It's been awhile since I've published at fanfic—since I heeded a warning last summer and pulled my "Detty We Never Got—And Some We Did" and "Detty—What Comes Later" behind a wall at LiveJournal and continued that saga over there. This is a "missing moments" one-shot from Season 3, surrounding two connected scenes that I liked for their passion. For orientation, those scenes are written into this as well.
For those who follow/ed my other fics, this fits into the universe of those as well
Comments thrill me.—Anne
Disclaimer: I own nothing with regards to the television show Ugly Betty. I do not own the characters. I do not own the original storyline of Ugly Betty or any of its renditions. I am not in any way affiliated with the television show Ugly Betty. I do not know the creators of or the actors in the television show Ugly Betty, nor anything about them. This is fan fiction based on characters created by other entities. This story is for creative purposes only, and I am generating no monies from these works.
Short Story: From a Distance
Claire Meade was hurrying around the corner when she heard Betty's voice, raised to a point so shrill that Claire halted behind the large potted plant. She peeked past the greenery and saw Daniel standing in his office, pale and blotchy, facing Betty. Whatever made Betty believe those culottes were attractive, Claire had no idea. Those things hadn't looked good on anyone in the '70s, either, back when they were called gauchos.
"I'm not Daniel Meade!" Betty's voice cracked with the threat of tears, and Claire grimaced. This sounded serious. She poked her head forward again: Daniel's stricken, downcast expression made her heart twist. No matter what this was about, her son was obviously guilty.
"I'm an assistant!" Betty went on, fury trumping tears now. Claire was relieved—for Daniel, who could never stand to see anyone cry, and for Betty, rising above that too-female tendency to undermine her rage by weeping. Stay strong, Claire urged Betty silently, on behalf of women everywhere.
"And I don't want to be an assistant for the rest of my life!" Betty stopped just long enough to gather steam. "The only thing I have going for me is my reputation, and now I don't have that!" She popped her hands against her sides and added, disgust dripping into her words, "I'm Tornado Girl."
Then she spun around and stormed past her own desk, straight toward Claire, who ducked back behind the plant. An unnecessary move, it turned out, because Betty didn't see her. Blinking fast, cheeks flaming, she charged straight toward The Closet—to sob it all out to her friend Christina, no doubt.
So that's what this was about. That damn tornado cover. Well, hardly a surprise. Two days ago, five minutes after Betty approved the issue to ship to newsstands—the October edition with a gorgeous cover image of tornado-blown couture—news broke that a devastating twister had ripped through the Midwestern states. Betty, put in charge while Daniel, Wilhelmina and Claire were off-site and out of communication at an editors' retreat, recognized the certain damage to Meade Publications' image if the issue were to go on sale. It would be a PR nightmare of drastic proportions when the company was accused of insensitivity to disaster victims. Betty had tried to stop the issue from shipping and had, in fact, reached Daniel in time for him to call off the trucks. But without telling Betty, Daniel decided with Wilhelmina to let the issue proceed to newsstands. As they hoped, magazine sales were brisk, consumer interest buoyed by the tragedy in the heartland.
Claire did not agree with Daniel and Wilhelmina's shrewd decision. She felt it showed poor taste, capitalizing on the Midwest's disaster, but she wasn't going to interfere, especially when those two had finally made a collaborative decision. When the media began skewering Betty for making the mistake, dubbing her Tornado Girl, Claire figured it was only a matter of time before Betty discovered that Daniel had been behind the decision to ship the issue. Yes, apparently she had found out.
After Betty passed, Claire moseyed toward Daniel's office. He still stood, his body tense, his eyes still so dilated by adrenaline that they looked black.
"Knock knock." Claire leaned in.
"Oh." Daniel shook his head and blinked. "Hey, Mom."
"It's getting late. You want to grab some dinner?"
"Uh, no." Daniel rubbed his hand across the back of his neck and headed for his desk. "I've got that press conference to prepare for. You know, about the tornado issue."
"I thought Wilhelmina was going to handle that."
"She is." Daniel's hands were shaking as he opened his laptop. "But I need to be ready to take questions afterward."
"Darling, is everything okay?" Claire tried to keep her tone casual.
"No! It isn't!" Daniel said, plopping down in his chair. "Didn't you just hear that?"
Claire didn't answer—better not to admit to eavesdropping from behind the ficus, just in case she wanted to do it again sometime. Especially since just before this tornado fiasco broke loose while they were at the editors' retreat, Daniel had been looking like a boy with a crush. He had shut her down when she asked him about it. So if she really wanted to know what was going on in her son's love life, especially if it involved a Meade Publications editor, she might need a secret observation point.
