Betty turned all the locks on her apartment door, then slumped against it, so weary that she felt like merely sliding down to the floor. She could sleep there, even in her green dress and lilac wrap, earrings and all. It would be easier than ever moving again.
But she kept going, setting her high heels on the breakfast table as she padded along in her brand-new baby-blue slippers. Betty realized she could feel the stiffness of dried tears on her cheeks. This miserable day seemed to have lasted for a thousand years.
Though her only thought was of getting into bed, or just falling upon it, she found herself walking instead to the sofa where she'd left her laptop.
I can't sleep, she realized. Not until I get this out of my system.
So, she'd write it out.
When the screen glowed in front of her face, Betty shook out what little of her hairdo remained, loaded her blog's "Compose Post" form, and started typing.
Today – or yesterday, I should say – my sister got married to the man of her dreams. It was a day that reminded me of everything love can and should be. That some dreams really do come true.
And some dreams don't.
I should know.
"It's a great feeling, isn't it?" Daniel smiled down at her, his expression both totally familiar and yet somehow new to her. "When everything's … right with the world."
"Yeah. It is." Betty squeezed his hand in hers, and he responded by pulling her closer, so that her head rested against his shoulder.
Kind of flirty, dancing like this – but then, that was a wedding for you. Everybody flirted. Everybody drank champagne. Everybody dreamed big dreams about how the future would be perfect from now on.
In her case, they weren't just dreams. Betty watched her father pull Elena back onto the dance floor, while Justin hooked his arms around Austin's neck in a totally unashamed embrace. Nearby, Hilda was laughing, as beautiful a bride as she could ever have wished to be. She had never felt closer to her family – and never more ready to walk away.
I don't have to take care of them forever, she reminded herself. I can take care of myself for a while. I can follow my dream. Follow my heart.
And for a moment, London seemed close enough to touch. She could just see it: Trafalgar Square. The Millennium Bridge. The London Eye. Herself in the center of it all: glowing, confident, successful. Hailing a black cab. Easily navigating the Tube. Standing at the head of a conference table, leading an editorial meeting at her very own magazine. It was everything she'd ever wanted, and everything she hadn't known she needed. Deep within, Betty could feel a kind of warmth spreading through her – the sensation, she thought, that birds must feel just as they spread their wings.
Daniel murmured, "You seem far away."
Daydreaming, he meant, but the phrase struck close to home. The song they were dancing to stopped, and she shook her head to clear her thoughts, bring herself back to the hear and now. "Sorry. I just need to – I'll be back in a second, all right?"
"All right." He smiled at her gently as she stepped out of his arms, their hands remaining clasped a second longer, like he was sorry to let her go. That new short haircut of his made him look a little older – not in a bad way – and, she thought, strangely vulnerable. Surely that was why her heart ached a little as she moved away from him.
For the first time, Betty realized that leaving New York and MODE would mean leaving Daniel. It hurt even thinking about that; she hadn't realized how much it would hurt. But she'd think about that later. Now, she was going to call Lindsey Dunne.
Betty collected her clutch bag, fished out her phone and walked toward the lobby. As she scrolled back, searching for his number in her contacts, she heard Justin say, "Grandpa?"
Which didn't seem like anything until she heard Elena scream.
Whirling around, Betty saw her father slump to the floor.
Everything seemed to switch to slow motion, terror stretching out every moment, every thought, to an unendurable length. She wanted to run to him, but that split second before her feet moved seemed to last an eternity. The adrenalin of fear tensed her body and sharpened every image around her: balloons floating downward, Marc's red dinner jacket as he clutched his hand to his open mouth, the glass of champagne in Hilda's hand slipping from her fingers. Dad's head lolling to the side as he lay in front of her, unconscious.
"He's having another heart attack," Elena said, and the slow motion was over. Betty's world slammed into overdrive.
"Call 911!" she shouted, before realizing she was the one with the phone already in her hands. With shaking fingers, she punched in the numbers, staring down at her father on the floor. His face was ashen – almost blue –
"Yes! My father's having a heart attack – we're sure, it's happened before, there's a nurse right here and she says so – we need an ambulance!" Betty raked one hand through her hair before realizing it was still tied back in a bun; strands of it fell around her face. "Oh, God, please hurry."
"Papi?" Hilda was holding his hand as Elena unfastened his tie and bent closer to him – to see if he was still breathing, Betty realized.
