PART 28: HISTORY LESSON
Carrie was in trouble almost immediately after her alliance with Julie became public knowledge. It was Monday morning, so at first, she’d thought that she’d merely misremembered her locker combination. But after two more attempts, upon peering a little closer at the lock, she noticed a white substance congealed around the mechanism. She frowned.
“Here,” Julie remarked, coming up behind the blonde. She tossed Carrie a new lock. “Anticipated something of the type. Happened to me too. No sweat, we’ll get the janitor to cut off your old one before class.”
Three days later, Chartreuse chased Corry down the hall. “Corry! Oh, Corry!” the green haired girl called out. “I was sick yesterday. Could I, like, borrow your notes from science class? Please? You always take real good notes.”
Corry stopped walking and turned to her. “That won’t be possible,” he said tersely. “Seeing as I need to find someone with a fresh copy of the notes since Monday myself.”
Chartreuse blinked. “What? Why?”
“I’d rather not talk about it,” was Corry’s final word on the matter.
The following week, Julie opened her locker at the end of the day, only to have two dozen condoms spill out onto the floor. She pursed her lips, as around her, people’s eyebrows went up. “Crude, but effective,” the brunette murmured.
A week later found Mrs. Willis growing upset with one of her students.
“Corry, will you PLEASE correct your tuning?” Mrs. Willis pleaded. “Your notes sound at least a semitone out!”
“But I’ve already tuned twice,” Corry protested. “Maybe the flute is… wait a minute…” Corry leaned over to glance at the stand of the person next to him. Then he looked more closely back at his own music. His eyes widened, then he bit down on his lower lip. “I’m sorry, I don’t think this is the same part you handed out at the end of last rehearsal. Do you have another copy available?”
A week before Christmas, Carrie dropped by the LaMille mansion in advance of a shopping trip. She was easily persuaded to hang around long enough for a cup of hot chocolate, in order to allow her friend to finish working on something.
“Julie,” the blonde began tentatively as she leaned back in one of the plush chairs of the sitting room. “Can I ask something about school?”
Julie glanced up from the coffee table, where she was making notes. “Hm? Sure, what is it?”
“It’s about Corry. At this point, we have pretty clearly defined friends, and he has other friends, and yet there’s still this dominance thing going on between you two. Which seems to be continually escalating,” Carrie added. “Yet a couple months ago, you said Corry would eventually cease to be a problem. So… I mean, how soon is eventually?”
Julie half smiled. “You’re not questioning my plans, are you?”
“Nah, nothing like that,” Carrie said dismissively. “Just curious as to where this is going. I mean, you don’t want this to be a never-ending battle… right? Eventually some seniors will get caught in the crossfire, or lord help us, administration. And that Mr. Hunt, he can really freak a person out.”
“Don’t worry,” Julie assured. She scrawled a couple more items down before adding, “I’ve got something in the works. The feud will end before our exams in January.”
Carrie leaned forward once again. “I knew you had a plan! Come on, can’t I at least get a hint about what it is you’re up to?”
Julie sized Carrie up. “Okay. You remember that picture of Corry I tacked up on the bulletin board last week?”
Carrie grinned. “The cute baby picture? Yeah! Hey, where did you get that anyway, from his sister?”
“No,” Julie said, shaking her head. “But the source was someone close to Corry. Someone who has now proven that they are willing to assist me instead. A someone who will help bring things to a close.”
“Oooo, crafty,” Carrie remarked. “Okay then! Let me know if there’s anything I can do to help!”
“I will,” Julie assured her. “Patience. For now, simply wait and watch.”
Carrie nodded. “Okay, okay, sure.” She tapped her fingers absently on the armrest as Julie resumed writing. “So, you almost done? I do want to get to the shops before they close.”
“Almost,” Julie confirmed.
“I still don’t know what to get as a Christmas present for dad,” Carrie grumbled. “It’s been a tie the last two years, maybe I should show more originality. Not that he’ll really notice… hey, what are you getting your parents?” Carrie turned back to Julie, only to find herself on the receiving end of an icy cold stare. “O-Oops,” the blonde said meekly. “No talking about your family, right. Sorry. Slipped my mind for a moment.”
Julie set her pencil aside and stacked the pages where she’d been writing. “I’m ready,” she said simply, her expression turning back into a smile. “Let’s hit the mall.”
The New Year came and went. School resumed, for the final weeks leading up to semester one exams. And Corry opened his locker at the end of the day on Thursday, to find a note lying on top of his books.
”Friday marks four months since we first saw each other! We both know that’s when it’s going to end. Meet me before school on the balcony section of the gym. 8am. No recording equipment, no tricks, no sidekicks. Let’s finish this.”
