Daniel nervously tapped his fingers on the white cloth of the table, waiting for Betty to show. Due to a last minute problem at work, she had to meet him at the restaurant. He was disappointed; wanting to do everything he could to make it a real date. But as he saw her walk into the private enclosed patio he'd reserved, there was no doubt in his mind that she knew.
"You look . . . Wow . . ." he said, handing her a single rose, overwhelmed by how well she wore the black, one-shouldered, Valentino cocktail dress that showed off every curve of her body.
"Thank you," she said as she accepted it, tucking her dark hair behind her ear and smiling, shyly.
As he pulled out her chair, intentionally brushing her shoulders while he helped her into it, he wondered if she'd been using a new conditioner. Her hair seemed silky as he briefly touched it and it had the scent of vanilla and coconut.
Her chocolate-colored eyes lit up as she began to talk about her new magazine. She was happy – truly happy, without compromise. He'd never seen her so excited, completely beaming with joy – yet still calm and composed - for her, anyway. She had grown so much since they'd first met, but in some ways she hadn't changed at all.
Her laugh was still infectious. Her ability to read him was as annoying and endearing as always. It made it even harder to maintain his cover for the reason he was there. Only, he supposed it'd be easier if things were out in the open. But he wasn't positive she could handle the weight of it so soon.
She continued to flirt with him and blushed when he touched or complimented her. Those were good signs she was interested. But what if he put his whole heart on the line and she stomped on it? He couldn't tell her everything at once.
He suddenly felt her hand on his, her face forming an amused expression.
"Where were you?" Betty asked.
"Nowhere – I was just wondering if I should've gotten the fried calamari, too - I'm starving!" Daniel excused.
"Okay . . ." she replied, unconvinced. "You can have the last two pieces of bruschetta, if you want?"
Then he felt bad. He was supposed to be taking her to dinner – not eating her part of it.
"No, it's okay – I'm fine," he declined.
She shoved the plate toward him.
"Here, take them," she insisted. "I don't want to spoil my appetite. The chicken parm looks sooo good!"
"Thanks," he said, adoring her so much right then for being so selfless.
"What are you getting?" Betty wondered.
Daniel briefly glanced over the menu.
"I think I'll get the filet mignon," he answered, noticing it came with those stuffed mushrooms she loved.
"So . . . what's next for you? What do you think you want to do?" she asked.
He sipped his wine and carefully chose his words.
". . . I don't know. I think I'm going to, uh . . . explore my options – see where they take me," he answered, daringly taking her hand.
And there was that coy little smile again . . . But that's all the reaction he got before they were interrupted by the waiter taking their orders. She immediately withdrew her hand from his. He wasn't sure whether it was merely to hand the waiter her menu or using that as an excuse to have it back.
"You know, you could always come work for me until you figure it out . . ." Betty suggested after the waiter left.
"You're just dying to get me as your assistant, aren't you?" he playfully accused her.
"It would be kinda fun – having you get my coffee, run insane errands, schedule all my meetings and juggle all of my dates . . ." she smirked.
"Dates?" he questioned with a little too much interest.
"Yeah, dates. You know, when a girl goes to dinner with a guy, they get to know each other? He takes her home, kisses her goodnight?" she mocked.
"Funny," he smirked.
"I thought so . . ." Betty remarked.
"So you go out on a lot of them, now?" Daniel casually asked. Maybe he was the last in a long line. Maybe she was just humoring an old friend . . .
"Not since I've been here. I was just thinking about everything I had to do for you," she explained. "This is actually the first non-business dinner I've had."
"Really?" he said, hiding his relief.
"Mmm-hmm. It's so nice to see a familiar face again. I don't mind meeting new people, but I miss having someone who I can talk about home with – who knows how incredible Brooklyn-style pizza is or the little restaurants in Chinatown . . . that there's nothing better than a hotdog from Gray's Papaya . . . viewing the skyline from the Queensboro Bridge . . . seeing a Broadway show . . . or a taking a carriage ride through Central Park . . ." she admitted.
"Do you wish you hadn't left?" he asked.
Betty hesitated for minute.
"No . . . I miss my family and friends – even Wilhelmina a little," she joked. "But I think I made the right decision. I was moving up at MODE, but I never wanted to be in fashion. Here, I can write about what I want. We have a fashion section, but the entire magazine doesn't revolve around it. . . It's funny – everyone goes to me when they have a question about what's 'in' this season."
"You have learned a lot in the past four years. I think they should go to you for advice," he said.
"Daniel . . ." she rolled her eyes in disbelief.
"No – I'm serious. Trust me, Betty. I've seen how some people dress here – it's worse than your first year at MODE," he told her.
"Hey!" she protested. "But I guess you're right . . . I was pretty out there."
"You've grown a lot . . ." he said.
"So have you," she told him. "I'm really glad you're here."
"Me, too. I'm sorry for everything I put you through. I should've been happy for you – helping you celebrate . . . I guess I was too busy thinking about what I was going to lose," Daniel confessed.
