L.C.: Well, this is a surprise. My first one-chapter story! I was scouting around for some interesting stories over my semestral break when I came across A Drop of Romeo's Star-cross'd Challenge. And . . . long story short, this entire story happened.
It's my first time to actually publish a first person POV kind of writing, so if you're one of my regular readers, the shift might be surprising. Nevertheless, I hope you all enjoy it, length and all.
In case you're curious, my music playlist for this story are: James Morrison's I won't let you go, Jason Mraz's I won't give up, and a piano piece called Vanille's Theme (from Final Fantasy). You can listen to the last one especially as you read or something :)
For papa. I miss holding your hand so, so much.
Never Let Me Go
by Lenah. C
What comes to mind when you hear the name Juliet?
Personally, it's a name that makes me think of spring, when the winter's frost thaws and gives way to renewed life. Juliet alludes to someone feminine and delicate, and it brings to my mind images of flowers and the soft chirping of birds outside your window in the morning. Or it could allude to Shakespeare's Juliet, one of the most famous and tragic damsel in distress in literature.
Well, I couldn't be anymore wrong, because the Juliet I know can seriously (and painfully) kick balls and asses combined. Fortunately, my own set has been miraculously preserved thanks to our really weird relationship.
Thankfully my name isn't Romeo or anything gay like that (no offense). My parents were thoughtful enough to give me the name Kirk. My folks are actually both Brits, but my life is as it is now because they decided to relocate to America when I was eight.
But this story isn't really about me—or not just me anyway. It's about me and Juliet—or more of Juliet, really, since I think she really is a fascinating character. It's not easy for me to admit it, but for the past year, I've started to grow "feelings" for this girl. Feelings in the "I randomly think about her during work and what she's doing" and "longing to see her again" and "wanting to make her happy" kind of way.
The thing is, I'm not entirely sure our complicated relationship can handle my "feelings".
No, I don't have self esteem issues. I am a confident 25-year old male with the typical sandy brown hair and grayish blue eyes. I have a good built thanks to years of swimming and running. I've heard that girls usually find me "hot" and "cute" ever since high school, which, I admit, is really flattering. (Yes, I even dated the stereotypical gorgeous cheerleader at some point).
But I've always thought that Juliet is different.
And my relationship with her is just too weird for words, because, for starters, I'm not even sure if we're friends. This is weird, why? Because I've known her for seventeen years now.
My first encounter with Juliet was in the summer of '96. It was the same summer when I had just moved to the U.S. I was eight years old with some serious bratty attitude, because I didn't want to move in the first place.
I was a shy kid; so the prospects of moving to an entirely new place and meeting all these new people didn't appeal to me. I was a gangly kid. Kind of sickly. Liked being cooped up at home playing with my toy airplanes alone. Doesn't talk to people unless someone else talks to me first—I was that kind of a kid.
And Juliet . . . Juliet was the noisy brat who lived just across the street.
Juliet was the tomboy who liked playing basketball and frisbee and every outdoor sport known to mankind. She used to have the bruises to prove it too. You think a girl would squirm getting so banged up with all those falls and hits, but she was never vain.
I can't say that she was "one of the boys" since she never was part of any group. She was more of an independent pain in the ass. A girl who could make new acquaintances with anyone in a heartbeat and who would randomly pitch in with a group of kids for the sake of playing sports. Otherwise, she was a loner too, I think, since I never really see her hanging around with the same bunch any longer than a week.
Juliet was loud and incredible bossy. Old man Harrison who owns the small grocery store at the corner of our neighborhood calls her a "tough cookie". I'd call her a tough rock, because cookie just can't quantify her lack of femininity. She had too much guts.
How we first met is an embarrassing story, but since it was the start of everything I now share with her, it's something I'd have to tell you.
When I was eight and still the new kid around the block, I wasn't fond of waters. If it wasn't in a cup or in a small water basin, I wouldn't like to be near it. That said, I never was the kid who would had fun filling the bathtub with water and putting bubble formulation in it. While that kind of bathing experience was a joy to some kids, I was absolutely terrified of it.
Back in the U.K. we lived in the country area. There was a swimming hole close our house, and every time the sun would come out and I didn't have school, I would jump in. The swimming hole wasn't deep. I could reach it with the tip of my toes, and, with my head angled upwards, I could still breathe air. Unfortunately, one time . . . to be honest, I can't really remember how it happened, but I almost drowned.
I can tell you now, calmly, how I felt then, being trapped under water. But no word could describe the fear or even the sheer panic that seized me as I was being asphyxiated within that hellhole. My lungs burned so badly for air that I remember how it felt ever so clearly. I had so many nightmares, dreaming of that same awful experience and waking up gasping for air.
I remember thrashing under the water, wanting to scream but realizing that I couldn't. I remember the doom that settled in my gut that I was going to die. I even remember seeing white as my brain began to shut down, on the verge of losing consciousness. I felt like I had been underwater for too long a time, almost forever.
A close family friend rescued me that day, or so they say. I couldn't remember it anymore—only that I still had the faintest memory of someone firmly grasping my hand. After that, no toy airplane (I was really fond of toy airplanes) was ever large enough to bribe me to get into that swimming hole ever again.
You might think that my phobia is a little bit dubious considering that I already told you that I swim. I do swim now—a lot—because I've gotten over that fear of mine. In fact, I love to swim. It's my favorite sport. But how, you ask? I can only think of Juliet.
One sunny afternoon around 3 weeks after we've finally settled in our new place, my mum entrusted me to the care of a neighbor Mrs. Klein, who had a kid two years older than I was named Kevin. I never really liked Kevin because, truth be told, he was one big asshole.
Anyway, Kevin had a bunch of friends from all over the neighborhood, and I was forced to play the part of a goon, laughing at his jokes (which I never thought funny) and giving him my most passive and forced "support" when he would bully some younger kid to give him with their summer allowance.
That afternoon, he brought the gang (me included) to the park. It was a nice park—I mean, the trees were old and sturdy, good for climbing, while the grassy area was large enough for us to play some intense rounds of dodge ball and soccer.
That was when I met Juliet.
She looked like a normal girl wearing a white girly camisole and pink cotton shorts with ruffles at the hem. She had her brown hair tied to a ponytail, and I thought she was a regular sissy until she practically bossed her way into being part of the game.
It was a gift she had. I remembered standing behind the rest of the taller boys as Juliet, coming out of nowhere, stomped her way into the pack to speak to Kevin. At eight-years old, I've never heard any one—much less a girl—negotiate her way into playing a couple of rounds of dodge ball. She used reason and spunk, and for a moment, I respected her so much.
