Danny looked round the room, trying to decide whether he liked the way the table had been set.
Erin and Maureen had been arguing over who decorated the fishbowl best since the moment of their arrival and had made it a feature at the dinner table every night, so it didn't seem out of place.
He peered into the bowl and wondered, not for the first time, if the fish was traumatized.
"Hey Erin?" he called as his eye fell on the treasure chest at the bottom.
"Yeah?" She walked into the room struggling with a necklace. "Do you mind?"
Danny closed the clasp at the nape of her neck as he asked, "what's with the treasure chest?"
"I thought you said you wanted to make her work for it," she said with an impish grin.
"I was joking!"
"I know," she gurgled. "It's a red herring. You know she's gonna notice it. And speaking of, shouldn't she be back by now?" She clapped him dramatically on the arm. "Oh no! Have you checked her closet? Maybe she figured it out and ran away before you could ask her."
"Don't you have somewhere you need to be?"
"You sound kinda nervous there, buddy."
"Okay, okay. That's what you get for trying to be helpful," she muttered as she walked away.
Danny went back to looking at the table.
He'd opted not to replicate the dinner table at the Equinox, with the exception of an orchid in the small vase. CJ hadn't been in the right headspace to notice little details like that back then, so he doubted it would ring a bell now. This was more for him than for her.
Voices in the hallway alerted him to the fact that outgoing traffic had met incoming traffic, and he figured he'd better be found nonchalantly checking on dinner.
He turned to find CJ standing in the kitchen doorway.
"What'd you do, buy the store?" he asked as he took in the number of bags she was holding.
"Nothing fits me any more."
She looked a little more relaxed than he'd seen her in a couple of days which, in turn, relaxed him and renewed his faith in his gut instinct that this was the right time.
"Are they gone? Dinner's almost ready."
"Yes. Do I have ten minutes to grab a shower?"
"You look incredible," he said when she returned quarter of an hour later.
CJ blushed a little and touched her hair self-consciously. If he noticed that she'd bought a dress in the same shade of blue as the blouse she'd worn at the Equinox he didn't mention it. She snuck her hand into one of the billowing side pockets - to remind herself that no matter what happened next she hadn't shown up empty handed.
"Whatever that is smells wonderful."
Danny watched her sneak glances at the fishbowl all throughout dinner, but simply smiled into his water glass and said nothing.
"So .." he said, once he'd cleared the plates and sat back down in front of her.
The way she sat up straighter and gave him her undivided attention did nothing for his nerves, and suddenly he couldn't remember the monologue he'd been rehearsing in his head all day. He felt somewhat ridiculous going with a line from a movie, but he couldn't think of anything else.
"I'd .. uh .. I'd like to think I'm making you an offer you can't refuse, but -"
He faltered when he saw her eyes widen and fill with fear. Time stopped for just a moment, and then she buried her face in crossed hands. Danny stared, dumbstruck, as her elbows came down on the table and her shoulders shook.
"CJ, it's okay. If you're not ready we can wait or -"
He stood from his chair and knelt beside hers, rubbing her back reassuringly; unsure what else to do or say. Erin had warned him at the start of the pregnancy that he needed to tread carefully. Maybe he should have prepared better or waited a while longer.
It took him half a moment to realize that she wasn't crying at all.
"Nicely played," he said as he started to laugh himself.
She struggled to catch her breath.
"Sorry, I just .. I think it's the pregnancy hormones."
"Did one of my sisters put you up to this?"
"But you knew .."
"Yes," she said as she fanned her face in an effort to regain some semblance of control. "And I'm sorry, but I couldn't res-."
She trailed off helplessly as she was overtaken by another bout of laughter.
"Are you sure laughing like this is good for the baby?"
"I don't know but c'mere .."
She hugged him tightly, and Danny shook his head in amused disbelief.
"You're as crazy as the rest of them, you know that?"
"My human skills may still need some work."
CJ dabbed at her eyes as she released him.
"I think so." A hint of remorse flashed across her face. "Do you want to try that again?"
"Now you've thrown me off my game."
"Would it help if I proposed to you?"
"So that the banshees can have a field day? No thank you," he added as he took his seat again.
"I did get a manicure for the occasion."
"I noticed. So .."
She sat upright again.
"How long have you known?"
"Only since Thursday."
"And how'd you find out?"
"I overheard Margaret and Carol talking about the vase."
"Okay. Nice touch picking a dress in the same colour as the blouse, by the way. I should have realized."
She reached for his hand.
"Are you upset with me?"
"I should be, shouldn't I, but it's actually really nice to have you back."
"It's nice to be back."
She waited patiently for a a few moments and then said, "Danny?"
"Do you have a ring for me?"
"A nine dollar one from Kmart until we get one we both like."
Her eyes sparkled with mirth.
