Written in Response to the WL Co-Author Challenge
From Dash: As always, my thanks to A & K for their outstanding beta work of my work (never post without them!) and to M for everything. And - in addition - to Tarabeth for approaching me with this idea and asking if I'd be interested in writing with her. She deserves full credit for the idea of a tailor and the unique names of the characters. I haven't written with a partner in several years - it was a fun experience and one I look forward to repeating.
From Tarabeth: Thank you to Nicole and Mel for their support and betaing. I struggled a lot with my piece--sometimes the shortest pieces are the hardest. And to Dash for discussing how sexy he finds a man in a good suit.
Title: The Tailor
Authors: Dash & Tarabeth
Warnings: No Discipline
The small bell tinkled as it was brushed by the opening of the door and the entrance of the two men. Looking up from the carbons I was filing in the Orders Book, I saw them walk in together. They were of similar age and build and had the air of comfortable familiarity about them that only came from years of intermingled lives.
“Good day, gentlemen. May I help you with something?” Three years in the front of the shop had taught me the perfect tone with customers like these. Confident but not arrogant; loud enough to be heard but not so loud to disturb others or break the peaceful calm of the store; helpful and friendly without being pushy or too familiar.
The gentleman with glasses smiled and clapped his friend on the back. “This elderly …”
“Distinguished,” the other man corrected.
“Fellow here is the proud Father of the Bride in a month and needs something new to wear,” Mr. Glasses continued, uninterrupted or bothered by the correction.
Raising up the counter separator, I smiled and stepped onto the shop’s floor. “I can certainly help with that.” Typically, I would address the wearer of the suit but there was something that hinted that Mr. Glasses would be interjecting his opinions and thoughts and that the other gentleman was perfectly fine with that. Instead, I solved the problem by addressing them both. “What time is the wedding?”
The second gentleman jumped in, “It’s at 4pm, followed by dinner.”
“Sort of an in-between time,” Mr. Glasses said with a shrug. “Night would be simple enough, brunch would be simple but afternoon and dinner..”
The other man smiled at his friend, “It’s what she wanted.”
“Oh, I know, I’m just saying …”
“I know you’re just saying and I’m just saying …”
“I think a simple pinstripe gray would be the perfect answer,” I interrupted, something I rarely do with customers. My instincts told me that this banter easily could have continued, all afternoon. They certainly had the ease of long time friends and knew each other’s next statement in the long running game as well as their own. As I stepped closer to the second gentleman, I caught a faint whiff of pipe on his clothes, instantly naming him in my mind. Customer’s names were on the forms but for me, it was easier to remember them by something more personal. Mr. Cash for the customer who came in once a year after carefully saving for the next year’s suit and always paid in cash, Mr. Double-breasted for the customer who refused to look at anything else, Mr. Glasses for the obvious and now Mr. Pipe.
Mr. Glasses smiled, “That’s exactly what I was thinking. But nothing with too much of a pinstripe. You don’t want to be looking like a ballplayer.”
The other man rolled eyes and shot me an exasperated look. “I’m sure it’ll be fine.”
“Understated, I promise,” I said with a smile.
Fifteen minutes later, after careful review and several rejections of pulled suits they had settled on two and Mr. Pipe disappeared into the changing room to try them on. Against my nature and probably proper business etiquette, I smiled at the other man. “Do you need a new suit too or just the Father of the Bride?” A funny expression passed over his until now cheerful and carefree face.
“Oh, unfortunately work has me out of town that weekend and I can’t attend. I’m in advertising and one of my firm’s largest clients has invited several of us to go hunting with him.” He paused for a moment, glancing into space for a moment before adding, “I wish I could though. I’ve known Allison since she was a baby and watched her grow up in the ever changing photos on Jim’s desk and wallet.” He suddenly laughed, smiled and gave me a small shrug, “But what are you going to do? We make our bed and then have to lie in it.”
It seemed an odd comment to make about work and watching the daughter of an obviously close friend grow up in photos but not through Sunday dinners. Luckily the appearance of Mr. Pipe from the curtain brought my thoughts away from areas it didn’t belong and once again centered on my own work. Most men look good in suits. The formal cut and dark colors work for almost everyone and improved the appearance in a way no trousers and sweater could. This gentleman though was part of the elite two percent who looked amazing. It wasn’t just the cut or the wool or the rich gray color but more in how he wore it. There was no fussing with cuffs or playing with buttons, just a simple confidence in how he looked.
