PART 12: THE CLARKE SIDE
Clarke moved closer to Julie, idly reflecting on the fact that he held the distinction of being the only person, aside from Julie herself, to have been allowed inside her so-called “play room”. Even Jeeves and Mimi weren’t allowed in. He had considered it a victory of sorts at the time, though upon seeing the sheer volume of information Julie “played” with in here, it had been enough to make Clarke feel uneasy as well. At the time. He had to admit, almost six months later, he was getting used to it.
The room’s filing cabinets contained information on what had to amount to at least half the students at school, plus information on annual school activities. The files dated from before Julie’s arrival, up until the middle of next year; Julie could well give the principal a run for his money in terms of bookkeeping. She preferred having the paper copies too, as opposed to making everything electronic (though there was a computer on the table as well). Something about things being both more tangible and more secure this way. Since becoming student council secretary, Julie had even started keeping copies of all their meeting minutes down here.
“I couldn’t possibly guess, Jewels. What’ve you got?” Clarke inquired obligingly off her expectant expression.
“This!” Julie declared, picking up a tiny something from the central table and holding it aloft triumphantly. “Retrieved through my dad’s company. A miniature homing device, easy to track, difficult to see, and while it’s not quite as accurate as a GPS, it’s got enough power to run in hibernation mode for something like sixty years!”
“You’re planning on tracking someone for the next sixty years?” Clarke said in surprise.
The brunette chuckled. “No,” she explained patiently. “But the guarantee says it’s good for that long, and I would assume they’re not lying. At any rate, what I AM planning on doing is figuring out exactly where Carrie’s been keeping herself, given her recent habit of turning up in the oddest places. Seemingly in duplicate.” She half-smiled. “Pardon my enthusiasm. I couldn’t resist showing this to someone else.”
“I thought Carrie had explained her actions to you though,” Clarke said. “Or the visits to Frank at least.”
“Yeah, math help. It doesn’t explain why she must have left his place by sneaking through his backyard last Sunday,” Julie indicated. “After all, according to you, she showed up at Frank’s around two. Yet Carrie was back home again when I called her at five. And in the interim, no one else so much as stood on Frank’s driveway.”
“Except Luci,” Clarke reminded.
“Yes,” admitted Julie in a mildly irritated tone. “Except Luci. But you said she didn’t actually make it as far as the front door, and given how hard that girl’s loyalties are to figure out, I’m going to invoke Occam’s Razor and say her presence was a broken study arrangement.”
Clarke shrugged. “Whatever, I was just saying…”
“Yes, yes, she was there, thank you for going and keeping an eye on things for me,” Julie acknowledged. “My point is, Carrie has been acting weird and holding something back from me ever since missing my party. By tracking her movements, it will be easier for me to catch her in a lie. Which is the best way to obtain the truth.”
“But what if she’s being truthful?” Clarke offered. “What if there is a reasonable explanation for everything? Aren’t your measures getting a little extreme?”
“You have a better idea?” Julie challenged.
“Talk to her?”
“I have. Yet I can’t say anything directly, because if she IS lying those questions will tip her off,” Julie rebuffed. “And Carrie is terribly good at thinking on the fly when she wants to – that’s why I much prefer when she’s not thinking. The real problem here is that none of my future plans can go anywhere so long as we’re in this little stalemate. I need to know where Carrie’s loyalties lie, and I need to know as soon as possible.” One hand clenched into a fist. “If it turns out that she is conspiring against me, she must not be allowed to get away with it. I cannot let her destroy what I have now, not after I’ve worked so hard to get this far!” She brought her fist crashing down onto the table. “Julie LaMille will NOT be made a fool of twice!” she finished loudly.
Julie paused, and Clarke could swear he saw a hint of colour creeping into her cheeks. “Never mind,” she mumbled, quickly turning away and grabbing some papers to hide her face. “Before we moved here. Just… go get Jeeves to pour us some juice, would you? I need to finish inputting landmark data into the receiver device.”
Clarke paused momentarily, but decided any attempt to follow up on Julie’s comment right now would only earn him a harsh rebuke. “Sure Jewels, whatever you say,” he assured her, departing the room to head back upstairs. Sometimes, he reflected, trying to figure out the mystery that was Julie was not unlike trying to put together a jigsaw puzzle without the benefit of a picture… or even all of the pieces. Though of course, the mystery had been one of the reasons Clarke had approached her in the first place.
“Julie! Hey, Julie!”
