This series was written as part of a blog carnival. The writing/posting event was in celebration of Freedom to Marry Week 2009. It started on Tuesday the 10th of February, with the final post on the 14th, Valentine’s Day. Each of the days had a post assignment: Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed, Something Blue… I took some liberties with the last theme, Celebrate Love, making it Something to Celebrate (that would be love), for the sake of continuity. I decided to try and weave these assignments together into a 5-part story. This is the end result of five evenings of writing… Myself never quite knowing what the next installment would bring:
Part I: Something Old
Jamie sat on the chest at the end of her bed, tying one of her Keds. The cat rubbed its way around her ankles. She knew better than to try and pet the cat. They didn’t have that kind of relationship, and after a stroke or two, it would inevitably turn and try to sink its teeth into her hand. So, she let it rub and purr, but she kept her distance.
Finally, she stood and lifted the lid of the chest, pulling out a battered Adidas jacket. Red, with white stripes, it had been the official warm-up jacket of her high school swim team. After college, when she was finally settled in her own apartment, she spent a weekend going through boxes in her parent’s garage. After shuffling through piles of composition books, old sketch pads, and half-baked poetry, she had packed up a handful of things – her warm-up jacket, her yearbooks, a pile of mix tapes her friends had made for her at the end of their senior year, and a bunch of photos – and put them in the cedar hope chest that had been an 18th birthday gift from her parents. A week later, her dad and brother drove to the city and carried the chest up to her apartment.
The hope chest had followed her from place to place, even after she came out and it was obvious she’d have no reason for a real hope chest – at least in the traditional sense. After all, it was supposed to be all about marriage right? That’s what the chest had come to symbolize – the one thing that had alluded her.
This Thankgiving had been particularly painful. Her family had been supportive about her disappointment over the recent passage of California’s Propostion 8.
“Look, James. We voted against it. We did what we could, but it’s not like you were planning to marry any time soon,” her brother said. “I’m sure they’ll have this all straightened out by the time you’re ready.”
“Oh, thanks, Mikey. When do think that’ll be? I haven’t had a girlfriend since sometime in the 90s.”
“You could still have a baby,” her mom called out from the kitchen, where she was stirring gravy. “Your dad and I talked it over and we think it’s a great idea.”
“That’s not an appropriate dinner topic,” Jamie said, and her brother snorted
The red jacket smelled like cedar, from the chest, and very faintly like chlorine. She wore it all year round, with a sweater under it, or a down vest over it. In the summer, she started every day in it, even it if meant taking it off by 10 a.m.
She shook some dry food into the cat’s bowl and grabbed her keys, lip balm, and wallet off the table in the hallway, shoving them into her pockets, and then headed out the door.
It was a 10-block walk to the bookstore she managed, and Jamie had the trek down to eight brisk minutes, if she didn’t stop for coffee.
At the sixth corner, she paused for a moment in front of the coffeehouse, and then glanced at her watch. No, she should keep going if she wanted to have any time alone.
A woman sat at a counter in the window of the coffehouse, facing the street. Jamie caught her eye momentarily and the woman raised her eyebrows in recognition. Jamie didn’t know her, but she was familiar. It was funny how that happens sometimes, she mused to herself. One day she had seen the woman at the produce stand up the street, then she had noticed her at the coffeehouse. She had seen in her the lobby at the Gay and Lesbian Film Festival, and again at a No On 8 fundraiser. It seemed like she was everywhere Jamie went. They never spoke, but the recognition passed between them like a current. The woman always seemed to be alone. Her hair was dark and cropped, and no matter what the weather, she was wearing a worn black Perfecto motorcyle jacket. The last few times Jamie had seen her, it still had a small “No On 8” button on the collar, even though the election was long past.
She unlocked the front door and entered, locking it again behind her. Then she flipped on the lights, and turned off the alarm. She liked the quiet morning hours before the store opened. She wanted this time to rearrange the window in a Valentine’s display. So she spent the next hour arranging piles of poetry books around a couple of velvet cushions and a lacquered tray with a tea set and a bowl of grapes on it. She chose the books carefully with a mixture of old and new poets. She placed a cookie on a saucer, first taking an authentic bite out of it. Breaking a basic rule of good book handling, she turned a copy of Sonnets From the Portuguese face down on the floor, with the book open and the spine cracked. By the time she was done, it looked like a pair of lovers had just run off, leaving the remnants of an afternoon together.
