There's a padded envelope in the pile when Mikey gets around to sorting the mail. He divides it by junk, bills, and WTF, and the padded manila envelope is the only thing in the WTF pile. His name and address is on a printed label, and there's no return address--but there is a happy face sticker along the lines of what Mikey used to see on homework in grade school.
He ignores the junk and bills and opens the mailer instead, and inside there's a knitted hat. It's kind of a bottle green with a little brown and yellow in it, like there are differently colored fibers all twisted up. It's more like a skull cap than a woolen winter hat, the kind with ears or a pom-pom on the top. This hat is plain, and it looks handmade since the stitches are a little looser in some parts than others and there's a tail of yarn on the inside. It's just his kind of hat, and after he turns it over and inside out (looking for--what? Bugs? Arsenic? It seems fine) he tugs it on and automatically arranges his hair underneath it so it'll fall in front of his ears.
There's no letter or note or tag anywhere on the hat or inside the envelope, even though Mikey looks carefully. Sometimes--rarely, thank fuck--fans suss out his home address and send random things, or maybe some aunt sent it and forgot to tell Mikey's mother to give him a heads-up. Anyway, it's a nice hat, and he wears it for a couple of weeks and doesn't think any more about it beyond that winter seems a little less cold and lonely--worse this year after the excitement of the Warped tour. He doesn't even remember to ask his mom if any of their relatives have recently learned to knit.
About three weeks later there's another envelope, with the same printed label but another sticker for a return address--this one is a watering can with flowers in it, and one side of the sticker is ripped. It looks like it’s a piece of one of those free address labels that nonprofits send, like anyone would contribute to a charity out of guilt because they sent you some personalized address labels. He can't remember if the first sticker, the smiley-face, was also ripped along the side, and he's momentarily mad at himself for throwing out the envelope. Now it's a series, two anonymous packages, and he rips open the second to see what's inside.
It's another knitted hat, this time black with bits of pink on the top. Mikey arranges it flat against its envelope and realizes that they're cat ears, bright pink triangles on the one side and black on the other. It's maybe not his usual style but it's adorable, and after the cursory bugs-and-arsenic test he pulls it on and goes to look at himself in the bathroom mirror. He arranges his bangs underneath this glasses and pulls the kitty ears up until they're perfect. Then he texts Gerard a picture of himself grinning, the pink ears tilted jauntily.
know ne1 who learned 2 knit? got this in the mail
He goes back to the piles of mail and opens some bills while still wearing the kitty hat, which is warm and comfortable. After a few minutes, Gee texts back.
dunno? ask mom? cute hat dude.
Mikey does call Donna, but she says there aren't any knitters in the family and asks him to forward the kitty hat picture, which he does.
Adorable, she says in a text the next day. Wear it to dinner next week.
He does, and everyone admires it. Gerard has to try it on.
Not quite two weeks later there's another manila envelope with the printed label, and this time the return address is a flurry of foil stars like his mom had put on Mikey and Gerard's chore charts the year he was in fourth grade. There are five clustered where the return address would be, and a few here and there over both the front and back of the envelope. It looks like they might have made a pattern before the package went through the mail, but now some stars are folded over or falling off so some are probably missing, too. Mikey ignores the rest of the mail even though there's a lot of it and tears into the envelope, trying to avoid losing any more stars.
Inside there's a really long, soft, dark gray scarf. It doesn't feel quite like the kitty hat does and there's no pink, but when Mikey looks at it closely (for bugs and arsenic, he thinks briefly, but he's sure now that the presents are safe. He's been wearing both the hats quite a lot and he hasn't been any itchier or more dead than usual) he sees that there's a pattern of gray paw prints that are only a little lighter than the dark background of the scarf. It's adorable but subtle. Mikey can be down with subtle.
After no small amount of further examination, Mikey concludes that the scarf actually has both cat and dog paw prints. Most of them are cat prints, but there are occasional larger ones that seem more like they'd belong to dogs. It doesn't seem like a pattern until you look carefully; when Mikey had first opened the package he'd thought it was just a little mottled in color. He wraps it around his neck and it goes around three times with length to spare. He goes to check how it looks in the mirror in the hall. He'd been wearing the kitty hat already, since it's February in Jersey and even the walk to the mailbox is too far to go without some nod to the weather (currently: cold, dreary, and about to snow). The hat and the scarf are great together, warm and comfy, and he could go even further than the mailbox even in just his sweatshirt and jeans.
Mikey notices in the mirror that one of the scarf's ends is a little wider and looser than the other, but beyond that he'd think it wasn't handmade. His anonymous winter-wear benefactress (or benefactor, he reminds himself. He refuses to make assumptions about the gifter's gender based on their artistic medium. He'd tell Gerard how effective his teachings have been but that would probably only lead him to rant more about gender identity and societal expectations. Neither Ray nor Frank would thank Mikey for encouraging Gerard's ranting) is getting better at knitting, there's no doubt about that. The kitty ear hat has developed a little hole near where one of the ears attaches, but this scarf looks great but for that one slightly wider end. So whoever his secret knitter is, they're still learning.
