Cause I Haven't BeenA Story by Lina Rivera
I was challenged by my friend to write a story based upon the McFly song "That's the Truth." What I came up with was a small tale of misunderstanding and blight.
I feel like I've been put on trial with you. I know that something's wrong and I'm the one accused. When the verdict's in it's us who's gonna lose. I can't wait for you to finally hear the truth. - "That's the Truth," McFly
Michelle once explained to me the concept of blight. She had been working on a paper for her sociology class, one of the ones she had chosen as an elective as opposed to the required coursework which she had already tackled for fun. Now, as I stood in front of an abandoned row house, the windows long gone, the paint ripped off by rain and time, I remembered our conversation and took a picture of it for her with my camera phone. A red X was posted on the slightly unhinged door, as if anyone needed the visual cue to not enter a building that looked ready to topple to the ground.
“Alright, let’s get out of here before we get caught in a drive-by,” Fynn said as he packed up his sketch pad and pencils. My best friend was a twisted individual who liked to recreate the worst on paper. He had once witnessed a man having a heart attack at a bus stop, and taken out his pad and pencil to capture the man’s face contorting into painful expressions. I had told him he was going to hell for it, but he had felt vindicated when his art professor had given him an A on his sketches.
I took one last picture of the home and slid into the passenger side of Fynn’s blue Mustang. He shifted gears and took off down the street babbling about how there was one more stop he had to make because he heard that some dude in this area sold the best weed you could find.
“Man, we should get seriously fucked up tonight,” he said like that hadn’t been his plan all along.
“I have an exam tomorrow.”
“All the more reason.”
I smirked and waited until Fynn had pulled up alongside another row house that didn’t look in much better shape than the one we had left. The only difference was that this one didn’t have a red X, and the windows, although cracked, were still in place. He got out to score his dream weed and I took the chance to send the pictures I had taken to Michelle with only the word “blight” as the text. At least she’d know I was still thinking of her.
It was a slow day at the thrift shop which I had been hoping for when I walked in for my shift. I needed the time to sit behind the register and study for my exam tomorrow. I wasn’t too concerned about the class, but I did want to make sure to have a full understanding of the material because I knew we’d be building off the concepts later. I liked to be prepared.
I had my laptop open, as well as my large textbook and my notebook. I had just finished answering my chapter 8 critical thinking questions when I got a text. I looked over at the phone and saw it was from Emory.
“Does this go together?” A teenage girl asked me as she modeled a floral skirt she had found with a peach sweater that I had been eyeing for myself.
“It works,” I assured her. “Try it with those shoes,” I said pointing to the rose colored sandals on display by the shoe table.
She went to try them on and I looked back at the phone and bit my lip. He knew I didn’t want to talk to him. Our break up was still too new, and it still stung to even think of him, much less see his name and face taunt me from my own phone. I couldn’t not pick it up though. I was too curious of a person, which is how we had ended up like this in the first place.
I put my pen down and looked at the text, smiling at the picture with the word “blight” underneath it. Damn him. I would’ve bet money that he hadn’t really been paying attention to me when I had talked his ear off about my paper.
Refusing to text back, I set my phone back down and returned to my studying, but all I could think about was how I missed Emory, and how I wanted to tell him that I forgave him, even though I didn’t. In fact, it was right here in the thrift shop where I had realized that I had had enough.
My friend, Kate, had come in looking for a hobo bag, and when she came to the counter to pay she said, “I saw Emory with one of the Pi Phi girls last night.”
My friends hated Emory. Since we started dating they had their theories about him, but they were convinced that there was no way he’d be faithful to me. This was because he was a DJ and had a ton of girls always lining up for him at the clubs, as if he was the one creating the music they were dancing to. I always liked to tell Emory he was just the messenger, and that always made him smile. He liked that analogy.
“Pi Phis are always at the club,” I shrugged as I rang up her hat.
“Michelle, don’t make me tell you what I saw. Just know that they left the club together. Together,” she emphasized.
She gave me cash and took her hat and left before I could say anything else. So that night I went to Emory’s apartment and asked him how his set went. I played it like I was just genuinely curious and sad I had missed him, even being affectionate with him as part of my ruse. Then I asked him who was the Pi Phi he took home.
He had no words. And just like that, I had no boyfriend.
“I like it with the shoes,” the teenager said, as I focused my attention back to her and to present time. “But I only brought forty dollars with me.”
