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The Best Laid Plans

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I.

Max had it all planned out, a nice early dinner, a romantic walk along the beach to watch the sunset, and then he would ask her to marry him.

He had continuously checked the weather report, making sure that everything would be perfect. Sunny and 73 degrees, can't get much better than that. 

Max had the ring in his pocket, it had been hidden away in his drawer for the past three years. Once he realized that he was no other woman for him than Zoey, he'd asked his mom for his grandmother's ring. It had been waiting there for the perfect moment, and today it was finally here.

Max had been nervous all day at work, unable to focus on any task at hand. What if she said no? She wouldn't...would she? No, he was certain that she would say yes.

He got home before she did, thankful to have a moment to calm himself down.

He opened the ring box and looked at it, imagining it on Zoey's finger. He smiled, a sense of calm washing over him.

"Babe? Are you in here?" he heard Zoey call out.

Shit! He quickly placed the box in his pocket, before heading out to greet her.

"Hello, love," Max smiled, pulling her in for a kiss.

"Mmm, hello to you too," Zoey grinned. She tried to deepen the kiss but Max reluctantly moved away.

"Come on, we've got to get ready."

"Wouldn't you rather stay in tonight? I can make it worth your while," she teasingly ran her fingers along his buttons. 

Max counted to ten silently, attempting to steady himself. "You can make it worth my while, after dinner," he said, grabbing her hands before they slipped any lower.

Zoey pouted, "Fine….I guess I'll go get ready." She threw an extra sway in her hips as she walked into the bedroom to get ready.

Max breathed a sigh of relief and checked the weather again. Still sunny and warm, so far so good.

Dinner went by in a blur, Max was so nervous he couldn't even tell you what they ate. He spent most of the dinner checking his pocket obsessively to make sure the ring was still there.

As they left the restaurant, Max suggested they take a walk along the beach, hoping she wasn't becoming suspicious of his plan.

Zoey smiled, as she leaned on his shoulder, "That sounds lovely."

They made their way down to the beach, stopping to leave their shoes on a nearby rock.

As they walked hand in hand Zoey told him about the latest hijinks at work.

"Can you believe that Tobin actually got his ferret certified as an emotional support animal? She looks adorable in her little vest, riding around on his shoulder. Good thing Joan is too busy running the company to notice!" Zoey laughed.

Max chuckled, shaking his head as he listened to her. He missed working at SPRQ Point, sometimes. But he found his true calling in helping out schools and libraries with their STEAM programs for kids. He was a natural teacher, his job allowed his creativity to flow and the children all adored him.

A cool wind picked up as the sun disappeared behind a cloud. Max glanced up and frowned, those were some very dark clouds overhead. Then he felt the first drops of rain beginning. 

"Maybe we should head back," Zoey suggested.

"It's only a few drops. It's not that bad," Max replied, determined to not let a few raindrops spoil his proposal.

As if the heavens had decided to mock him, the rain began pouring down suddenly.  

Max rolled his eyes at the sky and grabbed Zoey's hand. They raced back to where their shoes were and jumped into Max's car.

"Well, so much for romantic walks in the rain," Zoey quipped.

"Yeah, I don't think they mean this kind of rain," Max dryly replied.

Zoey leaned over to kiss him. "Well, it was still a lovely time. We'll go walk along the beach another day."

Max sighed and nodded as he started the car. He could feel the ring burning a hole in his pocket, he needed to come up with a new plan, and soon.


II.

After the rain fiasco, Max determined that keeping the proposal inside was a much safer option. He decided to surprise Zoey with a trip to the California Academy of Sciences. She loved going there when she was younger and had talked about going back when they had the time.

"Oh Max, let's go to the Planetarium next!" She said excitedly holding the map. He nodded and grinned at her eagerness, and they grabbed a spot line to wait for the next show to begin. Max glanced at his watch, 15 minutes till the show started, plenty of time.

He took a deep breath, "Zoey, there's something I've been…"

"Oh my gosh, Max look!" Zoey pointed at something in front of them.

Max turned to see a couple standing in front of the Planetarium, the man was down on one knee and holding out a box to the woman. A small crowd had gathered to watch the events unfold.

"Yes! A thousand times yes!" They heard the woman shriek in excitement.

Everyone burst into applause, except Max who stood there looking gobsmacked. "You have got to be kidding me," he mumbled, annoyed.

"That was so sweet," Zoey smiled at him.

"Yeah, really romantic," Max tried to keep his voice light.

"It was. So, what did you want to ask me?" Zoey said looking at him.

"Oh umm...I was thinking I might want to grow a beard and was wondering what your opinion was," he replied.

"You wanted to ask me if you should grow a beard or not?" Zoey looked at him puzzled. Max nodded, hoping she bought the lie.

"I mean, I hadn't really thought about it before, but yeah why not. I think it could be a good look."

"You do?" He asked in surprise. 

"Oh yes, not like a full mountain man of course. But a little scruff could be very sexy," she smirked, running her hand along his smooth face. 

"Well, then I'm glad I asked that important question," Max replied.

