A/N: Star-Cross'd Awards is the bi-annual writing contest of ADoR (A Drop of Romeo). There will be one from January to June, then another from July to December.
For each round, there is a set of prompts. You may choose from any prompt. For each prompt, there is one winner. Honorable mention will be awarded when there are sufficient submissions.
The requirements are:
Must be the specified story type (either multi-chaptered or one-shot)
Reference to Romeo and Juliet (this does not have to be a MAJOR reference. For example, your narrator could walk past a poster advertising a nearby showing of R&J)
Must have been written after the contest began.
The purpose of Star-Cross'd is to give you enough time to start and finish something you can edit until you're satisfied. I know that when I try writing for a prompt, I tend to not have enough time to finish my response. One month goes by like that. Star-Cross'd gives you five to six months to complete your entry.
All authors who submit their work shall receive a review from me AS LONG AS YOU FULFILL THE REQUIREMENTS! The winner of each round will receive a banner.
The Yellow Poncho
A yellow poncho. That was what my sister wore that day. The walk through the woods was nothing compared to that stupid poncho Lucy wore when she arrived. It wasn't even raining. The sun was shining high above our heads. When I commented on it, she just smiled at me and said that yellow was her favorite color. Didn't she have a yellow shirt she could have worn? Yellow meant to be a calming color. That was her other answer. How ironic. Didn't she know that in literature it was a sign of sickness and decay? Didn't she see the irony in it? I didn't say anything, I just turned away and locked my car doors.
We made this trek once a year. It was the only time that we saw one another, the only time that we actually got along. It had been his last wish, after all. We couldn't deny his last wish.
I shoved my hands into my jean pockets and followed her down the path. The singing birds did nothing to soothe my mind. The gentle summer breeze did nothing to squash the coldness that had settled over me. It wasn't meant to be a cheerful hike. There was nothing cheerful about it. I hadn't wanted to go through with what we were doing again, but she had insisted. It was what he would have wanted. It was just a small thing. We could do it. She could do it. She didn't know what it was like to have half of yourself ripped away from you.
She stopped along the path to inspect the same rock she inspected every year. It was a normal rock, covered with moss and ferns, but there was something that she found captivating. I paused and looked at it for a few seconds before I moved on as I always did. She would catch up eventually.
Lucy had always been the odd one out in my family. She was five years younger than I was. By the time she was old enough to play with our brother and myself, we were too old and were moving on to bigger and better things like skateboarding and football. When she was graduating junior high, we were starting college. When we were applying for jobs, she was just getting started in college. We were always one-step ahead of her and she knew it.
Even now, now that our brother is gone, I'm still ahead of her. I work in the city, have an apartment, and am engaged. She still lives at home, is searching for that perfect job, and nowhere near being ready to get married. Maybe that is the reason for all of our differences. We are just far enough apart to not be able to get close. Or, maybe it's because Derek and I never attempted to include her in anything that we did. Maybe if we had just tried harder when we were kids, I wouldn't be in this position with Lucy. Maybe we also wouldn't be walking in the middle of the woods to remember our brother if she had just been included in our lives at an earlier age. Not after he was dead.
I kept my eyes on my feet, trying not to slip in the mud from the rainstorms we'd had the previous day. I'd been cooped up in the house with Lucy and my parents as the rain poured down, trying to work on some paperwork my superior had sent me even though I was meant to be on vacation. Six years with the company still put me towards the bottom of the totem pole. Lucy had been trying to ask me for advice for an interview that she had in a few days, but I'd just shrugged her off. I had bigger fish to fry than her interview. No one had helped Derek or I prepare for our interviews and we'd done just fine. She would figure it out on her own, too, if she was given enough time.
But, as I looked over my shoulder and saw her coming in that poncho, I realized that may not actually have been the case. Maybe she really did need my help. I shook my head slightly and turned away. No. She would have to do it on her own. I couldn't hold her hand. Mom and Dad certainly hadn't held ours. They had practically forced us out the door when we had graduated in May, telling us that it was time for the two of us to find out what the real world was like.
If it hadn't had Derek, I most likely would have been sleeping under a bus stop bench. We both managed to scrape together enough money to find a place to live, even if we did live off soup and canned ravioli until I was hired at the company I currently work for. Derek eventually got a job at a graphic design company, but he was never happy there. That was where his troubles really began, where he started to go downhill.
It started out small, a drink or two and a few pills. In college, I hadn't really thought anything of it. I had always chalked it up to the college experience. After we graduated, though, he claimed that the pills were for his knee injury that he got playing football in college. Then, the pill popping got worse. He started staying out late, coming home reeking of beer, sweat, and garbage. He switched to the harder drugs, drugs that we didn't know for sure what they were until he overdosed. Heroin. A little bit of crack and marijuana was thrown into the mix, but heroin was his go to, the one that he just couldn't kick. He needed it. It made him feel good. The pain went away.
