Cecilia inhaled the scent of the second-hand store as she tugged on her new coat. Well, it was sort of a new coat. She bought it last week at a thrift shop. Her friends were laughing, joking around, and forcing each other to try on the ugliest thing they could find.
The coat was indeed the ugliest thing Cecilia had ever seen, which usually meant she loved it. It was a bright green faux-suede. It had tassels, and feathers and enough pink sequins to make it look like a colored disco ball. The light caught it every time she moved in the mirror.
She could still remember the look of horror her friend gave her when she announced boldly that intended to take it home. "Who else is going to buy it?" She questioned rhetorically when they asked why.
Now, she looked in the mirror with delighted disgust at possibly the worst clothing item ever created. She turned in the mirror, looking at the pink sequins dotting across the back at seemingly random intervals.
Behind her, Jenna fake gagged. "That thing is absolutely horrid." She said, wrinkling her nose.
Cecilia shrugged, staring at herself in the mirror. "I think it's terrific. In a totally 'this should have never been thought of way'. I mean, who thinks of anything like this?"
Kate finally looked up from her phone and made the same exact face Jenna did. "Someone completely unhinged." She looked at the coat in contempt, as if it was personal that it was hideous.
Suddenly, Jenna frowned, peering at the side of the jacket. "What is that?" She inquired, pulling Cecilia closer by the hem.
"What?" Kate said from where she was draped across the couch.
"It looked like a paper," Jenna explained, thrusting her hand into the pocket. Her frown deepened as her hand came out empty. "I swear something was sticking out."
Cecilia put her hand into the pocket and pulled it out. "Look! There's a hole in the lining!"
Excited at the possibility that she was right, Jenna quickly removed Cecilia's hand and shoved her own back in. With a look of severe concentration, she dug around in the inner part of the jacket. Curious, Kate popped up from the couch and hovered behind Jenna's shoulder.
Finally, Jenna's hand emerged, victorious. In her grasp was a folded piece of notebook paper, about the size of a credit card. Cecilia snatched the paper from her, ignoring her crestfallen look. Cecilia threw herself down on the couch, her fingers greedily unfolding the paper.
Jenna jumped onto the couch, almost landing on Cecilia. "Read it! Read it! Read it!" She demanded, shaking her arm. Kate sat on the ground in front of them like a child waiting for a story to be told.
"Calm down! Calm down! Calm down!" Cecilia commanded in the same tone of voice. She shifted on the couch and cleared her throat. Both Kate and Jenna stared at her in anticipation.
"Dear Buyer," Cecilia began.
"This jacket is ugly, I know. But believe it or not, it was heart-wrenching to let it go. This jacket has a story, and my story, or my daughter's story, is only part of it. I only know our part.
I don't know where the jacket came from, or who decided it was a good idea to create something this hideous. I just know that it was my daughter, Lauren's, favorite jacket."
"Who favorite jacket looks like this?" Kate interrupted, wrinkling her nose once more. Jenna shushed her and gestured for Cecilia to continue.
"She was out one evening with her friends and found it in a second-hand store. They all thought it was hideous, Lauren included. That is probably why she loved it. She said it was the absolute worse thing she had ever seen, but nobody else was going to buy it, and what was the sense in letting a sturdy jacket go to waste."
This time, it was Jenna who interrupted. "This is so weird." She muttered breathily. The three of them stared at each other wide-eyed.
"Keep reading!" Kate urged, repeatedly patting Celilia's knee in exhilaration.
"Lauren wore it all the time. To parties, banquets, her graduation party. She even wore it on her first date with a guy that she would end up marrying. Luckily, he thought that her love of the ugly things was adorable.
However, when Lauren was twenty-three, two years after she met John, she was diagnosed with cancer. At first, Lauren was terrified, because it was so regressive. She spent so many moments in fear. That's when she met Fiona, a middle-aged lady at the local market.
