Jules, Age 22
Every year I wait for him at the fountain, watching the kids splash and play as he and I used to years ago. Mercy stopped keeping me company years ago. She insists that if he didn't come the first year, he certainly won't in the future even if he wanted to.
"Jules. You know he's not coming," Mercy says every year. "That won't change no matter how lone you sit here. It's time to move on."
Still, I wait for him. I know he'd wait for me. There are certain things you just know about a person – like what you mean to them – even when everyone tells you you're insane. Then again, maybe I am insane.
A little girl is standing on the wall with her eyes shut tightly wearing pink shorts and her dark hair in a ponytail. She reminds me of myself. I always stood on the wall, my eyes closed, and imagined the fountain was a portal that could send me anywhere. I'd whisper the place I'd dreamed of before jumping into the cool water, focusing so much on getting there. Now I only imagine the water can transport me to him, wherever he is. This is our place and I refuse to believe it never meant anything to him. Even if it didn't, this will always be our day. I'll come here and I'll remember him and mourn everything we would have been were it not for the rest of the world.
"Jules," Mercy says quietly, appearing beside me on the wall and dipping her feet in the water. "It's time to go. He's not coming."
I shrug, dragging my big toe along the bottom of the pool. "Next year."
"No, honey," she replies, sighing sadly and putting her arm around my shoulders. "He's never coming. Why do you keep doing this to yourself every year?"
I watch the sun begin it's decent behind the buildings across the square, my eyes watering from how bright it is. "I told you. I made him a promise. It doesn't matter to me if he kept up his end of the deal or not."
"Maybe it's time it started to matter," Mercy says, shaking her head.
I lean my own head on her shoulder and watch the sun fall.
Jules, Age 18...
"Jules!" Mercy exclaims, running up to me and linking her arm through mine. "New student! I need to get the story. Are you up for it?"
"I have class," I tell her, glancing at my watch. "So do you, just in case you've forgotten. Which would be impressive since we're in school."
"It'll keep," she says, waving me off. "Apparenly this guy is hot. I'm already so behind as it is! Everyone is talking about him."
"I'm not," I say, shaking my head. "Plus, you promised to count me out of your creeper schemes after the last time."
"I don't understand your hesitation," Mercy replies. "You know you'll be just as curious as I am."
"Only if there's a reason to be," I reply, rolling my eyes. "Not simply because it happened. Have you even seen this person yet?"
"No, but I'm going to right now," Mercy says. "He's on the wall."
"And you know this because?" I ask, raising an eyebrow at her.
"He's been there all day," Mercy says like this should be obvious to me.
"What? Like holding a meet and greet?" I ask.
"Word is he knows Tanner and Becca," Mercy says, her eyes twinkling with the excitement of new gossip.
"If Tan and Bec know him then shouldn't we?" I ask. "We've known them forever, too."
"Apparently not. His name, according to Felicia, is Rome," Mercy says. "But I ran out before I heard anything else. I'd definitely remember meeting someone named Rome."
"Rome? Seriously?" I demand, rolling my eyes. "That is the dumbest name I've ever heard."
We enter the quad and I see a group of people surrounding our usual spot. Becca sees us first. She's sitting next to Tanner with their hands intertwined. A few of our other friends are chatting or looking bored. The new guy, I'd assume, is standing with his back to us. He's impossibly tall with thick, wavy, dark hair. Something about his stance screams causal contentment. Mercy elbows me excitedly, straightening her hair with her free hand as she steps away from me. Tan hits the guy with the back of his hand, an anxious look of worry crossing his features.
"Rome, meet Jules and Mercy," Tanner says. "This is my buddy, uh, Rome from boarding school."
He turns and I audibly gasp. It's the teal eyes. I've only ever seen one pair of eyes that color. Of course, so many other things are obvious now. Time has obviously passed, but he hasn't changed. He still seems so much older than me. Wiser somehow. Impossibly comfortable in his own skin. I envied it about him then, before I even knew what an enviable quality it was, and I envy it about him now that I'm having a panic attack and he seems completely unaffected.
"Dante?" I ask, flabbergasted. He smirks, some twinkle of amusement in his impossible, beautiful eyes.
"Dante?" Mercy whispers to me. "Like that kid from the -"
"Fountain. Yeah," I say to her, my focus still on his face. "What happened to you? Is this a habit of yours? Showing up and shocking the hell out of people? If I close my eyes right now will you be gone when I open them again?"
"You mean you never figured it out?" he asks, seeming even more amused than before.
I'm fully aware of everyone staring at us, but I don't care. Mercy is loving it. She loves a good scene.
"Figured what out?" I ask, my brow furrowing.
Dante chuckles, bouncing on his feet a bit. "You may not want to discuss this here, Jules."
"What?" I demand, my confusion growing. "Why not? What are you doing here? And why is he calling you Rome?"
Dante shrugs, removing one hand from his pocket and offering it to me. "Allow me to fully introduce myself, then. It should answer your questions. I'm Marcus Dante Romeo."
