Both Juliet and Margot had ended up falling asleep rather than sneaking out to try the Paris nightlife. The jet lag and the exertions of travel hit them both like a brick when they returned to their hotel room after dinner.
“Maybe I’ll just nap for a few minutes, then we can change and sneak out after Miss Mead must have gone to bed,” Margot said.
Within seconds she was out for the count. Juliet soon followed her. Her limbs felt drugged from sleep.
Daylight streaming through the gap in the curtains woke her nearly twelve hours later. They would be late for breakfast if they didn’t hurry.
Juliet shook Margot awake, grabbed a shower and pulled her clothes on. The trip that morning was to the Île de la Cité, the island in the centre of the River Seine in Paris. In the afternoon they had to rehearse ahead of singing in a Parisian church that night.
Entering Notre-Dame was one of the most poignant moments of Juliet’s life. She couldn’t move for several moments.
She hadn’t expected to be this affected by the interior of a church - or rather cathedral - but it was vast, ornate, awe-inspiring.
A guided tour had been arranged and they stood in a group at the rear, with the tour guide speaking in heavily accented English about naves and flying buttresses. His words washed over Juliet’s head as she drank in the visual glory.
The school group was crowded together to hear the guide and Juliet had somehow ended up by Mr Spencer near the back, with Margot on the other side of her. They had to shift across to view something else that the guide was indicating, and Mr Spencer’s arm ended up pressed against Juliet’s.
By accident his hand brushed hers.
But then neither of them moved their hands.
Instead his fingers curled around hers, and hers entwined with his.
They didn’t even move, or look at one another. They simply stood there, in the world’s most famous cathedral, holding hands.
Juliet wasn’t thinking, she was simply being. Standing there in the quiet darkness, the aroma of incense and ancient wood and stone, the stained glass like jewels high above them, holding his hand.
It both set her on edge and steadied her. Her stomach flipped and her nerves at the thought of it, that he was holding her hand secretly, no one else aware of it. At the same time she felt a wonderful stillness and safety.
She didn’t dare look at him. No, it wasn’t a question of daring, she didn’t need to. She could see his profile in her mind, strong and as finely carved as a statue.
She didn’t even ask herself why he was holding her hand. It was instinctual.
They only broke apart when the group moved outside to climb up the towers of the cathedral. He squeezed her hand before he let go.
Mr Spencer looked into her eyes briefly as she passed in front of him. His gaze was wondering but he said nothing.
From then on it seemed that wherever they could, they held hands.
Standing bathed in the cobalt and crimson light of the Sainte Chapelle, its long slender windows and vaults arching overhead, his hand again found hers. The mere touch of his fingers shot warmth and electricity through Juliet’s arm and her body. She was with him. Linked. They were seeing these wondrous sights together.
His hand was strong and firm and occasionally he brushed his thumb around her palm making her feel shivery. She glanced at him when he did so but he was looking directly ahead, perfectly self-controlled.
They had to be discreet and it was entirely unspoken. A silent form of communication. And somehow, no one else ever saw.
It added to the thrill that it was secret, but also that he wanted to do it. That he felt it was worth the risk.
Lunch was at a café by the River Seine. Margot had to ask Juliet what was up as she was so quiet. “You’re in a dream or something. What’s up?”
Juliet just shook her head and smiled. “Just falling in love with Paris,” she said. It was true: she loved everything she had seen about this city. She resolved to make more of an effort in French class in future.
“Yeah well you’d better come back down to earth. I think Paris is already taken,” Margot said.
A woman with long skirts and long dark hair passed by their table. She tried speaking to them in a language which didn’t sound like French and both girls were confused. The woman tried to push a postcard at them, covered in writing.
“It’s a scam,” Margot said. She shook her head firmly and turned away.
The woman moved on to the next table, where another unwitting girl took the postcard and tried to read it to see if she could help. She was frowning over its contents when the café proprietor suddenly came out and started shouting at the woman in French and shooing her off. The woman’s face turned nasty and she spat some words back at him as she left, some of which Juliet thought she recognised.
“That poor woman,” the girl who had read the postcard said. “Her mother is ill in Romania and she needed money. We should have helped her.”
“How come the postcard was in English then, if they’re Romanian?” Margot said.
Miss Mead and Mr Spencer had taken a table inside the café and hadn’t witnessed the commotion.
Juliet wondered what was going through his mind at that moment. When they weren’t able to stand together he made an effort to interact with everyone else, so it didn’t look as though he was singling her out.
She longed for him.
They needed to talk but she didn’t know when they would get the opportunity.
What if he never said anything? What if this was just for now, and when they went back to school, it would be all over and never to be spoken of?
Juliet found it hard to concentrate on anything when he wasn’t there. Miss Mead had to bring her back down to earth a couple of times in the rehearsal that afternoon, though she was fine when the choir eventually sang in the evening service. She couldn’t follow much of the service as it was in French so she let her mind wander then.
The Mona Lisa was a big disappointment. It was dimmer and smaller than Juliet had imagined, set back behind a barrier and thick glass. A large crowd of people with cameras made it impossible to get a close look.
