NOTES: So, so sorry about the delay again. I have no excuse. I've been chipping away at this for ages, but I'm just a very slow writer. It's a confidence thing, I'm sure. I'm always second-guessing every word I type, which makes things go reaaally sluggishly. And holy shit, did this one kick my ass.
Once again, I took some artistic liberties with my research. I've never been to the London Dungeon, so I did some Googling and some bullshitting. But I'm pretty pleased with the fact that the opening scene is coincidentally kind of Halloween-y. Would've been even better if I'd actually gotten it posted on Halloween, as planned.
Enormous thanks to Michele_from_tx for her insight and advice, which really helped give this chapter a direction. Also, one of Daniel's lines, I credit completely to her. Will post which one at the bottom. Thanks, Michele!
Anyway, another monster at over 8000 words. In fact, I even cut some scenes. You can probably tell where I originally intended to end this chapter — and then I just kept going until I doubled the length. Another major reason for the delay.
This one's mushy, guys. Enjoy.
CHAPTER 5: LOST AND FOUND
Daniel and Betty stumble away from the crowd exiting London Dungeon, hooting with laughter. It is well into the evening, and Friday night clubbers and pubbers wander the streets in high-heeled, mini-skirted, heavily-cologned clusters. The evening air is surprisingly pleasant, although Daniel and Betty don't notice. To them, early June nights should always feel like this. To the locals, it's a miracle that has them moments away from stripping in the streets.
"That actor, the one playing Bloody Mary . . . that was totally a guy, right?"
"Yes, definitely!" Betty agrees, laughing. "And how cheesy was that torture chamber, with those wax dummies getting their legs torn off?"
"Cheesy? That was the one thing that actually did scare me. Two words, Betty: The Castrator." Daniel mock-shudders. "No, thanks. I'd rather pick up trash on the side of the highway for all eternity."
"I don't really think they gave you options back then. Oh, and thanks, by the way, for pushing me forward when the Jack the Ripper guy was stalking around for a 'victim'. That wasn't at all mortifying."
Daniel snickers and waggles his iPhone at her. "Caught it all on video, too. You were really great about playing along, though. Even when he called you a — what was it again? Wait, let me check."
He taps a few buttons to replay the video, but Betty snatches the phone out of his hand. "It wasn't very nice, that's all you need to remember. He used to murder prostitutes, after all. I guess they were going for historical authenticity, but honestly. There were children."
"I thought you were going to tear into him," Daniel snickers. "Totally would've ruined the effect."
They stroll down the cobbled road toward London Bridge tube station, ostensibly to head their separate ways home. They are much more relaxed with one another than when Daniel met her in line for tickets earlier this evening. His expression when their eyes met over the crowd had been a mixture of pleased-to-see-her and deep vulnerability. At once, Betty had felt a rush of emotion, although she couldn't be sure which one — but whatever it was, she felt suddenly like they were on eggshells again. Which is exactly what she had been afraid of. Luckily, the line moved along quickly.
But sometime that evening — maybe when she was screaming in delighted terror on the drop ride that mimics being executed in the gallows of Newgate Prison, and it felt like the most natural thing in the world to grab his hand — Betty decided that she was too overjoyed having him back to fret about awkwardness tonight. This is the Daniel she knows, has known for four years. The guy who, despite his charmed upbringing, has a surprisingly down-to-earth sense of fun that matches hers so well.
And yet. The things they are leaving unsaid and unresolved between them are piling up higher and higher. They are leaning heavily on their natural companionship to ease back into a familiar stalemate that Betty knows they can't maintain forever. Or even for the rest of the night. Something has to give.
Betty feels like she's gripping the door handle — but what should she do with it? Boy, is that ever the million-pound question.
"Justin would totally have a fit over the Sweeney Todd exhibition," says Betty.
"Why? He's not into the horror scene?"
"Are you kidding me? That kind of Rocky Horror Picture camp? He would've eaten that up with a spoon. I'm definitely bringing him here when he visits."
They pass through the well-lit pedestrian tunnel underneath London Bridge itself; the bulky stone structure rumbles menacingly from the automobile traffic overhead. Frowning, Daniel brushes his head when he feels drips.
"Same rule as in New York, Daniel," she says, sniggering.
"Right. If you feel something wet and it's not raining, it's better just to think about something else."
"So Justin's coming soon? You must be excited."
Betty curls her fists, anticipating the moment she spots Justin at arrivals at Heathrow. She plans to be very dramatic and embarrassing. She might even go all old-school auntie on him and pinch his cheeks. "Yes! He's booked on a flight the day after his last final. That's exactly three weeks, six days, and eight hours away!"
Daniel smiles. "I guess 'excited' is an understatement."
