Home > More Than Words(6)

More Than Words(6)
Author: Jill Santopolo

“She’s got your cheekbones,” other professors would say.

Or: “She’s got your freckles.”

It was true—those were the two features that Nina and her mother shared. Otherwise, Nina looked like her dad. Her hair was light brown, the way his used to be, and silky. Her eyes were dark blue, like his, too, and the two of them had matching dimples and up-turned noses. Whenever people saw them together for the first time, their eyes would shift back and forth, as if matching feature for feature, checking to see where they diverged.

Nina sometimes wondered if she’d look more like her mom if she wore her hair shorter. But her hair was so much lighter . . . There must’ve been someone in her mom’s family who had light hair, too, though Nina didn’t know who. She didn’t have albums from her mom’s childhood the way she did from her dad’s, his great-aunts and -uncles and distant cousins, most of them still living in England and Wales, making appearances at various parties throughout the years.

“Yeah, I don’t think you’ll stop,” Leslie said, pulling Nina back to the moment. “But maybe that’s a good thing. If you miss her, it means you remember her. It means she’s still here.”

“I guess,” Nina said. “But does that make it any easier?”

Leslie paused for a beat. “I didn’t say it was easy.” Nina saw her friend stand up suddenly.

“Oh, no way! My son just scored a goal. Yeah, Cole! Way to go, buddy!”

Nina smiled. She heard all of the parents cheering in the background. “You should go. Tell him I say congratulations.”

“I will,” Leslie said. “And I’ll call you later. I love you, Nina. Miss you.”

“You too,” Nina answered.

Nina grabbed her bag and decided to take herself out for frozen yogurt with rainbow sprinkles—something she used to do with her mom. Maybe this was an afternoon for remembering.


The next week, it started to feel like summer. June was here. It was warm enough that women were outside in sleeveless dresses for the first time since last September. The sun was shining, the sky was deep blue, and there was just enough of a breeze to make the day feel alive. Nina usually made do with the coffee that Jane brewed at campaign headquarters but decided to stop for an iced coffee on the way to work.

She paused at the crosswalk while cars drove by in front of her and lifted her face to the sun, closing her eyes for a moment to listen to the horns and the car engines and the chatter that gave New York City its vibrant energy.

Campaign days were getting longer, and she knew the caffeine would help carry her through—at least for the next few hours. Lost in her thoughts, she walked smack into the person who was coming out of the coffee shop. They both paused, stunned for a moment by the collision, and then Nina looked up. It was Rafael.

“Fancy meeting a woman like you in a place like this,” he said, putting his hand on her arm to steady them both.

“We caffeine addicts need to stick together,” she told him. They hadn’t touched since the car ride to the Norwood Club nearly a month before, and his hand on her arm brought an unexpected blush to her cheeks.

“Amen,” he answered, letting go of her and raising his paper cup in a toast. “I’ve got a triple shot of espresso in here. Hey, I just found out those Lancers you introduced me to are planning to throw me a fund-raising dinner. Christy’s going to add it to my schedule this morning. Any chance I could prevail upon you to come along? You’re good at that whole thing—you make the introductions seem so natural.”

“Sure,” she said. “Happy to. Has the date been set?”

“I don’t think so. I’ll tell Christy to make sure you know as soon as she does.”

Nina nodded. “Okay,” she said.

Rafael’s hand hovered above her shoulder and then dropped at his side. “Okay, great,” he said. “Thank you. It’ll be fun.” And he smiled at her—his genuine grin.

As Rafael walked out the door and Nina got in line, she couldn’t stop thinking about how her body had responded to his fingers on her arm. Did touching her make his heart race, too? Was that why he’d almost put his hand on her shoulder? Was that why he’d decided not to?

Nina pulled her phone out of her bag. Just saying hi, she texted to Tim. Hope you had fun at the game last night.

She’d have to be careful.


It turned out that the Lancers’ dinner was the same evening as the event at Smith for the retiring professor.

