The strange, makeshift room in the center of Bryant Park was absolutely buzzing with excitement. The air inside felt charged with electricity, as though a sudden spark would send everything instantly up in flames. Girls in couture dresses floated by on a runway of glass as camera shudders snapped from all directions. The sound of tinkling glasses and excited chatter filled every inch of available space the voluminous tent had to offer, leaving little room for anything else. It was the intoxicating, desirable madness that only Fashion Week could bring.
Daniel Meade stood off to one side of the enormous tent; a silent observer to the noisy, glamorous scene. As expected, Fashion Week had been a whirlwind; late nights, extra stress, moments of panic, battles of wills. But now that it was coming to an end, he had mixed emotions. Part of him was relieved, but at the same time, another part of him was somewhat sad that it was over. It was like cooling off after a sudden rush of adrenaline. He always missed the rush.
His eyes scanned the crowd, silently admiring the bright colors and rich textures that this otherworldly place had to offer. He paused on a group of people who were laughing and talking animatedly. A familiar voice caught his attention, waking him from his silent revelry. He smiled as he recognized the clear, vibrant tone of Betty's voice. There was no mistaking it. Without even seeing her face, he could pick out her voice from a crowd of a hundred noisy people. The sound immediately made him smile. Betty always had that effect on him. She was his own personal ray of sunshine. He made a mental note not to ever voice that out loud to anyone.
He soon spotted her amongst the group. He chuckled quietly to himself, admiring the irony that Betty's voice had been the first thing to catch his attention, not her brightly colored outfit. He smiled at the thought of how much she had grown on him these past couple of years. He had even started to like some of her bizarre clothing choices.
At that moment, Betty turned and caught him staring at her. Her face lit up in a smile and she hurried over to where he was standing. Without hesitation, she threw her arms around his neck and pulled him into a huge hug. He blushed, hesitating momentarily before returning the gesture. He hated that his return hugs were always so tentative. In comparison to Betty's genuine, uninhibited affection, his attempts at intimacy always seemed feeble. He wanted to give her more, to show her how much she meant to him, but he had never been good at expressing his emotions.
"Daniel!" She beamed. "I've been looking everywhere for you. What are you doing hiding in the corner?"
"I'm not hiding," he began, his voice a bit raspy from lack of use. "I'm just admiring all of our hard work. And perhaps taking a bit of a break in the process," he added with a grin.
"Well you should be proud, Daniel. Everything looks amazing," Betty praised him. "This has to be the best Mode fashion show we've ever done."
"Well, I couldn't have done it without you, Betty."
"It was a team effort," she beamed.
She scrutinized his face as he smiled dreamily at her.
"Daniel, are you okay?" She asked. "You seem a bit out of sorts."
"I'm fine," he assured her. "I'm just thinking."
She raised a skeptical eyebrow. She wasn't buying his answer.
"Why don't we step outside and get some air?" She suggested. "It'll be quieter out there; a much better place for thinking."
He smiled and nodded, accepting her offer.
Grabbing him by the hand, she ducked under one of the side flaps in the tent and pulled him out into the darkened park. The cool night air washed over them like a wave. The gentle quiet of the park was a stark contrast to the noisy, charged atmosphere in the tent.
Daniel took a few steps away from the glowing tent and gazed up into the night sky, inhaling a deep breath as he did so. Betty followed him silently. Somewhere not far in the distance, they heard a live band begin to play. The jazzy melody floated across the park toward them. The spring breeze mingled the tune with notes of freshly cut grass and daffodils. Suddenly, the space surrounding them became perfumed with music and springtime.
Daniel turned around to face Betty and gave her a crooked smile.
"Would you care to dance?" He asked with a mischievous grin. He didn't know what had come over him.
"Daniel, don't be ridiculous," she responded, swatting at his arm.
But before she could pull her hand away, he boldly grabbed her by the wrist and pulled her close to him. It was a gesture that surprised both of them. Betty's breath caught in her throat.
"I wasn't making a joke," he said with intensity in his eyes. He had no idea where any of this was coming from.
"Please, Betty. Dance with me?"
She nodded in stunned silence.
Without thinking, Daniel gently slipped his free hand around her waist and interlaced the fingers of his left hand with hers. Pulling her even closer, he began swaying to the music, leading her along with him.
Betty smiled as the shock began to wear off. She cautiously allowed her body to relax. Slowly she began to feel more comfortable in his arms. She was actually having fun. He was a very good dancer. She was somewhat surprised by this fact. She never knew he could dance. And she certainly never imagined that one day she would find out first hand.
Daniel beamed at her as he led them around the make-shift dance floor. His expression was carefree, childlike. Betty smiled back, all of her cares melting away. For the moment, nothing else mattered and she let herself get lost in the music. It was as though this place, this song, this moment in time, existed only for them.