Oh, my God. He could die. Dad might be dying.
Daniel's hand closed over her shoulder to steady her, and Betty clutched at his wrist with her free hand. "Please hurry," she repeated, as her eyes filled with tears.
"Okay, so, that was the worst wedding reception ever." Amanda plopped down next to Marc at one of the abandoned tables. His expression was as forlorn as his slightly askew, wilting pompadour. "And I'm counting the one where Bradford Meade and Wilhelmina didn't even get married. At least that heart attack I didn't have to actually watch."
"And after all that, we got to release Posh from her captivity," Marc pointed out.
"Oh, right. That actually rocked. This didn't." She put her chin in her hands. When bad things happened to the few people in the world she actually liked, Amanda got this nasty squidgy feeling inside, as though she were hollow. Cake might fill that hollow place up. She seized an abandoned piece and dipped her finger into a frosting rose as she said, very quietly, "You don't think Mr. Suarez is going to die, do you?"
"I don't know." Marc sighed heavily just as Spencer came toward their table, drinks in hand. "I hope not. Poor Hilda. Poor Justin. Poor Betty. Poor dear cuddly little Mexican people in general. I hate this."
"How are you kids holding up?" Spencer said, putting glasses of something stronger than champagne in front of them both. "That was like something straight out of my show. Except no secret long-lost siblings popping up."
"I ought to call Tyler," Amanda murmured.
Marc said, "I keep trying to think of something useful to do. It's like I want to … help."
"Lie down," Amanda said. "It'll pass."
"No, I actually want to help them. Oh, my God. Is this what decency feels like? It's all … warm and soft and yet unbelievably constricting. Like those skin-tight Michael Kors cashmere sweaters for fall." Marc took a swig of the alcohol and made a face. Spencer patted his shoulder, but not like he was hitting on him. More like he was being nice. So much for that fix-up, Amanda thought; in her experience, fix-ups and niceness rarely went together.
"Betty might lose her dad," she said. "And she has a good dad. The kind everybody wants. Good dads should get to stick around longer. They should be around forever and ever. Only the bad ones should go away."
Marc patted her knee. "We wish, sweetie."
Spencer said, "Amanda, I'm your father."
They stared at him. He stared back, taking a deep breath before he gave her a very uncertain smile.
"Wait." She put her fingers to her temples, as if they were the rewind buttons for her brain. "What did you just say?"
"I'm your father," Spencer repeated, before going into a long story about a party and mistaking Fey Summers for Andy Warhol, and hiring her for his stylist so he could get to know her, and even though it was totally crazy and made no sense whatsoever, Amanda believed him even before he tugged his pants down to show her the Tweety tattoo. As she clutched Marc's arm, Spencer finished, "I was trying to find the right time to tell you – and then that poor man collapsed, and I started thinking about how short life is, and you began talking about fathers, and, well … I couldn't keep it back any longer."
"It's a Hallmark Hall of Fame Movie moment." Marc kept looking back and forth between them as though he were watching a tennis match.
"You're my dad?" Amanda whispered. Her father was a gay man. It – it made so much sense.
Nodding, Spencer said, "And I'd like to be in your life if you'll let me be."
She flung her arms around him. "I have a dad! A fabulous dad!"
And, she thought, if I got my father back, maybe Betty will too.
Be careful what you ask for, Wilhelmina thought in a daze. Because you might just get it.
She'd meant to turn Tyler against Claire Meade – meant to weaken him, turn him back to the bottle. But if she'd ever realized it could lead to this moment, where he stood in front of Claire with a loaded gun in his hand …
Well, she'd made this mess. She'd get them out of it.
"Tyler, listen to me." Wilhelmina carefully stepped in front of Claire, putting herself between the old bag and the gun. "You don't have to do this."
Tears welled in Tyler's eyes – he wanted to back down, wanted it desperately, but his grip was only tightening around the gun –
His phone rang, and they all jumped; mercifully, he didn't squeeze the trigger. It was the first time she'd ever felt mortal terror to The Black Eyed Peas' "Boom Boom Pow." As Wilhelmina pressed one hand to her chest, trying to keep her heart inside her rib cage, Claire's voice sounded bizarrely low and calm: "Shouldn't you get that?"
Yes! Wilhelmina thought. Distract him! It was the first time she'd ever believed Claire was making sense.
