The sun was shining through the closed blinds. Julie blinked, blinded by the light too bright. She reached up and found that she was now alone in the room. As if all that had happened the night before was just a dream… Sighing, she got up and went to the bathroom. Still asleep, she wondered if she had dreamed of having slept with Matthew. There was no one in the bathroom. She wanted to take a shower, but she didn’t know if the electricity worked. She raised her eyebrows. Cold water might successfully wake me up. She ventured and was happy to feel the water become warm under her fingers. After a quick shower, she changed and went to the kitchen where emanated a good smell of toast.
“Good morning!” Christopher launched happily, raising his glass of juice. “We have electricity again!”
She smiled at him. Karen offered her juice that the young girl agreed, dropping into a chair beside her. Nancy swallowed the remains of a toast. Rachel entered the room, creating an apparent discomfort. She gave a nod to Christopher before going out on the back porch. The three girls turned to him at the same time, making him blush.
“Have you spent the night together?” Nancy asked.
“All night?” Karen added. “The kind of night a little hectic when nobody really sleeps before a little while?”
He blushed again, but he hastened to replicate them that it wasn’t their business. They laughed, adding he had just given them an answer and betrayed himself at the same time. He apologized profusely, more ridiculous than the other. He realized he was talking too much. He threw that wasn’t the first time Rachel had been here with him and he immediately regretted what he had confessed to them. While laughing, Julie noticed a weird thing from the corner of her eye. Frowning, she turned her attention to the refrigerator. The group photo they had taken the day before had disappeared. She drained her glass, thoughtfully. Nobody seemed to have noticed the missing picture. So the young girl went immediately to something else. She must have fallen somewhere.
They were all very relaxed. The night was less eventful than the first. The beautiful weather attracted everyone outside. Christopher settled the volleyball net with the help of Philip. Joel and Nancy swayed quietly under the big tree while having a conversation that seemed very interesting. Karen rejoined Julie on the balcony.
“Do you think that something happened between them since our arrival?” Karen asked.
“There’s perhaps only one bed, but nothing should happen before their wedding night.”
“Of course! And between you and Matthew?”
Julie frowned, turning her head to her friend.
“What do you mean?”
“There are two beds in your room, I think. Have they both been used last night?”
The young girl felt her cheeks turn red while Karen was laughing.
“No matter what you’ve done, I must say he’s very cheerful this morning.”
Julie smiled. Karen stood up to give a helping hand to the net installers that seemed to have difficulties to install it. Wow! I managed to make him in a good mood? She wondered where he was. She hadn’t seen him since she woke up. The glass door opened and a smell of soap wrapped her. Matthew came and sat beside her.
“Did you sleep well?” he asked.
“Yes, and you?”
“Very well, thank you. I left something in the other room and I was waiting for Rachel to gets up to take it.”
Julie nodded and sighed. Matthew turned to her as if he wanted to say something, and then changed his mind. She smiled a little, slipping beside him. He hesitated before he passed his arm around her shoulders. She leaned her head against him and he kissed her forehead. Karen turned to them and gave a small nod. Julie felt her cheeks blushing again. Philip muttered orders to Christopher and Maxim who had just joined them. Dominique and Rachel were near the shore, while sunbathing and chatting quietly.
The net was finally installed and they were divided into two teams to play. Christopher and Maxim formed a team with Joel and Nancy. Philip proclaimed team leader of his own, consisting of Matthew, Julie and Karen. The two shrews continued their tanning session while watching them play. When the heat became more overwhelming, players refreshed themselves in the lake. Julie, Karen and Nancy lay near the lake.
“I’ll miss that,” Karen sighed.
Nancy sat up on her elbows.
“What will you miss?”
“Well… that!” the young girl cried, sighing again. “Spending time with my two best friends after school starts. In a few weeks, everything will change.”
“Don’t be so dramatic,” Julie said.
“We won’t lose contact,” Nancy added. “It won’t happen to us.”
“I know, but… Everything will be different.”
