I moved into the bathroom to clean up and change back into my tank dress. I had worn this dress to my parents’ house the last time I saw them.
When I came out, Jordan was still on the phone.
“Hey, I think we should hit that river we saw last weekend. Henry told me there were plenty of fish there.” He laughed at whatever his dad told him.
“Okay, I’ll see you tonight at the show. Emery said she was coming with Junior. I don’t think they will stay long.”
He paused again to hear what his father said.
“Yeah Dad, I know. I’m excited too. It’s been a long time and this will give me some closure.” He looked up at me and gave me a tight smile. His eyes brightened as if he thought of some idea. He put up his finger and continued to listen to his dad. After a few minutes, he hung up with him.
“Sorry about that. He calls every Saturday to check in on us kids. My mom passed away last year, and he makes a greater effort to keep in touch.”
That was nice. His face showed warmth while he spoke to his father, and that was sweet.
“He calls my sister Emery first, then me.”
“It’s nice. You’re sweet to him.”
He laughed. “It wasn’t always that way. I filled my teen years and my twenties with angst and anger.”
“Weren’t we all?”
He left me breathless.
“Not my sister, Emery. She was perfect. Not one flaw. She was their favorite. She was my favorite. Now she has Junior, who is eight. He’s my favorite, now.”
Who knew he was a family man behind those rugged good looks? I liked that about him.
He leaned against the counter. “What about you? Where’s your family?”
My body stiffened. Eventually, people asked about my family and I had trained myself to answer with little to no emotion, but Jordan was different. He wasn’t one of my colleagues asking to check off a box. He was asking because he wanted to learn. Images of my family flooded my head. All the things I missed in the last five years. Holding her hand, tiny, soft and perfect. Her laugh, like wind chimes, giggling over the silliest things. I swallowed, the images becoming too much.
“My family died in the earthquake five years ago.” I didn’t look at him. The words echoed in my head. I hadn’t said them out loud, not since I moved to Boston two years ago.
“I’m so sorry, Katie. I didn’t know.” His voice trembled from the weight of words I let escape. He’d had no idea. It wasn’t fair of me to share such a big thing. This was supposed to be fun. A date that became more, and I ruined it with blurting out my biggest secret.
I looked at him, my eyes filling with tears. It seemed like my body had been filleted open and I was gushing blood. He stared at me, pity filling his face. That’s what I was afraid of. I didn’t want pity.
I was okay.
“It’s fine.” I choked back the sob in my throat. “How would you have known?”
I was silent as I picked at the lint on my dress. I shouldn’t have said it like that. I shouldn’t have dropped that emotional bomb. I should have warned him.
“No one really knows. I keep to myself about it. That earthquake hurt lots of people. I was just one of them. Like you.” I spun, unable to make eye contact with him, looking out the window, more tears threatening to flow. Mentally, I performed triage on the five-year-old gash that never seemed to heal. The treasury department rooftop sat below, and in the distance, I could see the White House. My brain rewound as I thought about my deceased family and where my life had gone. A terrible loneliness crept over me. I’d let this fester far too long.
Jordan took my hand. “Are you all right?”
I nodded and wiped the tears that fell from my eyes.
He pulled me over to the couch and we sat down.
“Katie, what’s going on?”
“I’m sorry, Jordan. I don’t know what has come over me.” I did—the paintings of me, of the rubble, last night, this morning, “I’m a mess and I’ve just realized it.”