I guess at an early age, Juliet's tough attitude was already pretty apparent. When she threw the ball at a boy two years her senior, his nose bled, and he became slightly teary eyed.
Being sore from losing the game to a girl, Kevin pulled on this defensive tone and said that he was feeling tired and wanted to do some swimming instead—no girls allowed this time.
I don't know how Juliet responded to this because I was too focused on coming up with an excuse to avoid swimming. The town had built an open square beside the park that had a fountain at the very center. It was nice watching it from afar, especially when the centerpiece was spouting water in the evenings, but getting near it was a detestable idea.
Swimming or frolicking in the fountain wasn't allowed, but it wasn't like there was a police officer specifically stationed there to ward off devious kids. Besides, the locals didn't really care as long as we didn't break anything. Kevin's gang thought it was a good idea (actually, anything Kevin "decreed" was a good idea).
It was a bad time for me to get scared, and while the rest of the boys started taking their pants off, I was carefully backing away from the gang. That was when I got caught, and in a gang comprised of "tough" boys, sissy fears wasn't to be tolerated.
"Hey, Kevin, our little Brit (my accent was a subject of ridicule), doesn't want to take a dip with us!"
It happened so fast. One time I was fully clothed—the next, I was struggling against the lot to keep my pants on.
I gave the fight my best shot, but being towered over by boys three inches taller than I was made my winning chances bleak. They locked my arms behind me, grabbed me by the ankles and carried me closer and closer to the fountain like some human sacrifice.
In those quick seconds, I knew how it felt to be the sacrificial lamb, fish bait, and the pig for slaughter. The sight of all that water silenced me and drained my fighting spirit. I was carried close to the center of the pool, and that was when they all cruelly decided to dump me.
I really thought my heart exploded the moment I found myself under water again, and having told you about my phobia, I just panicked.
My arms and legs thrashed wildly about until my head resurfaced, and I was able to breathe again. The fountain wasn't deep. With me standing up it would only reach a quarter of my thigh.
As a rational adult, even I don't understand how I could be so wildly afraid of such a harmless body of water. But eight year old me wasn't so convinced that no harm could ever come to me.
Eight year old me didn't realize that I could easily walk out of the fountain and head on home.
Eight year old me only remembered that awful time in the swimming hole, when some unknown force insisted on dragging me down—deep down. I remember thinking how something was going to snatch me by the ankle and swallow me back into the water. Feeling fear in the depths of my stomach, my small hands grasped onto the fountain centerpiece, and somehow I was able to wedge my skinny body into the stony crevices.
There I sat with my knees drawn close and my arms stretched out behind me, grasping onto the stone for dear life as I stared down the rippling surface of the water. If I jostle my memory, I would remember hearing the faint noise of boisterous laughter from the boys as they splashed around the pool without a care to my dilemma (those assholes).
You should know this already—how fear has a cruel way of crippling people, of rendering a fully functional being completely helpless.
I was too stupefied to even cry for help.
"What are you doing?"
It was a sweet yet slightly condescending voice that broke through my terrified trance, and at the fountain ledge I saw Juliet sitting with her legs crossed and her face looking at me, puzzled.
When I couldn't find my voice to respond, she only insisted in asking again. This time, she demanded an answer. "Didn't you hear me? I asked: 'what are you doing?'" She said it slowly, elongating each word pronunciation in case I was too stupid to comprehend her the first time.
"H-h-help me." I had my eyes at the water again, and I was too frightened to look away. I felt that in the quick second I look away, I would fall.
"Are you scared of the water?"
"Please," I muttered. "Please?"
"You have a funny accent. But okay. If you're scared of the water, I'll come fetch you."
I never saw her do it, but in my head I could imagine her making up her mind and standing up on that ledge with determination in her eyes. Hearing the loud splash to my left calmed me a bit and in an instant she was beside me.
"Come on. Give me your hand, and I'll help you down," she coaxed, extending her small hands.
I shook my head. She wouldn't understand, but I was so sure that I would end up under water again, and this time I would die.
"It's not even deep, see?" She pulled out her wet foot and dangled it in the air to show how easy it was to stand there.
Still, I couldn't be persuaded.
"Look, I'm going to hold your hand. That means everything is going to be okay. You won't fall because I'll be holding you up. You understand?"
I felt slightly persuaded. Her voice was so soothing and kind, like she understood what was plaguing me in my head.
My eyes stared at her, and, hesitantly, I hoped. "You won't let me go?"
Her eyes were olive and she had freckles splattered across her cheeks and nose. She had a nice smile, like that of an angel's.
Using enough will power, I managed to force my left hand to let go and reach out for her. I could still remember how my trembling fingers touched her palm and how my fear was slightly soothed when she enclosed her fingers and clasped onto my hand.
It was a firm grip, and, in that moment, I really believed that a young girl like her could protect me from that dark unknown force underneath the waters.
And she did.
When I touched the ledge of the fountain, I practically leaped on to dry land and placed a distance between myself and that horrible fountain in a split second. Juliet just stared at me as she slipped on her sandals.
She hung around, and once I was fully dressed, albeit soaking, in my jeans and shirt, she decided it was time to talk.
"Hi, I'm Juliet. You're new, aren't you. Never saw you 'round."
"What's your name?"
I noticed that the bossy attitude was back. Having regained a sense of normalcy, my boy ego was hurt that a girl had to come to my rescue. "Kirk," I huffed, annoyed more at myself than at her.
"Well, Kirk," she said conclusively, "you're funny."
And as if it was common courtesy to walk out after a new acquaintance, Juliet gave me a cheeky grin and marched right back to the park.
The next day, I found a torn page from the newspaper advertising a summer swimming class messily jammed in our mailbox. For some reason, I just knew it came from her.
Long story short, I took the class and since then swimming became something calming for me. I don't think she ever knew how I would sometimes think of her hand grasping mine while I did my strokes, and how I believed that everything was going to be okay as long as I held that hand.
Juliet and I went to the same high school, and I'd like to think that she was aware of my presence and that she knew who I was. She never really acknowledged me though, and we never really talked because we ran in different cliques.
Puberty did me very well. I wasn't one of the acne kids, which bought me a ticket to the "popular group". Plus, I was an athlete. Swimming team, go figure. A lot of times I wondered if she ever remembered that trembling kid from the fountain whenever she would see me wearing my medals on the sports page of the school newspaper.