Nancy laughed before saying:
“Welcome to the cruel reality of adult life!”
Her friends looked at her before starting to laugh too. Karen was the first to become serious, asking them how they were going to keep in touch while pursuing their studies in totally different cities. Julie shrugged while Nancy simply replied:
“Friendship in different cities, it does exist. And there’s also internet, email, SMS… The phone still exists!”
“What about you and Philip?” Julie said. “What are you going to do?”
Karen sighed deeply, rubbing her eyes.
“We… we’re avoiding the subject for now. And Joel? What are you going to handle the situation?”
“We’re going to study at the same school!”
Julie sighed deeply, secretly hoping that her friends didn’t ask her the same question. She had no answer for them. She stretched a little more comfortably on her towel when a mass came obscuring her vision. Philip was bent over Karen to ask her if she wanted to swim. The young girl declined his offer, but her boyfriend lifted her in his arms and ran to the water. Back to the surface, Karen swore he would pay it dearly. Matthew knelt beside Julie. She stood up to face him. A strand of damp hair fell before his eyes. She raised her hand to push it without taking her eyes off him. A ball fell near them. Matthew picked it up and walked to the dock to throw it to his friends. Julie took the opportunity to follow him quietly and, taking advantage of the situation, pushed him into the water after he threw the ball. Their friends laughed at him until he went back on the dock to skillfully catch Julie’s arm and hoisted her on his shoulder. He jumped into the water with her. When she went back to the surface, the young girl threw herself on him for revenge. Then she swam to shore to get out of the water. Matthew slowly joined her.
“Sorry,” he said, smiling, “but the opportunity was too good.”
She smiled back.
“No hard feeling: I deserved it.”
With her fingertips, she freed his beautiful green eyes from the rebellious lock of hair. A ball struck Matthew behind the head. Frowning, he turned to his friend to see who had done it.
“Enough, you two lovebirds!” Philip launched happily. “This is not the time to cuddle! It’s far too nice and warm for that!”
Karen skillfully climbed on her boyfriend’s shoulders, shouting that this time, no one would make her fall down. Joel and Nancy accepted the challenge once again and a fierce battle began. Matthew rejoined Christopher, leaving Julie alone to watch the show between the couples. She watched them for a moment before looking away. She noticed that Maxim stood away from everyone, a sullen expression on his face. He was probably happier when his girlfriend wasn’t there. A beach ball bounced near her. Christopher asked her to send it back. She did it before diving into the water to play with her friends. Philip and Karen won the combat by dropping Nancy down. They still amused a few moments before leaving the water to prepare dinner. They opted for traditional burgers on the barbecue. Philip was in charge of cooking them while Matthew and Nancy were distributing plates. All installed around the picnic table, Christopher raised his glass in a toast.
“To our vacations!”
They all answered in chorus, applauding happily. During the meal, they discussed about nothing and everything. Most of the anecdotes and stories revolved around school and hockey. Joel told them how an experience in chemistry class had ended badly for the teacher. When handling a flammable liquid, he sneezed and almost spilled the entire contents of the vial on a student sitting next to him.
“She started yelling at him in front of the whole class!”
Nancy asked him if he remembered the name of the student, but he shook his head and shrugged.
“Yes!” cried Christopher. “I remember that! The whole school could hear her cursing at the teacher!”
“You had chemistry class?” Karen asked him with a laugh.
“Everyone has heard the story,” Matthew said. “This girl was really taking herself for someone of high society. I think she was sitting next to you in art. Don’t you remember that?”
“Are you talking about the French student?” Karen asked him. “Um… Ambroise… Pauline Ambroise, I think.”
“She tried to steal Martine’s boyfriend,” Dominique said at the other end of the table. “And she suddenly returned to France after the mysterious disappearance of her boyfriend.”
“She already had a boyfriend and coveted another one?” Philip asked.
“She even wanted to improve her biology grade by being naked in front of the teacher!” Rachel launched.
