Here's my contribution to the Betty in June/July Challenge—a one-shot, a missing moment that could have taken place right after the Season 1 Finale, East Side Story. Written so fast and posted so unedited that it could rightfully be called a rough draft—if you see any errors, please point them out and I'll fix 'em!
Thanks for reading. And I do love comments. Thanks.—Anne
One-Shot: Hope in the Dead of Night
In the humid upstairs bedroom, Betty closed her puffy eyes and pretended, just for a minute, that she was 12 years old again, in this same room, with the soft cotton of the same boy's t-shirt under her fingertips. In her flashback, the boy's back was sweaty from the exertion of sobbing, and her mother—the boy's all-knowing abuela—was downstairs preparing the horchata she would feed him from a baby bottle to help calm him down.
Eyes open now, and not much was different. Same close-walled room painted blue and cluttered with stuffed animals, the toys and books of younger boyhood replaced by clothes and CDs and schoolbooks. And now, the boy was the 12-year-old, his abuela six years gone—although her recipe for horchata, scribbled in Spanish, still bookmarked the red-checkered Betty Crocker cookbook downstairs—and his grief stemmed from far greater than a ruined block tower or a scary noise.
"Justin," Betty whispered. "I'm going to go make you Grandma's special drink. Maybe it'll help."
"Oh, Aunt Betty." Justin rolled onto his back, his dark face so wet and ruined that Betty closed her burning lids again. "It won't."
No, it wouldn't. Betty took Justin's hand. "You sure?"
Justin nodded and curled up on his side, his skinny frame angular in his jeans and white tank top, the same clothes he had worn to take his bow on the school stage tonight after his stunning lead performance in West Side Story. While he stood on stage, beaming to thunderous applause, Betty and Hilda had stationed themselves against the auditorium's back wall, faces wiped clean and held tight, wondering how they would tell Justin that his father—who had only recently come into his life, who was finally engaged to marry Hilda after she'd raised Justin thus far on her own—had been killed that evening in a convenience store hold-up on his way to watch the show.
"When will Mom be home?" Justin whispered to the wall.
"As soon as she can." Betty began rubbing his back again, and willed her sister to hurry. It had been hours. How long did it take to identify a body?
"Do you think there's a chance it's not him?" Justin's voice, still a boy's, splintered.
"Probably not." Betty couldn't bring herself to inflate Justin's hopes. The police had been sure; they just needed positive identification as a matter of red tape. Because Santos no longer had family in New York, Hilda had been tapped for the dreadful duty. After breaking the news to Justin and holding him for a long time, she gently sent him home with Betty and rode with Rita—the police officer who patrolled Jackson Heights and had occasionally stopped by the house after her shift to tip a beer with Hilda—to the morgue. Betty felt Hilda should have someone closer than Rita while she identified her fiance's body, but Hilda insisted Betty stay with Justin. With their father still in Mexico after the recent trip to sort out his immigration status from 30 years ago, Justin would be left alone if Betty went downtown with Hilda. And they both agreed that no boy should be by himself the night he learned his father died.
So here Betty sat, weary from crying and sick with sadness for Justin and Hilda. When her cell phone rang, vibrating against her thigh in the pocket of her sweater, she knew at this hour that it could be no one but Hilda.
"Hilda, where are you?" Betty asked into the phone as she moved out into the hallway.
"Betty." A man's voice. "Bradford Meade."
"Mr. Meade!" Betty looked at her watch. Why was Bradford Meade calling her at 1 a.m.? "I'm sorry—I thought you would be my sister . . ."
"Betty, I'm going to need you to come to St. Gavan as soon as you can. There's been an accident."
"Daniel and Alexis have been in a car accident. A bad one."
Betty heart plummeted, stopping just a little beneath that point it had earlier tonight with the news of Santos. "Is Daniel okay?"
"He's heading into surgery and I have to leave."
"You have to lea . . ." Betty couldn't believe Bradford would abandon Daniel before he underwent surgery.
"It's a legal matter. I have no choice. You'll come to the hospital? Daniel's asking for you."
Oh, the dilemma. Betty couldn't leave Justin. But Daniel needed her. "What happened?" she asked Mr. Meade.
"They hit a tree. Daniel has a leg injury, a head injury. You'll come?"
Just then, Betty heard the front door squeal open downstairs, the thwump of Hilda's bag on the dining room table.
