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The Fall of Grace

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14 trillion in debt, 44 presidents, 235 years, 300 million people, 50 states, 100 senators, too many representatives, 2 houses of congress, 1 white house, 1st black man. 16 years old is the age of consent in my state, 18 for cigarettes, 21 for alcohol, only 15 ½ for learner’s permit. 7 classes, 1 bell of math, with 50 theorems so far. 4.0 is what I want, but it’s a 3.3 I’ve got. 2 more quarters, 2 more years, 6/16th of the way done. As an American student, I’ve got too many numbers crunching my mind, but 20 is the most important one. Because 20 is the number that's killing Grace.


Negative 20 to be exact. She’s lost 20 pounds in 1 month, and 12 days ago I found out about it. It’s February 9th and it’s my 2nd Winter Formal. We arrived together at 7:30, paid 25 dollars total for our tickets, and we’ve been dancing for 1 hour and 32 minutes. She built up the courage to ask me 3 hours ago, after 3 years spent in the friend zone. Miraculously, we’ve arrived dressed and on time, and my heart is beating 3 times too fast.


1, 2, 3, 1, 2, 3 the music beats. Her 2 olive-green eyes shine against the muted olive of her dress that so complements the olive tone of her skin. After 24 songs, her number 1 favorite comes on, and her lips part, revealing 14 beautiful teeth that form a smile more valuable than the 8 pearls around her neck.


An average of 5 hours of TV a week has warped her dreams, and the stars for which she reaches are those on People’s Magazine sexiest 100 list. Her bar has been set by celebrities whose 4 million dollar yachts float on our self-loathing and shame.


She looks beautiful, but she doesn’t feel beautiful. Startled, I realize that she doesn’t feel beautiful to me either; every time I wrap my arms around her, I don’t count my joys, I count 10 ribs. Horrified, I double check my math. Truth’s cold breath extinguishes my flame. My mind can only process 1 thought: I have to help her.


And so, after my 2nd Winter Formal, and my 1st kiss, I take her to 2262 on Main, the 5th best restaurant this side of the Mississippi, according to their 4 by 6 foot monster of a neon sign.


$5.99 is the cost of her meal, $7.99 for mine. The 2 of us sit in a booth made for 4, isolated from the 6 billion others who inhabit this Earth.


As the waiter sets both of our plates down, I see disgust, shame, hunger and fear stewing in Grace’s eyes, 4 diseases that no one should suffer.


“It’s okay,” I promise, the fingers of my right hand reinforcing hers.


The look in my eyes explains, threatens, that we won’t leave 'til she finishes. 1 hour, 21 minutes, 63 tiny bites. 1 small step for grace, 1 more ounce of hope for me. With every bite, a little weight falls of my shoulders. With every bite, I feel a little less pinned down by her aspiration to be a pin-up.


12 dollars plus tax and tip seems a small price to pay to prevent the fall of Grace.


9 minutes later, we’re standing on the 1st step of her doorway. A 2nd kiss passes between us.


“Those were the best 10 seconds of my life,” she whispers.


“The kiss was 12,” I correct her.


“Leave it to you to count the seconds when time’s stopped,” Grace smiles, and shuts the door behind her.


3 weeks, 4 days, 16 hours, around 50 minutes, 5 dates, 7 kisses and 11 hugs later, I still can’t figure out what she meant.





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