At the moment, though, Daniel was looking nothing like a boy with a crush. He was looking like a businessman with a bellyache.
"It's Betty," he said. "She just totally . . . ripped me a new one."
Claire raised her eyebrows. "Oh? Why is that?"
"Because I let the issue go on sale. Because she's getting blamed." Daniel buried his face in his hands and rubbed his own cheeks. "That's it. I have to tell the truth."
"Which is?" Claire sat down in one of the weird orange chairs opposite his desk. Whose idea had it been to install these infernal plastic things, she wondered, shifting onto one bun. Certainly not anyone who understood how a woman's padding began migrating from her ass to her waistline the minute she turned 40.
"Mom, quit playing dumb. You know Wilhelmina and I decided to put the issue on the newsstand. You've seen the press. God. Suzuki St. Pierre, that little stiff-haired jerk. 'Any last comments, Tornado Girl?' Fuck that guy."
Claire gave Daniel a long look. Such a beautiful man, her son. At the moment, he needed a haircut; his brown hair tufted behind his ears and grew endearingly funny along the back of his neck. His eyes met hers, still so bright and troubled that she bent forward and took his hand across his glasstop desk. He wore the same frown as he had when he was little—really little—and worried, sharing his own treasures with her in hopes of healing her dark moods and hangovers.
"I've got to make this right," he said, squeezing her hand. "She's really mad at me."
"I didn't do it to hurt her. I really didn't. I would never do anything to hurt her."
"No, of course not."
"She has to know that. I tried to tell her, you know, how single-copy sales are so crucial right now with ad revenues down. That it would help us save jobs. Shit, Mom, you've seen the books. Can you blame me?"
"I'm the wrong person to ask that, son." Claire sat back in her chair and shook her head. "I didn't agree with this decision from the start."
"I know." Daniel sighed, then threw his head back and groaned. "I can't believe I did this to her."
Later, Claire got tied up on the phone with a Hot Flash advertiser and arrived late to the press conference. She slipped into the edge of the room, grim-faced at how well Wilhelmina Slater managed to wear a shiny baby-shit gold dress that would make most women's complexion turn sallow. And, my oh my, the wonders of Botox—the woman's forehead didn't even twitch!
"Rest assured," Wilhelmina was saying, positioned between that lovely Connor Owens and Daniel, who stood with his hands behind his back, his eyes darting around the room. "Meade Publications is doing everything it possibly can to rectify this terrible situation. By tomorrow or at the latest next week, every issue will be off the newsstands."
Suzuki St. Pierre, his hair at least six inches high, smirked. "And how are you dealing with Tornado Girl? Fired, reprimanded, banished to a basement somewhere?"
"Now, now." Wilhelmina smiled, condescension palpable. "That is an internal issue that we are handling privately."
Now Daniel was craning his neck, twisting to look behind him. Watching for Betty, no doubt. Claire wondered if Betty would come, or whether she had gone home to the warmth of her family. Daniel had mentioned a few weeks ago that Betty had an apartment in Chelsea now, but Claire suspected today's hurts would have pushed her toward Queens, where her lovely father, sister and nephew could soothe her.
"We're all human," Wilhelmina went on. "We all make mistakes. So thank you . . ."
Suddenly, Daniel stepped forward. "Wilhelmina's right. We all do make mistakes. Especially those of us in charge." He took a deep breath. "I was the one who made the decision to let the magazine run on the newsstands. It was a very cynical decision. And I regret it."
Claire's heart soared. Of course he would do the right thing, her darling boy.
"But not nearly as much as I regret watching my assistant, Betty Suarez, take the blame. It was my fault. Mine alone . . ."
Wilhelmina interrupted with a snort. "I, for one, am shocked, Daniel. Personally shocked and embarrassed that our company's involved in something like this . . ."
"Which is why Meade Publications," Daniel said, ignoring Wilhelmina, "will donate all profits from the sale of this issue to a relief fund to benefit the victims of these tornadoes."
Connor gazed at Daniel with disbelief—no, Claire thought, this isn't the Daniel Meade you knew at Harvard. Wilhelmina's eyes widened and she pursed her lips. As much as Claire wanted to see Daniel and Wilhelmina work out their differences for the sake of the company, it gave her absurd satisfaction to realize Daniel had made this decision on his own, and that Wilhelmina didn't much like it.
