Author's Note: I wrote this rather spontaneously, initially as a drabble in response to a prompt this week, but it turned out to be much longer. It's certainly fluff. I can guarantee that
Rose, clad in Disney-themed PJs, climbs onto her parents' bed, her scrapbook clutched in one arm. Daniel sits close by on the edge, not really watching the evening news, something else churning in his thoughts. He's dressed in his black tie best for a fundraising event he'll be attending with Betty. She called fifteen minutes ago saying that she'll be late.
Rose wraps her arms around Daniel's neck, causing him to almost lose balance. He softly taps one of her dark, frizzy braids draped against his shoulder. "Where'd you come from?"
He looks back at her with a grin and lifts her unto his lap. One arm still swung around his neck, she tugs at his ear and talks to him two inches away from his face. She has his eyes: bright blue and no need for corrective lenses. (So far, anyway)
"Tell me a story about Mode."
Daniel often tells Rose stories about his Mode days, the G version with Fey's sex room becoming a nap room, Daddy's youthful predilection to nap a lot when he first met her mother and grandma having a grape juice addiction. Although, he's not really sure how to G up Wilhelmina sperm-jacking her paternal grandfather's corpse yet.
"Which one do you wanna hear?"
"I like the one where Willa-meena stole from a church in Queens with Marc." This was a juicy plot point he'd found out during Marc's brief stint as his assistant.
"Ah, I like that one too."
"And you got sick from drinking too much grape juice and spent the day making Christmas ornaments with Grandpa, Aunt Hilda and Justin. And then Mommy saved the day at Mode."
As expected, that's how a lot of these stories end: and then Mommy saved the day. Daniel presses his forehead against Rose's, the TV news now rattling white noise in the background.
"She single-handedly ran Mode that day, saved Baby Chutney from having to wear chainmail," Daniel makes a face and then delivers the next part slowly, in a way that is somehow revelatory, "and probably saved me from going back to a lot of napping and doing nothing else."
Rose shakes her head. "You're skipping ahead."
He pokes her stomach gently. "Well, you started it."
She moves off his lap, and they both lay on their backs, stargazing up at the ceiling. Suddenly, she stirs, propping herself up on an elbow.
"When did you realize you loved Mommy?"
Daniel blinks. He's been with her mother for almost nine years now. He's known her for even longer. He honestly can't remember a time he didn't love Betty. She's always been there with him.
"Uh," a smile softly flushes his face. "It's hard to—there wasn't really one moment."
"Aunt Hilda's wedding? Or when Grandma told you?"
Daniel looks at Rose intrigued. A little over six years, and he's really told her everything.
"Yeah," he agrees quietly, "Probably earlier than that when I think about it."
He's silent for what seems like a long moment. She waits patiently, pressing Morse code onto his bowtie.
Daniel exhales and shakes his head slightly, a little at himself now and a little at himself back then. "Somewhere between watching her come back to her desk after I'd been so cruel to her in our first days together and…and watching her leave at the end of the day of the Fabia presentation."
Rose widens her eyes incredulously. But, she's smiling, as if she knew all along. "You knew that early?"
"Well, no, um, you know, love happens here," he gently touches her chest and then moves his hand over to her temple, "before it happens here."
He's now on his side, mimicking her position and talking to her like he's telling her the best, most delicate secret he knows. "Sometimes you feel it without actually realizing you're feeling it." Rose looks thoughtful and a little blank. Daniel hesitates. Maybe that last part was said aloud just for himself. "I don't know if that makes any sense."
Her eyes focus on his shoes as she thinks about it. "Maybe."
He smiles back warmly and looks at Betty's pearl "B" necklace half-drooped against the comforter. It looks just a little too big for her. Daniel points at it. "Where'd you get that?"
"Mommy let me wear it until she gets home."
"Huh." He wonders if they're going to make it to the thing. He doesn't actually care so much about timekeeping now that he thinks about it. Fact of the matter is that he misses her. It's been ten hours since he's seen her.
Ten whole hours. Okay, pathetic. Man up already, Meade.
In his defense, she might be coming home with some news. The kind of news where you remember the date on which it's told. Or that's what he got from her tone of voice on the phone.
It's her. She enters the room, hair drenched, disheveled, clumsy, talking about traffic and the weather. Both Rose and Daniel watch her with a kind of cozy recognition that this strange, endearing creature that just walked into the room is theirs.
Betty stumbles out of her heels, unconsciously rubbing the ball of her foot. Oddly, marriage and kids seems to have made her messier and him neater. At least, they've been able to maintain their natural dualities, the yin and yang and all that.
