Danny doesn’t know how his life has come to this, standing on a sidewalk in front of a Lutheran church holding the ridiculous hat of his Hindu associate while she flirts with a pastor.
He sends a silent prayer up to the Big Guy in a bid to prevent the hellfire and damnation that is surely imminent as Mindy moves to touch the pastor’s collar.
Running the brim of the monstrosity he’s holding through his hands, he tries not to think about how stupid he must look right now. The guys in this congregation probably think he’s a dope for coming to church with a woman who’s interested in another man. And an even bigger dope for holding her ugly hat.
He does some casual stretches in the sunlight and shrugs off the imagined judgment. He is secure enough in his own masculinity that holding Mindy’s hat doesn’t faze him at all.
A guy walks past and shoots Danny a sympathetic smile and Danny hunches his shoulders forward and looks away.
Nope, not at all.
The turbulence settles and Mindy’s hand is wrapped around his. She goes to pull it back and the gut reaction he has is primitive and possessive and not entirely unprecedented where she’s concerned, and he’s grabbing her hand before he even has time to process the impulse.
They sit quietly for a moment as his heart pounds in his chest and finally he calms enough to ask, “You okay?” He barely acknowledges her response as he pulls his hand away.
The rest of the flight is the two of them avoiding each other’s eyes. Danny’s hand still tingles and his palms are sweating and he rubs his thighs to try to stop both sensations.
He’s a 38-year-old man, for Christ’s sake. He shouldn’t be this thrilled about holding a woman’s hand.
Danny shakes his fist out as Brendan Deslaurier’s speedo-clad body drops to the sand. “Figures he’d have a glass jaw,” he manages between gritted teeth.
“Danny! You idiot, what are you doing?” Mindy is there, taking his injured hand in both of hers and examining his knuckles. When she sees that he is, for the most part fine, she slaps his bare arm. “What were you thinking?”
“Ow!” He moves away from her. “Hey, I was defending your honor!”
She moves closer to him. “Did he say something about me? Because I will rip him apart.”
He wonders what it says about his survival instinct that this side of her turns him on. “Well, no, not exactly. It was more about the practice. But you did say before that he treated you badly!”
“Yeah, and that was months ago, Danny! I’ve moved on since then.” She shakes her head. “Let’s go get some ice for your hand, champ.”
They’re quiet walking back to the practice’s tent for the triathlon, but she clears her throat before they arrive. “Thank you for, you know, defending my honor. As unwise as it was, it was a… sweet gesture.”
“I’d do anything for you, Min,” he says, avoiding her gaze. “You know, as a friend. I do- for all- the same… for any of my friends.” He winces internally at this gibberish.
“Oookay, buddy, I think you’ve spent enough time in the sun.” She pulls him into the tent where Jeremy and Betsy are patching up Morgan’s head injury.
“I can’t believe you lost! And to the midwives!” Jeremy is railing. “How will we ever be able to hold our heads up in the building?”
“You know, Danny,” Mindy says instead of answering Jeremy, “I also slept with Jeremy and he also treated me badly. Get ‘im!”
They’re out to dinner and it’s the sixth time since they started this whatever-it-is they’re doing. It’s not a date, because they are not dating. They’re just occasionally going to dinner together. And making out. And having sex.
So they’re basically dating. But he can’t get her to admit it.
Anyway, tonight they’re at some new restaurant that has “cuisine” and not real, life-sustaining food, and both of them are miserable because they both like life-sustaining food and not glazes and foams and crap like that.
“Let’s just get the check, hit up a deli, and go back to my place,” he offers and Mindy grins and signals the waiter.
It’s as they’re walking out that someone calls out behind them, “Mindy Lahiri?” And then Danny is wincing as Mindy makes this godawful screeching noise and moves to embrace the redhead who called her name.
"Omigod, Claire! I haven’t seen you since freshman year! How are you?” And the two proceed to cover the entirety of their lives since college while Danny is standing quietly and starting to get really fucking hungry.
“Danny, hold this,” Mindy demands, shoving her huge purse-wallet thing at him while she begins to program this girl’s information into her phone. Danny catches it before it falls to the ground and continues to stand there in silence.
It’s heavier than he’d thought and he briefly wonders what the hell she could be carrying around that she thinks she might need. He’s not brave enough to go poking around; he’d learned about women’s purses the hard way after discovering a tampon in his ma’s purse when he was a kid.
As the two women begin to say their goodbyes and hug again, Claire smiles at him. “Thanks for being so patient… Danny, was it? This is a good boyfriend, Min, don’t let go of him.”
Mindy doesn’t correct her friend, just waves. As they walk away, she takes her purse back and hooks her arm through his. “You were very patient and nice, and to thank you for that, I will buy you a Reuben and take you home for sex.”
