This Is How It Happened

By: Jo Barrett

“To Romeo and Juliet!” she said, in a strong voice, as she hobbled away.

From then on, Carlton had called me “his Juliet.” And sometimes, I’d call him “Romeo,” too. We both knew it was cheesy and overused, but we didn’t care.

It was our little secret.

“Thank you, Romeo,” I said, as Carlton kissed my ring finger and slipped the ring back on.

“Do you like it?” he asked. He cupped my hands in his and brought them to his chest. I felt his skin, still warm from the sex, and noticed his shoulders were a splotchy pink from all the exertion.

We lay on the bed, naked, facing each other. It was the most intimate moment of my life.

“I love it,” I said.

And he grinned.

In truth, most girls would’ve probably hated the ring. It was plain Jane. The kind of ring you buy in the mall, as an afterthought. And much too thick for my finger.

But I loved it. I wore it every day. Even in the shower. I didn’t care if Carlton ever bought me a diamond. And besides, I wasn’t the type of woman who was a Nazi about carat, cut, and clarity. I didn’t care to wave my finger in front of friends and co-workers and brag out loud, “Look what Carlton gave me,” as I flashed a huge, sparkling rock. No, what Carlton and I had was special. A special bond between us.

This ring was different.

I took it off my finger and read the engraving almost every day.

“Forever, my Juliet,” it read.

Chapter 9

I’ve got to get the hell out of Dodge, I think. I stare at my empty house. My Carlton-free Zone.

A few weeks ago, I packed up all our photographs and everything else that reminded me of Carlton, and I cried the proverbial river of tears. I boxed up everything, even a postcard he’d sent me from a trip to New York City that said, “Someone in the Big Apple loves you.” I hid it all in my garage, behind some paint cans. I couldn’t bear to throw it out. Most women probably would’ve torched the stuff, but deep down, I was a softie. I mean, sure, I’d just killed a raccoon. But that was a total accident.

It’s hard not to feel alone when you’ve lived with a man for the past four years. And then one day, that man is gone. And he’s taken your self-esteem with him.

I have only one thought on days like this. And that thought is: Get Out! Weekends are, most certainly, the worst. What I like to call my “Very Lonely Saturdays” are followed by my “Self-Pitying Sundays.” The biggest problem with weekends is they keep rolling back around.

I’ve considered flying someplace where I’d lose time. Like Costa Rica. I imagine an open wooden beach hut. A soft bed with white mosquito netting. The sounds of the waves rolling in. Me sopping up alcohol like chicken soup. Not knowing the day of the week. Not caring about the time. Maybe I’d take up surfing. And have sex with some hot, Tico guy. You never know. It could happen.

I pick up the phone to call Heather, but then put it back down. She’s probably sick of me, and besides, she’s happily married. And sometimes it isn’t healthy being around a smiling, doting couple. So I’ve got to turn to my last resort—my family.

I call my brother.

He answers with his usual flair.

“Hullo?” he says.

“Hey, what’s shakin’ bacon?” I ask, jumping in.

“Same shit, different day,” my brother says. He’s got a knack for words, that guy.

“I was thinking we could get some burgers,” I say. This tactic, the burger tactic, usually works. My brother is a sucker for a free cheeseburger. And he knows that when I call him, it means I’m the one who’s paying.

I’m paying for Ronnie Piatro’s company because I’m lonely and I’ve just killed a small animal.

“I’m kind of tied up,” Ronnie says.

“I just killed a raccoon!”

“With your car?”

“No, I accidentally poisoned it. I was trying to make these poison brownies to deliver to Carlton’s office but I ended up killing a small, innocent animal,” I say, and I realize I’m talking fast. Like a crazy person.

I hear my brother take a deep breath into the phone.

“I’m going to pray for you, Maddy,” he says. And he means it. He pauses and I can almost hear him praying for me.

We’re both silent on the phone, and I don’t interrupt. Because I know my brother is a serious prayer freak. He takes prayer very seriously.

Finally, he sighs into the phone, “I’ll meet you at The Tavern in one hour.”


Chapter 10

The Friday after Carlton gave me the Juliet ring, we packed up my Volvo with suitcases and drove to Houston for the weekend. Carlton’s Honda was still on the blink, but instead of buying a new battery, Carlton said he was going to splurge on our hotel.

“Houston’s expensive as shit,” he’d said, in a caustic voice. “But we’re not staying at some fucking Hampton Inn when the rest of the wedding party is staying at the Houstonian.”

Carlton’s father was getting married again. His fifth or sixth time around—I couldn’t remember which. And neither could Carlton.