Auckland, present day.
The door of the time chamber opened with a hiss, and I staggered out, my head spinning.
Next to me, my client, Mr. Torvalds, exited and beamed. His eyes twinkled under bushy gray eyebrows. “That was something, wasn’t it?”
Yeah, something awful. Who would enjoy running from peasants wielding pitchforks on the streets of Paris during the Storming of the Bastille? Only a history professor.
He clapped my shoulder. “I have a lot of data to process. My research project on the French Revolution is going to be a success. Thanks, Priscilla. Your agency is the best.”
Because it’s the only time travel agency. “Th-thanks.” I wiped my sweaty hands on my skirt and escorted Mr. Torvalds to the exit as he hummed La Marsellaise. I removed my voluminous wig and tossed it in a corner. Wearing my modern clothes again would be a relief. This bloody eighteenth century gown with all those layers, skirts, and frilly laces weighed a ton.
“Goodbye.” Mr. Torvalds waved. “See you soon for my next trip, the days of the Reign of Terror.”
I groaned. Why couldn’t I have a client who wanted to see the Beatles’ first concert or Henry VIII’s third wedding? I shouldn’t complain. Chronos, my agency, was doing great.
I straightened, stepped into the main room, and smiled. The twenty wooden desks were all busy with one or two clients each. My agents smiled, nodded, and listened to our customers with politeness and competence, exactly as I’d trained them to do. Wide floor-to-ceiling windows let the sunlight in, brightening the pink-salmon walls. Pots with yellow lilies and red tulips added a further touch of color.
My chest swelled with pride… as much as the stupid corset allowed. At barely thirty years old, I was one of the most successful entrepreneurs in Auckland, getting richer than Bill Gates.
The indigo carpet with silver stars muffled the sound of my heels as I strolled toward my office in a swish of silk. I grinned at a man who was buying a trip during the first North Pole crossing with Amundsen and shivered. Going back in time to experience that? No thanks. The sound of the phone ringing and emails pinging echoed in the wide room. Music to my ears.
I stopped in front of the shelves to straighten a brochure on Rome. Watch the real gladiators fighting in the arena, a bright red caption read. Not my thing. I adjusted a long blonde tendril that had escaped from my bun and opened the door to my office.
The front door bell chimed, and a man walked in. He gazed around, blinking at the crowd. Messy brown hair fell over his eyes and cheeks. Shabby clothes, worn leather bag tucked under his arm, moccasins with a hole on the tip—I knew the type. A scientist.
I swallowed hard, checking if any position was free. No luck. My agents were all busy. Now I almost regretted how full the agency was. Perhaps I could just steer him into the waiting area and let him stay there.
I cleared my throat and sauntered over. “Good morning. I’m Miss P-priscilla Prismott, I mean, Princott.” Stammering. Great. But hey, scientists made me nervous. They were the only people who asked to witness Nobel’s experiments with TNT, or to see Mt. Vesuvius destroying Pompeii. All for research purpose, of course.
“Good morning!” The man held out a hand, his brown eyes shining with happiness as if I told him he’d won the lottery. “I’m Dr. Vance McAvoy.”
I knew it. A scientist. I shook his hand. “I’m afraid we’re a bit busy today. Would you like to take a seat and wait, please? You can help yourself to some hot drinks.” I gestured toward the refreshment area where fresh pots of coffee, tea, and biscuits lay on a table.
There. Done. I pivoted on my heels.
“Actually…” Vance started. “I’m a bit in a hurry. I have to teach a class.”
An academic then like Mr. Torvalds. Hopefully, not another historian. But a client is a client, that’s my motto. I could talk to him, and then leave the case to an agent. “How can I help?” I beckoned him to the sitting area as I sat in a creamy velvet armchair, collecting layers of petticoats. The aroma of coffee filled the air.
Vance tripped on his own feet. The bag fell from his arms, and when he scooped to pick it up, he hit his head against a table. “Ouch!”