Danny smirks at her. “Hey, if all I’ve gotta do to get a sandwich and sex is hold your bag for a few minutes, I’m in.”
Danny doesn’t know why it feels different this time. Maybe it was the bottle of very good wine they split, or the intense conversation about their past, or maybe everything they’d been doing all summer has built up to this moment.
He and Mindy have had sex, numerous times, but this is the first time it feels like… more. It feels like life-and-death, what they’re doing now, and it should scare him, but instead he just feels like smiling.
She sighs softly into his mouth, her hands gentle on his shoulders, his arms, his waist. He sweeps her hair off her face and runs a thumb over her cheekbone.
Her body gives under his, welcoming him, and Danny parts her thighs, pulling them around his hips and says her name. He waits until she locks eyes with him and then slowly, slowly pushes into her. She bites her lips and her eyelids flutter, but don’t close.
He doesn’t dare look away from her eyes, has no desire to, as he rocks into her. She’s tipping her head back but doesn’t break eye contact as she moans his name.
Her hips tilt up into his and Danny helps hold them in that position. His thrusts grow more forceful as he feels the pull of her body and her name escapes him again.
After it’s over, they’re still looking at each other. Danny can see the wonder in her expression and knows she sees the same in his. They trade soft kisses and touches and Danny’s heart rolls over in his chest as he realizes that he’s in love with this woman.
And there’s a strong possibility that she loves him back.
Danny is grateful for the dark jacket he’s wearing over his tuxedo shirt, because he has absolutely sweated right through the fabric by this point.
He is standing at the front of his church with his brother Richie, Stevie, Morgan, and Jeremy at his side, wondering why the hell he and Mindy didn’t elope.
Technically, they’re already married; they did the traditional Hindu thing for her family. This is the Catholic wedding mass for his family – well, for his ma, really, and Danny wonders again how she managed to talk Father Francis into performing this without requiring Mindy to go through the pre-marital counseling. The thought of Mindy going toe-to-toe with Father Francis makes him smirk a little and forget his nerves, so he goes with it until the moment the pipe organ strikes up with the Wedding March.
He sucks in a breath as he turns, waiting for the doors to open.
When they do and he sees her, he feels a lump in his throat and swallows desperately against it and berates himself for it. He’s done this once already and this big show is really all for her, but at that moment, he’s so happy he agreed.
She looks amazing in white – one of her arguments for why they should have a church wedding instead of just the Hindu service – and although Danny loved her in the red sari, he can’t think of anything more beautiful than her right now.
Finally exhaling, he tells her so as she’s handed over to him, and she grins up at him from under her veil as they turn to the priest.
The wait gets longer and more agonizing each time they go through it.
In the two years they’ve been married, this is the fourth time Mindy’s been late enough to warrant a blood test. They’ve been trying almost the entire time and each negative result crushes her just a little more.
It crushes him, too, but he tries to be strong for her.
When Morgan returns from the phlebotomy office with a sad look on his face, Mindy doesn’t say anything. She simply crumples onto the floor of her office and bursts into tears.
Danny drops down next to her and takes her in his arms.
“Please don’t say it’s not a big deal or we’ll try again or- or- anything,” she pleads.
“I won’t,” he manages hoarsely, pressing his lips to her hair. “I won’t.”
He rocks her in his arms while she cries and he blinks away his own tears. He’d really thought this time was it. They’d waited two full months before going forward with the test after being disappointed before.
After a long while, she quiets, her breath still coming in pants, but the tears have stopped. “Maybe…” she says hesitantly, “maybe we weren’t meant to have children.”
“Hey.” Danny leans away from her, taking her by the shoulders. He waits until she looks up. “Don’t say that. This is going to happen. We’ll run all the tests again and make sure each of us is definitely okay, but sometimes these things take time, you know that. And when it does happen? We are gonna love that little baby so much more because we had to fight to get her.”
Mindy sniffs and gives him a watery smile. “Her? Are you so sure it’s going to be a girl?”
He helps her move between his legs, his arms wrapped around her midsection, her back against his chest. “It’s definitely going to be a girl,” he states firmly. “And so will the other three after her. We’ll have a houseful of beautiful Castellano girls.”
“Oh, Danny,” she laughs up at him. “Tell me all about this future you’ve obviously carefully planned for us.”
It’s 3 AM and Danny is in the nursery while Mindy sleeps. Again.
He’s listening for any movement from their room because the last thing he wants is to get caught waking their daughter up. Again.
But he just can’t help himself and he picks the baby up from her bassinet and cradles her in his arms. “Hey, little Abbey,” he croons softly to her, running his finger tips over her downy dark hair. She huffs a little, but her eyes stay closed. He should’ve known: stubborn, like her mother.