Beside me, Mercy's coffee cup falls from her hand and crashes on the ground, splattering my calves with liquid. I can't move. I wouldn't remember how if I tried.
"Romeo?" I repeat, my stomach clenching. "You're a Romeo?"
His eyes are different now. Evil? That's what Mom would say. What do I do? What do I say? I've never met a Romeo before and now I'm learning that I spent the formative years of my childhood playing with him almost every day during the summer? Mom would say there was a catch, but it never felt like there was one before until this moment.
Mercy grabs my arm suddenly and says, "We have to go. Sorry. It was, um, nice... We just have to go."
She drags me away and I glance back at him over my shoulder. His hand is still extended in my direction, but he drops it, shoving it into his pocket again and adopting his casual demeanor. The entire quad has erupted into anxious chatter, but Mercy – for the first time ever – ignores it all. She doesn't stop pulling me until we're in the bathroom.
"We are screwed!" Mercy says, running her hands through her curly hair. "Do you get that, Jules? We are so, so screwed!"
Jules, Age 12
Dante is my best friend at the fountain. I met him three years ago in this very spot in the weirdest way. He already knew my name, probably because almost everyone does. I was standing on the wall of the fountain, my eyes closed, just about to make my wish when someone tapped my knee. I looked down, glaring at my offender, and saw the craziest eyes I'd ever seen. They were this teal color – my favorite color – and they were hidden in the face of a boy of all people. He smiled up at me.
"What'ch'ya doin', Jules?" he'd asked.
"How do you know my name?" I'd said suspiciously.
He'd shrugged. "Doesn't everyone? Your Dad is the mayor, right?"
I'd shushed him, jumping down from the wall, even more annoyed that he'd made me skip my wish. I'd told him as much and he'd promised to give it back some day. We talked for a bit about whatever stupid thing kid's talk about until we got into a splash fight with some other kids. From then on we were friends and he was fun. I liked seeing him. It used to be my first dip in the fountain that meant summer was here, but now Dante was a part of that, too. I only ever saw him in the summer.
It's two years after I first saw him. We're playing like normal, Dante is chasing me around the statue in the middle and I'm hiding behind it, waiting to strike, when Mom comes storming into the square. She looks angry – madder than that time I smashed the vase Dad bought her for their wedding – and she marches right up to the side of the fountain. She glares at me, then at Dante, and nods at her security team to grab my bright blue bike.
"Jules, get out of the water!" she snaps, her eyes burning. "Now."
"I want to play with Dante!" I argue, walking over through the water to stand beside him.
"No," she replies, refusing to even look at him. "We're leaving right now, young lady."
"Mom, no!" I say, shaking my head. I glance at Dante and he doesn't seem confused at all.
Mom nods at her security team and one of them climbs into the fountain, picking me up and carrying me away.
"Stop it!" I yell at him. "Put me down!"
Mom storms after us, but I stare past her at Dante. He shrugs and waves at me, climbing out of the fountain and walking in the opposite direction. When we're in the car, Mom is still bright red from all the anger.
"You are never to talk to that boy again, Julie. Do you understand me?" Mom snaps.
"But, Mom. He's my friend!" I say, my eyes filling with tears. "Why were you so mean to him?"
"Just be quiet and listen to me," Mom says, glaring. "It's important, Julie."
"I don't understand!"
"It doesn't matter," she replies, crossing her arms over her chest and staring out the window.
Jules, Age 18
So many things are coming back to me now. His reluctance to talk about his family – even back then. Mom's refusal to discuss it ever again after that afternoon. Dad's cool demeanor at dinner when he got home from the office that night. They couldn't tell me who he was obviously, because I was too young to understand. He was my friend back then. Everything I knew of him wouldn't fit into my family's tale of hatred toward to Romeos. It still didn't. We were just kids. Still, why has he never once seemed surprised? He knew me at the fountain which means he knew me two years ago, too.
I'm still trying to process everything when I get home. Mom is sitting in the foyer, her arms crossed over her chest. She stands when I enter, crossing the room to me as I drop my backpack by the door.
"Is it true?" she demands. "Is that boy really back from boarding school?"
"Yeah, it is," I say. "He goes to my school now."
"You didn't talk to him, did you, Julie?" Mom asks, her face twisted in disgust.
"Would that be so bad?" I ask as casually as possible.
"Of course!" Mom snaps.
"I think we're ignoring some pretty vital information, Mom," I say. "Why haven't you ever told me who he was?"
"You were too young back then and I never expected you to see him again," Mom says. "You must stay away from him, Julie."
"I don't see why," I reply smartly. "He's never done anything to me."
"Right. Because lying about his identity wasn't wrong," Mom says, snorting.
"We were kids. He didn't lie. There were no 'secret intentions'," I say, rolling my eyes. "In fact, the only person I see with an obvious agenda is you."
"He's a Romeo!" Mom snaps, practically spitting the word. "That's all that needs to be said and that's all that will be said. You stay away from him, Julie, and that is final."
