You Still Got Me
A Short Story
Well, Paulo, you really screwed things up this time.
I sat on the river bank dangling my legs into the cool stream. As I watched the water ripple by, I let out a sigh and lowered my head down into my hands. I still couldn't believe the words that had come out of my mouth. Why can't I ever just think before I go and open my stupid trap? In retrospect, there were so many other things I could have said, so many better ways to respond to her. But, none of that mattered now; the words were out there and could not be unsaid. It was over. All those good times Jazzie and I had were likely gone forever and their memories would be forever tarnished by the acrimony of my words. It was all my goddamned fault.
I lifted my head and looked at the scenery, trying to cheer myself up. The leaves of the trees lining the river had changed color, the sky was clear, and the air gave that sharp but pleasant bite to remind you that winter was around the corner. I could hear the gurgling water as it cascaded over a small drop in the landscape and feel the cool mist of droplets that it produced moisten my fur. This was one of my favorite spots in Roseville. Growing up in the city, there were no large open areas like this. So when my dad and I moved here, this place was like a young boy's dream: a place to climb through the trees, swim in the stream, and run around without a care in the world. Those were the days back in middle school, weren't they? Back then, I could come here and enjoy myself without all of this high school drama and all that other bullshit.
As I felt the river waters glide past my feet, I just wanted to fall into the stream and let her cool waters numb my body and wash away these feelings. Wherever I was upset or pissed off at the world, I would always come to this stream, jump into her familiar embrace, and swim. I would swim up and down this stretch until I was too tired to be angry, too tired to hurt anymore. And then, I could just lay floating on my back and let the gently flowing stream rock me in her motherly arms. Yeah, this stream, she's always been here for me.
Like that time when Daisy yelled at me after the rally. I felt even more horribly when Abbey told me the whole story of what was going on. The worst part was that I was oblivious to it all. I got angry every time I thought about that Augustus character manipulating Daisy and the fact that I wasn't there to protect her. Some great friend I was. Daisy was always so nice to everyone. She was always willing to listen to your problems, always there to try and cheer you up. But, when she needed me to be a friend and be there for her – hell, even just to listen to her – I ignored her. I was too busy chasing after Tess to notice that my friend was in need.
I guess it all worked out for her in the end. Abbey was there for her, and Daisy seemed happy enough with him. At least she wasn't still wasting her time chasing after Mike like Lucy. I let out another sigh as my mind turned to Lucy. Oh man, did I screw things up with Lucy, too. Do you realize how hard it is for her to trust people? Well, she came to me – me of all people – to open up and seek comfort. She trusted me. And what did I do with that trust? I crumpled it up and tossed it in the garbage. For what, you ask? Just so I could go screw two bitches who were really just interested in using me as a way of getting back at Tess, that's what. I could still see that anguished look on Lucy's face when she found out. Yeah, what a great friend I was there.
Yet, somehow, somehow after all of that, I still managed to meet Jazzie. She was so awesome. She was smart, she was fun, she had such a spectacular body. But now, that was over. I just had to screw that up too! It was so frustrating. Everyone always gave me crap about being a big flirt and chasing after every girl I saw. But now, when I finally found someone who I wanted to have a committed relationship with – someone who made me want to change those ways – she wouldn't even give me the time of day!
I let out a big roar, releasing my pent up anger and frustration into an expletive that reverberated throughout the trees. After all those emotions left and the echoes of my words faded off into the distance, what was left was self-pity, loneliness, and thoughts of what could have been if I weren't so stupid.
I buried my face in my hands again as tears came to my eyes. She didn't deserve what I did to her. I was too harsh on her. I shouldn't have just run off and left her crying there like that. That look on her face… she was probably even more upset than I am right now.
Maybe Tess was right. I am just a kid: a stupid, immature punk who has no clue about love and relationships. All I manage to do is screw things up and hurt those around me. Daisy, Lucy, Jazzie…
"Hey jerkface!" called a familiar voice.
"Lucy?" I said as I turned. I saw her standing on a small hill amongst some of the trees. What was she doing here?
