PART 33: JULIE’S SECRET
Principal Dell A. Hunt let out a sigh as he drove in to work. His job had it’s ups and downs, to be sure, yet for some reason the downs were outweighing the ups of late. Especially surrounding that one student: Julie LaMille. Her requests were becoming persistent, and he couldn’t get any information from her parents, as he had been unable to contact them directly. “I wonder what she’ll have to say this week,” he mused aloud to himself as he pulled into the school parking lot.
He spotted her moments later, standing near his parking space. Over an hour before classes would start. “We’re starting early today,” he realized. Upon exiting his vehicle, Mr. Hunt leaned back against it, letting her approach and have the first words. She cleared her throat.
“We have to end this today,” Julie stated simply.
Mr. Hunt pursed his lips. “Inside,” he decided.
When Mr. Hunt made the offer to sit down, Julie accepted. She hoped that the concession to his current position of superiority would make him more amenable to her news. She then waited patiently as Mr. Hunt closed the door to his office, and walked around to stand behind his desk. “All right,” the principal said. “Explain. What do you mean by ‘we must end things today’?”
“Very simply put, the date I’ve been anticipating has finally arrived,” Julie responded. “Something will occur today, a major event, one that cannot be resolved peacefully unless you have my cooperation. You know what that means.”
The principal leaned forwards, placing his palms down flat upon his desk. “Miss LaMille. I grant that you have been “predicting” events for me for over a month. From incidents as large as the discovery of those drugs in one student’s locker, down to Mrs. Latour’s missing potted plant. I also grant that the incidents are too varied to be traced back to you directly, and that the faculty have been unable to prevent them. Yet do you remember what I said to you in this very room, after school, on the day we discovered those drugs?”
“Of course. You told me that you would not grant any requests merely because I provided you with some advance information,” Julie recalled.
“My position on that has not changed.”
“But this is IMPORTANT!” That sounded too desperate. She worked to reign in her emotions. “You need me on your side today,” Julie continued more calmly. “If I don’t defuse the situation, hostilities may well break out between certain factions of students.”
Mr. Hunt regarded her quietly for a moment. “Let’s go off the record here,” he decided. “Contrary to popular belief, I am not blind as to what goes on in my school. I know about your disagreements with Corry Veniti, and I know that the two of you have spent years polarizing the student body. To that end, it seems likely that you – or your friends – have had a hand in most, if not all, of your “predicted” events. Granted, I have no proof. Still, if this major event today is in the same vein, and you are using it to threaten this administration…”
“No!” Julie gasped. She took in a deep breath and squeezed her eyes shut. “Okay. Cards on the table.” She met his gaze anew. “You’re right. I may have played a part in some of the events I revealed to you. But you of all people must realize that knowing about something, and being able to stop it are two very different things. I can guarantee to you that I will have no say in what happens today – only in how the events play out around the school. And I’m willing to be on your side! To keep damage to a minimum! All it takes is a simple signature.”
The principal slowly shook his head. “Miss LaMille, your continued requests for my signature on that document are unreasonable. It would give you full control of the school.” He paused to size Julie up once again. “Know that I am not unsympathetic. I do want to help you. That is why I have allowed things to go on for as long as they have. However, until you agree to see a guidance counsellor, or some other specialist concerning these control issues of yours… there is nothing further for us to discuss here.”
“But…” Julie flexed her hands, mind whirling. She was fast running out of options. However, a last ditch idea was slowly taking shape in her mind. “A compromise then! Sign the school over to me, for today. Just for today. If you do that, I… I will voluntarily attend your guidance sessions. Starting tomorrow.”
“I will not be blackmailed.”
“It’s NOT blackmail!” Julie protested. She fought down the urge to scream. “Listen! Give me today. You don’t even have to change your routine. Whatever you do, you merely tell me first, so that I can make a point of approving it. I’m sure I won’t contradict you – why would I need to? In return, I will seek whatever counselling you recommend.”
