"Oh my God you’ll never guess!” Margot was bursting with excitement.
Fhemie and Juliet were already eating lunch. Juliet had a tuna wrap and Fhemie was eating a chocolate chip muffin, tossing a few crumbs to a small bird that pecked them up from the ground nearby.
“You are correct, I will never guess, so just put us all out of our misery. Or into it,” Fhemie said.
Margot wasn’t deterred by Fhemie’s lack of enthusiasm.
“So you know how Miss Villiers is supposed to be taking the choir trip with Miss Mead?”
They all knew this. Miss Villiers taught modern languages, and since the trip was in France, it made sense for her to go. She was also a much tougher pair of hands than Miss Mead, whom the girls could run riot over.
“Well,” Margot continued, “she has something with some relative. So she can’t go. So guess who else is going instead?”
“I can’t guess.” Fhemie refused to play the game.
Juliet felt a jolt.
Fhemie was even more envious about the trip now. “He’ll be so much more easy going than Villiers. You guys will have a ball.”
“And Juliet can finally get some alone time with him,” Margot said.
“As if.” Juliet wasn’t even going to let herself think about that.
Margot and Fhemie exchanged a glance.
“In other news,” Margot said, having nearly forgotten, “some guy Terrance knows is having a party this Friday. So you’re both invited.”
Juliet couldn’t make it. “I’m busy Friday.”
Margot turned on her. “Busy with what? You’re always busy these days. I figure you’re not going to that church thing so what are you doing?”
“I bet it’s like that book my grandmother sent me. She’s secretly doing novitiate classes and she’s going to join the convent on the last day of term,” Fhemie said.
“That wasn’t a book, that was an old film. With Hayley Mills,” Margot said.
Fhemie shrugged. “I read it in a book. Most stupid ending ever.”
“Whatever. So what exactly are you up to, Juliet?”
Juliet was going to have to tell them sooner or later. She braced herself for the teasing.
“You remember that guy who gave me his contact after the karaoke night?” she said.
“Please tell me you did not call him.”
“I did, and I’ve been singing in this band they have,” Juliet told her.
Fhemie picked muffin crumbs from her lap and threw them to the small bird. “But you didn’t tell us because it’s a shit band, right? We did warn you.”
“I don’t think so,” Juliet said. “I don’t mean my singing is all that. But I think they know what they’re doing.”
Margot raised her eyebrows. “So when do we get to hear this musical marvel?”
“This Friday. At the Green Room. I was going to ask if I could tell my aunt I was staying at your place.”
“So where are you actually going to be staying?”
Juliet hadn’t entirely figured this out. She had hoped that maybe she could crash with one of the band members. Sneaking into Aunt Mary’s house past midnight, possibly reeking of cigarettes and alcohol, wasn’t a risk worth taking. Anything like that and her aunt would cancel the Paris trip.
“We’ll come and watch you, you can stay at mine,” Fhemie offered. Margot was spending the night with Terrance, using Fhemie for a cover.
Juliet flooded with gratitude and remorse for not telling her friends earlier. She should never have doubted them. “What about the party?”
“We can go there afterwards. Bands don’t usually play in the Green Room that late. It will all work out.”
Fhemie had brought out another large muffin and was starting to eat it to Margot’s disgust.
“One I get, but two is like a step away from America’s Most Obese,” Margot said. “It will catch up with you one day.”
Juliet looked at the wrapper. “You know I could bake you something so much nicer than those. Healthier too. The ones you buy are gross.”
“Why don’t you then?” Fhemie said. “Only if it tastes of bran or some such shit, I won’t eat it.”
Juliet laughed. “It won’t. I’ll even add chocolate chips.”
She experienced a sudden pang as she remembered the cookies she had baked for Mr Spencer. She imagined his fiancée baking him trays of goodies while the two of them enjoyed a cosy night in, and felt bereft.
There were so many people. Obviously there would be, since it was a Friday night, but Juliet had secretly been hoping that the place would be half-empty. If she screwed up there would be such a huge crowd to witness it.
Drew was really supportive of her. They’d become firm friends over the weeks of rehearsing and he could see how nervous she was.
She kind of wished Margot and Fhemie weren’t coming. It would be all the worse if they witnessed her humiliation.
“You okay?” Drew asked, while they were still setting up.
“I think so.” She was as ready as she would ever be.
“You look great,” he told her.
Juliet was actually wearing her school uniform, though it had undergone such a transformation that Miss Villiers would have barely recognised it. If she had, she would have had a heart attack.
Juliet’s oldest school skirt - now too short to meet regulations - was rolled up at the waist, paired with a white blouse tied to show her midriff below and unbuttoned to show the top of her bra. This was black and lacy, also against regulations which required discreet, neutral underwear. The outfit had been Jax’s sister’s idea. The band had been amused when they found out Juliet went to St Gillian’s, which was a relief as she had worried they might object to her still being at high school.