Juliet, on the other hand . . . I don't even know if she was part of any cliques. She was too unique to be part of any group, believe me.
In freshman year, she looked like those punk rockers, those who preferred wearing clothes in shades of gray and black and who liked wearing spiked accessories just to intimidate the rest of us. She wasn't the nose-ring wearing type though, just more of multiple studs in her ear and the consistent rolling stones t-shirt type. Oh, and once she punched Dirk Matthews (the resident douchebag) in the nose for slapping her butt.
In sophomore year, she ditched the whole dark persona and became this bright, happy person, rainbow sweatshirts, neon leggings (or whatever it is you call them. Stockings?), and all that weird "let's make love and not war" shenanigan.
Come sophomore year, she became an infamous vegetarian because she once made a commotion in the mess hall about the cruelty of slaughtering animals for the sake of human consumption. Plus, she had the nerve to "accidentally" splatter milk all over my then girlfriend Kim, the head cheerleader because Kim had called her an attention whore.
But despite the many metamorphosis of Juliet, there were a few things that stayed the same: her spunk and guts to go after what she wanted, her unwavering friendliness to people, her favorite pair of black grunge boots which she wears almost every time I see her (it's her only shoe obsession), and her constant quirks.
What do I mean by quirks?
Let's see . . .one time she walked down the hallway singing Britney Spears's popular Hit me baby one more time with matching funky moves. Another time she started speaking in French to every person she met (though it was eventually revealed that it wasn't really French but a very good gibberish talk with a French accent).
You could just never know what to expect with Juliet.
But behind that happy go lucky character that everyone had grown to like, Juliet had always kept her distance. She was the epitome of a walking contradiction. Friendly yet reserved, excitable on the outside yet calm within, a real weirdo but, in fact, really sane and philosophical on the inside.
I don't understand her. And maybe that's one of the reasons why I find her so fascinating. She's not one of those annoying girls who insisted on clinging on to a fellow girlfriend in taking trips to the girl's washroom (and who takes forever to exit said "holy" room).
In some ways she intimidates me, though I never let it show. She reminds me of the swimming hole. You would think she's a shallow kind of character—easy to please, always so petty and quirky, without a problem in the world like she lives in her own bubble of pure joy. Yet when you start getting to know her (which is just about the stage I'm in even after 17 years), you realize that there's just so much depth. She was a never ending layer of characters, and it seems that no matter how many you peel off, you'll never really know the real Juliet.
And like in the swimming whole, her depth just overwhelms you. Her complexity just takes your breath away.
But that's just half of the pie. Here's the other half of our complicated relationship.
From the span of my first meeting with Juliet that summer of '96 till freshman year, we never really talked. I would see her from time to time from my bedroom window when she would go home with her scooter or bicycle. When I finally got the hang of outdoor sports and socializing with other kids, Juliet would randomly show up during our games. Sometimes we would be on the same team. We would make small talk, but nothing more.
I was too shy to even thank her for that time in the fountain, and she was too innocently oblivious to my efforts. Eventually, I just reasoned that she must know, and I stopped thinking about it altogether.
In freshman year, we acted like we didn't know each other. I wouldn't mind talking, but to me it seemed like she didn't want to talk. My guy ego let her have it her way, until one late summer afternoon in between freshman and sophomore year, I opened the door and found her standing on our porch in her signature rolling stones t-shirt, distressed shorts, and boots. She had her hands shoved in her short's pockets, and she had her brown hair in a messy ponytail.
And as if we had been close friends all our lives, she just smiled and asked if we can "hang".
"Uhh . . . yeah, sure," I responded somewhat sheepishly.
We took a drive to the hill, since she said she wanted to go there. As strange as it sounds, the ride going to the place wasn't at all awkward. We didn't talk the entire ride up, but we were both contented with the silence. It was a kind of silence that surrounds you. And it was okay. We were both so comfortable to be around each other, like the meeting was an unspoken expectation.
The hill is a popular spot in our town because it gives you the best view of our entire area. It's not really a hill. It's much higher than that, but "hill" sounds endearing. Actually, the hill is really a cliff halfway along the mountain range that surrounds the right side of town. Then, it had only an old wooden fence to keep people from tumbling down to their death x-feet below.
Juliet got out of the car the second I hit the brakes and parked along the dirt road. The wind was strong this high up; so several stray hairs escaped her ponytail and swayed wildly about with the wind. I thought it added an earthy feel to her look.
"So what do you want to do here?" I ask, breaking our silent streak.
Juliet was focused on the town scene. It was pretty sight, especially with the sun setting, casting a golden shade on every rooftop.
"I've always been so scared to go here," she said.
I tried to decipher her real meaning for a few seconds. Then she spoke up again, this time facing me with a smile that could only be described as charming. "I don't want to be scared anymore. And after today, I won't be."
She positioned beside me, and without warning took my hand.
I can't really explain how I felt like it was all so natural, but I knew what I had to do.
Slowly she approached the edge, eyes closed, and brows furrowed in concentration. But as we got closer to the wooden fence, the creases in her forehead disappeared and a delighted curve formed in her lips.
With her hand clasped firmly in mine, we reached the very edge. Taking in a deep breath, Juliet opened her eyes and for what seems like a very long time, she just stared at the view as if she never saw a more beautiful sight.
I just stood there with her, watching her from the corner of my eyes.
Right after that incident, we went back to our former relationship of not talking and acting like acquaintances. It baffled me at first, but I had accepted that I couldn't expect anything from Juliet.
The next summer, she was back on my porch, knocking on our door in her bright oversized yellow shirt, an reversed baseball cap, and the same shorts and boots she wore last year. I had swim training that morning, but I cancelled because I didn't want to feel like I broke her trust.
It was all unspoken, but I felt that she was counting on me. I doubted she showed up on a lot of porches, asking people randomly to hang out.
That year, she wanted to go to the park. There was a pond the size of 3/4th of a football field in length that housed a lot of ducks in the summer. There was a bridge over it where lovers would make out or do all that mushy stuff, but we just chilled.
As it turns out, Juliet had always regarded ducks with disgust.
"They just look at you with those unblinking round eyes. It gives me the creeps."
"In cartoons they're cute," I agreed with a smirk.
"In real life, they look menacing, and they make those loud noises." She shuddered.