The brunette turned to regard him with slightly narrowed eyes. “Yes?” she inquired, a hint of annoyance in her tone as Clarke caught up to her.
“Uhm, well, hi! I’m Clarke,” he continued by way of introduction.
“I know that,” Julie responded. “I’ve seen you in homeroom. So I also know that Clarke is not your first name, but your last name. What I do not know is what reason you have to be chasing me down in the hallway, waving your arm like a maniac.”
“Well… then I’ll tell you,” Clarke continued, only momentarily taken aback. “See, I’ve been trying to get a handle on this new school for the past two weeks, learn who’s who, what’s what… kind of a standard thing with me I guess, though this is the first time I’ve done it with a high school…”
“Please skip to the point.”
“Uh, right,” Clarke said, forging on undaunted. “So, I learned that you only recently started attending school in this town too. I figure, maybe it’s the same thing for you, neither of us knows others in the area all that well, so maybe there is some way we can help each other. Swap stories or…”
“Why?” demanded Julie. And despite being taller than the brunette, Clarke now felt like she had him under a microscope.
“Uh, well, you know, I just thought that hey, I’ve met some people and, ah, maybe you’ve met some people, so between us we might, I dunno, get to know more people?” Clarke said, fumbling for words. “I don’t know much about you but we’re both in the same boat… right? I figured maybe we could help each other…?” Was this really such a good idea after all?
“Is that so.” Julie concluded her scrutiny of Clarke and started to tap her foot on the ground. “Perhaps we can,” she relented, her tone shifting. “For one thing, you learned I’m new to the area. I am curious to know what else people are saying about me.”
Clarke shrugged. “Relatively little,” he admitted. “Mostly people are talking about how you don’t reveal much, they wonder why someone from a rich family is here in a public school, that sort of thing. Corry even thought you might’ve been thrown out of some private school overseas…”
“Corry Veniti said that?” Julie said, pouncing on the name.
“Uh, yeah,” Clarke confirmed. “But I figure, whether that’s true or not, it’s in the past. This is the present and it’s important to make friends when coming to a new place. Right?” He ventured a smile.
“Indeed,” Julie said slowly. A pause. “Clarke, you make some interesting points. Perhaps we could meet up tomorrow at lunch to talk some more?”
“Sure, sounds good!” Clarke agreed. “See you then?”
“Indeed,” Julie repeated. She regarded him silently for another moment before spinning on her heel and walking away.
(To see what Julie did next, go to Part 27)
A cry of “That should do it!” greeted Clarke as he re-entered the room in Julie’s basement.
“Everything in order?” he inquired, setting down the tray containing two glasses of orange juice. He proceeded to pick up one of them and take a sip, as Julie looked up from whatever she had in her hands with a smile.
“Oh, yes,” she stated. “I’ve just input key town locations into the system, using Carrie’s house as a reference point. Now all I need to do is attach the transmitter to her and I’ll be able to locate our resident cheerleader any time I want to.”
“Including how many of her there are?”
“Well, no,” Julie admitted. “There is only one transmitting device. But if my records show her in one location when she says she was elsewhere, or I register her someplace while she is seen somewhere else, Carrie will have a lot of explaining to do.”
Clarke gulped down more juice. “Seems as well thought out as all your plans,” he congratulated.
“In fact,” Julie continued with a hint of pride. “I’ve even determined the best object upon which to attach the tracker… Carrie’s hairband! She’s always wearing one and yet never looks at it very closely. Admittedly, she owns a few, but she wears that same blue one over 90 percent of the time, which I’m hoping is enough for my purposes.”
“And I presume you’ve worked out how to attach it as well?”
Julie swept a few strands of her curly hair back off her shoulder. “Naturally. She has a dinner date with Bill after tomorrow’s football game, and will thus be showering at the school after cheerleading. Since she does not wear her hairband in the shower, this provides the perfect opportunity. Even if she stumbles upon the device later, there won’t be anything linking it to me. In the meantime, all I have to do is flip this switch…” Julie paused to do just that. “…and I’ll know exactly where she is by looking at this receiver screen.”
Clarke moved to take a look at the screen in question. “Does a flashing light indicate where that transmitting thing is?” he questioned. Julie nodded, pursing her lips as they both examined the display. “And you said there’s only one of these transmitter things? Which is in this room?” Julie nodded again. Clarke cleared his throat. “So why are there three lights pulsing on your screen right now?” he finished.