So did his job. He worked as a graphic designer for less than a year before he was fired for inadequate performance. He tried rehab afterwards, but it didn't take. He moved back in with me and fell back into his old habits within three days. He wouldn't listen to anyone. Me. Our parents. The counselors. The old man who had taken a shining to us, treated us like his own. We kept telling him that it would kill him, that life wasn't worth living that way. He wouldn't listen. He stole money from me to fuel his addiction. When I caught on and started locking my money up, he started stealing from people on the street or breaking into stores and stealing money or stealing things from those stores that he was able to sell.
My brother had turned into someone that I couldn't, and didn't want to, recognize. Had it hurt? Of course it did. More so than it did for my family. He was literally my other half. My twin. He was there and then he wasn't. When he had overdosed the second time, he'd done it in our apartment while I had been out of town at a meeting. When I had returned, there he was. Lying on the floor, cold as ice. I sat on the floor next to him for hours, the shadows on the walls growing long until they disappeared completely. I had never felt so helpless.
The sound of Lucy calling my name pulled me from my thoughts. She had a collection of ferns in her hand, saying that they would look nicer than the half-dead, rain soaked flowers that she had collected alongside the road. We had forgot to buy flowers. Again. I nodded and turned away, saying she could use whatever she wanted to. I just wanted to leave.
The car ride from the city had been agonizing. Lucy chattered the entire time. I didn't know why she thought she needed to talk all the time. What was wrong with a little bit of peace and quiet? Why was there this need to fill silence with noise? The day was hard enough without her rattling on about how tough the job market was or how she couldn't wait until she moved out of our parents' house. I guess the problem with our relationship was me. I was the one who kept shutting her down every time she tried to include me in her life. Maybe I had always been the problem.
I stopped walking and sat down on a rock, using a stick to remove the mud that had clumped on my boot. Lucy leaned against a tree, the hood of her poncho up now so the leftover raindrops that were falling off the leaves didn't mess up her hair. She kicked at the mud with the toe of her tennis shoe. I knew she wanted to say something. She always got fidgety when she wanted to say something that actually meant something.
So, I sat there for a few seconds longer, waiting to see what it was she wanted. She looked at me before she spoke. It was the first time that I realized just how much my baby sister had grown up. She was no longer a kid. She was an adult. How had she grown up that quickly? How had she gone from the kid Derek and I ditched at the park to someone who was looking to have a career?
She wanted to know how Courtney, my fiancée was. Courtney and I had met during college at a party that I had gone with Derek to. She had been sitting in the backyard, an untouched beer at her feet. When I had sat down next to her, she hadn't acknowledged me. Her attention was on the beer pong competition on the other side of the pool. A competition that Derek was in the middle of. She had turned to me suddenly and asked me what the point of beer pong was. I remembered staring at her, trying to figure out how she didn't know how beer pong was played. But, no, she wanted to know what the thrill of getting absolutely wasted was.
I didn't have an answer. To me, there was no thrill. Especially when I was up half the night because Derek was puking in our bathroom. I didn't tell her that, though. I said I didn't understand it either, which wasn't really a lie. I didn't understand.
She drove Derek and I home that night, mostly because I needed someone to help me drag him to the car since his feet, as he put it, felt like someone had zapped them with Jell-O and then had attached roller blades to them. She didn't leave that night, even after Derek was passed out on his bed. We sat outside on the balcony, listening to the sounds of the city around us. We didn't talk much that night and once Derek woke up, puking, she left me.
A few weeks later, we ran into one another at Romeo and Juliet, a coffee shop near the university, and that was really when our relationship started. When Derek was out partying or doing whatever it was he was doing at the time, Courtney and I would stay at the apartment, talking, studying, just spending time with one another.
She was able to take me away from everything that was going on. I was able to escape whatever awful thing was happening at the time and I could relax, be a normal college student. Whatever that's supposed to look like. I proposed to her a year after college. She really was the one. She was the first person that I called when I found Derek on the apartment floor. If she hadn't ran then, I knew she was never going to run.
I gave Lucy the simple answer, which was that Courtney was doing well, before I stood up and continued down the narrow path. Lucy fell in step behind me since it wasn't wide enough for us to walk side by side. Maybe Lucy wasn't as bad as I had thought she was. Maybe it was just my ignorance and sense of superiority that made me think that Lucy wasn't someone that I could ever be close to. It was a silly excuse, now that I thought about it, but I truly couldn't think of a better reason for why Lucy and I didn't get along, or, rather, weren't as close as one would believe we were.
A lot of people told me after Derek died that it was nice that Lucy and I had one another to lean on, that it would help to strengthen our relationship. If anything, it did the opposite. I didn't want anything to do with my family after Derek died. Where had they been when he and I had both asked them for help? Where had they been when I had gone home to find him there, dead? Where had they been whenever we were struggling to make ends meet? At home. They were at home, putting on a good show for our family and friends. In the public eye, they could do no wrong. They were such supportive parents, people would say. We were lucky to have them there to support us. We didn't know how good we had it. They didn't know what it was like to come home from a friends graduation party and find your things packed up and ready to be loaded into Derek and I's car, ready to take the stuff to an apartment that Derek and I couldn't yet afford.
