It had to be perfect. She had to prove she could do this.
Normally Juliet wasn’t nervous about her cooking skills. But making a meal for Carl for the first time seemed like a huge deal. He had cooked for her several times and she wanted to reciprocate, though it had to be at his place as she could hardly bring him back to Aunt Mary’s.
On Margot’s advice Juliet had decided to cook steak. Carl offered to get the ingredients for her but Juliet insisted on providing everything and managing it all.
Steak. Café de Paris butter. Baked sweet potato fries. Salad. Chocolate mousse.
Juliet was trying to include as many French elements as she could as a reminder of the Paris trip. Their first proper kiss.
Despite her nerves and the unfamiliarity of Carl’s kitchen, she managed not to burn or overcook anything. She had always had a knack for cooking. It was the reverse of her knitting ability, to Aunt Mary’s great disappointment.
“You may as be knitting with your feet,” she had remarked in the early days of Juliet coming to live with her. Two straggly, unravelling, mismatched squares for a scarf later and they were both relieved when Aunt Mary gave up the lessons.
But cooking, that was different.
Carl watched Juliet as he passed the kitchen on his way to the living room. It felt like his house was full of light and warmth having her there, even though it was a dark and rainy evening.
Not once had Rebecca ever done this, he thought. He had always been the one cooking for them both at his house.
They’d eaten at her place, of course, many times. But he’d more often than not been the one fixing the food while she caught up with overdue work. On the occasions Rebecca cooked it tended to be takeout or something frozen and heated up.
Carl wasn’t looking for a domestic goddess in a wife. He simply wanted a partnership. He figured that if they both worked, they could always afford domestic help if they needed to.
“Do you need any help?” he asked her.
“It’s all fine, but thank you.”
Carl insisted on setting the table as he didn’t want Juliet having to do everything. It was a good strategy having something to do. When they just sat and tried to watch TV they could never keep their hands off one another. An activity gave the evening structure and kept them both too busy to fall into temptation.
Finally the meal was ready and they sat down. Carl was hungry by that point and the food smelt delicious.
Juliet was watching him anxiously as he ate his first mouthful. “Is it okay?” she asked, before he had even finished chewing.
He reassured her. “It’s amazing. From now on you’re cooking all the steaks, as I always burn them.”
From now on… Juliet knew it was just a thing to say, just politeness, but she so wished it could be true. That she would always be able to do this, indefinitely.
“I haven’t made this sauce before,” Juliet said. “Aunt Mary sticks mainly to chicken with fish on Fridays. She doesn’t really like much more than salt and pepper as flavourings.”
“She’s missing out,” Carl said.
“I know it’s not as good as if we went out to a restaurant,” Juliet said. “They have different abilities with a commercial kitchen. And years of training.”
Carl finished another bite of perfectly medium rare sirloin, exactly how he liked it. “This is as good as any restaurant. Besides, a Middle Eastern friend once told me that they consider home cooked food to be better, because it’s mubarak. Blessed,” he translated.
Juliet hadn’t prayed over the ingredients so she wasn’t sure if that was the case with her cooking.
“Did you work things out with your aunt over the band?” Carl asked her.
Juliet shook her head. “I’m still not sure what to do. I love being part of it, but she’s serious about kicking me out. I hoped she would eventually come around or forget about it but she’s not going to. And I can’t hide it forever.”
“I guess not.” He was concerned for her and wished there was an obvious solution.
“Even if I could keep hiding it the problem is more than that. I don’t expect her to approve, but I wish she didn’t disapprove so much. She’s actually upset and I feel bad about that. At the same time I can’t - ” Juliet struggled for the right words ” - respect her upset because it’s not rational. I don’t think it harms my mortal soul to sing in a band, or whatever she fears, nor does it disgrace me in anyway. At least that’s how I feel.”
Carl remembered Juliet on stage: the passion with which she sang, her beautiful voice, the talent of the other musicians. The response of the audience who clearly viewed the band with respect.
“It doesn’t disgrace you at all,” he said. “Quite the opposite. Remember that your aunt has never actually seen you perform, she’s only read the newspaper article. If she saw you she might have a different opinion.”
