Our formative years, fraught with mistakes, tend to be the ones we want to remember the most. They are little reminders of our thirst for immortality, and a time we believed we almost touched the stars. Everything seemed so much bigger then, distorted by our inexperienced lens. We never forget those defining moments. The years add more layers to the memories, magnifying the incidents out of proportion. So we crave something we never really had, something so ephemeral it always on the edge of our vision, just out of sight. For the alumni of U.V. this concept is the overarching theme of the informal reunion that is Rose Campbell and Pierre Latour's wedding. The lure of these what ifs, these small mysteries draw many back to fair Verona.
Most of the guests had arrived the night before the wedding, and Rose had really gone all out for the reunion element of the weekend. The foyer into which Nancy and Jules walked was covered with embarrassing photos, which had been salvaged from the depths of Facebook, and they were each given name tags. Rose went a step further and had written nicknames for each person. Nancy's tag read Nance-meister. Jules raised her eyebrows and motioned to the tag. Nancy responded, characteristically, by rolling her eyes and with an exasperated "Don't even." Jules laughed and went to get them drinks.
At the end of the foyer, Monty was 'chumming' (Mark's words, not his) it up with some frat brothers, laughing about the feud and how petty and immature it was. With the resolution between the two parties, and the graduation of the last of the feuding brothers, the frat system had become a mere formality. Considering the proud legacy behind the system, the cultural shift in those few short years was surprising. Monty wished that this were the Verona he had attended.
Looking around the room, Monty sought out the only person he wanted to see. It wasn't hard to find her standing there, by the drinks table, talking to some ex-classmate of theirs. Frankly, he was surprised that everyone in the room wasn't staring. Jules looked... different. More confident. Her hair was undone, the dark red contrasting with her emerald dress beautifully, and she was sipping her drink with an ease and grace that gutted Monty. He excused himself and approached her, running a hand through his hair to appear slightly more put together than he felt.
Jules looked up from her margarita, and for a second it was as if they were back at that awful, wonderful party all those years ago, meeting again for the first time. Except this time, without the cameras and obnoxious brothers and interfering, albeit well meaning, cousins. He didn't know what else to say, until he saw Jules smile, really smile, and return his greeting with equal enthusiasm.
Monty really wanted to hug her, or at least touch her, to make sure she was actually here in front of him, but he had no idea how she would react. And he didn't want to shatter this image of her. Of course, he'd seen her plenty of times since Verona. Tagged in their friends' photos or in holiday pictures, they would flood his feed on occasion. At first he'd just stopped going online, blocking anyone he knew who had contact with her, because it just hurt. But it was different seeing her like this. No number of pixels could compare. Soft, breathing, real. He just wanted to stay like this, for-
"How are you Monty? It's been... wow, ten years hasn't it?" Jules interrupted his inner monologue, and he was grateful for it.
"Yeah, it has. I'm good, I moved to New York now actually, been there for the past four years, and I just got a new place..."
"New York? That's amazing Monty! I'm in San Francisco, freelancing as a communications consultant."
"Comm I really inspired you then?"
"Something like that..."
The conversation flowed smoothly, the initial hesitation forgotten as they caught each other up with their incredibly busy lives. The two eventually found themselves outside walking down a hauntingly familiar brick path. It turned out the path lead to a hill, where they had spent many days together watching the world turn swiftly by while staying immune to its rapid changes. It was surreal for Jules, to find herself sitting on this particular hill after everything that happened - or didn't happen - again.
At this point the conversation then reached a rather interesting, if nonsensical junction.
"You do NOT have a cat!"
"I do. And I adopted it."
One night, after obsessively watching viral cat videos for four hours, and downing a bottle of wine, Monty proudly proclaimed that he would one day become "the first man, nay, person, to set up an online dating site - wait for it - for cats" - to quote his exact words. Research would have to commence immediately of course, and proceeded to write several (surprisingly well crafted) emails to various cat adoption agencies proposing his idea. The responses they received had them laughing weeks later, when one of the agencies actually took him up on his offer, even including a list of several potential candidates.
The conversation continued, and they talked about everything - their jobs, friends, homes and, eventually, their relationships.
"Are you seeing anyone?"
"Yes I am. We actually bought the apartment together. Her name is Marie; she's a paralegal at the firm across the hall. We met at an office Christmas party, of all places." Monty realised his life sounded like a cliché, but he embraced it. His and Marie's mutual love of sci-fi had basically sealed their friendship. Their first "official" date, they had decided, was their first Comic-Con together, which was spent relishing in the excitement and frenzy of fandom. Monty smiled and laughed a lot more when he was with her.
