I intended to walk on by, but she smiled and lifted her hand so I wandered over and sat down. I didn’t really know her well. She’s the ex-girlfriend of my former roommate, but none of us were together at the same time. Still, in Bay Area lesbian culture, that means we’re practically related, so I figured I’d better be sociable.
“What’cha doing, Brea?”
“Just hanging out, looking at the water. You?”
“I had a late lunch with this guy I used to work with. Now I’m thinking about heading home.”
“You’re not doing anything tonight?”
“I never do anything on Valentine’s Day. It’s my own personal tradition.”
Brea took a long pull off the paper cup she was holding.
“So, you’re not going to the pillow fight?”
“The big pillow fight in San Francisco is tonight.”
“I don’t know anything about it.”
Brea took another pull and smacked her lips. “Double espresso raspberry truffle mocha.”
“Wow,” I said.
She smiled. “There’s a big pillow fight in Justin Herman Plaza at 6 o’clock on Valentine’s Day. It’s kind of an annual tradition. Wanna go with me?”
I thought it over. There was a frozen organic gluten-free macaroni and cheese waiting for me at home. That, and folding a mountainous pile of clean laundry was going to be my evening entertainment.
The decision was a no-brainer.
“Okay, sure. But you’re ruining my Valentine’s Day plans.”
“Sorry, but I think you’ll thank me for this.”
We sat, watching the bay, while Brea finished her drink. She removed the plastic lid and licked the whipped cream off the inside of it.
“Man, that was good. It was at least 2,000 useless calories of sugar, caffeine, and dairy fat.”
“Well, we wouldn’t want you turning into one of the Olsen twins,” I said.
She laughed and gave the lid a final lick. “No chance of that, lambchop.”
My stomach rumbled. “I just had a vegan lunch that was made entirely of local lawn clippings, and that raspberry truffle thing is sounding pretty good.”
She tossed the cup into a nearby recycling bin. “Well, at least your lunch was local. That counts for something. Come on. The coffee place is on our way. We can get you one there, and I might need another shot of espresso to get through the evening. But let’s hurry. We’ve got stuff to do before we hit the transbay tube.”
She took off toward Second Street.
“Where else do we need to go?” I asked.
“Pillows,” she said, raising her arm in the air like Buzz Lightyear. “To Bed, Bath, and Beyond!”
I laughed. “What chance does a girl like me have against a lesbian action figure?”
“Nice,” she said, nodding approvingly. “I like a woman who can paraphrase Buzz.”
She looked me up and down. “And I like your button.”
I looked at the black button on my jacket that said “Fighting for peace is like fucking for virginity.”
“Thanks,” I said. “I wanted to wear something special for the holiday.”
We stopped at Tully’s Coffee and Brea got another shot. I chickened out of the whole raspberry-flavored thing, and got a cup of green tea to go. Then we walked another three blocks to the bedding store.
“I scoped it out on line,” she said. “These are the cheapest feather pillows I could find.”
I held the door for her, and Brea walked straight to the counter. “Where are your Nautica queen-sized feather pillows?” she asked. The clerk pointed to a nearby aisle. “Down at the end of that row, on the left. That’s where they’ll be if there are any. We’ve had quite a run on them today.”
I followed Brea down the aisle. She was clearly on a mission.
“Check it out! We got the last two,” she said.
At the checkout stand, I started to fumble in my pocket for money. She slapped my hand away and put her debit card on the counter. “The pillows are on me. Too bad we won’t get to use them as they’re intended.” She raised her eyebrows suggestively. I looked away and thumbed through a sale bin of washcloths.
“Hey, I was kidding,” she said.
“I know. It’s just that you’re Karen’s ex, which makes flirting feel kind of skanky.”
“Karen was at least three girlfriends ago,” she said. “A virtual eternity. I’d like to think the statute of limitations has expired.”
“Maybe it lasts to eternity and beyond,” I teased her, although I was beginning to feel where this was headed. It was like a gut feeling, only lower.
