He rose to greet me and motioned me to the chairs in front of his desk with a pleasant smile. “Erica, please have a seat.”
I settled into one and breathed in the rich aroma of well-loved leather.
“Let’s see. You’re with the Harvard Review?” He arched a brow at me.
“Well, about that—”Alli had gotten me the interview under the guise of being with the well-known publication, and if this didn’t go well, someone would probably get kicked off the staff because of the favor she pulled.
He looked at me expectantly.
I swallowed hard and took a deep breath. Here goes nothing.
“Does the name Patricia Hathaway mean anything to you?” I asked finally, watching him intently as I spoke the words.
If the mention of her name meant anything to him, he didn’t show it, his face frozen, void of emotion. His blue eyes bore into me, giving nothing away.
He glanced to his watch casually. “I’m not sure it does. How does this pertain to the interview, young lady?” His voice was even and incredibly composed.
I swallowed hard, fighting the sudden urge to throw up. Was I crazy for doing this? What if I was wrong? What if Marie had misinformation?
I shoved the doubt out of my mind and focused on the present. I looked down at my hands that were twisted anxiously in my lap. “I’m Patricia Hathaway’s daughter. I was hoping I could speak to you about that.”
He rose abruptly. He crossed the office with fluid grace, shut the door, and then returned to his seat. His eyes fixed on his desk.
A long silence fell between us, and within it, the truth hit me. My body felt numb at the realization.
“Where are you going with this?” He whipped his glasses off and tossed them onto the desk, revealing a hardened stare.
Oh my God. My doubts gave way to the unmistakable truth that this man really was my father. I could feel it. I gripped the edge of the seat, my palms sweating profusely. I offered up a silent prayer he didn’t kick me out on the spot after I said what I was about to say.
“I’m—” I tried to imagine myself saying the words, but they caught in my throat. They sounded crazy and presumptuous. But they were true. I knew it. What if he didn’t believe me? I shut my eyes tight and blurted it out before I lost my resolve. “Mr. Fitzgerald, I believe I’m your daughter.”
He leaned back in the chair, his jaw tight, his eyes penetrating mine. We stayed like that for what felt like an eternity. My heart pounded in my chest, the anticipation of what he might say or do hung in the air between us.
He exhaled slowly and leaned forward into his desk. “So let’s get down to it. Is this about money? If so, just let me know how much we’re talking about.”
I struggled to speak, but his words had cut through me. He thought I was extorting cash from him? No, no, no. Shit. I shook my head frantically and rubbed the space between my brows. This was going all wrong. “It’s not like that. I just wanted to meet you. That’s all.” I didn’t need anything from him. At least nothing like that.
He hesitated for a moment before he leaned forward on his desk again, pinching the bridge of his nose with a sigh. “I can’t say I was expecting this.”
“Neither was I, to be honest. I never thought I would meet you.”
“Listen, um, Erica.” He cleared his throat and rearranged some papers on his desk. “This isn’t really the time or the place to delve into this, I’m afraid.”
I nodded. “I know. I’m sorry—”
“I’m in the middle of this campaign. They schedule me fifteen minutes at a time here so I have another meeting shortly.”
I stilled as I caught his meaning. If I wasn’t a threat, he didn’t have time for me. My throat thickened and my eyes burned with unshed tears. What a waste of time. The part of me that had held out so much hope for this meeting now flooded with painful regret. I should have known better. This was stupid, foolish. If only Marie hadn’t shown me that goddamn photo...
“I understand.” I reached for my purse, hoping I didn’t appear as hurt as I felt. “It was a pleasure meeting you, in any case. Good luck with the campaign.”
I rose to shake his hand and glanced down, avoiding his eyes. I wouldn’t give him the satisfaction of knowing how I was hurting. He caught my hand and held it a moment longer.
“Tell Patty I said hello, all right?”
“She’s dead.” My voice was flat, emotionless. Of course he would assume she was still alive. She’d been taken from me too soon.
He exhaled in a rush, his hand dropping from mine. I caught a shadow of emotion pass over his eyes. He rubbed at his chest, wincing with the motion. “I had no idea.”
I nodded. “She passed away when I was twelve. Pancreatic cancer. But she didn’t suffer long.” My voice was quiet as I spoke the words, steady and objective, as if I were talking about someone I barely knew, detaching myself from the emotions as soon as they threatened to show up. Today was not the day to revisit my grief. I was hanging on a by an emotional thread as it was.
“I’m so sorry.”
“Thank you. You couldn’t have known.” Right?
I turned to go and he stopped me, placing a powerful hand on my shoulder to still me. “Erica, wait.”
My eyebrows shot up and my heart raced from the roller coast of emotions rushing through me the past few moments.
“My family and I are spending some time on the Cape this weekend. Maybe we could...catch up? Talk through this a bit more.”
“Sure,” I said quickly. I smiled, and took a deep breath, feeling a weight lift from my body at the offer. Did he mean it?
“Wonderful.” He smiled.
“Please, call me Daniel—I guess.” He shrugged nervously. He looked more human, less formidable now than before.
I relaxed, and a seedling of hope grew within me. “Daniel, I’m sorry about this approach. I don’t suppose there’s ever really a good way to do this.”
“Probably not.” He scribbled an address on a monogrammed notepad and handed a sheet of paper to me. “Here’s the address of the house. Let’s plan for dinner on Friday then. You can stay as long as you’d like.”
“I’ll look forward to it.”
He rose, showing me to the door. “Me too.”
I gave him an awkward wave goodbye. We were nowhere close to being on hugging terms.