XII - Choir practice

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[RECAP: Catholic school student Juliet is trying to seduce her hot teacher Carl Spencer for a bet, meanwhile there's been an announcement about a school choir trip to Paris]

Cynthia was as smug as anything at choir practice on Monday. She had gathered a little group of cronies and sycophants around her.

"Of course, I'll probably get upgraded as I have gold frequent flyer membership. My parents take me overseas so often that I have more air miles than I can use," Cynthia was saying.

Spoilt rich bitch, Juliet thought. At least Margot never bragged about her wealth. She had so much more class than Cynthia.

"I hope we get to stay in a decent hotel. We always stay at five star hotels in Europe, but I guess on a school trip some people might not be able to afford that." She cast a look at Juliet.

"Oh I'm sorry," Cynthia continued, feigning sympathy. "We shouldn't be talking about this in front of the poor foster slut. You couldn't even afford a bus ride to Vegas and two nights at a cheap hooker motel, could you? Though if you could, I'm sure it would be so much more your scene."

She smiled with fake sweetness, meaning Juliet couldn't slap her because as their choir conductor entered, it would look to her as though Cynthia was being nice.

Miss Mead was a sweet woman but as blind as a bat where Cynthia was concerned. She was short and plump with pink cheeks and hair that forever escaped its pins. In her long patterned skirts and frill-necked blouses she reminded Juliet of a nervous hedgehog. She looked perennially flustered.

"Good afternoon, girls," she greeted them. "Now where is Margot?" She looked expectantly at Juliet as they were friends.

Juliet had no idea where Margot was. She hadn't seen her since morning classes. Margot had skipped lunch.

Suddenly the door burst open and Margot arrived. "Sorry for being late, I got held up," she said.

Juliet saw Cynthia rolling her eyes at her friend and mouthing what Juliet was pretty sure was a racist remark. Cynthia couldn't bear the fact that Margot's family were even richer than hers.

Miss Mead, who was always a little intimidated by Margot, let it go. "Please be prompt next time, dear. Now we have the end of term concert to rehearse for, and we're already behind, so let's get started. We'll be using some of these songs for the choir trip this winter. I expect you've already seen that we're going to Paris this year."

Everyone had, and everyone except Juliet was pretty excited about it.

The choir sang every Sunday during Mass as well as performing a Christmas concert for the community. This involved several solos which Miss Mead tried to share out, despite her preference for Cynthia. Cynthia had already been given the entire first verse of Once In Royal David's City, which was the main one.

"Juliet, let's hear how you sound on the Coventry Carol," Miss Mead requested.

Feeling a little more confident after her experience at the audition, Juliet gave it her best attempt. Even she was surprised how well it went, and this was confirmed by Cynthia's jealous scowl. She muttered to the girl next to her something that was obviously unpleasant about Juliet.

"That was very impressive, Juliet," Miss Mead said. "You don't take lessons, do you dear?"

Juliet didn't. Her aunt couldn't afford them, and wouldn't have seen them as necessary. Singing was something you did in church for the Lord, not something you needed to get fancy about.

"Well perhaps we should arrange some tuition. Those were some quite beautiful notes. I think we'll have you take the solo in that one for the concert."

The practice continued, Cynthia shooting daggers at Juliet throughout. She was even more furious when Juliet's row was given the descants to do. Miss Mead even swapped a couple of girls into the descant group who were particularly strong on the higher notes. Cynthia was not among them and she was seething with fury.

I'll end up paying for this somehow, Juliet thought.

"We'll get that bitch," Margot murmured, reading her mind.

After the practice ended Miss Mead called Juliet to stay behind. She heard Cynthia make another remark about "foster slut" and then there was a yell and a crash as Cynthia tripped over a line of chairs, landing in a sprawl with her things flying everywhere.

"She tripped me! That bitch" - Juliet could tell that Cynthia had only just suppressed a racist term here - "deliberately tripped me!"

Cynthia indicated Margot who stood there with an air as innocent as the Virgin Mary combined with the Angel Gabriel.

"That's enough, Cynthia. There's no need for such language."

Cynthia's mouth fell open, shocked to be be told off by the choir teacher. She gathered her things and marched out of the room, her eyes glaring in fury, doubtless already planning revenge.

Miss Mead waited until everyone had left before turning to Juliet. She looked slightly nervous.

"As you know, dear, the choir trip this winter is to Paris. Now I know that you haven't been able to attend previous trips, perhaps due to... circumstances." Miss Mead was too embarrassed to say the word "financial".

"However," she continued, looking more and more uncomfortable with every word, "there is a special fund available for special circumstances." She practically whispered the word "fund". Juliet's poverty was a greater embarrassment to Miss Mead than obscenity.

"A fund?" Juliet wasn't entirely sure where this was heading, due to all the tip-toeing around.

"What I mean, my dear, is that the school would be able to cover the costs of your trip, if your family agreed to you attending."

Juliet's heart did a wild flip. Paris! It was like a golden ticket being dangled before her. She needed to snatch it before Aunt Mary could find some reason to blow it away.

"I'll ask my aunt. Thank you." It seemed inadequate, faced with such a huge offer, but she wasn't sure what else to say. "I would really love to go, if possible."

"And we would be more than delighted to have you join us, my dear."

There was sympathy in the choir teacher's eyes that brought a lump to Juliet's throat and made her eyes blur. It was times like this that she was reminded how different her life and her childhood had been to that of most other girls. They had mothers, fathers - even if divorced, though there weren't so many divorces among Catholics of course - and brothers and sisters. Often lots of other relatives. Homes. Memories.

All Juliet had was Aunt Mary. She knew she should be grateful for that at least, but there was a huge, gnawing ache in her heart for what she had lost and what she could never have.

Unwittingly Miss Mead, with her well-meaning kindness and concern, had just ripped the bandage off.

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