"So, as you can see, the type of reforms and expansions I've implemented had a positive effect on the bottom line for Dunne Limited, and I'd like to do the same for Meade."
Claire was beaming at her, which helped offset Wilhelmina's glare (which, to be fair, might be from the Botox) and the cold look from Alexis. Betty hadn't dared to look at Daniel.
The last time they'd talked, he'd come to see her in London, and she had kept him from saying what she thought he was going to say. It was too different, too scary, too overwhelming. She could still remember his face when she'd avoided letting him put his hand over hers and ignored the deep, serious way he'd said her name. Every word she'd said was still clear in her mind. "I couldn't handle anything else changing right now. It's like I'm finally free, finally getting to be who I always wanted to be. I don't want to lose that, for anything or anyone."
He'd known what she meant, because he was Daniel and he got her, so he made a point of telling her how happy he was for her, how proud that she'd achieved that for herself. It would've been a great moment if not for the fact that she got Daniel just as much, and she'd seen the hurt in his eyes before he could hide it.
It wasn't long after that when he went back to New York. They were still friends, but there was something else there now, something uncomfortable. She made a point of being extra cheerful in her emails, and ducking his calls when she couldn't keep up the facade of being perfectly happy, even when she was so sick of her life that she wanted to scream.
What was frustrating was that it didn't make sense to be unhappy, because she was finally living out one of her fantasies about how life should be. She really was an attractive, intelligent, confident businesswoman, at least in the eyes of everyone who knew her. She went to dinner parties where people talked about the real issues of the day, she dated a range of interesting, exciting men, and she had a fast-paced career with a lot of flexibility and independence. She even got compliments sometimes for her sense of style, which always made her laugh to think of what Marc and Amanda would say.
It took her a long time to admit to herself that the only thing wrong with her perfect dream of a sophisticated life was that she hated it, and even longer to make a plan for changing it, because how could she give up everything for which she'd worked so hard? And, worse, how could she admit, to any of the people she loved, that she'd been chasing something she didn't actually want?
She'd had to get blind drunk to work up the nerve to actually send out the email she'd composed, asking for a meeting to propose a new direction for expanding Meade's reach into new media. And she'd sent it to Claire, not Daniel.
Blind drunk would've been a nice way to spend today, too. She'd known about Alexis being reinstated, since the drama had included asking Christina's forgiveness and Betty had held Christina's hand through all her wibbling about the whole thing. She'd been a little hurt that Daniel hadn't been the one to tell her, but she supposed it was what she deserved. Still - nothing had prepared her for facing the waves of hostility from the six foot glamazon.
"Why should we take a risk like this?" Alexis asked. "Especially with someone who previously walked out as soon as she had a better offer?"
Betty's eyebrows shot up, and she reflexively looked at Daniel to share a silent "oookay." He shrugged, but uncomfortably enough that she could tell there was more to the story.
"While Meade still had strong customer loyalty thanks to well-established brands, the general depression of the print industry has caused a need to pare down the list of titles, and growth has been anemic at best." She might not have been prepared for the coldness, but she knew her material backwards and forwards; she'd spent months on it before she finally managed to arrange the meeting. "Worse, without a stronger new media presence, the content provided in print will just seem more and more stale."
"We do have ModeNY.com," Daniel said. "Player's got a website, and Cucina has a recipe mailing list... It's not as if we're ignoring the web."
He'd said he was going to try to earn his place at Meade, and she'd always believed he had the potential to be more than what he was content with, but it still surprised her that he was the one to bring up a good point. And it was about something beyond his sphere of interest, since his idea of cooking was to get her, or rather, his assistant, to order from somewhere expensive with a menu written in a foreign language. She would've offered him a high five if they weren't in a meeting, and if she didn't feel a bit of a twinge at not being there while he learned.
"The problem is that each magazine does its own thing," Betty said. "You need a cohesive plan for Meade, not just Mode."
"We won't be starting this at Mode," Wilhelmina said firmly, and Betty's heart sank. "But... The idea is intriguing."
