She put her hairbrush on her desk, frowning. She carefully watched her reflection in the mirror. Julie really did not like what she was. She forced herself to smile, but failed to give the result that she expected. Sighing, she tried to open a drawer to take a rubber band, but it jammed. Grumbling, she used a little more force to successfully open it. The whole furniture toppled forward quickly, which had the effect to drop everything that was on it. She sighed deeply, observing all the things now scattered on the floor. A photo album was there. Part of its unclassified content spread on the ground. She stooped to pick up everything. She took one of the pictures, a small smile on her lips. It was a group class taken when she was about nine or ten years old. Almost all her friends were in the same class at the time. She thought of how they had all changed over the years. After Christmas that year, she suddenly had a growth spurt, making her the tallest girl in her group of friends. She pushed a strand of black hair behind her ear, a wistful smile on her lips.
Her smile faded a little while finding a second group photo also landed near the oldest. It wasn’t a class photo. The faces were all quite similar, with the exception of a few new recruits. In the picture, the young girl stood a little behind the others. She hated to be photographed. Her two best friends Karen and Nancy were standing next to her and smiled for the camera. Of the three, Julie was the tallest. Karen grew up about the height near Julie’s nose and she exceeded Nancy of at least one head. Although they physically differed from one another – Julie had black hair, those of Karen’s were blond and Nancy was a curly brunette – they were best friends since elementary school. In the first year of high school, Karen made the acquaintance of a boy named Philip. He lived in the house on the other side of Julie’s street. With him he brought his friends Christopher, Matthew and Maxim. Joel had joined them since he attended their school the previous year. He became the official photographer of the roller-skated hockey team.
Unfortunately, there were some unfortunate bonuses: Dominique, Maxim’s unbearable girlfriend for almost a year, and her best friend Rachel, a girl with a very high self-esteem.
Shaking her head, she hurried to pick up everything. She was about to face her official last class day in high school. The tests session started the next day and lasted a whole week. Then she would have a few weeks off to rest before moving out. She felt a little sad to leave all her friends, and her two best friends, to study in another city. In the fall session, she’ll be in a college in Montreal before continuing her studies in psychology. Basically, it was the plan that she would follow.
She went to the kitchen where her mother gave her an apple before she hit the road for school. Ah! The last day of the year…! Hopefully everything will go very fast! She wasn’t late, but she walked at a brisk pace. She wanted to do a little cleaning to empty her locker before the end of the day. A gentle breeze was blowing while the warm rays of the June sun warmed her skin. According to the exam schedule taking effect the next day, she would have her first test the next morning. All students were separated into two groups for the test period which spread out on over five days. No relation with the average rank or any alphabetical order. The first group began Wednesday morning and completed the tests the following Tuesday morning. The second group began Wednesday afternoon and ended on Tuesday afternoon. For the graduates, the prom was taking place on Wednesday evening, after the test period.
Eyes on her schedule, she felt a fresh breeze blowing on her as she walked. She paused, looking around. A shiver went up her spine, ruffling the hair on her neck. The old theater… She stood before the vast wasteland where once stood the century-old theater in the city. In her vague memories, a fire broke out at the show for the reopening and the owner had then hanged himself before being charged with criminal negligence. The building had collapsed following the tragedy, and since no one had dared to buy the land. Local legend said that the place was haunted since the tragedy; the victims didn’t rest in peace. The site was covered with concrete and after the stone driveway that once led to the stairs to the main entrance of the theater now stood a plaque that shone in the sunlight. The names of all the victims were carved there.
Shivering again, the young girl hurried back on the road. She hated this place. She wasn’t scared easily, but this place made her very nervous. Her mother had told her she was there, at the reopening show. So she was present during the famous evening when the fire took place, aged about nine of ten years old. She kept no specific recollection. It might be a very good thing. She had already taken a look at the victims list and no name seemed familiar.
She arrived at school. Waiting for the beginning of the day, many students took advantage of the sun’s heat and talked quietly. Everyone enjoyed that moment of freedom before getting locked inside a building that many hated during this difficult time of the year. So while she went to her locker, she didn’t meet any of her friends. Nancy would surely be late again and Karen was probably somewhere with her boyfriend Philip. Even Christopher wasn’t around, normally eager to come and say hello. Frowning, she put her backpack in her locker and gave a summary of what she could already store before throwing away the rest. Then she took everything she needed for her first class of the day. She would possibly met Nancy in class. She went to her first class of the day. The English teacher was about to close the door when a hand appeared to retain it. Nancy appeared, totally out of breath. She hastened to take her place behind Julie’s who suppressed a giggle.