“Well?” he asked, his eyes locked on Mr. Glasses.
The other man nodded, taking several steps toward him before reaching out and adjusting a collar that didn’t need adjustment, his hand lingering for just the briefest of moments on his friend’s chest. “There’s no need to try the other one on, this is perfect.”
He smiled and gave a quick nod, “Yes. I think so too.” Pausing for just a second, he lowered is voice even more, “Why don’t you get something new too and we can both knock the socks off everyone there?”
Mr. Glasses gave a small twisted smile, “The day will be stressful enough for Edith as it is, I couldn’t do that.” He laughed, locking his eyes with his friend. “Plus, I have to work. Have to go to save the world from rabid birds. You know they’re as dangerous as the Russians.”
I watched as their eyes met for a moment and wondered what they were thinking, what unspoken words were being exchanged between them and why.
Mr. Pipe coughed slightly, the eye contact broken. He flashed Mr. Glasses a quick smile as they stepped apart. “The sleeves feel a bit long and maybe one turn of the cuff?” he said, the focus now on me.
I nodded toward the small raised platform. “Why don’t you step up and I’ll get everything marked off.” Walking over, I picked up the small containers of pins and knelt down and began to adjust the cuffs. The adjustments were minor and my mind drifted toward the two men and their relationship. They were obviously long time friends and close yet the friend wasn’t attending the wedding even though he was invited and wanted there. I assumed Edith was Mr. Pipe’s wife and she was the main reason for the lack of attendance.
Mr. Pipe paid and I promised to have the suit ready within the week.
“I’ll stop in on Saturday then,” he said with a smile. Jerking his head in the direction of his friend, he added, “And I’ll be working on him. You might get another sale too. I just have push a bit.”
Looking up from the ties he was browsing through, Mr. Glasses laughed and shook his head. “Pushing, that’s one word for it, I guess. Come on, I’m hungry.”
I watched them leave and would have sworn I saw Mr. Pipe’s hand linger on the other man’s back as he held open the door for him.
I was at the sewing machine shortening the sleeves on a wool flannel jacket when I heard the doorbell tinkle as the two men entered the shop. I removed my foot from the pedal and looked up to greet them with a smile. They seemed to be about my age or a bit younger--in their mid to late thirties. They carried themselves with an air of confidence one often sees in attractive people.
The shorter of the two men held the door open with a comfortable grace. He was tan, had soft fluffy hair that was only the result of a handful of mousse and a blow dryer. He was well dressed, wearing a soft blue sweater draped over his shoulders that set off the blue in his eyes. He looked as if he had walked out of the pages of The Preppy Handbook.
Their voices were slightly drowned out by the beeping alarm of Mr. Blue Eyes’ large digital watch; he pushed at some buttons to halt the sound. “I ran into Robert Blaylock the other day, he just got promoted to head up a new division,” said the man in the blue sweater. “I would love the opportunity to start a new department like that.”
“Oh, I think being made senior engineer is a pretty amazing job,” said the taller man. His voice was deep and husky. He directed his attention at me, and gave me a nod. “Which is why we have come to get you a new suit.”
I paused to appreciate his brawny salacious voice, so it took me a moment to respond. “Good afternoon,” I said, returning a nod to Mr. Brawny. I turned to Mr. Blue Eyes, “So, you are looking for a new suit; do you have anything specific in mind?”
“Ah well, this promotion will require that I represent the company and make presentations to VIPs,” the blue-eyed man paused to think.
“So, something upscale and sophisticated—a suit that helps to convey confidence and authority. I have a couple of things in mind,” I said as I motioned for the men to follow me toward a display of some or our higher quality suits. “I like this navy fine stripe two-button jacket and pleated trousers. The suit is fully lined and also comes in dark gray and khaki. A double breasted jacket could also be a good option as it sets a more conservative tone.”
The blue-eyed man gave a distasteful look at my mention of the double-breasted jacket before replying, “I think I’ll stick with the two button jacket.”
Mr. Blue Eyes looked to Mr. Brawny for his opinion and again the man with the deep voice spoke, “They’re very nice, what sizes do you have in the store?”
I looked over to Mr. Blue Eyes, “Hmm, you look to be about a 42 jacket and a 34 trouser.” He nodded with an impressed look at my skill. I’d been in this business for a little over twenty years; it was a bad day that I was unable to size a man by looking at him. “I think I have those in back.”