Claire said, "I agree. I think we should implement the changes in one of the smaller magazines first, then roll them out on a wider scale once the kinks have been worked out."
"If it proved successful," Alexis said. "I vote no."
"Split the difference," Daniel said. "Implement it like Mom said, but don't commit to a wider rollout unless it's had a positive impact on the bottom line."
Alexis stood and clapped her hands together. "Fine! Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go try to run our business rather than indulge Daniel's assistant."
She stalked out, Daniel close behind and calling her name. Feeling incredibly awkward, Betty started to gather her materials as Wilhelmina said, "Have something in writing by tomorrow on what you plan to start with for MYW."
"But--" The thought of working with Sofia Reyes again was not Betty's first choice. Or fifth, or tenth.
"Oh, Betty, suck it up. Do you want the job or not?"
Reining in her dismay, Betty nodded. "Yes, Wilhelmina, thank you."
With a curt nod and a small smile that sent chills down Betty's spine, Wilhelmina strutted out, causing a flurry of renewed activity outside the conference room.
"Betty, it's so great to see you!" There hadn't been time before the meeting, but now Betty was engulfed in a big hug from Claire. "How are you? How's the family? I heard from my friend at Julliard that Justin's audition was superb."
"Julliard?" Betty couldn't help the squeak in her voice. Since when was Justin considering Julliard? And why hadn't Hilda told her?
"Justin decided not to tell anyone until he knew something for sure," Daniel said from behind them. "I think he's afraid of disappointing everyone if he doesn't get in."
Hesitating as she tried to work out what to say, Betty managed, "How do you know all this?"
Shrugging, Daniel said, "Justin asked for help getting the audition. I think Marc might've been him up to it, but I was happy to do it."
"Oh. Well. That's good." Probably. "Thank you."
"He already thanked us," Daniel said with a small smile.
Her voice brimming with amused affection, Claire said, "Which reminds me, please tell him I loved the handmade thank you card and the 'Free Claire' collector's item t-shirt. I think I'll wear it to a brunch that Martha's holding next weekend."
"He'd love that," Betty said, her head spinning. "Could you excuse me? The flight took a lot out of me, and I need to get my bags out of Marc's office before he and Amanda do anything else to my clothes."
"Of course," Claire said, giving her one last squeeze and then stepping back with a smile.
Daniel said, "I'll have the contract sent over to your dad's house - he's been cooking for a week, waiting for you to get home."
"Great!" Betty said chirpily, because demanding why he knew that would have been rude, and maybe even childish. "I'll have to give my notice to Lyndsey, but I should be able to start in two weeks."
"Great!" She noticed, uncharitably, that Daniel hadn't gotten any better at sounding sincere when he was faking enthusiasm. "I look forward to working with you again."
"Great!" Part of Betty winced, but she just smiled as hard as she could. "So, I'm going to go - bye!"
Getting to Marc's office was a relief, at least until she noticed that Amanda was wearing her nightgown, and Marc had Osito propped up on his lamp, wearing a hooker outfit made out of post-it notes. "What did you do to my bear?"
"He was naked," Marc said with a grin. "We just helped him a bit."
"Take off my nightgown." Betty tried to sound no-nonsense, but part of her was afraid she just sounded whiny.
Tilting her head to give her seductive smile the full effect, Amanda said, "You just can't wait to get me out of my clothes, can you, Suarez?"
"I can't wait to get you out of mine," Betty said, still pulling post-its off Osito. "Did you guys staple these on?"
Amanda pulled the nightgown off, leaving her in just a few scraps of silk. Betty flinched and averted her eyes, not used to casual nudity even after so long living with Amanda and dealing with models on a regular basis.
"You know you want to peek," Amanda said, crowding Betty and then laughing as she pulled on a dress. "But, seriously, tell Uncle Papi that we'll be at your surprise homecoming party."
"There's going to be a party?" She rubbed a hand over her face and sighed. "Of course there's going to be a party. Never mind that they might have said no, and they didn't really say yes."