Mom doesn't understand and she couldn't. Not without me telling her what happened two summers ago. She'd be even more angry. So mad, actually, that she'd probably send me to a convent or something to "pay for my sins". Frankly, I don't understand either. Was it a game? Was it some kind of game the entire time? I fall back on my bed, throwing my arm over my eyes and trying to forget the image of his burning into mine.
Jules, Age 16
The pool's not as good as the fountain, but it'll do as a general replacement. I'm officially too old to hang out at the fountain without seeming like a giant freak, anyway.
I'm standing on the edge of the deep end, my back to the water, with my eyes closed to make my wish, when a hand closes around my ankle and pulls me in.
"Hey!" I splutter, popping above the cool water and wiping at my eyes. My hair is tangled over my face and I pull at it anxiously. "I was making a wish. You ruined it."
"Guess I owe you two, then," a deep voice replies, chuckling.
I finally succeed in the fight against my hair, glaring inquisitively at my attacker. It takes a moment to register, but I am shocked when I do.
"Dante?" I exclaim. "Holy... What are you doing here? I haven't seen you -"
"Since your Mom's goon carried you out of the fountain four years ago?" he asks, chuckling. "Trust me. I remember it well."
"I still have no idea why she did that," I say, shaking my head. "I looked for you every day for the rest of the summer to apologize, but I never saw you again."
"Sorry about that," he replies sheepishly. "The situation was out of my hands."
"I'm surprised to see you now," I say, swimming along beside him as he moves to shallow water.
"I like to make an entrance," he replies casually. "You've aged well. I mean, I thought you were cute when you were twelve and all, but you're a real knock out now."
"You're not so bad yourself," I say, blushing and looking down at the water.
"Got any plans today?" he asks. I glance up at him and he has an elbow propped up on the pool wall behind him, leaning comfortably.
"Not really," I say. "Mercy is busy and my parents are out of town."
"We should catch up," he says, smiling. My heart clenches.
"I'd like that," I reply, biting my lip. "Do you live around here or something?"
"Or something," he replies mysteriously, his mood seeming to tighten a bit. "So, tell me everything. What's new? How is Mercy? Still crazy?"
We spend hours talking, only getting out of the water when the lifeguard announces it's time to close. As we're walking through the parking lot, I strum up the nerve to reach for his hand. My skin tingles when his long, tan fingers fold between mine. We walk straight through town and to the fountain, sitting next to each other on the wall and watching the sun fall down behind the building. I've never felt so close to someone before. It's like a day hasn't passed, but everything is different anyway. Just as the street lamps turn on and the last of sun disappears behind the building, Dante slips his arm around my shoulders. I glance up at him, fighting back my nerves.
"Do you want to get together tomorrow?" I ask, fidgeting with my hands.
"I do," he says, sighing. "But I won't be around tomorrow."
"Oh. Some other time, then," I reply.
"No, I'm leaving," he says, shaking his head. His arm tightens around my shoulder.
"Where are you going?" I ask, my eyebrows crinkling.
He sighs deeper and rubs his free hand over his face.
"Just away," he breathes. His arm drops from around my shoulders. "I'm really sorry, Jules."
"It's fine," I say, shaking my head. "I'm disappointed, but at least we know in advance this time. I'll give you my phone number. You can call me the next time you're in town."
"That's not what I'm sorry about," he grumbles, shaking his head. "Look, I might not be coming back."
"What does that mean?" I ask. "Are you moving?"
"I don't know why I keep doing this," he says, shaking his head again. "I'm gonna go. Just... forget you saw me today, okay?"
He stands and gets out of the fountain, slipping his feet into his flip flops. I jump out and grab his wrist.
"I'm sorry, but did I offend you?" I ask.
He shakes his head. "Today was great. Perfect almost."
"Then why are you leaving?" I ask, bewildered. "What's going on, Dante? Whatever it is, you can tell me. I won't judge you."
He watches me for a long time, some internal battle burning in his teal eyes. A million different emotions flutter over his face and he cups my cheeks between his warm hands.
"Screw it," he mutters, leaning is forehead against mine and pressing our lips together.
I melt into him, wrapping my arms around his waist and losing myself in him. I've been kissed before, but never like this. Never in a way that made my skin catch fire. He pulls away entirely too soon, his eyes still closed. He sighs, releasing my face and stepping back.
"I'm probably going to have to apologize to you for all of eternity," he says, laughing hollowly.
"Why did you do that?" I ask, my breathing ragged.
"Because I wanted to," he says, his own voice hoarse.
"You're really going away?" I ask, crossing my arms over my chest to avoid reaching out for him.
He nods. "Have to."
"You are possibly the weirdest person I've ever met," I say, shaking my head.
His phone buzzes and he pulls it from his pocket, his face falling when he checks the screen.
"I have to go," he says, sighing. "We have to say goodbye."
"What are you talking about?" I demand. "Seriously. Take my number and call me. Or my address and send me a freaking carrier pigeon. I don't care! I just really don't understand what's happening right now!"
"You'll probably understand some day, but I really hope that you don't," he says, taking a few more steps back. "Goodbye, Jules. Maybe I'll see you around some day."
