His father had hired Betty as punishment, not realizing he had really done Daniel a favor. She had bailed him out more times than he could count. Last night was just the most public of them. On his way home, after seeing her into a cab, he had cursed his stupidity.
Who was he to offer her advice about love? Until two months ago, monogamy and marriage had been the equivalent of curse words to him. He treated women like most people got rid of lint from their jacket sleeve. Brushed them off, cast them aside without any thought. He wasn't the first or the last, but he liked to think he'd added his own special touch to the let-down game.
He drew his arm away from his face. He still couldn't believe she'd cleaned his place. She wasn't even working for him at the time. At the time he had thought that she was acting like a mother. Except, his mother never behaved like that.
"What if you're wrong about Henry?"
Daniel was the last person to stand in judgment on anyone when it came to infidelity. He hadn't exactly had a stellar example in his father. His mother wasn't much better.
Why hadn't he been able to see what Sofia was up to? Was he, when it came down to it, no different than the millions of others in New York City who were searching for lasting love? He'd thought he was immune to it. He wasn't the one who had been expected to carry on the Meade name, to follow in his father's footsteps. He'd had no desire to either. And, now, here he was.
He sat up and glanced at his pillowcase. For some reason he wondered what kind of sheets he'd have had as a kid. The Little Mermaid didn't seem to suit Betty. He wasn't sure why that thought occurred to him. He wasn't allowed such things. Now that he thought about it, it was ridiculous he wasn't. Like anyone ever saw his room.
"Why do you care if you're wrong about Henry?"
It wasn't his concern. It wasn't his place to worry. She was his assistant, his employee. He doubted she'd disappoint him in that regard no matter the circumstances. He knew something was going on with her at home. She didn't talk about it, but he wasn't as blind or as clueless as people thought.
Of course, some of that introspection had been brought about by being exposed to Betty. She had such an innocence to her. Yet, there were times that simpler and innocent was the way to go. She had proven that more than once, despite the fact he continued to doubt her.
He tried to imagine Amanda going for a slice of pizza with him. Singing karaoke. She might have done it, but she wouldn't have been happy about it. He didn't want someone who was willing to do whatever he wanted to do just because. He deserved better than that. He had a right to expect more than what his parents had.
They weren't miserable, but they weren't happy either. He knew alcoholism was a disease, but he couldn't help but think the flames of the disease were fanned by the tumultuous relationship his parents shared.
"So, Betty gets up the nerve to approach Henry. Where does that leave you?"
He wasn't sure. Henry would be good to a woman. He'd meant what he'd told her about that. She made some of the supermodels he'd gone out with look inferior. By a mile. Looks-wise, no. Not that she was unattractive to look at. Not completely. With some guidance and some monetary backing he imagined she could achieve a stylish appearance.
But when it all came down to it, did style and beauty really matter? He'd had fun last night. For the first time in a long time that he could remember, certainly since before his brother had died, he'd enjoyed himself. Wasn't there something to be said for that? Wasn't a woman who could make you happy more valuable than one who looked good on your arm? Wasn't a relationship, marriage, supposed to be a partnership?
He ran his fingers through his hair. What kind of gentleman was he? He put her in a cab and sent her on back to Queens like a piece of garbage.
"You're scum, Daniel," he muttered.
He was sure she'd gotten home all right. That wasn't it. For some reason, he couldn't imagine bad things happening to Betty. She seemed impervious to such things. He admired the way she came to work every day with her head held high. If she heard what anyone said about her, she never gave any indication it bothered her.
"It has to, though. Doesn't it?"
He didn't know. He couldn't claim to understand women, certainly not one like Betty. Hell, he'd been blindsided by Sofia. He'd fallen for her hook, line, and sinker. All she'd had to do was reel him in and let him flounder around like a fish gasping for its last breath.
She'd done him a favor, really. It was two months of his life. It wasn't like he'd invested years in a relationship that failed. He'd learned he could do it, though. He could take that leap. He could commit.
He picked up his phone and dialed the one woman's number he'd bothered to memorize. Or to store in his speed dial.
"Hello?" She sounded tired but, not surprisingly, upbeat.
"I was just making sure you got home."
"I did. Thanks."
"I gave you enough to cover the cab?"
"Including the tip."
"Wow," he said, pinching the bridge of his nose. He supposed a tip for going to Queens was in order. "Well, good."
"Is that all you needed, Daniel?"
"Yeah, I guess it was."
"All right, I'll see you later then."
"You will," he said. It was stupid. He hung up the phone and he felt better. She was all right. She'd gone out on a limb for him tonight. She'd risked getting her face plastered all over not just the New York Times but the tabloids to save his skin.
He wasn't sure he'd ever done something like that for anyone. He couldn't even tell Amanda he wanted her gone. Amanda wasn't cut out to be his assistant. He stood from his bed, taking one last glance at his clean apartment before heading to the shower.
He couldn't imagine anyone but Betty being his assistant. She was more than his assistant, though. She was his cheerleader, his psychiatrist, his rock. As he stepped under the showerhead, he sighed as the water pounded against his body. It helped to wake him up. He rested his hands against the shower wall, soaking his head under the spray.
"Partners," he whispered. That's what they were. She didn't earn his salary, he wasn't sure she'd want his salary, but he knew she'd always come through for him. She'd always be there for him. She'd always be true to him. It was more than he could say about anyone else in his life.
He shook the excess water from his hair, in part clearing his thoughts. He wasn't sure what it all meant exactly. But he knew he wasn't so sure he wanted to encourage Betty to look too closely at someone like Henry. Henry was a good man. Something Daniel never really thought of himself as being. Until recently. He'd never gotten positive strokes, reassurances, kudos. He wasn't the golden child. And now that he was an only child he was forever living in the shadow of a ghost.
She didn't judge him like that, though. She didn't look at him and see failure. He suspected even if she had known his brother she would still side with Daniel. It was just the way she was made. He didn't understand it, but he wanted to try. He wanted to learn. He wanted to know how a good person worked, how they felt, how they succeeded in life knowing that others who were willing to slit their throat would get ahead.
Stepping out of the shower, he picked up his phone again and dialed the number for a florist he used. He got voicemail, which he expected at this time of day. He left his name and requested a dozen yellow roses be delivered to Betty at the office with no card attached. He knew they'd be discreet, they always were. He wasn't sure Betty would even think to call the florist anyway.
"You're about to get some competition, Henry," he said with a smile as he hung up the phone. He was ready to get on with his day, no longer worried about running into Sofia. She was the one people should feel sorry for. The fact she had to trick someone into falling for her would forever make any man think twice about getting involved with her again.
He had nothing to be ashamed of. He was used, played. It was all becoming increasingly clear to him. He could hold his head high and let the doubters know he wasn't going to sink into a dismal abyss over a woman.
He was Daniel Meade after all. And that had to mean something.
Story ©Susan Falk/APCKRFAN/PhantomRoses.com