“Good Catholic girl gone wild. Let’s do that,” Jax’s sister had said.
It certainly made it easier than buying new clothes. Juliet need to save all her money for the Paris trip.
She wasn’t sure how she would feel when the performance started. She was fretting that she would get stage fright. Yet when they were finally announced, and the first song started, Juliet found herself going into a kind of trance. She and the band and the stage formed their own world. The audience was there but further away, separate. She wasn’t even distracted by trying to see Margot and Fhemie in the crowd.
Dan had dragged Carl out on the town to drown his sorrows.
“Better to face the world than sit about brooding.”
Carl had been reluctant to go out for a drink, since he rarely touched alcohol though Dan was a bit more lapsed his in habits. It felt too much like celebrating something that had been a painful event. The relief he felt at having broken off his engagement only made it more uncomfortable because he felt guilty.
He hadn’t even been sure if he should show up to church or not, in case it made things harder for Rebecca. So he had skipped services for the first week, then gone and tried to keep low key. Rebecca had been there, she had given him a tight, formal nod but hadn’t otherwise spoken to him.
He wasn’t sure if he should have spoken to her. But what could he say. “Hope you’re okay?” “No hard feelings?”
It was such an awkward situation.
Dan was right: if Carl stayed at home he would just sit about brooding and getting distracted from his marking by thoughts of a certain student that he was still struggling to forget. So he accepted Dan’s invitation.
They ended up in a noisy, crowded bar that Carl had previously walked past but never gone into. He usually preferred quieter places, and Rebecca hadn’t even liked to go to bars and pubs at all.
“This looks lively,” Dan said as they made their way to the bar. “And there’s a band going to play.”
A beer in hand, letting the noise of the crowd and the currently playing music wash over him, Carl was starting to feel grounded again.
“You made the right decision,” Dan said.
“Really?” Dan’s and Jenny’s reaction was something that Carl had initially feared, since they had frequently socialised as a foursome.
“If you’re not suited, you’re not suited,” Dan said. “And in all honesty, Jen and I had wondered about you both a few times.” This was putting it mildly. Jenny did her absolute best to like Rebecca but the other woman wasn’t really her chosen type of friend. Christian forbearance only went so far: there were more than a few occasions when Jenny had vented to her husband after Carl and Rebecca had left, usually about something sanctimonious Rebecca had said.
Deep down Carl knew he had done the right thing. The problem was that it had all got confused and complicated by the Juliet Martin situation. He had also mistakenly thought that finishing with Rebecca would defuse the tensions he felt over his student.
Instead the opposite had happened. He dreamt about her even more, and the dreams were even less appropriate than previously. He would wake up feeling frustrated, aching hard at the image of her and trying to concentrate on other thoughts.
What was the purpose of this temptation? He prayed about it constantly. If it was a test, when would it be over?
Which was why for a moment Carl thought he was hallucinating when he suddenly saw Juliet’s face, light shining on her hair like a halo, just across the room. Her face was that of an angel, and her body…
Carl nearly dropped his beer. Just what was she wearing? It was like the sexiest, most illicit parody of St Gillian’s school uniform imaginable. It made her Hallowe’en costume look modest. Juliet was singing and she sounded like a sensual angel, the slim curves of her body winding with the music.
He couldn’t tear his eyes away.
Dan noticed him looking. “That singer’s something, isn’t she? Young though. She looks vaguely familiar.”
Please don’t recognise her, Carl thought. Dan had been there the nights that Juliet had come to their church but they hadn’t been introduced.
How could anyone look so angelic and so erotic at the same time? Carl was transfixed. If the crowd suddenly melted away and she came over to him, he wouldn’t be able to resist her. He could only imagine how she would feel: soft, pliant, curving and arching against him. Reaching up to him as he crushed her in an embrace.
Enough! He prayed again for strength. He tried recalling a passage of Latin text. He even tried thinking about Rebecca to blot out his ardour for Juliet.
How he was going to face her in class, in her school uniform after seeing her like his, he had no idea.
Fhemie spotted Carl and gave Margot a sharp nudge. It was hard to hold a conversation above the music so she had to gesture towards where their teacher was sitting.
Margot looked over and saw their Latin teacher watching Juliet. To be fair most of the room was watching Juliet given she was on a stage with lights on her, but Mr Spencer looked kind of frozen.
The band were about to take a break for half an hour and as soon as they did, Juliet’s friends rushed up to her. “Guess who’s here?”
For a moment Juliet had a sense of dread that Aunt Mary had stopped by, then was both thrilled and mortified to realise who they meant. She had looked towards where they were indicating and of course caught his eye immediately.
“You should go and say hi,” Margot told her.
“Yeah, maybe give him your autograph,” Fhemie said.
