Margot and Fhemie had been scathing about the guy who allegedly wanted Juliet to audition for his band.
“It’s the oldest trick in the book,” Fhemie said. “I’m surprised he didn’t try and tell you he was a big shot record company exec and try to get you to his private studio.”
“Which would be some dungeon that he’d tie you up in. Probably a cabin in the woods. No one would ever find you,” Margot continued for her.
Juliet, who had felt flattered, now felt deflated. But she couldn’t bring herself to throw the piece of paper away. The guy had just seemed like a regular person not a serial killer.
Tonight though her mind was on other things. She and Margot were making their first trip to one of the two baptist churches that they thought Mr Spencer might attend. Fhemie had to babysit her little sisters and couldn’t come.
“You need to dress like a good Christian girl,” Margot told her. “Like for church on Sunday.”
Juliet had a special wardrobe for this: conservative clothes that she wore to appease Aunt Mary. In the first years of staying at her aunt’s house she had fiercely fought against having to attend church every week, but Aunt Mary had made it a condition of Juliet living with her.
“You too then,” Juliet said. “Or it will look really weird.”
So there they were, dressed like the dowdiest girls in school, heading off to a church service on a weeknight.
Juliet was secretly worried that they were taking things too far and felt uncomfortable about going. So she had made a secret bargain with herself: if he wasn’t there, she would persuade Margot to give the whole thing up.
But if he was there, then she would take that as a sign from Fate or whatever that she should stick with this. Juliet didn’t really believe in Fate, but it seemed blasphemous to interpret Mr Spencer’s presence as a sign from God. She imagined God had more important things to worry about than high school crushes and bets. After all, gambling was a sin, wasn’t it?
Two friendly African American women met them at the door. “Welcome!” They didn’t ask any probing questions about why Juliet and Margot had shown up to their church but ushered them in and had someone else show them to a seat. Most of the people there were in Sunday-style clothes: the men in dress shirts and slacks.
An old lady handed them both hymn books. “Are you baptised in Jesus Christ my dears?” she asked them.
Juliet wasn’t entirely sure if they were or not. “We’re actually Catholic,” she said.
The woman was all smiles. “All people are welcome here. The love of Christ is for everyone and we’re all here to learn from His teachings. We have a meet-and-greet for new folks afterwards, I hope you’ll stay and join us.”
It was certainly a very different experience to the staid and solemn Sunday morning mass that Juliet attended with her aunt. Did they do the sacrament here as well? she wondered. Would they do it midweek? She had no idea what the rules were.
Margot was looking around the congregation trying to see if she could spot Mr Spencer. Now they were actually there, Juliet didn’t dare look. She felt she would be freaked out if he was there and disappointed if he wasn’t.
“Target sighted at eleven o’clock. Locked and loaded,” Margot said.
Juliet’s stomach lurched. “What the hell does eleven o’clock mean?” she hissed.
“Over there by that pillar. I think that’s him anyway.”
Juliet looked and sure enough, there was the well-sculpted head of Mr Spencer. She had made a thorough study of the back view of his head during all the times he wrote on the whiteboard in class.
“I can’t believe we’re really doing this. Maybe we should just leave now, while we can.”
Margot ignored her. “I wonder who that is next to him.” There was a woman with long dark hair seated by Mr Spencer. They couldn’t see her face. Juliet found herself burning with curiosity for her to turn around.
The service started. There was a lot of singing: a mix of contemporary and traditional songs. Juliet recognised at least some of them but didn’t feel confident enough to sing. Margot was in full Gospel mode with the ones she knew.
There was no quick escape: they were cornered afterwards by the friendly old lady. “Come and meet our pastor, we’re always glad to see new faces.”
Feeling like the biggest fraud on earth, Juliet followed Margot to shake hands with Pastor Brown, the head minister of the church. They were offered cups of tea and introduced to other people. They weren’t the only first-timers which was something of a relief.
