Another couple of days passed before I dared leave the bed again. I was bombarded with terrible headaches that made me feel sick to my stomach and more sensitive to light. Jack kept the lights low and the drapes drawn against the beauty that waited for them outside. I told him to get out of the hotel and enjoy himself, but he refused. I often wondered if caring for me was replacing being able to care for his wife. A ridiculous notion, I know. But he never left and was always there to bring me water and little bits of food.
Painkillers were given out like candy for the headaches and while nothing really took the pain away, it made it manageable. The effects of the sleeping meds stopped working so well and I began to have strange dreams and insomnia often. I felt strange sensations like bugs were crawling over my body making me itch and need to walk around and even shower several times a day. It was miserable, to say the least.
It was Thursday morning. I woke up and Jack was there smiling at me telling me to get up and about. We were going to the Pancake House for breakfast. I tried to object, but he halted me, not taking ‘no’ for an answer.
I took the time to look presentable, kind of halfway doing my makeup in the beloved 50s look. Jeans and a white tank top won out and I slipped my feet into my little white tennis shoes. I decided to tie a red bandana in my hair that covered the back of my head and tied at my crown.
Making my appearance in the front room of the suite, I saw a wheelchair waiting for me, sitting empty and lonesome, the foot rests down and ready. Slowly, I back away.
“No way,” I said shaking my head slightly. “I’m not going in that!”
Jack laughed. “Come on, Ruby. It’s the only way to make sure you stay upright!”
“No. Not going to do it. I will do it on my own, or not at all,” I argued.
“For the love! You are so stubborn! Fine. Have it your way then,” he said throwing up his hands in the air and moving the wheelchair into a corner.
“Thank you,” I breathed.
Grabbing my backpack with my camera in it, I started out the door. The dizziness was trying to grab at me and I kept talking to myself and telling it to knock it off already. I was about four slow paces out the door and Jack swooped me up in his arms.
Shocked, I squealed and struggled to get back down on my own feet.
“Nope, I can be just as stubborn. So if you aren’t going to sit in the chair, I am responsible for making sure you don’t fall down. That means I carry you everywhere you need to go today,” he chuckled.
“I will break your back! I’m too heavy!” I countered.
“I think my superhero arms will do fine. You are not heavy in the slightest so be quiet.”
People on our way out to the car stared, their heads rotating as we walked by.
“Everyone is staring,” I whispered.
“I know. Get used to it,” he smiled in response. “Guess you should have taken the chair then, huh?”
I groaned in embarrassment, but inside I was cheering. Who could say that the very handsome Jack Harrington carried them in his delightfully strong arms? Very few, I was sure.
This fantastical world that had spun around me began to feel comfortable. I cared for Jack, not because he was my angel in all this, but because he was a good person inside. He genuinely cared. He had seen me at my worst and he never relented.
The Pancake House was busy for a Thursday morning. We got seated promptly, but waited a while for our waitress to be free enough to make it over. We sat in our booth, the kids on one side of the table and Jack seated beside me on the other. It felt strange and natural at the same time. It was like a fairy tale that had come in and taken over my pathetic life and it made me feel whole again. He made me feel whole.
Finally we ordered and sat there joking around with each other and deciding what we would brave next. The food arrived in fairly good time and we dug in to the pancakes with butter and syrup, the crispy bacon and golden hash browns. It was the first real food in a week and I realized how I had missed the taste of all of it.
Jack’s phone rang. He stared at it a moment before answering.
“Jack,” he said in greeting.
I could hear the tone of the voice coming out of the speaker and into Jack’s ear. It sounded monotone and hushed a little.
“I see. What time?”
More hushed talking and I could hear him swallow and sniff.
“Thank you,” he replied and hung up the phone. “Excuse me, please.”
We all sat quiet as he headed for the restrooms. My heart sat high in my throat and my stomach turned. I wondered if it was the moment I had been dreading all this time.
Jack’s son excused himself and went to find his dad. I thought that both kids probably already understood.
When they returned to the table some time later, I could tell they had both shed tears. Their eyes were glossy and puffy with red rings defining their sorrow.
“She’s gone,” he said low. “She slipped away peacefully about an hour ago.”
I sat there numb. We had been seated about an hour before. Had she felt his happiness and let go when she knew he would be okay?
“I’m so sorry,” I said and patted his hand, fighting the tears of my own.
He sniffed again and ran his hand beneath his nose. “We all knew it was coming. We all said our goodbyes and we all knew she would be gone when we got back. That was the deal,” he rationalized.
The daughter folded her arms on the table and her head sunk down onto them where her shoulders shook with the force of her sorrow.
“We will be fine, guys. This was how she wanted it to go, remember?” Jack said with emotion thick in his voice.
Silent tears weaved their way down the boy’s face and I had to wipe a few of my own away. The wound from burying my own spouse was reopened and I knew the turmoil they were all feeling.
“Consequently, we will head back home tomorrow for the funeral,” he announced and then he looked to me. “I will drive you back home so I know you aren’t driving on the roads in your condition. Davis will follow and we will catch our plane out of Boise.”
I shook my head. “That’s not necessary, Jack. I will be fine.” I knew it was a lie, but the last thing I wanted was to keep him from doing what he needed to. “It’s a long drive down to a not so glamorous place,” I laughed weakly.
I felt embarrassed just at the thought of him seeing where I lived, in a run down little cottage that was the better part of 100 years old. I’d had neither the money nor the ambition to restore it. I could feel a sense of panic rising in me.
“We can do this the easy way or the hard way, Ruby. You are not driving home. You can’t exactly leave your car here and have Davis get it home for you later. You can’t exactly stay here alone and unattended either. Just please lower your guard for one minute and realize that I will win. I will always win,” he said looking me in the eye.
I closed my eyes and sighed. Lovely.
The world I had started to love, the one that was most unexpected but comfortable, all crumbled down around me. It was all a charade. None of it was real. Things were so amazing that I had almost forgotten about the wife half the world away. Who was I kidding? These kinds of stories only happened in books and movies. In real life, they just tease you and then disintegrate back into the nothingness from where it came. I would not only mourn the loss of my husband for years to come, but I would also mourn the loss of the man who taught me that there was more to life than tears.
I was quiet the rest of the day in anticipation of going back home. I missed my boys terribly but I knew I would miss Jack just as much. Perhaps he would write or email. Perhaps he might call on occasion. Given his status in life, I doubted it. I might be on his mind for a few weeks and then life would take over and I would disappear into the archives of his mind.