Henry stood at the elevator, a pizza box unceremoniously perched on the palm of his left hand and a bouquet of pink Gerbera daisies cradled in his right arm. To the untrained eye that could not recognize an accountant trying his hardest to secretively woo an editor's assistant (and failing miserably at the "secretive" part), he looked like an in-the-doghouse boyfriend going the wrong direction in the elevator. Raising his leg, he kicked the "up" button and hoped for the best. The car slid to a stop and the doors hissed open. Attempting to fit himself, his extended arm and the accompanying pizza, and the giant bouquet through the door without major incident, said major incident occurred.
First, the pizza box fell from his hand into the elevator, landing upside-down on a model's next-season not-even-sold-yet shoes with an awful squishy noise. Then, the daisies brushed against that same model's next-season one-of-a-kind little black dress and all of a sudden, little grains of pollen danced in the air above the fabric before settling like some kind of demented late-winter snow.
"Oh, I'm so sorry," he apologized as he tried to flip the box over and back into his control using only one hand. The model acknowledged him with a glare.
Somehow he managed the box himself and took a deep breath. The model pressed the button for the Mode floor, so Henry just leaned against the wall of the car and tried to catch his breath before the editor's assistant stole it away like she always did.
The elevator cable finally rolled to a stop on the twenty-sixth floor and Henry took one final breath of clean third-floor air before the doors opened and the car filled with beautiful-woman air. As Henry stepped from the car, he did indeed see the beautiful woman.
Damn it, he thought. My lungs have betrayed me again.
After Alex—Alexis, really—tricked her brother into giving her near-full reign over the magazine, Daniel had left. To where? Henry could only assume he was doing what he was famous for doing—bedding models and moping in his apartment. It was the unofficially-former editor-in-chief's first day "off-the-job," but nobody seemed to miss the man. Alexis had taken the entire floor into her rather bulky hands and puppeted her own brother into selling himself out, and she had graciously given herself the day off as a reward for her accomplishment.
So Betty Suarez was left to tie up Daniel's very split ends.
"Some mushrooms are bioluminescent," said Henry to the only person still on the Mode floor.
A rustling of dark hair later, he found himself looking through red-framed lenses straight into Betty's tired eyes. "Henry?"
"Hi," he mumbled, suddenly feeling like an awkward teenager again, minus the acne medication and the scoliosis-causing backpack.
"What…?" she asked, astonished.
"Bioluminescent," Henry managed to get out. "They glow in the dark. It's just some—"
Betty stood and pushed her glasses up the bridge of her nose. "No, no, I know what bioluminescent means," she interrupted. "I mean, 'what' are you doing here? In Mode? At…" she looked at the clock on her computer, "nine o'clock? Oh jeez, nine o'clock, it's so late."
"I brought sustenance," he mumbled, somewhat miffed by her negative reaction, and held the slightly scuffed pizza box out to her.
Ignoring the box and pointing to his right arm, she asked, "Are those… are those…"
"Pink Gerbera daisies? Of course," he nodded, perking up and brandishing the bouquet at her while withdrawing his pizza arm.
Taking the bouquet, setting it on her desk, and admiring the flowers, Betty looked up at the third-floor accountant, his navy blue suit so out of place in the white-and-orange palette of the office. "Henry, I don't know what to say."
"I do," he replied. "Let's eat."
Betty sighed. "I would, but I'm so busy. I've spent all day saving Daniel's sex-having, job-leaving, appointment-forgetting tuchus. I've declined to comment on every Meade that I've been asked about today, and I've answered every phone call. I'm so tired. And it hasn't stopped yet. They're still sending e-mails—"
Her stomach growled loudly, only to be silenced by a glare from its owner.
"It can wait," Henry assured her in the most calming voice he could muster. In truth, his heart was racing at the prospect of being alone on the Mode floor with Betty—no Daniel, no Charlie, no anybody. And that kind of frightened him. He hadn't felt like that in a very long time.
