Diana Belden grimaced inwardly and put on her very best “We're All Adults And We Can Work This Out Together” face.

“Mr. Jenson. Mr. Smith. Surely we can come to an agreement?” she asked, her voice well-modulated and calm.

Mr. Jenson eyed the raven beauty suspiciously. “I'm more than willing to settle this. But I can't look the other way any longer! If Mr. Smith doesn't keep his end of the bargain...” He glared at the other man.

Diana nodded encouragingly. “That's good, Mr. Jenson.” She turned to Mr. Smith. “And I know you're willing to work this out, too.” She sat back in her chair and crossed her legs. “I've drawn up a proposal that I'd like you to consider.” She waited until each man nodded, then slid two folders across the sleek cream desk. She rose, but remained behind the desk. “Thank you for coming in, gentlemen. Please call me if you have any questions about the new arrangement.”

Mr. Jenson and Mr. Smith nodded politely to her, and turned to leave the room. There was a moment of awkwardness when they reached the door and both men tried to pass through the opening first.

Diana found herself clenching her teeth until the brief struggle was resolved. With both men safely through of the outer office area, she sank back into her eggplant leather chair. Closing her eyes, she pressed slender fingers to her throbbing temples.

“Don't say it, Janine,” Diana warned, eyes still closed.

The Chief Administrative Officer of the Town of Sleepyside stood in the doorway, leaning against the nameplate marked Mediator, her eyes innocently wide. “Say what?”

Diana felt a grin tug at her lips. “Anything.”

“You mean I shouldn't comment on how two of the most respected citizens of Sleepyside have been ordered into mediation to facilitate an agreement on the hours that the dogs they own are allowed to be in the backyard?” Janine blinked. “Why would I want to comment on the fact that a forty-year-old man is insisting that his dog, Fifi, be the only dog on the block allowed outside from five to six pm?”

Diana's smile spread. “And I'm sure you don't feel the need to comment on how the owner of Sleepyside Hardware refuses to pay for his portion of a fence to separate his dog Pooches from Fifi.”

Janine stepped further into the office and closed the door behind her before she gave in to the urge to giggle. “Do you think Mr. Jenson realizes how upset Mr. Smith would be if Pooches got Fifi in the family way?” she asked, causing Diana to wince.

“I don't even want to think about it!” Diana exclaimed. She buried her face in her hands. “He would sue, I'm sure of it. But at least it would be out of my hands!” She brightened at the thought.

Janine nodded. “If mediation fails, your job is done,” she agreed. She studied the elegant woman behind the desk. “Why do you do this, Diana?” she asked suddenly. “You see people at their worst every day.”

Diana shrugged. “It's the one thing I'm good at. Ever since I was a child, whenever there was a disagreement, I was the one to fix it.” Her violet eyes softened. “I don't like it when people don't get along. It's important to me to fix things; to make them right.”

Janine nodded slowly. “You are good at your job,” she agreed. “When people leave here, they may not be happy, but they know they've been treated fairly.”

“And I don't just see people at their worst,” Diana continued. “I see them at their best, too. I've seen people compromise, even when it cost them. It takes a strong person to do that.” She checked her watch. “But it's time for me to get going.”

“That's right!” Janine smiled indulgently. “I'm sure that cute husband of yours has something special planned for the birthday girl. Is he taking you to dinner? Dancing? Maybe a quick trip to Mexico?”

Diana laughed. “Hardly. Ever since my sixteenth birthday, Mart has done the same thing for my birthday.”

Janine raised her eyebrows. “This can't be good. Teenage boys aren't really known for creative dates.”

Diana shrugged. “Does take-out pizza count as a creative date?”

Janine placed her hands on her hips. “Diana Belden. Are you telling me that your husband orders pizza for your birthday?”

“It's not quite as bad as it sounds,” Diana protested. “On my sixteenth birthday, I was sick in bed with a miserable cold, and my parents were out of town. Mart made sure I still had a birthday celebration.” A secret smile played about her lips. “And that was the night he asked me out. So, every year, we do the same thing. It's sweet, really.”

“That is sweet,” Janine agreed.

Diana tucked a strand of blue-black hair behind her ear. “But I do sometimes think it would be nice to do something a bit more...”

“Grown-up?” Janine questioned. “Romantic? Less greasy?”

Diana nodded slowly, then pushed the thought aside. “The important thing is, I'm with Mart.” She paused. “And that I don't have to do any more thinking about dogs, fences, and unsanctioned breeding.”

Janine handed Diana her coat. “Have a happy birthday, dear.”

Diana smiled back. “Thank you. I'm sure I will.”

Diana unlocked the door of her apartment, ready for Mart's traditional birthday assault. But the apartment was dark, and no boisterous singing greeted her. She frowned. “Mart?” she called.

