Romeo and Julia

Romeo Cox had always been teased by his friends for his name, but never more so than when he began spending time with Julia Leonard from across town. When he started seeing Julia, his friends teased him about family feuds and the tragic end that would come to their romance. They would never know how close they were to the truth.

The couple’s parents were polite to each other’s faces, but in reality, they harbored resentment for each other. Mr. Cox thought that Mr. Leonard overcharged on everything at his general store, and the Leonards were still angry about a rumor they swore the gossipy Mrs. Cox had started. They couldn’t understand how Romeo and Julia could care so much about each other. Both sets of parents were hoping that their children were just going through a phase.

Neither Romeo nor Julia really paid attention to what their parents thought of them. In their eyes, they were perfect for each other. Romeo was good-looking, although perhaps not as handsome as his fictional namesake was supposed to be. He had dark hair that was always perfectly in place and his mother’s ocean-colored eyes. He was about medium height, standing just a couple of inches taller than Julia.

One spring night Romeo was preparing to leave for Julia’s house. He found his favorite striped tie in the wardrobe, and he put on his brand new pair of dress shoes. This was a special occasion, after all.

Romeo headed down the stairs of their old farmhouse. That house had been in Romeo’s family for three generations now. His grandparents were pioneers, and his parents were endlessly telling stories about his grandfather chopping down the wood for the house himself and bringing his family through blizzards, droughts, floods, grasshoppers, and just about anything else that can hit a family farm.

“Romeo, did you put the milk in the icebox?” asked Romeo’s mother, Rebecca Cox, a petite woman with long brown hair that was always put up in a neat little bun.

“Yes, I did, Mother. That new icebox works wonderfully,” Romeo answered, as he walked into the kitchen. His younger brother, William, or Billy as he preferred to be called, was sitting at the table attempting to put together a gigantic jigsaw puzzle of a Model T Ford.

“Well it better work. John Leonard charged me a pretty penny for that damn thing,” said Romeo’s father.

“Hank, not in front of the boys!” scolded Mrs. Cox.

“Oh, they’re old enough to hear it. ‘Bout time they learn what this world is really like, and just how unfair some men can be,” Mr. Cox said.

Mrs. Cox just shook her head as she finished washing the dishes.

“Father, can I borrow your hat? ” Romeo asked.

“Of course you can, son. Just make sure not to lose this one, too. That’s my good hat. You know, that was the hat I wore when I proposed to your mother.”

The once-pristine dark brown hat was now worn and tattered, with a chunk missing from the back and a larger part flopping down on the right side.

“I won’t. The wind just whipped that last one right off my head,” he said.

Romeo went over and took the hat off of the top of the coat rack.

“Bye Mother, Bye Father,” Romeo said.

“Good-bye Romeo,” said his mother, smiling at him as he walked out the door.

Romeo’s stomach churned a little as he walked through the town. He carried the ring that he had just bought the day before. What if Julia said no? Or, more likely, what if her father wouldn’t allow it? He tried to block those thoughts from his mind and smiled, thinking back to the day when they had first proclaimed their love for each other.

Romeo remembered that he had come over to Julia’s house, carrying a bouquet of daffodils. At that point they had gone out with each other several times, but they had yet to experience their first kiss. He was wearing his best suit and the hat that he hadn’t yet lost. He rang the doorbell, and a few moments later Mr. Leonard answered. John Leonard was not really an imposing man. He was rather short and stocky with a friendly smile. Romeo could hear Julia’s younger sisters, Judith and Mable, giggling in the background.

“Will you have my daughter home by 10 o’clock?” Mr. Leonard asked.

“Yes, Mr. Leonard,” Romeo replied.

Just then, Julia came to the door, and she was as beautiful as Romeo had ever seen her. She was wearing a light-blue flowered dress, and her long auburn hair was swept up with a ribbon that perfectly matched the color of her dress. She smiled, and Romeo could see the twinkle in her bright blue eyes. He loved the way her smile always showed in her eyes.

Julia gave her father a kiss on the cheek and walked down the sidewalk with Romeo. “It is such a beautiful evening,” she said.

