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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4. Three

    I woke up cursing. Which wasn’t wholly unusual, to be honest. Most days it was because I’d slept through my alarm, or I actually had to, you know, get up, but today was different. So when I said I didn’t get any sleep, I guess I should’ve said I didn’t get much sleep. But whatever, it’s just another lie for you to write off. 

    Anyway, my rest wasn’t as important as the fact that I had broken my vigil at the window, watching to see if there was any activity in the night. Rolling over on my stomach, I scanned the windowsill for the note. It was still there, but on the same side as I had found it the night before, not as I had left it. My hands couldn’t pull it out fast enough. 

    “God, Mel, turn that off,” my roommate groaned. Or, more accurately, the sentient mound of blankets across the room groaned. 

    Only sparing her a half glance, I realized in a daze that my alarm was still going off. I stabbed at the button and it quieted, leaving all my attention free to focus on the note in my hand. For a moment, I just stared at it, still folded and hiding whatever was inside. Some part of me wanted to leave it closed, to leave it open to speculation. It would be better than having my mysterious pen pal disappoint me. 

    After a minute, my curiosity overcame my reservations. 

    

    For not telling the truth. 

 

    I re-read the short sentence a few times, but found no hidden meaning in the words. It was as I had expected; what else would they be thanking me for? With a frown, I folded the note again and shoved it under my pillow. It wasn’t often that I wanted to go to class, but I felt trapped in that small dorm room and I needed to get out. I got ready in record time, grabbed my satchel and headed to psychology. 

    The sun was bright, dominating the sky like it owned the place. I squinted, wishing I had thought to bring my sunglasses. It was strange to see the campus so bright in contrast to the impenetrable darkness the night before. Shadowed corners and shady trees no longer seemed like menacing hideouts for polite criminals, but instead just normal landscape. I wasn’t sure whether that made me feel more or less paranoid. 

    My mind wasn’t on psychology during the lecture. That alone wasn’t anything out of the ordinary, but I usually wasn’t repeating the same sentence over and over in my head and trying to think of the perfect reply. For not telling the truth. I doodled possibilities in the margins of my notebook: 

 

    I did, after you left. 

    I can call them back up if you don’t leave me alone. 

    What kind of criminal leaves thank you notes? Weak. 

    Who are you????? 

 

I traced my pen over and over the last question, the black lines growing thicker with each pass. It was a valid question. Of course, I didn’t expect to get a name, date of birth, and social security number in return, but it was hard to form a mental picture of this person without at least some indication of who I was dealing with. But the real question was why I was dealing with them.

    I considered not replying at all, but I knew from the start that wasn’t an option I would be okay with. After all, this was just too good. Life was boring, school was boring, but this… this was a better rush than any of the cheap drugs I’d tried. This was the kind of adventure I’d daydreamed about since I was a little kid, and I’d be damned if I’d let it slip by just because I felt like playing it safe. 

    When class was dismissed, I closed my notebook, trapping the scrawls inside. I had until that night to come up with a reply, or at least that’s what I figured. But, then again, what if they didn’t reply? What this was a one time deal? A one night stand, I thought with a sort of dry humor. 

    “Woah, where’d you go?” Oliver asked, waving his hand in front of my face. I blinked, hardly remembering walking to the cafeteria to meet him for lunch. We sat across from each other, his plate holding the remnants of a sandwich. My plate was untouched. I shook my head and took a sip of water. 

    “Just thinking about last night.”

    “I’ve been thinking about that too,” Oliver admitted. His sweater was red today, and still baggy. I wondered if I should buy him some better fitting clothes. 

    Raising my eyes to his, I asked, “You have?”

    “Yeah,” he said. He stirred his lemonade with his straw. “I mean, I’ve seen a lot of crimes-“ 

    “In pictures, you mean,” I interrupted. His father was a detective - killed in the line of duty - and sometimes Oliver fancied himself as experienced as someone… well, as someone with actual experience.

    Oliver scowled at me. “Yeah, well. Either way, I got a look at the victim, and, I don’t know, it just seemed weird. He was beaten up and stuff, but the arm of his jacket was ripped clean off. It looked heavy; I doubt that was easy to tear off. Who goes to that kind of effort and for what, exactly?”

    “I told you I thought there was more to it,” I said, as if his still dubious musings alone had proved my point.

    “Well, I’m not totally agreeing with you,” he said with a little sigh, “all I’m saying is that it’s a little weird, not that there’s some huge conspiracy or anything going on.” Oliver gave me a look. “Don’t even try to deny that was what you were thinking.”