The article. The rest of Dover Six had been so hyped by it, even Jax though he tried not to show it. It had been perfect timing with the music industry guy coming to see them. It might only be a local publication but at least it showed they could get good press.
Juliet hadn’t dared tell them what trouble it had got her into.
As for Aunt Mary ever seeing her perform, Juliet couldn’t imagine how that could ever happen. “I’ll just have to risk it for now. If the worst happens Margot has offered me a place to stay. And it’s only a few more months until graduation.”
At the mention of graduation Juliet looked at Carl intently. After graduation he could surely have no more excuse for keeping her at arms’ length. Though she didn’t think she could wait that long.
Afterwards he tried to prevent her from washing up but Juliet insisted on doing it. “You don’t want to wake up to a sinkful of dishes.” As it turned out he had a dishwasher and they stacked it together. Somehow it seemed right to have her there, with him, sharing this task. Carl felt glad to simply be with her.
Then it was done and they were standing there in the kitchen. In his house. No one to disturb them.
Juliet reached up and put her arms around his neck. Carl found his hands automatically went to her waist: touching her rather than pushing her away was starting to become instinctive.
He could breathe in the warmth of her body and the faint trace of perfume she wore. It gave his body and instant and powerful reaction and he held her away from him.
But she pressed herself against him, gazing at him questioningly. “Could we go to your bedroom? Just for a while?”
There was nothing Carl wanted more. Just for a while… to lie with her and be with her. He was sure he could control himself. Even though a huge part of him no longer really wanted to.
“It’s this way.”
It felt almost surreal. After all the months of trying so hard for this, Juliet was now lying down with Carl on his bed, face to face. She had no idea where this was going and for the first time she felt unaccountably nervous.
He slipped his hand underneath her top and cupped it over her bra, his gaze never leaving hers. She found herself wondering whether he had even done this before, or certainly not routinely, the way he did it was so like exploring. As though he were testing himself.
Then his lips were on hers and it was an amazing feeling. Warm, sensuous, but with a firmness that suggested he was in charge of the situation. Juliet felt her stomach flip.
His other hand stroked down her back, over the curve of her waist and around her rear, and as he was drawing himself closer to her, body to body, she suddenly froze.
He broke away instantly. “What’s wrong?”
How could she tell him? “You know about me not being a virgin…”
He interrupted her. “Juliet, it’s fine. Your past is your past. I like you for who you are, it makes no difference.”
“No, it’s not that.” This was so difficult. Not even her best friends knew about this. She was really struggling to find the words. Would he be disgusted? Freak out? Reject her?
She plucked up her courage. Tried not to get the usual flashbacks that distressed her whenever she thought of it.
“It’s that when I lost it… it wasn’t by choice.”
“What do you mean?” Carl looked puzzled.
“The last foster home I was in.” She couldn’t even speak it fully. “Before they sent me back to the children’s home. The foster father…”
Juliet didn’t need to continue, the truth was written in the pain in her eyes.
She saw shock and anger in Carl’s eyes. But it was anger for her, on her behalf, not at her.
“I take it he’s in jail now.”
“No.” She buried her face in his chest and couldn’t stop the tears. “I told the foster mother - his wife - what happened, and she didn’t believe me. She said I was a whore, and whores like me deserved everything they got. Then they sent me away, and told the social workers that I was a promiscuous liar who was putting their own kids at risk. No one believed me.”
He was holding her, stroking her hair.
“So I’m ruined,” she said. “And if you think I’m a slut, then I guess she was right.”
He raised her head to his, and now he looked really angry. But his voice was kind.
“You’re not a slut, Juliet, or a whore. And you are still a virgin, regardless.”
“How can I be?”
“You’ve never willingly chosen to have sex. That’s what being a virgin is.”
If it wasn’t for the trauma, for the nightmares she still occasionally had, she might well have voluntarily had sex. After all, Margot and Fhemie frequently slept with the guys they dated.
“I nearly did, a few times. But when it came close, I couldn’t go through with it. I kept seeing him…”
“It’s alright.” Carl had his arms around her, tightly. She was safe.
Then somehow although Juliet had been crying just moments ago they were kissing. Passionately. He was the one person in the world who seemed to blot it all out. She needed him like a thirst. His kindness. His warmth. The way being with him made everything feel better.
