Aunt Mary seemed surprisingly unconcerned when Juliet mentioned she was attending a friend’s church service on Sunday evening. Her conservative choice of dress probably helped. She certainly didn’t look as though she was really about to sneak out to a party.
She had even been honest enough to tell her aunt that it was a Baptist church. By lucky chance it turned out that a woman in Aunt Mary’s knitting group, whom she particularly liked, was a Baptist.
“It doesn’t seem to have done Doris any harm,” Aunt Mary said. “I dare say the Lord doesn’t disapprove of us visiting His other houses.”
The Lord might well disapprove if he had an idea of Juliet’s true motive for going there. “I won’t be late back,” Juliet promised. She was relieved she hadn’t had to lie. “There may be coffee afterwards.” This wasn’t exactly a lie either, as there might well be. Although she hoped that any coffee would be at Mr Spencer’s place, just him and her.
She walked briskly through the cold night air. The streets through the suburb were well lit but even with her winter coat she didn’t want to linger. She also didn’t want to arrive at the church with bright red shiny cheeks but there wasn’t a lot she could do about that.
Juliet felt increasingly nervous as she approached. The church was lit up at the front and looked really bright and shining. It had been the same when she visited with Margot and by herself, but this was different. She was invited.
Inside Mr Spencer was already there and her heart leapt to see him. He was talking to a couple of other people including the man she recognised from the Green Room, but he stopped speaking with them and came over to Juliet.
“Juliet. I really am very glad to see you.” Mr Spencer’s eyes held even more that he didn’t dare say. “Come and meet some people.”
It was another fifteen minutes until the service started and not everyone was taking their seat yet. Mr Spencer introduced her to the man she had seen before, who was Dan, as well as to a very pregnant woman who turned out to be Dan’s wife, Jenny. She seemed very nice but Juliet felt awkward as they were all around the same age and she was younger. Did they know who and what she was?
And what about Rebecca, was she here? Juliet sincerely hoped not.
Her dilemma at how to introduce herself was solved by Mr Spencer. “This is Juliet, one of my students from St Gillian’s.”
Dan gave her a slightly curious look. It wasn’t unfriendly but he was appraising her. “You’re the one we saw singing in the bar that time, aren’t you?”
“Yes, that was our first ever time performing together,” Juliet said.
“What kind of music is it?” Jenny asked.
“It’s sort of a mix. Kind of trip-pop. I just sing, I’m not really the musical one. Jax, our keyboardist, writes most of the music.” Juliet didn’t want to take the credit as Jax really was the mastermind of it all.
“You sing very well, from what I heard,” Dan told her.
“You’ll have to let us know when you’re next performing, we’ll come and listen,” Jenny said. She had a gleam in her eye and she cast a brief look at Mr Spencer. “Only it had better be soon, because time’s running out for my days of fun and freedom.” She indicated her belly.
Juliet thought how friendly Jenny and Dan were. “I’d be happy to get you tickets. We’ll be at the Green Room again in a couple of weeks.”
A few people stopped to chat, including Agnes who recognised Juliet and was very glad to see her. Juliet was feeling overwhelmed with niceness. It was almost surreal.
Then finally the organ started and those that weren’t already seated hurried to their chairs. Juliet sat beside Mr Spencer, relieved to be have something else to focus on.
Dan had obviously said something to Jenny. Carl dreaded to think what, but the look that Jenny had given him after the Green Room was mentioned said it all. Carl knew he could trust them, but Jenny had a dangerously lively imagination. She had probably already put two and two together and made a very incriminating number.
Though she wouldn’t be far off the mark, of course. Because there he was, sitting next to Juliet, barely able to concentrate on anything Pastor Brown was saying as he was completely distracted by her presence beside him.
He realised that he really wanted to be alone with her. Wise or unwise, it was going to have to happen. After all, how risky could pizza at his place really be? They both knew what was at stake, Juliet was hardly going to broadcast it around school.
He would hold out for this week, he thought. Take it slowly. Next week he would see about asking her back for a meal. She would need to clear it with her aunt anyway.
Juliet’s voice sounded clear and beautiful as she sang the hymns even though she wasn’t very familiar with them. He felt a sense of pride at being next to her. She wore a small silver cross that glinted in the hollow of her neck and even the brief glimpse of skin was giving him very unholy thoughts.
Prayers came as a relief because he could make his own imprecations to the Lord. Most of which were about resisting the girl kneeling next to him.
“Is your friend staying for tea and coffee?” Agnes asked after the service, cornering Carl and Juliet as they filed out of the congregation.
Carl looked at Juliet questioningly. “I’d love to,” she said.
“What would you like, dear?” Agnes asked.
“Let me fetch them, Agnes.” He didn’t want to leave Juliet stranded but he didn’t want to trouble Agnes. Dan and Jenny had come up again so Juliet wasn’t left by herself.
As Carl returned with the mugs he couldn’t help scanning the room for Rebecca. He hadn’t seen her before the service and she didn’t usually attend on Sunday evenings because of preparing for the week ahead.
Jenny missed nothing. “She’s not here,” she told Carl. “Though I wouldn’t be surprised if she shows up next week,” she said, flicking her gaze to Juliet, who didn’t notice as she had been asked something by Agnes and was absorbed in conversation with her.
“Really?” Carl asked.
“If word gets out,” Jenny said. Then she added quickly: “Not that I’m suggesting there’s anything to gossip about, but you know how things are.”