The melody was beautiful. What song it was, she did not know, but she willed her mind to remember it, to take in each note and commit it to memory. That way, years from now, she could unlock the memory and play the song again whenever she wanted; this mysterious song, lovingly delivered to them on a wisp of spring wind.
The song eventually ended, but Daniel did not release her. He stood there, holding her in his arms, staring admiringly at her.
"Thank you for the dance, Daniel," she said, breaking the silence. "I'd forgotten how much I enjoy dancing," she told him. There was a slight hint of nervousness in her voice. It wasn't every day that she slow danced with her boss.
"No, thank you," he responded.
He continued to hold her gaze. The intensity in his eyes locked her in place. Even if she had wanted to move, she couldn't.
Before she knew what was happening, Daniel leaned down and placed a soft, gentle kiss on her lips. It was nothing, just the tiniest peck on the lips, but it was so tender, so heartfelt, so full of emotion that it almost knocked her off her feet.
Her heart raced and her lips tingled from the brief, but heated contact. She stared up at him in disbelief, not quite knowing what to think. His face turned seven shades of crimson as he dropped his gaze in the general direction of his shoes. The boldness he had felt before was instantly gone. He had no idea what in Heaven or on Earth had possessed him. He hoped he hadn't scared her.
"Maybe we should call it a night," he suggested.
Betty nodded, still not able to find her voice.
"I'll have the town car pull around," he offered sheepishly. He squeezed her hand gently as he took a few steps back and then reluctantly turned to head off in search of the car. Betty watched his retreating form as it disappeared into the night. She was still unable to move. Her skin was hypersensitive and felt electrified with each touch of the soft breeze.
"How was it possible that one tiny, insignificant kiss had done this to her?" Her left brain asked the right.
Regaining some control of her limbs, she forced herself to walk over to a park bench and sit down. It didn't help. Her head was still reeling.
"What did all this mean?" She wondered. "Did it mean anything?"
She was afraid of the answer.
At this point, her rational mind took over. It had been a very long week. Daniel was exhausted, as was she. People did strange things, out of character things, when they were exhausted. Daniel would never do something like this under ordinary circumstances. A momentary lapse of judgment on his part, that's all it had been. She felt a faint hint of something akin to disappointment, but shrugged it off.
She was so wrapped up in her thoughts that she didn't hear Daniel return.
"Betty, are you okay?" He asked, causing her to jump slightly.
"Yes," she squeaked, scrambling to her feet.
"The car is just around the corner. I can take you home if you'd like."
"Yes. Thank you," she said in her most professional sounding voice.
She walked unsteadily alongside him as they made their way toward the car. It took all of her concentration just to stay on her feet. She wasn't sure when the simple act of walking had become so hard. She hated that she was suddenly so uncomfortable around him.
Daniel helped her into the town car. She was sure he could feel her hand shaking as he did so. She slid as far over in the seat as she possibly could without it being too obvious that she was trying to keep her distance. He settled himself into the seat next to her, recognizing and respecting her decision to put space between them.
They rode in silence for a while, but traffic was bad and it was shaping up to be a very long drive. Daniel decided he couldn't handle the quiet for as long as it might take them to get home, so he spoke up first.
"Betty, I'm sorry if I crossed the line back there in the park," he began somewhat hesitantly. "I don't know what came over me. I hope you can forgive me. I never meant to make you uncomfortable."
"No, Daniel," she began; now feeling bad that she had reacted so intensely to the whole situation. "You don't need to apologize."
She looked away from him and out the dark window, her stomach knotting a little as she forced herself to continue.
"You're exhausted. It didn't mean anything. I know that. Don't worry about it."
She was trying very hard to sound casual and she silently hoped that he hadn't heard her voice quiver as she'd spoken these last few words. For some reason, her stupid emotions were getting the better of her; hormones perhaps. She snuck a glance at him out of the corner of her eye and noticed that his face had fallen.
"Daniel, really it's fine," she assured him. "Let's just forget about it."
He turned his head toward her, catching her gaze. His eyes looked pained, but he managed to nod in agreement.
"Sure," he said flatly and turned his beautiful blue eyes back toward the floor.
Neither of them said another word. Once again, they rode in silence as the car wound its way slowly through the streets of Manhattan. Soon the sounds of the city and the gentle hum of the engine became white noise and Betty felt her eyelids start to grow heavy. She leaned her head back against the seat and closed her eyes. Her thought was that she'd just rest her eyes for a moment or two, but as soon as she lowered her eyelids, exhaustion overcame her and within minutes she was asleep.
