"You know, you should try pushing some of his buttons,” Margot suggested as she and Juliet hung out one lunch break.
“What do you mean?”
“Wind him up. Get some more action happening,” Margot said.
Juliet was taken aback. “Why would I want to do that?”
“Because you’re turning into the Virgin Mary. Seriously. I can’t believe how slow he’s taking things.”
It was true that things were going at a much steadier pace than Juliet was used to, but there were reasons for that. Valid if frustrating reasons.
Juliet bit into an apple. “I’m okay with how it’s going.”
“I wouldn’t be.” Margot was still seeing Terrance on and off and they certainly hadn’t taken things slowly. “Doesn’t it get dull, just kissing?”
Weirdly it didn’t. Juliet would have been happy with more but she had to amid that even just kissing Mr Spencer - Carl - was more intense than stuff she had got up to with other guys.
“I don’t know. There’s so much going on this term, what with study, and then the band. Maybe it’s better this way.”
“Whatever.” Margot wasn’t convinced. She’d been Juliet’s partner in crime for too long to believe that her best friend was satisfied with a chaste romance.
As she walked to band practice that night, Juliet found herself thinking about Margot’s words. Maybe it would be fun to step up the pressure with Carl. After all she wanted him badly.
She could hardly start acting like a vamp at school or in church, so that left the band. She hadn’t really thought about what to wear, other than imagining she would wear a similar outfit to last time. But maybe she should try and improve it.
Juliet was hopeless at sewing but Fhemie had a flair for it, mainly from fixing up dance costumes over the years. It might be worth asking her.
"You can pay me in muffins, but not those healthy ones. Just chocolate, no zucchini or chia or shit or whatever you put in them usually,” Fhemie said.
“You like them usually. You always eat them,” Juliet pointed out.
“Yeah. But I’d like them more if they were just chocolate without the health food.” They were at Fhemie’s house, having gone there after school. Juliet had brought her outfit with her for Fhemie to take a look at.
Fhemie gave it a critical eye. “It needs a bit of work but we’ll get there.” She took out some scissors and started savagely hacking at the plaid of the skirt. “You rolled it over for that other time, didn’t you? I can make it look better than that.”
She shortened it, cut slits in it, and tacked it up. “I’ll machine it later. The blouse is going to be more work.”
Juliet never knew exactly what Fhemie did or how, but an hour or so later she was trying on something that seemed to be about a tenth of the size of what she had worn before. Fhemie had combined parts of the blouse with a cut up lycra vest, so it was skin tight but with the collar and a couple of other elements to retain its look of being a school blouse. Many lifetimes ago, anyway.
Juliet wasn’t really sure what to say. There was no way she could wear it. “It’s a bit revealing, isn’t it?” she asked Fhemie.
“Have you seen what I dance in?” Fhemie said. Most of her costumes would have given her grandmother a stroke.
“I know, but I’m singing not dancing.”
“Trust me on this. You have to start thinking of it as a costume, not clothes. It will move better and look better on stage this way. Just tying the shirt up like you did before make it all lumpy and bunched. This will have a good line,” Fhemie promised.
Juliet had nothing else remotely suitable to wear so she guessed she would have to take Fhemie’s word for it.
“And you’ll need stockings. Hold ups not suspenders,” Fhemie said.
“You really don’t think this is going to be too much?” Juliet asked.
Fhemie shook her head. “It’s not so bad. You can see a bit of your midriff above the waist as you move, but the neckline is high at the front, you can’t even see any cleavage really. It’s really just your legs that will be on show, and what’s the big deal about legs?”
She was probably right, Juliet thought. Still, she was going to have to summon up some courage to wear it.
“Look at these.” Fhemie picked up a music magazine and flicked through a few photos of female singers in concert. “You see it’s really no different. You need to look the part.”
Her door firmly locked, Juliet tried the costume on again in front of her bedroom mirror. She applied make-up, much more heavily than usual. Like stage make-up, Fhemie had advised.
She looked like a different person. Like a performer. She had a weird feeling all of a sudden, as though she were becoming someone else, or that there was someone else she needed to become.
Juliet had to look at herself in the mirror for a while, trying to get to know this new image.
What would my parents think of me now? she thought. They would barely recognise her dressed and painted like this. Would they even recognise her at all, aged eighteen, not having seen her since she was a small child?
Thinking about it, and knowing that she could never know one way or the other, made her tear up. Why did you leave me? she asked the mirror, wishing she could see her mother’s face in her own. She only really knew it from photos, her own memories were blurred and faded.
Would they be proud of her? Even though they would probably freak out over this outfit, they might be proud of her singing. She tried not to think about all the lost years. The grief and the loneliness and the neglect and the abuse. And the other thing, the thing she couldn’t tell anyone.
