"Casey! Look! An A! I got an A in Psych!
"Casey! Guess where I'm going to be interning!
"Casey! I won! I knocked over all the bottles with the baseball! I thought that was just a trick they do!
"No, you may not see the ring!"
"Hmm?" Casey's head snapped up as he was called to attention. "What?" Dan was staring at him.
"Dude," Dan said.
"Would you stop saying that?"
"I'm saying, would you stop saying 'Dude'?"
"Does it bother you?"
"A little, yeah."
"What about 'sir'? Does 'sir' work better for you?"
"So why are you off in the stratosphere when we're trying to do a show?" Dan asked.
"'Off in the stratosphere'? And people call me old-fashioned."
"Later," Casey said, waving in a none too subtle manner toward his mic.
"You'll be Casey later?"
"I'm Dan right now."
"'Cause I'm just saying, if I'm going to be Dan, I think you ought to have to be Casey."
"I'm not saying you have to be Dan."
"What are you saying?"
"I'm saying shut up!"
"And you're saying it bothers you when I say 'dude'."
"Guys?" Dana's voice filtered over the intercom. "Will you do me a favor and shhhhhh?"
"Sure thing." Casey rolled his eyes and faced the camera as Dave counted them back from commercial.
"Welcome back. If you were paying attention to last night's Georgian cricket match, you might have been surprised to see Jason Ring jumping into the fray. Reed put together the Atlanta team after retiring from major league baseball in September. When asked why he made the switch from baseball to the much less familiar sport of cricket, Reed said, 'Stripes are hell; I'd rather wear white.' For more, let's go to Kelly Kirkpatrick in Atlanta."
"We're out," Dave called.
"Jason Ring?" Dan asked.
"I said Ring?"
"You said Ring."
"Was it noticeable?"
"It was if you're Jason Reed."
"Jason Reed's too busy to notice whether I called him Jason Ring."
"Well, how do you know?"
Dan shrugged. "He plays cricket!"
"Exactly. All that tea-brewing and uniform-bleaching. Man's got to be busy."
"Boys!" Dana snapped again, shoving a piece of hair behind her ear. From where he sat Casey couldn't see her, but he knew she shoved a piece of hair behind her ear as she snapped. He knew it because he had seen her do it a million times in the past fifteen years. And every single time, she was mad at him.
"So," Dan said. "You're joking."
"Tea-brewing and uniform-bleaching? You're joking. You're joking around, having a good time."
"At the expense of cricket."
"You're happy. Not even secretly."
"I am not happy."
"What is he happy about?" Natalie asked over the intercom, and no one had to look to know that Dana elbowed her.
"He's happy about--"
"Shut up," Casey said.
"I'm just telling Natalie."
"The whole place is listening."
"The whole place is not listening."
"Whole place? Are you guys listening?" Dan asked.
"Nope." "No." "Uh uh." "I'm not listening." "No sir," the control room coursed.
"Okay." Dan turned away from his favorite job of tormenting Casey, and Casey turned his eyes back to the teleprompter.
"No, you may not see the ring."
She kept saying that. Not really. She had really only said it once. But in his head it played over and over, again and again, making him crazy and muddying up his high road.
If he had thought about it, he would have thought that she would always let him see the ring. He would have thought that she would have showed it to him right away. Only he hadn't ever thought about it. Why should he have to think about it? If she ever had a ring on her finger, he damn well better have put it there.
Which he at last realized was pretty unfair. When he had decided to propose to Lisa, Dana had shoved her hair behind her ear and then explained why he had to allow her to go ring-shopping with him. She had picked out the diamond that Lisa had probably banished to some dusty drawer by now.
"In three -- two -- "
Dan picked up the show while Casey shook his head and brought his mind back to the teleprompter. Reed. Not ring. And just to be safe, switch 'engagement' to 'appointment' in the soccer story. There. Now he could be a sports anchor.
"Casey?" Dan handed him the call.
"Elsewhere in the MLA, the teammates of Arlo Dylan proclaim he's married to disaster! What is it about Dylan's playing style that puts a ring on trouble's finger? Some call it luck; we call it a previous .. appointment. For more speculation, let's take it to Connie Morton in Kansas City. Connie?"
"Appointment," Dan repeated.
"Appointment?" Natalie asked.