Although Tyler kept hanging onto the gun, he used his free hand to fish his phone from his pocket. He mashed at it with his thumb while it was still several inches from his face. Raggedly, he said, "Hello?"
"Tyler!" That moron Amanda Tanen squealed into the phone so loudly that they could all hear her throughout the room. "You'll never believe what happened at the wedding. Something amazing! Also something awful. But I called to tell you the amazing thing. I found my birth father!"
Tyler didn't answer her; he didn't seem to be able to speak. But his gaze was shifting from the two women in front of his gun to the phone he held.
Amanda, oblivious to any lack of response, burbled on: "It's Spencer. You know, my client! It turns out he hired me so we could get to know each other…which is maybe not so encouraging for my business. But he loves me, Tyler. I really have a father who loves me. Was it like that when you found Claire again?"
Behind her, Wilhelmina heard Claire's throat catch, as if she were trying not to cry. Tyler squeezed his eyes tightly shut.
"I just can't get over it," Amanda's tinny voice proclaimed from the speaker. "And it's so sad – the awful thing? Betty's father had a heart attack. He might even die. I don't know what's happening. It just makes me so glad I have my dad now. You know?"
"Yeah," Tyler said "Yeah, I know."
And slowly, he set down the gun.
Wilhelmina grabbed it the second he let go, opening the chamber and removing the bullets. "Take this, would you?" She thrust the gun at Claire.
"Jesus Christ." Claire leaned heavily against the light table. "You nearly went too far this time, Wilhelmina."
"When it came down to it, I got between you and the gun," Wilhelmina snapped. "Believe me, I'd rather sacrifice my life for a new pair of Blahniks. But I did it anyway."
"I won't forget any part of what you've done today. Either how you hurt my son – or how you tried to warn me." But Claire wasn't really paying any attention to Wilhelmina Slater any longer; she walked to her son's side as he held the phone to the side of his face, his fingers gripping it so hard they were white – like Amanda Tanen could be a lifeline. Some people really were desperate.
When Claire put her hand on Tyler's arm, he looked at his mother and mouthed the words, Forgive me. Claire leaned her head against him and breathed out one long shaky sigh.
Wilhelmina stared down at the bullets in her hand. She asked herself, for the thousandth time, just how much she wanted a slice of Meade Publications.
For the first time ever, her answer was, Not that much.
She dropped the bullets into the nearest trash can.
The hospital gift shop sold slippers – powder pastel slip-ins, terry cloth granny shoes, but they'd do. Daniel bought a sky-blue pair in what he hoped was the right size and hurried back.
The ER waiting room looked like Bobby and Hilda's reception gone horribly awry: There was still a bride in her gown, still a groom in his tux, still Justin in his shiny suit with a little confetti in his hair. And there was Betty in her green bridesmaid's dress, looking so lost and forlorn—
Daniel felt it like a physical tug, the link between her sadness and his heart. He wanted to put his arms around her, tell her everything would be all right – he wanted to make everything be all right, to go back there and offer the doctors all his money if that was all it took to fix it – though, of course, it wasn't.
And this new feeling for Betty, this sense that her pain hurt him just as much as it did her … no. It wasn't new. It had been a part of him for a long time, growing roots deep inside years before it bloomed for him to see. And it was so precious, so necessary, that it scared the hell out of him. He would've denied it if he could, Daniel thought; he wasn't proud of that, but he knew that was the truth.
With Betty so lost and frightened, though, he was past any denial. Daniel would figure out exactly what it meant – what he wanted to do about it – he'd worry about it later. Right now, he knew the only thing he could do was stay by her side.
Daniel held out the slippers in their plastic package. "Here. Your feet – you said they hurt – "
"Oh, Daniel. Thank you." Betty began tugging at the straps of her high heels, clearly eager to shed them.
"Can I get you – any of you – I could run down the cafeteria, get coffee, something like that," Daniel said. If he could do something for the Suarez family - if only he could give Betty some kind of comfort, some kind of strength – then he wouldn't feel so damned useless.
Strange, to think of Betty needing strength: Usually she was the one who gave it to him.
"Nobody's hungry," Elena said. "We're all still stuffed with wedding cake and punch."
Hilda brushed her hair back from her face. "I oughta call the resort. Tell them we're rescheduling our honeymoon." She took Bobby's hand. "Baby, I'm sorry. I know you didn't imagine your wedding night like this."
