Gloomy Sunday (Still Star-Crossed!AU)
Characters: Rosaline Capulet, Benvolio Montague, (Prince) Escalus, Giuliana Capulet, Silvestro Capulet, Damiano Montague
Warnings: Smoking, swearing, death, implied abuse/negligence, implied racism.
Word Count: 3K
Setting: New York City, 1940s
Author's Note: I started writing this for Still Star Crossed Appreciation Month, but got side tracked and fell off because adult responsibilities. If I wrote everything I wanted to, it'd be miles longer.
Rosaline cursed at her cousin’s grave on the day of her funeral.
The clouds rolled in, dark and heavy with impending rain. The cold air nipped at her ankles through her pantyhose. She frowned at the lowering casket, guilty that she couldn’t protect the girl and angry that she wouldn’t listen. Aunt Giuliana dropped onto her knees in the grass beside the grave, and wailed as she reached aimlessly for her daughter’s ivory casket.
“Let me be with her! Please!” She cried as her husband knelt beside her and held her shaking form close, “They took my baby! Those bastards took my baby from me!”
He whispered something to her, but it was no use. She struggled against him, trying to pull him off of her.
“Let me be with my baby!” She screamed, “My Julie! My baby! I can’t do this without her!”
Livia turned away as a fresh pool of tears rolled down her cheeks, stifling a sharp gasp from the emotion bubbling in her chest. Rosaline stood firm, jaw clenched, staring down at the grave like it was the barrel of a smoking gun. She swallowed the lump in her throat, steeling herself for the public.
She told Juliet a thousand times to leave the boy alone. He was nothing but trouble, and her family wouldn’t accept them.
Everyone knew that she was there when Juliet was found. Nobody had the guts to ask her what happened. Maybe they were afraid of how she’d respond. Or maybe they were cautious enough to not get on the Capulet family’s bad side. Nonetheless, Rosaline remained firm in her silence. Even when Giuliana threatened her with violence. Even when she lost sleep and spent hours smoking on the fire escape of her tiny apartment. Even when she stared out into space and lost track of what she was doing. The days leading up to Juliet’s funeral melted into one another, becoming a long blur of gray and pale white and the occasional flash of guilty red splattered on the walls of her living space.
The ride back to the Upper East Side from Long Island was a quiet and tense one, save the occasional sniffle from Giuliana and the low whispers between Silvestro and his scary looking, scar-ridden associate. Rosaline and Livia sat side by side in the uncomfortable front seats beside the colored driver, making their status in the family apparent to everyone in the car. Rosaline wasn’t entirely sure Giuliana wouldn’t suddenly snap and lunge at her if she so much as glanced in her direction, so she was partially grateful for the distance. Instead, Rosaline leaned against the car door, watching the first few drops of the oncoming storm race down the window. She felt Livia slip her hand in hers and give it a small squeeze. Her younger sister had a knack for understanding when she was needed, but she never pried or pushed which made a huge difference. Livia was kind and forgiving in ways that Rosaline wasn’t. She was sure it was why her aunt was relatively nicer to her, and maybe even preferred that she was the new heir to the Capulet fortune. She was inclined to agree.
Anyone with sense could tell that this was a burden Rosaline didn’t want. The resentment towards Juliet for leaving her with this crept up the back of her neck and sat heavily on her shoulders, joined by guilt for being mad at a child for acting the part of a child.
“Could we listen to the radio?” Livia asked the driver, sweetly, “You can play it low, if you like.”
Moments later, jazz filled the tense car, cutting through the thick energy like a white hot knife. In the window’s reflection, Rosaline watched Livia close her eyes and allow herself to get lost in the melody. No doubt she was imagining being whisked onto a dancefloor with a handsome boy of high social stature. Rosaline wasn’t much of a dancer, but was a happy spectator whenever Liv managed to get her out at night. It was Livia who introduced her to Jazz. She became fast friends with their parents’ old Cotton Club peers and the up and coming musicians playing in the exclusive parts of the city. Despite what Liv said, Rosaline was inclined to believe these spirited men were filled to the brim with unrealistic optimism. Livia was determined to believe they were destined for fame and fortune, falling for one after the other with hopes of being some lucky musician’s ingenue. Everyone thought they were the next Cab Calloway. They couldn’t all be famous.
