XXIX - Notre Dame

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[RECAP: Juliet is on a school trip in Paris along with her hot teacher Carl Spencer]

Both Juliet and Margot had ended up falling asleep rather than sneaking out to try the Paris nightlife. The jet lag and the exertions of travel hit them both like a brick when they returned to their hotel room after dinner.

"Maybe I'll just nap for a few minutes, then we can change and sneak out after Miss Mead must have gone to bed," Margot said.

Within seconds she was out for the count. Juliet soon followed her. Her limbs felt drugged from sleep.

Daylight streaming through the gap in the curtains woke her nearly twelve hours later. They would be late for breakfast if they didn't hurry.

Juliet shook Margot awake, grabbed a shower and pulled her clothes on. The trip that morning was to the Île de la Cité, the island in the centre of the River Seine in Paris. In the afternoon they had to rehearse ahead of singing in a Parisian church that night.

Entering Notre-Dame was one of the most poignant moments of Juliet's life. She couldn't move for several moments.

She hadn't expected to be this affected by the interior of a church - or rather cathedral - but it was vast, ornate, awe-inspiring.

A guided tour had been arranged and they stood in a group at the rear, with the tour guide speaking in heavily accented English about naves and flying buttresses. His words washed over Juliet's head as she drank in the visual glory.

The school group was crowded together to hear the guide and Juliet had somehow ended up by Mr Spencer near the back, with Margot on the other side of her. They had to shift across to view something else that the guide was indicating, and Mr Spencer's arm ended up pressed against Juliet's.

By accident his hand brushed hers.

But then neither of them moved their hands.

Instead his fingers curled around hers, and hers entwined with his.

They didn't even move, or look at one another. They simply stood there, in the world's most famous cathedral, holding hands.

Juliet wasn't thinking, she was simply being. Standing there in the quiet darkness, the aroma of incense and ancient wood and stone, the stained glass like jewels high above them, holding his hand.

It both set her on edge and steadied her. Her stomach flipped and her nerves at the thought of it, that he was holding her hand secretly, no one else aware of it. At the same time she felt a wonderful stillness and safety.

She didn't dare look at him. No, it wasn't a question of daring, she didn't need to. She could see his profile in her mind, strong and as finely carved as a statue.

She didn't even ask herself why he was holding her hand. It was instinctual.

They only broke apart when the group moved outside to climb up the towers of the cathedral. He squeezed her hand before he let go.

Mr Spencer looked into her eyes briefly as she passed in front of him. His gaze was wondering but he said nothing.

From then on it seemed that wherever they could, they held hands.

Standing bathed in the cobalt and crimson light of the Sainte Chapelle, its long slender windows and vaults arching overhead, his hand again found hers. The mere touch of his fingers shot warmth and electricity through Juliet's arm and her body. She was with him. Linked. They were seeing these wondrous sights together.

His hand was strong and firm and occasionally he brushed his thumb around her palm making her feel shivery. She glanced at him when he did so but he was looking directly ahead, perfectly self-controlled.

They had to be discreet and it was entirely unspoken. A silent form of communication. And somehow, no one else ever saw.

It added to the thrill that it was secret, but also that he wanted to do it. That he felt it was worth the risk.

Lunch was at a café by the River Seine. Margot had to ask Juliet what was up as she was so quiet. "You're in a dream or something. What's up?"

Juliet just shook her head and smiled. "Just falling in love with Paris," she said. It was true: she loved everything she had seen about this city. She resolved to make more of an effort in French class in future.

"Yeah well you'd better come back down to earth. I think Paris is already taken," Margot said.

A woman with long skirts and long dark hair passed by their table. She tried speaking to them in a language which didn't sound like French and both girls were confused. The woman tried to push a postcard at them, covered in writing.

"It's a scam," Margot said. She shook her head firmly and turned away.

The woman moved on to the next table, where another unwitting girl took the postcard and tried to read it to see if she could help. She was frowning over its contents when the café proprietor suddenly came out and started shouting at the woman in French and shooing her off. The woman's face turned nasty and she spat some words back at him as she left, some of which Juliet thought she recognised.

"That poor woman," the girl who had read the postcard said. "Her mother is ill in Romania and she needed money. We should have helped her."

"How come the postcard was in English then, if they're Romanian?" Margot said.

Miss Mead and Mr Spencer had taken a table inside the café and hadn't witnessed the commotion.

Juliet wondered what was going through his mind at that moment. When they weren't able to stand together he made an effort to interact with everyone else, so it didn't look as though he was singling her out.

She longed for him.

They needed to talk but she didn't know when they would get the opportunity.

What if he never said anything? What if this was just for now, and when they went back to school, it would be all over and never to be spoken of?

Juliet found it hard to concentrate on anything when he wasn't there. Miss Mead had to bring her back down to earth a couple of times in the rehearsal that afternoon, though she was fine when the choir eventually sang in the evening service. She couldn't follow much of the service as it was in French so she let her mind wander then.

AUTHOR NOTE: I'm feeling extra sad about this chapter due to the terrible news of the fire damage to Notre Dame today (16 April 2019). Fortunately the main structure and the towers have been saved. I feel privileged to have been able to visit and climb up the towers several times to see the cathedral in all its glory, and hope that it will one day rebuilt to equivalent splendour.

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