"I can't wait to see him. I know it hasn't been that long since I left, but jeez. With a kid? It's like every day you're away from them, they change a little more. Hilda said he's shot up another two inches." At this news, Betty decided that her top priority during his visit will be feeding him as much as possible, as often as possible. He must be a rail.
Daniel looks impressed. "That'll put him at about the same height as me, right?"
Betty eyes him, mentally superimposing her image of Justin over Daniel's frame. It doesn't work; Justin's all lanky arms and delicate bones, and Daniel's . . . not. "I can't really tell. I'd have to see you two side by side."
Betty hasn't often looked at Daniel that way, but figures she should let herself do that now. Tentatively, she acknowledges a detail that she noticed her first day trailing behind him as his assistant, and then filed away along with other impersonal observations of famous people, like Patrick Dempsey's great hair, or Hugh Jackman's. . . Hugh Jackman:
In fitted blue G-Stars, and framed nicely by a short leather jacket she hasn't seen in a while, Daniel Meade's butt is absolutely gorgeous. Betty doesn't know whether to scold herself or smile for looking. And looking.
She's distracted by the red and blue Underground signage a few metres ahead. Betty's feet start to drag, and glancing at Daniel, she suspects he's on the same page. They're not ready for this night to end without some kind of closure.
"Daniel, I never asked you — have you ever been to London? Before now, I mean."
"A couple of times. My dad did a lot of business in London when I was a kid. I was here a bunch of times the year Mode UK was launched, especially. But I was maybe six or seven at the time, so I don't really remember much."
Betty nodded. "And you did a Eurotrip after high school, right? Was London one of the stopovers?"
Daniel looks sheepish. "I don't remember a whole lot about that trip, either."
Tentatively, she asks, "Have you done any touristy stuff since . . . since checking out Hyde Park with me?"
"No. Uh . . . no."
"Right. Neither have I. You know, work. Lots of it. So really, you don't know London any better than I do." An impulsive little idea forms in Betty's brain, and she halts them on the sidewalk. "You know. I've heard the best way to explore a city is to get lost in it."
Daniel quirks an eyebrow at her. "Sounds like the beginning of a Betty Suarez caper. Should I be nervous?"
In an act of awesome timing, complete with a dramatic hiss of steam, a red double-decker pulls up right beside them. Betty giggles at Daniel's impressed look. Following another impulse, she grabs his hand. With the other, she digs into her skirt pocket for her Oyster card.
"Come on. Let's get lost."
They stumble up the stairs of the stairs of double-decker, which drives off again almost as soon as they tap their Oyster cards on the electronic reader. Daniel curses the driver from behind her, while Betty grips the handrails as the bus takes a sharp left. She feels herself sway dangerously, and for a second fears she is going to knock them both down ass-over-teakettle. But suddenly Daniel's hands are clasping her waist, holding her steady. She glances down at him over her shoulder.
"Careful," he says. He looks a little embarrassed, but gently pushes her up the rest of the way.
"Thanks. I think I'm still a little unsteady from the rides." She is unsettlingly aware of her lower back, even after he releases her to swing into a seat.
The top deck is completely empty. Instead of sitting beside Daniel, Betty plops down in the row in front of him, stretching out her legs on the vacant seat next to her.
"For some reason, I pictured these being a lot fancier on the inside," Daniel says, looking around.
"What, velvet cushions? Drapes over the windows?"
"Something like that. But it's just like any other bus."
Betty giggles. "Your experience with city buses being vast enough to make that comparison."
"Hey. There was that time Willie and I went low-budget to get that government bail-out. I'm not totally out of touch."
"Ah, yes. Almost forgot about those four whole days." Betty notices that in the handful of times Wilhelmina has come up in their conversations, Daniel's referred to her as 'Willie'. She bites back a smile, endeared. Despite everything, Betty suspects Daniel misses his diva adversary a little.
"So. Where are we headed?"
"Well, the final destination of this bus is —" She squints up at the digital reader above the window, "— McDonald Road."
"Okay. And where is that?"
Betty shrugs, delighted. "I have no idea. Let's just get off when we feel like it. " She crosses her arms over the back of the seat, smiling at his confused but trusting expression. He smiles back, but the space between them is already beginning to expand. Betty opens her mouth to ask if DJ has plans to visit London sometime, too — ease into it, she thinks —
— But Daniel's face clouds over, and he blurts out, "I'm sorry, Betty. I would take it back if I could. It was too much, too soon."
Okay, no easing. "No, Daniel. . ."
"Not that I didn't mean it," he continues, looking distressed. "I did — I do. But it was selfish. All I was thinking about was what I wanted to say. Not what you were ready to hear. And now everything's so goddamn. . ." He makes a whirling hand gesture, ". . . between us."
"I'm sorry, Betty," he repeats. "That's all I've been thinking about the last two weeks, how badly I screwed up. I shouldn't have dropped all that on you when I knew, I knew you have so much else going on. If you don't hate me — God, then that's all I can ask for."