"Dante, wait!" I call, running after him. He turns the corner before I can catch up with him and, by the time I do, he's already gone.
Jules, Age 18
I'm seething by the time I make it to school the day after Dante appeared in the quad. Mercy called me a million times last night and I ignored every one until she became so insistent that I shut off my phone. Everyone is already on the quad and I see Dante sitting next to Tanner. Tanner nudges him and Dante glances over, his cool eyes meeting mine. I want to stab them out with a fork and light them on fire for ever controlling me the way that they do.
"We need to talk," I say when I finally reach him, ignoring the silence that falls over the other people on the wall.
"I know," he says, nodding.
He stands and follows me past the wall to a good twenty feet from everyone else. They're still staring at us and I glare at them, stepping behind a tree to shield us from their view. Dante joins me, his hands still in his pockets as he leans back casually against the tree. I no longer envy that about him.
"You have some things to explain," I say. "About a million things, actually. Starting with how long you've known who I am."
"Always," he says. "Your picture has been all over the papers for our entire lives. I knew who you were and how I was supposed to feel about you the first time I saw you."
"We were ten!" I exclaim, glaring at him.
"Yeah, well, the propoganda started in the Romeo house pretty early," he says, glowering into the distance. "I'm sure it was the same for you."
"Yet I still never saw you. Even when I googled your parents there was never a picture of you," I say suspiciously.
"Safety reasons," he says, shrugging.
"Why'd you talk to me back then?" I demand. "Has all of this history been some kind of game to you?"
"I was curious," he replies, looking at me again. "Admit it: you are, too. If you weren't then you wouldn't be talking to me right now."
"I'd love to not be talking to you right now," I say. "But when it occurs to you that your entire history with someone has been a big lie it's kind of shocking and there are questions that need to be asked."
"Like?" he prompts.
"Seriously?" I snap, poking him in the chest with my pointer finger. I poke him a few more times for good measure and he has the audacity to smirk in amusement. I glare harder and cross my arms over my stomach. "Let's start with two summers ago. What the hell was that?"
"I was surprised to see you," he says, shaking his head. The corner of his mouth turns up slightly. "I was only in town for a week and I even went to the fountain a few times, but you were never there. Then, on impulse, I go to the pool on my last day and you're on a wall again, making a wish. I couldn't believe it. I was even more shocked when you still didn't know who I was."
"So you took advantage of that?" I snap. "Spent all day flirting with me and making me feel all of these things for my worst enemy?"
"I'm not your worst enemy," he says, rolling his eyes and snorting. "Our parents are enemies for some stupid reason. And I didn't take advantage of you either. I wanted to spend the day with you, so I did."
"And kissing me?" I say, wishing that I could glare hard enough to set him on fire. "What was that?"
He has the decency to seem a bit guilty. "That wasn't my proudest moment, but I wanted to do that, too."
"And you have to do everything that you want to?" I demand.
"Trust me," he says, his voice dropping. "If you were a heterosexual male and you saw yourself, you definitely wouldn't blame me."
"You know, you told me that I'd understand some day, but I still don't," I say, shaking my head at him. "Though I'm starting to get how my family could hate yours if they're anything like you."
"My family is complicated. You should get that. I'm sure that yours is, too. I knew that if I got involved with you the way that I wanted to," he says. "The way that I think you wanted to, our families wouldn't stop until they destroyed us. It was the one impulse I managed to control."
"That's bull shit," I snap. "All of this is bull shit."
"I really am sorry, Jules," he says, looking so sincere that it hurts. "I meant it then and I mean it now."
"You're a Romeo," I spit at him. "Why should I believe a word you say?"
I storm away before he can respond.
The first couple of weeks that he's around I ignore Dante. He gives me space, as cool and calm as ever. I want to destroy him every time that I see him. I relentlessly search for answers as to where the fued between our families began. Mom and Dad refuse to tell me anything, like always, and it's driving me mad. Almost as much as Dante's constant presence in my life. He's all anyone talks about and they all feel the need to ask me and Mercy about his appearance more than anything. Thankfully, only Mercy knows our history, so I don't have to deal with all of that.
Finally, after a month, I can't take it anymore and I slip a note in his locker for him to meet me at my car during lunch. He saunters over, climbing into the driver's seat, and I peel out, driving as far away from school as I can.
"We're skipping the rest of the day," I tell him, my eyes still on the road. "I don't care if you're not okay with that."
"I'm okay with it," he replies casually.
"Does anything rattle you?" I demand, pulling into the parking lot of the abandoned department store and stopping the car. I shut it off and turn to face him, my arms crossed over my chest.
"Not really," he says. "Don't see much point in getting upset, I guess."
"Just to be clear: I didn't bring you out here to discuss the last few years," I say. "I just think it's time that I know what the deal is between my family and your family. My parents won't tell me, I can't figure it out, and you seem to know a hell of a lot more than me."
"I do," he admits. "But I don't think you want to know."
"I definitely want to know," I say, glaring at him.
