XXIII - After class

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[RECAP: Teacher Carl Spencer is tormented by his desire for his student Juliet.]


Cynthia was being unbearable in Latin. She was crowing about her designer wardrobe and how it would be impossible to choose which outfits to take to Paris. Mr Spencer was a few minutes late and she took the opportunity to hold court among her sycophantic little clique of friends.

"Of course I'm going to need extra suitcase space for the clothes I'll get over there." She started reeling off a long list of European designers she planned to buy.

Margot rolled her eyes. "I don't know where she thinks she's going to get the time to do that. Every second of the day will be spent being dragged around churches and museums, not shopping on the Champs Elysées."

Juliet didn't care what they were made to do overseas, she was just so excited about getting to go in the first place.

"French boys are so much more sophisticated," Cynthia was saying. "When we were on holiday on the Côte d'Azur - that's the French Riviera, you know - and we were staying in Cannes in the presidential suite..."

"The shit that comes of your mouth," Margot said.

Before a furious Cynthia could retaliate Mr Spencer arrived so conversation had to end.

He looked so handsome today. His clear-cut features, the intelligence and sincerity in his gaze. Juliet had worried he would avoid her again but his eyes met hers briefly. His expression was neutral but there was something there, as though he was trying to read her reaction to him.

The class proceeded. Mr Spencer focused the class on scansion that day: how to work out the rhythms of Vergil's lines. He explained that it would help them interpret the meaning. They went round the class, each girl reading a few lines in Latin and English. Juliet got the verse where the hero meets the ghost of his dead wife.

"Three times I tried to embrace her, three times she slipped away," she translated, looking directly into Mr Spencer's eyes.

They both knew what each other was thinking of on the word "embrace". The air in the classroom felt charged with electricity to Juliet, she prayed that no one else noticed.

At the end of the class Mr Spencer asked her to remain behind. "Juliet, if you could just stay back for a moment."

She feigned a look of surprise as though she didn't know what it was he wanted.

Cynthia, who couldn't imagine in a million years that Mr Spencer might prefer someone like Juliet over someone like herself, assumed Juliet was in for a telling off. "Guess the foster slut fucked up again," she said to Juliet under her breath as she left.

"What was that, Cynthia?" Mr Spencer asked.

Cynthia ignored him and left. She had failed all semester to ingratiate herself with the Latin teacher but she wasn't afraid of him either. Her father was so rich and influential that what Cynthia wanted, Cynthia got. She always managed to get out of detention or have her grades moved upwards.

When Cynthia had finally gone and everyone else had left the room, Margot shooting Juliet a sly grin as she exited, Juliet went up to Mr Spencer's desk. She stood there, hugging her pile of folders against her chest.

They were both lost for words. But something needed to be said. She let him take the lead, after all he was the one that had summoned her.

Mr Spencer began. "About Friday night, what I said..."

Juliet feared he was going to try and retract it.

"We both know that I shouldn't have said it," he continued.

"But it was true?"

Mr Spencer sighed. "Juliet, we can't go through this again. That's what I needed to tell you. Conversations like that are off limits."

"But you can't take it back."

"I know." He looked contrite.

"And I can't forget hearing it."

"But you need to, Juliet. We both do." His expression was serious but also sad.

She was near enough to feel the magnetism of him, drawing her in.

"I can't. And you know I feel the same," she told him.

"You're so young, it's not uncommon for someone your age..."

Juliet felt a flash of anger and broke in. "It's not because I'm young. It's not as though I'm inexperienced."

Her words hung in the air between them. She immediately regretted them: now he must be thinking that Cynthia's insults about her were true.

"I know. But these feelings, when they're not appropriate, they're sent to test us," Mr Spencer said.

"Why?"

Why? It was the question that Carl Spencer had asked himself and his God again and again. It was the question he had been agonising over. What was the purpose of him struggling with these feelings for his student? If only she were less beautiful, less intelligent, less desirable. He felt the heat rise between them again.

Juliet was weak with wanting him. Just for him to put his arms around her so she could feel the heat and strength of his body pressed against her. The smooth cotton of his shirt. The shape of the muscles beneath it.

She spoke, her voice almost a whisper.

"If you embrace me, I won't slip away."

"That's what I'm most afraid of." The spectre of her haunted him enough, the flesh and blood reality would be a devastating torment.

Juliet looked up into his face. "Could you just kiss me, once? Just to see how it feels?"

Carl knew how it would feel. He had kissed her in his dreams, in his thoughts, in his daydreams. He had amplified the memory of their brief embrace, replaying it again and again.

"I can't do that."

"But you want to."

She leant towards him, tilting her face up and closing her eyes. Carl gripped the side of the desk to steady himself. He leaned forward towards her, his face as near to her face without touching. There was barely a fraction of space between his lips and hers. He was so close, so close... he could even feel his own skin tingle. But he would not kiss her.

Feeling as though he was floating for a moment he absorbed everything he could in those few seconds: her energy, her sweet, fresh perfume, the sound of her breathing.

Then he broke away.

"You deserve better," he told her as she opened her eyes, feeling him withdraw. He saw the faint hurt and disappointment there. "You deserve better than some stolen kiss. You deserve more than I can offer you."

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