"I'm giving you ten minutes," she ceded, "and I mean it. I don't even know why I'm doing this. We're not friends anymore." Suddenly her somewhat happy attitude had decayed in a very exponential manner.
The words stung Henry as he followed her to the conference room. "Maybe your stomach is stronger than your heart," he snapped, or at least, he tried. It came out more like a choking-back-a-sob-trying-to-be-rude statement, which is what it really was.
"Maybe," she replied as she pulled the door open, and he could feel his own heart breaking as he put the pizza box on the table and opened it.
"Happy mushroom," he said quietly.
Betty looked at him with a look that suggested gears turning in her head. "You have nine and a half minutes," she said, looking down, taking a deep breath and then looking at the pizza.
They each took a slice and sat in silence which, Henry was sure, was so tangible that if bitten, it could be chewed and swallowed just like the warm pizza in his hand.
"Nine minutes," she mumbled through a mouthful of fungus—the non-bioluminescent kind.
The chewy silence continued, Betty marking off the minutes in monotone.
About twenty seconds after the fifth was announced, Henry stood up. "I can't take this anymore," he cried to the empty floor.
"Take what?" Betty asked.
"You! You're acting so… bizarre. Ever since you went out with Gabe… did he do something to you?"
"Henry!" she gasped, enraged. "This has nothing to do with Gabe! Actually, it's your fault!"
"Me?" Henry responded, bewildered. "What did I do?"
Ignoring completely the four minute mark, Betty stood up and stared in defiance at the accountant. "You came into my life and just thought you could sweep me off my feet like some, some…"
"Prince Charming?" Henry supplied.
"Yeah!" Betty spat. "Exactly! Sweep me off my feet, ask me out, suddenly have a girlfriend, almost kiss me, and then have the nerve to try to be my friend!"
Henry fell back into the ergonomic office chair.
"All the mushroom pizza and pink Gerbera daisies in the world couldn't fix us, Henry. In fact, there is no 'us.' It's just 'me' and 'you.'" Betty turned from him and faced the glass wall, looking out on the dark floor.
"So if I'm understanding correctly, this is all my fault," Henry mumbled, after some thought.
"Damn straight," Betty responded, missing the three minute mark.
"Well, then you, too, are condemned."
Henry sighed. "You suddenly had a boyfriend, remember?"
Standing again, Henry held out a hand and proceeded with much less venom than had his debate partner. "Let me finish. You didn't tell me about Walter when he was actually here. You met Charlie the day after she came here, and I met Walter in an awkward moment while trying to get you to eat raw sea monsters."
"I'm not done. Betty, I am not the one doing the sweeping here. When I first saw you, you practically hit me over the head with a broom. I'm still trying to slow my heart rate. I fell for you, and I fell fast. There's something stronger than gravity between us, because I can tell you that my fall was accelerating at a much faster rate than nine point eight meters per second per second. But you know what they say—it's not the fall that hurts. It's the landing. The fall was exhilarating. But your words of stone last week broke my fall and my heart."
Betty sat down in her chair in stunned silence, her slice of pizza hanging limply from her hand.
"Two minutes," she said quietly, and took a bite.
"And my two cents."
"One minute" came and went, and Henry looked at his watch.
"Well, have a good evening," he said, picking up the barely-eaten pizza and planning to leave it on the third floor on his way out.
Flustered, Betty replied, "Yeah, you too."
They walked out of the conference room and Henry pushed the elevator button. As the doors opened, he stepped in and waved somewhat sadly to Betty. The doors slid shut, but a hand appeared between them at the last possible second and they opened, Betty coming into the car.
There were no words said, just the sound of a pizza box falling to the floor as Cinderella took her Prince Charming by surprise by putting her hands on his face and kissing him. Prince Charming surprised his Cinderella by taking her by the waist and kissing back. But neither of them was surprised that it felt so right.