Charlie breathed a sigh of relief as he stepped back from the peephole and yanked open the front door to reveal his best friend. As usual, the former Australian rugby player was dressed as if the Colorado spring was far too cold for him; it was sixty-five degrees outside, but the young man was wearing a gray woolen sweater on top of his black turtleneck, and had an extra maroon one tucked under his arm.
“Mike, thank goodness!” Charlie dragged the Aussie through the front door and immediately began pulling him toward the living room, showing a remarkable amount of strength considering his size relative to Mike’s. “I need your help!”
Mike shook himself out of the smaller man’s grip and kicked off his shoes, walking back to the front door to place them near the closet, Charlie following right behind him, bouncing on his heels and looking agitated as he tugged at the tie that was hanging loosely around his neck.
“Easy, mate” Mike replied calmly, as he took in his friend’s appearance. Charlie’s white dress shirt was half buttoned and untucked, and his usually perfectly combed hair was sticking up all over the place. “What’s the problem? Where’s my favorite godson?”
“Annie’s picking him up from daycare right now” Charlie said as he headed back to the living room, waving emphatically for Mike to follow. “Which is why I need you to help me find it before she gets back.”
“Find what, mate?” Mike asked, grabbing a beer from the mini-fridge in the kitchen. He walked back over to the living room, tossing his second sweater over the banister as Charlie began flipping cushions off the couch and hurriedly shoving them back in place after he had revealed the empty space beneath them. “Shouldn’t you be getting ready for your big dinner with Annie?”
Charlie sighed, and brought his head out from underneath the armchair he’d been peering under to look at his best friend. “I lost the ring, Mike” he muttered helplessly. “Where is it, man? Where’s the ring?”
Mike gaped at him, setting the bottle onto the glass table before dropping down to sit on the disheveled sofa. “The ring…You’re going to propose?!”
“Yeah,” Charlie replied softly, appearing almost calm for the first time since Mike had entered. “I thought it would be nice if Joey’s mom and dad were actually married.”
“That’s great, man. Congratulations” Mike replied with a grin, as he reached over to clap Charlie on the shoulder. “I’m going to be best man, right?”
Charlie laughed quietly and rolled his eyes at the other man, “Of course.” His smile faded as he glanced anxiously at his watch. “But there’s not going to be a wedding if I can’t find the damn ring!”
He dove under the table, nearly knocking over Mike’s beer as he swept his arm over the carpet to feel around for the tiny velvet box. It was clear that Charlie was freaking out; Mike could hear his heaving breathing and see his shoulders shaking.
“Okay, take it easy”, Mike soothed, as he knelt on the ground next to Charlie and began looking under the cushion of their leather armchair. “Now where’s the last place you knew you had it?”
“I don’t know!” he cried, smacking his fist against the ground in frustration. “I came downstairs to get my suitcoat, set it down somewhere, and now I can’t remember where!” His breathing was becoming more and more ragged, and Mike wondered if he was about to have a panic attack…that hadn’t happened in years.
“It’s okay, Charlie, we’ll find it” Mike reassured as he started scanning the bookshelf, stretching his neck to look in hidden corners and spaces. “What time did you say Annie and Joey will be back?”
“Any minute now!” he replied frantically. “When you first knocked, I was sure it was Annie. I was shocked, but very relieved when you actually showed up on time for once.”
“Hey!” Mike protested indignantly, trying to lighten the mood. “I am extremely punctual! In fact, I –”
The two men froze as they heard the garage door opening. Charlie sprinted to the window, growing pale as he saw Annie’s Lincoln pulling into the driveway. “Crap.”
“Okay,” Mike said, taking charge. “You go upstairs and start getting ready. Keep looking around for the ring while you’re up there. I’ll take a look in the laundry room…Maybe you left it there when you were getting your suit jacket.”
Charlie’s eyes widened in realization. “Mikey, you are brilliant!” he exclaimed as he sprinted to the laundry room, and returned seconds later, clutching a tiny black box triumphantly in his fist.
Mike grinned at him. “I have my moments…and impeccable timing”, he added as the door flew open, and Joey burst into the room running straight for Mike and leaping into his arms. Charlie hastily stuffed the ring into his pocket as Annie appeared and smiled at them.
After Joey had finished hugging Mike, he ran over to Charlie to give him a hug and a kiss. “Hi daddy!” All of the stress and tension that had built up in Charlie over the last several minutes instantly drained away as he embraced his son and placed a gentle kiss on his messy curls.
“Hey buddy,” he murmured as he held Joey close. “I’ve got to go finish getting changed for my date with Mommy, okay? How about you get started on your coloring book?” The little boy broke into a smile and nodded eagerly at his dad’s suggestion.
“Joey!” Annie called he started walking towards his craft drawer. He slowed and turned to face his mother. “Wash your hands first, dear. You have a bunch of germs on them from school.”
Joey pouted for a moment, but obediently went over to the sink to clean up before returning to the drawer to pull out his book and set of markers. Once he had retrieved all of his art supplies, he plopped down on the couch and began coloring.
Annie walked over to greet Mike, giving him a quick hug. “Hey, you showed up on time for once!” she teased.
“Why does everyone keep saying that?” Mike complained, pretending to be angry, but unable to hide his amusement. It’s true, he was notorious for being late to pretty much everything. He used to jokingly blame his tardiness on the time difference between the U.S. and Australia before Charlie pointed out that the time difference should actually make Mike significantly early for all of his commitments.
“I’m just teasing you, Mikey” Annie laughed. “Thank you so much for watching Joey on such a short notice,” she continued with a smile, pressing a quick kiss to Mike’s cheek. She was already fully dressed for the date. She had likely gotten dressed at her house before picking up Joey, instead of just bringing her clothes with her and changing at Charlie’s. Annie was never someone that waited until the last minute to get things done. She was always 100 percent ready to go at least thirty minutes before she had to leave. Her preparedness almost made Charlie look like a slacker, and he was one of the most organized people Mike knew.
“No worries,” Mike replied easily. “It’s not like I can babysit my biological nieces and nephews from across the world, so it’s cool that I can help out my American siblings with their kid.
“Either way, you know that I’m always happy to spend time with Joey, even if it’s just for a random evening in the middle of the week” he joked. “You really have no idea how busy the schedule of a single, unemployed male is.”
“Even so, it appears someone thought that a Thursday night was good time for an impromptu date night.” Annie rolled her eyes before adding, “Seeing as both Charlie and I have to work tomorrow, I’m sure we’ll be doing something very exiting tonight.”
“You never know,” Mike replied with a chuckle, thinking of his best friend victoriously clutching the little velvet box. “I’m sure the evening will be full of surprises.”
Annie grinned ruefully at her friend as Charlie finally made his way downstairs, fully dressed and looking like his normal composed self. “I sure hope so.” She turned toward the living room to blow a kiss at Joey. “Bye-bye sweetheart! You be good for Uncle Mike, okay?”
“Okay!” Joey called, lifting his head up from his coloring book to wave at his parents. “Have fun!”