THE RIGHT TIME
When Betty Suarez wins her first National Magazine Award, Daniel Meade presents it to her. They ask him to speak for two minutes, which doesn't seem like enough time to sum up Betty, all she was when he spent every day with her and all that she's done since. Writer, assistant editor, a few other things in between. Still the best person he's ever met.
He gets it down to three. Her hands are shaking a bit when she reaches for the award, and when their fingers touch, and he hears her say, "Thank you, Daniel," in that same voice that used to offer him coffee, tell him about Queens, he hesitates for a moment; it's like time travel without even moving, years gone in a flash.
"Thank you, Daniel."
"For the party? It's the least I could do," Daniel says, shutting the door to his office. It's late, but a few people are still wandering around the office, drinking out of "Best of Luck to Betty" cups, and Daniel wants to say his good-bye to her in private.
"The party was very nice, but you know that's not what I meant."
"Betty," Daniel says, shaking his head. "Any thanks you give me, I owe you double. You know that's the truth. "
"Maybe." Betty smiles and adjusts her glasses, shifts her weight. Her usual nervous gestures, familiar even in a fancy dress. "But still, working here has been an incredible experience. I've learned so much. Thank you."
He expects her to reach out to hug him when she's done. She always does at times like this, when one or both of them is feeling sentimental. But instead she stands there, a strange distance away, until he steps forward. She's stiff in his arms at first, but then her arms are around his shoulders, her body warm against his. She lets out a little sigh against his shoulder that makes him pull her closer.
"You'll keep in touch, right?"
"Of course," Betty says, pulling away. She sniffles a bit, and takes off her glasses to wipe at her eyes. She looks up at him briefly before putting them on, and in that moment her eyes are sad in a way that goes beyond sentimental good-byes, and also surprisingly beautiful. She's standing close enough for him to reach out and touch her, and so he does, on her arm. Her skin is soft and warm to the touch.
She shakes off his hand. "I'm glad you're happy, Daniel."
A strange thing to say. Daniel looks closely at her; she's wearing a dress that Christina probably picked out for her. Daniel can tell because it fits her well and flatters her in ways most of her clothes don't. She should look different, transformed, but all he sees is his Betty in different clothes, wearing an expression he can't recognize. "To be completely honest, I'm not that happy that you're leaving. The next few months are going to be hell."
Betty smiles at the compliment. "I meant the more important kind of happy. With Annabelle."
"I thought you didn't like her."
Betty shrugs. "I was a little too judgmental at first. You know, no one's good enough for the people you care about."
"I know." Daniel's pretty sure there's no one good enough for Betty.
"Well," Betty says, after a pause. She's looking around his office, at the desk he's sat behind for three years now, the chair she always perched on when she came in for meetings. The dark sky outside, city lights below. She sighs and looks at Daniel again. "I should probably get going. Christina's waiting for me downstairs."
"You're going to use the –
"Company car, yes. I promised Christina she could come along. Thank you, Daniel."
And now her expression looks right, the smile she's wearing one of his favorites, the one that says he's lived up to her expectations. It's only there for a moment, though, before it transforms into something else he knows; her about-to-cry face. "I'll miss you, Daniel."
Something in her voice makes the exchange seem final, like a real good-bye. "Betty-"
"I'll see you soon." Betty turns to leave.
"Soon," Daniel says to her retreating back. He watches her until he can't see her through the glass walls of his office, but she never turns around. Keeps walking forward, away.
Betty's acceptance speech is short, smart, and funny. Daniel feels proud listening to it. Not because he had anything to do with her becoming the type of person who gives speeches like that – he knows better than that. Simply because he knows her.
He stands up when she finishes speaking, applauding loudly. Betty smiles at the audience's reaction in a familiar, wide-open way, nodding shyly as she looks around the room. Her smile changes when she sees Daniel. Gone is the shyness, replaced with something else: amusement, affection. She shakes her head at him and then turns away from the podium to walk back to her table.
Daniel looks around the room then and realizes that he's the only one standing, and that his date is tugging at his sleeve impatiently. "Daniel," she's whispering, in an urgent, desperate way.
"What?" He sits down and takes a sip of water.
His date rolls her eyes at him. He can tell she's regretting saying yes to his invitation out tonight, maybe as much as he's regretting inviting her. This is his third time out with Michelle and she hasn't improved upon acquaintance.