When I returned to the front of the store, Mr. Blue Eyes was looking at the oxford shirts, while Mr. Brawny was flipping through packages of Calvin Klein and Ralph Lauren underwear. He then moved over to the display of dress socks; he held up a selection of argyle, solid and stripe socks for the blue-eyed man to see.
Mr. Blue Eyes frowned, “I don’t need any socks.”
The robust man rolled his eyes and then settled them on Mr. Blue Eyes’ feet, bare inside his boat shoes, “Richard, you will need to wear socks with your new suit,” he said with a bit of firmness to his voice. “I’ll get these for you.”
I tried to contain the smile on my face, after all the blue-eyed man was my customer, but adding socks to my sale would also be helpful. I placed the suits inside a fitting room and motioned to Mr. Blue Eyes that his room was ready.
Mr. Brawny took a seat on the chair outside of Mr. Blue Eye’s fitting room.
“Christopher,” I heard Mr. Blue Eyes call from his room, “really, I have enough socks. Besides you already gave me a congratulatory gift. I love my briefcase.” Mr. Blue Eyes paused and when he began to speak again his voice took an odd tone, it had a bit of pride, mischief and an undertone of embarrassment. “With my raise in salary, I’m making more than enough to buy my own socks.”
Mr. Brawny blushed and fumbled with the socks in his hand. I wondered what their relationship was that they both seemed a bit embarrassed by Mr. Blue Eyes new salary.
Mr. Brawny stood and lightly knocked on the fitting room door. “Let me see how you look.”
The blue-eyed man emerged from the dressing room looking ready to take over the world. The suit seemed to empower him--giving him a more powerful and professional swagger than he had before entering the dressing room.
“What do you think?” Mr. Blue Eyes asked.
Mr. Brawny viewed his blue-eyed friend and gave a warm smile. “You look strong, handsome, and confident. I would give you my business.”
Mr. Blue Eyes smiled at his friend as his cheeks pinked slightly. “Thank you.” The blue-eyed man turned his attention to me, “I think this is the one.”
I had the blue-eyed man stand on the small stool I used for making alterations. I took out my fabric pencil, pins and measuring tape, and marked his sleeves and trousers for the minor alterations I would need to make.
Mr. Blue Eyes then returned to the dressing room, removed the power suit and replaced his preppy clothes. He exit the dressing room and handed me the jacket and suit trousers.
“Shall I ring you up, than?”
“Yes, I would also like these shirts and the socks.” Mr. Blue Eyes answered as he placed his hands around Mr. Brawny’s to take the socks. “I think I could probably use a few more pair.” He smiled at the man with the brawny voice and his hands seemed to rest for a moment of reassurance before he took hold of the socks.
I placed the shirts and socks in a shopping bag. “Thank you for your business,” I said to the men.
As the two men exited the store, I heard Mr. Brawny say, “In that suit, I bet you’ll be a division director in no time.”
The small bell tinkled as it was brushed by the opening of the door and the entrance of the two men. It was old-fashioned I knew but the bell had welcomed me to the store when I interviewed for my position, on my first day of work and every day since. It had tinkled as Mr. Becket walked out the evening of his heart attack leaving the store solely to me and would probably do the same for me when my time came. Luckily, that would – hopefully – still be a few years off. Right now, I had two customers to deal with.
“Welcome, gentlemen,” I said cheerfully, “is there something I can help you with?”
The younger gentleman, Mr. Superman thanks to the ridiculous t-shirt he was sporting, grinned at me. “I hope so.” He glanced over at his friend, laughing slightly as his grin widened. “We both need suits, please. Complementary but …”
“Not matching,” the other man, Mr. Henley, said with a small grin of his own. “Complementary but not matching in the slightest.”
Mr. Superman laughed again as he shook his head, “Fine, fine, not in the slightest but …”
I smiled and nodded, “Look good together?”
“Exactly,” the younger man said. Grabbing his friend’s hand, he squeezed it, saying to the other man, “We agreed, remember? Similar so we’re equals, no worrying about anyone wondering who the bride is and who’s the groom?”
His comment, concern actually, took me back as the pieces fell into place and I mentally changed the label from friend to Boyfriend.
The boyfriend smiled and squeezed the hand back, “You’re the only one who’s worried about that, Tony. But yes, I remember.” Turning to me, he smiled and took a breath before saying, “We’re having a Commitment Ceremony in a month.”