I winced. Not a good start. A clumsy scientist could be a problem. How could we run from ancient tribes of head-hunters if he was a bumble-foot? “Are you all right?”
“Yes, yes.” Smiling, he sat in front of me. “I’m a researcher.”
I know. Please, not another paleontologist who wants to visit the Jurassic Era. I still had nightmares about that bloody T-Rex chasing me. “What do you research?”
I blew out a long breath of relief that strained my bodice. “Fascinating.”
He opened the bag and fished out a stack of papers. “I’m working on a project on Shakespeare.”
Yes! “Oh goodness.” I fought the urge to bounce on my toes.
“Specifically, on one of his masterpieces, Lorentio and Juliet.” He tapped a finger on the papers where a picture of the famous battle scene in Verona gleamed.
Juliet looked terrific, pointing her sword at Lorentio whose arm lifted a shield. Capulets versus Montagues. The most exciting story ever told.
I smiled. “This story has a special meaning for me. I was in a theater, watching this very play, when I met Mr. Shidara, the investor who believed in me and in all this.” I waved a hand to encompass the agency. “His company in Tokyo built all the time chambers.”
“Great.” He beamed and shifted his weight. “So, I was wondering how much a trip to Verona in 1527 would cost. I want to see every detail about
I took out my phone and did a quick calculation. “Let’s see… you know that, by law, you can’t stay longer than 10 hours, right?”
I lifted a shoulder. “The longer you stay, the higher the probability of causing a time ripple. Or dying. We can’t change history. Never. And of course, it’s not allowed to go backward. No one should take advantage of knowledge of the future.”
“Oh. That makes sense.”
“And an agent must escort you and stay with you all the time.”
He raised a brow.
“We need to keep an eye on our clients and be sure they travel safely.” I punched a few numbers in the calculator. “Just a reminder, while we’re in Verona, we can’t interfere in any way with history. We’re observers. We’re watching a film. Okay?”
Vance nodded eagerly, his cheeks flushed.
“We do not engage the locals for any reason. We walk, listen, and come back here. Also, no gadgets from the future. They might shock the people. Last year, a theologist wanted to witness the Virgin Mary giving birth and brought a camera. I can’t tell you the mess it created. People thought hewas the messiah.” I shook my head, remembering those angry Roman centurions chasing us. “You want to take notes? You’ll do it with pencil and paper. Clear?”
“It’s five thousand dollars for the trip to Verona, one thousand dollars for the installation of the microchip to understand the language, plus a few hundred dollars for the vaccinations. Yellow fever, tetanus vaccine, anti-black plague, insurance, clothes, induction course… the total is about…” I stomped a finger on the display. “Eighteen thousand dollars, and you’ll have to sign a waiver in case, you know, you get stabbed, roasted, or eaten.”
“Sheesh.” Vance whistled.
“Will you manage to cover the cost? I can…” I sank my teeth into my bottom lip. Gosh, I wanted to go. Every client had to be escorted by an agent, and it could be me. Finally, a trip that didn’t involve wild beasts, guns, or exploding volcanos. Just a family feud with lots of swords. I could handle that.
“I have plenty of funds.” Vance smiled. “When can we go?”
“In a week or two? I need to study the era a bit, and I have to prepare a few documents.”
~ * ~
So here we were, Vance and I, in front of one of the time chambers. The three-foot thick, seven-foot tall metal door seemed like that of a Swiss vault, but the inside of the chamber with its dashboard, gauges, and the digital displays looked like Star Trek’s Enterprise.
I beckoned Vance in. He was shaking. “Are you nervous?”
“It’s normal. You’ll relax once we’re there.” I pushed a button on the wall, and the door closed with a thud. Blue and white lights shone from the dark ceiling. I opened two panels on the wall, revealing two dressing rooms.
“In you go. You’ll be provided with clothes and money appropriate for the era, the shots, and the microchip.”
