Today is release day for Call Me But Love!
Mercutio is a funny, moody, complex foil for Romeo in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, but in the four stories presented here, each an independent tale, Mercutio’s love for his friend goes far deeper, always somehow entwined with the fates of Romeo and Juliet.
The first tale sets the trio back in Renaissance Verona, where Mercutio vies for Romeo’s love. Romeo is oblivious, but the love triangle has deadly consequences. Next, we find Romeo and Mercutio in Victorian England. Though Romeo knows Mercutio loves him and returns his passion, he struggles to fit his desires into the strict mores of the day. The third story takes us to post-WWII America, where war-weary Romeo, Juliet, and Mercutio long for the right to love whom they choose. The final story in the collection brings the three characters into contemporary times, a band on a road trip that will change their lives forever.
Cover Artist: Reese Dante
Categories: Novellas, Contemporary, Americas, European, Tracy Rowan, Historical
Book Type: eBook File Formats Available: .epub, .mobi, html, pdf
Oddly, they’ve chosen to excerpt the entire first story, so I will too. Enjoy!
Act One: His timeless end
ROMEO is fortune’s master, of that there is no doubt. One day, pining for love of a woman who never even knew he existed, the next, wed in bliss to the daughter of his mortal enemy. He is golden, charmed. The sun shines at his pleasure. He can’t help but feel he should do something mad, something more enormous and daring, for he is certain he cannot fail today. He wants to share this feeling with his best friend, his brother, his…. No word describes how he feels about Mercutio, who is dearer to him than any brother, closer than any friend.
He finds his friend lying on the church steps, basking in the sun. Mercutio’s moss-green brocade doublet is discarded upon the worn stones, and his fine ivory lawn shirt is open almost to the waist. His skin is golden in the sun. Benvolio is with him, but sitting a little apart, fanning himself with his cap. Their eyes are shut against the relentless light.
Mercutio shades his eyes and smiles up at Romeo. He is slow in the heat, languid, like a lizard sunning itself on a rock. His black hair is glossy with sweat that drips darkly upon the stone.
“Where did you fly off to last night?” he asks. “We looked for you before we left the party, didn’t we, Benvolio?”
Without opening his eyes, Benvolio nods.
“My life has….” Romeo gestures broadly as if on a stage. “…changed overnight, in an instant.”
“Then sit down and tell me.” Mercutio stretches. “It’s much too hot to jump about like that.” The dreamy languor in his eyes makes Romeo melt onto the step beside him, limbs splayed in unconscious reply to Mercutio’s sleepy abandon.
“I am married.” Romeo doesn’t miss the expressions playing across his friend’s angular face, but young as he is, he neither understands them nor cares that he doesn’t. “Last night, I beheld my destiny in the form of Capulet’s daughter. We spoke, I won her love and she mine, and we made a pact to meet with Friar Laurence, who has joined us in the most holy bonds of marriage. As with us, so too our families. There’s an end to the blood feud, and the start of great joy for a city too long torn apart by this foolish feud. Are you not happy for me? Are you not happy for us all?”
A moment passes before Mercutio replies. “Very,” he says. “May I be the first to congratulate you? But your choice may not be as easy to reconcile as you hope.”
His light-green eyes are unnervingly pale, his pupils like pinpoints.
“I’d leave the city with her,” Benvolio suggests. “For a time at least.” Benvolio is the careful one.
Romeo laughs. “There’s no life outside of Verona’s walls,” he insists. He picks up a pebble that he pitches at Benvolio, hitting him in the foot.
“Have it your way. You always do.”
“Hush,” Mercutio admonishes. “The boy is happy.”
At this, Benvolio opens his eyes, and he gazes at Mercutio with open curiosity. “And you, you’re happy for him?”
Mercutio shrugs. “This is the way of things, Benvolio. You know it as well as I. Now let us put our heads together and find a way to keep this boy’s madness from becoming a terrible mess.”
But before they can discuss the marriage, even before Romeo can say “We’ll simply tell our families and it’s done!”, they are approached by a small group of the Capulets, led by Tybalt, cousin to Romeo’s new wife. Romeo never liked Tybalt. Truth be told, he is jealous because Tybalt and Mercutio are… not friends, exactly, but something like it. In fact, Romeo doesn’t quite know what they are to each other. He has always felt a little left out, in spite of the fact that when they all are together, which is surprisingly often, all Mercutio and Tybalt ever seem to do is quarrel and snipe.
Mercutio smiles lazily up at Tybalt, whose handsome face is twisted with anger and the way he squints against the blaze of the sun. “Prince of Cats, what brings you out on a day so hot? I imagined you slumbering in the shade.”
There is no irony in the greeting, which is rare for Mercutio. The affection in his voice is genuine.
Tybalt starts to smile, but then he disciplines himself to scowl. “It’s not you I’ve come to see.”
“Yet see me you do.” Mercutio looks him up and down. “Your fur seems ruffled.”
“I shouldn’t be surprised since you consort with this dog of a Montague.”
Romeo doesn’t care for the sharpness in Tybalt’s voice, nor is he prepared to accept the insult without replying. He attempts to stand, but Mercutio flings an arm out and knocks him back down onto the hot stone.
“Cats and dogs, cats and dogs,” he singsongs. “Rat-catcher, your yowls and hisses do not please me today.” Though soft, Mercutio’s voice echoes that sharpness, and Romeo, who knows Mercutio’s body well, can see the tension in him. He is warning Tybalt.
Tybalt’s face darkens and he squares his shoulders and fingers the hilt of his sword. It’s a clumsy response. “My business is with Romeo, not you, sir.”
