"What’s wrong?” Juliet sensed him withdraw.
“I want us to wait.”
“Really?” She was incredulous. Her whole body was on fire with wanting him, her nerves stimulated and inflamed by his caresses, and now he was stopping?
Carl moved back from above her, lying down alongside her.
Juliet became insecure. “Is it me? Is there something wrong?” Had she repulsed him in some way?
“No, of course not. It’s the opposite,” he said, his arms around her. He was willing his nearly painful hardness to subside. “It’s because you’re so perfect that I want us to be perfect.”
“What do you mean?”
He was face to face with her. “I want us to be married.”
Juliet had thought he was kidding before. But his gaze was completely sincere. It made her stomach do strange things.
“You want to marry me? Seriously? Why?”
“Because I love you, like I have never loved anyone. Because this is it for me. Because I want to spend the rest of my life with you.”
She was silent. “Really?”
He saw that she didn’t believe hm. But he sensed that she wanted to. “Wait a second.” He left the bed and opened a drawer. Brought out a small box. It was vintage looking, covered in gold embossed leather.
Carl knelt down on the floor next to the bed. “Juliet Martin, will you do me the honour of one day becoming my wife?”
“One day?” Juliet was so taken aback by everything that she could hardly speak the words.
“If and when you’re ready.” He handed her the box and she opened it. Inside, its gemstones dazzling like white fire, was a beautiful antique ring.
Juliet drew in her breath. Now she couldn’t speak as she was so overcome.
Carl was anxious, thinking she didn’t like it. “It was my grandmother’s. We can choose something new for you, this can be just for now. No one has ever worn it before. Rebecca made it clear she wanted her own ring, and when I showed it to her she wasn’t really interested.”
He remembered with some pain now the faint distaste on Rebecca’s face at the suggestion of what she called a “second hand” ring. He should have realised then that it was never going to work with her. Their values, despite following the same religion and attending the same church, had been too different.
Carl saw that Juliet was actually crying and was horrified. “What’s wrong? I didn’t mean to…”
He broke off as she looked up at him through her tears, and she realised she was crying with happiness. Seeing his confusion she tried to explain.
“Being offered this, it’s like being asked to be part of someone’s family,” she told him.
He sat by her on the bed and brushed a lock of hair away from her eyes. “You are part of my family, Juliet. Or I want you to be. I would love us to be a family one day.”
She was kissing him now and crying, overwhelmed with everything. Then she gathered herself together and moved apart from him, pushing the box back towards him.
Carl felt a sudden alarm. His eyes met hers, questioningly.
Juliet looked shy. “You’re supposed to be the one who puts it on.” She held out her left hand.
“Does this mean…?”
“Yes. It’s a yes.” Totally, absolutely. She smiled at him, radiant now, and he felt both relief and joy. He took the ring from the dark velvet it rested in and slipped it on Juliet’s finger. He had assumed it would need resizing but it was a perfect fit.
“It feels a bit of a leap,” Juliet confessed to him, playing with the ring on her finger.
“From not being anything to being engaged. It’s a lot to get used to.”
He was confused. “Not anything?”
“Because we weren’t ever officially dating. I wasn’t ever your girlfriend, exactly.”
Carl put his hands on her shoulders and turned her to face him. “In my heart you’ve been far more than that for a long time. I love you. I’ve loved you for ages.”
“I love you too.” It was the first time Juliet had said it. The first time she had said it to anyone, ever.
His lips met hers in a kiss which, as usual, intensified and headed out of control.
“Now we’re engaged, couldn’t we…?” Juliet wanted him so badly.
“We could, but wouldn’t you rather wait?”
She could see from his eyes that being celibate until after they spoke their wedding vows meant a lot to him. “I can manage to, but it’s probably going to have to be you who stops us from crossing the line,” she told him.
Carl smiled. “I can take the lead with that. Not that it’s gong to be easy, but we’ve got this far. Even if you want to wait a few years.”
Juliet was shocked. “Wait a few years. Why?”
“This isn’t something to rush, you haven’t even graduated high school yet. I know what I want, but I want you to be really sure. Then there’s college and everything.”
“You mean you wouldn’t want a wife who was still in college?” Juliet asked.
Carl took her hand. “Not at all. But you might prefer to go to college without ties. Spend a couple of years enjoying your freedom, experiencing dorm life. I don’t want to limit you. If you decide afterwards that this is still what you want, I’ll be here.”
The thought of sharing a dorm filled Juliet with horror. She’d been forced to share rooms many times in her life: in foster homes, group homes, juvie. She’d had her belongings trashed and stolen. People waking her up at all hours. And worse… The thing she treasured most about being at Aunt Mary’s was the safety and privacy of having her own bedroom.
“I’ve already decided this is what I want. I can be married and still attend college, can’t I? Unless you’d rather wait?”
“If you weren’t my student I’d be tempted to call up Pastor Brown now, but I imagine you’d like a proper wedding. Speaking of which, I’m totally happy for us to get married in your church, in a Catholic ceremony. I realise that’s probably important to you,” he said.
Juliet was silent for a few moments. “Actually I wouldn’t.”
“You wouldn’t?” Carl was surprised, but he didn’t press her for a reason. He was even more surprised when she gave him one.
“The thing is, I don’t think I’m really Catholic.” She could see that she was going to have to try to explain it. “When my aunt first fostered me, she assumed for some reason I would be. And also that I would have been confirmed. So when I found out that if I wasn’t, I’d have to go to all these Sunday school classes and learn the catechism, I just let her think that I was. It’s probably a mortal sin for me to be taking Communion. I can’t let her know now because she’ll be furious. And devastated.”
From Aunt Mary’s perspective Juliet’s fake Catholicism would be a worse deception than the band, or even dating her teacher. Being engaged to her teacher, in fact. She found she had to pinch herself to believe it was real.
This strong, handsome, intelligent man was going to be her husband. A man she had already grown to love and adore, and who amazingly loved her back.
Juliet was worried Carl would be shocked about the Catholic thing but instead he was fine with it. “There’s no time limit with religion. If you want to take catechism classes it’s not too late. You needn’t even let your aunt know.”
“I don’t really want to take them. Also I’m not sure I could even do that because I’m not sure I was even baptised.” Her parents, from the little she remembered, hadn’t been churchgoers. There had been no godparents coming out of the woodwork to help her when they died. So even if they did exist they may as well not have. She explained all this to Carl.
It was a relief being able to tell someone after all these years. In the early days at St Gillian’s she had always had a sense of terror that someone might find her out. Over time she had got to learn the rituals as well as anyone else so no one guessed there was anything wrong.
“You can get baptised in my church if you like. Either way, we can easily get married there,” Carl said.
Juliet was silent again. “It’s not that I don’t want to be part of your church,” she said eventually, “but I still haven’t figured a lot of this out. It’s not that I don’t believe but I feel like I need to find my own way through this.”
She had been worried her response might disappoint him but there was only love in his eyes. “I understand completely. Leave it with me, I have an idea.”
He kissed her and stood up, bringing up her with him. “Let’s get you home because I don’t want your aunt worrying, and it’s already late. If you stay here I’m only going to be lying awake all night on the couch thinking of you in my bed, and I think we could both use a decent night’s sleep.”