I waved her off and told her it was fine. “Just bring the rest in when you come back next time,” I said, and I even wrote her a note to remind her while leaving a note at the register. I had seen her come in quite a few times, so I figured she was good for it.
Once she was gone, I was left alone in the thrift store with my laptop, my studying, and Emory’s text. I looked at it again.
Fynn was so baked that I was pretty sure his brain wouldn’t recover until the following week. I had only taken a few hits and could barely see straight. Whatever this stuff was, it was stronger than what I was used to. That exam tomorrow was a goner.
Fynn said something that I think was supposed to be in English, but when I looked at him for clarification he was laughing and drooling. I was never gonna get that image out of my head. I looked at my phone still wishing for that text from Michelle to get to me. I could imagine her at her place, or maybe at the thrift shop, staring at her phone and smiling at the picture. I had to figure out how to prove to her that her friends were a bunch of jealous freaks that had it in for me since day one, but I hadn’t been able to come up with the words when I most needed them. I had always hated being put on the spot.
“Emory,” Fynn said as he stared up at the ceiling. I was pretty sure he was looking through the plaster and straight into the night sky. “You’re so gonna bomb that exam tomorrow.”
“Yeah,” I said and then I laughed because what else could I do?
Somehow I found the balance to stand up from the couch and stumble my way into my room. I crashed on my bed and called Michelle, but she didn’t pick up, so I spoke to her voicemail instead.
“Hey, I’m calling because I think Fynn tried to kill me tonight, so if I don’t wake up, blame Fynn. Also, yeah I did leave the club with that girl, but it was because she said she needed a ride back to her sorority house. I swear nothing happened. I just dropped her off because I was thinking of you and how that’s what you would have done. Like you’re always helping people, and I really miss that about you. I miss you.” I sighed and hung up then died from Fynn’s weed.
Never had I been happier to be a Sociology major. The building where the majority of my classes took place was clear across campus and far away from the building where the majority of Emory’s classes were. As I took my seat and took my pen out for my exam, I tried very hard to not obsess over the message he had left me, but that task was impossible. If I didn’t eradicate it from my brain right this second, I was going to bomb this test. I needed to focus.
I opened my blue book on command and started writing, but my thoughts kept drifting to how stoned he sounded. Emory’s voice was deep, but it always got deeper when he was stoned, and even though I wasn’t fond of that particular activity, I couldn’t help but love how he sounded. I had problems.
By the time we were given the fifteen minute warning, I had filled up only half of the amount of space I had been planning to write in. I mentally chided myself and gripped my pen tighter as if that would help me focus. I finished the exam in a blur and turned it in, fleeing from the building as fast as I could before I could think too much about how badly I had probably just done on that exam. I needed coffee.
Figuring that Emory was still in class, I headed to the commons to get a coffee and maybe a quick snack before my next class began. I pulled out my student card in preparation and stood in line, checking my phone again.
“Michelle, right?” A pretty brunette said from behind me. I turned to look at her, but had no idea who she was. I thought I was pretty good with all the faces in my class. How had she fallen through the cracks?
“Yeah,” I said with a smile.
“I’m Jamie,” she said. “Um, not that you know me or anything.”
“Oh,” I said relieved. “I was standing here worried you were in my class and I couldn’t place you.”
“No, I’m not in your class,” she confirmed with a small laugh. “Um, I just stood here and realized that you were standing in front of me. We’ve never talked or anything.”
This was getting weird. Who was this girl? “Which makes sense since we’re not in class?” I tried. I really wished she’d just divulge information other than her not knowing me. We had established that.
“Right,” she said laughing again and I realized that it was nervous laughter. I was definitely missing something.
“So, how do you know who I am?” I ventured.
“Oh, Emory talks about you all the time.”
Emory. My eyebrows raised and I waited for the other shoe to drop. Was this one of his girls? “Does he?” I said, but I didn’t really wish to continue this conversation. Had he already replaced me? Was this his new girlfriend? Was I allowed to accidentally step on her shoe?
“Yeah,” she explained. “In fact, I was pretty shocked when I found out you had broken up with him because you heard about how he had taken me home that night.”
My eyes must’ve looked as shocked as I felt. “You’re the girl he took home that night?”
