From the author: A science-fictional romance with girls kissing, time travel, impossible worlds, and a happily ending.
The day she meets Juliet, Juliet(te) changes the spelling of her name. It’s a simple act, but it’s monumental at the same time. It sets her apart and makes her part of something larger. Juliet + Juliet(te) = forever and irrevocably changed.
That’s what love (though neither of them has used the word yet) does: it changes you. For instance, when Juliet first sees her she finds herself considering what Juliet(te)’s mouth will taste like. And Juliet(te) finds herself considering the way Juliet’s hands will feel resting on the curve of her waist. For the rest of the night, they are no longer separate people, they are satellites orbiting each other, constantly succumbing to the pull of gravity and drifting ever closer to their moment of impact.
On the day she meets Juliet(te), Juliet is mooning over a girl named Rosa who won’t even give her the time of day. Just when she’s decided she’s done with love, she spots Juliet(te) across the room, and the whole world flips upside down. The music in the club at the resort where they’re both spending spring break thumps blood hot. Bodies pack tight, sweat-slicked and scattered with broken light. For one split second, they all stop.
Juliet doesn’t give herself time to doubt or regret. Rosa? Who’s that? Juliet crosses the packed club, takes Juliet(te)’s hand, and discovers her mouth, in fact, tastes like salt and lime from the tequila shots she’s been pounding.
Juliet puts her hands on Juliet(te)’s waist, and they both agree without saying it aloud that they’re not going to think beyond this moment. Not until last call, last dance, and the moon rolling over the horizon into dawn. They’re young, and forever isn’t a word in their vocabulary.
When the sky finally starts to pink, Juliet takes Juliet(te)’s hand again and leads her outside to see the last of the stars. After the heat of the club, everything is silent and still. There’s a little path winding through the sea grass that leads them to the dunes over-looking the beach. In the not-quite-dawn, the sand is silver-grey and the water is the restless color of a bruise.
“It looks like an alien world,” Juliet(te) says.
Breeze whips her long red hair into a comet’s tail. Juliet’s hair is stiff-dyed spikes of darkness, somewhere between black and blue. Willowy Juliet(te) wears a tank top and cut-off shorts. Stocky Juliet wears a button-down shirt with the sleeves rolled, and laced-up boots scornful of the sand.
A single star shakes loose of the firmament and streaks across the sky. A moment later, a second star falls in the opposite direction.
“One for each of us,” Juliet(te) says. “Make a wish.”
“I don’t believe in wishes,” Juliet says. “Just like I don’t believe in destiny. Each moment is what you make of it.”
“What do you want to make of this one, then?” Juliet(te) asks, smiling a little sly. She’s already made a wish of her own, and she holds it close to her heart, never speaking it out loud.
“A race,” says Juliet, squinting a little bit against the rising sun. She’s slightly drunk, but mostly sober, though the world is blurred at the edges.
“To where?” Juliet(te) asks.
“Anywhere and everywhere. To the past, to the future. Let’s see where the moment takes us.”
This time, Juliet(te) takes Juliet’s hand. “Let’s start with to the water.” She doesn’t wait for an answer. They charge the edge of the dunes. They jump. And hand in hand, they run.
None of this can end well. They know it in the core of their beings. The fate dictated by their shared names (even though Juliet doesn’t believe in fate) says one of them must die, if not both of them. Because that’s what happens to girls in stories. That’s what happens to girls who love girls, and sometimes girls who love boys, or boys who love each other, and even the rare people who realize that labels and names are passé.
Juliet(te) asks Juliet about it as they sit on the beach, sipping frozen Margaritas through pink plastic straws. They’ve been up all night, extending their just-for-now, getting around to talking about the similarity in their names and classic English literature at roughly noon. Juliet snorts.
“You think we’re the reincarnation of ancient doom, fated to play out some sad-ass love story with a bullshit end?”
Juliet(te) is a little embarrassed by Juliet’s scorn, but she doesn’t back down. “Could be,” she says, slurping and looking sadly at the bottom of her empty glass.
“Fuck that noise,” Juliet responds. “I don’t roll that way.”
Juliet(te) looks up; a grin spreads slow. Hope blooms somewhere in the center of her chest, making her limbs warm in a way that has nothing to do with the intensity of the sun. Juliet’s jaw is set, her eyes on the horizon.