Her eyeliner was smudged and streaked down her face from the silent, aching tears.
Whatever she did, she must not cry on stage or ever get too damp with perspiration. It turned her from a vamp into a deranged panda.
Fhemie was right about the costume. Wearing it made Juliet feel like she was putting on a new persona, playing a role. Inside she was still a wreck but outside she looked… convincing.
The reaction of the band further confirmed Fhemie’s skills.
“That is awesome,” Drew said. “So hot. The crowd will love it.”
Drew had come close to flirting with Juliet a couple of times earlier on but she had managed to convey she wasn’t quite single.
Originally it was because she had wanted to avoid complications, nothing would be worse than dating someone and it all going wrong and messing the band up. She preferred the platonic dynamic of it all anyway.
And now, was she single? She wasn’t exactly dating Mr Spencer. But they went to church together and kissed in his car and at his place, and if he had asked her out properly she wouldn’t have hesitated to say yes. He was the one holding out on her, taking it all so cautiously.
Juliet’s head went into a different place when the music started. It was a switch-off from normal reality, and switching-on to a kind of bubble of just her and the band on stage.
The Green Room was packed out that Thursday night. There was another, longer established band playing after them so Juliet couldn’t flatter herself that all these people had bought tickets just to see Dover Six. Still, it was exciting.
Margot and Fhemie were out there, pretending to have been dragged along reluctantly, but Juliet knew her friends were secretly pleased for her.
“Do you have band t-shirts?” Fhemie had asked.
“No, nothing like that. It’s only our second performance, we don’t exactly have fans lining up to buy merchandise,” Juliet said.
“Don’t expect me to wear one when you do,” Fhemie said. “But I will buy one, if I can get to meet that cute guy you have.”
Cute guy? Juliet wasn’t sure whom Fhemie meant. “Drew?”
“No, idiot. The cute guy on keyboards.”
Juliet nearly burst out laughing. She guessed Jax wasn’t bad looking, but compared to Drew or even a couple of the others she wouldn’t have picked him out as the hot one.
“He’s single, so I can try,” she promised Fhemie.
“Single or not, it makes no difference to me,” Fhemie said. “Just get me introduced.”
Hiding a smile, Juliet said she would do what she could. Fhemie never admitted this kind of stuff, so she must really have a thing for Jax. Jax had never indicated any interest in girls or guys to Juliet, so she didn’t even know if he was straight. She could probably find out from Drew.
Carl caught his breath when he saw Juliet appear on stage. She was lit up like a flame, and her outfit was… he told himself firmly that it was what singers wore, and tried to resist the urge to blindfold every other man in the place.
Including Dan, who was grinning in Juliet’s direction then back at Carl.
“Your face,” Dan said.
Jenny was also suppressing a smile.
“What’s wrong with my face?”
“Like you can’t decide whether to get a shotgun or a hotel room,” Jenny said.
Before Carl could protest she continued: “I’m claiming pregnancy privilege. With my hormones and this ever more enormous belly, I get to speak my mind or I’ll burst.”
Carl should have guessed he couldn’t hide anything from his best friends. “I should never have brought you here.”
“It wouldn’t have made any difference whether you had or not,” Dan told him. “It was written all over your face and hers when we saw her here the last time. Let alone when you brought her to church.”
“It really isn’t like that,” Carl said. “She’s my student.”
Jenny gave him a wicked smile. “Not for much longer. Just a few months until graduation, right?”
“Seriously though, do her parents know about all this?” Dan asked.
“Her parents are dead, several years ago. She lives with an aunt. I believe the aunt gave her approval to Juliet coming to church, but probably doesn’t know about the singing,” Carl said.
Jenny was moved. “The poor little thing.” She rested her hand on her stomach. “Imagine this one losing us, Dan, it’s unbearable. No wonder she’s not like the average high schooler.”
“What do you mean?” Carl was curious.
“It’s hard to say. How would you put it, Dan?”
Her husband shrugged. “More self-possessed, maybe? She’s obviously crazy about you, Carl, but she didn’t act like some dumb teen might.”
“She looked at you like Rebecca should have looked at you, but never did,” Jenny told Carl. “And you’re the same, when you look at her.” She saw Dan’s frown. “Alright! I’ll button my lip and bite my tongue. But you ask Agnes.”
Carl had a fair idea of what asking Agnes about Juliet would do, and had no intention of stoking that fire. He was startled by what Dan and Jenny had said, he had hoped to have appeared far more professionally detached. It was a good thing he didn’t play poker if he was that bad at masking his emotions.