The sun was just setting, coloring the clouds above with shades of pink. It was early autumn, and the leaves on the trees were just beginning to turn red and yellow. Romeo looked over at Julia, whose hair was gently waving in the cool, light breeze. They reached the park and sat down on the bench, watching the swans in the pond ruffle their feathers and flap their wings against the water.

They sat quietly for awhile, and then Julia turned to Romeo.

“Romeo, do you believe our country will go to war?” she asked him, with concern in her face.

“I don’t know, Julia,” he replied. “President Wilson says we won’t, but it is getting awfully bad over there in Europe.”

“I know…but would you go if there was a war?” said Julia.

Romeo looked away for a moment. He wasn’t quite sure what to say. The last thing he wanted to do was leave Julia, but wasn’t it his duty to fight for his country? Would he even have a choice? Maybe he would be lucky, and the war in Europe would end before it came to that point. He prayed that would be the case.

“I don’t know,” he said.   “I mean, if this country goes to war, I might feel… I just don’t know, Julia.”

Julia just nodded.

“Julia, no matter what happens, I love you,” said Romeo, taking her hand in his.

Julia smiled. “I love you too, Romeo,” she said softly.

They leaned toward each other and kissed, not hearing the sound of thunder in the distance.

Now here Romeo was again, standing at her doorstep. President Wilson had since entered the United States into war, and Romeo had a feeling he might have to go. However, he was determined that he and Julia would walk down the aisle before that day came.

He rang the bell, and Julia’s father again answered.

“Good evening, Mr. Leonard. Is Julia home?” Romeo asked.

Romeo noticed that Mr. Leonard had a rather sad look on his face.

“Yes she is Romeo, but I’m afraid you can’t see her,” Mr. Leonard said.

“What—why not?” Romeo asked, feeling confused. ” I have something important to ask her, actually, to ask you as well.”

“Julia’s sick, Romeo. She has the influenza. She said that she doesn’t want you to see her. She’s afraid you’ll get sick too.”

Romeo was dumbfounded. Julia had the influenza? He had heard of so many who had died of that horrible disease. Romeo remembered Mrs. Garrett standing with his mother, crying and talking about how pale and weak her son had been and how Mrs. Garrett held her son’s hand until it fell from hers.

“Maybe you can just write her a letter, and I’ll take it up to her,” Mr. Leonard offered.

“Alright,” said Romeo, still not believing what he had heard.

Romeo slowly walked away, his legs feeling like lead. He didn’t see those same beautiful shades of pink in the sky as he walked down the street. He didn’t see the twins playing kick the can in Mrs. Johnson’s yard. He didn’t hear the wind rustling the branches of the newly-budding trees.

All he could hear was the sound of John Leonard saying over and over again “Julia’s sick, Romeo.”

He could see her in his mind, her face pale and drawn, the color gone from her eyes. She’s dying, he thought. The love of his life was dying.

He wasn’t quite sure how he got back to his house, but when he did, he went straight to bed, without so much as a word to anyone. He dreamt of Julia that night, and he woke up to the rooster’s crowing. Usually that damn crowing bothered him, but this morning he had something he wanted to do.

He began walking down the street toward her house when he noticed that the general store was closed. Usually Mr. Leonard would be there by now.

He was still walking down the same street when he heard a couple of neighborhood gossips say a familiar name.

“It’s so sad, isn’t it? Poor Mrs. Leonard. She was so close to her daughter, and she was such a beautiful girl. That influenza is just horrible,” said Mrs. Bernard, an old woman who was carrying her yipping toy poodle.

Romeo just stood there, not believing what he was hearing. Were they talking about Julia? They had to be — her father had just told him that she had the influenza, hadn’t he? His mind was spinning. Did she just say “was?” Maybe he hadn’t heard her right. That poodle was still yipping pretty loudly.

“Quiet, Fufu!” Mrs. Bernard scolded the dog.

“Oh, I know, it’s such a pity. That influenza is just horrible — it’s taken one life after another, but I never imagined it would take the Leonard girl,” said Mrs. Conner, a younger woman with a very nasally voice. “I heard that Julia… Ethel, can’t you get that dog to hush up?”

