"I think you're using a weak transition to lead into an incredible insight," Betty said, tucking one lock of hair behind her ear and hoping that little bite mark didn't show beneath the shoulder strap of her burnt orange dress. "What you're talking about, with the connections to themes in 'Hamlet' – that's too good to bury. I think you should bring that out a lot earlier, and a lot stronger."
The writer – a bony woman with an asymmetrical haircut and chunky glasses frames that screamed "Williamsburg, courtesy of a down payment from the trust fund" – nodded and smiled slowly. "You're right. I thought of that angle late – but it deserves more attention than I've given it."
"Nice points, Betty," Jackson said, and though his voice was light, the glance he gave her was meaningful.
Somehow, against all odds, she'd gotten more or less up to speed in only a day. That was because she'd thrown herself into research all day long, feverishly reading sources both online and paper. Because she'd hauled books home to work at Daniel's, curling up at his trendy aluminum-and-recycled-timbers table to write and read for hours before she'd finally crashed in his bed.
Then Daniel had come home, and work had been the last thing on her mind the rest of the night – or for one glorious hour early this morning – but she'd still had time to double down on her efforts in the final minutes before the story meeting. Betty felt like she needed to sleep for a thousand years, but she also felt like she was a real, contributing member of the NYRB staff. That was worth having to chug an extra cappuccino.
Jackson flipped through his notes before adding, "And actually, Betty, you're up next."
She adjusted her glasses and took a deep breath. "The drag article has evolved from one that featured Pachuca gangs in passing to one focused on the gangs, and only later connecting them to society's fascination with drag. I'm looking at why this side of Latina culture, and homosexual culture, is so much forgotten – and why the former members themselves often act as if they prefer to forget their time on the other side of the law."
Everyone still seemed focused on her. That had to be good, right? Betty hoped she didn't have part of her apple Danish still stuck in her teeth or something.
Plowing on, Betty said, "This is more than mere historical revisionism, or even the happy amnesia all of us sometimes use to veil our own pasts." As someone who had just lived through a more literal amnesia, she understood too well how seductive it could be to lay aside later complications and focus on more innocent times. "I think that the significant thing to bring out is that these women always had to lead divided lives. They were loyal to their heritage as Mexican women – but that came with certain traditional baggage about what women should and shouldn't be. They were loyal to one another as lesbians – but that asked them to stand apart from their other identities. They always had one foot in another world; they never got to be just one person, in just one place. It's complicated. I think working on the theme of divided loyalties not only plays up the problems these women faced, but leads well into talking about today's drag culture – where mainstream fashionability is at war with drag's radical and transgressive origins."
People around the table nodded and murmured. Nobody dove in to edit her – not because of lack of interest, Betty thought, but because they agreed. Maybe … maybe they were even a little bit impressed.
"Nice work," Jackson said, and he clearly meant it. This time, when Betty's cheeks flushed, the reason was pride.
Once the meeting was over, Betty hurried back to her office; she might have made a lot of headway in twenty-four hours, but she still had a lot of editing to do before the end of the day – and today, it was especially important to leave on time. As she sat down at her desk, though, her phone rang; she looked down at the screen to see her latest "Contact" photo of Hilda, one taken while she had on no makeup and one palm extended toward the lens, as if to block the picture. "Hilda! What's up?"
"Just checking in on your big story meeting. It went okay?"
"Went great, actually." Betty couldn't resist a grin. The same divided loyalties that had tormented the Pachuca gangs weren't holding her back; she could be loyal to everyone in her life, in their own place and time. "Are you guys headed to Papi's appointment at the cardiologist?"
"Any second now, if someone will decide what tie he wants to wear already!"
In the distance, Betty heard her father protest, "It's not the right shade of red! I've been reading MODE for the past four years, you know. I have standards now!"
Stifling her laughter, Betty said, "You'll call me right after, okay? Let me know how it goes?"
"Actually, I was thinking – if they see us on time, and God only knows with the doctor's office, am I right? But if they do, we would get out in time to come to Daniel's hearing. You said it was open to friends and family. Well, we're both. If you think he'd want us there – "
"Oh, Hilda, I know he would!" Betty's heart seemed to swell within her chest. "This is going to be hard for him, no matter how well he's been handling it. This hearing – it's the moment he gets divided from the person he always thought he was, you know? Having people who love him close by has to help."
"Okay, text me the address, and we'll try to be there." Hilda paused. "Tried to call you about this last night at your house. Were you out?"
"I was at Daniel's." That should have been obvious, Betty thought.
"Of course. He needed a friend there – oh, okay, now you're happy with that tie? We can actually go see the doctor who helps keep you alive?"
With great dignity, Papi answered, "Once you find a better handbag."
"Oh, my God! This one. The fashionista! We gotta go, Betty. See you this afternoon at the hearing, okay?"
