One year later
June 17th Laura and Fenton's backyard.
Joe watched as nearly a hundred people milled about the backyard. It was his 22nd birthday party. He hadn't really wanted a party, but there was no way he was going to tell his mother that. She'd spent the past twelve months planning this party.
After his near death experience, Joe knew she was being a bit overprotective. He'd never admit it to anyone, but he was kind of glad. It felt good to be back with his family. The five years he'd been away had changed him. He appreciated his family and life more now than ever.
It had taken a couple of months for him to be fully independent after his release from the hospital. He was still exercising his lungs, and his chest was sore for time to time. However, with Laura and Iola there to help him he was surviving.
Iola. There was a name he could say a million times and never get tired of saying. She was alive and she was his. Sometimes he still couldn't believe that it was real, that she was truly alive. Her long hair was finally back to its natural brown and she had slipped back into her place in Bayport easily, almost as if she'd never been gone. He watched her glide through the crowd greeting guests with a warm smile and joking with friends.
At that instant Iola looked up and their eyes met. To Joe it felt as though they were the only two people there. He motioned her to join him on the deck under the shade. Iola laughed knowing what was on his mind. She motioned towards the guests and mouthed 'later'. To Joe her laugh was musical.
He thought back to the day after he woke from his wounds. Iola had never left his bed side. Her eyes were red and puffy, but Joe thought she was the most beautiful sight in the world. When she realized he was awake and staring she'd broken down crying again, telling him about how she'd survived the explosion and her time in witness protection. She'd begged him to forgive her. Joe tried to make her understand that she'd done nothing that needed his forgiveness, if anything he needed hers for acting like such a jerk.
Joe had also spoken with Rocky about the leak and his suspicions about Winslow. Rocky did some investigating and Joe had been right. Winslow was arrested and the Network had taken care of the men Winslow was working with.
By the time he'd been released for the hospital, Frank and Fenton had moved his things back to the Hardy house. Joe was fine with that he was done with the FBI. He wanted to be one of the Hardy Boys again. Frank had agreed, but there was a slight change of plans. The agency was reopening under a different name, Drew Hardy Investigative Services.
Nancy had agreed to marry Frank. Their wedding was a small, simple affair a little over five months after Joe had been shot. They had purchased the house next to the Hardy's and Nancy was almost seven months pregnant. After the baby was born Nancy planned on cutting her investigating down to part time.
Joe's flashbacks were interrupted by Laura's soft voice beginning the notes of 'Happy Birthday' as she brought the cake from the kitchen to the deck.
Joe smiled and stood as the cake was placed in front of him. He laughed when he saw it was a Superman cake.
"For the man who can beat all odds!" someone shouted from the crowd.
Joe took a breath and silently wished for everyday to be like this one, surrounded by his family and friends. Everyone held their breath as they watched Joe blow out the candles in one long breath, a feat that would have been impossible a few months before.
Soon it was present time. Joe got lots of gag gifts, like bulletproof vests and tags to hook to Iola stating 'If found please return to Joe Hardy.'
"Are they ever going to let me forget?" Iola whispered into Joe's.
"I think that would be a no," Joe replied opening yet another medic pack. "How many does this make?"
"Four I think," she giggled.
"What, does everybody think I'm going need this stuff that frequently?" he whispered back.
"Well, you are a bit accident prone." She ducked as Joe threw a wad of discarded wrapping paper at her.
Finally, all the presents were opened. "Come on, let's dance," Chet hollered.
"Wait!" Joe called. "There's one more." Everyone gave bewildered stares.
"Where?" Iola began looking, her back to Joe. She turned around to face him again. "I don't se…" she froze. Joe stood on one knee, a small red velvet box was held open in his left hand.
"I was always told to save the best for last," Joe stated with a lopsided grin.
"I thought that the birthday boy gets presents. He doesn't give them away." She replied.
"Ah, correct you are. But you see, by giving I get more."
"More you say? How's that?" Iola moved closer to Joe slowly pulling him up as he spoke.