"Your face is going to get stuck like that," he says quietly, reaching out and smooting the wrinkles on my forehead. Electricty zooms through me and I jump out of the car, slamming the door behind me. He follows a moment later, seeming slightly less okay than he was a minute ago. Ha! Nothing rattles him, my ass.
"No touching!" I snap, standing as far from him as I possibly can.
"Fair enough," he replies, nodding his head. "I can tell you, but I want to clarify again that I really don't think you want to know. It's gonna change the way you see everything . Your entire world, really."
"I don't care," I reply.
"Let me start with my family, then," he says, taking a deep breath and leaning against the hood of my car. "I'm a fourth generation American. My great grandparents immigrated here from Italy with my grandfather when he was very young. They were fleaing some less than admirable entanglements."
"Which means?" I say when he pauses.
"The mob," he says. "It was different back then. Harsher. My great grandfather did everything he could to start a better life for his family, but eventually he turned to his old ways. It was all he knew. Ever since then it's just who we are."
"So you're saying your family still-"
"Not all of us," he says. "My parents aren't."
"What does this have to do with my family?" I ask.
"I'm getting there," he says. "This is the part you're really not going to like. I'm going to ask you one more time if you're positive that you want to know."
"I want to know," I insist, my nerves beginning to grow.
"My grandfather continued the family business," he explains, crossing his arms over his chest. "There was a rival family in town at the time. Relations were nasty. Violent, at times."
He pauses again and I start laughing when realization dawns. "You're kidding! What is the point of lying like this?"
"I'm not lying," he says, his eyes sad like he pities me. "Our families have been rivals for years."
"You're actually saying that our families are in rival mafias and that's why they hate each other?" I say, still laughing. "You're ridiculous."
"No, they hate each other because my great grandfather killed your great grandfather," he says. "I know what you're feeling, but think about it, Jules. Where did your family get their money from? Has anyone ever told you? How did your great grandfather die? It'll all add up when you think about it."
I splutter at him, unsure of what to say. Who would believe this? It's absolutely absurd, but I find that I do kind of believe him. It does kind of add up.
"So, let's say I believe you," I say. "What does that have to do with us?"
"Nothing. It's never had a single thing to do with us and I'd like it if it never did," Dante replies. "But it would affect us. That's why I thought it'd be better to avoid you two years ago. That's why I should probably avoid you now."
"I'm sensing a but," I say, watching him skeptically.
"But," he says, rolling his eyes. "I didn't want to avoid you then and I still don't. There's always been something between us in a million different ways, Jules, and, now that you know the truth and I'm here to stay, it just seems stupid to fight it."
"I'm still not sure that I believe all of this," I say, shaking my head. "If I did believe it, there would be a lot of stuff to deal with. Like the fact that my family is in the freaking mafia, for example. I wouldn't even know how to begin feeling about that."
"Yeah, but you have me," he says. "And I happen to have a bit of experience in that area."
"Who says I have you?" I ask, rolling my eyes at him.
"You could," he says simply, stepping closer to me.
"Fine. Who says that I want you, then?" I ask, smirking at him.
"Who's the one lying now?" Dante asks, so close to me that I can feel the heat radiating off of him.
When he kisses me even though there are a million reasons why it's terribly wrong, I don't stop him.
I go home that night and flat out ask my parents if it's true. They lie, obviously, and I can see it in their faces. When they send me to my room in a fit of rage I call every Aunt, Uncle, cousin, and grandparent in my contacts until I finally know the truth. Then I spend a few hours face down on my bed sobbing into my pillow. It's too much to take in. Too much to ignore. Too much to process. I feel like my entire life has been a lie of some kind. I was raised with morals. I was raised knowing that lying is wrong and family is what matters. It's painfully and overwhelmingly ironic that my family kept something like this from me for my entire life.
For a week I stay in bed attempting to accept my world as it is now and I begin to hate Dante for telling me, even though he's the only person who has ever been honest with me in my entire, life, apparently, because he wrecked my view of the world. He calls me a few times, but I ignore him. I want nothing to do with anyone I've met ever again. Eventually you have to get up, though, and face the world. So I do.
Mom is the first person that I see. She's at the breakfast table, every hair in place and an eerie silence surrounding her. I sit down across from her, my eyes swollen shut, practically, from crying and lack of sleep.
"Were you ever going to tell me?" I ask her, my voice horse.
"Someday," she replies primly. "When you were ready."
"Ready to grasp that I'm a criminal?" I say, scoffing. "When exactly would I have been ready for that, Mom?"
"It was that boy who told you, wasn't it?" she says, her tone icy. "There was a reason that I told you to stay away from him, Julie. You see that now, don't you?"
"I see that you wanted to continue lying to me for as long as humanly possible," I reply just as coldly. "And, for your information, that boy had nothing to do with it. I hate him, Mom. I see why that's important now. He's the enemy."
"He is," Mom agrees. "I'm glad that you see things my way. Now that you know, you can be of use to us. Get close to him, Julie. See what his family is planning. There must be a reason he was sent after you all of those years ago."
"We agree, then," I lie, willing my voice to stay calm. "His apparent interest in me can be an advantage to the family."
