I stand up to get down from the stand and suddenly I feel faint. My hands are jittery and I realize it is probably my blood sugar plummeting. All I’ve consumed in the past 24 hours is half a glass of orange juice and the toothpaste I accidentally swallowed when I brushed my teeth this morning. Cold beads of sweat pop out on my forehead and I am fading fast.
The bailiff approaches and grabs the back of my forearm. He steers me toward the door, but it is difficult, because there is a crowd pressing all around. I hear someone shouting at me, asking if I want to make a statement. Weakly, I shake my head. I stumble a bit and fall into the bailiff.
“You okay, Ma’am?” he asks.
“Need a second,” I manage to whisper.
Suddenly, I feel a hand on my lower back. Startled, I look up and see Jack.
“I’m driving Mrs. Cooke home,” he says to the bailiff.
“I still need to escort her out the door,” the bailiff answers and he and Jack both manage to navigate through the crowd, which has begun to thin slightly. Once we are out, Jack grabs my hand and sprints down the hall to get away from the commotion. I force myself to run with him. He leads me out a doorway and down the stone steps to the sidewalk. I feel my legs buckle and hear Jack yell, “Whoa! Are you okay?” as he wraps his arm around my waist to prevent me from falling.
“Too nervous to eat. Feel sick now,” I manage.
“When was the last time you did eat, Angela?” he asks, his grip tightening as he realizes I could possibly pass out.
“Yesterday…lunch.” I whisper.
“Can you make it two blocks to the car?”
“Slow,” I croak, nodding. Jack patiently guides me down the street, but gives up and carries me the last half a block. He gets me into his car and reclines the seat so I can lie down. Almost immediately, I start to sense that light, floating feeling that I get before settling into a deep sleep. At first I fight it, but, believing that Jack will keep me safe, I succumb.
At one point, I become aware that Jack is talking to me, but I can’t make out what he is saying. Something smells delicious, though, and I hear myself let out a moan in response to my hunger. But the sleep grabs me again and I let it.
The next thing I know I am on my living room couch, swaddled in the throw that I keep draped over its arm. My shoes are off and my bare feet feel luxurious wrapped in the chenille blanket. I feel a strong arm behind my neck and a spoon being tipped into my mouth.
“Ummmm…” Warm, fragrant broth spills past my lips and down my throat. The heat is invigorating.
“Ummm…” is all I can manage. I feel awake, but my body doesn’t seem to want to cooperate.
Jack murmurs, “Good job, Angela. Keep eating the soup.”
After a few more spoonfuls I am able to lift my eyelids halfway. I see Jack’s handsome face slightly above mine.
He smiles, “Your color is starting to come back. Thank goodness. You had me worried there for awhile.”
I struggle to sit up on my own and he helps me, propping the pillows behind me. I can feel sleep creeping up on me again, though, and my eyes start to close.
“Oh, no you don’t. Come on, let me feed you a little more of this and then you’ll be able to eat on your own.”
I can feel my eyes rolling up into my head.
Jack pats my cheek. “Angela, if you don’t stay awake the next stop is the ER.”
I don’t want to go to the hospital, so I fight to keep my eyes open and I eat every spoonful of soup Jack ladles into my mouth. Finally, consciousness wins over fatigue and a little strength comes.
“So hungry,” I whisper.
“Can you eat on your own now?”
“Good girl!” he says, happily, “I got Chinese. Do you want rice first or chicken?”
“Everything. I’m starving,” I can still only manage to whisper.
He laughs and says, “That’s what I want to hear,” as he fills one of my ceramic pasta bowls with roast pork fried rice and some kind of chicken with vegetables. I attack the bowl as soon as he puts it in my hands, and then notice that he is saying grace. I’m so embarrassed!
“I prayed for the both of us,” he grins. “Eat.”
Wordlessly, I comply. He refills my bowl twice more and I polish off every bit of its contents.
“More?“ he asks.
I shake my head. I cannot believe the volume of food I have just consumed. Compared to me, Jack ate like a bird.
“The only other time I’ve ever eaten like that was right after I gave birth to a child,” I say. “Thank you so much for lunch, for feeding me lunch…for everything,” I sigh. “I seem to be high maintenance when I’m around you, Jack. I’m sorry.”
In his best weatherman voice he says, “Well, the incidence of high maintenance is 100% right now, but we’ve only really spent time with each other twice. I’m confident the percentage will dip significantly with each date.” He catches himself. “That is, ah, well, if you want to see me…socially…that is.”
At this particular moment, the events of the day choose to come rushing at me like a freight train and suddenly I burst into tears. Poor Jack. I can see the look of bewilderment on his face. Reaching out, I pull him toward me, bury my head in his chest and sob.
“Did I say–” he starts.
“Emotion overload!” I wail, into what was a crisp white shirt before I splattered it with tears and makeup smudges. “It’s not you. It’s not you at all,” I sob.
I feel him relax and enfold me deeper into his embrace. The tears spill out until they are gone and then I rest my head on his shoulder.
“It’s all done,” I sigh. “Volume One of my life ended today.”