I eventually coaxed her into coming down to the grassy area beside the pond to be closer to the ducks though she insisted I go down first. We brought some bread for duck feed, but once I would scatter a few crumbs and bits at the pond, Juliet would scream and totter far back, laughing nervously, while the ducks swarmed close to me.
I was her voice of reason. "They're not going to nip you. And if they do, it's not going to hurt much. They're more afraid of you than you are of them, I promise."
We made progress. Our bread reserve was running low, but this time when I would throw the pieces in the water, Juliet no longer scrambled back. She sat rooted in her place, soft hand in mine. Eventually, she was able to throw her own breadcrumbs and even if she would flinch when a few ducks would flap their wings while they fought for the bread, she never ran away again.
Sitting on the grass and feeling pretty good about herself, she asked me: "What are you afraid of?"
"Flunking math." (I was exaggerating. My math grades weren't that bad, but it was a troubling subject for me)
Juliet snorted. "Can't help you there. Anything else?"
I didn't have to think long. "Speed. I don't like going too fast because I feel I'm going to crash or have one of those freak accidents."
If you haven't guessed it yet, I ended up shouting for dear life on the rollercoaster that day, her hand gripping mine. I have the free photo of the two of us, me looking terrified with my mouth wide open and my face kind of red. But if you look close enough, you'll see it was a happy moment.
This pattern of her showing up on my front porch . . . it became a sort of ritual for Juliet and I.
In the summer of '05, we went to watch a marathon of horror flicks (the Ring, the Grudge, Saw I and II, Silent Hill) that made both of our hearts pound a mile a minute. But along the way you realize that it just isn't real anymore because Juliet would either start laughing at the story loopholes, or she would just mockingly admire the technology and professional make up that made it all seem so real. That pretty much cracked me up.
'06 was the last summer before college, and it was spent conquering Juliet's fear of the dark. I let her in the house when my parents weren't home and I rolled down the blinds and closed every light in the house. I could feel her tension in the air, but once I held her hand she gradually relaxed.
I didn't know why I did it, but everything inspired me to softly sing the lyrics of Dancing in the Dark (Bruce Springsteen). I reached for her other hand and began swaying. I danced goofy steps—the kind that if my friends should see me at that moment, they'd never let me live it down. But Juliet lived to be goofy, and she, more than anyone, appreciated my dancing. She followed my steps and before we both knew it we were cackling in the dark.
Every summer, Juliet and I would set aside a day just to do the things we feared doing. When that day would be, I would never really know until day itself when Juliet would come knocking on our door. And after that day—for the rest of the year—we would relapse to our passive, almost non-existent relationship. That's what I meant when I said we were complicated and weird.
But it was our thing, and neither of us complained.
There would be unspoken rules, of course.
One would be that both of us had to take each other's fear seriously. You have to respect it no matter how petty it is. I had no qualms in telling Juliet that I disliked clowns or that the thought of an injection could seriously make me squeal like a girl deep down.
Oh. And funny thing is, we never really called each other by name. She never calls me Kirk. I never call her Juliet. When we were together, we were both named "hey". So, I guess that was a rule.
No questions. That's another rule. Juliet never expressed any interest in digging up dirt on my life. She never questioned my relationship with Kim, whom I suspect she dislikes a lot (we broke up, by the way, during our senior year). In return, I never asked her much either even when I was practically dying to know more about her. I don't even know when her birthday is. All I know is that if she wanted to share something about herself, she'll just say it.
Our meetings offer both of us a fresh start. Every time we meet, it's like a clean slate. The past didn't matter and the future can wait, because those 24 hours was ours to live. For one day, we are as free as we can possibly be.
At one point, I feared that college would end things—that it would be too difficult to continue our queer relationship being miles apart from each other.
While I enrolled in NYU, I had no idea where Juliet decided to pursue her college degree. Rumor has it, she settled for Canada . . . most likely Vancouver.
I don't know where she lives (does she dorm or does she live in an apartment?), her email address, her phone number. I don't know with whom she hangs out with—heck, we're not even friends in Facebook! I have zero idea on her family background aside from the fact that her dad left when she was young.
What has she been studying for the past few years in college? I thought she'd go for theatre set designing or architecture, but I can't be too sure—not with Juliet. She's an artsy. I figured that out because she was our art teacher's favorite student back in elementary all the way to high school.
So how did we work things out, you might be wondering? After all, it's not like she can go knocking on my house door anytime she pleased like before.
In the summer of '07, my first summer in NYU, I received a call from an unknown number in the ungodly hours of the morning (6-ish). It was Juliet. I knew it was she the moment she uttered our routine "hey there!".
Practically scrambling off bed, I listened as she set the date and details for our next meeting. She asked me if I would be available, though, of course, I would always say "yes" no matter when it would be.
That's how we worked it out.
We planned the date now. It may seem like it lessened the spontaneity of our routine, but the fact that I didn't know when and where she would be calling from and where she intended to meet, I thought that was spontaneous enough. (She never gave me a number for me to call her and every time I tried returning the call different people kept on answering.)
"But how would you call me if I lose me cell phone or something? I mean you could easily lose contact. It happens all the time," I told her. I wanted to get her phone number, but she was such a stubborn pain in the ass.
She merely smiled in that smug way of hers and told me—promised me—that no matter what she'll find me.
I trusted her; so I stopped worrying.
The metamorphosis of Juliet never stopped either. In '07 she died her hair blonde and carried this vintage kind of fashion sense though she never gave up her trusty worn boots. She also had a tattoo done on her left wrist with a date of 12-25-04, which didn't escape my notice. But she didn't talk about it; so I never knew what it meant.
'08 was the worst year for both of us. In my case, I started dating a girl, Emma, who was a member of the sorority my frat was pretty tight with in late '07. The first few months were really great. We really hit it off. But during our 6th month, she started getting all bitchy on me. When things were bad between us, it was really bad, but when it was great, it was the mind-blowing kind of great.
We started fighting a lot, which made me irritable for the year of '08. She didn't understand why it was so important for me not to call her for one whole day—the day I was scheduled to meet Juliet.
I expected to get a sort of breather from my relationship with Emma by being with Juliet that year—but it was obvious that the cheerful, quirky Juliet that I always knew also wasn't in her prime that day. She had a hint of sadness in her eyes and in her smile that she couldn't hide from me. Or maybe it could fool other people, but I was learning to be observant; so l guess I knew how to read between the lines, see behind the mask, that sort of thing.
At the back of my head, I wondered if she had a boyfriend and whether he treated her badly as well.