“We’ll see,” she said, with a wink.
It was after 5 o’clock by the time we reached the 12th street BART station. We descended down the stairs clutching our pillows. Still wrapped in plastic, they were slippery and kept threatening to escape. I paid the BART fare and we sat on the platform waiting for the train.
“We’ll make the 5:30 train and get off at the the Embarcadero Station. That’s about three blocks from the pillow fight.”
The train pulled up. The car was nearly empty.
Brea looked around. “What a spaceport!” she said.
We sat down and she fumbled around in her jacket pocket.
“I’ve got a little music on my iPod to put us in the mood.”
She pulled off her mittens and set about assembling a tiny adapter and ear phones. “Look – the buddy system. I’ve even got a set for you.”
We plugged in and the music started with Doris Day singing “Pillow Talk.”
I laughed and Brea shrugged. “The theme was a little eclectic.”
As we passed under San Francsico Bay, in the dim light of the tube, she stretched out her arms and one landed around my shoulders. It felt kind of good, and by the time we pulled into the Embarcadero Center, I had my head on her shoulder. It was a 12-minute courtship and “All Night Pillow Fight” by The Late Joys was blasting in my ears.
We took out our earbuds and stood to exit the train.
“Gotta hustle now.” She kissed me lightly on the lips, barely brushing across mine. She still smelled like raspberry. “It’s gonna get ugly, babe.”
We ran the three blocks to Justin Herman Plaza and looked around at the other folks gathering there. People appeared to be streaming in from all over the city, most of them clutching pillows. Everyone kept glancing up at the clock on the Ferry Building.
She walked us to the middle of the plaza. “Three minutes,” she said. “Countdown.”
Brea pulled an inhaler out of her pocket and took a puff. She sprayed something in her nose, and then pulled out some plastic safety goggles, like the kind you have to wear in chemistry lab, and put them on. “I’m allergic to down,” she said. “Can’t be too careful.”
In her stocking cap and goggles she looked adorable, androgynous, and a lot like Rocky the flying squirrel. I thought about kissing her again.
“It’s six! Here we go!” she yelled and swung her pillow at me. The force almost knocked me over. Suddenly it was bedlam. Perfect strangers were hitting me and feathers were beginning to fly. Surrounding me was a sea of flying white pillows. I lost sight of Brea as I fought to stay standing. I held my pillow by the corners and swung it with both hands. I sensed that loosing a grip on it could be treacherous. People were shouting and laughing. The air was filled with muffled thuds and feathers. Against the darkening sky, it looked like a snowstorm as the feathers floated near the streetlights.
My heart was beating fast as I worked to dodge flying pillows and keep swinging my own. I took a hit to the right shoulder. “Ow,” I said. “That hurt. You’re using one of those fiber-fill jobs. That’s not nice.” I swung at my assailant and hit him in the side of the head. It was a glancing blow as he continued to move through the crowd. So I hit the woman next to me. She returned the blow and I used my pillow to block it. A few more swings and I began to leak filling. Every swing of my pillow trailed feathers and my weapon got lighter and less effective. Finally, I retreated to the sidelines and looked out over the crowd. It was a crazy sight – every size and shape of person imaginable swinging pillows and laughing hysterically. The crowed filled the plaza. There were hundreds of people fighting and just as many watching.
Finally, it began to slow down. People with empty pillow covers began to wander away, and within minutes, the plaza was virtually empty, frosted with a blanket of feathers spinning in the breeze off the bay.
Brea appeared by my side. “How’d you do?” she asked.
“That was wild. I’d do it again tomorrow.”
“We could do it at my house,” she said, grinning.
I reached for her belt buckle and pulled her in close. I wiped my face clean of feathers, then I slid the goggles up to the top of her head and kissed her gently.
She looked at me, eyes open wide.
“How dare you open a space ranger’s helmet on an uncharted planet? My eyeballs could have been sucked out,” she said.
I silenced her by kissing her again, a little less gently this time.