Letters to Romeo: Bad boy good girl

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Did you call me idiot?

Julie stared at Melanie as if she was joking.

But as seconds passed by with Melanie not saying anything, she realized her next-door dorm mate was serious. She tried to recollect where she had lost the third page, and after a few seconds, it finally dawned on her. She had taken three pages from the office, but she had lost one of them.

“Hold on. Let me get you mine, the rules barely change over the years,” said Melanie, looking through her books that were on her table. She returned with the sheets that contained the rules. “Here it is,” she handed them to Julie.

Julie looked down at the paper and read the rules mentioned with an apprehensive look on her face.

1. Do not step out of Veteris’ property without permission during your academic years.

2. Listen to the teacher’s instructions because they mean well.

3. The gates to the Blue block where classes are conducted will be locked after nine and unlocked after twelve.

4. No using cell phones. To strengthen the rule, jammers have been placed for students to study in peace.

5. Students will be allowed to visit family and go out on the last Sunday of the month.

6. Each student will be allotted a separate room in the Dormitorium. Swapping the rooms is not allowed without informing the main office.

7. Girls and boys are not allowed to spend the night together in one dorm.

8. Littering around in the university or being caught vandalizing the property will lead to a minus of credits in the final year score.

9. Students are prohibited from entering the restricted areas in the forest for their safety.

10. Every detention should be taken seriously. Students unable to complete the detention will face severe consequences.

11. If students suffer from any injuries, they shall be brought to the university’s infirmary.

12. Students should not roam outside the campus after eleven at night.

13. Students are not allowed to bring food inside the classroom. Food like chips and other snack items will be confiscated and lead to detention.

14. All the syllabus books are available in the university library building. Losing or damaging it will be compensated by a fine of double the price of the book.

15. No pets shall be entertained on the campus.

16. Missing meeting assemblies will lead to detention.

17. A monthly physical checkup will be conducted to examine the student’s health.

18. Laptops will be allowed (without network).

And the rules went on until her eyes fell on the last rule, which was number twenty-nine and not printed like the rest of them.

29. Listen to Roman Moltenore.

“This one is made up,” said Julie, staring at the last rule of the university. Who was even Roman Moltenore? “Look, it is even written in pencil. And no phone?” her eyes went wide.

How was she going to contact anyone outside this place? It wasn’t as if she knew many people outside the university apart from her uncle, but still, it gave her some sort of assurance that she had access to the outside world. Why was this not mentioned on the website when she was applying?!

“Are you sure these are the real rules? Because I never found any rules on the website. What if I want to do research on a subject we are studying?” asked Julie. What kind of university cut its network off when they were living far away in the forest?

“We have a building that is dedicated to the library. They have older books as well as the latest books. You will get everything you need there,” replied Melanie. “You don’t look good, Julie. Do you want to sit?” she asked in concern.

Julie felt like she had travelled back in time that she didn’t even live in. No network? No Google… It was faster to find things on google than going through several pages of the books to find information.

“I don’t know how I missed it,” murmured Julie to herself. On the brighter side, she found out about this now rather than later. Remembering the last rule, Julie asked, “Who is this Roman Moltenore?”

“He’s a student in senior year. Someone you better steer clear from,” said Melanie. “The last rule was written by the former students who passed out last year. It is important that you abide by all the rules, especially the last one. Remember not to get involved with him, Julie. If you happen to see him, run in the opposite direction. There is a reason why it is written down here.”

“But why?” asked Julie, wanting to know the reason.

Melanie pursed her lips before saying, “Students who have been involved with him often end up in the infirmary. Rumour is that he has a bad temper but there’s more to this last rule. Some of the girls in this university are fanatic about him. Last year, a sophomore student was trying to get closer to him. But one of the girls pushed her from the stairs and she now has a broken wrist. Sad part is that she’s an art student. I heard it from Conner.”

It seemed like there were some crazy girls in this place.

“I will keep that in my mind,” replied Julie. She didn’t know how the guy looked or who he was, and she hoped never to meet him, not knowing she had already met him thrice. “I think I will go to my room. Thank you for the information on the rules, Mel.”

Melanie nodded her head, “Don’t worry about it. Eventually you will get used to this place and it wouldn’t matter much. It isn’t too bad.”

