Daniel wasn't looking forward to Christmas that year – not that he ever was that enthusiastic. His holiday experiences had never been very pleasant. And since he had lost Molly last spring, there was one less thing to celebrate. The holidays were always harder to get through when someone you loved wasn't there to spend it with.
He was past the stage of meaningless sex being enough to fulfill him. The thrill of getting hammered with a mindless model on peppermint schnapps and screwing her under the office Christmas tree or kissing some random chick in the middle of Times Square, at midnight on New Year's Eve was long gone. If he had learned anything from his more recent relationships, it was that he wanted substance – not just a hot body to use. So until he found that someone, he resigned himself to being alone that year.
Alexis had offered for him and Claire to celebrate Christmas with her and DJ, but he had told his mother to go without him. He figured he'd have more fun getting drunk on eggnog and watching 'It's a Wonderful Life' than listening to his family pity him and fight over whose pâté was better while choking down a burnt turkey.
It was Christmas Eve day and Daniel had already sent the staff home at noon. Only, as he absently toyed with the bobble-head Santa DJ had sent him, he noticed someone was still at work in the Features department. He didn't need three guesses to determine who it was – Betty. He smiled, admiring her diligence, and headed toward her office.
"Hey, I thought I told you to go home about three hours ago?" he smiled, poking his head through the glass door. "Yeah, I know. I just can't seem to get this piece on next year's latest vintage accessories to flow right," she sighed as he came in and leaned over her shoulder, his hands lightly resting on them. "Want me to take a look?" he offered. "Be my guest," she said, with a defeatist attitude, as he pulled up a chair and began to read her article on the monitor.
"This is really good, Betty. It needs some minor tweaking – like focusing more on the replicas themselves and a little less on the history of the originals. But I don't know why you're so worried about it – come back Monday morning and your article will be flawless," Daniel assured her.
"Daniel, you know I'm a perfectionist – I can't just leave here and celebrate the holidays knowing this is still looming over my head," she reminded him. "How could I forget . . ." he teased. Betty playfully smacked his arm. "You know, some day you're going to appreciate my vast attention to detail and my obsessive need to finish what I start," she smirked.
All Daniel could do was stare at her with adoration. She was so cute when she got annoyed with him. "What?" Betty wondered, noticing his gaze was lasting longer than normal, as if he was contemplating a comeback or something. "Nothing . . . you're just adorable when you think you've proven your point," he chuckled, shutting down the computer and pulling her out of her chair before she had a chance to protest.
"Come on, I'll give you a ride home – I gave the rest of the drivers the afternoon off," he bargained. "Okay . . . but are you sure you want to go all the way to Queens? Won't you be late for dinner at your mother's, with all the traffic?" she asked as they left her office. "It's fine – don't worry about me," he insisted, evading the real answers. She smiled unsurely as they entered the elevator, but didn't seem to catch on.
"Do you want to come in for a minute?" Betty asked as they stood outside her family's house. "No, it's close to dinner and I don't want to intrude," he politely declined. As much as he loved spending time with her, he didn't want to be a fifth wheel. "Daniel, my family's seen you drunk and hung-over and you're worried about 'intruding' on our dinnertime?" she laughed.
"Besides, you've had dinner with us before – you know Papi doesn't have everything ready until at least 5PM – it's only 4PM. Are you sure you don't want to stop in for a just a little bit?" she said. "Really, Betty, I've taken up enough of your family-time today," he excused. "Daniel, you are family," she sincerely told him, taking his hand. He smiled at her touching admission, feeling an unusual flutter in his stomach, as he held on and followed her into the house.
"Daniel! So good to see you again! Feliz Navidad!" Ignacio greeted him with a firm handshake and affectionate pat on the back. "You, too, Mr. Suarez," he replied. "The rest of the family is in the kitchen – would you like to stay for dinner?" Ignacio asked. "No, but thank you. I just stopped by to wish everyone a 'Merry Christmas' and give Betty her present," Daniel said.
"That's right – you do owe me a present," Betty teased. "Really? Funny, because I don't remember any brightly-colored packages coming from you," he playfully countered. "That's why I tried so hard to get you to come in –" she began. "Hey, Daniel! Betty didn't tell me you were coming . . ." Hilda enthusiastically greeted him with a hug, grinning and nudging her sister. "Look who's standing under the mistletoe . . ." Justin entered the room. Daniel and Betty awkwardly turned toward each other.
"Awww . . . come on you two – rules are rules . . ." Hilda encouraged. "Hilda, Justin – let's leave them alone," Ignacio warned. "It's okay – right Betty?" Daniel smiled, despite the fact that her entire family was watching them expectantly. "Daniel, you really don't have to . . ." she lowered her head, embarrassed. He lifted her chin and gently brushed his lips against hers, unaware that he would feel a significant spark between them. He immediately backed away and stared at her, confused.