Silence. Then, “What guarantee–”
“I’ll co-sign a separate paper with you on the counselling subject,” Julie interrupted. “You get what you want, and I get what I want. In fact, you get more, because with me controlling the school, I’ll have to take care of the upcoming situation with Corry in the most diplomatic way possible! Consider this a learning experience for me! Please, Mr. Hunt. You might even be surprised by some of the things I know, not only about everything that happens in this school, but about how to run an organization smoothly!” Julie took in a deep breath, feeling her nails digging into her palms. “Also, it’s my birthday today,” she admitted. “So if you find yourself needing an excuse to fall back on for the faculty, you can use that. All right? How about it? What do you say??”
Mr. Hunt finally sat down in his chair. Julie’s tone held more than a hint of desperation – but her gaze was determined. More to the point, he saw pain lurking behind her outward expression. This girl needed help. Was agreeing to her request the only way to ensure that she got the necessary treatment? It was starting to look that way.
He knew Julie well enough by now to recognize that she wouldn’t simply dismiss any contract she put her name to. Moreover, her proposal actually made sense, to a certain degree. ‘This also wouldn’t be the first time I’ve ever gone out on a limb to help a student,’ the principal reflected.
“Miss LaMille,” Mr. Hunt began. “I will agree to your proposal, subject to three conditions.”
“Name them,” Julie said.
“First, I want copies of any documents we sign. Particularly the one which ensures your compliance with a counselling session.”
“Done,” Julie agreed quickly.
“Second, I want your assurance that no one will be harmed by any action you take while at school today. Such an event would void our agreement.”
“That’s fair,” Julie yielded.
“And finally… I would like to know why this one act of scholastic control means so much to you.”
Julie felt her heart drop. She had never revealed her true motive to anyone before. Even at that boarding school in England, she’d never gone into detail. However, she couldn’t take the risk of lying now! Not with so much at stake! So… perhaps a half truth would be enough.
“It’s…” Julie faltered, as she felt her body start to shake. No, not now, get ahold of yourself, stupid! Swallowing hard, Julie sat up straighter in her chair. “It’s my parents,” she explained softly. “I have to show my parents that I’m a capable d-daughter. They… I have to show them this.” She swept some hair back off her shoulder, in the process reestablishing her mental control. “Now, will you sign the necessary papers?”
Again Mr. Hunt looked back at her in silence. Three seconds passed, then five, then… he nodded to her in agreement. It took all of Julie’s willpower not to burst into tears.
The school was hers. Her father had thought it couldn’t be done, but she had done it. She had the paper in her pocket to prove it. For so many years, she had been striving for this moment, handling setbacks from students and teachers, tiptoeing carefully around administration… and then there had been the time machine, forcing her to accelerate her plans prematurely. To prevent any discovery of her goals and motivations. Yet though it all, she had prevailed.
The principal had called her out of French class last period, in order to advise her about a requisition from the science department. She had of course given her go ahead for the purchase of new supplies. She had also agreed with how Hunt was handling an issue with a concerned parent, to the point of seeing no need have him provide her with the actual name.
The irony was, she couldn’t have succeeded here without Corry. Julie had required his final act against her that morning, the distribution of that flyer, in order to clinch things. The one thing she’d had no control over was what had given her the school… and now that she had it, she’d make sure it didn’t fall apart through any misguided attempts to avenge her name.
Thank goodness Phil had pointed out the date to her, which had snapped her out of her constant over-analysis of the situation… Julie winced. Phil Clarke. She’d been avoiding him. Would he even remain her friend after this? Well, as long as she had the paper in her pocket with Mr. Hunt’s signature on it, the rest didn’t matter. No, the rest didn’t matter to her at all.
“So, LaMille. Do you yield?”
It was Corry’s voice. Julie looked up from her lunch, vaguely aware of everyone else in the cafeteria edging away from their position.