"You'll never lose me, Daniel – but refusing to return my calls and texts didn't help," she pointed out.
He smiled, sheepishly.
"I lost my phone for two weeks?" he joked.
"Nice try – but I've heard you use that line on a hundred models," she gave a knowing look.
"You're too smart for me," he teased.
"No, I just know you too well," she corrected him.
"That could be a good thing," he flirted.
"How so?" she played along.
"Well, you know those dates you mentioned? Getting to know each other?" he said.
"Yeah?" she prompted.
"We're already there," he pointed out.
She looked down, almost afraid to admit he was right.
"Dance with me?" Daniel held out his hand as Gavin DeGraw's 'More Than Anyone' began to play in the background.
Betty smiled and took it. He led her to an empty space on the star-lit patio and wrapped his other arm around her waist. It felt so good to have her close to him again. And by the middle of the song, Betty was leaning her head on his chest and holding him tight. He allowed himself to rest his head on hers and take in the moment.
"We had our first real dance to this song," Betty quietly remembered.
"We've danced before, Betty – even that night," he reminded her.
"Not like that – not that close, not all night," she argued.
"True. I practically had to carry you to the car when the reception was over," he mused.
"And even though we'd had way too much already, you grabbed that extra bottle of champagne and some cake and suggested we take it to the bridge . . ." she recalled. "That's the last time I went out there."
"That was a good night," he formed a bittersweet smile. It was one of the last good nights they'd had before she'd sprung her leaving on him.
"I'm sorry," she apologized.
"For what?" he asked.
"For not telling you - I was scared," she confessed. "And you seemed so happy every time I got up the courage to do it, that I couldn't find it in myself to ruin your mood."
"It's over now – don't worry about it," he assured her. "Besides, I think I more than got you back for it."
Betty playfully smacked him.
"How's your hand, by the way?" she smirked.
"Completely healed – ego's still a little bruised though," he joked.
"Good," she teased.
As the song came to an end and another one began, the waiter came back with their entrees. They ate in a contented silence, Daniel only spoke to offer her some of his mushrooms and she happily accepted them. He was amazed at how such little things like that could make her so happy – or how her smile could make his entire night.
"Dessert?" he asked.
"How long have you known me?" Betty teased. "I'm really stuffed, but I always have a little room for anything chocolate. You wanna split the black tie mousse cake?"
"I was thinking of getting the tiramisu, but go ahead – you can take the rest of it home for later," he suggested.
When the waiter brought Betty her dessert and she took the first bite of it, Daniel had thought he was watching 'When Harry Met Sally' from her reaction. He put a bite of his own dessert in his mouth to distract his mind from going to certain places . . .
"That good, huh?" he chuckled.
Betty scooted her chair next to him.
"Here – you try it. I'm not kidding," she insisted, feeding him a bite.
"That is good," he admitted, but what was even better was the woman feeding it to him.
He cut a piece of the tiramisu with his fork and offered it to her.
"Try this," he said and carefully placed it in her mouth.
"Mmmm . . . that's really good, too," she agreed, closing her eyes and savoring it.
She had no idea how sexy she truly was – and that made her even sexier. It took everything he had to restrain himself, just watching her as they continued to share each other's desserts, laughing over how anyone back at MODE would have had heart attacks just looking at the calorie-filled dishes. They ended up eating both of them, vowing to hit the gym or walk to work the next morning on the ride home.
As they reached the steps in front of her flat, he felt the pressure building again. Now came one of the most important parts of the date. It was usually the easiest part, in his opinion. But considering who was with him, he was unsure of what to do. Should he just hug her? No, that was too friendly – they fed each other dessert for Christ's sake! A peck on the cheek? A quick kiss on her lips . . .? He was panicking – and Daniel Meade did not panic over this.
"I had a really great time," Betty said, walking up the steps.
"Me, too," he replied, following her.
"So, um . . . there's this launch party on Friday for another one of our magazines . . . Would you want to go with me?" she asked.
"I would love to," he said, brushing her hair away from her face. It was now or never . . .
He leaned in and took a risk, closing the space between them and softly but fully kissed her lips, feeling out her reaction.
"I was wondering what that'd be like," she admitted, blushing.
"And?" he wondered.
"And . . ." she pulled his mouth to hers, kissing him more heatedly, allowing their tongues to duel as they got lost in each other.
When they broke, Daniel felt drunk from the immense passion.
"You know, you still haven't answered my question," he flirted breathlessly, their foreheads touching.
Betty lowered her head, guiltily.
"Better than dessert," she revealed.
Daniel couldn't control the crooked grin forming on his face.
"I couldn't agree more," he said, kissing her extensively, but fleetingly when compared to the last one.
"Goodnight, Daniel," she said, resting her hand on his chest.
He took it and kissed the top of it.
"Goodnight, Betty . . . I'll call you tomorrow," he promised - and this time he actually meant it.