“It’s very nice of you to join us, Ms. Porter,” Mr. Brown mocked.
The course could now begin. Mr. Brown began to give them a speech on the importance of his class on the next stage of their lives. He turned to the board to draw them a detailed plan to illustrate his scheme. A small paper ball landed in front of Julie who slightly jumped. She frowned while taking it. She smiled before folding it back to her pocket. Nancy had sent her a short message that deserved more explanation when she had the opportunity to question her. For the moment, Julie tried to follow the long speech of Mr. Brown and his obvious need to attract attention on him one last time.
When the class ended, the two girls found themselves outside the classroom. Julie hurried to ask her friend about the reason for her further delay. Nancy’s cheeks became a little red as she bit her lower lip.
“My alarm didn’t go off,” she finally answered her in a puzzled tone. “It happen sometimes, you know…”
She looked nervously around her.
“Tell this story to someone else!” Julie replied.
“What do you mean…?”
“This is the first time you give me that answer. So tell me the truth: what did you really did last night? I know you were not home: your mother told me when I called. Where did you go last night? And with whom?”
“I… I spent the evening with Joel…”
“Really? And then can you tell me new details about your love story?”
“He needed help to revise and we… we talked a lot… Maybe a little too late…”
“You spent the whole evening with him?”
Nancy nodded, blushing even more. She finally admitted that they had possibly done something else than just talk. They had kissed after only a few minutes of revision. Julie congratulated her on the new developments in her romance with Joel. Now she wanted to know when they should see again. Nancy shrugged.
“Very soon, I hope!” Julie said, smiling. “You can’t stop there, though!”
“Does that prove he finally noticed me?”
Julie smiled without answering. Nancy smiled back and the parted to go to their respective locker. Thereafter, they went to join Karen who was desperately trying to open a letter without damaging her nails freshly manicured. Sighing, Nancy took the letter. She tore it bluntly before giving it back to her friend.
“Thanks…” Karen muttered, “but I very can do it by myself.”
“And what is it?” Julie asked her.
“The results for the competition for the portfolio…”
“Results? But when did you receive them?”
“And the envelope wasn’t open yet?” Julie laughed. “You were so eager to know if you were qualified. You didn’t stop talking about it!”
“Yes, I know!” Karen retorted with a sigh. “The answer startled me, that’s all. There were so many pretty girls who participated to this contest…”
“Don’t think about it,” Julie replied. “Just read the letter and then you’ll be fixed.”
Karen threw her head back and groaned. She still struggled for a few seconds against her barely controllable urge to jump on the letter. She finally took the piece of paper before starting to squeak while jumping up. Julie looked up at the ceiling and sighed. Don’t tell me that she’ll do it again…! Still, she uttered a word. She didn’t want to hurt her friend, but she was really tired of hearing about this stupid contest. Nancy crossed her arms over her chest.
“Calm down,” she replied, “and give me the damn letter!”
“I did it!” Karen happily hummed, still jumping up. “I finally got it!”
She clapped her hands, still hopping like a little girl. Nancy hastened to snatch the letter from her hands to read the exact words that were on the piece of paper. Knowing her friend, she surely embellished reality to her advantage. She was regularly doing that to get off some situations. Nancy gave a little chuckle and shook her head. She put a reproachful look on her friend who was still hopping.
“You should learn to read a little better,” she suggested with a sigh. “The judges are saying that you are one of the finalists for the competition. You didn’t win so don’t get excited too fast, please.”
Karen merely shrugged, sighing. She didn’t want to come back too soon to reality. She replied that it was practically the same for her. The young girl took the magnet mirror in her locker to admire herself, explaining that it was only a matter of time. She slightly combed her long blond hair while Nancy infolded a lock of curly brown hair around her right finger. Julie took the letter. Karen readjusted her top a little too short according to her two best friends.
“Don’t forget that Rachel Monterey may still be in the competition,” Julie pointed, restoring the letter.
She pointed and sighed. She didn’t believe it was possible for someone to be as hateful as Rachel. According to her, this kind of competition was much easier when the competition was non-existent. Unfortunately Rachel was like a recurring nightmare since she attended their circle of friends. She poisoned their life. The mere mention of her name made Karen very irritable and aggressive. She put her hands on her hips, taking a haughty air.
