DISCLAIMER: Sadly, nothing you recognize is mine.
NOTES: My first piece of fanfiction in about a hundred years. I have no plot or plan for this story. I'm just going to write snippets as they come to me, and hopefully they won't suck. Yay for low expectations! This story is partly to express my love for Detty, and partly for my love of the city of London. Let me know what you think.
CHAPTER ONE: GETTING AROUND UNDERGROUND
Daniel can count on his left hand, and maybe with a few fingers from his right, how many times he took the subway in New York. The entire left hand made up the times he rode with Betty because she didn't want to pollute the environment by idling in traffic. He has been in London for two days now, and has already surpassed that number of journeys on the Underground.
He is on his way to meet Betty for dinner as planned during their encounter in Trafalgar Square this morning. From this point on, Daniel has no idea how anything is going to pan out. He laid his cards out on the table—or at least he thinks he did. In retrospect, he realises their whole exchange was pretty oblique, but Betty is smart. He can only hope that if she is picking up what he's putting down, so to speak, she doesn't freak out and drop it.
His stomach churns with nerves, and he marvels that his sweet friend can have such an effect on him now. He glances up at the tube map above the door. Only a few stops to go.
It's probably just the novelty of it, but as Daniel sits on a crowded eastward bound Piccadilly line train, plugged into his iPod with his head resting against the glass partition, he thinks that there is something strangely pleasant about this mode of travel. Back home, he mostly got around town using the Meade company fleet of towncars, which were at his beck and call around the clock. Those rides were often where he got most of his emailing and texting done, but he sometimes felt a little lonely in the darkened back seats by himself.
Other times, when the need for speed struck him, he went down into the parking garage of his apartment to pick from his three lavishly expensive sports cars. He remembers Betty's article about driving a stick shift in the city being the height of risky behaviour. She's right. A few years ago, it was a private pleasure for him like no other. He relished roaring around tight Manhattan street corners, feeling the gears shift under his body and catching glimpses of female heads turning as they wondered who was behind the wheel of such a sleek and sexy machine.
Looking up from his iPod, Daniel catches the eye of a pretty young woman as she boards the train at Hyde Park Corner. He stands up, and approaches her as the train moves again.
"Would you like to sit down?" he asks.
The woman smiles gratefully and sinks into his offered seat, pressing a hand to her pregnant belly.
A few stops later, he exits with the rest of the Friday night crowd at Covent Garden station. He waits impatiently for the elevator that takes passengers back up to ground level, then rolls his eyes and starts climbing the 'emergency use only' stairs. All one hundred and ninety three of them.
He emerges a little out of breath, but less nervous from the exercise. He scans the crowd around him, looking for a flash of neon or polka dots among the dark winter coats.
He doesn't allow himself to entertain the thought that she won't show up. Betty would never do that to him.
"Over here! Daniel! I'm here!" Betty is in her magenta coat, weaving around pedestrians and waving at him as if she thinks he will somehow miss her.
He pulls her into a hug when she is close enough, and to his relief, she hugs him back.
"I'm glad you're here," she says into his shoulder.
He gives her a squeeze. She said the same thing on the steps earlier. "I'm glad I'm here, too." She has no idea how much.
Betty laughs and pulls back. "Now that we've established that we're both present and accounted for, let's eat. Lunch felt like a hundred years ago. In the mood for anything in particular?"
"Nope. Just something filling."
"Oh good. There's a Greek place around here I've been craving for days. They have the best stuffed olives."
He gestures in front of himself. "By all means, lead the way. You're the local here."
"I kind of am, aren't I?" She looks thrilled as she leads them down the cobbled road. "Can you believe it, I'm a Londoner now!"
"I can tell. It suits you," he says. He can't keep the stupid smile off his face. Her stride is quick and confident as she navigates the narrow streets, and he feels like he is finally looking at her for the first time since he arrived. If he is honest with himself, probably since that evening they spent picking out his photo for the 100th anniversary issue of Mode. Now he recalls laughing with her that night, admiring the fall of her hair, and thinking he had all the time in the world to examine this new awareness of her he had been carrying around since Hilda's wedding. That night, he still thought anything that happened next would happen on his terms. When he figured things out. Sometimes his self-centredness can be astonishing.
Seeing her now, Daniel feels like the world's biggest asshole all over again for ever resenting a decision that is clearly making her so happy. She is radiant.
"So, how was the traffic getting here? I thought New York was bad, but at least our roads are straight. And numbered, which I never appreciated the genius of until now. I have no idea how cab drivers find their way around. Do you know I've run across four different Queen Streets already?" All of this, she says very affectionately.
"Actually," he says, "I took the Underground."
Her eyebrows shoot in the air and she nearly walks into another person. "Really? I thought you didn't like subways. You always say riding them makes you feel like you just took a bath in someone else's sweat."
