It was Carl Spencer’s rule to switch off from school thoughts when he went home each day, at least for a couple of hours. Later in the evening he often had marking to attend to, and he felt at least couple of hours mental break were healthy.
Today though St Gillian’s and its students remained on his mind. In particular one student: Juliet Martin.
Carl found himself thinking of the blonde schoolgirl more often than he would have liked. There was something about her that had struck him on the first day. She was a beautiful girl but she looked troubled.
“You’re zoning out again, honey, I need you to give me an opinion on these wedding invitations.”
His fiancée Rebecca was round at his place, going over their wedding plans. They didn’t live together of course, as both were waiting until marriage to move in together.
“Do you like the gold edged ones better or the ones with the silver scrolling?”
Carl tried to feel an interest in the different pieces of card. Really, the details of the wedding didn’t overly interest him. He just wanted to get it done: start his married life, have a family and all the other things he had in his life plan.
Rebecca smoothed down her long skirt. Her hair fell down over her shoulder as she looked at the invitations, trying to decide between them. She had long, dark, straight hair, held off her face with a couple of clips.
“The ivory ones have little gold crosses on them. It think that’s kind of nice, don’t you?” she said. “Appropriate”.
Carl and Rebecca had met through their church. The pace of their courtship had been quite rapid, but then that was often the way if you didn’t spend months or years having a test run by cohabiting, as Carl thought of it. There was no reason to drag it out.
Seeing Rebecca’s dark hair he had a flashback to Juliet’s blonde hair. She also pinned hers back, as was the requirement at St Gillian’s, but a strand would often escape and she would play with it in class. It was an unconscious habit but Carl found it strangely distracting.
He was feeling particularly guilty that evening. Partly for his lack of tact in mentioning Juliet’s parents and upsetting her. But also because he had felt the strongest urge to put his arms around her when she had stood there after his class, looking so sad and trying to act as though everything was okay.
“You’re daydreaming again.” Rebecca’s voice broke through his reverie.
Carl tried to erase his memories of the day by thinking back to his relationship with Rebecca. He remembered the first time they had held hands, on a church picnic when they were officially dating. Their first kiss - awkward, but that was presumably always the way - after a date at an Italian restaurant.
“Sorry. I’m happy with any of them. The ivory ones seems nice,” he said, saying it only because he thought Rebecca liked them.
Rebecca looked pleased. “Ivory it is then. I think they’re more solemn, don’t you? After all it is about sanctifying our future life together.”
She was also working on the guest list which was predominantly their families and people from church. Carl had thought they might invite friends from college, even a couple of guys from his home town, but Rebecca was concerned about keeping numbers tight.
It was probably wise. There was no point starting married life with huge debts from a blowout wedding.
“You know we could just fly to Vegas one weekend,” he joked.
Rebecca turned to him, shocked. “Are you serious? Starting our marriage in a city of sin, gambling and…” She couldn’t bring herself to say “prostitution”.
“Relax, I was only joking. Of course we’ll do it the correct way. Even though it’s hard waiting to be with you properly as my wife.”
Even as he said this it felt kind of hollow. The celibacy had actually been easier than he had thought. He figured it was thanks to prayer, though he remembered how his friend Daniel had been practically climbing the walls ahead of his own wedding night, and his fiancée - now wife - as well.
No wonder that Dan and Jenny were pregnant just weeks after the honeymoon. But Carl himself didn’t find the waiting as hard as he had imagined it might be.
The zeal and the joy with with Dan and Jenny had approached their wedding was one of the things that had encouraged him to propose to Rebecca. He and Rebecca hadn’t been dating that long: they had fallen into it partly due to being two single young people in church. Everything was easier as a couple, you could double date with other couples, do social activities.
Carl had admired Rebecca’s devotion to her faith. He was at an age himself where he was starting to think of having a family and making a life with someone. Rebecca was a good person, attractive, she was both church and career minded. It had made almost perfect sense. They seemed entirely compatible.
Rebecca stood up, gathering the invitation samples together and putting them in her bag. “I have to get going, I have some work to catch up on tonight.” Rebecca worked in a bank and was studying towards a financial qualification.
“Don’t forget that we have marriage class tomorrow night after church,” she reminded him.
As if Carl could forget. The marriage classes were held at their church for engaged couples and he and Rebecca had faithfully attended every one. They wanted to do all they could to ensure they started married life properly.
