Fhemie outright refused to accompany Juliet to Mr Spencer’s Baptist church the next week.
“No way. I would rather do extra homework than extra church. You go but leave me out of it. If you want to stalk him at a bar, then I’m your girl.”
Juliet didn’t have the impression that Mr Spencer would frequent bars. She tried to get Margot to go with her but Margot was resolute.
“I’ve already got a date,” she told Juliet.
“Terrance, the guy from the other night.”
Juliet couldn’t blame her. “I guess I’m going it alone then.”
“I guess you are.”
After school Juliet went home to once again choose a “church outfit”. She wondered what would happen if she showed up in a super short skirt. Or a low cut top. Mr Spencer had only ever seen her in school uniform and the modest clothing she had worn last time. She wanted an opportunity to really make him notice her.
Now though, was not the time. She brushed her hair and put on subtle lipgloss and eyeliner. After all, God didn’t forbid make-up, did He? Unlike Miss Villiers. She’d probably try and run heaven like a military camp if she ever made it there.
Juliet hadn’t got a car so she had to walk to the church. It was only a couple of miles and she liked walking. Even in urban areas there were always curious little things to see, bits of nature. You took in more of the environment at a slower pace.
Once again she was greeted warmly and given a hymn book. “Is your friend not with you tonight, my dear?” the same old lady as last time asked her.
“No. Her aunt was visiting,” Juliet lied as she didn’t think ditching church for a date would go down very well here. Ironic that the only reason she was coming to church was to get a date.
She was one of the later people to arrive and could see that Mr Spencer was already there, seated a few rows in front. Juliet shifted so that a woman with a large hat blocked her from his view. She couldn’t see his fiancée: perhaps she was late or seated elsewhere.
There was a lot about “witnessing” that evening. Various members of the congregation were called up to talk about how they had “borne witness to the Lord Jesus Christ” or something similar. It wasn’t really Juliet’s cup of tea. She was relieved that Mr Spencer wasn’t one of the people up there, practically sobbing about their religious experience. It all seemed a bit ostentatious.
After the service she stayed for the meet-and-greet, hoping that he would notice her without her having to notice him first.
Which, fortunately, he did.
“Juliet. You came back. And Margot?”
She was suddenly nervous. He looked so attractive tonight, with his broad shoulders looking even more angular and masculine in a well tailored jacket, and his clear eyes set above chiselled cheekbones. Juliet looked around, wondering where his fiancée was.
“Margot had another engagement. I’m here by myself.”
Was it her imagination or was there a flicker in his eyes at this. “I’m glad you came.”
“How about you?” Juliet asked.
“Me?” Mr Spencer looked confused.
“I mean did you… are you with…?” Here by yourself, she wanted to ask, but couldn’t quite say it. She also couldn’t bring herself to say his fiancée’s name.
“Oh, I’m also here alone tonight. Rebecca has a class. She’s studying for some financial exams.”
Great. Her rival was some super qualified career woman type, and Juliet hadn’t even graduated high school. Yet, anyway.
There was an awkward pause. “It’s good to see you,” he said, repeating himself. “How do you find our style of worship?”
“Very different from school and mass,” Juliet said. “But once you get used to it, it’s kind of fun. More alive.”
Mr Spencer smiled. “I’ve always felt that. But I think all forms of worship have their place. They’re just different paths leading us to the same Lord.”
There was silence between them again. Both gazing at one another, not knowing what to say. Juliet wanted to stand closer to him, to breathe in his aroma. She wanted to see what it would feel like to run her hands through his hair. To have his lips on hers.
He seemed so kind of shining when he talked about religion. On one hand it made Juliet feel almost reverential towards him.
On the other, it made her want to seduce him and turn him on until he was begging for her, demanding her flesh. She wondered what he would do if she went up to him and kissed him.
For a split second Juliet felt like Mr Spencer was leaning in closer to her and she couldn’t breathe for a moment, then the tension was suddenly broken when Pastor Brown came up.
“Good evening and welcome.” He screwed up his forehead. “It’s Juliet, isn’t it?”
She was surprised he remembered. “Yes.”
“And one of Carl’s students, if I also remember correctly?”
“That’s right.” Mr Spencer was looking strangely uncomfortable and Juliet wondered why. Surely he couldn’t have guessed what was going through her mind? If he had the first notion of what she felt when she was around him it would be super embarrassing.
The last thing she wanted was for him to realise she had a crush on him. He would just think she was some foolish high school student. She wanted to impress him, surprise him.
But she had no idea how she was going to manage that. Somehow, she needed to get him alone.
Even as the pastor left that opportunity was denied her. The friendly old lady who had greeted Juliet before the service came up. “Carl. Is Rebecca not with you? Many happy returns anyway.” She handed him a card.
“Is it your birthday?” Juliet asked.
“Tomorrow,” he told her.
“Oh, well happy birthday then.”
“Thank you.” He smiled, looking directly into her eyes. The he turned to the old lady. “Thank you so much, Agnes.”
“You have a lovely day, young man.” She left, and Juliet giggled.
Mr Spencer looked confused. “Something amusing?”
“Just you being called young man,” she explained.
He looked mock-hurt. “I’m not that old.”
“I guess not.” Juliet looked at him suggestively as she said this. “Not too old at all.”
Once again the tension was like a knife edge between them. Mr Spencer took a breath, and Juliet decided she had done all she could for that evening. She had unsettled him at least. Part of her felt triumph in starting to achieve her aim. But the other part felt a kind of guilt, because she couldn’t help really liking him. He was such a nice guy, as well as being devastatingly attractive.
“I’d better get going, I have schoolwork for tomorrow,” she told him.