He laughs. "Did I say that? It wasn't so bad. Besides, have you seen the price of cabs around here? Remember, I am unemployed."
"Hey, my job offer is still open," she says. "But I'd get on it if I were you. I got a resume on my desk today from a woman who assisted Bob Geldof."
"Wow," he says, impressed. "Tough competition. Bob Geldof, really?"
"Okay, fine. She was Peaches Geldof's nanny. But still!"
A part of him doesn't think it's a bad idea, just because then he could be in her company all day and watch her be dazzling in this new life. "You think I'd be any good? Most of the time I can't even remember what kind of bagels I like."
"Of course you would. You did learn from the best, after all," she says, her eyes dancing with mirth at the thought. "Oh, here we are."
The restaurant is crowded, but the smells are too mouth-watering to pass up in favour of a less busy place. They are seated near the back, and the next few minutes of conversation are filled up perusing the menu. Betty orders a starter, her meal, and asks for the dessert menu in advance because it is her favourite part of dinner, and she needs time to change her mind a few times about what she wants. Daniel remembers dates with models who ordered the house salad and a can of Red Bull regardless of what type of cuisine the restaurant served.
Silence falls between them when the server leaves. Betty smiles at him uncertainly over her water glass, her eyes darting around for something to talk about.
The mile-a-minute chattering on the way here makes sense to him now, and Daniel feels his own apprehension returning. Of course she is weirded out sitting here with him. This is what he had been afraid of, and he knows that any wrong moves from here on out could mean the end of things before they even begin. First step: fill the silence.
"So, big shot managing editor," he says so breezily he surprises himself, "tell me about your first issue. What are you planning?"
Instantly, her face transforms and she latches on to the topic. "Oh my God, where do I start? I swear the first issue is going to match the September issue of Vogue for weight."
"Those overachievers," Daniel grins. He remembers the pressure-cooker atmosphere at Mode when they struggled to match Vogue's page count every year. The year he and Wilhelmina were Co-Editors-in-Chief, Jerrod from layouts was found cowering in the men's room with his Macbook pressed to his chest, muttering about violating the margins style-guide. Under Betty's management, he imagines there will be less of that, and more motivational team pep talks during crunch time. "Start with the basics. What's the demographic?"
Betty grins back at him, and launches into details about passionate and informed 18 to 35 year old Londoners, the younger person's New Yorker angle, the features section devoted to reviewing local theatre, the cover shoot featuring the female Buckingham Palace guards that Betty blogged about during Hilda's bachelorette weekend. Her eyes sparkle engagingly behind her stylish new glasses.
"The first issue," she explains, "will hopefully establish the tone of the magazine, that it's something really different from all the other publications for young people at the newsagents. Oops, sorry. I mean newsstand!"
Daniel grins, teases her about going all Madonna on him already, and indicates for her to keep talking. He is fascinated by the way the contents of her amazing mind are tumbling out from behind her shapely mouth and beautiful teeth.
Betty Suarez, he knows now, is the total package.
She segues into the fact that her blog is now officially tied to the magazine as an online supplement.
"But your blog is so personal to you. Are you okay with that?" Daniel asks. It's a good question. While she was at Mode, Be Inspired was Betty's baby, the safe space for her to stretch her intellectual muscles between columns about the best eyebrow waxers in Manhattan.
"Yeah, I really am. I started it as a way to make my voice heard about the issues that were near and dear to my heart when I couldn't publish them anywhere else. Now I've got a whole magazine to do that in. Mr. Dunne left it up to me to do what I want with the blog, so I think I'm going to go with a travel theme. You know, 'an American girl's adventures in London' sort of thing."
"And that way, you can keep everybody at home up-to-date at the same time. Very effective task management," he teases.
She nods, laughing. "Two bird, one stone."
Next, she describes the thrill of having her own office with a view, and how it's hard not to space out sometimes and stare out the window. Daniel is taken in by her slim, elegant fingers as sets down her water glass and describes that she can see Trafalgar Square to the north and Pall Mall to the east, gesturing as if she is sitting at her desk right now.
Their starters arrive, aromatic and so satisfying to the palette that Betty gives a little moan when she bites into her first olive. Daniel glances up in time to see her licking her full lips in that unselfconscious way she has. He focuses on his grilled calamari to avoid saying anything foolish.
"Oh, guess what," Betty says, dropping a few olives on Daniel's plate for him to taste. He doesn't offer his calamari because he knows she's never been a fan, no matter how many times he forced her to try his, promising she'll like it this time. "I had my poncho shipped over here. It arrived last week."
He chuckles, popping back an olive. She's right, they're delicious. "You mean you didn't want to leave it behind as a sort of 'Betty wuz here' for everyone in the features office?"
