The Honest Truth

It's not often that the average person witnesses a crime. It's not often that person happens to be a compulsive liar, who ends up covering for the culprit. And it's even less often that said culprit seeks said person out to give them their thanks. That is to say, Mel figured her chances of all of the above compounding on a Friday night were comfortingly slim. But, well, Mel had failed statistics.

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5. Four

    In retrospect, I should’ve told Oliver sooner. I should’ve known that he would find out, and exactly how he would react when he did. It would probably go something like, What the fuck, Mel? You’ve been passing notes to this guy for three fucking weeks? Actually, back up, you’ve been passing notes to this guy for three fucking weeks and never found two seconds to tell me? I honestly can’t be-

    “-lieve you, Mel,” Oliver fumed. It was just as I predicted. Word for word. “I never thought you’d be this stupid. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that you lied to me about it this whole time-“

    “Hey, come on,” I interjected, less aggressive than I might have been. When Oliver was angry, it was best to just let him get it all out, but I had to stand up for myself at least a little bit. “I didn’t lie, I just didn’t tell you.”

    “A lie of omission, then,” Oliver snapped. He was pacing up and down the length of my dorm room, and I was grateful that my roommate was gone. The notebook and dated notes were spread haphazardly on the floor, scattered when Oliver’s toe had caught on the edge of the spiral bound book, spilling my secret. I had the strange urge to gather them and hold them tight to my chest, protect them from Oliver and his anger. “I just… You’ve done some sketchy things, Mel, but this? This has to be the worst.”

    “Oliver-“

    Oliver lifted his glasses to pinch the bridge of his nose in a pensive grimace. 

    “-Come on. What’s the harm?” I asked. 

    “The harm?” Oliver repeated, replacing his glasses to stare at her. “The harm is that you’re consorting with a criminal.”

    “‘Consorting’?” I echoed. “I’m not ‘consorting.’ I don’t think,” I added with a frown. “You didn’t even read the notes.”

    Oliver stopped his pacing, glaring down at the papers beside his feet. “Do I want to?” he muttered. 

    “Might as well,” I replied, an edge to my voice. “We both know you’re not leaving here without it.”

    With a sigh, Oliver gathered up the papers, then sat next to me as he read them. I read over his shoulder even though I’d already memorized every word. 

     

Thank you. 

 

You’re welcome? Not sure for what. Who is this? 

 

For not telling the truth. 

 

Who are you? If you don’t tell me, I’ll go to the police and tell them everything.

 

    “That was stupid,” Oliver commented as his eyes scanned the page. He glanced at the date. “So you exchanged these every day?” 

    “Mostly,” I replied. He flipped to the next paper without comment.

 

No you won’t. 

 

What makes you so sure?

 

I don’t take chances, Melanie Wenona Taylor.

 

    When swallowed hard when I reread that one, because I knew what had accompanied it. The little feather from one of my mother’s favorite pairs of earrings was still sitting on the stand beside my bed. I could still remember how it lay on my pillow, the dark red clinging to the fabric like blood, the black spine glinting in the moonlight. 

    “Mel, are you seriously telling me that doesn’t strike you as sketchy?” Oliver demanded, looking up at me.

    “If they wanted to hurt me, they could have by now.”

    ‘That’s not an answer.”

    I sighed. There was nothing I could say that I wouldn’t have to contradict when Oliver saw the next notes. “Just keep reading.”

    

Stay the hell away from my mother.

 

    “What?” he demanded. “What’s this about your mom?”

    I wanted to lie, but for once nothing was coming to mind. It was the truth or nothing. “He left a feather from one of her earrings on my bed.”

    Oliver dropped the notes onto his lap as if he’d been burned. “What? I’m calling the police.”

    “Don’t,” I warned, tired now. Something in my tone sobered him.“Just… keep reading.”

    He looked reluctant, disturbed, and perhaps disappointed in me, but obeyed. 

    

As long as you don’t go to the police, I have nothing against your mother. She seems like a lovely lady. 

 

I swear to god, if you so much as look at her, I’ll kill you.

 

Duly noted. I give you my word that I won’t, so long as you keep up your end.

 

Fine. Why are you still talking to me anyway?

 

Writing to you, actually

 

Fine, writing to me

 

Boredom, mostly.

 

Seriously?

 

What, you think a criminal’s life is always back alley shakedowns and running from police? There’s a lot of down time.

 

    “Is this guy for real?” Oliver muttered, his eyes still on the page. 

    “I think so. It feels like it,” I replied. I had no other basis for my perception of them. Just a feeling.

    Oliver frowned. “How do you know this isn’t some kind of sick joke someone’s playing on you?”

    “You’re the only one who knows about that night. Are you playing a joke on me?”

    “Of course not.”

 

I almost forgot you were a criminal.

 

Well, the police’s words, not mine. 

 

I guess all criminals think they’re doing the right thing.

 

Maybe they do, maybe they don’t. I wouldn’t know - I’m not a criminal. 

