The Proposal

Chapter 1:

Aiden Jennings had a plan. He wanted to propose to his girlfriend of a year, Hope Williams. He wanted everything to be perfect starting with the ring. He didn't know her ring size, yet, he didn't want to ask her what it was, for she would surely figure out that he was going to propose. So, he had suggested to her that they have a movie night at her place. He planned on sneaking up to her bedroom while she was watching the movie with the kids. There, he would find one of her rings, put it in his pocket, then bring it to the jeweler the next morning to see what size it was and go from there.

So, here he was, an arm around Hope as they sat on the couch together underneath a blanket with the lights out. The kids were on the floor in bean bag chairs, digging into their bowls of popcorn as they all watched Night at the Museum. It was a cute movie, but Aiden had more important things to concern himself with.

Aiden kissed Hope's temple. "Do you mind if I use your bathroom?"

Hope kissed his cheek. "Mi casa es su casa."

Aiden smiled at her. She was his world, and he could hardly wait until her home really was his home. Or maybe they would even get their own place. "I'll be right back." Before any of that could happen, he had to get a ring.

"Do you want me to pause it?" Hope called out after him.

"No, I've seen it before. You can keep playing it," he said. He then started to head up the stairs.

"We have a bathroom down here, remember?" she asked.

Aiden paused on the stairway. "Yes, I know, but I kind of want more privacy this time, if you catch my drift." His cheeks flushed. It was the only excuse he could think of to use the upstairs bathroom instead of the downstairs bathroom.

"He means he has to poop," Ciara said bluntly.

Chase made a face. "Gross, Dad."

Chase and Ciara both giggled.

Aiden quickly headed up the stairs, too embarrassed to even look at Hope. What he wouldn't do for love…

He headed down the hallway until he found Hope's bedroom. He then immediately began searching through her dresser, looking for any ring of hers he could find.

"Come on, where do you keep your jewelry?" he asked quietly to no one in particular. He couldn't find a single piece of jewelry in her dresser. He headed over to her vanity, and still found nothing. Next, he went to her closet. He found a jewelry box. "Yes!" he said.

"Aiden, are you all right? Where are you?" came Hope's voice from just down the hall.

Panicking, Aiden left the box where it was. He quietly and quickly closed the closet door, then quickly rushed into Hope's bathroom and shut the door.

Very soon after, he heard her voice right outside the bathroom door. "Aiden? Are you in there? You've been up here a while, so I came up to check on you."

"Yes. Sorry. I'm really not feeling well all the sudden," Aiden called out.

"Not that I mind, but what are you doing using my bedroom bathroom? The one in the hallway was closer," she called in.

"I know, but I wanted a lot of privacy. I still get embarrassed going to the bathroom at someone else's house when I have to…you know." Aiden blushed again. He was digging himself a deeper hole, he knew but he was willing to put up with the embarrassment for now if it meant Hope being surprised when he proposed.

"Do you need any stomach medicine?" she asked.

"I'm good, thanks," Aiden said. You know what? I'm starting to feel better now that I've gone to the bathroom. Why don't you go downstairs and make sure Ciara and Chase aren't having a popcorn fight again? I'll be down as soon as I finish up here."

"Yeah, I suppose I better. They made a mess of the kitchen earlier. The last thing I need is for the family room to have hidden kernels everywhere. Are you sure you're all right?" Hope asked.

"I'm fine. I'll be down in just a minute," Aiden said, silently willing her to leave.

"All right," Hope said.

Aiden waited until he was sure she was gone. Then, he flushed the toilet and washed his hands just for show before heading out of the bathroom and over to her closet. He found the jewelry box again and opened it up. "Jackpot!" he said as he found a whole line of rings propped up in the ring holder section of the box. He took the first one he could find, then placed it in his pocket. He started to close the lid.

Suddenly, a voice started him.

"What are you doing?" the voice asked.

Aiden dropped the box from being so startled. Hope's jewelry sprawled all over the closet floor. His face flushed as he instinctively cursed. Then, his heart pounded as he registered that someone else was in the room, and had seen what happened.

He looked up and his cheeks flushed even warmer when he saw none other than Ciara standing there, staring down at him. Her arms were crossed over her chest, and she was tapping her foot impatiently. "I asked you a question and I'm waiting for your answer."

Aiden swallowed hard. He was busted by a brat.

Aiden quickly scrambled to put the jewelry back in the box before Hope decided to come up and see what was going on. "Ciara! Hi." He laughed nervously. "What are you doing up here?" I thought you were watching the movie."

"Chase had to use the bathroom, so we paused it. I came up to get a blanket, and heard you nosing around in my mother's room," Ciara said, her arms still crossed over her chest. "Care to explain?"

Aiden sighed. Why did Hope have to have a daughter who was wise beyond her years? Why couldn't Ciara be a sweet little girl who minded her own business? "Well, you see, I was looking through your mother's necklaces to see what ones she already had. I want to surprise her with a new one, and I didn't want to give her something she already owned."