Oh, yeah. Now he was a sports anchor.
No one was especially in a hurry to leave when the show came down at midnight. Dana took one look at her finger and dragged Natalie into the edit bay.
"I feel like goop."
"You feel like goop?" Natalie repeated without glancing at Dana. She had engrossed herself in the task of figuring out the proper spelling of 'Yfgeny Kafelnikov.'
"I feel like goop."
"How exactly does that feel?"
"Kind of stupid. Kind of .. guilty. Like goop." Dana stretched out on the edit bay sofa and put a hand over her eyes.
"Goop feels stupid and guilty? No -- wait. I've got a better question. Why do you feel stupid and guilty?"
"Not guilty, per se. More like distracted."
"Why are you distracted?"
"I'm not distracted."
"You just said you were distracted."
"No. Mm. Yes. Natalie."
"That's my name; don't wear it out."
“Please don't confuse me any further."
Dana cleared her throat. "I've got to get to work."
"I've got to get to work. We've got the soccer thing, and there's a possible situation gearing up in Oakland. Have you heard?"
"Nope. Why do you feel guilty and distracted and whatever it was you said?"
"Why do you feel distracted?"
"No, Natalie, I'm calling you stupid."
"I don't know."
"It has something to do with Casey."
Natalie nodded. "But you're not going to tell me what it is?"
"I don't know what it is!" Dana sat up and tossed herself back against the sofa, flinging her hands into the air.
"But it has something to do with Casey," Natalie confirmed.
"What has something to do with Casey?" Dan asked as he charged unannounced into the room.
“Shut up," Dana answered, rising from the sofa. She looked from Natalie to Dan and then left the room without further comment.
"What's with her?" Dan asked.
"She's feeling goopy. Have you heard of a situation that might be gearing up in Oakland?"
"Yeah, Casey's on it."
"Except I'm not so sure he's on it."
"What do you mean?"
"He's off his game tonight."
"The same way Dana's off hers."
Because Dan was more serious than Dan was prone to be when discussing other people's personal matters, Natalie frowned. "What way is that?"
"You know she won't show him the ring?"
"The engagement ring?"
"She won't show it to him."
"It's got him totally distracted. I mean -- you and Dana are best friends and all, and I wouldn't say Casey and I are distant strangers, but Dana and Casey -"
"It's got him totally distracted."
Natalie sighed. "Did he ask her twice?"
"To see the ring? Because if he asked her twice, she won't show it to him. If he only asked her once, she wouldn't show it to him."
"You've lost me."
"But she's still with Gordon." Dan shook his head. "Why is she still with Gordon?"
"The same reason she's so mad at Casey."
"She's mad at Casey because he slept with Sally."
"She's mad at Casey because she cares he slept with Sally."
"Aah." Dan nodded. "I get it."
"Is this gossiping?"
"This. Now. Someone in graphics said I gossip. Is that what I'm doing?"
"But it's for a good cause."
"Are you trying to figure out what's bothering Dana?"
“Do you care that Casey psyched himself out on the soccer call today because he's thinking about an engagement ring he's never seen?"
"Then it's for a good cause."
Dan nodded. "Okay. I'm going to get back to work. But if you happen to see Dana -- you might mention --"
"Okay." Dan held up his hands and backed out of the edit bay.
In the control room, Dana stood with her back to the monitors, willing Casey to come in so she could show him her left hand. The door had opened a couple of times, but it was just the crew leaving, Dave coming in to look for his watch, the floor manager asking her if she needed anything. At ten till one it opened again, and Dana held her breath, willing Casey's step to be the one she heard.
"Oh. Hello, Dana," Sally said.
"Sally. Good evening."
"I'm sorry if I was -- a little too straightforward today."
Dana turned to face her. "When?"
"Before. In the edit bay. If I .. said anything that .... Well."
Dana shook her head. "You didn't."
"You didn't. You were fine." Dana pointedly shoved a piece of hair behind her ear.
"Where's your ring?" Sally asked instantly.
"I took it off."
"I don't know, Sally," Dana said, in answer to the unspoken question she heard from a person who shouldn't have asked.
"It's none of my business," Sally said, "but you should show the ring to Casey."
"How did you know I didn't --"
"I was watching your show tonight, Dana."
