Willow drove to work the next morning, her body still in dreamland. Bouts of nausea and stomach cramps had kept her up half the night. The last time she’d eaten was the day before when Christian brought lunch to her office.
He’d tapped on her office door and presented her with a covered tray. “I’ve brought something to lift your spirits and energy levels.”
She surveyed him through narrowed eyes, confused by his attention. “What’s going on Christian? Why the … whatever you call this? Breakfast, now lunch. Just what do you want from me? My first born?”
He placed the tray on her desk with a grin. “Would it be too much if I asked for the second, third and fourth too?”
Willow burst out laughing “No, seriously now. Why are you doing this? Did Lucy put you up to it?”
“It’s all my idea. It’s just,” Christian said, and rubbed the back of his head, “I hate seeing someone I … uhm … a colleague … feeling down.”
Willow lifted the cover off the plate and sniffed the air. “Smells wonderful. What is it?”
“Just a little something I cooked up. Think of it as a late birthday present.”
Willow felt something stir inside her stomach – and it wasn’t hunger pangs. “Thanks. That’s … err … considerate of you.”
“You’re welcome, anytime. Anything you need, call on me. I’m your Cinderfella.” He darted out the door before she could respond.
* * * * *
Willow peered out of her office window at the employee parking area every few minutes.
She stomped into the kitchen the second she saw Christian’s car parked in its usual spot. “Hey, you.” She pointed an accusatory finger at him.
His head whipped up at the harsh intrusion to the cool and calm kitchen atmosphere, everyone absorbed in their preparation for lunch service. “Yes, I’m talking to you. There’s no-one behind you, so don’t look for a scapegoat.”
“Exactly! What did you feed me yesterday?” She strode up to within a centimetre of him. “I was damn well sicker than a hangover’s hangover last night.”
“Let’s step out.” He touched her elbow as her mouth opened for another scathing remark. “Please.”
“Fine.” She yanked her arm away, turned and stormed from the kitchen, her feet hammering the tiled floor.
She stopped her stampede outside the kitchen door and Christian almost collided with her. He placed a hand on the small of her back. “Let’s go in there.” He pointed to the designated smoking room.
Willow twisted away from his touch. “I know how to walk.”
Christian strode ahead and held the door open. At the table, he pulled out a chair for her. By the time he took a seat, Willow had propped her elbows on the table, the worst of her fire fizzled out.
“How are you feeling today? Have you eaten? Can I get you something to drink?”
“I’m fine, Christian. This …” Willow flourished her hands in the air. “This concern of yours is making me feel babbelas all over again.”
“Very well. Let’s talk about your food poisoning accusation.”
“Let’s. What in the name of all things edible did you feed me yesterday? That was the last time I ate, and I was up all night, puking my guts out.”
Christian stared at Willow for a few seconds, a concertina of frown lines on his forehead. “It can’t be something from my kitchen. I ate the same thing, and I didn’t come anywhere close to dying.” Christian leaned back in his chair. “Besides, I’ve never heard of people dying of perfectly healthy ostrich meat.”
Willow flung her arms down on the table and flopped her head down on her forearms. “Oh no.”
“What’s wrong?” Christian jumped up. “Are you feeling ill again.”
Willow lifted a hand and waved him down. “I’m fine. I’m fine. It’s just that” – she raised her head – “I’m allergic to red meat.”
Christian sat back down, his gaze fixed on Willow’s face. “That explains why I’ve never seen red meat on your lunch order.”
Willow nodded. “Yep.”
“I just thought you were being health conscious.”
Willow chuckled and shook her head. “I’m no health freak. But damn, that meat was so melt-in-the-mouth tender, I thought I was eating chicken. Best dangerous Saturday lunch ever.”
“But, how? I’ve never heard of someone being allergic to red meat. Nuts, dairy products – the usual suspects – yes.”
“Trust me to be the freak.” Willow let out a long sigh. “It’s an uncommon allergy. Some type of sugar in the meat, called alpha-galactose, causes it. Guess that makes me an alpha-gal.”
Christian leaned forward and beckoned Willow with his forefinger, then he whispered. “That would explain why you’re so fierce, and protective of others. Stubborn too.”
Tell us: Had you ever heard of this allergy before? Researchers are saying it might explain some currently ‘mysterious’ allergic reactions. Are you allergic to any food?