Wednesday afternoon, Julie gave the finishing touches to her luggage on a list she had made. She hoped not to forget anything. Nancy was on the bed, stroking Max. Music played softly, filling the moments of silence that enveloped them. Julie was content to listen to her friend who told her all kind of stories that came into her head. Most revolving around Joel, of course.
“I’m so nervous,” Nancy threw, sighed.
“Everything will be fine. You don’t have to worry.”
Nancy looked up at her.
“You think so?”
“He still has invited you to the prom. This is a good sign.”
“But he shouldn’t look at the others girls in the evening.”
“Don’t ask too much, okay!”
“I know,” Nancy replied, moaning, “but it could be great. I never thought he would have invited me!”
Her friend smiled again without answering. She was still trying to get used to the idea of being the only single person of her small group of girls, but nobody should ask her too much. She preferred to get to something else as soon as possible. She wondered if her reaction was “normal”. Will Nancy reacted the same way if the roles were reversed? She drove a sudden urge to cover her ears with her hands in order not to hear her friend rant any anecdote about Joel. Nancy didn’t seem to understand the lack of interest of Julie for what she was saying. She continued to give her detailed report on their many evenings together, focusing on their new complicity and the fun they had. Julie came to a point she wasn’t listening at all. She continued to prepare her stuff for their vacation, trying to convince herself that one day it could happen to her. She had stopped thinking about it since her last boyfriend moved.
And Nancy insisted again.
“Oh! He’s so awesome! Can you imagine that he finally noticed me? Me who has nothing special?”
Unconsciously, Julie gave a deep sigh of exasperation. She was unable to hold it and she resented. Her friend stood up suddenly, apologizing.
“Julie, I… I’m sorry…”
“Forget it,” Julie replied, shaking her head. “I’m happy for you. Joel is a very nice guy. You get along well. It’s great.”
Nancy bit her lower lip, hesitating. Her friend realized it and asked her what was wrong. Julie shook her head again, wanting to pass to something else. She was tired. Nobody should pay attention to it.
“Did you notice what Maxim tried to do during the game?”
Julie frowned, a small smile on her lips.
“He played hockey.”
“You didn’t notice anything else? Like the fact that he wanted to impress you? You didn’t really notice?”
“Don’t say that, please. He has a girlfriend who was near us, don’t forget that. It’s not because he wanted to impress me!”
“Even Karen has noticed!”
“And what gives you that impression?”
“So I guess you haven’t noticed that Matthew looked at you when another player hit him, didn’t you?”
Julie frowned and shook her head.
“I think Karen and you imagine funny things!”
Nancy sighed deeply, adding that she had the strange feeling to abandon her because she accompanied Joel to the prom. Julie hastened to reassure her. She didn’t have to feel guilty because a boy was interested in her. There would be other single people at the prom. Julie forced herself to smile reassuringly at her.
“The music will be great and we’ll dance all night.”
“And maybe you’ll receive an invitation at the last minute…”
Julie shook her head.
“I don’t believe it.”
“Be a little more positive! Your prince charming might show up soon.”
Julie shook vigorously her head without answering. She didn’t really believe it. Nancy just wanted to cheer her up. Her tactics were away from working well. It was quite nice of her. The young girl sighed deeply while laying eyes on her agenda. She frowned, biting her lower lip.
“You really found the photo in your locker?” Nancy asked her, hesitantly.
“Yes. Why do you want to know?”
“There was one… in my locker. I thought it was just a joke until you show us yours.”
“Why didn’t you say anything before?”
“Because I didn’t believe it!”
“And what did you do with the picture?”
“Destroyed it, of course. What have you done with yours?”
“It’s still in my diary,” Julie said. “I’m trying to understand what the message means.”
“It’s frightening me!”
“What do you think the message means?”
Nancy stood up, shrugging. On hers, there was one difference. The faces of her friends were also circled in red. She told her that the message on the photo she had found was slightly different from hers. Julie asked her what it said, curious.