Someone else starts speaking up on the podium. Daniel knows he should pay attention, but instead he looks around the room, at the writers and editors and publishers congratulating themselves and others on their brilliance and importance. Not exactly the publishing crowd Daniel usually runs with; he almost feels sorry for Michelle, sitting next to him in a flimsy silver dress that would have been perfect for a Mode party but looks trashy and cheap in this room, full of people with multiple degrees and sensible heels.
Betty's table is full of that kind of people. Betty looks just right sitting among them, wearing a black dress perfect for the occasion, sitting next to a serious-looking guy in glasses who's probably her date. She's running a finger over her award like she can't quite believe it's real.
Betty's probable-date is listening intently to whoever's speaking, which is polite but Daniel thinks a bit strange. If he were sitting next to Betty, he wouldn't be listening to the speaker; he'd be listening to Betty, or whispering something in her ear. He would be doing something to make good use of the time given in Betty Suarez's company, because busy Betty Suarez has become the kind of moving target you only catch when luck collides with persistence.
Daniel would make good use of the time.
It takes a while for Daniel to realize things have changed. He calls Betty on the evening of what he knows to be her first day at the new job, and her cell rings but rolls over to voicemail. Daniel leaves a short message wishing her well, asking her to check in when she gets a chance but not to worry if she's too busy.
She doesn't check in.
Work is so busy that it takes Daniel a week to realize Betty never called him back. At first he assumes it to be an oversight on his new assistant's part, but after Zoe swears up and down that Betty never called, he starts to believe it.
He leaves a second message, a little more urgent than the first. A little more needy than he's proud of. It closes with, "I know I'm being ridiculous, but I just want to make sure you're okay. Overprotective former boss behavior, or something. So call me, all right? Please."
She calls him back the next day, on his private line in his office, late at night, long after he usually leaves. He's still there because even though Zoe is helpful and pleasant and mostly capable, she's no Betty. He's spent a lot of late nights at the office since Betty left.
"Betty," Daniel says instead of hello, because he's been watching his caller ID obsessively, and recognized her cell phone number.
"Daniel." Betty sounds surprised, like she's the one getting the unexpected call. "I didn't think you'd be there."
"Then why did you call?"
"Well, you know," Betty says, her voice pitched higher than usual. "I meant to call you at home, but then realized I'd dialed work by mistake, and when I realized it, it was already ringing, so I figured I'd let it go and maybe leave you a message and then try you at home, but then you picked up, so."
"It worked out."
Betty doesn't continue, so Daniel asks, "How is everything going?"
"Things are good. Busy, but good. I'm sorry I took so long to get back to you. Things are crazy."
"I bet. Hey, do you have your own assistant now?"
"I share one with another writer."
"Is she any good?"
"The writer or the assistant?"
"Either. Both," Daniel says, because he wants to keep her talking.
Betty does. Work is good, home is good, everything is good. He likes the sound of her voice, the way her words rush together when she's talking about something that makes her happy, like her family or this new job.
"It sounds like you're enjoying yourself."
"I am," Betty says. "How are things with you?"
"Good. Pretty good. Well, okay, I guess. All right, they're awful."
Betty laughs. "Zoe will get the hang of things. It's not an easy job, Daniel."
"I know, but."
She's no you, he wants to say. Even after she learns where all the forms are, and how to transfer calls, and which people he wants to talk to and which should be screened – even after all that, she won't be Betty. "I guess it's just a little harder than I thought it would be."
"Change is hard."
"Yeah, it is."
"But it's also good." Betty sounds like she's convincing herself as well as him. "Things have to change, right, or else they die. That's why species evolve."
"Yeah, you know, how they have to move to stay alive."
"That's true, but it's not the same thing."
"Daniel!" He can picture her in this moment, posture straight, eyes wide, wearing her I-can't-believe-you face. "It's not the same thing at all."
"I know," he says.
"Then why'd you say it?"
"I don't know," Daniel says, even though he does; he said it because he misses teasing her, misses the way she smiles when she realizes the joke. It's worth doing even if he can't see it on her face. "It's late, I guess."
"Listen," Daniel says. He feels nervous, palms sweaty, like he's sixteen and asking someone out of his league to the prom. "How about getting together sometime for lunch or something, next week? We can set a time so we don't have to worry about missing each other's calls."
