Jessie fiddled with her jury summons and tried not to look at the man. He had walked right by her to find a seat and smelled like cedar and leather with an undertone of fresh-baked bread. The scent filled her nostrils and caused her pulse to quicken. He was tall with dark curly hair and handsome in an average guy sort of way. She had felt a tug in her chest when she watched him walk a couple of rows over to find a seat. He chose a seat that faced in her direction and made eye contact as he sat, catching her staring at him in wonderment. He looked away and pulled out a book to read as Jessie averted her eyes in embarrassment. She dug through her purse, realized she had forgotten her book, and chose to pore over the text of the summons instead. She tried to read it with great interest as she sneaked peeks at him.
The jury services employee droned over the speaker about how being selected for jury duty was such an honor and a great part of the American judicial system, although it seemed no one else there felt the same way. The employee then announced that she’d start calling numbers to form groups which would then go to a courtroom. She called out numbers and names, and people stood up from their seats to stand in line.
“Number 123, Jack McClury.”
The man stood and walked to the line, passing by her as she watched his feet to keep herself from staring at him again.
Jack. Jack McClury. That’s a great name, she thought.
The sound of the employee calling her name broke her reverie.
“Again. Number 124, Jessica Foster,” the jury services person said with obvious annoyance.
She gathered her things and hurried into line, apologizing along the way, and stood next to Jack. Jessie couldn’t believe that she was standing next to him or that they’d be in the same group. She started to wonder if fate was working out a plan. The austere court officer told them they were going to courtroom 12B, gave instructions on what would happen, and then marched them out to the elevators. They took the elevator in shifts until they all arrived at 12B and assembled back in their original order. The officer told them to wait and entered the courtroom.
Jack turned to Jessie and said, “Fun, huh?”
She felt like her heart might stop. She drew in a shallow breath. His voice was deep and had a slight Southern drawl. Jessie had the feeling of bathing in a tub filled with warm honey and wondered if his tongue tasted as sweet as it sounded. She paused a few seconds too long not to be awkward.
“Oh, haha, yeah. So much fun,” she said with a grin that was a bit too wide.
"It's Jessica, right?" Jack said with a smile.
"Yes, but you can call me Jessie," she said.
Jessie was about to be coy when the officer came out of the courtroom and told the jurors, “The judge isn’t ready. Have a seat and relax. When I call you, get back in line in the order you are in now. It shouldn’t be long.”
Everyone grumbled and looked for a seat. Jack sat on the bench behind him and pulled out his book. Jessie sat next to him and pretended to check her phone for messages while she figured out what to do.
Should I talk to him? No, it would be rude to interrupt his reading. But that voice. I want to hear it again. It was so luscious. That twang. I could listen to that all day. Where’s he from? Georgia. No. Maybe Alabama. I should ask. Is that creepy? He smells so good. His hands. A ring. Damn, he’s married. Did he see me look? Ugh, Jessie, don’t be chicken. Talk to him.
“So, what are you reading?”
He closed his book and held up the front cover for her to see. “How to Ruin Everything by George Watsky. It’s a series of short essays about his life. It sounded like it was going to be funny.”
“So, is it?”
“Not really. It’s interesting and there are some funny parts, but it’s not as funny as I thought it would be.”
“You prefer to read humor?”
“No, not often. I love crime and mystery. I thought I’d branch out and try something new. How ‘bout you?”
“Oh, I like mysteries too. I forgot my book today. Right now I’m reading…”
No one had paid attention to the officer as he entered the hall again. He barked like a drill sergeant and ordered everyone to line up. The juror line snaked into the courtroom between the prosecutor and defense attorney tables then they filled the seats of the jury box. Jessie sat behind Jack, an arm's length away. She tried to pay attention to the judge as he reiterated how jury duty was an honor. The lady next to her mumbled something about not getting paid. The prosecutor made her opening statement telling the jury that it was a criminal trial and the defendant stood accused of murder while robbing a store at gunpoint. Jessie stared at Jack’s neck where curly, brown hairs peeked up from behind the collar of his dress shirt. She wanted to blow on them and watch them dance.