Betty can't speak, but it doesn't matter because Daniel is on a roll.
"I know the last thing you probably want is drama following you here — but Betty, it doesn't have to be like this." Betty wants to slap her hand over his mouth or hug him or do something, because his anxious, upset expression is really stressing her out. "We can go back to the way things were; I know we can. You have to believe me when I say I'm your friend over everything else."
By now, he is slumped over in his seat, elbows on his knees. The bus is barrelling down the Embankment road, which runs parallel to the Thames towards the Houses of Parliament. Across the river, the London Eye lights up purple in the corner of Betty's vision, and some small part of her brain registers that she has yet to take a ride on it — because she wanted to go with him. Unbidden, she feels a lump in her throat.
"Are you done?" she manages.
"Just one more thing," he says in a tone so pained the lump nearly chokes her. "I mean, I just signed a lease for a place yesterday — but let's face it, I'm rich. I can get out of it. Betty, I don't want to, but if you want me to. . . I'll leave. Go back to New York."
"NO!" Everything speeds up again, and Betty scrambles to her knees on the seat, leaning far over the back until she can grab his arm. "No! That's not fair. You don't get to manipulate me like that."
Daniel's face becomes ashen and she backpedals. "Wait, that's not what I meant. That's the wrong word."
"I wasn't trying to . . . I was just . . ."
She squeezes his arm. "I know you weren't. I'm sorry I said that. I just meant, please don't make me feel like you're giving me an ultimatum. I can't deal with that. Please."
"I wasn't. I swear. Betty, you have to know that whatever happens next is entirely up to you. You know where I stand."
For a minute, all she feels the immense weight of his gaze on her shoulders, the immobilizing fear of giving the wrong answers — but even then, she can't bring herself to become angry with him, because all he's doing is caring about her, so why is she being so awkward, and why can't she just figure out what she wants from him so she can put them both out of their misery. . .?
Suddenly, Betty is tired of playing this role. Of trying to be the smoother-over. When had they ever had this much difficulty talking to each other? Ever since he arrived in London and jerked her entire understanding of him upside down, that's all she's been trying to do: fill the silences, make small talk, avoid, avoid, avoid. Enough is enough. Time for some good old-fashioned honesty.
Mentally tightening her grip on the door handle, she squares her shoulders. "Okay, Daniel. You need to listen to me now. No interruptions, no apologies. Got it?"
He nods, looking apprehensive. "Got it."
"Okay, first off? You have nothing to be sorry for, do you understand? Nothing. I feel . . . so many things right now, but angry is not one of them. Not at all. In fact, I'm the one who should be apologizing. I don't know how these last two weeks happened, but they shouldn't have."
"You needed —"
"Space. Yes, I know. I said no interrupting. I did need time to think, and thank you for giving me that, Daniel. But I was wrong for me to just leave you hanging. Obviously you've got the totally wrong idea now, because I didn't give you a clue what I was thinking. I mean, here's me telling you all these things, like. . . like how I kept checking my phone for your call right up until my plane took off — and just seeing you now and talking to you is like having my favourite things about home right in front of me — and how I can't think of anyone I'd have more fun exploring this city with — and that your faith in me makes me feel like I can do just about anything. . . And then what do I do? I just drop off the radar. It was stupid, and totally the wrong way to deal with my feelings, and I'm sorry."
". . . I don't think you told me any of that."
"Oh. Didn't I?"
"No. I'm pretty sure I would remember." Daniel stares at her in a kind of stunned wonder.
"Are you sure? Because I'm thinking those things all the time, and . . ."
Betty trails off. A sensation comes over her, but she's not quite sure what it is; the best she can compare it to is that feeling of relief after combing the last few snarls out of her wet hair after a shower. She settles back down on her bottom, and peers at him over the back of the seat.
Daniel looks at her questioningly, but Betty doesn't turn her gaze away. She can't.
"Betty? What is it?"
"Daniel," she murmurs, "I think . . . I think what I need to do is look at you. For just a minute. Can I do that?"
His eyes go wide, his mouth a little open. "Ah, okay."
So she looks. And looks and looks. The double-decker rumbles past the Houses of Parliament, shuddering to stop. The posh electronic bus lady's voice announces "This is Westminster Station." Footsteps get on and off the bus, but thankfully, no one comes upstairs.
She ignores this all. Something inside her is working furiously; there is an answer there in the curve of his brow, or the line of his jaw, or the light freckles on his cheeks. She can find it. It's in the details. She's good at details.
Daniel fidgets. He toys with the tab on his jacket zipper, and then swipes his hands across his thighs. He gives her an uncertain smile, but doesn't look away.
He has a lovely mouth, she realises. And a surprisingly quirky grin for a man so classically handsome. Why hasn't she ever noticed this? Or maybe she has noticed but never felt it before. Well, she does now, right on the apples of her cheeks where her blushes always start. In fact, she feels one coming on right now.