"You should show it to him. Especially if you're not wearing it."
Dana sighed, long and deep. "You're right, Sally," she said quietly. "It isn't any of your business." There was a pleading note in her voice that eased the severity of the statement, and it was to this that Sally responded with her nod.
"I know," she said. "I'm going downstairs now."
"See you." But Sally stood still, and Dana frowned.
"May I see the ring?"
Dana thought about it and came up with why the hell not, surprised she didn't care. She took the ring out of her pocket. It felt ice-cold in her palm.
"Nice," Sally said, holding it up to the light with a very nearly wistful look on her face.
"It can cut glass," Dana muttered, and then she and Sally laughed. Something strange was happening here, something about Sally, but Dana refused to think about it on an already overloaded mind.
"Hey," Casey said as he entered the control room. Sally quickly stuck the ring in her pocket, figuring Dana would kill her if she let Casey see it.
“Hey, Casey," Sally said, trying to sound just barely civil, also in the interest of not being killed by Dana.
"Hello, Casey," Dana said in a very different tone. Her hands were in her pockets.
"What's going on?" Casey asked, looking from one to the other.
"Nothing," Dana snapped, suddenly flustered. "Why should anything be going on? It's the control room, Casey, after all."
"We're just standing here, is that against the law?"
"Okay." Dana shook her head. "I'm leaving."
"Fine," Casey said calmly. Watching, Sally was impressed by how easily Casey handled Dana's moodswings.
Dana looked from Casey to Sally and back again. "Mmm," she said, clearing her throat, and then she left the room as promised.
"So," Sally said.
"Yeah," Casey replied.
"Okay," Sally said. "See you."
"Absolutely." Casey nodded and Sally left the room.
She was on the elevator when she stuck her hand in her pocket, and withdrew in sudden realization the small circle of hot metal and diamond.
Natalie glanced up, and then looked back at the Russian dictionary in her hands, wondering why it didn't include proper nouns.
"Natalie!" the frantic whisper came again.
"What?" Natalie asked aloud, and was answered by, "Shhhh!"
"What?" Natalie whispered, glancing around the newsroom and at last locating Dana trying to hide behind a computer.
"Dana, the computer is smaller than you are. What do you need?"
"Shhhh!" Dana repeated. "Natalie, I --" Dana glanced around the room, then came closer.
"Sorry," Natalie whispered. "You what?"
"I lost the ring!"
“Natalie's eyebrows shot up. "You what?" she asked aloud.
"I took it off to .. think, and I must have put it somewhere. I thought it was in my pocket, but --" She shrugged, almost in tears.
Natalie let the fact that Dana had taken off the ring pass for a moment. "Dana, think hard. What's the last thing you did with it?"
"Uh -- I showed it to Sally."
Natalie raised her eyebrows. "Really."
"You showed it to Sally."
"You showed it to Sally, but you won’t show it to Casey?"
"How did you know I wouldn't show it to Casey?"
"Nevermind. I showed it to Sally and then I -- Oh my God."
"Oh my God. Then Casey came in and Sally stuck the ring in her pocket."
"She didn't give it back?"
"I don't think she did."
"You proposed to Sally Sasser?"
"Who proposed to huh?" Jeremy asked, appearing as if from nowhere.
"Nothing," Dana said quickly.
"Go away," Natalie added, and Jeremy paused midstep, shrugged, and then turned and went away. Dana was impressed by how easily Jeremy handled Natalie's moodswings.
"Well, listen," Dana said. "I'm going away, too. I'm going downstairs to find that rotten fiance-hog."
Natalie laughed aloud. "Okay," she said.
Dana charged toward the elevators. As the elevator door closed, the door of the adjacent one opened, and Sally stepped off.
Natalie groaned and looked up from her dictionary at the whisper.
"What is it, Sally?"
"She's downstairs looking for you."
"Well -- would you give this to her?"
"I will," Natalie said, taking the ring. She examined it and ignored Sally until Sally went away.
"Did Sally Sasser just propose to you?" Jeremy asked from nowhere, making Natalie jump.
"Give a girl some warning, would you?"
"Hey, you're the one who's stepping out on me for Sally Sasser."
“That’s why I need the warning!”
"Okay." He leaned closer to look at the ring. "Dana's?"
