France. Paris. People speaking in different languages as they milled through Charles de Gaulle Airport. Signs in French. Announcements over the loudspeaker that they couldn’t understand a word of.
Juliet was enraptured. It distracted her from the huge awkwardness she had felt waking up to find her head on Mr Spencer’s shoulder. He had looked so uncomfortable and embarrassed.
But this was like stepping into a different world. It was around the middle of the day in France and winter sun was streaming through the airport terminal. She wanted to savour every moment.
I’m actually here, Juliet thought. I’m in Paris. In Europe.
Margot had caught up with her after they exited the plane. She had also slept through most of the flight and was nearly as excited as Juliet though she had previously visited Europe with her family on a number of occasions. She had given Juliet a grilling about Mr Spencer.
“So what happened? The mile high club?”
“God no.” Juliet had visited the aeroplane bathroom during the flight and struggled to imagine how anyone could misbehave in such tight space. Maybe two teeny tiny little people, but Mr Spencer was quite tall and broad.
“Cynthia was furious about it,” Margot told her. “Miss Mead wouldn’t even let her talk to anyone else during the flight, she had to shut up and watch movies.”
Juliet would have been glad except she suspected it would make Cynthia even more vengeful. “We’ll have to watch out.”
There was a brief stop at a café in the terminal so people could buy food if they wanted to, before they caught the Paris Metro underground train to their hotel. Miss Mead had to deal with a couple of girls who bought wine with their baguettes, which was perfectly legal in France. They claimed they had meant to buy cokes and it was the result of poor translation skills but even Miss Mead wasn’t that stupid.
“While we’re over here, we’ll respect the rules of St Gillian’s which are those of our native country, the United States of America,” she told them.
“That is so dumb,” Margot remarked to Juliet. “Buying it right in front of her like that. She’ll be watching them all the time now.”
Juliet wanted to try something as French as possible so she ordered a brioche. She was completely confused by all the Euros and the different banknotes there.
The train journey passed in a blur - Juliet was very glad their choir teacher spoke such good French - and they finally arrived at their hotel, exhausted and aching from hauling their suitcases, and dying to freshen up. Aware how bedraggled she probably was, Juliet had been avoiding Mr Spencer since they left the plane. She feared that some of the shocked expression on his face had been at the horrible star of her when she woke.
Still, at least she hadn’t drooled in her sleep.
The hotel looked much older and smaller than the photos on its website. Cynthia and her friends were bitching about it, with Cynthia claiming she had been “forcibly prevented” from staying at some five-star hotel or other.
Juliet was just thrilled to have a room looking out over the rooftops of Paris. If she leaned to one side there was even a glimpse of the Eiffel Tower. The room itself was plain rather than luxury, with twin beds and a single long window. But it was clean, there was a tiny en-suite bathroom, and best of all she was sharing with Margot.
Margot emerged from the bathroom wrapped in a large white towel, drying her hair.
“The hot water kept going cold, you have to keep adjusting it,” she said.
Juliet hurried into the shower so she could get ready quickly and not waste any more time than needed in the hotel.
They had been given the afternoon to rest but Miss Mead was only allowing them to stay in the hotel or visit a café across the road. After this the schedule was tightly packed with cultural visits and singing in church, barely allowing them a moment to catch their breath.
This was intended to keep them out of mischief: the actual result was that everyone now planned to sneak out at night, after Miss Mead had gone to bed.
“Do we need to keep wearing these sweatshirts?” Juliet asked Margot.
“I’m not going to. If Miss Mead asks I’ll tell her I was keeping it clean for excursions.”
They had three hours before they had to assemble for dinner. Easily enough time to go somewhere interesting. Juliet wanted to go to Montmartre to see the portrait artists. They already had group excursions planned to all the main cultural icons, and Montmartre was within walking distance from their hotel.
Margot considered it. “Cute arty French guys. Sounds good to me.”
They set off but to their dismay Miss Mead had taken up residence at a café table. She had a clear view of the hotel entrance so there could be no sneaking off.
“Damn. Time for Plan B,” Margot said.
There was no Plan B. The hotel didn’t have a back door, and a side window on the ground floor only opened into a dead-end alley from where they would have go to back to the main street.
“If this was Annie we could escape in a laundry basket,” Margot suggested.
They lingered for a moment in the unattended reception, wondering what the best approach would be.
“Excusez-moi” came a rude voice and a shove from behind. It was Cynthia with a couple of her friends.
Juliet stepped out of her way.
“There’s our laundry basket,” she muttered to Margot as Cynthia strode across to the café. They watched as Cynthia got into a conversation with Miss Mead and used the opportunity to slip out of the hotel and around the side. It was the opposite direction that they needed to go, but no matter.
The two girls cut around through different streets until they reached the funicular railway that took people up the hill. Juliet had read about it in her guidebook. They figured out the right money and rode to the top.
Margot in particular had her eye out for cute guys but it seemed to be mainly Japanese and European tourists, most of them their parents’ age.
The Place du Tertre was full of artists, their easels set up around the square as well as examples of their work. Some of them were very talented. As well as portraits there were landscape painters with endless scenes of Paris. “I don’t want to buy something I haven’t seen yet,” Margot said, “but I might come back here for souvenirs.”
After wandering around they found a café and ordered drinks. Juliet still felt dehydrated from the flight so ordered a mineral water, as did Margot. This turned out to be a much wiser choice than wine.
About five minutes after they sat down they heard their voices spoken. “Juliet, Margot.”
It was Mr Spencer.
Margot brazened it out. “Bonjour, Sir. Monsieur,” she corrected.