“For CHRIST’S SAKE, turn that off!” Giuliana spat from the back of the car, “We’re mourning my child’s death, not drinking gin in a run down alley!”
All three front seat occupants exchanged glances before the driver fidgeted with the dial, choosing to stop at a classical music station.
“Aaah...” Silvestro sighed, “now this is music. It reminds me of our trip to Vienna after the war. What year was that, honey?”
“‘24.” She mumbled, barely hiding her disinterest in the conversation.
“Mmm, yes. 1924. We were staying at Count Weiss’ estate. And his wife...uh...Jacqueline was it? She was there. We went to that wonderful little salon where the band played that one song. How did it go…?”
He hummed some nondescript tune that Rosaline didn’t recognize. Rosaline risked a glance over her shoulder. Of course he was drunk. At least he was a pleasant drunk.
She shifted her gaze, accidentally locking eyes with her uncle’s associate. He licked his lips at her.
She felt her eye twitch in disgust as she quickly faced the front of the car again.
Rosaline wasn’t surprised when Giuliana decided that she had to find her own way back home from the townhouse. It was dark, and the air was damp and cold from the late-autumn rain. People passed with their heads hiding beneath large umbrellas or soggy, heavy trench coats. The result of her hot comb treatment was devolving into a depressing mess of thick hair shrinking around her shoulders, as the wind turned her umbrella inside out.
Her aunt knew that she hated taking the train at night. This was punishment. She considered hailing a taxi, and then remembered her location. There was no way one would stop for her. The only other option was to walk across the width of the park. Her heels clicked across the slick pavement as cars passed, nearly splashing her every time they got too close to the curb. By the time she arrived at her apartment, she knew she looked like a drowned, miserable rat.
After stripping the soggy clothes off her cold skin, and bathing the filth of the day away, all she wanted to do was lay in bed and disassociate. Instead, she hung her clothing up to dry on the radiator, and climbed out onto the fire escape in one of her mother’s old long nightgowns. The rain finally stopped, but Rosaline was still careful to not get her clothes wet as she looked out at the passing cars below. It was well after midnight on a Sunday, and people were still out and about as if they had all the time in the world. She was almost jealous.
Rosaline held a Lucky Strike between her lips, and struck a match, shielding it from the breeze. She hadn’t had a smoke all day, and she’d convinced Livia that she kicked the habit. Something about the quiet of the night made her feel unbearably lonely.
Loneliness often led to past behaviors showing up like an old friend.
One of her father’s Jazz records played quietly from her bedroom. It was a low, melancholy song by a woman with a raspy voice. Nothing she recognized. But it was probably about love, or losing love, or never having love. She swallowed hard as she watched a gray plume of smoke escape her lips and float into the night sky.
“You know, you really shouldn’t smoke,” a voice called out from below, “It’s unbecoming for a woman of your magnitude.”
Rosaline groaned, and rolled her eyes. Not him. Not now.
“I suppose I should take up some other vices then. Maybe liquor and women?” She shot back.
Benvolio Montague grimaced, acknowledging the hypocrisy of his words. He shoved his hands in his pockets as he watched her from the sidewalk, “There’s that unwavering Capulet wittiness.”
“What do you want?” Rosaline said, clearly annoyed by his presence, “Don’t you have some shady characters to mingle with somewhere else?”
“I just…” something crossed his features, but he quickly pulled it back, “I’m sorry about Juliet. I heard the funeral was today. I would’ve come, but...you know.”
