A/N: Thank you so much for all of the wonderful reviews and comments on this story! I really, really appreciate every single one of them. It makes writing so much easier knowing that people actually seem to be enjoying this! :)
Here is the final chapter of Taking the Leap. I hope everyone enjoys it! :)
Chapter 3 - The Dinner
At 7 o'clock on the dot the doorbell rang. Betty ran towards the door, being careful not to fall in her heels. When she opened it, Daniel was on the other side, looking extremely handsome in a black suit and tie with a white shirt and holding a bouquet of pink Gerber daisies. Holding the flowers out to her, he looked amazed as his wide eyes swept her entire frame, making her shiver with delight. "Wow, Betty, you look . . . wow," he managed to stutter.
Betty smiled and took the flower, nervously patting down the thick black strip of fabric around her waist on her black dress. "Thank you. That was kind of what I was going for." His answering laugh was enough to make some of the nerves go away. She hesitated and added, "You look really great tonight too."
He unconsciously smoothed the front of his tie at her words and gave her a small smile. "Thank you," he said softly.
They stared at each other, unsure of how to greet the other while fully aware that this was dangerously close to being something like a date. Clearing her throat to dispel the sudden sexual tension in the room, Betty said, "Come inside, Daniel. I just need to grab my coat."
She led him into the kitchen so she could put the flower in a vase. "Where is your mom?" she asked over her shoulder.
"She said she would meet us at the restaurant, so I figured I would pick you up first so we could go together," Daniel said. He hesitated for a second, and then added, "I also thought that it would give us some time to talk."
Betty froze as she was about to place the flower in the vase. She wasn't sure where this was going, but she had to get the first word in, just in case. Better to cut her losses, right? Steeling herself for what his answer could be, she said, "Look, Daniel, you don't have to say anything about what happened the other day or today. I don't want to ruin our friendship."
"But what if this could turn into something more?" he countered, staring at her intently. She returned his gaze, unsure of what to say as he approached her and took her hand in his. "Betty, I want to give this a chance."
Her heart was doing funny things as his words sunk in. Daniel, her Daniel, actually felt the same way? She had had a vague awareness that he might have some feelings for her when they had kissed, but to hear them voiced out loud was a different experience entirely and left her momentarily speechless. She cleared her throat, wanting to make sure she had understood him correctly. "So, just to be clear . . ."
He laughed and tugged her closer to him so that their bodies were touching. He put his hands on her waist and let his lips graze her forehead. "I'm crazy about you, Betty," he whispered.
She sighed in relief and wrapped her arms around his waist. "I feel the same way, Daniel," she said softly into his shirt. His arms tightened around her, and she couldn't help but appreciate the moment.
"I guess we should get going. We wouldn't want to keep Mom waiting, right?" Daniel said after some time rather reluctantly.
Betty pulled back, still holding onto his arm. "Lead the way," she said, smiling up at him.
Dinner at one of London's top restaurants close to the Thames turned out to be quite an affair with the Meades. As soon as Claire had seen Betty, she had enveloped her into a bone-crushing hug. When they seated themselves at their table in the dimly lit restaurant, Betty had a realization that this was the first time the three of them had done this, just as friends. It was a wonderful feeling to know that her relationship with Claire and Daniel had come so far. The whole dinner was quite enjoyable with the three of them discussing new updates on Meade Publications, Mode, and Betty's new job.
"So, Betty," Mrs. Meade turned toward her, looking at her with affection and happiness, "How are you liking London?"
"Oh, it's great!" she said enthusiastically, almost spilling her water in her excitement. "The people here are so nice, the city is wonderful, and I love my job. I actually feel like I'm making a difference here, and I'm writing about subjects I care about."
"That's great, Betty," Mrs. Meade said, beaming at her. "What about your social life? Have you met anyone special?" Beside her, Daniel choked on his water at the question. Patting him on the back, she added, "Careful, son."
Betty could feel her blush creeping onto her neck and face. "Um, not really. I mean, I just don't have time right now, especially with work."
"Oh, that's a pity," Mrs. Meade said with a sideways look at Daniel. "I can think of many wonderful men who would be absolutely perfect for you, isn't that right, Daniel?"
He opened his mouth in protest, but before he could get a word out, Betty interrupted him. "That's okay, Mrs. Meade. I'm happy doing what I do now. That's all that matters, right?" And with that, she steered the conversation to other, much safer topics.
Halfway through dinner, Mrs. Meade asked Betty to accompany her to the ladies' room. Once they were there, Claire turned to her immediately and hugged her again. "Oh, I'm so happy for the two of you," she said with a huge smile on her face, "I always knew Daniel would man up and tell you how he feels."
Betty pulled away from her, shocked. "Mrs. Meade, I - I don't know what - "
"Oh, don't worry about it, Betty, I know my son well enough to know when he's in love and in a relationship," she said, waving her off nonchalantly. "And I must say, this makes me tremendously happy. I was right at your going away party, wasn't I?"
Betty blushed and turned to check her reflection in the mirror so she could avoid looking directly into Mrs. Meade's eyes. "Well, we're not exactly in a relationship yet. I mean, we just – we haven't discussed anything."
Mrs. Meade smiled understandingly. "I see," she said. "Do you want there to be a relationship?"