"Okay!" How great that Daniel would have a whole cheering section there for him.
Something about that conversation seemed a little off to Betty, but she couldn't quite put her finger on what. It couldn't have been very important, though. All that mattered was reclaiming her job, her boyfriend and her family – bringing them together instead of letting them pull her apart.
The lawyers sat in front of Daniel like a sort of wool-blend Stonehenge – gray, staring monoliths that seemed to have him surrounded.
"You'll retain your positions at MODE and Meade Publications overall," said the grayest among them. "Those are matters of employment rather than inheritance."
"Good to know," Daniel said. Although the salaries he drew were only a small fragment of what he was used to living on, it was good to know he could rely on them. "The rest?"
"You'll retain a part ownership in the Park Avenue mansion, though of course your part will be diminished from a third to a fourth. The same goes for your ownership share in Meade. More problematic are the funds you've inherited from relatives other than your father; those wills often speak about Bradford Meade's younger son, which no longer appears to be you."
Daniel winced. Great-Aunt Thelma had been probably his most generous benefactor. "Do I have to turn that money over to him?"
"We can probably negotiate a fifty-fifty split."
Half of his personal net worth was still a lot of money – and yet only half of what it had been before. He tried to make a joke of it: "Good thing I paid for my apartment in cash, huh?"
"It's unlikely that the other Daniel could assert any property rights."
The other Daniel. Those words remained difficult to hear. Then again, he couldn't expect the guy to go by Chaniel forever.
"Have we heard from his lawyers yet?" Daniel asked. "About what he wants?"
"Nothing specific. We'll have to wait for the hearing."
With a sigh, Daniel nodded and made his way through the rest of the meeting.
Today was a somber one at MODE. Although his mother had been well enough to come in to work, she remained holed up in at HOT FLASH, trying to lose herself in the time-consuming, brain-numbing work of reviewing magazine proofs. Alexis had been setting up her new office with unsettling zeal. Wilhelmina had taken to casting narrow-eyed glances in his direction, the kind of looks he remembered from a few years ago; they usually meant he was about to be blackmailed or fired. But he figured right now, Wilhelmina Slater was the least of his problems.
At least, at lunch, he had the time to cheer himself up in the best way possible.
"Why do kosher delis always make the best chicken soup?" Betty asked as they settled in at a corner table in the crowded deli. The roar of the lunch crowd ironically made the place feel more private; Daniel could say anything and not be overheard. "They do, though. Is there something about, like, being sacred that makes the soup better?"
"I don't think this place is sacred. But yeah, the soup's great."
She gave him a look. "You haven't touched yours."
Busted. "I guess I still don't feel like eating."
Betty reached across the table to take his hand. "Is it sinking in?"
"Trust me, it already sank. Like the Titanic." Daniel sighed. "I meant what I said. I'm going to be okay. This hearing, though – it's going to hurt."
"I'll be there. So will lots of other people who love you. We're going to be by your side the whole way."
"Don't leave work early for me." She'd told him about the weirdness at NYRB. How could anybody fail to see how spectacular Betty was from day one? Well, okay, he had, but he was still acting like a doofus back then. Other people should have higher standards.
"I won't. But I'll get there no matter what," Betty promised.
He rubbed his thumb against her palm, little circles. "You know what gets to me the most right this second? He wants to be called Daniel. And I definitely don't want to be called Chad."
"That's going to be weird," she agreed. Then a small smile played on her lips. "I guess we could rename you."
"Oh, yeah?" It hurt less, making a game of it. "What name would you pick?"
"I don't know. Something sexy." Her fingers caught one of his, the smallest and most playful caress imaginable, but it was enough to send warmth coursing through him.
"Sexy." Daniel pretended to think about it with great concentration. "Like, say – Mumford."
"Mumford?" Betty's laughter rang out over the lunch-rush din. "No! Something super hot. Really hot. Like Jerome."
"Jerome. Jerome Mumford Meade-Pulaski. Yeah, let's go with that." He couldn't help grinning. It was tough to keep his spirits up today, but Betty always found a way.
If the ex will not come to an afternoon coffee, the afternoon coffee will just have to come to the ex.
Thanks to his vigilant security efforts (i.e., bribing L'Amanda with the promise of his next swag pick from the MODE Closet), Marc was alerted when Cliff left the building in midafternoon. If old habits held true, he was headed to that afternoon coffee, and Marc knew just the spot he preferred.
This isn't stalking, he thought as he hurried through the lobby, adjusting the lapels of his magenta jacket for maximum suavity. It's – romantic-comedy stalking! So much different. Not nearly as disturbing or likely to lead to prosecution.
