Fhemie’s face showed bewilderment and a kind of disgust. “You cooked for him, got half naked on his bed, and you ended up with no sex but a ring on your finger? What is this, The Sound of Music?”
Juliet had been nervous about telling her friends about Carl’s proposal but hadn’t expected this reaction.
“Anyway,” Fhemie continued, “we’ll be choosing our own bridesmaid dresses. I don’t trust you to select something that isn’t awful. All brides do.”
Juliet hadn’t even started thinking about bridesmaids and said so.
“But obviously we will be. I mean who else would you pick? Cynthia? Sister Stephanie tripping up the aisle behind you in a wimple? Anyway, my gift to you will be to coach you for your wedding dance.”
“Thank you for the offer, but I have no idea if we’ll even be doing that. And I’m sure we’ll be just fine.”
“You won’t. I’ve seen you dance,” Fhemie said. “This husband of yours will seek an annulment before you even consummate. Besides, anyone who doesn’t dance as well as me, which is everyone, is painful for me to watch.”
She grabbed her bag and stood up. “I have to get to class. You think about what I said.”
Juliet laughed and bid her farewell.
Margot had been largely silent since Juliet revealed her news, but when Fhemie had rushed off she turned on Juliet.
“It wasn’t supposed to be like this. You were supposed to be the Anne, not the Diana.”
Juliet was confused. “Who?”
“You were supposed to be the one going places. The orphan with an amazing future ahead of her. Not the small town girl marrying the small town boy and giving up all her dreams.”
There were actually tears in Margot’s eyes, which moved Juliet.
“I’m not giving up my dreams. I’ll still be going to college and everything. I was never going to be able to go to some Ivy League place, you know that. I don’t have the money.”
“There are scholarships,” Margot pointed out.
“I know, but there are no guarantees I would get one. And what I really want is what you’ve always had. Not money, but your parents. Your brother. Your sister. A family of my own.”
Margot sniffled. “You’re welcome to them. They’d adopt you anyway, my mom considers you like a daughter.”
Juliet was touched. “You’ll always be the nearest I have to a sister. Both you and Fhemie. But even since my parents died, long before I even met you guys, there’s this ache. It doesn’t go away. But with Carl…”
She found it hard to put what she felt into words. He was the first person who would be truly hers. On her side, part of her team. She would never have to worry again about being on her own, alone, lonely.
“Well, so long as you’re happy,” Margot said grudgingly.
Juliet was ecstatic. Walking on air. “I am, truly. And if you remember, Anne pretty much gave up her career to marry Gilbert and have a load of children with him. Whereas I totally plan to have a career, I’ll just be married as well.”
Carl’s grandmother’s beautiful stone sparkled on Juliet’s finger. She loved that it symbolised other happy marriages and had been worn on the hand of other happy brides.
She couldn’t wear it at St Gillian’s of course, so she was dying to wear it to Carl’s church. It was also the easiest way to let people know they were engaged without making some huge announcement.
Carl had already told Dan and Jenny. Jenny wasn’t currently attending the evening service due to the baby. This wouldn’t have been a problem except that Rebecca saw it as an opportunity to muscle her way back in.
By some horrible coincidence, Carl saw that Rebecca had decided to wear the engagement ring he had given her. He hadn’t asked for it back, considering that it had been a gift to her, and she had never offered to return it.
She had moved the ring to another finger but the implication was clear. She was angling for Carl again. Otherwise why wear it to church?
When Carl and Juliet arrived at church - they travelled there together now, with him picking her up from the end of her road - they met an uncomfortable Dan trying to extricate himself from a conversation with Rebecca.
Rebecca flashed them both a smile that Juliet found very fake. She also made a point of flashing her ring which Juliet guessed instantly was the engagement ring that Carl must have bought her. It was a nice ring, not what Juliet would have chosen as it was very modern and angular, but Carl had clearly been generous.
“How nice to see you, Carl. And you Juliet.” Rebecca avoided saying “you both”.
Juliet greeted her politely and felt mortified about her own ring. As awful as Rebecca was she didn’t want to totally humiliate her or cause a scene in church. Perhaps she could discreetly slip her ring off her finger, and reveal it on a future occasion?
While she wavered over this dilemma, Agnes came up and clasped her hands in greeting. Of course she instantly detected the heirloom ring, large as it was, and brought Juliet’s hands up to see.