Rebecca gathered her things together and tilted her head for Carl’s kiss. Chaste kissing was considered appropriate, but the pastor who led the marriage classes continually warned of the dangers of going further, even when one was engaged. “A marriage based on lust is a union that won’t go the distance,” he had said.
Rebecca had taken the pastor’s teachings very much to heart, taking on the responsibility to keep her Carl at arm’s length from her until their union was properly sanctified. It wasn’t hard for either of them as they’d both been committed to chastity since teenagerhood. After a while you got used to it.
As Rebecca left, Carl wondered if it was healthy or not that he didn’t feel much desire to break the rules. Maybe a switch would flick on once they were confirmed as man and wife. It wasn’t that he didn’t have urges or sexual thoughts, but whenever he did they were rarely triggered by Rebecca. Perhaps that was a good thing, because he respected her so much.
Despite himself he found his mind wandering to St Gillian’s and the sultry look that Juliet had given him as she read out a line of Latin love poetry. He realised he had grown hard just remembering it.
This wouldn’t do. He was a teacher, his students were completely forbidden fruit to even fantasise about. He would need to pray about this.
"I looked up Baptist churches. It must be one of these two.” Margot showed Juliet the locations on a street directory.
They were at Margot’s house, getting ready to go out. She was lucky that she didn’t have to babysit her younger siblings very often as her parents had a housekeeper who lived with them.
Vanessa, a cute five-year-old, bounced into the room.
“Can you come and play with my dolls? Can I try on your make up? Can you do my nail varnish?”
Margot rolled her eyes and reached into a drawer, where she kept some old make up just for this purpose.
“Here you go. Here’s the special pink sparkly powder. But you keep quiet.”
Vanessa started applying it like face paint, all over her cheeks and forehead.
Juliet laughed. “Here, you’re supposed to put it on your eyelids. Close your eyes.” Vanessa obeyed while Juliet applied it properly for her. “There, you look super sophisticated.”
“Do I look like a princess? Can I come out with you to the ball? Can I wear my Cinderella dress?”
“Yes and no. We’re not going to a ball, and you’d find it super boring,” Margot told her.
They were meeting Fhemie in town, having told their respective parents and Juliet’s Aunt Mary that they were going to the movies.
It was a warm evening so Juliet was wearing skinny black jeans and a silver crop top showing off her midriff, which was still tanned from summer. She kept outfits like this at Margot’s house because her aunt would have burnt them and called for the priest to do an exorcism if she ever discovered them. Margot was wearing a skirt that barely covered her thong, with high heels. Her legs looked endless.
“You look like a Victoria’s Secret model,” Juliet said, admiring her friend.
“Except for the hair. They wouldn’t let me on the catwalk with these,” Margot said, arranging her braids.
“That’s their loss.”
They drove down to the city in Margot’s car. Fhemie met them in the the usual place. “See this?” she said, showing them her arm which had a big scribbled line on it. “A tattoo thanks to Eunice. With a Sharpie so it won’t come off. My god, Juliet, you are so lucky you don’t have annoying little sisters.”
Juliet, who would have loved to have had siblings, said nothing. Having lost both her parents and spending most of her childhood in a series of foster homes, she often felt very alone in the world. But she didn’t like to talk about it with the others.
“So where are we going?” Fhemie asked.
“The Green Room,” Margot told her, naming a popular bar that got busy without being crowded to the point of bursting.
“Awesome. Did you track down that hot Latin teacher yet?” Fhemie was fascinated by the bet between Juliet and Margot.
Juliet told her that they were still working on it. “Margot reckons we should try either the church on New Street or the one in Kennedy Avenue.”
Fhemie wasn’t impressed. “Why don’t you just follow him home from school? I’ll do it for you if you like. He doesn’t know who I am, and I’m small. I can hide behind bushes.”
They all burst out laughing at the idea of Fhemie stalking Mr Spencer.
“You might just ask him outright what church he goes to,” Fhemie suggested.
Juliet was worried that this would be too obvious.
“Too obvious? Girl, you’ve practically been hanging off him in class for the last two weeks,” Margot said.
“You know what I mean. If we ask him where he goes, and then we just show up there, it seems kind of stalkerish.”
They would just have to try both churches and keep visiting until they managed to encounter him there.