"I think she's the one, Jules." Monty looked at Jules, wondering how she would respond.
"JULES!" Nancy appeared from the crest of the hill, holding a bottle in one hand and her heels in the other "GUESS WHICH BITCH JUST MADE OUT WI-" Her face drained of colour when she saw him.
"Monty." Monty gave her a curt nod, "Nancy."
"I'm sorry, I didn't realise you two were... I'll leave you guys alone." For the amount of alcohol Jules suspected Nancy had consumed, she looked completely sober. Monty was silent for a while as she went back down; Jules suspected Nancy had reminded him of the feud.
"Monty? Are you okay?"
"...What? Oh yeah, I'm fine" he looked at her and shook his head a little, refocusing.
"Okay." Jules realised now was her chance to ask Monty what had been on her mind the whole evening "I need to ask you something, and I've been meaning to for a long time, so please just be honest with me when you answer." Jules steeled herself before finally spitting it out, "Why did you write me that letter?"
A thousand possible questions, but the letter was the only thing that mattered. Despite her calm, controlled manner Jules' voice broke a little. Everything she had buried, hidden under layers and layers of indifference and rational explanations, it all faded away when she saw Monty there, in person, less than a foot away from her. The fact that they were both here, on this hill, after all this time was driving her crazy.
Up until a few seconds ago, Monty had chosen to believe that Nancy had eventually told Jules everything. That she had seen the video, heard his side of the story, that this was the reason she was talking to him at all tonight. On the nights he missed her so bad he couldn't breathe, believing that she knew the truth comforted him.
So he waited a moment, processing this new information before carefully replying, "I didn't write that letter. It was written by someone who wanted to keep us apart. I never wanted to break up with you. I loved you, Jules, I really did. After your brother... they stopped me from contacting you, and I had no idea what had happened until it was too late. And then you left. I would have done anything to be there for you if I could have."
Jules had expected an apology for foolish adolescent behaviour, a sheepish admission of cowardice. She had never allowed herself to consider this - the least plausible, least logical explanation of all. Jules trusted what Monty implicitly because the way things had ended between them had never quite translated to the Monty she'd known and loved.
"If you didn't write the letter then who did?"
Monty had deliberated mentioning Nancy, but decided against it. "It isn't my place to say who it was. They were doing what they thought was best for you. I wanted to tell you myself when I found out, I came to your dorm the day you were leaving Verona but I missed you, so I left a message on your camera."
"Nancy said she'd take care of the camera..."
Things started to click. Nancy blocking Monty out of Jules' life. Nancy finding the letter. The message that Jules never saw. The look on Nancy's face not ten minutes ago, when she saw them together.
"I have to go Monty, I need to talk to her..." Monty nodded, understanding. Jules got up and practically ran back to her room. When she got there she found Nancy sitting on the floor, nervously ripping the label off a plastic bottle. When she saw Jules she jumped up.
"He didn't have to."
The look in Jules eyes said it all, so Nancy told her everything. Neither Jules nor Monty deserved these lies anymore. Nancy showed her the videos and let Jules see for herself exactly what had happened.
"I just wanted to protect you Jules, and the only thing keeping you from moving on was Monty. I hope you can understand why I did it."
Jules didn't know what to say. A part of her wanted it all to be true, to know what she had felt for Monty was real. To know that she had been right about him, about them. But knowing that Nancy was the one behind it all tainted it, ruined it.
"Why didn't you tell me before? Don't you think I had a right to know? Even if it changed nothing... I am an adult. I'm not that naive little freshman anymore, and I haven't been her for a really, really long time now."
Nancy's tears were rolling down her cheeks fast. "You're right. I'm sorry. I thought it would only hurt you more, and I didn't want to dredge up the past... but there is no excuse for not telling you. I'm sorry. I... I'll just go now."
Jules waited to hear the door click behind her before she started sobbing, overwhelmed by everything she'd learnt. She wasn't one to wallow in self-pity, but today she wasn't crying for herself. She cried because it was Nancy - her best friend, her confidante, her sister. Someone she trusted her heart with, and someone who had broken that trust irreparably. She also mourned the loss of the what-ifs, the possibilities of a future that she and Monty could have had. She had never allowed herself to indulge in them, but tonight these wild fantasies that took a shape of their own and they hurt.
