"Have you done this before?" she asked, glancing up at him.
He chuckled, dropping his hand to graze her shoulder. "More times than you care to know. Maybe not exactly like this, but it seemed to be what you needed."
The tears were still stinging her eyes, though they'd pretty much dried up now. The ache in her heart, though, was slower to heal. It would come, though. She knew it would. A man would not keep Betty Suarez down. If Henry was too blind to make sure the baby was his, that wasn't her problem.
"I wanted him to fight for me. For real. Not because someone was being nasty to me. I wanted him to stand up and fight for me. To be with me."
"He obviously doesn't appreciate you, Betty. You deserve better than that."
She smiled at that. It sounded so logical coming from his mouth. He just didn't get what it was like for someone like her.
"That's very easy for you to say. The man who can have any woman in New York - if not the world."
"And look where it's gotten me, Betty," he said, gesturing to the wheelchair. "My brother - who's now my sister - is in a coma because of me, my self-destructive path."
"It's not your fault, she loves you and was trying to look out for you."
"You tried to warn me."
She pushed up on her glasses and moved to kneel in front of him. She took his hands in hers, mindful of his numerous injuries from the car accident. He was healing, she knew he was, staying in the hospital was a sign of something other than physical injuries.
"You just weren't ready, Daniel. You may still not be ready. What Sophia did to you," Betty shrugged.
"This isn't about…"
"Don't tell me it's not. You fell in love and did it hard. Daniel Meade was willing to settle down and you got humiliated in the process. That had to be a pretty low feeling for you."
"Yeah, it was," he said.
"And everything going on with your parents, Alex coming back, the state of the magazine… I don't think anyone can blame you, Daniel."
"You wouldn't do it. Throw your life into a bottle of liquor or pills."
"I'm not you."
He grazed a fingertip along the edge of her face, pushing some of her obviously disheveled hair from her face. Nothing like a good evening of shoveling dirt to make a great impression on a man. Not that she was trying to impress Daniel Meade. His thumb brushed over her lips and she took a deep breath, surprised at her body's reaction to his touch. Oh, God. Did he know? Had he seen the flicker of need that washed through her? How pathetic was she that the barest of touch by a man who ordinarily wouldn't give her the time of day made her swoon.
Okay, she wasn't swooning. She hadn't moved from where her knees were firmly planted on the ground, but his touch was definitely swoon-worthy. If she was prone to doing that sort of thing. Which she wasn't. Not over a man anyway.
"Thank God for small favors," he said. His eyes were different, looking at her with the type of interest a man bestows a woman. Not the type a boss pays to his secretary. He knew!
"How's your sister?"
Betty shook her head, pressing her face into the palm of his hand. If he was willing to touch, she was going to accept the comfort. No matter how limited. She was entitled. Her father was stranded in Mexico, her sister was a mess, her nephew was miserable at camp, and everything - as usual - fell into her lap to get done.
"Not so good."
"I'm sorry. Really."
"I'll tell her."
"If there's anything I can do. Therapy, a weekend at the spa, you name it."
"That's…Daniel, you're too generous."
"You're good people, Betty. I'm not sure I've ever really known such a thing existed until I met you and your family. And your nephew?"
"He's surprisingly okay."
"Which means you have to watch out for him. His father just died. He's not okay, Betty."
"I know that, but I can't make him talk about it."
"Of course not. All you can do is be there for him, let him know you are. He'll take it from there."
She stood then, brushing off her knees, and grazed his cheek with a kiss.
"What was that for?" He gripped her hand, preventing her from pulling away as she would have done.
"For surprising me. Again. You always do that! I get disappointed in you or upset with you and you do something like this," she said, gesturing to the ground around them. "I really needed it. I've been so busy worrying about my family that I haven't had much time to think about Henry."
"Which makes it even harder to get closure. I understand, Betty." He brought her hand to his lips, kissing it lightly. "Maybe now you can move toward that end. There's a guy out there for you, Betty. I believe that."
