Etc.

Well, now, this is a surprise!

Somewhere in the middle of young Amber Birdsall's birthday party at the Northern Lanes bowling center in Sanford, Mich., earlier this month, she noticed an oversize box covered in pink wrapping paper. Obviously, it was for her, but what possibly could be inside?Bicycles, she guessed, as she and her sister, Kathy (who's two years older) approached the package. Not quite, although it did turn out to be what she'd said she wanted most. But she didn't discover that until the two of them ripped away the paper and saw ... their stepfather.

Army Spc. Glenn Johnson had climbed into the used refrigerator carton earlier, on his arrival home from active duty at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. His wife, Trisha, had arranged for the box and enlisted Northern Lanes employees to keep her husband out of sight until the last minute. Since he is due for reassignment in June he hadn't expected to be granted leave to go home. But under the circumstances, his superiors OK'd it.

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Still in uniform, he exchanged hugs and kisses with 80 pounds' worth of squealing little girls he hadn't seen in almost a year. Amber and Kathy have a big sister, Mercedes, who'd known about the plan from the start but kept it a secret. "He's an awesome stepdad," she told the Bay City Times. "You don't get better than [he is]." As for the birthday girl, she was too excited to eat her cake. "This," she said, "is way better than bikes."

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