"Is it in the treasure chest?" she asked as she leaned towards the bowl.
Danny thanked the powers that be for blessing him with a forward thinking twin who had given him the opening he hadn't realized he would need.
"Yeah?" she responded softly, her attention drawn back to him as he reached across the table and slipped his index finger under her hand.
She was so mesmerized by the twinkle in his eyes that all she could do was smile at him.
"It's not nice to keep a guy waiting."
She followed his eyes to his upturned palm.
"That's not a nine dollar ring from Kmart," was all she could think to say.
"No it's not."
She lifted the ring off his hand and angled it this way and that. "It's like a hall of mirrors," she said as she admired the interplay of dark and light planes.
"Yeah?" She couldn't take her eyes off the ring.
"A yes would probably be good right about now. Then we can, you know, see how it looks on your finger?"
"Yes," she mouthed softly.
"Couldn't hear you," Danny said, raising a hand to his ear.
"I'm not gonna say it again," she said with a laugh as she held out the ring and her left hand.
The ring slipped on without incident and they looked at one another and smiled.
"Did you get it as is, or did you have this stone cut and set this way?" she added as she ran her finger along the double pavé band.
Danny's smile faded just enough for her to catch his hesitation.
"When I went off the grid a few months ago I was trying to source an ethical diamond because I felt it would be important to you," he said as he ran a thumb over her fingers.
"You almost came back in a box."
Looking at the very real tears in her eyes now, he opted not to tell her that he'd failed in his mission and that Franklin Hollis had stepped in to make it happen. Instead he brought his chair around next to hers and wrapped an arm around her shoulder.
"But I didn't, and it made a beautiful ring."
She leaned against him, and rested her chin on his shoulder.
"I did a thing yesterday," she said after a while.
"Took a few hours off and went to a jeweller downtown."
"Took a few hours off ? Wouldn't want that to get around."
CJ pulled a box out of the pocket in her dress and gave it to him.
"I wanted to bring something symbolic of my own to table tonight, but if you don't like it we can take it back and get som -"
"You got me a wedding ring?"
"Should I have bought you cufflinks instead?"
"It was the most tangible I could think of, Danny."
"I know, and I appreciate that," he murmured before he kissed her.
"Was that yes loud enough for you?"
'Yes." He kissed her again.
"I didn't get one for me, because I wasn't sure if the ring was going to be gold, rose gold or white go- "
CJ sensed a shift in emotional intensity and looked at him expectantly.
"Let's take this to the couch," he said, as he led her there by the hand.
"Do you .. uh .. do you want to wear your mother's wedding ring? We can change the setting on the engagement ring to match it, if that's what you want to do."
"My mother's ring was buried with her."
"Okay, then .. uh .. how would you feel about wearing my grandmother's ring?"
She stared down at the ring he was holding between his fingers.
"Your father's mother's or your mother's mother's?"
"Is there a story to go with it?"
"You know there is. "
"You'd better tell it to us then." she said as she settled against him and pulled his hand onto her stomach. "It can be the first official family story you tell our daughter."
Danny smiled and indulged her.
"My great grandfather knew a guy who knew a guy working in France with Fouche and Picard in 1895. The first guy knew that my great grandfather wanted -"
"I have no idea who Fouche and Picard are."
"They made the blowtorch which allowed for the melting, casting and fusion of platinum to itself. And because of that landmark event, platinum jewelry became a thing. Well, until World War One when -"
"Right. So, the guy got my great grandfather one of the very first pieces of platinum from the lab and he had my great grandmother's wedding ring made from it."
"This ring," she clarified.
"Yes. My great grandmother died before my grandmother got married, so she used it as her wedding ring. When she died it went to my mother, but there was a problem because -"
"There are four girls in your family?"
"Exactly. There was an expectation that it would go to Maureen, as the eldest, but Deirdre and Erin had very strong feelings about it and there were a lot of big emotions and angry tears. Tara came up with the idea that it should go to me instead. They all signed a pact which stated, in no uncertain terms, that when I asked for it they all had to give permission based on their assessment of the situation. I'm almost certain Maureen brought the document with her, if you want to see it."
"And did they?"
"Give their permission? Yup."
"I'm surprised they didn't offer to dress you."
Danny gave her the stinkeye.
"Who's been blabbing?"
"My lips are sealed."
"You're absolutely going to fit right in."
"Danny, there's one more thing."
"There's one more thing?"
"I called Jed Bartlet on Thursday."
Jed Bartlet listened in what she could only assume was amusement.
"Religious or secular?"
"One of each? I'd like to let Danny decide which he prefers."
"Let's see, what do you remember of the Eucharistic Prayer?"
"The priest says The Lord be with you?" she said hesitantly. "To which we respond and with your spirit?"
"That's right. Dominos vobiscum. Et cum spiritum tuo. What's next?"