"Uh, that's all I have to say." Daniel's tongue tangled around his words as he started forward into the crowd of reporters. "Thank you, everyone."
Claire's throat ached, watching her son pick his way through the scrum. Polite to a fault, he was now answering reporters' questions as he attempted to extricate himself from the murmuring mob. Claire could see he was desperate to reach someone at the back of the room.
"I'm sorry," she saw him say, his eyes cast into the distance, focused, pleading.
Claire turned, but she couldn't see anyone but nosy reporters with bulky cameras and boom mics. Not a surprise: Betty was pretty short.
At her Manhattan townhouse that night, Claire curled up on the couch by the fire, a photo album on her lap. A cup of tea steamed on the end table.
Here it was—the spread with Daniel's school pictures, labeled, from preschool to high school graduation. She smiled and touched the image of his chubby baby face in the first one, his straight little baby teeth and soft blond hair. Big proud grin, finally getting a school picture like Alex always did. Kindergarten, wearing that stiff blue shirt, hair darkening, a noseful of freckles from the summer sun on Fire Island—oh, the boys had had so much fun running on Ocean Beach that year.
Wait—why was there no first-grade photo? Oh, that would have been the year she was gone . . .
Claire gazed at the fire for a moment, then shook her head. Look, the toothless second-grade one. She remembered singing with him "All I Want For Christmas" and, sure enough, on Christmas morning, Daniel dashed downstairs in his pajamas, whooping that he could feel his grownup teeth sawing through his gums. Oh, and this dreadful fourth-grade photo with the scrape on his cheek, remnants of the bicycle accident that also involved a cast on his wrist. Still, sunny smile, happy eyes. The awkward middle-school years—bushy hair, a few zits, braces, strange angles to his cheekbones and nose—smoothing out in high school to reveal a handsome young man. Gone was the satisfied grin, replaced by a beautiful but chilly smile. Sparkly eyes gone flat, like a veil had come down. Claire remembered those years—so many sharp edges blurred by vodka. Her strongest memory: horrible sobs ripping from her throat when Bradford sent Daniel upstate to boarding school, watching her skinny boy carry his own bag down the stairs to the waiting towncar, his face tight and flushed. The phone calls and visits from the stranger Daniel had become, his voice deepened, his manners intact but cold, calling her "Mother," like she was some sort of wicked matriarch—a habit he hung onto long after his teenage sullen phase passed, replaced by the philandering and partying.
She shut the photo album and reached for her tea. It had felt amazing tonight, seeing her boy standing up tall in front of those reporters, setting the record straight—for himself and his assistant and the Meade family business.
The next morning, Claire arrived at Mode, hung her coat on the post, and proceeded toward Daniel's office. Coming past the ficus, she heard laughter. Rippling giggles that Claire recognized right away. She peeked around the plant and saw Betty standing in one side of Daniel's doorway, Daniel in the other, coffees in hand.
"And she was wearing my tights!" Betty was saying, dissolving into those contagious giggles. "As a dress!"
Daniel laughed. "Your pink bumblebee-striped ones?"
"Yes! She cut one off at the foot and the thigh, and wiggled her whole skinny butt into one leg! And pulled it up like a big tube top!"
Claire watched as Daniel slumped against the doorframe, his face open with joy. She loved to hear him laugh like this, breathless and husky, just like on the beach on Fire Island all those years ago. This time, it must be caffeine running up his heart rate; that and his amusement with the delightful young woman sharing his doorway. Claire marveled at Betty, how pretty she looked this morning despite her too-heavy bangs, train-track braces and overbushy eyebrows. Somehow, the garish colors and patterns on her skirt and blouse didn't seem like such a clash this morning—were those polka dots on her tights?
Look at those two, trading stories while they gulped coffee. If Claire hadn't seen it herself, she would never believe that less than 24 hours ago, they had been shouting at each other, guilt and fury so intense that it exploded from the room. This morning, she realized, that passion was still there, simply packaged differently. Claire saw it in Daniel's light-filled eyes and goofy grin, and heard it in Betty's giggles; this was the body language of a couple with such deep mutual affection that even a vicious, teeth-baring fight couldn't wreck it for long.
For the millionth time since Betty had walked into Mode three years ago, Claire rejoiced in the sight of her son—her real son. The one born two weeks late with a head the size of a beach ball, and a heart so soft that he learned not to risk laying it bare. But with Betty, he did. And at times like this, Claire couldn't help but think: Daniel looked like a boy with more than a crush.