"Oomf." She takes Rose into her arms and buries a flurry of kisses in her chubby cheeks. "I missed you so much today."
Daniel brings himself up from the bed. She's late returning from a doctor's appointment. Point being is that she's been late. Betty meets his gaze, holding it emphatically, her mouth moving into the thinnest and most telling of smiles.
So, it's true. Holy shit.
He swallows nervously as it sinks in, looking down shyly and then looking up at her. It's been a bit of a struggle getting to this point after Rose was born. A lingering and uncertain years-long-struggle of job drama, health scares and other obstructive life things out of their control. They don't lose heart for some foolish reason. They're not the type to do that kind of thing. And now, all he can get out is a goofy smile and a breathy, "Yeah?"
She nods, a bigger "Betty smile" swelling on her face, just trying her hardest to keep a calm, level composure.
Daniel takes her face into his hands and leans down to kiss her with thoroughly unhurried, tender lightness.
Rose, still in her mother's arms, stares at them impassively, unable to read the expressions on her parents' faces. Her own expression suggests that she's wondering to herself whether she'd just missed something right now.
Betty and Daniel quickly return their attention to Rose. They'll tell her soon. She'll be the next to know. This just needs to be kept between them, at least for now.
Betty asks. "What have you two been up to?"
"Daddy's telling me about Mode."
"Oh," Betty says, tossing a quick glance to Daniel. "Well, has he told you about the time I had to pretend to be Marc's girlfriend?"
"No." Rose lights up. Marc's her favorite, a fact that Marc initially found a little distressing. Now he calls her his Baby Chimichanga and secretly loves her. Figures.
Daniel sits back down on the bed. "Uh, yes, I have."
"Well, I don't think I remember it."
"Oh, it's a good story," Betty tells Rose earnestly. "The best part is definitely when Marc and I were quizzing each other with flashcards before dinner with his mom." She looks at Daniel. "Don't you think so?"
In growing indignation, Rose takes both hands to move Betty's face in order to face her own. "What are you talking about? The best part is when Justin joined you guys and Buttons escaped and Grandpa's ankle bracelet went off trying to catch him and then Dad showed up and Justin told everyone he was your ex-boyfriend."
Rose watches her parents exchange a couple of knowing glances. She's been had, so she backtracks. "Or that's what I heard. Anyway."
Daniel smirks at her with playful self-satisfaction "Who's skipping ahead now?"
Eventually, Betty makes a mad dash to get ready. She has this inhumane quality of getting it together in an inordinate amount of time.
Meanwhile, Daniel checks on the babysitter—also running late—and successfully starts and finishes recounting an adventure at Mode. Somewhere in the middle he sneaks into the bathroom as she's having it out with the flat iron cord and steals a kiss. By the time Betty's ready, the two of them are flipping through Rose's scrapbook. Pages of random clippings and photos, a picture of an orange, one of Betty's Good Citizen's award, stamps and coupons, a photo from her parents' wedding, a photo of a fashionably ill-tempered Wilhelmina that Rose particularly likes.
There's a page with a photo that Daniel's sure he's seen featured on the now dormant "Betty's Daily Disaster" blog. Few guesses on who provided his resourceful six-year-old that photo. Here she's wearing bright red ruffles, matching beret-like thing on her head and an overcoat with polka dotted colors people wear at night so they don't get hit by cars. She's channeling Mary Poppins… on an acid trip. Soon enough, they're laughing over the picture.
"What are you two chuckling at?"
Betty comes out of the bathroom, dressed in something not quite so funny, actually glowing in something creamy pink, gold-sparkled and soft. She is who she's always been, beautiful, full of energy, full of hope, indefatigably resilient.
And at the end of the day, she cleans up nice.
"No, it's—" he quietly smiles, "Betty, you look great."
She beams back at him. "I think we're ready for a night on the town, don't you?"
"Wait," Rose gets up onto her knees and begins to take off Betty's necklace. "You're going to need this."
Betty walks to the bed, bowing her head down as she moves her hair off the back of her neck. Rose carefully clasps the pearl chain around her mother's neck.
Daniel stands up and puts an arm around Betty's waist. He breathes her in, the smell of her soap, looking her way like he's fighting off a sudden, hushed urge to kiss her. He then looks back at Rose, playfully standing up as straight and tall as he can.
"So, future editor-in-chief of Mode, you think the two of us look good enough to make it into your magazine?"
Rose quietly nods, taking in the full effect of the image of her parents cheerfully standing in front of her. They are charming and, at the same time, make her nervous, something like realizing the complexities of true love and what it feels like to be loved in return.