"I see." Ciara raised an eyebrow. "I'm guessing you don't want me to tell my mom about this."

"That would be nice if you didn't," Aiden said. He got the jewelry back in the box, closed the lid, placed the box back where it was, then stood up and closed the closet door. Thankfully, it didn't appear that Ciara had seen him place one of Hope's rings in his pocket.

"If you want me to keep my mouth shut, it will cost you," Ciara said.

"Of course it will," Aiden replied. He had had no doubt that Ciara wouldn't keep her mouth shut just for the sake of being nice. "What do you want?"

"Well, I would like a necklace of my own—one even nicer than the one you plan to get my mother." Ciara grinned. "I'm thinking somewhere around the thousand dollar price range? I want real diamonds."

"Ciara, don't you think a thousand dollars is a little expensive?" Aiden asked, loosening the collar of his shirt. This girl was going to bleed him dry one day, he knew.

Ciara shrugged. "You're a lawyer. You can afford it. I prefer something from Tiffany's. I saw a little bow necklace advertise that would do just fine."

"I don't think your mother would like me buying you a thousand dollar necklace," Aiden tried.

"She doesn't have to know where it came from or how much it costs," Ciara said simply.

"Still, a thousand dollars is a lot of money, and —"

"Mom!" Ciara suddenly called out loudly.

"All right, all right! I'll get you the necklace. Just don't tell your mother," Aiden said, holding out his hands to her, fingers up.

Ciara grinned. "It's a pleasure doing business with you, Mr. Jennings! Now we both better get out of this room before my mother comes in and catches us."

Aiden nodded. "Right!" He quickly followed Ciara out of the room, silently wishing once again that Hope wasn't the mother to such a conniving little girl.

The movie ended forty-five minutes later, and Aiden and Chase prepared to leave.

"I'll see you in school tomorrow," Chase said to Ciara.

"All right. I hope Billy remembers to bring the frog," Ciara said.

Chase grinned. "Oh, he will. This will be hilarious!"

Both kids giggled.

Hope raised an eyebrow at Aiden.

"I learned it's better not to ask," Aiden said.

Hope nodded. "You're probably right."

They kissed.

"I'll see you tomorrow?" Hope asked, gently pushing some hair out of Aiden's eyes.

"Like I could bear going a day without seeing you," Aiden said, his eyes lowered with love for Hope.

Hope pulled him closer, and they kissed again.

Ciara cleared her throat. "Can you two please not make out in front of us? It's really gross!"

Chase nodded. "Very!"

Hope and Aiden rested their foreheads against each other's and grinned.

"I'll be counting the hours until they're in school," Aiden said.

Hope kissed his cheek. "Me too."

They grinned at each other, then after saying one final goodnight to Hope and Ciara, Aiden left with Chase.

"You really love her, don't you, Dad?" Chase asked as they headed to their car.

Aiden smiled as he thought of Hope smiling when he proposed to her. "Yes, Son," I really do."

That morning, Aiden made sure to drop Chase off at school, then get right on over to Tiffany's. He figured he might as well buy Hope's ring there since he had to get Ciara's stupid necklace anyway. For a while, he had toyed with the idea of forgetting Ciara's necklace all together. After all, he would have proposed to Hope by the time Ciara found out he wasn't really going to buy her the necklace. However, he thought better of it. Like it or not, Ciara might just possibly be his stepdaughter soon. He shuddered. It was best he didn't start off on her bad side. He'd seen it before, and wasn't keen on revisiting it any time soon.

"May I help you?" the woman behind the counter asked him.

"Yes! I'm looking for two things. The first is a diamond bow necklace. Do you have anything like that?" he asked.

Suddenly, he got a text alert. He looked at his phone and saw that Ciara had texted him a picture of the necklace she wanted. He rolled his eyes, then showed it to the woman. "This?"

The woman smiled. "Ah, yes! That is a very popular item. Let me get that for you." She walked down the line of jewelry cases until she came to the one with the necklace. She unlocked the case, then took the necklace out. "This one is $1,350," the clerk told him. "Before tax."

Aiden let out a forceful breath. "The little gold digger."

"Pardon?" the woman asked.

Aiden shook his head. "Nothing. I'll take it. May I please see the engagement rings now?"

"But of course!" the woman said bringing him over to rows and rows of beautiful, shiny diamond rings.

There were so many to choose from, he couldn't decide at first. He thought of a heart shaped ring because Hope was his heart. However, it looked too plain for him. Anyway, he didn't really know if it was her style. Then he saw it. It was a platinum ring with diamonds on the band. The diamond itself was square. It was lined in a row of pink diamonds with another row of white diamonds that lined the pink diamonds. "I like that one," he said. It looked like a ring fit for a princess. He knew that Hope would look amazing wearing that ring.

"Oo, that's a nice one! This one is the Tiffany Soleste® Cushion ring. It is a cushion cut diamond with pink and white bead-set diamonds," the woman explained.

"How much is it?" Aiden asked.

"This one is going to be $18,100," the woman answered.

