a dangerous way, I knew. If I were caught...¦

But I couldn't help it. I needed it, I had to have it, I had to have it NOW.

"I've got them," the voice said.

"Yes!" I punched a fist in the air, all withdrawal symptoms gone.

"Tris?" John rapped on the bathroom door. "What are you doing?"

He was asking that a lot lately, wasn't he? Rather nosy if you asked me.

"Nothing!" I called. "Thanks, you're the bomb," I whispered into the phone,
snapping it shut.

The surprise had worked! John suspected nothing!

Except that when I exited the bathroom he turned me around with a sharp swat.

"Ow! What's that for?"

"Don't lock doors on me. It's impolite," he said.

HOW had he known the door was locked? He hadn't tried the knob!

If John was developing Second Sight, this was going to mean a serious cramp
in my style. Too horrible to even THINK about!

"Sorry," I told him instead, kissing him. "You'll be home early tonight,

He nodded, looking closely at me. "Why? What's going on?"

"Nothing," we said in unison. I looked sheepishly at him.

He gave me a hug. "Nothing illegal, I hope?"


He swatted me toward the bedroom. "Go on, get dressed."

"Are you going to tell me what's going on?" John asked me that night when I
got home, package clutched in my hot little hand. The delivery had worked.
The payment had been paid.

"Would you prefer to tell me in Morse Code?" he asked gently.

I flushed.


"Happy Flag Day!" I told John quickly, and held up his present.

His eyes widened. "What did…"

I fanned the tickets out in my hand. "Look. Look! The subway mini-series.
We're going to watch the Yankees spank the Mets!" I quoted Mary Ann,
realizing a moment later it probably wasn't a good idea to bring up that word
to John.

"What a wonderful surprise!" He hugged me. "That was so thoughtful to
arrange that, darling."

I grinned at him. "Yes, well. Let's get ready to go. Mary Ann will be here
soon. We need to stadium seat cushions, and it might be chilly, so...¦where are
those cushions, anyway?" They were a must at any game. Those hard plastic
seats were the opposite of comfort!

"How did you get these tickets, Tris? They're nearly impossible to...¦"

"I didn't kill anyone, if that's what you're worried about," I assured him.

He lifted an eyebrow.

"I got them from Mary Ann. From her...source."

"Ah." He nodded. "Did SHE kill anyone?"

"Very funny," I said. I shifted uncomfortably. I mean, she hadn't killed
anyone that I KNEW of, but for these tickets..."

"And all the secrecy?"

"It was a surprise!" I cried. "Plus, it's her birthday..."

"Then why isn't it a surprise for her?" he asked.

"Because she's scary," I responded immediately. "I mean, um, because they're
HER connections. Besides, it's more fun this way."

And it had been. John hadn't been able to get all Johnish about the whole
affair and insist I not blow the bank on the tickets, or spend hours on the
phone with sketchy scalping characters. In other areas of life it's
invaluable, but for acquiring tickets like these, Johnishness is NOT an asset!

John was giving me that look I had grown very familiar with over the last six
years. It said something along the lines of "You're a strange one, Tris
Cates, and I've given up on understanding the finer workings of your logical

I looked at him from under my lashes. "Well, I suppose we'd better get
ready," I said hastily. "I mean, you know how Mary Ann gets if she thinks
people are going to make her late to the game and-"

"Mary Ann lives in 14C, doesn't she?"

"Um. Yes."

John took my elbow and drew me gently toward the kitchen. Just outside the
doorway he tipped his head back, gesturing upwards. "Up there?"

"Yeeees..." I dragged out the word.


I looked at the ceiling. Damn, still there. I'd sort of been hoping the
Plaster Fairy would visit overnight. Who knew our umbrellas were so...¦sharp?

"I'm sorry!" I said quickly.

"For what?" he demanded.

"For making our ceiling look like Swiss cheese?" I ventured.

John almost smiled. "Honestly, Tris...¦"

I chanced another look. It wasn't THAT bad. Talk about overreaction! Sure,
there were a couple holes in the plaster where the umbrella tip had poked,
but it wasn't like the ceiling was going to cave in or anything. And
talking in Morse Code with an umbrella on the ceiling had a certain 007
allure, I had to admit...¦and was perfectly harmless! Really! And it had been
HER idea.

Typical John. He was probably still annoyed we hadn't gotten the maintenance
deposit back on our first rental apartment, just because I ACCIDENTALLY
super-glued the kitchen chairs to the floor (long story).

