The first bite is simply ambrosia. The apple is crisp, sweet, and juicy. Its flavor mixing seamlessly with the nuts and sweet, sticky caramel. Nick doesn’t suspect that anything is amiss, and why would he? Juliette had made these caramel apples herself. They were a celebration of the weekend, a fully healed puppy leg, and a freshly solved case.
The second bite is far less succulent. The apple has become hard and flavorless, and the red peel has turned a dark brown as if oxidation had prematurely set in. A sense of foreboding fills him. He’s not sure it’s the apple, but what else could it be? Juliette chats away jovially, oblivious, encouraging him to keep eating the apple, “You have to tell me how they are with cinnamon. I only put it on some of them.” He hesitates, but his mind is fuzzy, and he can’t think clearly anymore. The poison has already done it’s work.
The third bite is death’s mistress. As his teeth scrape against the now black, bitter flesh of the fruit, his muscles seize together, paralysis taking hold. He falls limp to the cold, hard floor, his limbs utterly askew. He hears Juliette scream and run over to him, her heels echoing across the room. The apple rolls away from his outstretched hand across the linoleum, leaving behind a trail of caramel sauce, finally stopping as it reaches the refrigerator door. His eyes flutter momentarily, the partially eaten apple the last thing he sees, before closing.
Some time passes, he’s unsure how much, before he’s faintly aware of gentle hands maneuvering him. Soft cushions suggest that he’s been moved to the couch. He dimly hopes that Juliette will think to call Monroe because he’d know what to do. But there would be no reason for her to. She still doesn’t know what he is, what he does. But, at least, she calls someone.
Familiar voices become a distant static. The phrases ‘white as death’ and ‘still breathing’ are common amongst them. Hank and Wu seem to be talking to Juliette. Then hands are shaking him, and he hears his name being called. He can’t move. He can’t respond.
He wants to tell them he’s fine because their voices are strained and frightened, although he’s really not. In truth, he feels as though a strange weight is pinning him down, forcing him to feel every rotation of his diaphragm. The breathing itself isn’t what worries him so much as the gnawing fear of its stopping.
As the voices fade, he drifts in and out of consciousness, and more time passes, he’s still unsure how much. Although he can’t see her, he senses Juliette is close by. And she is, sitting on the coffee table across from him, hovering. She’s watching over him because she’s unsure what else is left for her to do. After a time, she reaches into the pocket of jeans and takes his phone.
“I don’t really know how reading your texts or call history is going to help, but I don’t have any other ideas,” Juliette said. After awhile, she asks aloud curiously, “Who is Monroe? You seem to talk to him all the time, but you’ve never even mentioned him to me?”
Nick is oddly content when curiosity gets the best of her, and he hears her dialing the number into the phone. Strangely, she puts the phone on speaker, and Nick wonders briefly if this is for his benefit. Nevertheless, he listens, heart warmed, to Monroe’s voice answering the phone, seamlessly continuing the argument they had been having the day before, “I told you. I don’t know how to draw a hirscher out of hiding; they’re a private lot even in the creature world. And even if you could, it’s asking for trouble. Or is this about something else?”
“Hi, is this Monroe?” Juliette asked nervously.
“Yes,” Monroe answered. “This isn’t Nick, I take it?”
“This is Juliette, his girlfriend,” she replied hesitantly.
“I’ve heard so much about you; I’m sorry we’re meeting on the phone and not in person,” Monroe replied cordially.
“I wish I could say the same. Actually, this was a foolish idea. I don’t know you, and I just...just don’t know what to do right now,” Juliette said sounding like she was on the verge of tears.
“Hey, hey, calm down. What’s wrong?” Monroe asked.
“It’s Nick. I think I literally poisoned him with my terrible baking. And he...he won’t wake up,” Juliette sobbed into the phone.
“What?!” Monroe exclaimed. “Are you at home?”
“Yes,” Juliette said and the line clicked.
Some more time passes. He’s not sure how much. Since he can’t move, he’s left with only his thoughts, each and every one of which is about Juliette and Monroe. He hopes beyond hope that they enjoy each other’s company as much as he enjoys theirs. But trepidation washes over him as he hears the knock on the front door.
Nick doesn’t quite hear the door creak as Juliette lets Monroe in followed by awkward laughter as one goes for a hug as the other goes for a handshake. The scene in the kitchen afterwards in which Juliette shows Monroe the deplorable apple mostly remains a mystery to him, though the volume of their voices rise as Monroe questions where Juliette had found her new specialty cinnamon. The answer to which led to an angry outburst on Monroe’s part.
A short time passes, and he senses that Monroe and Juliette are both near him.
“Hey, man, or should I say Sleeping Beauty,” Monroe says, attempting to be lighthearted, but choking on the words, as he leans over Nick. He presses his fingers against the crook in Nick’s arm, and says, “I don’t suppose you’d wake up for me?”
Nick wishes he could. But nothing happens, and Monroe moves away. Juliette watches Monroe simply gazing at Nick, looking concerned and upset, and she senses that perhaps there’s something stronger than mere friendship there. But she doesn’t question it now. Then she and Monroe carry on a silent, gesturing conversation that ends with Monroe asking, “Have you tried to kiss him? I know it sounds absurd, but it was a poisoned apple.”
“It would be like a fairytale,” Juliette replies. Monroe tries to stifle a laugh as Juliette moves to do what he’d suggested.
Nick feels her lips meeting his familiarly. To his surprise, his lips are able to press hers back, and he feels like he’s drawing air for the first time. He opens his eyes, breathes her in, and drinks of the nectar of her lips. But when he tries to sit up to wrap his arms around her, he finds his limbs are still immobile. As this new horror faces him, tears slip silently down his cheeks.
“He was kissing me back!” Juliette exclaims and collapses. “I could feel it. It seemed like it was starting to work. Why didn’t it work?”
“I don’t know,” Monroe says. But he does know. And he thinks Juliette suspects the truth of it.
“Kiss him,” Juliette says after a time, deciding to put her question into an action rather than mere words. “You told me to, and I did. But it wasn’t enough. Maybe your kiss will be.”
Monroe objects at first. Then the homey scent of Monroe wafts over Nick again. His head is lifted and then strange lips meet his, parting them little by little. Then his whole body is flooded with feeling. He leans into the kiss and clings to Monroe’s waist as if it’s a lifeline. He reaches for Juliette and pulls her into the hug. Then he kisses her the way he had wanted to before.
“This isn’t the ending to any fairy tale I’ve ever read,” Juliette says at last. “But we’ll make it work.”
“While we’re on the subject of fairy tales,” Nick and Monroe begin to explain. But that is another story.