“But what do you mean?” Matthew launched impatiently.
“He’s distant with me because she told lies about me!”
Matthew seemed very annoyed, but refused to give her what she wanted. She insisted, telling him that she needed his help. Julie became more discreet, wanting to learn more. Matthew gave a little grunt without answering. Dominique pointed again the fact that another girl was trying to manipulate her boyfriend in her place.
“You’re imagining things,” Matthew replied.
“That’s because you’re in love with her! You’re blinded! You should open your eyes, man! She’s using you.”
Julie looked down at the young man’s clenched jaws. Dominique seemed to have struck a sensible spot. She told him that Julie claimed to be interested in him so no one realizes what it’s really going on. Julie frowned. She tries to make him think I’m in love with Maxim? But why? She could see a smile on Dominique’s face, as the one she had glimpsed earlier in the cottage. She began to shiver.
“Oh! You didn’t know… I’m sorry to be the one that must tell you…”
Matthew didn’t flinch, but his jaw stills didn’t loosened. Julie could see it. Dominique decided to continue in the same way, pushing a little more in the wound that was already deep enough. Remember our conversation! Don’t listen, please…!
“Oh… My poor Matthew…”
“Shut up, please.”
“She plays with you to attract my boyfriend’s attention. I refuse it works. Can you understand? She’s not interested in you.”
“I don’t believe you. And you really think it’s my problem if you can’t keep Max’s attention? Don’t give a shit.”
“As if it was my fault if he looks at other girls!”
“You’re wasting my time. Leave me alone.”
“Matt, I just…”
He pushed abruptly the hand handed by Dominique. He flatly refused to help or even listen to anything from her. Except that the young girl was determined to make him change his mind. She replied that he’ll help her because he didn’t want to lose her now Julie was spending time with him. Seeing the expression on Matthew’s face, Julie knew immediately that Dominique had convinced him. The heart of the young girl sank painfully in her chest. Should she intervene? She looked down at him. She hoped he wasn’t buying a single word, but Matthew asked her what she expected from him. His voice was shaky. Except that he had agreed to listen to her. Julie felt betrayed. She came out of her hiding place, startling the two accomplices. Dominique took an outraged expression. Crossing her arms over her chest, Julie waited patiently for explanations that didn’t come. Nobody dare to speak.
“You can continue your little conversation,” Julie launched on a contemptuous tone.
Dominique shook her head, shrugging.
“We did nothing wrong.”
“You really think I’m stupid.”
She felt a wave of anger rising in her. She really wanted to jump at her throat to strangle her. Why was she still having fun to start false rumors around her? The young girl cast a glance at Matthew. He sighed, looking down. He dared not meet her gaze. When he finally did it, he seemed miserable. She could see the regret in his eyes. He opened his mouth to say something, but Julie strongly suggested him to shut up. He had cringed at the sound of her voice. Her anger gave way to rage. For her part, Dominique continued to chatter the same explanations. Julie couldn’t believe a single word. Matthew had obviously forgotten the presence of Dominique to explain what Julie absolutely didn’t wanted to hear at the moment. She asked him again to shut up.
“But at least let me explain to you!”
“My boyfriend agrees to help someone who pushes lies in your head. What should I understand here?”
She quickly turned around to walk away. She held tears of rage, refusing to cry in front of Dominique. She went to join the others stuffed themselves burnt marshmallows and beer. It was getting late. They collected everything, extinguished the fire and returned to the cottage. Christopher and Philip were still arguing about a scene in a movie. Rachel pouted.
“I’ll breathe fresh air,” she said, grinning.
She went to the closet near the stairs to take her jacket. When she pulled on the handle in a sudden gesture, the hanger made a few laps before hitting several things. Hangers fell along with a shoebox. The latter found itself at her feet. She heaved a deep sigh.
“Damn…” she muttered, leaning over to see what she had dropped on the floor.”