"Precisely," Mom says, smiling evilly. The exchange makes my skin crawl.
I meet Dante almost immediately after that in the parking lot. He's in the driver's seat of his SUV and I open the door, straddling his lap and wrapping my arms around his neck.
"What happened?" he breathes into my hair, rubbing his hand up and down my back.
"She told me to spy on you," I reply, leaning back so that I'm resting against the steering wheel. "She wants to know why your family sent you after me. This is so insane."
"I know," he says, his eyes pained. "I hate that you have to go through this. I know from experience how much it sucks."
"At least I have someone who has been there," I say, brushing my fingers down his cheek. "How is it that I can trust you after all of this?"
"The same way that I always knew I could trust you," he replies, pressing his lips chastly to mine. He tangles his hand in my hair. "You know, they'll kill us if they ever find out we're together."
"Are we?" I ask, my eyebrows raising.
"Unless this," he says, dropping his hands to my thighs and squeezing them. "Is how you greet everyone, I'd say we're together."
"Is that weird?" I ask, tilting my head to the side. "No one has ever complained before."
"Ha ha," he monotones, rolling his eyes. "Very funny."
"I am funny," I agree, smiling at him. "Now, shut up and kiss me."
Jules, Age 19
I knock on the door of the hotel suite three times, pausing for two seconds between each one. He opens the door just enough for me to fit through and drags me inside by one wrist, bolting the door behind me.
"Were you followed?" Dante asks.
I roll my eyes. "Am I new at this?"
"I missed you," he breathes, pressing me against the door and molding his body to mine.
It's been weeks since we were alone like this and the ferocity with which we press against each other serves as a reminder. Every cell in my body is exploding. I'll never understand how I manage to stay away from him for more than a day. His lips trail down to my neck and I dig my nails into his bicep.
"We need to stop waiting so long," I gasp out, wrapping my left leg around his. "This time nearly killed me."
"They're watching my every move," he says, groaning when I press my hips more firmly to his. "It's a miracle I managed to get away now."
"You shouldn't have joined," I say, holding him against me as he presses a wet, open mouthed kiss to my collarbone. I moan, tangling one hand in his wavy hair. "I begged you not to."
"I know, baby," he breaths, resting his forehead against mine. "We have to take them down if we're going to stay together."
"We could disappear," I whisper, relishing the feel of his hot breath as it washes over my face. "I seem to remember you being particularly good at that."
"And have you spend the rest of your life running?" he asks, his eyes closing. "You're worth so much more than that."
I lean forward enough to press my lips to his. "Not without you," I murmur, my lips brushing against his with every word.
"You really mean that," he asks, pulling back far enough to see my face.
"You know that I do," I say, cupping his cheek with my hand. He pushes away from me, pulling something out of his discarded coat jacket. It's a velvet box. My knees nearly give out. He crosses the room and pulls me against him, kissing me again.
"Then marry me," he murmurs, pressing the box into my hands.
"Yes," I reply, jumping up to wrap my legs around his waist. He grabs onto both of my thighs, walking until we fall onto the bed.
"I love you, Jules," he breaths, kissing me with each word. "I love you so much."
"I love you, too," I murmur, giving into his kiss. I can't believe the depth of what I feel for him and the hatred I feel for my family who would tear us apart if they knew. He is my everything and those innocent days at the fountain seem so far away.
I hope he knows how fiercely I wouldn't trade a minute of it.
Jules, Age 20
I'm crouched in the back of Mercy's car with Tanner's coat thrown over me and Becca laying on top of me to keep me in the back seat.
"What are you doing?" I exclaim, my voice muffled. "I have to get to him! They won't kill both of us!"
"They will, Jules," someone says. I think Mercy. I can't be sure through the roaring of blood in my ears. "That's precisely what they'll do."
"I don't care," I say, fighting against Becca's weight harder.
"We're going to get you to him," Tanner says. "We're going right now, okay? We're going to meet him at some parking lot."
"The old department store?" I ask, managing too struggle enough to pop my head out from under the jacket.
Tanner pauses, looking to Mercy who nods. "Yeah."
"Good. Okay," I say, nodding and feeling a bit calmer. "Drive faster, Merc."
"I'm going as fast as I can," she replies.
It's still not fast enough, but we get there eventually. I launch myself out of the door as soon as Becca opens it, somehow managing to land on my feet. Dante is standing by his car and he runs to me, clutching me to him.
"I'm here, baby," he says. I'm not touching the ground at all. He's the only thing holding me in place, anchoring me to the planet.
"Take me with you," I murmur, nuzzling my face into his neck. "I don't want you doing this alone."
He's shaking his head and I wrap one hand around the back of his neck to calm him. "I screwed up, Jules. They figured out that I'm trying to take them down. It's gonna get bad and it'd only be worse if I brought you with me."
"My Mom knows," I say, scowling when he pulls back to look at me. "I told her I'm yours. I told her I'm marrying you."
"Why?" he asks, his jaw dropping.
"I knew you'd been found out," I say. "We've denied ourselves so much because of them. I wanted at least one chanceto claim you to the world. Or my parents, at least."