Juliet was on something of a high from the singing and couldn’t help but notice how incredibly good looking Mr Spencer was, over at the bar. He was queueing to buy drinks.
“Hello.” She had felt bold before approaching him but when she got there, she couldn’t think of anything to say.
“Juliet.” He greeted her. “You sing really well.”
“I wouldn’t have thought it was your kind of music.”
“It’s not something I’m very familiar with, but I liked it,” he told her.
Juliet was trying to figure out if he was here with his fiancée. She looked around but couldn’t see her. “Are you here with people?” she asked him.
“Just a friend,” he said.
“Oh.” She assumed he meant Rebecca and her heart sank a little.
Carl read the disappointment in her eyes. He knew he was tempting fate, but he couldn’t help clarifying. “Dan, whom you may have met at my church.”
“Oh!” The light went on in her eyes again and Carl felt his heart flip. “Your fiancée isn’t here?” Juliet asked.
This really was playing with fire. The spectre of Rebecca was one of his last defences. “There isn’t a fiancée any more. Rebecca and I broke up.”
Juliet tried to suppress a spark of joy. “I’m sorry,” she told him. As she said it she found that she was genuinely sorry, she didn’t like to think of Mr Spencer being hurt.
“It wasn’t working,” he told her. Out of old loyalty to Rebecca he had wanted to avoid stating who ended it, but Juliet guessed from his tone that he was the one who had finished it.
Her spark of joy turned into a flash of guilt. “This wasn’t because of Hallowe’en?” she asked him.
Carl knew what she was referring to. “Nothing to do with that. We simply weren’t suited.”
“Did you mind?” she asked.
“Mind what?” He was momentarily confused.
“That I kissed you.”
Carl had to take a couple of seconds to steady himself. With her words Juliet had brought the whole event rushing back. It didn’t help that she was once again standing in front of him with half her breasts showing, her skirt revealing most of her thighs. It took every ounce of his self control not to reach out for her.
“Were you angry?” she asked him. She had thought he was from the way he had seemed to avoid her since that night.
“No.” He barely voiced it but she read his lips.
“Would you be angry if I did it again?”
The number of people and the crowd at the bar had pushed the two of them closer, nearly touching. Carl had to work on his breathing to remain still: he was a hair’s breadth from being right against her. He couldn’t take his eyes off her lips. “We can’t, Juliet. It would be totally inappropriate.”
She gave him a seductive smile. “But you want me to?” she said, her voice almost a whisper. They were so close she could smell the trace of cologne he was wearing, smell the raw maleness of his skin. She thought she had never wanted anyone so badly.
He briefly closed his eyes, trying to keep himself together. “I’m your teacher. We can’t have this conversation.” The rote phrases were the only thing keeping him from stepping over the precipice.
“So if you weren’t my teacher…?” The question hung in the air.
“Juliet…” He couldn’t answer. He couldn’t lie convincingly and to admit the truth was impossible.
“Do you want me?” She was leaning even closer, millimetres from his body. Pretty much any other guy in the bar would kill to be in this position. Carl dreaded to think what Dan’s reaction must be. He couldn’t bring himself to look over.
“More than anything.” He could hardly believe he had admitted it. She had him transfixed. “Right now, being this close to you is like torture. But it’s wrong and nothing is going to happen. Even if you weren’t my student, I’m far too old for you.”
As he spoke he managed to get his composure back. To bring himself back down to earth.
“I’m eighteen. I’m above the age of consent.”
Just this phrase nearly knocked Carl off balance again. He could only imagine the sweetness of actually taking her. But he was resolved. He picked up the drinks. “It makes no difference.” His voice was firm.
Juliet had to get back anyway for the second half of the show. “I’ll see you at school then?” She looked directly into his eyes and they held one another’s gaze for a moment.
“I’ll see you at school.” Carl had a feeling this was far from over but he would steel himself into more careful behaviour in future. Juliet slipped off to the band and Carl return to Dan.
Dan looked at him quizzically. “That looked like a cosy chat. Do you know her?”
Carl couldn’t lie, Dan might well find out anyway. “She’s actually one of my students.”
Dan whistled under his breath. “That’s some serious jailbait. Are they all like that?”
“She’s a good student.” Carl found himself defensive of Juliet.
“With a serious teacher crush,” Dan countered.
Despite himself Carl felt uplifted at this. After all Juliet was young and beautiful and pretty much every guy in the place would have had his eye on her that night, wearing her outrageous outfit and singing like an angel. Even though it was completely wrong, he was flattered to think that she found him attractive.
Glancing around and seeing other hungry male eyes on her, Carl had to fight his instinct to grab a coat and put it around her.
The guilt would doubtless hit him in the early hours, as he had yet another dream of her, and he would struggle to get through the weekend alternately missing her and trying not to think of her.