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Cabanela looked quite the sight, pumping the pedals and sailing along on his bike, red scarf flapping dangerously close to the wheels and yet somehow never managing to get snared in the spokes. Many had marveled about his reckless behaviour when it came to riding a bike and none had figured the secret of how he got away with it. Many heads were turning even now as he coasted along the road, whistling a cheerful tune to himself, keeping a careful eye on the traffic around him. 

"Uncle Cabanela!"

Glancing over his shoulder, Cabanela spotted another cyclist coming up behind him, lilac hair flapping from underneath her helmet. The ends of a yellow ribbon flapped around her shoulders. He pulled the bike over to the side of the road and stopped, waiting for her to catch up. 

Kamila brought her bike to a stop just behind him and took a moment to catch her breath. "Phew. Glad I caught you. I didn't want to come into the police station because Dad might have seen me."

"Oh, really?" Cabanela twisted around and rested an elbow on the handlebars, regarding her with a wry smile. He figured from the fact that Kamila had her backpack with her and was in her middle school uniform that she must have come straight from school. "I take it you're planning something and don't want him to fiiind out?"

"Bingo." Kamila tilted her head and lifted a hand to her hair, taking a strand and twisting it around her finger. Crease lines formed in her brow. "You're not busy right now, are you?"

"Hmm, not especially. I was just gonna head on home and come over later, but I can make time for you. So, what's the deal, baby?"

"Well, you see, I'm planning a big surprise." Kamila rested her arms on the handles of her bike, her eyes gleaming. "Mom and Dad can't know about it, you see, and I'm trying to get other people involved too. Actually, speaking of other people, would it be okay if we went to see Grandpa? I can explain everything there."

"Oh, the Professor? Suuure, why not, it's been a while since I last saw him so I guess I'm due another visit." Cabanela placed his feet back on the pedals and gripped the handlebars. "Well then, off we go."

Cabanela and Kamila took off, riding their bikes in unison all the way to the edge of town, their journey taking them into the junkyard. They rode their bikes up to the superintendent's office and dismounted. Kamila hurried in first.

"Grandpa!" Kamila called out, looking around. The office was empty. Reaching a hand out to the kettle on the stove, she felt a faint heat rising out of the spout. "Hmm, maybe he's downstairs."

Cabanela gracefully leaped into the room, doing a twirl. Stopping in place, he kicked his leg up into the air, swayed his arms in a brisk motion and finished it off with a dramatic twist of his head. Kamila watched all this with a blank look.

"You know, I've often wondered this," she said, placing a hand to her cheek, "but do you do that even when coming into an empty room?"

"Ha! But of course, baby, it's veeery important to do everything you can with flair." Cabanela hopped slightly to the side, resting a hand on his hip while his gaze scanned the room. "Suppose he must be down in the basement."

"I guess so, but, Uncle, what's the point of showing off if there's nobody else to see it?"

"It's the principle of the thing, you see. I gotta keep on moooving, no matter what. It's okay if you don't get it, nobody else really does either." Cabanela finished off his statement with a jovial smile.

"Hmm. Okay. Well, I think you're pretty cool anyway, Uncle Cabanela, so keep on dancing."

"Why, thaaank you, baby."

Kamila scampered off through the door, racing down the stairs. Entering the basement, she spied the elderly man sitting in an armchair, clutching a steaming mug of tea in his hands while he gazed at the television. "Grandpa!"

The professor gave a start, blinking and looking up. "Honestly, couldn't you knock next time? You'll give me a heart attack at this rate. Also, I ain't your grandpa, kid." He rose to his feet. The blue pigeon perched on his head shifted about, flapping her wings.

Kamila bounced over and threw her arms around him. "How are you, Grandpa?" She stepped back and reached out to stroke the pigeon's head with a finger. "Hello, Lovey-Dove." The pigeon responded with a soft coo.

"I've been fine, thank you. These old bones of mine are mighty tired as usual but otherwise I'm in perfectly good health."

"That's good. So, has Lovey-Dove been using the bird bath I made for her?"

"Oh, yes, she likes it very much. Thank you, it was very thoughtful of you." The professor looked aside at the twirling inspector who had just made his entrance. "Well, if it isn't Cabanela. Been a while since you last showed your face here."

"So sorry about that, Professor! I've been pretty busy working on a case but it's all wrapped up now. You know you're welcome to pop over to Jowd's whenever you're feelin' lonely, we're always theeere for you."

"Hmph." Pushing his glasses up his nose, the professor remarked, "Whoever said anything about being lonely? I was just afraid you might have sprained an ankle or something with all that ridiculous dancing of yours."

"Ha!" Cabanela's face brightened. "Like a sprained ankle could get in my way. Even broken bones wouldn't stop me!"

"Yeah right." Shaking his head, the professor turned his attention to Kamila. "So what brings you here?"

"Right. Well, you see, my parents' anniversary is coming up soon." Kamila clasped her hands behind her back.

"Ahh, I figured that was what it was about." Cabanela leaned against a table. "You're planning sooomething special for the big day, is that it?"

"That's right, but I'm going to need your help. I want to get all the family together for the day and throw Mom and Dad a surprise party!" Kamila spread her arms wide. "But to do that, I'm going to need to get them out of the house first and that's where you'll come in, Uncle Cabanela. They won't get suspicious if it's you."

"Hold on, what does this have to do with me?"

Kamila turned her gaze on the pigeon man, blinking in puzzlement "Whatever do you mean? You're invited of course."

"Hm? You said 'get all the family together' so..."

"Yes, and you're like my grandpa so I want you to come as well," Kamila said, beaming at him. "There's no way I would just leave you out. You will come, won't you?"

"Huh. Well." He lowered his head, causing Lovey-Dove to shift around in an effort to sustain her balance. Raising his head, he spoke again. "I think I can find the time. Not like I have much of a schedule anyway."

"Yay!" Kamila's face brightened even more and she hugged him again. "I'm so glad. It would be so sad if you couldn't make it, Grandpa."

"Honestly, how many times must I tell you, I ain't your grandpa." In spite of his protest, his voice sounded considerably softer. He gazed down at the floor, blinking rapidly.

"Give it up, Professor, she's adopted you and there's no poooint in arguing with her. So, anybody else you're inviting?"

"Lynne and Missile, of course. Hmm, I think it wouldn't hurt to invite some family friends as well so I might invite Amelie and her parents too, and how about Mr. Yomiel, do you think he might want to come too?"

"I could ask him, it wouldn't hurt. I could take care of asking the justice minister too if you want."

"Really? That would be super helpful, thanks."

"No problem, baby, I'm veeery happy to help. Sounds like it's  going to be quite the lively party. The more the merrier, as they say."

