Jim whistled as he walked to work. It was a beautiful Sunday morning, and it was his birthday. He'd been on the station for almost a year. He was going to work a short shift, and then Ronnie, her parents, and his mom were going to throw him a surprise party.
No one had ever tried to throw him a surprise party before. He almost wished that he hadn't overheard his mom and his best friend plotting.
The maintenance staff's break room was dark. Jim usually wasn't the first one in, but when he was it was his job to make coffee. Humming, he flipped the light switch.
"Surprise!" Half the station was crammed into the room. Jim gaped. Don and the rest of the crew grinned at him from behind a cake. Ronnie parents huddled together behind a camera.
Ronnie threw her arms around him. "We totally got you!"
His mom kissed the top of his head. "You should have seen the look on your face!"
"Thought the party was going to be later?" Ronnie said.
"That was a diversion." Ronnie pulled him toward the green cake. "It was your mom's idea."
"It was my mom's idea to have cake for breakfast?"
Don slid a generous slice of cake onto a plate. "We got you something," he said, handing Jim a package.
"Go on, open it," urged one of the other maintenance men.
Jim peeled back the plain brown paper. Inside were three workshirts with the station's logo and his name neatly embroidered on them.
"We figured it was about time we made your position official," Don said.
Jim throat felt tight. He nodded and traced his name. "Thanks."
Ronnie pressed a heavy package into his hand. "I got you something, too," she said.
Jim unwrapped it carefully. "Oh, wow, Ronnie." It was three books. One contained all of the technical readouts on the station. Another book, this one on the history of the station and the Mars Project, was tucked behind it. The last was a worn copy of a pulp science fiction novel.
Jim hadn't been able to bring many of his paper books to the station, and he's missed having them on shelves around his room. He didn't even remember mentioning it to Ronnie. The paperback smelled like rainy afternoons at his grandmother's house. "Thank you," he managed.
Ronnie kissed his cheek. "Happy birthday, Jim."
"My best one ever," he said.
"Your best one yet," Ronnie said.
Jim pulled on one of his shirts and took a bite of cake. "Yet," he said.