Home > More Than Words(12)

More Than Words(12)
Author: Jill Santopolo

“You didn’t tell me it was this bad,” she said, quietly.

He looked at her, his blue eyes glassy. “I didn’t want you to know,” he said. He took her hand and laced their fingers together. Carlos slipped out.

“I’d thought we could take a walk in the park, but . . .” Nina looked around the room. “How about we work on that crossword we started a few days ago, if you haven’t finished it? Unless there’s something else you want to do?”

“The crossword puzzle is good,” he said, his voice barely above a whisper.

As they worked on the puzzle Nina marveled at how, even filled with pain and the drugs to block it, he was still quicker than almost everyone she knew. She felt her eyes fill.

“I love you, Dad,” she said to him. “So much that it hurts sometimes.”

“Oh, Sweetheart,” he said, slowly. “These days, my love for you hurts all the time. I feel like by getting sick like this, by dying, I’m somehow letting you down. I didn’t mean for this to happen.”

Nina crossed the space between her chair and her father’s bed. She bent down and hugged him carefully; he felt so fragile. “Of course you didn’t,” she said. “And you’ve never let me down.”

“I want you to listen,” he said. “I don’t know how long I have, and there are some things I need to make sure you know. I’ve been thinking about this all week.”

Nina sat on the edge of his bed. “I’m here, Dad.”

“You know your grandfather always said that you’re nothing without your name.” Nina could hear the strain in his voice, the way there was just enough air in his lungs to make it to the end of the sentence. “When you take over the business, remember that. Everything you do, it’s not just for you. It’s to honor me, to honor your grandfather. We created something that will live on after we’re gone, and it’s your job to take care of it. You know how important that is to me.”

“I know, Dad,” Nina said. All her life, her father had talked to her about the Gregory legacy. What her grandparents had done to build it, to secure it. How her grandfather wanted the Gregory name to mean success and luxury, and how her grandmother wanted it to mean elegance and culture. That was why she started her art collection and joined the board of the Met. Nina’s father built on what both his parents had done. He grew his mother’s collection, expanding it from its home in the Hamptons to his apartment and the lobbies of the Gregory hotels. And he stepped into her spot on the board of trustees at the Met after she died. Later, when he took the helm of the Gregory Corporation, he expanded on his father’s success, too, and added power to their family’s legacy, innovation. Nina wasn’t sure yet what she’d contribute, but she felt the weight of it. The weight of the pride her father felt in being a Gregory. The gravity of the mission he felt he was giving her.

“Have you read through the financials yet? The envelope I gave you last week? Did you bring it with you?”

Nina sighed, feeling a squeeze in the pit of her stomach, the one that came from disappointing her father. “I haven’t had a chance yet, Dad. I’m sorry. It’s at home. The campaign’s been crazy.”

He was quiet for a moment. “In that case, I just want to say: If you find anything . . .” Her father faltered.

“What do you mean, Dad?” Nina asked.

He shook his head. “It’s nothing.” He looked so defeated. “We can talk after you go through the numbers.”

“Should I be looking for something?” she asked. She wondered if this was a test. If he’d put something in there so he’d know she could do the job. His way of making sure her intelligence was at the $2000 level.

“We’ll talk this weekend,” he said. “Sooner rather than later, okay?”

Nina’s stomach squeezed harder. “The doctor said you’d be okay until January,” she said. “We’ve got so much time to talk.” She kept telling herself that. She had to keep telling herself that.

“It’s not an exact science, Sweetheart. You’re smarter than that.”

It stung. Those words always stung.

“And there’s one more thing.” He tightened his grip on her hand. “I don’t want you to be here, at the end of your life, and regret anything.”

“Do you?” she asked, the squeeze in her stomach still there. “Regret anything?”

He moved his head in such a way that Nina couldn’t quite tell if he was nodding yes or shaking it no. “I just wish . . . I wish I’d had more time with your mother. I wish—” he said, and then stopped.