Jamie nodded. “My sorority sisters are, well let’s just say they aren’t the nicest people on the planet. They ditched me and I needed to get home, so he offered. We’re in foreign cinema together, so we had talked before a few times.”
“Did he put you up to this?” I looked around her to make sure I didn’t see him lurking around, watching this interaction.
Jamie looked behind her as if wondering what caught my attention, then back at me. “I haven’t seen him since that night actually. But you know how word gets around. I just wanted you to know that nothing happened. He dropped me off, waited for me to get inside, and then drove off. That’s it. Look, I know it can’t be easy to date the hottest DJ on our campus, but Emory’s a good guy, and like I said, he talks about you all the time. Like ALL the time.”
I couldn’t reconcile all the emotions in me at that moment. Why would she randomly come up to me to say this? And even if he hadn’t done anything with her, what about all the other girls her friends were always telling her about? Her friends wouldn’t just make these things up. She knew them well enough to at least know that.
The line finally moved and she swiped her student ID to pay for her coffee, then left the line before Jamie got inspired to say anything else to her.
“Man, I love drinking games. Alright, I’m ready,” Fynn said rubbing his hands together as he came out to our living room.
“Dude, it’s not a drinking game,” I said laying note cards out on the floor.
“You look like you’re setting up a game,” Fynn said disappointed.
“These are note cards. They’re used for studying?”
Fynn pointed at me as if he had just caught on that I was pulling his leg and laughed before heading to the kitchen, “I’m gonna grab the tequila.”
I shook my head because sometimes that was all I could do when it came to my roommate. Once Fynn returned with the tequila, I placed down the final card. He picked it up and read it out loud.
“John’s party, hung out with Taylor, Fynn witness? This game is already awesome. So we take shots for what? Remembering the date of each event?”
“I’m trying to get Michelle back.”
Fynn had to think hard about that one. After a couple of moments he said, “I think I missed the rules of this game. Can you repeat them?”
“I’m being serious, man. I’m writing down every instance possible where rumors could’ve surfaced about me cheating, and I’m giving her the information about each night so she can see that her friends are insane.”
“S**t,” Fynn said looking at the bottle in his hand, “I think this is more of a whiskey type of game. I’ll be back.” He left and I looked over the cards, trying to think of any instances I might have missed.
Kate had been in the mood to bake a cake, and had decided that the oven in my apartment was better than hers. So she talked my ear off about some argument that her and Tori had gotten into today, while mixing the strawberry cake batter. I listened and nodded sympathetically, then opened the fridge to make sure we had milk to go along with the cake.
“The weirdest thing happened today,” I said when she stopped to take a breath. “Jamie, the Pi Phi girl that Emory left the club with? She came up to me today in the coffee line and told me that nothing happened. He really just took her home because she didn’t have a ride.”
Kate snorted, “Uh huh, like she expects you to believe that.”
“Why shouldn’t I?” I said looking at her. “Why would she come up to me to tell me that if it wasn’t true?”
“Probably guilt. She wants you to not think she’s a skank? Who knows.”
I didn’t think that was the case. “Or, she’s telling the truth.”
“Hun,” Kate said looking almost sad for me. “I know you miss him. I know break ups are tough, but you did the right thing. I mean, you don’t even know the half of it. You don’t get down to the club on his nights as much as you used to because you got busy with your work and studying, but some of these girls are there each of his nights, and they don’t hide why they’re there.”
“But that’s not why he’s there,” I defended. “And who’s to say those girls aren’t just lying about hooking up with him?”
“Do you hear yourself right now?” Kate said as she stopped mixing. “The girl that says what you want to hear isn’t lying, but the girls that say what you don’t want to hear are? Come on, you’re smarter than that.”
I hated this conversation. Kate had a point, and I knew it. I was spared telling her that by a knock on the door. When I opened it, no one was there. I looked down the hallway both ways and then looked down to see a pack of notecards bound together with a rubber band. I picked them up and closed the door, then looked at the top card.
Michelle, I spent all day documenting each instance that was used against me in order to get you to break up with me. These note cards reference each rumor going around. As I was putting them together, I realized that you broke up with me without ever finding out for yourself if any of the rumors were true. If you had, you would’ve found that there was no evidence of any wrong doing. That’s the truth. Emory
I stared at the cards as if they had come from another planet. I ripped off the rubber band and devoured each card like a detective on a crime drama. Hidden clues were in each of them, and I wanted to contact each person mentioned and hear their side of the story. I wanted to be proven wrong. I wanted to believe.