Betty turned around to face her, her eyes towards on the floor. "Yeah, I do," she said quietly, a small smile breaking out on her face. "This is all just so new to us. It's going to take time. But when we're together, he's - wonderful."
Mrs. Meade smiled and came up to stand beside Betty and put her arm around her. "I'm happy to hear you say that, dear. Daniel's been through a lot and I don't want him to get hurt again."
"Mrs. Meade, I would never deliberately do that!" Betty looked up at her, startled. "He means too much to me."
She smiled and nodded. "I know, Betty. And don't worry. New relationships do take time, but I know you two can make it work. You work so well together."
Betty smiled shyly at her, bolstered by the compliment. "Thank you for the vote of confidence."
Mrs. Meade hugged her again and said, "That's what I'm here for."
"Mom, are you sure you don't want me to take you home?" Daniel asked for the millionth time as his mom opened the door of the town car.
"Daniel, sweetheart, I'm sure you have more important things to do than to see me back to my hotel room," Mrs. Meade said, her eyes shining with happiness as she looked between Daniel and Betty. "Make sure Betty gets home safe, okay?"
Daniel leaned forward and kissed his mom on the cheek. "I'll see you in the morning, Mom. Good night."
"Good night, son," she said affectionately, and she got into the town car.
They stood watching as the car drove away. Betty plucked up the courage and took his hand in hers. She felt his hand wrap around hers warmly, and she leaned into his side as she asked, "What are you thinking about?"
He looked straight ahead at the spot where his mom's car had disappeared. "I've missed her. She's been through a lot, and with all of her children in different places . . . I worry about her."
Betty turned him around to face her. "Daniel, I do know how you feel," she said, putting a hand on his cheek to bring his eyes up to hers. "I worry about Papi being alone in that house too. But she's a parent - she's happy when her children are happy."
He still looked a bit troubled, but he smiled halfheartedly at her. "Yeah, I guess you're right."
Wanting to get his mind off of his family, Betty said enthusiastically, "Come on, we have the rest of the night ahead of us! How about karaoke again? We were pretty awesome the first time."
He laughed and pulled her close to him. "I don't know if I'm ready for that again." Leaning in, he kissed her softly on the forehead, lingering there for longer than usual. "How about we just take a walk, head down towards the river?"
She pulled away and nodded, smiling at him as she held his hand tightly and led him down the street.
They walked along in silence for some time, just content in being with the other. As they reached the river, they crossed the bridge in front of Big Ben and looked out over the city. Betty stopped to lean against the rail on the bridge, taking in the magnificence of London. The city looked so beautiful at night, with all of the lights reflected in the water. She sighed happily and leaned closer to Daniel, who put his arm around her.
"Do you remember that same night we went to karaoke, we stopped to talk on the bridge?" he asked quietly, looking out over the city.
"We never really met on the bridge again after that," she said, lamenting that fact.
He chuckled, and then said, "Well, we do have tonight."
She looked up at him then, taking in his caring face and bright blue eyes that held such warmth in them. Her gaze drifted down to his lips, and she had the urge to kiss him in a moment of passion just like before. However, she knew they had a lot to talk about before taking such a big step forward in their relationship. Sighing, she forced herself not to act on impulse and turned to face him fully. "Daniel, are you sure this is what you want?"
He looked at her in surprise and countered, "Are you sure this is what you want?"
She paused at that, and she saw his face fall at her hesitation. "No, Daniel, it's not that I don't want this. I do, I really, really do."
"Then what's the problem?"
"I - " she hesitated, wondering how to put her thoughts in words, hoping to delay the numerous doubts that had afflicted her mind ever since she had kissed him. "I just want to make sure, I - are you sure you're ready for this? I mean, after Molly . . . "
A look of comprehension dawned on Daniel's face as he took in Betty's words and her nervous demeanor. He pulled her into a hug, and she felt comforted by the feeling of his arms around her and the warmth he provided. They were silent for a time before Daniel pulled back slightly to look into her eyes and answer her question, "Betty, I have to be up front with you. Molly was an important part of my life for a time, and I will always care about her." She nodded, knowing and fearing this much – she knew she had no right to expect anything less from him. She waited patiently for him to continue, letting him know that she supported him and wasn't going to run away. "I will always remember her, but I need to put her behind me in order to live. I need to move on somehow. And Betty, you have always been the one constant in my life in recent years - you're my best friend, and these past few months with you have only made my feelings grow stronger." And steeling himself as though he was about to say something unpleasant, he added, "I know I don't have the best track record with relationships, and I know I'm not a genius accountant or a painter, but - "
She brought her fingers up to his lips to stop his rant, smiling a little at his last words. "I don't care," she said. Bringing her hand up to his face to softly cup his cheek, she said, "I don't want to lose you, Daniel. What if this doesn't work out?"
He covered her hand with his and said, "Even if it doesn't, we will always be friends. That won't ever change." Turning his head slightly, she felt his warm lips place a kiss on her palm. "We just have to take the leap to see if this could turn into something even more amazing."
Finally giving in to her impulse, she leaned in and kissed him. The kiss was different from their first, soft and gentle, a sign of things to come. Pulling away, she whispered, "I'm ready if you are."
His brilliant smile was answer enough, and he leaned in to kiss her again, the lights from the city shining down on them, enveloping them in a golden light, lost in their own world.