Juliet thought her voice wouldn't betray her disappointment, but it did. It came out like a whimper, small and pathetic. She cringed and swiped at her wind swept hair, currently invading her vision, so that she could keep her eyes locked on her betrayer.
Romeo looked back at her, across the table, a small smile flickering on the corner of his mouth. He opened his arms out and rested them on the tops of the lounger he sat on, slouching.
‘What’s the harm in one more?’ he drawled, rolling his eyes slowly in a circle.
Juliet shot a look behind her, across the rooftop space and towards the cluster of cabanas at the other end. Their coverings flapped in the slight breeze; they were still empty.
‘Like I said’, she responded, ‘you promised me.’
‘And you believed me?’ he said, one eyebrow raised.
Juilet slammed her hand on the table so hard, it bounced slightly on impact.
‘Don’t you dare,’ she hissed between gritted teeth, ‘I’m supposed to be able to trust your word - you said you would stop.’
‘And I also said that when it’s my time to shine, nothing will stand in my way,’ Romeo shot back. His manner, as usual, was far too collected for the situation, it made Juliet’s skin prick.
‘Think our lives are works of fiction, do you?,’ she spat back, ‘this is not how happy endings come about.’
She pulled in a breath and glanced down at her hands. They lay together inside the cross body bag on her lap, grappling with a familiar folded sheet of papyrus paper, tucked safely inside the pocket. She unlatched her fingers and lay them in front of her, on the table, and was surprised to see that they were shaking. Her wedding band felt tight against her finger and she gave it a quick rotate to disturb the layer of sweat that had temporarily adhered it to her skin. As she turned it, a dried sliver of red poked out from beneath the silver. She blinked down at it and rubbed it with her other hand, only then noticing that beneath her newly manicured fingernails, were stains of red.
Her mother hadn’t been impressed when she had found out her only daughter was getting married.
Juliet remembered it vividly; her mother bustling around behind her, confusion clouded in her eyes, pleading whilst she watched helplessly as her child threw her small capsule wardrobe into a battered suitcase.
But who is he?
But I haven’t seen him yet!
You’re not making sense, sweetheart.
Maybe we should talk this through first, let me call…
But nothing would have dissuaded her. It had been too late - by the time she was ready to ditch the tragic Capper family name and become Mrs Montgomery, she was already in too deep.
Anyway, before Romeo, her life was pretty much a non-starter.
Then, at 25 years old, she had no friends, no social life, a temporary job at an independent furniture store, and was still living at home with her mother. As a teenager, she was quiet, uninteresting and awkward, especially around other people. Who could blame her though - losing her father at 6 years old to a hit-and-run, the drunk driver speeding away in his company van had set her world on a frightening edge, teetering between sanity and oblivion. Though she couldn't remember much, she knew her mother struggled to cope for some time, refusing to leave her side. She did however remember days on end lying beneath her faded bedspread, refusing to get up, but struggling to sleep.
Screaming at her mother when she didn't believe that she saw her father often in his chair downstairs.
Speaking to a kind older black lady who smelt like lavender and washing powder every Tuesday afternoon.
The smell of disinfected rooms and the rattle of little white bottles.
She also remembered the man’s mugshot plastered in the papers and on a most wanted bulletin: a Ned Flanders lookalike, but with hollow eyes and thin unsmiling lips under a wiry patch of bristle.
But 20 years later, she had blossomed with confidence and had been able to convince her mother that she didn’t need her constant “check-ins”, often in the form of a head around her bedroom door at night or a handful of text messages by day.
When she wasn’t trying to upsell stylish fibrestone planters and kiln dried wooden legged sofas, she spent the rest of her time pouring her leftover energy and creativity into writing. Often her mother would find her passed out, hunched over yet another dot lined journal after hours of scrawling poetic love stories and spooky tales, the only thing she was really good at.
That had kept her going - and then she had met Romeo.
It had been an awful week at work- she’d had a crippling headache since Monday morning and had messed up a few sales pitches. Mr Lionel hadn’t said anything, but continued to shoot her warning glares across the sea of sofas when he marched by, his belly bouncing underneath his pressed white shirt. And then, right before a lunch break, she bumped into one of those Instagrammable arch framed floor mirrors and watched in slow motion as it descended towards the floor. Thankfully, the bulky frame prevented it from shattering, but for punishment, Mr Lionel had put her on reduced duty, shining the mirrors for the rest of the afternoon. Her cheeks had flushed and her head pain had surged, but she had just bit her tongue in silence. And then, there, on her hands and knees, buffing the glass, she had seen him in the reflection, stood over her shoulder, staring at her. Their eyes had met and truly, though it was cheesy, it was love at first sight.
After that, they were inseparable.
They often lunched together at an Italian bistro and went to watch thrillers at the movies after she clocked out. Romeo was thin but muscular, blonde but dark-eyed and clearly a catch. Everywhere they went, chatting happily, people stared at them, and when she caught them looking, they would snatch their heads away in embarrassment for being caught.