We conquered my fear of standing on stage and performing for a big audience that day. She took me to a comedy bar in downtown New York, and . . . remember that gift I told you about? How she could talk her way into anything? Well, she talked to the owner of giving us the opportunity to sing—yes, sing—a number or two for free.
I would've made a run for it, but Juliet held me tightly by the hand like she always did when she knew I was afraid or nervous.
We made a fool of ourselves, because, for one thing, we were both great singers only in the bathroom where we could sing off-key without a care in the world. Otherwise, we were pretty terrible. But it was a comedy bar, so we gave the audience (they were a kind lot) a lot to laugh about with our rendition of Madonna's Like a Virgin. In the end, we both got a standing ovation.
It felt exhilarating.
We walked around the city until it was almost time to part ways for another year. She stopped on her tracks, and with her eyes glued on the pavement beneath her feet, she told me: "My dad passed away last month."
She just dropped the news on me like a bomb, and with me being so lame at that time, I simply stuttered the generic "I'm so sorry for your loss" line and squeezed her hand as a sign of my unwavering support.
We never talked about her dad or her family ever again.
I said that '08 was the worst year for us. I'll tell you now that it was also one of the best, because it was the first time Juliet ever said something so personal to me. It mattered a lot even when I didn't really understand why at that time. In fact, I didn't know it yet at that time, but I already had those "feelings" I was telling you about.
In '09, Juliet looked as feminine as her boots (now a different kind but still pretty bad ass) and her new boy cut hairstyle (think Michelle Williams) would allow. When I met her she was wearing a vintage t-shirt tucked inside a flowy skirt that hung on her hips with the help of a brown belt she wore. In my head, I could hear Emma enumerating the many fashion faux pas Juliet made, but I thought she looked like her carefree, "I don't give a fuck" self.
She looked too thin though, having dropped some 15 pounds more. When she wasn't looking, I would stare at her protruding shoulder blade and think all sorts of bad things. To my surprise, she lit a cig while we walked, which she never did before. I always had the impression that Juliet hated smoking, but maybe I was wrong. The dark shadows under her eyes were more prominent and her skin looked kind of pasty as well.
It really was none of my business, but the worry wouldn't stop nagging me; so in my own way of expressing my worry, I just gave her a box of vitamin C bottles to take home. The gesture made her laugh, but, as always, I'd like to think she understood my point because the next time we met, she looked a whole lot better.
In '10, to celebrate the new decade, we decided to do one of the craziest things in the world: sky dive. It was at a whole different level from Juliet's standing at the hill and my roller coaster experience. The thought of being that high up made our legs go jelly. What if the chute was faulty? What if the guide couldn't activate the chute? We held hands for the entire plane ride up in the air.
Our two instructors mistakenly addressed her as my girlfriend, but we both only laughed it off. It was a nervous laugh, because come take off, we were both screaming our heads off to the point that I was so sure I would have no voice left if we would both live another day.
But every time I would think of that day, I couldn't think of any other better way to welcome the new decade.
In '11, five months after breaking up with Emma (we "drifted apart"), I started dating Kathy, a law school fresh grad who worked in the building beside mine. I was able to land a job just a month after graduation in a business consultancy firm. Pay wasn't bad; everything was going well with Kathy whose independence was a pleasant change from my ex. So, yeah, I guess life was pretty good so far.
However, '11 was memorable not only because of my after grad success but because Juliet called me 2 months late. She usually called me sometime in February. Maybe it was my mistake to expect anything from Juliet, but I got so frustrated that she called late.
I worried like a parent, wondering if anything had happened or if she was okay. At random times during work, I would suddenly imagine Juliet in some godforsaken hospital bed fighting for her life or something.
When she finally called in late April, I was so tempted to hang up, but the thought of her never calling me again was too horrible; so I answered.
Contrary to my imagination of Juliet dying, she looked great that year. She grew out her hair again and it was back to her original brown color. Fashion sense was still queer and the boots were still there, of course.
She laughed more, but I forced myself to turn a deaf ear as to how hollow it all sounded. Within the first five minutes of seeing her, however, I noticed the silver band that surely wasn't there last year.
"Oh, hey, you're married?" I blurted out, the thought of my violation of the unspoken rule lagged behind the surprise and my desire to know.
My question startled her, and, for a moment, I was torn between demanding an answer and apologizing for intruding on personal space. Was she offended?
She only pursed her lip, and looked at me with those deep eyes that were capable of swallowing me whole. "Maybe, I will be. Who knows?"
While her answer made it clear that she was not married, it didn't tell me if she was engaged.
It was a weird thought.
Juliet, engaged? Juliet—the little bossy girl who could pack a mean punch and a wicked ball throw—married? The same girl who wouldn't even give me her number (not romantically speaking)? It was just too weird.
But, of course, I was being silly. I shouldn't be surprised if she was engaged. I mean, Juliet is a pretty good-looking woman. She could have had a string of boyfriends since college for all I knew. I shrugged the thought off, but, at the back of my consciousness, it was a thought that annoyed me.
When Kathy found out about Juliet, I thought she would understand our weird arrangements, but, like Emma, she had to make such a big deal about it. It was a cause of many arguments. For me, it's just one freaking day. It wasn't like I was devoting my entire life to meeting Juliet!
Every time we would fight, Kathy would resurrect the issue about Juliet and shout about how I was thinking about her a lot even when we actually only meet once a year. She wouldn't even believe me when I told her that Juliet could be married now for all I knew.
December of '11 screwed me over because my ass got dumped. What I thought was going to be a lasting relationship had ended.
It was in the year 2012 that everything changed, and, to be honest, I don't know if it changed for the better.
I don't know when it started happening. I don't even know how it could happen, but it just did. Maybe what Kathy said got into my head. Maybe it has been there all along.
I started thinking about Juliet more. In the dark, I remembered our dance. When I close my eyes, I remembered how she would laugh, with the sun shining on her face. Even before sleeping, my mind would wander to her.
What was she doing? Was she spending her nights alone?
The marriage topic pissed me off more and more. I reasoned it was because it could put an end to things—our thing. But more than that, I felt hurt and a little incredulous that she let somebody in.
I've always noticed that Juliet had long since put a tough shell around her. She wouldn't let anybody in; she kept everyone at a distance, including me. That's why she didn't have best friends or cliques in high school.
Every time that I would tell myself that it was all part of her independent character, I knew, deep down, that I was only lying to myself. Juliet wasn't independent. She was vulnerable and fragile. She wasn't carefree; she was carrying the world on her shoulders and anytime she could just crumble from the pressure.
