She frowned without leaving the photo from her sight. A strange knot formed in her stomach. What did it mean? Someone slipped this photo in the bottom of her locker. She noticed that it was a simple copy from an original. She shook her head, wondering what the message could mean. Why using this old thing? She hastened to store the photo in her agenda before seizing the forgotten book. She closed her locker and went to the library. She wanted to get rid of the strange feeling that had gripped her. The woman behind the counter threw a furious glare over her horn-rimmed glasses balancing on the tip of her straight nose.
“This book is very late, young lady.”
She forced herself to smile at her.
“Yes, I know. Sorry… What do I owe you?”
The old librarian consulted her computer screen with her gaze before saying the total amount. The young girl hastened to pay without complaining. She didn’t want to stay any longer in front of the woman who stared at her furiously. The small silver chain holding her glasses around her neck emitted a faint tinkle which highlighted her icy stare. She was a very strange woman who never smiled. She took the money the young girl handed her. Julie forced again a smile and wished her a good day. The librarian took off her glasses without answering her, leaving her glasses to hang from the silver chain. Julie frowned, repressing a shudder. For her, this woman was a horrible mixture of the actress at the beginning of the movie Ghostbusters, the one who meets the ghost in the basement of the New York Public Library, and the receptionist for the ghost hunters’ team.
Turning on her heel, the young girl hurried out. She wouldn’t stay a minute longer in the presence of the woman who made her shudder. She walked to the front door, biting her lower lip. She wanted to breathe some fresh air before returning to the returning into class for the rest of the afternoon. Maxim was near the front door. Sitting on a small concrete wall at the foot of the stairs, he talked with Dominique. Rachel listened to music, swaying her hips to attract the attention of a group of boys playing football on the front lawn of the school. Julie passed them without looking. She took refuge under a tree, studying her exam schedule. From the corner of her eye, she saw Matthew coming toward her very slowly, his hands deep in the pockets of his jeans. She was surprised to see him suddenly stop before turning around and go back in the same direction from which he came.
She opened her agenda and her eyes fell on the picture she had found at the bottom of her locker. What would she do with it? The more she thought about it, the more it looked a bit like a kind of warning because of the red circles. Did the others have received one too?
The bell rang, taking her out of her thoughts. Sighing, the young girl got back to her feet before heading towards the main entrance. She was unable to think of anything other than the photo. She went to her first – and last – class of the afternoon, but the teacher didn’t want to be in a classroom either. He wished them all great vacation, to enjoy their summer and be very careful. Before allowing them to leave the room, he looked at them with a stern expression on his face.
“Just one more thing before you leave. You have to promise me something very important.”
Students frowned as they looked at him.
“I don’t want to see any of you here in September. Is that understood?”
Julie smiled as the others laughed.
“And good luck to all of you!”
Most students rushed out of the classroom. The young girl took her time to pick up her stuff her stuff, thus avoiding the traffic jam caused by a group of students eager to get out. She slowly returned to her locker to store in her backpack another useless book. Mission accomplished: there was no more book on the shelf. Her textbooks had been returned the previous week. All was left was her notebooks to survive through her exams period. Now that her locker was empty, she noticed there were no more surprises. She still felt a strange sensation. Sighing, she went outside to get some fresh air and wait for her next class. Installed under a tree, she opened her agenda to scribble a bit.
“The day is almost over!” Christopher cried, dropping near her. “Psychological torture! Some teachers are making absent students losing points. I don’t know if it’s really true, but that’s what I heard! Can you believe it?”
The girl frowned.
“Where did you hear that?”
“In the corridors since this morning.”
“Simple rumors, I guess.”
“So if it’s just rumors, they are perhaps not justified.”
“They are based on a grain of truth. Like all rumors.”
He gave her his best smile, proud of his reply. Julie laughed, shaking her head. He asked her if she would come with them to the movie in the evening. She shrugged, leaning more towards the no. He also tried to convince her, but his tactics didn’t seem to work. He finally gave up, replicating she would change her mind when the right time will come.
“Great philosophy,” the young girl replied.