“I don’t know,” Julie growled in a tone so harsh Clarke instinctively jumped away from her. “But I’m sure as hell going to find out,” the brunette concluded, running for the door. “Come on!”
“Wait!” Clarke called out. “Don’t forget your juice! Also, if this is going to take much longer I need to give my mother a call!”
Clarke had never been able to identify when his feelings for Julie had expanded beyond the scope of a simple friendship. It was merely something that had happened. He supposed part of it was that, throughout grade nine, Julie had kept herself at such a distance from most people that, in a weird way, Clarke couldn’t help but feel sorry for her. Oh, sure, she got to know people, and after the initial period of adjustment to the school, Julie had gained steadily in both popularity and the amount of respect shown to her.
But even Carrie had never struck Clarke as being a true friend for Julie. He’d commented on it to others, but of the people he had spoken to about Julie’s detachment, many didn’t believe him, and of those that did, many didn’t care, and of those that cared, many were resentful of Julie’s growing notoriety anyway. Then it all became a moot point, for once Julie heard that he was saying such things, she had demanded that he stop immediately.
Some of Julie’s problems, Clarke reasoned, might be due to a lack of family ties. Her parents were sometimes – in fact, often – conspicuous in terms of their absence from the town. It also hadn’t taken long for Clarke to discover that Julie spent an inordinate amount of the time she had away from school by herself, making personal plans. Which almost never made her happy. Not really. It was almost like she was simply doing things out of a lack of anything else to do – or maybe to prove to herself that she could? Which was really a shame in Clarke’s mind, and had ultimately been the main motivation for his visit to her that fateful fall day last year…
“What’s up, Clarke?” Julie inquired upon walking into her sitting room. She crossed her arms. “I wasn’t expecting you to drop by.”
“Surprise visit,” Clarke indicated with a smile. He produced a medium-sized box, which he had been holding behind his back. “For you!”
Julie’s brow furrowed as she approached. “What’s inside?”
“Open and see.”
Julie retrieved the box and did as Clarke had suggested. Her eyes opened wide. “Chocolate eclairs!” she said in surprise. Then she looked back up at her guest. “Why?”
“Because I know you like them and it seems to me like you could use a little cheering up,” Clarke stated simply.
“What do you mean by that?” Julie asked warily. “Nothing bad is happening to me. On the contrary, I practically guaranteed myself a seat on the student council this week!”
“But does that make you happy?” Clarke pressed.
Clarke sighed slightly. “Julie, ever since our return to school for grade ten, you’ve been spending even MORE of your time all alone. You haven’t been seeing Carrie as much, and you’ve been seeing me even less. Is there something bothering you?”
Julie made a dismissive gesture. “Why does it matter to you?”
Clarke wasn’t even sure where those words had come from, but the intensity behind his tone surprised even him. Julie’s eyebrows rose in response and it was a couple of seconds before she spoke. “It is no business of yours how I run my affairs,” she retaliated.
“I’m not concerned about your affairs, I’m concerned about YOU,” Clarke insisted.
“I’m just fine!” Julie snapped. “Everything is going according to plan! Now Clarke, you were very useful in providing me with information last year, but seeing as we’re both a little older and wiser now, I believe it’s in both of our best interests for you stop spending so much time around me. In fact, you should leave. Now.”
There was momentary silence. “If that is how you truly feel,” Clarke said. Julie turned to leave the room. “But I will only leave if you tell me that doing so will make you happy.”
Julie stopped in her tracks. “Haven’t you figured it out?” she said in annoyance. “Happiness doesn’t enter into this.”
“It does for me.”
“Why?” Julie demanded again. “Why do you give a damn?!”
“Because,” Clarke forced out. “I care about you, Jewels.”
Julie spun back to face him. He was half expecting her to be absolutely exasperated at this point, so the look of complete shock and confusion was oddly comforting. “Jules…?” she vocalized after a second.
Clarke smiled weakly. “Jewels… I mean, it sort of sounds like your name, seems to jibe with all the money you have around here, plus, I don’t know, makes me think of a diamond in the rough, kinda.” He cleared his throat. “Just sort of slipped out, really. Sorry.”
“Don’t be,” Julie replied, her tone soft. “It’s… I’ve never had anyone…” She froze. “Is this part of a scam?” she asked quickly, sizing Clarke up. “Has someone put you up to this?”
“No? How can I be sure of that?” Julie demanded, pointing her finger. Her arm shook slightly. “Do you have any proof?”