They held hands whenever they could and she loved when he kissed her on the nose.
He was perfect - she had told him this once over a shared plate of Spaghetti al pomodoro and he had leaned in and told her they were destined to be together, two star-crossed lovers. She giggled loudly, and the waitress had come over, eyebrows knitted together to ask if ‘everything was okay, miss’. Romeo had muttered something rude under his breath and Juliet had nodded apologetically, as the waitress backed away, without acknowledging Romeo or his comment.
It was then that he renamed her - Juliet. Her name was actually Jules, Julian in full after her father, but Romeo and Jules didn’t have a ring to it in the way that Romeo and Juliet did. It felt right.
How could anything tear them apart?
And then the murders started.
Juliet pulled her mind to the present, and found that her thumbnail was paused in motion under her ring finger nail, about to dig out the red crust.
Across from her, Romeo had barely moved. The setting sun was hot on Juliet's back, but was making Romeo’s tanned skin glow. A sun glare bounced off of the sunglasses propped on his head, making him invisible for a moment, so Juliet pulled her hand over her eyes to provide shade.
‘Romeo’, she said.
‘My dear?’ he said, in a mocking tone.
‘They are going to find him soon, you know.' Romeo shrugged his shoulders and tipped his head back. It was as if she'd said something trivial, like our dinner will be cold by the time we go home, or, the tide will be too high for an evening beach stroll. Juliet felt a tremor of anger rise in her stomach. If he kept behaving this way, he would trigger another one of her headaches.
Juliet took another sweeping glance of the rooftop deck and was glad to find that they were still alone.
‘Please,' she begged, ‘someone is going to find out what we have done soon, we need to get out of here, and quickly.'
Romeo made a juvenile noise with his throat, and suddenly he was on his feet, tapping his sunglasses over eyes and shaking the blood back into his legs.
‘Ok,' he said simply, ‘let’s get going.'
Juliet breathed out with relief through pursed lips. Coming back to their apartment complex after dumping the body had been a mistake - they should have been long gone by now.
She pressed herself to stand and held out her hand for Romeo to help her as she shuffled along the space between the lounger and the table to join him. Romeo lifted his hand to hers.
And then she heard it.
The boom of steel hitting steel, the crackle of radios, the rush and heavy patter of feet and the snapping sound of rifles being locked into position.
Her feet felt like jelly and she froze. Across from her Romeo also stood still, his arm frozen in mid air, their fingers inches apart, but not yet touching.
‘I’ve got something for you.'
It was a Saturday night, back in the previous autumn, almost 1 year to the day after they had first met.
Juliet sat at her vanity, her fair hair crazy in big rollers, half an eye coated in a layer of mascara. She gazed at Romeo, who had appeared behind her in her vanity mirror and was struck suddenly by the similarity to their first meeting. Romeo, for once, looked smart in a light blue shirt, tucked into grey slacks, a navy bow tie fastened underneath his collar, golden hair slicked straight back. Juliet turned and used her powder brush to slap him on the leg.
“It’s bad luck to see the bride before the big moment,’ she cried, though she wasn’t angry. Romeo perched on the padded stool beside her so their arms and sides touched. He was holding a rolled sheet of paper, which he unrolled and tipped towards her. She looked down at it with increased interest and found herself looking at a chunk of text, written with perfect penmanship, in curls and swirls, slightly blotchy from the ink it was written with.
‘What’s this,' she drawled in a teasing voice. Romeo smiled and his eyes creased with the movement. He shook the papyrus scroll once, cleared his throat dramatically and started to read:
My promise is short, but my intentions are pure
My words are few but my future is yours
I give up my passions, I’m passionate for you
I give up my darkness, because there’s light to pursue
Hear my humble pledge, it’s for a worthy cause
My hands won’t clutch knives, but will be clasped in yours
Yesterday we were single, but in moments, we’ll be one
My old life of bloodshed, I promise now is done
Juliet let out the laugh she was holding and clamped her hand over her mouth.
‘You’re no Shakespeare then,' she giggled, as Romeo’s cheeks coloured red. Her head lolled and rested on his chest and her hand grasped the paper.
‘Thank you,’ she said, turning to kiss his shoulder,' I promise to keep this forever.'
A silence followed and Juliet squeezed the paper between her fingers. She picked up her head and touched Romeo’s arm. He wasn’t looking at her.
‘Do you mean it?'
She could see the indent in Romeo’s jaw and knew he was biting down furiously on the inside of his cheek. He had done that unconsciously just two nights before as they stood over the repairs man with the moustache, his body broken and twisted in odd shapes at the bottom of their staircase. When she cocked her head to look at him, he turned so she could see his face.
‘Yes,’ he said in a small voice. He sounded like a child.
‘So you still promise?’ Juliet needed to hear him say it. She needed to hear it just one more time, outside of the poem.