Carl felt tired just thinking about it. He had really hoped that Rebecca wasn’t minded to rekindle things between them, but from what Jenny was suggesting he might face another confrontation with his ex-fiancée yet again. She had been so unpleasant after they broke up that it had made him feel very comfortable with his choice. He understood that she was hurting, her pride more than anything, but it didn’t incline him to change his mind. Quite the opposite.
The group chatted for a while longer on church affairs, Juliet mainly listening, and then things started to break up as people drifted home.
“Let me drive you home,” Carl offered to Juliet, thankfully out of earshot of the all-knowing Jenny.
“Are you sure?”
“Absolutely. It’s dark and cold and it makes no sense for you to walk all that way. I’m sure your aunt would be happier for you to get home quickly.”
Juliet followed Mr Spencer to his car. It wasn’t the first time she had been in it, of course, but she felt unaccountably nervous this time.
The cold night air made her shiver even as she wrapped her coat around herself, stepping out of the brightness and warmth of the church.
“Cold? I’ll put the car heating on as soon as we’re inside,” he offered.
Juliet could think of far more effective ways that Mr Spencer could warm her up but she didn’t dare to suggest any of them. It was kind of ironic that she felt so on edge around him. She’d seen plenty of other guys and got up to far more heavy stuff than had ever happened with Mr Spencer. But with him it felt different. More significant.
They walked across the street to where his car was parked. Mr Spencer went around to the passenger side, opened the door for her and closed it after she had got into the seat. Guys her own age never did that. It added to her nerves, the sense of being weirdly out of her depth.
Everyone at church had seemed older than her as well, there were no other teenagers there, maybe a couple of people who looked like college students but that was it. Younger families presumably went to the morning service.
Juliet chewed her lip as Mr Spencer drove through the darkness. He didn’t say anything to her, though she noticed that he had remembered the way. She flicked her eyes to his profile a couple of times, but his gaze was fixed on the road. She wondered what he might do if she put her hand on his thigh.
Mr Spencer finally pulled up on the road just down from her aunt’s house. The neighbours were entertaining and their guests had parked in the space right outside Juliet’s home. So by fortunate chance Mr Spencer had to park out of view from where Aunt Mary might see through the curtains.
He unbuckled his seatbelt, obviously planning to open her door for her, but she turned to stop him. “Mr Spencer…”
He moved his hand back from the door and looked at her. The angles of his face were flawless in the semi-darkness, lit only by a nearby streetlight. “I think you had better call me Carl, outside school.”
“Carl…” She said the name, testing it. Somehow it shifted everything, to call him by his Christian name.
“Juliet.” He waited for her question.
“Would you kiss me?”
He was silent for several seconds after she asked this and she didn’t dare breathe. She hoped he wasn’t angry.
“You know that I really shouldn’t.” He sounded conflicted.
Their eyes connected. They both wanted the same.
Without speaking he reached out one hand to cradle her face. He looked at her for several seconds as though still trying to decide.
Then he tilted her head towards him and brought his lips down on hers, tender and warm and firm all at once. She felt a throb throughout her body, melting as it intensified, as he moved her lips apart and deepened the kiss.
Juliet hadn’t imagined anything could be as good as Paris but in the intimacy of the darkness it was even more sensual. Just the two of them with no one else watching.
He broke off. “I could do this all night. But I don’t want your aunt to send out a search party.”
“She won’t be worried just yet.” This time Juliet kissed him, winding her hands in his hair. She heard him suppress a groan as she kissed the corner of his mouth, then across to the centre, drawing his top lip in between hers, her tongue lightly flicking inside his mouth.
Then he gripped her more firmly, taking control of the embrace. She was drowning in him. His breathing was growing ragged as she ran her fingers up his neck, making him tighten his grip on her.
But just as she thought he might push her down onto the car seat and get really heavy, he pulled back again.
“I think we’d better call it a night.”
Juliet felt bereft. She was thrilled at the effect she had on him, and bewildered by the effect he had on her. How could simply kissing be this earthmoving?
“It’s not late,” she pointed out.
“I know. But I shouldn’t even be doing this.”
“We,” Juliet corrected.
Carl looked confused. “We?”
“We are doing this. It’s not just you, you don’t have to take all the blame.”
“I’m the one in the position of authority. The one who should know better,” he said.
Juliet gave him a sexy half-smile. “I don’t think the world will end if you kiss me.”
He was silent for a while. “I didn’t exactly plan this. I figured we would just go to church, and manage not to cross the line again.”
It was the exact opposite of Juliet had planned, but the concern in Carl’s voice worried her. “Do you want me to not come again?”
He looked at her and his eyes softened. “Of course not. It’s great seeing you there. I just need to remember that I’m your teacher, not…”
Juliet hoped he was going to say “your boyfriend” but he left the line unfinished. As soon as she thought it she realised that it was what she wanted more than anything else in the world: to date Mr Spencer. Carl. To officially be his girlfriend, exclusively.
It gave her a sudden sharp pang of envy that Rebecca had been able to enjoy this privilege, while she, Juliet, couldn’t.
She felt in a daze as he opened the door for her and waited until she had entered her aunt’s home before returning to his car. Now she had to snap out of it and look normal so her aunt woudn’t guess anything was up.
She took a couple of deep breaths, hung her coat up and smoothed her hair. She was living two lives: band-and-Carl Juliet, and good - or at least reformed - niece Juliet. At some point it would all collide and collapse.