"Of course it's Dana's."
"What are you doing with it?"
"I'm giving it back to her."
"What was Sally doing with it?"
"She was giving it back to her."
"Well then, I rather think she failed," Jeremy suggested.
"She just missed Dana."
“Entirely wrong, sweetie, but don’t fret."
“I shouldn’t fret?”
“Uh uh. ‘Cause I’ve got a dictionary.”
Jeremy peered at the dictionary’s open pages. “Natalie?”
“You know that’s not English, right?”
“I had a hunch.”
"What was Sally doing with Dana's ring?"
"She was looking at it."
"Well, how did she end up --"
"Sweetie?" Natalie interrupted.
“You know, you call me that a lot.”
“Does it bother you?”
“Not at all.”
"Please stop asking questions now."
"Hey, I'm going to be in here all night. This name is impossible. Will you take the ring to the elevators?"
"And do what with it?"
"Throw it down the shaft."
"Wait for Dana."
"Dana's going to be on the elevator?"
"You know, I might actually like to go home at some point."
"Please do this first." She gave him her best pleading look.
He sighed. "Okay."
"Thank you." Natalie spun in her chair and focused on the dictionary once again. Jeremy marveled at the back of her head and then continued on his way.
Downstairs, Dana was at last giving up. Sally wasn't down here. Her ring wasn't down here. The only person she knew down here was Gordon, and she had pretended not to see him.
Dana ducked back onto the elevator, unaware that as the door closed behind her, the other door was opening, releasing Jeremy, who had tired of waiting, onto the floor.
"Gordon!" Jeremy called. "Have you seen Dana?"
"What?" Gordon spun around, obviously surprised.
"Dana. Have you seen her? I need to --" suddenly Jeremy realized he had the ring in his hand in plain view, and he stuck it none too discreetly behind his back. "...talk to her," he finished lamely.
Gordon walked a couple of steps closer and peered at Jeremy. "I haven't -- was that a ring?"
"Uh -- Yes."
"Are you proposing to my girlfriend, there, Jeremy?"
"Uh -- No." Jeremy thought fast. "I'm proposing to mine."
Gordon's eyebrows raised. "Really!"
"Well, I don't know. I was going to ask Dana what she thought about it. But I can't seem to find her."
"And you're looking for her on this floor?"
"As are you,” Jeremy challenged.
"True," Gordon said easily. "So. You and Natalie, huh?"
"Um --" Jeremy said. "Uh, if she says yes. I mean, and, if Dana thinks she will. I just need to find Dana."
"But you bought the ring."
“Can I see it?"
"Can you see what?"
"The ring, Jeremy."
"Can you see the ring?"
"Well, I don't know. Can I?"
Jeremy faked laughter at the weak joke, and tentatively held out his hand. The ring lay in his palm.
"Excellent choice," Gordon said. "By any chance, did Dana show you the ring I gave her?"
"Not yet; she hasn't caught up with me. Why?"
"Well, it's the same ring, Jeremy," Gordon said. "I guess good men think alike."
"I guess they do," Jeremy said jovially, swallowing the vile notion that he and Gordon might think anything alike. "Anyway. I'd better go find Dana."
“If you see her, tell her I'm looking for her," Gordon called after him as Jeremy escaped to an elevator.
When he exited the elevator on the 49th floor, Jeremy found Casey waiting for one.
"Leaving?" Jeremy asked him.
"Hmm? Oh. Yeah."
"You might want to stop by Sally's floor."
"Why would I want to stop by Sally's floor?"
"Dana's there. At least she was the last time I heard. And you couldn't give her her ring unless you stopped by."
"I don't have her ring."
"Then why did you say --"
"Because I have her ring, and I need you to give it to her."
"So I don't have to."
"I mean why do you have her ring?"
"Natalie gave it to me."
"Natalie proposed to you?"
"Sorry. Why did Natalie have Dana's ring?"
"Sally gave it to her."
"Well, then, why did Sally --"
"Dana gave it to her."
"Well, why did Dana --"
"Casey, I honestly don't know."
"But you want me to stop by and give it to Dana?"
"If you don't mind." Jeremy started to hand the ring to Casey, but Casey backed away.
"I can't," he said.
"That's what I told Natalie, but it didn't work for me."
