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More Than Words(4)
Author: Jill Santopolo

“Wait, it’s that early?” Tim groaned. “You can’t change the flowers at, say, eight?”

Nina started to laugh. TJ was shaking his head. “Son,” he said, “what are we going to do with you?”

Her dad, who had been watching this whole exchange with a smile playing across his face, started to chuckle. But then his chuckle turned into a cough that wouldn’t stop. Nina’s laughter faded.

“Dad,” she said, quietly. “Did you bring that inhaler?”

He nodded, then looked around the room. “Can’t do it here,” he coughed. “Be back.”

He got up and, still trying not to let his coughing fit show, walked out the door of the restaurant, toward the bathroom.

TJ stood up. “I’ll see if he needs help.”

Caro, Tim, and Nina sat in silence. Nina felt like she did in the car with Rafael. Like there were vines wrapping around her rib cage, like she couldn’t breathe. Caro looked at her, reading the situation perfectly.

“Girls’ trip to the restroom?” she asked. Then, softly, as if she hated saying it, but knew she had to, “No tears in front of the guests.” It was something Nina’s father had reminded her often as a kid, but he hadn’t needed to for years.

Nina shut her eyes for a moment. She quelled the panic. Quelled the fear. And just like she did when she was eight, in the months after her mother died, she willed her heart to be unbreakable. They were putting on a show, and in this show, the heiress did not cry. Nina opened her eyes again.

“I’m fine,” she said. “The next time Kristin walks by, could someone flag her down? I’d love a refill on my coffee.”

Nina turned, but she wasn’t looking for Kristin. Her eyes were on the door, waiting for her father to come back to brunch. Her heart wasn’t unbreakable. Not even close.


After brunch, Nina hadn’t been interested in the fun things Tim had suggested they do. “I’m sorry,” she said, standing outside the hotel. “You do something fun. I’ll just . . . go home and . . . I don’t know. Read a book or something until I have to get ready for the art opening tonight. I’m not feeling particularly fun right now.”

“I want to help,” he said, twirling his finger around her hair, so for a moment it sat in one spiral down her back. “Just tell me what to do.”

But the truth was, she didn’t know. She took his hand, looking across the street at the trees, at the flowers in full bloom, at the horse-and-buggies waiting for passengers. There was some comfort in being here with Tim, in feeling his fingers woven between hers.

“Let’s go to the park,” Nina said.

They crossed Central Park South in the sunshine and walked through the Artists’ Gate.

As they veered onto the loop, a breeze ruffled Nina’s skirt. “I’m sorry I’m such a downer. I just . . . feel like there’s this darkness hanging over everything.”

“Even when you’re with me?” Tim asked.

Nina sighed. The clip-clop of hooves echoed behind them, and Nina turned to watch a dapple-gray horse coming up the drive, pulling a white carriage with a family inside. This wasn’t about their relationship. She hoped Tim wouldn’t take it that way. “Always,” she said.

He swallowed, and then his expression shifted to the mischievous one she knew well. “Nothing will cheer you up?” he asked. “Not even a carousel ride?”

Nina’s mouth quirked into a small smile. She’d dragged Tim with her to the Central Park carousel more times than she could count. But she shook her head. “I don’t really want to be cheered up,” she said. “I just . . . can you stand in the darkness with me?” She’d been reliving the car ride with Rafael over and over in her mind these past weeks, trying to figure out why it had made her feel better. And that was what it had been: He’d stood with her in the darkness and made it feel safe. It was what she’d needed then. It was what she needed now, too.

“Remember when we went skiing in Park City?” Tim said, as they kept walking, bikers and joggers zipping by them.

Nina nodded. She knew what he was going to say. She’d been eleven and terrified.

“We couldn’t see more than a few feet in front of us.”

Nina nodded again. She’d panicked. He’d panicked.

“Even though we were scared and didn’t know what was going to come next, we went slowly, and stayed together, and we got down the run.”

Nina looked at him.