Vance rushed inside. “I’m so excited.”
On the display of Vance’s room, I typed our destination and the year, and the door slid closed. I entered my dressing room and inserted the date. A panel opened, revealing a red and white gown with a golden sash. A fat leather pouch contained a few hundred dollars in golden florins.
I slid on the dress, a pair of slippers, and combed my hair into a long braid. I looked at my reflection in the mirror. The gown was fitted to the waist with a long skirt and wide sleeves. Perfect to conceal my Seeker, the device that would bring me back to modern Auckland. I fixed it on my wrist, closing the Velcro straps around it. With its rotund screen and blinking numbers, it could pass for a large watch.
When I left the dressing room, Vance was already out, wearing a green jacket with puffed sleeves and green tights encasing his thin legs. A leather satchel was strapped across his shoulder.
He rubbed his neck. “How do I look?”
The green brought out his hazel eyes. “Dashing. Is the micro-chip in all right?”
He nodded. “A bit painful.”
Tell me about it. I had ten installed at the base of my neck. Could speak Latin, ancient Greek, and Sanskrit. “We’re ready.” I opened my bag and picked up a box of Snorinol, super powerful sleeping pills, and slipped the blue box with the glittering half-moon in my pocket.
“You said no modern stuff,” Vance said.
“I know, but these pills, despite being for sleeping, help with the nausea. I always have it when I time travel. If you need them, let me know. Half of one, and I’m fine, just a bit sleepy.” I inserted the coordinates for Verona and the year of destination, 1527, in the display. “You might experience mild discomfort and the sensation of being pulled down.”
He paled. “I’m ready.”
I pulled the time lever. The ground shook. Flashes darted in every direction. A hissing sound whistled in my ears. Vance cried out. The floor disappeared, and the feeling of being suspended in the void made me queasy. Then I was pushed down, and I staggered as my feet touched the ground again. “D-done.” I gobbled half a pill to stop the wave of nausea.
“Oh gosh.” Vance staggered on the cobbled street, his eyes wide. “Please.” He held up a hand.
I steadied him and handed him half a pill. “It’ll go away in a moment.”
We stood in a secluded alley. Vance sweated as he sidestepped the cracked stones and masonry. “This spot,” I stomped a foot on the ground, “is our starting point. We must come back here to return to Auckland. Otherwise, we might end up stuck in a wall of my agency.”
Sunlight blinded me when we left the alley and reached Piazza delle Erbe, Square of the Herbs, in the center of Verona. Horses pulled carts and carriages. People chatted, donkeys cried, a duck scurried across the road. Iron wheels clattered on the cobbles and the stench of dung, and unwashed human bodies hit my nostrils.
Vance leaned against the wall, his cheeks rosy again. “Wonderful.”
“Where do we begin?”
“The open market.”
I stretched out an arm. “Lead the way.”
We strolled along narrow alleys, through piles of horse manure and rotting vegetables, women in large skirts, and men in tights.
“It’s beautiful.” Vance’s eager gaze darted everywhere. “Lorentio and Juliet were real people, did you know that?”
“No.” I moved aside to let a woman in a wide velvet skirt pass, a servant hurrying behind her.
“They could be around.” He let out a small squeal.
I chuckled at his enthusiasm.
Hours later, my feet hurt, the stench of horse dung would probably remain in my nostrils forever, and an ache throbbed in my head. The half Snorinol I took didn’t help with my energy level. “Are you ready to go back? We’ve been here for almost eight hours.”
“Yes, I’m ready.” With a heavy sigh, Vance nodded. “I’d like to return, as soon as I gather more funds.” He folded his heavily written papers and stuck them into his satchel.
We were heading toward the starting point when a scream made me jolt. In a secluded alley, a young man was beating a young woman. Her slim body jerked every time the much larger boy punched her.
I gasped and clamped my hands over my mouth. “This is horrible.” I looked around. Passers-by hurried along the street, ignoring the girl.
