I’m Not Romeo

I didn’t leave the chocolates for Juliet. I didn’t leave any of it. I’m not the type. Ask any girl I have ever dated, and they will all tell you the same thing. I’m cold. I’m unromantic. I don’t consider other people’s feelings. I’m an asshole.

I dated Juliet out of spite, just to get a rise out of Mitchell. The poor guy never would have talked to her anyway. It was ridiculous, pathetic even. He tip-toed up to her dorm room like some sort of cartoon spy and left all sorts of sentimental crap. Mitchell and I were neighbors and lived across the hall from Juliet on a coed floor of Jefferson Residence Hall. They don’t let you call them dormitories anymore. It gives a cheap connotation, but cheap was as good of a description of Jefferson as any. The ten by ten concrete rooms featured such amenities as a single electrical outlet and a single bed with a single window that looked out upon the massive state-of-the-art apartment complex that they promised would be the future of campus housing. The room was so bare and claustrophobic that I always left my door open unless I was gone or asleep. It felt more like a bedroom than an apartment.

Living next to women sounded really cool when I signed the housing contract, but was a bit of a pain in the ass in practice. It’s not that I didn’t like women. I loved them, but a guy has to have his own space, a little bit of room to let down his guard and be a man. Be a slob. Be smelly. Be rude. Living within arms-reach of my potential mates twenty-four-seven meant always having to be on my game. It’s easy enough for some of us. We stand in front of the mirror, artistically mess up our hair a little bit, throw on some deodorant, and head for the shower, a towel wrapped strategically around our midsections. But for people like Mitchell, it isn’t that easy. He was awkward. He was a weird, and probably always would be. Living next to Juliet destroyed him.

The first time that I saw Mitchell leaving a package outside of Juliet’s door, he ran away from me. He literally ran away, scurrying like a cockroach beneath bright lights back to his room where he slammed the door shut. I could hear his body leaning against the creaking old fire door as he gazed out the peephole to see if anyone was there.

I wandered out in to his view, and squatted down next the meticulously wrapped pink package. A white ribbon crossed the wrapping paper, ending in an elegant hand-tied bow. The card read “To Juliet, from your secret Romeo.” I would have liked to barf. What Mitchell didn’t know was that the old-fashioned romantic crap didn’t work anymore. It was outdated, more stalker than suitor. Still, it was his funeral. I returned to my room, and booted up the Xbox for some Madden football. I was halfway through the third quarter, winning 24 to nothing with the Ravens, when Juliet came home. She bent down and picked up the delicately-wrapped package. She blushed as she read the card, and then searched up and down the hall for her secret admirer. Then, she looked straight in to my room where I sat on the couch, the play clock winding down. Our eyes met and locked for forty seconds. The referee blew the whistle for delay of game. I turned back to the television, but I could still feel her eyes taking me in, swallowing me whole. After what seemed like an eternity, her keys jingled, her door opened, and then closed behind her. Finally, like a man who has been trapped beneath water, I came back to the surface and breathed.

It wasn’t that I didn’t like Juliet. She was nice. Even before we started dating, she treated me well. She treated everyone well, whether she knew them or not. I think that is part of what Mitchell liked about her. She was pretty, too, in a fairly innocent way. Totally different than the other girls I dated. She was the yin to their yang, the calm in the storm that I always seemed to be out chasing. Her hair was a simple light brown, perpetually tied in to ponytails with intricate bows, not all that unlike the one that Mitchell had placed on the top of that present. The presents were, in fact, her in a nutshell. Clean, simple, and innocent. White, pink, and seemingly from another time.

More gifts followed. Sometimes, Mitchell would knock on the door before he ran away. Sometimes, he would leave the gifts when he knew she wasn’t home, or in the morning right before he knew her alarm would go off. Thanks to the thin, cheap cinderblock walls, one alarm clock could wake an entire floor. Movie soundtracks, music, and sexual noises perpetually resonated through an interconnected ventilation system that had been thrown in to the dorm almost as an afterthought. Bare air ducts ran parallel to bare pipes, some of which were scorching hot to the touch and would weep condensation in the winter.

Mitchell left three or four more presents over the course of a month. Every time, Juliet would search for her admirer. Eventually she would glance in to my room, where I would try my best not to look at her. I could feel her blush, and it made me blush. It embarrassed me, quite frankly, and I felt a discomfort around her that was entirely foreign to me.