Eventually, the tears slowed and she watched the sunrise from her balcony, thinking that, if her life were a movie, this would be the moment she realised she loved him all along. The moment she decided that they could still be together and that they belonged together, hang the world. And when she looked at Monty now she could still see it, could still see her Monty there. But her life wasn't a movie. All that they had been was far removed from who they were now. They were completely different people from the inexperienced, star cross'd lovers they had been. And Monty had Marie now, and he was so happy when he talked about her geeking out and joking around and burning apple pies. She wondered what Monty must have gone through, the frustration he'd have felt knowing the truth all along. It couldn't have been easy. At least she had had some small sense of closure, even if it was a complete lie. Monty knew she loved him, knew she wanted him, but was helpless to act. She was truly happy because it gave her hope that maybe she'd find someone too, someday.
The next morning found a light shower draping the college in its misty dampness. The wedding was set for the afternoon, and most people were sleeping off their hangovers. In Monty's case, these hours were spent impatiently waiting for the wedding, when he would get to see Jules' again. There was still so much he wanted to say to her. After many hours spent lost in thought wandering aimlessly across the campus, Monty finally returned to his room and put on his suit, a bright red bow tie and a pair of converse (he had lost a rather complicated bet with Marie) and made his way to the wedding.
The hazy glow of the ballroom lights were tinged with red from the extensive floral decorations which comprised primarily of roses. The puns were ringing through the air and everyone seemed pleasantly amused by them. Monty was seated on a table including both Mark and Tye, which made for quite an interesting dinner conversation. The meal otherwise continued with little interruption, and halfway through dessert, Pierre clanged two glasses together to get everyone's attention.
"Excusez-moi everyone! I would just like to say something to you all. If I had not come to your beautiful country ten years ago, I would never 'ave met my lovely Rosa." No one really understood why Pierre chose this particular nickname. "It is, 'ow you say, wonderful! I want to especially zank Juliette and Monty. Juliette, zank you for not kissing me all those years ago, because I know you would not be abell to resist my good looks and charm." At this point Pierre actually wiggled his eyebrows in Jules' direction. "And Monty, I want to both murdair," at this there was nervous laughter from the audience, "and 'ug you for breaking up with my Rosa - merci ma ami, but 'ow dare you! Without you two, Rosa and I may never 'ave even met! And last but never ever least, to my beautiful Rosa - je t'aime ma petit cherie!" At this, Rose literally flung herself onto Pierre and proceeded to kiss him in a manner that would have put Ron and Lavender to shame. Since the couple had been in the honeymoon phase for literally a decade, the incident did little to disturb anybody's dessert.
Jules looked over to where Monty was sat, with a bunch of his Kappa friends again, laughing at some joke. Looking at him made her head hurt. She and Monty had been special, and falling in love had been so effortless and simple. The letter had been a slap in the face reminding her that life didn't work like this, and love sure as hell didn't. Monty marked a fork in her life, and so much of the last ten years had been in some way influenced by their relationship. What she had learnt yesterday undermined all the changes she'd worked so hard to make and all the lessons she thought she'd learnt.
Eventually removing herself, with difficulty, from Pierre, Rose grabbed a microphone long enough to yell "EVERYBODY DANCE!" and jumped onto the dance floor. The only words that could describe her particular dance form were ‘Flailing’ and ‘Loudly’. Retro technicolor lights replaced the warm yellow glow in which Jules had been gazing at Monty, and a remix (of a remix of a remix) of Thrift Shop abruptly cut out the soft jazz music.
Nancy got up to go dance with Tye. The two had been reconnecting in more ways than one during this trip. More and more people joined them on the dance floor. When the DJ (whom Jules' admired for his apt timing and ability to really kick that nostalgia nerve) played the original version of All Star, hearing something so raw, with no editing whatsoever, really struck a chord in the hearts of many of the guests. Of course, the open bar didn't hurt either, and it was clear which was the stronger motivator as the crowd seemed to forget that they were fully grown 30-something adults and let loose, in the most literal sense of the word. Jules looked around for Monty hoping she would get to see his legendary dance moves, but saw that he was still seated. He took her brief smile as an invitation and came over to where she was sat.
"DO YOU WANT TO GET OUT OF HERE?" he yelled, motioning towards the door. Jules checked that Nancy, who had done at least eight Jäger-bombs in the last ten minutes, was still vertical, or at least conscious, before nodding. They left the crowded room and came out into the fresh air of Verona. They walked into the gardens surrounding the building and found an ageing wooden gazebo hidden away behind the trees. It was funny how the two of them had never noticed how beautiful their campus was when they were actually here; they had been so occupied with each other that it had never really occurred to them to appreciate the beauty that surrounded them. Away from the din of the party, Jules took a deep breath and looked over at Monty, who seemed equally at peace.