"Yeah. I want to make this a really fun party that everyone will remember." Kamila turned around to face the professor. "Well, I'll let you know when I've decided on the time. I hope you'll be able to make it."

"Don't worry, I expect I will. Junkyard superintendent is hardly a demanding job." There was a pause, before he spoke again. "You know, I really appreciate your thinking of me. It's nice to be included."

"Oh, come on, like we'd ever think of leavin' you out."

"That's right, you're like a member of our family now," Kamila added.

"Right." The professor swallowed. "Well then, I expect you'd better be getting on, then?"

"I'll come for a proper visit next time, promise. Look forward to seeing you soon," Kamila said, hugging him. "Bye, Grandpa!"

"Take care, Professor."

The professor watched them leave then reached up to rub a wet eye. He sank back down into the armchair and exhaled. "Well, Lovey-Dove. It sure is nice to have a family, isn't it?"

Lovey-Dove responded with a coo. With a smile on his face, he reached up to stroke her head.

Cabanela and Kamila had hopped onto their bikes and ridden back to the entrance, where Cabanela stopped. "So, what's your next plan of action?"

"Hmm." Kamila put her hand on her chin. "You're taking care of Mr. Yomiel and the justice minister, so that just leaves Lynne, right? But I can't go into the police station. I really would like to tell her as soon as possible though."

"Lynne's working on a case, so I expect she'll be late home tonight."

"Will she?" Kamila was silent for a moment before her face lit up. "Oh, I know! Mom's making curry tonight so maybe I can take some leftovers to Lynne, and even take Missile for a walk too, he would really love that."

"That sounds like a wonderful idea, baby. This plan is goin' to go off without a hitch, I'm suuure. Anyhoot, I'll be seein' you all later, and I'll be sure to let Yomiel know before I come over, yeah?"

"Great. Thank you so much for the help, Uncle Cabanela."

"No need to thaaank me, baby. I'm always happy to do you a favour, you know, and gettin' to actually surprise Jowd is something I just caaan't resist the thought of."

"Hehe. Yeah, I want to see that too." Kamila grinned. "Well then, I'll see you later!"

The two of them set off, giving each other a wave as they went their separate ways. 

***

Yomiel's fingers were practically a blur as they tapped away on the keyboard. His keen eyes were trained on the monitor, watching the lines of code scroll by on the monitor, ready to spot any errors that popped up right away.

"Yomiel! I'm home!"

The sudden voice made him jolt. A glance at his watch told him it was already evening. How time flew when he was working. Rubbing his eyes, he pushed back the chair and slumped against it, a long sigh escaping his body. An ache was already building up in the back of his eyeballs, he realised. Definitely a good idea to take a break. Picking up a mug containing dregs of coffee that had gone cold a long time ago, he made his way to the kitchen. Sissel was there, pulling the ice bucket off the cabinet which she set down next to the bag of ice sitting on the counter.

"Hey." Yomiel walked up and slipped his arms around Sissel's waist from behind. "Good to have you home."

Sissel twisted her body round and hugged him back, giving him a kiss as she did so. "Hey, sweetie. Have you been working hard?"

"Of course. I've got a big project on at the moment."

"I hope you didn't forget to eat lunch."

"Of course not, I've even installed a program that reminds me to do so."

"Good. Keeping healthy is very important, you know." Sissel turned her attention to the bag of ice and tore it open. She then upended it and emptied the contents into the bucket before reaching for a bottle of champagne that Yomiel hadn't noticed until now.

"Champagne? What's the occasion?"

"I can't just feel like drinking champagne?" Sissel flashed a smile at him over her shoulder, a small laugh bubbling through her lips. "But seriously though, I've got some really good news." She pushed the bottle down into the ice before turning around to face Yomiel with a big grin on her face. "Guess who's got a recording contract?"

"What?" Yomiel stared at her, his mouth hanging open. "You mean, you've been picked up by a studio?"

"That's right!" Sissel did a little hop, raising her fists to her chest. "They actually want me to put out a CD. I've finally made it!"

"Oh, gods. Wow, that's fantastic." Yomiel pulled Sissel into a hug. Breaking away, he held onto her with a big smile. "I'm so happy for you, Sissel. This is amazing. You're finally achieving your dream."

"I can hardly believe it." Sissel slipped her arms around Yomiel and buried her face in his chest, a deep sigh welling up from inside of her. "It feels so unreal, you know? I never thought I'd actually be noticed, but, well, here we are. I'm going to make it big. People are going to know my name."

"This really is so wonderful." Yomiel kissed the top of Sissel's head and stroked her hair. "You've dreamed of this for so long and now you're actually going to be famous. You know, after all we've been through, it's fantastic that our lives have turned around like this."

"I know. We've been through so much. It took years before we could even get married but now here we are." Sissel raised her head, looking up at him with moist eyes. "Happily married with promising futures ahead of us." She placed her hands against Yomiel's chest. "Now then, what should we get for dinner? Since we're celebrating, it ought to be takeout. Does sushi sound good?"

"That sounds great."

After the sushi order had been made, Yomiel and Sissel relocated to the living room, plopping themselves next to each other on the couch while they waited for the champagne to chill. Sissel snuggled up to Yomiel and he held her in his warm embrace, burying his face in her hair and inhaling the scent of her perfume.

"It's like a dream," Sissel whispered. "All these years I worked so hard, doing gigs, playing the piano, and singing, it all paid off at last. There was a time when it all seemed hopeless, but I pulled through anyway because I knew the day would come when things would finally look up."

"You mean when I was in prison, right?" Yomiel stroked her hair. "I know it was hard on you, Sissel, and I really am so sorry."

"No, no, don't be silly." Sissel caressed his cheek. "You were in a terrible situation that day."

"But, still, I wish I hadn't lost control like that. I was a coward. I ran away and made a bad situation even worse."

Sissel let her hand drop onto his shoulder, gazing at him with a sad smile. "But at least we're here now, with our lives in order, so that's all that matters, isn't it? I love you so much, you know?"

"I know." Yomiel kissed her tenderly. "And I love you too."

They continued to sit there for a long while, just resting in each other's arms, until Sissel decided the champagne had to be ready and went to fetch it. Just as she was leaving the room, the phone rang. Yomiel headed into his office to answer it. "Hello?"

"Hey there, Yomiel, how are things goin' with you?"

Yomiel raised an eyebrow slightly. "Hello, Inspector. It's unusual of you to call. Things are fine, well, pretty good actually. My wife has got a contract with a studio and we're about to celebrate."

"Oh? Marvellous. Tell her congratulations from me."

"Will do." Yomiel sat on the desk. "Anyway, I imagine this isn't just a social call, so what's up?"

"Are you and your wife both free Friday this week by any chaaance?"