Then across the room Juliet saw Mr Spencer and he saw her. He raised his eyebrows in surprise and she felt her face grow red.
He came over to them. “Juliet, Margot. It’s unexpected seeing you both here.”
Margot took the lead.“We’re on a spiritual journey,” she said. She had already used this phrase several times, including to the pastor. Juliet was waiting for a lightning strike to come down upon them as Margot didn’t even believe in God, or so she said.
“We didn’t know it was your church,” Juliet said. This wasn’t exactly a lie. “We can find somewhere else.”
Mr Spencer looked bewildered. “Why would you need to do that? I’m delighted to see you. Everyone is welcome here.”
The dark haired girl who had been sitting next to him during the service appeared by his side. Juliet could see her face now: she was pleasant enough but nothing special.
“Care to introduce me?” she said to Mr Spencer.
“These are two of my students from St Gillian’s,” he told her. “Juliet - Margot - this is Rebecca.”
“His fiancée,” Rebecca added. Her smile looked fake, Juliet thought. “Aren’t you both Catholics, going to that school?” There was a trace of suspicion in her eyes.
Juliet tried to sound convincing. “We’re trying out other faiths. It’s kind of a spiritual experiment.”
“I see. Well I hope you’ve enjoyed your visit to our church.” There was a subtle emphasis on the “our” and she made it sound as though the visit should be a one-off. Rebecca apparently didn’t welcome the idea of Mr Spencer’s students attending the same church as him.
“We look forward to seeing you again,” Mr Spencer said, his eyes meeting Juliet’s. Rebecca shot him a glance, she clearly wasn’t pleased by him extending the invitation. “And I’ll see you both in Latin tomorrow, so I hope you’ve done your homework.”
He smiled and Juliet felt her stomach flip. She really hoped he couldn’t read her mind. She couldn’t stop thinking about the image of him in her dreams: stripped, muscles rippling, taking her right in his classroom.
Not that it was ever going to happen in real life. Was it?
They walked back to Margot’s car; Juliet both relieved to have left and disappointed to have had no time with Mr Spencer alone.
She mentioned this to Margot. “There’s no point going to church to seduce him if his fiancée is also going to be there.”
Margot rolled her eyes. “Girl, you’re not going to jump his bones in church! You’re going to play good-little-Christian girl and get to know him.”
If Mr Spencer ever did read her school file, he wasn’t going to think she was much of a good Christian girl, Juliet thought.
Margot opened the car door. “Anyhow, this isn’t just a bet any more. It’s a rescue mission.”
“A rescue mission?”
“Rescuing him from that sour faced bitch hanging off him,” Margot said.
Juliet felt that this was a bit harsh. They had barely spent a minute in Rebecca’s presence.
“I can tell a bitch when I see one. Holy or not,” Margot told her.
“I liked the service,” Juliet said, changing the subject. “They all seemed so friendly.”
“Friendly like a cult. They just want to suck you in,” Margot said.
It hadn’t felt that way to Juliet. People had seemed genuinely friendly and welcoming, no strings attached. “It’s not like they took our names and addresses and tried to sign us up or anything.”
“You just wait. I bet it will come.”
“So should we go again?” Juliet asked.
“You should, if you want to win this bet. But I’m not wasting my time going to some church on a weeknight, mass is bad enough. Take Fhemie.”
Margot pulled up outside Juliet’s place. “But you know,” she added, “I think it’s working. Like when he spoke to you, there was something. Maybe that’s why that bitch got so edgy.”
This gave Juliet a faintly giddy feeling. “You really think so?”
“Yeah. And why not? I mean you’re hot, way more hot than his fiancée.” She drew the word out in an exaggerated way. “And that bitch knows it.”
"I really don’t think it’s appropriate for your students to be turning up at our church.”
Rebecca had felt annoyed ever since the two St Gillian’s students showed up at the service.
“It’s not our church, we don’t own it. I’m happy to see them finding their way in their faith,” Carl said. He was driving her home as he usually did.