Mikey spends the next two weeks wondering what knitted item might come in the mail next, but trying not to think about who the knitter could be. What if it's not who he wants it to be? Because it isn't, and Mikey hates raising his expectations only to be disappointed later. It sucks every time so he's sworn off it, which is why he cuts his mom off when she asks about the knitted presents during their regular weekly phone call (dinner on Sunday night, call on Wednesday. She calls Gerard on Tuesdays because "he was born first. We do things in birth order").
"Don't you want to thank the person who sent you that nice hat? You need to send a thank-you card. I understand that you can't send one if you don't know who to send it to, but it's really fucking rude that you haven't thanked them properly. That scarf you showed me last week is lovely. I want one for myself, but maybe a little wilder, something in kind of a rainbow pattern with a black leopard print. I wonder if I could find something like that in a store somewhere. Hmmm."
Mikey thinks if that scarf had arrived in the mail he'd probably have given it to Gerard, but then Mikey's tastes have always been a little more subdued than either Gerard's or their mother's.
"I know, I know, Ma," he says. "I'd say thank you if I knew who to thank. It's probably a fan and I'll never know."
"You're probably right," she agrees. "You two do have some crafty fans. Well, keep me updated. I want to hear about what comes next. Maybe it will be a sweater!"
Mikey hopes not. Sweaters must take a long time, and if something else is going to arrive he'd prefer it came sooner rather than later. And had a return address, if he had his choice.
It's been a long winter and while it's been nice to have something to think about and look forward to, Mikey's having trouble tamping down his curiosity.
It's three long weeks later when another manila envelope arrives, and this time it's a small one. There's the same printed address label, and the return address is just a gold foil seal like you'd find in a package at Staples. Probably next to the foil stars, actually, maybe even in the same aisle as the padded envelopes. It's pretty subdued after the explosion of stars on the last envelope, but there’s less real estate on the smaller package.
Mikey takes a breath and opens it. He pulls out out a pair of convertible gloves, where the fingers have with no fingertips but there’s a mitten top you can pull over to cover the bare skin. They're mostly white, with occasional stripes of black and bright pink, and the mitten tops are folded back and buttoned to the top of the hand. The buttons are black and shiny and sewn on with white yarn. Mikey pushes up the arms of his sweater so he can try them on, and although he has a little difficulty getting his fingers in where they're intended to go, once he's sorted that out they're perfect.
The fingers reach to mid-knuckle, and when he unbuttons the mitten parts and pulls them down they're just the right length. The gloves are soft and warm, and the pink stripes--Mikey now notices after pulling the mittens over--are only on the fingertips. The shock of color is like a secret. He folds the mittens back up so the pink will show.
The stitches are tiny and the gloves seem warmer than the thin fabric should allow. The arrangement of the thin black stripes through the white background looks random but somehow just right. Mikey lets his mind wander as he carefully examines each glove in turn.
He tunes back into the real world somewhere around his left middle finger, which has a pink stripe at the midpoint just where he usually wears his favorite ring. He realizes he's thinking about Pete, about his white jean jacket and his Sweet Little Dudes shirt, the black one with the pink gun on it. Mikey doesn't let himself think about Pete very often, but now that he is he finds himself unable to redirect his thoughts, and now he'll always think of these gloves as Pete-colored.
They match the kitty-ear hat, too; it's the same pink, just in a thinner yarn, and of course all blacks match. The first hat, the greenish one, doesn't match anything else--although Mikey wears the gray scarf with it pretty often, and Gerard had told him at dinner two weeks ago that it was the color of his eyes. Mikey had thought at the time that he was just being especially Gerard-y, all poetic and artistic. Mikey’s eyes are just boring brown.
He spends a couple of quiet days doing his best to keep his mind blank, go about everything that needs doing like fixing up the house and going to writing meetings with the guys. But his thoughts keep wandering to Pete. They'd parted on good terms at the end of Warped, and Mikey was certain that after enough time they'd go back to being friends, good friends. He'd heard through the band grapevine that Pete hadn’t been doing so well in the fall, and had gone to stay with family in Chicago for awhile. Mikey had sent a few texts around Christmas and Pete had replied, but it had all been pretty generic stuff, just well-wishing.
Maybe Mikey could call and it could just be a check-in: is it friends time yet? Just to see if Pete was okay, and then if they needed it they could have some more radio silence. And Mikey wouldn't mention his secret knitting admirer, because Pete would think it was ridiculous. Even if he didn't think it was ridiculous, he'd only ask if the gloves were better than the gray Clandestine ones Pete had given him, and it would be rude to tell him the truth (that they were much softer).
