Author's Note (2014-06-06): So a little explanation, albeit a bit late: In my excitement yesterday at the thought of actually finishing a story and actually writing for six hours straight (which I haven't done in a while), I never got to properly edit this before I posted it. Soooo this has now been slightly updated. My apologies. Apparently I screw up my prepositions and tenses a lot when it's 2 in the morning.
This is a one-shot I wrote for A Drop of Romeo's Star-Cross'd contest Round IX, for the prompt "sleeping". A massive THANK YOU and a hundred brownies to each one of you who has read/reviewed and liked it so far. Even if you hated it, thanks for reading still. It seriously made my day reading the reviews I saw, and made my measly three-hour sleep last night so worth it lol. Personally, writing this story reminded me why I loved writing to begin with. It's been a while since I did that, since I just...wrote. And so I really hope you enjoy this as much as I enjoyed creating it.
Happy reading! xo
"If you be married, my grave is like to be my wedding bed."
- Shakespeare in Love
They shared drawers.
But to Lilia, that was the biggest issue. The fact that they shared drawers. The fact that their multicolored clothes and unmentionables lived together happily in the home sweet home of their dark drawers, the metaphorical white picket fence replaced by the brass antique handle designed by IKEA because she liked—no, loved—IKEA, that Swedish sweatshop he used to work for back in his university days. They shared a dog too. And that was practically like taking care of a kid. They shared books, not that she read a lot. They shared DVDs, not that they had the same taste in film. And they shared his records.
That was key. The fact that they shared his records. Because he was never the type of person to share his records. To anybody. But she was an exception.
She was the exception.
She was so much of an exception that he finally proposed. After five years of sharing drawers, and a dog, and books and DVDs and his records and her matching IKEA furniture, he proposed.
When Lilia woke up that morning, she knew it was going to be one of the worst days of her life. Before getting up, she recited to herself that line from Hamlet, her favorite. You know the one.
To die, to sleep—to sleep perchance to Dream; Aye, there's the rub,
For in that sleep of death, what dreams may come.
What dreams may come.
Lilia would rather succumb to that sleep of death and dream those dreams than do this today.
Go to her best friend's wedding.
What a cliché, right? Your best friend getting married to the girl you hate and you're not Julia Roberts. It would be a nightmare except…
Except Lilia didn't hate her. Really. In fact, there couldn't be a more perfect couple than those two. For goodness' sake, they shared drawers. Who does that? Lilia would never share her drawers with anyone. Not even with her future husband.
When The Exception asked Lilia to be the Maid of Honor at her wedding, Lil panicked and cursed the stars for misaligning and the heavens and the earth and fate itself for putting her in this place and then she recited Hamlet's soliloquy in her head then Romeo's soliloquy then she listed all the things she needed to finish that week at work—the Anderson Project, the interview with the new client at 9 am on Tuesday, her laundry that was still in the washer, Thursday dinner with her parents and the pasta she had to prepare, that trip to Greece she'd been thinking about lately and oh, Greece, when will we ever meet?
She didn't think about saying Yes right away. Not until he begged her. Showed up at her apartment that night with vanilla ice cream and some biscotti from her favorite restaurant and a DVD copy of My Best Friend's Wedding.
She laughed in his face. "You're ridiculous."
"You didn't say yes."
"She is way too pretty for you."
"You cannot say no. You knew this was coming. You've known for five years."
"Go away," she said again.
"Don't make me beg."
"I will absolutely make you beg."
"Please," he begged.
"These violent delights have violent ends," she said, trying to sound ominous and failing.
"Is that a yes?" He smiled cheekily. She wanted to slap him.
"It's a no to you but a yes to her."
Because she was The Exception, right? Her best friend's fiancée.
The word was like Death that stabbed her heart a thousand times.
When they finished the movie and he was on his way out to go back to her and their shared drawers, he said, "Can I ask for one more favor?"
"No, but you'll ask it anyway."
"Don't pull a Julia Roberts on me?"
She played it off like he was kidding. "You're a dork and I love you to death but I'm not in love with you."
She could've been an actress, really. Should've been.
He smothered her in a tight hug. "Don't waste your love," he recited softly into her ear, "on somebody who doesn't value it."