Sure enough, as he rounded the corner, he saw Cliff heading into his old favorite, Cup-A-Cino. Marc rarely went there – it was all so homey and plain and low-key, none of which were his adjectives. But it was just Cliff's kind of place, and if that was where Marc was to drink his afternoon coffee every day for the rest of his life, then he'd do it happily.
He hurried in – dear God, it was blazing hot, and smelling like sweat would not help his suit here – and realized that Cup-A-Cino was almost empty. It was after the lunch rush, before the oh-lord-how-do-I-get-through-the-rest-of-the-afternoon-without-caffeine rush. Cliff already sat at a table by himself, a steaming mug in front of him. He raised his head only as Marc walked right up to him.
"Hot coffee even in summer," Marc said, taking a seat. "You never go for the iced coffee."
Cliff said, as Marc had known he would, "Iced coffee isn't coffee." Marc mouthed the words as they were spoken, which made Cliff grin. But the smile faded quickly. "Listen, Marc – "
"I know. I know. I heard you, okay? But I don't think you heard me."
Running one hand through his hair – getting shaggy again, oh sweetly familiar sight – Cliff said, "Marc, please."
"You want me to drop it," Marc said. "And I don't blame you. Cliff, the way I treated you – it was selfish, and stupid, and hurtful. I've regretted it every single day of my life since. Because you were the guy. The one. The Mr. Big to my Carrie Bradshaw. I was never as happy with anybody else as I was with you. And I thought – tell me if I'm wrong, but before I went and messed everything up, I thought you were happy with me too."
For a long moment, they only stared at one another. Everything in the coffee house seemed amplified to Marc: The jangly neo-sixties music on the speakers, the smell of roasting java, the way the afternoon sunlight slanted across the far side of the room. Then Cliff nodded … the smallest gesture, but one that sent hope blazing through Marc's heart.
He continued, "I've always known I wanted another chance. But I don't think I dared to hope that you might want one too until this." A flick of Marc's fingers took in the sequined sling, and what it stood for – that terrible night when Victoria Hartley had shot him, and they'd all come far too close to dying. "You shielded me, Cliff. You risked your life for me. And maybe it's empty saying this, just words, but I swear to God, if you'd been the one hurt, I would have done that for you. Because I still love you. I know you don't love me again yet, but if you'd give me another chance, I think we could make it work. I really do. Please think about it."
That was the longest non-ironic speech he'd ever given, Marc thought. He'd have to hand in his Manhattanite card. But weren't they in a post-ironic society? Wasn't it time to be sincere?
Looking at Cliff, he definitely thought so.
It seemed like ages before Cliff spoke. Maybe thirty whole seconds. But finally he met Cliff's eyes again and said words almost too glorious to believe: "Of course I still love you."
"Oh, my God." It actually made Marc's head swim. Was this what it meant to swoon?
But Cliff was shaking his head. "Marc, what we had is over. I hate it as much as you do. But I've faced facts. We're done. I'm trying to move on, and you should too."
"Wait, wait." He held his hands up in a T; Cliff had told him once they did that in sports to call a time-out. "I love you. You love me. How are you getting from there to 'we're done'? We're not done! That was just Act One. It ended badly, but that doesn't mean you don't come back after intermission!"
"Yeah, it does. Marc, you didn't just hurt me. I loved you more than I've ever loved any other guy, and you crushed my heart. I mean, crushed. It was two years ago and it still hurts almost every freaking day."
Marc thought of that night – that stupid, hurried tryst mid-party, some guy he'd never seen again or wanted to, the few seconds of pleasure it had bought him. He'd known even then how high the price would be, and yet he'd done it. "I'm so sorry," he whispered. "You can't know how sorry."
"I do know. But I also know you did it anyway, because we were getting closer to really being something and you couldn't handle that." Cliff's hands kept gripping the coffee cup, turning it around and around, the one outlet for his agitation. "Marc, you're a romantic. You expect … somebody to see you, and you see them, and it's all 'Some Enchanted Evening' and nobody ever has any problems ever again. Real relationships aren't like that. They're tough. They take work, and patience. Commitment even when it's hard. And I don't think you can do it. So I can't trust my heart to you again. If you broke it one more time, I'd never get it put together."
This couldn't be happening. Marc tried once more, "I'm here, aren't I? This isn't easy. This is tough. And I'm willing to fight for us if you are."
Silence fell, except for the hiss of the espresso machine. Marc felt like he could throw up, or cry. Either would be intensely humiliating. He thought he might try both at once, in a sort of ritual suicide of his dignity.
Finally Cliff said, "Listen. This is awkward, but – "
"How does this get more awkward?"
"I came here to meet a blind date."
"… and there it goes."
"I need to finally start over." Cliff couldn't meet his eyes any more. "Please let me try."