It takes Mikey a couple of days to get his nerve up. He picks his time carefully--11 pm on a weekday, when it's too early for Pete to be asleep and too early for him to be stressed about still being awake, and he texts first like they did all summer. Something about calling out of the blue seems too confrontational.
hey sld. howre u? hows chicago?
Pete's reply comes about 25 very long minutes later. hey! im ok. you?
Mikey thinks for a few minutes and then sends, good. writing. can I call u?
Mikey goes to the kitchen to get a drink in order to distract himself from staring at the phone waiting for Pete's response. So of course his cell phone rings in the other room just as he’s pouring water from the Brita pitcher into a cup. Mikey sets the pitcher on the counter next to the glass, shuts the fridge, and hurries back to his bedroom to get the phone.
"Pete, hey," he says, trying not to sound breathless as he sits down on the side of his bed.
"Mikey!" Pete says, loud and brash, but Mikey could hear a little hesitation, like Pete isn't really in the mood to put on his usual outgoing personality. "Good to hear from you, man."
"Yeah," Mikey says, "It's been awhile. I heard you were taking some time off? How are things?" Normally he'd have stalled a bit, let Pete open up in his own time, but just calling has used up most of Mikey's ability to be cool.
"You've probably heard all there is to know," Pete says. "This fall was kind of tough, so my Mom suggested that I come lay low in Chicago for awhile. It's been good. Lots of family time, sitting around..." Pete pauses. "I'm glad you called. I missed you."
"I missed you, too," Mikey replies, easily, and then thinks about how true it is. Everything is kind of dulled without Pete around. Not as interesting, not as fun. He'd thought they'd made the right decision, but there's a part of him that's never been sure--and it's been wanting attention lately.
"Listen," Mikey continues. "I've been thinking about you. I'm not sure I feel the same way now that I did last summer. What if--what if we chose wrong?" His heart is beating pretty fast--so much for keeping his cool. Hopefully Pete feels the same, because if he doesn't Mikey's about to get turned down a second time. Not that he'd tried very hard, the first time.
Pete is silent for possibly the longest thirty seconds of Mikey's life. "You--" he says, finally, "you think so? I wasn't, I wasn't trying to convince you, or anything. With the stuff."
The stuff? "What stuff?" Mikey asks, and then realizes that he knew all along. "It was you, sending the knit things? You don't knit!"
Pete's laughing quietly at the other end of the line. "Shit, dude, I thought you knew! Well, now you know. I took a class with Mom, to get us out of the house? And I really liked it, it's really Zen. I kept thinking of you while I was knitting, so once I got good enough I just started making things for you."
"I love all of them," Mikey says, feeling not as surprised as he should. "I got the gloves in the mail three days ago and have hardly taken them off. I'm wearing the green hat right now. But why didn't you let me know it was you? You didn't think I'd tease you--"
"No, of course not," Pete answers. "Though everyone else totally will. Pete Wentz, rockstar and knitter. I just didn't want you to feel, like... pressured. Like I was trying to convince you of anything."
Mikey rolls from sitting on the side of his bed to laying in the middle of it, curled up on one side. "It sort of worked, though," he says, and he knows Pete will be able to hear the smile in his voice. "I thought splitting up was what you wanted, that it would be too hard with both of us touring. And I'm still not sure I want to come out, you know I want the emphasis to be on our music. All that stuff is still true, Pete--"
"I know," Pete says, sadly.
Mikey cuts him off. "But I keep thinking about you, even when I'm trying not to. And the presents--it's kind of like I knew; I've worn one of them every day since the green hat came."
"Yeah?" Pete says, softly. "It's not the right color, but it's as close as I could get to how I think of your eyes. I went to three shops, looking."
Mikey knows he is grinning like an idiot, despite knowing how unbearable Gerard is going to be when he learns he was right about the hat. "Pete. Would you come visit me? Or can I come to you? I think we've got things to talk about." He can practically hear Pete's foot tapping the way he had done on the Warped tour whenever he was nervous, like his foot was no longer under his control. It's practically in time with Mikey's heartbeat.
"Okay," Pete says. "You're sure? I really didn't mean to woo you with crafts. I just kept making things for you and it seemed like you ought to have them."
"I don't know, Pete, I think maybe I'd be calling you anyway," Mikey says. "Just--how soon can you be here?"
Pete exhales in a way that Mikey understands to be about half amused, half relieved. "Is tomorrow too soon?"
"It's already tomorrow," Mikey points out, looking at the clock on his nightstand. "I guess I can wait until the real tomorrow, if I have to. But today would be awesome, if that's what you meant."
"Good," Pete replies, and Mikey can hear the relief in his voice. "I have to look up the TSA website and see if I can bring knitting needles on the plane. If I can't, you're going to have to find a yarn shop for me right away. Trust me, I am a much calmer person when I knit regularly. All my bandmates seem to like it, anyway."
Mikey's still smiling. "No problem. I think my mom's going to put in an order for a scarf, though."