"Friday? Hm. I certainly don't have anything scheduled, but I'll have to ask Sissel. How come you're asking?"

"It's Jowd and Alma's wedding anniversary on that day, you see."

"Ah. I see." Yomiel fiddled with the phone cord. "I guess you're doing something to celebrate?"

"Indeed. There's going to be a surprise party. We're keepin' it secret from Jowd and Alma."

"Heh." Yomiel's mouth curved in a smirk. "I feel like Jowd would sniff something like that out right away. So, you're telling me this because?"

"You're both invited, of cooourse."

"I am?" Yomiel tensed a little. Not that he minded being included in social occasions, but the thought of being invited to a party at Jowd's house, especially to celebrate something like a wedding anniversary, made him feel just a little bit uncomfortable. He wasn't looking terribly forward to being involved in festivities in that house where he once murdered a woman. While he may have had plenty of time to come to terms with that unsavoury part of his past, it could still be awkward. "Are you sure about this?"

"Well, why not, it's a party after all and the more people there are, the livelier it will be. This is a celebration, baby. Also, Kamila wants you to come. You wouldn't dreeeam of saying no to her now, would you?"

Well, Yomiel hadn't intended on refusing. The cat would be disappointed in him, Jowd too probably, they wanted nothing more than for him to put his past behind him. He was gradually becoming part of their circle, and one such result of that was becoming acquainted with Detective Jowd's daughter. Kamila was a curious young girl who had taken an interest in his hobbies. It had been strange at first to spend time with that girl whose life he had ruined in another timeline but he gradually became more comfortable with it. Now that he knew Kamila was behind this invitation, he really couldn't refuse. How could he ever disappoint her?

"Alright, I'll come then. Hopefully Sissel can make it as well."

"Greeeat. Once I know when the party is going to be, I'll let you know."

"Sure. Thanks. Well then, bye." Yomiel hung up and returned to the living room, finding Sissel back on the sofa. A bottle of champagne sat on the coffee table, next to two flute glasses. 

"Hey. What was that about?"

"That was Inspector Cabanela. He says congratulations, by the way." Yomiel sat down and reached for the bottle. "Seems it's Jowd and Alma's wedding anniversary, and their daughter's throwing a surprise party for them." There was a soft pop as he pulled the cork from the bottle. 

"A surprise party!" Sissel exclaimed. "That's so sweet. So we're invited, then?"

"Yeah. You're free on Friday, right?"

"Absolutely. Ahh, I can't even remember the last time I went to a party." Sissel slumped back on the cushions, a sigh slipping through her upturned lips. "It's so nice to be included."

Yomiel picked up a glass and tilted it. The champagne fizzled as it was poured into the glass. He handed the glass over to Sissel then filled his own.

Sissel held out her glass and Yomiel clinked his own against hers. "Cheers." She brought the glass to her lips and took a sip. The cool liquid was deliciously refreshing and fizzy. "Here's to our future."

Yomiel exchanged a smile with Sissel before sipping at his drink. It had been a long and bumpy ride but now here they were. Things really were looking up and he couldn't be happier.

***

After everyone had eaten dinner, Kamila had put some of the leftover curry and rice into a container before heading off to Lynne's apartment. Since she had a key to the place, it would be possible for her to just let herself in. While she was off doing that particular duty, Jowd, Alma and Cabanela were relaxing on the sofa, all of them feeling comfortably full and content after a delicious dinner.

"So," Cabanela said, in a casual tone, draping his arm over the back of the sofa. "Your wedding anniversary is this Friday."

"Oh?" Jowd responded with mock surprise. "Why, I had absolutely no idea." Looking at Alma, he added, "Did you?"

Alma met her husband's gaze, letting out a little laugh. "Thank you for the reminder, Cabanela. Yes, it is our anniversary soon, what of it?"

"I'm sure you would have let me know, but just to be suuure, you're definitely not plannin' on doing anything, right?"

"Not especially, no." Jowd folded his arms, his brow creasing. "It's not like it's a milestone this year, so I suppose we'll just do the same as usual, which is not much at all. Why, do you want to do something?"

Cabanela lifted a hand into the air. "Let's just say, I might have an idea. What if I took you both out somewhere after work? Nothing faaancy, maybe just go to that nice little bar, Gates of Heaven? Listen to some songs while we're there?"

"That sounds like a lovely idea." Alma rested her cheek in her hand. "What brought this on all of a sudden?"

Cabanela shrugged, smiling. "Do I neeed an excuse to treat my two favourite people? It's a very special day after all, and I want to make you feel special."

"Fair enough." Jowd shrugged. "I'm up for it. Just the three of us, having drinks and listening to songs, it doesn't seem like a bad way to spend the evening."

"Mmm. It sounds delightful. I'm looking forward to it. Thank you, Cabanela, that's so sweet of you."

"Aw, it's no big deal. Just wanted to show you my appreciation, that's all. It's your special day and you deseeerve it." Cabanela reached for his glass of wine, letting a quiet sigh of relief pass through his lips. 

***

Lynne trudged into her apartment and dropped her bag, reaching up to massage an aching shoulder. "Ahh." After a long day at work, she wanted nothing more than to get herself a glass of wine, but first she would have to take Missile, wait, where was Missile? He was usually right there at the door when she came in. Glancing at the cabinet, she caught sight of a slip of paper and picked it up.

'Lynne,' the note read, 'I heard you would be late home tonight so I brought some dinner over. It's in the fridge. Taken Missile for a walk. If you haven't come back by the time I've returned him, I'll call you later. Kamila.'

"Oh, wow. Kamila, you're amazing." Lynne felt ready to cry tears of relief. Having to take Missile out before she could relax with a drink had seemed like a daunting prospect, and she had been fully prepared to order takeout for dinner but getting homemade cooking was even better. She made her way into the kitchen and took out the container and a bottle of wine from the fridge. The delicious aroma of the curry made her mouth fill with saliva. Just a few minutes in the microwave and it was ready to eat. 

Lynne was tucking into the curry when Kamila entered with a panting Pomeranian at her side. She unclipped Missile's leash and he scampered over to Lynne's feet, turning his pleading eyes on her.

"Hi, Lynne." Kamila came over to the table. "I'm glad to see you."

"Thank you so much for this, Kamila. Seriously, you have no idea how grateful I am."

"No problem." Kamila clasped her hands behind her back. She smiled, letting out a small chuckle. "I'm always happy to help my big sis out. Uncle Cabanela told me you might be late home tonight so I figured I'd lend a hand."

"I'm sure Missile was happy to see you. I really should have let you know I was going to be busy." Lynne rubbed Missile's head. "Good thing Cabanela said something. Sorry, Missile, sometimes I just get lost in my work."

