“My bartender degree says I’m qualified to discuss all things, messy or not.”
I snorted, cutting off the sob that was inevitably coming. He definitely was qualified, but I’m not sure he wanted to hear. I sighed and wiped the tears away.
“I’m sorry. In the earthquake, I lost everyone. My parents, my brother, his family, my husband, and my daughter.” I blurted this all out, like a femoral artery gushing my emotions, no thought of the outcome or the consequences of my words. I needed to say it. I could say it to Jordan.
He looked at me with his mouth ajar, his eyes wide with surprise. He wrapped me in his arms and I felt warm. Jordan was my tourniquet, and the bleeding was slowing, my breaths normalizing. I’d said it, shared my ugly secret, and I didn’t die. It hurt like hell, but I… I was okay. I inhaled the soapy scent of Irish Springs and laid my head in the nook of his neck.
Jordan held me. He didn’t say anything, but it was a peaceful quiet after the raging storm but we weren’t done, I wasn’t done bleeding. He knew it, and he helped.
“There’s more. Tell me. It’s okay, Katie. I’m here.” He urged me for more. Soon my heart would be in the palm of his hand, pulsating, dripping with blood. His arms tightened around my back showing me he would be there, he was strong enough even when I was unraveling. I took a deep breath.
“I was in New York working when it happened. I saw it on the hotel news, but I didn’t think much of it. LA has earthquakes all the time. Then at eleven I hadn’t heard from David, I texted him. There was no response.” I told it like a brief, facts were the only way I could finish this story. “I was litigating an important case, so I powered through. By three I had tried calling my parents and brother, but nobody responded.”
“I flew into Arizona because it wasn’t safe to land in LA due to all the aftershocks. When I finally got to my house, it was destroyed. Nothing was left. They pulled the bodies out five days later. My parents’ house was the same. My brother had been driving, and they found him on the freeway. His husband and kids died in the condo.” I trailed off. I’d never shared so much of what happened with anyone. I usually just said that they died in the earthquake. I looked up at Jordan when I was finished. His eyes were closed as if the pain in my story affected him. I placed my hand on his chest and pushed myself up. The tears had dried up. I’d cried over this so much but now, the pain, it was there but it wasn’t as bad, wasn’t as painful.
“I’m sorry. I’ve shared too much.”
He reached for my face, and with the back of his fingers, he traced my cheek. They lingered down to my jaw. My body had changed. I was more relaxed, as if finally telling someone this had released the last remnants of the weight I carried. He leaned down and kissed my forehead, feathery light, stroking my hair and then tucked it behind my ear.
“I don’t mind listening. I want to know about you. I want to help you if I can.” He tightened his embrace.
“I’ve told no one what happened before. My friends just assumed and didn’t push me for details. At the time, that’s what I needed. I couldn’t talk about it, so I didn’t. I don’t want you to think badly of them. For a year I never spoke about it.” I stopped and looked up at him. Jordan was my friend. For two years we’ve chatted, flirted, connected. “I should’ve done this before… Told you. I’m sorry.” I squeezed him tighter and laid back into the nook of his neck. Our breathing came into a peaceful rhythm. “I never thought I would end up like this.” I looked up Jordan and gave him a weak smile. “I’ve immersed myself in work so I wouldn’t think about it. I’ve been sad for so long that I don’t know how to act any differently.” He should hear it all. I wanted him to know me.
“The office in LA was down for a few months, so they moved me permanently to New York. I did so much work that they put me on the high-profile cases. You know, I didn’t have family or any life to speak of.” I chuckled sadly. “When Cook retired, they gave me his office in Boston. I keep moving up the ranks.”
Jordan nodded as he listened.
“I moved to Boston two years ago and never unpacked my stuff. The reality is, I haven’t found a place to call home. It’s supposed to be about where your heart is. I haven’t found that yet.” Jordan was at my side with some tissues.
“I’m sorry. I don’t mean to unload on you, Jordan. I can’t imagine that this is how these sorts of nights end for you.” I tried to laugh at how ridiculous I was behaving.
“I wouldn’t know. I don’t have these sorts of nights.” He put his thumb on my cheek where a lone tear had escaped and wiped it away. His arms wrapped around me like a cocoon protecting me from the hurt. It was still there, I didn’t think it would ever leave me, but he was like the triage I’d been waiting for. The person to bandage me up and hold me tight.
I looked into his eyes gazing down at me, not like last night or even this morning. It was a familiar look, Jordan had given it to me hundreds of times at the bar when we talked, but, this one, right now, it felt normal, like part of who we were. Even though we weren’t even a thing.
“You going to be okay Katie?”
I looked up at him and nodded. I hadn’t said this information in a long time, and it felt good to have shared it.
“I’m fine. Thank you… I’m sorry to have burdened you, I…” I stumbled with my words but he cupped my face, kissing me, stealing my thoughts away, and tamping them down. Reassuring me he was okay. We were okay. He broke away and looked down at me. It wasn’t pity in his eyes.
“Last night when I said you’re brave, I meant it. You’ve carried this by yourself and that’s not okay. I’m your friend.” He hesitated as if searching for words. “I’ve known you almost two years and you’ve trusted me with this… this big thing.”
“Yeah.” I leaned my head on his chest. I did trust him. He was right, we’d known each other a long time.
He rubbed my back, more reassurance, more kindness.
Minutes passed, and I looked up at him, “Are you good to go?”
“Yeah.” He brushed his lips on mine, giving me his dazzling smile, causing my chest to tighten. I liked when he looked at me like that. Did he do it often or just now?
We took his elevator down to the bottom floor. The doors faced the street side of the Treasury Department. My hotel was a half a block away.