Something in her expression must be encouraging, because Daniel's hands go still and his face becomes intent, sending Betty's heart rate up. He reaches out and slowly, gently tucks a strand of hair behind her ear, letting his fingers trail along her jaw. He leans forward, bringing his blue eyes — so beautiful she feels them between her ribs, right next to her heart — close to hers.
"What is it?" he asks again.
Betty's heart hammers at the nearness of him. "Convince me," she says.
"Daniel, convince me that this is a good idea. You and me. That it's worth the risk. Because we're risking so much."
He seems stunned into silence, and Betty doesn't blame him; she doesn't know where that came from, either. But it feels right. She needs to know what compelled him to turn his life upside down, where his faith is coming from.
To her surprise, his face splits into a warm smile. He thumbs the next-stop button on the pole near his seat; it dings pleasantly, and he grabs Betty's hand, hauling her to her feet.
"Aren't we supposed to be getting lost?"
Weirdly, they end up across the street from the Apollo Victoria theatre, staring up at the enormous green billboard announcing it as the London home of Wicked.
"Did you ever end up going back to see the rest?" Daniel asks.
He gives her a searching glance, probably recalling their charged argument that night over Betty's decision to knowingly break her own heart. They both said some harsh things, and the fight was definitely one of their more personal ones, but Betty finds the memory doesn't bother her; it's just another part of their history together. Besides, she has more than enough to think about in the present to care about a fight two years out of date.
"Yes, with Justin and Hilda. A little while . . . um, before I went on my West Coast trip."
A little while after Henry left and I was a pitiful, heartbroken mess, is what she doesn't say. Another memory that has long lost its sting now — seeing Henry again this time finally confirmed for Betty that their time together has passed for good. All the same, she doesn't think it's a great idea to bring any of that up right now.
Suddenly, something clicks for Betty.
Daniel! You cost him his job!
I'm your friend! Don't I have the right to protect you when I see you making such a big mistake?
That was almost a month before Daniel even found out she was leaving.
Oh, she thinks, astonished.
"I never did." Daniel is still looking at the billboard contemplatively. "I think I'd like to. It is a good ending?"
"Yes. But bittersweet." She is only half-listening.
I was supposed to see Trista on Saturday. . . What's with the face? Why are you so down on her?
The puzzle pieces are slotting together; most of them are Daniel's, but Betty is beginning to think that maybe, just maybe she holds a few pieces, too.
"I wouldn't have gone back to New York," Daniel gives her a sidelong glance as they carry on down the street, destination unknown. "I don't know why I said that, but I wouldn't leave. Not my lease. Or my new job."
Betty is pulled out of her thoughts. "Your what?"
There is a glint of pride in his eyes. "Sorry, let me rephrase that: my possible new job. Nothing's confirmed yet, but I think I left a good impression. That's what I was told, anyway."
"Daniel, that's amazing! I didn't know you were interviewing already!" Betty momentarily forgets everything else in her delight. "What's the job? When do you start? Tell me everything."
Daniel smiles, but shakes his head. "We can talk about that later. It's not important right now."
"Sure it is. Daniel, this is huge!"
They pass a small square with grass, benches and tall trees, on the corner of a busy junction. Daniel steers them inside, where the noise and pedestrian traffic is a little dimmer. They pause under a streetlamp, and Daniel gently takes both of her hands in his. Absently, she notices for the first time that his fingers are a little calloused right at the tips. Strange.
"Betty, I know this is asking a lot of you, but could you just . . . switch your brain off for a little bit? And just look at the big picture with me? Then maybe you'll see what I do. . ." He takes a breath, looking at her intently, ". . . when I think about us."
"Is — is this you convincing me?" she asks, a little nervously. Heat radiates up her wrists and arms.
"God, I hope so. Okay, here it is: I'm here, in London, because of you, Betty. Yes, I do want to straighten out my life and make something of myself. Live up to my potential for once in my damn life. But mostly . . . mostly it's for you. To be with you. But you already know that."
Betty swallows, and nods. She does, and tries not to let the hugeness of that gesture frighten her.
"But what I don't think you get," he continues, "is that I didn't make this decision lightly. At all. Betty, you mean so much to me. More than I think you'll ever know — more than I knew, until I had to face losing you, and that makes me the biggest idiot in the world. I hate to throw a cliché at you, but sometimes they're just true. You, Betty, make me want to be a better man."
He says it in a slightly gruff, silly voice. Betty finds herself fighting a giggle, despite the swarm of butterflies in her stomach.
He grins back, but quickly becomes serious again. "I know you're worried about ruining what we have now, because what we have now is great. Amazing, in fact. You are, without a doubt, the best friend I've ever had," Daniel murmurs, confirming Christina's sentiment yesterday. "But I just think we could be . . . even better. I know we could."