“What is it?” Nancy asked, returning from the kitchen. “Did you find something interesting?”
“Oh… It was an accident…” Rachel moaned. “I don’t think I broke anything.”
She knelt down to pick up the photos that came out of the cardboard box. Nancy joined her to give her a helping hand. She laughed when she saw a picture. She put a hand to her lips to stifle a giggle.
“Oh… But it’s… it’s Christopher!”
The girls brought the box and all the pictures that fell to the ground. They submitted their findings on the coffee table for everyone to see. Most of the images represented the family of Christopher during their holidays at the cottage. The more they searched to the bottom of the box, the more they went back in time. Nancy frowned when he saw a photo taken several years after kindergarten. It was impossible to know the year in which it was taken as the small hanging behind the group picture was hidden by the teacher. She asked Christopher if he remembered the year. The latter shrugged in response. Joel took the picture in his hand and looked more carefully before passing it to Karen. When Philip laid eyes on it, he said:
“Around 1989 or 1990.”
Karen turned to him in surprise.
“How can you remember that?”
“It’s because of this horrible woman,” he replied in a dismissive tone. “Her name is Suzanne Stanton and I hated her so much! I had just turned ten years old when the photo was taken.”
“Wow!” Christopher cried. “Suzanne… I had forgotten about her!”
“She spent all her time on my case before the entire class when she asked me questions. A real bitch! I hated her and she made my school year a living hell! She completely terrified me!”
Christopher dealt him a nudge in mocking him. The others laughed. Nancy approached the photo from her face and pointed a girl standing in the back row, hair partially hiding her entire face.
“Who is she?”
Philip frowned, shaking his head.
“Well,” Rachel began, “it was your class, right?”
“Yes, but I don’t remember all the names. It’s still a few years ago.”
Nancy looked at the picture a little closer. Julie approached herself to take a better look. She remembered more or less about this very strange girl.
“Her name is Regina Dulong.”
All eyes turned to her and she began to blush. She seemed to be the only one to remember the full name of this girl who looked very special. She bit her lower lip, replying:
“She was always alone, remember?”
“This girl was very strange,” Maxim added, pointing at the picture. “She never spoke to anyone and she was very odd, too.”
Philip turned to him.
“Do you really remember her?”
Maxim merely shrugged before going to the kitchen.
“And what else can you tell us about her?” Christopher insisted.
“I remember I had class work to do with her once.”
“Lucky you!” Rachel laughed, grinning. “It must certainly was a memorable experience!”
“Well, in a certain way,” Maxim began before taking a sip of beer, “it was the case. She had no right to come to my place so we had to work at her place.”
“Her father was watching our every move. He was even more bizarre than she was!”
“How could he be more bizarre than his daughter?” Rachel asked.
“Well… I think there was something between him and his daughter. The kind of thing that social services generally find really interested, if you know what I mean.”
Nancy grimaced, horrified while putting the picture back into the cardboard box.
“Do you have warned someone?” Joel asked.
“It was just a feeling. No evidence.”
The eyes unfocused, Karen suddenly launched:
“I remember she disappeared after the fire of the old theater. You remember that?”
“Yes,” Philip said. “The fire of the great theater in town that has totally flamed at the beginning of the show for the reopening.”
“And you said she disappeared after the fire?” Rachel asked, skeptic. “What do you mean by that?”
“That her parents never went back home,” Christopher dropped. “They both died there.”
Rachel put a hand on her lips while Nancy sighed deeply. Philip approved the details with a simple nod. Karen has a sudden chill. Julie looked at Christopher for a moment, searching her memory. She frowned, thinking about the fire. Strangely, she remembered having read all the names on the plaque. She wore an unusual family name, but Julie couldn’t remember having read the name on the plaque.
“Let’s change the subject,” Karen asked them. “It gives me goose bumps.”
“It’s getting late,” Nancy said. “I’m going to bed.”