Betty takes a beat longer than usual to respond. "That sounds great, only things are really busy right now."
"But we could set a tentative time. Like – next Thursday, meet for lunch, at Bongiorno's. That's about halfway between us, right?"
"Worst case scenario, you call me and we have to reschedule."
"Okay." Betty still sounds hesitant, not at all convinced.
"Betty, is everything all right?"
"Everything's fine!" She sounds cheerful again, but too cheerful. The way she sounds after getting bad or unexpected news, the way she sounded when he told her he'd proposed to Annabelle two months ago. "I'm just really tired."
"Right. Well, you should probably get some rest."
"You too, Daniel. And be nice to Zoe."
"I will." Daniel stares out, at the desk where Betty used to sit, which now has a plain cashmere cardigan hanging over the back of the chair, nothing like Betty's loud, patterned sweaters. "I'll see you soon."
"See you soon," Betty says, and disconnects.
Daniel sits with the phone in his hand for a while, staring at Betty's desk. Zoe's desk, now. The office seems bigger without Betty's voice in his ear, emptier even though he'd been sitting by himself for an hour before his phone rang.
She won't be there for lunch. One of Betty's flaws or virtues is her inability to lie convincingly, but Daniel still pulls out his PDA and programs it in. Maybe she'll change her mind. Maybe she'll get over whatever's got her acting so strange, and be there.
She isn't. She leaves a message with Zoe on Wednesday to cancel, and doesn't leave a different time for lunch. Daniel stares at the message for a long time, feeling something like panic curl in his gut. It's worse than her last day, worse than the day she told him she was leaving, this moment that he realizes she's truly gone.
Daniel's date wants to leave the event when she realizes there are five awards to hand out after Betty's.
"Why don't we get out of here? Go somewhere more fun?" She looks up at him from under lowered lids in a way that's supposed to be seductive, runs a finger along the back of his hand.
Ten years ago, he'd be out the door, pulling her by the hand, before she could finish her sentence. Now he offers her the company car to take home and decides to stay at the awards banquet until the bitter end, or until he gets to talk to Betty. Whichever comes first.
It shouldn't be difficult to talk to her. People are moving around the room in between speeches, but the people at Betty's table seem glued to their seats, and Daniel doesn't want to have a ten-second conversation standing behind Betty's chair. He wants to sit down with his glass of wine next to her.
He wants to take the seat of the serious-looking guy in glasses.
He watches her table as much as he can, but since Michelle left, the woman next to him has claimed him as a conversation partner. She's a writer who makes handbags on the side, and has decided on Daniel as her way to a new career.
He's doing his best to come up with a polite but firm way to end the conversation when one appears for him, standing behind Michelle's chair.
"Mind if I sit down for a minute?"
"Of course. I mean, no, of course not," Daniel says, watching Betty settle into the seat next to him. Her hair is up off her face and she's wearing contacts; seeing her up close like this is a shock. "You look amazing. I mean, congratulations."
"Thank you," Betty says, blushing a little bit. "To both."
"I mean, not that you weren't fine, you know, before, but now – you can really see your eyes."
"That's what Justin says. He's the one who made me get contacts. He says they're my strongest feature and I shouldn't hide them behind hair and glasses."
Daniel thinks Betty's strongest feature is her heart, but knows enough about women not to tell her that. If he has to catalogue her physical features, he'll admit her eyes are beautiful, but he's not sure that he would single them out above her skin, especially when it's glowing with a blush the way it is right now, or the way her hair shines in the dim light, or the way her smile lights up her face.
He doesn't tell her any of those things, either. Instead, he says, "How is Justin?"
"He's good, getting ready to think about college. He's hoping to go to F.I.T." Betty tilts her head in a way that says, who didn't see that coming.
"Maybe I'll run into him at Mode someday."
"He'd love that."
"Hey," Daniel says, pulling out his wallet. "Why don't you have him call me? Maybe we could set up an internship for him or something."
"Thanks, Daniel," Betty says, holding the business card he gives her carefully. She twirls it in her fingers. "Still at the same extension, I see."
"Yes, but we've got a new phone system."