Zoey looked at him oddly and shrugged her shoulders, reading the program about what they would be seeing.

Max rolled his eyes at himself. Really a beard? That was the "important question?" There wasn't anything better you could have made up? Stupid couple ruining his plan, stealing his proposal idea. 

The happy couple walked by them, "Congratulations!" Zoey called out.

"Wasn't it just so romantic?" The woman sighed, smiling at her fiance. 

"It certainly was. Wasn't it, babe?" Zoey smiled at him.

"Oh yes, very romantic,” Max smiled tightly at them.

"Ooo, come on, the shows starting, " Zoey looped her arm through his and bid the couple farewell.

As Zoey enjoyed the show, Max began formulating a new plan, this one would leave nothing to chance.


III.

"No, I don't want to do the ring in her drink or food. I'll just give you guys the signal and then the violinist can come to the table and I'll propose then. It needs to be at the beginning of the meal….yes I know most couples wait until the end, but I'm not taking a chance with this. Yes, okay, thank you." Max hung up the phone, relieved that all the details were fixed with the restaurant. He and Zoey would go out to dinner, order their food and then Max would propose with the restaurant's violinist played nearby. It was the perfect plan.

Later That Evening

*sirens*

"How crazy is this?" Zoey said, huddled next to Max as they stood outside the restaurant.

"It's crazy alright," Max shook his head in disbelief.

"It's lucky no one was hurt in the fire," She replied. 

"Except the violinist's violin and the waiter's pride," Max reminded her.

"Well honestly, the violinist shouldn't have placed himself there. Maybe then the waiter wouldn't have tripped over him knocking over all those candles. I wonder why he was standing so close to the table near us," Zoey rambled. 

"Who knows, maybe someone had asked him to play nearby, " Max shrugged.

"Hmm, maybe. Well, I'm starving since we didn't get to eat. I think I saw a taco truck down the way," Zoey smiled at Max.

"Sure, tacos sound good."

"Come on, last one there is buying!" Zoey teased racing ahead of him.

Max chuckled, as he chased after her. He needed to stop trying to plan the perfect proposal. He would just carry the ring with him and ask her when the moment was right.


IV.

The park was crowded, though it always seemed to be that way for the summer concerts. Max and Zoey had forgotten about them when they had made plans to take a walk in the park.

At least the paths were clear, everyone was crowding over at the lawn to find a seat before the show started. 

They strolled hand in hand along the pond, quietly enjoying the way the water reflected the sun.

Zoey sighed and smiled as she looked at Max. "It's so peaceful here," she said. "As though we were the only two people here."

Max grinned, this was it, this was the moment. Palming the ring box, he knelt on one knee behind her.

"Zoey…"

"YO, ZO-DOG!" They heard a voice yell.

Zoey turned and saw Tobin walking towards them. Was that Abigail with him?

"Hey!" Zoey grinned and waved at the couple as they approached. 

Abigail smiled at Zoey as she leaned in for a hug.

"Hey bro, trouble with your shoe?" Tobin asked, looking down at Max who was still kneeling on the ground.

"Ummm yeah, just needed to tie it. All good now " Max replied. He slipped the box back in his pocket, before standing up.

"What are you guys doing here? I didn't even know you were seeing each other," Zoey commented.

"Oh yeah, we just started hanging out, outside of work and we just clicked. We're keeping it on the DL for now, but of course, you guys know all about that," Tobin tossed them a knowing wink.

"What? No, we weren't a thing when we worked together," Zoey sputtered as she blushed. 

"Sure, whatever. Anyway, we were coming to check out the concert, but it's some lame dad rock cover band so we decided to ditch. Figured we could go grab some burgers instead," Tobin replied.

"Ooo, burgers sound good right about now. You mind if we tag along?" Zoey asked. She turned and silently asked Max if that was okay with him and he nodded.

Abigail grinned and signed, 'Of course not. The more the merrier!' She looped her arm through Zoey's and they started to make their way out of the park.

"You okay, bro? You seem a little tense," Tobin looked at over at Max.

"Nope, fine. Everything is just fine," Max ground out.

"Well, come on then!" Tobin ran excitedly ahead to catch up with the girls.

Max shook his head, he was beginning to feel like the universe had it out for him. He sighed and went to catch up with the group. Maybe a public proposal wasn't the way to go, too many things could go wrong or interfere. A more private proposal, just the two of them at home, that was the ticket.


V.

It was movie night, they had maintained the tradition even after they started dating. Though once they became a couple there were a few times they had to rewatch the movies because they got too distracted during them.

It was Max's turn to pick and he had decided on, Big Trouble In Little China . He got everything set up, making sure the popcorn and wine were ready, so they could start as soon as Zoey got home. She'd been working long hours this week, she deserved to have a night where she could just kick back and relax.

Zoey came wearily trudging through the door and dropped her purse, letting out a sigh of relief.

"Welcome home, love," Max greeted her with a kiss.

"Mmmmm," she replied.

"Go put on your comfy clothes and then come sit on the couch. I've got everything ready, so you can take it easy," he told her.

