“Juliet downed not the poison”
She stood out among her peers. Asta wore faded gray denims and a moss green t-shirt that had no shape. It did nothing for her, that look. She had hair that one couldn’t talk about - in a bun and decorated with an array of mismatched pins.
Sid watched the girl as she approached the circle. She was to read for the part of Juliet in the summer production of “If Juliet downed not the poison...”
He was to play Romeo. He had no idea how he would fake the passion. Now if Linda from his chemistry class auditioned, he could make it work. Asta was tall. Too tall for a delicate Juliet. Too sure and too independent. He had overheard Mrs. Browning, the drama teacher declare that she could think of no one more sensible than Asta to play a revolutionary Juliet. “Of course,” she had said, “we’ll have to do something revolutionary about Asta’s appearance as well.” This last had elicited a wild giggling from Linda who had wanted to be Juliet herself.
Sid frowned into his script. Linda would down the poison right on cue. He realized Mrs. Browning was right. Asta didn’t care about anyone else’s cruel perspective on her clothes or hobbies. She wouldn’t care if Shakespeare himself decreed poison drinking to be the ultimate symbol of love.
He started when her husky, grown-up voice read out,
“It is not daylight,
Perhaps a meteor the sun exhales
To be a torch bearer
And light your way to Mantua.
Stay Romeo! You are far safer in my bedchamber
Than galloping away in the broad day light
Dressed as you are
In silly Montague embellishments
That no Capulet can miss!”
The rest of the class laughed. Linda blinked and Sid chuckled to himself. Her scorn was spot on. She’s need a Romeo who was whip smart to deal with that outlook.
He went to take the spot next to her chair, in the center of the circle. He smiled at her, hoping to thaw the ice he had helped foster over the years. He winced as he remembered the play ground taunts he would throw out. She had a short, chubby phase when he would only address her as “jelly belly.” She had gone to tall and gangly in a couple of years. Sid had then called her “four-eyes skeleton”, acknowledging the extra accessory that she had acquired. He had left her largely alone after that and now, in high school, he only laughed at someone else’s jokes about her.
Her green eyes stared out from behind black framed glasses. She smiled at him, the smile reaching the corners of her eyes. Sid forgot to speak. She had dimples and even teeth that gleamed against creamy skin. Her eyes sparkled as she said, “So you have other talents too?”
Sid, still lost in the glimmer of her sea green eyes, managed, “Talents?”
“Yes,” Asta continued, a laugh in her voice, “talents like eloquence, sharp comebacks, drama…you know. Stuff so different from your usual “playground bully” gig!”
They were all laughing now. Sid shook his head and said, “Apparently! Guess we’ve surprised each other.”
Asta only said, “Good then! It’s about time!”
Sid read Romeo and felt transported. She caught on to every emotion he tried to convey. Soon, they were standing and gesturing, holding and changing position with very little instruction from an excited Mrs. Browning. Her play was going to rock!
How had he missed her? Behind the sad clothes and pedestrian hair was a live wire.
As practice carried on over the next few weeks, no one missed the electricity between them. His best friend Rob said, “Hey Sid, you got a thing for old four eyes now? Where are your standards dude?”
“Out of the dust bin finally, where yours still rot!” Sid had shot back, furious that Rob should refer to Asta in such an insulting manner. He caught himself. He didn’t really have a right to be furious did he? He had been the same way. And he hadn’t asked her out or anything. Not yet. He was still trying to work up the courage. The girl who played the most shrewish Juliet yet said,
“O Romeo, Romeo where are you Romeo?
Deny your father, refuse your name,
Do it! I’ll do the same.
Take on another name we shall,
Far away where the silly fights hold us not in thrall,
Capulet and Montague,
Be taken by the Plague!”
She said it like a queen, adding to sense of the ridiculous the passages inspired. Sid had an urgent, never before felt longing to kiss her.
Linda walked beside him as they neared the theatre on the last day before the show, “What do you see in that creature? She’s so out of it Sid. You deserve much better!”
“Like who?” Sid asked, mystified that Linda would attempt to contribute to the health of his love life. Not that he had a love life yet.
“Like…” she said and stopped, her chamber maid costume clutched at her chest, “well, like many of us here. Like me. I don’t know…”
Sid said, not unkindly, “Not one of you here. Except her.”
“Why is she so special?” Linda asked, while Mrs. Browning signaled to them to enter quickly. “She dresses horribly! So unpopular and just so lost in her own world. She’s just so whacky!”
Sid laughed, “Now that you’ve said those many things, I can’t wait to go see her again. I really like her because she doesn’t care that you think of her that way. And she really does have an exciting world to be lost in. A world that’s thankfully, different from trying new hair color everyday! I like her just the way she is.”
Asta tapped his shoulder and he turned around. Shocked, he stood still. Her forehead reached his chin. She took off her glasses, walked closer to him. He smelled a blend of lemon and roses. Looking deep into his eyes, she asked, “So, feel like joining me at sunset today? There’s a gorgeous setting behind the Exploratorium. I’ve wanted to capture it for awhile for a personal photography project.”
Drawn in by some magic, he leaned forward and waited. “Ocean madness” he thought, drawn into the dreams her eyes held. She raised her face, eyes gently veiled by thick lashes. Green against black. He moved to kiss her. Gently. Their eyes closed. They held each other, warmth taking over. Thinking to himself that yes, he would see her for every sunset that he could manage.
“And more if you let me,” he said it out loud.
“Let you do what?” she asked, her eyes still closed.
“Let me see you every day; even for the sunset.”
“I’m never going to straighten my hair or wear any make-up. Just so you know.” Asta said.
“I’m never going to be able to take “normal” from you. Just so YOU know.” Sid said.
Smiling, she said, “Alright Romeo, let’s see what you got!
As Mrs. Browning said later, a more perfect couple could never be. Romeo capped off the evening when he told his audience exactly how he felt about his Juliet.
“A glad peace this morning with it brings;
The sun, for joy, shines bright;
Go hence, talk of these happy things;
For Juliet and I declare dependence on you finished!
For never was a story of more love
Told as the one of Juliet and her Romeo
Us two who had more gumption
To stand up and fight
Rather than drink the poison
And forever, snuff out the light!”