They don't say anything for a little bit, but it's a comfortable kind of silence. She turns to listen to the presentation of the next award, and Daniel looks at her profile, the line of her throat. She smiles at something the presenter is saying, one of her quieter smiles, the one that curves her lips but doesn't show her teeth. Daniel should probably listen and figure out what's causing it, but instead he just watches Betty, the speaker's voice barely registering.
"That was a good speech," Betty says when the recipient sits down.
"Yours was better." He feels confident that what he's saying is true even though he didn't listen to a word the last person said.
Betty looks down at her hands, which are spread wide on the tablecloth. Her fingernails are short and not manicured, which Daniel finds endearing and somewhat comforting. "Daniel, what you said in your speech, it was – I don't know what to say."
"You don't have to say anything."
"No, I do, only I have no idea what. I came over here to thank you, which I guess I never did. Thank you, Daniel," she says, looking up at him in an embarrassed way.
"You don't have to thank me. I don't know how many times I've said that to you in the time we've known each other."
"Well, I guess you'll just have to keep saying it."
Betty shrugs and shifts her weight in a way that signals she's about to get up. Daniel reaches out and puts his hand over hers, which makes her freeze in place. Him, too; it's a shock to the system, her hand under his, warm and soft. He should let go but instead he folds his fingers around hers. "Where are you going after this?"
Betty's looking up at him with wide, surprised eyes. "Going? Home, I guess."
"I could give you a –" Daniel cuts himself off. "I was going to say I could give you a ride home, but I let Michelle take the company car when she left."
"This isn't exactly her kind of event," Daniel says. "It was a mistake to bring her."
Betty nods, and moves her hand a bit in his, like she wants him to let her go. He does, but regrets it instantly, because Betty takes her hand off the table, folds her arms across her chest. "She's very beautiful."
"Daniel," Betty says, in her best give-me-a-break voice.
"Yes, she's beautiful, but."
But she's no you, he wants to say. "There's something lacking. We've only been out a few times, this is probably the last."
Betty nods. "So, no company car."
"No," Daniel says. "But we could split a cab. I mean, unless there's someone-"
"No," Betty interrupts. "There isn't."
The relief Daniel feels at that must show on his face, in his smile; Betty gives him a curious look, but Daniel can't force it off his face.
Annabelle breaks off the engagement, but it's really Daniel's fault. She says he's changed, and she's not wrong. She is wrong when she accuses him of sleeping with Zoe, saying everything changed after she was hired, but Zoe's girlfriend helps clear Daniel of those charges.
"Still," Annabelle says. "You're not the same."
"It's just –"
"It's not work," Annabelle says, her delicate features set in a determined expression. "I don't know what it is, but this isn't working. We've postponed the wedding twice, Daniel. I'm not going to marry someone who clearly doesn't want to marry me."
She doesn't stay to hear the rest of his explanation. Daniel doesn't know what he was going to say to convince her, or if he really wanted to. He does know that he hates having another failed engagement on his record.
"The first one doesn't count," Betty says early the next morning, after she's met him at his apartment. She's gotten better about returning his calls quickly, but still sometimes takes a day or two. This one she returned within minutes, arriving on his doorstep a half hour after Daniel made the call.
"Why doesn't it count?"
"Because Sofia was an evil, manipulative shrew."
"True," Daniel says. "But still, it counts. I gave her a ring, I introduced her to the family."
"I disagree." Betty says, and then looks around his apartment. It's neat and clean and bare of Annabelle's things. "I'm making you something to eat. What do you want? Omelets sound good?"
"I'm not really-"
"You're eating something."
"Okay, omelets it is."
Daniel follows her into the kitchen where she pulls ingredients out of the refrigerator one by one, setting them on the counter. "Now, I'm not my father, but I can make good eggs, so enjoy."
"I will." Daniel sits down at a stool and watches her crack eggs into a bowl. Her efficient, careful movements remind him of the office, of the way she carefully slid pens into the wire of steno notebooks and tucked pencils behind her ear. He feels a rush of affection for her, standing there in a familiar, loud Betty sweater and bright red glasses. Her hair is different, though, swept off to the side, no longer hiding her face.
"Did you change your hair?"
Betty looks over her shoulder. "I'm growing out my bangs. It's really annoying."
"It looks good."
