The shrill voice had cut through the cacophony of a Monday morning in the Capulet household. It was enough to make everyone pause for just a second, before the chaos ensued once again. The voice’s owner, a woman whose eyes bore as much disdain as they did vexation, ran around the kitchen, frantically calling the girl’s name. “Juliet!” she repeated, more urgency laced in her tone. “Girl, where are you?” She narrowly missed crashing into her nephew as she ascended the staircase, still crying out her daughter’s name. “Juliet? Juliet!” Every repetition was more pressing than the last.
Meanwhile, Juliet wasn’t bothered to answer.
Engrossed in a novel to ease her anxiety of the first day in a new school, the last thing she had hoped for was her mother to march into her room and fuss over everything. Oh well, it had never seemed that life was on her side, and that mothers were made to worry and complain. At first, she had debated whether it was worth her time to go down and ask her mother what was wrong. She was very much hoping to ignore the incessant chants and return to her book, but when the sound of footsteps came closer, she sighed in defeat. There was no way to hide, was there?
Juliet slipped Tale of Two Cities into her bag, before getting off her bed and opening the door to her room. The moment it swung open, her mother was expectantly waiting on the other side, arms folded sternly across her chest.
“Juliet!” she announced for the final time, exasperated. “How many times do I need to call for you to earn a response?”
A cheeky smile grew on her lips as she melodramatically sighed. “As many times as you must in order to yield the result,” she hummed. Her mother blinked in bewilderment and opened her mouth to protest at her daughter’s flowery language, when an expression of abhorrence overtook her face. Her eyes narrowed in spite and her jaw dropped in shock.
“You’re wearing... that for the first day of junior high?” she gasped, and for a second Juliet was afraid she might have a heart attack. Her mother was more than just a little overbearing when it came to attire and presentation, in ways that were just as doting as they were controlling. The girl looked down at her clothes, and almost dreaded what her mother would say next.
The woman elicited a huff, following a groan in frustration and disappointment. “Why...oh, why can’t you look even a bit more…” Her mother trailed off, searching for the appropriate term. “...Elegant?”
Though Juliet couldn’t find anything wrong in a plaid button-down shirt accompanied by jeans, her mother certainly did. However, it was in this clothing that she felt most comfortable and at ease; the dresses her mother would cajole and coax her into wearing made her much more self-conscious. In this, she could easily blend in, something that she desperately wanted to do on the first day of a new school. But unable to will her tongue to form words of protest, she was about to resign into another stuffy frock when a new figure at the door caught her attention.
“Tybalt!” she nearly yelped, relieved to see her cousin. The raven-haired male gave her a slight nod of reassurance. “We’re going to be late if we don’t leave now,” he declared, expectantly looking at his aunt for the approval to leave.
Her mother seemed ready to object, but she reconsidered. “Fine,” she sighed, a bit reluctant to give in. “You guys head on out. Have a good day, both of you.” She reached out her hands, hesitantly cupping Juliet’s cheeks, her eyes searching for approval to proceed. When her daughter gave a small smile, the woman pressed her lips to the girl’s forehead in a brief, but warm kiss. “I’m choosing what you wear tomorrow,” she joked, before Juliet escaped from her grasp and ran downstairs alongside her cousin.
“Thanks,” she softly muttered, and her gratefulness was received with a small smile, much to her delight. She felt her chest swell with pride at the small gesture; not many were lucky enough to get one from the righteously named ‘Prince of Cats’.
“No problem. Zia is very picky, isn’t she?” Tybalt joked as the front door behind them. She nodded in response.
“You would’ve thought Nonna would’ve been the picky one instead…” she mumbled, earning her a laugh. It was a very rare sound to hear from her normally hostile and aggressive cousin, but he’d always treated her differently. He’d give glares and threats to outsiders, but provided her smiles and encouragement. While he’d talk trash about strangers or the kids at school, he regarded her with kindness and brotherly protection. Honestly, Juliet didn’t know where she’d be without his steadfast, unwavering support. As the mellifluous sound drifted away, she realized she had plenty to ask the other one, despite their conversations the prior day.
“So...what’s so special about Verona High?” she grumbled while folding her clothes. Alongside her, Tybalt was helping in the same mundane task on one of the very few and precious days off from work. Though she insisted that he take some rest, as the dark circles under his eyes were becoming more prominent, he refused to heed her pleas.
“It’s a...good place,” he mumbled in a monotone voice, but his hesitation was not hidden well enough.
“That’s not the full truth, is it?” the blond girl sighed, now working on a pair of pants.
Her cousin bit his lip, unsure of what to say. He finally gave up trying to refute her words; Juliet was a quick and sensible observer. “Fine, I’m not to thrilled about you going there.”
She didn’t have to ask why; Verona High School wasn’t the same as her old private school in Mantua, the town over. For the longest time, Juliet had attended private schools no matter how expensive they were. It didn’t matter that her family was struggling to pay the bills - they wanted her to have the best education they could afford.