What else was there to do? Marc had always heard there was something called "giving in gracefully." It didn't feel graceful. It felt like landing hard on the ground, like one of those pennies dropped from the Empire State Building that could kill a man.
But if there was nothing else he could do for Cliff, then he had to do this.
"Okay," Marc said, rising from the table. "Okay."
Neither of them said goodbye. At least in Marc's case, that was because he didn't trust himself to say anything else without choking up. He walked out of the coffee house as fast as he could, head down, staring only at the gleaming toes of his shoes as he went away as quickly as he could.
It's over, he thought. It's all over.
Then slammed into someone, full-body, WHAM.
"Oh, my God! I'm so sorry!" the guy said, catching Marc's good arm to keep him from toppling off balance. "Are you okay?"
Their eyes met.
He was beautiful: African-American, almost as tall as Marc was himself, angular cheekbones, full lips, close-shorn hair, and impeccable silk T and designer jeans. A model, maybe? What caught Marc's attention the most, though, was the look in his eyes – dreamy, almost awestruck. In this guy's heart, right that moment, a full orchestra was playing "Some Enchanted Evening."
And Marc might have been right on the same page, if his heart hadn't just been smashed to smithereens by his one true love.
"I'm fine," Marc said. "No injuries. Beyond the pre-existing," he added, with a small shrug of his sequined sling.
"Didn't hurt your arm worse, did I?" The man had started to smile.
"Nah." It twinged, actually, but Marc felt he'd become more macho about this kind of thing since being shot. He'd make Mandy pet him and give him Excedrin and Perrier later. "Sorry. Wasn't looking where I was going."
"You could've walked right past your stop. I'm Roderick," the man said. Which was all very sweet and promising until he said, "Please tell me you're Cliff."
This was Cliff's blind date. This perfect, gorgeous, considerate man was about to walk into Cup-A-Cino and walk away with Cliff for all time.
Marc managed to point at the coffee house before he hurried off, wishing his shoes weren't too tight for him to run, because he wanted to run as far away from this as possible.
Thanks to some super-concentrated effort throughout the afternoon, Betty was able to walk out of NYRB's offices bang on time, all caught up, and with only a few files emailed to her home account for review in the morning. She'd actually make it to Daniel's hearing in time, and be able to spend the whole evening helping him cope later on.
Quickly she dashed into the nearest ATM lobby to grab some twenties; afterward, Daniel might want to go to that little wine bar that only took cash, and he never remembered to carry actual money. As she punched in her PIN, she overheard a familiar voice from the corner of the lobby saying, "I can't believe you're going through with this."
That was Connor Owens, wasn't it? Betty glanced over, not particularly surprised to see him – but astonished to see that he was talking to Chaniel.
Chaniel frowned at his own ATM. "Overdrawn. I suppose that's the last time I'll see that word – because, yes, I'm going through with this."
"I told you it was a bad idea," Connor insisted. "You should have dropped the scam the moment I said so."
It's a scam! It's all a scam! And Connor's behind it! Betty wanted to whirl around and start shouting at them both, but instead she pressed herself closer to her own ATM, hoping to avoid sight. Unfortunately, she also hit the key that said she wanted her instructions in Portuguese.
As she tried to figure out what the Portuguese for "fast cash" might be, Betty kept listening so intently she could almost feel her ears standing out from her head. Chaniel said, "I still don't know who my birth parents are. So I think I'll take these."
"They're Daniel's family. It's Daniel's life. You can't just take it from him!"
"Thanks to you, I can."
Betty punched almost randomly at the screen – oh, hey, that was right! – and thought fast. She could text Daniel right away – well, once she got out of this building with all this weird interference. If she could reach the hearing before it began, maybe take a taxi instead of the subway, she could tell the authorities too. Daniel could put Chaniel in his place, reclaim his family and it would all be over.
Connor said, "They'll find you out."
"Not if you keep quiet. And you will, won't you? Or Wilhelmina will drop you faster than last season's handbag." Chaniel stalked out. Connor simply stood there, and Betty remained in place, determined not to give the game away. If he saw her, he could warn Chaniel.
Though – he'd been arguing against the scam, hadn't he?
Finally Connor walked out, and Betty breathed a sigh of relief. She slung her bag over her shoulder and hurried out the door –
-or tried to.
As Betty went through the door, it suddenly lost all its swing, clamping itself shut … or almost shut, since her ankle and her wrist were jammed between the door and the wall. She tried to tug her way through. "Ouch!"
"What happened?" said someone, who clearly wanted to get in to use the ATM.
"I think – I think the door's lock was activated." Betty pulled again; it hurt her foot more this time. She could have pulled her hand through if she'd been willing to let go of her handbag, but with her foot still stuck, that didn't help. "Is there anybody in the bank?"
"They look closed, lady." A nearby hot dog vendor had taken an interest too. "Somebody oughta call the cops."