“Who was it?” Kate said walking over from the kitchen.
“Oh, just some kid from class. He dropped off some notes I needed,” I said as I put the rubber band back on the cards. “Are we ready to lick the bowl?”
“Yep!” Kate said excited and I laughed and tucked the cards under my backpack before following her into the kitchen.
I always felt at home in the club. The DJ booth was my room and once the doors were opened, I was in my element. The college crowd that the club catered to was always more interested in drinking and socializing than dancing, but I never let that stop me from kicking it the way I wanted to on the decks. I knew music more intrinsically than I knew myself, and I always liked throwing some underground records or obscure old school tracks into the mix, just to amuse myself. One time I had put on a heavy beat recording from a local hardcore band and got called out on it by a girl in ripped jeans, vintage Ramones tee, and thick black hair that was so straight I almost thought it had to be a wig. I had ended up in a conversation with her the entire night, and at the end of the night asked for her name and number. That was how Michelle and I came to be, and I knew that the chances of that type of romantic kismet ever happening again were nonexistent.
“I didn’t give you enough credit,” a female voice said, and I looked over to see Michelle’s friend, Kate, standing at the DJ booth.
I hated how my hopes rose up as my eyes quickly darted around to see if Michelle had come with her.
“She’s not here. Don’t bother.”
I rolled my eyes and looked at her while adjusting my headphones. “What can I do for you?” I asked her knowing this couldn’t be good. I had no idea why this girl, or any of Michelle’s friends, hated me so much. I had never done anything to any of them.
“Do you really think your little note cards are gonna work?”
“Is it really any of your business?”
“She’s one of my closest friends, of course it is.”
“I’m really busy right now. In case you hadn’t noticed.”
“You and I both know that she deserves someone that respects her. So even if you never hooked up with any of those girls, the idea that people believe you did says a lot about how you come off. Think about that.”
I was happy when she left the booth, and I got lost in my work and tuned her and the rest of the world out. When I got home that night, I found Fynn naked on our balcony yelling at the sky. It was strange how that was the perfect metaphor for how I felt at that moment. I went to his room to grab his comforter and took it outside, wrapping it around him.
“Dude, man, when’d you get here?”
“Just got here,” I said, “Come on. Get inside before you catch something.” I maneuvered him in and shut the sliding glass door, making sure to lock it.
“Man, I should’ve gone to the club,” he said and sat on the couch, wrapping his blanket comfortably around him. “How was it?”
“It was fine until Kate showed up. Michelle’s BFF,” I clarified for him before he could ask. “I hate her.”
“Why’d she show up?”
“To tell me I wasn’t good enough for Michelle.”
“That’s bollocks,” Fynn said in his fake British accent that he liked to use every now and then. “Kate’s just mad that you went for Michelle and not her.”
That was a strange thing for Fynn to say and I snorted. “Yeah, somehow I don’t think that’s the case.”
“No, man, that’s exactly the case. Her friends are jealous that you were with her, and not with them, so they sabotaged the whole thing and hated on it. That’s the way girls are, man. They’re always stabbing each other in the back over guys. Mark my words, Kate’s just mad and since she can’t have you, no one can have you. Chicks are brutal.”
“I really think you’re off the mark with that one. She said something weird though. About how I come off to people. Do you think I come off like a player?”
“You wish you were a player,” Fynn said with a laugh. “No, dude. People have stereotypes about you musician types. That’s their bad, not yours. You just keep being you, man. And Michelle, man, she knows you. She should know better. It’s her bad too.”
I thought about that and had a feeling that Fynn was right. That was a scary thought to have before going to bed that night.
“Don’t be mad,” Kate said and I looked at her as we walked toward the campus gym.
“Why would I be mad?”
“I did something last night that I probably shouldn’t have done, but I was doing it for you.”
“Okay. What’d you do?”
“Well, I noticed the cards that you were looking at, and you had such a reaction to them that I had to look, and when I realized what they were, I went down to the club and set Emory straight for you.”
I stopped walking and stared at her. “What?” I tried to comprehend what she just said. “What do you mean?”
“I just told him to stop bothering you because you don’t deserve that. I was looking out for you, Michelle.”
