A Secret Fire Surprise Party
Zach double-checked that everything was in place for Daryl’s birthday party. He grinned to himself, remembering what a jerk Daryl had been to him the year before on this exact day. It was the first time they’d met. Everyone had been at the park for a softball game and it’d also been Daryl’s birthday. But as Zach stirred in the spices and finely diced fresh onion of the super-secret onion dip recipe he’d invented one night when they’d run out of dry soup mix, he had a moment of trepidation.
Daryl was addicted to his onion dip, so that was the least of his worries. Whether Zach might be pushing it by having a bunch of people from the fire and police stations over to their house was a whole other issue. Even though Daryl had come a long way in their year-long romance, and was much less cranky than he’d once been, the hunky fire marshal still had some growl left in him. Zach just hoped that his less than social partner wouldn’t be too uncomfortable at his own damn party.
Everybody loves surprises, right?
Zach vigorously tapped the mixing spoon on the side of the bowl of dip, globs of spiced sour cream dropping into the rest of the mixture. He gave the utensil a long lick then tossed it into the sink, smacking his lips.
The front door opening and the jangle of Daryl’s keys as he tossed them onto the entryway table caused Zach to tense up. He had to admit he was nervous. The previous year’s birthday debacle had compelled Zach to make it up to Daryl somehow. Oh sure, Daryl had acted like a complete dick, but Zach wanted a do-over. He was pretty sure that promises of giving it up for his fire marshal lover after the celebration was over would get him to behave.
“Hey, darlin’.” Daryl ambled into the kitchen then drew Zach in close with one arm, giving him a leisurely, deep kiss. “Mmm.” Daryl drew back, licking his lips. “Is that your onion dip?”
Zach snorted. “Happy Birthday, big boy.”
Daryl’s eyebrows arched. “Please tell me we’re going to be all alone tonight, just the two of us? Then I can show you just how much of a big boy I am.” Daryl’s voice had the husky tone to it that always made Zach perk right up.
Zach had wanted the party to be a surprise, but he couldn’t lie to Daryl either. It was too much of a trigger for his lover and they’d had a rough beginning because of Daryl’s trust issues as it was. Birthdays were supposed to be fun, not stressful.
Well, it can be a surprise right now instead of an hour from now.
Daryl narrowed his eyes, his brow creasing. “Zach.” His voice had picked up a bit of the signature Daryl growl. “What did you do?”
“Come on, babe. It’ll be fun. Remember how…uh, not fun last year was?” Zach gave him a shaky laugh, jostling him a little as if to demonstrate the jolliness of everything. “Well, this year can make up for that.”
“Oh?” Daryl extricated himself from Zach’s arms and took a step back. “And exactly how is ‘this year’ doing that? You know, making it up to me?”
Zach swallowed hard, suddenly incredibly irritated with himself and his whole stupid, merry celebration idea. “Well… onion dip?” Zach gave him a big smile that he hoped didn’t appear too looney.
“Cake, pizza, beer – your favorite kind – some balloons,” Zach turned then rushed to the refrigerator with the dip, sticking his head in after opening the door. “My parents and a couple dozen of the guys from the softball league.”
Zach straightened too fast, banging his head on the bottom of the closed freezer door. “Ow.”
Daryl rushed over then gathered him close. “Are you okay?” He tentatively touched the top of Zach’s head.
“I’m fine.” He chuckled. “You can just be really loud sometimes.”
Daryl framed Zach’s face between his hands. “Sorry.” He took Zach’s mouth in another languid kiss, the sweetness of it not lost on Zach.
Huh. He has been rather lovey-dovey ever since he got home.
Zach kissed Daryl back, pulling him flush until they were wrapped in each other’s arms. Zach dipped his tongue into the heated cavern of Daryl’s mouth, exploring before sucking on Daryl’s tongue. He got the exact reaction he’d hoped for. Daryl’s hips snapped forward, a slow grind building between them both as Zach answered with his own body.
Daryl kept his hand at Zach’s nape as he broke the connection. He stayed close, staring into Zach’s eyes with a reverence he hadn’t seen in a while. There’d been a lot going on in their lives with work, Zach moving the rest of his things out of storage and into the house, plus the work on the yard to make it more of a party friendly place. Which brought him back to the present.
“Are you mad at me? I wanted it to be a surprise.”
Daryl’s mouth quirked in a small smile at one corner. “No darlin’. I’m not mad. I understand about wanting to surprise someone with something good.”
He let Zach go, the conspiratorial smile still on his lips. “I’m gonna jump in the shower. Get ready for our guests.” He winked then left the room.
It was too easy. Something wasn’t right. Daryl hadn’t given him the inquisition he normally would’ve. Had put up zero resistance in the face of enforced social interaction within the confines of his personal space. It left Zach perplexed, and truthfully, a bit frightened.
Deciding that he was being an idiot, and that since he’d hoped for Daryl’s understanding and acceptance of the whole idea, that he should count himself very lucky that it’d all gone so smoothly. He frowned in spite of himself. Too smoothly.