Daniel, who had been watching her fight against the fatigue, grinned slightly as he realized that she had finally lost the battle. As he watched her small form slump uncomfortably against the seat, he resisted the protective urge to reach over and pull her against him.
He continued to gaze at her, watching her chest rise and fall rhythmically until he himself began to feel sleep overtaking him. He was about to give in when he noticed that Betty had begun to shiver in her sleep. She had on a thin, short sleeved, cotton dress, which had been fine this afternoon, but the evening air had grown cold.
"That's the tricky part about spring," she had told him. "Warm days and cool nights; you never quite know how to dress." He chuckled at the memory. Evidently she didn't know, because she had forgotten to bring a jacket.
Daniel turned the heater up and looked around for a blanket, but as he suspected, he had no luck finding one. Being careful not to disturb Betty, he gently slipped an arm out of his suit jacket and slid it off. He took the charcoal grey garment, which was still warm from his own body heat, and laid it gently over Betty's tiny frame. She stirred slightly, but didn't wake. He tenderly tucked the jacket around her so that it would stay in place and then returned to his side of the car.
He continued to watch her like a protective father, no longer tired himself. Suddenly, he didn't mind the traffic and the long, slow drive it was creating. He was content to watch Betty sleep. She looked peaceful. Sleep had washed away the worry from her face. Those wrinkles of concern that had formed near the corners of her eyes were now smoothed away. Daniel felt momentarily relieved.
With Betty asleep beside him, Daniel was able to relax. The quiet also gave him time to think, but he wasn't having much luck organizing his thoughts. Perhaps tonight wasn't the best time to ponder what had happened back in the park; best to save that for another day.
A short time later, Daniel glanced down at his watch. It was getting late and they were nowhere close to Queens. Deciding that enough was enough, Daniel leaned forward to talk to the driver.
"Charlie," he said, addressing the driver whom he knew well and was quite fond of.
"Why don't you just drop us both off at my loft? At this rate we won't make it to Queens until morning anyway and I'm sure you'd like to get home to your family."
"Are you sure, Mr. Meade?" Asked Charlie.
"Yes," Daniel assured him. "It just makes more sense to do it this way. I'll take Betty home first thing in the morning."
"Alright," said Charlie. "If you're sure." And he turned the car in the direction of Daniel's loft.
They were able to make the trip in decent time. Charlie pulled up in front of the elegant glass doors that marked the entrance to Daniel's building. Daniel leaned over and touched Betty's shoulder.
"Betty, we're here," he said gently.
She didn't respond.
He tried again several more times, but couldn't rouse her. Short of shaking her, which seemed a bit over the top, he was fairly certain he wasn't going to have much luck.
Stepping out of the car, Daniel went around to the opposite side and opened the door. As gently as he could, he gathered Betty into his arms and lifted her out of the car. She sighed softly and leaned into his chest. Charlie ran around to offer his assistance. He grabbed Betty's purse and Daniel's coat, which had fallen to the ground. Closing the car door, he followed behind Daniel with their personal items.
"Good evening, Mr. Meade," said the door man, opening the large glass door for him.
"Thank you, Ben," said Daniel quietly.
"Would you like some help up to your apartment?" He offered.
"I may need a little help with the door," Daniel admitted, "and if you want to relieve Charlie of the things he's carrying, I'm sure he'd like to get home."
"Absolutely," said Ben and he quickly accepted the coat and purse from Charlie who then nodded good night to them both and left.
Ben rode up the elevator with Daniel and Betty. He glanced subtly at Betty and then grinned up at Daniel. Betty's face was turned into Daniel's chest and her hand rested lightly against him as though he were a soft pillow. Daniel ignored Ben's obvious, but innocent amusement.
Ben opened the door to Daniel's apartment and set the key on the side table.
"Do you need anything else, Mr. Meade?" He asked.
"No thank you, Ben. I appreciate your help."
Ben nodded and with another grin, he left the apartment, closing the door behind him.
Daniel carried Betty into his bedroom and placed her gently on the bed. He pulled off her bright red, Mary Jane shoes and set them next to his nightstand. He then did his best to tuck her in, pulling the large, downy comforter around her like a cocoon.
Once he was satisfied that she looked semi-comfortable, he left the room, pulling the door half way closed behind him.
He then made his way to the living room and the large, comfy couch that resided there. It would be a welcome site to him now as sleep began to curl its misty tendrils around him. Along the way, he kicked off his shoes and pulled the top buttons of his shirt open.
He settled himself onto the soft cushions of the couch and ran a hand through his chestnut hair. His mind desperately wanted to replay the events of the evening and scrutinize them, but his body protested. This time, he listened and barely had time to shut off the table lamp beside him before exhaustion engulfed him and he lost himself in a dream he wouldn't soon remember.