"I have a cell phone – " Betty stared at her oversized handbag, containing said cell phone, and realized there was no way she could reach it with the door stuck like this, half in, half out. "Oh, my God. Someone, help!"
"The ATM door's eatin' somebody!" the vendor yelled, and a crowd began to form. They were all interested in gawping, but nobody seemed to have a way to get her out of here … and give her a chance to warn Daniel.
"Lawyers are way hotter on television," Amanda complained as she sashayed through the hallway of the law firm on Marc's good arm. "I mean, who fitted these people's suits? They all look like potatoes in neckties. Especially the women."
"Welcome to the dreariness of real life." Marc couldn't pretend to be anything but depressed. Even the sparkle of his sequins appeared to be mocking him. "It's all ugly people and hard truths and unfortunate fashion trends, and then you die."
"Cheer up, little tomato. The way I see it, you got good news today."
"How do you see it? Through a screen that shows you Bizarro Earth, home of Bizarro Superman?"
Her eyes narrowed. "That was surprisingly geeky of you, Marc."
His teenage nerd-dom was better left forgotten. "How is today good news?"
"Cliff's not over you. Nothing else matters." Easy for her to be blithe, Marc thought, and he might have snapped at her if she hadn't sucked in a sharp breath as Tyler rounded the corner. "Tyler! Hi! We're here for moral support!"
Tyler nodded slowly. "Thanks," he said, and he seemed to mean it, but he didn't try to take Amanda's arm from Marc. Her face fell, and he pulled her a little closer. If all the guys in the world turned away from them at once … at least they still had each other.
He should have hugged Amanda, Tyler knew. Thanked her. Just knowing she was near soothed something within him: That remained true.
But she was his brother's ex-girlfriend. Ex-lover. And apparently they'd been involved for a long time. Years, maybe? Tyler couldn't bring himself to ask, but it seared him not to know.
Was she only with him because he was the closest thing to Daniel she could get?
During the entire Chaniel saga, Tyler had been reminded just how new a family member he was. All of them dealt with the crisis smoothly, or so it had seemed to him; the bonds they were tormented by losing were bonds he hadn't fully gained yet. The memories tainted weren't his memories. It wasn't that he doubted their love for him, or his love for them, but it was a bad moment to find out that Daniel had even gotten to Amanda first.
When Tyler walked into the conference room for the hearing, though, he saw Daniel sitting near the front, looking very pale and tense. Obviously this wasn't the time to fixate on his own insecurities; he needed to think of somebody else for a little while.
Tyler took a seat beside Daniel, who looked up quickly, then slumped back … disappointed, apparently. "What's the matter?" Tyler said. "Right this second, I mean. You can make a list if you have to."
"I thought you might be Betty." That's right, Tyler remembered – they were friends. "Glad you're here."
"Where else would I be?"
Tyler realized then that he'd let his bad mood show the past few days, and that Daniel had thought it was about this whole DNA thing. How stupid could you get? "Hey. I'm here for you. All right?"
"Wouldn't blame you if you weren't." Daniel sighed and twisted his neck, as if it were sore from tension. "I mean, I gave you a hard enough time about being in this family, and it turns out you always belonged here, but I never did."
Only the most important things mattered now, Tyler decided; all the stuff about Amanda could wait. "Listen, no matter what the tests say, or what happens in this hearing, I know who my brother is. He's the guy who walked into that hostage situation to try and get me out. End of story."
"Okay." Daniel clapped one hand on his shoulder, and they were on the same page again, at least for the moment. But he kept glancing toward the door, and Tyler overheard him mutter, "Where can Betty be?"
"Everybody stand back!" the fireman said as he lifted the power saw. "Cover your ears, and if you used hairspray or some of that gel stuff, look out, because the sparks can set hair on fire!"
"Oh, my God." Betty stared at the blade, which was being angled against the door only about a foot over her trapped wrist.
The crowd began to murmur as the power saw started roaring, and Betty shrank down as far as possible. Her foot was starting to go numb, and every single fiber of her being thought it would be better to wait for the bank technicians to override the faulty security lockdown – but the hearing was starting, any second. They'd sign papers at that hearing, papers that might be binding no matter what truths might later come out. And every moment Daniel believed he was somebody he wasn't was a moment too long.
She'd just have to deal with it.
As the cutting started, and the vibration rocked her, Betty put her free hand over her head and yelped, "Is mousse flammable too?"
"I'm sorry," the security guard said. "Only invited family and business associates are permitted inside for the hearing."
"Oh, I get it." Hilda brushed her hair back from her face and gave him her most winning smile. "You think we're, like, paparazzi or something. We'll, we're not. I mean, look at us!"