"Oh, I'm sure Missile understands. You're a detective after all. Being a hero of justice isn't an easy job." Kamila sat herself down opposite Lynne. "It's good, isn't it? The curry."

"Mmm, yes. So good."

"Mom makes great curry." Kamila rested her cheek in her hand. "I've tried making it a few times, but it's never really the same. Maybe I just need more practice."

"I think you're a good cook too, Kamila. I've always liked the meals you've made."

"Really?" Kamila's face lit up. "Thanks. I've just to keep trying. Anyway, there's something I wanted to ask you about. You think you can make some free time Friday evening?"

"I can certainly try. Why, what's up?"

"It's my mom and dad's wedding anniversary on that day and I've decided to throw them a surprise party. Uncle Cabanela's involved too. It would be great if you could be there."

"Oh, wow." Lynne's eyes lit up. "A surprise party? Alright, count me in! I'll be prepared to help in any way I can, so please don't hesitate to ask."

"You want to help?"

"Of course!" Lynne declared, her face stretching in a grin. "I'll do my best to ensure that this goes off without a hitch. You can count on me. After all, what are big sisters for? Hm." Placing a hand to her chin, she looked thoughtful. "You'll have to get party things, and-"

"We've got the whole week to figure it out, so you don't need to think about it now."

"Alright, alright, but, wow, a surprise party. Thinking about it just makes me so excited." Lynne pumped her arms. "I love parties! Especially surprise ones!"

Missile joined in with a bark.

"And of course you're invited too, Missile." Kamila reached out to pet him, laughing gently. She got to her feet. "Well then, it's getting dark, so I'd better head home now. We'll talk another time, alright?"

"Alright then. Bye, Kamila! And thanks again!"

With a wave, Kamila made her exit. Lynne gazed at the door, then looked down at Missile, who was still staring in the direction Kamila had gone. She reached down to rub his head, causing him to look up at her. Missile's tail thumped against the floor as he started licking her hand.

"Kamila is amazing, don't you think? I'm so glad to have an honorary little sister like her."

Missile barked again, wagging his tail even harder.

***

The week flew by, with Kamila, Cabanela and Lynne preparing for the party behind the scenes. At no point did Jowd or Alma come to suspect that there was anything going on. Finally, the day itself came around and the adults all went to work as usual. In the evening, Jowd and Alma arrived home and waited for Cabanela, who soon came along on his bicycle. They were just about to leave for the bar when Lynne turned up with Missile in tow. 

Once the door had closed behind the trio, Lynne turned to Kamila, who was currently indulged in receiving a torrent of affection from the exuberant Pomeranian, valiantly defending herself against an onslaught of licks.

"Okay, Missile, that's enough." Kamila patted his head, laughing. "Lynne and I have got work to do. We're throwing them a party, so we've got to get everything ready."

Missile gave a short bark and backed away, wagging his tail.

"Alright, it's finally time!" Lynne put her hands on her hips. Her face was glowing with a big smile stretching from ear to ear. "We're going to throw them a great surprise party!"

"You've got everything, right?"

"Yup, it's all here. Cabanela brought everything over and it's in the trunk of my car, so let's go get it all out."

"Okay." Kamila followed Lynne out the door. "We'd better hurry, it won't be long now before the guests start arriving."

Lynne and Kamila got to work, putting up decorations around the room and preparing food in the kitchen. Meanwhile, Missile occupied himself by playing with Sissel and occasionally racing out into the yard through the open back door. He understood well enough that the two ladies were not to be disturbed as they worked on their task. Soon enough, the room was looking festive and food was on the table, with more in the oven.

"It looks great," Kamila said as she surveyed the room. "Mom and Dad are going to be so surprised. They don't suspect a thing."

"Haha. I can't wait to see the looks on their faces." Lynne carried some cutlery and napkins out of the kitchen, which she dropped onto the table. "We did well keeping it a secret. Detective Jowd is pretty sharp so I was worried he might figure it out."

"Yeah, but we were really careful not to give it away. Whew. I'm so glad we pulled it off." Kamila glanced down at the kitten weaving around her legs and picked him up, stroking his fur. "Now we just wait." The words were barely out of her mouth when the doorbell rang. "Oh? Looks like the first guests are here." Kamila set the cat down and hurried over to answer the door. The justice minister, Emma and Amelie stood on the other side.

"Amelie!" Kamila exclaimed, throwing her arms around her friend. ""It's good to see you. I'm glad you could all make it."

"Hi, Kamila." Amelie flashed her an equally happy smile. "I've really been looking forward to this. I love parties."

"I had to twist my husband's arm to get him to come," said Emma. "He gets far too wrapped up in his work sometimes."

"This coming from the woman who stays up all night working on her novels?" The justice minister shook his head with a smile on his face. "You know fully well how busy the job of a justice minister is."

Emma responded with a light scoff. "Come on, dear, you can afford to take an evening off once in a while. As for my novel writing, deadlines are a very big deal in the world of publishing. Every minute counts."

"Oh, boy, there they go again. Mama, Papa, can't you stop talking about your jobs for five minutes?" Amelie rolled her eyes as she stepped into the house. Her parents followed her in and Kamila closed the door behind them. "It's a party, you know!" she added. "We're here to enjoy ourselves, so what does it matter if you take just one night off?"

Emma picked an empty wine glass off the table. "Ahh, to be young and unaware of the troubles of living in an adult world. Here's to my innocent and oblivious daughter!"

"Darling, you're toasting with an empty glass."

"I know that! Now where's that wine? I need a glass of red."

"Coming up!" Lynne hurried over with a bottle. "It's so nice to see you both. Thanks for coming."

"Who are you calling innocent and oblivious?" Amelie muttered with a slight scowl, blowing out a puff of air that ruffled her bangs. She looped her arm around Kamila's. "So, what's been happening? Anything interesting?" The two girls walked away as they launched into a conversation, leaving the adults to talk among themselves.

A short while later, the doorbell rang again. This time, Yomiel had turned up with Sissel.

"Mr. Yomiel! And Miss Sissel too!" Kamila greeted them. "I'm so glad you could both make it."

"We wouldn't miss this party for the world," said Yomiel, as they came inside.

"Hello, Kamila. It's so nice to see you." Sissel embraced her, pecking her cheek. "Throwing a surprise party for your parents, that's so incredibly sweet of you."

"Hehe." Kamila's smile turned bashful and she clasped her hands behind her back, fidgeting. "I just wanted to do something nice for them. I'm really glad you could come, I'm sure Mr. Yomiel is very busy with his computer stuff."

"I have the option of working from home at least so that helps," said Yomiel. "If you like, you could come over sometime soon, we could fly drones again. You had fun doing that, didn't you?"

"Uh huh." Kamila nodded. "I really did. Maybe one day I'll try making my own. But, you know, what I'd really like to do is learn how to make a game. You are going to teach me someday, aren't you?"