“No, I mean I really can't."
Casey sighed. "She doesn't want me to see it," he confessed.
"What do you mean?"
"I asked her if I could see the ring, and she said no."
Jeremy fell silent for a moment. "Oh," he said at last. "Well -- oh. Okay."
"It’s not that I wouldn’t love to chase Dana through Sally's newsroom, but --"
"I can't," Casey confirmed.
"No problem," Jeremy said, and left Casey to wait for an elevator.
Dan was stretched out on the sofa in his office, talking on the phone, when Jeremy barged in.
"Yes," he was saying. "Yeah. Uh huh. Yeah, I really do like maple. Mmmm. You're right. Pine smells better. But it just doesn't rustle the same. .. Hang on," he added when he noticed Jeremy standing there.
"Need something?" he asked.
"Who are you talking to?"
"I have no earthly idea. Do you need something?"
"You don't know who you're talking to?"
"She just kind of called me. I think it's a stalker. Do you need something, Jeremy?"
"I need you to give this to Dana." Jeremy held out the ring.
"Hang on, there, Jeremy. I know Dana's a good girl, and all, but I really don't think we've reached the point in our relationship where she'd say yes if I were to --"
"--propose ... What?"
"She lost her ring. And no one seems to be able to find her. Can you give it back to her for me?"
"What if I don't find her?"
"Then you won't be able to lecture her on showing Casey the ring."
"What makes you think I'm interested in lecturing her?"
"Well, you're stuck working with Casey no matter what mood he's in --- and you're Dan, so there's a key element."
"Point received," Dan said. "Of course I'll give it to her." He picked up the phone again. "Chelsae? ..... Oh, I'm sorry. Shelly? I'm going to have to hang up now. This was fun; we should do it again sometime. ............ Yes, I am busy Saturday. Tell you what, I'll call you." Dan hung up and grinned as though he were the smartest man in the world. "What she doesn't realize is that I don't have her number," he confided.
"Go find Dana," Jeremy answered, and left the room.
Dan stood slowly, and stretched. It was after one-thirty. He ought to eventually head home. But now he had a job to do. Find Dana; return ring; convince Dana why she ought to show said ring to Casey. Dan wandered out of his office and toward Dana's; when he found it empty, he continued toward Isaac's.
"Dan,” Kim said from Isaac’s chair. “Have you seen the memo from upstairs?”
"I thought you'd gone home."
"Is that why you were coming to see me?"
"I was coming to see Dana."
"Well, this isn't Dana's office."
"This isn’t your office."
“The difference being that I’m in here and Dana is not.”
"No," he said. “The difference being that Dana’s always in here, and you’re never in here except when I’m not looking for you.”
“Was that English, just then?”
“Probably not.” Dan shrugged, then held out the ring. “Here.”
Kim took the ring and studied it. “Hmm.”
“I don’t want to marry you, Dan.”
“Good, ‘cause Dana might get mad if you keep her ring.”
“You mean Dana wants to marry me?”
“She’s madly in love with you,” Dan stated, deadpan. “Will you give that to her?”
“Is that how engagement works these days?”
“She lost it. Jeremy pawned off the job on me, but I’m quickly losing interest.”
“Sure,” Kim said. “I’ll give it to her. As long as you don’t mind me telling her that Jeremy proposed to you.”
"Have at it," Dan said.
"Wait, what makes you think I'll see her?"
“You have that special power of being everywhere at every moment. I figure one of you has got to be where Dana is.”
“Also not English,” Kim said, but she sat back, satisfied, to peer more closely at the ring. “This is the ring Gordon got her?”
“Mmm,” she said disapprovingly. “That rock looks awfully small.”
“I’m leaving now,” Dan said, and Kim nodded goodbye.
“Kim!” Elliot bellowed a minute later. His voice preceded him; he stopped short when he entered the office. “There you are.”
“Thank God for that,” Kim said. “I think you woke Paris.”
“Is Paris sleeping?” Elliot asked.
“I don’t know. What the hell time is it there?”
“It’s morning, I think,” he mused.
“It’s morning here.”
“It’s morning here when we get off the air.”
“So what is it there when we get off the air?” Kim asked.
It’s like six or something.”
“So it’s seven something there now?”
“I don’t know.”
“You don’t know?”