Rosaline took another drag from her cigarette and leaned up against the fire escape railing, “Yeah, I know.”
There was an awkward pause as they searched for the right words to say.
“I always did kind of like her,” Benvolio admitted, feebly, “She was a good kid. Kept her head in the books, unlike the rest of us. She didn’t deserve that. What happened, I mean.”
Rosaline said nothing but watched him carefully for a moment, trying to assess the situation.
“Thank you for your condolences. I’m sorry for your loss, too. But what’s the real reason you’re here? You don’t normally trek all the way uptown without a motive. Not when this could’ve been a telegraph.”
Benvolio tapped the side of his head and let out a low, humorless chuckle.
“There you go, being astute,” he sighed, “We gotta meet with Cal.”
“Can’t it wait? I’ve just settled in for the night.”
“Yeah, sure. Let me just ring him up and let him know you’re a little drowsy. I’m sure he’d be obliged to move the meeting to whenever you’re available, Princess.” And there he was. The Ben she knew, all awkward pleasantries pushed aside. The normalcy was comfortable. “No, it can’t wait. Another fight broke out with one of your uncle’s men and one of my uncle’s men. Cal’s not fuckin’ happy. It’s makin’ his place look bad.”
She put out her cigarette, annoyed that she didn’t have time to light another before she got dressed, “Does Silvestro know?”
“No. Apparently Cal called him to get you, but the old man was drunk. My uncle told me, I figured I’d just come get you. You’re welcome, by the way.”
She rolled her eyes, but inwardly felt a sense of disappointment that Cal didn’t come get her himself. All things considered, she didn’t see why he’d avoid her. She licked her lips and stepped away from the railing.
“Let me get proper. I’ll be down in a minute.”
“Hurry up. Cal’s already mad, we don’t want him to kill us.”
She almost argued that he would never kill anyone, but that was a bold statement that she wasn’t 100% confident in.
Escalus’ club looked different when it was empty. When the dancers were done, and the liquor was put away, and the tables were stacked and shoved in the corner, it looked nearly menacing. With the ornate sconces out for the evening, the low overhead lights cast shadows along the walls, making Cal’s men look much larger and more intimidating than usual. In comparison, the young man looked much more like a novice. It was a fact that he was well aware of, as he had to take over his father’s club and businesses after his untimely death. Rosaline could remember a time when there was a softness to his face and hands that made her stomach flip in place when she saw him. In a little over a year, she watched as his features sharped and his hands became dusted with bruises and scars.
When she entered the room and his eyes softened, she saw a slight hint of that boy she knew as a kid. It immediately hardened again when Benvolio sidled up beside her and his eyes flickered between the two. Either he knew something they didn’t know, or he was making a very strong assumption.
“Huh…” he gestured to them with his chin, “What’re the odds of you showing up together?”
Rosaline opened her mouth to protest, but Ben beat her to it with a snort.
“It was a favor. She had no way to get here. It was the least I could do, y’know? After today…” he drifted off and shoved his hands into his vest pockets.
Escalus eyed her carefully as if trying to find the right words, and took a deep breath.
“My condolences...to you both. It was awfully crummy what happened to those kids. And I’m not gonna pass the buck. It was fucked up. I should’ve been more on top of things and I wasn’t doing my job. I should’ve been taking care of y- of things.”
Rosaline caught his gaze and held it for a moment, before he swallowed hard and forced his eyes to sweep the room full of goons. They came from both families, some of whom Rosaline recognized and some she didn’t.
“That’s why I called you all here tonight. This shit has gotta stop! You are messin’ with my business,” he continued, his voice thick with authority. Rosaline bit her lower lip, surprised and mildly turned on by the bass in his tone, “and when you mess with my business, you mess with my money. And when you mess with my money, I get mad.”
Out of the corner of her eye, Rosaline saw Benvolio’s uncle slip in between the double doors, and stand beside his men.