"When I have the time. It's alright, I haven't forgotten, it's just not something you learn in five minutes."

"Okay, but I'm supposed to be a really fast learner, you know?"

"Oh, I know. I'm sure you would pick programming up in no time at all."

"You really like to make things, don't you?" Sissel tilted her head.

"Yeah, I can make all sorts of cool toys and gadgets. I like to make things that are fun and that people will enjoy."

"Very impressive." Sissel patted Kamila's shoulder. "A bright girl like you is going to do really well in the future."

"Yeah, I don't doubt it," said Yomiel. "We'll be cheering you on. I'll be ready to help you whenever too."

"Thanks. I'm going to work really hard."

"Well, hello there, Sissel dear!" Emma came over to embrace Sissel with one arm, pecking her cheek. "It's so lovely to see you."

"And it's great to see you too." Sissel hugged her back. "How are things?"

"Fantastic. I've just started a new romance novel and it's going brilliantly. I'm sure it's going to be a real hit."

"Is that so? I look forward to reading it."

"Hello, Yomiel, Sissel. Thanks for coming." Lynne had drifted over as well. "Can I get you two a drink?"

"Hello, Lynne. Nice to see you," said Sissel. "A glass of white for me, thanks."

"I'll have a beer."

"Sure thing!" Lynne hurried away.

"Well, hello." The justice minister approached. "It's nice to see you, Sissel. Ahh, and this must be your husband, I take it?"

Yomiel swallowed, shifting his head in a small nod. "Yes. I'm Yomiel. It's a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Minister."

"Oh? You're quite sharp." The justice minister raised his eyebrows. "You've already figured out that I'm the justice minister."

"Oh. Uh. Er." Yomiel averted his gaze, eyes meeting with the kitten's.

"Whoops." The world flared red around him and he found himself looking at Sissel's spirit form. "You slipped a little there, didn't you?"

"I can't believe I just messed up like that! I've been so careful about not saying the wrong thing, and now to go and slip up!"

"It's not that bad, Yomiel, relax. It isn't that weird you'd know who he is, your wives are friends. Detective Jowd used to keep messing up too. New timelines can be a really confusing thing. I'm impressed you've lasted this long."

"Yeah. Yeah, I suppose you're right." Yomiel drew in a deep breath. "It's not that big a deal. I just feel so awkward right now, thinking about how I manipulated this man, caused him to wallow in agony for a whole month, and even tried to have his daughter kidnapped. Gods. This isn't easy, Sissel."

"I know. You're doing very well, Yomiel. Hang in there."

"I'm glad you're here." Yomiel smiled. "It really helps. Believe me, I wish I could just put it all behind me and not think about it. I really appreciate Jowd, and even Kamila, trying to include me. I'm not sure I deserve it sometimes."

"Come on, Yomiel, don't start wallowing in self-pity now. It's a party. Enjoy yourself."

Yomiel gave him a wry look. "You make it sound so easy."

"Well, just do what you can. Anyway, you're not going to spend all evening talking to a ghost, are you?"

"Alright, alright." Turning his attention back to the justice minister, Yomiel coughed and forced a smile. "I mean, it looked as if you were here with Emma so I just assumed."

The justice minister chuckled. "It's quite alright. A pleasure to meet you."

"Likewise." Yomiel shook the hand that was offered to him.

"Here you go." Lynne had returned with the drinks, which she handed over.

"Thank you." Yomiel took a sip and smacked his lips, exhaling. 

Sissel looked around at the cluster of adults. Kamila had already slipped away to join Amelie in fussing over Missile. "Well, we've got a lively gathering going on here now, haven't we? I can't wait to share my good news."

"Oh, good news?" Emma swirled her wine around. "Now you've got my interest."

"Sorry, but I think I'll wait for Alma and the others to turn up first."

"Ah, yes, fair enough. Then we can all celebrate together."

"There's plenty of champagne too," Lynne added. "So you don't have to worry about that."

"Great!" Sissel beamed.

"Better keep an eye on Amelie, she might try to sneak some. That girl, I swear." Emma shook her head. "She really thinks I don't notice if she goes sneaking sips here and there, but I do."

"Teenagers, huh?" Sissel smiled wryly, looking over at the two girls. "She seems quite taken with that cute little dog."

"Ugh. Dogs." Emma shuddered. "I can't stand their incessant barking. And those people who don't pick up after them! It's infuriating, let me tell you! Even though there are severe fines for dog fouling, they do it anyway." Pausing to take a sip, she added. "That dog is a little odd, you know?"

"Er, how so?" Lynne asked. 

"I've only met him a few times, but every time, I swear it seems like he's afraid of me or something! I've only ever been nice to him, so what's up with that?"

"Hm. I can't imagine why," Lynne replied, keeping her face blank.

"I take it you're never going to have a dog in your family then?" Yomiel asked in an aside to the justice minister.

"No chance," the minister replied. "Amelie's often asked for a pet, but it's difficult. Emma dislikes dogs and cats. She might consider a caged animal though."

"Why wouldn't she want a cat?"

"She likes to keep things clean and tidy, and we have a lot of expensive furniture and stuff, you see. Also, imagine if it was to jump onto her typewriter. That would be the end of the poor thing."

"Ah." Yomiel swallowed, glancing at Emma. "Yes. I see. Better not to get one, then."

The doorbell chimed once more. Kamila hurried to answer the door, finding the professor standing there. Lovey-Dove, perched on his head, flapped her wings and cooed.

"Hello, hope I'm not late."

"Grandpa!" Kamila threw her arms around him. The professor brought an arm up to pat her back. She released him and stepped back. "I'm glad you could come. Come on in."

The professor shuffled in, surveying the room. "Well, I see you've got quite the gathering already. Looks like this party is going to be a success. Jowd doesn't suspect a thing, eh?"

"Not at all." Kamila grinned. "Mom and Dad are with Uncle Cabanela right now. Actually, now that you're here, I'd better make the call." She hurried away.

"Hmm." The professor's gaze swept around the room, taking in the brightly decorated scenery. "How long has it been since I last saw a scene like this?" It was a heartening thing to see, especially knowing of another reality, one where his career change came about because of a strange corpse. In this particular timeline, it had been an urge to retire. Jowd had suggested he research a mysterious meteorite and shown him his undead, magical cat. He'd still ended up a junkyard superintendent, but at least this time he wasn't keeping a murder machine in the basement.