When he pulled away, he had a sad smile.
"Nothing will change," he promised. But promises were only promises until they were broken.
She thought of their drawers and their IKEA furniture, his books, his records, their DVDS, their dog, and his exceptional future with The Exception.
And replied, "I know."
But what she meant was, These violent delights have violent ends.
They met exactly a year before graduation. He was taking History, she was in English Lit. He wanted to teach, she wanted to be an editor for a publishing company. They were in some indie concert. She went with a couple of friends and so did he. Standing in the general admission section, waiting for the band to go on, she overheard him regurgitating Nietzsche, presumably to impress…well, nobody. It was Nietzsche. God. Who was ever impressed by him?
"You are not honestly giving a lecture to anyone at a concert and especially not on Nietzsche," she said, turning around to address the misguided stranger who clearly needed her guidance regarding concert manners only to be sidetracked by—
She repressed her inner girl at once and met his eyes.
He disliked strangers who butted themselves into other people's conversations, his conversations, and was ready to snap at her.
But the lights dimmed.
He stood right behind her the whole time, a rebuttal on the tip of his tongue, for two hours straight until the concert was over.
She stood in front of him until the concert was over, thinking, Men at some time are masters of their fates: The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars but in ourselves, that we are underlings.
In the middle of some song about a girl with funny yellow shoes, someone bumped into him from behind which made him crash into her.
He reached out to steady her, out of reflex, with a hand on her waist.
She caught her breath and stopped singing along to the band.
He almost forgave her for the Nietzsche comment.
She almost apologized for the Nietzsche comment.
When their respective groups left them at some coffee shop two blocks from campus at 1 a.m., they were still arguing over Milton's Paradise Lost, religion and the fall of man. And they still didn't know each other's names. Around 3 a.m., when they were two of the only five customers left and they still haven't agreed on a single thing including her espresso order that he felt was a cheap excuse for a caffeine shot, they knew.
Friendships like this could have only been planned by Fate herself.
The Exception had fantasized about having a June wedding since she was a little girl. The Rose reception hall inside that fancy hotel downtown that was notorious for being booked always, the four-tiered red velvet wedding cake, the exquisitely expensive designer dress, the honeymoon in some exotic European country...She wanted it all. And no one says no to a bride, ever. So being the dutiful Maid of Honor, Lilia said, "June it is!" Even though June was only three months away.
A month later, Lilia was ready to kill herself and move out of the country just to escape the bridezilla. Not necessarily in that order.
He passed her a bottle of beer one night and said, "You really need a weekend of relaxation. Spa. Shopping. A date. Go out there and live your life. It's going to be fantastic."
Their friends laughed. She downed the beer and hated every drop of it.
"Two months and you're going to be permanently tied down to the Missus in a legal binding contract—binding—iron-clad contract and your next thirty years will be filled with kids, sleepovers and soccer practices, school dances and bake sales, vomit, disgusting disgusting children's vomit and puke and vomit, yelling matches over where to go for Saturday night dinners and whose turn is it to do the laundry—"
"And did I mention vomit? And soiled diapers. And you're telling me to go out there and live my life?"
"My fiancée doesn't need a stressed out Maid of Honor."
"Your fiancée doesn't need to get married in June, in two months, but she insists anyway. And two hundred people? Really? You always said you wanted a small wedding."
"Her dad's paying."
"Nice defense, dude."
He sighed. "You can't always get what you want."
She sighed too. "It's also your wedding, you know? You're allowed to get what you want."
"I'm not stressed. And even I am, well, I'm the Maid of Honor. It kind of comes with the job description, okay?"
"I'm worried about you," he said softly, leaning in towards her, studying her eyes.
"I'm worried about you," she joked. "You're getting married in two months."
He dropped her off at her apartment afterwards, per tradition, made sure she was safe and tucked in bed, read the framed Hamlet quote on her wall and glanced at the polaroid pictures of their past shenanigans taped above her bed. Then he stared at her for the longest time, just smiling.
"Get the hell out of here, Edward Cullen," she whispered, eyes closed. "That's creepy."
"How come we never dated?"
She shot up.
"Dude." She sniffed him. "Are you drunk?"
