For the first half of secondary school, I was in possession of a unique red coat once owned by my uncle (and then passed on to me). It reminded me of him, and I wore it every cold day, even though it wasn't in the school colours. Not that that really matters - it wasn't a puffa jacket by Adidas, or Nike sweatshop trainers with built-in air bubbles, or a Slipknot hoodie reading PEOPLE = SHIT. The staff didn't mind a red jacket so much by comparison.
My dad, who's slightly shorter and thinner than I am, also occasionally wore it, if he needed a coat and couldn't find one of his own (they were all black; could've been in any dark corner). In its cavernous pockets, both of us used to collect "useful" things - pens, compasses, odd-looking things one found on the ground, that sort of thing - which would inevitably be rediscovered next winter. I found £5 in a pocket once, which I'd completely forgotten about.
It was while groping in one of the outside pockets that I found it.
Dear [ILB], it read. I love you so much and I think you are so so sexy please could you go out with me. Love from Jannis xxx
It was decorated with little hearts and the occasional star.
I was stunned. I'd never had a declaration of love so profound before (or, indeed, any). Evidently, it has been slipped into my coat pocket when I wasn't looking (which wouldn't have been difficult - I often draped it over the back of chairs and stuff, for want of an actual place to hang it.) I'd even been called "sexy", which is something I was perfectly sure I wasn't.
There was only one problem. I didn't know anybody called Jannis.
I racked my brains for several days until it alighted upon someone I sort of knew who I'd talked to about twice. She had a similar name - not "Jannis" but close enough - who was a library monitor, like me, and may have had access to my coat at any time during the preceding months. The more I thought about it, the more she seemed like a likely candidate. I wasn't attracted to her at all - those affections were elsewhere - and I didn't want to let her down. I wondered, with increasing desperation as I realised how long the note had been there, what to do...
...and then I realised, with alarming clarity, that it couldn't have been her. I hadn't been to the library in months - Lightsinthesky wouldn't let me go - and in any case, I don't think she would have misspelled her own name. But then why would anyone...?
"Daddy found a love note in your coat pocket," said my mother, apropos of nothing on a lazy afternoon.
"Oh yeah," I heard myself say. "That's a fake. It was put there by some idiots in my class as a prank. They don't even know how to spell her name."
And, instantly, it all fell into place. I suddenly knew exactly who it was, and how they could have gotten to my coat. In fact, more and more pieces of the jigsaw became apparent - the constant sniggering, the glances in my direction, the fact that I saw one of them scuttling away from my place as I walked back into form after a toilet break one morning, even the bad spelling. They'd decided to trick me into thinking that someone (who, and I mean no disrespect, wasn't particularly attractive) was interested in me, and this would lead to a potentially embarrassing situation in which I either said yes or no, confusing both of us and leaving a lot of hurt.
It's a very cruel joke to play.
Or so I assumed. I certainly never asked Jannis or the most likely perpetrator about it. I wouldn't have known what to say, in either case. I was 14, but wise enough to know that asking either person wouldn't have been the best idea, because I'd be sharing too much information and that was likely to get me into a whole heap of trouble. I'd just spent the best part of two years trying to convince everyone that I wasn't gay, for one thing.
But I kept the note.
I know not why. I just never took it out of my pocket. I've lost the coat since, but for all I know, it's still there.
And, as it turned out, I did have a secret admirer. But it wasn't her. At least, I don't think it was...