“Oh, she’s just excited. Fufu, be quiet!” said Mrs. Bernard. “It’s so sad when someone dies so young. At least Mrs. Leonard still has… Fufu!”

Romeo had heard enough. Choking back tears, he walked as fast as he could to the army station, determined to get out of this place as soon as he could.

When he came back, he wrote Julia a letter:

Dear Julia,

I know you will never receive this letter, but somehow it eases my pain to write it. I have always loved you Julia, ever since I saw you running through the park with your hair flying in the wind and your mother yelling at you to come back. You were so beautiful even then, but what captivated me the most about you was your spirit. Nobody could laugh like you, nobody could dream like you, nobody could brighten the whole day with just a smile like you.

Sadly, though, you have been taken from my life. I don’t know what I will do without you, which is why I am choosing to leave. I know you would not want me to voluntarily go to war, but I don’t see any reason not to anymore. Maybe you will read this letter in heaven; maybe I will soon see you there.

All my love,

Romeo

He left the letter on his dresser, still not quite sure why he wrote it, but knowing that it had helped somehow.

He had asked to go as soon as possible, which meant he was leaving the next day. His family had desperately tried to convince him otherwise, but he refused to hear it. In his mind, his life had ended with Julia’s.

That next day, Romeo was ready to get on the train.

“Romeo, please, at least be careful. We don’t want to get a letter that says…” Mrs. Cox’s voice broke off, and she turned away.

“I will be fine, Mother. I have to go,” Romeo said. He gave his mother a quick kiss on the cheek, and he was surprised when his father took him into his arms and hugged him.

“Make us proud, son, and be careful,” Mr. Cox said.

“I will, Father,” Romeo said, turning away and getting onto the train, leaving his father attempting to comfort his crying mother behind.

As he got on the train, he took out the little black-and-white picture of Julia.

“God, Julia, I loved you so much. Why did you leave me?” he said, kissing her picture and turning toward the window as tears streaked down his face. As the train began moving away from the station, he saw the crying wives and fiancées of the soldiers waving and blowing kisses, but no Julia. He would never see Julia again, he thought.

This was true — Romeo never would see Julia again, but it wasn’t because she had died. What Romeo would never know was that it was Mable, not Julia, who had died from the influenza. Julia had recovered from the disease the day after Romeo had left on that train. Maybe he would have found out if he hadn’t died four days after he arrived in Europe. Maybe he wouldn’t have volunteered to be on the front line. Maybe it could have been a happy ending, but no one will ever know what could have been for Julia and Romeo.

The Funeral

Author note: This was a class writing exercise. The assignment was to write a scene in first person point of view from one character’s perspective and a third person point of view from another character’s perspective.

Chloe

People all around me were crying, but I couldn’t seem to join them. I knew that I should, considering this was my mother’s funeral. No tears came, though, just a mix of good and bad memories. More bad than good, especially when I thought about the final time I heard my mother. I didn’t actually speak to her because I forced her to leave a message and then never called her back. She had asked me to come and visit her. Although I knew she was sick, I didn’t think that she would really die. I thought that I had more time. I hadn’t spoken to her in three years, when she told me that she wouldn’t support my new relationship. Kelly and I had actually broken up since then, but I still wasn’t willing to talk to my mother again, at least not yet. I wished now that I hadn’t been so stubborn, though. Perhaps we could have found some common ground.

The minister was speaking about my mother and reading bible verses. She had always been a regular church-goer, but I hadn’t been here in a long time. I couldn’t seem to stop fidgeting. It didn’t help that people around me were staring at me and whispering. I knew they were talking about my estrangement from my mother. They were probably surprised I went to the funeral. In a way, I was a little surprised, too, but I had to at least see her one more time, even if it’s just her body.

As people lined up to go up to the altar and pay their respects, though, I started to wonder if I should even go up there. Was there a point to it? My mother wasn’t there anymore. All I would see was her body. There was no hope of reconciliation now. Just as I was beginning to think about leaving the church and never going up there at all, my aunt came storming up to me. “So, you decided to show up to your mother’s funeral…” she began. I couldn’t even bring myself to listen to her. I just stared down at the ground and thought about all the times I could have fixed things with my mother and failed to do so. I didn’t even try. “Well, it’s too late now,” my aunt said as if hearing my thoughts.