Marc rolled his eyes and snapped her suitcase shut. "As if Betty Suarez wouldn't get everything she wanted the instant she wants it, especially when her lovah can get it for her."
"We're not... You know what? You're uninvited from my surprise homecoming party." Picking up her suitcase as they gasped, she said, "And Osito will have his revenge!"
Her grand exit was somewhat ruined by their applause.
The party was like stepping into a timewarp, to the point where she put a hand to her mouth to check whether her braces were still there. There were people from the neighborhood, a little older and fatter, the kids all a foot taller than even six months ago when she'd visited, but everyone was still the same. There were even a surprising number of people there from Mode, although not a one dared to sneer at the decor - she'd even heard a couple of references to it being retro-chic, and Hilda was doing a booming business selling saint candles. Everyone had something to tell her that she hadn't known, some little thing that hadn't been important enough to tell her, and it left her feeling unsettled that she hadn't kept up with people she knew and liked as well as she'd thought.
It was overwhelming and strange, to feel like a foreigner in her own house, with people she should feel at home with. She ended up slipping away from the party, stealing a platter of empanadas and grabbing a glass of milk out of the fridge as she went. They didn't exactly have a yard per se, but there was a tiny patch of greenery where the snowdrifts always got piled in winter, and a big rock there that could serve as a passable seat. She could be alone with her comfort eating for a while.
Except she couldn't, because someone was already there. She was about to turn around and see if maybe she could just hide out in her room, but then he turned and she saw it was Daniel. And he'd spotted her.
If he'd said anything, she might have made an excuse and turned tail, but he just shifted over to leave her room and then looked away, giving her the option to stay or go. She settled down beside him and offered up the plate; they sat in silence, munching away with their shoulders touching. It was the most comfortable she'd been in ages.
"So, you're probably wondering why I'm coming back," she said when all that was left was crumbs and a milk mustache on his lip.
"Do you want to tell me?" he asked, and it was like he'd opened up a floodgate inside her, because she hadn't realized how desperately she did.
"I've always had these fantasies about life - like somehow I'd wake up and be the princess in the fairy tale."
He nodded, but she squeezed his hand and he knew enough to stay silent. "I was going to be Cinderella, but still independent and smart - get a great job in the city, meet a wonderful man, get married, have a career, the whole package of a sophisticated modern woman."
"You've got most of that," he said, and she nodded wryly.
"That's the problem. I'm finally living out my dream, only I hate it. I miss my family. I miss knowing that Hilda's having a bad hair day or Justin's keeping something secret or Papi's sneaking coffee." Tucking her hair back, she said, "I thought, this time I'm leaving home on my own terms, because they don't need me to run home and rescue them. I can go and live my life to the fullest, knowing they'll be fine and I'll always have them even if we're not all living together."
He looked at her, his eyes warm, and said, "But isn't that true?"
Shaking her head, she said, "It is, but it isn't. They might not need me to rescue them, but they do need me. And, the thing is, I need them. Living without my family is like living without my arms."
"You're moving back in with your dad?"
"God no," she said quickly. "No, I love them and want to be close to them, but I want my own space. Just not a space that's an ocean away."
With a laugh, he said, "That's very self-actualized of you."
"Self-actualized?" She pulled back a bit to look at him skeptically. "What's up with that?"
"I've been seeing a shrink," he said. "Stop laughing! You're the one who said I needed one, remember?"
Smacking his arm with feigned outrage, she said, "Yeah, for your sex addiction, which you dealt with by--"
"Water under the bridge," he said hastily. "Besides, I needed to deal with the underlying causes. I had a lot to work through."
She wanted to ask whether it had anything to do with her, but she wasn't sure she actually wanted to hear the answer. "How's that going?"
He leaned back on his hands, looking up at her and at the sky. "Pretty good. I understand a lot of things better now. It kept me from sleeping with Ruthie, so that's a big plus right there."
"You-- Ruthie?" Betty wasn't sure how to possibly respond to that. "What the hell, Daniel?"