She just had a knack of not showing it to people.
But I always knew.
Perhaps I started becoming aware of this side of Juliet when I stepped out of my sheltered life, when I entered college and had seen the shit people would do. How they would slowly destroy themselves because they just couldn't cope with everything: all that bitterness and sadness beneath a facade of carefree bliss. I saw it all in Juliet.
When I met her in '12, the ring was gone and so was the sparkle in her eyes. She maintained her weight and took care of herself, but I thought she looked tragically beautiful, like a kind of fallen angel who had forever crippled her wings, never to return home.
Funny thing is, I didn't feel sorry for her. I didn't feel pity. I felt broken, and that was the time when I finally realized of these "feelings" I had since god knows when. It was weird at first, coming to grips that I love Juliet, but, at the same time, it was liberating and surprisingly natural.
That year, with her teasing me that the world was going to end soon, we wanted to do something crazy again. Unfortunately, it was pretty hard coming with extraordinary fears to conquer within the limited hours we had. (Plus, the sky diving experience was sort of hard to top.)
We ended up going to the zoo, particularly to the reptile section where I was a personal witness to Juliet conquering her fear of snakes. We held hands as a 15-ft python was rested on our shoulders, and when Juliet shuddered, I squeezed her hand tighter.
I thought to myself: I wanted to hold her hand through her every fear. I wanted to hold her hand not just once a year, but all the time.
For the rest of the afternoon, we hung around in Central Park. Under the afternoon sun, I was glad to see her laughing whole-heartedly again. She had such a beautiful laugh, believe me. It was contagious.
It made me think of how I wanted to make her happy for the rest of her life.
Her good mood lifted my spirits, and it gave me the courage to break our rules. With her sitting beside me on a bench, looking peacefully on at people living the summer dream, I murmured: "I wish we could see each other more often, Juliet."
I broke 2 rules with that statement. One: calling her Juliet, which was nice, and two: implying at something beyond the present. At once, her shoulders tensed and her eyes were suddenly guarded against me.
"We live in two different places. It'll be too difficult. Besides, this is how it has always been, right?" she said with a nonchalance that I could easily see through. She was uncomfortable, and for a moment, I was sorry to be the cause of that discomfort.
"Yeah. But, hey, the world's ending so I figured you might want to compress our future meetings within 2012."
It was a good move for me to joke around. Joking around was Juliet's turf, and it made her feel that she was in her territory. "We've had our good times to keep us going for the rest of the year. Besides, you don't really believe that bullshit, do you?"
"Nope," I replied, grinning.
"Good. Me too. I don't want to believe anything that would imply that our meetings couldn't happen anymore. It's one of those few things I look forward to." A few seconds after saying these words, I saw a crease form on her forehead.
I figured that she was reprimanding herself for saying too much. She never, until now, expressed how much our meetings meant to her. It was the first words of appreciation she ever told me, and for that, it meant so much.
"Yeah, me too. That would suck since we kind of make a peculiar pair. We're so weird that even I don't understand us." I looked at her closely. "Even I don't understand where we really stand, relationship-wise."
"We don't have to understand everything. Life is too complicated. Let's just live it out like we always do."
"I should go now," she uttered, a bit breathless. Her smile didn't reach her eyes, which made me aware that I pushed too many buttons today. "I booked an early trip home today."
I wasn't sure I believed her and felt guilty for driving her away, but I couldn't take my words back because I knew I meant every single one.
"You know I'm here for you, right?"
She smiled in that carefree way of hers. But it was just so obvious how she looked like a cornered animal. Cornered and confused. "Of course. Unless you relocate," she jokingly supplied, getting to her feet.
"And you know that you can call me anytime right? Anytime you need a person to talk to?"
She gave a nervous laugh. "You shouldn't be so serious, but it's nice of you."
"I mean it though. And Juliet?"
I could tell that my using her name was making her fidgety, but I wanted to ruffle her. In fact I wanted to shake her out of that casual composure she projects so well. I want to see the real Juliet behind the quirkiness and the humor.
"Believe me when I say he isn't worth it."
It was the first time I referred to her ex-boyfriend. The one who gave her the ring and took it back. I didn't know him, but it doesn't take much intelligence to conclude that the guy was a certified douche.
For a fraction of a second—a moment too quick to be considered as real—I thought I saw grief flicker in those olive eyes, but she dusted her pants before I could take a longer glance.
"That's a nice thing to say," I heard her murmur. "See you next year?"
What about see you tonight? Tomorrow? Next week?
We parted ways without another word. It has been eleven months since that time. And within that time, Juliet has never called me.
It is now the June 30, 2013, and I'm too scared to acknowledge that maybe she would never call again because of what I said the last time we met. I wasn't exactly subtle with my intentions then—my desire to move on to a new arrangement. I wanted to know her better—and she sensed it, understood it, and was terrified of it.
Sometimes, I wanted to bang my head against the wall for breaking the status quo, for wanting something different with the unpredictable Juliet. For maybe pushing her past her comfort zone. I think she had always looked to me as her reliable pillar of trust, and now that this pillar of trust wasn't so reliable anymore, maybe she felt disappointed.
Still, she said she'd see me this year, right? Once Juliet said something, she would do it. I trusted her to.
So my situation right now . . . this is what I meant when I said I wasn't sure if our complicated relationship could handle my "feelings". I wasn't even sure if my "feelings" had broken whatever it was that we had.
But no matter what I can't feel sorry for what I feel. I love her and, more than anything, I want to understand her and be there for her when she needs somebody.
I wanted to make her understand that everybody needs somebody. It just so happened that maybe for her, that somebody is me.
Or maybe I'm being presumptuous.
I decided to spend my 4th of July with work and made a maybe-plan to go to a club with the rest of the guys from the office in the evening. It was a quiet morning, but in the silence you can feel the excitement of the holiday. I turned a page of my client's case while I ate breakfast, trying to distract myself from thinking about her.
When my phone rang, I was short of tackling it like a pro football player. The number flashing on the screen was unregistered; I allowed myself to hope.
I heard nothing for four seconds.
"Hello? Is this you?" I didn't dare call her Juliet in case I freak her out again. The crackle of the faulty mobile network wasn't a comforting noise, but I caught the faint sound of breathing—labored breathing. I was short of pleading the person on the line to say something when she finally spoke.
It was a broken voice I heard, masked in that tone of fake cheer. I closed my eyes to shut out the pain that heaved in my chest hearing her in that state. Hearing her attempts to deceive me, though I knew she meant no malice by it.