“Yeah,” replied Julie, offering a small smile, and she went to her room. Walking near the table, she drank one glass of water and then drank another one before taking a seat on the edge of her bed. “You must be kidding me,” thought Julie to herself.

Having a functioning phone was essential to her. Because it was only a call away from asking anything, but now she felt even more isolated than she had planned. The university had placed jammers, and like an idiot, she had been jumping and climbing to the highest parts of the building to get a signal.

She stayed in her room for a while and then left her dorm to head towards the main building where the main office was located. Entering the room, she noticed the woman sitting on the chair while typing something on her computer. Julie wondered if there was a network in here, only that it was through cables and wires?

“Here to change your syllabus?” questioned the woman as it was the most asked question by the students. “All the classes are filled.”

“No, I am not here for that,” Julie’s eyes fell on the telephone that was at the corner, “I was wondering if I could make a phone call to my family?”

The office woman stared at Julie and said, “This is only for the staff’s use and not for the students.”

“What if I have to make an urgent call to a family member?” inquired Julie.

“Then you should go and get permission from the headmistress Ms. Dante before you can get your hand anywhere close to the phone,” replied the woman. So it was a no, thought Julie to herself. “Also, good that you came here. Your library card is here,” said the woman, gliding her chair forward and pulling the drawer. She rummaged through the cards before placing the white card on the counter.

“Thank you,” said Julie, taking the card from the counter. Turning around, she left the office room. Looked like her uncle would have to wait. Surely if he called himself, the staff in the office would reply that she was doing fine, thought Julie to herself.

Julie didn’t understand why there was so much fuss about using a phone and calling the people who stayed outside this university. The more time she spent, she couldn’t help but question the methods of why it had such rules. Something didn’t feel right.

When she started to climb down the stairs of the building, she caught sight of a person leaning against a motorcycle. Seeing the black leather jacket on the person didn’t take Julie much time to know who it was. What was he doing here? How strange that the university allowed tattoos, rings, makeup, but it had no network!

She saw smoke drifting away from him and mingling in the air. He held a lit cigarette between his teeth as he blew smoke without the need to support it in his hand.

Her footsteps slowed down as she walked down the stairs, noticing his side profile. As if sensing her gaze, he turned his gaze to where she stood. She was caught doing nothing again. God, she had to fix this habit of not doing anything and poking her nose where it didn’t belong.

Like a hamster on the run, she started to walk.

“Stop,” he said.

And Julie froze, not knowing if this was the time where she was supposed to start running.

She slowly turned to face him, where the cigarette had disappeared, and he blew the last of the smoke through his lips.

His black eyes stared at her as if he wasn’t the one who stopped her, and it was her who initiated to speak to him. He then looked down at the ground, and when Julie followed his sight, she noticed the library card she had collected two minutes ago that was lying on the ground.

She was about to thank him when she heard him say, “You have quite some nerve to call me an idiot in front of everyone.”

Julie had just picked up her card when her fingers had turned butter for a moment because of the sudden nervousness she felt because of how he spoke to her. She slowly stood up to meet his eyes again. He seemed annoyed with her earlier choice of words.

“It slipped from my mouth,” she offered him an awkward smile. He had told her to go back, but in the end, she had been the idiot who had been sent to the detention room. “I didn’t mean it.”

“Did you now. Why does your voice sound insincere,” he questioned, standing straight and taking a slow yet dangerous step towards Julie as if he owned this place.

“I think that’s how my voice sounds in general,” replied Julie, and his eyes narrowed at her answer. She quickly closed her mouth.

She didn’t want to get on his bad side as he appeared to be a person who could destroy someone’s life. All she wanted to do here was put her head down and study, and ending up on people’s bad books was not something she had aimed for. When he took another step forward, Julie smelt the mixture of smoke and his expensive cologne from him.

“Do you know what happened the last time someone called me an idiot?” he questioned her.

“You scared them to death?” blurted Julie at his words.

“Close.” He said it in a low whisper that could invoke fear, and her eyes went wide.

Julie tried to swallow her nerves that felt like a tape being pulled out from an old cassette right now.

Thankfully a boy came to fetch him, and without sparing another look at her, he left the place to disappear into the nearby building.

Reaching her dorm, Julie sighed.