Now, after not being able to cry for days, tears came to my eyes and I looked up at Linda. “I wish that I had come to see her when she was still alive. We had a difficult relationship. You know that. She didn’t support me. Still, I wish that I had at least said goodbye to her. Maybe we could have forgiven each other. But, as you just said, it’s too late for that now.”

I looked up at the altar, and there was nobody there now. So, I walked up to the coffin, not even knowing what I would say to my mother’s body, not even sure why I was bothering to do this. She was so pale as I looked at her. All I could think about was how full of color and life she was, even when we were fighting, which was often. “I’m sorry, Mom. I’m not sorry about who I am or my relationship with Kelly, but I’m sorry that I didn’t even try to talk to you again. I’m sorry that I shut you out completely. I wish that I could go back in time and call you back and actually come to visit you, but I can’t. And I loved you, despite everything that happened between us.” I gave one last sad smile to my mother before I walked down the stairs, ignoring all the people looking at me and whispering about me, and headed back out the door.


Linda

The church was quiet except for a few choked sobs, a few whispers here and there as those who knew and loved Alice Thompson paid their respects. As Linda Foster walked up to the coffin, all she could think about was how much Alice had wanted to make up with her daughter in her final moments. Yet her daughter never came when she was alive. Here she was, though, at her funeral.

Linda had been watching Chloe throughout the funeral. Even as the minister was speaking, Chloe had just looked around and fidgeted. Linda smiled one last time at her sister and walked back down the stairs. There was Chloe, standing near the end of the church, looking like she was about to make a run for it, not even trying to go up to see her mother’s body. Linda pursed her lips. How could Chloe be so disrespectful at her own mother’s funeral?

Linda marched up to Chloe as it looked like she was about to walk out of the church. “So, you decided to show up to your mother’s funeral. How nice of you. It’s too bad you couldn’t find the time to actually talk to her while she was alive. When was the last time you spoke to her, three years ago? Well, it’s too late now.”

Chloe was looking down at the ground as Linda snapped at her. When she finally looked up, Linda was surprised to see tears in her eyes. “I wish that I had come to see her when she was still alive. We had a difficult relationship. You know that. She didn’t support me. Still, I wish that I had at least said goodbye to her. Maybe we could have forgiven each other. But, as you just said, it’s too late for that now.”

Chloe finally walked up to the coffin as Linda stared after her. Chloe stood by the coffin, talking to her mother for a few minutes. Finally, she turned around, wiped her eyes, and walked down the stairs and out of the church without a word to anybody else.

Looking Up

I came of age in a time of no heroes. I grew up hearing the stories of heroes who lived long ago, but none existed now.

My brother and I used to sit and talk about all those stories we had heard when we were children. John used to believe that he could be a hero. That was before the accident. Well, it was supposedly an accident. Nobody really believed that, though.

Either way, nothing could be done about it. My brother was gone.

I was walking down the street, not looking up at anybody. Nobody ever looked at each other. That might force people to admit just how horrible this world really was. Nobody wanted to do that because then they might feel the need to do something about it. My brother thought that he could do something about it. Look how that turned out.

I could almost hear him now. “Andy, we could change the world, you and I. We could make this place like it used to be.”

John didn’t believe in minding his own business. He always looked around when he was walking, pointing out the things that needed to be changed. One time, a man and a woman were arguing, and he hit her. John went over and confronted the man. The man punched him, and the woman just stared at him and walked away. I told John that he shouldn’t have gotten involved.

“We have to get involved, Andy,” he would say. “If we don’t do something, who will?”

“Isn’t that the job of the police?” I would answer, even though I knew better.

“You know they won’t do anything. The people in charge are too corrupt. That’s why you and I need to change things.”

That sort of talk could get someone killed, if the wrong people heard it. He really believed that he could make a difference and that I could even help him. There was a time when I was starting to believe him. That time was long past.