Romeo’s nose flared. She knew deep down he was itching to do it again. After what felt like an age, her husband-to- be nodded.
‘Yes, I promise Juliet. This is my oath to you.'
‘Keep your hands up where we can see them,’ came the voice of an officer, his pistol poised aiming straight at Juliet’s chest. Her words stammered in her throat and she glanced at Romeo. He stood, cool and collected, his arms in the air.
‘We…we..d.didn’t.. I was going to….’ Juliet found her lips saying.
The SWAT team before her stood like statues, but the officer who spoke started to edge forwards, holding his own hands up.
‘It’s okay ma’am,' he called, ‘we aren’t going to hurt you.’
‘Baby,' Juliet gulped, turning to look at her husband, ‘oh babe…’
It was over. She knew they should have run when they had the chance. Why did she always let her husband sweet talk her. The truth was, he couldn’t help himself.
The officer, his badge said Gibbons, halted at her side. Her wrists were dragged behind her back and he pressed her upper body down onto the table. Juliet strained her neck and felt the surge in her head.
‘Please sir, my head hurts…please don't hurt my husband..please,’ she sobbed. Gibbons was speaking into a radio and signalling to the other cops. Another officer started forward and Juliet flipped her head so she could see her husband. He was edging backwards away from the officer.
‘Stop moving Romeo,’ she yelled, struggling, ‘let them cuff you, it’s over.'
The other officer stopped and looked up towards where Romeo was standing, then back at her, uncertainty on his face.
Suddenly, Juliet heard a cry and shuffling; the SWAT line parted, and she saw the face of her mother floating towards her, calling her name.
‘Mom?’ she said confused as her mother dropped to her knees beside her. She reached a gnarled hand to her daughter's face, a sad smile fixed. She was making soothing noises and Juliet felt her heart swell.
‘It’s okay sweetheart,’ she said, ‘it’s okay, we are going to look after you now.’
To her left Romeo continued to move backwards, the edge of the balcony railing soon pressed to his back. They locked eyes and Romeo gave her a small nod, his eyes tipped towards the balcony edge.
Gibbons, still talking on his radio, suddenly lurched backwards as the woman he held stood up abruptly and dived towards the balcony edge. She had one foot on the balcony railing but he dug his heels into the ground and she jerked to a stop, a blood curdling screech escaping from her mouth.
‘No’, she wailed, as he lost his grip and she sank to her knees. Mrs Capper, who had come from the station in a police escort from downtown, followed her daughter to the floor and held her head in her hands.
‘He’s gone,’ Juliet was screaming, thrashing wildly, and looking around at the faces who stared at her in fear and shock, ‘over the edge - why isn’t anyone helping him?’
Gibbons glanced backwards at the men and then at the officer, Browns, who had split from the line to help him arrest the young women.
‘He’s not real,’ Mrs Capper was saying, stroking her daughter’s hair, a tight grip on her arms, ‘Jules honey, he isn’t real.’
Juliet stopped crying and stared in horror at her mother, her head shaking in disbelief.
‘No Mama, no’, she said, and started to scramble around in her bag, belongings clattering to the dirty tiled floor.
‘Here’, she said triumphantly and yanked a grubby piece of folded paper from the inner pocket, trembling hands unfolding it and waving at her mother, ‘look at our vows, he wrote me an Oath, he promised he wouldn’t kill again…’
Mrs Capper took the paper and started to read. Browns glanced over her shoulder and saw wild erratic handwriting dancing across the page.
‘Honey,’ Mrs Capper said slowly,’ this is one of the stories you wrote last year - you remember, a piece based on Romeo and Juliet?’
Her daughter was unblinking, her mouth a wide O, her eyes glazed.
‘No’, she breathed, ‘it’s Romeo’s oath, he wrote it to me the night of our wedding-’
‘Romeo isn’t real,’ her mother tried again, ‘sweetie, you aren’t very well and you are in a lot of trouble -’
‘Ma’am’, Gibbons cut in, hauling Juliet up to her feet as he proceeded to arrest her on the suspicion of murdering 3 men, all handymen in the local area who drove white vans, who looked uncannily like Marcus Fisher, the man who had killed her father years before.
Juliet stared at the women in front of her and watched her mouth open and close, without hearing a word she was saying.
It had been two months since her life with Romeo had ended, and her hellish existence at the institute had begun, her days spent sat in the presence of her psychiatrist.
Her mother had betrayed her in a way worse than Romeo ever could: telling the police about her diagnosis after her father’s death, her outbursts, headaches and graphic ‘imagination’, often talking to invisible people. At least Romeo never abandoned her.
So, he wasn’t as perfect as she had thought, but his deadly passion secretly made her feel connected to him as no one else had known their little secret. She’d been told that Romeo was a hallucination and that she’d single-handedly committed murder - she didn’t believe it.
Her eyes drifted up over the women’s head to Romeo who sat on the window ledge, legs swinging. He made a cross sign over his heart and with a knowing smile, she copied.