She unlocked the front door and stepped outside to look at her handiwork. It was just like she’d hoped – romantic and decadent – a celebration of books and love.
She was rousted out of her reverie when someone coughed. It was the woman in the black leather jacket, standing by her side.
“We keep running into each other, don’t we?” Jamie said.
“It seems that way,” the woman said. “I noticed you were running late today so I brought your coffee.”
She handed Jamie a paper cup, wrapped in one of those corrougated wrappers.
“Hey, you didn’t need…”
“I know I didn’t,” the woman cut her off. “But I did.”
Then she crossed the street and headed down the block.
“Thank you,” Jamie called. She felt a little foolish. She didn’t even know the woman’s name, and her voice faded into the wind and traffic.
She took a sip. It had cream and two sugars, exactly the way she liked it.
Part II: Something New
“What do you have that’s new?” the man asked.
“For you?” Jamie asked.
“For my wife,” he said.
“A gift?” She was sure she already knew the answer.
He looked around the bookstore, aisles filled with milling shoppers.
“Like the others,” he said with resignation. “Valentine’s Day.”
Despite the long line at the counter, Jamie took pity on him. She walked around the counter and led him away from the line.
“What does she like?” she asked.
The man looked confused.
“Your wife,” Jamie prompted.
“She likes whatever’s new,” he said.
“Novels?” she asked.
“Never,” he said.
“Just the big gala fundraisers.”
“Cooking?” she asked.
“Restaurants,” he said.
“Well, there’s always the 2009 Zagat Guide.”
“I know,” she said. “What about this?” She handed him a heavy book with glossy pictures and descriptions of the world’s top hotels.
“She’ll love it,” he said.
“You could tuck tickets to somewhere inside,” she said, winking. Jamie sensed he could afford it.
“She won’t go,” he said. “She wants something new.”
The man started to cry. First his chin shook, and he sort of mashed his lips together, like he was trying to hold it in. Then big crocodile tears began to roll down his cheeks. Jamie took the book from his hands and sat it on a nearby display table, where a shopper immediately began paging through it.
“Here,” she said. “Let me get you a tissue.”
She ducked behind the counter and came back with a box. He blew his nose loudly.
“I’m so sorry,” he said. “I just hate Valentine’s Day.”
Jamie leaned closer to him. “I think everyone secretly does.”
“I’ll take the hotel book,” he said, standing up as though steeling himself.
“And maybe I’ll try the tickets, too. All she can say is ‘no’… again.”
Jamie found another copy of the book and wrapped his gift and wished him well.
The clock was approaching the vertical line that meant six o’clock.
She turned to the other two clerks. One male, and one female, they were both black-haired and goth, almost indistinguishable from each other. Even their dark green fingernails matched.
They were good clerks who really knew their books, but she couldn’t helping thinking of them as “Thing One and Thing Two”.
“I’m going to call it a day. You two will be fine here on your own. Everyone’s going home to dinner.”
“Only the real desperados will be shopping now,” the girl clerk said.
The boy clerk grinned. “That last guy did you in, huh? I saw him losing his shit.”
Jamie sighed. “I’ll take the Christmas shoppers over Valentine’s shoppers any day,” she said. “All of this forced normative heterosexual relationship madness just wrings me out.”
“Cynic,” the boy clerk said.
“Dyke,” the girl clerk said, although she said it partly in awe.
“You betcha,” Jamie said to the two of them. “If you need me, I’ll be at the Wine Club across the street, licking my psychic wounds.”
The Wine Club was quiet and dim. Brazilian jazz played softly from artfully placed speakers. She looked down the long bar, a single slice of wood from a single tree, polished to a high gloss, yet retaining its rough-hewn edge. At the end was a now-familiar figure.
She sat down next to the woman in the black leather jacket.
“Fancy meeting you here.”
“It seems we meet all over,” the woman said.
“I know. I see your jacket everywhere I go, in every crowd. Do you always wear it?”
“For 20 years now.” She smiled, “I’m a creature of habit. What about yours?” She gestured to Jamie’s red warm-up jacket.