“We must do something.” Fists clenched, Vance shot toward the girl.
“Wait. We can’t interfere.” I stretched out an arm, but too late. He sprinted off.
“Hey!” Vance shouted to the man. “Why don’t you beat me, you swine?”
The boy stopped punching the girl and turned. Tendrils of blond hair covered his harsh face. He had to be around sixteen.
The boy spat on the ground, staring at Vance. “As you wish.”
Oops. The boy stomped to Vance, rolling up the sleeves of his shirt and showing sturdy arms. The girl crouched in a corner, whimpering.
“Ah…” Vance staggered backward, fiddling with his hands. “Maybe we can discuss—”
The boy threw a punch at Vance’s head and missed it by an inch. I gathered my skirt and strode to the thug. Vance tripped on a cobble and fell on his rear. The boy loomed over him with a fist lifted.
I grabbed a wooden stick lying on the side of the street and swung. The stick swished above Vance’s head, and I hit the thug on the temple. His eyes crossed under golden eyebrows, then rolled backward, as if he wanted to look inside his skull. He swayed and dropped with a thud.
“Phew!” Vance wiped his sweaty forehead, standing up. “Thanks for that.”
“Thanks?” I tossed the stick aside. “I just beat a man in Verona in 1527. We aren’t supposed to interfere. That’s rule number one!”
“Thank you.” The girl’s sweet voice made me jump.
I turned to her. She must’ve been around the same age of her assailant with large lilac eyes and raven hair. A red spot marked the porcelain skin of her cheek.
“This Montague would’ve killed me if it weren’t for you, my lady.” She curtsied, and my heart melted.
I patted her trembling hand. “You’re welcome, darling. Why don’t you go home now?”
“I will. Thank you.” She bobbed another curtsy.
I shook my head as the girl rushed away. “Poor thing.” I pinned Vance with a glare. He had no idea what he’d done. No one could foresee the effect of a time ripple, even a small one. For all I knew, the ripple could cause the destruction of the entire city of Verona. I swallowed and smoothed my bodice. No panicking in front of a client. “Now we go home, and no more interfering.”
He held up his palms. “Fine.”
I walked briskly to the starting point, Vance in my wake. When we arrived at the spot, I lifted my sleeve and punched the security code into the Seeker. “Stay close to me.”
I took his hand and… nothing happened. No ground shaking, no lights, no nausea. Nothing.
“Well?” Vance glanced at me.
I punched the code again. Nothing. What the heck? “Is it broken? This has never happened before.”
“Oh gosh.” Vance touched his forehead. “The girl.”
“What does she have to do with anything?”
He leaned closer. “What if she’s Juliet? What if the man was Lorentio?”
Dread washed over me. Lorentio beat Juliet in a dark alley, and she swore to avenge herself. She learned how to spar. That was how the final battle between Capulets and Montagues started. “We rescued Juliet. She didn’t defend herself, Shakespeare didn’t write Lorentio and Juliet, and I never met Mr. Shidara. My agency doesn’t exist.”
“Crap?” My hands itched to grab Vance from the neck and shake him. A blip from the Seeker distracted me. On the display, the number seven blinked. “Crap, the countdown has started.”
I showed him the Seeker. “We caused a ripple, and we have seven hours to fix it, or the ripple will become permanent, and we’ll stay here forever.” Tears blurred my vision. Unless we did something, I was destined to remain in Verona, in 1527 for the rest of my life. I’d never see my agency again, my friends, and my family. I’d never eat Chinese food again. I’d never know how Game of Thrones was going to end… if it ended at all. A sob escaped me.
Vance touched my shoulder. “There, there. We’ll find a solution.”
We must. I squared my shoulders. “Let’s go.” I marched toward the alley.
“To find Lorentio and tell him… to attack Juliet again.”
“But… that is awful.”
I stopped and jabbed a finger at him. “Do you have a better idea? We must follow history.”
