I Still Got You

A Short Story

Paulo is such a huge jerk.

I stormed through the park following that orange-furred idiot. What was he thinking treating Jasmine like that? Right after I had gotten out of rehearsals for Sue's stupid play, I saw Paulo and Jasmine arguing outside the school. I was too far away to hear any of the words being exchanged, but all I could see was Paulo yelling at poor Jasmine. It must have been bad because by the end of it, Jasmine was down on her knees sobbing. And Paulo, that jerk, just ran away from her. How could he just leave her crying there? I really thought Paulo was better than that.

I clenched my fists as I made my way through the park. I was going to give Paulo a piece of my mind. Jasmine did not deserve to be treated that way. She was crazy about him! Sure they had their share of troubles, but I couldn't imagine Jasmine doing anything to deserve that kind of treatment. Paulo had better have not done anything stupid like breaking her heart by sleeping with some random girls. Ugh. Just the thought of it made my blood boil.

I paused briefly as a gust of cool autumn air sent a chill down my spine. Normally, I didn't mind the cold, but now, as I looked up through the trees at the cloudless autumn sky, I felt this eerie sense of uneasiness come over me. I tried to shake it off as I trudged forward, thinking instead about the feel of the soft layer of dead leaves under my feet and the muffled crinkling sound they made as I walked over them. As I listened more closely, however, I heard something that made my heartbeat rise and my fur stand on end. Rushing waters. Just the sound of those waters pounding relentlessly on the rocks below as they went over the falls was enough to stop me in my tracks. Maybe Paulo didn't come this way, I thought to myself. Maybe I should check another part of the park.

I began to turn around, but then I heard the unmistakable sound of Paulo yelling the word "Fuck!" coming from the direction of the river. Of all the places in Roseville, why did he have to come to this place? C'mon Lucy, I thought to myself, let's just get this over with.

I forced myself up the hill overlooking the stream and sure enough, that idiot was there, sitting on the riverbank. My heart skipped a beat as I looked past him at the waterfall, but then I remembered what he did to Jasmine, refocused my anger, and shouted to get his attention.

"Hey jerkface!"

"Lucy?" Paulo replied. He turned to get up, but suddenly he slipped and disappeared beneath those dark waters.

"Paulo!" I shouted. I tried to force myself to take a step forward but my body wouldn't respond. No, not again, I thought as my mind flashed back to that terrible day. Everything suddenly rushed back into my mind: the feeling of the tree branch sliding out of my hands, the cold water surrounding me as I held onto Mike, the sight of that hand reaching out from above to grab me.

I snapped back to reality when I felt a hand on my shoulder. "Lucy, uh, are you okay?" a slightly damp Paulo asked.

"Don't ever scare me like that again!" I shouted, pounding my fist into his gut. The blow sent him sprawling to the ground. Luckily for him, my relief that he was okay after falling into the river had tempered my anger a bit. I couldn't stop a smile from crossing my face as I looked down at the sight of my sopping wet friend grimacing on the ground. His characteristically spiky hair drooped down from the weight of the water, matching the uncharacteristically dour expression on his face.

"You have no idea how ridiculous you look right now," I remarked.

"Let's see how you'd look covered in water," he replied, playfully trying to fling the water from his fur onto me.

"Hey stop that," I replied shielding myself from the spray of droplets.

Paulo looked up at me from his seat on the grass and patted the ground next to him. "Have a seat, babe. What's on yer mind?"

He had such a stupid smile on his face. "Cut the crap, Paulo," I said as I folded my arms and glared down at the jerk. "I saw you yelling at Jasmine earlier."

His smile quickly disappeared, and he just sat there staring silently at the grass.

"Paulo, you idiot!" I yelled. "What do you have to say for yourself?"

"Go away Lucy," Paulo replied softly. I was about to lay into him, to berate him for how he treated Jasmine, but I stopped. I looked down at Paulo as he hung his head between his knees. Something was different about him: his facial expression, his demeanor, his body language. Even his copper eyes, normally so bright and animated, now seemed somewhat dim and distant. He just looked so… vulnerable. I'd never really seen him like this before.

I sighed as I began to feel some sympathy for that jerk. How many times had I gotten into a fight with Mike and yelled at him like that? I stood there awkwardly for a moment trying to gauge some reaction from Paulo. Did he really want to be alone?

What would Mike do in a situation like this? I asked myself. Well, he would take me into those comforting arms of his and… yeah, that was definitely out of the question here. I guess when things had gotten really bad recently and I'd needed someone to pick me up, I'd turned to someone else who had a slightly different approach.

"Make me," I replied as I plopped right next to him on the grass. Paulo remained motionless, keeping his eyes affixed to the ground. We sat in silence before my curiosity got the better of me. "Paulo, tell me what happened."

"Why do you want to know?" growled Paulo. "Or are you just looking for an excuse to cuddle with me again?"