"You think so?"
"I know so."
She shook her head, drawing her hand away all the while trying to ignore that she thought she'd felt it tingle when he kissed it. What was with her? She was so immune to the Daniel Meade charm. Or was she? Not liking that thought at all, because she stood about as much chance of getting Daniel Meade's attention as she did of becoming a player in the WNBA or gracing the pages of the next Playboy. None of those scenarios was likely.
She returned to the hole, picking up the shovel, and finished covering the hole she'd dug. So much stuff she'd accumulated and they hadn't even been together that long. Some of it was just dumb stuff, like paperclips. Other stuff was more meaningful, more heart wrenching to know it would become compost here in this hole.
"Oh God, Daniel…"
"Betty," he said softly.
She leaned in and hugged him, fresh tears in her eyes.
"You can," he said, patting her back. It was a little awkward, him sitting in a wheelchair.
"I didn't even get this upset when Walter and I broke up."
"Yeah, well, no offense, but Walter wasn't worth crying over."
She laughed. "He wasn't so bad."
"Betty, he didn't get you."
"Not many do. I don't fit in really in the neighborhood, I don't fit in at Mode. Christina's the only one who's decent to me."
"I'm not decent to you?"
"You're my boss. You have to be or I'll spit in your coffee or something."
"You haven't done that, have you?"
She smiled. "I've been tempted, but no."
"Okay," he said, sounding genuinely relieved. Did he really think she could do something like that? She supposed it wasn't so far fetched. She tended to go off half-cocked when she'd reached her boiling point of frustration.
He pushed her away, grazing her chin with his thumb. "And I don't have to be decent to you because I'm your boss. You're not the type to spit in my coffee no matter how I treat you. I'm decent to you because you deserve it."
His eyes met hers. She wondered what he saw there? The pathetic excuse for a woman so many saw. Or did he see something else? Did he see potential for Betty Suarez? Or were his words of finding someone sugar coating things for her to get her over Henry, who obviously didn't want her badly enough.
He kissed her then. Really, they kissed each other. It was the only way it could have happened, her leaning in just enough and him leaning in just enough. He initiated it, though, she could see it in his eyes.
It was brief, too brief, but nice. Who was she kidding? Her heart was racing as if she'd just run a mile all from a kiss that lasted no more than thirty seconds. He seemed as shocked by the kiss as she was. He cleared his throat, dropping his hand to his lap.
"I…," she searched for something plausible. "I should get you back to the hospital. You need your rest."
"Okay," he said simply. Was that it?
"Good," she said, gathering up the shovel and handing it to him before stepping up behind his wheelchair. "Ready?" she asked, as if nothing happened.
She couldn't help but smile as she guided his wheelchair back to the car that was waiting for him.
"Let my driver take you home, Betty. It's late, you'll be on the subway all night."
She shrugged, brushing her hair from her face. "I'll be fine. The air and the ride will be good for me. Clear my head, you know?"
"Yeah, I know."
"Are we, you know, okay?"
"Yes, Betty, we're fine."
"Good night then, Daniel, thanks again."
"Good night, Betty," he said.
She walked away, stopping midway down the street to turn and watch as his driver struggled to get the wheelchair folded and into the trunk. She stood there, out of the light and watched as the car drove away.
"What a weird night," she said softly. That kiss didn't change any of the other things they'd talked about, that she'd done. She was ready to move past Henry. He wasn't even in New York, at least if she was going to pine for someone she should do it with someone she'd at least have the chance to see.
She turned then, walking the rest of the way to the nearest subway stop. He'd been right, it would be late when she got home but she didn't think either of them wanted to be close to the other right now. And for the first time in weeks she didn't feel like she was going to cry at the drop of a hat. She felt, cleansed, for lack of a better word. Closure? Maybe she hadn't gotten to that point yet but she was definitely closer than she'd been a few hours ago.
And that was okay with Betty.
Story ©Susan Falk/APCKRFAN/PhantomRoses.com