Juliet couldn’t believe what Drew was saying. He had called her up on Saturday morning for a band meeting at a nearby café.
“I feel bad that we kept it from you, but I didn’t want to stress you out. After all it was only our second gig,” he said.
It turned out that Jax and Drew had managed to get some music industry contact to come and watch them play at the Green Room.
“He was really impressed, and he wants to manage us.”
Juliet warmed her fingers on her coffee. She could feel how excited they all were, though everyone tried to appear casual about it. She felt just the same.
“We need to sort out a few things,” Drew continued. “He wants to see some kind of demo video and we need some preliminary publicity photos. Those are easy to sort out but the video will be more work. We also have to decide which track to perform.”
Everyone had their own ideas about this but there was a tacit understanding that Jax, since he wrote nearly all the music, should get the casting vote. Fortunately he picked one of Juliet’s favourites and Drew agreed with his choice too.
“It’s the most anthemic,” he said. “It’s memorable. Musically it may not be the best we’ve got but it will stick in people’s minds.”
There was some discussion of what the video should look like. There wasn’t the budget for anything fancy, they were calling in freebies and favours as it was. “It could just be us playing, from a few different angles,” the bassist suggested.
Juliet had an idea. “My friend’s a dancer,” she said. “I bet she’d be happy to help out.”
“Was that the girl you introduced me to last night? We couldn’t pay her,” Drew said.
“That’s her, the little one. She’s really talented, truly.”
Drew stirred his drink. “She certainly looked hot.”
Juliet cast a glance at Jax to see if he was reacting. He had appeared completely oblivious to Fhemie’s attempts to get him to notice her in the Green Room. Whether it was deliberate or not, she wasn’t sure, but it had infuriated Fhemie and only made her even more determined to get his attention.
“I can get her to meet with you properly. She could maybe do some kind of audition,” Juliet suggested.
“Sure. She probably knows way more about choreography than any of us do, so that could be helpful,” Drew said.
Fhemie would be thrilled, Juliet thought. She would pretend to be all dismissive and non-committal, but Juliet always saw through it. Dancing and Jax: there was no way Fhemie would turn it down.
Fhemie, the world’s skinniest glutton, was stuffing her face with Juliet’s triple-chocolate muffins. They were gathered at Margot’s place on Saturday afternoon, having planned to go to the mall but ended up staying in Margot’s room watching DVDs.
“Food is what you should try,” Fhemie advised her. “The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. You should cook for him.”
Juliet laughed. “Cook what?”
“Anything. You’re great at it, it’s your talent. Lasagne maybe. Everyone likes lasagne.” Fhemie liked lasagne.
“Guys like meat,” Margot said. “Steak. Ribs. Something like that.”
“How about chicken? You could do a pot roast,” Fhemie suggested.
Margot shook her head. “No, that’s too mom and family dinner. It has to be date food.”
Juliet figured that steak would be easiest. “What do I do, take it round there?”
“No!” Fhemie was derisive. “You invite yourself to his place and you cook it there. Make sure it all takes ages so it’s really late by the time you finish. Then Mr Spencer will have to ask you to stay the night.”
“It’s a good plan,” Margot said. “Does he have a spare bedroom? If not then you’ll have to share his bed.”
“There’s definitely a second bedroom, but I don’t know if it’s set up with a bed,” Juliet said. If there wasn’t, she imagined he would insist on being a gentleman and taking the sofa. If he even invited her to stay back at all, of course. They were probably getting way ahead of themselves.
Margot looked disappointed. “That’s a shame. Maybe you could accidentally sleepwalk into his room in the middle of the night.”
“A guy once told me he only had one blanket so I’d have to share his bed,” Fhemie said.
“You surely didn’t fall for that?” Margot was incredulous.
Fhemie grinned. “Of course not. But still, I decided to share it with him anyway.”
“I don’t think Jax will be that kind of guy,” Juliet warned her. “I think he’d be really slow and wary. His main thing is his music, he never seems to have mentioned any girls since I’ve known him.”
Fhemie shrugged. “Wait until he sees me dance. We’ll see who’s slow about making a move then.” To Juliet’s relief she had agreed to be in the video. “Anyway, he’s no more serious about his music than I am about dancing.”
“What will you do when you’re too old to dance?” Margot asked Fhemie.
“First I plan to get on one of those celebrity dancing shows as an expert dancer. Then I plan to become well known enough to get an agent and get offered acting roles. Then I want to be the glamorous bitch on some long-running TV soap. The bitches always have more fans and more fun,” Fhemie said. “Then I’ll be rich and famous and do less and less work while I earn more and more money.”
Coming from anyone else this would be absurd. Coming from Fhemie it would probably happen, Juliet thought. Fhemie could be absolutely driven when she wanted to be. Her grandmother’s desire to send her to a convent only fuelled her ambition to dance.