“It happens to me to have moments of lucidity.”
They remained silent for a long time. Julie continued to scribble in her agenda while Christopher lay on his back, fingers crossed behind his neck. He finally break the silence by asking her with a serious tone:
“Do you have a date for the prom?”
She looked up from her agenda, frowning.
“No. No invitation either, for that matter. Why do you want to know?”
He sat up on his elbows.
“Nobody asked you out? Really?”
“Nothing. And you? You’ll have a date with a pretty lady for the evening?”
He heaved a deep sigh, shrugging.
“I… I haven’t made the official invitation yet.”
“I have a small idea of the girl in question. And when do you expect to ask her out?”
He sat down slowly.
“I never dared to ask her because I’m afraid to hear the answer. She’ll refuse and I know she will.”
“She’ll be there anyway.”
She laughed, shaking her head. She returned to her scribbling, leaving her friend ridiculously apologising. Christopher continued to state her reasons which had pushed him back each time. She patted him on the shoulder, hoping the conversation ended very soon. She didn’t know what to say to comfort or even encourage him. She didn’t want to play the role of the bad girl. Philip came to them, running.
“Stop talking about me!” he said to them. “I’m coming!”
He let himself fall heavily near them, a huge smile on his lips.
“So what are you talking about?”
“About the prom,” Christopher said. “Did you know that Julie hadn’t any date?”
The young girl felt her cheeks turn red, as if it was the worst thing not to have. She shook her head. I don’t have to be ashamed. No, nobody asked me out, so what? Leave me alone with this! She asked them to change the subject. Karen and Nancy joined them, giggling like two little girls. They told them that they had seen Steve – the graduates’ clown – running in the corridor of the school, completely naked. He screamed that students would soon be free slaves from oppression. The principal hadn’t caught him yet. The latter would probably be ruthless when he managed to find him.
“Can he be suspended for that?” Karen asked them.
Her friends pondered a moment, asking the same question. School ended very soon and Mr. Temple, the principal, was very strict about the rules. Everyone should respect them very carefully. With him, anything could happen… Christopher frowned.
“Where is Mat?”
Nancy gave him a small smile, shrugging her shoulders.
“The last time I saw him, he was talking with Vicky about the prom.”
“Maybe he’ll invite her to the movies tonight,” Karen commented.
“It’s possible,” Philippe replied, kissing her cheek.
“Hopefully he’ll have more luck than me,” Christopher muttered.
Julie bit her lower lip before daring to ask them in a hesitant voice:
“Did you found something strange in your locker?”
Philip frowned, shaking his head.
“What kind of thing?” Nancy asked.
“Something that normally wouldn’t be there. You see?”
“It’s still a mess in there!” Christopher replied, laughing. “I can’t even open it!”
“Why do you want to know that?” Karen launched. “You found something in your own? An embarrassing thing?”
Julie hesitated again before showing them the picture found at the bottom of her locker. Her friends flocked around it, puzzled. She showed them the message on the back of the picture.
“What a strange message,” Nancy commented.
“Oh my God…” Karen moaned. “My hair… That’s horrible!”
“You’re the one who spoke about embarrassing thing!” Christopher laughed. “Here’s your proof! Were you just discovering fixing spray?”
“You’re sure you haven’t taken this picture to school for a presentation or other stuff like that?” Philip asked.
“It’s not mine,” Julie replied, shaking her head.
Karen backed up with a disgusted look.
“Hide this thing as far from me as possible,” she said. “This is a disaster!”
“Can you stop thinking about your hair?” Nancy sighed. “You didn’t notice that your face was circled in red like ours? So forget about your hair, please!”
“It means nothing,” Karen said. “This is a horrible photo!”
“Why?” Philip asked, a smirk on his lips. “You don’t want to include it in your portfolio?”
She dealt him a light punch on the shoulder and asked him to be quiet. Nancy gave back the photo to Julie, replicating that it meant nothing. Philip approved with a simple nod.
“Do you think this is a threat?” Christopher asked.
“I don’t know.”
“Karen’s right,” Nancy said. “This is a simple picture.”