"Johhhn," I whined, seeing what he intended and hoping to drag it out long
enough that we ran out of time.

"Would you like some cheese with that whine?" he asked politely. He glanced
up at the ceiling. "Swiss cheese, perhaps?"

Oh, he thinks he's SO funny.

Swiftly I changed my tune. Maybe by agreeing with him I could stave this off.

"The ceiling looks awful. Awful!" I cried. John took my hand and led me
toward the living room couch.

"Yup," he said cheerfully.

"I shouldn't have poked those holes. Really." John sat down on the couch.


"That's quite a bit of damage," I observed. John tugged me between his knees,
hands busy at the fly of my jeans.


"I'll certainly never hit the ceiling with stuff again," I said reverently.
John stripped my pants down to my knees and drew me over his lap.


"I've learned an important life lesson," I added hopefully. John pulled my
boxer briefs down below my buttocks - without even admiring them (either the
underwear OR the rear end), the cad!


"I'm terribly sorry," I said as sincerely as I could. "I mean, I could have
pulled the ceiling dowOW!" I yelped as his hand descended sharply.

"Did you have something to say, Tris?"

"Uh...we're going to be late for the game?" I asked doubtfully. John responded
with a thorough volley of smacks across both cheeks.

"Why am I spanking you?" he asked.

"I already told you!" I snapped. I mean, hadn't I gone over and OVER my sins
and - OW!

"Let's be more general," he suggested. "Let's move away from the holes in
the ceiling...¦"

"You want to MOVE?" I squeaked. "It's not damaged THAT badly! I mean, I'm
sure they can fix it and -"

"Good decision making!" he cut me off. "Good decision making does not
involve a grown man poking holes in the ceiling with an umbrella."

Did he want an answer? "Yup?" I chanced.

He responded with a few swats to the backs of my thighs.


"All right, I'll make better decisions," I amended. "Okay?"

"Tris, this is not Let's Make a Deal," he responded, a smile evident in his
voice. "It's not either or. You WILL make better decisions and I WILL
finish this-"

The familiar sound of the front-door buzzer interrupted him. I froze in my
not very dignified position, jeaned legs dangling to the floor, sprawled
sunny-side-up over John's lap. "The door!" I hissed.

"Hey! Boys! Are you ready or WHAT?" A loud voice demanded.

"I thought those doors were supposed to be soundproof," I whispered.

"That won't stop her," John whispered back. He righted me, helped me adjust
my clothes. "Coming!"

"We'll finish this later," he added firmly as we headed for the door. Ha!
Not likely. I would just distract him before then. I put a hand back to rub
my burning rear. It stung but certainly nowhere like a full-on spanking.
Really I'd gotten away with nothing more than a handful of hard swats. It
wouldn't sting for more than a couple of hours.

John pulled the door open. "Mary Ann!" he cried enthusiastically.

She peered up at him, hands on hips. "Took you long enough," she said

I watched her face as she took in my rumpled clothing and our flushed cheeks.
"Oh! Well, don't stop anything on MY account," she purred, blinking
enormous blue eyes. "Should I come back? Or, better yet, I could stay."

That's our Mary Ann. Sometimes she's good - but when she's bad, she's
better. If only we HAD been doing what she'd thought we had!

"No, we're fine. We're ready to go." I elbowed John. "Aren't we?"

"Yes, we can just finish this discussion later," John said agreeably.

I stared. Was this good luck or bad? At least it meant he wasn't going to
send Mary Ann back upstairs while he finished roasting my rear.

But then again, it probably wasn't good luck so much as sheer terror of what
Mary Ann would do if we made her late for the game.

"Tris and I were just discussing the merits of Greek life," John said
pleasantly. "Weren't we, darling?"

"Um," I said, eyeing Mary Ann nervously.

"I wasn't in a fraternity," John explained, taking his keys off the hook and
tossing a light jacket to me. "But my roommate in college was, and I
observed some of their habits and rituals through him. Isn't that right?"

"Yeah," I said weakly, starting to feel a bit less than lucky.

"That's all right. We'll talk later," John said kindly, ruffling my hair.
"We have so very much to discuss."

"Isn't marriage a wonderful thing?" John asked Mary Ann dreamily, escorting
us both to the elevator. "Why, you never run out of things to talk about."

"John, wait!" I grabbed him as the elevator doors opened. "We forgot the
stadium seat cushions!"

His eyes twinkled.

"No, we didn't," he said, hustling me inside as the doors clicked shut and we
plummeted smoothly toward the lobby.