I had almost reached the store when something stopped me. It was a boy crying in pain. I wanted to walk past, but I could hear my brother’s voice in my head, telling me that we could help people.

But, he was gone. Still, I found myself walking toward the sound of the crying. The little boy looked to be about 4 or 5. He was on the ground, both of his knees and elbows bleeding.

I leaned down. “Did you fall?”

He shook his head. “No, those boys pushed me,” he said, pointing at a gang of teenagers down the street.

I wasn’t about to do anything about the gang. That would just be stupid. Still, I asked the boy where he lived, and I helped him up off the pavement.

“Thank you,” the boy said after I dropped him off at his house. He smiled. “I’m Joey.”

For the first time in a long time, I smiled, too. “You’re welcome. I’m Andy. ”

It wasn’t much, but I suppose my brother would be proud of me anyway. This time, I looked up as I walked down the street.

Worlds Away

Fairy tales hardly ever come true for quiet girls. That is why Molly’s jaw dropped as she looked around her. Of course, this kind of fairy tale didn’t really come true for anybody, did it? And yet, here she was.

This place looked like it came straight out of a fantasy novel. The colors were vibrant and like nothing she had ever seen before. A bright green dragon flew overhead, and a unicorn was standing right in front of her, munching on grass. She slowly walked toward something shimmering in the distance, which turned out to be the tallest waterfall Molly had ever seen. She couldn’t figure out where it began or ended. It was as if that waterfall went on forever. She had no idea how long she stood there, just staring at this strange and majestic world around her.

“Are you alright?”

Molly turned around. A young man who looked to be just a bit older than her with dark brown hair and bright green eyes was walking up to her. He stared at her for awhile before he said anything.

“You’re not from around here, are you?”

Molly shook her head, unable to speak for a moment. Finally she found her voice. “Where is here, exactly?”

He just smiled. “You should probably go back to where you came from.”

Molly looked around again. She couldn’t even figure out how she got here. How was she supposed to get back? And why would she want to go back?

Finally, she started to realize that this might be a dream. She turned back to the young man. “This isn’t even real, is it?”

He smiled again. He had sparkly white teeth, which didn’t seem to go with his medieval outfit. “What do you think?”

A cat nearby meowed, and Molly searched around for where the noise was coming from. The next moment, she was staring into the hazel eyes of her own cat, Prince Charming, who was standing on her chest. The new fantasy book she had just picked up from the library, Dream of the Storm, was lying open beside her. She hadn’t even gotten very far in the book. She had only started reading the first chapter before she fell asleep.

She moved Prince Charming off her chest, put a bookmark in the book, and sat up. She had fallen asleep with her clothes still on. As she put on her pajamas, her parents’ voices drifted through the open door.

“I can’t believe you forgot to pay the electric bill! What’s wrong with you?”

“Why do I have to do everything around here?”

Molly quickly shut the door and lay back down on her bed. Perhaps she should try reading the book again and see if any other interesting dreams come about.

Her parents’ arguing was more and more distant as she became immersed in the novel. The description of the world was exactly as she had seen in her dream. And the prince, Bralan, was nearly the same on the page as he was in Molly’s head, which was interesting, since she hadn’t read about him yet when she had the dream. She was reading about the prince’s quest to slay a dragon, but she was having more trouble concentrating as her eyelids started to droop.

She was less confused when she found herself back in the fantasy world again. She knew now it was just a dream.

“You’re back.”

She turned around, and Prince Bralan was standing in the same place with exactly the same smile.

“Yes, but I know this isn’t real now. And I know that your name is Prince Bralan.”

“Yes, that is my name. But why would you think this isn’t real?”

Molly looked around again. Dark clouds had just begun to cover the sun, and the waterfall was no longer sparkling. She turned back to Prince Bralan. Somehow the smile that had never left his face was starting to seem a little less friendly. That smile wasn’t reaching his eyes, which seemed to be an even brighter green than they were in the first dream.

“I was just reading about you and this place in a fantasy novel.”

Prince Bralan looked up at the sky. “A storm is coming in. You shouldn’t come back here, or you might never be able to go back.”