But, we were lucky to have our parents, I suppose, alive and well and still married. I wouldn't say that they were happily married, but they made an effort. Sometimes. More so now that they only had Lucy at home. I was grateful to have my parents, but I hated how they treated Derek and me before Derek's last overdose. Then they wanted to mend our relationship because, as they said, life was too short and too unpredictable to be fighting all the time. So, I played their game. Pretended to get along, to be a perfect, happy family. Whatever that looked like.
Lucy and I reached the outskirts of the meadow and stood there, staring at the stream that ran right through the middle. There was a hush in the forest, as though the animals knew that we were there to remember our brother. I swallowed the lump in my throat and stepped towards the stream, Lucy following me slowly and reluctantly. I felt like my feet were made of lead as I approached the small stone marker that was next to the stream. Derek wasn't buried there. He as buried next to our grandparents in the city, but this was where he had always wanted to be buried. My parents had refused to do it because this was where he had loved to shoot up. We only found that out after we found the letter he'd written during his first rehab stint, the letter he was supposed to give us as part of his recovery.
I stood in front of the marker, my hands in my pockets, as Lucy knelt down and placed her collection of ferns and flowers on the ground in front of it. We didn't say anything because there wasn't anything that needed to be said. I stared at that stone, wondering what it would have been like for my family if it had been me who died, be it in a car accident or something other than at the hands of drugs and Derek had still been alive. Would anyone have made the trek to my grave to visit me on the day that I died? Would they wonder where they had gone wrong, what they could have done better? I had once asked Courtney about that very same scenario and she had looked at me as though I was crazy, saying that there was no way of knowing since it hadn't happened and there was no use to worry about such a thing. Then she walked out of the room.
I would have traded places with Derek, no matter how cliché it sounded. He was so much better at what he did than I was, but that could have been an effect of the drugs, too. Maybe all of his creativity had come from the hallucinations he had while he was on a high or coming off a high. Maybe he had thought that using drugs was a way to keep his creativity flowing. I didn't know and I would never know. I didn't really think that I wanted to know the actual answer to those questions. Hearing the answers to those questions might make my brother seem like a better or worse person, so perhaps it was best to leave it alone.
Turning away, I walked over to the stream and crouched down beside it. I stretched out my hand and let the ice-cold water flow between my fingertips. The trickle of the stream and the wind rustling the grass were the only things that I could hear. Maybe it was my fault that Derek died. I should have done something more, found a way to scrounge up the money to send him to the best rehab center in the country, or even the world. Maybe if I had put forth a little more effort. I could have tried to talk to him, see what was going on, why he was doing what he was doing.
Even as I thought about those things, I realized that none of those things would have changed anything. If Derek had truly wanted to get high or whatever, he was going to do it no matter how much help he received. You couldn't help people who didn't want to be helped. The call of the drugs was too much for some. Try as they might, they would never be able to evade the call of them.
I sat down on the ground, not caring that the moisture began to instantly soak through my pants. I put my head in my hands, pressing my palms against my eyes. I'd wanted to help him, but I hadn't known how. I just hadn't known what he had needed. We were just out of school; neither of us knew what we were doing. How could we have been expected to figure out what to do after our parents had kicked us out? They'd thrown us out onto the street without any words of wisdom. How could we have gone to them for help? When he had overdosed the first time, our dad said that Derek had always been the one he'd pegged to fall off the wagon. He informed me that it was only a matter of time until I followed in Derek's footsteps.
I didn't, though. I proved him wrong by getting a well-respected job in the city, by making more money than he ever could have dreamed of making, all before I was the age of thirty. I wasn't going to be a failure, another statistic like Derek. I was going to move forward and be the person I wanted to be, to only do things that made me feel like a success, not because other people wanted me to or because I was expected to.
Standing up, I turned and looked at Lucy. That was the last time that I was going to go there. If I truly wanted to move forward and be who I wanted to be, I couldn't keep going there and feeling like there was something else I should have done. Going to that spot in the woods wasn't the only way to remember my brother. He showed up in the littlest of things. From an advertisement in the newspaper to passing a stranger on the sidewalk who happened to look like him. He appeared when I least expected it, sometimes making me smile, sometimes making me mad, and, most often, making me sad.
He was still my brother, though, and what he had done didn't change that. He was my other half. We had shared a connection that would never be broken, no matter what choices either of us made. Most of all, he had been my best friend. I would never turn my back on him, but I couldn't keep returning to his favorite place, not with what it represented.
When I told Lucy of this, her face fell and she looked sadly down at the yellow poncho before she nodded. She also thought that maybe it wasn't wise to honor our brother at the place where he did the things that killed him. We would find another way. I didn't have the heart to tell her that I didn't want to remember him on the day he overdosed. I wanted to remember him during the times that I least expected to, but I kept that to myself. We had a year before we had to tackle that hurdle.
We walked back to the car in a somber silence. The birds had started singing again, squirrels called to one another as they dashed through the trees and the underbrush. Everything had gone back to normal, but at the same time, it hadn't. I felt like my feet were no longer made of lead. I felt like I had made some sort of peace with the situation. Finally. For the first time since college, it felt like everything was going to be okay.