Louise gets more than she bargained for when she buys a beautiful vintage jacket in a second hand store; by Hannah McKinnon.
The sweater was indeed far too big for Louise's slender frame but the emerald green colour warmed her English-rose complexion and was a stunning contrast to her long, fiery-red curly hair that poked out from underneath her black beret.
"I could take it in," Louise replied. "And it's only five bucks." She draped the sweater over her arm and continued looking around.
I watched her slowly peruse some more items, her delicate fingers touching a pair of jeans here, a T-shirt there. She held up a grey, knitted V-neck sweater, cocked her head to one side, wrinkled her nose and put it down again. Good idea, it wouldn't have looked good on her.
I waited patiently until she stopped in front of me.
"Hello," Louise said, as she touched my sleeve softly. "You're lovely."
She was right, of course. A blue, raw silk, tailored blazer with delicate white flowers embroidered on the lapels and cuffs. I'd been called a 'treasure' before, not that I want to brag. I'm certainly not something people often come across in a second-hand store called 'Take Two', and definitely not in the rough part of Toronto.
When I arrived here a few days ago, I suspected I wouldn't be hanging around for long. Sure enough, immediately when Louise walked through the door I knew we were destined to be together. For a little while at least.
Louise held me against her body and softly put her right hand over my lapels, running her fingers over the subtle embroidery.
"That came in yesterday, Lou," Asha said. She walked over and leaned on a coat rack. "It's a great cut. I think it's vintage, but you can have it for ten bucks."
"Oh," said Louise with a hint of disappointment. "Thanks but it's still too much. I only need a sweater and a pair of jeans." She started to put me back on the rack but then stopped. "Oh what the heck, I'll just try it on for fun."
She slipped me on and buttoned me up. Naturally I was a perfect fit. Louise spun around in front of the mirror and sighed wistfully.
She put her hand in my right pocket, felt something, pulled it out and gasped.
"Asha, look what I found." Her voice was shrill as she waved the ten dollar bill in the air.
"Well now, lucky you. Finders keepers." Asha winked.
"No way, I can't keep it."
"Sure you can, sweetheart. It was meant to be."
"Thanks Asha but it was coincidence." Louise smiled, looking at her reflection again. "It's beautiful but when would I wear it? It's too smart for work."
"Take it," Asha said sternly and they both laughed at her school principal tone. "Seriously. It suits you."
Fifteen minutes later I was wrapped up in a plastic bag, sandwiched between the emerald-green sweater and a pair of jeans, on my way home with Louise.
The next day she wore me to work anyway and slipped her uniform over me.
"You're late again," a woman with vast hips and an even bigger frown growled at her.
Louise jumped and her heart raced. "I'm sorry Mrs Henderson." Under her breath she said, 'No I am not, I'm five minutes early.'
"Stack dairy first. Then you can work on tinned vegetables. Tony called in sick so you'll have to cover bread and cereal too. Don't even think about taking a lunch break today."
Louise sighed. "Yes Ma'am."
Later that day, poor Mrs Henderson rushed past Louise, clutching her stomach on the way to the washroom. She stayed in there for thirty minutes, grunting like a wart-hog in heat, as the splish-splash of waste hitting the water and a foul stench filled the air.
"Mrs Henderson has gone home with an upset stomach," Mr Patel, the store-owner said to Louise. "Can you help out on the cash-register? I'll pay you extra."
"Have you contacted them yet?" a blonde girl called Chantelle, with an hour-glass figure, gravity-defying breasts and the whitest teeth I've ever seen, shouted over the loud bar music.
Louise shook her head. "Not yet."
"Do it! Your sketches are good. Honestly, the clothes look awesome."
"What if they say they're rubbish?" Louise answered. "I'll never design anything again."
"Stop believing what your mother used to say. Speaking of, have you heard from her?"
"No. I think she lives in a squat somewhere and she's too high to give a damn."
Chantelle reached over the table and squeezed her hand. "Life will get better. I promise."
Louise sighed. "Well I kind of got a promotion this week. Horrible Henderson won't be back for at least a month. The extra money will come in handy."
"That's great," Chantelle replied. "But you're destined for bigger and better things. Mark my words."
If I had a head I'd have nodded fiercely. I liked this girl.
"So how's your love life?" Chantelle continued, raising both eyebrows three times in a row, grinning cheekily.
With a dismissive wave of a hand, Louise replied, "Nothing to report. As usual. Next question, please."
A week later Louise's alarm clock didn't go off.
"Shit!" she cried as she leapt out of bed, throwing her duvet on the floor. "I set the thing, I know I did," she muttered to herself as the raced around her bedroom, pulling on her jeans and T-shirt before grabbing me too.
As she dashed to the bus stop her feet got caught in a dog leash and she tumbled to the ground. She looked up just in time to watch the back of the bus disappear around the corner.
"Oh no," she moaned and got to her feet. "Taxi!" Arm outstretched and standing on her tip-toes, she frantically waved at a yellow cab, which immediately screeched to a halt in front of her.
She was about to open the door and clamber in when a tall man with round glasses and a mop of brown hair tapped her on the shoulder.
"Excuse me, Miss," he said, his voice low and silky. "I'm late for a meeting. I know it's rude but can I take this one?"
Louise shook her head. "Sorry, I'll be late for work." She paused, then shrugged. "If we're going in the same direction maybe you can drop me off?"
Settled in the backseat, I noticed how Louise couldn't stop looking at him. I didn't blame her. His three-day stubble, his deep brown eyes, his trendy haircut. Good looking? Check.