“There’s a chance I might be thinking of London.”
“So it’s morning in London.”
“I really couldn’t say.”
“You want to marry me?” Elliot asked cheerfully.
“Yes, I just can’t help myself. I was blown away by your grasp of time conversion.”
“Well, I did just meet this girl at a party last weekend – but what the heck.”
“Elliot?” Kim said.
“Please give that to Dana.”
“It won’t bother you if I marry Dana?”
“It will not.”
“You’re dumping me?”
Kim sighed. “I think this is actually getting old.”
“You know, you’re right.” Elliot nodded and held up the ring. “I’ll just give this to Dana.”
Elliot left Isaac’s office and ran smack into Dan. “Hello, Dan,” he said.
“Elliot. Kim still in there?”
“I found Dana. She’s in the control room.”
“Well, then you might want this,” Elliot said, producing the ring. “It’s only getting me into trouble, anyway. I don’t think I’m ready for the commitment.”
“Damn straight!” Kim shouted from inside the office.
“Well,” Dan commented. “Okay, then. Thank you. And whatever you do, don’t hire Casey’s divorce lawyer.”
“I wouldn’t dream of it.” Elliot turned and walked back into Isaac’s office. Dan shrugged and headed back the way he’d come.
He was in the newsroom when he noticed Casey, sitting at Jeremy’s desk, staring off into nothing.
"Casey," Dan said in surprise. "I thought you'd gone home."
"I started to."
"You forget the way?"
"No. I uh -- I got sidetracked, looking for Dana."
“That seems to be the hip thing tonight. Well, that and getting married.”
"Did you find her?"
"Where'd you look?"
"In Sally's newsroom."
“Jeremy said she might be down there, but the only person I found down there was Gordon."
"So I asked Gordon if he'd seen her."
Casey shook his head. "No."
They fell silent, refusing to voice what they both knew was good advice, and when Casey spoke, it was with a tremor in his voice. "Has she shown you her ring?"
"No," Dan said, "but I have it here."
“You know,” Casey said, “legend has it Jeremy and Natalie are betrothed by that ring."
"Yeah, it's all over Sally's newsroom."
"I'll bet Natalie will be glad to hear it."
"Absolutely. I don't know if it's valid, though, because I also heard a rumor of a possible Natalie-Sally engagement."
Dan chuckled. "Well, I got it from Elliot, who got it from Kim, who got it from me," Dan said, “and it’s been all around the world tonight, so you be the judge." They lapsed into silence, while Dan studied the ring and Casey stared despondently out the window. "Casey," Dan said at last. "I'm going to go home now. Will you give her the ring for me?"
"She doesn't want me to --"
"She’s in the control room. Give her the ring."
Casey sighed. "Sure," he said at last, and held out his hand.
Dana was standing once again in the control room when she heard the door open behind her. She knew his step, and reached instinctively for her left ring finger. She wanted that ring there. She wanted him to know how 33 she was, and that he wasn't the only one who wasn't waiting.
"Hey," Casey said quietly.
"Just finishing up."
"So," Dana said. "What else is going on around here?"
"Well," Casey began. "From what I understand, Natalie and Jeremy are getting married. Natalie and Sally are engaged. Sally and you are betrothed. You and Gordon might not be betrothed. Dan and I are getting married, Dan is marrying both Jeremy and Kim, Kim and Elliot are already divorced, and Jeremy proposed to me, but I turned him down."
"Oh," Dana said listlessly.
"In other words," Casey said, "you lost this." He held out his hand, closed around a small piece of metal and stone at which he had not even stolen a glance. "I haven't looked at it," he told her. "I didn't know .. if ..."
"Thanks," she said, and took the ring from him as her throat ached from the familiarity of the act. Except in her recurring dream there was always candlelight, and maybe the rock was a little bit bigger. She slid the ring into place on her finger and studied it in the control room's dim light. "You can see it," she offered at last, holding out her hand. But Casey's gaze remained fixed on her own.
"I don't want to," he told her, and watched her eyes start to glisten as though she might cry. Well, he didn't want that. As she started to turn away, he added, "But you'll show me your new camera when you buy it?"
Dana sniffed and nodded. "Thanks," she said, not certain why, except that since he said that, she could walk away with dry eyes and her hands in her pockets.