He pauses, presumably to gauge her reaction so far. She instinctively squeezes his hands, and buoyed, he says, "Just think about it. We hardly ever fight, and when we do, it's pretty much always my fault. And I don't know about you, but I never get tired of spending time together. How many people can pull the kind of sixteen hour work days we used to at Mode, and not get sick of the other person? Me — I was always, always glad to see you again the next morning."
"So was I," Betty murmurs. She knows it's not the same thing, but she still hears a little voice in the back of her head coo, "miss you muuuch."
"Betty, we have fun together, always. My mom loves you probably more than she does me, and I'm pretty sure your dad doesn't think I'm a total waste of space. We know each other practically inside out — well, you know everything there is to know about me, anyway. Probably way more than you ever signed up for. Sometimes you feel like a total mystery to me, though. Like, um, right now. But that's okay — because I respect you, I admire you, I adore you more with every new thing I learn about you."
Betty ducks her head, overwhelmed by the emotion in his eyes. "I never did thank you properly for your BLOBys speech."
"I meant every single word." He lowers his head, meeting her eyes. "Betty, it scares me, bone-deep, to think where I'd be now if I hadn't met you. I know I've disappointed you more times than I can count — but I swear I am going to do everything it takes to become the kind of guy you deserve. That is, if you want me. Wait, no; even if you don't, I still want to be that guy. Because on top of a million other things, you taught me what it's like to expect more from myself. And I can't ever go back from that.
"Betty, I really meant what I said in the park. I can't imagine ever meeting someone else like you. You and me? I think we could be something really special." He holds her eyes intensely for a moment, but in the face of her silence, Betty sees the self-consciousness kicking in. "Um, I've had a lot of time to think about what I'd say to you if . . . well, anyway. I planned something a lot better in my head, but I didn't bring my cheat sheet."
Oh, wow, is all Betty can think.
Something she always knew about Daniel is that he has a mile-wide romantic streak, though it was deeply hidden for a long, long time. What she never expected, what never occurred to her even once, was that he would turn it on her.
Standing here under the yellow light of one of those pretty, ornate streetlamps that dot the nicer parts of the city, she takes in the way his hands feel in hers; a familiar touch she suddenly experiences along every inch of skin, covered and uncovered. Her eyes close.
When she opens them again, Betty sees Daniel standing here with her, in London, stroking her knuckles with his rough thumbs, gazing at her so tenderly and hopefully. . . and all at once comprehends his enormous gesture for what it is:
The single most romantic thing anyone has ever, ever done for her.
Her heart lurches so fiercely her breath catches, and the ground beneath her suddenly seems to disappear.
She knows this feeling, and can pinpoint the other times in her life when she felt it: When Walter first approached her in the CD player section at Pro Buy and shyly told her which one he owned himself; when Henry admired the butterfly Halloween costume she had put together so carefully, told her the exact species she had modelled it after, and at her awed look, pushed his glasses up his nose and explained that it was just something he knew; when she stood pressed against the wall outside the sandwich shop, chest heaving and lips tingling from Gio's urgent kiss; when Matt smiled with such pleasure when, against his expectations, she showed up at that bar and accepted the drink he had ready for her anyway.
This is that feeling. Times about a frillion.
"So." He swings her hands a little. "How are my powers of persuasion? Working any magic?" he says, trying to lighten the mood a little. The strain in his voice nixes the effect.
"I . . ." Betty wants to say something clever, something that fits with the banter they've always exchanged. But all she can do is squeeze his hands again and whisper, "Okay."
Daniel hardly moves a muscle. "Okay? As in, 'okay, I hear you and I'm not totally horrified'. Or, like, actually okay?"
She takes a step closer until their joined hands are lightly pressing against her abdomen. "Actually okay. Daniel, I think. . . I think you might really be on to something."
And then she smiles so brightly she's certain her whole body must be beaming, before slipping her hands out of his and around his waist. He's warm and solid and familiar and so new to her eyes, all at the same time.
It takes Daniel a moment to reciprocate. When he does, he buries his face in her hair, and Betty thinks he might actually be squeezing the air out of her lungs.
Which, turns out, is an absolutely wonderful feeling.
After that, they hop on the nearest Underground line and get even more lost. Whatever notion they had about separating and heading home has vanished; their eagerness to be together makes the night feel suddenly young and endless.
On the tube, they sit side by side, both aware of the press of their legs against one another, and both aware that the other is aware. Betty's stomach is alive with butterflies the whole time, but they're the good kind. The wonderful kind. She can't believe this is Daniel. She bumps him with her shoulder playfully. He bumps her back. She's certain he's never looked at her the way he is now, with that tiny smile and open gaze.