“Nevertheless, you have me.”
“Of course you would bark for him,” Tybalt snarls. “You always do.” At this, Romeo pushes Mercutio’s arm away and stands.
“I need no protection.” He does not like Tybalt, and today is his perfect day. He won’t have it ruined with a fight.
“I think you do, villain,” Tybalt says, his voice dropping almost to a purr.
Romeo measures his reply, knowing he must not give in to the instinct to draw his sword and settle this with blood. “I am no villain, nor do I feel any anger with you for saying so. Please be at peace. Soon you shall know all, and understand when I say I have reason to love you.”
His tone is a bit friendlier than he feels, but he’ll say whatever he must. It’s his day; things have to work out the way he wants them to.
Tybalt stares, mouth open. Come for a fight, he has received nothing but fair words from his enemy. His fingers grow white upon the hilt of his sword. He wants to draw, but something stays his hand.
“Mercutio, let’s go somewhere quieter to talk.” Romeo tugs Mercutio’s sleeve, but Mercutio doesn’t budge. He’s watching Tybalt watch Romeo, and it makes Romeo uneasy. He doesn’t understand the currents swirling around him. He hates not understanding.
“Don’t do it,” Mercutio says quietly, and Tybalt’s eyes widen.
“Who are you to give me orders, you… commodity?”
The answer is the soft slide of metal as Mercutio’s sword is drawn. “And who are you to judge anyone, Rat-catcher? You need to go down on your knees and beg God to forgive your arrogance, for I will not.”
Tybalt hesitates, more shocked than angry. Mercutio’s challenge has taken him aback.
In this moment, Romeo approaches Tybalt. “Cousin—for that’s what I may call you now, sweet cousin—I have glad news.”
He wants to defuse this moment and avoid a fight. He does not want this joy of his turned to resentment. He does not want to see his friend fight this man. Romeo senses resentment roiling around Tybalt like dust in a sirocco, and he is trying to find a way to dampen his anger.
Tybalt straightens his shoulders, shoves Romeo away, and stalks off, followed by the rest of the Capulets. Halfway across the plaza, he turns and shouts, “You and I, boy, you and I have a reckoning coming,” and gives his fawn-colored doublet an angry tug.
Romeo, unable to let the moment go, pursues him. “Your cousin Julietta and I are made one by the church. She is my wife, and there is reason for gladness and reconciliation where there was formerly anger and division. Let your heart be joyful for us, and for the end of this feud, which has ruined so many lives.”
He leans in and kisses Tybalt’s cheek. It’s hot with anger and the heat of the day, yet a chill rolls off the man and Romeo shivers a little.
He has the unpleasant feeling that he’s been hasty in delivering his news so baldly, so Romeo retreats to where Mercutio and Benvolio stand. He can hear the sounds of laughter and outrage mingling all around. “We should go now,” he says as Mercutio’s eyes widen.
Romeo turns, his sword half drawn, for amid the laughter and the cries of anger, he has heard also the slide of steel. Tybalt rushes him, sword in hand and murder in his eyes. “Hide behind your erastes or fight like a man, yet still I will cut you down today, Montague, and you will never plague me or mine again!”
Romeo cannot free his sword in time. Tybalt will kill him there on the church steps, and his bride will be a widow before she is ever a wife.
But as Tybalt lunges, Romeo is flung aside. When he picks himself up, the square is silent, and Tybalt and Mercutio are staring at each other. Tybalt is shaking his head, and Mercutio is clutching the blade of Tybalt’s sword, the blade that was driven into Mercutio’s chest. In the silence and heat, blood blossoms on Mercutio’s shirt.
The moment breaks like a storm over the plaza. The Capulets grab Tybalt and drag him away from the steps as Mercutio falls into Benvolio’s arms. Romeo rushes to them. “Mercutio?”
“Why did you tell him?” Mercutio asks in a ragged voice. Blood flowers turn the ivory lawn of his shirt crimson. Red streams run shining on the stone steps beneath him.
“I thought it for the best.” The sound Mercutio makes is something like a laugh, something like a groan. “Is the hurt a bad one? Someone fetch a surgeon!” Romeo shouts, and he hears an unearthly cry of pain that doesn’t come from Mercutio at all, but from the one who cut him down. Mercutio’s life is flowing away, and it’s Tybalt who is suffering.
“It’s a scratch. He’s a terrible swordsman. Romeo….”
“You know I love you, don’t you?”
“As I love you,” Romeo replies.
Mercutio closes his eyes and smiles. “No, not like that at all.”
Suddenly Tybalt is there, pushing Benvolio aside, falling onto the steps, and shoving Romeo away from Mercutio, whom he lifts and cradles tenderly in his arms. “Forgive me,” he is saying through his tears. “Forgive me, my heart.” He says it to a dead man.
Where the rage comes from, Romeo will never know, but he draws his sword now with cold intent and moves toward Tybalt, who looks up, handsome face mangled by sorrow. In a moment, Tybalt is not only impaled on Romeo’s sword but has likewise impaled Romeo. They stare at each other over the body of their lover until Tybalt’s eyes lose their focus and go glassy. He falls backward onto the steps and is still. Only then does Romeo fall, life seeping out through his fingers, his future fading along with his past.
There will be no reconciliation, no joining of the houses. There will be no wedding night, no children, no old age and honor. He is going to die here in the square with no one but Benvolio and a crowd of Capulets to see him off.
I am fortune’s fool, he thinks as he pulls himself over to Mercutio’s body and rests his head on his friend’s shoulder. For a moment the whole of this tragedy becomes clear, but then the sun grows cold.