“Ah, so you did decide to show up,” Escalus said, staring pointedly at the new arrival.
“My apologies, sir,” Damiano removed his hat and bowed his head, “I had some...stuff to take care of back home.”
“This,” Escalus motioned to him, “is more important than whatever cockeyed business you’ve got. Your men are out of control, and clearly Benvolio is the only one taking this seriously, considering he had time to swing by and get Rosaline before you even got here.”
“Well that’s hardly fair. Silvestro isn’t even here,” Damiano mumbled under his breath. In a flash Escalus was across the room and nose-to-nose with the elder man.
“Did I ask where Silvestro was? Nah, buddy, you’re only accountable for yourself and your men. When your shit goes belly up because of these yucks, you only have yourself to blame.”
Benvolio raised his brows, clearly as surprised by Escalus as Rosaline was.
“My deepest apologies, sir. I didn’t--I won’t speak out of turn, again.”
Escalus sized him up for a moment before backing off and returning to the front of the room, “Yeah. You might want to consider who funds your business ventures the next time you decide to do that,” he cleared his throat and readjusted his suit jacket, “Where were we? Right. Your family is giving me bad press. I can’t have classy parties interrupted by your interfamily troubles. Not when I have people to impress and goals to meet. It’s ruining my reputation.”
Rosaline didn’t see how this was her issue. She tried to stay out of Capulet business. Despite her rite to leadership by blood, the Capulets made it clear that she wasn’t exactly included in their affairs now that her father wasn’t around to advocate for her. And good riddance. She took the opportunity to glance over at Benvolio as Escalus scolded the group at large, and he looked to be deep in thought. His sharp jaw worked and his thick brows furrowed. Perhaps he was thinking the same thing: What did this have to do with either of them? Benvolio had been known to get into a few brawls. But since Romeo’s passing, he’d been a recluse.
“And so, after consulting with both heads of the family, I decided…” Escalus clasped his hands together, pulling Rosaline out of her stupor, “we’re gonna have a wedding.”
There was a long silence. No one really understood where he was going with this. Rosaline’s heart stopped at the thought of him being engaged to another woman so quickly after…
“I’m sorry,” Rosaline said, shaking her head, “whose wedding?”
Escalus forced a smile on his face that looked more like a grimace, “Yours. To Benvolio Montague.”
“Absolutely not!” Rosaline felt the lump in her throat grow, and her stomach dropped, “I never agreed to any of this! Neither of us did!” She turned to Benvolio for back up, but he continued to stare at the ground with a clenched jaw, “Benvolio did you know about this?!”
“Of course not,” he replied sharply, refusing to meet her eyes, “This is the first I’m hearing about it. Same as you.”
The men in the room whispered among one another at the news, and Rosaline looked around the room for a sympathetic face. Any sympathetic face. Silvestro caught her gaze and frowned, but stiffened his back.
“It’s for the good of the families,” he said, firm in his stance.
“Yeah…” Benvolio mumbled half-heartedly, “The good of the families.”
“This is madness!” Rosaline spat. Her panicked eyes found Escalus and fury built in her chest, “It’s nineteen forty-eight, god damn it! How dare you marry me off like it’s the Middle Ages? I deserve to have a say! I’m as important as any of you bastards. Don’t I matter? Doesn’t what I want matter?”
Escalus squinted at her. “Don’t be hysterical,” he spat, “It’s on my dime. You get to stay home. You don’t gotta work a day in your life. Benny boy here gets to look over both companies, and you just gotta relax. If anything, I’d say Benvolio’s getting the short end of the stick.”
Escalus knew. He knew she wanted to go to school and work at the library. He knew she had plans for her life. She watched as every dream she had vanished in front of her eyes. Benvolio said something in her defense, but it sounded like white noise. Her vision started to spin, and her lungs tightened. She turned on her heels and rushed from the room as fast as she could.
Rosaline felt like she’d been slapped.