CJ chuckled for a moment, and then closed her eyes and recited from the beginning.
"The Lord be with you. And with your spirit. Lift up your hearts .."
"Lift up your hearts," he echoed. "Sursum Corda. Although technically, because Latin doesn't distinguish between the definite and the indefinite, it should be - "
"Excuse me, did you say sursum corda?" CJ said as she took notes, hoping to stave off an etymological conversation. "I like that. Do you have a secular phrase for me?"
"Lots of choice there. Ad meliora, towards better things. Ut ameris, amabilis esto, Ovid's if you want to love, be lovable. Destitutus ventis, remos adhibe, if the winds fail you, use your oars. And factum fieri infectum non potest, it is impossible for a deed to be undone."He waited patiently on the line while she wrote them down.
"Maybe something with a more .. positive undertone?" she said carefully.
Jed's laughter came pealing down the phone at her.
"You're having a go at me, aren't you?"
"Yes. For interrupting me. Although they are all real phrases."
"Do you have a real recommendation?"
"And what's that?"
"Sic erat in fatis."
"So it was fated."
"He's going to think he's headed for the executioner's block."
"Danny is a literate man, he'll appreciate the sentiment."
"I'm still not convinced that wasn't a dig," she said as she felt Danny smile against her temple.
"Funny that he should say that." He held up the ring and pointed to the inside. "Can you see what it says here?"
"Mo Anam Cara. Did I just butcher that?"
"It's Irish for friend of my soul."
"That's beautiful. Oh .." Her face lit up as she sat up straight and then stood from the couch. "I'll be right back."
"What you got there?" he asked when she came back
"If I'm going to wear your great grandmother's ring, would you like to wear the ring my father wore while he was married to my mother? I took it when he re-married, because my brothers showed no interest in it."
Danny took it from her and ran his finger along the inside.
"This is a nice ring, and we can definitely have it engraved."
"Sursum corda or sic erat in fatis?"
"Any reason we can't use both?"
"With ellipses to separate them?"
"Or a comma."
"Is there any wish fulfillment scenario I should be aware of?"
"What do you mean?"
"My sisters had their weddings planned out by the time they were fifteen."
"Do you want to get married in church?"
He reflected on it for a while.
"It'd certainly make a lot of family members happy. Who would you want there?"
"Oh God, I hadn't really thought that far ahead."
"Doesn't Franklin own an island somewhere? We could get married there and honeymoon on the yacht. Or we could just get married on the yacht. Why are you asking?"
"I've been thinking about it a lot these past two days."
"I think I would like to have a small church wedding in Dayton. It may be the last thing my father gets to see me do."
"How was he doing today?"
Danny pulled her closer when he heard the hitch in her voice.
"Do you want to do this soon?"
"How about we do it over Thanksgiving? We're going to be there already, and most people will have to decline politely."
"Or maybe it will give them a legitimate reason to skip out on family obligations."
"You have a point. So how's this? We get married over Thanksgiving, family only. Then we have a vow exchange on the island or the yacht and invite everyone to that. We don't even have to tell anyone about the church wedding if you don't want to."
He was about to add something else when he almost jumped out of his skin.
"My phone's blowing up," he said as he pulled it from his pocket and looked at it. "What do you want to bet that they didn't actually go anywhere and are all huddled outside somewhere?"
"You know what I think?"
He cast her a sideways glance and laughed out loud at what he saw.
"Think you can pull it off?" he asked as he stood and helped her up from the couch.
"I just need to get my game face on."
"Okay," he said with a chortle as he texted you should come in to Erin.
The front door opened shortly afterwards and they heard the sound of several people coming towards them. Maureen appeared first - with Erin, Orlagh, Carol and Margaret hot on her heels. Danny shuffled from one foot to the other, looking discomfited. They were all brandishing phones and talking at once and nobody seemed to notice.
"I have Deirdre and Tara on the phone."
"Patrick's calling from a bar with the others," Erin said.
"I have your father."
"She said no," Danny said quietly.
"I have Josh, who has Sam on the other - what?" asked Carol.
"She said no," Danny repeated as he handed his grandmother's ring back to his mother.
There were muted conversations while everyone ended their calls as discreetly as they could. A tense, awkward silence descended as the women struggled to decide to where to look or even what to do with themselves. All except Margaret, who stepped up to CJ and looked intently at her.
CJ held it together as long as she could, but was no match for that kind of scrutiny.
"You've got to be kidding me .." Erin said as she looked between her brother and CJ in disbelief. "Were you intentionally trying to give mom or dad or Maureen a heart attack?"
"Hey!" Maureen said defensively. And then her face broke out into a smile and she wrapped her fingers around her sister's bicep. "Erin .. we're no longer one woman down for family games!"
"Oh my God, you're right."
Danny groaned as he turned to CJ.
"Last chance to back out."