"She's actually pretty, under all the surface distractions," Daniel said. "And she was my assistant, and, well, it seemed almost like I was getting a second chance to get it right this time. Luckily I figured things out before I just made them a lot worse."
Head whirling, Betty said, "Ruthie? From MYW? Braces and a sweater vest?"
Nodding sheepishly, he said, "Yeah. But, like I said, I figured out in time that trying to date a substitute for you wasn't going to work out."
"Daniel, I just don't..." She trailed off, burying her face in her hands, at a loss for even how to finish the sentence.
"Hey." He pulled her hands away from her face, looking at her with the trademark Daniel blend of intensity and vulnerability. "You don't owe me anything. Just because I have feelings for you doesn't put you under any obligation. You've got enough of your own issues to deal with, you don't need to take on mine."
Betty drew herself up, her posture ramrod straight. "I what?"
Blithely missing the warning signs, Daniel said, "Well, like you said, your tendency to try to live in a fairy tale, the need to be liked... I mean, how many of the guys you dated did you get with just because you wanted to prove to yourself that you could get them to like you?"
"None," she said. "I dated them because I loved them, or thought I could."
While it was obviously sinking in that she was upset, he shook his head and started counting off on his hands. "I don't know much about Wilbur, but you took him back after he cheated on you, which is a big sign of trouble. Then there was Henry, and all the competing you did with his baby mama, and there was Gio, who was a jerk to you and you got him cheese, and then there was that Jesse and what's his name, the playwright you punched out, both of whom you just wanted because they were supposedly unattainable, even though they were both assholes and you could've spotted that from the beginning."
"Anything else?" she said tightly, holding the plate against her stomach so hard that her knuckles were white.
"Matt," he said, looking defiant and pleading and scared, all at once. "You remember, who was 'sports guy' until he told you off, and then he was annoying until he dumped you, and you took him back after he treated you like garbage."
Voice shaking, she said, "I loved Matt. Maybe you don't understand that, because your idea of love is so... so fucked up that you stole your best friend's girl because she, what, she fell out of a tree at you?"
"She reminded me of you," he said, standing up and jamming his hands in his pockets. "Just like Matt reminded you of me!"
The plate hit the ground as her hand flashed through the air. "You conceited, arrogant, narcissistic-- I can't even look at you."
Storming into the house, she ignored all of the people crowded there and went upstairs, barely having to say anything before the couple that had been making out in her bed ran off and she could lock the door behind her. Pacing back and forth, she started throwing things into her suitcase, ranting about all the awful things she could think of about Daniel, that coming back had been the worst mistake of her life, and steadfastly ignoring the little voice in her head that was making connections for the first time between two spoiled, vulnerable, lost rich boys who needed her.
London wasn't home. It never had been.
That was the real problem, and it had nothing to do with what she did for a living. It had been a great experience, and she had no regrets about spreading her wings and taking a leap of faith, but she was ready to be a New Yorker again, to get a proper slice of pizza and get the right kind of fried potato when she asked for chips and hear the right sort of accent on the subway. She'd come back to visit, and maybe even finally get to see some of the historic sights that she'd never quite had time for, but Betty knew where she belonged.
It was kind of amazing how easy it was to pack. She'd leased an already furnished flat, so all she really had were knick-knacks and clothes, and some of those were still in boxes from when she'd moved overseas in the first place. She wasn't sure what that said about her, that in almost three years she'd never gotten around to fully committing to where she was.
Or maybe she'd just been busy, she thought with a roll of her eyes. It had taken a lot of work, getting everything off the ground, and she'd done most of it alone. For all that the offer had been to "help" Lyndsey run his new magazine, what that had translated to was that she did the work while he provided the money and put his name first on the masthead. Daniel had only tried to take credit for her work once; Lyndsey did it as a matter of course.