"I'm serious," he said. He sat down on the edge of her mattress, a foot away, pretended to be curious about the floral patterns on her bed sheet.
"I didn't see you drink that much. I mean, you drove me home. Did you compromise our safety after all?"
"I'm serious," he repeated.
"Well, don't be serious. Go home."
"Lilia, answer the question."
"Because she's always been in the picture."
"We broke up for at least six months last year."
"Because," she said, looking into his eyes, "she's always been in the picture."
"I think we would've worked well together."
"We don't agree on anything."
"We're best friends," he argued.
"See? You just disagreed with me!"
He chuckled. "Somehow we've managed to agree on things though. I even got you to read Ayn Rand."
"She really could've used an editor."
He laughed. "Lilia."
"You know why," she whispered.
He took her hand. "She is nothing like you."
"Lucky for you. You'll be stuck with her for infinity soon enough."
"O, teach me," he said, quoting Romeo, "how should I forget to think?"
"A love never had could never be a love lost."
"You know that's not true. This has never been a love never had. This is the greatest that never was."
"You're getting married. You proposed." She stared at him. "Oh, and by the way, you're getting married. Have you suddenly forgotten that?"
He sighed. He let go of her hand. He stood up.
"I guess I'm pretty inebriated," he decided.
"Inebriated enough to use the word inebriated?"
"I'll lock the front," he said, then paused by her bedroom door. "Do you think it was our fault it ended up this way? Or fate?"
"Do you really want an answer?"
Again, he decided, "No." He shook his head. "I don't."
He was afraid she'd say it was his fault.
And she was just afraid.
"This is The Exception."
In reality, of course, he didn't call her The Exception. He called her by her name. Something ordinary. Something horrendously forgettable. But in Lilia's head, all she heard was The Serpent. She did her best not to call her that to her face though.
"She's in my Classical Literature class, majoring in Humanities."
Who majored in Humanities? Honestly.
"We're actually off now," he said. "You going to be okay here? We're catching that black and white Shakespeare film at the downtown Rialto."
"Much Ado About Nothing."
Ah, The Serpent speaks.
"It's my favorite," Ms. Serpy continued. "Well, it's the only one I've read from Shakespeare. Like, he's pretty eloquent with speeches and all, but I drift off to sleep whenever I try to read his work. I think I only got through half of Romeo and Juliet before I found out Leo did a movie version with Claire Danes and I just adore her. She's gorgeous. But I saw the 1993 movie for Much Ado About Nothing in sophomore year in high school and like, loved it. Kenneth Branagh as Benedick is to die for."
And you're in Classical Lit becaaaaaaaause…?
He caught her eye and must've read her mocking thought because suddenly he was laughing awkwardly and Lilia almost choked on her candy at his awkwardness.
"Right. Okay. Much Ado About Nothing. You love that right, Lilia? That was a great play?"
He looked at her expectantly.
"Least favorite out of all of Shakespeare's comedies. Benedick was annoying. So was Beatrice. Wasn't believable at all how they got together. It was a train wreck actually. Twelfth Night was better. Orsino was just to die for." She popped a Malteser in her mouth and grinned. "But have fun."
His gaze burned a hole into her soul, peeved and slowly moving on to pissed off category. She watched him take The Serpent's hand and she momentarily pondered over the question, Why do bad things happen to good people?
"Let's go," she heard him say. "We're going to be late." He turned to Lilia. "You're gone by 11, right? We might need the room."
The Serpent giggled. Actually honest-to-God giggled. Lilia disliked giggles unless they were from a baby.
"Yeah," she said with a shrug. "Roommate's flavor of the week should be gone by then. If not, guess I'll just be homeless."
Pissed off. He was definitely pissed off now.
"What?" She stared at him innocently. "Homelessness builds character."
"Bye," he snapped.
He hated her fake indifference.
"It was really nice to meet you, Lilia," The Serpent said and Lilia did her best not to follow them afterwards so she could hide behind a curtain at the Rialto, jump out when The Serpent wasn't paying attention and stab her in the back.
"Mm hmm, yeah, same."
She hated him for making her fake her indifference.
They shut the door.
She went back to Dante's Paradise until the door opened again and there he was, just him.
"I could end up marrying this girl."