I wanted to smack him in the face for that comment, but I stopped just short of doing so. Damn it Paulo, I'm trying to be nice here. "Why do you have to be such an asshole to me and especially to poor Jasmine?" I shouted at him

"An asshole?" responded Paulo. "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."

I was taken aback a bit by Paulo's outburst. "What do you mean?" I asked.

"She never made time for me." Paulo's tone dropped as the anger subsided from his voice. "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." Paulo paused as he lowered his gaze back down to the ground. "It was bad, Lucy. 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. 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."

"You're just being selfish. You can't expect her to just give up those things for you."

Although my remarks might have come across as a bit harsh, that didn't mean that I was unsympathetic. I knew that feeling: the feeling of being ignored. Mike… I thought. Why were things so different now? Why was he so distant? Why did he give me those icy stares every time I tried to approach him? Ever since that day when I told him… it was almost as if I had lost him again. It was like the third grade all over again. Or Acapulco, or… I looked back up to see that damned stream staring back at me. Again, the sound of the waterfall began to pour into my mind and drown out everything else. Paulo started talking again, but I could barely hear Paulo's voice over its torrent of sound that just kept getting louder and louder.

I closed my eyes to avoid looking at the stream, but that just freed my brain to unleash the memories of that day upon me. I still remembered what it felt like underneath those waters. The wind chilled my body reminding me of the cold water surrounding me as we sunk deeper and deeper. As I clung terrified to Mike's limp body, I felt so helpless, so completely and utterly powerless to do anything to save the two of us. I remembered the muted sounds of those swirling currents as they pushed us down and the sight of the bubbles dancing joylessly around us as they shepherded us toward the bottom. I remember staring up at the distorted sky above, ready to admit defeat and let those currents carry me down to the darkness below. But then I saw him holding out his outstretched hand. Paulo. He's always been there to help pull me out of my darkest times.

Paulo's voice broke me from my trance. "Lucy, what could a girl like her see in a dumb screw up like me?"

You're such an idiot, I thought. "Paulo, Jasmine really likes you, she's said that many times" I replied. Paulo's face lit up at that comment. "You don't need to feel insecure about that."

I could kind of see why Jasmine would be so taken by Paulo. Paulo was different from all of the other boys who tried to flirt with me. Most would get the message and stop after a cold glare, some harsh words, or a punch to the chin. But Paulo never gave up. No matter what I said to him or how hard I hit him, he never relented. At first his perseverance really annoyed me. I used to wish he would just leave me alone. After a while, though, his constant advances grew to be…charming. It was comforting to know that no matter what happened, no matter how badly I mistreated him, he would still be there. Even when he was head-over-heels for Tess and even now when he's with Jasmine, he still found the time to let me know that he's still here for me, that I've still got him. Nothing could drive him away from me. Unlike Mike…

Damn it, why couldn't I feel the same way about Paulo as I do about Mike? Wouldn't things be so much easier if I loved Paulo? I've always found him physically attractive ever since I first saw him. He may act like a jerk and a pervert, but deep down, he's a good guy. He'd never abandon me like Mike did. He'd make sure I'd never feel alone.

But, as I looked at him now, at how upset he seemed about his fight with Jasmine and at how his face lit up when I said that Jasmine liked him, I needed to know.

"Paulo, you really like her too, don't you?" I asked.

"Yeah, I guess I do."

My heart sank a little upon hearing his reply. "How can you say that, you idiot?" I grumbled. "You've only known her for what, two months?"

That was something I just couldn't understand about Paulo. Not too long ago, he was so heartbroken about Tess. He never said anything, but it was kind of obvious by the way he was moping around after junior prom. I kind of missed his usual hijinks and mischief during those few weeks. But, after a short time, he was back to normal. And now, here he was falling for another girl. How could he do that? How could he so easily move on like that? How could he let go of Tess so easily and give himself so fully to Jasmine?

Is that something I could ever do? All my life I'd kept myself from getting close to anyone. I put up a harsh exterior and walled myself off from everyone else to protect myself from them. For the longest time, Mike was the only one I let close to me, and that was enough. But now with Mike shunning me, those walls which once protected me like the walls of a fortress now felt like the cold, isolating walls of a prison, condemning me to my solitude. If I were more like Paulo, if I could learn to just get over Mike and trust so fully and passionately like Paulo, couldn't I break down those barriers and escape? Or at least let someone else inside so I didn't feel alone anymore?

I glanced up at Paulo. Haven't I already begun to let someone else into those walls? I know I wasn't acting like myself that night when I sought comfort from Paulo, but that didn't mean that those feeling weren't real. Maybe they were stupid, maybe they were wrong, and maybe they only came from my despair at the time, but those feelings still haunted me. As I sobbed into his chest and he wrapped his arms around me, I remember feeling the heat from his body surround me in his warmth. That night, I felt safe in his arms. The only other person who could make me feel that way was Mike. But, he wasn't Mike. He didn't abandon me in the third grade. He didn't get fed up with my abusive treatment. He liked me for who I was, abrasive personality and all.