Back to Daniel again. She didn't know what to do about him, but hopefully she wouldn't have to see him for a while. She could take a page out of his book and use the stairs so she wouldn't meet him in the elevator, and with Sofia still installed at MYW - her name and picture were still prominently featured on the masthead and the pitifully outdated website, Betty had checked - Daniel wouldn't go anywhere near that floor.
She had a plan. She was going to use this opportunity, one that she'd fought for, to good use. Taking two international publishing companies into the digital age would let her write her own ticket, even more than having been the assistant to the editor in chief of Mode, which had opened a hell of a lot of doors. And she could handle Sofia; maybe they could even commiserate about what a jerk Daniel could be.
That she was starting to suspect he might have had a point didn't mean he wasn't a jerk, after all.
God, maybe she was the one who needed therapy. But from a real psychiatrist, not whatever quack Daniel had dug up. Someone to help her figure out what she was doing, because every time she thought she knew, something was missing.
The stairs were going to kill her. Somewhere around the tenth floor, she whimpered and sat down, determined to join a gym and never touch an empanada again. She made it the rest of the way through willpower alone, and finally stepped out into the offices of MYW. The rattan furniture was gone, and there were proper chairs in the conference room instead of cushions and beanbags, and there were actual walls instead of just half-height dividers. A lot of the same familiar faces were there, but looked different.
It took Betty a minute to realize that the difference was that they were wearing makeup. They weren't as styled as the Mode staff, but they weren't as relentlessly plain as they'd been. Betty frowned a bit as she realized in retrospect that Sofia had surrounded herself by girls who made her look even more beautiful in comparison, and wondered what that said about her, about all of them. Maybe, though, something had changed.
"You are not wearing that scarf." Feeling a sense of deja vu, Betty turned around with a smile only to meet an almost Amanda-caliber sneer from Ruthie. "It clashes with your skin tone."
Betty had not spent years around Marc St. James for nothing, and she just raised an eyebrow and said, "I'll be sure to tell Tom Ford you said so, since he gave it to me for Christmas."
"Did he?" Betty almost jumped out of her skin at hearing Daniel's voice right behind her. "It looks great."
"Daniel! Hi! I mean, thanks!" Getting a hold of herself had to be top priority. Feeling vaguely ashamed of herself for pretending that swag had been a personal gift could wait until later, when she could fully appreciate the irony and beat herself up for it.
He was smiling, the almost-shy little smile that he used when he wanted to pretend nothing was wrong even though he knew he'd done something wrong. "Ready to get started?"
"I can show her to her office," Ruthie said, looking at Daniel like he'd hung the moon and she'd fall to her knees in worship at the slightest provocation.
"Thanks, Ruthie, but I've got this," he said. "Great work on the moisturizer feature - and I'm looking forward to your article on volunteering during the holidays."
That got him a giggle and an adoring look, but he took both in stride as he put a hand at the small of Betty's back and guided her to a spacious office, her poncho already on the wall and her bunny on the desk. "Hilda and your dad brought over some of the things you'd shipped over. The flowers are from my mom, and Wilhelmina sent over the letter opener."
Picking up a dagger that was both scary looking and terribly beautiful, Betty said, "Everyone I know is crazy."
"Betty, I just wanted to say, I'm sorry." The words came tumbling out of Daniel like he'd been barely holding them back, and Betty couldn't think of anything to say in response.
He seemed to take her speechlessness as a sign of rejection because he kept going, his tone pleading. "I know I was out of line and I'm so, so sorry. Betty, you're the most important person in my life - my best friend, even if you never want to be anything else, and having to get along without you has made this the worst time of my life."
"You've got a new assistant," she said, horrified at her spitefulness but still pressing her lips together stubbornly.
He drew back at that, and she could see the hurt of it went deep enough that she might as well have stabbed him with Wilhelmina's little gift. She wanted to take it back, to apologize, but he blinked a few times and said, "So, yeah, I've got a meeting - I'll let you get settled in."