"Or dump her in a week." She paused. "Two days if she's not good at—well, you know. That. You're always so picky."
"YOU," he spat. "ARE—"
He physically struggled to get the right words out.
"I think you missed Awesome."
"U to A," she said, "you're about twenty letters away, buddy."
"Ouch. We're going Disney now? Well, you're such a tropical fish! Floundering away in a school of vapid thoughtless women that somehow managed to graduate from high school and matriculate at this university!"
"Dude, she's in Humanities. What is that? I can't even figure it out because I thought Anthropology was the study of humani—"
"Hooked on Phonics, are we? Isn't Juliet waiting for you? You're not being a gentleman right now, Romeo."
"I could end up marrying this girl!"
"She's read only one Shakespeare play, man. Her entire life. I dare you to marry this girl."
He stared at her for the longest time.
She stared right back because he was being an idiot.
Then he turned around and walked out without a word.
Because maybe, she thought, he always knew that five years later, the joke would be on her.
She was hyperventilating inside one of the stalls of the girls' washroom in the church, an hour before the wedding. He was the only one who could get her out.
He knocked on the door. Spoke softly.
"I really need you at my wedding today, Lil."
"I—" Breathe. "Really—" Breathe. "Frankly—" Breathe. "Don't want to be there."
"I know." He sighed. "But I need you."
"Why not her?"
"You know why."
"We've been over this." He sighed, frustrated.
"Why not now?"
"Lil. Open the door, please. Come out of there."
She opened the door but didn't come out. He walked in and they were cramped in that small space and he leveled with her, crouched down in front of her, suit and all, and he took her hands and looked into her eyes and just did that.
"You're beautiful," she breathed out.
He smiled. "That's my line."
"Don't. Don't say anything. In fact, just look at me and don't say anything."
In her head was the same exact yellow shoes song that was playing at the concert when he first steadied her and touched her waist and she felt alive.
In his head were infinite words strung together in infinite sentences all amounting to two: love, unrequited.
"It was never unrequited," she whispered, breaking the silence.
"No?" he whispered back, needing assurance.
"You know it wasn't."
"Then why did I ask her out?"
"Because you were afraid of this. Because we were afraid of this. Because friendships like this are eternal. Because this made us feel alive. And you don't screw that up, Jay. You do not screw up what makes you feel alive."
"You make me feel alive."
Then he kissed her.
Wedding day and all.
Future husband and all.
Uncaring and disloyal and unfaithful but brimming with Life. And all.
And she kissed him back, with everything she had, from the very first meeting, from Nietzsche, from Paradise Lost, from the concert, from the endless late night studying sessions, to the inside jokes, to the debates without resolutions, to the first time she gave him her number outside O'Shea's Pub two nights after they had met because he quoted Shakespeare to her just an hour before—no sooner met but they looked, no sooner looked but they loved, no sooner loved but they sighed, no sooner sighed but they asked one another the reason, no sooner knew the reason but they sought the remedy—and no sooner she mourned the demise of all her hope of finding a better love than his, to the random hugs, to the wingman duties, to the Friday night movies in his dorm, to their friendship that no one else understood, that was beyond anyone's understanding including their own, because they were, they must be, the only two people in the world who never agreed on anything but got along perfectly despite of it.
Loved each other despite of it.
She kissed him back.
Maid of honor and all.
Not made of honor at all.
And when they pulled away from each other, breathless and invincible, everything was the same but nothing was the same and everything was different but nothing was different.
"Love denied," he said to her, "blights the soul we owe to God."
"But you're getting married."
He wiped her tears away. "But I'm getting married."
"Hiatus," she repeated his word out loud, following him. "You guys are on hiatus."
"Like a break."
"No, a breakup. There's a difference."
"When it's a break, you're Rachel and when it's a breakup, you're Ross?"
He stopped, long enough to smile at her. "Pretty much. With a break, I can't cheat. With a breakup, I'm a free man."
"And you're staying here with your newly reacquired freedom," she stated, watching him drag his stuff right through her tiny living room and her tiny kitchen past her cat and her bookcase and small TV and into her tiny hallway and into her tiny room. "In my room?"
"I just need a drawer."