 

Then what are you? 

Also I really need something to call you. Just in my head. 

 

I identify as a vigilante. 

Call me… Cruor.

 

You’re kidding. You’re going to rank yourself up there with Batman?

Also Cruor? Weird-ass name.

 

I could take Batman.

You only gave me a day to think.

 

    That note came about two weeks after the first communication. It was then that something seemed to change, to loosen. Some of the formality had slipped away, and I felt as at ease as someone could knowing that a stranger and possible criminal stopped by every night while they were sleeping. 

 

I don’t believe you. 

Coagulated blood, or the portion of the blood that forms the clot.”?

 

That I’m a vigilante, or that I could take Batman?

Yeah, and “Mel” is real original.

 

Both.

I didn’t get to choose my name, thank you very much.

 

So what do you think I am? 

It sounds cool, okay?

 

I don’t know. My best friend thinks you’re a criminal. I can’t quite see it. But I also can’t see the vigilante bit either.

It’s hard to pronounce.

 

    “I still do think he’s a criminal,” Oliver muttered. I held my breath as he turned to the next page. 

 

Fair enough. Send Oliver my regards.

    

    “What the fuck?” Oliver demanded, staring at the words. “How’d I get brought into this? How does he know who I am?” His pale cheeks were reddening in anger as he tossed the page to the side. 

    

Have you been stalking me? 

 

Not recently. I’ve been busy lately. 

 

But in the past?

 

I was curious.

 

That’s not a fucking excuse

 

I wasn’t aware I needed one. 

 

Don’t follow me around. Stay the hell away from me.

 

So you’re okay with me dropping by your window every night while you’re asleep, but not with me attending one of your classes in broad daylight?

 

Yes. No. Just stop everything. The notes. Everything. Leave me alone. 

 

    Oliver huffed, “Finally.” The next page was the last. 

 

Very well. It’s been interesting. Thank you for the distraction, Mel. 

 

    “So that’s it? No more notes?” 

    “No more notes,” I confirmed. “That was three days ago. I haven’t heard anything since then.”

    “Good,” Oliver declared. He  gathered the papers into a pile, which I took from him before he could do anything with them. Even though I had broken it off with Cruor, I still felt like there was something important about these notes. I felt like there was more to them, that this person wasn’t the criminal stalker that they appeared to be. “That’s seriously creepy, Mel. I can’t even believe you let it go on this long.”

    “Yeah, well, it’s over now, alright? Can you stop berating me for it?” I snapped. I could feel my mood souring. No matter what Oliver said, no matter what my logic said, I kind of missed our nightly communications. They were the reason I got up in the morning. I knew I should’ve felt more threatened by Cruor, but I didn’t. They just seemed… sad. Lonely, even. I couldn’t count how many times in the past couple of days I thought of leaving a note, forgiving them and starting up a new conversation. I still hadn’t ruled it out. 

    Oliver sighed. “Just promise me this is it, okay? I don’t know what kind of death wish you have, but I, for one, value my life, alright? What if he comes after me to get to you? That’s what happens in all those movies, isn’t it?”

    “Woah, calm down,” I urged. Seeing Oliver this worked up was unnerving. “He’s not coming after anyone. And that’s what the villains do. Not the vigilantes; they’re the heroes.” 

    “This guy isn’t a hero, Mel.”

    “How do you know?” I shot back. 

    Oliver ran an angry hand through his hair, tugging his dark curls out of place. “He left a guy unconscious in a dark alley. Heroes don’t do that.”

    I crossed my arms. “Please, heroes do that all the time. How do you know the guy wasn’t the criminal, huh?”

    Oliver sighed again, this time deeper. “Okay. Okay, believe whatever you want.” He stood. “I’m tired, and this is a lot to process. I’m going to bed.”

    “Okay.” I didn’t look at him. My eyes were on the notes.

    Oliver’s footsteps were light as he headed for the door. I heard him pause. “Mel.” Looking up at last, the anger seemed to have drained from Oliver’s face, leaving the eerie calm that I had come to expect and even depend on. “You have to promise me you won’t contact him again.”

    For a moment, I just stared at him. I wanted to lie and say yes, just to get him to leave. Then I knew I’d write another note. But something held me back, something deeper than the surface promises I was so used to making. “I promise.” The words left my mouth before I could comprehend them, and I wanted to take them back. 

    Oliver’s dark eyes searched mine, and I waited like a criminal for a verdict. “I trust you,” he said quietly. Unspoken was the other half of his sentiment. Don’t let me down

    Before I could think up a reply, a lie, anything to retract the promise I wasn’t sure I could keep, Oliver was gone, the door slipping shut behind him. I sank back onto my bed with a sigh, the papers still clutched in my hands. Oliver was my best friend, and I made him a promise. And, against my better judgement, I meant it. Lying might come naturally to me, but that didn’t mean I was one to break my promises. 

    My fingers itching to write, I stared at the ceiling until I fell asleep. 

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