XXVI - A conversation

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[RECAP: Juliet and her Latin teacher Carl Spencer are growing closer during a plane flight to Paris]

Carl had been on edge ever since Anne Mead had put Juliet in his charge. Of all the awkward situations it was the absolute worst.

He was trying to pretend to himself that at least a part of him didn't feel secretly very glad, as conflicted as he was. He was supposed to be keeping her at arm's length, but what could he do if she was thrust upon him?

Help me, Lord, he prayed. Give me your strength to cope with this and not think in the wrong way about her.

He spent the whole of The Sound of Music trying to take his mind off the girl sitting next to him. It didn't work. The fact that Juliet was watching the exact same movie as him didn't help either since it turned it into a shared activity. A movie date on a plane.

Carl was touched to see her crying at the end of the film and trying to hide it. He was surprised that the musical's ending was her idea of "perfect", he had imagined one of the teen movies where the heroine became a model or a popstar might be more her thing.

"I'm afraid the reality wasn't quite so perfect. Hollywood changed a lot of their story," he told her.

"I know." There was no need to tell Juliet anything about the Sound of Music. She was so steeped in its trivia that she could wipe the floor with anyone if it came up as a quiz topic, even Margot with her Anne of Green Gables obsession. If you could major in Maria Von Trapp Juliet would have been a PhD.

"It's the 'something good' thing that gets to me," she confessed, trying to explain.

Carl was confused. "Why?"

"If happiness only comes as a reward like that. Because what if it's too late?"

He wasn't sure what she was getting at. "It's never too late, for anything."

But Juliet's own youth and childhood were a complete mess. There would be no handsome Austrian naval captain wrapped up in a gift box for her.

Carl remembered the spiteful student Cynthia's words to Juliet. She had mentioned "juvie", not for the first time in his earshot. He hadn't seen Juliet's file and no one had mentioned anything so he had initially assumed it was just an insult. Now he wondered but he didn't want to pry.

But she volunteered the information. "Things got kind of messed up for me after my parents died. I ended up in juvenile detention." She wanted to explain because she knew Mr Spencer had heard what Cynthia had said.

He was shocked, but sorry for her.. "That can't have been easy."

Juliet told him about it. How her parents had died when she was seven, with no near relatives and no one to look after her, and she had ended up shifted from foster family to foster family, as well as intermittent stays in children's homes.

Later on she had been caught shoplifting, more than once. It hadn't even been for clothes or anything. It was because her foster family at that time didn't provide for her properly and she had no way of getting things she needed. She was too embarrassed to say exactly what but Carl guessed that she meant items such as hygiene products. "It wasn't even twenty bucks worth but I got caught a second time, and then they don't give you a second chance. I'm the world's most useless thief," she joked, to try and lighten the mood.

Carl felt a sudden rage against these people who had been so uncaring of an orphaned girl. "Your foster family should have been prosecuted for neglect."

"No one cares about that stuff. They were what they were. They gave me a roof and that's all that CPS cared about." He looked so horrified that she tried to explain. "There are some really good foster parents out there. But you never get to stay with them for long, the older you get. Little kids get priority with the better ones. Then a lot of others that take in older kids are just in it for the money. Often they didn't even let me eat what they ate," she told him.

Then there were other things that she didn't want to talk about, the dark things. She never spoke of those.

She didn't even know why she was telling him all these things, but somehow it just came pouring out.

"So it got worse and I was in a mess and I had nowhere to go. And then my Aunt Mary - she's a distant cousin of my father's - somehow tracked me down." Looking back it had been a bit of miracle, though it hadn't felt like it at the time. Leaving the relative freedom of the streets for a strict household and a strict school had felt like going back to jail.

She and Aunt Mary had fought some fierce battles in the early days, though Juliet didn't tell Carl this. Her aunt's provision of a home had been conditional on Juliet attending Catholic school, maintaining her grades and not getting into any more trouble. She had rebelled because it was all too much to cope with.

"You know I even hated her at first," Juliet confessed. "I know that's awful as I should have been so grateful to her. I am now, of course." As she had grown up she had realised what Aunt Mary had done for her, the sacrifices she had made. Her aunt wasn't a wealthy woman but she had provided properly for Juliet. The compassionate scholarship to St Gillian's only went so far. Clothes, shoes, school books: that was all thanks to her aunt.

"It's understandable," Carl told her. He was moved by what she had suffered, and the way she had confided in him.

Juliet smiled at him apologetically. "I'm sorry, you probably didn't want to hear all that. I'm not sure what came over me. I don't usually talk about it."

Against his better judgement, Carl found himself offering to be there if she ever needed to talk to someone. He should have directed her to speak with the school counsellor but he didn't want her to think he was turning her away. Not after she had put her trust in him like that.

The lights had long been dimmed on the plane and those lucky enough to be able to sleep in-flight were doing so. Juliet was one of them. Without being aware of it she had ended up leaning against Carl, her blonde head resting on his shoulder. He had to stop himself from brushing an escaped strand of hair off her forehead.

There was no way he would sleep now. The gentle pressure of her head against him was too distracting. Through the hours of the night it felt almost as though they were the only two people in the world. Carl found himself daring to wish that they actually were.

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