Exiting at White City station, for no other reason than because the name intrigued Betty, they are slightly disappointed to find themselves in a residential neighbourhood facing a giant glass and cement shopping mall.
Betty frowns. "This looks just like the Queens Centre Mall. Not exactly high on my list of sights to see. Let's try again."
Daniel agrees. They round the corner from the station, looking for a convenience store to grab a couple of Pepsis before getting back on the train, and Betty lights up when she realizes they're standing right in front the BBC Headquarters building. She tells Daniel about the interview scheduled for next week, and how nervous she is —"because me and TV appearances are not exactly friends" — but Daniel assures her that this time will be better. This time, she'll be in her element.
"Capital Issue is your home turf, Betty. This isn't Suzuki trying to trick you into saying something that'll be taken out of context and turned into a sound bite later. It's the BBC — that's huge!"
"I know. Fashion TV looks like a cakewalk right now," Betty says, eyeing the austere building across the road.
"What I mean is, these guys are real journalists; they actually want to hear what you have to say. And that's why you're going to dazzle them, Betty. Just so you know, I plan to record the whole thing and send it home to everyone. "
Betty makes a childish face at him, but can't maintain it in the face of his boyish grin. She fully appreciates the charm of that smile for the first time, and wonders if she wants him to take her hand.
Later, they hit Piccadilly Circus. Betty's been through here a few times already, mostly to catch shows with coworkers on Shaftesbury Avenue. Daniel hasn't, and wonders why it's called a 'circus'.
"London's version of Times Square," Daniel says. "Understood."
That's not the reason for the name, Betty explains; it's simply because the road in the centre is circular. But the building-height LCD billboards flashing ads for Coca Cola, Foster's beer, Sanyo, and Adidas, — all with some sort of World Cup twist — definitely give the place a carnival atmosphere. That good-looking soccer player — the one married to the pop singer but isn't David Beckham — smoothes a hand over his jaw with a winning smile under a Gillette logo.
"And while we'd never be caught dead doing this back home —"
"— Here, we're the obnoxious, tasteless tourists. Let's go sit down."
When the signal changes, they cross the road with the rest of the crowd, and climb the steps of the rather random classical Greek statue placed smack-dab in the middle of the hectic traffic roundabout. The plaque informs Betty that it is Eros, the god of love.
Settling down to drain the last of their Pepsis, they sit shoulder-to-shoulder on the steps and indulge in some people-watching. The thrumming crowds and flashing lights and honking taxi cabs circling around the junction should feel chaotic and overwhelming, but Betty and Daniel are city-slickers through and through. It's all simply background noise around their little bubble of two.
"Sounded like you were having fun last night." Betty teases. "How was getting up this morning?"
Daniel chuckles. "You mean, this afternoon?"
"Ah, so you had a really good time. I'm glad. You said you were making friends? Tell me about them."
"Just some guys I met in the pub. Couple of them run a software development company together, and the rest are mostly bankers over in – what's that financial sector here called again?"
"Right, Canary Wharf. Anyway, they play on this amateur league soccer team — sorry, football team— together a couple times a week. In fact," he smiles, "they asked me to come and try out tomorrow. And by 'try out' they mean fill in for a guy whose wife just had triplets and won't let him out of the house anymore."
"Your chance to relive your high school glory days. Good for you. They sound fun."
"Seems like it. It was different, good, to hang out with people who don't know anything about me besides what I tell them."
Betty nods. "But be careful with that. All it takes is one person to Google your name out of boredom, and it's all out there. You don't want to seem like you're lying."
"You make it sound like I'm Batman, hiding some secret identity." He pauses. "Actually, keep doing that. Makes me sound really cool."
She understands what he isn't saying. "You want to be sure people like you for you. Not your name."
He hesitates, and then nods slowly. "It's easier here. For me to know that."
"I wouldn't worry." Betty bumps him with her shoulder again. "They'd have to be absolutely, incredibly stupid not to see what I do in you, Daniel."
Not nearly as beautiful as the words he spoke to her, but she knows Daniel can read the sincerity in them. He clears his throat. "One guy, Rishi, he's sort of the driving force behind the software company. Started it when he was 21, working out of his uncle's cell phone accessories store or something. He's only a couple years older than you, and he's got, like, thirty people working for him. Totally self-made." He rubs the back of his neck, embarrassed. "I think about six beers in I told him I want to be just like him when I grow up."
Betty almost snorts her Pepsi. She manages to keep it all in, but then gasps and smacks his knee in realization.
"Your job! Spill it."
He gets that pleased look on his face again. "Don't jinx it, nothing's confirmed yet. But I did have a few meetings last week. In fact, a couple of magazines actually approached me when they heard I was here, which was weird."
"You know what that means, right? The work you did at Mode earned you a pretty great reputation."