    I opened my mouth, about to defend myself, but closed it before I could. There was no point. During the lull in the conversation, my mind drifted back to the note under my pillow. I was tempted to tell Oliver about it, but something held me back. I knew what he would say. Either he would think I was making it up, or, at the very least, he would tell me not to reply. This is a criminal, Mel. Not a friend you’re passing notes to in history class. Don’t reply; you’re already too involved to be comfortable. I could hear his voice in my head, and I didn’t want to hear it out loud too.

    “Yeah, you got me,” I muttered, my eyes on my plate. I picked at some french fries. For as many lies as I told, keeping things from Oliver always made me uncomfortable. In this case, though, I had no choice. Not if I wanted to find out anything more about this criminal with manners. 

    And I definitely, definitely did. 

 

—[]—

 

    I tried out a dozen different possibilities. I crumpled up a dozen different pieces of paper. Each one ended up within inches of my trash can, forming a ring of mutilated tree innards around the metal bin. Each one earned me a separate glare from my roommate. 

    “Do you have something against forests?” Katie demanded as the twelfth one joined its fallen comrades. 

    “Nope,” I replied, staring at a fresh blank sheet. 

    Katie sighed. “Do you at least plan on picking them up? Or, you know, recycling?” 

    I barely spared her a glance, then shrugged. I knew she’d pick them up herself later - perks of living with a neat freak. At least she didn’t go far enough as to touch the clothes that littered much of my floor space. There was a clear cut divide between my side and hers, the messy and the neat. 

    “You realize, though, that there is a thing called an eraser,” Katie persisted. 

    I rolled my eyes. “Pen,” I said, holding up the offending object. 

    “Here,” she shot back, tossing me a pencil. 

    I let it fall to the comforter beside me. I wasn’t writing back to my dark enigma with a Dixon Ticonderoga. In the margin of a blank sheet, I wrote, Note to self: Come up with a name for this person. Possibly Dark Enigma. Or that might be too cliche. “Who appointed you Protector of Mother Nature anyway?”

    “Human decency,” Katie retorted, pushing the frame of her wire glasses higher on the bridge of her nose. Her hair was braided, which I had come to realize meant she was working on Calculus. That was bad news for me. Mathematical frustration on her part usually led to annoyance on mine. I decided to ignore her for the rest of the night. 

    The sun was already long gone, and the cool night air had begun to filter in through the open window. I surveyed it, imagining that cloaked figure standing just outside, pinning the note between the two old pieces of wood. I wondered if he or she wore gloves. Probably. 

    The later it got, the more I found myself staring out into the night. What if they came while I was still awake? Would they come back later, or would they wait around, lurking outside my room, watching? What if they had no plans to come back, and I would never find out anything more? The curiosity was driving me crazy. When Katie went to bed - later than her usual but still far earlier than mine - I decided that it was now or never. I needed to write something, leave something there on the window, and go to sleep. I needed to turn out the light, the silent signal that I was ready for a nighttime visit. 

    After another few minutes of deliberation, I settled on a message and scribbled it down, my handwriting messy, but readable. It wasn’t pretty, but I wasn’t embarrassed by it. 

 

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

 

    I had something on them. It was small, but I had some kind of power over them, and if I didn’t exert its influence then, there was no guarantee I would get the chance. This communication was by no means secure or infallible; any note - even this one - might not be received, or might not get a reply. I needed to up the stakes while I had the chance. 

    On some level, I didn’t expect it to work. It wasn’t like any respectable criminal would just outright tell me his or her name. That would be foolish, and I’d lose some respect for them. All I wanted was to further the mystery, give myself more material to work with. It was stupid, but I couldn’t help myself. This was the most interesting thing to happen to me in years, and I was going to make every moment count. 

    I folded the note and stuck it in the windowsill, closing the heavy window on it. I don’t know why I had written it on a new sheet of paper; I guess maybe I was afraid that if I stuck the original back in there and the person took it, then I would be left with nothing, not even the assurance that it had been there at all. Years from now, I might have some dim memory of a note, but without physical proof, I would never know if it was another fabrication, another lie I had convinced myself to believe. 

    After a moment of hesitation, I dated the top of the original note. I folded it in a hurry, sending a glance towards the obsidian glass of the window as if someone was watching. They might have been. Tucked inside an old notebook, the note was safe as I slid it under my bed. 

    I turned off the light and climbed under the covers, painfully aware of the bright white strip of paper peeking out of the window. I had no intention to sleep, but after the less-than-restful night before, my body failed me. I drifted off to a chill on my skin, like the sharp breath of night on the back of my neck, but it was already indistinguishable from a dream. 

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