“Yeah, like any of that will even happen,” Margot said.
Fhemie shrugged. “If it doesn’t, something else will. I’m going to dance and I’m going to be rich, regardless.”
Juliet arrived home later that evening. It was dark but not late.
She opened the front door with her key, slipped off her coat and hung it up. The house was strangely still. Usually she would hear the television or the radio, but tonight both must have been switched off.
She walked through to the living room, startled to see Aunt Mary sitting very upright at the table. Her face was set rigid, her mouth fixed in a tight line.
“And where have you been?” Her aunt’s voice was accusatory.
Juliet was alarmed by her manner. “Just at Margot’s. Did I forget something?” She couldn’t remember her aunt asking to be back especially early.
“Are you sure that’s where you’ve been? Not out with some boy, at some bar?”
What on earth was going on? “No, I…”
Aunt Mary slammed her fist on the table making Juliet jump.
“I am very disappointed in you, young lady. I thought we were long past all this. The lying, the sneaking around with boys.” Her face was white with fury, two red spots of colour in her cheeks.
“But I haven’t been…”
“Don’t lie! I know exactly what you’ve been up to. Out disgracing yourself with such shameful behaviour. I was a fool to ever put any trust in you.”
Juliet’s heart dropped like a stone. Aunt Mary must have found out about Carl.
Juliet was momentarily bewildered when Aunt Mary pushed a newspaper across the table towards her.
“There!” she declared.
Wondering how on earth she and Carl had ended up in the local paper, Juliet glanced down.
There, covering most of the top of the page, was a photograph of her singing with the band and the headline: “Hot new band Dover Six thrills crowd”. Her skirt looked obscenely short but fortunately the colour of the lighting disguised it as being St Gillian’s school plaid.
Her mind was racing. Was this what Aunt Mary meant? She felt a conflicting mix of relief and panic. So her aunt didn’t know about Carl. Yet, anyway. The band seemed like such a small thing in comparison to practically dating her teacher.
“This what you’re angry about?” Juliet asked.
“What else?” her aunt snapped. “How long has this been going on for?”
There was no point lying now. “Some months. I did mean to tell you,” she said quickly, looking at the shock flare on Aunt Mary’s face. “But I wasn’t really sure if it was going anywhere.”
“This is your idea of music appreciation and poetry, is it?”
“Well it is music, and I have written lyrics for some of our songs,” Juliet said.
Her aunt was only further enraged. “This is not what I expected of you, young lady, as well you know. Appearing in a nightclub, dressed up like a…” she didn’t complete the phrase and Juliet wondered what word Aunt Mary couldn’t bring herself to say. Harlot? Prostitute? Out of context it was probably far worse than either.
“It’s just a costume. I don’t wear it at other times,” she said.
“It’s a disgrace. The whole thing is disgraceful,” Aunt Mary said. “Lying and sneaking around for the purpose of this - ” she tapped the newspaper ” - it’s shameful.”
“Maybe it’s more shameful that I didn’t feel able to tell you,” Juliet said.
“I beg your pardon?”
There was no salvaging this, so Juliet decided to be honest. “I’m eighteen, Aunt Mary, I’m a legal adult and if I want to sing a certain type of music, that’s my choice.”
“Not under my roof,” Aunt Mary said. She looked furious.
“It’s not under your roof, is it? You never have to hear it. I don’t even sing it in the shower,” Juliet pointed out.
“I mean that while you live under my roof, under my rules, you will not comport yourself like this. Heaven only knows what the neighbours must think, what your school must think. For they will all find out, now you have been splashed across the newspaper in this appalling way.”
Juliet felt cold. “Are you saying that I have to quit the band if I am to continue living here? Even though everything else is fine and my grades are good and there are no other problems?”
Aunt Mary’s mouth was pursed tighter than ever before. “That is exactly what I am saying. You are to give this up immediately. Or as you have mentioned, being as you are a legal adult, you can find somewhere else to live.”
Juliet couldn’t stay in the house with Aunt Mary in such a mood, after such a terrible row. But she had no idea where to go. She felt uncomfortable about rocking up at Fhemie’s or Margot’s house again, though of course they wouldn’t have minded.
As she walked out again into the dark and the cold, there was only one direction that her feet took her. The only person she wanted and needed right now.
It was a long walk, and she was shattered and past crying by the time she saw the warm glow from his windows and suddenly fighting nerves, made her way up his driveway.
“Juliet, what is it? Come inside out of the cold.” Carl ushered her through, closing the door behind her. He could instantly see that something was very wrong. He led her into the living room and got her to sit down on the couch. He sat next to her. “Tell me what’s wrong.”
She told him and it all came out in a rush.