“It was written: “YOU ARE NEXT”. I still have chills…”
“I… I don’t think it’s a good idea to all be at the same place…”
She stared by the mirror, but she didn’t think she was beautiful. Her hair had been reassembled into a bun to free her neck. The beautician had slightly put on makeup. Her lavender dress went perfectly down to her ankles. Her small handbag was matched with her elegant sandals. Her parents knocked softly on the door before entering the room without being formally invited. Her father had a digital camera in his hands and her mother smiled stupidly. The young girl turned to them, forcing a smile so they could take some pictures. Then her father complimented her and her mother suggested that she didn’t arrive too late. The young girl’s smile faded a little, but she quickly looked away. She suddenly felt very alone. So no need to be afraid of being late… Nobody expected the prom.
Kissing her parents, she took the key that her father handed her. She walked over to the car to get to the prom. Taking a deep breath, she left the car and went to the gym. She jumped when she heard a voice calling her. Startled, she turned to see Christopher and Matthew coming her way. They were both very elegant. Christopher tightened his bowtie, making eye at her. He obviously expected a compliment from her. Matthew put his hands in the pockets of his black pants after he smoothed his emerald tie. She smiled at them, finding them very charming.
“Wow!” she threw, applauding. “You look great!”
“And you,” Christopher began, “you are a true beauty!”
She felt her cheeks turn red.
“It’s very sweet…”
“You look great,” Matthew added, eyes shining.
Christopher frowned, looking around them.
“Where’s your date?”
“Probably with your dates, gentlemen.”
“Touché,” he answered. “I had a little lack of courage to do so…”
Matthew looked away, preferring to remain silent. The two young men exchanged a quick glance that Julie was unable to explain. Christopher gave her the reverence to lead the way. The three of them went to the gym converted into a ballroom for the evening. They went to the table they shared with Philip and Karen. The latter began to applaud the trio that came to join them. Karen found them all very beautiful. Philip grumbled in his corner. Matthew announced that he was going to get something to drink for everyone. He walked at a quick pace.
“You have decided to come together?” Philip asked them.
“What do you mean?”
“Calm down,” Karen hastened to ask him, patting his shoulder. “Don’t spoil the evening for a small detail.”
“I’ve met them in the parking lot when I arrived,” the young girl explained.
“And we got in together,” Christopher added.
“What happened to you?” Matthew asked, putting the plastic cups on the table.
Philip sighed looking away, grumpy.
“Our very friendly Mr. Sylvester here now believes that we are a kind of ménage à trois,” Christopher replied taking a cup.
“We’re only three singles persons arriving at a party at the same time,” Matthew launched before taking a sip. “Nothing else.”
Philip was about to say something when his girlfriend slapped her hand over his mouth to silence him. She hastened to explain that her boyfriend was a little grumpy today because his parents had kindly decided to find a job for the summer without consulting him. He wasn’t very happy with their decision. At the same time, Joel and Nancy arrived at their table. They asked them what was going on which was so interesting that everyone listened so carefully. But nobody gave them any answer.
Philip stood up abruptly, saying he has an urgent need. Karen shrugged, letting him get away, shaking her head with a sorry look. Matthew hastened to reach him.
“To compensate for his great misfortune,” Karen began, “his parents organized a small private party after the prom!”
“They really want to be forgiven,” Christopher said.
Karen shrugged, smiling. Christopher and Joel shouted with joy. Julie and Nancy contented themselves to smile. Karen didn’t know what Philip’s parents were preparing for them later. Then she sighed deeply, casting a glance at Julie who drank quietly her punch. Her morale was a little higher now. She preferred to see her friend like that. Nancy asked again for explanations that Christopher eventually gave. As there wasn’t much to say, it wasn’t very long. Karen leaned over to Julie to talk to her quietly.
“Don’t tell me that Matthew is not cute.”
“You’re saying stupid thing! He’s too cute!”
Julie felt again her cheeks turn red. She refused to answer her, but her friend was right. Matthew was very attractive.