Her father drew himself up at his most dignified, though the big medical bracelet he still wore around his wrist kind of took away from that. Elena looked great, as did Bobby – aw, her sweetie – and of course she was fantastic. Justin and Austin, though … they did look a little too eager to get inside. Maybe if Austin would stop bouncing up and down on his heels.
"Invited family and business associates only," the guard repeated.
"They're family," said Wilhelmina Slater, of all people. Her lavender linen sheath dress exactly matched the rims of the Jackie O sunglasses she wore. "Very distant cousins, let's say. I'll vouch for them."
The guard was unimpressed. "And you are?"
Justin gaped. "Hello, this is Wilhelmina Slater, number one fashion diva of the past decade, editor of MODE and woman whose Ferragamo heels you are unworthy to polish."
"That's enough, Justin." Wilhelmina's eyes crinkled slightly at the corners as she looked at him, as close as somebody like that could get to a smile, Hilda figured. "I thought we'd hired you, young man. Maybe it's some other eager little gay person. Hmm. Anyway, if you check, sir, you'll see my name is on the list."
"No guests are – " The security guard's protest trailed off as Wilhelmina gave him a stare icy cold enough to freeze lava. No doubt about it: They were in.
I gotta ask her how she does that, Hilda thought.
"This little punk can be whipped into shape," Yoga said, the faintest of smiles appearing on her face as the elevator display announced they were on the 32nd floor … the 33rd … the 34th. "Anybody can be whipped into shape. You learn that in the joint. Whipped you into shape, didn't I?"
Despite the gloom in her heart, Claire managed to grin back. "I suppose this doesn't count as the lowest moment in Meade family history. But only because there's so much competition. If I just felt something for Chaniel … the other one, I mean. Something at all."
"I know." Claire rubbed at her temples. "But Daniel … he was always the one I was closest to."
"That doesn't change."
"No. It only makes me wonder how many things I was wrong about."
"Fish, you were wrong about only three things in life." Yoga counted them off on her fingers. "You used the poisoned perfume your husband's ho-bag gave you, you kept hitting the bottle until the bottle hit you back, and you walked around all this time thinking you were straight. That's it. You love your boy because he's your boy. Nothing's wrong about that."
"What did I ever do without you?"
As the frame of the bank door fell away, Betty stumbled free and the crowd began to applaud. She couldn't quite stand straight – the day to try mega-high wedges was not the day your whole leg went numb – but she was able to brace herself against a NO PARKING sign.
"All right! Nothing more to see here! Move along!" the fireman yelled. "You okay. You need to see a doctor or something?"
Betty pushed her hair back from her face, aware that she probably looked a little like she'd been caught in a tornado. Grease marks from the door ringed her ankle and wrist. "No. I'm fine."
She went for her bag – but the hearing would already have begun. Even Daniel wouldn't answer his phone during a legal proceeding. If she didn't get there as fast as possible, Chaniel might win.
So Betty turned back to the fireman and said, "Actually, can you get me someplace in a really big hurry?" And she gave him her absolute best, most brilliant smile.
Which, she thought, was probably how she wound up riding downtown on the back of a fire engine, with its lights flashing and sirens wailing to tell Daniel she was on her way.
Daniel kept searching for Betty until the judge finally came in and began calling them to order, several minutes late. He took one more look at his cell phone, hoping for a text or at least something … but nothing.
You know she tried, Daniel told himself. Probably she's stuck on the subway. The main thing is being with her afterwards.
Then he looked around the hearing room and saw all the people seated nearby – each and every one, besides Chaniel and his lawyers, there to support him. Even Alexis and DJ, both of whom he'd had to lose in order to find again. Even the whole Suarez family, including the ones he'd hardly spoken to, like Elena and Austin. Even Wilhelmina, whose sole purpose in life had once been to take him down, and Marc, who'd done a very good job of helping her. Even Tyler, the brother he'd tried to throw away, and Amanda, the girl he had thrown away and who had forgiven him despite it. Even Yoga. Jesus.
And always, of course, Mom.
He'd lost nothing that mattered. And maybe he'd gained something worth having – the sure knowledge of just how many people in this world had his back.
Smiling slightly, Daniel shut off his phone and turned toward the judge. From the corner of his eye he could see Chaniel frowning – no doubt confused about Daniel's calm in the face of adversity – but that guy didn't really matter.
The judge said, "We are here today to redress an old mistake. I understand lawyers for both parties have proposals about the fair redistribution of the Meade family fortune?"
"We have very different proposals," said one of Chaniel's lawyers. So the guy wanted an even bigger piece of the pie.
Just let me keep the apartment, Daniel thought.
But then the back doors of the hearing room flew open with a bang, and a voice cried out, "Stop! That man is lying!"
Astonished, Daniel turned around to see Connor Owens standing there – one finger pointed at Chaniel.