Agnes opened her mouth and then gave a wide smile. “I think I can guess what that is. It’s quite beautiful on you. A wonderful symbol. Congratulations, my dears. I’ll confess I’m not surprised, but I am very happy for you both.”
She kissed them both and then of course the secret was out.
Juliet never forgot the expression on Rebecca’s face.
No one else saw, but Juliet did. Rebecca was stricken: hate and contempt burned in her eyes as she looked briefly at Juliet, then turned her gaze away. From that point on she avoided both Carl and Juliet.
But Juliet knew she had made an enemy. An enemy potentially even more dangerous than Cynthia, as Rebecca had a very personal reason to hate her. She shivered. It seemed as though a shadow had fallen over her world.
It never rains but it pours. Just as Juliet thought she couldn’t be more blessed with good fortune, Drew had news that simultaneously thrilled and devastated her.
“The record company wants to sign us, and they want us to tour this summer in Europe. Mainly festivals.”
They wouldn’t be a headline act and it would be on the most basic budget ever - no five-star hotels or buckets of champagne - but the exposure would be huge.
Most importantly it was the right kind of exposure, and the right audience, according to Drew. The trip-hop that Jax was influenced by had started early that decade in the UK and was bigger in Europe than the US.
“There’s more interest there, so we can cut our teeth - as Rich puts it - before a more receptive crowd.” Richard Lloyd was the guy from the record company. Juliet had only met him briefly as Drew and Jax had been dealing with that side of things.
“It’s not until the end of June then?” Juliet asked.
“Yes, well into summer break,” Drew said, then frowned. “There’ll be a lot of work to do before then, though. Way more than now. Will you be okay with that and school?”
It wasn’t school that Juliet was thinking about. June was when Carl had been talking about setting a date. Neither of them wanted to wait any longer than they had to.
“School will be fine,” she said to Drew who smiled in relief. “So how long will we be over there?”
“Just the summer. If it goes well, we’ll be touring back over here from September and recording an album,” he told her.
As if the summer wasn’t problematic enough, September as well? How was she going to manage that?
Juliet already had her future mapped out. Marrying Carl, moving in with him, getting a job and starting community college in the fall. She tried to conceal her dismay. It was the most incredible, awesome opportunity she could have imagined. It was like a whole new path was opening up: just not one that she could take.
If only this had happened a year ago, before she had met Carl. To travel throughout Europe and be paid for it - and as a singer as well - it was beyond a dream.
“That’s amazing news. It’s hard to take in,” she said.
Drew grinned. He was clearly over the moon and Juliet could only imagine how excited the other band members must be. Her heart felt like a heavy stone.
“We all have a meeting with the record company and the tour manager next week,” he said. “Contracts, lawyers, everything.
Dover Six was going places. But was Juliet?
"So now I have to cancel my summer plans and drag myself around Europe to watch your band play?” Margot asked. They were at Margot’s house, supposedly studying. Dover Six’s news was a far more interesting topic.
Juliet’s mouth fell open. “You’d actually come over?”
“What do you think? Someone needs to make sure your awful singing doesn’t start a third world war.”
Even Margot couldn’t pretend to be dismissive for long, and a smile flashed on her face.
Suddenly both she and Juliet were yelling and screaming and hugging, dancing all over Margot’s bedroom in the crazy way they used to years back, over something exciting like a cute guy asking for their number.
“I can’t believe it! You’re actually going to be a rockstar!” Margot said.
“Not quite yet but yeah, one day maybe!” Right now it seemed okay to dream. Except then reality came flooding back. “I don’t know if I can do it, though.”
“What do you mean you don’t know? You just get up there and sing and rock it,” Margot told her.
That wasn’t what Juliet meant. “How can I do all that if I’m marrying Carl?”
Margot put down the hairbrush she had been using as a fake microphone. She frowned. “Yeah, that’s awkward. He’d understand though. Couldn’t you postpone the wedding?”
It was more than that. It was the engagement too. Juliet was terrified of losing him but equally troubled about letting down the band. “He’s not going to want to hang around waiting, is he? It’s not like being in the army or something.” Something worthwhile, Juliet thought. Something that people respected. Like being a missionary or going to the International Space Station for six months.
“You really love him, don’t you?”
“More than anything.”
