Chapter 7

A Glorious Soap Opera Conspiracy

"I feel like this is the bad type of positive reinforcement," Mercutio lamented.

He turned the heat down on the stove to keep the cream from scorching. Baking cookies was usually a rewarding activity, especially when he got to eat most of them. On the other hand, baking cookies for a dinner party he didn't want to host for people he didn't want to see seemed like cruel and unusual punishment.

"How so?" Benvolio inquired from the living room.

"It's like how you're not supposed to give a kid candy to get them to stop throwing a tantrum," Mercutio said, "Or how if you keep petting a dog so that they stop barking for attention, you end up encouraging bad behavior."

"Could you explain how is this related?" Benvolio asked. "Also, you did that with both of our dogs, which explains why they're so… loquacious."

As if to confirm his point, Queenie and Mab began to bark at an invisible phantom at the window.

"Romeo just got us screwed with this engagement," Mercutio explained, raising his voice to be heard over the cacophony of howling. "And now, we're inviting him and his fiancée over for a fancy dinner. So, logically, wouldn't that just make him want to screw us over more?"

"It's not a reward," Benvolio said. "It's called basic courtesy. This is for us too, you know. Just look at is as a preview of the engagement party. Also, no one said anything about a fancy dinner. This is more like a modest get-together."

"Excuse me!" Mercutio shrieked, slamming down a knife onto the chopping board. "I am working my ass off to get this dinner ready for you ingrates and you call it a 'modest get-together'?"

Benvolio entered the kitchen and surveyed the hectic scene. Cleaning up after the party was going to be a challenge, but the delicious aromas emanating from the oven convinced him that the mess was entirely worth it. He made his way over to where Mercutio was busy cutting vegetables and planted a kiss on his cheek.

"My apologies, dear," he said. "It smells heavenly in here."

"Good, because it feels like I'm working in Hell's Kitchen," Mercutio retorted. "I hate cooking for large groups…"

"You need any help?" Benvolio offered.

"Yes," Mercutio said, "But I don't trust you in the kitchen. Thanks though."

"Tell me if you change your mind."

"I'll never understand how you can ace medical school and still not know how to boil pasta."

"More proof that the G factor theory of intelligence is bogus," Benvolio muttered.

Mercutio rolled his eyes. The minds of science-obsessed nerds operated strangely indeed.

"Save the technical rants for dinner," he said. "How long until people start getting here?"

"Well, Romeo and Juliet said they'd be here around 6:30," Benvolio replied, glancing at his watch. "So, we have another hour, but we won't be having dinner till 7. Your brother said he'd be here with Silvia by then."

"I don't see why we had to invite Valentine," Mercutio said, frowning. "Especially not after our latest conversation…"

"Why? What happened?"

"Let's just say he wasn't very happy about the… abrupt ending to our last conversation, and when that man wants to lecture someone, he just goes on and on and on. He's going to bring up the whole issue of our parents again, and I'm not too keen on diving into that mess." Mercutio sighed. "But he did congratulate us on our engagement. Silvia too. Val's not the type to get too sappy about these things, but I have to say, he told me some pretty corny things last we spoke."

He turned to Benvolio and added: "Don't expect the rest of my family to be like that."

The edge in Mercutio's voice convinced Benvolio not to push the subject further.

"So, I've got the cooking under control," Mercutio said. "And you've done the cleaning."

"I'm not done with the cleaning," Benvolio interjected.

"You're done with the cleaning by normal human standards," Mercutio amended. "Now all we need to do is figure out our game plan."

"Game plan?" Benvolio already knew the answer wasn't going to be sane.

"For Romeo's reevaluation of his life."

"Please tell me this isn't going where I think it is."

"Look." Mercutio cleared his throat. "People make mistakes, and let's face it, your cousin is the type of guy who makes a lot of them. When your friends and family start to screw up, it's best to stop them early on before they commit to more things and get themselves into an even deeper pile of shit. It's like when Valentine stopped me from dousing the firecrackers in alcohol when I got drunk for the first time."

"That didn't actually happen, did it?!"

"That's not the point. The point is, sometimes people get engaged to the wrong person amidst their youthful stupidity, and it's up to their friends who are older and wiser to stop them before they marry into the Capulet family."

"Stop right there."

Benvolio had built up a pretty high tolerance for the socially unorthodox. It was the only way for him to survive his boyfriend, his family and pretty much everyone he'd ever made acquaintance with. That being said, some things were just unacceptable.

"We are not going to invite Romeo and Juliet over just to sabotage their engagement," he said. "Absolutely not."

"I know it's not really the nicest thing to do," Mercutio argued. "But I like to view it as tough love."

"I don't care what you want to call it." Benvolio took a deep breath. Finding his Mental Happy Place was increasingly difficult these days. "We're not doing it."

"It's not even my idea!" Mercutio said.

"Uh-huh." Benvolio rolled his eyes. "Then who thought of it? The girls? I never knew canines could be so devious…"

"Your mother."

"That's your comeback? What are you? Twelve?"

"I'm serious," Mercutio insisted. "She and your aunt called while you were at work about how we're closer to Romeo at this point then they are, so we would be the best people to talk some sense into him about this business with the Capulets. Go ask them yourself!"

As crazy as it sounded, Benvolio knew when his fiancé was telling the truth. Sometimes he really thought he needed a new family. His Mental Happy Place was threatening to fade into oblivion.

"Honestly, it's not that surprising," Mercutio went on. "I mean, one of the first things I learned about your family was how much they hate…"

"The Capulets, I know," Benvolio interrupted. "I don't like them much either, but that doesn't justify us conspiring against my cousin's love life like we're in some kind of soap opera."

"You know I wouldn't do this if I didn't care about Romeo," Mercutio whined. "I knew him before I even knew you, but we've got to watch out for him…"

"Would you stop acting like you're the responsible, mature one here?" Benvolio snapped. "Anyone who knows you at all could tell that the reason you're latching onto this terrible plan is so that you have an excuse to screw with the Capulets."

"It's really just Tybalt who I want to wreak havoc on," Mercutio said. "Besides, don't tell me you don't want to mess with them a little."

"I never said I didn't want to," Benvolio conceded. "The point is we can do that without scheming against Romeo."

Mercutio turned back to his chopping board in a huff. If he kept going, the vegetables would be minced into microscopic bits, but he didn't care. Mincing was both addictive and therapeutic.

"So, what are we going to do tonight then?" he asked.

"We're going to be normal decent people, congratulate Romeo and Juliet on their engagement and keep all conversation related to her family civil," Benvolio said. "Then, we're going to try to talk some sense into your family."

"We?" Mercutio exclaimed. "I'm on your family's side for this!"

"Fine then. I'm going to talk some sense into all of you, but don't try anything tonight or I swear I'll… I'll…"

"You'll what?"

"I'll think of something to do that you'll absolutely despise. In short, don't you dare try to break up the happy couple. Now, if you'll excuse me, I've got three more rooms to vacuum."

Mercutio sniggered.

"You're really cute when you try to be threatening," he remarked.

"Shut up, Mercutio."