Back on that day when Mike fell into the river, I remembered trying to pull Mike out of the water using a tree branch. But, the current was moving too fast, and the grass was too wet. I felt my feet begin to slide forward, pulling me toward those unfriendly waters. I had a choice right then. Do I hold onto the branch and let it pull me into the river or do I let go and save myself? Don't I have that same choice now? Do I keep clinging to Mike and let him pull me down to drown in those cold and lonely waters, or do I just let go?

No! my mind screamed. I can't just let go of Mike. Not yet, at least. Mike still meant so much to me. If I looked back over all the times when I was truly happy, at all my most treasured memories, Mike was there. I even looked back fondly on the simple things like our conversations as we walked to and from school. He was the one who really understood me, he was the one who could make everything feel better, and he was the only one who I could ever trust. Yet, for each of those happy memories with Mike, I had those moments that I looked back upon with regret. I really was horrible to him. I always bullied him, constantly pestered him, and never showed any appreciation for everything he did for me. Despite all that, he stayed my friend and stuck around to protect me. For the longest time, he put up with me and my abusiveness. At one point, he really did like me too. Even after I rejected him by shoving him away after he tried to kiss me, he wasn't deterred. He even got that stupid blue scarf because he said it reminded him of the color of my eyes. It's amazing that he stuck around as long as he did.

If Mike could persevere though all of those times when I ignored his feelings, why couldn't I? I'm just as strong as Mike. I could endure this too. Yeah, I'm no quitter; I'm a fighter. I just had to dig in my heels and battle against those currents that were trying to take him away from me. I just had to be stronger. Suffering through this pain and loneliness would be worth it if it meant I could have him back. Mike couldn't stay mad at me forever. Eventually he had to come back to me, just like he did after Sandy left. Then everything could go back to the way they were before, to the way things were supposed to be. These things just had a way of working out in the end, right? They just had to because I really couldn't imagine any other future.

Not even a future with Paulo, I thought as I glanced back up at that boy. As much as I sometimes fantasized about him, settling for Paulo would be the easy way out. Paulo was a good friend, but he wasn't Mike. Besides, he had Jasmine. Even though I was a bit jealous of her and how well Paulo treated her, I couldn't steal Paulo from her. I didn't want to be her Sandy. The thought of them, though, made my heart sink a little. After that night we spent together, I did think there might actually be something between the two of us. But, Paulo just moved on to Jess, Rachel, and now Jasmine. How could he do that? Maybe "moving on" was too generous a word to use. How could he move on if he never loved me in the first place? I was just another pretty girl to that hormonally-driven jerk, wasn't I?

No, that wasn't true either. He didn't help me that night because I was hot or because he wanted to bang me. If that were the case he would have just taken advantage of me. He did it because he cared. He stuck around because he was a friend, a damn good one at that.

"Thanks Lucy," Paulo's voice interrupted my thoughts. I looked over at Paulo to see him leaning back, basking in the sun. "Talking to you really helped."

"I actually came to yell at you for being an asshole to Jasmine," I admitted. "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 wanted respond with something more than my usual trite, detached remarks. Even though I didn't feel the same way about him as I felt about Mike, I still felt something for him. I wanted to thank him for always being there for me, for making life without Mike just a little bit more bearable. I wanted to let him know what that meant to me – what he meant to me – and just release all of these trapped thoughts and feelings from their confines. I wanted to do all of that, but I didn't know how to put those feelings into words. I didn't know how he would react. And, more importantly, I didn't know what I would do if I said them. I was afraid that saying something more would change what we already had.

Instead, I just reached out and placed my hand atop his, squeezing it gently. "I know," I said. I think he got the message because he smiled back. It wasn't that stupid, mischievous grin he normally wore, but it was something that felt more sincere, more real. We sat there like that for a bit, bathing in the warmth of the autumn sun.

"So, uh, is this the part where we get to have really hot pity sex?"

Almost instinctively, I slammed my fist into his face, knocking him straight down to the ground.

I hope you never change, Paulo, I thought as a smile made its way across my face. I got off of the ground and dusted myself off. "Well I see you're back to normal now. I guess my job here is done."

I started walking away, but after a few steps, I paused and turned back. That urge to say something more to him welled up inside of me again. "Paulo," I began, "no matter what happens between you and Jasmine, just remember that you still got me."

Paulo responded with a smile, but I wasn't really looking at him anymore. I just looked past him at the river and shuddered as the cold wind began to pick up again. Yet at the same time, the sight of the river reminded me that I had friends like Paulo to help pull me through hard times like these. Maybe with their help, I could be strong enough to get through all of this.