He smiles brilliantly and kisses me once with fierce passion. "I love you."
"I love you," I reply, holding his cheeks beneath my hand.
"So this is the plan," he says. "We need to split up. Just for awhile. I'll meet you at the fountain once I can get away. We'll leave, okay? We'll go anywhere in the world and we'll start a new life."
"Let's just stay together," I plead, linking my hands through his. "I won't be able to concentrate unless I know that you're safe."
"Neither will I," he replies, leaning his forehead against mine. "And you won't be safe unless you're far away from me. Just trust me, baby, okay?"
"Okay," I say. "I trust you. Promise me you'll find me."
"I'll always find you," he says, he glances around the parking lot quickly before kissing me again. I think he means it to be chaste, but his emotions get the best of him, and he clenches his fists in my t-shirt, holding me to him. We kiss like it's the first time and the last. It's what our kisses have always felt like. He finally pulls back, his breathing harsh and gravelly. "I'm sorry, Jules. I really am sorry. If I would have stayed away once in the time we've known each other-"
"I would have hunted you down," I reply, rolling my eyes. I kiss his cheek once. "Worth it."
He smiles, cupping my cheek with one hand and running his thumb over my earlob. "You are," he agrees. "Now go."
"Rome!" Tanner exclaims, pointing frantically at the entrance to the parking lot. A grey SUV is travelling down the street at an impressive speed. Dante's family. They're here.
"How did they find us?" I exclaim, clinging to Rome. He pulls me off of him, his eyes going dark.
"Shit! The GPS in my car. I left it on," he snaps, pushing me in the direction of Tanner. "Go, Jules. You need to go."
He pulls a gun out of the glove box of his car, clutching it in both hands.
"No! Come with us!" I plead, trying to run to him again.
"Tanner!" Dante snaps, the word ferocious as it rips from his mouth.
Tanner grabs me around the waist, yelling at Mercy to start the car as he drags me away.
"No!" I yell. "Tanner! Stop it! Dante!"
Tanner opens the door and practically throws me in the back seat, jumping down after me. I jump over his lap, pressing myself to the window and pounding my fist against it. Dante glances over only once, mouthing I love you before Mercy can speed out of the parking lot. The last thing I see as he disappears from my sight is his Uncle jumping from the car, a gun pointed in Dante's direction. Tanner pulls the coat over me to keep me from seeing anything else.
Everything from then is a blur. Tanner leaves us at his house and jumps back into Mercy's car. I'm practically incosolable, fighting so hard to get away and back to Dante. No one will let me leave. No one will listen.
Tanner returns God knows how many hours later, his face blank and his eyes full of tears.
"Where have you been?" Becca demands. "You wouldn't take my calls."
"I was looking for Dante," he says, clearing his throat. "The parking lot was empty when I got there except for-"
His voice breaks and he looks dowm at the ground, wiping his eyes with the back of his arm.
"Except for what?" Mercy demands, grabbing his arms and shaking him. "Except for what, Tanner?"
"Blood, okay? A shit ton of blood," he says, shaking his head. "I tried to call him, but he wouldn't answer. So, I went to his Mom's house."
"He was there, right?" I say. "We're still meeting at the fountain."
"She was a wreck, Jules," Tanner says. "Dante's Aunt called after he um... after it was done. He's gone. Dante's gone, Jules."
"No," Mercy says, reaching blindly for me.
"Where did he go?" I ask. "Should I meet him somewhere else?"
"He's dead, Jules," Tanner says, a tear slipping down his cheek. "I'm so, so sorry."
"No," I argue stubbornly. "You're wrong. He's tricking everyone. His GPS. He'd never be so sloppy. That would never happen."
"It did," Tanner says. "You have to listen, Jules. He died, okay? We need to get you out of here before they come for you. Dante would want us to keep you safe."
"I don't believe you!" I snap, crying hysterically. "Why are you doing this? Where is he? Get off of me! Mercy!"
"I know, honey," Mercy breathes, holding me against her. "You're gonna be okay. It'll all be okay."
"Dante!" I wail. He's not gone. I don't believe it. He's not gone. He's not gone.
Jules, Age 23
"No," Mercy says, blocking my door. "Not again, Jules. I can't watch you do this to yourself again."
"I have to go to him," I argue, trying to push past her.
"Jules!" Mercy exclaims, her voice desperate.
"He's going to come this year!" I snap, glaring at her.
"This has gone on for long enough," Mercy replies, shaking her head sadly. "I played into your delusion, Jules, because I thought you needed it. I kept waiting for you to heal, but you haven't. Not even in the slightest. I'm going to make you hear it, Jules, because I love you and you are still here."
"Don't say it!" I plead with her, shutting my eyes and covering my ears. She rips my hands away, pining them to my sides when she pulls me against her.
"Dante is dead, honey," she says, her voice breaking. "He's never going to meet you there. You need to accept it. Just let me help you."
"Let go of me!" I snap, fighting against her until I break free.
