Charlie’s little feet padded quietly through the house, hunting for his big brother. It had taken days of begging, but Charlie had finally convinced Don to play hide and seek with him. Rock-paper-scissors determined who hid first, so Charlie was now peeking behind the couch in the living room.
Not there. Okay. There were limited hiding spots that Don could get to, even in the large craftsman house. Charlie looked around, thinking about where he would hide if he were Don. With a victorious grin, he crept through the dining room and into the kitchen, approaching the large pantry.
“Ha ha!” he exclaimed, throwing open the door to reveal the older boy.
“How’d you find me so fast?” Don asked, frowning as he walked out.
“You’re bigger than me, so you don’t fit in as many places,” Charlie shrugged.
Sighing in defeat, Don slunk to the foyer to count. Charlie had already been thinking about hiding places, and he had the ideal place in mind. Sure this would be the best hiding place ever, he sprinted off.
~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~Don was getting frustrated. He’d been looking for Charlie for half an hour. There was no place left in the house to look.
“Okay, Charlie, I give up,” he called out. He expected to hear Charlie’s giggle of victory, but he was met with was silence. “Charlie?”
Starting to get worried, Don moved to the foot of the stairs. “Hey, Chuck, you can come out now.”
He was in trouble, now. Margaret Eppes had left the thirteen-year-old in charge while she ran to the store, since Alan was still at work, and she was due back any minute. Don was toast once she found out he lost Charlie. Without even leaving the house.
“Donnie, I’m back,” Margaret called out, entering through the kitchen. “Everything okay?”
“Uh, yeah, everything’s fine,” Don replied nervously. “Charlie, where are you?” he hissed.
“What’s that, Donnie?” Margaret asked, coming out of the kitchen.
Don swallowed hard, considering his options. Margaret would find out sooner or later that Charlie had vanished. However, Don figured his punishment would probably be lesser if he went ahead and came clean.
“I lost Charlie, Mom!” Don cried, rushing to wrap his arms around his mother’s waist. “We were playing hide and seek, and he hid, and now I can’t find him!”
“Slow down, sweatheart,” Margaret interrupted. “When did you last see Charlie?” she asked in a calm manor that she usually saved for tough cases.
“Uh, we started playing after you left,” Don said, calming as his mind went over the earlier events. “I hid first, but Charlie found me pretty quick. Then he went to hide, and that was it.”
“Okay, I’ll help you look for him.”
Relieved that his mother wasn’t going to kill him, Don relaxed. Following her instruction, he ran upstairs to look for his brother while Margaret searched the ground floor.
~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~Now even Margaret was getting concerned. She and Don had searched the entire house twice, and still no sign of Charlie. The youngest Eppes boy had now been missing for over an hour. Not seeing any other course of action, Margaret called the police. In no time at all, emergency crews had stormed the house, searching for Charlie.
Robert Evans, the Eppes’ neighbor, returned home after the crews had been there for almost an hour. When he saw a fire truck parked in the Eppes’ drive, he immediately assumed the worst. He hurried over to where Margaret and Don sat on the front porch.
“What happened?” he asked.
“We can’t find Charlie,” Margaret answered, worry plastered all over her face.
“Charlie ran away? That doesn’t seem like him,” Robert replied.
“No, he didn’t run away,” Don corrected. “We were playing hide and seek, but I never could find him.”
Robert could tell that Don blamed himself. He tried to think of something he could do to help. He loved both the Eppes boys dearly, especially Charlie. Robert was a retired math professor at CalSci, and had a soft spot for the young prodigy. Suddenly, an idea came to him.
“Jasper,” he said aloud. “I’ll be right back.”
Robert quickly crossed the lawn and entered his house, returning with the normally very lethargic five-year-old basset hound that had an even larger soft spot for Charlie than his master. Jasper’s long ears trailed the ground as he plodded along beside Robert. Once they crossed the property line, Jasper suddenly became infused with energy, bounding ahead up the stairs to stand his front paws on Don’s knees and wag his tail.
“Hey, Jasper,” Don greeted the dog, rubbing the bases of his ears. “We need you to find Charlie, boy. Find Charlie!”
Enough said. With his goal clearly in mind, Jasper trotted into the house, nose and ears trailing the floor as he searched for the little boy. Margaret, Don, and Robert followed diligently, joined by several emergency response personnel as they trailed the dog.
Several dead ends were traversed before Jasper’s nose lead him to the laundry room, where he scratched lightly at the door of a miniscule cabinet beneath the dryer. Astounded, Robert lightly pushed Jasper aside as he opened the door to reveal a sleeping Charlie.
Sighs were emitted by everyone there. The emergency crews left, offering their relief that Charlie was found alright. Robert returned home with Jasper, much to the stubby hound’s displeasure, leaving Margaret to deal with her son. Don beat a stealthy retreat up to his room, leaving his little brother alone to face the music.
“I’m sorry, Mom,” Charlie said, hanging his head in embarrassment.
“You should be,” she gently scolded. “You cost a lot of people a lot of time and worry looking for you. What were you thinking, hiding down there? How did you even get in there?”
“Just kinda folded in, I guess,” Charlie shrugged. “I didn’t mean to cause any trouble. The dryer was still warm from when you used it, so I guess I fell asleep,” he finished sheepishly.
Margaret knelt down to be at eye level with her son. “I know you didn’t mean to cause any trouble, so I’m not going to punish you. However, you are going to be the one to tell your father about this when he gets home. And no more hide and seek, you hear?”
“Yes ma’am,” Charlie nodded, hunching his shoulders in resignation.
“You know I love you, right?” she asked, cupping his face.
“Love you too, Mom,” he responded with a small smile.
Margaret smiled, “Why don’t you go upstairs and play with Don while I get supper ready?”
Charlie nodded and scurried up the stairs as Margaret headed to the kitchen. She shook her head as she heard Charlie call out, “Hey, Don, you wanna play?”
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