"Dude," she said, as firmly and as clearly as she could, "I do not share drawers."
He stared at her like she just grew a horn on the side of her neck.
"You don't share drawers."
It wasn't a question.
"You're not getting my drawers, man."
"I don't know how long I'll be here, Lil."
"So go get an apartment. That's what responsible adults do and you're a responsible adult."
"I have one. She's in it!"
"That's not my fault!"
"Dude, YOU C'MON. If you think I'm going to—What are you doing? Don't throw out my stuff—they're my stuff! You're in my apartment!"
"I'm not throwing them out," he said and she eyed him with contempt and watched him throw her stuff out. "I'm pushing them to the side to make room for mine."
Her OCD kicked in and she attacked him with tickles right on the carpeted floor. He kicked and laughed until he was breathless. She tickled him and laughed until she was breathless and she heard him yell "Mercy".
They lay side by side on the floor, staring at her ceiling and he pointed out the glow-in-the-dark stars.
"Do those actually glow at night?" he asked.
"One drawer," he bargained, facing her.
"Half a drawer."
"Dude." She laughed. "No."
He pouted. She was relentless.
"Seriously? No drawers?"
She shook her head.
"What about the bed? Can I take the bed?"
"Share a bed with Dickens. He's lonely."
"I'm a dog person."
"Sucks to be you."
Comfortable silence fell but it was always that: comfortable. Never awkward. Never weird. Never any need to fill it with useless conversations about the uselessness of conversations.
"One," she finally said.
He smothered her in a tight hug. She pretended not to breathe.
"Two, if you massage my feet on the weekends while we're watching movies."
"If you're lucky, I'll share the bed. Once a week."
"You're the bestest best friend a boy could ever have!" He grinned.
"On one condition."
"Tell me why you guys broke up."
"C'MON. I just need to know if she was cheating on you, okay? And if I need to kick her back to Eden."
"Serpent? Satan? Garden of Eden?"
"Uh, are you saying what I think you're saying?"
"Satan having compast the Earth, with meditated guile returns as a mist by Night into Paradise, enters into the Serpent sleeping—Dude, Milton. Book 9. Paradise Lost."
"Wow, dude." He smirked. "You are mean."
"You're avoiding the question. I'm not mean."
"Just a little, and no, she didn't cheat."
She narrowed her eyes at him. "Did you?"
The "no" took a long time to come out.
"Um, no, not in a manner of speaking."
"Which manner of speaking was it cheating, you knucklehead?"
"There's this girl—"
"You are such a player! She doesn't deserve you!"
"Hang on—Ow, wait, you don't even like her! Look, it's just…You know that movie Shakespeare in Love?"
"Love denied," he recited, "blights the soul we owe to God."
"Pining over a woman who doesn't know you exist?" She raised an eyebrow. "Since when?"
Fourth-year university, he almost said out loud.
You, you silly, he almost said out loud.
Instead, he opted for, "You know since when."
He met her eyes.
"I just thought," he began.
"We're friends," she said, almost in panic, standing up.
He followed her. "No, I know that, but—"
"But fate isn't always right, Lia. Friends can go beyond friendship. It's normal. Hell, it's natural. Man, you aren't really telling me no, are you? You're going to break my heart."
"I'm going to break your heart? We're friends, Jay! Doesn't that mean anything to you?"
"It means everything to me, Lilia. You know it does. Why do you think I'm saying this now? Because don't tell me you don't feel this. You can't possibly stand there in front of me and say you don't feel this."
"Jay, we don't agree on anything."
"We're best friends," he argued back. "That's natural."
"Are you really doing this right now? You're trying to logically argue your way into something more than friendship with me? I mean, what, don't I deserve some kind of speech and you actually asking me out? Where's the romance? The flowers?"
"You never really liked that kind of thing. I mean, you hate roses. What self-respecting female hates roses?"
"My favorite poet and writer is Shakespeare. Tell me again I'm not a romantic."
"I beseech you, fair maid. Hand me a no and I shall never bother thee about this again."
She smiled, despite it all.
He waited for her answer.
She got up instead and he watched her, consumed in awe, as she carefully emptied out a drawer and left it open for him.
"This doesn't mean anything," she warned him.
It meant everything.
