February 5th 1977. 7:35AM. Steve stirred awake in his bed, a mirthful smile tugged at his lips as he pried open his eyelids. His sparkling blues lingered on the desk calendar to brand the date on his mind. Today, he was celebrating his thirty-fifth birthday and was confident that not only his parents were privy to this milestone.
He stretched himself with a big yawn and drew in a cleansing breath before flinging the covers aside and easing himself out of bed. With a bounce in his step, he went to the bathroom and steeped into the shower.
Fifteen minutes later, the phone rang. He quickly donned his bathrobe and hurried out of the bathroom to answer the call from his parents wishing him a happy birthday.
Later, still flying high, Steve decided on a whim to buy a nosegay of varicolored carnations from a flower stand on a street corner for a little lady who held a very special place in his heart. He went up to the OSI office to find Callahan with her nose buried in a file.
“Hello there pretty lady,” Steve greeted jocundly. “These are for you.”
Callahan’s jaw dropped in awe before the blaze of petal glory. She reached out to take the bouquet and drew a long satisfying whiff of its intoxicating aroma.
“Thank you Steve. They’re beautiful. How thoughtful of you. Thank you,” she thanked effusively with an elated smile. “What’s the occasion?”
“No one in particular. I just thought they’d brighten up your desk.”
“I appreciate it. Thank you.”
Steve stared lingeringly at her drowning in the flower fragrance, nonchalantly slapping his hands against his thighs as if to focus her attention on the hint lurking behind this sudden thoughtfulness. When he realized that Callahan didn’t appear to have the tinniest clue as to what day it was, Steve sighed inwardly and swallowed his deception.
“Is Oscar in his office?”
“Yes. In fact he wants to talk to you.”
Steve’s eyes lit up in eager anticipation. “Really? I’ll go right in.”
“Thanks again for the flowers.”
“My pleasure. Say, you want to have lunch with me today?”
“I’d like that.”
Steve nodded and rapped on the door before he walked in. As he closed the door behind him, Callahan broke into a wide wicked grin and stifled a giggle. She had seen through Steve’s unusual cheerfulness, but had been instructed to play dumb.
“Steve, come on in!” Oscar invited with a wave of the hand. “Want some coffee?”
“No thanks. Callahan said you wanted to see me?”
“Yes. I have something for you.” He took his mug and walked over to his desk under Steve’s wide expectant stare. Oscar opened the top left drawer and pulled out a folder that he handed over to Steve. “Your next assignment.”
Steve’s face crashed to the floor and his shoulders slumped at the news that ranked at the bottom of his list of expected surprises for the day. He took the folder with a wavering hand and opened it grudgingly. “What’s it about?” Steve managed to ask with a voice thick with annoyance.
Oscar’s lips flashed a fleeting amused grin as he glanced at the visibly miffed man before him. “It’s Joseph Wrona.”
“Him again?” Steve whined, snapping the folder close and tossing it onto the desk. “Oscar, he’s dead!”
“That may be but his organization’s alive and well. You leave on the seven fifteen plane tonight.”
Steve’s head jerked up and his seething eyes narrowed in a straight line. “Tonight?”
“We’ve got to act fast if we want to dismantle the network.”
“But Oscar, tonight’s my…”
“Never mind,” Steve huffed.
“I’ll pick you up at your house around six.”
“Fine,” Steve replied curtly before stomping to the door.
Oscar picked up the folder. “You forgot this.”
Steve felt his blood boil as he marched back to the desk to snatch the document out of Oscar’s grasp.
“Something wrong, Steve?”
“No. Nothing,” Steve hissed before storming out of the office.
“It’s not enough that he forgot my birthday, but he has to send me on my mission tonight?” Steve mumbled angrily underneath his breath.
“Did you say something, Steve?” Callahan asked.
“No. I’ll see you at noon,” he said coldly before flinging the glass door open.
Oscar walked out of his office and walked up to Callahan’s desk with a folder in hand.
“He’s pretty sore,” Callahan observed.
“Poor kid. I almost feel sorry for him. You should have seen his face fall when I told him he had to depart for his mission tonight. It’s a wonder he didn’t bend my desk lamp like he did one Christmas.”
“I admit, I almost gave in.”
“Those are pretty flowers.”
“Thank you. They’re from Steve.”
“He’s been dropping hints like bread crumbs. He asked me to have lunch with him.
“Uh-oh! You realize you’ll be alone with him for an hour? I suspect he’s planning to deploy his heavy artillery to hit you full might.”
“I’ll wear my best armor.”
“Word to the wise, Callahan: don’t stare into those eyes.” He handed her over the folder.
She took the file and placed in on top of the desk tray. “Thanks for the advice, Mr. Goldman.”
“Good luck soldier.” He saluted.
During lunch, Callahan kept her poker face throughout the grilling, much to Steve’s dismay. With a heavy heart, he resigned to the fact that his friends had indeed forgotten his birthday.
Around six o’clock, Oscar drove to Steve’s house to pick him up. He honked twice before Steve loomed in the doorway with a suitcase. He bolted the front door and walked to the car.
“Yeah,” Steve mumbled sullenly, tossing his suitcase in the back seat before slamming the door shut. He leaned his elbow against the window frame and propped his head on his fist.
“I hope you don’t mind I need to stop by my house to pick up the generator I borrowed from Rudy. He needs it back at the lab tonight.
“Fine,” Steve sighed with total indifference.
Oscar broke into a broad grin as he pulled out of the driveway.
Ten minutes later, they arrived at Oscar’s house. He parked the car in the driveway and turned off the ignition.
“Steve, could I ask you to give me a hand with the generator? Might require a bionic arm.”
“Sure. Why not?” Steve replied sulkily.
They both stepped out of the car and walked up to the main entrance. No sooner had Oscar opened the door and turned on the light that a chorus of voices yelled “Surprise!”
Steve grabbed his heart that leapt to his throat. He struggled to catch his breath.
Callahan was the first to give him a warm hug and kiss on his crimson cheek. “Thanks for the flowers. I got the hint,” she whispered in his ear.
Steve coughed out a chuckle and enlaced her once more in a tight embrace. “Thank you, Callahan. By the way, great poker face. I never suspected it.”
“Hi son,” Helen greeted as she and Jim moved over to the birthday boy.
“Mom! Dad!” Steve exclaimed in surprise. “I thought you were in Ojai? You called me this morning.”
“Your boss flew your mother and me to Washington last night. We actually called you from our hotel room.”
Steve turned to Oscar with a devilish grin. “Did he?”
“Happy birthday, son.”
“Hey, Stevie boy! Thirty-five big ones. Congrats my man!” Barney Hiller toasted with his glass of champagne.
“Carla? Barney? How d'you get here?”
“Oscar can be very persuasive.”
“He didn’t threaten to reactivate you for active duty, did he?” Steve teased.
“No, it’s me who threatened him not to leave us out of this birthday bash. Stevie you realize you’re still an eligible bachelor. Any particular chick in mind?”
Steve’s eyes locked on to Jaime emerging from the crowd in a corner of the living room. “I’ll tell you later, Barney,” Steve replied absentmindedly as he slowly made his way towards Jaime.
Oscar and Callahan shook hands on a job well done.