As I lifted myself off of the riverbank to go walk up to see Lucy, my foot slipped on some of the smooth rocks in the stream. I splashed into the water. Slightly chagrined, I crawled back out onto the riverbank. Smooth move, Paulo. At least now she couldn't tell that I had been crying.
"Ah, nothing like a refreshing dip in the stream," I remarked coolly, trying to mask my clumsiness as I walked up the hill toward Lucy. I looked up at her, but she didn't seem to be paying any attention.
"Hey babe," I said as I approached her, pushing down my sad emotions and hiding them beneath a false smile. "What brings you to these parts?"
Lucy still stood there motionless, seemingly looking past me back at the stream.
"Lucy?" I said in a softer voice, placing my hand on her shoulder. "Uh, are you okay?"
As I touched her, her expression suddenly changed and she lashed out at me. "Don't ever scare me like that again!" She pounded her fist straight into my gut. My feet, still wet from the stream, slipped out from under me, and I suddenly found myself sprawled out on my back.
As I groaned, Lucy's expression became a bit softer and she smiled. "You have no idea how ridiculous you look now."
Owch, I thought. I couldn't decide which hurt more: the punch to my stomach or the punch to my pride. The sight of me drenched in water and sprawled out on the ground must have been pretty pathetic.
"Let's see how you'd look covered in water," I replied, shaking the water off of my fur.
"Hey, stop that," Lucy replied, shielding herself from the droplets of water flinging off of me.
After I finished getting most of the water off, I patted the ground next to me. Although I came here to be alone, I just couldn't resist that smile of hers. "Have a seat, babe," I said. "What's on yer mind?"
Lucy just stood there and folded her arms. "Cut the crap, Paulo," she said sternly. "I saw you yelling at Jasmine earlier."
I sighed and stared down at the ground.
"Paulo, you idiot!" Lucy voice rose in anger. "What do you have to say for yourself?"
"Go away Lucy," I said. Look, I love Lucy to death, but I just didn't want to deal with her moodiness right now. I braced myself for more punches and kicks. She usually didn't take well to being told to scram like that.
But instead, she simply replied, "Make me." I heard Lucy shuffle her feet as she sat down beside me. We sat there awkwardly until Lucy broke the silence. "Paulo, tell me what happened."
"Why do you want to know?" I replied, keeping my eyes fixed to the ground. "Or are you just looking for an excuse to cuddle with me again?"
"Why do you have to be such an asshole to me and especially to poor Jasmine?"
"An asshole?" I shouted indignantly. "Where do you get off calling me an asshole? Do you know how much work I put into that relationship? Do you know how much effort I put into saving up money for our dates, going to all of her softball games, and helping her with all her other projects like the elections? I really wanted this to work. I tried to do everything I could. And yet, somehow, that still wasn't enough."
"What do you mean?"
"She never made time for me. I always tried to make time to be with her but she would always blow me off for something else. Today was just the last straw. We had plans for this Friday to go to that new ice skating rink. It was going to be awesome. But then she says that coach has a special practice scheduled for Friday and that she has to be there. I just snapped."
My mind drifted back to our fight. That's it. This is bullshit. We're through! Why the hell did I say that? Why the hell did I break up with her over that? That relationship was one of the few good things I had going for me. And, to make matters worse, I just had to keep yelling at her, keep berating her until she broke down crying. Damn it, Lucy was right. I was a fucking asshole.
"It was bad, Lucy," I said, lowering my gaze back down to the ground. "I just lost my temper. I let her have it; I really laid into her and let out all my frustrations."
"So the girl has a life. Is that a reason to yell at her?"
"I know, "I replied. "It's just sometimes I feel ignored, you know, like I'm not important to her. She always has something better to do than spend time with a slacker like me. It was either schoolwork or softball or family stuff. I always came second."
Always in second place: that's the story of my life. Whether it was sports, video games, or anything else, I was always second best. It was so unfair. He would always be better than me. They would always like him more than me. I would never admit it out loud, but I was jealous of Mike. He was always the goddamned perfect one. He had a perfect family, perfect grades, and all the girls in class had a crush on him. But, what did he do with that attention they gave him? He played them, led them on, and then ignored all of them. Didn't he realize how much he was hurting them? I remembered all those times when Daisy was nearly in tears because of something her Mikie had done. And when Lucy finally worked up the guts to admit her feelings to him, he just brushed her off for that long-distance girlfriend of his. Everyone always thought of Mike as the nice guy, but I knew the truth. He was just a heartless unfeeling bastard. How else could he treat them like that?
