Betty and Daniel sat on the balcony of his Bahamas hotel suite, looking out on the beach as twilight turned the sea the color of cobalt. They'd had a couple of fruity umbrella drinks each, which Betty tried to blame, later on.
"Is it going to be hard for you?" Daniel said. "Seeing Matt and Amanda – you know, together. At the magazine."
"Kind of. Not as bad as I would have thought, though." Betty considered her answer carefully; the day had proved to be a revelation for her. "All this time, I wanted Matt back, but – I think it was more about undoing the fact that I hurt him than actually, you know, being with him again. He's a good guy – " She ignored the scoffing sound Daniel made. "I like Matt. I care about him. But I think it took him choosing Amanda for me to see that I'm actually not in love with him anymore."
"You can do better."
Which was the sort of nice, unrealistic thing friends said at moments like this. She appreciated Daniel's consideration, but honestly felt she didn't need it. "I can let it go, now. It feels good to let it go."
"I think this calls for champagne." Daniel stood, slightly unsteady. "There's some in the minibar."
Betty would normally have called it quits after a couple of drinks, but they were in the Bahamas, the shoot was done and she was – not newly single, but extra single, and it felt like a reason to celebrate. "Pop the cork already, would you?"
"I'm trying!" he called from the main room of the suite.
She walked in through the sheer white drapes that framed the balcony, which were blowing in the soft tropical breeze. His balcony was off the bedroom, so she had to walk around the wide, white expanse of his bed to join him in the small sitting room; this made her think briefly of the fact that Matt and Amanda were together – probably in bed right that moment – but although it stung, the pain wasn't anything she couldn't handle. Particularly not when she had such amusing company: As Betty watched Daniel struggling with the champagne bottle, a pun came to her, and she couldn't quite stifle it. "So – speaking of popping corks – how did Project 'Get Laid' go for you?"
Daniel gave her an open-mouthed smile of equal parts shock and delight. "I can't BELIEVE you said that."
Giggling, Betty managed to get out, "So, did you? Or didn't you?"
"If by 'did' you mean 'actually had sex,' I didn't. If you mean striking out – that I definitely did."
"You can't have tried very hard." She found a couple of glasses and got them ready, for whenever Daniel won his battle with the bottle. "You practically have to pry women off you, Daniel. There's no way you couldn't have found somebody here."
"Well – hmm. You want the honest answer? It's kind of personal."
"Yeah, let's start having boundaries NOW. That ship definitely hasn't sailed."
The champagne cork finally popped free, banging against the wall of the hotel suite. Foam bubbled over Daniel's fingers onto the woven mat on the floor. Quickly Betty knelt beside him, holding out the glasses to catch as much champagne as possible; within moments, he was pouring smoothly. Neither of them bothered to rise afterward. Instead Daniel leaned back against the cream-colored sofa, and Betty folded her legs beneath her to sit beside him.
Daniel took a deep swallow of his champagne before saying, "Not trying 'very hard' was sort of the problem."
"I met this girl, Savannah. Gorgeous. Seemed nice, too. She came up here with me, but – how does the saying go?" His cheeks were actually slightly pink. "The spirit was willing, but the flesh was weak."
"Oh. OH." Poor Daniel. That always freaked guys out. "I guess it's a difficult step to take."
"After Molly died – I didn't even feel like it, for months." He said this as though it were the strangest thing that could possibly happen; in his world, it probably was. "But now, it's like all those months of doing without just hit me at once, and I'm kind of going crazy, but being with some girl I didn't even know … it felt wrong."
Daniel really had grown up, she thought, with a mixture of empathy and pride. Empty sex would never wholly satisfy him again. It was a lesson Betty had always hoped he'd learn, but she wished this wasn't the way he'd had to learn it. Gently she reached out to stroke his hair, right at the temple. "You'll find someone else who matters to you. Someone you can love."
"I know that. But tell it to my sex drive, would you?"
"Tell it to mine," she grumbled. "I'm starting to think half of why I wanted Matt back was – well. That."
"Say it, Betty. No boundaries, remember? You miss sex."
"Yes, okay? I miss sex. I miss it like crazy. In some ways I feel like – " Now, this WAS personal, but if she couldn't tell Daniel, whom could she ever tell? "Like I was only just learning what I really wanted. Like I was open to … so much more, but there's nobody to share it with."
A moment's silence followed, which was enough to make her aware that she and Daniel actually had a boundary there, one she'd just crashed right through.
"Sorry. Oversharing." She gulped down some champagne.
"No, it's okay." Daniel gave her a sidelong look, one eyebrow cocked, a mischievous smile spreading across his face. "You know – there's a very obvious answer to both our problems."
His meaning sank into her more slowly than it should have, probably because shock had turned her mind into so much white noise. "You don't mean – you DO."