Something soft rubbed against his leg and he heard a mew. "Well, hello there, little black cat." Kneeling down, he held up his hand. "You want to say hello, Lovey-Dove?" The pigeon responded by hopping onto his finger. "There we go." He lowered his hand until the pigeon and kitten were face to face. Lovey-Dove let out a soft coo and Sissel responded by rubbing his head against Lovey-Dove's chest. "There's a good kitten." Of course, Sissel was the only feline the professor could ever trust around his beloved pigeon. He still remembered the day Jowd brought the kitten to his house. He had been terrified for Lovey-Dove's sake in spite of Jowd's reassurances. Now he knew well enough Sissel would never so much as lay a claw on her. 

"Now then." The professor straightened himself and Lovey-Dove returned to his head. "Let's get started with this whole socialising thing. Hope I'm not too rusty." He shuffled over to the group of adults, with the cat tailing him. "Hello. Having a fine party so far, are we?"

"Hello, professor," said Yomiel. "Good to see you." He picked up Sissel and started stroking him. "Life treating you well?"

"I'd say it's about the same as ever."

"Hi, there!" Lynne said cheerfully. "Do you want a drink?"

"Just water for me, thanks, I don't drink and drive."

"Same here, I'm staying sober while my wife gets to drink the night away." The justice minister cocked a glance at Emma, who was deep in conversation with Sissel, telling her all about the antics of her neighbours. "Not supposed to drink too much anyway, medical reasons and all that. You're a friend of Jowd's then?"

"That I am, used to be a coroner and worked with him on the force. Now I'm a junkyard superintendent who studies space rocks in my spare time."

"Ahh. That sounds like an interesting hobby," the justice minister said, smiling. He looked at Yomiel. "You're into computers, right?"

"Yes, I do programming, systems engineering, that sort of thing. One of the best in the industry actually, caused me quite a spot of bother. You've heard of that, right? How I was accused of being a spy. Ended up taking a child hostage."

"Yes." The justice minister nodded slowly. "I remember. Emma did mention something about you being a jailbird, though she didn't tell me the specifics."

"An unfortunate victim of circumstances, as it were," the professor said, sipping at the water that Lynne had brought him before returning to conversation with the other women. "I still can't believe anyone could be foolish enough to leave their gun in the room."

"Yes." Yomiel exhaled. "Well, I'm not proud of myself for the things I did. Mistakes were made, and I served my time for it."

"You have my condolences," said the minister. "I'm very sorry about what you had to go through."

Yomiel shook his head. "I have no hard feelings. I took a child hostage and got the sentence I deserved. That's all. Anyway, what's important is looking forward to the future, isn't it?"

"Yes, that's right. It's no use dwelling on the past," said the professor. "Just focus on the now." Adjusting his glasses, he added, "I do wonder when the others will get here, I am quite famished."

***

Soft music swelled through the bar, accompanied by a woman's dulcet tones. When her song trailed off and the music faded, everyone began clapping, Jowd, Alma and Cabanela included. The party of three were seated together in a booth, Jowd sandwiched between the others with his arms around their shoulders.

"What a lovely song," Alma murmured. With her head nestled in the crook of Jowd's shoulder and her arm draped across his body, fingers interlocked with Cabanela's, she looked utterly content. "It really takes me back."

"Mmm." Cabanela closed his eyes, smiling. The experience was only made even better when getting to cuddle up with his loved ones. "I love this place. Comin' here to chill with your friends and listen to music, there's nothin' like it, baby. Not a baaad place to be spending your wedding anniversary, eh?"

"Not at all," replied Alma. "It reminds me of when we would get serenaded during romantic dinners."

"It does, doesn't it?" A wistful gleam shone in Jowd's eyes. "We've had such lovely times together and this was no exception."

"We should do this more often," said Alma.

"Deeefinitely."

"As nice as this evening has been, I do wonder if we shouldn't be getting home soon."

"You're hungry?" Alma looked up. "To be honest, I am too, and it's getting quite late. Kamila must be wondering where we are."

Cabanela sat up straight, a brief flicker of worry passing over his face. "Hmm, are you suuure we couldn't stay for maybe one more- hm? Hang on." Feeling a vibration in his pocket, he removed his pager and checked it.

"Is something wrong?" asked Jowd.

"Not at all, just a message from Lynne. Our baby's wondering where we are." Cabanela put away the pager, a relieved smile gracing his lips. Kamila had perfect timing. "Dinner should be ready any minute now, so off we go." With that said, he hopped to his feet.

"Honestly, I am sorry we couldn't stay longer," Jowd said, rising. "But we can always come another time, yeah?"

"It really was so nice of you to bring us here." Alma got up as well. "We've had such a lovely evening."

"No need to thank me, I just wanted to do something special for the two most important people in my life." Cabanela flashed them a smile before turning around. "Well then, time we went back home." He strutted away, Jowd and Alma walking after him. They got into the car and Jowd drove them all back home.

They were walking up the drive when Cabanela cleared his throat. "If I may just saaay something?"

"Hm?" Jowd looked back at him. "What is it?"

Cabanela slung his arms over their shoulders and exhaled. "I just wanted to say that I love you both so much. It's so wonderful, being able to celebrate your anniversaries with you, getting to see you two every day, I know how luuucky we are to have this and I just, I appreciate it so much."

"Oh, Cabanela." Alma spoke in a soft voice, placing her hand on his cheek. "We love you very much too." 

"Yes. You are so very important to us." Jowd put an arm around him, pressing his lips to Cabanela's head. "I'm so glad we have you in our lives."

"You've given us such a lovely time tonight, and we'll be having many more anniversaries." Alma rubbed her hand against Cabanela's back. "Together."

Cabanela looked from Jowd to Alma, his throat filling up. Conscious of a prickling sensation washing over the back of his eyeballs, he swallowed and lowered his arms. "Anyhoot," he said, arranging his face into a cheerful smile, "now that we've had our touching moment, I dare say we better be headin' on in. Can't wait to see what's in store for dinner tonight, can you?"
"Hm, yes, I'm quite curious to see what Kamila's made for us. No doubt it's good."

Alma had already gone on ahead and opened the door. "Huh?"

"Something wrong?" Jowd came over. Alma glanced at him before venturing inside and Jowd followed, finding himself faced with a pitch black room. He slowly turned around to look at Cabanela, who strutted over and leaned against the doorway.

"Hm? The  lights aren't on?" Cabanela met Jowd's gaze with a look of pure innocence. "I wonder why."

"So, that was your game, was it?" Jowd tilted his head, smiling. "Keeping us occupied while our daughter set up a surprise for our anniversary. I'll say this much, your ploy worked. I had no idea something was going on behind the scenes."

Cabanela said nothing, smirking as he slipped inside and closed the door.

"Oh boy. What kind of contraption does our daughter have to show us this time?" Alma grasped for the switch. With a flick, light flooded the room, banishing the darkness.

"Surprise!"

Explosions followed the chorus of voices. A shower of colourful streamers flew into the air. Jowd and Alma recoiled.