But then again, was I any better? I remembered Daisy during freshman year. When I looked back over everything, it was obvious that she was crying out for help, but I was too infatuated with Tess to notice. I was such a failure. Right there, I had the chance to repay Daisy for everything that she's done for me – for how freakin' nice she's always been to me – and I missed it. Yeah, I really was no better than Mike. Is that what love does to you? Is love really something that keeps you from caring about any other people in your life? Does it really make you turn a blind eye to all of your other friends in the world?
"You're just being selfish," Lucy said. "You can't expect her to just give up those things for you."
"I know." I was kicking myself on the inside. If I were smarter back then, I would have acted more like Jazzie. I wouldn't have ignored Daisy like that. And now, I was expecting Jazzie to do the same for a jerk like me? Fuck, man, I really owed her a big apology. Still, even though I understood her actions, I still couldn't shake that one feeling. "Sometimes, I just wonder if she ditches me for these other things because I'm not good enough for her. Sure, when we spend time together we really hit it off, but that's what I thought about me an' Tess. Look at how that turned out. I was never good enough for her, just like I'd never be good enough for…" my voice trailed off as I glanced over at Lucy. She just sat staring forward with that same stoic expression on her face.
"Nevermind," I continued. "I mean, Jazzie always has plans, and sometimes I feel like I'm not part of those plans. She's a girl who's going places. She's got the brains to get into a good college and even has a shot at a softball scholarship. Me? Well, I'll just be lucky if I can graduate and not end up working a shitty construction job like my dad. Goddamn it Lucy, what could a girl like her see in a dumb screw up like me?"
"Paulo, Jasmine really likes you, she's said that many times. You don't need to feel insecure about that."
I guess I did kinda know that already, but it was nice to hear Lucy say it too. That sense of doubt had always dogged me. Sure I never acted that way, but it's always been there in the back of my mind. When I first moved here, I was actually a pretty shy kid, kind of a wimp, if you can believe it. But even when I grew out of that phase and shed my shyness, that insecurity never really went away. You'd probably feel it too if your first two crushes were completely obsessed with someone else. I guess I really did like Daisy back then. She had that cute smile and that cheery way of greeting me every morning as we walked to school. She was the first friend I had after I moved here, the first girl I felt I could talk to. But, she had such a huge crush on Mike even if he never loved her back. Because her heart belonged to Mike, she never really saw me as anything other than just a close friend or a big brother.
I guess that's why I turned my attention to Lucy. Although Mike used to be all over her, she never showed any outward signs of liking him or anyone else for that matter. I wanted to be the one to charm her and break down those walls. And, I really thought I could be the one to do it. There was nothing better than to pry a rare smile from her immovable face. But, the day when I rescued Mike and her from the stream changed that. After saw how broken up Lucy was, how she clung to his body and cried out for him, I kinda knew I had no chance with her. I couldn't ever be the guy that Lucy really wanted.
Being from a family without a lot of money, I had always accepted that I would never have the coolest toys, the newest games, or the most fashionable clothes. I guess it was just a natural extension to accept that I'd always be second place in their hearts. How could a guy like me expect to be good enough for them? I wasn't even good enough for Tess, the girl that everyone else in the school hated.
"Paulo, you really like her too, don't you?" Lucy asked.
I had too many thoughts swirling around in my head to know the answer to that question. Memories of Daisy, Lucy, Tess, and Jazzie spun around in my mind. All I knew was that I had just broken up with Jazzie, and I felt like crap. That had to count for something, right? "Yeah, I guess I do," I replied.
"How can you say that, you idiot? You've only known her for what, two months?"
Lucy was right. Although it had seemed like a much longer time, Jazzie and I had been dating for only a short amount of time. Now I felt even more stupid about our fight. Of course she'd choose softball over me. Of course her friends, family, and activities would come before me. But, it didn't have to stay that way. These things take time, don't they? I just had to have a little patience.