The brunette allowed herself a tiny smile. “Yes,” she answered quietly. “You win. Do whatever you like now. Thank you.”
Whatever response Corry had been expecting, she supposed it hadn’t been that. The redhead glanced around the area briefly, perhaps wondering whether he’d come to the right table. “You… you wanted to have your network of deceit exposed to the entire school?” he said, incredulous.
Julie shrugged. “When you put it that way, no,” she admitted. “However, what’s done is done. So you win. Though I will say that when you calculated out the number of my voluntary followers on that flyer? You overestimated by about five percent.” She placed a forkful of salad into her mouth.
Corry’s eyebrow twitched. “You’re planning something. You already have retaliation in mind.”
“On the contrary,” Julie said, swallowing. She raised her voice. “Let me once again make it clear to EVERYONE here that any action of vengeance taken against Corry today? Will result in me giving out a punishment of MY OWN. And trust me, you do NOT want that.” Heck, she even had the power to give detention today – though she probably wouldn’t use it.
“Yeah, because you want to deal with this yourself!” Corry deduced. “But it’s too late! Some of your more embittered followers are already massing together to take you down, now that they know they’re not alone!”
“Let them come,” Julie countered. “It can’t happen overnight. They’ll need at least a few days to get themselves organized.”
“And you’re not concerned about that??”
“I have what I want. The rest doesn’t matter.”
Corry’s jawline tightened. “What the hell, LaMille?!” he demanded angrily, the plastic fork in his hand snapping in half. “How could this POSSIBLY have given you what you want?!?”
Julie poked at her salad. “It’s like I told you at the very beginning, Corry,” she said. “Our motivations are fundamentally different. Now, if you don’t mind, I’m eating my lunch.”
Corry jabbed a finger at her and seemed about to reply to that, until it presumably occurred to him that there wasn’t much he could say without looking like a sore winner. He settled for a “Damn you!”, after which he threw the remains of his fork towards her and stalked off. Julie belatedly found herself hoping Corry wouldn’t do anything more drastic now, on account of her subdued reaction. It’s not like she was acting that way out of spite.
Oh well. Even if he did something tomorrow – she still had today.
“Jewels! Wait up!”
Julie turned to see Clarke approaching. The day was over, so there was still time to run out the school doors… no. That felt cowardly. She was no coward. “H-Hi Phil,” she said, greeting him with a hesitant smile as he ran up to her.
“Jewels… what’s going ON?” Clarke asked. “I mean, I’ve been trying to figure this all out but… but I got nothing! Is what Corry says in here true?” He held up one of the flyers.
Julie nodded. “It is,” she admitted, straightening her posture. “I have bribed. I have blackmailed. I have tried to keep this from people. From you most of all, actually.”
Clarke shook his head. “But… but WHY, Jewels? I mean, I always knew you did things your own way but THIS? This is… well… now I’m not sure what to believe about you any more!”
Julie felt her heart sink. “You’re disappointed.”
Clarke ran a hand back through his hair. “I… I’m confused. You’ve put so much effort into keeping your past quiet. Whenever I’ve asked, you’ve pushed me away. Yet now that it’s all come out, you… you don’t seem to care at all.” He paused, visibly frustrated. “So, if this didn’t matter to you, why didn’t you tell me about it in the first place? Because you thought I’d hate you for it?”
Julie looked up at the blonde boy, the one who was perhaps the closest person she’d ever had to a friend, the one who had not only stuck by her through all of this, but had even tried to UNDERSTAND her. No one had ever done that for her before. No one.
She made a decision. “Come with me,” she said, tugging at his arm.
“Come,” Julie repeated, leading Clarke back into an abandoned classroom. She didn’t speak again until after checking to ensure that they were alone. “Phil, it’s not that it didn’t matter,” she explained. “It’s simply that, as of this morning, the whole situation changed.”