We half-ran, half-walked through the crowd of the square until we arrived at the alley.
Lorentio sat on the cobbles, cradling his head. Another blond-haired young man, all spidery limbs, stood next to him, trying to pull him up.
Lorentio flinched, then picked himself up and glowered at me. “You won’t take me by surprise again.”
“Did this lady beat you?” the other boy asked.
For a moment, the boy’s sparkling green eyes distracted me.
“Shush, Roach.” Lorentio wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. “You will pay for—”
“Lorentio Montague?” Vance asked.
“And?” Lorentio arched an eyebrow.
Roach shrank back. “Are you Capulets?”
“No.” Vance smiled charmingly. “We just wish to apologize for having hit Lorentio.”
I rolled my bottom lip between my teeth. We needed a plan. “In fact, we want you to beat Juliet again.”
“What?” Lorentio and Roach chorused.
Roach shot a glare at Lorentio. “You were beating Juliet? A girl?”
Lorentio scoffed. “She’s a Capulet.”
“But—” Roach started.
Lorentio swatted Roach’s chest. “Are you no longer a Montague, Cousin? Do you have any honor left?”
Roach flushed, his shoulders hunching.
I rummaged in my pouch and fished out a bunch of florins. “I’ll give you more if you find Juliet.”
“Why?” Roach crossed his arms above his chest. “What did Juliet do to you?”
My heart cracked. That poor girl hadn’t done anything wrong, and here I was, plotting to attack her. Vance was right. It was horrible. We had to find another way. My shoulders stooped. “Let’s forg—”
“Who cares why?” Lorentio’s pale blue eyes widened as he snatched the money. “I’d beat Juliet for free, but it’s better if I’m being paid.”
Roach tugged at his arm. “Are you mad? Juliet is a lady. You can’t hit a lady.”
“I already did.” Lorentio pocketed the money with a smirk.
My heart dipped to my stomach. I hated the idea of this brute attacking Juliet.
“Excuse us a moment.” I dragged Vance a few yards away. “I’m not sure anymore. That poor girl.”
Vance scratched his chin. “I know, but being attacked is the only way for her to become the defender of the Capulets and to trigger the story Shakespeare will write. And it’s our only ticket home. After Lorentio attacked her, Juliet went to an old wife—a healer—and then she decided to stand up for herself. But since that storyline doesn’t exist anymore, I’d say we go to Juliet’s house and try to sneak inside. All we need to do is to provoke her. Lorentio doesn’t have to hurt her, just scare her.”
“Great.” I clapped my hands. “Guys… ahem, gentlemen, we have a plan.”
~ * ~
After three stinking hours spent discussing a strategy in an inn, buying supplies in the center, and convincing Lorentio that he just had to scare Juliet, we lurked in the shade in front of an imposing two-story house, the Capulets’ mansion, ready to gate-crash a Renaissance party. The Seeker informed me that four hours were left to fix the darn ripple. A knot tightened in my throat. I wasn’t even sure that Vance and I would exist after the deadline. We could disappear into thin air.
With its vine-covered, thick walls and battlements, the house looked like a fortress. A double wooden door reinforced with brass bars took a good chunk of the portico.
“These are for the masquerade ball at the Capulets’ tonight,” Vance handed Lorentio and Roach a pair of masks. “We’ll sneak inside, find Juliet, and Lorentio…” He swallowed. “You know what to do.”
Lorentio’s icy blue eyes glinted. “Yes, I do.”
“No need to hurt her too much, remember?” I rubbed my goose-bumped arms. This guy was a killer. Roach pressed his lips into a hard line and scowled at his cousin.
We gripped the vines and climbed over the wall. A jump, and we were in. Almost… Vance grunted as he swung his knee over the wall and plunged to the ground. He landed with a thud. “My back.”
“Shush!” I helped him to his feet.