“And it takes me much more to scare me!” Philip launched, happily laughing. “Let’s talk about something else, okay? We have an evening to prepare!”
They changed the subject, meeting each other near Nancy’s car at the end of the day. Nancy normally drove back Philip, Julie and Karen. They wanted to confirm a time to get together to choose the movie. Matthew eventually joined them.
“Hi Casanova,” Nancy laughed, a small smile on her lips.
The young man blushed.
“At least,” Christopher muttered, “he’ll have a date for the prom.”
Matthew frowned when he saw the group picture that Julie was still holding in her hand.
“What is it?” he asked.
“A beautiful gift our dear Julie received,” Philip replied, rising on his feet.”
The bell rang to announce the resumption of classes for the last period of the day – and of the school year. Unfortunately for Julie, it was the most painful torture! The teacher refused to accept that her students leave school instead of her. She gave them a detailed resume of her own life and career, a hint of nostalgia in her voice. Her speech sounded as if teaching was a mistake for her. At the end of each long period of her life, she ended by saying:
“But you’re too young to understand that kind of decisions.”
Chin in hand; Julie tried to keep her eyes opened. The biography of the teacher wasn’t interested. If there was a soundtrack to accompany her dramatic speech, heart of sinister violins could very well do the trick. It was so depressing! As if she had never been able to make the right choices in her life. And torture lasted almost the entire period. There was almost a riot at the end of the class. Everyone wanted to escape as soon as possible before she continued her interminable speech.
The bell announced that the school year was officially over.
Julie returned to her locker to pick up her backpack. She made sure there was nothing left. And above all no surprise. She still wondered why she found this photo at the bottom of her locker. She seemed to be the only one to have received it. She heaved a deep sigh. Since the school was over, she could leave. When she tried to take her backpack, it resisted. Frowning, she pulled it with all her strength. It eventually went out to fell on the floor, spilling its contents onto the floor. The young girl pushed a strand of black hair across her forehead. She sighed deeply before bending over to pick it everything up. She pushed back a second time the same strand of black hair. A hand held out a notebook and a book that had slipped a little further. She looked up to find out who was her benefactor. Matthew stood before her.
“Thank you,” she said, picking up her stuff.
Christopher leaned against the row of lockers to see that Rachel was a little further. Karen and Nancy came to their friends, a huge smile on her lips. Nancy crossed her arms over her chest while Karen leaned against her shoulder, saluting.
“Hello children,” she threw with a joyful tone. “We officially have just finished school!”
Matthew began clapping happily while Christopher screamed with happiness. Julie smiled, a little more discreet than her friends. She dropped her locks in her bag and closed the door of her locker for the last time. She tried again to get rid of the strange feeling that crept inside of her.
“So?” Nancy asked. “Are we still going to the movies tonight?”
“I’m not sure about the action movie suggested by Philip,” Karen replied, frowning. “It’s been a while I noticed he has no cinematic taste.”
“We just have to give our opinion,” Christopher said. “Besides, I think he’s the one who decided the last movie we saw. It wasn’t great, as I recall it!”
“He fell asleep at the beginning,” Julie replied, laughing.
“And Christopher dropped the entire content of his bag of popcorn on his head without being able to wake him up,” Matthew added.
“As I know,” Karen began, “he’ll deny everything.”
“We just have to keep him from deciding for us,” Nancy suggested. “It shouldn’t be too hard to do.”
Christopher and Matthew went away from the three girls after promising to meet them in front of the doors of the cinema. Finding themselves alone, Karen and Nancy turned to Julie.
“Do you finally have a date for the prom?” Nancy suddenly asked her.
Karen clapped in her hands.
“I just had a super-great idea!” she exclaimed. “We’ll find you a date for the prom!”
“I think that school is now over,” Julie replied, dragging her bag over her shoulder. “Impossible that your plan is working.”
“Make a little effort!” Nancy replied. “They’re not all idiots!”
“And above all it’s not as if the guys weren’t notice you.”
Julie shook her head with a deep sigh, still refusing to believe them.