Fiona had had the same type of cancer Lauren had, two separate times. Fiona told Lauren, sternly, but compassionately, to get it together. That if Lauren didn't fight, cancer had already won."
Cecilia paused, looking up at her friends. "I don't know if I want to finish this." She explained, her voice slightly catching.
"It's okay," Kate said softly, reaching out and taking the paper. "I can finish if you want me to."
Cecilia inhaled deeply and steadied her shaking hands as Kate began to read the rest of the letter.
"The jacket became a symbol of hope to the community. Lauren and John got married, they traveled the world. They adopted pets. They tried new things. They loved like the world was ending. Lauren's did.
After two years, Lauren lost her fight. I am more proud of her than I ever thought possible.
I'm proud of you, the buyer, for owning something so ugly. But hopefully, you see the beauty in it now.
It took me seven and a half months to give up this jacket. At first, it felt like I was letting the last part of her go. But now I realize I was just releasing her to the world.
Kate finished reading, and the three of them fell into a subdued silence.
"Oh my gosh." Jenna breathed finally. She sniffled and wiped away a few tears.
Kate and Jenna shared a look, and both reached out to grab Cecilia's hands.
Cecilia blinked away the tears and looked at both of them with a watery smile. "I think," She said slowly. "That this is the most beautiful thing I have ever owned, you know, beyond the physical appearance."
The three of them laughed before Cecilia detached herself and grabbed the letter from the ground. Her eyes scanned the letter, almost lovingly. "Wait!" She exclaimed, startling the other two. "There's a name!" Cecilia squinted at the bottom. "Beverly Brooke."
Jenna gasped. "Kate grab her laptop!" She said gesturing frantically at the counter. Kate scrambled up from the ground.
Kate grabbed it and squeezed herself onto the couch on the other side of Cecilia.
"Look her up!" Jenna urged as Cecilia took the laptop and slowly opened the screen.
The three of them hunched around the laptop staring intently at the screen.
"Do you think that's her?" Kate asked as they opened someone's profile.
"Look!" Jenna pointed at the screen. "It says 'loving mother of an angel, Lauren Brady'. It has to be her! Message her!"
Cecilia stared at the screen in shock before clicking the message box. She typed out a message but hesitated to press send.
"Are you sure you want to do this?" Kate asked gently, laying her hand on Cecilia's arm.
Cecilia clicked send. I bought her jacket.
Cecilia bounced nervously on the balls of her feet. "I don't know if I can do this."
Kate glanced up from the table. "Just come sit down. It'll be okay."
Cecilia wrung her hands. "What if she doesn't like me? What if she regrets donating the jacket and wants it back? I can't give it back!"
Jenna, Kate, and Cecilia all looked at the jacket draped across the back of Cecilia's chair. It was still ugly.
"Just calm down," Jenna said shaking her head. "It's not like you're meeting the love of your life."
"It's worse!" Cecilia exclaimed, startling a few customers nearby. "I'm meeting the mother of a dead woman whose jacket I own!"
Noticing the looks Cecilia's works attracted, Kate ducked her head. "Cecilia!" She scolded in a hushed tone.
Looking around, Cecilia's face bloomed red. She slinked to the table, sliding down in her seat.
"Oh my gosh!" Jenna squealed, looking out the window. "She's here!"
Cecilia sprang from her seat, her chair skidding back a few inches. The bell on the door rang, and it swung open. A woman and a younger man walked in. The woman was about fifty, with short brown hair streaked with grey. Her brown eyes surveyed the cafe, before landing on Cecilia's tall figure. The color drained out of her face and she said something to the man behind her, too faint for the group of girls to hear.
The man urged her forward, his eyes lingering on Cecilia. When the pair finally made it to the table, Cecilia felt like she couldn't breathe.
"Hi. Uh- Hi." She stuttered as the woman stood in front of her.
"Hello." She said warmly. "I-I'm Beverly, this is John." Beverly introduced. " Lauren's husband John." She added.