"I'm on my way to NY. Are you free? It's kind of short notice and all."
"Yeah, I'm free," I muttered with an indifferent tone. A part of me was miffed that she hadn't called me until now.
"Great! Let's see what fun we can do then. You up for that?"
"Bring me to the best spot where we can watch the fireworks."
I smiled tenderly, any trace of anger ebbing despite my intention to be indignant. "If you say so."
"I'll meet you at that bench. It had a nice view."
I knew just the place she had in mind. The bench we sat on last year. "I'll be there." Checking my watch for the time, I asked her: "11?"
Silence. "I can't be early this year. How about 3?"
That was too late, I thought with a disappointed sigh. "Okay. I'll see you then."
She hung up, though it took me longer before I lowered my phone from my ear.
Central Park was crowded by the time I got there.
Families having picnics, children playing Frisbee with their pedigreed dogs, lovers holding hands and cuddling on the grass, couples and single people jogging. It was one big perfect world.
I bought some of the corn muffins she loved, just to get back to her good graces if ever I had offended her.
I waited, sitting with my polo rolled up to my elbow. It struck me with nostalgia how much I've changed since high school, since that time I sat shivering with fright, wedged on fountain centerpiece because I was too scared of the water. I had been such a timid little kid.
But I've gone a long way since then. Socially, I've made a lot of new friends. I have more confidence now. I know more about this world and how not everything is as easy or as simple as a child would see it. Life wasn't black and white anymore. There were the gray areas—and Juliet was part of it.
Now, I'm a better person inside and out, and it all happened because I had met her—the one person who taught me to conquer my weaknesses, to believe in myself and take that leap of faith.
Juliet was never late; so I was certain she'll come around in a few minutes since it was almost three.
When my watch read 3:45, I was starting to panic. I contemplated on calling the police several times, but then realized that I didn't know when and where Juliet would be coming from. I didn't even know how she would look like today. Short or long hair? Dyed or natural? Rocker chick or hippie?
I didn't know.
I didn't know fucking anything.
With the time striking 4, I was pacing along the perimeter, thinking frantically of all the possible scenarios. Juliet getting mugged and lying helpless on some alley. Juliet getting delayed because of an accident (car? plane? train?). Juliet in the hospital. Juliet getting shot and bleeding. I ran a hand through my hair, destroying the style I combed earlier that morning in anticipation for our meeting.
I imagined an accident would've been the most probable, and it was frustrating not knowing . . . not knowing anything about her. Not knowing which phone number to call, which friend or relative to ask.
I was on the verge of walking down to the police station when I finally saw a familiar figure strolling down the path towards me. Even with hundreds of people all around her, it took just one glance for my eyes to find that one person who could drive me insane with frustration and love at the same time. Who could make me feel so angry, helpless, and hysterical in one blow.
My polo was drenched with sweat, which pretty much ruined my look. I didn't want to think what I looked like in a mirror. I wanted to . . . I closed my eyes and grinded my teeth. God, I just wanted to be so very angry.
I slumped down on the bench and tried to calm myself down.
Glanced at my watch, it read: 4:56P.M.
"Hey there," Juliet chirped when she finally caught up to me. "I'm sorry I'm late. There were some delays."
It wanted so badly to demand an explanation, but it was a rule not to question the past. My temper was short, but I abided by the rule. I gave her a tight smile. Her eyes were wary of my distress, but she played along. It was all in her voice: Pretend nothing ever happened. Pretend everything is as it always had been. Pretend . . . Just pretend.
Juliet sat beside me. She lost some weight again, and I just felt this impulsive urge to force-feed her the muffins I brought.
I was losing control. The scare was still too fresh.
"So what should we do today?"
I shrugged, my voice tight. "What do you feel like doing? We don't have much time."
We never fought or argued, because the unspoken rules made it that way. But today, our relationship—whatever it was—was hanging by a thread. And that thread was thinning. Today was a charade, and we both knew it. It's just that I was tired of playing.
Juliet sighed sweetly, painting the picture of a perfectly bubbly person nibbling on her muffin. "So what else are you afraid of—"
"That one day you'd stop calling me," I snapped, though I was speaking more with hurt than anger. There was no satisfaction seeing those olive eyes widen with shock.
"That one day you'll just disappear, and I wouldn't know how or where to find you. What am I so afraid of? That one day you'll just drop dead somewhere or have this freak accident and I would never know about it. All I would know is that you'll stop calling, and that's it. BAM! Like Juliet had never existed. The thought of that . . .well, let's be honest, it scares the hell outa me."
I hated how pale Juliet looked right then. I had moved beyond that invisible boundary she had long since chalked up between us, and it was obvious that she didn't like it one bit by refusing to meet my eye.
"Look, I'm sorry. I didn't expect to get here so late."
I closed my eyes for a while, to focus on all that I wanted to say. "You have to let me in, Juliet." I was so prepared to get down on my knees if she wanted me to. "I can't pretend anymore that it doesn't bother me, not knowing how to reach you—literally and emotionally. Seeing you every year with that sad look in your eyes—even if you try to hide it, I still see it. And whatever's eating you is eating at me too—"
"I don't want to talk about this," she interrupted, grabbing her bag and setting her two firm feet on the ground.
I had set her off. It was evident with the added edginess in her voice, but I was ready to go all out with her. I felt that it was a now or never moment. If I let it all go, I would never again get that chance to speak out.
"You're scared of people, Juliet, and I don't understand why. I'm breaking all the rules right now, and it's making you uncomfortable. It's making you feel afraid."
"Stop it!" she ordered, failing to comprehend that I couldn't stop even if she used that sharp, bossy tone on me. "Stop this."
"Why do you have to keep me in arm's reach?" In the heat of the moment, I found myself half-shouting at her. "Why do you always have to make sure I'm behind some fucking line all the time? Tell me why—"
"Because you matter, Kirk!" she screamed back.
"You matter to me too," I breathed. I wish I could revel with the way she said my name, but I couldn't.
When she refused to look at me, I grabbed her by the shoulders. "I'm not asking us to be best friends, Juliet. I'm not even asking you to marry me. All I'm asking is for you to let me in. Your number would be a good start. Where you live would be great too. I want to get to know you, maybe have dinner with you sometime aside from having this annual get together. Let me know you, Juliet."
She looked away. The edginess had ebbed a bit. Her tone was softer—weaker. "I can't."