"Yes, of course," she said, her loyalty shearing in two as she wondered how she would tell Hilda that she needed, tonight of all nights, to tend to Daniel. "Wait—Mr. Meade—what about Alexis?"
"She's had a head injury. She's unconscious. I'll be coming back as soon as I can."
Betty called a cab, then shoved her phone back in her pocket and tiptoed into Justin's room. He hadn't moved since she left. She leaned across him and saw his eyes closed, long lashes still wet on his cheeks, so she draped an extra blanket over him. When he didn't stir, she crept out, taking the stairs via a less-creaky path closest to the wall.
Halfway down, she stopped. Hilda slumped on Ignacio's ottoman, her back starchless as she twisted her engagement ring against her thigh.
"Hilda?" Betty whispered.
Hilda didn't look up. "It was him."
Betty descended the rest of the stairs and dropped to the floor in front of her sister's feet. She held Hilda's hands and squeezed.
"It didn't even look like him," Hilda went on, her voice so low that Betty had to lean in. "It's like someone poured him out."
"Oh, my God, that must have been awful."
"Yeah." Hilda's eyes overflowed and tears splashed onto their hands. "Yeah, it was. They're looking for the guy who did it. The convenience store clerk was a witness."
"They'll find him."
"I know. But it won't change anything." Hilda inhaled against a ragged throat. "I've got to pull it together. I'll scare Justin."
"He finally fell asleep."
"How is he?"
"Um . . ." Betty shrugged.
"Never mind. I know how he is."
"He cried a lot."
"Oh, God." Hilda leaned over, her arms gripped across her belly. "Just when it was getting good."
"Hilda." Betty bit her lip against adrenaline churning up in her own stomach. "I know this is terrible timing, but I have to go."
"Bradford Meade called. Daniel's been in an accident and I have to go to the hospital."
Hilda stared at her. Pale in the dim light from Ignacio's lamp, Hilda wasn't pretty tonight. Her makeup had been cried away, leaving her eyes small and bare, her lips dry and white. Betty could smell her breath, pungent with tears and fear.
"Well," Hilda said, as though it was inevitable. "What happened?"
"I'm not sure. Just that he's hurt and has to have surgery and Mr. Meade has to leave . . ."
"Go." Hilda stood up and crossed the rug toward the kitchen.
"Hilda . . ."
"No, it's okay." Hilda stopped and gave Betty a sad smile. "Really. Go."
"I'll be back as soon as I can."
The St. Gavan emergency room teemed with activity, so Betty slipped past the check-in desk and wandered the hall searching for Daniel. She should have asked Mr. Meade where he would be, because surely Daniel Meade wouldn't be relegated to the bowels of the hospital's ER. Even back here, past the bleary-eyed mothers holding crying babies and the sour-smelling guy ranting about the wait time and the woman dangling her head ominously over a coffee can, activity ruled. People dressed in medical garb dashed from curtain to curtain, and several more stood behind a circular desk—much like Amanda's rounder at Mode—studying a white board and arguing.
"Can I help you?" A crisp-voiced nurse turned from the station.
"I'm looking for Daniel Meade."
"Right in there." The nurse pointed to a curtained cubby off in the corner, then gave Betty a narrow-eyed once-over. "You're Betty?"
Eyebrows raised in surprise, the nurse shrugged. "He's been waiting for you. Just a warning: He's a little agitated."
Betty ducked in at the edge of the curtain. "Knock knock." Then, with one look at her boss: "Oh, Daniel."
At the sight of him, she gulped back on the tears that rushed into her head. He laid on his back, half-covered by a pink blanket, and one leg, a ghoulish purple around the knee, splinted straight from beneath a blue-and-white patterned hospital gown. But it was his face that made her nearly cry. His right eye was bloody, heavily mottled above and beneath, swollen nearly shut; the left, ringed by the three-day-old bruise he'd worn at the office, now wide open and bloodshot above a freshly raspberried cheekbone, gleamed with terror. His lower lip had two bright red lines where his teeth had punctured the skin.
"Betty," he gasped. "You're here. I didn't think you'd come."
"Of course I would. Why wouldn't I?"
"Because you were mad at me about the Girl Scout thing."
Betty had forgotten all about that. She felt like she'd lived a lifetime since Daniel had confessed yesterday that his black eye resulted not from rescuing a Girl Scout who tumbled into the lake in Central Park, but from being punched during a drug deal.
