It was all her fault. Mr Spencer was avoiding her, and it was all because she had been stupid and drunk and made an idiot of herself. She had practically thrown herself at him. No wonder Mr Spencer was repulsed.
Juliet felt utterly miserable. Since Hallowe’en the Latin teacher had been studiously avoiding her. He still had to teach her in his classes, but he rarely if ever called on her for an answer, or spoke to her for any purpose if he didn’t have to.
He was flawlessly polite and professional, but that was it. She had blown it.
It wasn’t even about the bet any longer, if in fact it ever had been. Juliet had completely fallen for Mr Spencer and he didn’t want to give her the time of day.
She nursed her misery to herself, trying to avoid the scrutiny of Fhemie and Margot who could sense that something was up.
“Girl, he’s really got it bad!” Margot whispered one day in class.
Juliet could have wept. It was during a lesson in which Mr Spencer had literally asked every single girl in the class except Juliet to translate a line, or answer a question about the text. She wasn’t convinced, despite Margot’s encouragement, that Mr Spencer was deliberately avoiding her because he secretly liked her. It was pretty clear that he was disgusted by her.
He was so good looking. She knew what his skin smelled like close up. The firm warmth of his lips. It had tripped a switch in her, making her all the more desperate for him.
If only she could turn the clock back. But it was too late for that.
"Everything okay?” Dan asked Carl.
They were having coffee while Jenny and Rebecca shopped for baby things.
“I don’t know,” Carl said. “They should be.”
Dan tore open a small packet of sugar. “Work or home?” he asked.
Carl wished he could just confide in Dan. But he felt it would be a betrayal of Rebecca. “It’s home, but it’s complicated,” he said.
Dan, who had strongly suspected that something was up between Carl and Rebecca, was concerned about his friend. Their conversation a few days earlier had troubled him.
“Something like that.” Carl gazed out of the window, wishing he could freeze the world and have a few days by himself just to think about things.
It was killing him. Trying to pretend that Juliet wasn’t there, trying to avoid speaking to her in class. Seeing the hurt and confusion in her eyes. It wrenched his heart.
The last image he had of her other than at school was in her sexy Hallowe’en costume. His mind was fixated on the memory of it. The memory of her lips brushing his.
Juliet hadn’t even been back to his church since that night. He guessed that she was embarrassed and probably regretted something she would never have done if sober. Once again Carl blamed himself: he had deliberately not moved away from her, wanting her so badly in that one moment of weakness.
“I even tried going to confession,” he told Dan.
“What, like Catholic confession? Something hasn’t actually happened, has it?” Dan saw the flicker of guilt in Carl’s eyes.
“Even if it has it’s not a disaster.” Dan put his coffee down and looked rueful. “If you must know, Jenny and I weren’t the greatest at adhering to all of those arm’s length rules they go on about in the classes. After all, betrothal used to be the green light for that side of things, in times past.”
Carl knew this, although it was against the current teachings of their church.
“It’s not that.” If only it was. “It’s in some ways the opposite.”
Dan was puzzled. He remembered his previous conversation with Carl. But lack of sexual feeling wasn’t the kind of thing that you needed to go to confession about. Unless… “You don’t mean you’re having feelings the other way?”
Now Carl was bewildered, then realised what Dan meant. “No, not at all. But not for Rebecca either.” He couldn’t bring himself to mention that he did have those feelings for another girl.
But Dan was putting two and two together. Confession meant guilt, and that could only mean one thing. “There’s someone else?”
“Not as such. Just someone who made me realise what it probably should be, and isn’t,” Carl told him.
With Mr Spencer freezing her out, Juliet tried to throw herself into band rehearsals. So far she had managed to conceal the whole band thing from everyone.
Remembering that the best lie is the one that’s closest to the truth, she had told Aunt Mary she was going to a music appreciation club on Tuesdays and a poetry circle on Thursdays.
“It’s important to have some extracurricular achievements for my college application,” Juliet had said.
Anything new she gleaned about music from rehearsals could be dropped into conversation as though it came from music appreciation. Jax in particular was a music nerd and discussed things from all realms of music, including classical.