The next day, he bought her lilies.
At the reception, the thought of making her speech made her want to vomit all over the marble floor.
The thought of saying anything nice about the woman who stole her best friend made her want to drop a piano on their delectable four-tiered red velvet cake with cream cheese filling and finished with white chocolate shavings and red velvet crumbs.
He hated all cakes except chocolate. It was the only thing they agreed on.
She watched him dance with her at their first dance. She watched him laugh with her just before they shared a kiss when the wine glasses and the forks made love together to create a pleasing harmony that echoed in the overpriced reception hall. She watched him be happy from the sidelines.
How happy? Who knew? He was always good at pretending.
And when she made her speech, she also made sure it was delivered with just the right amount of entertainment and romance and all that crap that went along with weddings.
She could've been an actress, really. Should've been.
She looked him in the eye as she said the final words out loud: "I wish you two all the best. Truly. All the happiness that this world and marriage could offer. And of course, as Joshua knows, this speech isn't truly complete without the genius words of William Shakespeare:
Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O no! it is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth's unknown, although his height be taken.
Love's not Time's fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle's compass come:
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved."
She got the applause she wanted. He smiled at her but she knew then he was pretending.
When the couple got a chance to dance with the guests, he didn't hesitate to approach her table ad ask for her hand, and that song from the concert, their song, was playing.
"I'm sorry," he said gently.
"For all the Nietzsche stuff I said all those years ago that probably made me sound like an arrogant yet scholarly jerk."
She threw her head back and burst out laughing. "You're ridiculous."
"Your speech was beautiful," he said seriously.
"Your wedding is beautiful," she said honestly.
He drew her closer and lost himself in the moment.
"Why didn't we work?" she asked against his shoulder. "Last year, why didn't we work? How come we never tried? You bought me lilies and then—Why didn't we work?"
"Because she was always in the picture. I was always afraid she'd find out."
"And you'd lose her."
"I'm afraid of losing you too, Lilia, I just—"
"I get it."
"She will always be in the picture," she corrected him.
Then she recited, clear as day, "Such is my love, to thee I so belong, that for thy right myself will bear all wrong."
He pulled back a little, just enough, to look at her.
"Listen to me. Are you listening?"
"You will always," he whispered, "always, be the exception for me."
"No matter what happens. Do you understand?"
She nodded and hid her tears on the side of his face. "I'll keep your drawer empty."
He chuckled, despite it all.
When the song was over, when their dance was over, when the wedding was over, when the reception was over, when their friendship teetered on the tightrope of Over, and when the couple said their goodbyes, and when his gaze lingered on her, and when she tried not to cry as he disappeared from her sight, she went back to bed.
That night, around 1 a.m., when she knew he was on his honeymoon in Greece, all expenses paid for by her—wedding present from the Maid of Honor and all—he texted her.
Do you want to know Why?
And she replied: Why.
And she waited in the dark for the longest time, with only the stars on the ceiling to comfort her, waiting for his answer.
She didn't respond.
These violent delights have violent ends, he added.
She didn't respond.
Are you asleep? Are you going to say anything?
She didn't respond.
I'm sorry. I will never stop being sorry. I love you. I will delete this text because I know she'll see but just know that, okay? Know that. Please? I'm in love with you, Lilia. Engrave it in your heart and every single Shakespearean sonnet you ever read. Okay? I didn't want to but I had to. I had to, Lia. You know that I do. If I could go back, I would've bought you more than just lilies. I would've tried harder. I wouldn't have cared what she said or what our families would've said or the five years. I would've tried like hell. I would've loved you more than my own words can express. But I can't. I can't go back. My one remorse is that I hurt you and my punishment is that I'll always feel this way. Always. The fault is not in our stars. It's in me. I did this. Just please tell me we'll still be okay. I just need to know we're going to be okay.
She never told her love,
But let concealment, like a worm i' the bud,
Feed on her damask cheek.
She pined in thought,
And with a green and yellow melancholy
She sat like patience on a monument,
Smiling at grief.
Was not this love indeed?
She never waited for his response.
Instead she hid herself under her covers.
To sleep perchance to dream.
For in that sleep of endless mourning for the greatest love that never was, what dreams may come.