The signs preceding what was to be Jackie Abrahams’ Perfect Day were anything but auspicious. Days earlier, monsoon-like storms flooded roadways and knocked down trees in the area. Just the week before, a spectacular fire from an underground transformer forced several large wedding parties to flee the Willard and W hotels in downtown Washington, D.C.
And two months earlier, Jackie received a devastating blow the morning after a bachelorette party thrown by her older sister, Cameron, and friends. Her fiancé, 29-year-old Dan Chappell, broke the news: Jackie’s 93-year-old grandmother, with whom she was extremely close, had died suddenly in her Bethesda home.
For nearly a year, Jackie had been planning the intricate details of her day. Now, as Aug. 21, 2010, approached, the 27-year-old was being reminded of how much was beyond anyone’s control.
When Jackie met Dan, their relationship unfolded so smoothly it was like it was meant to be. They came from different backgrounds: She was born in Rockville to a close-knit Jewish family; he was a Southern boy, raised Catholic in New Orleans and Nashville by parents who were divorced. A Walter Johnson High School alumna, Jackie was a recent graduate of the University of Florida; Dan of Indiana University.
They were instantly drawn to each other. At 5 feet 5 inches tall, Jackie was thin and fit, with long, dark hair; Dan towered over her at 6 feet 4, but he had the same lean physique. They worked hard and played hard. Both were new hires at Navigant Consulting, a firm that specializes in business risk assessment. Dan was based at the company’s Chicago headquarters; Jackie worked at its Tysons Corner office in McLean, Va. In the fall of 2005, they joined 200 other new associates from around the country for a weeklong training program in Chicago.
“I remember seeing [Jackie] in the classroom,” Dan recalls, and “I could have sworn she was looking at me.”
“Dan seems to think I kept eyeing him in class,” Jackie says, “but he was also sitting near the clock.”
They struck up a conversation about football, a mutual passion, and spent evenings after class talking. At the end of the week, Jackie flew home to her apartment in Bethesda. A few weeks later, Dan came to visit.
Each had recently ended a relationship, so they decided just to remain friends. They stayed in touch, but didn’t see each other again until Jackie went to Chicago for another training session about a year later.
With Dan’s encouragement and the promise of great sushi—the couple’s favorite food—she stayed for the weekend. “It was as if the previous year of not seeing each other had never happened. We took up where we left off,” Jackie says.
For two years, they accrued airline miles and managed a long-distance relationship. They explored new restaurants, worked out, took up golf together. Sunday nights were difficult. Jackie sometimes picked fights those days, as if to make the separation easier. Finally, they discussed where the relationship was going.
“My whole family’s here and I’m really rooted here,” Jackie says, “while in Chicago, Dan had friends, but no family or roots or even a pressing desire to stay.”
With the same ease that marked their early relationship, Dan transferred to his company’s Washington, D.C., office and moved to Chevy Chase in July 2008. The couple hung out with her parents on weekends and ate Sunday night dinners prepared by Jackie’s dad. “Jackie comes from a warm, loving family,” Dan says. “Her family is half of the deal.”
Unbeknownst to Jackie, Dan began saving up for the perfect engagement ring, one he had specially designed and made by Charleston Alexander in Bethesda, using a 2.1-carat stone purchased through a family friend. He wanted to propose in Paris. A long-planned trip was set for September 2009. That summer, Dan went to play a round of golf with Jackie’s dad, intending to ask permission to marry his daughter. Dan nervously hacked up the course. In the locker room afterward, he started babbling about how much he loved Jackie. Gary Abrahams gave the young man a big hug. “It’s about time,” he said.
“Everyone at work told me he would propose in Paris,” Jackie says, “and it was in the back of my mind.” A week into the trip, though, he still hadn’t done so. They had a nice dinner on their last night. No proposal. A moonlit boat ride on the Seine. No proposal. A show at the Moulin Rouge. No proposal. Finally, at the hotel, Dan dropped to one knee and “babbled” as he presented the ring.
It was 3 a.m.—9 p.m. in Maryland—when Jackie proceeded to call everyone she knew, beginning with her parents.