“I’ll see you in class then.” They shared a last look, that lingered a little longer than it should have done between student and teacher, and Juliet left.
"Happy birthday, Sir. These are for you.”
Juliet put the plate of home-made cookies on Mr Spencer’s desk. They were oatmeal chocolate chip and she had got up early in the morning to bake them fresh.
Mr Spencer looked pleased and embarrassed. “You didn’t need to do this, but it’s very kind of you. Now everyone is going to know I’m getting old.”
He was joking to defuse the tension. Juliet slipped off to her desk. Margot was late that morning.
The aroma of the cookies permeated the room, causing other girls to notice. Cooking was one thing that Juliet had become really good at. She had suffered years of awful food in foster homes, often not even being given enough food and going hungry, and being yelled at and even punished physically if she had tried to get something for herself.
When she had finally been taken in by Aunt Mary, just being given free rein in the kitchen had been an amazing luxury. It turned out that Aunt Mary wasn’t particularly keen on cooking. It was just a necessary chore for her. So gradually Juliet had taken over, starting with simple recipes and using cookbooks and magazines to learn more advanced techniques, with Aunt Mary quite happy for it to become her responsibility.
Aunt Mary still cooked, but it was mainly Juliet’s job now. The only thing Juliet regretted was that her aunt had quite simple tastes. Juliet longed to try and create fancier dishes but her aunt liked the “plain and wholesome food the good Lord provided”.
So Juliet just concentrated on making basic recipes as awesome as she could. As such she was pretty confident that her oatmeal cookies would blow Mr Spencer away. She had seen him accept a cookie after church, so she figured he wasn’t diabetic or on a low carb diet.
Not that he needed to low carb. He was super slim and fit. She longed to get an even closer view of those hard, fit muscles beneath his clothing. She wondered enviously how much access Rebecca had to them.
Carl Spencer felt dizzy with the thought of Juliet and the aroma of the cookies. She was winding her way into his senses. Against all his self-discipline he had found himself more than happy to see her at church last night. He had also felt glad to be able to speak with her alone, a gladness he now he felt very conflicted and guilty about.
He was a grown man, he shouldn’t be so affected by a high school student like this.
He still hadn’t read Juliet’s file. From several things she had said, and a couple of comments from other teachers, there was clearly some trouble in her past. But as curious as he was growing about her, he couldn’t bring himself to snoop.
It felt like a violation: it had always been Carl’s rule to take students as he found them. If there was a serious current issue, such as a family crisis or significant disciplinary issues, the head teacher would have briefed him anyway.
But it was more than that. He felt that reading about Juliet’s past would be falling further down the rabbit hole. He needed to get a grip because he was starting to get obsessed with this girl and it was wrong and terribly unfair to Rebecca.
Rebecca. He must think of her: focus his thoughts on their wedding and their future together.
But every time he tried to picture Rebecca the sweet, sexy image of Juliet Martin came into his head instead. After church last night he had lain in bed alone unable to sleep, he was so turned on by the thought of her. While he didn’t believe the doctrine that self-relief made you blind or was the worst of sins, he knew it would be a sin and a betrayal to fantasise about his student in that way.
So he had tossed and turned, tried reading some bible passages, and didn’t manage to fall asleep until the early hours.
Now he had to get through an entire Latin class trying not to be distracted by her. But even when he tried not looking at her, and giving his attention to other students, the sweet, delicious smell of the cookies were a constant reminder.
"Any more progress?” Fhemie asked as they sat outside, eating lunch. She had become more interested in the bet between Juliet and Margot over time.
“She made him cookies,” Margot said. “Like the ultimate teacher’s pet.”
Fhemie crunched on her chips. Once again there was a complete absence of any fruit or vegetables in her lunch. “Well you know what they say,” she said, licking her fingers. “The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.”
“Biologically speaking, the way to anyone’s heart is through their stomach. Or their ribs at least,” Juliet pointed out.
“You know that’s not what I meant. So did it work? Did Mr Spencer make a move? Ask you out?” Fhemie asked.
Hardly. It was way too early for that. Juliet shrugged. “I think he liked them.”
Margot groaned. “His face literally lit up,” she told Fhemie. “And he can’t stop looking at her in class, though he tries so hard not to.”
This was news to Juliet. “Does he?”
“I can’t believe you haven’t noticed. Though he’s trying to avoid you noticing, but I see everything that’s going on.”
Juliet wondered if Cynthia had noticed. Their enemy had a huge crush on their Latin teacher herself and might make trouble if she sensed he preferred Juliet.
They were walking down the corridor to history class, past the main noticeboard. There were the usual announcements about school events and clubs. They didn’t change too frequently, so a large, printed notice in the middle of the board caught everyone’s eye.
St Gillian’s Choir Trip: Paris, Winter Break - those interested in attending please sign up below. Parental permission required.
There was also a little image of the Eiffel Tower with a few musical notes floating around it, making clear that it was definitely a European trip, not Paris, Texas.
“Oh my god, why do I have to be tone deaf?” Fhemie lamented. “Paris! They went to lame old Vancouver last year.”
“It wasn’t that lame,” Margot said. “There were some super hot Canadian boys.”
Juliet didn’t say anything. She hadn’t been able to go last year because the trip had been too expensive. It would be even more so this year.
“So you’ll go on the Paris one?” Fhemie asked Margot.
“Maybe.” Margot cast a glance at Juliet and tried to change the subject. “It depends on my parents and whatever. Anyway I need to borrow your notes from Biology because Terrance kept texting me and I lost track. I just know that bitch is going to pop quiz us tomorrow.”