She stood up, stretching. She wished them all a good night before heading up the stairs, Joel on her heels. Christopher finished his beer and then placed it on the coffee table. Rachel plopped down on the couch next to him, a small smile on her lips. Julie could see his friend blushing. From the corner of her eye, she noticed that Matthew didn’t take her out of his sight. She heaved a deep sigh, shaking her head. She decided to do as Joel and Nancy and go to sleep. Rachel sat up suddenly, frowning. She called out Nancy who was still on the stairs.
“Have you seen Dominique?”
“I saw her outside,” Nancy said. “She’s not already upstairs? I thought she was sleeping upstairs for a while.”
“She would have told me,” Maxim answered.
He walked to the closet to take his jacket, announcing he was going outside looking for her. Christopher and Rachel offered their help. A small research group was created. Everyone was asking the same question: when was the last time they saw Dominique? Nobody kept the slightest recollection of having seen it back in the cabin after the fire. Where was she? Nancy went upstairs and entered Maxim and Dominique’s bedroom.
“Her bag is still in the room,” she threw from the top of the stairs.
“She doesn’t know the area,” Christopher said. “She certainly is not very far!”
“Did she drink something?” Maxim asked them. “She can’t bear alcohol very much.”
“Why do you ask?”
“An accident… She could have gone too close to the water and…”
Maxim didn’t finish his sentence. Christopher asked them the same question, one after another. According to their responses, she didn’t go too far from the fire. Then the question was asked to Julie. She shrugged.
“She was talking with Matthew, the last time I saw her.”
“And what were they talking about?” Rachel asked.
“What’s the difference?” Matthew answered. “I went back to the fire and I forgot. Satisfied?”
“Because she might be up for something,” Maxim replied. “You’re always with her, Rachel. Did she mention anything?”
“No, and she doesn’t tell me everything. Why?”
“Because that would be her kind to disappear just for attention,” Karen replied, crossing her arms on her chest. “And that’s your kind to mix in everyone’s stories. You see?”
“Where is she?” Maxim asked rudely.
“But I don’t know where she is! She doesn’t tell me everything!”
She angrily crossed her arms over her chest, a small smile on her lips.
“She was discussing with Matthew. He must know something.”
Maxim frowned, turning to Matthew. They were all in front of the main entrance and watched the silent confrontation between the two boys. Matthew kept looking at Maxim who approached him. He seemed furious.
“What did you tell her? Where is she?”
“I don’t know where she is and I don’t care!”
“Liar!” Rachel cried. “You two talked together, away from us.”
“So what?” Matthew replied. “Even if I spoke to her, it doesn’t mean that I know where she is.”
“Come with me to get her.”
Matthew made him a grimace, replying that he refused to help him find his little bitch. Philip didn’t have time to catch Maxim who threw himself on Matthew, screaming with rage. They fell backwards into the entrance, hitting each other. Christopher and Philip tried to separate them, but a fist reached Philip’s nose and Christopher was thrown against the wall. Joel helped him up while Karen went to join her boyfriend. After several minutes of effort, the two boys were finally separated. Despite the space that was now between them, they continued to insult each other. It seemed impossible to calm them. Christopher and Philip tried to contain Maxim, still raging. He eventually emerged with a sudden movement. He walked to the back door. He opened the door and went out, determined to find his girlfriend. Nancy suggested they all go searching for Dominique. Julie didn’t really want to do it, but since she was a nice girl… She put on her jacket and went to join them. A thick fog rose from the lake. Rachel decided to wait on the back porch, in case her friend would come back. They stopped near the lake to start. A cold rain began to fall. Karen pushed her hair from her face when she saw something near the dock. She cried, pointing in this direction. All eyes turned to the spot she pointed.
“What?” Christopher launched. “What do you see?”
Julie squinted, scanning the veil of rain. She was astonished to see a shadow moving. The scene was worthy from the greatest horror film. The shadow that was coming towards them was staggering. Although hair fell on her face, they recognized Dominique.