"And you did?" Bobby put his arm around her shoulders. "We're in this together, Hilda. Like the man said, 'for better or for worse.' That's what marriage is, you know? We just hit one of the 'worse' parts real early."
Though the thought of wedding vows reminded him of Molly, and other hospital rooms –
He put his arm around Betty, just like Bobby had with Hilda. When Betty's head leaned against his shoulder, he closed his eyes and wished he were enough of a believer to pray.
Once again, he felt that tidal pull toward her – the depth of emotion that surprised him – and tried not to think about it too much. This wasn't the time. But Daniel knew he'd never been as aware of Betty: her pain, her strength, even the soft scent of her skin.
Austin said, "He had a heart attack before, right? But he came through that."
"How many can you live through?" Hilda wiped at her cheeks.
"Don't talk like that," Betty said. "Dad's strong. We're not going to give up on him. He wouldn't give up on us."
The others all straightened, even brightened a little; as usual, Betty's strength supported everyone around her.
Only Daniel could feel that she was shaking.
He tightened his arm around her and tried to be the strong one for a change.
Marc strutted into the Meade building, hoping for some shadow of his usual panache despite the wilted hair and the flop sweat. Witnessing a near-fatal heart attack could completely devastate a look.
As he entered the MODE offices, he called, "Willie! I'm here! What's so urgent that it can't – oh, my Gaga."
The scene in front of him was one he'd never expected to see: Wilhelmina Slater and Claire Meade, linked arm in arm – supporting a very disheveled, very drunk, Tyler. Marc could believe the drunk-Tyler part, just not the part where Willie and Claire were actually touching each other and not bursting into flame.
"We're going to the Horizons Clinic," Claire said, naming the most exclusive rehab center in all of Manhattan. They wouldn't even take Lindsay Lohan, even though she was sure to be a repeat customer. "You're going to drive."
"Me, drive?" Marc tried to put this together.
Willie snapped, "Tyler's had too much to drink. Claire and I haven't had nearly enough, after the night we've been through. You'll take Claire's car."
Though he was glad to do it, if for no other reason to get a glimpse of the fabled Horizons – who knew who else might be in the lobby? – Marc had to ask: "Why not just hail a taxi?"
Tiredly, Claire explained, "I have this dream where just once in my life all my family's dirty laundry isn't aired in the tabloids. Tonight, my dream is coming true. In other words, nobody's taking any cell phone footage of us out on the sidewalk, and if one word of this appears in the POST, I'll fire both of you retroactive to 2006 and demand you repay your salaries since then, I swear to God."
"Relax, will you?" Wilhelmina brushed Tyler's dark hair back from his forehead – not quite tenderly, Marc thought, but as if she were … actually worried. "Marc can keep his mouth shut. Trust me, I know."
"Hit me with the keys," Marc said. "Let's get this show on the road."
He held his hands out, and Claire tossed the keys neatly into his palm. As Willie towed Tyler to his feet, Tyler looked straight at Marc for the first time that evening. His eyes were bloodshot, and he trembled all over. He should have looked pathetic, but somehow, he didn't. Instead, he looked serious and even hopeful as he said, "You'll tell Amanda where I went, right?"
Marc nodded. "Of course."
"Tell her – tell her – when I get out – I'm gonna be clean again, and the first thing I'm gonna do is call her. She doesn't – it's not like she has to wait for me, not if she doesn't want to – " Tyler wavered on his feet, but Willie and Claire caught him. "Just tell Amanda, no matter what – I'm gonna wait for her."
He loves her, Marc realized. This guy loves my Mandy. Somebody really, truly loves her.
He knew he ought to feel happy for her. He did, mostly. But a small jealous part of his soul whispered, Why can't somebody love me?
Tyler rasped, "Will you tell her?"
"Absolutely," Marc said. "And for the record – I bet she'll wait."
His reward was Tyler's unshaven face breaking into an uneven but sincere smile.
After the doctor left, Betty kept clasping Daniel's hand as she turned to Elena. "Okay, explain what he just said in human English."
"Ignacio's condition is stabilizing," Elena said. Her stare was distant, her eyes troubled. "They think he'll live."
"Oh, thank Jesus." Hilda sagged against Bobby. "That's good news, right? I kept thinking the doctor was telling us good stuff, but nobody was smiling."