"It's all a lie," Connor said, brushing off the security guards that had only just caught up with him. "And I should know. I helped him tell it."
Betty was kind of surprised that a big law firm like this one didn't have any security personnel at their front desk, but she was glad to have no delays between her and the elevator, and between the elevator and the hearing room. 47A, 47B, where was it? She limped slightly as she ran – circulation was returning to her leg, but slowly – and made it just in time to see Connor standing in the doorway ahead of her.
She came closer as she listened, mouth agape with surprise as Connor confessed. "Years ago, when it was first revealed that Chad Pulaski had been switched at birth, the hospital came to Bradford Meade during the investigation. He put the papers aside – and when I was in charge of Meade finances, I came across them. I … had hard feelings toward Daniel at the time. I did a little digging of my own and then put them aside, in case I ever wanted to use them later."
This was hard for him to say, Betty realized as she crept into the doorway; his posture was like that of a man who expected to be struck at any moment. Yet Connor kept talking.
"This spring, I thought I would use them. I contacted Pulaski and told him about the possibilities. He was in. A few hundred-dollar bills to some technicians at New York's leading DNA banks, and the con was as good as set. But then, Wilhelmina – she told me she was loyal to the Meades again. That she wanted them protected at any cost. She knew nothing of my plan, nothing at all, but I knew that if she found out, she'd be furious. So I dropped it. I told Pulaski it was called off. He went ahead without me."
Betty could see into the hearing room now. Everyone looked as completely flabbergasted as she felt, but perhaps Wilhelmina most of all.
Connor finished, "I think Pulaski actually hopes it's true, that he's a Meade after all and this was a con built on the truth rather than a lie. That's because I didn't tell him something I learned on my own … the hospital made two errors with him, not just one. They got his birthdate wrong. He was actually born just after midnight, not before – so he should be looking at boys born the next day. One of them, he was swapped with. But not Daniel, who is definitely, absolutely, the only Daniel Meade."
For a moment, nobody spoke – until Amanda leaped up, hands in the air, and yelled, "Yes!"
Then everybody was clapping and cheering, hugging each other and carrying on. She was thrilled to see Claire immediately wrap Daniel in a bear hug that was quickly joined by everybody in the Meade clan. The only ones not joining in the instant celebration were Chaniel and his lawyers (who looked pretty angry at him); Wilhelmina, who was sitting very still in the back row; and Connor, who stood in the door way, almost limp with exhaustion.
Betty put one hand on Connor's shoulder. "Thank you," she said. "You did the right thing."
"Just in time to go back to prison," Connor replied. "And have Willie throw me out on my ass."
"Doing the right thing when it's hard is when it counts most."
"You're like a greeting card that never stops." But Connor smiled at her tiredly as he said it.
Betty pushed her way into the room and into the heart of her family, who stopped bouncing up and down only long enough to get in the bounce with her. Well, Papi didn't bounce, but he was cheering as loudly as the others. "This is amazing!" Hilda yelled as she hugged Betty.
"The checkup went okay?" Betty asked, and only grinned wider as her father nodded.
"I'm ready to party!" Papi declared. "There's gonna be a party after this, right?"
"With Daniel Meade? You better believe it!" Justin said, high-fiving Austin.
Then Betty pressed on, past Amanda and Marc, who were doing a kind of improvised disco dance; she joined in "the bump" for a couple seconds before hurrying up toward the Meades. Daniel finally saw her. "Betty!"
"Daniel! I'm coming!" But she was jostled slightly as Chaniel and his legal team started stalking out of the hearing room. "Excuse you," she grumbled.
Over the din, Daniel yelled, "Hey! Pulaski!"
The entire room fell silent. Chaniel turned back to face him – and try as she might, Betty couldn't see a heartless schemer there. She saw a guy who had no idea who he was, and no idea how to find out.
Everyone, including Chaniel, was clearly expecting Daniel to put him in his place. Wasn't it his right?
But Daniel said only, "Call your mom."
Chaniel's eyes widened, but he simply hurried through the door without saying another word.
Instantly everyone started laughing and cheering again, and Betty finally got to Daniel and threw her arms around him. "It's over," she whispered. "It's all over."
"Nothing's changed. Nothing changed before; nothing changed now." Daniel leaned back from her, a tender smile on his face. "I know who I am, and I know who loves me. Who I love." He frowned. "Hey, are you all right?"
"Fine. I'll explain later." She couldn't resist the smile spreading across her face. "Right now I have better things to do."
Betty took Daniel's face in her hands and kissed him; he returned the kiss, wrapping his arms around her waist, opening her mouth with his own, kissing her with all the enthusiasm and joy she knew he felt in his heart. She knew because she felt it too. And nothing in the world could be more perfect than this –
-but wasn't it awfully quiet in here all of a sudden?
