"You think I should do it?" Dan asked.
"I think you should do it," Casey replied.
"You really think I should do it?"
"I really think you should, if only to prevent you from asking me any more stupid questions."
"So, I should do it?"
Casey shot a pleading look toward Catherine, who was sitting on their office couch with her legs crossed as she toyed idly with Babbette.
"You know what I'm going to say," Catherine replied without looking up.
"That I should do it," Dan said. "That InStyle don't ask every Tom, Dick or Harry to be their Man of Style; that it's good exposure for me and that it will let people know that there's more to Dan Rydell, sports anchor, especially our female viewers who make up a larger proportion of our viewing demographic than we give them credit for."
Casey smirked. "Oh, boy …"
"Not now," Dan said, holding up his hand in a vague effort to stave off the inevitable lecture on ending a sentence with a preposition.
"It'll wait," Casey said placidly.
"You forgot the part where you don't have to go to New Jersey," Catherine said, eyeing them like they were both two steaks short of a barbecue.
"I'm trying to move beyond that," Dan said with only a slight smirk in his tone.
Catherine set the llama aside and stood up. She was wearing her extra tall, extra pointy stilettos, Dan noticed, along with a sharp black business suit that was more Saks Fifth Avenue and less like the Old Navy suits she'd worn when he first became her client. She was actually kind of scary, he suddenly realised.
"Look, Danny, I can't tell you what to do. But I can advise you, as your publicist, that this is a good thing to do. InStyle are very picky about who they choose for Man of Style and for them to come to us is a big thing. They want you, Danny."
"They want me?"
"They really do."
Dan sagged against the desk, feeling slightly flabbergasted. "Wow."
"It's just an afternoon out of your life," Catherine continued. "They'll take a few photos, ask a few questions …"
"Questions?" No one had mentioned questions. "What sort of questions?"
"Well, I don't know the specifics," Catherine said, "but I'm sure it'll just be things like who your favourite style icon is, what's your favourite piece of clothing, if your girlfriend influences what you wear. Stuff like that."
"Oh, stuff like that." Dan said slowly. He drew in a deep breath and contemplated his hands for a moment. "Can I sleep on it?"
Catherine looked a little put out by the non-answer, but nodded.
"Call me tomorrow," she said as she gathered her coat and bag.
"You won't forget?"
Catherine frowned, and made a point of extracting yet another promise out of Dan to call her the next day before she finally left.
"What do you think she'll do to me if I say no?" Dan asked as he watched Catherine retreat through the newsroom.
"I would seriously consider upping your life insurance before even thinking about something like that," Casey advised as he took a seat at the desk.
"You might be right," Dan agreed. He flopped onto the couch and picked up the discarded llama, carding his fingers through her silky coat as he contemplated this sudden turn of events.
"Stop it," Casey said after a pause.
"I wasn't doing anything."
"I can hear you thinking clear across the room. Stop it."
"I'm not …"
Casey looked at him and Dan gave instantly gave up that lie.
"Are we going to go through this every time?" Casey asked.
"Casey, I …"
"You like doing interviews."
"I like doing interviews," Dan echoed patiently.
"When you were grounded for six months, you and everyone else around you nearly went insane because you couldn't do interviews. And since then you've been very careful to ensure that none of us have to go through that again."
"Indeed I have."
"You even survived Letterman, and Letterman has broken greater men than you are, my friend."
"Letterman isn't so bad," Dan murmured.
"So stop it, okay? Just do the interview, get your picture taken and stop it."
Casey was staring at him intently with the curious mixture of irritation and concern that only Casey McCall could muster. Dan found it impossible to look away and before long a smile was creeping across his lips and Casey was smiling back.
"Should we start calling you Fabio now, or wait till after the interview?" Casey asked with a strangled laugh.
Dan attempted to send Casey his evil death glare, only the effect was ruined when Casey couldn't stop laughing at his own dumb joke and failed to notice how Dan was trying to kill him with his eyes.
"Okay, just don't talk to me for the rest of the day."
Casey only stopped laughing when the llama hit him in the face.
"Do you think I should do it?" Dan asked Natalie later that day.
"I think you should stop being a woman and just get on with things," Natalie replied. She'd obviously been talking to Casey.
They were sitting on the steps leading up to the green room. Natalie was sucking on a Popsicle and Dan was eating a granola bar. They were both hiding out from Dana for reasons that neither of them felt like sharing with each other.
"It's good to be noticed, Danny," Natalie pointed out. "It's even better when your job hinges on you getting noticed."
"Don't you want to be noticed?"
"I want to be noticed. It's my job to get noticed."
"So, if you want to be noticed, and it is, indeed, your job to get noticed, what is your problem with being noticed?"
Dan twisted his mouth to one side, unsure just how to put voice to the niggling little doubt inside him.
"I haven't got a problem," he finally said, and hoped his pants were safe from that particular fib.
"Is this is about the Esquire piece?"
"It's not about the Esquire piece," Dan insisted. "That was nine years ago and I have learned my lesson. Can we all move on, please?"
"Then what is it?"
Natalie's eyes narrowed dangerously. "Nothing?"
"Really, it's nothing," Dan assured her.
Natalie thwapped him on the shoulder.
"Ow! What was that for?"
