She’s just gotten back from Mac and Will’s, and her cheeks were still pink from the cold and the exertion of chasing a toddler through piles of leaves shrieking and laughing.
“You had fun.” Don grins as she nods unnecessarily, tossing her coat and scarf onto a hook before joining him in the kitchen.
“Will mentioned wanting to have one last barbecue before the weather gets really horrible.”
“I know. It’s still weird. Will being social. He says kids need to see that their parents have friends, but he’s blowing smoke and he knows we know it.”
“You, Me, Jim, I’d assume, so Maggie, Neal, Mac will probably invite the rest of the staff, Elliot, his wife, the kids, the usual.”
“Zane can go—”
“Right.” He slides a bowl toward her and she peers at it, grabs a couple of watermelon cubes to pop in her mouth. “What did you get up to this afternoon?”
“Proofed copy for Monday, made fruit salad,” he knocks his knife against the bowl before going back to the pile of melon in front of him. “Agonized over asking you to move in with me.”
“I practically live here.”
“I know. I wasn’t sure how you felt about marriage proposals.”
“Is this about the rom coms? I promised you you didn’t have to watch any more if—”
“This isn’t about the chick flicks.”
“Remember the disaster?”
“The disaster.” She pops another cube into her mouth. “The time you asked Maggie—”
“Yeah. Yeah, I asked you and you said…”
“Oh,” Watermelon drips down her chin and she wipes it off with the back of her hand. “Did you buy a ring?”
She’s gleeful and he seems to know that because there’s a glimmering amusement in his question. “Do you really want to know?”
“You did. I know you did.”
“I can return it.”
“I want to see it. Can I see it?”
“I don’t want you to think—”
“Don.” She draws out his name, a little whiny, a little too like Mac judging by the look on his face.
“I’ll show it to you, but don’t— just wait for a second before you say anything, all right?”
“Fine. Yes.” She agrees more gently when he looks at her quizzically. “I don’t like mysteries.”
“Puzzles.” He corrects as he wipes his hands on a towel and pulls open the drawer behind him, setting the box before her with a flourish.
“It’s—” She hums to herself, ticking off seconds because he had told her to wait, because she can’t think of anything to say. “This is kind of terrifying.” She laughs a little, relieved when he smiles.
“It’s an option. There are plenty of other options.”
“You don’t sound upset.”
“Upset is different than disappointed.” He reminds her. “And you haven’t said no. It’s all right if you want to think about it.”
“You said options.” She latches onto that, the logical thing, the list she knows he’s made because he knew that would be easier for her.
“Yes to an engagement, no to an engagement, yes I’ll move in with you, no I won’t, I want to think about any or all of the above, some combination of those.”
“My lease is up at the end of next month.”
“So that’s a place to start.” He offers and she narrows her eyes at him.
“You already knew that.”
“I was there when you signed to renew the lease last year.” He reminds her and she sighs, scoffing in mock affront.
“Half my stuff is already here.”
“Everything but my furniture is already here.” She amends. “I don’t want to get rid of my furniture.”
“OK. Make a list of what you want here and what we can stash in Mac’s attic: my bed, your couch, our bed, our couch, whatever.”
“What if Will—”
“He gets the garage. It’s Mac’s attic. She won’t have a problem with sharing; she’s going to go ballistic, try and throw us an apartment warming party.”
“We’ve been living here for—”
“I know. It’s Mac.”
“Can I think about,” she gestures toward the ring and he smiles. “What’s up your sleeve Keefer?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” He says evenly as the corners of his eyes crinkle and she frowns at him.
“You knew I’d...”
“It was a possibility. I never know what you’re going to do.”
He drops the mesh bags onto the counter beside the ring box, watching her carefully. “There’s a necklace and an anklet, depending on what you’re wearing, if you feel like showing off. You’re welcome to tell people you bought it out of one of those toy capsule machines.”
“It’s too—” she picks up the ring box carefully to get a better look. “It’s beautiful.”
“It’s a little understated.” He offers her an out.
“It’s perfect.” It was. She had always loved Mac’s ring for how perfect it had been for the two of them, her and Will, but she had never wanted, would never wear something that lavish.
She had always preferred her jewelry to be simple, elegant. This was that and something more. He’d gone with a slender rose gold band, a sliver of metal, with a stone that sat squarely in the middle, faintly rimmed with more gold. The whole thing was a whisper of a promise compared to the diamond Will had bought Mac, but if anything that made it more perfect.
She wanted the ring. She could say yes to the ring, even if she wasn’t sure she could wear it, yet. They were a couple. They had been a couple. She didn’t want to lose that, she knew she wouldn’t, but still she hesitated, looked up at him, relieved to see he was still smiling.
“Think about it. I’m not asking you to plan a wedding in six hours or six days, six years.”
“But,” she’s fumbling for something but she doesn’t know what.
“An engagement doesn’t have to mean a wedding. I just want you to move in with me and I wanted to ask you; I knew it was important.”
“But you’re serious.” She breathes out suddenly, relieved? The word doesn’t feel right, but she’s too caught up to stop and examine it.
“More serious than I’ve ever been.”
“That doesn’t seem too serious.” She looks at him, studies the way he’s been watching her, the tilt to his head, the smile playing at the corners of his mouth, the lightness that hadn’t left his eyes since she’d picked up the ring.
“Sloan Sabbith would you— for fuck’s sake put a man out of his misery. If I need to take out a second mortgage—”
“You already did that.” She reminds him and then smiles lightly at the exasperation that flickers across his face. “I’m taking the ring. It’s mine.”
“I know that.” He considers her quietly for a moment. “So what’s the hang up?” He’s gentle, being vulnerable in a way she admires, despite the fact he hasn’t lost any of his playfulness. This is her conversation. The ball’s in her court.
“Baggage. Dirty laundry.” She’s sorting through words looking for the right metaphor even though she knows he understands without it.
“Time.” He offers her and she nods, reaching for the mesh bags, the slender chains.
“Even though you spent all afternoon making fruit salad?”
“It wasn’t meant to be celebratory fruit salad. I was trying not to think too much.”
“By lopping off a few fingers?”
“They’re all intact.” He assures her with a bit of mock offense and she laughs, a genuine laugh as he wiggles his fingers in the air between them.
“I’m glad.” She offers honestly with a smile as the laughter fades and he nods, knowing, she hopes, that she hadn’t meant about his fingers, although in general she did appreciate that. She was glad he had asked and she hoped he knew that, although she can’t quite figure out how to tell him, so she smiles instead and reaches over to brush her fingers over the back of his hand. “Do you want to listen to Mac shrieking in your ear or should I call her?”
“Do I?” He’s trying not to laugh. It’s an absurd question. “What do you think?”
“I’m going to go call her.”
“So I’ll tell her.”
“OK. So I’m taking the ring and the fruit salad.”
“Sounds good. Should I bring you the melon when I’m finished?”
“Only if you want Mac screaming in your ear.” She smiles at him. “I think we just got engaged.”
“That’s great. Make sure you let Will know you’re planning on marrying his wife. He’ll want a new tux for the wedding.”
“You’re an idiot.”
“I know.” He turns his hand to squeeze hers. “Take your time, but maybe not about the furniture. We should get that taken care of before the news cycle brings us some new fresh hell.”