One day, I happened to be walking down the hall towards the lobby as she opened the door to find a bouquet of pink roses. She saw me walking away from the scene. I heard the quick patter of footsteps as she overtook me. She stepped directly in to my path, the roses held close to her chest. I could smell the perfume of the flowers, the aroma was soft and warm, just like the look she gave me.

“Are these from you, Chris?” She looked directly in to my soul. Her eyes sparkled as if entire galaxies of stars were exploding into supernovas and then dying within her chestnut brown irises.

What was I supposed to say when a girl was looking at me like that? Women have looked at me in a lot of different ways, generally evolving in to inevitable irritation and resentment. I wanted to be the guy who could earn that look from Juliet. God help me, but I wanted to be Mitchell. In that moment, I did what Mitchell never could have done. I nodded. I took the credit.

It was only a nod. I didn’t think it was all that nefarious. It’s not like I ran up to her and said “Hey, baby, who’s your Romeo?” It was just a nod, but sometimes it is the littlest mistakes that come back to bite you on the ass the hardest. Juliet and I started seeing each other. The gifts kept coming, and I kept getting credit for them. I didn’t try to take the credit. She never even questioned it after the roses. Romeo sent his Juliet an amazing array of small trinkets, and I capitalized on all the good karma that he earned.

Guilt ate at me, ulcerating my gut. I avoided Mitchell as much as possible. If Juliet and I were holding hands, I would break away from her when I saw him. We snuggled together on the couch in the lobby during the Super Bowl. As he walked past us with his backpack to the floor’s study area, I retreated to the bathroom, saying something about drinking too much beer.

Later that night, when he returned to his room, Juliet and I were making out on my futon. He stood just outside the door. I could hear his breathing, shallow long breaths like someone suffering from some chronic, devouring disease. I stopped kissing Juliet. She turned a saw Mitchell standing in the doorway. His suffering was palpable as she walked to the door and shut it in his face, locking the deadbolt behind her.

Juliet turned towards me. She advanced with a swaying sensuality that I hadn’t seen before, that I had never expected from her. She undressed in front of me as I sat on the futon, slowly removing the soft cotton shirt and sleep pants that she had put on before coming over. She carefully untied the bow from her hair, letting her brown hair fall down upon her naked shoulders, and draped the ribbon over the chair with her neatly-folded clothing. She stood before me, illuminated by a yellow security light in the construction area. The spatter of freckles that always defined Juliet for me tinkled down over her sharp collar bones to her soft, pale breasts. I’ve heard men talk about falling in love, feeling their heartbeats in their throats, the raging pulse of blood through their bodies. I had none of that. My body felt still, vacant of blood or breath.

“Have you ever done this before?” she asked. For the second time in the last two months, I lied. I shook my head. She smiled and climbed on to my lap. We kissed, and I finally breathed again.  I slept with her that night. Any guy would have, but it was so much different than what I had experienced before. It was delicate, soft, and careful, just like Juliet. I felt totally and utterly accepted, and it felt horrible. After I climaxed, I laid my head down on the freckled pink flesh of her breast, wrapped in her tiny arms. I closed my eyes, and all I could see was Mitchell standing in the doorway, completely and utterly destroyed.

Juliet told all of her friends about me. I was her Romeo, so romantic that I continued to send her secret admirer packages, even after we started dating. The presents became an obsession. I checked each one to make sure Mitchell hadn’t given my lie away. I discarded one note that read “I’m not who you think I am.” I took credit for the 24 karat gold chain attached to it. I started skipping classes. I couldn’t risk a package arriving when I wasn’t there to censor it.

Each present brought me more and more gratitude and made Juliet the envy of all the other girls on the floor. If anyone else ever saw Mitchell leave the gifts, then no one mentioned it. Maybe they thought it was funny. Maybe they thought it was none of their business. As Valentine’s Day approached, my nerves were fried. I spent sleepless nights lying next to Juliet in my single bed, certain that this would be the last night, and that Mitchell would make some sort of statement.

I would have welcomed it. The tension was destroying me mentally and physically. The university called my parents, threatening academic sanctions, including the loss of my scholarship. If Mitchell would just step forward, everything would be okay. We would get through it. She was in love with me. Really in love with me. Despite all of my attempts to keep her compartmentalized in the same sexual category of all the women who I had fucked over, I found myself wanting to please her. I wanted to be Romeo. I wanted to be the guy that got her unexpected gifts, who made her sparkle and blush. But I wasn’t that guy. I couldn’t be that guy. Dark clouds constantly hover over my head. In Juliet’s light, I felt exposed, burnt by the same sun that warmed me.