Aiden coughed. "Whoa, that's a lot of money!"

"You need to look at another one then?" the woman asked, giving him an understanding smile.

Aiden thought of Hope's smile as he placed the ring on her finger. He saw her eyes light up and heard the excitement in her voice as she squealed. He also thought about their first kiss and about the first time they made lough. He thought of her laughter, and he thought of how she was so willing to cover up the fact that Chase accidentally killed his mother. He had no doubt in his mind that Hoped deserved this ring no matter how expensive it was. Anyway, as bratty as she was, Ciara was right—he was a lawyer. He could afford it.

He smiled at the woman. "I'll take it!"

That evening, Aiden picked up Hope at her house. He had called her earlier to plan the date for tonight. First he was taking to her Chez Rouge, and then he was going to take her for a walk by the lake. There, he planned on proposing to her in the same spot he had first kissed her. He wanted everything to go perfect. Chase was going to hang out at Ciara's with Ciara and the babysitter while they were on their date.

Ciara opened the door when he knocked. "Hello, Aiden." She held her hand out. "Mom's upstairs getting ready. Now hand it over, or I tell her about the surprise."

Aiden put on a fake smile. "And it's so nice to see you too, Ciara." He handed her the Tiffany's box containing her necklace.

Ciara's eyes lit up, and she eagerly opened it.

"Is that the one?" Aiden asked.

Ciara nodded. "Oh, it's the one all right! Thank you!"

"Remember, don't tell your mom," Aiden told her.

"Don't worry. I have hiding places my mother doesn't know about it. Anyway, if she does see it, I'll just tell her it's from Forever 21," Ciara said, quickly heading upstairs to hide her treasure.

"I worry about what she hides in those places," Chase said.

Aiden placed a hand over his son's shoulder. "Don't we all, Son. Don't we all."

A moment later, Hope came down looking more beautiful than he'd ever seen her. Her hair was curled and pinned up with two tiny curled strands of hair—one on each side of her face—hanging down. She wore a beautiful red lace dress that was low-cut and form-fitting. Her lips, heels, and nails matched the ruby red color of her dress.

"Wow," Aiden said, hungrily looking her up and down.

"Is it too much?" she asked.

Aiden shook his head. "No, it's perfect. You're perfect."

Hope smiled. "Thank you. So are you." She walked over to him, and straightened his navy blue silk tie that matched his navy blue suit. "You're so handsome."

"You should have brought her roses," Chase said.

Aiden blushed. "He's right. I totally should have. I just got so wrapped up in something else that it didn't even cross my mind."

"Are you kidding me? You don't need to give me flowers! I'm just happy to be going out with you," Hope said.

Aiden looked down at Chase. "When you get a woman who says that, Son, you never let her go."

Chase grinned. "And when you get a girl like Ciara, you run for the hills."

Aiden laughed, then quickly shut up as Hope cleared her throat. "I mean, Chase, apologize. That wasn't nice."

Chase smiled. "Sorry, Hope. I was only teasing."

Hope smiled. "That's all right. Believe it or not, I do have a sense of humor." She smiled and winked at him. "Just don't tell Ciara what you just said. Unfortunately, she does not have one."

Chase nodded. "Good to know."

The babysitter arrived then, and Ciara came back down the stairs.

After some brief instructions to both the babysitter and the kids, Hope and Aiden were ready to leave.

"Have fun tonight," Ciara said with a smile and a wink.

"We always do," Hope said, smiling back at her. She kissed her forehead. "I want you in bed by nine."

Ciara rolled her eyes. "Yeah, yeah."

"We'll try not to be back any later," Aiden said to Chase.

"I'll just nap on the couch until you get back if you're late," Chase said.

"All right," Aiden agreed.

Finally, he and Hope left.

Aiden opened the car door for her, and she got in.

"Thank you! Who says chivalry's dead?" she asked.

Aiden grinned. He kissed her cheek then shut the door, before walking around to the other side of the car and getting in as well. He then started up the car, and they were off. However, halfway to the restaurant, the car stalled.

"What's wrong?" Hope asked.

"I don't know, I…." Aiden trailed off as his eyes fell upon the gas gauge. "Oh, no! I forgot to get gas! I knew I was low earlier, but I kept putting it off, and I got so busy preparing for the date, it just slipped my mind completely!" Aiden said.

"Do you have a gas can in your trunk?" Hope asked.

Aiden sighed. "Yes, but it's out of gas too. I'll have to walk the mile back to the station."

"I can come with you," Hope said.

"No, you've got heels on. I'm not going to make you walk." Aiden sighed. "I'll be back. I'm so sorry about this. I'm such an idiot!"

Hope smiled, and gently stroked his cheek. "Don't worry about it. It's just a minor setback. No big deal."

Aiden kissed her forehead. "I'll hurry back." He then got out of the car and shut the door. Then, he retrieved his empty gas can from the trunk, slammed the trunk, and then headed off for his mile-long walk to the gas station. So much for their reservation! He only hoped this wasn't any indication of what the rest of the night would hold.