Juliet could barely sleep the night after the gig, she was floating on air. Mr Spencer wanted her. “More than anything” he had said.
It was the admission itself more than the actual words that was significant. For her teacher to actually admit his desire to her was huge.
“Told you he was still into you,” Margot said.
“How did you know?” Juliet asked.
“The way he tried not to look at you in class all the time. It was so obvious.”
All the misery Juliet had felt at his avoidance of her and formality around her was replaced with a bursting, stomach dissolving joy. She wasn’t sure how he would react towards her in Latin the following Monday. But somehow it would happen. It had to happen.
Saturday dragged after she got home from Fhemie’s house. Juliet had one thing on her mind. She even thought about walking past his house but chickened out.
Instead she buried herself in homework, and made another batch of muffins to take to school. Fhemie had gone wild for them, and had encouraged Juliet to start a surreptitious trade in home-baked goodies. “I would pay for these.”
“You don’t have to, they’re a gift.”
“So sell them to other people,” Fhemie suggested.
Juliet had worried about it not being allowed under school rules.
“Jesus, it’s not like they’re drugs. Give them to me, I’ll sort it out.”
So Fhemie started selling Juliet’s muffins for her, refusing to take anything but free muffins for her commission.
It had solved Juliet’s dilemma over spending money for the Paris trip. She wanted to get some really nice souvenirs while she was over there but Aunt Mary didn’t like her working during the school semester.
Later she made a couple more batches, thinking of Mr Spencer while she did so, and wondering what he was up to.
Cold shower. Prayer. Bible.
It was no good. This was bigger than Carl could deal with. He couldn’t get it out of his system no matter what he tried.
He almost regretted breaking up with Rebecca because at least it was an extra barrier between him and Juliet, something else for him to focus on. If he had still been engaged he would never had confessed what he had to her.
Confessed. Confession. Maybe that was where he needed to go. It had given him clarity before, even if he didn’t feel his soul was shriven. How could he possibly seek guidance from Pastor Brown about something this damning? He needed anonymity, privacy.
Carl had been surprised by the amount of support from members of his church after his broken engagement became known. He had assumed that people would have rallied around Rebecca and perhaps even kept their distance with him. Instead there was sympathy for both of them.
“I was sorry to hear of your situation, my dear. But you’re both young and the Lord has a plan for you, whatever it may be.” This was from Agnes. Carl liked her, she was such a kind old woman with her snowy hair and bright eyes.
Carl came to realise that others had recognised the incompatibility for a long time, which was galling. He hoped Rebecca would find happiness elsewhere, but he doubted his own ability to.
He couldn’t even look at another woman. The only female in the entire world that he wanted was Juliet Martin.
But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.
His bible brought little comfort. He should be able to deal with this. He was a grown man and a teacher with several years experience. Falling for a student in this way was absurd.
The bench was hard beneath her and the church was draughty and cold. Juliet sat in Sunday mass next to her aunt, unable to feel any interest in the service. Even the hymns seemed flat.
Her mind wandered to Mr Spencer. Was he at his own church right this moment? What was he doing?
She looked over at the confessional boxes, where she hadn’t been in ages. She wasn’t even sure if she believed in that stuff any more. Baptists didn’t do it, and nor did most other Christian denominations.
If she went, what would she confess first? Impure thoughts, words or deeds?
The thought of Mr Spencer peeling off her clothes and running his strong, firm hands over her body.
Telling Mr Spencer how much she wanted him and what she wanted him to do to her.
Going up to Mr Spencer and putting her lips on his, winding herself around his body, feeling him grow hard against her own body…
She shivered and received a sharp glance from her aunt.
Tomorrow, she would pluck up her courage and approach Mr Spencer. She wasn’t yet sure what she would say. But she couldn’t go on like this.
Carl couldn’t concentrate on Pastor Brown’s sermon. He felt exhausted. He was lying to his friends, his God, even himself. He wasn’t okay. He was in turmoil.
He would have to speak with Juliet tomorrow. Try and clear the air. Explain that he still valued and respected her as a student, and hoped that she could forget his words the other night and move past them.
Right now he would have given almost anything just to be with her. He wished he could take a single day out of time and spend it with her.
Jenny came up to him after the service. She was glowing, her stomach visibly larger. “Why don’t you come over for dinner later?” she asked Carl.
“Thanks, but I have a stack of marking.” In actual fact he wanted to sit at home and brood.
“That’s a shame.” Jenny grinned. “We were looking forward to finding out more about your sinful desires.”
“What?” Carl felt cold. Had Dan guessed about his attraction to Juliet and told his wife?
“I was just joking. I’m afraid Rebecca has been making some insinuations about the reasons for your split. Not that we believe them, knowing Rebecca. I did remind her of Proverbs 11:13 which shut her up.”
Carl felt weary. No wonder he’d had a few funny looks from some of the members of the Women’s Prayer Group that Rebecca attended.
Cynthia was being unbearable in Latin. She was crowing about her designer wardrobe and how it would be impossible to choose which outfits to take to Paris. Mr Spencer was a few minutes late and she took the opportunity to hold court among her sycophantic little clique of friends.