"The work we did, Betty. Anyway, British Vogue and GQ were pretty pushy with their offers, but those are all going nowhere. No way am I going to work for a magazine that directly competes against Mode and Hudson UK. Loyalty to the family legacy aside, my mom and Alexis would kill me. In ten thousand different ways."
"But I take it Mode UK is not an option you're considering?"
"No. It's not."
She nods; he doesn't need to explain.
"And anyway," he continues, looking thoughtful, "I don't think publishing is where I want to be. Especially not fashion. That's something else I've been thinking about a lot. Me, the Editor-in-Chief of a women's fashion magazine? I mean, I learned to love the work, but seriously. Talk about your round peg in a square hole."
"Make that two round pegs."
Daniel grins and dorkily holds out his hand, palm up. "But we rocked it anyway, didn't we?"
Betty doesn't need prompting. She laughs and high fives him. "Hell yeah, we did."
In one smooth motion, Daniel closes his fingers around hers. It turns their familiar gesture into something new, and Betty feels her face warm up. He looks at her carefully, holding her hand loosely so she can easily pull away. But Betty just tightens her grip a fraction and says, "So get to the point already. What does this have to do with your new job?"
His eyes continue to smile as he says, "It doesn't. Just giving you some background. The job I'm really gunning for is at this ad agency that only does work for the non-profit sector. Turns out they're pretty huge over here — they manage most of the Red Cross's European campaigns, and they've got contracts with Amnesty International, Doctors Without Borders, and a couple of other big ones. Even the government hires them out for health campaigns, like those ones about getting your kids immunized before they start school. Anyway, they were looking for new blood, and I just . . . I went in there, and I told them. I told them why they needed me, and not some other guy." He turns until he's facing her fully. "Betty, I'm good at selling ideas. That's what I figured out from my time at Mode. I'm good at getting people to want things they didn't know they wanted — but I don't want to use that to sell clothes or shoes or any of that pointless stuff anymore. I want to use it to make people realise they want to support education initiatives, or disaster relief funds, or . . . or cancer research."
Betty squeezes his hand. She is one of the very few people who know the exact figure Daniel anonymously donated to the American Cancer Society last year.
"Anyway, they're supposed to get back to me next week after they interview a couple more people. So there it is. A little out of left field for me, right? But I can't believe how badly I want this."
All Betty can say is, "You . . . are just full of surprises tonight. That sounds amazing, Daniel. And like exactly the right place for the person you are now. I'm so, so proud of you."
"Thank you," he says quietly. He gives her a sidelong glance full of gratitude and warmth and – don't hide, Betty – love. And she doesn't hide. She looks right back at him until a funny thought occurs to her.
"Daniel, have you ever actually had a job interview before?"
He grins. "Nope. Went in there totally blind. But I figured out pretty quick the first thing I had to sell was myself."
You're doing a hell of a job, Betty thinks, and she suspects from the pleased look on his face that he knows what she's thinking. As one, they shift their hands until their fingers interlock.
He helps Betty to her feet, and neither of them let go. "Where next?" he asks.
After that, they try St. Paul's Cathedral (Betty's pick again), which turns out to be another unsuccessful effort, as visiting hours ended before Betty's workday did. One more random hop on the Tube lands them at Russell Square, where late-night hunger pangs hit. For the nostalgia factor, they order Chinese take-out from a place that oddly advertises itself as New York-style, and eat it sitting on the back of a park bench. Betty's fortune cookie reads, 'A SMILE IS YOUR PERSONAL WELCOME MAT', which sends them both into hysterics. When Daniel cracks his open and finds 'YOU LOVE CHINESE FOOD' inside, they unanimously decide that 'Wok This Way' on Carling Street will be their new go-to place.
Finally, they concede defeat to exhaustion and the late hour, and hop on the Tube toward Islington. Betty once again makes some weak protests about Daniel going out of his way unnecessarily, and that he'll likely miss the last train of the night, but he won't hear a word of it. In the end, Betty is very okay with squeezing every last minute out of this night. She knows it might be a little while until the next one.
On the walk home, Betty warns him reluctantly that she has a hellish few weeks leading up to Capital Issue's launch.
"Daniel, believe me. I'm certain now that I want to give this—us—a chance. But there's a problem with one of our editors, and I'm really freaked out because I think we might have to fire her, and then, of course, I have to replace her — and Francisca and I haven't even talked about the BBC thing yet, not to mention all the launch party details, and to top it off, I still haven't hired an assistant. . ."
"Hey, hey. Listen. I understand, okay? This is what you came here for, and I'm not going to get underfoot. I think I spent enough time demanding your attention whenever I wanted it. You, Betty, uh, Something Suarez, just keep being amazing. Do what you need to do. I'm not going anywhere."
"That's not what I meant, and you know it. But thank you for understanding." She grins. "You're unbelievable, Daniel Jonathan Meade. All this, and you don't even remember my full name?"