He shrugged, still smiling.
"Daniel. You're not serious."
"Not entirely, no. I know you'd never go for it. But you WERE the one who said acting like a man-slut might be therapeutic for me."
Okay, he wasn't serious. That was a relief – mostly a relief, anyway. Her heart was still thumping wildly, though, as she joked back, "You think I'm the one who would never go for it?"
Daniel studied her for a few moments; though he never quit smiling, the smile changed from a smirk into something gentler. "Wait. You really might – you know – you and me? 'Friends with benefits' for a night?"
"That's not what I said."
"I think it kind of IS what you said." He put his champagne glass on the end table and leaned closer to her. "Now I'm not joking. Think about it, Betty – we'd have fun."
It was completely outrageous, the kind of thing Betty had never seriously contemplated with him or with anyone. And yet – there was Daniel, wearing that black linen shirt and looking sort of indecently handsome, with this genuine, hopeful look on his face, so close to her. This wasn't the same as casual sex with some stranger. She trusted Daniel. She adored him. He was lonely, and so was she, and why shouldn't they make each other less lonely for a while?
"It would be weird," she said. "Back at the office. Don't you think?"
"Wouldn't have to be. I mean, we both know what we're doing, right?" He sounded very sure, but of course, Daniel had more practice at this whole casual sex thing. Still, though, she couldn't see them being awkward or strange afterward; when Betty envisioned it, she actually saw them making various dirty puns and jokes afterward to crack each other up when nobody else was listening. She felt safe with him, too safe to be threatened by something like that.
But should he feel safe with her? Betty knew how badly she longed to be touched – and for a moment, the thought of Daniel's long hands touching her made her flush warm all over. But for her, she was sure, that was all it was: Sexual need and a bruised ego. Daniel was in a far more vulnerable place. Carefully, she asked, "Are you positive this is a good idea for you?"
Daniel shrugged – not casually, but what seemed to be an honest admission that he wasn't certain. "I know there's almost nobody else I feel closer to. I think we could handle it. I think it's really something we could do for each other, not just – you know, using bodies." He said that last with such distaste that it was as if he'd never done such a thing. "And besides – okay, this is going to sound corny – but here goes." Taking a deep breath, Daniel looked at her and said, "You're the most incredibly kind, gentle, GOOD person I've ever known, and I think it would be amazing to be that close to you."
Betty sat there for a moment, staring at him, until she couldn't resist a smile. "You are REALLY good at sweet-talking women. You know this, right?"
He had to laugh, but said, "I mean it. You know I do."
Daniel tilted closer to her, so that their shoulders brushed against each other. Betty felt a little flip in her belly that she'd never sensed around him before. Even if her mind was confused, her body was certain this was a good idea. A GREAT idea. "I'd show you a nice time." His voice was teasing now, and she couldn't help remembering how one of his ex-girlfriends had told a tabloid he was "like riding a rocketship to the moon." … and now the word "riding" had somehow entered her thoughts of Daniel, who was now running one finger along her arm. "I'd take good care of you, Betty."
As ever, when she was uncertain, Betty decided to get more facts first. "I can't say yes without – without knowing what it's like to kiss you. I mean, what if we both crack up laughing? We might."
"We might. But I doubt it. Come here."
Daniel cradled the side of her face in one hand, but it was Betty who leaned closer and kissed him, their mouths slightly parted – just enough for her to taste champagne, and feel the tip of his tongue briefly brush hers. "Mmmm," he said into their kiss, drawing her nearer so that he was resting with his back against the sofa, and she was essentially resting upon his chest.
When they broke the kiss, Betty said, "Wow."
"Definitely no laughing."
"You actually can't feel the braces," Daniel mused. "How come I didn't remember that from junior high?"
Betty swatted his arm, but the joke made her grin. "The beard's not bad either." He responded by drawing her in for another kiss – this one quick, more sweet than sexy, but hopeful, too.
It occurred to her that she and Daniel had already stepped over a certain line – after all, they were now sprawled on the floor of his hotel suite, starting to make out – and refusing to step any further seemed more perverse than wise.
Why shouldn't I? she thought, feeling the broad muscles of his chest beneath her hands. Why shouldn't we? We're grown-ups. We can handle it. And oh, God, do I want to.
"Okay," she said.
Daniel's expression brightened. "Okay? Okay as in yes?"
The rest of Daniel might have grown up, but his grin was still that of a delighted boy. "This is going to be fun."
They rose to their feet, slightly wobbly – but more from the sudden shock of arousal than from alcohol, she thought. Betty knew she wasn't too drunk to make this call, and that Daniel wasn't either. Yet as he took her hand, he held it to his chest, and he looked uneasy. "Are you sure?" she said. "Daniel, if you aren't, just say so."