"Grandpa's alive," Justin insisted. Already he was texting Austin the news; his boyfriend had gone home almost an hour ago. "That's got to be good."
Elena didn't smile. Betty asked, "What aren't you saying? Is there something they didn't tell us?"
"This one was bad." Elena took a deep, shuddering breath. "His heart's been seriously damaged. His recovery … it's going to take longer than last time. And he might not ever be the same."
Silence descended over their group. Daniel's hand tightened around hers, and Betty was grateful for his quiet, steady presence; she never even turned her head to look at him, but it was enough just to know he was there.
In a small voice, Justin said, "But he's going to live. Right?"
"He'll live through the night," Elena said. "He'll probably leave this hospital. But – it's too early to tell, I shouldn't be talking like this – "
Betty insisted, "Just say it."
Elena's head drooped in surrender. "There's no saying how long he'll have."
"That's crazy talk." Hilda rose to her feet, re-energized by anger. "Papi's going to be fine. You'll see. He's going to show all of you."
"Don't yell at Elena," Betty said. "We asked." Slowly she rose to her feet; though she had expected Daniel to let go of her hand, he rose with her instead, and she found she didn't want to release him. "I'm going in to see Dad."
"I need a minute," Hilda said. Bobby and Justin closed ranks around her; Elena remained too, obviously wanting to put things right before any more time passed.
But Betty knew she didn't want to make this walk alone. She looked up at Daniel and said, "Come with me?"
They made their way down the long corridor, hand in hand. Betty realized she'd left her heels in the waiting room; she was padding across the linoleum in the puffy slippers Daniel had bought for her, as though she were another patient. That felt about right. There ought to be a wing for broken hearts. They could check her in, lie her down, give her something to take all this hurt away. If only.
Dad's dying. Maybe dying. He might have years left – or he might have days. I thought he didn't need me to look after him anymore, but now he does.
I can't go to London.
No sooner had the thought appeared than she pushed it aside. What did that matter, now? Dad was deathly ill. He needed her. That was the only thing that mattered, the only thing she was going to think about.
When they reached the doorway of the room where her father laid, Daniel murmured, "Do you want me to wait out here?"
He meant to give her some privacy, she realized – but she also realized she didn't need it. Not from Daniel. If Hilda and Justin had been with her, that would be one thing; they would want a moment just for their family. But they weren't here yet, and Betty didn't want to face this alone if she didn't have to. She looked up at Daniel, and her voice wavered as she asked, "Stay with me?" Daniel brushed his thumb along the back of her hand, the only reply she needed; then he followed her in.
Her father looked more dead than alive. She'd seen him after his other heart attack, pale and drawn – but this was something else entirely. His skin was ashen, and it was as if he'd aged ten years in the space of a few hours. Papi was an old man, now; he would never be anything else.
A thousand memories crowded into her mind: Her father clambering onto the rooftop to hang Halloween decorations – ghosts made of old sheets. Him dancing the salsa as he stirred the batter for another batch of cupcakes. Playing beanbag toss with toddler Justin on the back stoop. Running upstairs ten times a morning to try and get his daughters out of bed in time for breakfast.
Dad would survive this night, but those kinds of moments had ended, forever.
Daniel's hand tightened around hers, and she remembered another hospital room three years earlier. He'd been the one watching his father near death; she'd been the one offering comfort. It was weird to realize that Daniel could come through for her the same way she always came through for him … weirder still to realize that she'd wanted to be sure of exactly that. But that was only one thought among the myriad worries that surrounded her.
"Dad?" she ventured. Her father didn't stir. The machines around him blinked and beeped, more like something out of a scifi show than real life. Betty wanted to hate them, sterile and terrifying as they were, but she knew they were saving her dad's life.
"He'll come around before too long," Daniel said, obviously relying more on hope than fact. "You'll feel better after you can talk to him."
"Yeah. I will." Hope, not fact. She tried to hold onto that.
"And whatever you need over the next few days, weeks, whatever – you know we'll work it out at MODE."
"I do. Thanks."
The next few days, weeks, months … she'd still be at MODE.
She wouldn't be in London. All those happy dreams she'd indulged in at Hilda's wedding: That was all they would ever be. Dreams.