"For being an indecisive idiot," Natalie said and thwapped him again.
"Do you promise to stop hitting me if I do the article?"
"I promise to think about it."
It was probably the best Dan could hope for under the circumstances. He levered himself to his feet.
"I'm going to cut tape," he announced.
"If you see Dana, tell her I've moved to Timbuktu."
"Will do. See you at the rundown."
At lunchtime Dan stole across the street to Borders, where he spent a good thirty minutes leafing through Mode and InStyle and GQ, trying to get a handle on what might be expected of him and if he'd come out of this looking like a complete dork. As he leafed through the glossy pages, George Clooney and Brad Pitt and even that irritating Brody kid from The OC mocked him with their easy style and their ability to make a five dollar t-shirt look like haute couture.
Eventually he decided that looking like a dork was probably the least of his problems, because it really was impossible to look like a dork in Armani. He also knew that if he didn't do this Catherine would stomp all over him with her tiny, pointy shoes because she really had been working hard to get him stuff that agreed with his outrageous sense of propriety yet guaranteed maximum exposure for both him personally and Sports Night in general. So yeah, saying no was, realistically, not an option.
But he wasn't even sure that he had a style icon, and all his clothes were his favourites, except maybe the hideous orange and green sweater that some crazed fan had knitted for him and that he was too afraid to give to Goodwill in case she found it and came after him with her knitting needles. The only people who had any real influence over what he wore were Monica and Maureen from Wardrobe, and the very nature of his job meant he always dressed for success except for when he didn't, which was pretty much any time he wasn't on air or doing publicity for the show.
Dan checked his watch and stuffed the magazine he was clutching back into the display stand. He had to get back to work and finish his script, track down confirmation about the Braves' trade, and make sure Jeremy wasn't having a nervous breakdown while deciding what shots to include in the Cardinals special. Existential crises over his ability to measure up to Benjamin McKenzie's Texan sense of style would have to wait.
That night over a dinner of take-out hamburgers and chocolate milkshakes with Charlie, Casey announced, "Dan's going to be Man of Style in InStyle."
While Dan choked on his drink, Charlie looked up from his burger and grinned.
"Hey, wow, that's so cool!"
"I haven't said 'yes' yet," Dan informed them after he got the coughing under control.
"He's worried about looking like even more of a woman than he already does," Casey said with mock solemnity.
Dan refrained from punching Casey in the nose on the basis that Dana would kill him for giving her other anchor a black eye, and settled for glowering at him from across the table.
"You should totally do it," Charlie said.
"Totally! It'll be fun and they always have the best freebies."
Dan and Casey exchanged a puzzled glance.
"Charlotte did some work for them a couple of months ago," Charlie clarified.
"Maybe Charlotte could give you some advice on what to wear," Casey chipped in.
Dan thought of the hideous purple coat Charlie's girlfriend usually wore when she wasn't modelling for Gucci and shuddered.
"I'll, ah, keep that in mind."
"Maybe you could take the llamas," Charlie said.
Dan looked from Charlie to Casey and over to Babbette and Ceazar, who were resting placidly in the armchair. Not a bad idea at all.
"You really should," Charlie insisted.
"Totally," Casey added and they all started to laugh.
Fifteen minutes prior to airtime, Casey nabbed Dan as he was walking out of makeup and guided him to that secluded spot behind the set where only the studio techs went to do actual work and everyone else went to have a conversation in private.
But before Casey could launch into what Dan assumed would be a thoroughly well-rehearsed speech, complete with footnotes, he held up a hand and said, "It's not about the Esquire piece."
"I wasn't …" Casey began, but the squirrelly look on his face told Dan that he was.
"It's not about the Esquire piece," Dan said again.
"Then what is it?" Casey asked. "'Cos I'm sure that whatever it is, it's not worth turning yourself into a stress ball over it and ruining the show."
Dan was about to voice a protest then shut his mouth again when he saw the expression on Casey's face and knew he couldn't blow this thing off any longer.
"They're going to ask me about my girlfriend," he said instead, sounding lame even to his own ears.
He looked at Casey and Casey looked at him, and somewhere in between what he was thinking and what he was trying to say must have struck a cord because Casey smiled at him softly and said, "They may not, and if they do, then you're smart enough to deal with it."
Dan offered him a wry smile. "Sounds stupid …"
"But I've been thinking about it and I wasn't sure …"
Casey reached out and squeezed his shoulder. "We both know what we have to do to keep this thing going."
"Yeah," Dan replied softly. He leaned into Casey's touch for just a second before reaching out to adjust his partner's tie. Casey dropped his hand and if anyone were to come along right at that moment it'd look like nothing except Dan and Casey being Dan and Casey. There really wasn't anything else either of them could say.
"A stress ball, Casey?" Dan asked a moment later as he turned and started toward the studio proper. "What are you? My maiden aunt?"
"You don't have a maiden aunt."
"This is true, and if I did she wouldn't go around saying seriously uncool things like 'stress ball'."
"I resent that remark."
"I'm sure you do."
They reached the anchor desk and settled into their chairs.
"What do you think Dana would say if the llamas came on the photo shoot with me?" Dan asked as Allyson began to fuss with his hair.
"There's only one way to find out." Casey said, and grinned.