"I'm sure. It's not that. It's just – " His blush told her what he was talking about even before he said it. "Listen, if I have, uh, technical difficulties again, you have to know it's not you. All right? I am so completely into this idea. But my body isn't necessarily cooperating with me right now."
Betty nodded, caressing his hand in both of hers. "I get it. I won't take it personally. We'll go into the bedroom, and – whatever happens, happens. If we just end up, I don't know, cuddling and making out .. that would still be fun."
Daniel gave her a look that made her feel weak in the limbs, warm in the belly. "I told you, no matter what, I'm going to take good care of you."
She liked how that sounded, so much that it almost dizzied her, but she tried to keep her head. "I just mean – no pressure. We're friends, we're going to have a good time, and that's all that matters."
Betty started backing toward his bedroom, drawing him after her. As soon as they were at the foot of his bed, Daniel pulled his shirt off over his head – oh, abs, amazing abs, and also amazing arms. She glanced at the multicolored dress she still wore and felt a quiver of insecurity. "Um, Daniel? Could we – maybe – well, turn out the lights?"
He looked down at his chest, and the fact that he somehow thought this was about his body, and not her own imperfections, seemed deeply endearing.
"You're beautiful," she said. "I'm just – a little shy."
Daniel flicked off the lights, but he put his arms around her and said, "You know you're beautiful too."
"Just kiss me."
His mouth found hers again; the touch was more intimate, more intense, in the dark. The insecurity melted away as Daniel's hands unzipped and pulled away her dress to caress her and guide her down to the bed with him. Her body wasn't like the girls he was used to, but either he hadn't noticed or he actually preferred the difference, because his kisses only became more fevered. Betty started to shrug off her black stretch lace bra, but Daniel's mouth found her breast, his kiss hot and wet even through the lace. He began sucking at her, massaging the rough lace against her nipple with his tongue. That felt – amazing. She heard her own soft whimper as if from a distance – nothing seemed as real as what Daniel was doing to her.
"You don't even know how beautiful you are," he murmured, his breath now cool against her breast. "Guess I'll have to show you."
Then he tugged the bra down and it turned out his kisses felt even better without the lace between her and his tongue.
Betty reached for the waistband of the white slacks he still wore, tugging at the fastenings; he pulled away just long enough to help her tug them away with his boxers. Then Daniel was naked atop her, and she had only her panties on, and everything seemed simultaneously to be happening incredibly fast and not nearly fast enough.
Daniel's lips met hers, and for a long few moments they just kissed. The warmth of his bare skin on hers made her need to be closer to him, so she wrapped her arms around him to feel the broad, well-muscled expanse of his back, brought her knees up enough so that she could cradle his thighs between hers. The long, firm pressure she could feel against her belly told her he wasn't experiencing any technical difficulties so far.
She reached down and wrapped her fingers around him, earning a groan from Daniel. Which was hot, very hot, and yet –
"Wait," Daniel murmured against the side of her face, between kisses at her hairline. "Are you – why are you grinning like that?"
"I was just thinking – " Betty gave him one playful stroke. "—it's a little like meeting someone famous."
He dropped his head against her shoulder, as if in dismay, but his shoulders started to shake with laughter. "Betty!"
"I can't help it! It is!"
"God, you're adorable." They kissed as best they could when they were both laughing. Then Daniel looked at her with almost wolfish enthusiasm. "Bet I can make you stop giggling."
"Bet you—" Her voice trailed off as he tugged her panties down and tossed them away. "Ohhh."
He slid down on the bed, hooked one of her legs over his shoulder, and then he was going down on her, and OH, DAMN, this was obviously where you boarded the rocketship to the moon. Betty clutched for the corners of the bed as she began to rock softly against him; Daniel found the rhythm immediately, matched it, intensified it. His tongue could sweep strongly against her, then stroke delicately just where she wanted, over and over again.
His fingers slid inside her, and his beard was soft against her inner thighs. Betty's breaths came light, fast and shallow, and she didn't want to come because this was so good she wanted it to last forever, but she wanted to come even worse. He was pulling it out of her, beyond her ability to hold back.
Betty clutched his hand against her hip as the sensation broke over her, rushing up through her body to the very top of her head. She sagged back onto the bed, dazed and delighted; Daniel kissed his way up her belly, her breasts and her neck until their lips met again. He tasted like sex.
"Good?" he murmured against her cheek.
"That was – wonderful." Which wasn't a very sexy kind of word, and yet it felt exactly right. Full of wonder: That was how Betty was after discovering she could experience all this with her best friend in the world. "You're crazy good at that. You know this, right?"
"A good time was promised. And delivered. Yeah?"