“Aunt Mary found out about the band and she’s furious. She’s thrown me out - or she’s threatening to throw me out - if I don’t quit. But I don’t want to, it feels like letting everyone down. I mean I guess they could find another singer…” she trailed off, miserable.
“What’s happened? How did she find out?” Carl asked.
“There was a photo in the newspaper. So she saw what I was wearing and everything. That didn’t help.”
Carl raised his eyebrows. “Of course, I saw that. It was a great review. But no, your outfit probably wouldn’t have helped.”
“Did you think it looked awful?” Juliet asked, suddenly insecure.
Carl looked directly into her eyes making her stomach flip. “It was the hottest thing I’ve ever seen. But I’m not your aunt.”
“So what do I do?” She was honestly out of ideas.
“I can talk to her if you would like.”
Juliet looked at Carl. He might be her teacher but he was also a young and very good looking man. She could only imagine where Aunt Mary’s suspicions would head if he came over and started advocating for her. The situation was bad enough as it was.
“I think that might make things a thousand times worse,” she said.
“I understand. But if you need me to, I will. Now, has she actually sent you out of the house tonight and if so, do you need somewhere to stay?” Carl asked. “I can drive you to a friend’s house or you’re welcome to stay here. Unfortunately there’s no bed in the second bedroom as it’s filled with storage boxes, but I can take the couch.”
Juliet suppressed a smile which Carl saw. “What is it?” he asked.
“It’s nothing. It’s just something that Fhemie said. But my aunt hasn’t yet officially thrown me out, just threatened to, so I’ll be fine to go back there for now.”
“If you’re sure.” She could see that he was very concerned for her. “You can always come here if you need to. Your safety is more important than any other considerations. Have you eaten?”
Juliet hadn’t. She had walked a long way in the cold and she found that she was actually hungry. She shook her head and Carl went to fetch them both food. While he did she looked at his copy of the paper. She hadn’t even read the article herself except the headline. Her own name leapt out at her.
“Singer Juliet Martin has attitude and flair, and ethereal vocals that elevate Dover Six to a league apart.”
The review, which wasn’t long, continued by briefly mentioning a couple of tracks, and then Juliet was glad to see a reference to Jax as the main songwriter. She assumed the others would have seen it, but in case they had missed it she asked Carl if she could have his copy. She suspected Aunt Mary would have burnt hers.
Carl was happy for Juliet to take the newspaper. He had brought soup and bread which was just what she needed, it warmed her up from the inside. Which reminded her of what Fhemie had suggested.
“Could I cook for you sometime?”
Carl looked up from his bowl. “Is that a subtle way of telling me that this soup is inedible?”
Juliet was mortified. “No, it’s great. Truly. I just like cooking and I get restricted at Aunt Mary’s as she tends to like plainer dishes.”
“What did you have in mind? Roast peacocks and lobster?” He was teasing her.
“Nothing so exotic. Just a change from chicken,” Juliet said. “Do you have any allergies?”
“None that I know of.”
It was getting late, and Juliet knew if she was out all night without warning there would be more than hell to pay with Aunt Mary. Carl also noticed the time. “I should drive you home,” he said.
Both relieved and disappointed because she didn’t want to leave him, Juliet put her coat back on. She turned towards the door as Carl put his on, but then he said: “Come here.”
She turned back to him and he took her in his arms and kissed her. “I really am sorry for everything you’re going through. I’m sure your aunt will come around. Your grades are outstanding and you have no disciplinary issues at school. Wait until she’s over the shock, and promise her that you’ll wear something less revealing when you next perform. Jeans, maybe.”
Juliet met his gaze. “Would you prefer me to wear jeans?”
There was heat in his eyes. “When I think about you in front of all those guys, yes. But when I see you there performing, absolutely not. It’s the right costume for what you do.” He dropped his voice. “Besides, you look amazing in it.”
Feeling happy for the first time since the row with her aunt, Juliet flung her arms around him and kissed him again. It took all of Carl’s willpower to actually get them both in the car and drive her home.
When Carl arrived back home there was a phone message.
“It’s Dan. I’m at the hospital. Jenny’s in labour, but so far everything’s fine. We’ll have to take a raincheck on lunch tomorrow.”
Carl frowned. Surely it was two weeks early? He hoped Jenny was okay.
Even more so, he hoped that Juliet was alright. He couldn’t imagine her aunt would actually throw her out, it wasn’t as though Juliet was taking drugs and playing truant from school. But if she did end up homeless it was going to be tough for her.
Hopefully one of her friends would be able to give her a home until graduation. Carl knew that many girls at St Gillian’s came from wealthy families: both Cynthia’s and Margot’s parents had been mentioned as benefactors of the school. So they must have huge houses and the means to be charitable.
And if not… ultimately he cared more about Juliet than his job. He would give her a place to stay if no one else would.
If he was fired over it, he would take the consequences. Her wellbeing was paramount.