“Yes, let’s,” the redhead murmured, picking up the note and crumpling it in his hand.
The two teenagers stood staring at each other in the silence of the large gymnasium. As it had been back in September, their expressions were cold, neither of them willing to blink first. Ultimately, Corry succumbed. But Julie was the one who spoke.
“This can’t go on,” she began. “So it ends here. Today.”
Corry nodded. “I agree. One of us has to bow aside and let the other claim victory.”
Julie brushed some of her long hair back off her shoulder. “I believe the winner will be based on the results of the Christmas fundraising drive. I’ve heard that those numbers are being announced today.”
“Correct,” Corry agreed. “It’s a bit silly really, the band raising money by selling Christmas ornaments. Fruit, now that’s where the real money is.”
“I’ll take your word on it,” Julie shrugged. “Band isn’t my thing. That said, you have managed to sell quite a number of those ornaments.”
Corry grinned. “You did get that delivery then. Good.”
Hands moving to her hips, Julie began tapping her foot on the floor. “What, precisely, were you hoping to accomplish by signing me up for $200 worth?”
“Isn’t it obvious?”
“Yes, but go ahead and confirm my suspicions. I’m sure you’re dying to any way,” Julie said, gesturing Corry’s way.
Corry inclined his head in acknowledgement. “It’s quite simple really. The fact that I got you to purchase such a large quantity of items from me would be seen by others as a lessening of hostilities. By paying me, you’re also implicitly accepting me in a position of authority. Thus there would be talk if you persist in rebellious activities following this incident. In particular, I would be most wounded and confused by any breach in our ‘ornament agreement’.”
“I could always refuse to pay you,” Julie countered. “Claim that you forged my signature. Seeing as you DID.”
“Oh! Such a lack of school spirit!” Corry gasped, bringing a hand to his chest. “Come off it, Julie. I wouldn’t have done it without knowing that your family could afford it. Besides, I think you knew what I was doing, and did nothing to stop me. It’s too late to cry wolf now.”
“Indeed,” Julie said dryly. She shifted attention to a fixed point off to Corry’s right. “Not a bad plan, really. But here’s the thing. I obviously have more school spirit than you think, since I paid for $300 worth of those useless ornaments.”
Corry lifted an eyebrow. “You think raising the stakes gets you out of this?”
“Yes,” Julie remarked, looking back at Corry. “Particularly when the records reveal that everyone only expected that amount to be $200.”
Corry frowned. “You can’t change the past though,” he argued. “And you only received $200 worth of merchandise. In a war of my word against yours, I win out.”
“Well, no,” Julie countered. “Because I DID receive $300 worth, and my personal records show a loss of $300. Which gives me the stronger case. I wonder, where did that extra hundred GO, Corry? Surely you’re not using it for anything unscrupulous!” She brought her hand to her chest, mimicking his earlier action. “Now, we can write it off a simple accounting error – that I had to bring to your attention – but only if you acknowledge that I’ve come out on top in our little war of one-upmanship.”
Corry narrowed his eyes. “Impressive. However, you couldn’t have managed something like that alone.”
Julie tapped a finger against her cheek. “Perhaps you’re right. Perhaps there’s someone you shouldn’t have trusted quite so much.”
There was a moment of silence. “You got to Sue,” Corry concluded. “It’s the only answer. She’s one of the few who knew what I was going to do, but more than that, she offered to run the final tally sheets in to the company before the Christmas break. Gives her both means and opportunity. But what was her motive? What did you offer her??”
“That’s confidential, I’m afraid.”
Corry pursed his lips. “I could take $100 from my personal savings to cover the situation.”
“Which still means that underneath it all, I win,” Julie pointed out. “You have to acknowledge that.”
“True. Point, counterpoint, very nicely done. Except there’s one little detail we still need to cover.”
Julie’s hint of a smile vanished. “What might that be?”
“The fact that I already knew Sue was working with you. I’ve known for the past month. It was my idea to have her defect in the first place.”
Julie tensed. “Really.”
“Oh, yes,” Corry replied, a smile slowly returning to his features. “I even managed to suck it up for those couple of humiliating instances where she helped you out. Not the way I’d have preferred to go about things, obviously, but I’d hoped that an apparent defector would interest you. That it would pay off in the end. And it has, it really has.”
The side of Julie’s mouth twitched. “Indeed.”
“So, let’s review, shall we? You have $300 worth of little Christmas trinkets. I have a signed statement from Sue,” he said, pulling it out, “to the effect of you chipping in that extra $100 over my $200. Along with the reason why, so don’t even try to claim that you did it to be gracious! Which means – and correct me if I’m wrong – that however much you decide to pay me, I’ve won!”