Smiling, I nodded. I knew, of course, that these sorts of ceremonies were becoming more and more popular but it still seemed strange to me. It wasn’t legal and just seemed silly. I had read an article a couple of years ago that compared it to blind people getting together and passing out certificates that said they could see. It didn’t change the fact that they were blind, just like a commitment ceremony didn’t change the fact that marriage was only between one man and one woman. “That’s wonderful,” I said with a smile. Wonderful was my default answer to everything.
Mr. Superman laughed and nodded, “It is, isn’t it? We’re actually having that song – What a Wonderful World – as we enter the garden together.”
Despite my misgivings, I felt myself catch a small bit of his excitement and joy. “So it’s a garden wedding .. err ceremony?”
The older man laughed, “Don’t worry, we do the same thing and call it a wedding too. But yes, whatever you want to call it, it’ll be outside at 5pm and casual.”
“Women in hats, everyone drinking mint juleps and eating finger sandwiches,” Mr. Superman interrupted. “A light jazz trio going on in the corner, paper lanterns and lots of flowers.”
Mr. Henley kissed his lover’s hand, saying softly, “He doesn’t need a whole description, hon, he gets it.”
It was my turn to laugh as I nodded, “It sounds lovely and I can picture it. I also picture you both in very light creams and tans, yellows, those colors. I think anything dark would be too heavy for .. end of April? May?”
“The first Saturday of May,” the older man said, “and I think that sounds perfect.”
Motioning them to follow me, I lead them toward the back of the store. “Most of the summer things are still toward the back. We’ve moved the winter things upfront to get them to move quicker while people are still in the mood for blacks and grays.”
Fifteen minutes later, Mr. Henley standing next to me as we waited for his partner to emerge from the dressing room, he shifted back and forth and sighed. “Would you like me to go back and see if there’s a problem,” I asked. “Or, you’re welcome to head back yourself.”
He shook his head, “No, that’s fine, I’m sure he’ll be out in a minute. Tony hates to be rushed.” He let out another breath and said, “I bet this whole thing seems sort of silly to you, doesn’t it?”
I was horrified, hoping that nothing in my expression had betrayed my thoughts. “No, not at all. I think anything between two people that makes them happy should be encouraged.”
Leaning closer, he smiled, “Well, it seems slightly silly to me sometimes.” He gave a shrug, “But it just feels right and it’s something that’s very important to him. I just … I think I had always assumed that I wouldn’t be getting married. It was just one of those adult rites of passages that I would be giving up as a gay man.”
Nodding, I remained quiet, letting him talk. Some customers liked to talk, seeing me as a sort of confessor maybe, the same as a bartender or barber. I considered it part of my job to let them do whatever made them comfortable.
“Having kids, the white picket fence, whatnot, just not in my picture, I figured,” he said. “But look at me now. We live in the ‘burbs and even though we don’t have a picket fence, we do have a black lab and now going to have a wedding, of sorts.”
I laughed, “Rather traditional if you ask me.”
“Tony was up in New York last September,” he said softly. “He had a meeting with Cantor Fitzgerald and I didn’t know what time. I hadn’t been paying attention, I guess when he was telling me about it or something and when we saw the news at work, all I could think about was where he was and if he was OK. I knew he was in the middle of that hell and ….” He voice trailed off as he shook his head. “It just put everything into perspective for me and all I could think of was how he had to be OK because I couldn’t live without him.”
“Was he there?” I asked softly, a loud voice seeming almost disrespectful to the memory.
He nodded, “He was coming up from the subway right after the first plane hit. He said he just grabbed his co-worker’s hand and ran, pulling her along with him as they ran up the block. They ended up walking back to their hotel and he was finally able to get in touch with me around noon, hours after the collapse. I’d never cried at work before but when I heard his voice on the other end, I cried.”
I heard his voice thicken at the memory and I knew he was once again reliving that feeling and those hours. “I’m glad he wasn’t hurt.”
“He had some nightmares for awhile, things he saw, things he did but ..” His voice stopped for a second as the younger man came out from the dressing area and he whistled. “Very nice,” he said with a laugh.
“You like?” he asked, holding out the lapels and sort of strutting toward his partner.
Reaching out, he grabbed him and pulled him closer, bending down and kissing him on the nose, “I like.”
Mr. Superman grinned, “Me too.”
Silently, I agreed.