Betty rolls her eyes and goes back to making the omelet, chopping up vegetables Daniel had forgotten he had, grating cheese she finds in the back of a drawer. When she's done, she puts it on a plate and slides it toward Daniel, and then sits next to him on a stool.
"Aren't you having one?"
"There were only enough eggs for one." Betty shrugs and pops a mushroom in her mouth. "I'm fine."
Daniel takes his fork and cuts the omelet down the middle and puts the plate between them. "We'll share."
Betty smiles at him in that proud way that makes him feel like he's answered a difficult question perfectly, something Daniel had missed so much that he'd let himself forget what it felt like.
They share the omelet in silence, mostly. Daniel knows Betty thinks he's sad, and he is, but at the moment it's overwhelmed by how happy he is to see her, to be sitting next to Betty at his kitchen island at seven in the morning on a Saturday. They've seen each other a few times, have gotten together for lunch or dinner at Daniel's urging, one time with dates (his was Annabelle, hers a serious, dark-haired photographer named Eliot). They talk on the phone more often than they did a year before, in the months after Betty left, but it feels like forever to Daniel since they've had a moment like this, natural and quiet and calm.
Daniel watches Betty eat her half of the omelet. She's a messy eater, dropping pieces of vegetable onto the plate with every bite, which should be gross since they're sharing a plate, but Daniel finds he doesn't mind. He doesn't mind much of anything about Betty.
She wipes at her mouth and pushes the plate back at Daniel. "You can have the rest, I'm done."
Daniel nods and takes the last few bites, which are good. He tells her that.
"Thanks." Betty stares at him for a little while, then away at the counters across from them. When she looks back, her expression is anxious. "Are you okay, Daniel?"
"I'll be fine," Daniel says. It's the truth. He knows he should be devastated, but sitting next to Betty in his kitchen, things don't seem so bad.
"Good," Betty says, biting her lip, and it's then, in that moment, that Daniel has his first thought of kissing Betty, a strong sudden impulse to lean over and close the distance between them with a kiss.
He doesn't. Betty turns her head and goes to wash the dishes, chattering about how he should get some sleep since he's clearly been up all night, and letting himself get run down won't help him get over Annabelle. He doesn't listen to the specifics, not while she's washing the dishes or while she's putting on her coat to leave, even though usually Daniel has no problem listening to Betty. Her voice is just a buzzing in his ears, overtaken by the feeling that came with the urge to kiss Betty: a sensation of something falling into place, becoming complete.
He sits on the couch for a while after Betty leaves, staring at where she sat when she first walked in, thinking of that feeling, waiting for it to go away. It doesn't.
Betty goes back to her table to get her things at the end of the night. Daniel feels nervous letting her go, afraid she'll change her mind once she's standing next to the serious-looking guy in glasses, that she'll look across the room and see him in his purple tie and complicated hair and remember why leaving Mode was such a good idea. He's got enough pride not to let the nervous show, and so he says he'll meet her by the coat check.
She takes a few minutes to get there. She walks up with her award tucked under her arm, and hands over her ticket to the coat check girl with a smile. "Hi, it's a green coat, kind of long. Hard to miss."
The coat check girl doesn't smile back, or say hello, or thank her for the advice. Just turns her back to get Betty's coat.
Betty turns to Daniel. "Doesn't she know that customer service is the cornerstone of her industry?"
The girl returns with Betty's coat, which is long and a shade of green brighter than he's seen any other woman wear. "Thank you," Betty says. "And I don't mean to be rude, but you should really be a little more personable –"
"Betty," Daniel says, putting a hand on her elbow, trying to turn her away.
"I'm trying to help her," Betty says. "Trust me, I know. I've worked for tips before. A smile, a friendly word can go a long way."
"Some of us don't have to rely on being friendly to get tips," the coat check girl says, with an upturned eyebrow, a quick once-over of Betty.
Daniel sees the hurt flash across Betty's face, but only for a moment, gone so quickly that Daniel isn't sure he saw it there at all.
"Come on, let's go," he says, gripping her elbow more firmly, turning her toward the door.
Betty nods, her face unreadable. They stop a few feet from the door, and Daniel helps her into her coat. It takes a few seconds because Betty's hand gets caught in the sleeve where she'd stuffed mittens and a scarf. While she's arranging the buttons, she says, "Well, you know what? Some of us don't have to work for tips anymore. Some of us have National Magazine Awards. Why didn't I say that? I should have said that."