“Naked in front of Mr. Townsend?” Christopher cried, laughing. “She was really stupid, this French girl!”
“Where did you hear that?” Joel questioned.
“Girl gossips and corridor rumors.”
“You have no idea of what it’s possible to hear when you catch a simple conversation in a low voice,” Julie muttered.
When it came time to do the dishes, the boys returned to play volleyball while Dominique and Rachel disappeared under the warm rays of the sun. Once again, Julie, Karen and Nancy had to resign themselves to do it. Nancy was silent for a long moment before asking Julie if she was referring to a particular conversation. The young girl shook her head, opening a cabinet.
“Where’s the photo?” Karen asked them.
“What picture?” Nancy said, frowning.
“The one we took yesterday afternoon. It’s no longer on the refrigerator door.”
“It may have fallen somewhere,” Julie replied.
They searched for a short time, but the photo seemed to have completely disappeared.
It was getting late. The evening was much cooler than the entire day. Christopher lit a bonfire in the backyard. Joel and Nancy brought marshmallows and beer, preparing a quiet evening with a traditional fire. Dominique tried to have a discussion with Maxim, but he simply refused to speak to her. Matthew stood by Julie without daring to touch her. Philip clapped in his hands to get their attention. His friends settled comfortably to listen to his story. He was making big gestures with his hands to support the events he described them. Unfortunately he gave too much unnecessary details without real connection with what he was saying. Nevertheless, his friends were all attentive, wanting to know more.
“The image of the puzzle was now complete,” Philip said with a sinister tone, “but something disturbing was in front of her eyes. She started at her own face appearing on the puzzle. The expression on her portrait was terrified. She also noticed a shadow in the corner of the image window. She heard a noise. She turned and screamed in terror when she saw the shadow was really behind her own window!”
Rachel has a slight backward movement while Christopher smiled. Nancy asked Philip if he knew other stories like this one. Joel hastened to reply that he knew an even more frightening one. His friends encouraged him to tell them about it. He began his story by detailing a murder that took place several years ago. Then he continued, insisting that it was a true story. Philip laughed, not believing a word. Joel insisted, replying that it wasn’t a lie. Christopher shook his head, chuckling.
“You don’t believe me?”
“Not really,” Nancy said, patting him on the shoulder, “but keep going.”
Sighing, Joel continued his story anyway. Julie returned to the cottage to take a bottle of water. She didn’t want to drink a beer. Except she didn’t expect Dominique was behind her. She smiled, arms crossed over her chest. Despite her smile, she has a sinister look. Julie became suspicious.
“You heard something, didn’t you?” Dominique asked.
“What are you talking about?”
“You’re practically invisible; nobody pays attention to you because you look like nothing. So you can sneak around without attracting attention. You can hear everything. It’s easy for you.”
“You’re completely crazy.”
Dominique made a movement towards Julie, looking even more sinister.
“I’m talking about discretion. Even in the midst of a crowd, no one has the slightest attention for you.”
Julie tried to remain calm despite the panic that began to overwhelm her. Dominique went on a scathing tone.
“I discovered something. You’re using your friendship to keep Maxim away from me. You’re telling him lies about me.”
A strange gleam shone in her eyes. She smiled, an innocent look on her face.
“What did you tell him so he fled me like that?”
“Your stories don’t concern me…”
“He feels something for you. He told me and I refuse to accept it.”
Julie had heard enough. She stepped forward, glaring. She asked Dominique to quickly come back to reality because she didn’t know what she was talking about. Seeing that her interlocutor didn’t respond, she passed near her before climbing the stairs at full speed. She took refuge in her room, leaning against the door. She waited a moment before opening the door again. She met Philip in the hallway. He came out of his room, holding a jacket in his hands. On sight, he asked her if everything was okay. Julie forced herself to smile at him, answering that she was just a little tired. When he walked up the stairs, something fell on the floor. The young girl frowned, leaning over the object. She called out her friend before handing him the picture she just had picked up. The photograph was probably from the same series as the one found in the young man’s gym bag. Philip’s eyes widened before looking at Julie.