Two hours later, they broke for lunch, and the jury filed out of the room. Once they were in the hall, everyone went to the elevators; but Jack disappeared down the stairs, traversing twelve flights to get to the ground floor. Jessie knew following him would come across as stalker-level creepy, so she stood dejected and waited at the bank of elevators. Jack was eating alone in the courthouse cafeteria and reading his book when she arrived. He looked up as Jessie approached his table.
“May I join you?”
“Uh, yeah. Sure,” he said as he put his book away.
“I can’t believe you ran down twelve flights of stairs.”
“Yeah well, I’m not crazy enough to run up them. Goin’ up twelve stories is miles different than down.”
“Are you training for something?”
“Nah. My wife doesn’t like my extra fluff.” He grimaced as he patted his nearly flat belly.
“I think you look fine.”
“Ha. Thanks. You know," he said with a sudden thoughtful look, "maybe I’ll try going up just a couple of floors. See you up there.” Jack gave her a big smile that stopped her breath and disappeared into the marble-lined hallway.
Jessie slipped into a daydream as she mindlessly chewed.
Jack McClury. Jack and Jessie. Jessie and Jack. That’s a nice sounding couple. They could make a song about us, Jack and Jessie. Oh! A movie. A love story with our “meet cute” at jury duty. A Rom/Com. He’s so nice. Good looking too. Is he happily married? I doubt it. She’s giving him grief about his body. I bet he just wants to be appreciated. What was that book again? I should read that. I can’t believe I was so awkward. What a doofus. Jack, Jack, Jack. Jessie McClury. That sounds good.
The next day Jessie put on a white pinstripe shirt dress with a navy belt and navy heels. She rolled her hair in big curlers to give it extra bounce and made sure her makeup was on point. She took an Uber to the courthouse so she wouldn’t have to walk from the garage and get sweaty. Jessie arrived on the twelfth floor and found Jack sitting outside 12B, reading his book. She stood in front of him and smiled.
“I see you haven’t given up on it,” she said.
He looked up with confusion and then a flicker of surprise before he smiled. “Not yet. I don’t give up on things. I stick it out until the end. I’m always hopeful and optimistic it will get better.”
She sat next to him, crossed her legs in his direction, and said, “Well, that’s very admirable. I’m like that too. I don’t give up easily.”
“Good for you.”
“Thanks. Hey, I kinda match your shirt. If we sit close enough, people might think we are a couple,” she laughed.
Cheeeeeeesy, Jessie. Good job. Can you possibly sound more obvious and pathetic? she chastised herself.
He gave her a half-smile without comment and returned to reading his book.
They were both chosen as jurors and each day was much the same. She tried to be coy and alluring and chat with him as much as possible. He, with his Southern manners, was polite enough to keep her thinking there was a spark but then withdraw into his book. She spent every day behind him looking at the back of his head and wishing she could put her fingers in his hair. It was curly like a berber carpet and looked soft. It took everything in her to keep her hand from lifting and reaching forward to find out.
The trial dragged on long enough for him to finish his book, so they started having lunch together. It was a glorious hour that was a welcome relief from the tedium of evidence and witness testimony. The mediocre sandwiches were made more delicious over conversation and laughter. He had started to open up and connect with her. She found out that Jack was a contractor from Virginia who built luxury homes and regularly volunteered with Habitat for Humanity. He loved dogs, and tacos, and played the guitar on weekends in a country music cover band. To Jessie, he was absolutely perfect. Every day her heart was joyful at seeing him and every night away from him it felt like it was being ripped from her chest.