"Well, by giving you this ring I get nothing. But if you put it on I get everlasting, unconditional love. I win your heart and I get everything I could ever ask for."
"Then you did save the best for last," Iola told him kissing him tenderly. Cheers echoed though the yard. Iola blushed and turned Joe so that he blocked the crowd's view of her. "Remind me to get you for proposing in public," she whispered, nuzzling her head on his chest.
"Anything you say," Joe hugged her tight.
Suddenly a different kind of cry erupted from the crowd. The couple spun around.
Nancy stood with a shocked expression on her face in the middle of a quickly parting crowd. Frank stood at her side. She looked up at Joe and Iola. Her eyes seemed to say sorry, but her face quickly contorted in pain again and she sank to the ground,
"Call 911!" Frank yelled. "Nancy's gone into labor!"
"Forget that!" Chief Collig demanded we'll take my car. Within seconds, Nancy and Frank were in the back of the Chief's car as he sped down the street his siren blaring.
"How'd you predict it?" Biff demanded handing Joe a twenty dollar bill.
"You never believe me if I told you," he replied tucking the money in his pocket.
Joe had never told anyone about his experience after being shot. After all, who would believe it? Instead, he'd made bets with his friends about such things as when Frank and Nancy would marry and when the baby would be born. However, even when they tried to get him to place a bet on the name of the baby he never would. Why pour good money down the drain? In the time line he'd been in the only reason Junior was named after him was because he was dead. This was a new time and place. Things were different. No one even new if the baby was a boy or girl yet!
In fact, Joe thought it was a boy. So did Frank. Nancy wasn't so sure about it. She was leaning towards a girl.
A few hours later the Hardy family, minus Frank and Nancy, sat in the waiting room of Bayport Memorial Hospital. Carson Drew, the Morton's, and a few friends also were there.
"Joe for once I'd like to celebrate your birthday outside of a hospital," his mother exclaimed out of the blue.
"Hey! Don't blame me. It's Frank's kid's fault!"
"Don't blame that poor innocent baby!" Iola slapped him playfully on the arm.
"What happened to poor innocent Joe?" he asked giving her his best puppy dog eyes.
"That flew out the window when you blamed a baby," Fenton intervened.
"You were always trouble, born three months early while we were in California." Laura shook her head.
The doors opened, and all conversation stopped. A nurse stepped out. "Hardy?" she asked. They stood. She motioned them to follow her, and led them down a hallway. Frank stood by Nancy who sat in a wheelchair next to a big glass window.
"Hi guys!" Frank was grinning from ear to ear.
"It's a girl!" Nancy exclaimed. "Because she was so early she has to stay here a few weeks, but she's perfectly fine." Joe now realized the window overlooked the nursery.
"There she is." Frank pointed to a nurse who was carrying the tiniest bundle Joe had ever seen. The nurse laid the baby down in a small bed and wheeled it next to the window so they could see better.
"She so precious," Laura said in awe. "She looks like Joe did was when he was born."
"That's what I said," Nancy said recalling the pictures Laura had shown her.
"So what's my new niece's name?" Iola was bubbling over with excitement.
"We had been planning on Austin Elizabeth Hardy after my mom but after seeing her it just didn't seem right." Nancy told them with a grin.
"There seemed only one name fitting for her given the early arrival and today being Joe's birthday. We'd like you all to meet Jocelyn Michaela Hardy." Frank gently squeezed Nancy's hand and watched his brother expression.
Joe almost fell over. Okay so maybe things weren't so different in this time line as he thought.
"Junior. I like it." Joe said with enthusiasm.
Nancy laughed, "Junior? I'm not so sure about that but we're going to call her Josie for short."
Everyone crowded around the window for a better look at the tiny baby. Everyone except Joe. He stood back watching his family and friends wondering what the future held.
One thing was for certain. Things were about to get a whole lot more interesting.
I want to thank all of you who have continued to read this story over the four years it's taken me to write it! Your thoughts and comments have been appreciated. I hope you've enjoyed it.