"Daniel..." But he was gone, practically leaving a Daniel-shaped hole in her door. She sank into her chair - one the 'cradled in the hands of God' ones, by the feel of it - and banged her head against her desk. Somehow, through all of her progress, she'd just changed the way she screwed up rather than stopped doing it. Thinking about the way Daniel had looked, she thought that she'd rather walk into every piece of glass in the building than know she was responsible for hurting him like that.
The day passed with a lot of awkwardness, but it passed. The staff had been fanatically loyal to Sofia, and now they seemed to be just as loyal to Daniel, if not more; he'd come in and agreed to run the magazine without getting official credit so that it could stay afloat after Sofia had disappeared. At least, that's what Betty thought had happened, since it was what she could piece together from Ruthie reading her the riot act, although in an incredibly incoherent way. Betty sincerely hoped that her occasional fits of righteous indignation had at least made sense.
Riding the elevator down at the end of the day, she sighed and pulled out her cell phone. Struggling with the unfamiliar keys and the bag she was holding, she typed out, Can we talk?
She had her answer before she'd reached the ground floor. Yes.
Her stomach in knots, she started to type out when and where only to step out of the elevator and see him standing there, talking to the security guard. She stood still for a moment, just watching him and trying to get her breathing under control, until the elevator doors started to close and she forced herself to move forward and try to think of something to say. "Can we go somewhere?"
"Sure," he said, and she would have thought things were back to normal if his smile had reached his eyes.
Neither of them said anything else until they were in the towncar, and then it was only to establish where they were going. On impulse, Betty gave the driver the address to the karaoke pizza place, which made Daniel frown a bit. "Why there?"
"It's not your place, or my dad's," she said, and that seemed like enough. He fell silent again, and she got her phone back out to reschedule the appointment she'd made with the rental agent to look at apartments in the city.
By the time she was done with that, Daniel was checking his messages and so she just waited, looking out the window to let the city start feeling familiar again. It wasn't until they'd stopped that Daniel said, "I didn't realize we were coming here."
"Well, it's not five a.m., but I thought it would do," she said, practically holding her breath as she waited for his reaction.
Apart from instructing the driver to circle the area until they called, there was no reaction, which left Betty hovering somewhere between panic and terror. The silence as they walked didn't help, but it wasn't until the sun had finished setting and she could look out at the city across the bridge that she worked up the nerve to stop and lay a hand on his arm. "You were right. I'm sorry."
"For what?" he asked, his face cold and still as his breath fogged the air.
"I'm sorry for not making you understand why I had to leave," she said, feeling the tears that had been threatening since that morning pricking her eyes. "I'm sorry for not letting you talk to me in London, and I'm sorry that I slapped you, and I'm sorry that I've been so scared of losing you that I've pushed you away for so long that I probably have lost you. I'm sorry."
He reached up, touching her face gently before wiping away her tears with his thumb. "You could never lose me, and I deserved to be slapped."
"You kinda did," she said with a sniffle. It made him smile, which made her smile, even while she was still crying. "Daniel, I do love you."
"But you're not in love with me," he said, his smile fading until it was just a wistful ghost. "I get it - you told me that before, but I'd just hoped... If we can still be friends, though, I promise I won't be weird, and to try to get over you."
Shaking her head, she said, "You really talk too much sometimes."
He opened his mouth but it was clear he didn't know what to say to that. Hesitantly, she reached up to stroke his hair back from his forehead. "I don't know what I feel, Daniel. I just know that I need you, and I'm scared."
"You don't have to be scared," he said, his voice urgent as he grabbed her arms and locked his eyes with hers. "Betty, we have all the time in the world. Just give me a chance, give us a chance. I know I don't deserve it, don't deserve you, but--"
It was a crazy impulse, but everything was pretty crazy right now. Pulling at the front of his coat, she got him down to her level and kissed him, all her confusion and longing and fear pouring into it. She broke off, panting, and they just looked at each other for a long moment, trying to work out what it meant.
Just as she was starting to think it was a mistake, he leaned over and kissed her back. It was so soft, so sweet, that she thought her alarm would go off any minute and wake her up from the best dream she'd ever had. The sky didn't burst into fireworks and there wasn't any music, no swell of violins, but she didn't need them as her lips parted and Daniel's breath was mingled with hers and this wasn't a dream at all.