“We’ll get down the mountain, Nina,” he said. “But there’s no use worrying about how. Your dad is still okay. We’ll deal with things as they come. For now, for old times’ sake, how about we see if a ride on the carousel will make you smile? Will you try? For me?”

She let out a long breath. “For you,” she said.

He steered her toward the center of the park, into the bright sunshine.

“I just want you to be happy,” Tim said. Then he bent over and kissed her. And she tried to forget everything, to lose herself in his kiss like she had four months before, the first time she’d felt his lips against hers, but she couldn’t do it.


In high school, all of Nina’s Brearley friends wanted to know what was going on when Tim took her to the Interschool Prom when she was a sophomore and he was a senior. And then two years later, they were sure something was going on when he came back from Stanford for the weekend and she took him. But nothing was happening then. At least not on Nina’s end. Tim was the person she always counted on, leaned on, looked up to. But he wasn’t the person she daydreamed about kissing.

Pris had asked what was going on between them again when Tim visited Nina in college, traveling across the country to spend the weekend with her in New Haven. But Nina had thought of him as a friend then, too. He was the one she called when she was feeling homesick, the one who cheered her up. But he wasn’t the person whose name she doodled in her Spanish notebook, who made her feel tongue-tied when she ran into him in the dining hall.

And then back in January, Tim had stood with his hand around Nina’s waist as her father told the press that his cancer was back, that he’d eventually be stepping down as chairman of the board. As her father said those words, Tim held Nina up, held her close.

“Who will be taking over as chairman?” a reporter asked.

“I’ll keep my position as long as I’m able,” he replied. “And then my daughter will take over for me, the way I did for my father. This is still a family company.”

Nina took a deep breath. It was real. It was going to happen. Before business school she’d made a deal with her dad: She would work in politics until he needed her to take the helm of the corporation. She’d figured she’d be ready by then. She’d be able to continue the family legacy after she’d solidified her own. But she hadn’t even gotten ten years. Not only was she going to lose her father, she was going to lose the life she’d imagined for herself. The future she’d expected would be hers.

“You okay?” Tim whispered in her ear at the press conference.

If it were anybody other than Tim, she would’ve said yes. “No,” she answered, truthfully.

This wasn’t just a company, it wasn’t just a hotel—it was her family, it was her father, her grandfather, it was everything they ever gave up, every compromise they ever made, every risk they ever took to solidify their place in New York society. And now it would all rest on Nina. She wasn’t ready.

“Then let’s go,” Tim said. He pulled his phone out of his pocket, acting as if it were vibrating. He held it to his ear and furrowed his eyebrows. Then he tapped her shoulder and, still pretending someone was on the other line, motioned for her to come with him.

They ducked into an empty conference room.

“Well, that was shit,” he said.

“It was worse than that,” Nina responded. “It was like a thousand people watching while you take a shit.”

Tim raised his eyebrows, surprised to hear her swear. “Well, then it’s a good thing we got you out of there.”

Nina couldn’t help it. She laughed, glad Tim was with her. Glad he’d orchestrated their escape.

“My dad said we’re going to your dad’s for dinner tonight.” He went to the counter and made them each a cup of espresso.

“Yeah,” Nina answered. “He said he wants to be surrounded by the people he cares most about.”

Tim sat down and put Nina’s cup in front of her. “Well, you don’t have to twist my arm. Are you cooking?”

“With Irena,” Nina said. “Between the two of us, we’re making all my dad’s favorites.”

“So Kobe steak?” Tim tipped back in the chair, lifting the front two legs off the ground. He looked so relaxed, Nina thought, so comfortable. He’d always been that way. So comfortable in his skin. She admired it, wondered, sometimes, what it would be like to feel that way, too, not to watch her words, control her emotions, evaluate her actions the way she knew her father expected. She wondered what she’d be like if she hadn’t been raised that way—so disciplined, so aware.

“Mm-hm,” Nina answered Tim. “And a lemon meringue pie, and string beans with almonds, and honey corn bread.”

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