Lorentio and Roach seemed almost identical with their masks on, except for the smirk on Lorentio’s face and Roach’s thinner limbs. We skulked across a trimmed lawn bordered by tall oaks and arrived at a well-lit ballroom. Music, chatter, and songs mingled together.
Roach looked around with big eyes, ooh-ing and aah-ing every two seconds. I couldn’t blame him. These Capulets knew how to throw a party: fire-eaters swallowing flaming torches, acrobats twirling up in the air, troubadours playing a catchy tune, and so much food being served to feed an army.
Lorentio grabbed a mug of mulled wine from the banquet table and polished it off with one tilt of his head. “Not bad. These Capulet pigs have good wine. Now, where’s that wench?”
We strolled on the edge of the ballroom. I scrutinized the crowd. Women danced in flutters of brocade and velvet. Their flowery perfumes wafted in the air. With their masks on, it was hard to tell which one was Juliet.
“I think that’s her.” Vance elbowed me and nodded toward a corner of the room.
A petite brunette was sipping mead, half-hidden behind a pillar. The black velvet mask she was wearing didn’t hide her lilac eyes or the red mark on her cheek.
I tugged at Lorentio’s sleeve. “It’s her. Juliet.”
“All right.” He snatched another mug from the tray of a passing waiter and sipped it in one go.
I shook Lorentio’s arm. “Follow her. We don’t have time.” Barely three hours actually.
“Fine.” Lorentio rolled his eyes and strolled away.
“Don’t kill her,” I whispered.
He waved in reply.
Juliet left the room and headed toward the garden through an open floor-to-ceiling window.
I hid behind a curtain with Vance and Roach. Here we are. Lorentio strolled toward Juliet who was promenading under the trees. She pivoted and faced him. A flicker of fear passed across her face. Lorentio closed his fists.
I bit my knuckles, hoping the brute would follow our plan. Lorentio roared.
I whipped my head when Roach rushed past. “Roach!”
“Oh, no.” Vance raked a hand though his hair.
Roach crossed the lawn with a few angry strides and tackled his much larger cousin. The noise of the music and the crowds covered Juliet’s gasp. Lorentio shoved Roach away.
Roach landed on his back and gritted his teeth. “Go!” He sprang to his feet and gave Juliet a slight push.
Juliet scurried away as Lorentio punched Roach in the stomach.
“You idiot!” Lorentio hit Roach again.
I gathered my skirt and ran toward them, Vance following. “Stop this!”
Roach curled on the ground, arms protecting his head. Lorentio went to kick him, but I thrust him aside. “Enough!”
Panting, Lorentio threw his hands up. “Bah!”
I knelt next to Roach. “You all right?”
He staggered to his feet, staring at the ground. “I’m sorry, but Juliet is so beautiful and sweet. I couldn’t let him hurt her.”
Oh boy. I exchanged a glance with Vance. “She’ll be fine. It’s very important that Lorentio scares Juliet one more time.”
Roach glared at me, eyes burning. Shame made my cheeks warm. I took a peek at the Seeker. The countdown was still on, so Lorentio hadn’t frightened Juliet sufficiently. We had to try again.
~ * ~
I kicked a pebble while walking in Juliet’s garden. The stone arched in the air and landed with a thud on a tree trunk. Only a few people were around, drunk party-goers who staggered on. The light of the torches cast dancing shadows on the ground. Vance shuffled his feet next to me while Lorentio and Roach trudged behind.
I checked the Seeker. Less than two hours left to doomsday. “What now?”
Vance huffed. “I don’t know. I guess Juliet is in her chamber. Maybe we can see if she’s awake.”
“Let Lorentio sneak into her room?”
“Do we have another option?”
“Okay.” I beckoned to Lorentio to come closer.
Lorentio scoffed, and Roach scowled, but they did as told.
“This is the plan,” I whispered. “Lorentio climbs to Juliet’s bedroom and—”
“Really?” Lorentio grinned.