"I'm sorry I lied." Daniel's gaze, with his one good eye, was heartbreakingly sincere.
"Are you okay?" She couldn't help asking, even though it was obvious he wasn't.
"No." He licked his bloody lip. "They won't give me anything. My head hurts, my back; my knee is killing me."
"Well . . ." Betty thumbed toward the curtain. "That nurse is right out there. Let me get her—"
"No, she won't. She says they have to wait."
"Because . . . I'll be having anesthesia." Daniel's voice shook, like he was shivering, even though his hairline was dark with sweat. "I can't eat anything, either."
"But you have an IV," Betty pointed out, seeing the clear tube snaking from the hanging bottle into the crook of Daniel's thick arm. "They could just give you some pain meds that way."
"Betty, they did . . . give me something . . . to help take the edge off. Just—forget about it." He leaned back against the pillows, grimacing.
"But there's no reason you have to suffer . . ." Betty would just slip out and nab that nurse and insist Daniel receive some proper pain meds. Didn't they know who he was?
"They won't give me anything else because I was . . . drinking."
Betty stopped and spun back to face him. "Drunk driving?"
"No, Alex was driving. And he was sober. But I had a few drinks earlier."
"Daniel, what happened?" Betty set her bag on the floor and sat down on the bed, careful not to jostle his splinted leg.
"I don't really want to talk about it."
"Okay, okay." She could tell he was jittery. "Where's Alexis?"
"I don't know." Daniel raked his hand through his already wild hair. "All I know is she hit her head and she's . . . unconscious. That's all I know because then my dad got a call and had to leave."
"My mom broke out of prison."
Betty's eyebrows zoomed up. "What?"
"Apparently she was part of a prison break tonight. So my dad had to go for some questioning." Daniel lowered his voice. "I keep expecting she'll turn up here. If this is on the news . . . in fact, is it?"
"I . . . don't know."
"So talk to me, Betty." Daniel spoke fast. "Distract me. Tell me what's going on with you."
"Why do you have to have surgery?"
"To put my knee back together. One of the ligaments—I don't know. You can ask the damn doctor if he ever comes back." He touched the IV tube that rested across his lap. "Did you know this stuff tastes like oranges? Oranges and airplane metal."
Betty shook her head, again dangerously close to tears. Exhaustion and grief, catching up. Her wretched evening had really begun at her orthodontist appointment, where Diane told her Dr. Farkas had been dating Charlie. With a beam of hope that Charlie's pregnancy wasn't Henry's responsibility, Betty had been rushing to the airport to stop Henry from boarding the plane to Arizona when the police had arrived on the doorstep with the report about Santos. So instead of racing to La Guardia to stop her boyfriend—could she really call him that when they had only actually kissed, what, once?—she had hurried to Justin's school to pull Hilda out of the audience to break the devastating news. She would never, ever forget how Hilda had slid to the floor on weakened legs, sobbing. With that thought, Betty's belly clenched with guilt at having left Hilda's side. But she couldn't very well leave Daniel here alone. If there were ever an argument for cloning . . .
"Betty," Daniel said now. "Hey. You okay?"
"Um . . ."
"Okay, Mr. Meade!" The curtained screeched aside as a heavyset nurse entered the space. She wagged a syringe. "The vampires are here again. How you doing, honeybunch?"
"Been better," Daniel answered, his voice taut.
"Can't you give him anything more for the pain?" Betty asked.
"We'll see how this looks." The nurse wrapped the rubber band around Daniel's bicep and snapped it tied. As the needle approached Daniel's arm, Betty fastened her stare on the canister of tongue depressors. With a few clicks and snaps, the deed was done, and the nurse said as she left, "Doctor will be back in a few."
"A few hours," Daniel muttered.
But he was wrong, because before he could return his strained face to Betty's, a young guy in medical greens swept into the cubby. "Daniel," he said. He nodded to Betty. Then to Daniel, he said, "We've got a couple things to talk about. Your . . . friend here . . .?" He gestured indicating a question about confidentiality.
"Is this about my blood test?" Daniel asked.
"No. That's pretty straightforward." The doctor hesitated, glancing at Betty again.
"I should go." Betty stood up.
"No!" Daniel said. "Stay!" He calmed his tone. "Please." To the doctor, he said, "This is Betty."
