DISCLAIMER: Trust me, I don't own any of it. Oh, the things that would happen if I did... :-)
A Rude Awakening
A soft, contented sigh escaped Betty's lips as she nestled deeper beneath the down comforter. The air beyond the blanket was cold, crisp. But beneath it was a different world. She was warm and safe, his arms wrapped around her from behind. His cheek rested against the back of her neck, sandpapery with morning stubble, and his gentle breathing made it clear that he was still asleep.
The clock on his bedside table read 10:47 a.m. Her eyes drifted closed as she snuggled back against him. What better way could there possibly be to spend a weekend morning? In Henry's gentle embrace, she felt astoundingly content. She could remain in this moment forever, and be happy all of her days.
Her eyes snapped open. A sickening clarity shocked her out of her half-dream as effectively as cold water.
No. Not Henry.
Then, even worse…
Not the weekend.
"Oh no!" She bolted upright so quickly that she smacked heads with the man beside her. He let out a strangled cry, jerking away from her and out of whatever dreams he might have been enjoying.
"What?! What the--?"
"I'm late!" She was already half out of bed, still wearing her crumpled clothes from the day before, frantically searching for her shoes and jacket.
"Betty. Breathe. You're only late if I beat you there," Daniel leaned back on the pillows, one hand gingerly nursing his wounded head. "And, trust me, that's not going to happen."
For the first time, Betty realized the damage she'd done.
"Oh! Oh, Daniel, I'm sorry!" she exclaimed, hovering uncertainly beside the bed. "Do you need ice? I can get ice." She marched purposefully towards his kitchen as she spoke, and Daniel laughed despite the rapidly-rising bump on his head.
"I think I'll survive. Why don't you c--" he halted awkwardly. For a brief moment, his icy blue eyes met her deep brown ones, but he couldn't hold the gaze. He stared intently at the bedspread instead.
"--get yourself ready," he finished, somewhat lamely. Betty uncertainly tried to smooth her wrinkled skirt. Something in his eyes told her what he'd intended to say, though he'd stopped himself.
Why don't you come back to bed?
The unspoken words hung in the air between them like a forbidden curtain that had nearly been drawn aside. A curtain that, fortunately, still remained tightly closed.
"Right. I'll just… go wash up," Betty said, hurriedly turning away and making her way towards the bathroom. She closed the door securely behind her, making sure to lock it just in case. In case of what, she wasn't exactly sure.
For a long while, she leaned against the sink with both hands and just stared at herself in the mirror. Tangled black hair was flattened all around her face, and the skin around her eyes was puffy and red. She blew out a frustrated little sigh and combed her fingers through her crumpled bangs in the pointless hope that maybe it would do some good. Rather than taming the frightfulness that was her hair, the finger combing only seemed to make it frizzier. Great, just what she needed: An opportunity to look even less attractive than usual at MODE.
After splashing her face with some water, she searched Daniel's medicine cabinet for toothpaste. Her mouth still tasted vaguely of the Chinese takeout and Ben & Jerry's ice cream from the night before, and though she might have been resigned to looking slightly less than glamorous for the day she drew the line at funky smelling breath. But once she'd grabbed his half-used tube of Crest--squeezed from the middle; typical--Betty realized she had another problem.
The only toothbrush available was his.
Daniel's blue toothbrush sat innocuously in its little plastic cup. It wasn't like he would ever know… but the idea of using his toothbrush seemed somehow inappropriate; too intimate. Instead, she squeezed the toothpaste onto her index finger and scrubbed it over her braces as best she could. That would have to do for today.
She bustled out of the bathroom, all the while avoiding looking at the bed where Daniel still sat with a hand to his head. She could feel his eyes on her while she gathered the Styrofoam takeout containers with shaking hands and carted them off to the trash can. Then she promptly resumed the search for her shoes.
Where had she put them? They had to be right around here; the loft wasn't all that big, after all. Finally she spotted them, resting neatly against a wall in the kitchen, her purse on the floor beside them.
"Daniel, come on, at this rate it'll be noon before we get there," she called, trying to force a take-charge sort of voice while tugging her shoes on awkwardly.
Daniel heaved his legs over the edge of the bed, still grimacing at the throbbing pain from his unexpected wakeup call. He muttered something she couldn't quite make out, but guessed from the tone that it wasn't particularly pleasant. With a groan he stumbled tiredly off to the bathroom.
Once he was out of the room, Betty breathed a little easier. Her stomach was slowly tying itself into so many knots that she was afraid she might be sick. She sank heavily onto the floor, massaging her temples with her fingers while she tried to sort through her crazily swirling thoughts.
Was this normal? Was it OK? It certainly didn't mean anything… did it? Of course not. Anyway, there was no time to think about it right now. She couldn't very well spend the entire day at the office fretting about the night before. That wouldn't do at all.
Should she call the office to let them know that they were running a bit behind schedule? She fished in her purse for her cell phone, pushed a button and--
Twenty-seven missed calls?!
Betty stared at the screen in disbelief, then clicked her way into the call log. Home… home… home… home… Hilda… home…
As she scrolled through call after call from her family the knot in her stomach tightened. Calls all the way till four a.m.! Papi had been worrying about her, no doubt. For a moment, she considered calling to let them know that everything was all right, but the prospect of having to explain where she'd been was not an appealing one. Instead, she shoved the phone back into the recesses of her bag. Better to give herself time to come up with some sort of coherent explanation that wouldn't make Hilda's eyebrows rise up into her hair.
A prickling sensation at the back of her neck made her turn around. Daniel stood in the entryway behind her, watching her with an odd, faraway look in his eyes.
"What?" she asked.
"I called the car," he said. "Fifteen minutes."
He pulled a collared shirt on over his undershirt and slowly fastened the buttons. A bright purple necktie hung loosely around his neck, waiting to be tied. Betty felt the need to say something, but she was a little fuzzy on what it ought to be.
He skipped a button.
She watched him for a moment, a smile quirking at the corner of her mouth as he obliviously buttoned his shirt up one buttonhole off. By the time he'd reached his collar, the effect was so ridiculous that she had to intervene. With a dramatic eye roll, she dutifully tromped over to him.
"Seriously, do you need me to fix everything?" she said with a grin that was only a little bit forced. She unbuttoned the offending buttons and began fastening the shirt up straight, keeping her eyes firmly fixed on his shirtfront. When she finished she backed away as though the garment had suddenly burst into flames.
"Thanks," Daniel said. He cleared his throat.
"Wait," Betty said, a realization suddenly occurring to her. "We're going in together?"
"Sure. Why not?"
"Well…" she stammered. "It's just… won't that look, you know…"
"Look like what?"
She couldn't quite tell whether he was teasing her or playing dumb for some other reason, but either way it was plain that he understood quite well what she meant. She could see the nervousness behind his blue eyes, though she couldn't place what exactly was the cause.
But Daniel had called her bluff. Her mouth hung open to explain exactly what it would look like if the two of them showed up three hours late in the same car, but she couldn't force the words off her tongue. Any allusion, no matter how vague, to the possibility that it could even be suspected that the two of them had anything beyond a completely platonic relationship seemed like dangerous ground, given the present circumstances. So, instead, she smiled a metal mouthed smile around gritted teeth. If he wanted to gloss over any potential weirdness, she could play that game.
"Oh," she said. "Nothing."
There, I finally got gusty enough to post something of my own up here. At the moment I think this will end up being a shorter fic... maybe 5 or 6 chapters, depending on how much the idea expands (or shrinks) as I go. Go on and leave some reviews to let me know if you loved it, hated it, or whatever-elsed it. Next chapter won't be too long coming...