"Thanks, you're a life-saver," he said, holding out his hand. "I'm Joe."
She trembled ever so slightly as she shook it. "Louise," she answered as her smile moved upwards from her mouth to include her eyes.
"I like your jacket," he said.
Louise blushed hotly. "Thanks."
"The colour really suits your eyes."
Louise was getting all sweaty and the air-conditioning came on. The driver pushed a few buttons then drove his fist down on the middle of the dashboard a few times. "Darn thing. It's like it has a life of its own."
The taxi stopped in front of Louise's work. Joe cleared his throat and the driver drummed his fingers on the steering wheel, rolling his eyes.
"Thanks again," Joe said to Louise. "You really saved me. Can I buy you coffee sometime?"
Seconds later Louise was standing on the sidewalk, clutching Joe's phone number in her clammy fingers. She tucked it away in my left pocket and patted it with her hand.
Joe called the next day, just like I knew he would. On their first date he took her out for dinner at a Mexican joint called 'Tequila Mockingbird'. Sense of humour? Check.
"So where did you grow up?" he asked over the sizzling chicken fajitas.
Louise shifted uncomfortably. "Jane and Finch, mostly."
He didn't flinch. Non-judgemental? Check.
"My dad left when I was young. Mum didn't cope well and I ended up in foster care."
He frowned. "I'm sorry to hear that. That must have been really hard for you."
"How about you?"
"Oakville, on Lakeshore." He rolled his eyes. "The lake side. Mom's a doctor, dad's a lawyer. Sounds great but they weren't around much. My nannies were fabulous though." They both laughed. "Of course mom and dad wanted me to follow in their footsteps, but I chose carpentry. There's just something about wood that makes me feel... alive."
"That's what fashion does to me. The fabrics, the patterns," she sighed. "I'd love to design clothes for a living."
"You'll have to show me your ideas." Louise blushed as Joe gently put his hand over hers, his eyes twinkling. "Maybe on our next date?"
"Crap, it's full," Louise said as she huddled with Joe under the leaky umbrella, the raindrops dribbling onto me.
"Let's go there." He gestured to the high-end coffee bar across the street.
They ordered vastly over-priced lattes from an apologetic-looking barista. Joe pointed to the back. "I'll grab that table."
Louise looked around then picked up the steamy lattes. "Let's go over to the window instead."
"So what did you draw last night?" Joe asked. He shook off his coat and sat down.
"A few dresses," Louise answered, plopping herself onto a seat. "Long and flowing with an A-line and a crossed halter neck." She laughed as she caught his look. Then she grabbed a napkin and pulled a pen out of her bag. "Here, I'll show you."
She rapidly sketched a few lines. "See? The material should be floral and light. On this one the straps cross at the neck. This one's high at the front and low at the back. This one a bit longer and strapless. I've got some ideas for shorts and tops too. They're -"
"Excuse me." The woman at the next table deftly removed her dark sunglasses. "May I ask who you work for?"
Louise frowned and then smiled. "I work in a supermarket."
"A supermarket, really?" If the woman's forehead hadn't been botoxed within an inch of its life, I'm sure her eyebrows would have met her hairline. "But you trained in fashion, correct?"
Louise laughed. "No. I just have ideas."
The woman held out her card. "Call me. We should talk."
Sébastien Duclerc wasn't taking any prisoners.
"Vicky insisted I meet with you," he said in a thick French accent as he looked Louise up and down. "She says you have a certain je ne sais quoi." He sniffed. "You brought your designs? Oui?" Louise nodded. He held out a hand and snapped his fingers. "Show me."
He turned the pages of Louise's portfolio slowly. Now and again he raised an eyebrow, nodded his head or clicked his tongue. Vicky walked past the door and winked at Louise.
Sébastien shook his head. "These are not good, Mademoiselle Louise."
She closed her eyes and hung her head.
"Non, non non. They are not good. They are exquisite. They are divine."
Louise jerked her head up and searched his face for a sign of mockery but there was none.
"Thank... thank you very much," she stuttered, as her shoulders relaxed.
He pointed at her. "And that jacket is G-O-R-G-E-O-U-S."
Louise grinned. I did too. Well, inwardly anyway.
Sébastien clasped his hands and rested his chin on top of them. "The job is yours, Mademoiselle. Welcome on board, my new assistant designer."
The summer sun was high in the sky. Louise draped me over the back of the park bench, her head resting on Joe's shoulder as she tilted her face upwards, eyes closed.
"I can't believe how much my life has changed," she murmured. "Ever since I found this jacket." She gently touched my sleeve. It was reminiscent of our first encounter and I knew it was time.
Joe laughed gently. "I thought you said you didn't believe in fate?"
Louise nudged him with her shoulder. "I don't. Only in coincidence."
"Coincidence or fate," Joe said. "It doesn't matter. All I know is that I'll have the pleasure of marrying you next week." He turned towards her and kissed her gently. She let go of me, wrapped her arms around his neck, utterly lost in the embrace.
"Race you to the ice-cream stand!" Joe jumped up and dashed down the path. Louise ran behind him and laughed like a giddy schoolgirl.
I can only imagine the look on her face when she realised she'd left me on the bench. I bet she ran all the way back, only to find that I'd already been taken, whisked away, never to be seen again. She probably even cried a little.
But I'll show up again, no question about it, quietly and unexpectedly.
So the next time you're in a second-hand store, take your time. Have a good look around. Dig through the piles of clothes. Flick through all the items on the racks.
Because I might just let you find me.