“I take it off for formal occasions,” Jamie joked.
She ordered a glass of wine and some olives.
“I’m recovering from Valentine’s Day,” she said. “It’s retail hell.”
“You can lean on me,” the woman said, offering her shoulder.
Jamie looked at her shoulder, actually thinking about it, and then noticed a small red patch on the sleeve. It was a red suede heart, about the size of quarter, sewn to her jacket.
“Has this always been there?” Jamie asked.
The woman shook her head. “I just had it done today.”
“Is it covering a hole?”
“Only in the metaphysical sense.”
“So what made you do it?” Jamie asked. Involuntarily, she began to trace the outline of the heart with her fingers, feeling the seam where the smooth leather met the velvety suede.
“I decided it was time to start wearing my heart on my sleeve,” the woman said, and she leaned down and kissed Jamie’s fingers.
Part III: Something Borrowed
“Your fingers smell like olives.”
Self-conscious, Jamie started to pull her hand away.
“Wait. I didn’t say it was a bad smell,” the woman said.
Their glasses of wine were two-thirds finished, and still Jamie continued to run her finger aroud the suede heart on the woman’s sleeve, outlining it over and over. They leaned into each other like old lovers.
Jamie hadn’t see this coming. She felt a little disoriented, like she was looking at another version of herself through a wall of water. One minute she was a single woman, caught in the retail spin cycle of Valentine’s Day, the next she was cuddled up in a wine bar with a lovely woman who seemed to have appeared out of nowhere. A woman, Jamie realized, whose name she didn’t know.
“What’s your name?” Jamie asked softly, a little dreamily even.
The bartender stopped in front of them. “Would you like more wine, or can I bring your check?”
“The check, please,” the woman said. She turned to Jamie. “I’m sorry, Jamie. What were you saying?”
“It wasn’t important,” she said. How did this woman know her name? Had they exchanged names and she had been so tilted off center that she didn’t remember it? How long had they been sitting here anyway?
“I’m hoping you’ll have dinner with me,” the woman said.
“I’d like that,” Jamie responded. “When?”
“Now, of course.”
The woman took her by the arm and steered her out of the Wine Club. Again, Jamie had that light-headed, surreal feeling. Was this how Alice felt through the looking glass, she wondered?
“That’s the effect of living backwards… it always makes one a little giddy at first.”
They were standing on the sidewalk outside the bar. The fog had rolled in. The woman looked at her with a quizzical expression. Jamie suddenly realized that she had spoken out loud.
“Are you living backwards?” the woman asked, not unkindly.
“I don’t know,” Jamie said. “Maybe.”
“Are you giddy?” the woman asked.
“I think so,” Jamie said. “Definitely.”
“So that’s why you’re quoting Lewis Carroll?”
“I suppose it is.”
Sometime during this conversation they had begun walking and Jamie shivered in the night air. The lights at the bookstore were still on, and she could see Thing One helping a customer at the register while Thing Two reshelved books from the day’s flurry.
“How about that little bistro up the block?” the woman asked.
Jamie mumbled something in assent.
When she crossed her arms against the cold, the woman slipped out of her jacket and swung it over Jamie’s shoulders. It was warm and heavy. Jamie found the weight of it surprising. It fell from her shoulders like a cloak, or chain mail. There was a magical quality to it, something unexpected…
“Hey, we’re here.” The woman grabbed Jamie’s arm, as in her reverie, she walked right past the restaurant. “Unless you’re planning to leave now.”
“I couldn’t possibly.”
They took a seat in the back of the tiny restaurant and waited for menus.
“This is turning out to be a lovely Valentine’s Day,” the woman said.
Jamie nodded in agreement. “It is.”
“I hope I’m not being too forward. It’s just that I’ve wanted to meet you ever since the second or third time we ran into each other. It was at the No On 8 fundraiser. The one where they showed the movie about the two women who were the first to marry in San Francisco’s City Hall.”
“I bawled all the way through it,” Jamie said.
“I know you did. I was sitting right behind you.”
Jamie put her face in her hands. “Oh, that’s so embarrassing. I’m just sentimental. I cry at card tricks.”
“At least you cried softly. I gave you my handkerchief.”