"I-I'd better get going . . . M-Merry Christmas, everyone!" Daniel said, bolting out the door. Betty just stood in the frame between the entry and family room, dumbstruck. "Aunt B, are you okay?" Justin asked. "Yeah, Justin, I'm fine," she shook herself out of it and plastered on a smile. "I'll go help you guys in the kitchen!" she perkily covered.
"Betty, if you put anymore chili peppers in those enchiladas, we'll have heartburn for a week!" Ignacio snapped his daughter out of her stupor. "Sorry, Papi," she apologized. "Is something bothering you, Mija?" he asked. "Yeah, she's definitely 'bothered' – hot and bothered over Daniel . . ." Hilda teased, before Betty had a chance to speak. Betty stormed out, needing a moment to breathe, and finished helping Justin set the table. She couldn't believe how immature – and wrong - Hilda was being.
"Mom's right, AB. You and Daniel have great chem. And you have to admit he's a major hottie – all the polls prove it. But seriously, he's a pretty good guy. He's helped me a lot, getting through Dad's death – even before that - and I totally believe he's into you. Why else would he drag himself out to Queens to hang out with us so much, when he has a fab apartment and all the exclusive clubs he could ask for in Manhattan?" Justin pointed out.
Betty couldn't bring herself to verbally admit her nephew wasn't completely off-base. However, Daniel was pretty hot – when she thought about it. But spending time in Queens she chalked up to his lack of ever having a semi-normal childhood. She knew her family provided that for him just by welcoming him with open arms and treating him as one of their own – not some rich celebrity.
And Justin was definitely off on Daniel being 'into' her. He ran out the freakin' door not two seconds after he had kissed her. Betty simply shook her head in disbelief and continued to set the table, unaware of the discussion in the next room.
"Hilda . . ." Ignacio warned. "Whaat?" Hilda played innocent. "Cállate. Be more sensitive to your sister. Daniel may be her friend, but he's also her boss. It's a very delicate situation," Ignacio berated his oldest daughter. "Sorry . . . I didn't know Betty was so fragile," she snickered as her sister and her son came back into the kitchen.
Betty immediately went to work on wrapping the enchiladas and ignored the whispering comments, not in the mood to protest. "Justin, will you help me carry out the salsa and queso?" Ignacio asked, trying to give his girls a chance to talk. "Sure, Grandpa," he winked.
"Chica, I'm sorry – I mean it. I was just having a little fun. And I really do think you and Daniel might be more than either one of you want to admit," Hilda apologized. "I think you've had too much tequila," Betty scoffed. "Hey, I had one. And I'm serious – deny it all you want, but why do you think that man ran out of here so fast?" she maintained.
"Isn't it obvious? He was freaked out by how bad it was – and it's your fault – you forced him into it," Betty stubbornly replied. "Unh-uh – no. Mamita, he was scared – but not how you think," she insisted. "Whatever . . ." Betty dismissed her sister's delusions. "Okay . . . but he would've pecked you on the cheek, if he hadn't truly wanted to kiss you – think about it," she advised. Betty rolled her eyes, knowing it was useless trying to reason with her sister.
"Hey, Daniel . . . I know I'm probably the last person you want to see right now, but we made a pact and I intend to hold you to it. So please, come meet me at the bridge," Betty requested, leaving a message on his voicemail before quietly escaping her father's house in the early morning.
Betty stood shivering on the Queensboro Bridge, admiring the city skyline, as she hopefully waited for Daniel to show up. She wasn't exactly sure of what she would say, but knew leaving things the way they were would make their relationship too uncomfortable to live with.
It was funny how she was more concerned about repairing things with Daniel than she was with passing Matt in the hallways. After breaking up with him, she felt bad, but also relieved. Matt was sweet, cute, and very supportive. However, after the pregnancy scare, it hit her like a flashing neon sign that he wasn't the man she wanted to be tied down to. She wasn't sure what their relationship had been lacking, but she knew she wanted more than what he could offer her . . .
"Doesn't your boss pay you enough to buy a warmer coat?" a voice behind her spoke. "Daniel! You scared me!" Betty jumped. "Sorry," Daniel chuckled and took off his red cashmere scarf, wrapping it around her neck. "You're right – the city's beautiful at sunrise," he commented. "It is . . ." she agreed.
"Seems like a lifetime since we've been back here . . . God . . . it was after I got screwed-over by Sofia, wasn't it?" he formed a bittersweet smile. "Yeah . . ." she nodded, remembering how different they were then. "I deserved it though – I was such a jackass to all those women before her, even to you . . . But you didn't give up on me – you're still here . . ." he reflected, looking gratefully at her.