She laughs heartily, and when the server arrives with their main courses, glancing between the two of them, Daniel knows what the guy is probably thinking: here's a date going really well.
"I thought about doing that, actually," she says, still giggling as she digs into her rice. She makes more yummy noises, and Daniel stuffs a large piece of lamb into his mouth. "But I figured the second I left, Marc would, like, burn it in effigy."
Daniel knows that isn't true. For some reason, he pictures Marc and Amanda staring up sadly at the empty space on the wall next to Marc's Adonis' of the Air Force calendar. But that scene doesn't quite make sense, because both of them have moved on to bigger and better things. He wonders how the two of them are faring: Marc with his new and much-deserved title of Creative Director, and before leaving, Daniel heard Amanda's newest client was the fourth or fifth runner up of this season's American Idol.
"I don't know about that. He'll never admit it, but I think Marc really misses you."
"I told him he would. He was one of the first people other than my family to find out if I arrived safe. He said he was just calling because Justin was at school and would have to wait until he got home to hear otherwise."
The smile on her face is fond and warm, and Daniel remembers watching the scene from a distance at her going-away party: the two of them hugging goodbye, Marc's cheek resting on Betty's shiny hair; then later they were laughing and dancing the night away with the rest of the Modies. Standing behind the glass, Daniel wished he had the fortitude to join them, to hug Betty like that, and unselfishly wish her well.
"Daniel, can I ask you something? Will you tell me the truth?"
Uh oh. Her tone is serious and hesitant. He keeps calm, although he suddenly feels very unprepared. "Always. Shoot."
"How did you know I was going to be in Trafalgar Square today?"
Oh, that. "I still read your blog. It wasn't hard to figure out that you work somewhere nearby. Especially from the entry last week. You said you were looking out your office window at the square below and wondering where all the pigeons went."
"Oh." She looks startled, probably at his reading her blog so carefully. "I guess I should be a little vaguer if I don't want to get stalked, huh?"
"Probably. I should also mention that I have some contacts at Dunne Publishing. I called around to find out where your office was. Then it was just a matter of standing around and looking for the brightest colour I could see."
"Daniel!" She gently kicks him under the table, and he suddenly hears his own voice saying, 'you're so cute when you're mortified.' "Hey, can I try some of your veggies?"
As he scoops some peppers onto her plate, the English accents around them disappear, and Daniel imagines they are at Kefi, their favourite Greek place on the Upper West Side. The last time they dined there was only a few weeks ago, right after she returned from Hilda's bachelorette party. In fact, London had been the topic of conversation that night, too. Despite his lingering jet lag and the colourful currency in his pocket, he finds it hard to fathom that they are half a world away. It's still Betty sitting across from him, smiling, being so warm and smart. But Daniel is struck suddenly by how alone together they are here. Away from their families, friends, Mode, and every context they've known each other in. It's just the two of them, and Daniel, at least, has no other demands on his attention but her.
He gets the feeling Betty senses this as well. And whereas the idea fills Daniel with heady warmth, he thinks it's also the reason why his intelligent, perceptive, forthright Betty hasn't asked him yet what he is really doing in London.
"So where are you going to hang it?" Daniel asks, picking up the thread of their earlier conversation.
"Yeah. Somewhere in your apartment?"
Spearing a cucumber from her salad, Betty looks thoughtful. "I haven't decided yet."
"Can I make a suggestion?" Daniel says.
Curious, she nods. "Sure."
"Hang it in your office," he says adamantly. "Right behind your desk, so everyone sees it when they walk in."
He hopes he's not being presumptuous, but that garish piece of kitsch-wear holds a special place in his heart now, too. The first day he met her, she had resembled a colourful little bird, bumping around clumsily in a place too small to hold her enormous personality.
Although he knew intellectually all along that Mode wasn't where she was supposed to be, it strikes him deeply now, his heart sensitive from loving her. He's so damn proud of her bravery, for springing herself free. She doesn't know how easy she made it for Daniel to follow her out.
She looks at him strangely. "You think so? I'm not sure. I mean, I love the silly thing, but I don't know if that's the first thing I want people to associate with me when they come into my office."
"Remember what you said at the BLOBys? That you had to love the girl you were because she made you who you are now?" Maybe it's the low lighting in the restaurant, or just wishful thinking, but Daniel thinks her cheeks turned a little red at the 'l' word. "I just think everyone should know your story."
"But they'll only know if I tell them," she says after a pause. "The people who come into my office are business contacts. Advertisers, photographers, writers. I'm not going to sit everyone down and tell them my life story. They're just going to think I have weird taste in office decor."