By Valentine’s Day, I was in my first real relationship. Gifts continued to arrive like clockwork. I didn’t have the heart to ask Mitchell to stop. I desperately wanted to please Juliet, but I had nothing to give her. I felt like a foreigner in a strange land. Everything was fine unless I had to speak the language. I needed Mitchell to come through for me. He had the vocabulary that I lacked.  It was disturbing, ridiculous even. I doubted my own ability to live up to his gifts. Sometimes, I doubted my ability to live up to his feelings.

When I saw the heart-shaped box of chocolates sitting outside of Juliet’s door on Valentine’s Day morning, I felt relived, but a bit let down. I had honestly expected something more, something special for the day when Mitchell’s everyday acts of devotion would be mimicked by men all over campus. I opened the card. Handwritten calligraphy in black India ink read “Lips, O you the doors of breath, seal with a righteous kiss.” I figured that it was more Romeo crap, but I didn’t really know what it meant. We didn’t cover Shakespeare in electrical engineering. I tucked the note back under the ribbon of the package. I returned to my room and went back to my Twin Peaks Netflix marathon. Before long, Juliet came in, hugging the red, heart-shaped box to her chest. I stood up to meet her, shoving my hands in to my pockets as if I was cold.

“For me?” Her blush seemed to wash away the freckles on her face.

“Of course. For the most beautiful Valentine.” I could hear the lameness, even as I said it, but Juliet didn’t seem to notice.

She kissed me with her soft, delicate lips. They were sticky with fresh chapstick and had a slight taste of cherry. I looked down in to her sparkling eyes, and suddenly I couldn’t look anymore. I excused myself to the bathroom, refusing to look back as I left the room, my eyes burning in a prelude to tears.

I splashed water on my face from the cracked porcelain sink in the men’s restroom. I breathed, trying to pull it together. I kept trying to believe that the looks Juliet gave were for me, but I knew they were false. They were for Mitchell. I didn’t deserve them. I was an asshole. Juliet made me feel like I was supposed to be something different, something better than that. By allowing her to make me feel that way, I was only proving myself to be correct. I gathered my breath and went back to the room, sure of what needed said, but unsure if I had the ability to say it.

I opened the door to find Juliet laying on the futon, hanging half off on the floor. Her eyes were vacant and dim. Vomit crusted around her delicate. Her freckles took a strange palor on her too-pale skin. I shook her, yelling her name, but she didn’t respond. I checked for a pulse, but her body was silent. The chocolate box was in still her hand, its contents spilled upon the floor. I knew that the bastard had poisoned her, his last grand gift.

I ran next door, my vision as narrow as the dorm hallway. I kicked in Michell’s door. The old, dry wood split along the doorframe. Inside, I found Mitchell laying on his bed, a razor blade lying in a pool of blood beneath his hand. He had opened the veins on both forearms. The blood was dry, his body stiff. He had apparently slit his wrists right after he dropped off the candy, a final statement of love and desperation. I ran out the door, up the hallway, and down the fire exit. I ran as fast as I could across streets and down sidewalks. Cars honked. People yelled obscenities as I bumped in to them. I ran until my legs gave out, and I collapsed on the lawn in front of the university administration building.

The campus police found me there, laying on the grass, unresponsive. When they took me home, they found my girlfriend dead in my room, poisoned by candy that everyone in the dorm knew that I had given her. Juliet’s friends couldn’t wait to tell the police about all presents that I had lavished upon her.  In hindsight, they thought it was creepy, rather than romantic, a sign of apparent obsession.

Later, sitting in jail, waiting for my court date, my lawyer told me that Mitchell had been found. He said Mitchell hadn’t left a note. But he had, in his own way. I saw it sitting next to the box of razor blades after I kicked in his door. It was an old copy of Romeo and Juliet stolen from the university library. The cover was worn thin. Yellowing pages sat loosely in the broken spine. It had been missing for nearly a year.

My lawyer wanted to talk about my defense. I told him the truth. I’m not Romeo. I wouldn’t die for love. I don’t have it in me. I just pretended that I did.

Jack Campbell, Jr. is a dark fiction writer in Lawrence, KS. His writing has appeared in various venues including Twenty 3 Magazine, Danse Macabre, and Insomnia Press. He writes about reading, writing, and life on his blog at www.jackcampbelljr.com.


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