Julie remained silent, so Corry tipped an imaginary hat her way. “I am sorry,” he concluded. “But you see, it all came down to loyalty. A concept you don’t appear to fully understand. Must make things terribly lonely for you.”
“I should have known,” Julie whispered at last, clenching and unclenching her fists as she glared at the paper Corry was holding. “Sue was always a little too eager to please. I should have seen through that.”
“Well, don’t feel bad,” Corry soothed. “I may still consider you a follower of mine sometime in the future. Though, based on what I heard from Sue, you have a ruthless streak. Got to make sure I don’t give you too much power, or people might get hurt.” With a final parting smile, he turned away.
“Wait,” Julie retorted.
Corry turned back. Not so much because he cared what she had to say, but because the tone of her voice had suddenly taken on a peculiar, even eerie quality. “I beg your pardon?”
“You have won this battle,” Julie said slowly. “Privately, I will admit that. And publicly, I will take no further direct action against you. However, I ask that you do the same for me. No actions, and most of all, no lording this victory over my head. I concede… to a stalemate.”
Corry almost laughed. Except something about her demeanour was starting to spook him. “What possible motive could I have to do that?” he demanded. “Come on, accept that you lost, Julie. We’ll move on.”
“No.” Julie began to roll up the left sleeve of her blouse, all the while staring at Corry. “I can’t lose,” she said. “Not to you. Not like this. I have too much at stake. Again, I concede… no, make that I request a stalemate.”
“Julie, you’re not being reasonable.”
“You can do this. You will claim that the $300 was a joint effort we’re using to put aside our differences. You will not reveal your ‘signed statement’ to anyone. We will leave each other alone except in cases of indirect or third party involvement.” The corner of her mouth twitched. “Note I would be most wounded and confused by any breach of this new ‘agreement’.”
Corry spread his arms out. “Oh, please. And what are you going to do if I don’t comply with these ‘rules’??” he challenged. Her smile was off kilter. What was up with that face?
Corry’s eyes widened. “You’re bluffing,” he retorted.
Her movement was quick. Blood began to well up from the cut on Julie’s arm. Corry was next to her in an instant, grabbing her wrists and holding them apart as she lifted her gaze back up towards him. “The next cut might be lethal,” Julie said. “Now, accept the terms of my stalemate.”
“What the hell are you doing, Julie??” Corry asked. For the first time in his life, he felt panic, like somehow he was in way over his head. “High school freshman command structure is not something to kill yourself over!”
“It’s as I told you in the beginning,” Julie said quietly. “Our motivations are fundamentally different. Now, accept the stalemate.”
“Julie, you need help. This is not normal behaviour. Let’s go see a guidance counsellor, okay?”
“I’ll be fine. Once you accept the stalemate.”
“Stop saying stalemate and listen to me! I’m not going to let go of you until you listen!” He shook her slightly. A drop of blood dribbled off Julie’s arm and onto the floor.
“On the contrary,” Julie continued calmly. Too calmly. “I hear you quite clearly. Moreover, you’ll have to let me go sometime. Either that, or explain why you’re holding me with a cut on my arm.” The corner of her mouth turned up. “My version of events might not match yours there. So I say again, accept the stalemate.” She tilted her head to the side. “Unless you are willing to let me die after all?”
Corry worked through a few choice facial features. Never, in a million years, could he have anticipated that things would turn this dark. “This is blackmail,” he pointed out. Julie didn’t respond.
He eyed her arms – there was no evidence of any other cuts there. This had to be a one time thing. Right? “Y-You won’t really do it,” he asserted. No reaction. Damn, but that was creepy. It was like she didn’t care at all.
Corry let out a rush of air. “Fine, I won’t take you on directly but don’t expect me to step aside for you!!”
“Is that a yes?”
“Yes, all right, I accept your goddamned stalemate! But I don’t accept YOU, Julie! Moreover, you need to get yourself some serious psychological counselling!!” With that, he released her, remaining poised to act again should she lift the blade once more.
Julie merely nodded, swaying slightly on her feet. “We’ll see.” She produced a handkerchief, wiping off the the razor blade and putting it back in her pocket. Even as another drop of blood slid off her arm. “By the way, if you speak about this to anyone, I WILL deny that it ever happened.”
“Of course you will,” Corry said. “Which doesn’t change the fact that your parents need to get you a shrink!” He glanced down again at the cut across her arm and a shiver ran up his back. Turning away, he stalked out the nearest door.
Julie was left all alone. She glanced down at the pretty crimson stain she’d created. “Maybe they do,” she murmured. “But for that to happen, I must first prove myself to them.” She finally used the handkerchief to apply pressure to her arm. “If only I hadn’t been forced to play this trump card so soon… now I need another one.” She hurried off to find herself a better bandage.