Monty spoke first, breaking the tacit rule that Jules' directed their conversations. "I was going to ask you if you wanted to dance, but it was so crazy in there..." Monty trailed off, looking at Jules expectantly.
Jules responded by taking his hand in hers and placing her other on his shoulder. "We could just dance here, its so much nicer." She began humming a random melody, some half-forgotten waltz, and Monty joined in, humming a different song, terribly out of tune. They danced like that for some time in a companionable silence, each lost in their own thoughts.
After some time, Jules asked, "How long did it take for you to start dating again?" In any other situation this question would have been motivated by jealousy or pettiness, but this was neither, and they both knew that. Monty moved back a little, to look at Jules properly before he answered "About a year."
"It took me almost two"
At this point something broke in Monty. He didn't want to have these sanitised five word conversations with Jules. What had happened was real, and he wanted to talk to Jules about it. She'd had left last night when they'd barely begun, and he wasn't going to lose this opportunity today.
"It was hard for me to realise that you were really gone, and it didn't properly sink in until the very last day. Everyone was convinced that a rebound would get me over you, that I shouldn't wallow because it's college, and it was only a few months, and shit happens." Monty spat out the last few words, as if they left an ugly taste in his mouth "But I couldn't do it, even though I figured you hated me. I would have hated me too in that situation."
"I didn't hate you, Monty, I was just hurt and confused. I put on a brave front with the cameras, talking about meeting new guys and starting over. But Nancy had to nag me for months before I agreed to go out with someone, and that lasted for about ten minutes before the guy actually asked if he could leave... probably the worst date of his life." Jules laughed a little at this, shaking slightly against Monty. He used to miss that so much those first few years, to see her smiling and happy. But recently, Marie's infectious laugh had replaced his longing for Jules'. For the millionth time that weekend, he found himself considering how strange it was that they were here, together, after all this time.
Jules went on, "You know, I used to compare every relationship I had to ours. And then I had to keep reminding myself that you'd still ended it and it was an unrealistic ideal, but that didn't really make a difference. We had something so special."
Monty was quiet for a moment.
"We did. I met people who I could have had a future with, and I think I just blew it because somehow, I always thought we could happen. It was stupid and completely idiotic, but I thought we'd meet at some party or reunion and it would be like all these years never happened, and you would find out I hadn't written the letter and we would be reunited or something. But when I moved to New York, I had this moment of realisation. I was suddenly in the city of my dreams and everything and everyone was just zooming past me, not waiting for anything. And it occurred to me that I would probably be waiting the rest of my life, and that maybe it wasn't going to happen. I got some perspective there, and I could finally let go of us, just enough to move on. I actually met Marie a couple of weeks after that."
They weren't really having a conversation, each person's words drifted in and out as they came to them at tangents to the other. It was so cathartic to say what they felt to the only person who could truly understand what they had gone through.
"After Cliff it was a while before dating was even on my mind. It was so... unexpected, so scary that my own brother could do that. I guess everything kind of added up and suddenly it felt like I didn't really know anyone. But Cliff went into therapy for anger management a few weeks after I moved, and it really helped him. It took me a while before I could speak to him, and I don't know if we will ever be as close as we were, but I'm grateful that he's still trying to fix it. That's all I can really ask for."
"That's good Jules. I can't even imagine how hard that must have been for you. I don't think I could have helped much, but I wish I could have been there and helped you." Monty realised he was rambling, but he didn't really care.
Jules gave him a small, sad smile. "Thanks Monty, that means a lot"
In an attempt to move things to slightly lighter territory Jules continued
"But I've dated sporadically over the past few year, I just got out of a pretty serious relationship, with a guy called Toby. He was- He is wonderful. Smart and dorky and sweet, a little like you, actually. And I felt really safe with him, but I don't think I ever let him in. I was so open with you, and that made me vulnerable. I couldn't- I haven't been able to do it for anyone else. I just don't want to be hurt again."
Right now, Jules felt like that love stricken freshman all over again, despite all the changes, despite the fact that now she had the power in her relationships. She had the power to end things before they got out of control and she got hurt. But maybe it wasn't strength; maybe she had just put up walls.
Monty gently nudged Jules, prompting her to open up a little more, knowing that she needed to. "What happened with Toby? He seems like a great guy from your description," he asked in a playful voice.
Jules nudged him back, but then became serious, "He asked me to move in with him. And suddenly the whole thing became so real, and intimidating. I told him it felt like we were in two different places, that I wasn't ready. And he, he told me we could forget the moving in, and that he wouldn't do anything I wasn't ready for. Because that's the kind of guy he is. But I ended it anyways, because I was spooked and that was that. I was so stupid."