If Aunt Mary ever asked about the poetry group Juliet could show her the lyrics she was writing for the band. An edited version, anyway.
The best thing of all was having the Paris choir tour to look forward to. Following a letter from Miss Mead, Juliet’s aunt had finally consented. Juliet had never been abroad before and it was going to be the trip of a lifetime.
"Can anyone explain what Vergil is trying to do with this line?”
Carl looked around the room. There were only a couple of hands up, one of them Juliet’s. He had already called on the other girl earlier in the class so he had to take Juliet’s response this time. “Yes, Juliet?”
Her face brightened when he finally acknowledged her and Carl had to do all he could to keep his own face steady.
“Sibilance, to sound soothing. Suadentque cadentia sidera somnos.” Juliet pronounced the phrase flawlessly, emphasising the esses to illustrate her point.
“That’s very good.” Despite himself Carl smiled at her and she reddened.
If only he could have spoken with her, apologised, made her understand that the kiss had been his fault. But even to reassure her was now forbidden since he was trying to put some distance there.
The problem was that he liked her: it was more than physical attraction. Juliet was highly intelligent, spirited yet vulnerable. Carl admired her courage, having seen how often some of the other girls made spiteful remarks towards her.
Juliet was clearly from a less privileged background than most of her classmates but she didn’t let it hold her back. Carl had enjoyed talking with her before the whole Hallowe’en thing happened.
What was he going to do?
There was only one thing Carl could do. It was one of the hardest conversations he had ever had to have.
Rebecca was furious. Disbelieving and furious. “You can’t do this to me! To us! I’ve done all this preparation towards our wedding, what are we supposed to do with all that?”
If anything, her response vindicated Carl’s decision. He had done all he could to soften the blow, even blaming himself as much as possible for “not being ready”.
But the cold hard truth was that he simply didn’t love her enough. He didn’t really love her at all.
“I think we both need to take some time to think about our values, and what we both want,” Carl said. Then he immediately regretted it because it left the door ajar. He wanted this to be a final break up. He simply couldn’t imagine any future scenario in which he would feel any renewed desire to marry Rebecca.
“I know exactly what my values are,” Rebecca told him. “And I wouldn’t have been spending so much effort and time planning this wedding if I hadn’t known what I wanted.”
Carl noted, not for the first time, that Rebecca’s focus was on the wedding rather than on him or the two of them as a couple. She could have said “I want you” but she didn’t. It had worried him before: once all the planning was done, and the big day came, and they were finally united: what then?
“I’ll cover all the expenses we’ve already run to,” he said.
Rebecca stared at him, open mouthed. “I can’t believe you’re talking like this. You’re not thinking straight. You need to speak with Pastor Brown.”
“I’ll speak with him if you like, but it’s not going to change things. I’ve prayed over this and I’ve thought about it deeply. It’s not right for either of us. We’re not where we should be as a couple, and I don’t think we ever will be.”
She looked furious. “This is about all the physical side, isn’t it? Your constant attempts to push for that. It’s only a few months that you need to be patient for, I don’t understand what your problem is.”
There was so much more anger in her than sorrow, so it seemed to him, but perhaps it was her way of dealing with it.
“How do you think that side of things would have gone, after the wedding, Rebecca? People talk of ‘chemistry’ but do you think it’s guaranteed? Because right now I don’t think that we have it.”
“That’s because I’ve been praying and exercising self control,” she snapped. “Besides, people put too much emphasis on that. It shouldn’t have to be some kind of obsession.”
Carl looked at her. “Have you ever felt it? With me? Have you ever even felt tempted?”
There was a faint flicker of fear and uncertainty in her eyes before she replied. “I can’t believe you would ask me something so disgusting, so sinful.”
“I don’t think it’s sinful to talk about it. The couples in the marriage DVDs talk about it quite openly, how they struggled with it ahead of the marriage. It’s only a sin if you yield to temptation.”
Saying this, Carl got a pang of guilt thinking about Juliet and the kiss. Though he had managed to keep things professional since that devastating encounter.
“Well maybe it’s for the best,” Rebecca was saying. “You seem to have become some kind of sexual deviant. I’ll pray for you, Carl, and I hope you come to your senses.”