“That’s another one off the bucket list,” Margot said. It was also the time to implement their plan of escape. Instead of being dragged to another museum they wanted to go shopping and have some time to themselves.
They had tossed a coin - a euro - and Margot was the one who had to feign illness. The idea was that Juliet would have to escort her back to the hotel and stay with her, and then they could get up to whatever they liked.
Margot made a good effort. She sank down in a kind of swoon on a nearby bench, trying to look nauseous. Then it was up to Juliet to alert Miss Mead.
The choir teacher was easily taken in by Margot’s performance. “We may be able to call a doctor at the hotel,” she said.
Juliet managed to convince Miss Mead that it wasn’t that bad and that Margot simply needed to rest. Margot did a bit of swaying and clapped her hand in front of her mouth with a groan.
“I can accompany her back to the hotel and look after her,” Juliet offered.
Miss Mead was thoughtful. “It would be difficult for me to come, with all the other girls here and our trip to the Pompidou. But I’m concerned about you crossing Paris alone, particularly with Margot so unwell. Mr Spencer, if you could perhaps accompany the girls. Then if Margot is put to bed and her condition seems no worse, you can both rejoin us later.”
What? Margot shot Juliet a fierce glance and Juliet looked desperately back at her. They read one another’s minds: how on earth could they escape if a teacher was with them the whole time?
“Sorry for you to have to leave the museum early,” Juliet said to him as they exited the Louvre to find a taxi. Margot was still putting on her feeling-faint act.
No one spoke as they rode back to the hotel. Juliet was feeling stressed and guilty and she was sure Margot was furious that their plans had been foiled.
“I’ll wait down here while you see to Margot,” Mr Spencer told her.
Juliet took Margot up in the lift and they shot into their bedroom. Margot threw herself onto her bed groaning in genuine despair.
“What are we going to do? Maybe I can persuade him you’re worse and I need to stay with you,” Juliet suggested.
“He’ll only want to call a doctor if you say that. Better to pretend I seem a little better and I’m sleeping. It’s not so bad, I can go exploring by myself and you can enjoy a date with holy boy.”
Juliet thought of Mr Spencer holding her hand and wondered whether he would do so again when they were properly alone. The taxi driver was hardly likely to notice or care.
“Are you sure you’ll be okay here alone? I’m sure I could persuade him to let me stay,” she said.
“If you do, I bet you any money that he stays around as well just in case I get more fake-ill,” Margot said. “There’s no way we can both get away now. We’ll figure something else out later.”
“You’d better look properly ill by the time we get back later this afternoon. And hide any shopping bags because when Miss Mead comes to check on you it will really give the game away,” Juliet warned.
Rejoining Mr Spencer in the lobby and reassuring him that Margot was okay, Juliet found herself lost for words. The two of them were finally alone and she was tongue-tied.
Mr Spencer also seemed awkward around her. “I guess we’d better get back to the others. They’ll still be in the museum so we can meet them outside.”
They walked through the Jardin de Tuileries which stretched along the Seine in front of the Louvre. The boughs of trees were black and bare against the wintry sky. How beautiful it must be here in summer, with the fountains and flowers and people strolling in the sunshine, Juliet thought.
“It’s amazing here. It’s such a huge city but there’s so much space and beauty,” she said.
“It is. When I stayed in Paris I came here nearly every day,” Mr Spencer told her.
He paused and turned. Juliet looked up at him.
His expression was unreadable, his eyes intense.
The wind had blown a lock of hair over the side of her face. Slowly he reached up and brushed it back, his fingers gently tracing over her features.
She was frozen. She wanted him so badly. At that moment there was no one else in the world, nothing else existed.
He didn’t remove his hand but left it cradling her face. His other hand grasped her shoulder and then he was tilting her face up to him, his lips coming closer to her.
So close. It was like slow motion.
This time he didn’t leave space between them. Didn’t withdraw. She felt his lips come down upon hers, so firm and warm on hers, chilled by the winter air.
This was what it was like to be kissed by Mr Spencer.
He drew her closer to him and gently but firmly made her own lips open so he could deepen the kiss. He enclosed her bottom lip with his and she felt the light, teasing flick of his tongue.
Her stomach lurched with desire as his tongue probed her. Wet and sensuous, it entwined with hers.
After all this time it felt like quenching a thirst. She was lost in him, dissolving in him.
Juliet reached her own arms around him, wanting the closeness of his body. His winter coat was open at the front so she could press against his chest.
Still he kissed her.
I’m kissing my teacher, she thought. We shouldn’t be doing this. If anyone saw…
A part of her felt reckless and didn’t even care if they were seen.
Mr Spencer was so tall and strong as he wrapped his arms around her. So good looking - he could have had any girl he wanted - but he was kissing her. Wanting her.
He broke off but still held her. “Juliet…” She could see the heat in his eyes and the conflict. He wanted her yet knew it was wrong.
She felt dizzy from his touch, from being so close to him after wanting him for so long.
Please kiss me again…
He read her mind and his mouth came down on hers once more. She loved the feel of him, the taste of him. She loved that he was kissing her despite everything compelling him not to. Despite fighting against it for so many weeks.
She closed her eyes and he was her whole world, nothing else was.