The pain in her eyes shook my nerves. Something had shattered her. It was in her eyes now, infused in those olive irises. "Because . . ." Juliet looked away, her voice breaking as tears started flooding her eyes. "Because I'll lose you."
I was about to argue against that statement, but she cut me off. She looked so vulnerable, so frail. "You don't understand. If you knew me, I'll lose you. And I can't bear that. You see—" the outburst of emotions made her falter. "You see . . . I'm—" she managed to give me a pained smile. "I'm a wreck of a person. I'm . . . I'm a mess. A big mess."
"Yeah, you are. No kidding." I muttered, matching her smile. My eyes, however, were serious. "But I'm still here, aren't I?"
She closed eyes and looked frustrated. "You don't understand. I—I'm dysfunctional. I'm broken and—and I don't know how to fix myself, Kirk. I've tried—I've been trying so hard all these times, but it seems like nothing I do could fix it. It's always there, the hurt. Even when he's dead—five years dead. And I just can't make it better no matter what I do!"
I've been through my fair share of painful experiences, but nothing can compare to watching Juliet break down right in front of me, pouring out her tears and horrific memories I could never have imagined. That . . . that was agony.
I didn't know much about Juliet's dad, except that my folks never liked him.
As it turned out, he was a sick bastard.
And those bruises Juliet always had when she was a kid . . . the ones I thought she got from playing all those outdoor sports . . . He had caused that. Sometimes he was drunk, she said. Sometimes he didn't mean it. Sometimes . . . sometimes she just ran out of excuses to make.
I part of me couldn't believe it—how a little girl like Juliet, as bossy and spirited as she may be, could withstand so much hurt. I remember seeing her in the park playing with those bruises on her arm. Most of the time, she never acknowledged it. Never showed how much it hurt, because she had so much spunk.
And I couldn't believe how I never knew. At that point, as she told me everything in between loud gasps of air, I hated myself and everybody else for not knowing. For not having figured it out. For failing to stop it.
"I'm kind of crazy," she confessed with a small laugh. "I hated what he did to me. December 25, 2004—" she shot out her tattooed wrist for me to see. "—it was the last time he ever hit me. On Christmas day, imagine that. And that was also the day he left for good. I thought: maybe this is a gift from God—a sign that things would be different, that things would be better somehow now that he wasn't around anymore to hurt me.
"It was like a new start, and I had every reason to be so hopeful. But despite knowing this, I still cried when he left," she choked, "And I felt disgusted with myself when I couldn't stop crying. But you have to understand, Kirk, that I had lost someone I loved that day."
It all made sense now somehow. How Juliet would had looked so very sad that year of '08. And, in fact, how she always looked sad every year, though it took me a while to really see her pain.
"Can you believe that I still cried for him when he died? Even after everything he's done to me—for inflicting all those hurt—I cried so hard for him when it was he who was hurt. He died in a car accident, Kirk, and he lived his last few hours in extreme pain in the ICU. And y-you might think that h-he deserved it, but I just cried," she gasped, her whole body seized in violent sobs.
It made me realize that when someone hits you, especially when that someone is a person who is supposed to protect you and cherish you, a part of you just withers. And you lose a little respect for yourself every time. You feel a little more disgusted every time it would happen again.
It's something you can never forget. No matter what, because when a person you care for hits you . . . it's a pain that reaches your soul. And a broken soul is not so easy to mend.
Juliet had felt that brokenness since she was a child—that disgust for herself and her ugliness, that lack of faith that she could ever be worthy of anything.
Every bruise, every slap on her skin . . . Juliet still felt it all, even when the physical marks had faded away. It was all there, crippling her with pain. Because when a person hits you, it's like they take something from you, a part of you that you can't have back.
"So if you knew me," Juliet continued, tears trailing down her cheek, "you'll end up becoming broken too. Can you understand that now?"
She refused to look at me in the eye, but I could hear her labored breathing. I could feel her exhaustion in my bones and in my very heartbeat.
There was an expression on her face that I have never seen in all my 17 years of knowing her. It was in her roving glances, her parted lips, and her defensive stance.
It was shame.
"The thought of tainting you or ruining your life with all the shit I had done-and you don't even know half of it," she whispered, "that terrifies me, Kirk. But more than that, if I let you in and you hurt me," She winced like she had just been inflicted a wound. Her voice trembled so badly. "I-I don't think I can bear that. Because when we're together, I can almost forget everything, I can almost feel whole. And if I lose that, I lose everything. So all that little time we have each year—it's okay for me. It's enough."
I didn't say anything for a few seconds, and I figured Juliet came to conclusions too early. "I'm really sorry. I should just go—"
"Look," I gasped, catching her attention. And as steady as I could, I extended a hand to her despite that my heart was breaking for her. "I'm going to hold your hand. That means everything is going to be okay."
My eyes were moist from hearing her broken cries; yet I knew the pain I felt was not even a fraction of hers. But I wanted the share her pain. Because all her life she had been alone, keeping people away, holding them off at a distance.
This time isn't going to be like that.
She must have remembered the lines, because I thought I saw a small smile crack in her lips. "Kirk, it doesn't work like that."
"Yes, it does. It's like what we always do. You're scared, and I am going to hold your hand. And you won't fall, because I'll be holding you up. You understand?"
I repeated the words she said to me that day in the fountain. Did she know how much her words had calmed me back then? How it had given me strength I never knew existed?
I breathed in deeply, shunning her answer. "You can. I want be there for you when it gets really bad, when it gets too lonesome, too painful. I want to wake you up from the nightmares," I explained, making sure my hand didn't waver. "It's your choice, Juliet. I can't save you; I know that. But you can take my hand, and we can face it together—like we always do."
Her stare alternated between my eyes and my hand, and I could see in those few seconds how frightening everything is for her. She closed her eyes, like she did back when we were on the hill. Her brows were wrinkled and a deep frown was etched on her lips.
She looked as if she was struggling with herself.
When she opened her eyes, tears were there, and her lips quivered. But there was that spark reflected in her olive eyes.
It was a flicker of spunk.
When I felt Juliet's soft and somewhat hesitant touch on my palm, I closed my fingers over her hand and squeezed it tightly.
"Don't you dare let me go," she whispered, her underlying threat music to my ears.
And just as Juliet did that fateful afternoon in the fountain, I smiled for her.
Hello, since you've made it to the end after 12,000+ words, you get the opportunity of dropping me a word or two (or three?)! Even just to complain about the length, lol.