It might have started off as a game or a crush, an infatuation, but Carl was now her world. She had grown to know him, trust him, to like him and love him. It wasn’t something that could be thrown away.
How could she possibly tell him about the tour? How could she possibly tell her bandmates about the wedding?
There really was no more perfect revenge than Cynthia finding out about the tour. But Juliet took little pleasure in her fury and jealousy. Cynthia simply couldn’t get to her any more.
“You’re going on a European tour? Like for real?”
“What about college? Can you study over there?”
“You are so lucky, that would be my absolute dream!”
Cynthia tried not to show any reaction but her resentment was obvious. Juliet had moved on and up. She was now beyond Cynthia and her high school mean girls clique. Cynthia realised this and was all the more furious.
When she saw how other girls reacted to Juliet’s news - which Margot and Fhemie took care to hype up and spread around as widely as possible - Cynthia knew she was beaten. Juliet was now accepted as beyond cool. If there had been an election for Queen of St Gillian’s, Juliet would have walked it without trying.
As a result Cynthia gave up on goading Juliet and calling her “foster slut” and simply ignored her.
For her part, Juliet was relieved. She even found herself feeling sorry for Cynthia at getting rejected from the colleges she had applied to. Happily, Margot had been accepted by Harvard which her parents were even more thrilled about than she was.
Fhemie had several offers to study dance performance including Juilliard, but hadn’t yet made up her mind.
“You’ll need dancers on tour,” she said to Juliet as they sat outside in the sunshine, eating lunch. The winter was so long ago now and it was Juliet’s favourite time of year: late spring. All the promise and excitement of summer lay ahead.
“I wish. It’s all totally low-end, playing on the smaller stages at festivals, but if we ever do get successful we’ll totally hire you.”
Tossing her head, Fhemie was dismissive. “I’ll be far too famous and expensive by then.”
“You’ll be on the pole by then, girl,” Margot said. “Stripping for your supper.”
Fhemie glared at her. “Like hell. You wait until you’re standing in the rain and my limo sweeps past you and sprays you with dirt.” She turned to Juliet. “So how does this all work with the marriage thing? Is your holy husband happy with it?”
Juliet’s face fell.
“She hasn’t told him,” Margot said.
“What?” Fhemie started laughing. “Your fiancée doesn’t know that you’re heading off to Europe right after the wedding. What’s he going to think, that you’re spending an overly long time in the bathroom?”
“I don’t know,” Juliet said, feeling miserable. “I can’t lose him and I can’t let the guys down either. I kind of wish I could split myself in two.”
“Sliding Doors,” Margot said.
“That movie where she lives two parallel lives. Figure out which one is best, kill off the other one.”
Juliet vaguely remembered the movie. “What if you liked both equally though?”
“You can’t have everything you want in life,” Margot told her.
Carl was careful to treat Juliet normally at school. He was still her teacher and wanted to behave as professionally as possible. It was important that she graduated well so she could have her pick of colleges. He was concerned that marriage shouldn’t hold her back or limit her options in any way.
But he couldn’t stop his eyes softening when he saw her nor the feeling of joy and pride that she had agreed to become his wife. It was impossible not to catch her eye and silently communicate how he felt about her.
Her friends clearly knew. “Ave, Magister Spencer,” Margot greeted him in correct if badly pronounced Latin, a glint in her eye.
“Margot, Fhemie, Juliet,” he nodded to them, catching sight of Fhemie nudging Juliet and grinning just as he passed them.
He entered the staffroom with its aroma of stale coffee where he was approached by Anne Mead. The choir mistress wanted to discuss some Latin anthems that the choir would be performing.
“I am conscious of the Sacrosanctum Concilium,” she was saying. “The exhortation that others should still be able to share and understand the worship. That’s why I thought we might include translations in the programme. Your help would of course be most valuable with that.”
Carl looked over the songs selected. “These are great choices, Anne. I’d be very happy to assist in any way I can with translation.”
Anne Mead smiled gratefully. As colleagues they had become friendly since the Paris trip, though Carl sometimes felt a sense of misgiving. He doubted he would retain her good opinion if she ever found out he had fallen for one of his students. Let alone that he had first crossed the line in Paris.
But his sense of misgivings were about to intensify beyond all imagining.
Miss Villiers, the deputy head, stood there. Her expression was grave. “Carl, the principal and I require your presence immediately. I’m afraid there has been a very serious allegation that we need to investigate.”