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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7. Six

    Oliver strode into my room without warning, and I was unreasonably annoyed. It wasn’t like I hadn’t done that a million times to him, but still. That was my thing; he was supposed to be polite. 

    “We need to talk,” he declared, slumping into my desk chair.  

    “Are you breaking up with me?” I deadpanned without looking up from my spot on my bed.

    I could hear the eye roll in Oliver’s voice. “We’re not dating.”

    “So no.” My eyes flicked to him. 

    “No.” 

    I turned back to my book. I was doing homework for once, and Oliver was the one distracting me this time. It was a novel situation, and I considered pointing it out to make sure he appreciated the irony. “So what do we need to talk about then?” I muttered, fingering the little silver band I’d taken to wearing on my pinky finger. 

    “Anything, really,” Oliver replied, and there was something in his voice that made me look up. He peered at me from behind his glasses, and I noticed for the first time how long his hair had gotten. It almost covered his ears; he needed a haircut. “You’ve been avoiding me,” he accused. 

    Tapping a finger idly on the edge of my book, I looked down at it when I replied, “I have not.”

    “You’re lying.”

    I gave a mental sigh. The phone on the covers next to my thigh buzzed, and I hurried to close my hand over it. I tucked it beneath my leg, hoping Oliver hadn’t noticed it wasn’t my phone. Well, at least not my main phone. It was my direct line to Cruor, and Oliver would throw a fit if he knew about it. Thankfully, he only spared a glance towards my hand, and didn’t question the fact that I didn’t answer the text. 

    “I’m sorry,” I said. I couldn’t even tell if I was being sincere. How sad was that? “I’ve just been busy lately.” 

    Oliver’s mouth pressed into a tight line. 

    “I like your sweater?” I offered. He glanced down at it, as if he’d forgotten what he was wearing. I’m not sure how; it was purple and green with zigzags and weird little starburst things. It was the sort of thing that leaves those little colored impressions on your vision when you stare at it too long. Forgetting it seemed like a special talent.

    “Thanks,” he replied, tone a little softer than before. “I… I didn’t mean to yell at you, or anything. I just feel like we haven’t spent much time together recently.” 

    I had to agree with him there. We hadn’t, and I did miss him. It was just that, with every moment I spent with him, the harder it was to hide my contact with Cruor. I was in the habit of telling Oliver everything, and he always saw right through my lies. I wanted Oliver back, but I liked talking with Curor. To risk that… It wasn’t a decision I wanted to make. 

    “I’m sorry,” I said again, but it fell as flat as the first one. Oliver lowered his gaze, as if disappointed. As if he had expected more from me. I snapped my textbook closed and set it aside, crossing my legs indian style and giving him my full attention. “But you’re here now. Let’s talk.” Oliver looked up. “What’s up?”

    His gaze wandered to the closed textbook. “I don’t want to interrupt you if you’re doing work for once-“

    “Please,” I scoffed. “I don’t give a shit about work. How are you?”

    “Alright,” he answered, a hint of a smile in his eyes rather than across his stoic lips. “What about you?”

    “Really good actually,” I answered, honest this time. Cruor and I had been texting for almost a week now. It was weird, but in the best way imaginable. They kept me on my toes, kept me laughing in class, kept me rolling my eyes when they said something way too formal. On more than one occasion I had to catch myself before sharing something personal; it was like a mini-Oliver in my head, warning me that I didn’t really know this person. 

    Moving on before my expression could betray my thoughts, I continued, “I think I’m getting the hang of this college thing. And by that, I mean, I know exactly how late I can leave here and still make it to class on time.”

    Oliver huffed a quiet laugh. “Since when are you worried about getting to class on time?”

    I pointed at him. “Touché.” My roommate walked in then, a stack of books balanced on her arm. She headed straight for her desk. 

    “Hey, Katie,” Oliver acknowledged. 

    “Hey,” Katie threw over her shoulder as she shoved a few different books and a calculator into her bag. She turned, tossed a brief smile at Oliver, then swept out the door. 

    My brows shot up. “What was that?” I sing-songed.

    Oliver scowled at me. “What was what?”

    “Come on, you’re usually so grouchy to other people. You never say hi, let alone ‘hey’,” I grinned, and felt a certain sort of pride at the pink that crept over Oliver’s cheeks. 

    “As if two letters make the greeting any different,” Oliver muttered. I went on grinning. “Shut up,” he said. 

    “Knew it,” I declared, triumphant. Oliver shot me a look. “There’s the grumpy Ollie I know and love,” I told him, glad we were back to our version of normal. “Want me to put in a good word for you?”

    “I want you to stop talking and pretend this never happened,” he said under his breath. 

    Grinning again, I leaned back against the wall. “Fat chance.” My phone buzzed again, vibrating against my leg. I itched to check it, but there was no way I could explain a second phone to Oliver. 

    “So,” Oliver said, clearing his throat in a blatant attempt to change the subject. “Any more on that Cruor guy?”