“This girl is a…”
“A what?” a voice suddenly cried behind her. “I would like to know more of your thoughts on the subject. I’m very interested!”
Karen whirled to look at Rachel, arms crossed over her chest.
“I understand that you’re still in the competition.”
“Right,” Karen replied proudly, looking up, “and I intend to win.”
“Be realistic, my dear. I don’t intend to retire now that I know you’re not eliminated.”
“So I wish you all the luck you’ll probably need.”
Rachel glared at her before a petty smile grew on her lips.
“Same thing to you, Karen.”
She threw her red curly hair back with a nonchalant gesture. They fell on her bare shoulders. Her green eyes flashed with fury. Nancy motioned to her friend not to replicate anything. Satisfied with the provocation, Rachel walked away from the three girls, making a little nod to the boys sitting on a bench not too far. Karen strongly folded her arms across her chest.
“Can someone explain to me why Christopher likes in her?” Karen muttered, jaws clenched.
“Just a few more days to endure her,” Nancy reassured her, gently patting her shoulder. “Keep the faith!”
The three young girls walked out, going their separate ways. Julie went to her last math class. She dropped to her place, forcing herself not to look at the clock. To the greatest misfortune of all students, the math teacher also felt very inspired by the new life that awaited them. He began to rant their statistics on the success rate of students completing high school, three or four years at university. Julie let out a deep sigh of exasperation. Some people wanted to know where he had found his numbers and percentages, but the teacher refused to answer them. He ignored the question. He acted like he didn’t want the school year to be over. The torture lasted far too long.
As soon as the bell announced the end of the period, all the students rushed out of the room running. Julie had another class before lunch. She picked up her things to go to her religion class. Expecting a long monologue like the others, her teacher merely wished them a great vacation and a good rest. He still kept fifteen minutes before releasing them into the wild perimeter of the school.
While walking to her locker to store the things she no longer needed, she met Matthew in the hallway. He was talking to another boy she didn’t know. He smiled shyly, slightly raising his eyes toward her. The girl gave him a small nod. She refused to believe the latest rumors she had heard. It was just rumors. According to what she knew, he had a crush on her. She attended on a fairly regular bass as part of her circle of friends. And he was far from being repulsive: tall, rather cure with beautiful green eyes. She felt only friendship for him and she didn’t dare broach the subject with him, whether the rumors were true.
Standing in front of her locker, she saw from the corner of her eye two best friends heading toward her, chatting. She looked down at her bag, hoping to have enough room to empty her locker by the end of the day. Her friends came near her without ceasing their discussion. Julie managed to capture a few snippets of what they told and smiled.
“I’m sure this guy is depressed,” Nancy commented while relying on the locker near Julie’s. “He should consult a psychiatrist immediately.”
Julie shook her head.
“Do you mean the biology teacher?” she asked them, digging back into her locker.
“Yes,” Nancy said. “And he’ll eventually hang himself!”
“He may be your future patient,” Karen launched, looking at her friend. “You could save him or help him.”
“I can always try when I graduate.”
“So be quick!” Nancy said, laughing. “Impossible that he can wait that long!”
They left the school to take some fresh air. They settled under a tree to talk quietly. Karen and Julie asked a few more details to Nancy about what happened with Joel, but the young girl assured them that she had nothing further to add. Her friends were far from satisfied with the response. Then they insisted.
“What did you talk about?” Julie asked.
“You should have taken advantage of the situation,” Karen replied, discouraged. “There are things much more constructive to do with your mouth…”
She gave her a nod, laughing. Nancy blushed up and stammered she hadn’t thought about it. She didn’t want to rush things. Julie’s eyes widened while Karen shook her head even more discouraged.
“My poor little girl!” she exclaimed. “It’s the end of the year! What do you risk?”
“Well, you dare not enough,” Julie replied with a shrug.
“Well!” Karen threw, crossing her arms. “Look who’s talking! And when was your last date with a guy? Two or three years ago?”
Julie bit her lower lip, grumbling that the conversation didn’t concern her and that they shouldn’t move away from the subject. Nancy took the opportunity to speak for her, jumping at the chance to stop being the center of the conversation.
“Nothing since Oliver’s departure, I think.”
“And that’s because he moved.”
“Yeah, so?” Julie replied, shrugging her shoulders again.
“There are a lot of guys who are dying to ask you out,” Karen told her.
“Whatever,” Julie gave her, shaking her head. “I just have something else to do at the moment. Don’t worry about me.”
“Okay,” Karen replied before turning back to Nancy. “So what? Who made the first move? Did he kiss you first?”