Cecilia opened and closed her mouth repeatedly, looking like a fish out of water.
Kate came to her rescue. "Hi. I'm Kate, and this is Jenna," Jenna gave a small wave. "And this is Cecilia." She said, nudging Cecilia's leg.
"I bought her jacket." Cecilia blurted. "And read your letter. Actually, Jenna found the letter. I read most of it, but Kate finished it. I found your name at the bottom." Cecilia rambled, gesturing wildly with her hands.
Beverly reached out and seized Cecilia's hands. "Why don't we sit down?" Beverly suggested softly.
The three of them standing took a seat. For a few seconds, the five of them just looked at each other before Beverly dug into her purse and brought out an envelope. "I have pictures. If you want to see."
Kate and Jenna scooted closer, their curiosity piqued. "Yes." Jenna said for Cecilia because she couldn't make the words come out herself.
John, who took a seat beside her, gazed at her with sad deep blue eyes. "You kind of look like her." He said.
Cecilia looked at Beverly, her eyes wide. She nodded sadly and opened the envelope. The first picture she took out made her smile as she showed the rest of the table. "We took this on her first trip to the beach."
A little girl, about four, stood in front of the camera, her green eyes wide. Glossy blonde curls were stuck to her head with seawater, sand coated the majority of her little body. In her outstretched palm was a seashell.
"She's cute." Cecilia said finally.
Beverly nodded and moved on to the next picture. The next one she was much older, about sixteen. She leaned against an older car, keys dangling from her finger. "She worked so hard to buy that car herself; she wouldn't let anyone help."
The next one she took out, she handed over to John. "I don't know about this one." Beverly explained to us.
John laughed as he looked at the photo. "This was our first trip together. We took a road trip to South Carolina. She said she always wanted to see Charleston. We had gotten ice cream at this little parlor, and we were taking a walk. I smashed mine into her face." John showed the photo to us.
She was a few years older now about twenty-two. Her hair was pulled up into a ponytail, a pair of sunglasses perched on top of her head. Her eyes were squinted against the sun, but she appeared to be laughing. The chocolate ice cream was smeared down her cheek and neck, dripping onto her shirt.
"This was a few months before she was diagnosed," John said, setting the picture down. "Why did you buy the coat, Cecilia?" He asked suddenly.
"I thought it was ugly," Cecilia said compulsively. "But nobody else was ever going to buy a thing like that. When I put it on, I just felt like I needed it."
Jenna laughed. "I thought she was doing it just because we told her not to. But then we read your letter, and it just kind of felt like fate to me."
Beverly smiled at the three of them rather quizzically. "Fate? How so?" She asked, cocking her head to the side.
Kate glanced at Cecilia for silent permission. Once she received a small nod, she shuffled in her seat and took one of Cecilia's hands.
"About six years ago," She began, already struggling with the story. "in our junior year of college, we met these two girls, sisters. Cecilia," Kate said gesturing to Cecilia. "and Lauren. We were friends for a few years, and then one day out of the blue, Lauren collapsed."
Beverly and John looked aghast and stared at each other in desolation. Beverly's hands shook, while John's knee bounced uncontrollably under the table.
"She was then diagnosed with pretty advanced leukemia." Jenna continued, as Kate took a shuddering breath. Cecilia stared at the table, swallowing as she tried to dislodge the lump in her throat. "She didn't last year."
Cecilia looked up, her green eyes were red with irritation. "I wish my Lauren was like your Lauren." She said blatantly and without regret. "I wish she would have fought. Lauren just, shut down. She gave up."
A tear glistened down Beverly's cheek and splashed onto the table. "People cope in different ways." She offered in consolation, but Cecilia didn't hear.
"She was so ashamed in the last few days." Cecilia whimpered, wiping her nose on her sleeve. "She told me 'If I could turn back time, I would. For you.' That was the last thing she said to me."
The group sat in silence for a second before John spoke up. "Fate, indeed."