This time, the sun was streaming through the window when Molly woke up. She yawned and slowly got out of bed. Perhaps she shouldn’t read that book again. It really was giving her strange dreams.

Molly’s parents weren’t speaking to each other when she went downstairs. She just grabbed a granola bar and left without saying anything to them.

She kept thinking about her dreams throughout the school day. She barely listened in any of her classes, and she was usually a good student. Despite what the prince had said in her dream, she had to finish that book. She had to know how it ends.

When she got back home, she ignored her parents and went straight up to her room. She picked the book up again. Prince Bralan had just finished making his way through the terrible storm to slay the dragon. She started drifting off.

A booming clap of thunder greeted her as she found herself back in the fantasy world again.

“Oh, great,” Molly muttered as the rain started to pour down on her, soaking through her pajamas in a matter of minutes.

“I told you that you shouldn’t come back here.”

Prince Bralan was standing with that same smile. Why did he seem so creepy now when he seemed so gallant and brave in the book?

“You know, in the book you’re busy slaying the dragon right now. You’re the hero. Shouldn’t you have better things to do in my dreams that standing here talking to me?”

“Oh, I already slayed the dragon. Why do you keep saying this is a dream? And why do you think I’m a hero?”

Molly frowned. “Well, the whole novel follows your quest to slay a dragon.”

“Why does that make me a hero? Did you see the dragon earlier? Did he bother you?”

“Well, no, but…”

“I’m afraid I’m not a hero. I only wanted to slay the dragon for the power I gained. And now you’re trapped here, just as these people are.”

He gestured around them, where there were several other people walking around, dressed in pajamas just like she was, shivering in the rain. Why hadn’t she seen them before?

Molly pinched herself. “I’m ready to wake up now.”

But Molly wasn’t waking up. This world looked so dark now. The rain kept pouring down, the lightning kept flashing, and Prince Bralan kept smiling. His bright green eyes were glowing.

“I did warn you that you might not be able to go back.”

Was this real after all? What if she never saw her parents again? What were the last words she had said to them? She couldn’t remember. She couldn’t tell if the water pouring down her face was from her tears or from the rain. Surely she would wake up soon. She turned back to Prince Bralan.

“How do I get out of here? Why did you warn me if you want to trap people here?”

“I can’t answer your first question. As far as warning you not to come back, I’m obligated to do that. You have to want to escape your world enough to come back despite the danger.”

“But how…”

“I’m afraid I need to go now. Somebody else will get that book soon enough. Anyway, you wanted to live in a different world, didn’t you? Well, here you are. Welcome to your new home.”

Author note: I recently took a class where my instructor said that she tries to get as many rejections as possible every month, although she is of course happy when something she writes is accepted for publication. This was a rejected story, and I’m trying to learn to celebrate my rejections because it means that I took a chance and submitted something I wrote.

Trying the blog thing (again)

I’ve tried starting blogs a few times, and I usually get about as far as one introductory post and then perhaps a picture or two. This time it will be different (really!).

Anyway, on to the actual introduction to my new blog. My name is Julie, and this blog will be focused on the joys of writing and will include my thoughts on writing, my writing progress (and I’m hoping there will be a lot of progress), inspirational quotes from writers and others that seem to pertain well to writing, and some of my actual writing. There might be a few other random thoughts and photos as well.

I enjoy nonfiction writing, but I really love to work on short stories and novels. When I was in college, I majored in journalism, but I always enjoyed my few creative writing classes. My current day job is copy editing and proofreading scientific journal articles (I’m always pretty embarrassed when I discovered that I’ve spelled something wrong or made a big grammatical error in anything I write).

I’ve done NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) several times and won twice, but I have yet to actually finish revising one of those novels. I’ve taken more writing classes since college, and I always feel that I still have a lot to learn. However, I think that my biggest obstacle is self-confidence. I need to learn to believe in myself to put more of my work out there.

I hope that everyone who reads this blog enjoys it. Please let me know your thoughts on anything I post. (Constructive criticism is good, but I would prefer not to read “This sucks!” Please at least tell me why it sucks.) Here’s to writing about writing!