"That was not how it happened, Daniel!" Betty giggled. "You set me up!"
"Hey – I never told you to bow when you tipped the doorman," Daniel denied.
"Yes you did – you told me it was a new custom to bow to service people!" she insisted. "That it was a way to show respect for them."
Daniel burst out laughing.
"And you actually believed me?" he shook his head in amazement.
Betty playfully shoved him – well, as much as she could in a cab.
"You're so cute when you're mortified," he grinned at her with adoration.
"You're paying for this, Meade!" she teased.
Those were the last words Betty spoke before hers and Daniel's worlds literally came crashing down – before her flirting words ironically became true.
Everything seemed to go in slow motion – the truck jackknifing into them, him trying to pull Betty out of the way, the broken glass, her painful screams, slamming the back of his body against the door, the paramedics, the Jaws of Life, the ride in the ambulance, the foreign-sounding sirens . . .
She was alive, but in critical condition. He had refused medical attention and claimed he was her fiancé in order to see her - a title he hoped to earn one day. Hell, he'd marry her then if she'd let him. But she didn't even know. He'd never told her how he felt, and now she was fighting for her life. He couldn't put that on her right then – she had enough to deal with as it was. So he simply held her hand and prayed for her to be alright.
She looked so small . . . fragile, pale. She had cuts from the glass all over her face and arms. She wasn't the same woman who had pulled him out of so many messes he couldn't count. He brushed her blood-stained hair away from her forehead and gently kissed it. If the truck driver hadn't already died on impact, he'd be seeking him out right then and making him pay for doing this to her.
Betty's eyes slowly opened and darted around in confusion.
"Baby, it's okay. I'm right here," Daniel assured her, unable to control the slip of an endearment.
"Daniel? What happened?" she weakly mumbled.
"We were in an accident," he answered. "But you don't need to worry about anything. Just get some rest."
"It's bad . . . isn't it?" she said.
Apparently, despite how hard he tried to cover it, the fear was written all over his face. It was one time when he wished she didn't know him as well as she did.
"You're going to be fine and back to your gullible self in no time!" he told her with a thumbs-up.
"You're just as bad a liar as I am, you know?" she teased.
Daniel nervously chuckled as a nurse came in and checked her vitals.
"Looks like you're finally stabilizing. I'll tell the doctor and get the consent form," the woman said.
"Daniel? W-What's she talking about?" Betty began to panic.
"From what they told your dad – he and your family are on the jet right now - you have some internal bleeding, along with a broken leg and a couple of ribs. The doctors couldn't operate on you until your body had time to recover from the shock . . . but now they can – they have to," he explained.
"Could I . . .?" she asked, unable to say the dreaded word.
"Don't even think that!" Daniel insisted, tears forming in his eyes, his voice cracking.
He couldn't stand to have her thinking the worst. It wasn't her – she was always the positive one – the cheerleader. She was the queen of pep talks – hearing her talk like that was heartbreaking.
The nurse returned with the form and Betty shakily signed it. She prepared Betty's bed to be wheeled to the operating room.
"But if I don't make it –" she began.
"Betty . . ." he trailed off.
"No – Daniel there's something I need you to know," she insisted. "I . . . I l-"
He had a feeling she was about to utter the three words he'd longed to hear from her. But he didn't want her to say them at that moment – not as a last minute confession. He wanted it to be natural . . . happy . . . in a place that wasn't filled with machines and needles and nurses and smelled of antiseptic.
"No – don't say it – not now!" he gently placed two fingers to her lips. "Say whatever it is when you wake up, okay? Because you are – you'll be giving me that beautiful Betty smile and have all your spunk back . . . You're a fighter, Betty. I know you're scared, but just promise me you'll fight, because you have so many people who care about you – whose day you make brighter just by walking into a room or talking to them on the phone. They need you . . . I need you."
"I promise," she said, a tear trickling down her cheek.
He gently wiped it away.
"No crying, okay? You're coming back to me," he said. "Who else will yell at me when I screw up? Or drag me to karaoke bars? Or make me watch old movies 'til two in the morning?"
Betty giggled as much as she could in her condition.
"We're ready," the nurse said.
Daniel tenderly kissed her hand and they held on as long as they could before she was taken away. He sat in a chair in her room and broke down, unable to hold it in anymore. The weight of the guilt overwhelmed him. If he hadn't been such a gentleman and let her get in first . . . if they had walked another block . . . if they had taken another cab or the Tube . . . if he had been faster at pulling her out of the way . . . she wouldn't be struggling to survive. He felt like throwing a chair, a trashcan – anything. But he knew he had to pull it together or they'd kick him out. He ran his hands through his hair and wiped the tears that stained his face.
He remembered their first dinner together after he came to London. She was so sexy in that little black dress . . . so confident in herself as she talked about her new job – getting the hang of dealing with contracts and persuading advertisers to sign, hiring a staff. She lit up with excitement so much that he regretted ever wanting to deprive her of that happiness.
And yet, she was so uncertain of how to react to him – to his subtle but new gestures of holding doors, taking her coat, pulling out her chair, holding her hand, stealing glances, kissing her cheek goodnight . . . The awkwardness was as if they were getting to know each other for the first time, even though they'd been close friends for years.
He couldn't tell her the truth, but he needed her to erase the thought that he had been her boss and focus solely on their personal relationship. Betty had never liked change, but he was hoping since she had taken the leap for a new job, she could eventually see taking one for him.
They weren't there yet, but they had come so far since then. After two weeks of unofficially dating, she didn't jump at his touch or question his extreme politeness. She welcomed his flirting stares and banter. She blushed at his small pecks on her cheek and almost seemed ready for more. He had been hoping for the right time to give her a genuine kiss. To sweep her off her feet and let her know he truly wanted her. In fact, he had been going to make it happen that night, until the crash occurred.
The crash . . . It seemed as though something was always getting in their way – greasy-haired nerds, jobs in London . . . Why couldn't they catch a break? Why couldn't they just have time to figure things out . . . for them both to fall in love? Why was she always being taken away from him? Did he not deserve her? Maybe that was it – she was so perfect in every way and he had been such a jerk to her in the beginning. Maybe this was his payback . . . Maybe karma was returning to bite him in the ass.
But he loved this woman with his whole heart. He'd never felt it stronger than he did when he was with her. He couldn't lose her – not now – not ever! She was everything to him. She had to come out of this – she had her entire life ahead of her – even if it didn't include him in the long run. She didn't deserve this. It wasn't fair – if anything, he should be the one on that operating table, not Betty. He had been the one who'd always screwed things up and been a jackass to women. He had been selfish and self-centered, egotistical, and unwilling to work for anything.
Betty was the one who changed him. She was the only one who had believed in him, didn't put up with his bullshit or his player ways. She didn't see him as a millionaire playboy, she saw who he was on the inside. She made him want to open up to her . . . tell her things he'd never told anyone. She got him to see how much he could accomplish if he just tried. She taught him how to truly love. She made him want to be a better man.
He glanced at his Rolex – only an hour had passed. The ETA on her surgery was still undetermined. The doctors wouldn't know how bad the bleeding was until they got in there. And then there were the pins that needed to be placed in her leg . . . Oh god . . .
The Suarezes would be there in another couple of hours. He couldn't be like this in front of them – she was their daughter, their sister, their aunt – he was just . . . he didn't even know. His and Betty's relationship was still undefined. All he did know was that he loved her more than anything and she'd want her family to be taken care of. He had to be strong for them. He had to calm down and stop thinking about everything. He went over to the bench by the window and laid down, closed his eyes and tried to relax.