Home > More Than Words(13)

More Than Words(13)
Author: Jill Santopolo

“I missed you, too,” Nina said, resting her head briefly on Tim’s chest. She felt relaxed around Tim. Calmer. Like her blood was pumping at the right speed when he was there.

Then she rose up on her toes to reach the spices in the cupboard. “I got it,” Tim said, as he pulled down the onion powder she’d been reaching for.

“Thanks,” she said. “Want to tell me about your day, while I cook?”

“Not much to tell,” he said as he watched her boiling and chopping and seasoning, following the recipe with precision. “I think the investors are interested. Darren, you remember him—the investment banker who’s helping us secure funding? He asked if we wanted to have dinner next week.”

“I could probably make that happen,” Nina said, checking the recipe before adding the peppers to the stir-fry. “It’ll depend on the campaign, though.”

Tim walked up behind Nina and slid his arms around her, cupping her breasts in his hands. “I’m going to be so happy when that campaign is over,” he said, kissing her neck. “I’ll get so much more time with you.”

Nina wriggled out from Tim’s grip. “Tim! We’re in my dad’s apartment!”

“What?” Tim said. “It’s not like he’s going to catch us.”

Nina froze. Tim saw it.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean that.”

“It’s fine,” Nina said, and kept stirring the vegetables. But it wasn’t fine. Not really. Even though she was living through her father’s illness with Tim. And even though they’d been friends forever, he didn’t get it. He didn’t understand how it all made her feel, like she was a table with a wobbly leg. She could prop herself up sometimes with a matchbook—a lot of times, really—but when the matchbook slipped, the whole table wobbled and everything on it threatened to crash to the floor.

He stroked her hair. “Hey,” he said. “I really am sorry. I wasn’t thinking.”

“I know,” Nina said. She closed her eyes for a moment and took a deep breath, relaxing into the feeling of Tim’s fingers on her hair, stroking the length of it.

“Do you want to talk about it?” he asked, tentatively.

She did, she realized. But not with someone who didn’t get it. She wanted to talk to Leslie. To Rafael. “Nah,” she said. “I’m managing okay.”

“I’m glad,” he said. As she turned and looked at Tim’s face, Nina wondered about the timing of death. About the when and the why of it. When her mother died, a few people told Nina that it was just her mother’s time. She’d taken comfort in that then, like the rules of the game had been set long ago, and now her mother was just following them. But since then, she’d wondered. Was saying that just a coping mechanism, a way to make sense of a horrific event? Because if there isn’t a reason for people to die, if there isn’t a god who is calling people home or deciding it’s their time, it’s harder to understand, harder to accept.

“Your hair is so pretty,” Tim said. He was still stroking it, but Nina wasn’t paying attention to him. Her mind was off on its own odyssey, spinning.

If life is a series of random events, she was thinking, then her mother randomly had a car accident and died, her father randomly developed cancer, he randomly relapsed. Life is a crapshoot, a game of chance. And if you follow that logic, her father could’ve gotten sick ten years ago or ten years from now. Nina tossed the one-inch cubes of chicken into a pot with a quarter cup of oil and the already cooking onions and peppers. If that was the case, she figured, she should be grateful that her father didn’t die when her mother did. Or when he was even younger. She should be grateful that she had all the time with him that she did. She should try to focus on that.

She stirred the vegetables in the pot.

And yet she couldn’t focus only on that. She was not only grateful but angry. At life, at the way things turned out, and, illogically, at her father. How dare you leave me before I’ve figured out my life, she thought. How dare you leave me before I’m ready to let you go.

The vegetables sizzled.

Tim rubbed her shoulders.

And she took the food off the stove so they could eat.


A little while later, Nina peeked into her father’s bedroom.

“Tim’s here, Dad,” she said. “How about we have dinner in your room?”