“I don’t understand why you’re so annoyed about this,” Tim said, as he and Nina got ready to go to work the next morning. He was at her sink, wrapped in a towel from the waist down. Nina watched his pectoral muscles twitch as he ran the beard trimmer across his square chin. “You don’t even like Maggie Lancer all that much.”

It wasn’t that, though. It was the fact that it wasn’t her choice.

“I just . . . I hate that I couldn’t say no,” Nina said, as she clipped her grandmother’s pearls around her neck, the ones she’d inherited the day she was born. “Is that bratty? I sound bratty.”

Tim turned the beard trimmer off and shrugged, his freckled shoulders rising just slightly. “There’s a trade-off,” he said. “Money comes with strings. This is one of your strings. How about . . . we can have, I don’t know, three or four or even five kids and then we can ask them to make these speeches for you. Or . . . I can do them, if you don’t want to.”

Nina looked up at Tim’s familiar smiling face. She imagined little kids with his red hair and her blue eyes. She’d never make them fulfill obligations like this.

“Our kids can choose what they want to do,” she said, more seriously than she intended, then pulled her hair out of the way and turned around. “Will you zip me?”

He obliged.

Nina continued talking. “No strings attached. Not from me. I’m doing this speech because my dad asked me to, but next time, maybe I can send something for someone else to read.”

Tim had walked into the bedroom and was buttoning his white collared shirt; his jeans and sport jacket were laid out on the bed. “I bet you can,” he said. “It’s not a bad position to be in, you know, being asked to give a speech because your family endowed a professorship.”

Nina looked at Tim again. She knew she was extraordinarily lucky—in so many uncountable ways. She always tried to remember that—how millions of people would trade places with her in a heartbeat. But still, in that moment, she wished that she and Tim could swap. That he could be the one to take over the Gregory Corporation, and she could be the one who was Caro and TJ’s child, with no expectations except success in the field of her choosing. But it didn’t work like that. She was a Gregory. And that meant there were some responsibilities that were hers and hers alone.


The next Monday night, Nina headed to her dad’s for their weekly Jeopardy! and dinner date. Like Tim, Joseph Gregory was a creature of habit, and, especially after her mom died, Nina found comfort in the predictability. When she was a kid, they would have Chinese food together at least once a month on Monday nights, and they still did. As Nina walked to the Chinese food restaurant, she said hello to Janusz, who’d been working in the pharmacy on Columbus since Nina was in high school, and waved through the window at Penny, who had been ringing people up at the diner across the street since Nina was in lower school. Visitors often criticized New York City for feeling impersonal, too filled with people to make any lasting connections, but Nina had found the opposite to be true. The blocks around her father’s apartment seemed like a small village. The pizza place, the fruit stand, the dry cleaner, the clothing boutique. Nina thought, not for the first time, that New York City really was made up of hundreds of different worlds, each right next to another. She wouldn’t go to a pharmacy five blocks away any more than she would go to one in New Jersey. Carrying the bags of Chinese food, Nina headed into her father’s building.

Earlier that year Priscilla’s parents had moved out of the apartment she’d grown up in, and Pris had been sadder about it than Nina had expected. “It’s my whole childhood!” she kept saying. “It’s gone!”

“It’s not gone,” Nina had reassured her. “Your memories are there, no matter where your parents live.”

But ever since then, Nina had felt extra fond of this building, the place she learned to walk and talk, where she lived with people who watched her grow and mature. In Manhattan, a building like this was a community, a small town in a big city—and everyone here, staff and residents, had played a role in turning Nina into the person she’d become.

When she got up to 21-B, she walked into the gallery and called out to her father. “Dad!” she said. “I’m here! Where are you?”

“In the dining room,” he called back. She noticed that his voice sounded weaker than it used to. And his words were punctuated by a cough. But only one.

Nina walked through the great room, which was broken into different sections with rugs and furniture; one area had couches, another a table and chairs, and another was filled with bookcases and a love seat. Pieces from her grandmother’s art collection hung on the walls.

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