Daniel smiles. He knows enough to realise that Betty is not ready to hear everything he wants to tell her yet, but he can say this much: "I guess it won't matter. Because anyone who meets you knows right away that they're talking to somebody really special. I know I did, even if I didn't appreciate you they way I should have at first. You...you make people feel lucky to know you, Betty"
For a long moment, Betty stares at the leftover rice on her plate, nudging it with her fork, and Daniel worries that he's embarrassed her. Then, quietly, she says, "Maybe I'll stick it on the wall between the two east windows. I kind of already having a painting above my desk that Christina gave me."
Daniel laughs, relieved. "Fair enough."
She giggles as well, and for the rest of dinner Betty tells him about the McKinneys' trip to London two weekends ago. Daniel finds that he is happy to hear baby William is doing well, having thought for several weeks that the little boy was his stepbrother when he was first born.
When the server reappears inquiring about dessert, Betty frowns at the menu, closes it, and asks for the bill. Daniel looks at her questioningly—she never skips dessert. Was she in a rush to leave suddenly?
She smiles mischievously and says, "Nothing on the menu speaks to me. Let's go to Leicester Square. It's only a few streets away, and there's a whole Haagen Dazs restaurant there."
He grins back, and agrees. The bill arrives and they verbally wrestle over who is to pay: Daniel is determined to win and does. Because damnit if he was going to go Dutch on a dinner he flew all the way across the Atlantic for.
Later that evening, Daniel is back on the Underground, heading west to his hotel at Knightsbridge. He's been on the train for a while now, having ridden the opposite direction with Betty to her place in Islington first. She protested when he insisted on dropping her off at home, saying that it was miles out of his way, but he was adamant. He walked her right to her front door, and hugged her goodnight before she had the chance to invite him inside out of politeness.
His teeth are fuzzy from fudgy ice cream, and he wonders if it's too soon to feel hopeful yet. He does anyway.
Betty feels like a very bad friend.
All evening, she let the conversation get steered back to herself. They talked about her job, her new colleagues, her flat, her favourite places in the city. She didn't ask Daniel a single thing about himself, nor did he offer up anything after his initial explanation about why he left Mode. Now she realises she has no idea what Daniel's plans are. Where is he staying in Knightsbridge? In a hotel? Or a property owned by his family? Does he have a job lined up? And what exactly does he mean by 'I'm going to hang around here for a while'? How the hell long is 'a while'?
She felt paralyzed by confusion all evening, and found herself going into her default settings: cheerful avoidance. A big part of her does not want to know these things; she is afraid of the implications of his answers.
You chicken, she tells herself now. This is not you.
She plops down at the kitchen table and powers up her laptop. Logging on to her email, she opens the message sent two weeks ago by Amanda. The subject line is 'Serious scoop about Daniel! HOT SHIT!'
The message is short and sweet in Amanda's own special way: I found a chin hair today and totally thought of you. Miss your lovely lady lumps! Met any royalty yet? By the way if you're looking for those fierce neon Balenciaga strappy sandals I kind of stole them out of your suitcase but don't worry I'm a stylist now so I get a metric craptonne of free swag and there's a new pair on the way muah muah muah.
At the bottom, there's a PS.
Bee tee doubleyou, the 100th anniversary issue of Mode is out. Check out Daniel's Letter-from-the-Editor. No idea what he's going on about, but maybe he thinks his last letter needs to be cryptic and shit for the dramatic exit factor? That's right, I said LAST. Things at Mode are HECTIC, amigo, you don't even know. Webchat later if you want more details.
Underneath is a link to the Letter-from-the-Editor page of Mode's website. She clicks it and reads it again with new eyes. When she finishes, she exits the window with a slightly shaky hand and gently shuts the laptop. Still in her coat and shoes, she sits motionless and listens to her body, trying to untangle her swirling emotions.
Her London flat is even smaller than her old apartment in Manhattan, and a lot closer to the ground; only one storey up on the second floor of an old Georgian row house just off the Islington high street. A group of kids pass by on the sidewalk, swearing loudly in the course accent she recognizes now as being native to the east end of London. A police car sounds in the distance, the European two-toned siren so different from the long wail of New York cop cars.
Two weeks ago, she was still angry and disappointed with the way Daniel left things between them. Even with Mrs. Meade's theory scratching at the back of her brain, the contents of the letter did not really compute. He's being hypothetical, she reasoned. Making a point about new beginnings. She skimmed it, avoided the topic when Hilda called after reading the issue, and had not thought about the letter until the moment she saw Daniel's vulnerable expression this morning.
Daniel's face, so familiar and dear, appears in her mind as he looked tonight: hair shining reddish in the low light of the restaurant, his eyes so blue and intense. He has never looked at her that way before, she realises. She hears his gentle voice saying, 'You make people feel lucky to know you, Betty.'
Betty presses her hands to her cheeks as they start to go warm. Her palms are damp.