“Amen!” Juliet(te) says. She jumps up and punches Juliet on the arm; her heart beats harder still. She’s never dared not to believe in fate before. “So what do we do instead?”
“We do better,” Juliet says. “The day is young and ripe for adventure. We’ll build a time machine. Jump to a different world. Jump to all of the worlds. We’ll run away.”
“You serious?” Juliet(te) asks. She’s feeling a little drunk. The tequila is playing catch-up. Her lips still feel frosted salty-sweet from the night before.
Juliet thinks about it. “Why the hell not? Stranger things have happened.”
“Fuckin’ A!” Juliet(te) punches the air. “Not forever,” she adds, in case her enthusiasm scares Juliet away. “Just for now.”
“Just for now,” Juliet agrees, though she means it a little less than she ever has before.
“Future,” Juliet says, “or past?”
“Future.” Juliet(te) grins. “There’ll be time for yesterday tomorrow.”
“Fuckin’ A.” Juliet borrows the phrase from her lover’s mouth, liking the way it tastes on her tongue.
Juliet rigs electric switches and dials, geegaws and doodads. She doesn’t know anything about building time machines, but how hard can it be? She knows everything about tearing down and rebuilding motorcycles, after all.
When the time machine is primed and ready to go, Juliet(te) does her make-up in the not-mirror of Juliet’s face. She smears her cheeks with glitter and her eyes with kohl. She stains her lips improbable shades, colors that linger in the cracks of her chapped skin. Juliet welds neon to the soles of her boots so they flash and shine, space-pirate-style.
“Ready?” Juliet(te) asks.
“Fuckin’ A,” Juliet says, and throws the switch.
They hurtle through space, out past the rings of Saturn. They hurtle through time to a when where humans and aliens live side-by-side among the stars. They dock their improvised time machine on a space station with a thousand kinds of life speaking a thousand languages they don’t understand. They find a part of the station that doesn’t spin, and in zero-g, they fuck for the first time. They learn the ways their bodies fit together, and the ways they don’t. They laugh as they crash into each other, and crash into the walls, getting it right more often than they get it wrong.
When they’re good and bruised, happy and sore, they web themselves in a hammock tethered to the wall. They feed each other dishes they don’t recognize, coming up with their own names for the alien spices that stain their fingers strange hues.
“Where next?” Juliet asks, drifting on the edge of sleep.
Part of her never wants to leave. This future is too perfect - and it still counts as just for now when you have a time machine. It’s not even tomorrow yet, Juliet thinks. That makes it okay to think about falling in love.
Back on earth, they become maenads in a post-apocalyptic motorcycle gang, hording gasoline and devouring their enemies with mirror-bright teeth. Juliet’s skills come in handy, and she teaches Juliet(te) the art of motorcycle repair.
When the future becomes passé, Juliet(te) tinkers with Juliet’s time machine, rigging it to take them from might-bes to never-weres. They become goddesses on a sun-drenched island in the Mediterranean, benevolent rulers of a land populated with centaurs and minotaurs.
When their skins begin to itch from too much sun, Juliet(te) and Juliet become queens of an underground realm, co-ruling the land of the dead. From there, they slip beneath the waves, growing gills and shedding their skin. At some point, they learn to fly.
“Do you need a break?” Juliet(te) asks one day, shaking free a storm of feathers from her sun-scorched skin. They dared too close to the sun, but both of them declined to fall.
She’s afraid of what Juliet’s answer might be. Just for now has become a year, or maybe more. It could be centuries since they first met by the sea. It’s easy to lose track with a time machine.
“I’m game for another round if you are,” Juliet says. She’s afraid of Juliet(te)’s reason for asking. The idea of letting go, even for a moment, is more than she can bear
Juliet(te) raises her hands, palms out, in front of her. “I want to try something,”
Like a mirror, Juliet puts her hands against her lover’s skin. Between them, there is warmth, and their pulse is a steady beat keeping time. They lean together until their foreheads touch. If they can build a time machine, a myth machine, why can’t they live inside each other’s skin?
For an entire year, Juliet(te) becomes Juliet and vice versa. They circle each other, learning their bodies anew. Everything is different from the outside.