When there was no answer, Diana kicked off her stylish leather boots and hung her lilac winter coat in the closet. Mart must be picking up the pizza, she thought. She flicked on the light switch, ready to relax in her favourite chair until her husband returned, but was stopped by the sight of rose petals strewn on the hardward floors of the living room.

“Mart?” she questioned, but again, there was no answer.

Curiosity building, Diana followed the trail laid out for her. The path of rose petals wound through the living room, kitchen, and down the hallway. Instead of leading to the bedroom, as Diana had expected, the trail stopped short at the closed bathroom door. She could see a line of dim light under the door, and hear faint music.

“Mart? Are you in there?” She slowly pushed the door open. The only light was the flickering glow of dozens of candles. The soft music grew louder, and she recognized her favourite classical CD. Sniffing delicately, she caught a whiff of perfumed bath beads. She turned to the tub and saw that it was filled nearly to the brim. A thick layer of bubbles topped it off.

“Mart!” she exclaimed. “Where are you?” Still waiting for a reply, she dipped her hand in the water to test the temperature. She gasped in surprise when a wet hand grabbed hers, and a shape emerged from the water.

Covered in bubbles, Mart gasped, “Diana! I thought you'd never come in here!”

“Mart!” Diana exclaimed. “You scared me!” She tried to frown at her husband, but found herself giggling instead. Every inch of Mart was coated in lavender-scented bubbles. Even his face was mostly obscured by the fragrant froth. With a tender smile, Diana attempted to clear the bubbles from his nose, but Mart caught her hand.

“Uh uh uh,” he warned, shaking his finger. “No enjoying the bubbles unless you're in the tub.”

Diana raised her eyebrows. “Is that an invitation?”

Mart waggled his eyebrows suggestively. “Sure is, baby. Come on in—the water's fine!”

“I don't know.” Diana pretended to demure, even as she toyed with the buttons on her silk blouse. “I wouldn't want to ruin my hair,” she teased.

“No problem!” Mart shook the bubbles from his head, revealing a violet shower cap. “I got your rubber head thingee ready.”

Diana burst into a fresh bout of laughter at the sight of her husband wearing her shower cap. “That's very considerate of you.”

Mart nodded. “I thought so. Now, would you care to join me, my fair Diana?”

Diana eyed the ancient claw foot tub warily. “Do you think we both fit?”

Mart grinned. “I'm not sure, but don't you think it could be a lot of fun to find out?”

Much, much later...

Diana wrapped a thick towel around her damp hair and shrugged into the brand new terry bathrobe which just happened to be hanging on the bathroom door.

“The matching slippers are in the bedroom,” Mart told her, wrapping a towel around his waist.

Diana planted a kiss on Mart's cheek. “Thank you, honey,” she murmured. “This is a wonderful birthday present.”

Mart returned her brief kiss with a much more thorough one. “Go check out the slippers,” he encouraged, when he released her. “And then maybe we can order the pizza.” He licked his lips in anticipation. He called after Diana as she headed to the bedroom. “Olives and green peppers, right?”

When Diana entered the bedroom, all thought of slippers disappeared. On a table beside the bed, three fondue pots had been arranged. Cheese, oil, and chocolate, Diana noted with delight. Bowls of fruit, meat, and bread had been artfully arranged. An arm slipped around her waist.

“I can still order pizza,” Mart whispered against her ear.

Diana turned and embraced her husband. “This is lovely, Mart! But why...”

Mart nuzzled his wife's neck. “I just thought maybe it was time for a new tradition. If you don't like it, we can always go back to pizza. We do have it on speed dial.”

“Nice try,” Diana teased. She turned the heat on the burners of the fondue pots, then returned to her husband's arms. “Thank you, Mart,” she whispered. “You really know how to make an ordinary day wonderful.”

She paused as she heard a rustling in the closet. Frowning, she turned to Mart. “What is that?”

Mart adopted his most angelic expression. “What is what?”

Diana pointed to the closet door, which was now wiggling. “You didn't!” she gasped.

“Didn't what?” Mart asked, blue eyes dancing.

Diana opened the closet door to reveal a very young, very excited beagle.

“Happy Birthday, Diana!”


“We've always talked about getting a dog. I thought now was the perfect time. We may not have a yard with a fence-”

Diana winced, remembering the last meeting of her day.

“But we can always take her out to the farm, and she'll have Reddy and Patch for company, and...”

“She's perfect,” Diana interrupted. “Wait. When you say 'company'...”

Mart grinned. “Think of it this way. Animals are good for reducing stress, right? The more, the merrier!”

Diana smiled as Mart enveloped both her and the puppy in a comforting hug. “You're the only stress reliever I need, Mart. The only one I'll ever need.”

“Happy Birthday, My Dove of Peace,” Mart murmured.

Author's Notes

This story was a birthday gift to Mary N., and was published January 3, 2009.

Puppy photo from istockphoto; feather background is Microsoft clip art, manipulated in Photoshop by Mary.

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