A brief period of silence followed before Jowd spoke. "Okay, now that was actually a surprise. I was expecting another contraption."

"Come on, Dad." Kamila approached them with her hands on her hips, tilting her head as she smiled. "If I was going to try and surprise you, do you really think I would be so predictable?"

"Hmm." Jowd folded his arms, nodding. "Yes, I suppose you're right, that wouldn't have been a surprise at all."

Alma looked around the room, taking in every little detail. "Did you actually do this all by yourself?"

"Well, I did have some help from Lynne and Uncle Cabanela. It would have been a bit difficult to pull all this off myself." Kamila stepped forward and threw her arms around her father. "Happy anniversary, Dad." She then moved on to Alma. "Happy anniversary, Mom." Stepping back, Kamila continued speaking. "I really wanted to do something for your anniversary so I thought I'd throw you a surprise party."

"Wow." Alma put a hand on her chest. "This was so sweet of you, Kamila, thank you so much."

"I must say, I'm impressed," said Jowd. "We had no idea you were even planning anything."

Cabanela laughed. "But of course, we had to be extra careful and sneaky in order to hide it from the nation's best detective." He twirled past them, taking his place by the crowd of guests. "Now, let the paaarty begin!"

"Hello, Yomiel." Jowd approached him first. "It was so good of you to come." He held his arms out and Yomiel embraced him. The two patted each other on the back. "I know it couldn't have been easy for you," he murmured, before they pulled away.

"Yes, well, I could hardly pass up an invitation." Yomiel shrugged, with a smile on his face. "I would never want to disappoint your little girl. Happy anniversary."

"Well, thank you for coming. I really do appreciate it."

"Happy anniversary, Detective." Those words came from the justice minister, standing slightly to the side.

"Well, if it isn't the justice minister," said Jowd. "Good to see you could take time off for the party. I know you have a busy job."

The minister smiled in resignation. "Yes, well, my wife was very insistent that I come and I really am glad that I did. She's right, really, I do need to try and get out more often. It isn't good to be wrapped up in your work."

"Indeed." Jowd's gaze shifted to their elderly guest. "And I see that the professor is here too. It's good to see you. Nice to get out of that stuffy junkyard, isn't it?"

"Actually, I find my office quite cosy." The professor pushed up his glasses, peering through them at Jowd. "Your little girl was kind enough to invite me to this party and, well, I suppose I couldn't very well refuse. It was very thoughtful of her."

"Well, I'm glad that you were able to come. Kamila really thinks of you as part of the family now, you know?"

"Yes, she does, doesn't she? Happy anniversary, Jowd. I hope you'll have many more to share with your wife."

"Yes, me too." Jowd turned, meeting Lynne's gaze. She had a wide grin on her face. "Lynne. I hear that you helped out as well. And here I thought you were just keeping Kamila company."

"Heh heh. That's right, I helped out with getting everything set up. You really had no idea that anything was going on at all, did you?"

"I certainly didn't. An impressive feat indeed. Thank you, Lynne."

"No problem. I just love surprise parties. Getting to see the looks on yours and Alma's faces was so worth it." Lynne laughed. "Happy anniversary, Detective Jowd!" Missile, who was sitting at her feet, joined in with a bark.

The world around Jowd turned red. Sissel appeared before his eyes.

"Happy anniversary, Detective Jowd."

"Ah, Sissel." Jowd smiled. Before he could say anything else, a certain Pomeranian appeared.

"I already said it just now but why not, I'll say it again! Happy anniversary!"

"Thank you. I suppose you both knew all about this too, didn't you?"

"I knew from the very beginning, when I overheard Miss Lynne and Miss Kamila talking about it! Oh, I was so excited to hear it, I just love parties!"

"And of course, when this little doggie next came over to the house, he proceeded to tell me everything he heard. I'm sure I would have found out anyway. Hard to keep secrets from a ghost, you know."

"Indeed." Jowd chuckled. "I was expecting a quiet evening, but having a party isn't so bad either."

"It's your anniversary after all!" said Missile. "Those are kinda like birthdays, right? And birthdays should be celebrated! I love celebrations. They mean more people to say 'welcome' to, and more pats, and sometimes food scraps from the table! Although, having that scary lady here is a bit..."

"We've been over this, Missile. She's not going to do anything to you."

"But, still...!"

Jowd laughed again. "Ahh. I really am so lucky, having family and friends to celebrate with, aren't I?"

"Yes." Sissel gazed at him. "You are."

"And I'll never forget that. Well then, I'll get back to talking to the guests and enjoying this wonderful party my daughter threw for us."

Alma had gone over to talk to Emma and Sissel. Amelie was there as well, hanging by her mother's side.

"Emma, Sissel, how nice to see you."

"Hello, dear." Emma came forward to embrace Alma. "It's so lovely to see you. The look on your face when you saw us, we really did give you quite a surprise, didn't you?"

"Oh, yes." Alma laughed. "I had no idea whatsoever. I thought we'd just have a quiet evening." 

Sissel came forward for a hug as well. "Happy anniversary, Alma. You've got such a lovely daughter. Throwing a surprise party for you! Oh, it's just so sweet."

"Yes, it was quite a nice surprise."

"So, are you going to be sharing your big news with us?" asked Emma.

"Ooh, what big news?" Alma regarded Sissel with keen interest.

"Alright, guess I'll go ahead and say it. I've been picked up by a recording studio. They want me to actually record songs for them."

"Oh, my, that's marvellous, quite marvellous indeed, Congratulations, dear."

"That's wonderful!" Alma hugged Sissel again. "I know you've dreamed of this for so long. Congratulations. You really deserve this, you're such a good singer."

Sissel smiled bashfully. "Thanks."

"May I have your attention please?" A chime rang out and everyone turned toward Cabanela, who held aloft a bottle of champagne. He stood by the table where several flute glasses had been placed. "I do believe that it is tiiime for a toast. Come and get your fizz, everyone!"

While the guests queued up for a glass, Amelie gently tugged on her mother's arm, turning beseeching eyes on her. "Can I have some too, Mama? Please?"

Emma gazed at her with a pensive frown then sighed. "Alright, fine, but only one glass, and you had better not think of sneaking any more booze! I've got my eye on you!"

Alma leaned toward Emma and murmured. "It sounds like you have your work cut out for you."

Emma expelled a puff of air, giving her head a slight shake. "My darling angel has always been a handful but now that she's thirteen, she's trying too hard to be like an adult. It's exasperating."

"Please don't talk about me like I'm not standing right here." Amelie narrowed her eyes.

Alma flashed her friend a sympathetic smile. "Well, I think Kamila could have a glass too. It's a celebration after all. Kamila, would you like a glass of champagne?"