I run to the fountain, tears streaming down my face. I run at full speed until I'm out of breath and sweating. He's not there, but he'll come. I twist his ring around my finger and sit down to wait.
About two hours later a person sits down beside me. I can feel their warmth on my side.
"Go away, Mercy," I mumble hollowly.
Something heavy lands in my lap. It's a leather bound journal. I pick it up, rubbing my hands over the cover. It's Tanner. Tanner is beside me, an apologetic look on his face.
"What are you doing here?" I demand, my jaw dropping. "Where did youget this?"
"It came in the mail a few days after he died with a letter saying it would explain everything. I tried to find you to give it to you, but no one knew where you were," Tanner says, shaking his head. "After awhile I thought you had died, too."
"How did you find me?" I ask, tears filling my eyes as I stare at Dante's journal.
"Well, today I decided to finally read it," he explains guiltily. "I wasn't ready before, but I needed to say goodbye. I'm so sorry that it took me so long, Jules, but I understand now."
"So he's really gone? Is that why he's never come for me?" I ask, my voice cracking.
"Read the last page," he says, nodding at the book. I hesitate and he nudges my hand. "Go on."
His familiar, loopy script is like a dagger piercing straight through my heart. His words are like poisin burning through my veins.
Make sure you keep her from doing something stupid when she hears the news, Tanner. You're the only person we can trust. There's only one way that Jules can survive: I have to die. I love her too much, Tan, to ever let anything happen to her. It's going to kill me not to meet her at the fountain and I hate that I have to dump all of this on you. She'll be devastated when she hears I've died and you better keep her safe or I will hunt you down.
Meet her at the fountain, Tanner. Tell her that I love her more than life. More than the stars. Tell her that I'll never leave her. She'll know, but tell her anyway. I'll meet her at the train station where we always said we'd go. Tell Jules I'll be waiting.
"Oh my God," I breathe, tears spilling down my cheeks. I glance up at Tanner, my face breaking out into a tentative smile. "I knew it. I knew it!"
"You need a ride to the airport?" he asks.
"Take me home, first," I reply. "I should say goodbye to Mercy. Plus, I'll need my passport."
"Passport?" he asks, his eyebrows raising.
"I've said too much already," I reply, jumping out of the fountain and running to his car.
Mercy rode with us to the airport, sobbing and clutching me to her the entire way. She wanted to go with me, terrified that I'd break down if he wasn't on the other side, but I knew he would be. Just like he knew I'd be waiting. Just like we knew we could trust each other all those years ago.
The flight is unbearably long and I barely sleep. When we land, I take a cab straight to the train station where Tanner and Mercy have a ticket waiting for me at the office. My train boards an hour later and I nearly hyperventilate waiting for it to arrive. I rush from the platform to the lobby, running aimlessly through the crowd of strangers. I can't see him. He isn't among them. I sprint from the train station, ignoring traffic patterns and street warnings straight to the center of town. I've only ever seen this place in photos and my dreams, but it is familiar. I can barely see, my eyes are so blurry with tears.
And then I see him.
He's standing with his back to me, his hair slightly longer, but beautifully, heart achingly familiar. His hands are shoved in his pockets and I laugh, my hand flying to my mouth. I can feel his engagement ring pressing into my lips.
"Dante!" I exclaim. He must hear it as often as I hear him call mine because he doesn't flinch. I step closer to him and yell it again. "Dante."
He turns and the first thing that registers are his teal blue eyes. His jaw drops and his hands fall from his pockets to his sides. We walk toward each other slowly, he because he can't believe it and I because I can barely breathe. Dante stops right in front of me, his hand lifting and pushing into my hair.
"You're real?" he murmurs. "I thought you were -"
"Me, too," I reply, knowing he can't say the word any more than I could hear it from Mercy. "I'm sorry it took me so long. Tanner only found your letter yesterday."
He shakes his head. "I knew. I knew you'd come someday."
"I knew you were waiting, too," I murmur, clutching his shirt in my fists. "I knew that you had to be. How did you know I'd come today?"
"I come here every day," he says. "I eat lunch here. I spend my free time here. It was all I had."
I shake my head. "You have me."
"Who says I want you?" he asks, the right side of his mouth tilting up in a smile. Of course he remembers that conversation. Dante remembers everything.
"Who's the one lying now?" I ask, repeating his words from all of those years ago. I'm so close to him that I can feel the heat radiating between us. The electricity floating between our skin.
He grabs my face firmly between both of his hands and kisses me softly at first, the intensity building until I feel like I'll explode. When he finally pulls away – a whimper escaping my lips at the loss of contact after waiting for so long – he smiles almost blindingly at me. Unlike all of our kisses before this, it feels like a beginning with no end in sight.
"So, this is a fountain," he says, motioning behind him.
"Really?" I say, my jaw dropping. "Three years and you want to play What's what?"
"Fountains are kind of important to us," he says, shrugging. "Plus, I believe that I owe you two wishes."
I clasp his face between my hands and his fingers wrap around the ring. He squeezes tightly, letting it press into the flesh of his palm.
"It'll keep," I whisper, my lips brushing his.
I kiss him again.