Jessie’s inner monologue was the same every day of the trial. What’s happening? Am I dying? Come on Jess; you’re not dying. Get yourself together. You’re in love. Does he know? He has to know. I can’t be more obvious. He’s so amazing, and perfect, and everything. We would be perfect together. God, why does this hurt so much? I can’t wait for him to get up the courage. I won’t survive it. The agony of desire twisted her insides into knots. She knew she had to be bolder. One day at lunch, she finally made her move.
“Jack,” she said just as he took a big bite of a tuna sub sandwich.
He looked at her questioningly as he chewed.
“We’ve really been making a connection. I feel a spark between us and I think you feel it too. I’ve seen how you look at me and smile and laugh at my stupid jokes. I want you to know that it’s ok to ask me out. Yes, I’m interested,” Jessie said with a flirtatious grin and a sparkle in her eye.
Jack nearly choked on his sandwich as he swallowed. He coughed several times before saying, “What? What are you talking about? I’m married. You know that.”
“I know. I also know that you’ve told me she doesn’t accept you as you are. That isn’t a good marriage. You need someone who loves you for yourself.”
“Look, Jessie, I don’t know where you got the idea that my marriage is bad or that there’s a spark between us. I’m just here for jury duty and when this is over we won’t see each other again,” Jack said. He tried to be kind but firm.
“Just think about it, please.”
Jack got up from the table, dumped his tray of food into the garbage, and walked back to the courtroom. He got on to the elevator and Jessie followed directly behind him. She stood close to him in the crowded box and discreetly brushed his fingers with hers. Jack jerked his hand away and moved slightly to his right.
A little more time and he’ll see it, and he’ll realize he loves me too, and we’re meant to be together, and then everything will be okay, Jessie thought. I’ll make him see it. I just need time.
The trial concluded and it was time for the jury to deliberate. They went into the jury chambers and sat at a long conference table. Jessie grabbed a chair across from Jack. She watched him and hung on his every word but tried to be casual and not obvious about it. She was so focused on him that the discussion sounded like background noise. Jessie only wanted to be in front of him.
See me. Love me.
The time came to vote, but she couldn’t bear the thought of the trial ending and never seeing Jack again. It was clear that everyone thought the defendant was guilty but, thinking fast, she scribbled “Not Guilty” on a scrap of paper and dropped it in the bowl. The vote had to be unanimous so, without her vote in agreement, they couldn’t finish. The foreman counted the votes - eleven guilty and one not guilty. Everyone groaned. The discussion resumed as they tried to convince the anonymous person of why the man was guilty. The day ended without a verdict.
This continued through the second day. Each time she voted not guilty, she had one more chance to convince Jack that she was the one for him, his true love. He didn't talk to her or have lunch with her anymore, but she was sure he would come around. By the fourth day, many of the eleven infuriated jurors demanded to know who was the lone holdout. Jack was quiet, but he looked at Jessie and frowned as if he knew what she was doing. What she was doing was toying with some guy’s life; giving him hope that they’d find him innocent even though all the evidence was against him. She was delaying justice to stay in this weird limbo where she had Jack but didn’t have him. She couldn’t bear the thought of letting him go.
He’ll see. He needs time. Why else would fate put us here? But this is so wrong. I can’t keep doing this. He’s married. God, why is he married? He’s so perfect. I’m dying. I can’t breathe. Breathe. Ok. I’m gonna puke. Am I? Where’s the trash can? Somebody, please kill me. I can’t take this. He looks concerned. Can he read my mind? Am I crazy? What is wrong with me? Fix this, Jessie. Vote guilty. This isn't right. You have to vote guilty. End this. End it now before your friggin’ heart explodes all over this fake wood table. But…
The voting bowl came around to her, and she eyed it with trepidation. Her pen hovered over the scrap of paper like a pendulum swinging between two points as she hesitated on what to do. She looked up at Jack, hopeful to see a spark in his eye, but he wasn’t looking at her. Jessie grimaced. Her hand tightened around the pen, and she scribbled hard on the paper then tossed it into the bowl.