As they entered the bar Fhemie groaned. “Oh shit, they have karaoke night. Let’s go elsewhere.”
“No, let’s stay,” Margot said, having already spotted a cute guy by the bar.
“You know I hate karaoke.” Fhemie was tone deaf, which meant she hadn’t been roped into singing in the school choir like Margot and Juliet had been.
There was a large girl on the small stage trying to sing Mariah Carey and sounding like she was being murdered. “You couldn’t do worse than her,” Margot pointed out. “You could just rap something.”
This presumed they were all going to sign up. Juliet had only done karaoke once before at someone’s birthday party, when everyone had sung in a big group and she had been nowhere near the microphone. Other than that she only sang in the choir, but never got solos because Cynthia was the choir teacher’s pet. Even though Cynthia frequently sang off-key on the high notes.
Margot went to get them some song slips while Juliet bought drinks for the three of them. As expected, Margot had chosen Rihanna and Beyoncé for herself.
“You’ll never sing that,” Fhemie said, looking at her choices. “It’s really tricky.”
“Like you would know.” Margot dismissed her concerns. “What about you?” she asked Juliet.
Juliet skimmed through the song sheet. She had a thing for older songs, and picked Heart of Glass by Blondie much to Fhemie’s disgust. “What the hell is that? That’s like from before you were born. Sing something from this century at least.”
“It’s classic,” Juliet said.
As the slips were handed in to the karaoke host Juliet suddenly felt her stomach turn into a ball of nerves. What the hell had she done? She suddenly realised she might actually have to stand up in front of a bar full of drunken people and sing something by herself. She nudged Margot. “I don’t think I can do this. Will you go up with me if they call me?”
Margot refused and Fhemie was no help either. “I don’t sing that shit. I don’t sing, if you remember.”
The sexy guy that had been giving Margot the eye approached them with his friend and started chatting them up. Juliet had guessed they were college students but as it turned out, neither of them had been to college. Terrance, the one who liked Margot, had a landscaping business. His friend Jayson managed a sportswear store owned by his uncle.
Jayson was clearly trying to chat Juliet up which was awkward as she wasn’t interested in him, and it was leaving Fhemie out in the cold. Suddenly Juliet heard her name called by the host.
She panicked. She tugged Margot’s arm. “Let’s get out of here, go somewhere else. I really don’t want to do this.”
Margot shook her off. “I’m not leaving. Just go and hide in the bathroom.”
Juliet was about to do this when the karaoke host called her name one more time and Fhemie gave her a hard shove towards the stage. This meant the host spotted her so there was no escape.
Her hand shaking as she took the microphone, Juliet closed her eyes as the backing track started. She tried to pretend she was in her bedroom. The song started on a C sharp which was a higher note and she felt like she squeaked it out.
But after the first line suddenly everything fell into place. Even when she opened her eyes the room had kind of dissolved and it was just her and the music. She couldn’t tell if she was singing well but her voice didn’t seem to waver and she found she loved it. Singing alone was so different to choir.
As the song finished and the karaoke host led a round of applause - which every singer received, though Juliet’s was noticeably louder and longer than some of the other participants - the spell broke. She suddenly felt mortified with embarrassment and slunk back to join Margot and Fhemie, trying not to meet anyone’s eye.
“That was awesome!” Margot told her. “I knew you could sing choir songs but I didn’t know you could sing like that.”
Juliet mumbled something about it being an easy song.
Margot was up next singing one of Rihanna’s recent tracks. It wasn’t American Idol but she made a good effort and got some applause.
“I’m just about done here,” Fhemie told them when Margot came back. “Now you two have done your diva thing, can we go somewhere else?”
Terrance and Jayson suggested another bar and they agreed to try it.
On her way out, Juliet was stopped by a guy at the other end of the bar. “Hey, are you leaving? I heard you sing, you have a really beautiful voice.”
Juliet assumed this was a chat up attempt and made to leave but the guy managed to stop her.
He had light brown hair that fell partly over his face and light grey eyes. He was medium tall and thin. He didn’t look like a psycho, but you never knew.
“I’m in a band, we’re looking for a singer. You should try out. I think you’d be great.” He scribbled down an email address on the back of a receipt. “Here. Get in touch if you’re interested.”
Juliet folded the piece of paper and put it in her pocket, running to catch up with the others who were already out of the door.