Chapter 4

Clutching the copy of Romeo and Juliet under his arm, Richard caught the last few rays of afternoon sunshine, while he speed-walked towards his bike on the edge of the park. The air was quiet, the trees stagnant, while a familiar voice carried across the open sky. Richard forced himself to not turn in the direction of Chloe's Juliet-voice, but it sure as heck did make his heart turn over. He clenched his fingers against the ancient cover of the book, and tapped the lifeless compass in his pocket. Holding those two things in his hands made him stride even faster across the grass; he could see himself spouting Shakespeare alongside Chloe already.

But first, he had a project to do. Now that he'd seen what Romeo and Juliet was like, all he had to do was choose a passage- or two- and keep them locked away in his mind. No matter what, he wasn't going to let himself forget, for he planned to make the moment very special. For so wonderful a first crush as Chloe, "special" meant perfection.

..

With his heart punching at his ribs, Richard spoke softly to himself, following his planned approach as closely as he could. Quietly, he followed Chloe down the sidewalk while she rode her bike, careful not to stare too much at her. But that was much easier said than done. On this particular day- sunnier than the previous one- her hair was tied back into a half-braid that tumbled down her back, tangling with the rest of the strands. There were even some dandelions tied into the elastic, arranged so that the band couldn't be seen under the yellow petals.

Richard just couldn't help but smile at her, as he watched her braid swing to and fro underneath her shining green helmet. He was both excited, and scared out of his wits, about what he was going to do, so he continued to speak aloud his rehearsed lines. So by the time he was parked at the intersection beside Chloe, he couldn't even remember strapping on his helmet, and kicking away from the bike rack.

But once more, they were stuck there for a long time, between the excited first-graders and their parents, before they could cross. Richard whispered the words to himself, squeezing his handlebars until his skin was alabaster white. He dared not look at Chloe, for fear he would lose concentration, and wind up forgetting everything, so he switched between looking at the houses ahead, and the battered copy of Romeo and Juliet tucked in Chloe's tiny bike basket.

At long last, they could ride away, and Richard practically threw himself forward, pedaling towards the library swiftly at first, but slowed down when he remembered that girls couldn't stand the smell of sweat.

Still, he double-checked everything when he arrived in the park. He combed his fingers through his hair, pulled on his button-down shirt, and lifted his arms to be sure there were no sweat-stains; he breathed a deep sigh of relief when he checked there, gaining just an ounce of confidence back.

He retrieved the compass from his pocket, and stroked his thumb across the lid. He could not believe this was happening. For the first time in forever, he had actually found the courage to approach a girl. And not just any girl, but Chloe- a Shakespeare fan, the granddaughter of Mr. Dewey, who strapped flowers into her hair, and spent her afternoons in the park, instead of primping in front of a mirror. Every other girl that Richard knew preferred television to books, and Green Day to Shakespeare. How better of a girl could someone like him find?

Then, there came the rustling of bushes, and the metallic spring of a kickstand against the grass.

Richard froze, but then made his way towards the secluded part of the park where he had first heard Chloe's voice. But if the first time had been magical, this time, it was heavenly. He heard her say a different set of words, but there was still the heart inside of them. At times, she stopped to clear her throat, and then get started again, so, Richard began to see his chance.

It took a couple of moments to calm his excited heartbeat, and breathe normally again, but Richard knew this was the right moment; it was now or never.

He stepped inside the space, his hands casually behind his back, and kept his eyes on the bench ahead of him, hoping to catch Chloe's attention.

She stopped speaking, frozen in place.

When she didn't speak, Richard turned his head to look at her. She had that same deer-in-headlights that he had seen on Juliet's face, but framed within a much prettier face. While they both looked at each other, Chloe's face softened and relaxed, until her eyes started to widen.

"I know you," she said, finally. "I saw you after school on our bikes, the other day."

"Yeah, I know," Richard agreed, relieved that she was speaking to him. "So, um…what are you doing?"

Chloe held up her book which, Richard could see, was full of annotations and underlined lines, especially Juliet's.

"Wow! Shakespeare?" Richard asked, pretending to be surprised.

"Yes. You know Shakespeare?" Chloe wondered aloud, with undeniable awe showing inside her grassy eyes; it must have seemed that she was the only one who knew about the playwright, the way she looked at Richard.

"Yeah, a little," Richard answered. "I-I've actually seen some of 'Romeo and Juliet' before."

"So have I," said Chloe. "I like to read aloud the part of Juliet, even though I'm not exactly an actress."

"Really? Mr. Dewey said you were an actress."

Chloe giggled; a sweet sound to Richard's ears. "You've met my grandpa?" she asked. "Oh, gosh, he always says that. I come here so often, he must think I really am one. Yes, my grandpa likes to play pretend a lot too, cause he loves books so much. I'm surprised no circus performers ever asked him to join, for his energy."

Richard laughed; the idea of someone like Mr. Dewey performing in a circus would be ludicrous enough to sell to a playground jokester. Not that he ever would, but the thought did make him crack up a little.

"So, um…Chloe?" The words were out of Richard's mouth before he could think.

"Yes?" Chloe asked, pulling the word out.

"Uh…well, um…" Richard stammered helplessly. This was supposed to be the moment of truth. He was going to tell her, just how special she was.

But the glorious moment went on longer than he wanted, and yet he still hadn't sputtered out any words of feeling towards the girl.

"Were you going to say something?" Chloe wanted to know. "Anything, at all?"

"I…"

He touched the compass in his pocket.

"'…Hath had no power yet upon thy beauty. Thou art not conquered. Beauty's ensign yet, is crimson in thy lips and in thy cheeks," he said quickly, trying to keep from breaking into a cold sweat.

"'…and death's pale flag is not advanced there'," Chloe finished.

Richard's jaw dropped.

Chloe just let her book fall on the bench beside her, just staring at Richard's eyes, which had a holy-cow-what-the-heck-did-I-just-say look in them.

Then he said, "I just said something about a…death scene, did I?"

Chloe just nodded, quite pitifully.

Richard slapped his forehead, and leaned back behind him. But he thrust himself so far back, that he tumbled off the bench, and all the way into the shrubbery. His legs were left kicking vigorously into the air, while Chloe raced to help him get out.

"Maybe I should have just said, 'I like you', instead," Richard muttered, although he was unaware that Chloe was leaning up close to him to pull him out of the bushes.

She only smiled.