I felt anger and confusion all at once, but I wasn’t even sure why. Kate was just looking out for me. But still, I felt that she was going above and beyond at this point.
“Why would you do that?”
“I just don’t want him to keep hurting you.”
“He’s not. But he’s right. I never bothered to find out the truth, I just took everyone’s word for it.”
“You did,” Kate said, “because you knew, deep down inside, that we were right.”
I shook my head. I didn’t know that. If he had just said something that night I confronted him. I had taken his silence as a confession, but what if it hadn’t been? What if it had just been him shocked that I would think the worst of him in the first place? I turned around and started heading to my car.
“Michelle? Where are you going?” Kate called out.
“Don’t worry about it. I’ll talk to you later,” I told her as I picked up my pace. Knowing Emory’s schedule, I knew he wouldn’t be on campus yet, so I could probably catch him at his apartment before he left. I drove the short distance from the campus to the apartments nearby where he lived and jogged up the steps before knocking loudly.
When he opened the door, he was half dressed and half not, and I had to bite my lip hard to not smile at how disheveled he looked in his jeans that he had just put on and the ratty tee he always wore to sleep.
“Can I come in?”
“Yeah, of course,” he said opening the door wide.
I thanked him and smiled as I noticed Fynn passed out on the couch with his blanket wrapped around him.
“I wouldn’t look too hard. He’s naked underneath there. One wrong turn and you might get an eyeful.”
I chuckled and looked at Emory instead. “Thanks for the warning.”
“Anytime,” he said as he scratched the back of his head, unsure of what to say.
“I’m sorry,” I said to him. “I should’ve dug deeper before just dumping you.”
He said nothing and just looked at me, but I think his blue eyes had a hint of relief in them.
“It’s crazy,” I continued, “I always believe the best in everyone. I don’t know why I didn’t with you.”
“Fynn thinks it has to do with the stereotypes of us musician types,” he said, and I smiled and almost looked back toward Fynn on the couch, but thought better of it.
“I wish it were that simple,” I admitted. “In reality, I think I just forgot where we started. I forgot what brought us together, and what it was that bonded us. I forgot who we were. I’m sorry about that.”
Emory nodded and then seemed to think about something before asking, “So do you remember now?”
I smiled and sighed then gave him a nod. “I think I do. It got triggered by Amber’s birthday, did shots with Leigh and Cher because Fynn dared me to, witnesses were Justin and Kris.”
Emory grinned. “Yeah that was a crazy night.”
“I was there that night.”
“No you weren’t.”
“I was. I had to pick up a graphing calculator from Amber for Kate to borrow. Kate was so mad she wasn’t invited to the party. We hadn’t started dating yet. We had just met and I remember wanting to go up to you, but I thought it might be awkward, and so I got the calculator and headed to the door and overheard you tell Fynn that you wished I was there, and Fynn put his arm around you and said that the party was a bust anyway and that you should just go home and call me. And I remember running out of there so fast, and sure enough, you called me like ten minutes later.”
He stared at me, and I could tell the memory was coming back to him as his smile grew wider. “You should’ve come up to me.”
“Probably. But I kinda like how it turned out in the end that night. We talked all night long. We watched the sun come up together on the phone.”
“We did,” Emory nodded. “I miss that.”
“I do too.”
“Then get back together already,” Fynn said in a grumpy whine. “There’s only so much sap a hung over guy can take.”
“Dude, go to your room,” Emory said and I couldn’t help but to crack up.
“Screw you, mom,” Fynn said and I unfortunately turned to see him shift positions and saw more of him than I ever needed to.
“My eyes!” I said covering them and Emory laughed at me.
“I warned you.”
“I know!” I whined. “Ugh, can we go somewhere?”
“Yeah. Let me finished getting dressed.”
“I’ll wait in my car,” I said, but before I could leave, Emory took my hand and pulled me into him, giving me a comforting hug. I missed how amazing his arms felt around me, and I breathed him in before he let me go.
I walked in a daze back to my car and sat in the driver’s seat with the silliest grin on my face. I had read all his cards, and considered calling up his key witnesses, but I realized that I didn’t need to go looking for the evidence. The rumors were false because he hadn’t been doing all the things they had said. Even without physical proof of it, I knew it because I knew him.
I pulled up the text he had sent me of the abandoned building with the word “blight” and I finally texted him back, simply writing, “redevelopment.”
© 2012 Lina Rivera