“Thanks for the suggestion, but I’m not interested. I can go alone.”
“You need a date,” Nancy replied.
The three girls set off, heading for Nancy’s car in the school parking lot. The vehicle, of a brownish color, was hard to miss among the more recent models. The young girl claimed that since she bought it and the color was still the same. Philip joined them on the run.
Nancy unlocked the door and invited them to come aboard. Karen told her boyfriend that Christopher and Matthew will wait them at the entrance of the cinema later. He nodded in response. Maxim ran to them. Philip told him where to meet them to choose the movie.
“Good!” the young men replied. “See you later!”
He cast a quick glance at Julie before leaving. The young girl looked at him, wondering what just happened. Before he joined her circle of friends, she already had a crush on Maxim. Her friends made it clear she wasn’t far from being his type of girl: he preferred stupid girls. So what meant that look?
“We’re currently on a mission,” Karen launched, turning to her boyfriend.
“Which one? Can I be part of it?”
“Of course!” Nancy cried before slipping behind the wheel. “Finding a guy for Julie.”
“Forget the idea,” the girl sighed, shaking her head.
They all got into the car and Nancy drove off. During the trip, they were listening music and singing. Julie thought about her exams that initiated the next day. She really wanted to increase her average. Nancy stopped before her parents’ house and Philip got out of the vehicle. He greeted her while on the driveway to his house. Julie found her mother in the bathroom, a rag in hand. She frantically rubbed the floor. She told her that her sister Sophie would be home for the weekend. Julie simply nodded before going into her room. Her big dog Max looked up when she entered. She stroked him behind the ear. She left her backpack beside her bed and then dropping herself on it with a deep sigh of relief. In a few days everything will be finished. Good vacation! The phone rang. She stretched her arm to pick up the phone.
“Julie, it’s Karen! Little change for tonight! Nancy will pick you up around 7:00 pm and we’ll grab a bite at the usual restaurant. Understood?”
“Perfect! See you later, then!”
Her friend hung up without giving her the chance to replicate the slightest thing. Julie put down the receiver, confused. She shook her head before lying back on her bed. Spending the evening with her friends would be very nice, but cinema in group… She rolled onto her stomach to delve into her bag. She began to revise a bit. Her mother came and asked her who called.
“It was Karen. I’m going out tonight.”
“And where are you going?”
“Restaurant and cinema. Nothing extraordinary.”
“Okay, but don’t forget your exams.”
“Don’t worry, mom.”
Her mother left the door ajar. The young girl returned to her revision. When she cast a glance at her alarm clock, she jumped to her feet to get ready. First she had to change. Rummaging through her closet, she pulled a black jeans and a royal blue shirt. While she was depressed again on her hair, she heard her father entered the house. Sighing, she went to her parents in the kitchen. She discussed some time with them before hearing a brief honk. She grabbed her jacket and waved her parents. She got into the car and the two girls took the road. They drove in silence to the small restaurant where everyone else seemed to have arrived. They went inside. They monopolized a table in a corner. Maxim was with his girlfriend Dominique. Rachel stood by her best friend and Christopher tried clumsily to engage a conversation with her. Joel sat next to Philip and Nancy hastened to join him. Julie dropped near Karen.
“You’re just in time,” she said.
“What are you talking about?” Julie asked, stealing a fried potato.
“A large cottage,” Philip said. “Christopher’s father has one and we want to organize a small stay at the beginning of our vacation.”
“It would be nice,” Karen launched. Don’t you think?”