“That was you? I mean, the handkerchief is yours?” Jamie said in surprise. “I couldn’t remember where it came from. One moment it was just there. Like you were this morning, with my coffee. How did you know I like it with cream and two sugars?”
“It was a lucky guess,” the woman said. Then she rolled her eyes a little. “Well, okay. I asked the girl who works there.”
“And, how come you keep calling me ‘Jamie’?” Jamie asked, her nerve rising.
The woman blushed deeply. “Oh, god. That’s not your name and I’ve been calling you that all night? I could die.”
“No. No, it’s my name, but I never introduced myself to you, did I?”
“You didn’t. But it’s embroidered on your jacket.”
Sheepishly, Jamie looked down at the red warm-up jacket she had worn every day for a decade.
“I guess it is,” she said.
“I’m glad it’s really your name.”
“And yours is…”
“So now you’re not a mystery.”
“I guess I’m not.”
Their conversation dissolved into an exchange of questions – the stuff of first dates. Jamie began to feel her feet land back on the ground and oxygen once again filled the atmosphere.
They shared a piece of chocolate lava cake and then Margot walked her the nine remaining blocks to her building. As Jamie turned to unlock the door, she moved to shed the leather jacket that was still wrapped around her.
Margo stilled her by placing her hands on her shoulders. “No. Hang on to it,”
“But you wear it everywhere,” Jamie said.
“The change will be good for me.” Margot kissed her lightly on the lips. “I like to think of you, wearing my heart on your sleeve for a change. Happy Valentine’s Day.”
“Happy Valentine’s Day,” Jamie said. “I think this one was the best ever.”
“You mean yet,” Margot said. “This one was the best yet.”
Part IV: Something Blue
When Jamie woke, the leather jacket was still there, hanging on the post at the foot of her bed like a sentinel, or a guardian angel.
She stretched luxuriously in her bed as thoughts of the evening before flooded her mind. Then she shook her head on her pillow and contemplated the unreality of it – a lovely, impromptu date with a mysterious stranger. And, as unlikely as it seemed, Jamie had to admit it was the best first date she’d ever had.
It was early. She didn’t have to look at the clock. She could tell by the the cold blue quality of the light, dark even for February. The frost edging the outside of her window was a testament to the winter chill.
“Yet,” Jamie thought. “I’m nice and warm.” And there, with the cool light cutting a path across her quilt, and the jacket standing guard, she dozed off again.
She awoke hours later to warmer light. Reaching for the clock on her bedside table, she bolted out of bed when she realized she had slept much later than usual – so late that she might have missed the opportunity to grab a Sunday paper from the rack outside her apartment building. In her cotton pajama bottoms and the t-shirt she’d worn to bed, she pushed her feet into sneakers without untying them. And, as an afterthought, she grabbed the leather jacket and slipped into it before heading out the door.
Moments later she was back with a Sunday paper, the last in the rack. “Brrr,” she said, coming in from the hallway, and immediately turned up the thermostat. A true California girl to the bone, San Francisco was the coldest place she could imagine living. Even in the summer in San Francisco, her heater was rarely idle for long.
Jamie made a pot of coffee, using her favorite French press. It only held about two good-sized cups of coffee, just enough to get her going without wiring her for sound. She flipped the switch on her stereo. The Sunday jazz show on KQED was playing Duke Ellington’s “Mood Indigo”. Then, with her steaming cup, she sat on the floor in her tiny living room and began to methodically dismantle the paper, arranging various segments into piles. Finally, she found her quarry – the Sunday crossword puzzle – and reaching for a mechanical pencil on the coffee table, she settled in.
The first clue seemed simple enough – a six-letter word that meant “marked by strong desire, especially intimate,” and she filled it in quickly, writing “erotic” and looking at the clues that dropped down from there.
Thinking about the second clue, she found herself staring at the leather jacket on her couch. She had tossed it there after coming in with the paper. Suddenly, she wanted to hold it in her hands.