Nancy blushed even more. Her friends laughed.
“It means that we’ll see him soon,” Julie said, a smile on her lips.
“He’s nice,” Karen answered, putting a blonde strand behind her ear. “Accelerate the events, please! So we’ll have more details next time!”
Nancy blushed again, looking down. Karen decided to give him a few rules to follow. Julie listened to her without saying anything. She wondered if her friend was really serious or if she laughed at Nancy. But when she gestured this way, Karen was very serious. Julie took some mental notes in case the opportunity arose to her one day.
“Have you talked to him since yesterday?”
“Greeting in the corridor. Why?”
“And he got your number?”
“Then let him do the first step again. You don’t have to look too accessible. The next time he’ll talk to you – and he’ll do it very soon – don’t let him believe that you were waiting impatiently. Be slightly indifferent. Do you understand?”
“And what do you do about the three-day rule?” Julie asked, frowning.
“What is it?”
“A rule that all the guys follow,” Karen explained. “You let go three days before calling the other person.”
“And if he’s waiting for my call and I don’t do it? He’ll think…”
“Oh no!” Julie hastened to say to calm her.
“While waiting for you to call and you don’t do it,” Karen added, “he’ll do it after three days. Tested and scientifically prove theory.”
Now, Nancy seemed even more lost and much less sure of herself. Julie looked up and saw Philip running toward them before being stopped by Christopher. They joined them after discussing a few seconds.
“How is your last day in hell?” Christopher asked them, leaning on his elbows. “Everyone survives?”
“A deadly boring,” Nancy replied, shaking her head. “Most teachers make use a speech as if they wanted to blame us to finish the year!”
The two boys began to talk about the next rollerbladed hockey game to be played Friday night. Due to a slight delay during the regular season, the last game of the finals would be held during the exam period. Philip asked if they would be there. Karen and Nancy would undoubtedly be there as Julie merely made hi a vague promise. And she hated to promise something she was unable to keep. But all her friends at the game: Philip was the goalkeeper, Matthew was playing defense and Maxim the captain. Joel photographed the event and Christopher represented the ardent supporter. He wasn’t part of the team by choice, not being a great athlete.
While her two friends were talking about their latest shopping spree, Julie turned to school. Maxim went through the front door at this time. As usual, Dominique clung to him and Rachel – as her minion like Nancy liked to call her – was not far from them. Philip leaned over and asked if Christopher finally had the courage to invite Rachel to the prom. He shook his head, looking away. Philip clapped in his hands.
“I’m hungry,” he announced, “and it’s almost lunch time. Who’s with me?”
He stood and held out his hand to help his girlfriend to stand up. Hand in hand, they went to school. Nancy frowned before getting up too. Julie caught up easily. They all went to the school cafeteria where the boys ate like ogres. Maxim joined them, accompanied by his girlfriend and her best friend. Karen proposed them to go to the movie theater in the evening. Philip approved with a simple nod, his mouth full. Christopher frowned, thinking about the proposal before saying:
“Yes, it could change our minds.”
“All right,” Nancy added, smiling.”
Julie gave a little sigh, knowing that her friend was going to make a phone call to Joel so he’ll come with them. Karen gave her a little nod, reading her thoughts. Matthew dropped near Christopher asking them what movie they wanted to see. Karen shrugged.
“We choose once there.”
“I’ll be there too,” Matthew said.
They never would be able to satisfy everyone at the same time.
“There’s a new action movie in theater since last Friday,” Philip announced, putting his sandwich down. “The main actor is…”
“I’ll pass,” Julie replied, picking up her stuff. “You’ll have to go without me, if it doesn’t bother you too much.”
Her friends stopped eating to observe her with a strange look. She felt her cheeks turn red. Her exams were starting the next day and she wanted to revise a bit. But her friends didn’t seem to share her opinion. They tried to make her change her mind. The young girl shook her head, smiling. She refused to waste time in front of a stupid movie instead of working on something more constructive like her exams. Nancy begged her with one look.
“Please!” Karen added. “You should come with us!”
Julie shook her head, laughing. She bowed before getting to her locker to store some stuff. She was surprised to find a forgotten book on the ground. She leaned over to take it when she saw something beneath the book. She frowned, recognizing a class photo. The same that had fallen in the morning as she prepared for school. Her face was surrounded by a red circle. She realized her friends were also circled. She turned the picture. There was a short message written in red letters in the back:
“Do you remember?”