Panting, she held on to her shoulders and waited for the world to stop spinning. "How about a date?"
He laughed and rested his forehead against hers. "I know a great pizza place close by."
"I could do a slice," she said, and then they were both laughing so hard that they had to hold on to each other so as not to fall down. It wasn't actually that funny, but the relief and the fact that both of them remembered what she'd said and the giddiness of having stepped off the cliff and started flying just poured out of them.
Once they'd calmed down a bit, Betty handed him her glasses while she wiped at her eyes. "So - how've you been?"
"Miserable," he said, offering her his arm. She took it, and they started walking slowly back towards the restaurant. "But it's been good, too. I've learned a lot about myself while you've been gone, starting with the fact that I'm a pretty decent magazine editor."
"I knew that," she said, poking his side.
Shaking his head, he said, "I didn't. I always thought it was just a combination of the family name and you that let me coast by. Well, and a bit of Wilhelmina."
"Daniel..." She stopped, making him look at her. "You're so much more than you've ever given yourself credit for."
"I'm learning," he said, putting his arms around her again. It was starting to feel right and even familiar, and she put her arms around his waist and just held him for a long minute. "Betty hugs. Who knew they could get even better?"
That earned him another swat and then they were laughing again, but this time as they walked along his arm was around her shoulders and she kept one arm around his waist, and it was all so different but still unmistakably the same. Words poured out of both of them as they reminisced, talked about their time apart, shared jokes and commiserated over the fact that it looked like there would be another Subway Series, which would make traffic insane and make it impossible to deal with Ignacio if the Mets didn't beat the Yankees.
"Mmf!" She waved a hand through the air, hurrying to finish the bite of pizza she'd just taken. "That reminds me - what was with Alexis? My proposal was damn good, but she looked ready to grind me under her stilettos!"
"Oh. That." Sheepishly, Daniel said, "Well, ever since the whole thing where she came back, she really took to heart the whole thing about putting family over business."
Betty just looked at him expectantly, adding a 'get on with it' gesture when he took his time over a sip of wine. "You remember how it was a couple of days before you saw me again after I was going to, you know, talk to you, in London?"
"Yes?" At the time, it had been a relief.
"I got really drunk," he said. "Really, seriously, amazingly drunk. Alexis ended up coming to bail me out, and then she dragged me home with her for a few days to dry out. She got to hear all about how I felt, and she sort of..."
Looking down at the table, Betty said, "Blames me for breaking your heart."
"Hey," he said, putting his hand over hers. "You weren't ready. That's not your fault, and Alexis can just put her big girl britches on and deal with it."
He was smiling at her, his eyes full of concern and reassurance, and she thought that if she hadn't already been in love with him, that look alone would've cemented it.
It was a second later when it occurred to her to think, Wait, I'm already in love with him?
"We're up," he said, dragging her up to the stage for another terrible rendition of "I've Got You, Babe."
It was somewhere in the middle of singing some of the corniest lyrics known to man that she realized that she really could see spending years and even the rest of her life like this, hanging out with her best friend and getting shivers up her spine whenever he touched her. She didn't have to be scared, because Daniel was the founder and president of Team Betty, and vice versa. No matter what, they would be all right.
He was looking at her quizzically and she realized she'd missed her cue to sing. Luckily the song was almost over, and she handed her mic back to the owner before stepping down and right into Daniel's arms. Despite his surprise, he swept her into her arms and kissed her back, until the catcalls and wolf whistles had the owner shooing them away from the stage.
"Betty, I love you," he said, his voice husky and caressing, and she felt like heat was spreading through every cell of her body.
"I love you, too," she said, and it didn't make her at all nervous or frightened. Instead it felt right, like she'd finally found home. "But you're totally not getting lucky tonight. I'm not the kind of girl that does that on the first date."
Laughing, he pulled her against him and said, "I wouldn't have you any other way."