“Carrie, wait!” Julie called out. She caught up to the blonde girl right before she could enter the school. The brunette smiled broadly. “There’s something I’d like you to do today, okay?”
Carrie nodded. “Sure, Julie, what’s up?”
Julie glanced around quickly to make sure there was no one nearby. “I’d like you to see about getting Laurie Veniti to discover, in advance, the location of the upcoming math tests.”
Carrie blinked. “Corry’s sister? But what about last week? I thought you and him had resolved yourselves towards a stalemate or something.”
“Yes, but I played some of my cards a bit soon,” Julie explained. “So I need a new ace. Please do this for me, without her brother finding out.”
“Okay,” Carrie said with a shrug. “Keep you updated as usual?”
“Of course,” Julie acknowledged with a smile. “In particular, I want you to let me know when you’ll end up meeting with Laurie to discuss the tests’ actual location. That will be really important.”
Monday lunch, Sue slammed her hands down on the cafeteria table. “What the hell is going on?” she demanded in cold fury.
Corry looked up at her. “What do you mean?”
“What do I mean? What do I MEAN?! What you THINK I mean?” she hissed. “We had her, Corry, we had her in the palm of our hand, and you let her walk away! Why?”
Corry looked back down at his lunch. “I’d rather not talk about it.”
“You’d rather not talk about it,” Sue repeated. She shook her head. “I thought I knew you, Corry. Maybe high school has changed you. What did she give you anyway, money? I turned down a new wardrobe to remain loyal to you! Was that a mistake?”
“Sue, I REALLY don’t want to talk about this right now,” Corry insisted, the grip on his utensils tightening. “Let’s leave it at ‘things got complicated’.”
“Well, isn’t that nice. Especially considering all the times you’ve wanted to talk with me about this, that, or the other thing. Time I put aside what I was doing for you. To talk, or research, or whatever. Because I believed in your ideals, and the things you were doing.” She leaned in closer. “So now I’m asking you, Corry, as a friend… why didn’t you expose Julie for who she really is?!”
“Because we don’t KNOW who she really is,” Corry shot back, angrier than he’d intended to be. “We don’t know who she is, or what she might be capable of. Trust me. We have no idea.”
“Well, isn’t that lovely. Now you’re questioning my research. She really has a put a spell on you!” Sue stared at Corry quietly for another minute. “So, as much as it pains me to say this, I don’t feel comfortable working with you any more. Not under these circumstances.”
“Look, what’s done is done, I can’t help that!” Corry stated, closing his eyes and wishing he were somewhere else. “At this point, it’s too late for me to go back on my public word. It would have… consequences.”
At least, he suspected it would, but to see Julie today, you’d never know she had suicidal tendencies. Assuming she honestly did. Was it possible that the whole episode had been a huge gamble on her part? He wouldn’t put it past her. But then, he also wouldn’t put it past her to lie if he actually told anyone about the incident. Worse, there remained a chance that she really might do something to herself… so, as he’d said, he couldn’t change the past. Merely work to improve the future.
He reopened his eyes in time to see Sue shake her head. “Okay, Corry. It’s been fun. I’ll probably freelance for a while, but don’t take it personally if some day, I end up working for Julie. After all, it looks like a little ruthlessness goes a long way.” That said, Sue turned and walked away.
Behind her, Corry clenched his fists. “Damn you, Julie,” he whispered. “Whether you’re a lunatic or not, if you screw with my life to this extent again…” The plastic fork in his hand snapped in half. “No mercy.”
In early November, nearly twenty-two months later, two other students met in the balcony area of the school gymnasium, early in the morning. “Laurie?”
The redhead turned, feeling her cheeks grow warm. “Clarke.”
“Did you… that is, were you able to find out anything?”
Laurie’s gaze fell to the floor. “Maybe.”
“You don’t have to tell me if you don’t want to,” Clarke assured her. “Particularly if you feel like you’d be betraying your brother. It’s only that, well… it’s been a month since that recording played at the dance. Since Carrie switched sides. Since Julie… I don’t even know. Initiated a cold war, to the benefit of nobody. It all hinges on Corry now. And any information I can get there is leverage I can use when talking with Julie.”
“Yeah,” Laurie said quietly. “I know. Don’t worry. You, I’ll tell.” She took in a deep breath. “So I went into Corry’s room when he was at band practice and he’d flipped his calendar over to this month, and I saw he’d marked a date there, circled it in red, and it was the twelfth.” She swallowed. “So whatever it is, I think November twelfth is gonna be the day.”
“Julie’s birthday,” Clarke realized. He turned to look out over the balcony railing. “Damn.”