"Hi, Betty. Doug Fenway." Now the doctor smiled and extended his hand. Betty shook it and sat back down on the bed by Daniel's feet.
"Do you have any news on my sister?"
"Only that she has been moved to the ICU."
"Any change in her condition?"
"Not that I'm aware of, but I'm not her doctor." Dr. Fenway sat down on the other side of Daniel's bed. "Look, Daniel, I want to run a CT scan just to make sure there's no significant internal bleeding. You're pretty bruised on that right side, and you know that pee sample we took?"
While Betty pondered whether the term "pee sample" was going too far to talk down to patients, Daniel nodded.
"Bloody. So I need to see what's going on there."
"Oh, my God." Daniel said, curling in on his own mid-section. "What does that mean?"
"It means we'll inject you with some dye and roll you down the hall and take a few pictures." The doctor's pager went off. He peeked at it, then said, "I'll check back in with you after a bit. Your head CTs came out fine—no fractures. They told you you're scheduled for the OR at 6 a.m. to have that knee repaired?"
Daniel nodded again. After the doctor left, he slumped back against the pillows. "Inject me where?" he asked the ceiling.
The injection went into Daniel's arm, it turned out, and it made him fiery hot. His face, neck and arms flushed deep red and he said he felt like he was in an incinerator. When two blue-clad guys came to transfer him from the bed to a gurney for his journey down the hall, Betty left the room, uncomfortable at the possibility of seeing Daniel in the backless medical gown and figuring it was a good time to text Hilda from the waiting room. Hilda called her after she texted.
"When are you coming home?"
"When Mr. Meade gets back. I don't want to leave Daniel alone. He's pretty banged up and now they're looking for internal bleeding and he's got to have leg surgery in a few hours. Are you okay?"
"Not really." Hilda sounded terrible. Hoarse, exhausted.
"Why don't you take one of Dad's sleeping pills?"
"I did. I just keep seeing Santos's face and hoping it was quick. That he didn't suffer."
"I don't think he did." Betty had no idea, but what else could she say?
"And I lie there in bed, imagining that he's here and that we're talking about . . . about the . . . wedding."
"Maybe go sleep with Justin. I used to do that after Mami died." Betty wiped at the tears that curled around her nose.
"I remember. Oh, Betty, don't you cry, too."
"I'm just so sad," Betty sobbed. "It has been the worst day in a million ways."
"Mamita, don't do this," Hilda whispered. "I need you to be strong right now. Of all people. God. I really do. Remember what Papi says every time he calls. Be strong."
"Okay. Okay." Betty took a deep breath. She took off her glasses and gave her cheeks a good swipe. "You're right. We'll be okay. Right?"
How screwed up was this, Hilda was pep-talking her. She really needed to bone up. She told Hilda she loved her and would be home soon, then hung up and headed back to Daniel's cubby.
Someone had dimmed the lights and Daniel was back in bed, his injured leg protruding from beneath the pink blanket and now propped up on a cushioned block. Was he asleep?
"Hey," he whispered when she pulled a chair over and sat down. "You're back."
"I'm back." She gave him her best smile. "You survived?"
He nodded. "The worst part was the dye injection. So it was okay." His voice cracked with fatigue.
"Daniel, you should try and sleep."
"Thanks for staying here, Betty. I hate hospitals."
"Of course. I don't mind."
"Can I ask you something?"
"You weren't with Henry when my dad called, were you? Because I hate to think you interrupted a date . . ."
"No." Betty sank back in her chair. "I wasn't."
Daniel, perhaps hearing something in her voice, opened his eyes—his eye—and winced. "Betty . . ."
She ducked her chin, blinking fast. Stay strong, she told herself.
"What's wrong?" His gentle tone would make it impossible to lie.
Through a throat so tight she could barely speak, she began, starting with the worst.
"My sister's fiancé was killed tonight in a convenience store robbery on his way to my nephew's school play."
"Oh, my God." Daniel sat up, his leg flopping off the riser.
"And my dad is stuck in Mexico until they can get his citizenship straightened out, so when your dad called, I was sitting up with Justin while Hilda was at the morgue identifying Santos's body."
Daniel just stared, his face pale in the eery, bluish light of the room. The blinking heart on the monitor throbbed faster.