The impact was painful – not as painful as what was happening to Dad, but bad enough, separate, scorching and scoring the only parts of her life this night hadn't yet damaged. London was such a new dream for her, only a few days old, and already losing it felt like having something ripped out of her gut. She hadn't realized how badly she needed to escape her old life until it had folded around her, inescapable. She hadn't known how badly she needed something new until her familiar burdens sank down on her again.
I shouldn't be so selfish, Betty thought. How can I even think about my career at a time like this? But she could. There was room in her heart for all the pain, every single bit of it.
She held back the first sob as long as she could, until her throat ached and her head pounded, but when it broke free, all the rest tumbled out, shaking her so hard she could barely breathe. Daniel's arms went around her at the moment she thought she might fall, and she buried her face against his chest.
"I'm so horrible," she gasped. "It's like – like I don't want to love him, because it hurts so bad, but I love him so much."
"It's not horrible. You're always here for him. For everyone."
"Selfish – I want him here for me – "
"Shhh." Daniel's embrace was so warm – like a blanket she could wrap around herself, a shield against harsh reality. Betty was dimly aware of his lips brushing against her forehead and her hair, but she thought nothing of it beyond a vague though deep gratitude that he was with her.
Within a few minutes, she'd sobbed herself to exhaustion – wrung out the last of her tears. As Betty slowed her breaths, trying to regain some sense of herself, Daniel finally spoke again: "You're the most unselfish person I've ever known."
"I doubt it."
"I know it," he insisted. "This is happening to you, too. He's your father. It's okay to feel loss when you've lost something. To feel pain when you've been hurt. Betty, don't you see – if you weren't so unselfish, you wouldn't feel guilty about being upset. There's no right or wrong way for you to feel about this, okay? Just … don't beat up on yourself about it." Daniel's lips curled into a half-smile. "I don't let people beat up on my friends."
"Okay. I hear you." Betty knew Daniel was saying all that without knowing everything she'd just lost – but she also knew he was right.
It was time to stop thinking about London for a while, though. Nothing mattered more, in this moment, than her love for her father. But she felt she understood love in a way she hadn't before.
She laid one hand on her father's shoulder, grateful that he was there to touch.
Wilhelmina's clock struck midnight just as she and Marc walked in. It felt later. "I swear to God, today lasted at least five years," she said as she stepped out of her Louboutins.
Marc swept the shoes up into their special lined cabinet in the hallway, movements smooth from long practice. "My blind date today was awful, and it was the least awful awful thing that happened. Being worse than my love life? That takes some doing."
Did I give you permission to talk about your life? The words came to Wilhelmina's mouth – the sort of thing she always said to Marc – but this time, she didn't speak them. Instead, she said, "Why don't we see if Tyler left any of the booze in the house untouched?"
One bottle of champagne remained corked. Marc opened it smoothly and poured for them both. Neither of them spoke until they stood at the window that looked into her condominium building's courtyard. That was usually Wilhelmina's least favorite view – sometimes you saw pets there, or even children, making noise – but now she found herself noticing her neighbors' curtains, or the flowerpots on the sills, even a child's drawing posted a couple floors below.
Too bad so many of the curtains were tacky.
She'd wanted Tyler to turn on Claire … not to kill her. Wilhelmina Slater knew herself to be a ruthless woman, but she drew the line at out-and-out homicide. Even Claire Meade didn't deserve a bullet in the head. And Tyler had been no more than a pawn to Wilehlmina until she'd seen him crumple in tears from the shame of what he'd nearly done, or drunkenly pleading for a message to be sent to the little airheaded girl he adored.
When did she start caring about other people? And when did the Meade family start counting as "people" to her?
"You set Tyler up," Marc said. "Didn't you?"
"Pretended to be in AA, offered to be his sponsor, tricked Daniel into giving him alcohol – the whole nine yards." Wilhelmina sighed. "And for what?"
"A share of Meade, I assume. Or revenge. Or revenge plus Meade? They go together a lot."
Wilhelmina shrugged. "It all seems rather meaningless, now."
Marc hesitated, clearly unsure what to make of her new mood. Normally she liked his cowering; it was a sign that her authority remained unquestioned. Now she found herself wishing the one person she was closest to felt free to speak his mind with her.
And how did Marc St. James turn out to be the one person she was closest to?
Finally, he said, "It might be better to – to let it all go." Then he shrank back, as if anticipating a bitch-slap, which such a comment would certainly have earned him a few weeks ago.