“Julie… Jewels… you know me fairly well by now,” Clarke said as sincerely as he could. “Do you honestly believe that I would do what I’m doing now because someone TOLD me to do it?”
Julie began to chew on her lower lip. “I… I’m suddenly not sure what to think,” she mumbled uncomfortably. Her lips finally parted. “Clarke…”
“Phil. Please, call me Phil,” Clarke interrupted.
Julie blinked but otherwise seemed unmoved. “Phil,” she attempted again. “I’d like to think your intentions are honourable. But past incidents have caused me to become naturally… wary. I’m… I’m going to need some time to think through the repercussions of this.”
Clarke nodded. “Anything I can do to help? Sometimes it’s good to talk things out with a friend.”
Julie stared at him for another long moment. “No. You’ve helped enough already,” she concluded. Not sharply, he was pleased to hear, but gently. “You really should leave now. Feeling free to come back whenever you like,” she hastily added.
Clarke nodded. “Count on that,” he remarked. He took a couple of steps towards the doorway.
“Oh, and Cl– Phil?” Julie stated. He turned back to see Julie’s gaze upon the box she was still holding.
“Jewels?” he responded.
Julie cleared her throat uncertainly before looking back up. “Thanks. That is, for the eclairs,” she quickly quantified.
Clarke watched as the severe colouring seen all too often in Julie’s features became overshadowed by the genuine, if hesitant, smile upon her face. ‘She needs to smile like that more often,’ he realized. ‘I need to get her to smile like that more often.’
Julie grinned triumphantly. “We’re almost there,” she declared. “Left at the next corner, Jeeves.” The butler, who doubled as chauffeur, simply sighed and did as requested.
“We’re heading for the edge of town,” Clarke remarked. “Why would Carrie come all the way out here?”
“I can’t say for sure whether this is Carrie we’re tracking,” Julie reminded. “All this thing has picked up is some device or devices which transmit on the same frequency. Ignoring the one I still have, there was the one somewhere in the ravine near Carrie’s, which stopped transmitting while you were making that phone call. Then there’s this one, which is out… wherever we’re going.”
“Do you know why the ravine signal stopped sending?” Clarke asked.
“No. I’ll work it out in due course,” Julie muttered through clenched teeth. “Jeeves, stop here! We’re almost on top of it.”
The car pulled up on the outskirts of town, in a fairly recently built subdivision. Julie jumped from the car with her receiver in hand, and peering down at the display in the darkness, she made her way into a small park playground. Clarke also emerged from the car, lagging behind Julie a bit.
He found himself reflecting upon Julie’s current plans again. This Carrie affair was escalating unexpectedly. But why? Until his relationship with Julie had become ‘semi official’ last year, he had never fully grasped the scope of what she had been doing… in fact, Clarke still wasn’t positive he understood it even now. What was Julie’s goal, exactly?
More to the point, how far was he truly willing to go when it came to backing up Julie and her plans? Would there come a time when he would have to put his foot down? To stand up to her? Clarke rubbed the back of his neck. He really wasn’t sure he could do that.
For some reason, the words spoken to him by Lance several years ago came to mind: ‘Be careful who you cross in the future. Not everyone with the power to pull strings around you is likely to be as… forgiving as me.’ But no, that wasn’t why he was unlikely to side against Julie. He didn’t like the idea of leaving Julie with nobody in her corner. One of her rare smiles had the ability to light up a room – she wasn’t a bad person. All she needed was somebody to save her from herself. The question was, could he be that person?
“Aha!” came a shout, and Clarke hurried to catch up. He need not have rushed. When he reached Julie’s position, he merely found her kneeling in front of a clump of bushes. The receiving device was on the ground next to her, a small mound of freshly dug up earth sat in front of her, and there was something else in her hands.
“What’ve you got, Jewels?” Clarke asked tentatively. Julie rose and turned to face him. She held out the object she was holding and Clarke squinted at it in the darkness. It was a dirty and smudged piece of possibly blue plastic in a vaguely horseshoe shape. A hairband? No… well, maybe, but only if it had been left here by someone for, what, half a century?
“Phil,” Julie began slowly. “I’m about to say something that is going to sound totally loopy, yet fits the facts in every conceivable way that occurs to me. In retrospect, it even makes a strange sort of sense. Please bear with me.”
Clarke nodded and Julie took in a deep breath. “Phil… I have the feeling that somehow, Frank Dijora has managed to invent himself a time machine.”