“Does he have a chance with you?”
“You’re hallucinating! He’ll do nothing. So stop it immediately.”
“Don’t lose hope. The party has just begun, my dear.”
The meal started a few minutes later. Joel and Nancy returned to settle in the table they shared with other people they knew. The meal was delicious. Julie listened to the conversations without really participating. Philip had calmed down. The young girl thought Matthew has something to do with it. He had successfully done a miracle with his morale. Mattered little to her now. The atmosphere around the table was more relaxed and the graduates had great fun. Everyone was celebrating the end of high school to find themselves in the adult world in a few weeks.
When the meal was over, the tables were cleaned and pushed further to transform at part of the gym into a huge dance floor. Musicians struggled on stage while everyone danced on the improvised dance floor. Christophe led Julie to the other dancers. Joel was talking quietly with Matthew. Near Julie, Philip and Karen danced at the same pace as the music. A small group began to dance like mad people, causing several other dancers to join them. The young girls walked away to leave them plenty of room. Julie clapped her hands to encourage them. Nancy gave a small sign for her to get a little closer. Leaning back, her friend moved to understood better despite the noise.
“Rumors are already starting, you know.”
“And did you hear anything interesting?”
“Lots of things just waiting to be checked…”
“Do you have any examples?”
Nancy said nothing, a faint smile on her lips. Julie pondered the question until the principal of the school attracted the attention of the whole room by stopping the music. Getting on the scene, he took the microphone. He wanted to point out some important facts regarding the graduates of this year. He began a long speech that seemed to go on forever. He even had a paper on his hand! He must have been afraid to forget any fact and he loved the sound of his own voice. All the audience grew frequent sighs of exasperation until Mr. Temple mentioned the recent victory of the rollerbladed hockey team. A thunderous screams and applause made the whole gym vibrate. The principal brought up all the team members on the stage with him.
When Mr. Temple was again alone on stage with the musicians, he announced that it was time to elect the king and queen of the evening. Members of the teaching staff went around all the students in the room to give them a ballot. Julie threw a glance at the list of nominees. She ticked without hesitation the circle with the names of Philip and Karen. Once the voting was over, the same people remade around the room to retrieve all ballots. The music started up again until the end of the countdown. Karen and Nancy took Julie’s hand and went to dance with the others, even if they knew that their friend hated dancing. A few minutes later, Mr. Temple returned to the stage again, stopping the music once more. Taking a voice that was meant to be solemn, he announced the winners:
“The royal couple of this year is: Philip Sylvester and Karen Simeon!”
Dominique grimaced, trampling with rage. Then she drew Maxim a little further, visibly angry not to have won. The winners went to the stage to get their crowns. They posed for a few pictures under the applause of the whole room. Then they went on the dance floor to open the first official dance to the rhythm of a soft music. After the first notes, other couples joined them. Joel invited Nancy with a gallant gesture of the hand. Christopher awkwardly tried to invite Rachel before fleeing abruptly. Julie looked at her nails when a hand reached out to her. The young girl looked up. Matthew smiled shyly.
“Do you want to dance?”
Not taking the time to think about it, she gave him a weak smile, taking his hand. They went to the other dancers. She wrapped her arms around his neck, not daring to look. From the corner of her eye, she could see that Joel and Nancy were kissing tenderly. She looked away, feeling very lonely again. Matthew noticed her sad look.
“Is everything alright?” he asked shyly.
“Yes, I’m fine. Don’t worry.”
“I… I understand how you feel. You know, when all your best friends are…”
She looked away again. With his fingertips, he raised her head and kissed her on the lips. She kissed him without even taking two seconds to think about it. Suddenly, everything seemed to have disappeared around them. As if they were isolated from the rest of the world. After their long kiss, they danced quietly, their heads resting against each other. They remained silent, not wanting to break the moment. Julie refused it to end. She felt good in his arms. He lifted his head and kissed her forehead. A small smile on her lips, she leaned her head against his shoulder, breathing the scent of his aftershave.