"Do you want to go back and say it?" Daniel's got one hand on the door leading to the outside world, but he doesn't push it open.
Betty glances up at him, a smile at the corner of her mouth, and shakes her head, pulling her mittens on. "No. I'm just being stupid."
"You're not being stupid. She was stupid." Daniel holds the door open and watches Betty step in front of him onto the cold sidewalk. She loops her scarf around her neck but can't twist it right with the award in her hand, so Daniel reaches over and fixes it for her. The lights of the hotel's doorway are brighter than the dim lighting inside, and here Daniel can see her face, her bright eyes, her hair coming loose from its updo. "You wouldn't have to smile or be polite to get tips, Betty."
"Daniel. I'm okay, you don't have to –"
"I'm not. I'm telling you the truth. Anytime you want to be a rude coat check girl, you could do the job. Probably do better than her. It might not be as lucrative as what you're doing right now."
"But I'd meet all sorts of people."
"True," Daniel says, looking out at the city street, at the cabs speeding by to their destinations, and then back at Betty, in her scarf and mittens and bright green coat. "Want to take a walk?"
Daniel figures the kissing-Betty thing will go away, that it's just a side effect of a second broken engagement, that eventually whatever clicked into place when he thought of it will un-click with time. The fact that he thinks about it all the time (at the office, at home, in the car, at the gym) doesn't deter him from this belief at all. Two months after Annabelle leaves, he asks Betty to meet him for lunch to prove it to himself.
Daniel spots her easily when she walks into the restaurant. She's wearing an orange sweater vest over a white button-down shirt, a matching orange headband holding her hair back. When she gets close to the table, Daniel can see why she didn't reschedule this lunch the way she did the ones before Annabelle broke it off: she's worried about him.
He stands when she gets to the table. "Hi, Betty. Thanks for meeting me."
"Of course," Betty says, warmth in her voice, in her smile. "How are you doing?"
"Fine," Daniel says. "In spite of what you'd see in the papers. It took them longer than I expected to pick up the story, but did you see the two-page spread in US Weekly?"
Betty unfolds her napkin. "Were they the ones who-"
"-said I was going to reenact the bridge scene from Saturday Night Fever out of my despair? Yes, that's the one."
"Where do they come up with these things?" Betty picks up her menu, and then looks at him. "Do you have some weird Saturday Night Fever thing I don't know about?"
"You mean, do I frequent underground disco clubs?"
Betty freezes mid-motion, holding the menu half-open. "There are underground disco clubs?"
"No," Daniel says, laughing. "Not as far as I know. They made the bridge thing up, for whatever reason. Maybe the writer was on a Travolta kick close to deadline."
"No excuse," Betty says, opening her menu. "What's good here?"
Daniel's busy watching Betty's face, the careful way she examines the menu, like there will be a multiple-choice test at the end of the meal. Betty looks up. "Daniel?"
"Oh, what's good? Anything. I like the salmon."
She scrunches her nose.
"The chicken piccata's good, too."
Betty folds her menu shut. "Piccata it is."
"You're easily convinced."
"No, I trust your judgment. There's a difference."
Daniel doesn't know what to say to that, or why it makes him so happy, or what he's going to do about this not-going-away feeling about Betty. He can't help staring at her, at her mouth, at the orange plastic earrings hanging from her earlobes, the open top button of her white shirt.
Daniel forces himself to look away, takes a sip of water to distract himself. "So," he says. "What's new with you?"
"With me?" Betty shrugs. "Nothing, really. Well. There is one thing. But actually, now's probably not – I don't know."
"What's the news?"
"Do you remember Eliot?"
"Of course," Daniel says.
"Well, we've been seeing each other for a while now," Betty says, with a small smile that for some reason makes Daniel nervous. "Since my lease is up soon and he's been subletting, well, we're going to move in together."
"You're going to move in together," Daniel repeats, as if the phrase will make more sense if he says it out loud.
"We can get a nicer place, and being on my own has been kind of lonely."
"Of course," Daniel says. "Well. That's great, Betty."
"I know it's bad timing to bring it up now, but we actually decided a while ago and it's going to happen pretty soon."