She gathered the collar of the jacket to her face and inhaled deeply. It had the musky smell of leather, and other smells too. There was a clean scent, like wind, and a hint of wood smoke. There was a faint floral scent, like shampoo, and another scent, warmer and lighter, like sun-warmed skin. As Jamie held the jacket to her face, her stomach flipped a little, and a shiver ran through her body, raising goosebumps on her arms. She wasn’t cold. The heater was cooking away, and the late morning sunlight was now surprisingly warm. Instead she shivered from something else – a sudden recognition of a desire she hadn’t realized.
She carried the jacket into her bedroom and pulled her t-shirt over her head. As she watched herself in the full-length mirror, she untied her pajama bottoms and let them fall to the floor. Then she shrugged on the leather jacket, feeling the weight of it envelope her. She breathed in the scent of the sleeve. Hanging open, the roughness of the zipper lightly scratched the skin of her belly. The cool quilted lining slipped against her back and her breasts.
Taking a deep breath, she ran her hands through her sleep-mussed hair and down over the jacket, feeling the imprint of the snaps and buckles through the leather, like fingertips pressing into her skin.
Again, the shiver.
Jamie felt a blurring of the line between her skin and skin of the jacket and she looked at herself in the mirror. Admittedly, her light blue panties and the black leather jacket made a pretty sexy look. It was something daring, a way she hadn’t pictured herself before now. One hand slid inside the jacket and brushed across her nipple. The intensity of the touch surprised her, as though it wasn’t her own, and she sucked in her breath with a low sound.
With both hands, she cupped her breasts through the leather, imaging how it would be feel to be held from behind. Something crinkled under her left hand, and she reached into the chest pocked and fished out an envelope. It was sealed, and there was a heart on the front surrounding the letter “J” and a tiny question mark.
Leaning back against the wall, Jamie turned the envelope over her in hands. She slid down to the floor, knees close to her chest, and tore it open.
The paper inside was typed.
“Jamie,” the letter began. “I guess by the time you read this, I’ll know for certain if that’s your name. If it’s not, I hope you’re laughing about it right now.
I don’t know how to tell you everything I want to. I can only hope there will be time for me do so, off in some distant future of ours.
I know our paths have crossed plenty lately. We’ve smiled and said hello, in the way of strangers. And each time I’ve seen you, I’ve wanted to make a connection, always chickening out at the last minute. But something happened the night that I sat behind you at the No On 8 fundraiser and I want to tell you about it.
As I watched how touched you were by the movie about Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin’s wedding, I felt a deep place in me crack open. You see, until that time, I had only supported the idea of same-sex marriage as a political right and as a concept. I never felt it would apply to me, although I wished my gay sisters and brothers all the happiness in the world.
I’ve known I was gay since I was a kid. There was no period of discovery. I just am who I’ve always been, and I grew up with the tacit knowledge that marriage, in any traditional sense, wasn’t an institution that would ever be open to me. As a result, I’ve spent my life on a different path.
But that night, as I watched your shoulders shake in the dark, I wanted so badly to put my arms around you, to draw you in and comfort you… to share some of the joy and emotion you were feeling. Somehow, I knew right then, for the first time ever, I was ready to be a partner, a spouse. I can hardly say it – a wife. I knew the time had come to be part of something bigger than myself and, as crazy as it sounds, I knew you were one I wanted to stand by.
Believe me. I’ll understand if this makes you run screaming into the night, never to return. No one thinks it’s nuttier than I do. But this longing in me is so fresh, so new, and so foreign, I felt I had to share it to be true to myself.
That night, I gave you my handkerchief when I wanted to hand you my heart. And I kicked myself as I watched you walk out alone, again.
But then a week later, I saw you at the coffee house, and passed you on the street, and this began to feel like destiny. I knew I just had to be patient.
So now, I’m writing you this letter, not knowing when you’ll read it, but somehow knowing that you will.
Call me when you’re ready,
The letter was dated September 9. That was nearly five months ago. Jamie counted on her fingers to be sure. She held the letter against her chest, where her heart threatened to break free from her body. She knew it was crazy, the stuff of fantasies and novels, and yet somewhere deep inside it rang true.
How many times had they passed in those five months? How many times had they made eye contact, the curiosity and interest clear to both of them, only to walk away?
There was only one thing Jamie knew for certain. She knew she couldn’t walk away again, and with that realization, she put down the letter and reached for the phone.
Part V: Something Worth Celebrating (that would be love…)
Margot answered the phone on the second ring.