“Situation?” Clarke wondered. Julie pulled the precious paper out from underneath her sweater and handed it over to him. He unfolded it, and gave the document a quick scan. His eyes widened. “Hunt authorized you to run the school today?!”
Clarke looked back up. “That’s why you got called down to the office so many times!” Julie nodded. “Thank goodness!” he sighed. “I thought that somehow you were getting into worse and worse trouble.”
“Because of Corry’s flyer?” Julie clucked her tongue. “Phil, you should know better. As devastating as it is, it’s all supposition and circumstantial evidence. No one’s even named in it, except for that Tracy.”
“Which won’t stop people from coming after you – perhaps with good reason!” Clarke glanced back down at the document he held. “Are you hoping this agreement with Mr. Hunt is going to protect you somehow? Because I don’t see–”
“No,” Julie said, shaking her head. She held out her hand, and he returned the sheet to her. “This agreement is for a more… personal matter, separate from Corry.”
Clarke leaned in closer, staring at her. “You’re still holding something back,” he realized. “Jewels… Julie… please. Tell me.”
“I…” Julie felt her throat go dry. To her surprise, she realized that she wanted to tell him. To tell someone who knew her, before she would be forced to spill all about her life to some counsellor who was liable to completely misunderstand. Yet even so, the words wouldn’t come. “I… I c-can’t…”
Clarke stared at her for another long moment. “Then I don’t know what to do,” he said at last. “I want to help you. I’ve always wanted to help you, you know that. I’ve also believed that, deep down, you weren’t a bad person. That you weren’t using people. That you weren’t using me.”
He turned away. Julie found her breaths becoming shallower. “But now?” he continued. “Julie, I’m at a loss. Maybe Corry’s right after all. Maybe the only person who really matters to Julie LaMille is Julie LaMille. And if that’s true, then… then she sure doesn’t need me hanging around her any more.”
“No!” Julie asserted. Clarke didn’t turn back. She swallowed again, yet somehow her throat was still dry. “Phil, don’t be like that,” she pleaded. She didn’t understand why this conversation hurt so much. Because they were breaking up? Yet had they ever truly been together?
“Then tell me,” Clarke said, turning back to her.
Fine. My parents. “My…” Two words. Not hard. “My…” Julie felt a tear forming and she wiped her palm over her eyes. “It’s my…” Julie shook her head. “God Phil, I CAN’T, okay?” She spun to face the chalkboard. “I’m sorry. Just break up with me already and go!” He was too damn good for the likes of her anyway.
She expected him to sigh in resignation and walk away. And she heard him take a step. But even as she realized he was moving closer, Clarke was pulling her into an embrace from behind. “Jewels, even if I assume we’re going out, I would never break up with you on your birthday,” he murmured near her ear. “So if you need any assistance, anything at all… I’m still here for you. The flyer doesn’t change that.”
Julie felt her legs go weak, and for the second time today, it took all of her willpower to keep her emotions in check. This didn’t make any logical sense. “Phil, no,” she protested. “How can you possibly still be so nice to me? After everything I’ve done??”
Clarke lowered his chin to her shoulder. “Maybe I’m a glutton for punishment,” he replied. “Or too naive to understand how bad things really are. But honestly… I’ve seen you smile. And I still think that deep down, you’re not half as bad as you think you are. Not really.”
Julie turned, and she found her own arms encircling Clarke as he straightened, and she rested her own head upon his shoulder. The silence that followed his comment seemed to stretch on for an eternity. It might have been seconds, or hours, Julie didn’t know. However, once the words started to spill out of her mouth, she found that she couldn’t stop them.
“It’s my p-parents, Phil,” she admitted, a lump forming in her throat. “They don’t love me, you see. Never have. Never even wanted me. My mom, she hates me, and my dad, he wanted a son. And they’ve never, ever let me forget that.”
Clarke pulled back slightly in order to look Julie in the eyes. He searched them for any hint of deceit, and found none. “Did you just say what I think you said?”