His lips were on hers, hers on his, they were tasting each other, drinking one another in. Hot and wet and soft and sensual. She was opening for him, his tongue entwining with hers.
Now she broke off. “I want you.” She looked at him directly in the eyes and he knew what she meant. “I want you, to make a new memory.”
He looked back at her, his eyes serious. She could tell that under any other circumstances he would have refused. But he saw that she needed him, that she had a need that went deeper than rules or morals or commandments, beyond the teachings of his religion.
“If you’re sure?”
He lifted off her top so she was just in her bra. Traced her stomach just at the waist of her jeans, making her shiver.
“This should feel like sin,” he said. “But it feels like love.” He was looking at her body almost in wonderment.
Juliet was startled by what he said. Her eyes held the question she couldn’t speak.
“Yes, I love you,” he said. “I didn’t expect to, or even want to. It certainly wasn’t in my plan for my life to fall in love with someone so much younger than me, someone in my care as a student. But sometimes there are other plans for us.”
He didn’t mention God, but Juliet knew that was what he meant.
“Do you want me?”
He gave a laugh that was half sad. “Yes, I want you. I’ve wanted you for ages, but we’re taught to fight temptation. This, though, is something different. It feels right.”
“Even after what I told you?” she asked.
“Because of that. Because I want you to understand that you can be loved, and whatever happened to you wasn’t your fault and doesn’t define you,” Carl said.
He loosened the front of her jeans and his hand slipped down. She bit her lip at the feeling of his fingers slipping between her wetness.
“I haven’t done this before either,” he said. “So we’re both going to learn together.”
He was still in command of the situation. Still her teacher.
“Are you sure? You won’t regret this?” Juliet asked. He was moving his fingers around her, exploring, and practically making her whimper.
“Afterwards I’m probably going to want to marry you - ” he paused, seeing the shock flare up in her eyes and feeling her body tense, “- but there’s no rush. I know how young you are. If things happen later on then they happen, I’m just telling you honestly how I feel. And doing this with you is only going to cement that.”
Slipping off her clothes he allowed his hands to move over her body. As he traced the curves that seemed almost sculpted to fit his grasp, he found himself wondering about the first union of man and woman. Carl didn’t take all Bible stories as fundamentally literally as some others of his faith did.
But as he ran his hands over her stomach, her thighs, past the hollow of her waist, over her breasts, marvelling in the beauty of her and the way it felt so natural to touch her, her wondered. His hands seem to know where to move and how to caress her even though this was new to him.
Bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.
Was this how Adam felt, with the help meet created from his own rib?
Juliet’s responsiveness also amazed him. Rebecca had rejected any advances throughout their courtship, and the women of his church generally seemed to find it easy to guard their virtue. So it was a surprise to Carl to find that Juliet seemed to want him as much as he wanted her.
The flush of her skin, her shallow breathing, and as he slipped his hand in the most forbidden places the softness and the warm wetness of her.
Juliet looked up at him. Despite her supposed experience he could see a trace of apprehension in her face, but also trust. She was entrusting herself to him, putting her self in his hands.
How could something this elevating be a sin? It was far more than raw lust, which Carl had always been taught was the root of extra-marital activity.
Rather it was a sense of reverence, of wanting to honour her body. To worship her.
Carl felt a pang of guilt at what must surely be a blasphemous emotion. But after all, wasn’t that one of the vows that man made to woman? With my body I thee worship.
For the first time he understood it: how the sacrament of marriage mirrored the love of Christ for his bride, the Church.
There were other thoughts he had, questions he had that he didn’t want to dwell on right now.
Instead he let Juliet’s beauty, her warmth, her sensuality block them out. If he had to atone for his later then he would do so. But for now, in this moment, nothing had ever felt quite so sacred.
He knew what lust was, he was a man of flesh and blood after all, not made of stone, but this was so much more than that. His whole being was infused by wanting to explore her, discover her, taste her, know her.
Even as he felt himself ready for her, to take the next step, he held back.
He wanted more.
He wanted to take her for the first time in his marriage bed.
It wasn’t even about religion or righteousness, but simply wanting it to be the very ultimate that it could be.