    My heart sped up, and I cursed it for betraying me. Oliver usually picked up on those unconscious signs. Luckily, he was staring past me at the window, and he didn’t seem to notice. “You told me to stop writing to him,” I pointed out, an accusation and deflection rolled into one. 

    “What?” Oliver asked, his eyes snapping back to me. He processed my words, then said, “Oh. Yeah, no offense but I kind of didn’t expect you to listen to me.”

    “You know I’m good for my word.”

    Oliver gave me a long look. “Yeah, I do. Sorry.” 

    I shrugged. I couldn’t blame him. After all, he was right. “It’s fine.”

    Pulling his phone from the pocket of his jeans, Oliver glanced at it, frowned, and typed something. “I have to go, sorry. CJ study group.”

    “CJ?” I asked. 

    “Criminal justice.”

    That took me by surprise. “Since when are you taking Criminal Justice?” 

    He gave a half shrug. “It was my elective, but I think I’m going to switch it to my major.” 

    “Really?” I asked, sitting up now. My blanket slipped from my shoulders, and the air was chilly on my bare arms. “But you’re so fine art. Like so fine art. You’re the epitome of fine art. I thought you liked your major?”

    Oliver shifted in his seat, pulling his sweater over his hands the way he did when he was avoiding something. “I did. I do. It’s just… that’s fine as a hobby and all, but I want to make a difference.”

    I was quiet for a minute. “Are you sure this isn’t about your dad?”

    At his sharp look, I regretted saying anything. I could practically see his walls coming up. “Are you sure this isn’t about your hatred of authority?”

    “I don’t hate authority-“

    “Hating authority, sympathizing with criminals, same thing,” Oliver snapped. He stood and headed to the door. At the doorway he turned enough to say, barely above a whisper, “My dad was-“ He stopped. “I’m going to make him proud.”

    I swallowed. “I know you will,” I said, just as quiet.

    When Oliver was gone, I sighed. “Fuck,” I muttered, flopping on my stomach and finally pulling out my phone. I had two messages. 

    

Cruor: I fail to see how you could possibly think that. 

Cruor: There are certain unspoken rules in life, and one of those is that Stewart is Professor X. There is no way anyone else could possibly fill that role.

 

    I smiled. It was easy to wind them up.  

    Any more on that Cruor guy? Oliver had said a few minutes ago. It struck me then that I didn’t know Cruor’s gender definitively. It just hadn’t really mattered; Cruor was Cruor. Everything about them was mysterious - their voice, their look, their words. I didn’t have enough to go on to assume one way or the other. 

 

Me: Fine, fine. I concede my point. 

Cruor: Thank you. 

    

    There was a pause, while I considered. With a certain sense of abandon, I changed the course of the conversation. 

    

Me: Hey would you consider us friends?

Cruor: You are the closest thing I have to one, at least.

Me: Can I ask you a question then? You don’t have to answer if its something being a “vigilante” means you cant share

Cruor: Yes

Me: Are you a boy or girl? I realized I didn’t know and it’s messing with my mental understanding of you

 

    There was a long pause. I tried to turn back to studying, but the words weren’t making any sense. Every time my phone’s screen dimmed, I pushed a button and kept it lit, ready, waiting. Had I said something wrong? After a few agonizing minutes, it buzzed. 

    

Cruor: ha do you have a problem with ambiguity

    

    I frowned at the message. That was the first time Cruor’s strange grammar had slipped. 

    

Me: Not really, I’m just having a hard time conceptualizing you

Cruor: Maybe I shouldn’t be conceptualized.

Me: Sorry

    

    I waited several minutes for a response. Getting none, I threw my phone at my pillow. It bounced and ended up somewhere on the floor. I didn’t look for it. Burying my face in a blanket, I cursed. Multiple times. Loudly. In fact, when Katie walked in for the second time that night, I was still yelling obscenities at my innocent blanket. 

    “Bad day?” she asked. It was probably more of an attempt to get me to stop than genuine caring. 

    Peering out at her from my cocoon, all I could think to say was, “Oliver’s a good guy,” then shoved my face in my pillow once more. She was probably confused. I didn’t clarify. She didn’t ask. 

    I think I might have fallen asleep, or maybe I had just drifted to some other plane while regretting my every life decision. It occurred to me that I was perhaps being a tad dramatic, but Cruor was mad, and it was my fault. I don’t know why I cared so much. Having them mad at me just made me feel like shit. 

    It was probably sometime around midnight when a disproportionately loud buzz came from the floor. The phone vibrated from where it had landed on my laptop, the metal magnifying the sound. I was awake in an instant, reaching for it, praying that it held forgiveness for whatever misstep I had made earlier. 

    My eyes took a minute to adjust to the bright screen, but I was already clicking on the message. 

 

Cruor: Alley next to corner of 34th and Presno. Quick. Come alone. Bring bandaids. 

 

    I didn’t need the mini-Oliver in my head to tell me this was a bad idea. I threw the covers off and got out of bed, heading for my desk. 

    I had bandaids to find. 

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