Julie looked up at him. She didn’t speak, only bit into her lower lip. His first instinct was to say she must be misinterpreting things, that no one’s parents could be that mean, but she looked so earnest. Then he remembered something.
“You mean to tell me that, the time you were told you were insignificant… and that you would never amount to anything… it was your parents who said it?!?”
Julie managed a small shrug. “Yeah, well. That’s life.”
“Like hell it is!” Clarke countered. “My God, Julie, why haven’t you ever mentioned this?”
“You’ve met my parents,” she reminded him. “During the summers and on the few other occasions they’ve visited. Did you ever get the impression that they didn’t care for me?”
“I… well… no,” Clarke admitted.
“Exactly. It’s like they have two faces, you see. The one they present to the public, and the one they present to me. So no one else ever gets to see how they really feel.” She smiled then, but it was a sad smile. “Come to think, maybe that’s a trait I get from them, I don’t know. Still, it’s why I can’t stand anyone talking to me about my parents. On some level, their fakery disgusts me.”
“We have to do something about this then,” Clarke decided. “Talk to a counsellor, or child services or something!”
“And tell them what?” Julie asked. She shook her head. “My parents don’t physically abuse me. And you can’t prove a case of my word against theirs. Anyway, it’s not their fault. It’s mine.”
Clarke felt a knot forming in his stomach. “Jewels, no.”
“I’ve been a major disappointment from the beginning. Not the sort of person who could carry on the LaMille family line. As a child, I was weak and helpless in the face of confrontation. I even sucked my thumb until I was three years old. But! I’ve been working hard over the years. And now, at long last, I’ve had an entire school and faculty under my control!”
She clenched her fist. “My parents will have to acknowledge me now! They thought it couldn’t be done, that a girl like me could never accomplish anything. But I did it. This PROVES that I’m worthy! So finally, it will be okay. It will all be okay.” Julie smiled, and now the smile was sincere, and Clarke couldn’t bear it.
“Oh God, I never knew,” Clarke choked out. “I never even suspected. I’m so, so sorry, Jewels. Can you ever forgive me?”
She looked back up. “Forgive you? Phil, what are you talking about? Why are you crying?”
He reached up, only now discovering that his cheeks were wet. “I… I can’t help it, Jewels! I love you, and I hate seeing what you’ve become on account of your parents!” He pulled her close once more, and Julie hugged him back. Again, there was silence.
“Phil?” Julie ventured at last. “You mustn’t tell anyone else what I’ve told you. Okay? NOBODY. Promise me that.”
“Jewels… oh God, don’t ask that…”
“No one, Phil. Please. PLEASE,” Julie insisted quietly, her hug becoming something of a death grip. “Because it’s all going to be okay after tonight. Now that I have the agreement.”
“What do you– wait. Your parents are back in town, aren’t they,” he realized. Julie nodded. Clarke set his jaw. “I’m going home with you. You don’t have to face them alone.”
“No. You can’t,” Julie pleaded. “With you there, they’ll go all fake again. But don’t worry, Phil! As long as I have the principal’s signature on that paper, it’ll be okay.”
Clarke swallowed. “Right,” he said. He squeezed her a bit tighter before pulling back. “Look, I won’t say anything for now, but this conversation isn’t over yet, okay? I’m going to call you tonight.” He reached into his pocket and pulled out a small, neatly wrapped package. “In the meantime, here’s something to remember me. Happy birthday.”
Julie smiled again, and he felt his heart breaking. “Thanks, Phil. For remembering… and for everything, I suppose.”
He shook his head in awe. “You are SO strong, Julie. Stronger than I realized. Just remember, there are people out here who love you, okay? We’ll talk more later tonight.”
“Sure!” Julie agreed. “I’m looking forward to it already.”
They didn’t speak again that day.
*Posted on Nov 12th, Julie’s birthday! Huzzah!*