After Clayton "Bear" Piatt gave Daniel a ring for his birthday, he assumed the man would take it as a joke. He thought he would smile his bright - though shy - smile, chuckle uncomfortably, and put the ring off to the side.
He hadn't expected his boyfriend to spend the next few weeks putting the ring on his finger, staring at it for a moment, then taking it back off, before starting the whole process over again.
It wasn't an engagement ring; Bear had made that clear when he gave it to him, fearing that to say otherwise would make him panic. It was more of a promise - an object which said "you're mine, I'm yours, I love you".
The ring was small and silver, with a cluster of tiny diamonds encircling the entirety of it. When you saw it from a distance, it looked like a piece of candy with sugar sprinkled on it. In other words, it was beautiful.
It was obvious that Dan loved the ring. He said as much to Bear daily. But something still wasn't right. They would be eating breakfast, or washing up in the bathroom, or preparing to go to bed at night, and Bear would catch Dan twisting the ring around on his finger, or pulling it off and putting it back on again, lost in his thoughts, an anxious look on his face.
Something had to be going on with the man, but Bear just couldn't seem to think of what it may be. Finally, after about a month, he cornered Dan in the kitchen one morning, where he was pouring himself a cup of coffee, having just finished getting ready for the day. As he dumped a teaspoon of sugar into the cup, Bear's deep voice behind him made him jump, almost causing him to drop his beverage.
"I think we need to talk, Dan."
Dan's heart climbed up into his throat at those words - nothing good ever followed "we need to talk". He sipped his coffee, took a breath and spoke, the word sounding somehow final coming out of his mouth, as though he were waiting for the other shoe to drop,
Bear sat down at the kitchen table, and Dan followed suit, choosing the chair across from him.
"Why do you keep taking the ring off?" Bear got right to the point, as usual. He had never been one to beat around the bush. "Do you not like it or something?"
Dan's brown eyes went wide, his voice coming out high in pitch, as it had a tendency to do when he was on the verge of freaking out,
"No! I love it, I swear!"
"Then I need you to explain to me what's going on, man, 'cause I don't get it."
Dan dropped his head onto the table with a thud, the bright green tips of his spiked black hair looking darker, somehow, in the florescent lighting of the kitchen. He mumbled something into the wood, but Bear didn't catch it.
With a sigh, Dan lifted his head up again. He looked reluctant to speak, the tip of his tongue poking out of his mouth to play with one of the silver hoops that decorated either side of his lower lip.
"It'll sound stupid," he said, and Bear would have smiled at the way the side-by-side "S's" made Dan's lisp reveal itself, if he wasn't so bothered by the discussion they were currently having. "You're gonna think I'm stupid."
Bear ran a hand through the short, brown strands of his hair, then rested them both on the table, folding them together - his "I'm listening" gesture.
Dan was silent for several long moments, then went about explaining what had been going on. He really did love the ring - it was absolutely gorgeous. And he certainly appreciated the meaning behind it. The problem was that he had never felt right wearing a ring - he wasn't the type of guy that could pull that off. He tried to ignore it for a while, he said, but he just felt uncomfortable, as though he were on edge at all times.
Bear sat silently after his boyfriend finished speaking, letting the words sink it.
"Are you angry with me?" Dan's voice was small.
"No," Bear responded after a while. "No, I'm not angry. Just thinking."
Bear shook his head, choosing not to reply, then stood up.
"I'll be back in a bit," he said, already heading for the door in the kitchen that led out to the garage, hoping silently that he had left his coat in the truck - the weather in early December was typically freezing. "There's something I need to do."
Before Dan had the chance to probe for more information, Bear was already gone.
When Bear came home an hour later, he found Dan in the bathroom on his hands and knees, cleaning out the toilet bowl with a bottle of cleanser and a scrub brush. He did one of two things when filled with anxiety - read or clean. And after twenty minutes of attempting to make sense of a book he had picked out off of one of Bear's shelves in their bedroom, he opted for the second choice.
Dan stood up as Bear entered the bathroom, pulling off the yellow rubber gloves he was wearing and setting them on top of the toilet tank. The air was thick with the smell of cleaning products, and Bear saw that Dan had taken the ring off and put it on the side of the kitchen sink.
"Where'd you go?" Dan asked quietly - the voice he used when he was afraid he had messed up. He wouldn't look Bear in the eye.
"I had an idea," Bear said, tilting Dan's head upwards with a finger under his chin. He saw, then, that Bear was smiling, and that he was holding a small, black box in his other hand. "This is for you." He handed the box to Dan.
Dan sat down on the edge of the tub and removed the top from the box. Inside it was a length of thick, black cord, the smell of new cloth overpowering the scent of the cleaning products, if only for a moment. There were clips at either end of the cord, so they could be connected to one another.
Bear held his hand out for the cord, which Dan gave him, then reached over to the counter, grabbing the ring. The light hit the diamonds just right and showered various parts of the walls with prisms of color - rectangular rainbows that danced around the room as Bear strung the ring onto the cord, pulling left and right, until it finally rested in the very center, the prisms disappearing. The light couldn't find the diamonds from this angle.
"Stand up, please," Bear requested, and Dan did as he was told, turning so that his back was to his boyfriend. Bear put the cord around his neck, clipped the ends together, then rested his chin on Dan's shoulder, kissing his lips. He could feel the man's happiness radiating off of him like a heat source.
"Is that better?" He asked in a whisper.
"Yeah," Dan said, finally smiling that bright, shy smile that Bear hadn't even realized he had been missing until just then. "Yeah, it's much better."
The photographs that covered the walls of Bear and Daniel's house were separated into two categories from then on. "Pre-ring" and "post-ring". It wasn't a conscious decision on their part - it just became the way they measured time in regards to their past as a couple.
In the "pre-ring" photos, Dan wasn't wearing the diamond, because it hadn't been given to him yet. In the "post-ring" photos, the rock, though not the main subject of the photographs, was always visible.
On one occasion, Bear had taken Dan to the store in the mall where he bought the ring, and had insisted that they stop in the clothing department to try on hats, just for something to do. Dan resisted initially, but relented soon enough when he saw that Bear really wanted to give this a shot.
After putting on and taking off many different hats for about ten minutes, Bear told Dan to stay where he was, then went about searching for a hat for him. He came back with a floppy-looking fishing hat, greenish-tan in color, with a green and black stripe surrounding the middle of the hat, in a circle.
Luckily, Bear had thought to bring his camera with him, because this photo-op was too good to pass up.
Dan's mouth was closed, his expression blank, but his eyes showed clear annoyance, if you looked close enough. He hadn't shaved for a few days, so he had a fuzzy beard growing in. He wore a white tee-shirt underneath a black, gray and dark red checkered button-down, which didn't match the hat in the least. But that wasn't where Bear's eyes went whenever he saw the photo.
No, Bear's eyes were immediately drawn to the ring on the length of cord around his boyfriend's neck, easily visible on top of the white tee-shirt - easily visible in most photos, in fact. He wouldn't even take it off in the shower.
To some people, a ring was just an object - something that was required to take certain steps in a relationship. But for two men in a small house where amateur photographs covered the walls, a ring was much more than that. It was a true promise - one that would never be broken. It was a symbol of love and genuine devotion. It was everything.