“Don’t overdo it. Just terrify her, and it’ll be enough.” I choked on the last words. If Juliet wasn’t in her bed, we were done for. We’d stay here for the rest of our lives.
Smirking, Lorentio nodded. “It should be fun.”
We crept into the shadows. Light spilled from a ground floor window, so we moved toward the trees.
“That’s Juliet’s room.” Vance pointed at a marble balcony with vines reaching up to it like green fingers.
I clapped Lorentio’s shoulder. “No need to hurt her.”
Muttering something I didn’t catch, Lorentio put a foot on the wall and grabbed the vines. With a pull, he lifted himself up. My heart beat in my throat. I wiped my sweaty palms on my skirt, sending a silent plea to Juliet that she would be really scared.
I waggled my eyebrow at Vance and tilted my head toward Roach. Vance nodded and grabbed Roach’s arm. “Please stay h—”
Roach shunted Vance aside and sprang forward.
“Not again!” I chased him, but the darn skirt was all over the place, slowing me.
Vance tripped over his feet and sprawled on the grass. Roach leapt, grabbed Lorentio’s shoulders, and dragged him down. Lorentio fell backward, landing on the rose bushes underneath him. Roach started to climb the wall toward Juliet’s room.
“Crap!” I scurried forward.
Lorentio lay with his mouth open and eyes closed, tongue hanging out. Did he break his neck? I froze. What the heck was I doing? I had turned into a murderer.
Vance checked Lorentio’s neck. “Passed out.”
With trembling hands, Roach gripped the vines and yanked himself farther up. I arched an eyebrow. Actually, he wasn’t bad. He was lithe and agile, climbing like a spider. He arrived at the balcony right when the window opened and Juliet stepped into view, frowning, probably wondering where the noise came from.
I chewed my bottom lip. If she screamed or pushed Roach down, the entire house would be on us. Then, we’d be trapped here and probably end up in jail. Not a place I was looking forward to visiting.
But Juliet didn’t scream. She didn’t move, either. She stood there, looking at Roach with huge eyes. Her white robe fluttered around her. Roach halted as well, his hands and feet in an awkward position that seemed painful.
“W-what are you doing here, my lord?” she asked, and I could barely hear it.
Roach swallowed. “Looking for you.”
Another long silence stretched, and they did nothing but stare at each other. What the heck was going on here?
“Should we say something?” I whispered.
Vance shook his head. “He won’t do what we say. Pretty obvious.”
I checked the Seeker again. Barely twenty minutes left. My stomach churned.
“You’re very brave. If Father sees you here, he’ll have you killed.” Juliet took another step toward Roach. “You stopped that man in the garden.”
“Er…” Roach panted. “Do you mind if I climb to the balcony? This position is a bit uncomfortable.”
“Of course.” Juliet moved aside as Roach grabbed the banister and then swung a knee over it.
“You’re a Montague, aren’t you?” Juliet clenched her nightgown tighter.
“I am.” Roach shuffled his blond hair. “I’ve noticed you at the church on Sunday. Your eyes are beautiful. I bet that when the fairest stars in heaven have some business to do, they ask your eyes to twinkle in their places until they return.”
I sighed. “That was beautiful.”
Juliet cleared her throat. “You’re very straightforward. What’s your name?”
“Everyone calls me Roach.”
Juliet giggled. “What’s your real name?”
Roach straightened, looking taller and broader. “Romeo.”
My stomach tightened in a knot.
They stared at each other.
Romeo inched forward. Juliet inched forward. He tilted his head. She tilted her head.
“You’re very kind.” Juliet caressed Romeo’s cheek.
I clutched Vance’s arm. “I admit that they’re cute together.”
“They are.” Sweat dripped down Vance’s chin.
I couldn’t look. In one minute, my life would change forever.
Romeo closed the distance and kissed Juliet. She remained still on the spot.
The Seeker beeped, and I closed my eyes. Was the beep the signal that the countdown had been stopped? Or that I was done for?