Julie was overwhelmed again by the strange feeling. Everyone in the same place at the same time…? It was a very strange coincidence. Her friends hastened to explain that they wanted to stay there a week after the prom. Julie winced, thinking about it. Walks in nature, it wasn’t really her thing. She much preferred the comfort of the city, but her friends insisted so she agrees to come with them. Dominique flatly refused to set foot there because of all the creatures that might be found everywhere. Implying that Rachel wouldn’t be there either. It gets interesting. They ate while discussing some details. They finished their meal before going to the cinema. They decided to watch the next movie to start, which unfortunately wasn’t unanimous. It was a pseudo-horror film in which adolescents were massacred during almost an hour and a half. They bought their ticket and entered the room. They couple settled next to each other. Nancy slid nearly Joel, a shy smile on her lips. Christopher stood near Rachel, thus leaving Matthew and Julie at the end of the row. The room became illuminated by the projected images of upcoming films. From the corner of her eye, Julie could see Christopher hit discretely Matthew with his elbow, but he had no reaction. He did it a few times until his friend responded. Matthew asked him to stop bothering him. The young girl didn’t understand the rest of the conversation. The main movie began.
On the screen, the main character – a fake blonde with big breasts and a stupid look – came in a very dark room and called her boyfriend. She repeated constantly that she was sorry and he shouldn’t be angry against her. She clutched her arms around her massive chest, closing her shirt awkwardly to hide her nudity that didn’t seem to make her uncomfortable. She sobbed and apologized for not wanting to make love with him. She wanted to remain a virgin until her wedding day. When she finally found him, she began to scream, frantically running her hands through her hair. Her boyfriend had been attached to the front door of the house. There was a message with letters written in blood near the dead body of her boyfriend: “STAY A VIRGIN”. Julie was unable to hold back a laugh. Not wishing to disturb the whole room, the girl tried to calm down. But without success. She hurried out of the room, taking refuse in the corridor. Tears ran down her cheeks. She just couldn’t control herself. The film already made no sense when it was just beginning. It promised for the future! Wiping her cheeks, she went to the bathroom. A hand gently on her shoulder. She gasped before turning abruptly. Matthew stood before her.
“Are you alright?” he asked her. “The… the others think you’re sick or something like that…”
She shook her head before giggling again.
“No… It’s okay…”
“You… you’re sure?”
“This film… It makes no sense! It’s too… stupid…!”
And she laughed again. He smiled, obviously very happy to know that she felt okay. He nodded.
“Maybe, but give it a chance.”
She just nodded. She tried again to control herself, but she began to laugh before taking a deep breath to calm again. When she was finally able to, she suggested that he returned to the room with the others. She promised to return very soon as soon as she’ll be okay. She went into the bathroom and turned back to join the others. She wasn’t really convinced of the pseudo-potential of this feature of dubious taste and surely wouldn’t make it to the next Oscars. When she returned to her friends, Nancy was hiding almost all her face behind her hands, but her shoulders betrayed her mirth. Her cheeks streamed with tears. What did the young girl missed? Not much as she could see. On the screen, the beautiful heroine still mourned the death of her boyfriend and told her friends how she had discovered his body. One of her friends openly accused her of murder. The whole room laughed. Finally, he was the murderer who wanted revenge on all those who were injured and humiliated him during his very unhappy childhood. The story was completely boring. The actors – who were behaving like teenagers about eighteen when they were all aged from twenty-five to thirty-five years old – had no talent. The film was a very long waste of time. Some people went so far as to demand a refund of their ticket.
They hurried out of the room, like they were afraid that the projectionist started the movie a second time. Joel was talking with Nancy about the films they had seen and loved. Philip said to them he was hungry. Karen pouted while Christopher and Maxim affirmed the same. Rachel wanted something to drink, as Joel, Matthew and Nancy. Julie preferred to go home. Christopher proposed to go to the fast-food near the cinema and everyone agreed. Julie put on her jacket and took the opposite while her friends went to the fast-food. Philip finally noticed her absence and he called her out. She turned to them, thrusting her hands in her jacket pockets.
“Where are you going?”
“I’m going home to revise. Why?”
“Alone?” Nancy asked her.
“Don’t worry about me. I know where I live. I don’t risk of getting lost. I promise.”
“Yes,” Philip added, “but it’s the night. No way that you’re getting back home alone.”
Julie strongly objected to the idea of having a chaperone to go home. She could very well walk back home to her parents’ house like a big girl. It didn’t frighten her. She had done it several times in the past and everything went fine. So why this time would be any different form the other times?
“I’ll take you home,” Nancy told her, sighing.