There was nothing she could do right now except following every rule implemented in the rule list. She had come here to get away from people, but never would she have thought that she would be gifted with the ultimate isolation.

With the way the office lady had spoken about taking permission from the headmistress, she doubted it was easy to get permission. She wished she knew how to contact her uncle, to at least let him know that using phones in this university was off-limits.

During the time of having dinner, Julie arrived with Melanie and Conner earlier than they usually did. The three of them had taken a table in the corner of the lunchroom and away from the students who had slowly started to pour in.

“I still remember freaking out for the first few hours after getting the sheet of rules in my hand,” said Conner while slurping his juice from the straw. “But with Melanie here, it made it less freaky.”

“The rules are written in the circle icon of the university’s website. You must have missed it while browsing it,” said Melanie to Julie, who was continuously eating, or stress-eating. She had been lucky not to grow fat in the last one week of being here.

“I think it was just Mel who didn’t care about the no network,” commented Conner, and Melanie shrugged her shoulders.

Julie, who took a bite from her sandwich, remembered rule number nine and asked, “What is with the rule about the forest? Doesn’t all the property here belong to the Veteris?”

“It does,” replied Melanie. “But over the years, some parts of the forest have been declared to be dangerous because of the attacks made by the wild animals. If you step deeper into the forest, you will see the danger signs of the restricted area. I think the property blends with the other forest which doesn’t have a fence-like boundary.”

“To put it more bluntly, there have been deaths. Two or three of them every year,” said Conner in a casual tone as if it wasn’t a big deal.

Julie’s eyebrows raised, and she slowed down on her sandwich, “If it is dangerous, why didn’t the administration do something about it? Like capture those wild animals,” she asked with surprise in her tone.

“The authorities of the forest said that these wild animals have never stepped into the property of Veteris and the death happens only when someone enters into those restricted areas. It is probably the bears or tigers,” explained Conner. “The headmistress, Ms. Dante has already given strict instructions to not step anywhere close to it. If people are still going to go against it, they are only being suicidal.”

“Does that mean that there’s not a student who has stepped in there and come back alive?” Julie asked curiously.

“I don’t think so. Most of us try to avoid getting too close to it but there are always some who think they are better than the rest,” said Melanie.

Julie wondered where she ended up.

At least the university didn’t isolate the students completely, as they were allowed to visit their families on the last Sunday of every month. But then, at the same time, Julie was apprehensive about going and visiting her relative’s place. When she had packed her things and placed them in the car, she had been relieved to move out. Instead of visiting Uncle Thomas, she had planned to call him because of the awkwardness that she felt around her aunt.

“Consider it to be like a boarding school,” said Conner, raising both his hands, “Only difference being we don’t have a uniform or a code for how one’s appearance has to be.”

“I can tell,” murmured Julie, and she put the last bit of her sandwich in her mouth.

Few days passed, and on one of the nights, Julie was studying under the study lamp on her table as the university’s rule twenty-one mentioned turning off the dorms’ main lights after midnight.

In the beginning, she had panicked, but now she tried to look at the brighter side. With no distractions from the outside world, it would only help her in the long run, thought Julie, and she nodded to herself in thought.

Julie held the pencil in her hand to mark and make important notes. She was tapping the end of her pencil when it slipped out of her hand and fell on the floor. She got down on her knees and hands, her head touching the ground while she tried to look for the pencil. Turning on the torch in her phone, she looked for the pencil when her eyes fell on one corner of the wall, which was beneath the bed.

She noticed a faint square like indentation made on the wall.

“What’s that?” whispered Julie. Curious, she crawled under the bed and took a closer look at it.

She used her small nails to try to pull it and, in the end, found it was just a brick that had not been cemented with the rest of the bricks on the wall. A paper fell on the ground, and she frowned. She carefully picked it up. Forgetting she was under the bed, she tried to get up and the back of her head hit the planks of the bed that was above her.

“Ouch!”

She pushed the brick back in its position and crawled out from the bed, bringing the paper under the light of the lamp.

The paper looked dusty and old. Almost fragile, and Julie wondered what it was doing in the wall. She carefully opened the letter to read what was written inside it,

‘The quietness that instills fear has now turned comfortable.’

Huh?

Julie turned it front and back to see there was nothing else written. Such a big page, and it had only one line? She could only guess it was written years ago by the state of the letter.