"You're the best boyfriend ever," she smiled at him. Slowly she stumbled to their bedroom to change. 

Max put away her purse and keys and poured her a glass of wine.

She emerged in her PJs and Max led her over to the couch. She snuggled up next to him and took a sip of her wine.

Max hit play and they started the movie.

Zoey was enjoying the film, it was ridiculous and totally 80's, but it was the kind of fun she needed after the week she had.

She glanced over at Max and grinned, pressing a kiss to his cheek.

"What was that for?" He smiled at her.

"Because I can," she replied, reaching for more popcorn only to find an empty bowl. 

"I'll go make more," Max said standing up.

"You don't have to," Zoey protested.

"I want to," Max replied, placing a soft kiss on her lips. "Just relax, I'll be right back."

Max threw a bag of popcorn into the microwave, as he watched Zoey from the corner of his eye. She was leaning on her hand against the armrest, totally absorbed in the film.

He smiled, this was everything he wanted in life, right here at home. It dawned on him that this was the perfect opportunity. He raced into the bedroom and retrieved the ring from his drawer. 

He walked back out just as the microwave dinged. He poured the popcorn into the bowl and made his way back to the sofa.

He set the popcorn on the table and knelt on the floor next to Zoey's side of the sofa. 

"Zoey, there's something I wanted to ask you," he started.

Zoey let out a small snore, causing Max to look up in surprise. She had fallen asleep…. Max shook his head and chuckled to himself. Poor Zoey, she was more tired than she had let on.

He set the box down and scooped her into his arms.

"I was watching that," she sleepily protested, snuggling against him.

"With your eyes closed?" Max teasingly asked.

"Hear better that way," came the mumbled reply.

"Mmhmm, and the snores?"

"I don't snore!"

"No, you're right, my mistake. Must have been someone else snoring."

"Hmph," Zoey responded.

Max gently placed her in their bed and tucked her in. "I love you, Zoey."

"I love you too, Max," she sleepily replied.

Max smiled and headed out to put away everything. He picked up the ring box and sighed, someday he'd get the chance to ask her, and it would be absolutely perfect. 


+ 1

Zoey jiggled her leg nervously under the table where they sat.

"Zoey, are you okay? You look pale..er than usual," Max asked her.

"No, I'm fine. I'm actually really happy*," Zoey replied grinning at him.

"Oooookay," Max said looking at her oddly.

Mo had invited them to hear him perform at a local bar's open mic night, so they went to support him.

"When do you think Mo is on?" Max asked.

"Mmm, I don't know. Oh, look here he comes," Zoey pointed to the stage.

"Hello, everyone. I'm Mo, but I am not the one who will be dazzling you tonight with my voice."

Max looked at Zoey confused, and she shrugged her shoulders in response.

"Instead, my good friend, Zoey Clarke, has a very special performance for you all," Mo grinned and gestured for Zoey to come up.

Max stared at her as she stood up and tossed a wink at him as she made her way to the stage. Mo handed her the microphone, "Thank you Mo. Hello everyone, I'm Zoey Clarke, and Max, this one's for you."

Zoey blew Max a kiss and began to sing.

I had no choice but to hear you

You stated your case time and again

I thought about it

You treat me like I'm a princess

I'm not used to liking that

You ask how my day was

You've already won me over in spite of me

And don't be alarmed if I fall head over feet

And don't be surprised if I love you for all that you are

I couldn't help it

It's all your fault

Your love is thick and it swallowed me whole

You're so much braver than I gave you credit for

That's not lip service

You've already won me over in spite of me

And don't be alarmed if I fall head over feet

And don't be surprised if I love you for all that you are

I couldn't help it

It's all your fault

You are the bearer of unconditional things

You held your breath and the door for me

Thanks for your patience

Max watched, stunned as Zoey sang to him. She began to make her way off the stage still singing, as she walked towards him.

You're the best listener that I've ever met

You're my best friend

Best friend with benefits

What took me so long

I've never felt this healthy before

I've never wanted something rational

I am aware now

I am aware now

You've already won me over in spite of me

And don't be alarmed if I fall head over feet

And don't be surprised if I love you for all that you are

I couldn't help it

It's all your fault

The music stopped as Zoey stood in front of him smiling. She slowly lowered herself to one knee. "Max Richman, you are the love of my life, my best friend, and I can't imagine spending another moment without you by my side. Will you marry me?" 

Max slowly reached into his pocket and pulled out the ring box. "That was supposed to be my line," he grinned. "Yes, Zoey Clarke, I'll marry you!"

Max pulled her up, slipping the ring on her finger before capturing her lips with his.

Around them, everyone in the bar cheered and congratulated them.

They pulled apart flushing and breathless. 

"I guess the universe was trying to tell me something after all," Max grinned. 

Zoey looked at him confused.

"I'll tell you later."

"I'm just glad everything went smoothly. You have no idea how worried I was that something would go wrong or ruin it!" Zoey told him.

"No, you're right, I haven't a clue how that feels," he laughed and pulled her into another kiss.