It was true though. He was crazy about her. He watched her now, singing, and felt a surge of pride. She was easily the most beautiful girl in the room, every eye was upon her.
At the same time she seemed different. The whole band did. Before they were a talented group of musicians, performing together. Now, they were - he searched for the right word - slick, professional. They had got their act together in the literal sense of the phrase.
Juliet was on a complete high after they finished the set. Everything was perfect: they had performed flawlessly, the crowd had loved it, and they had all enjoyed every moment of it. Her friends were out there, and best of all, so was Carl.
She went straight to him afterwards. He was with Dan and Jenny, and although Juliet had felt super confident on stage, she felt oddly shy on seeing him. He was wearing a dark blue shirt and looked taller and more mature than most of the other guys, except for Dan.
“What did you think? Were we okay?” She found she ardently wanted his approval.
“You were more than okay,” Carl said.
“You were absolutely awesome,” Dan told her, with Jenny agreeing.
“Seriously, all of you were amazing. I’m so glad you got us tickets,” Jenny said. Tactfully she steered Dan off to the bar to get more drinks, leaving Juliet alone with Carl.
Juliet didn’t dare touch him although given the crush of people she was nearly pushed against him. “So you really liked it?”
“Absolutely.” Her face lit up with happiness as said this, and he was surprised and touched that his approval meant so much to her. He couldn’t help flicking his eyes up and down her body. “And you look incredible.”
Juliet felt herself blush though she hoped he wouldn’t see it in the lighting. She had totally forgotten what she was wearing, and reminded of it now, she felt half naked. “Fhemie helped make it.”
“It’s very distracting.”
“Would you like me to wear it in class?”
Carl felt his body respond just thinking of this image. “I don’t think we’d get much Latin done.”
“I don’t think I would mind that.” She was looking up at him, her eyes darkening with desire. It took all of Carl’s self control not to put his hands on her body. The close fitting design of her costume revealed the exact shape of her body, he could imagine how it would feel to run his hands over the curve of her waist.
He wanted her so badly.
Thou hast ravished my heart with one of thine eyes, with one chain of thy neck…
Her lips parted slightly as she looked at him, willing him to embrace her.
Every fibre of his body was tested, strained. The crowds of people no longer existed.
Fair as the moon, clear as the sun.
If Fhemie and Margot hadn’t arrived at that moment to break the spell, Carl wasn’t sure that he could have resisted kissing his student in public. The two of them were a welcome interruption.
"Hi Mr Spencer. What did you think of Juliet?” Margot’s expression held a sly grin.
“Very talented. All of them,” Carl said, managing to recover himself.
“The costume was my creation,” Fhemie told him, though he already knew this. “Did you like it?”
They could see that their teacher was disconcerted and were trying to wind him up. It reminded Carl that he was the authority figure and had to face them in class tomorrow. Juliet and Margot anyway, since Fhemie didn’t do Latin. He avoided rising to their bait.
“It looked very professional,” he said to Fhemie, whose eyes glinted even more evilly than Margot’s.
Carl wondered exactly what Juliet had told her friends about the situation. Fortunately there wasn’t too much to tell: he had obviously compromised both of them by inviting her back to his place, but at least things hadn’t progressed past kissing.
“I’m so glad you like it,” Fhemie said. Carl was relieved he didn’t have her in his Latin class. Margot was bad enough, but the two of them together would be torment with all their innuendo.
“You guys thought it was okay then?” Juliet asked them.
Fhemie grimaced. “Well, you know, it was bearable. I’ve suffered worse.”
Juliet interpreted this as the high praise that it actually was and hugged her friend.
“You know you did good, girl. You managed not to embarrass us.” This was Margot’s approval.
“Anyway. So that cute guy on keyboards, are you going to introduce me?” Fhemie asked.
Juliet looked around to see were Jax was. He and Drew were over by the side of the stage talking to some man while the others were packing up equipment. “Come over with me now,” she told Fhemie. “I need to go and help anyway, we’re not famous enough yet to have roadies.”
As they left Dan and Jenny arrived back with drinks and Margot slipped back to her boyfriend, casting Carl another knowing grin as she did so.
“More of your students?” Jenny asked.
“Yes. Juliet’s friends.”
Dan handed him a drink. “This will have to be the last one for us, it’s getting late. Do you still want a lift back?”
“If you can, thanks,” Carl said.
“What about Juliet?”
“She’s staying with her friends.”
Carl secretly wished she were staying at his place. He remembered what Juliet had said about wanting to wake up with him. The vision of having her in his arms all night had haunted him ever since.
He couldn’t imagine how it could ever be a reality. There were some things he didn’t dare pray for.