“But you said you wanted to drink something.”
Nancy hesitated before answering that she could drink something once at home. Julie insisted that she stay with the others – or more precisely with Joel. Without saying it so openly, of course. The subtext was still there. She repeated that she could very well go by herself. But they didn’t seem to understand the message. In a voice barely audible, Matthew proposed to take her home. All eyes turned to him, making him blush.
“Are you sure it doesn’t bother you?” Nancy asked, a small glimmer of hope in her voice.
“It doesn’t bother me. If it can help.”
Christopher clapped his hands, saying that everything was perfect as Julie will not return alone. The young girl shook her head, declining his offer, but Karen hurried to push her friends in the same direction and wished them a beautiful late evening. Julie was unable to add a single word. It was very nice of him to offer his help, but it wasn’t necessary. Finding themselves alone, they were immersed in a slightly embarrassed silence. Matthew eventually broke it, pointing where his car was in the parking lot. She thanked him for his offer and followed him.
“You could stay with the others.”
“I’m a little tired,” he replied with a shrug. “I want to go too.”
In the light of the street’s lamp, she fancied she saw him blush. Their footsteps echoed in the silence of the night when they went to Matthew’s car. He unlocked the passenger door before opening it in a gallant gesture. The young girl thanked him again. He sat behind the wheel and drove off. A heavy silence fell between them again before Matthew broke it again.
“You live near Philip’s, right?”
They took the road, wrapped in silence again. He asked her if she would attend the hockey game Friday night. Julie replied that she had already made a promise to Philip.
“It’s still our last game.”
“Yes, but I would prefer to study. The exams will not be completed yet.”
“It’s not like you’re going to fail.”
“Yes, I know. Where will you go next year?”
“I was accepted in Quebec. And you?”
“And you… you’ll have a date for the prom next Wednesday?”
She shrugged as she replied not wanting to miss this night. She returned him the same question. He heaved a deep sigh, his eyes still on the road.
“Like everyone else, I guess.”
“And you’ll be there with someone? Karen and Nancy saw you talking to this girl… Sorry, but I forgot her name.”
“Are you talking about Vicky? The little brunette who spends all her time on her computer?”
“Yes, that girl. Will you go with her?”
He shook his head.
“She mentioned it, but I refused. I can’t leave my best friend alone that night.”
Julie frowned, turning to him.
“What are you talking about? He will not be alone because we’ll be there.”
“He hasn’t the courage to ask a girl out. So, he’ll be my date for the evening.”
“It may be less depressing than to go alone.”
“And you? You’ll be there with a date?”
“No, there’ll be only me.”
“I’m sure a lot of guys dream to invite you to the prom.”
“Don’t mock me! The list is far from being long, believe me.”
“Why are you so pessimistic? Does it really mean something to have a date?”
She thought about it for a moment.
“Nothing prevents you from enjoying yourself even if you’ll be alone.”
She smiled and nodded.
“Anyhow,” he said with a small smile on his lips, “I intend to have fun!”
“It’ll be a great party!”
She looked at him again. He was still smiling, his green eyes reflecting the lights of the street. His pretty green eyes… They remained fairly quiet the rest of the road, exchanging a few words about the upcoming exams and holiday at the cottage of Christopher’s parents. He finally stopped in front of her house. He turned to her and was about to say something, but changed his mind suddenly. She raised her eyebrows, giving a few seconds. He just wished her a goodnight, smiling at her. She thanked him for his kindness, returning his smile. She closed the door and went inside. Max was waiting quietly in her room. He licked her hand, demanding her attention. She knelt before him, a faint smile on her lips.
“Did you have a nice evening? Did you have a great time at the dog spa?”
He put his muzzle near her to lick her cheek happily wagging his tail. She dropped beside him in a deep sigh. Casting a glance at the clock, she was surprised to find that it was almost 11:30 pm. While the dog settled comfortably on the bed, she changed, putting on a large t-shirt. She slipped under the sheets with her notebook. She revised her notes until being overwhelmed by fatigue.
She fell asleep, nose in her notes.