Patience had never been my forte. I'd always been so impulsive, especially when it came to girls. I'd always been so quick to jump at any girl who gave me even the slightest bit of attention. I guess that's just what happens when you're always in second place: you're quick to settle for the consolation prize. Sometimes I wished I could be a little more like Lucy. I always admired that stubborn determination of hers. She didn't need to impress or please anyone else. She didn't care about what other people thought about her.
Well, that wasn't entirely true. She cared about what he thought about her. That goddamned Mike. I knew he was a friend and all, but sometimes I just hated his guts. He was the only one who could affect her; he was the only one who could make her cry. I hated seeing Lucy so broken up about Mike, like that time in Acapulco or that time when she came to me in tears. She was normally the strongest person I knew. When that punk tried to rob us in that alley back in the eight grade, when even I was too much of a pussy to protect everyone, Lucy was the one to stand up and fight. Mike didn't know how lucky he was. He was a fucking idiot for rejecting her.
Goddamn it, what if I hadn't been such a wuss when I first met her? Would thing be different now, could she have fallen in love with me instead of with Mike? Or what if I had been there for Daisy freshman year instead of Abbey? Or what if Tess were not a senior, but a sophomore instead?
I looked down at the stream, at those waters flowing out toward the horizon. I often came out here with these questions, and the stream, she always gave the same answer. Those waters, they always kept on moving forward. If there was something blocking its path, those waters would find their way around it. Even when winter conspired to freeze its progress, the current would continue its inexorable journey forward underneath a layer of ice.
What other direction could those waters go? You just gotta keep moving forward and forget all of those past screw ups, right? It's like my relationship with Tess. I really loved that girl, and I though she loved me too. But, she just didn't want to be with me. It sucked, it hurt, and I still didn't understand it, but what can you do? You just gotta put that heartbreak in the past and move on. You gotta stop sitting here feeling jealous about what you don't have, and start appreciating what you do have. So what if Mike was always better than me in sports? I could swim well enough to save his sorry ass and Lucy's too. So what if my life kind of sucked compared to his. I had a bunch of awesome friends and a dad who worked his tail off to give me the life I had now. And, so what if Lucy's heart would always belong to Mike? She was still a friend, a damn good one at that. Wasn't that enough to be happy with?
And on top of all of that, I still had Jazzie, or at least I hoped I did. I thought back to our fight. As I walked away from her, my anger subsided a bit, and I looked back to see her just kneeling there on the ground, her hands covering up those big green eyes and her tear-stained cheeks. I should have just turned back right there and apologized – brushed aside those silvery strands of hair, looked into her eyes, and said I was sorry – but instead I just ran off. I was an idiot, a big jerk, for doing that. But, I knew what I had to do now, and I just had to hope and pray she'd forgive me.
I leaned back and stretched out my legs along the soft grass, feeling the warm autumn sun bathe my still slightly damp body. I looked over at Lucy, whose white coat gave off an auric glow in the late-afternoon sunlight. I was glad to have a friend like her who could knock some sense into this thick skull of mine. "Thanks Lucy," I said. "Talking to you really helped."
"I actually came to yell at you for being an asshole to Jasmine," Lucy replied. "But considering everything you've done for me recently, listening to you go all emo was the least I could do."
"C'mon Lucy, you don't owe me anything."
"I know," was her simple reply as she flashed that beautiful smile of hers. She lifted up her hand and placed it on mine, as if to let me know that she'd be there for me, the way I wanted to be there for her. I smiled back as we sat there on that grassy hill together. That scene, it was almost too perfect.
"So, uh, is this the part where we get to have really hot pity sex?"
Almost instantly I found myself flat on my back with a giant welt forming on my chin. I knew I shouldn't have made that quip, but like I said, I just can't resist that smile of hers.
"Well, I see you're back to normal now," Lucy said as she got up and dusted herself off. "I guess my job here is done." She began walking away, but after a few steps, she turned to look back and paused.
"Paulo," she began. "No matter what happens between you and Jasmine, just remember: you still got me."
Wasn't that all I could ever ask for?