"Jules," Monty could see that Jules really cared about this guy. The look she got in her eyes was how he felt about Marie. Her story sounded like something he would have done before he moved, so he gave her the only advice he knew, because even though it sounded impersonal and vague, it was true. "I know you don't want to get hurt, and that maybe you are scared right now, but everyone is like that. You can't let the fear of being hurt stop you from living your life. I can't promise that you won't be hurt, but what if you aren't? You could be really happy."
Jules found it ironic that she was opening up to Monty about Monty. About them. That she was finding solace sharing her story with him, that he could actually help her. A million times she had pictured what it would be like to meet him now, and yet this was something she never could have imagined. The advice Monty had given was something she'd heard in different forms for so long, but hearing it from him felt different. The comfort of knowing that she wasn't crazy, that she hadn't misjudged their entire relationship, gave her confidence. She wasn't going to go back and reinvent herself, but she understood now what Monty meant by that shift. She allowed his words to sink in as they sat looking out at the darkened gardens.
"So... did you see the roses?" Jules spectacularly failed at changing the topic, but it didn't really matter because Monty got the point.
"Did I s- it was hard to breath in there, I was literally suffocating from a lack of oxygen. I think they were a serious health hazard!" Monty's look of mock indignation made Jules laugh, something she realised she had done more in the past two days than since after she broke up with Toby.
"It's still so weird to me that Rose and Pierre are married. What are the chances that, of all our college friends, they are the ones who have been together the longest?"
"Probably very high, since they are both certifiably insane."
"Yes" Jules laughed " There is definitely that. I guess it’s strange because... I just never pictured them getting married or anything, or ever really thought about their future, if that makes sense." To Jules, Pierre and Rose had literally seemed like comic relief during that nightmarish first year, supporting characters in a bigger story, in their story.
"It's like out of sight, out of mind."
"Exactly. But you are right, they really are perfect for each other. Somehow Rose doesn't see Pierre's pretentiousness, and he seems to finds every fault of hers absolutely charming."
"A match made in heaven."
"Or hell." Jules giggled as she said it. She paused briefly and asked, in a softer voice, "Do you believe in soul mates?"
"Ten years ago I would have said yes. Actually I think I still would. But I guess having a soulmate is different from being with them. I think it’s the really lucky people who meet their soulmates, and the even luckier ones who get to spend the rest of their lives with them."
"I guess we just didn't have enough luck then."
Monty sighed, "I guess so."
"Do you think in some parallel universe we are together?"
"I do. And I bet in another parallel universe we probably both killed ourselves from the heartbreak of being separated." They laughed at this, but it struck a deeper chord, with both of them, something they couldn't quite explain.
"We just had some minor communication problems"
"That's one way of putting it"
Jules woke to the pounding of rain on her window. She got up to find Nancy had already packed up her things and gone downstairs, probably to avoid a confrontation. Jules was getting dressed as Nancy came back in. An awful silence filled the room as began packing her things, and Nancy finally broke it.
"Are we okay?"
"I… I need some time." Jules had an amazing capacity for forgiveness, something which Nancy had always derided but had secretly been envious of, and so she knew they were going to be okay.
"I understand." Jules watched Nancy leave, and sighed. She hadn't even had breakfast yet, it felt like this day would drag on forever and she still had to do one last thing.
As Jules loaded up her car, she saw Monty walking towards her.
"Hi." Monty reached where she was and gave a little smile. "What's up?"
"You know what I hate most about the letter?" Jules cut to the reason she asked Monty to come see her this morning, because she was just so tired of going around in circles, getting nowhere.
"That I didn't get to say goodbye."
Monty looked at her and said, with so much sincerity, "You can say it this time."
"I know." Jules voice broke a little, and she hugged him tightly. His arms eventually wound themselves around her, just as tight. They stood there like that for a few seconds, but it could have been days. Jules eventually pulled back a little and looked at Monty. It was hard trying to convey everything she had felt, and everything she wanted to say, from the last two days with one look. To thank him for helping her understand what she felt, for talking to her. She wasn't sure about their future, but that didn't really matter. She didn't want to weigh down the moment with all these words so she kissed Monty lightly on the lips and murmured a quiet "Thank you."
Sitting in the waiting lounge at the airport Jules picked up her phone and dialled a number she knew by heart.
"Jules?" a confused voice answered the phone "Is something wrong?"
"No, not at all. I was actually in Verona for a friends' wedding this weekend, and I've been doing a lot of thinking. I have something I want to tell you, but I want to do it in person. Are you free tomorrow?"
"Um, yeah. Sure."
"Great, I'll see you then."