Daniel guided her hand back to him, and Betty began stroking again, feeling him harden yet more under her touch. Within only seconds, he was twisting away from her toward the bedside table. It was almost startling how fast he could rip the foil packet and roll the condom on; in her post-orgasmic daze, Betty wondered if there was a Guinness World Record for that kind of thing. If so, Daniel should go for it.
"Come here," she murmured, pulling him over her. Daniel kissed her again as he parted her thighs, and then he thrust inside her.
It felt so good – so much better than she'd remembered, being filled up so completely. The sweet burn of it made Betty moan against his shoulder, and the sound seemed to send a shudder through Daniel. His eyes were shut, his mouth partly open in an expression of complete abandon.
"Oh, my God," he breathed. "You're so – you're so – Betty – God, don't move."
"I want to."
"If you move, it's over."
Betty felt almost indecently powerful, seeing Daniel in thrall to her. For a few long seconds, they just kissed, warm and wet, joined together but still.
Then, having recovered himself, he thrust again, even deeper in, and that was more than Betty could bear; she started moving with him, making him stroke for stroke, and delighted in the tension throughout his body. She knew Daniel was fighting for enough control to stay inside her, and as much as she loved that, she wanted to see him lose that control.
I needed this, she thought. I needed this so much more than I ever knew. She wasn't sure what "this" was, and it hardly mattered, because she had it now; she wasn't broken apart any longer. Here, now, she was complete.
Daniel's hands found hers to press them back against the mattress, as if trying to hold her in place. But Betty bucked against him, giving him no power, forcing him to let go. He shouted out as his hands turned into fists and he plunged into her one last, deepest time; for a few long moments he quivered against her as rigid and eager as an arrow in a bow. Then Daniel breathed out, went still and collapsed atop her.
His mouth found hers right away, and they kissed – sloppy and sweet. "You're amazing," he said against her cheek.
"So are you."
"That wasn't nearly long enough."
"Good times promised. And delivered. Right?"
"Right." Daniel grinned at her, and she couldn't resist kissing him again.
He parted from her only long enough to deal with the condom, but in that moment Betty took stock of how she felt – which was amazing. Her pulse seemed to be thumping through every corner of her body, her entire skin highly sensitive; she was almost a little sore, but that was what lack of practice would do for you. For the first time in too long, she felt truly physically satisfied.
Daniel curled next to her, his head on her shoulder, and she sensed the change in his mood without any real sign of it. Somehow Betty knew, right then, that it had just occurred to him that he'd had sex with someone other than Molly – that he'd begun his life after her death, and no matter how good and right it was that he should move on, it had to make him feel a little sad, too. His heart still belonged to Molly, she thought; to her, it seemed possible that would never change. Without a word, she folded her arms around him and held him close for a long time.
Eventually, he said, "I'm glad I was with you." Daniel propped up on one arm and smiled gently down at her. "I'm glad this was with somebody I love."
"You made me feel really beautiful and special tonight. I needed that." They kissed tenderly. The gaze they shared afterward was so intense – so intimate – that Betty felt a sudden, absurd wave of shyness, but then Daniel started to grin.
"Like meeting someone famous," he quoted, shaking his head.
"It's true. Fame. Gossip. Several Page Six – column inches," Betty said, making him groan from the pun. "Your penis gets serious media coverage. Spencer and Heidi would kill for that much press."
Daniel fell back on the bed, laughing helplessly; she found herself giggling too. Although Betty was aware that they were both cracking up far beyond the humor of her actual joke, she thought they both needed it. Erasing the pain she'd felt earlier today – and the loneliness that had been dominating Daniel – that took more than sex. He also needed joy.
Come to think about it, she'd never really laughed like this with Matt. Not in bed, anyway. Betty hadn't even realized they were lacking that: one more reason not to be sorry they'd gone their separate ways.
As their laughter finally stilled, they kissed again, Daniel's body again shifting over hers, and temptation welled up – forcing Betty to say, "I should go back to my room soon."
"We just got started," Daniel said, which raised highly interesting questions about how long lovemaking usually lasted with him, but Betty knew she needed to maintain her resolve.
"If I stay here all night, I'll have to sneak out of your room in the morning. You know somebody will see us, and everybody at MODE will find out in about four nanoseconds, and then there's gossip and pornographic photo manips, and all that stuff we'd just as soon skip." She ran her fingers along the bulge of his bicep and sighed. "And if we start again, I'm going to end up staying here all night."
"Okay, okay," he surrendered with a sigh. "But, just – let me just hold you a little while longer."
"A few more minutes," Betty said, thinking the only risk she ran was Daniel pushing his luck. He didn't, though; he simply held her tightly.
The real danger, which she didn't realize until far too late, came in understanding how good it felt just to be held by her best friend.
to be continued -