"And about the time Santos got shot," Betty went on, feeling stronger with each breath, "I was getting ready to go to the airport to stop Henry from flying to Arizona with his ex-girlfriend, Charlie, who showed up at my house last night to tell Henry—who was coming over for dinner—that she's pregnant with his baby."
Daniel's mouth dropped open, showing the bloody teeth marks clearly etched in his lower lip.
"But I never made it to the airport because the police came looking for my sister, so instead I went to the school and broke the news to Hilda that her fiancé was killed, and together we told Justin."
Daniel still didn't say anything. Even with just one eye, his luminous gaze threatened to undo her. She gulped and went on, "And when your father called to say you'd been in a serious car accident? Well, that was just the cherry on the sundae."
Daniel shook his head as though clearing it of dust. "All this happened," he whispered, "just tonight?"
Daniel collapsed back against the pillows again. "And my sister's in a coma."
"And my mom broke out of prison."
"Wow." He stared at the ceiling for a moment. "I'm really sorry to hear about your sister's fiancé. He seemed like an okay guy, huh?"
"Yeah. He had really stepped up."
"How are Hilda and Justin?"
Daniel nodded. "You shouldn't be here. You should be with them."
"I should be here, too. I can't leave you here, Daniel."
"I'll be okay."
"You're having surgery. You might have internal bleeding."
"I'm in the hospital. I'll be okay."
Betty didn't want to leave. It was suddenly peaceful here, in the corner cubby of the ER, the light from the monitor beside Daniel's bed casting a blue glow as it lined out his heart waves and pulse. She bent forward and crossed her arms on the soft bed beside his ribs, stretching out her lower back and resting her head on her crooked elbows.
From the down the hall, a baby cried, then went silent. Someone at the round desk made a joke about coffee and bedpans and several others laughed. The automatic blood pressure cuff on Daniel's arm hummed and breathed, and Betty felt her eyes beginning to close.
"Why were you trying to stop Henry if his ex-girlfriend is pregnant with his baby? That just sounds like . . . heartbreak on a schedule."
"Because his ex-girlfriend has also been dating my orthodontist. So there's a good chance the baby's not his. Not Henry's, that is."
"Oh." Daniel shifted on the bed, and his side grazed the top of Betty's head. "My mother says Henry's hotter than the orthodontist."
"Yeah, you know—the woman who killed Fey Sommers and is now apparently a fugitive?"
"You know something?" Daniel laughed a little, groaning with pain, his ribs bouncing against Betty's hair. "This is worse than a bad soap opera."
"My father watches those in Spanish. Telenovelas."
"Ah, so you do speak Spanish."
"Not really." Betty closed her eyes again. Beside her, she felt him move again, trying to get comfortable. "You think they're ever going to bring you any pain medication?"
"Doubtful." Now Daniel's side was pressed against her scalp. She could feel the rise and fall of his ribs as he breathed. "Besides, it doesn't really matter."
"Sure it does. They're not supposed to just leave people lying around in pain."
When Daniel didn't answer her, she figured he was too sleepy. She let her own thoughts drift, then purposely bent them upward. Hilda would recover. Justin was a kid, resilient and blessed with the Suarez optimism. Her dad would be home soon. Henry would find out the baby wasn't his. Alexis would wake up. Daniel would . . .
"Did you know that my dad's going to marry Wilhelmina?" Daniel's voice reverberated through his ribs and through the top of her head, sounding hollow.
"I'd heard that. I didn't know if it was just a rumor."
"Nope. He told me himself. He's going to leave my mother after 38 years . . ."
"Does your mom know?"
"He says so."
Betty didn't know what to say. Daniel's family had long befuddled her. But she did know one thing. "I hope your mom gets away," she whispered.
Daniel's ribs jerked as he huffed a sharp little laugh. "If anyone can pull off a prison break, it's Claire Meade," he said. "Especially if she's sober. Because guess what."
"Other than you, my mom's the smartest person I know."
Betty smiled into her own arms. Clearly, Daniel was exhausted. His words were slurred, just slightly, like perhaps he was still a little drunk or just dizzy with pain and fatigue. She wondered if he was scared about his upcoming surgery.
"It's going to be okay," she said, as much for herself as for him.
"Yeah, I know," he said. Yes, he was definitely falling asleep. "You know how I know?"
"How?" Her own brain slid, but clung onto consciousness for another moment.
"You're here and things don't hurt as much anymore."