At the same time, the bulb in Julie’s mind lit up.

Even without using the phone service, she could contact her uncle without visiting him and his family because she would send him a letter! All she had to do was to find where the mails were kept.

Tearing a page from her book, she started to write.

’Dear Uncle Thomas,

I am sorry for not being able to contact you sooner. I didn’t see some of the rules of the university while applying. Students here are not allowed to use the phone, which is why I have been unable to contact you for this long.

I am all settled in the dormitory as well as in my classes. The teachers here are strict, and some of the students are strange. One of the teachers seems like he’s out to get me, not to mention some of them are scary, but you don’t have to worry about me.

The syllabus here is lengthier than the previous one, and it needs more attention. Time might not allow me to come and visit you, aunt and Joel. I hope you all are doing well.

Your niece, Julie’

The next day in the afternoon after her classes, Julie walked to the main building where the main office was located.

“Even though the university didn’t mention anything regarding sending letters, I personally have never heard any students sending letters from here,” said Melanie, who had tagged along with Julie.

“It might be because the response takes a long time,” said Julie, touching the top of the envelope, feeling the stickiness of the gum. In eagerness, she had used more gum than required.

When they entered the office room, Julie noticed the woman behind the desk was busy answering two students’ questions. Looking around, she noticed the two stacks of letters on the side table. She placed her letter on top of the right stack of letters.

“All done,” she murmured, and the two girls left the office room.

When the mailman arrived at the office to collect and deliver the letters, the office woman said,

“I have separated the letters. The left side is for delivery.”

The man nodded, “I will place these here then.”

While the mailman placed the new letters he had brought on top of the right stack, Julie’s envelope got stuck below another student’s letter.

The next day, Julie hummed as she made her way to the dorm. She hadn’t gotten into any trouble, and she even had finished all her assignments on time. After she had sent the letter to her uncle yesterday, her mind felt lighter. After her classes, she had gone to the office to make sure the letter had been sent, and she was glad to see it wasn’t there.

Unlocking her dorm door with the key, Julie dropped her bag on the nearby chair. When her eyes fell on an envelope that sat on her bed, she frowned. That wasn’t there when she left the dorm this morning, thought Julie to herself.

Walking towards her bed, she picked it up— ‘Julianne Winters’. It was for her.

She was surprised that the delivery was quick and she tore the envelope, believing the letter was from Uncle Thomas.

“Winters- Wait this is not from Uncle Tom,” said Julie, a deep frown came to settle on her face before she continued to read,

“Do you think that rule number four of this university has been implemented so that students could go back in time and learn how to write letters eloquently? By writing a letter to your family, you have broken the most important rule which will now lead to your expulsion from this university,” her eyes went wide.

Julie quickly read further, “If you don’t want me handing your letter to Mr. Borrell, today sharp at eight o’ clock in the night, blink the lights of your room thrice. If you inform anyone about this letter that you are holding right now, I will send your letter to him right away.”

Her shoulders slumped. How did this letter even get into her room?

She walked near the two windows and noticed one of them was left slightly ajar.

To make sure she was not being fooled, Julie checked with some of the dorm mates about sending letters outside the university, and she confirmed that it was indeed not allowed. Only a few seniors knew it that the letters were sent and received only by the staff.

But what many were unaware of was that there was an exception to these rules.

Back in her room now, Julie pushed her glasses up the bridge of her nose and sighed. Glaring at the letter, she crumpled it while imagining it to be the person who had written this letter to her.

If she blinked her room lights, it would be equal to making a deal with satan. But at the same time, Julie didn’t want to be expelled. She didn’t have a home to return to…

She bit her lip in thought.

When it was near eight in the night, a few meters away from the girl’s dormitories, two senior year boys stood next to two motorcycles that were parked at the side. Olivia made her way to where they were.

“You are late,” commented Maximus, throwing the spare helmet at her, and she was quick to catch it.

“There’s still one minute to eight o’clock. I got held up talking to a freshman. Where are the others?” asked Olivia, placing the helmet over her head and taking a seat behind Maximus.

“They went ahead,” replied Maximus and started the motorcycle. “Ready?”

Roman, who was chewing gum while looking at one of the girl’s dormitories, said, “Yeah.”

He kickstarted the motorcycle, and they left from there.

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