"We’ve had a report that you are involved in an inappropriate relationship with one of your students.”
The headmistress of St Gillian’s had summoned Carl to her office. Her tone was formal and serious. Sitting next to her was Miss Villers, with an accusatory look in her eye.
“An inappropriate relationship?” Carl, stunned, played for time.
“With Juliet Martin, in your senior Latin class. You have been seen outside school together.”
Together? Unless someone had been peeping through the windows, the only place they had been out together was at his church.
Carl’s mind was racing. “Juliet comes to my church and I have given her a lift home a few times.”
Miss Villiers raised her eyebrows in clear disbelief. She had never liked Juliet.
The headmistress’s expression remained more neutral. “And how far would you say this relationship has developed? Have you crossed professional boundaries?”
He had, of course. But while lying was completely against his faith, the desire to protect Juliet was stronger. He tried to find something credible to say that wouldn’t also be compromising. “Through church I have got to know Juliet more…” he began, but the headmistress cut him short.
“Are you involved in a sexual relationship with Juliet Martin?”
Little did the headmistress realise what a relief this black-and-white question was. Carl could truthfully answer: “No, I’m not.” He saw Miss Villiers purse her lips. She clearly thought the worst even if the headmistress appeared to believe him.
“And is there any reason why someone might think you might be in such a relationship? Has your conduct around her been unprofessional?”
Carl avoided answering this for the time being. “Can you tell me who has been making these claims?” he asked.
The headmistress looked apologetic but firm. “I’m afraid I can’t disclose that.”
“I’m trying to understand why someone might have developed such an impression,” Carl said. He was also wondering about their motive for ringing up. After all, Juliet was eighteen. To ring up the school suggested another motive than genuine concern.
Meddling, perhaps. Or vindictiveness? Even as he wondered this he felt his heart sink. He was pretty certain who the call was, after all, who else could it be?
“Is it possible that Juliet Martin has developed a crush on you? Such a thing is not unusual with teenage girls and male members of staff,” the headmistress asked him.
“Not that I’m aware of.” It wasn’t exactly a lie. Carl wouldn’t have ever described Juliet’s feelings as a crush. It had been a mutual physical and emotional attraction.
“If that’s the case, while I can hardly suggest you avoid your church, I do recommend that you limit your interactions with her outside class as far as possible. Continue to follow the school guidelines: don’t be over familiar with students, always leave your classroom door open if you need to speak privately with them. This is for your protection as much as theirs,” the headmistress said.
Carl thanked her, avoided the mistrustful gaze of Miss Villiers, and left. He realised they would probably grill Juliet as well. There was no way to safely get a message to her so he just had to pray that her story corroborated his.
If not - well, he would have to take whatever came. There were only a few more weeks until graduation. Compared to the years and decades he hoped they would spend together this was a minor issue.
"Sit down please, Juliet. I’m afraid I need to ask you some sensitive questions.”
Bewildered, Juliet took a seat before the headmistress and Miss Villiers. Being asked to sit down was a good sign, she supposed. If you were being disciplined you were made to stand.
“I need to ask you about your relationship with your Latin teacher, Mr Spencer,” the headmistress began. “I understand you have formed a friendship with him outside of school?”
Don’t panic. Don’t go red. Don’t go pale. Play for time. Juliet felt her heart thudding as the world seemed to go into slow motion.
“Do you mean at his church? I go to his church,” she said.
“Church is no issue. But has your friendship with him crossed a line? Has Mr Spencer made any inappropriate or unwelcome advances?”
Juliet had to bite her lip not to giggle at this. Amid the shock and panic of this interview she had a sudden desire to laugh. She fought it down.
“Not at all.” It was true: he hadn’t. She had pretty much made all the moves. They certainly wouldn’t have been unwelcome if he had made them though. And by Juliet’s own moral code, given she was eighteen and a free consenting adult, she didn’t consider any such moves would have been inappropriate either.
“Don’t be frightened to admit if he has,” he headmistress said. “You won’t be in trouble. He’s the one in a position of responsibility.”
Juliet’s head whirled. Had they already spoken to Carl? What had he said?
She was guessing he must have denied it or played it down, as the headmistress was still digging. “He’s… just my teacher,” she said, trying to appear surprised and confused by the question.
“The reason I have to ask is because we’ve had a report that your friendship may have crossed a line.”
How did they know? What did they know? Who had said something?
Juliet played dumb. She frowned. “I asked him for a lift a couple of times, when it was raining. Was that wrong?”
“A lift is fine, Juliet. It’s whether anything else happened. Did he try to touch you or kiss you, when he drove you home?”
“No.” She was the one that had done that. The headmistress would be the worst ever police interrogator, Juliet thought. She had no idea how to get to the truth. Juliet could have passed a polygraph with these questions.
“If you’re sure, then we’ll leave it at that. People sometimes do get the wrong impression and I’m sure they were only trying to look out for your wellbeing,” the headmistress said. “Remember though that you can always come here if anything does happen to make you feel uncomfortable.”
“Thank you, I will, but truly everything is fine,” Juliet told her.
Juliet didn’t see Carl for the rest of the day and later that evening she was too wired and too freaked out to dare to go around to his place. She imagined spies lurking behind every bush.
Aunt Mary was out, but it seemed too risky to even use the home phone. So Juliet slipped out to a payphone down the road.
“Hello, it’s me.”
“Juliet.” The warmth in his voice relieved her. “Are you okay? I wanted to speak with you earlier, but…”
“But it’s too risky, right? Somebody knows.”
Even being in the phone booth was freaking her out. She kept imagining someone peeping through the window or tapping her conversation.
They swapped notes about their respective interviews. Fortunately they had corroborated one another nicely.
“I’m sorry you had to go through this,” Carl said. “I would have liked to have been honest but figured it made more sense for you graduate high school without a huge row.”
A huge criminal investigation, possibly. Juliet wasn’t exactly sure what the law was. Could they try to prosecute Carl, even though she was over the age of consent?
For the first time she was almost glad he had refused to consummate their relationship yet, even if it was due to entirely different motives.
“Who do you think said something?” she asked. “Someone from church?” Pastor Brown, maybe. After all he was Carl’s spiritual leader. Maybe he thought he was saving Carl’s soul. Though she didn’t like to suggest a name without proof.
“I’m not sure.” This was true - Carl wasn’t sure - but he had an idea. He hoped very much that he was wrong.
“I guess we may never know,” Juliet said. “But in a couple more months - if this hasn’t changed your mind - we don’t need to worry any more.”
His voice was huskier when he replied. “Nothing would make me change my mind about you, Juliet.”
The seriousness of his tone made her shiver a little, and even though he wasn’t there she felt her body throb for him.
“I wish I could be with you now.” Safe. In his arms. In his bed. Making the most inappropriate moves ever…
“Likewise.” His voice held the same desire. “What are you doing Saturday?”
Juliet dragged her thoughts out of Carl’s bedroom. “Saturday? Nothing much.”
“Want to come for a drive? There’s something I’d like to show you,” Carl said.
Hadn’t they better be more careful now? “Would it be safe?” she asked.
“It will be perfectly fine. You’ll see why,” he told.
He arranged to pick her up mid-morning when Aunt Mary would be out shopping.
Juliet wondered what he wanted her to see but Carl wouldn’t tell her. “It’s a surprise.”