“Me, too,” Nina whispered, so quietly she wasn’t even sure if her father had heard her.

He took another deep breath, his face set like he was about to say something important, essential. “You know,” he said. “Timmy loves you.”

“I love him, too,” Nina said.

“When we spoke last night, he asked me . . . well . . . I don’t want to ruin anything. TJ and I had always hoped this would happen.”

Nina blinked. Did that mean what she thought it meant?

Joseph Gregory reached out and grabbed his daughter’s hand again. “I’m so happy you’ll have someone to take care of you. Someone who can look out for the company. Someone who understands us.”

Nina nodded, too surprised to respond. She and Tim had only been dating for eight months. But her parents had gotten engaged nine months after they’d met. Nina wondered what her mother had thought about her and Tim when they were babies. Did she think they were meant to be together, too, from the time they were born? Or would she have pushed Nina to explore the world and see who she met on the beaches of Barcelona or Rio or Tel Aviv? Not follow the safer path.

“I’m sorry, Sweetheart, but I’m a bit tired,” Joseph Gregory said to his daughter. “I just . . . feel weak today.” Cansabil, Nina thought. Tired and weak. The word came easily, with her mother already on her mind. “How about picking out a movie? It’ll be like old times. You can watch a movie in my room until you fall asleep, and then . . .”

“And then you’ll carry me into my room so I can wake up in my own bed,” Nina finished, so aware that her father could never carry her anywhere now. He was clearly aware of it, too. She saw him brush a tear off his cheek with the back of his hand. Ignoring that, Nina put in The Princess Bride. The two of them had watched it together countless times, dissolving into laughter at the lines Anybody want a peanut? And Have fun storming the castle! Lines that perhaps weren’t funny to anyone else but had once made her dad laugh so hard that the club soda he was drinking bubbled out of his nose.

Another line they liked—I hate for people to die embarrassed—took on a more somber note now. She half paid attention to the movie while her father fell asleep. Then she left the room, the movie still running—the Ancient Booer doing her thing.

Nina wished she’d brought those financials with her today. Then when her father woke up, she could tell him she’d read through them. They could talk about whatever it was he wanted to, and she wouldn’t have to see disappointment on his face. After everything he’d given her, the least she could do was not disappoint him during his last months on Earth.


When Tim arrived, Nina was in the kitchen, surrounded by cookbooks. Cooking relaxed her. At least in the kitchen she was in charge. After catching Nina up on what her sons were up to and her new grandtwins were doing, Irena had left to change the bed linens. Nina had gone through the cookbooks looking for soup recipes. She figured that while she was cooking dinner, she could make her father broth if nothing else. And she could make him enough for the next few days at least. Maybe more, if she froze it. How much more would he need?

Nina hadn’t taken a psych course since she was nineteen—but in the recesses of her mind she remembered something about how knowing the outcome of a particular event made people more comfortable. It was why New York City had installed those time clocks on most of the subway lines. The trains didn’t come more frequently, but passengers could see when they were supposed to arrive, and knowing that they had to wait four or seven minutes made them less agitated. They were able to plan. Their faith in the transit authorities increased. The whole city was slightly calmer during rush hour. It was a smart psychological move.

Nina wished she had a time clock for life. If she knew she had a month left with her father, she would act one way. Two months would be something else. Three months. Four. She knew it probably wasn’t much longer than four months, but if it was, it would change her approach.

In our ignorance, we are at a loss, she thought. Without the facts, there’s no way to create a solid path. But the truth was, she had no idea how much time she had left either. Perhaps all her planning, all her father’s planning was for naught. For all she knew, she could die tomorrow.

“Hey,” Tim called, as he let himself in. Nina heard his voice echoing down the hallway. “Smells good in here.” When he walked into the kitchen, he wrapped his arms around Nina. “Mm, you smell good, too, like raspberries. It’s been too long.”

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