"Your first name is Beatrice. I know that."
"Not Beatrice. Beatriz." She teasingly enunciates the rolling 'r' and the zippy 'z'. With no one to converse with, she hasn't spoken a single—admittedly broken—Spanish word since she left New York, and she likes the familiar feel of the word in her mouth.
She also really likes that Daniel took her hand again after they finished their take-out, and hasn't let it go since. Their personal bubbles, already small to begin with around one another, have shrunk to almost nothing. "And my middle name is Usoa, but I don't blame you for not remembering that one."
"I knew it began with an unusual letter," he says. "'Usoa'. That's pretty. What does it mean?"
For some reason, Daniel laughs in amazement. "A bird. Of course."
"Not very fitting, right? But Papi says the day I was born, a white dove landed on the windowsill of my mother's hospital room, and he was convinced it was looking down at me in my bassinet. I'm pretty sure it was probably one of those creepy albino pigeons, but that's the story he likes to tell."
Before they know it, they're climbing the handful of steps to Betty's front door. They both know what normally happens right now, but this thing between them is too new, too fragile to push just yet. Daniel seems to sense this, and pulls her into a hug. Betty sinks into his arms, warm and sleepy. Did he always smell this good?
"Hey," he whispers into her hair. "Can I ask you something?"
"Will you go out with me?"
She smiles into his chest. "I thought that's what we've been doing."
His laugh rumbles under her ear, and he sways them back and forth, like they're dancing. "You know what I mean. Will you go on a date with me? A real one? I pick you up, you wear a fancy dress, the works."
She knew this was coming, but still her heart beats a little faster. She tips her head back, still in his arms, and nods. "Yes. I would love that."
"Good. Great. Oh, but only after the big launch, of course."
"Maybe I can pencil you in before that." She sighs happily. "Well, then. Goodnight, Daniel."
They continue to sway back and forth, smiling stupidly until Betty takes the initiative and reluctantly pulls away to unlock her door. She thinks they might be there a while otherwise. But she lingers in the doorway, half-in, half-out. "Did I tell you how glad I am you're here?"
"Yeah. But I can hear it again. Did I tell you how glad I am you didn't slap me when I showed up that first day?"
She giggles. "No."
"Well, I am. Go. Sleep. You've had a long day."
"Call me tomorrow."
"Try and stop me."
Daniel squeezes her hand right before she shuts the door. "'Night."
She leans against the door for a long moment, unable to wipe the beam off her face. God, she forgot how wonderful this part is.
Justin told her that morning they sat on the stoop, Aunt Betty, you're all about risk. Betty thinks she needs to remind herself that more often, especially when her whole issues-with-change thing rears up. After all, coming to London is one risk that is paying off beautifully. Who's to say taking this other one won't turn out the same?
And he's worth the risk. She's certain of that now.
Light on her feet, she climbs the stairs, shedding her shoes, purse and light blazer at the top. Entering the bedroom, she digs out her pyjamas, begins pulling up the hem of her dress, and then pauses. Dropping the hem, she quickly exits the bedroom, and descends the stairs again. Irrespective of the neighbours and the late hour and anything else, she grips the door handle and throws it open, relishing the bang when it hits the wall. A warm spring breeze blows around and between her legs, and through her hair, and up the stairs, filling the spaces of her new home.
Betty kicks into a jog, and then a run, racing back down the street. Her long hair flies out behind her like a banner, until she rounds the corner onto the High Street.
He turns around, the streetlamps illuminating his startled expression right before she flies into his arms.
"Oof! Betty, what's —?"
Before she realises what she's doing, she is stretching up and up on her tiptoes — she's half-wearing the first pair of flats she found littering her doorway, so he has almost a foot on her. He gets the picture and pulls her closer as her hands slip around the back of his neck, fingering the short, red hairs there. Eyes drifting shut, she feels Daniel's fingers slide up and under her hair, cradling her head. She stretches even higher, and he leans down, and she feels his warm breath on her lips, his nose grazing hers lightly, her heart pounding—
And then his hands tilt her face slightly to the left, and he presses a soft, lingering kiss to her cheek. Once, and then one more time.
He pulls back, and Betty stares at him. There's a gentle, teasing glint in his baby blues.
"We haven't even been on a date yet. What kind of guy do you think I am?"
She bites back a smile. "Of course. What was I thinking?"
He gives her a look full of warmth — full of heat — and lifts her knuckles to his lips. "Sweet dreams, Betty."
As his figure retreats down the street, Betty knows from the bounce in his step that he can hear her giggling behind him.
This is all Michele: 'All I was thinking about was what I wanted to say. Not what you were ready to hear.'
I also added a line in Daniel's speech after reading Yahtzee's fic 'Suspension': 'It scares me, bone-deep, to think where I'd be now if I hadn't met you.'