Juliet dyes Juliet(te)’s hair the color of cold water and plums, tangling it up in a thousand complicated braids. She pierces Juliet(te)’s lip and her left eyebrow and her belly button. Because that’s what love (she still hasn’t used the word aloud, and so she manifests it physically in silver and niobium) does. It breaks you open and transforms you; it enters you and it makes you shine.
Juliet as Juliet(te) lies nude on a tar-paper rooftop under the stars and makes Juliet(te)’s body come with fingers that aren’t quite hers. She does it again and again until she can’t breathe for the beauty of it all.
Juliet(te) takes Juliet’s body to night school and flirts with boys. She earns Juliet a certificate in computer engineering and travels to Rome where she almost falls in love with a vestal virgin. She enacts all the scenarios of letting go she can imagine, the ways she and Juliet will fall apart in the end. She casts these futures like sympathetic magic. She does this to banish every single one.
Juliet uses Juliet(te)’s body to learn yoga, something she’s always wanted to try, but has always been afraid. She takes up rock climbing, and quits it immediately. She drinks too much and induces insomnia, watching late night television and eating frozen dinners that are terrible for her. She considers adopting a cat. She spends a whole month not speaking at all. She practices living alone.
After a year, Juliet and Juliet(te) crash back into each other on the dunes above the ocean where they first met. Bruised and battered, starved and confused, they devour each other. Neither can remember where one starts and the other begins, or what they were so afraid of; they see there’s no need to let go. Juliet and Juliet(te) entwine hands and limbs, and lie exhausted side by side.
“Are you me, or am I you?” asks Juliet(te).
“Does it matter?”
Anything is possible, even forever not being a terrible thing.
Doomed love doesn’t have to die young. They can live on the edge of annihilation, refusing destiny in the name of their own narratives. They will burn twice as bright, and fly twice as far, setting the night on fire in the brilliance of their wake.
“Keep running?” Juliet(te) asks.
“Fuckin’ A,” Juliet says, slipping into sleep, still holding her lover’s hand.
They travel everywhere - ancient Sparta, far-future Lisbon, the moons of Jupiter, and the deep under-sea caves of worlds waiting to be discovered. They are myth, possibility, and actuality all rolled into one. They tell their own stories, rather than letting fate tell one for them, something Juliet(te) never thought was possible.
They travel nowhere. They take up knitting. They plant a garden, nothing edible except to bees. They go to the market on Sundays, and consider learning how to keep the bees that have been lingering longer and longer at their house. They learn to enjoy silence and stillness, something Juliet never thought they would do. They learn to stop being afraid of standing still.
It’s been only a moment since they met, and it’s been a thousand years, when Juliet finally speaks the word love aloud. She whispers it into the fire of her lover’s hair, and Juliet(te) offers it back to her in the same breath and heartbeat.
“If you could choose any future, any past, out of all the ones we’ve visited, which one would you choose?” Juliet asks. She has a smear of honey on her chin from their pancake breakfast.
Juliet(te) smiles because the answer is so simple (why haven’t others realized this?): “One with you.” The pad of her thumb rubs that smear like errant lipstick.
* * *
Juliet and Juliet(te) wake to the crash of waves. They roll toward each other in their bed in their little cottage by the sea. Roses climb the walls, curling around the windows; everything smells of salt and glory, winter mixed with spring.
As they have every morning since they met, they examine themselves in the mirror of each other’s faces, and smile at what they see. Their hair is the same storm-tossed shade of grey these days. Their wrinkles are very much the map of each other’s lives. Some people mistake them for sisters, for twins. Those same people look away with pinched mouths when the two old ladies reach for each other to lock gnarled hands, or giggle like teenagers, or kiss like the same.
“Young love is grand, isn’t it?” Juliet(te) asks Juliet in their cottage by the sea.
“Fuckin’ A,” Juliet agrees.
One day, they may die in each other’s arms, perhaps in sleep, perhaps before bed as they each slip soft nightgowns over the other’s familiar body, but it won’t be tragic this time. As Juliet once said to Juliet(te) - fuck that noise. There are better stories to tell, and the only moment they care about is this one, right here, right now.
This story originally appeared in The Kissing Booth and Other Stories.
A collection featuring a little bit of everything - fantasy, science fiction, horror, erotica, and several things in-between. The collection was a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award in 2017.
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