"Okay, Mom!" Kamila caught Amelie's eye and they exchanged grins.

Once those were drinking had all got their glasses, Cabanela raised his own. "I have known Jowd and Alma for a very long time. They are the most important people in my life and I love them more than you could ever possibly know. I am so thankful to have them, and every moment I spend with them is precious. I wish you many more anniversaries together in the future. To Jowd and Alma!"

A chorus of voices filled the air, followed by the clinking of glasses. Jowd and Alma embraced each other, sharing a tender kiss. 

"Speech!" Lynne called out, thrusting a fist into the air. 

"Yeah, give us a speech!" Kamila joined in.

"A speech, huh? Very well." Jowd stepped away from the crowd and turned to face everyone, clearing his throat. "I'll just warn you, I'm not terribly used to giving speeches so don't expect an eloquent masterpiece from me." He gazed at Alma, mulling over the words in his head. "Sixteen years ago, I married Alma and we've been together ever since. She is kind, smart, and caring, and she has always been there for me, supporting me in hard times. Alma is an amazing woman. Why, she even puts up with my personality quirks."

Scattered laughter rippled through the crowd.

"Thank you for staying by my side, Alma. I love you." Jowd raised his glass. "I also want to give thanks to Cabanela, our dear and precious friend, who's also put up with me for all these years. I'm so grateful for your friendship."

"Aw, shucks." Cabanela ducked his head, his cheeks turning pink.

"And thanks to the rest of you for coming." Jowd raised his glass again, before returning to the crowd amid their claps.

Alma moved to the spot where Jowd had been standing. "Hello, everyone, and thanks to our guests for coming. Also, thank you to our lovely daughter, Kamila, for throwing a surprise party, and to Cabanela and Lynne for helping out." She drew in a long breath, then released it. "I'm not sure what to say, honestly. Um. Jowd is... well, he's Jowd. He's funny, even if his sense of humour can be a bit dodgy at times. While he can be kind of blunt, he's also very loving and caring, and he really is a sweet man, and I love him so much." She let out an exasperated sigh. "I'm not really any good at speeches either, am I?"

"You're doin' fiiine, baby, don't worry about it!"

"Er, okay." Alma cleared her throat. "I'm very glad that I married Jowd. I couldn't imagine life without him." Running her tongue over her lips, she continued. "Cabanela too, he has always been there for me and Jowd through the years and I am so thankful to have both of them in my life. I love you both." She stepped away from the table, receiving a bout of applause as she did so. 

"Well then, let's get stuck in, shall we?" asked Jowd. "I'm famished."

Everybody flocked to the table, picking up plates and cutlery, helping themselves to the various dishes that had been put out for them. They ate and drank, talking merrily all the while. When their plates were empty, Kamila and Lynne headed into the kitchen and returned with two different desserts, which were swiftly demolished. Now that they had eaten and their bellies were full, Cabanela declared that it was time for dancing, changing the music as he did so. Slow, romantic music filled the room.

"This is our favourite song," Alma said, looking at Jowd.

"Hm, I guess he's expecting us to dance." Jowd shrugged. "Maybe it will go better than it did at our wedding."

"I hope so," Alma replied, draping an arm over his shoulder and holding his hand. Closing their eyes, they began to waltz, soaking in each other's warmth as they moved in slow circles with careful steps.

Before they knew it, the song had ended. Jowd and Alma stopped, blinking at each other.

"Well, you didn't step on any toes this time."

"Huh, what do you know, I'm getting better at this."

Alma looked over at the others. "Come on, all of you join in already."

"It just didn't seem riiight, not letting you have the first dance." Cabanela twirled over. "It's your anniversary after all."

The next song started, its soft pulses flowing through the room.

"Ready to dance?" Yomiel asked his wife, smiling.

"Naturally," Sissel responded, taking his hand in hers. They hurried over and started moving their bodies in tandem.

"Darling wife, would you do me the honour of a dance?" The minister offered his arm.

"But of course, my darling husband." Emma put her arm in his. They walked over and began to do a slow waltz.

Lynne, Kamila and Amelie joined the dancers. The professor was left standing on the sidelines, watching on. He gave a start when he felt Missile's paws on him. Missile yapped, wagging his tail.

"Oh, no, I'm quite fine, thank you. I'm happy to watch."

Missile barked again and whimpered. He stepped back and reared up several times.

"Don't tell me you're asking to dance with me. I'm not dancing with a dog. That's just daft."

Kamila approached them. "I think he's trying to say he wants you involved too. It's too sad if you're left out, grandpa."

"These old bones of mine aren't what they used to be."

"Well, you can dance slowly then. Come on." Kamila gently tugged his arm.

"Alright, if you insist." The professor shuffled over with her. Missile twirled ahead of them into the throng of dancers, where he repeatedly reared up and let out the occasional bark.

The merriment continued for a good while with everyone dancing, talking, laughing and drinking while the hours passed by. As the night went on, they started making their leave. The professor was the first to leave, conscious of the fact he had to drive. Kamila gave him a hug, promising that she would come to see him again very soon. Next were Yomiel and Sissel. Finally, the justice minister and family departed on the minister's insistence as his wife had clearly had too much to drink.

Now that all the guests had gone, the house was feeling oddly quiet. Lynne stood still, just gazing at the scene for a while. Quietly sighing and thrusting her hands into her pockets, she ambled over to Kamila. Her lips curved in a gentle smile as she looked upon the focus of Kamila's attention. Missile and Sissel were curled up side by side in the basket. "It was a fun party."

"Yeah, it really was." 

"Well then." Lynne clapped her hands together. "I'll clear up the dishes."

"Let me help. The sooner we can go to bed, the better." Lynne would be sleeping in the spare bed in Kamila's room, an addition that had been suggested by Kamila herself.

"Thanks, Kamila." Lynne yawned. "I'm pretty beat."

While the girls were cleaning up, Jowd, Alma and Cabanela were slumped on the couch in a mesh of limbs, languishing in a sleepy haze brought on by booze, food, and the lateness of the night. 

"It's been such a looovely evening."

Jowd peered at Cabanela through half closed eyes. "I couldn't agree more." 

Alma's mouth gaped in a yawn. "Suppose we should get to bed soon."

"I'm not sure I could move even if I wanted to." Even if Jowd wasn't weighed down by fatigue, he would have found extricating himself from the embraces of his loved ones an impossibility.

"Oh well." Cabanela shifted his hold on Jowd, burrowing further into the crook of his arm. "Guess we'll just have to stay like this all niiight."

Alma chortled through closed lips. "Sure, why not." Her voice came out heavy with exhaustion. 

Jowd gazed at Alma, then Cabanela, etching their faces deep into his memory. Closing his eyes, he released a loud exhale. "You know, I really could not think of any better way to sleep."