Now, Wilhelmina just sighed. "I think you're right."
Wordlessly, Marc lifted his champagne glass to hers. They clinked together in a toast … though she still didn't know to what.
She supposed she'd have to find out.
Even from his place in the farthest corner of the room, Daniel could tell that Ignacio Suarez was trying to smile.
"Don't talk, okay?" Betty clasped his hand as Hilda stroked her father's hair. Bobby had his arms around Justin at the foot of Ignacio's hospital bed. Elena was busily studying the readouts on the machines clustered around him. "We're here. You're going to be okay. And we all love you so much."
Despite the tears in the room, everybody else was smiling too, or doing their best. The power of love, Daniel figured. He edged out, giving the Suarez family their time alone at last.
Leaving didn't change the powerful connection Daniel felt to Betty; to him, they still seemed to be tethered together. He'd felt Betty's pain as his own, earlier; now, her relief and happiness shone through him just as strongly.
Mr. Suarez wasn't out of the woods yet. If Elena's assessment of the situation was right, he might never really be totally healthy again. His regaining consciousness was only the beginning of a long journey for his whole family … of which Daniel now somehow seemed to be a part. At any rate, he was willing to walk that road with Betty as long as she needed him.
Daniel trudged to the waiting room, where Betty's heels still sat beneath one of the chairs. He picked them up and put them in his lap; he'd get them to her later.
And he should … see about having groceries delivered. Did Fresh Direct go to Queens? If not, he could arrange a special delivery, make sure there was plenty to eat in the house and fewer errands for the family to run.
Naturally he'd see to Betty's time off at MODE. That was given.
What else could he do for her? Daniel couldn't think of anything, and it frustrated him; if only this were a problem he could solve with money. He wanted so badly to fix it, to fix everything, so Betty could be happy again.
Maybe it's enough just to love her, he thought.
And there it was – the L word, the one he'd been trying so hard to deny earlier that he hadn't even fully realized what he was denying. Daniel had been attempting to hide from it, but it had found him, this one startling, inescapable truth: He was in love with Betty Suarez.
He put one hand out against the wall, attempting to steady himself. This rocked him as badly as the day's crises had, and it was almost as frightening. In love with Betty? The same Betty who'd seen him acting like a total fuck-up for most of the past four years? The one he had once forced to pose in pleather hot pants for a photo shoot lighting setup? She might have forgiven him for all that … but could she ever love him in return?
Impossible as it seemed, Daniel knew he'd have to find out.
She doesn't know you love her yet. And this is definitely not the time to tell her. Mr. Suarez's near-fatal heart attack is NOT a dating opportunity.
Then Daniel argued back at himself, She doesn't know you love her as a woman. But she knows you love her, just as her, and right now ... that's all she needs. Right now, the most loving thing you can do is wait.
He felt better, realizing that. But was he forgetting something?
Oh, right. The hospital bills. At least there his money could do some good.
… due to my father's health crisis, I deeply regret to say that I can't accept the job at Dunne Publications at this time. I appreciate the extraordinary opportunity you've given me; I don't think anything else could have kept me from coming to London and joyfully accepting the job.
But if I only have a few months left with my father, I can't spend those months in London. I need to spend them here.
Please keep my resume on file. I hope we'll cross paths again someday. In the meantime, thank you again for the offer.
Betty stared at the note to Lindsay Dunne for a few long seconds, then hit SEND.
Her throat tightened again, but she was all cried out for the day. Soon, she could finally rest; soon, this awful day would be over. Her body ached from head to toe … no, from head to ankle. Her feet, swaddled in the slippers Daniel had bought her at the hospital, were warm and comfortable. She'd have to thank him later. It helped, having just one tiny thing feel right.
As badly as she wanted to go to bed, she wanted to get the words out first. Betty resolutely turned back to the other window open on her laptop screen: the post she was still composing for her blog. With tired, aching fingers, she tapped out the final paragraphs:
Not every dream comes true right away. Some of them have to wait a while. And if anything is worth that wait, it's love.
Bad movies and pop songs try to tell us that love sets you free, makes you powerful. I don't think that's always true. Love makes us vulnerable. Love weighs us down.
But that's because love is an anchor. It's heavy, and it holds us sometimes when we wish we could sail away. But it also keeps us steady in the storm.
Next time, in Ugly Betty Season Five:
Betty Strikes Back!