I leaned into my dad’s office carefully balancing a pile of boxes, my wallet precariously perched on top. My car key was clutched in one hand and my cell phone was in the other.
“I need to run to the post office,” I said, refraining from announcing the real reason for my sudden departure. I needed to leave simply to avoid crying at my desk. Again.
My dad looked up from what he was doing and glanced at the clock sitting on his bookshelf. I followed his eyes. To him it was numbers on a dial. To me it was a reminder of what fell apart a few days earlier. The hands perfectly marked the time my now ex had been scheduled to touch down in Philadelphia. I was supposed to be standing on the other side of security waiting for him to arrive. We were supposed to be heading north up the highway to fetch lunch at Rouge. Or maybe we were supposed to be heading south down I95 to roam amongst the flowers at Longwood Gardens. Either way, I wasn't supposed to be standing in front of my dad with a pile of boxes.
“Okay. Wait, PJ, come in here for a second,” my dad instructed.
I was already struggling to keep my composure. According to my emotional stopwatch, I had exactly twenty-three seconds before the tears started streaming. I reluctantly stepped into his office, bit down on my lip and hoped for the best.
“Can you pick me up some lunch? Maybe a salad from Wholefoods? Ooh, and grab me a box of those pecan shortbread cookies. And some cut up watermelon. Wait, no. Forget the watermelon, if you want Rita’s, my treat!” he said with a guilty grin.
I slowly placed the boxes on the empty chair next to his desk. Then I kicked the door closed and dropped to the floor. Those twenty-three seconds had officially expired and no matter how hard I tried to be distracted by my dad’s culinary quest for sustenance, I couldn’t keep it in any longer.
“I’m sorry,” I sputtered out between gasps for air, my knees pulled tight against my chest.
I looked up and through my teary eyes I could see my dad watching me, his face twisted with pain. I thought he might cry too.
“I want to fix this,” he said as he composed himself. “It hurts to see you in so much pain.”
“Time. It’ll take time,” I said, the rational words lacking meaning or relevance as I curled more into myself.
“I’d come over there an hug you but it’d take me at least half an hour to get from here to there.”
I laughed. The chuckle allowing a warm calmness to replace the deep sadness tugging at my heart. I released my arms from around my knees, my legs dropping lazily outward. The tears stopped falling from my salty eyes. My breathing settled back to a normal pace. After a long exhale, I pulled myself to my feet and ran my palms down over my crinkled skirt. As if this simple gesture might straighten everything out.
“Here,” my dad said as he pushed a twenty dollar bill and a tissue across his desk.
I tucked the money in my pocket and neatly folded the tissue so I could dab a crisp edge against the corner of my eye. Before opening the office door, before stepping back out into the world, I turned back to my dad.
“Good thing you’re my father. Can you imagine if I had collapsed in a sobbing heap in front of any old boss?”
“Yeah, well, any old boss could never love you as much as I do.”
“Buttering me up for some Rita’s, eh?”
“Cherry, please,” he said with a warm smile. “And PJ?”
“What?” I asked, the word riding the wave of a playful sigh.
“You’re a great kid. Don’t ever forget it.”