“I’m not sure you’re supposed to be here,” Mr Spencer said. He didn’t look angry, more concerned. He didn’t want them to get into trouble but he was in a difficult position, Juliet thought.
She tried to explain. “We just didn’t want to waste a moment. I know this afternoon was for resting but there was no need as we slept on the plane.”
Juliet then remembered where she had been sleeping, caught his eye and reddened slightly. She could sense Margot was suppressing a grin.
“I do understand, but you need to follow Miss Mead’s instructions,” he told them. “She’s responsible for all of you, and very few of you speak fluent French. If you got lost it could be difficult.”
“Do you speak French?” Margot asked him, trying to change the subject.
“Some.” Mr Spencer wasn’t going to be distracted. “I’ll accompany you back and you can slip away to your rooms. We’re visiting Sacre Coeur one night so I’ll see if we can take a longer look around here beforehand. I don’t think Miss Mead will mind people getting their portraits painted, if there’s time.”
The white-domed Basilica of the Sacré-Cœur was the main landmark of the area. Built at the highest point of Paris it could be seen from all the surrounding area. As they headed to the funicular railway its pale stones turned rose gold in the sunset. Juliet almost ached at the sight.
Carl watched her, seeing the dying sun reflected in her eyes. He hoped he had dealt with the situation adequately. He didn’t want Anne Mead to think he was giving the girls a free pass but he also didn’t want to ruin their Paris trip. After all, having a Coke outside a café, given they were both legal adults and not actually at school, hardly seemed the gravest of offences.
He decided to avoid mentioning it to his colleague. The choir teacher already had enough to deal with having arranged the entire tour and having to constantly check and recheck that everything was running to plan. She had some French but wasn’t fluent which was one of the reasons Carl had ended up taking the French teacher’s place.
“Have you been to Paris much before?” Margot asked him.
“A few times.”
“What’s the nightlife like? Any good bars or clubs?”
Carl knew that Margot was trying to wind him up but saw that it was making Juliet uncomfortable. When he had first started teaching at St Gillian’s Juliet would probably have joined in, but he realised that there was now an understanding between them.
There shouldn’t be, but there was.
“I didn’t visit for the nightlife, but like any major city, it has plenty of attractions,” he told her.
Margot gave him a wicked smile. “So you’ll be visiting the Moulin Rouge this time? It’s just down the road.” Margot had been doing her homework. The red light district containing the famous cabaret was in the neighbouring suburb to their hotel, according to her guidebook.
“Tonight will be straight to bed, ahead of our very early start tomorrow,” he reminded them.
Margot pouted in mock disappointment. “If you change your mind, we’d be happy to accompany you,” she said.
“If Miss Mead grants permission for a cultural tour there, I’d be happy to to escort you.”
Since this was about as likely as Miss Mead hitching up her skirt and joining the can-can dancers, it seemed that they were all headed for an early night.
Juliet was relieved and grateful that Mr Spencer didn’t report them to Miss Mead for wandering off. That evening they were all dining at a nearby bistro and Miss Mead might have made them stay behind as a punishment.
Margot was getting itchy feet. “This is Europe. We can go out legally here. I can’t see that it’s any of her business what we do. It’s not like I’d go clubbing wearing the choir sweater.”
She had pulled on a clinging, low-cut top, arranging a scarf around her neck for Miss Mead’s benefit that she would remove when the choir mistress wasn’t watching. Paris was so cold that they ended up wearing jeans again. Margot had brought a sexy dress to go clubbing in but there was no way she could wear it in front of their teachers.
“We’ll have to come back here after dinner anyway, so we can just change then,” Margot said.
They made their way downstairs. Everyone was gathering in the hotel lobby and they were among the last to arrive.
Juliet came down the stairs trying not to look for Mr Spencer but unable to resist. He was by the door with Miss Mead. He nodded and smiled at her and she felt her insides melt. After spending the whole flight with him she longed to be with him again.
Unfortunately he ended up seated at a table with Miss Mead and Juliet and Margot had to share with Stephanie and a couple of other girls.
The bistro had a set menu so everyone ended up with steak frites and green salad, except for a couple of girls who were vegetarian and had omelettes. Juliet was both relieved and disappointed that they weren’t presented with snails and frogs legs as she was curious what they looked like.
Stephanie insisted on saying grace which Juliet felt immensely self-conscious about. She wouldn’t have minded if Stephanie had just murmured a few words under her breath, but chanting “For what we are about to receive…” in the middle of a restaurant was embarrassing.
“This steak is really undercooked,” one girl complained.
“It’s medium rare,” Margot told her.
“I wonder if Miss Mead and Mr Spencer will have a Parisian romance,” someone said.
“Hardly. She’s practically old enough to be his mother,” another replied.
This wasn’t true: in fact Miss Mead was probably only about five or so years older than Mr Spencer, she just dressed in a dowdy way that made her look older. Juliet realised that the choir teacher was much closer to his age than she was which made her feel miserable. Mr Spencer had told Juliet before that she was too young for him.
Juliet glanced over at him and saw him deep in conversation with Miss Mead. She guessed it was only to be expected as they were dinner companions but it still made her feel flat.
She wasn’t sure how she was going to drum up the energy and enthusiasm to sneak out with Margot that night as the only guy she was interested in would be back in the hotel. If Margot wanted to hook up with some French guy Juliet would doubtless end up having to talk with his friend but her heart was not in it.
Her heart was with a man who was totally off limits. Even though he confessed to wanting her as much as she wanted him, he could never be hers.