December 7, 2010

Betty had learned at MODE that editing a magazine involved all kinds of activities that had nothing to do with editing, or even magazines. For instance, at the holidays, a major publication was expected to not only put on a party for the staff but also to either host or take part in a few major charity bashes.

She remembered how she'd once straightened Daniel's tie as he'd headed out for a party to benefit Habitat for Humanity – red silk between her fingers, his smile only a few inches away –

Enough. She shut her eyes, willed herself not to think about Daniel Meade again, and turned back to the task at hand.

Her assistant, Lillian, had turned the conference room table into a kind of diagram of how the entire Pediatric Leukemia Relief benefit would go. "All right, we've got all 40 tables filled, at last – looked toward a few of the major foundations for help with that, and they came through. The champagne's been donated, but not delivered, though we ought to have it tomorrow morning at the latest. And the florist sent me snaps of the arrangements – aren't they marvelous?"

They were – red and white, more exotic blooms, piled high in silvery mercury glass urns that suggested Christmas cheer without being too boring or obvious. "This is fabulous, Lillian. I can't believe we're making a go of a holiday party on a Wednesday."

"It's late enough in the season that nobody's really working that hard," Lillian said, before hastily adding, "Besides me, of course. And you!"

"Who did you get to take the last tables?" It was only idle curiosity that made Betty ask, so she wasn't at all braced for the answer.

"Well, FT took one more, and then the Calloway Foundation snapped up the final two."

The Calloway Foundation. One of the world's largest charitable foundations, which directed the accumulated donations of enormously wealthy families towards worthy cancer-related charities and research. Though Betty had heard of it years ago, she'd been far more aware of it since this spring, when they'd taken on a new Director of Giving.

One Mr. Daniel Meade.

"Great," she said, fighting to keep her smile in place. "That's great."

That night, at home in her tiny Bloomsbury studio, Betty lay in bed clutching her quilt to her chest. The heat wasn't very effective, and the windows were old enough that cold breeze blew through to shake the ornaments on her tabletop tree. Usually that annoyed her; now she hardly noticed it.

All she could think about was that long-ago day in April when Daniel had told her he loved her, and she had told him to leave her alone.

"Betty – I know I'm, well, not the guy you were dreaming of, but if you'd give me a chance –"

"I came here for a new start, Daniel. Not to fall back into the same old pattern."

"We wouldn't."

"You don't know that."

Hilda had asked her whether Daniel was really in love or just rebounding from Molly's loss. Christina had asked her whether Daniel had it in him to be faithful to someone in the long term. Betty hadn't been able to give a hard and fast answer to either of those questions. So when she looked at Daniel on that chilly, rainswept night – his gray sweater beaded with raindrops, his arms crossed in front of his chest – she'd seen only someone wounded. Damaged.

Her own good fortune was so new then, seemingly so fragile. She hadn't believed in her own independence yet ... not really, not down deep. Maybe that was why she hadn't been able to envision their relationship in any way other than what it had often been before: Her as caretaker, him as irresponsible boy.

"Please, Daniel." Her voice had been so firm. As if she were totally certain, instead of feeling her soul curling and blackening like paper in fire. "I'm flattered – really – and I only want the best for you, but I don't want – "

"Okay. I get it." His shoulders had been hunched up as if he were warding off a blow. Somehow Daniel had managed to smile at her, though there was no disguising the pain in his eyes. "I'll be in touch – I mean, you're my friend no matter what – but I need a while."

"Of course."

And their silence had stretched from that day to this.

She'd heard about him, of course; there was no way to work in media and totally avoid hearing about Daniel Meade. But oh, what she'd heard.

Within a month, he'd taken the job at the Calloway Foundation, just outside of London. Christina had wondered if he'd put up a Meade family donation to get the position, essentially bribing his way in – which was the first time Betty had realized just how out-of-date Christina's ideas about Daniel were, and how out of synch they were with her own. And how stupid it had been to listen to the advice of someone who, however well-meaning, didn't know Daniel the way she did.

Within three months, Betty had begun reading about major donations to the foundation from families who had never been part of the effort before: the Rockefellers, the Batistas, the Rothschilds, the Perssons. Maybe Daniel had known some of their sons and daughters in prep school. (Wait, no: just the sons. Given the way Daniel used to act around women, if he'd known the daughters, he probably wouldn't be as persuasive with them now.) Maybe he'd known which resorts to stalk, which restaurants to book. For whatever reason, he wasn't just a good fundraiser for the Calloway Foundation; he was phenomenal.

Within six months, the Calloway Foundation had announced its largest bequest ever –eight figures – to a research foundation that was near a breakthrough on the same kind of leukemia that had killed Molly.

Betty had wanted so badly to email or call Daniel then. To tell him how proud she was of him, how proud Molly would be.

But Daniel no doubt knew Molly's pride on a level nobody else could. And telling Daniel she was proud of him herself seemed hypocritical after she'd essentially sent him away by saying that she couldn't envision him as anything other than the playboy he'd once been.

Maybe that was harsher than she'd really been. Given the pain in Daniel's eyes, though – maybe not.

And she knew that if she ever saw Daniel again, he'd see pain in her eyes, too. Because over the past few months, she'd caught herself countless times, thinking of something she wanted to tell Daniel, a joke only he would get or an insight only he would understand. Because she'd gone from being unable to imagine what it would be like to kiss Daniel from being unable to stop regretting that she hadn't found out. Because London – exciting and exhilarating as her life was here – could also be lonely, and the men she dated were handsome and charming and yet mysteries to her. Daniel's heart – warm, generous, guileless, loyal, hers – had been the missing piece to the puzzle all along.

It looked like that puzzle would never be complete. The silence between them suggested he'd taken her rejection hard; even their friendship was a thing of the past. Sometimes she resented that, feeling that he should have tried to keep their friendship alive, at least – didn't she deserve that much? Other times, she knew she was only wishing he'd asked again, so she could undo her old mistake. Clearly, the window of opportunity for them had passed.

You'll get over it, she told herself sternly. You've lost men you loved before. It's nobody's fault – not even Hilda and Christina's. You'd better get your act together; you've got less than 24 hours before the benefit.

Because the guest roster Lillian had showed her had Daniel Meade's name at the top of the Calloway Foundation list.