He grins at this thought and plays with her little hand, raising it to his lips and kissing her tiny fist. He walks around the room, just content to hold his daughter in the silence.
He hears a floorboard crack from behind him and sees Mindy leaning against the doorjamb, her hand curled up by her chin, half-hiding a smile. “Danny!” she chastises softly. “You’re going to spoil her!”
“Good,” he says, “this is my perfect little girl and she deserves to be spoiled.”
Mindy just hums at that and comes up to touch and look at Abbey, too. “Babe, I know I might be biased, but we make really cute kids. Like unnaturally beautiful. No one else should have kids this year because it’s not fair because their kids will not even come close to our kid.”
Danny chuckles and presses a kiss to Mindy’s forehead. “Are you saying that you’re not as opposed to my league of Castellano girls as you were before?”
“Whoa!” she says. “Danny, it’s been five days. Let’s take some time and let my business repair itself a little and see how this goes.” But she grins. “And then we can talk about it.”
He knew this was going to happen, Danny thinks morosely as he stands on the sidewalk. In the winter. At 5 AM.
He’d told Mindy that the girls weren’t ready for the responsibility of a dog. She’d sworn up and down that they’d use this opportunity to teach their daughters responsibility.
"That’s fine for you to say that,” he’d said at the time. “But I don’t want to be the one freezing my nuts off while a dog does its business. The girls will have to be the ones taking care of it – not you, not me.”
Of course, it’s not like he was any better in the discipline area than Mindy was. He was actually kind of worse at it than her. He’d fully meant to force Piper out of bed this morning after the dog woke him up, but she’d looked so cute and peaceful snuggled in her sheets that he just couldn’t bring himself to.
Hence his current predicament.
He sighs. They could’ve at least picked out a more masculine dog for him to walk around.
“C’mon, you stupid mutt,” he growls at the fluffy brown Pomeranian puppy. “Do your business. It’s cold out.”
She sniffs around for another minute before trotting back up to him and rearing up on her back legs, her signal for wanting to be picked up. “You have got to be kidding me,” Danny mutters. “You don’t even have to go?!” He bends over and picks her up in disgust, then chuckles when she licks his chin. “Yeah, yeah, you think you’re cute, huh?”
“Danny!” Mindy whisper-yells out the door. “What are you doing? You’ve been out here forever! And who are you talking to? Are you talking to the dog?”
“I’m coming, Min. Go back to bed. I’ll be there in a minute.” He hears her shuffle off as he steps up to the door and hangs up the dog’s leash. He stills for a minute, listening. When he hears the click of their bedroom door, he heads for the cabinet next to the sink, sending the puppy into a paroxysm of delight.
He fishes a biscuit out of the box he’s hidden in the back and sets the dog on the floor. He pushes her tush down with his foot and as soon as she settles into a seated position, he praises her and gives her the treat. “Look, this is our secret, right?” he says while she gnaws away.
“Right, Danny,” he hears from behind him, startling him, just before Mindy erupts into laughter.
“I’m just saying, it’s my house, I should be allowed to say what I want.” Danny stirs the red sauce with more aggression than it merits and scowls at his wife.
“Okay, babe, I get that, but it is also Abbey’s birthday and the first time she’s bringing a boy over for dinner and it’s kind of a big deal.” Mindy pulls a cooking noodle from the pot he has going on the stove and tosses it from hand to hand trying to get it to cool enough to eat.
After nearly twenty years of marriage, he’s learned to let stuff like that go. In fact, he’d probably be more disappointed if she wasn’t in the kitchen stealing food from him while he cooked. It’s a tradition now.
“I still say she’s too young to date,” he says stubbornly, knowing Mindy is rolling her eyes without even looking.
“Danny! She’s sixteen now! Look,” she says, coming up behind him and wrapping her arms around his waist, “I know in your mind, she’ll always be our little baby. She will in my mind, too, but we’ve gotta let her try out this adult thing before it’s time for her to go to college and she has no idea how to function.”
He removes the sauce from the heat and turns in his wife’s hold, wrapping his arms around her as well. “I guess you’ve got a point,” he reluctantly admits, resting his forehead against hers. “That doesn’t mean I’ve got to like it. Or him.”
Mindy kisses him. “No, no, it doesn’t. But I hope what it does mean is that you will be respectful and polite and not too intimidating.”
He returns her kiss. “But I can be a little intimidating, right?”
“Oh, yeah. Hell, yeah!” she says with a grin. “He needs to know that if he hurts our little girl, we are both skilled with scalpels.”
Danny chuckles, then frowns. “But did he have to be a Deslaurier!”