Nina opened the set of French doors between her father’s bedroom and his sitting room and set three places at the mahogany table in the corner. He used to sit there to drink coffee and read the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal every morning. Now it was empty. The newspapers were on his bedside table and hadn’t been opened.

Once the table was set, Tim came in carrying a tray filled with food.

“Timmy!” her father said, a grin spreading across his face as Nina helped him to a chair. “Will you go get the bottle of Macallan on the top shelf of the bar? This seems like just the right time to drink it.”

Tim retrieved the bottle of scotch.

“To having dinner with two of my favorite people,” Joseph Gregory said, once Nina had handed him a glass.

“And to you, Uncle Joe,” Tim said, raising his glass in a toast.

“Yes, Dad, to you,” Nina said.

She had to concentrate on the sting of the scotch so she wouldn’t cry.

After the Macallan and a few spoonfuls of soup, Nina’s father winced.

“Is something wrong, Dad?” she asked.

“It’s nothing, Sweetheart,” he said. “Sitting up’s not as comfortable as lying down.”

Within a few more minutes, he couldn’t take the pain anymore, and Nina insisted on giving him another lollipop as Tim helped him lie back down in the bed.

Then she looked at Tim.

“If you don’t mind, Uncle Joe,” Tim said. “I’m going to steal your daughter and bring her into the dining room for dessert.”

“Oh, steal away,” Nina’s father said. She could detect a smile on his face, in spite of the pain.

When she and Tim dropped their dishes back in the kitchen, Nina said, “I don’t know how much more of this I can take. Watching him like that—it’s horrible. It hasn’t been this bad before.”

Tim put his spoon in the sink and then looked at her. Nina could see the concern in his eyes. Tim was quiet for a moment.

“We should get married,” he said.

Nina stared at him. “Pardon?”

“I spoke to your dad about it. He and I were going to go this weekend to the safe-deposit box to get your mother’s engagement ring. But . . . now it seems like too long to wait. We could get married tomorrow, or the day after. Your dad could be at our wedding. We could get his friend—that judge, what’s his name?—to come and marry us in the apartment.”

Nina’s lungs felt constricted. That vine around her torso was back. She couldn’t marry Tim tomorrow. “We haven’t even been dating a year,” she said.

“Long courtships are for people who haven’t been best friends their whole lives,” Tim said. “There’s nothing more you can possibly learn about me at this point. There’s nothing more I need to learn about you to know that we should spend our lives together. It just—it makes sense. We’ve always made sense. We should’ve been together for years by now.”

But they hadn’t been. After Nina and Tim had gotten together in January, she’d had a series of long talks with Leslie about it.

“Are you sure this isn’t because your dad is sick again?” Leslie had asked. “I mean, I guess it’s fine if it is, as long as that’s not all that it’s about.”

Nina had thought about it. Some of it had to be, of course. All decisions were affected by the time in which they were made. Nothing existed in a vacuum. But it was more than that. She’d never wanted to risk their friendship before, but with her dad’s diagnosis, it felt like . . . like time was running out. For everyone. And maybe the risk would be worth it.

* * *

• • •

“I think we were afraid,” Nina said to Tim, holding a dirty dish in her hand. “If we tried to date and it didn’t work, it would change us.”

“Well, it turned out there was nothing to be afraid of,” Tim said. “And now we can make it official. You and me forever.”

Nina worked hard to control her face, to smile, to nod, though inside she felt panicked. He was right. She loved being with him, spending time with him. She always had. He’d been the person she counted on ever since she was a kid.

Tim looked at her, his head cocked sideways. “You want a big wedding, don’t you,” he said. “The dress, the ballroom, the dancing—the publicity for the hotels. Me too—we should make a big splash with our wedding like your parents did. But we can do that after. Do something small now, for your dad. And do something bigger later, for everyone else.”

He made so much sense. He always made so much sense. And though her brain agreed with him completely, her heart—her uncontrollable heart—didn’t feel the same way. She heard Leslie in her mind; she knew what her friend would say.

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