"Two weeks," Betty says. She's wearing an excited smile, and Daniel knows she's been counting down the days.
"Wow, Betty, that's –" Daniel has a hard time finding the right thing to say to finish the sentence; he wants to say that's awful, that's a mistake, that's something you should reconsider. Instead, he says, "I'm glad you're happy."
And that's when Daniel knows, realizes three things: why Betty left Mode, the reason things didn't work out with Annabelle, and that he's missed his chance. He forces a smile on his face and tells her that this is the kind of news that calls for champagne.
They walk through the park, and when they see the ice rink in the distance, they sit down on a bench with a good view that also spares them the worst of the wind. Betty looks pink-cheeked and cold but still cheerful, a smile on her face when he turns to check on her after a few minutes.
"You want to get out there? It could be fun."
Betty laughs. "Maybe some other time, when I'm not wearing the most expensive dress I've ever owned and carrying the most important thing I've ever won."
"I'll hold you to that."
"It's a deal," Betty says, still smiling.
"So, uh," Daniel says. An auspicious beginning; Betty looks over at him curiously, and he forces himself to go on. "I was sorry to hear about Eliot."
Betty shrugs. "It's fine. He's a great guy, but I think we both realized that we weren't each other's, you know," Betty says, waving her hand.
"Right," Daniel says. "I'm sorry I wasn't able to do for you what you did for me when things happened with Annabelle."
"I wasn't expecting you to fly to London, Daniel. In fact, I think all breakups should happen when you're out of the country. It saves your friends and family a lot of work."
Daniel decides not to mention how close he came to booking a ticket to Heathrow. "I'll remember that."
"Good." Betty's smile is unforced, relaxed. She does seem okay.
"So, do you think there is a, you know," Daniel says, mimicking Betty's earlier gesture. "Do you think that's out there for everyone?"
Betty looks at him for a long stretch of time, then back at the skaters. "I do. But I'm not sure it always works out with that person, even if you do find them."
"Sometimes you're in different places, or your lives don't mesh. Or maybe," Betty says, looking over at him for a moment, and then away again. "You know, sometimes, it's not the same for both people. One person thinks they've found their person, but the other . . ."
"Doesn't feel the same way."
Betty doesn't say anything more. Daniel looks at her profile, at the determined set of her chin, the sad downturn of her lips. Thinks of the way she looked at him and then away, quickly, before.
"Betty, can I ask you something?"
Betty looks away from the rink, and though her eyes are sad, she puts on a smile. "Is it easier than the last one?"
"I'm not sure." Daniel looks at her face, at her manufactured smile, the scarf bunched under her chin. "Why did you leave Mode?"
Betty looks panicked for a moment, but covers quickly. "Because I got a job as a writer at another magazine. You know that, Daniel."
"Yes, but," Daniel says, and here he loses his nerve a bit, has to pause before asking the question. "Was there another reason?"
Betty looks away, at the skaters making their circles around the ice. "Maybe."
Betty stands up and takes a few steps toward the rink. "It was a long time ago."
Daniel stands up, too. "I know, but-"
"That was a very difficult time for me."
Daniel stares at her back. She's crossed her arms in front of her and bunched up her shoulders, like she's trying to make herself as small as possible. Daniel steps toward her. "I know that, now."
Betty turns around. "How do you know?"
"Because," Daniel says. "I've been going through the same thing."
"Who do you think?"
Betty looks over at the skaters, then back at him. "Michelle?"
"No." Daniel steps closer. "With you."
The wind picks up, blowing Betty's hair around her face. "With me."
"You." Daniel reaches over to push some of Betty's hair behind her ear.
Daniel nods. He doesn't take his hand away. He cups her face in his hand, runs his thumb over her cheek, the way he's wanted to for so long that it feels like forever.
Betty closes her eyes and Daniel brings his other hand up to her face, leans in. When he's close enough that he can feel her breath, she says, "Daniel."
"What?" Daniel doesn't move.
"Are you sure this isn't the wine, or the scenery, or the dress – it's a really expensive dress."
"It's not the dress."
"I'm sure." Daniel leans in and kisses her once, quickly. "Very sure. Are you?"
Daniel pulls away a bit so he can see her face, because maybe he misread her before, maybe he was too eager, maybe-
"Yes," Betty says, and kisses him. It isn't quick at all.