“Of course I’m going to need extra suitcase space for the clothes I’ll get over there.” She started reeling off a long list of European designers she planned to buy.
Margot rolled her eyes. “I don’t know where she thinks she’s going to get the time to do that. Every second of the day will be spent being dragged around churches and museums, not shopping on the Champs Elysées.”
Juliet didn’t care what they were made to do overseas, she was just so excited about getting to go in the first place.
“French boys are so much more sophisticated,” Cynthia was saying. “When we were on holiday on the Côte d’Azur - that’s the French Riviera, you know - and we were staying in Cannes in the presidential suite…”
“The shit that comes of your mouth,” Margot said.
Before a furious Cynthia could retaliate Mr Spencer arrived so conversation had to end.
He looked so handsome today. His clear-cut features, the intelligence and sincerity in his gaze. Juliet had worried he would avoid her again but his eyes met hers briefly. His expression was neutral but there was something there, as though he was trying to read her reaction to him.
The class proceeded. Mr Spencer focused the class on scansion that day: how to work out the rhythms of Vergil’s lines. He explained that it would help them interpret the meaning. They went round the class, each girl reading a few lines in Latin and English. Juliet got the verse where the hero meets the ghost of his dead wife.
“Three times I tried to embrace her, three times she slipped away,” she translated, looking directly into Mr Spencer’s eyes.
They both knew what each other was thinking of on the word “embrace”. The air in the classroom felt charged with electricity to Juliet, she prayed that no one else noticed.
At the end of the class Mr Spencer asked her to remain behind. “Juliet, if you could just stay back for a moment.”
She feigned a look of surprise as though she didn’t know what it was he wanted.
Cynthia, who couldn’t imagine in a million years that Mr Spencer might prefer someone like Juliet over someone like herself, assumed Juliet was in for a telling off. “Guess the foster slut fucked up again,” she said to Juliet under her breath as she left.
“What was that, Cynthia?” Mr Spencer asked.
Cynthia ignored him and left. She had failed all semester to ingratiate herself with the Latin teacher but she wasn’t afraid of him either. Her father was so rich and influential that what Cynthia wanted, Cynthia got. She always managed to get out of detention or have her grades moved upwards.
When Cynthia had finally gone and everyone else had left the room, Margot shooting Juliet a sly grin as she exited, Juliet went up to Mr Spencer’s desk. She stood there, hugging her pile of folders against her chest.
They were both lost for words. But something needed to be said. She let him take the lead, after all he was the one that had summoned her.
Mr Spencer began. “About Friday night, what I said…”
Juliet feared he was going to try and retract it.
“We both know that I shouldn’t have said it,” he continued.
“But it was true?”
Mr Spencer sighed. “Juliet, we can’t go through this again. That’s what I needed to tell you. Conversations like that are off limits.”
“But you can’t take it back.”
“I know.” He looked contrite.
“And I can’t forget hearing it.”
“But you need to, Juliet. We both do.” His expression was serious but also sad.
She was near enough to feel the magnetism of him, drawing her in.
“I can’t. And you know I feel the same,” she told him.
“You’re so young, it’s not uncommon for someone your age…”
Juliet felt a flash of anger and broke in. “It’s not because I’m young. It’s not as though I’m inexperienced.”
Her words hung in the air between them. She immediately regretted them: now he must be thinking that Cynthia’s insults about her were true.
“I know. But these feelings, when they’re not appropriate, they’re sent to test us,” Mr Spencer said.
Why? It was the question that Carl Spencer had asked himself and his God again and again. It was the question he had been agonising over. What was the purpose of him struggling with these feelings for his student? If only she were less beautiful, less intelligent, less desirable. He felt the heat rise between them again.
Juliet was weak with wanting him. Just for him to put his arms around her so she could feel the heat and strength of his body pressed against her. The smooth cotton of his shirt. The shape of the muscles beneath it.
She spoke, her voice almost a whisper.
“If you embrace me, I won’t slip away.”
“That’s what I’m most afraid of.” The spectre of her haunted him enough, the flesh and blood reality would be a devastating torment.
Juliet looked up into his face. “Could you just kiss me, once? Just to see how it feels?”
Carl knew how it would feel. He had kissed her in his dreams, in his thoughts, in his daydreams. He had amplified the memory of their brief embrace, replaying it again and again.
“I can’t do that.”
“But you want to.”
She leant towards him, tilting her face up and closing her eyes. Carl gripped the side of the desk to steady himself. He leaned forward towards her, his face as near to her face without touching. There was barely a fraction of space between his lips and hers. He was so close, so close… he could even feel his own skin tingle. But he would not kiss her.
Feeling as though he was floating for a moment he absorbed everything he could in those few seconds: her energy, her sweet, fresh perfume, the sound of her breathing.
Then he broke away.
“You deserve better,” he told her as she opened her eyes, feeling him withdraw. He saw the faint hurt and disappointment there. “You deserve better than some stolen kiss. You deserve more than I can offer you.”