It was cold in Edinburgh, relatively speaking - six degrees Celsius - but the sun was tickling the cobblestoned streets with the promise of spring, shining its earnest rays into living rooms and kitchens, raising spirits and warming moods, offering gentle encouragement to the hardy Scots.
And so when Jessie knocked on Jacob’s door and courageously invited Katrine out for a coffee, the girls decided to sit outdoors under gaily-striped awnings with under-the-rooftop heaters. It was still a little on the chilly side despite the conjoined effort of real sun versus man-made warmth, but the kindly staff was accustomed to keen coffee lovers who cocooned all winter and wanted to breathe in the fresh invigorating March air. So they brought out some woolly grey blankets for the women to place over their knees and then, with the arrival of a single origin Brazilian roast and warm cinnamon rolls, all seemed well with the world.
But even the cajoling of caffeine and the promise of near-eternal outdoor days spent in joyous sunshine were not enough to eradicate the sense of helplessness Jessie had been feeling since Jacob left on tour. Katrine avoided her wholeheartedly at first, but the boys were soon expected back and so today Jessie sought the company and insight of the carefree French girl who had become her very good friend in Scotland. Katrine couldn’t very well avoid her when Jessie was standing at the door, the picture of misery and confusion, and so the smaller woman had placed a periwinkle blue crocheted beret over her spiky hair, grabbed a handmade shawl she knit herself in primary colors of yellow, red and blue, threw knee-high brown leather boots over a pair of black leggings, and somewhat diffidently accompanied Jessie down the hill to their local café.
Now, Jessie opened the conversation with no holds barred.
“Explain to me what happened that day, Katrine. The day before Jacob left.”
Katrine sat back in a cocoon of blanket and shawl, her intelligent eyes bristling from beneath the large crocheted hat. She was also wearing fingerless gloves, which she wrapped around her mug in an almost futile attempt to absorb a little more warmth. Jessie thought she looked a bit like some exotic bug, her eyes jumping out from beneath all the colorful camouflage.
“I will,” Katrine responded affirmatively in her Scots infused French accent. “But first, we talk about love. You need to understand Jacob.”
Immediately, Jessie felt her defenses rush to the surface. She willed herself to remain calm. She felt she clearly understood love. Hell, she wrote about it. She sang about it. She sacrificed for it.
Katrine continued, propping her booted feet up on a nearby chair, a habit she picked up from Jacob. She spoke slowly, choosing her words carefully to ensure she made the right pronunciations. “Love…eet is like a box you put around yourself. Some boxes are paper, some are cardboard, some are made of, ‘ow you say? Steel. Jacob’s is steel. He ‘as a door that he lets people in and out of, but most of ‘im is… impenetrable. He ‘as tight control over who he let in, who he let out.”
She adjusted her seat and raised a hand for emphasis. “I am made of rice paper, very thin.” She smiled widely then as she recalled her own shell. “I ‘ave lots of lovers, women and men. I no worry so much about who I let in. I am ‘appy enough wit myself to not worry. No one get hurt.”
The small French girl paused as she studied Jessie. The singer was sitting on the edge of her seat, worried, unable to relax, her legs crossed. She was wearing a short skirt again – she almost always wore short skirts in Scotland, since in Canada they were something she never dressed in, apart from party dresses or sundresses. On this day she also wore thick leggings and a pair of colorful Bogs which, unknown to Katrine, reminded Jessie of Deirdre Keating’s flower garden, so adorned were they with images drawn from nature. Plus, they kept her feet warm and dry. She had drawn a thick cream cable sweater over her shoulders, accenting it with a bright fuchsia scarf to match the boots. Her hands were cold, red, and like Katrine’s, were also clutching her mug, but not for warmth. Jessie needed something to hang on to.
Katrine reached down to her bag, which was leaning against the café’s folding wooden chair. With one swift movement she pulled out one of the magazines Jacob bought that fateful day at the grocery store. Without breaking eye contact she dropped it on top of Jessie’s untouched cinnamon roll.
“I understand ‘bout your ring now, Jes-sie.” She said her friend’s real name slowly, shockingly, the s’s almost sounding like z’s, drawing it out so it garnered the attention it deserved. “Your man, ‘e is dangerous. So you go away. But you still love ‘im. His box, it eez made of cheap, how you say, wood? Ply-wood? ‘E is weak.”
Staring at the image of herself on the front cover of the magazine, Jessie uncrossed her legs and tried to breathe. She shoved the coffee mug out of the way, to the right, almost tipping it over. Unwanted tears assaulted her when she spied the tormented eyes of Deirdre and Charles peeking out from the thumbnail images. Dee was leaning against her husband’s chest, devastated, her eyes betraying a lingering profound sorrow. Hands shaking, her stomach sick, Jessie tried to thumb to the article inside but she couldn’t make her body work in conjunction with her brain. Finally she gave up and set the offending rag bag back on the table, upside down so she wouldn’t have to face the Keatings’ tragic stares.
Then the full impact of the magazine hit her with a full and explosive force.
Jacob knows. Jacob knows. Jacob knows.
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