In her opinion, however, Mantua was not a school they could afford.
She could hear her father’s tired groans from his bedroom while he glanced over the rent. She could hear her parent’s hushed whispers of worry and concern after every school year, and their exhausted and helpless looks when they went to make payments for the upcoming year. It was brutal, but her parents pretended like the fees didn’t faze them. They attempted at keeping her blissfully unaware of their financial problems, but like any big secret, it eventually came out.
Juliet, as selfish as it may have sounded, lacked any interest to go to a new school. She’d heard too many haunting rumors and stories about public schools and the people that went there, namely her cousin.
“One kid brought a gun to school!” he had once told her in fourth grade. Juliet, at the time in 1st, was terrified of this notion. Tybalt’s further explanation had permanently scarred her: “He showed it to all of us during recess! You know - he was that kid who brought a cigarette once. Yeah, that guy. Anyways, we made him promise to shoot something, and-”
He didn’t get a chance to finish, as she had run off crying to her mother, who promptly scolded the raven-haired boy for being so insensitive. He took the blame with a sly grin, still proud of his exploits.
Juliet had often wondered why Tybalt didn’t go to Mantua with her when they were growing up, and though she would occasionally ask him, he would always change the topic. It was the same baffling response from her parents, and though she would’ve liked to ask her uncle and aunt, they weren’t really...ever there.
“When will we see Zia and Zio again, ma?” she had once asked. Her mother froze and an unreadable expression overcame her face as she stared at the pot of soup she was stirring. The girl was afraid that she’d hit a nerve, before a weak smile dispelled that. “Not for a while,” she hummed, and Juliet begrudgingly accepted that answer.
“Why won’t Tybalt come to Mantua with me, ma?” she had questioned while her mother was folding clothes. Her mother had bit her lip, a habit that occurred whenever she was pondering very deeply. “ Zia and Zio said that going to Verona was fine.”
“But Verona is a bad place!” she had protested, putting down her red crayon and ripping her eyes off of her coloring book. “Tybalt doesn’t like it!” She mother had haltered her folding, and retorted, “Since you’ve finally finished coloring, you can help me with the clothes.” That silenced Juliet.
Tybalt, however, wasn’t as good as her mother when it came to hiding things. She had asked him the same questions, and his uncomfortableness was evident. His bottom lip would quiver, he would go pale, and make a quick exit out of the room.
Even now, she had never got an answer to her questions.
One question that was answered, however, was “Why do you keep sending me to private schools?”, to which the unanimous reply was, “You’re brilliant, Jule, and we want you to have the best education.” Juliet hadn’t ever found herself to be extraordinarily brilliant, but she was sharp and had a tendency to grasp concepts rapidly. In fact, her cousin consulted her for assistance in his homework, but even she’d have to admit that Tybalt wasn’t all that...bright. Intellectually bright, that is. He was street-smart beyond his years, and despite his lean figure, he could knock someone out twice his size. He played dirty and carried an assortment of weapons on him at all times, but that didn’t make Juliet reluctant to ask for his protection at times. She knew her cousin would never hurt her, and though arguments weren’t rare, they weren’t common, either. They got along very well, with silent admiration and a great deal of respect for one another. It was that bond that Juliet found solace in, when she felt like her matters couldn't be solved by her parents.
“Listen, I want you to be careful,” the raven cautioned as they turned the corner, snapping Juliet out of her thoughts. “There are a lot of...colorful figures at this school.” The euphemism didn’t effectively hide his contempt, or the scowl that overcame him with that connotation.
“So...are they shady?”
“Sure, I guess. They’re just…’colorful’.”
“That doesn’t make any sense.”
“If they’re shady, that means they’re black and white, not colorful.”
The groaning and delighted laughter could be heard from meters away.
“I swear to god, I’ll leave you right here, Jule ,” he snapped, putting emphasis on her childish nickname.
“You wouldn’t do that,” she cheekily retorted. “After all, with all these colorful figures, I’m sure that-”
“You’re right, I don’t want you getting hurt.”
Tybalt’s bluntness shocked Juliet, rendering her speechless for a bit. Her cousin’s face was in every bit convincing and sincere, which wasn’t unusual; when her cousin said something, he in every way meant it.
“That’s very sweet but...but I’m not a kid anymore,” she sighed, though his overprotectiveness was touching.
“No, Juliet, it’s not that simple.” His graveness was unprecedented, and to an extent that she managed to halt. “There are too many people you shouldn’t get involved with - too many people you can’t trust.”
She weakly laughed, fear gaining a hold on her. “Oh, c-come on, Tybalt,” she stammered, and rolled her eyes. She put on a semblance of unperturbed calmness before continuing. “You’re exaggerating. I’m sure that not everyone is as bad as they seem, and-”
“The Montagues go to Verona.”