While Daryl was in the shower, Zach focused his thoughts back on the rest of his tasks that needed to be done before everyone showed up. His mom was bringing the cake, which had been a huge relief. So Zach just made sure he had extra sodas and beer in the cooler for the covered patio, the snacks all laid out and the phone ready to dial for pizza as soon as everyone got there.
The doorbell rang and right as Zach turned toward the entryway to answer, Daryl shot out from the bedroom. Zach yelped, jumping back.
“Jesus, Daryl.” Zach had a hand across his chest. “You scared the shit out of… Are you all right?”
Daryl had a giddy expression on his face. It was more of a disturbing than delightful look on him.
“Stay there, darlin’. I’ll get it.”
Daryl grabbed the knob then pulled it all the way open so that Zach couldn’t see who was on the other side. Zach heard mumbled whispers and decided it was his turn to get cranky.
“Well? Who’s there?”
Daryl peeked around the open door, gesturing for Zach to come over.
“Come here and see.”
Zach rounded the door then froze. His breath caught in his throat and he couldn’t speak.
Their friends stood fanned out from the entryway, all of them there at once. Even Carla and her boyfriend were there, plus the guys from the league along with his mom and dad at the front. His parents each held up one end of a large pink box that housed a beautiful sheet cake. But it wasn’t the birthday one that Zach had been expecting. There were the expected roses which were done in a rainbow of colors, the obligatory frosting ribbons around the edges, but it was the message on the cake that had him speechless.
Will you marry me?
Daryl dropped to one knee then grasped Zach’s hand. Zach stared down at his lover, shocked.
“Darlin’? Will you?”
Zach tried to get his mouth to move. “Holy shit.”
“Zach!” His mother shook her head, frowning.
Her voice seemed to snap him out of his trance. “Sorry, Mom.” He glanced again at the words etched in an indigo cursive across the expanse of the frosting, and sucked in a deep breath. His eyes filled with tears and before they could spill, he fell to his knees, throwing his arms around Daryl’s neck.
“Yes, Daryl, a million time yes!”
Daryl gathered him in his strong arms, and they held each other tightly.
“I love you so much, Zach. You’ve just made me the happiest man on earth.”
As soon as their mouths crashed together, the whoops and cheers began. Zach almost tumbled onto the ground, but Daryl caught him then helped them both straighten to a standing position once more. There were multiple congratulations as they guests all poured into the house and the party got underway. It took Zach almost a half hour before his brain caught up with the rest of him.
They were just inside the sliding glass doors that opened off the kitchen dining area and onto the patio. Zach wrapped an arm around Daryl’s bicep then tugged him inside. He leaned in so he could speak without others hearing.
Daryl snorted. “You had no idea, did you?”
Zach pressed his lips together. He didn’t want to admit that Daryl had gotten the drop on him. “Well. No. But when did you become such a good actor? You had me trying to convince you to enjoy yourself with all these people over here tonight. You snake.”
Daryl nuzzled him, his beard doing a fine job of tickling and turning him on at the same time. “I’ll let you play with my snake later on.”
Zach choked on a laugh. “Oh, my God. That was…well, it was quite terrible.”
Daryl continued to nuzzle him, moving them into the corner where it was a bit more private. “Love you so much, darlin’. Think you can put up with me forever?”
Zach swallowed past a lump in his throat. Daryl could be so gruff, didn’t tolerate any nonsense and told it like it was. But he also had the softest heart of anyone Zach had ever known. He could never love anyone like he loved Daryl.
He locked his gaze on Daryl. “You’re my everything, Daryl. That counts for more than forever.”
One corner of Daryl’s mouth curled up in a smile. “How soon do you think we can wrap up this shindig without it being too rude?”
“Hmm.” Zach considered how nice everyone had been, how much trouble they’d probably all gone to in coordinating their arrivals, that they’d given up their night to be there for Daryl and Zach at their special moment…
“Because a new package arrived from our favorite online,” Daryl cleared his throat. “Place.”
Zach’s eyes widened. “Hey, Mom! Let’s get that cake sliced up! I’ll go grab the paper plates.”
His mother shuffled over, a scowl on her face. “Zachary Lawrence, what on earth are you going on about? The pizza hasn’t even gotten here yet!”
“Yes, but we can use this time efficiently by cutting up the cake, putting them on the plates so people can grab them while they’re also getting their pizza.”
Zach’s mom shook her head. “But why on earth would they want to do that?”
“Come on, Mom. Haven’t you ever been to an all-you-can-eat buffet? Don’t you always grab your cake at the same time as your other food?”
“I most certainly do not. What’s gotten into you?”
“Well, nothing yet.”
Daryl sprayed the chug of beer he’d just taken. Zach’s mother looked between them both, frowning.
“Well, I have no idea what’s going on, but if you want to cut the cake, I’ll go set it up on the dining room table. Zach, you grab the plates and cake knife.”
Zach and Daryl exchanged glances, Daryl still wiping the beer from his beard and the wall. As Zach gathered the requested items, Daryl sidled up to him, placing his hand on Zach’s lower back.
“I enjoy you, Zach. I really do.”
“Then let’s get this cake show on the road.” Zach leaned in then nibbled at Daryl’s lip, making him groan. “Because I’m gonna let you enjoy me all night long.”