Jordan held my hand, and we walked along the iron fence to the Treasury Building. A small kiosk stood open, colorful paintings displayed for sale and a woman painting.
“Morning, Eleanor,” Jordan said squeezing my hand, and stopping to talk to the woman. “This is my friend Katie.”
Eleanor, an older woman in her seventies, pulled off her reading glasses and inspected me. Her old eyes analyzed me. Then a huge smile filled her thin face. Her dark skin creased with laugh lines as she looked me over.
“It’s nice to meet you. Jordan talks about you often.”
I raised my eyebrows in surprise and glanced at Jordan. He talked about me to people on the street?
Eleanor smirked, ignoring my reaction. “I’m glad you two stopped circling each other and have finally collided.” She held her hand out to shake. Her skin was thin and seemed breakable, but she clutched my hand with a surprising strength. Then she pulled me in for a hug and whispered in my ear. “It’s nice to see him smiling. Thank you for that.” She patted my back and released me. “She’s everything you painted and more.”
The woman was strange and wonderful. My face flushed at her complement. I supposed that made sense, she’d seen his paintings. They both were artists. Of course people would ask questions about the subject. The subject being me.
Jordan chatted with her about business, and I spotted a small painting of a family on the beach. A family of three, silhouetted with a bright pink and tangerine sunset in the background. After my confession to Jordan, my family was on my mind. This could be my family before the earthquake. Emily, two years old, lathered in sunblock, irritated through the application process. David, following her near the shore, ensuring she didn’t get overwhelmed by the crashing waves. Some weekends, we’d pack up and spend the entire day, the salt air making our skin sticky, sand in places we didn’t want. I touched the texture of the tiny painting. My heart vaulted in my chest as I held it out to Eleanor, my hand trembling.
“I’d like to buy this.” I couldn’t take my eyes off of it.
Eleanor’s voice, warm and friendly. “For you, honey. It’s my gift. You like it very much.”
“Oh, no. I couldn’t.” I looked up at her.
She touched my hand, and it stopped shaking. “Darling, you don’t know how long this boy has been mooning over you.”
I glanced over at Jordan, and he watched me as if I was going to shatter into pieces. Maybe I was. His arm circled around my waist.
“It warms my old crotchety heart that you two are walking down the street arm in arm. Please, this is yours. I must have painted it for you.”
I smiled, appreciative of her generosity. “Thank you.” As I took the painting, the tears from earlier came flooding back.
“All right, Miss Eleanor. We’ll see you around. Good luck today with the tourists.”
“Yes, sir. I’ll see you tonight at your show.” She put her glasses on, going back to her work.
We walked the short distance to the corner of the Willard. I sniffed my tears back. Once they fell, it was hard to stop them.
“Are you going to be okay? Do you want to just take it easy today?” He pulled me over to a bench in front of the Willard and we sat down.
I touched the texture of the paints, running my fingers over the three people. Remembering Emily’s laugh when her tiny feet touched the cool water, the sound drifting in the wind. There was no clenching or pain… just a beautiful memory. I pulled the painting to my heart and looked up at Jordan. He did this, freed me. His eyes furrowed with concern. Why wouldn’t he be concerned? I’d been a mess of tears and harrowing memories, but the thing was, they weren’t as painful anymore. More, bittersweet.
“Yes,” I wiped the last of my tears and gave him a wet smile. “I want to show you something. Something that has gotten me through this. It’s kind of like my place of worship.” I leaned into his strong body.
“You mean it isn’t Jefferson?” Jordan asked.
“No.” I hesitated, not sure if he’d appreciate what I wanted to share. “It’s better, but we need to go before it gets too crowded with tourists today.”
His eyebrows shot up with curiosity a smile formed on his face.
“I still need to change and get a shower.” I got up and reached for his hands. I pulled him off the bench and wrapped my arms around his waist. “Thank you, Jordan.”
The weights that were dragging me down were left on that bench as we walked away. I sighed again and released him.
“Come on, let’s get going.” I took his hand and walked towards the back entrance of the hotel. When we got into the elevator, Jordan looked down at me.
“Are you sure you are okay?”
“More than you know. Thank you for listening.” I leaned up and brushed my lips on his. He held me tight as the old elevator pulled us up to the top floor.