As their lips parted, Betty looked out over the courtroom of people – both their families, and their friends from MODE – all of whom were staring at them wide-eyed, like the two of them had just sprouted antlers. Hadn't they ever seen a boyfriend and girlfriend kiss before?
Wait a minute, she thought. They don't know about us!
Well, they didn't. They do now.
Never letting go of her, Daniel whispered, "I may have forgotten to mention something."
"Me too." Betty started to laugh. "I think they get the picture." Just in case they didn't, she kissed him again.
The afterparty, in Daniel's opinion, was one for the record books.
No, it wasn't the wildest bash he'd ever been to; his building's rooftop deck was nice enough, and they'd managed to get champagne ordered in, but it was just a few string of lights for decoration, besides the glittering cityscape beyond them. Nor was the guest list large: Only the friends and family who had come to his hearing. But that was what made it great.
Even the unlikeliest guest of all.
"Your father shut down the investigation," Connor said. He sat on the very edge of one the wicker chaises, forearms on his knees, as if he were determined not to be at ease. "He wasn't interested in pursing it any further."
Daniel thought that over. "Once he knew I was his, you mean. After he found out about the birth date mixup."
Connor shook his head. "No. I mean, your dad didn't care. He just shut it down, period."
"He – didn't know whether I was his birth son or not. And he didn't want to know if Chaniel was."
As the realization dawned upon him, Daniel turned to Betty, who was curled next to him on the chaise. "Betty – he picked me."
"What do you mean?"
"Don't you see? Dad didn't want another son. He wanted me." His whole life, he'd thought his father looked at him and only saw his flaws. He would never have dreamed that there had been a moment when Dad had been able to choose whether or not to continue thinking of Daniel as his son – or that, if the choice came, Dad would pick him. But it had been true all along. "He picked me," Daniel repeated, and this time Betty understood. She wrapped her arms around him for a moment, until he could swallow the lump in his throat.
When they parted, Connor looked even more embarrassed to be there than before. "I should go."
"If you want to stay, it's all right with me." Daniel gestured over at Wilhelmina, who still looked rather icy at the far corner of the deck. "Take her some champagne. Might help."
Connor squinted at Daniel as if he were having to translate all this from some unfamiliar language. "You're – not pressing charges. You're not even mad."
"You took it back in the nick of time. That's the main thing," Daniel said. "As for the rest – can we finally let this all go now?"
"Absolutely." Connor put his hand out for a shake, Daniel took it, and it felt like dropping the heaviest weight ever. To judge by Connor's smile, he thought so too.
As Connor headed over to the champagne waiter, Hilda bounded up to them, as giddy as a high-school cheerleader. "This is how I learn about the big romance? You two don't tell anybody, just start making out in public?"
"You call that making out?" Daniel slipped his arm even more firmly around Betty's waist. Her skin was so warm beneath that pretty dress; the best moments of this party were going to happen after everybody else went home. "We haven't even gotten started."
"Stop it." Betty swatted him, but playfully. "Hilda, I'm sorry. You were right. We have some serious catching up to do."
"And we're gonna do it," Hilda promised, but her eyes were already flicking back and forth between them speculatively. "Some other night, I'm guessing."
"Hilda!" Although Betty's cheeks were flushed, she was giggling, as caught up in the bubbly delight of the evening as he was.
This was when Mom swaggered up, holding a glass of the sparkling cider he'd ordered in for her and Tyler. The look on her face couldn't have said "cat that ate the canary" any louder unless she'd actually had yellow feathers sticking out from her lips. "Oh, no," Daniel said. "Here it comes."
"Where what comes?" Hilda looked back and forth between them.
Laughing, Daniel held one up one hand as if he could hold it off. "Mom, say anything – anything! – but don't say –"
"I told you so," they finished in unison, and Mom looked even more pleased with herself, if that was even possible.
Betty frowned. "You told him so? About Chaniel?"
"About you, dear." His mother took a seat too near them and patted Betty's arm. "I've been expecting this for quite a while."
"Longer than us, then," Betty said. She put her head on Daniel's shoulder. "But we caught up. Didn't we?"
"We did." Daniel thought there was nothing left in the world that could make him unhappy at this moment. Nothing at all.
Outside Betty's building, a finger pressed the buzzer to her apartment for the third time, still hoping against hope. He'd tried calling, but apparently she wasn't answering right now. She was … out. Even Betty sometimes went out on weeknights.
That was okay. He'd talk to her soon. And then maybe they'd finally be able to put some things right that should never have gone wrong.
With that, Matt Hartley shouldered his bag and walked down the street, into the night.
Tune in next time for "Boys Will Be Boys."
(Songs: "White Knuckles," OK Go; "There And Back Again," The Legends; "L-O-V-E," Joss Stone)