I lifted the sleeve slowly. The countdown was gone.
“Well?” Vance leaned closer to the Seeker.
“I… I don’t know. The countdown has disappeared, but I’m not sure what it means. At least, we’re still here.”
“Let’s go to the starting point and see what happens.”
“Okay.” I lifted my gaze to the balcony.
Romeo and Juliet were whispering to each other, stealing kisses between words. Tears burned my eyes, but not out of desperation. Young love. Star-crossed lovers, considering that their families had butchered each other for decades. Those two seemed so sweet.
Vance and I trudged back to the starting point. My heart dunked deeper into my stomach at each step. Instead of a battle, we started a love story. The ripple couldn’t be bigger.
We stopped on the starting point, which was right under a torch. I uncovered the Seeker and took a deep breath. “The moment of truth.”
“Wait!” Romeo was running toward us, his boyish cheeks flushed. I hid the Seeker again. Once he reached us, he threw his arms around my neck. “Thank you. Without you, I would’ve never had the courage to talk to her.”
I patted his shoulder. “It’s all right, lad. Good luck.”
“Good luck,” Vance said. “Go back to your girl.”
Romeo beamed and turned.
I lifted my sleeve. “Ready?”
I punched the code and waited, holding my breath. The ground shook, flashes blinded me, and the familiar feeling of my stomach being pulled down assaulted me.
“Yes!” I lifted a fist as I landed on solid ground.
The flashes died down, and the dark walls of the time chamber appeared. I sagged against the door. “We did it.”
“Phew.” Vance bent forward and blew out a breath.
I fumbled with the levers, got the security code wrong twice before opened the door and walked out. Vance followed, carrying his suitcase.
Yes! My agency is safe.
One of my employees, Laura, in a pink fluffy skirt and a pair of gossamer wings brushed past us and stopped. “Welcome back.”
“Thank you.” I exhaled, eyeing her ridiculous outfit.
“What are you wearing?” She chuckled.
Funny, I was about to ask the same question. I lifted my skirt. “I was working.”
“Hmm…” Laura’s brow creased. “How was the date?”
“Huh? What date?”
“With the client.” Laura drummed her pink-painted fingernails on the tablet she was carrying.
“I don’t know what you mean.”
Vance shrugged. “Me neither.”
Laura frowned. “Okay.” She hurried away, glancing at me.
“Oh gosh.” Vance pointed at a poster on the wall.
Cupid, the first time travel dating agency.
What? I kept reading.
Worried about making a mistake with your date? Do you want to take back what you said to your girlfriend/boyfriend? Visit us at http://cupidfastdate.co.nz. There’s always another chance for love. Remember to like us on Facebook.
I eyed the glossy pink leaflet. “Why did my travel agency turn into a dating agency?”
Vance scratched his head. “I think it has to do with this.” He opened his suitcase and turned on his tablet. Then he fumbled with it and tapped a finger on the display. “Look.”
It was a Wikipedia article on Romeo and Juliet by W. Shakespeare, the greatest love story of all the time. So good old Willy wrote a story about them after all. I grinned.
“Do they die in the end? Like in Lorentio and Juliet? Romeo and Juliet were star-crossed lovers.”
“Let’s see.” Vance scrolled down the page and laughed. “No. They pretended to be dead after having ingested a sleeping potion they found in a blue box with a shiny half moon.”
Blue box with a half moon. My Snorinol pills? I patted my pockets. The box was gone. I must’ve lost it in Juliet’s garden. I chuckled. “And then what happened to them?”
“After that, their families believed they died for love and the feud between Capulets and Montagues ended. And they lived happily ever after.”
*Previously published in When to Now: A Time Travel Anthology in September 2018.
Barbara Russell is an entomologist and a soil biologist, which is a fancy way to say that she digs in the dirt, looking for bugs. She was a kid when she read The Lord Of The Rings and fell in love with fantasy novels.
When Barbara discovered