“I guess patience pays off,” Jamie said.
“Is that you?” Margot asked.
“It’s really you?”
“It really is.”
“Well then, what are you wearing right now?”
Jamie looked down at the open leather jacket and her light blue bikini panties.
“Uh, why do you want to know?”
“I’m only kidding. I was trying to break the ice.”
“You didn’t think it was funny?”
“I just didn’t want to answer.”
“Hey. What’s the matter?”
“Nothing.” Jamie sounded a little sheepish. “I’m guess I’m not dressed for that kind of phone call.”
“Now my curiosity is piqued. What are you wearing?”
“No. ‘Nothing’ as in ‘I don’t want to talk about it.'”
“Jamie, what’s going on? Do you wear something funny at home that I should know about?”
“What do you have on?”
Jamie swallowed. She hadn’t seen where this conversation would go.
“I read your letter.”
“I know, but you didn’t answer my question.”
“I was wearing your jacket when I found the letter.”
“What do you mean ‘you guess’. Why wouldn’t it be sweet?”
Jamie took a deep breath.
“I wasn’t wearing anything else.”
There was silence on the line. Jamie waited.
Finally Margot whistled a low whistle.
“Margot?” Jamie said.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to shock you.”
“I am a little shocked, but let me emphasize this: it’s in a really good way.”
“Oh.” Jamie let that sink in.
“So are you still wearing my jacket?”
“Are you wearing anything else?”
“You can’t possibly know that last night, after I kissed you good night, and after I came home, showered, and got into bed, I laid awake, thinking about… okay, fantasizing about… you wearing my jacket… and not much else.”
“There’s some powerful magic in this jacket.”
“It seems that way.”
They fell silent again, and for a minute or so there was nothing but the ambient hiss of the phone line.
Finally, Margot spoke.
“So you read the whole letter?”
“Did I scare you away, just putting it all out there like that?”
Jamie laughed. “You said you were wearing your heart on your sleeve.”
“But now it’s on yours.”
“Tell me what you’re thinking.”
“Well… I feel a little overwhelmed, but in a good way. I woke up feeling indescribably happy before I even realized why. I feel scared, and a little shaky. I feel like I’m bursting and I want to tell someone about it.”
“Well, I called you.”
“So do you think we can make this work?”
“I don’t know, Margot, but I think we can choose to try.”
“Is it that easy?”
“With what little experience I have, I’d say it’s 50 percent effort and 50 percent luck.”
“We’ve been lucky so far, but what about attraction?”
“I’m plenty attracted to you.”
“That’s a good thing.”
There was a pause and Jamie heard Margot take a deep breath.
“It seems like maybe we should celebrate.”
“Celebrate agreeing to give it a try?”
“Something like that… Jamie?”
“Can I come over?”
“Oh, good. I was hoping you’d say that.”
“I’m in the hall outside your door.”
Jamie heard a knock, both at her door, and in the receiver of the phone.
She looked down at her bare skin, pale against the black leather jacket, and felt a small rise of panic that made her heart speed up.
“Hang on Margot, I’ve got to get dressed.”
“Jamie. Wait. What can I do to talk you out of that?”
“Out of what?”
“Out of getting dressed.”
Jamie stood, and once again looked in the mirror.
“But all I’m wearing is your leather jacket. I can’t greet you like that.”
“Oh my god, I wish you would.”
“This is how it’s going to be? Okay. Please open the door… just the way you are.”
Jamie leaned again the front door. She could hear Margot through the door and in her phone.
“I’ve never done anything this crazy.”
“You mean the jacket?”
“I mean the whole thing.”
“Neither have I.”
There was a moment where Jamie could heart her own heartbeat.
“Okay. I’m hanging up now,” Jamie said.
“I guess that’s a good thing.”
Jamie put the phone down and peered though her peep hole. Margot stood in the hallway, waiting – as always – patiently. She had a big bunch of roses in one hand and bottle of champagne in the other.
Jamie turned the knob and opened the door slowly.
“You actually brought champagne. Now tell me again, exactly what are we celebrating?”
Margot stood looking at her, rooted to the spot. Her chest rose and fell with her breath and she bit her lower lip.
“I’d say, your taste in fashion.”