“It’s your private life. It’s our private life. Can’t we keep something separate from your job? It’s bad enough you have to take so much work home all the time.”
It was the nearest they had come to arguing about something related to faith, and Carl was troubled by it. He couldn’t understand Rebecca’s resistance.
“You have your study too. My work gives me something to do while you’re busy with that.” He tried to defuse the tension, make a joke out of it.
But Rebecca didn’t agree. “My study is temporary. Once I’ve completed my qualification I won’t be working in the evenings. But when will you stop bringing work home?”
Carl had thought that Rebecca understood that for a teacher, the work didn’t stop when the bell rang. There was always marking, reports, lesson planning. He didn’t mind because he loved his work.
He tried to reassure her. “We’ll still have time for us. You know that. If it ever takes over… well, we can have a discussion if and when that happens. But it’s never an unreasonable amount of work.”
He was surprised by the strength of her reaction. Rebecca had made remarks a few times about how it might be a good career path for Carl to become a pastor, and he’d given it some serious thought. After all he had come close to taking orders during his studies in Oxford.
But it hadn’t been right then and it wasn’t now. It couldn’t be a choice: it had to be a vocation. And teaching was his vocation, it was what he loved. He felt that he was doing something really worthwhile when he taught his classes. He had hoped that Rebecca would understand this.
Rebecca was silent. She couldn’t admit even to herself that she had felt a flash of jealousy at the two girls, and the warmth of Carl’s greeting towards them. She had been much happier when he was working at the boys’ school. Teenage girls could be so precocious.
Carl was feeling a twinge of discomfort himself. Juliet had looked so pretty earlier and he had felt genuinely glad to see her. He wasn’t sure if this was an appropriate emotion or not.
She had such a beautiful smile but there was always a sadness in her eyes that made his heart tighten. Not to mention his loins. He would have to be careful in class because she was starting to get to him.
Aunt Mary was in the living room when Juliet entered, with her bible and another religious book next to her. She often did devotional reading in the evening. Juliet sometimes wondered why she hadn’t become a nun.
“How was your prayer group?” she asked.
“It was fine. Nice people,” Juliet said, grabbing a banana from the kitchen and heading upstairs. She needed a little space and solitary time. Her head was rushing around with different thoughts.
She lay on her bed for a while, trying to zone out. But her head wouldn’t clear, so she decided to clear her room. There was a heap of clothes that needed to go to the laundry. As she picked them up to dump them in a basket, a piece of paper fluttered down.
Juliet picked it up, only just glancing at it before she was about to crumple it and toss it. Then she saw that it was the email address the guy in the bar had given her.
At the time Fhemie and Margot had talked her out of doing anything about it. Now, though she wondered. What did she have to lose? She was kind of curious anyway, even if it was a pick up attempt.
Mainly though she needed something to distract her from the images of Mr Spencer swirling around and around in her mind.
So she got out her laptop. Aunt Mary had finally allowed her to have a computer and internet access in her bedroom the previous year, since Juliet needed it for study. On the one hand Aunt Mary had heard a lot of scare stories about sinful content online. On the other hand she had very little technical knowledge so couldn’t have investigated Juliet’s files and browsing history even if she had wanted to.
Hello, you gave me your email address the other day in The Green Room. My name is Juliet.
She pressed send, wondering when she would get a reply, and then started working on a history assignment she had.
The little chime and email symbol arrived about half an hour later.
Thanks for getting in touch, I’m Drew. If you’re interested, come down 11am on Saturday to 15 Dover Avenue. Sing whatever you like, the Blondie was awesome.
Dover Avenue didn’t sound like a cabin in the woods. It was only a few streets away from school. Still, it would be safer to take Margot or Fhemie along with her if she did go as you never knew.
But Juliet was torn. She thought her friends might tease her or try to talk her out of it.
I’ll be there. J.
Now at least she had something else to think about other than her growing obsession with Mr Spencer.