"Daniel . . . we need to talk," Betty nervously said, fingering the soft material that was lightly scented with his cologne. "Yeah . . ." he sighed, brushing snow off of the railing with his glove. "Look . . . last night – the kiss - it happened and . . . i-it obviously was more than that, but not in a good way . . . so I think it's best if we just leave it as that and forget it ever happened at all," she suggested, not entirely believing her words but assuming it was what he was thinking.
"Betty –" Daniel tried to say something. "No, it's okay – really. I mean it's me . . . it's us . . . we've never been like that and I'm not exactly your fantasy girl . . ." she nervously laughed. "Hey, you're being too hard on yourself. You are beautiful, Betty," he told her, cupping her face. "And I'm so sorry I left like that – it was rude to you and rude to your family. The kiss . . . it just threw me, so I ran," Daniel apologized, still afraid to fully admit what he had felt.
"It's fine. Everyone understands – it was just weird . . . and . . . awkward. Hilda and Justin shouldn't have pushed you into it. And you don't have to do that . . . feel obligated . . . because you're my friend," she said. "No – Betty, it wasn't like that . . . it was for fun . . . and I was . . . curious . . ." he revealed. "Well, now you know . . ." she stated, staring out at the horizon.
"Honestly, I don't – not really," he vaguely responded, gazing at the city with her. "What do you mean? We kissed; you gave me that 'What the hell was I thinking?' look and ran," she wondered. "Actually, it was kinda the exact opposite," he corrected her, dangerously close to confessing more than he intended to. "A-Are you saying . . .?" Betty's wheels started spinning.
"I'm saying . . . I don't know what I'm saying . . . maybe I want to - maybe I - never mind. Let's just forget it ever happened. It's probably better that way . . . you just said you were weirded out by it," Daniel dismissed his unresolved feelings, rubbing the back of his neck in frustration. "I didn't say that okay? I – I don't know . . ." she said, debating whether to reveal anything more or not.
"Can we just go back to the way we were?" she asked, chickening out. "Yeah. Of course we can," he agreed, a little disappointed - even though he wasn't a hundred percent sure why, yet. "Thank you," she said, hugging him. "Merry Christmas, Daniel," she smiled, her arms still encircling his neck as she shifted her head to look up at his.
"Merry Christmas, Betty," he said, his hands continuing to linger on the small of her back as her body rested against his, their eyes locking, realizing neither one of them was letting go. They were so close Daniel could feel Betty's warm breath against his cold lips. He ached to lean down and feel her mouth pressed to his once more, long enough to determine if he was crazy or not - if the electricity he had felt before was still there, or all in his head. Only Betty broke the trance before he could find out.
"Umm . . . So! What are you and your mom doing today – typical holiday stuff or do you have other traditions?" she asked, pulling away. "Uh . . . yeah! Basic holiday stuff – presents, turkey, caroling, roasting pine nuts . . ." he feigned enthusiasm. "You're lying," she caught him. Claire Meade didn't seem like the type of person who broke into song – even for special occasions. "Huh?" he innocently asked.
"You're supposed to roast chestnuts – not pine nuts – as much pesto as you've had, you'd think you'd know better . . ." she laughed. "And I could be wrong, but I don't think your mom's the caroling type. Not to mention, you're doing that thing again – the thumbs-up," she judgingly pointed out. He sheepishly lowered his head. "Something's wrong . . . you're alone for Christmas!" she guessed, slowly putting the pieces together. "What? No!" he insisted. She raised an eyebrow. "Okay – yes – I'm alone! Happy now?" he confessed.
"Of course not. Daniel, why didn't you tell me?" she said, sympathetically. "Because I knew this was how you'd react – 'Poor Daniel, all alone – no family, no Mo - . . ." he trailed off. "Molly? Oh, Daniel . . ." she gently touched his arm. "No – see that's it – I don't need people feeling sorry for me. I miss her so much . . . it's harder around this time, but I can't dwell on it – she wouldn't want me to. And I knew that spending these days with my family would just bring it all up again. But I'm truly ready to move on," he admitted.
Betty paused, unsure of exactly what to say. She felt a strange, sudden urge to kiss him again . . . let him know she was there for him . . . but 'Great - I'm available, if you're interested . . .' didn't seem like the appropriate signal to send right then. That wasn't even considering that ever since the mistletoe incident she'd been completely confused about their relationship. Kissing was definitely not a good idea.
"So have Christmas with us – no one deserves to be alone," she offered instead. "No – I'm sure your family's seen enough of me – especially after how I left," he said. "All the more reason to come back and apologize. Besides, you're family, too," she reminded him. He shyly smiled. "Come on, we're going to make this the best Christmas ever!" she tugged on his hand.