“Where did you find this?”
“I believe it fell from the jacket.”
“This photo is not mine. I swear!”
“So how did it get there?”
“This is not my jacket, but Karen’s. I don’t know how the picture ended up there!”
He really seemed not to understand anything. She frowned, scanning the picture with a watchful eye. Rachel was a very pretty girl, but she wondered if the photo was faked. And something wasn’t right. Since her arrival, she divided her time between Christopher and Dominique. Philip asked her what she had done with the other photo.
“Hidden at home.”
“Are you going to destroy it?”
“Of course. I just forgot to do it. I’ll throw this one in the fire.”
He smiled and thanked her for what she was doing. Then he went outside to join the others. The young girl crumpled the picture, shaking her head. Really weird things are going on here… She heard footsteps on the stairs. She turned her head, but there was nobody. She froze, listening. Everything was silent. She hurried downstairs, throwing quick glances around her. The cottage seemed deserted. Around the fire, Philip was telling another story. He gave her a quick look of recognition when the girl took three logs, discreetly tucking the photo among the woods. She threw them all into the fire. Christopher absentmindedly thanked her for feeding the fire again, too absorbed in the story. Again, Philip went a little too hard on the details. Karen was feeling sick during one of the many gruesome descriptions of the massacre while her boyfriend imitated the last moments of agony of the victims. Nancy leaned against Joel’s shoulder, smiling foolishly. Julie laughed, dropping near Christopher. Karen asked them to stop before she was getting sick.
“You’ll ruin the best!” Joel threw, laughing.
“It’s too horrible…” the girl moaned.
Philip pretended not to listen, continuing his story more ghastly by the second. Karen finally got up and walked away from the group to breathe fresh air. Matthew came to settle near Julie. Tentatively, he passed his arm around her shoulders. When the story was finally over, Christopher toured among beer lovers. Matthew took one.
“Does anyone have seen Karen?” Philip asked them, looking around him.
Nancy pointed a place where Karen spewed. He got up to join her. Julie looked away. The photos really aren’t his. I’m sure. She pressed a little against Matthew. She trembled, slightly cold. Her icy fingers closed around Matthew’s hand as she led him inside the cottage. There was no one on the ground floor. She dropped on the sofa and invited him to join her. He hesitated for a few seconds.
“Do I scare you?” she asked him with a smile.
He ended up sitting next to her. She asked him if he was okay. He nodded, a little hesitant. She gave him a smile and he smiled back. As she approached him a little, she noticed that he was backing up. They soon found themselves lying on the sofa. They kissed passionately. He no longer tried to flee. She pressed against him. She could feel his hands, their heat through her sweater… Philip burst into the cabin and rushed to the kitchen. Julie stood up, ashamed of her own conduct. Fortunately, her friend didn’t stay very long inside. Matthew took the opportunity to get away from her, uncomfortable.
“W-Why are inside…?” he stammered.
“I was cold and I wanted to discuss some things with you.”
He frowned, puzzled. She hesitated a moment before confessing that she asked herself many questions. He encouraged her to continue. She asked him what would happen after their holidays, at the end of summer. He shrugged.
“We’re back in school,” he said.
“What about us?”
Matthew was unable to give an answer. He now understood what she meant. He ran nervously his fingers through his hair, shaking his head. Obviously, he was thinking the same thing. She gave him a moment’s reflection before continuing.
“We will not be at the same school. What will happen at the beginning of the semester?”
“I don’t know…”
She gave him a little smile. He looked at her.
“Why not talk about it at the end of summer?” he told her.
“So you think it may be worthwhile to focus on us in a different way than friendship?”
He smiled slightly before offering her to join the others. He went before her because she wanted to take a warm jacket. When she returned outside, she remained a few seconds on the back porch. She sought for Matthew. A rustle caught her attention. She walked toward the sound and listened. Two people were talking in a low voice: Matthew and Dominique. Her curiosity level increased when her name was mentioned.