Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: FRESH START (01/05/17)
- TITLE: The Truth
By M. C. Syben
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One hulk struts toward me when a sultry blonde blocks his path.
“Hi, I’m Lauralee; you new here?”
“Yeah. Hey, I’m Ernie.”
“Where you from?”
“Everywhere. I’m an Army brat, but we just moved from Florida.”
“Wow. Big change—mountains, cold,” she giggles.
Suddenly, a muscular arm dwarfs Lauralee’s shoulders.
She glows. “Hi, Bud. Meet Ernie, from Florida.”
“That explains the surfer look.”
Lauralee glares at Bud, but forces a smile. “Ernie, meet Bud, captain of the football team.”
“Hey. Yeah, I guess it is kind of chilly up here for shorts and sandals.”
“Ya, think?” Bud quipped.
“Bud, be sweet, show Ernie where his homeroom is. Classes start in a minute.”
I catch Bud raising an eyebrow at Lauralee, while I find the schedule. Bud grabs it out of my hand, and notes the number. “We share the same home room,” he mumbles.
“Me too,” Lauralee exclaims.
“Guess we’ll be stuck with each other the rest of the year,” Bud says, leading the way. We slip inside just as the late bell rings.
Sixteen years later, another alarm sounds as we wait for Bud outside a prison gate.
“You actually showed up.” Bud looks astonished.
“I wrote you that we would,” I say.
“But, nothing. We’ve always been friends… always will be,” Lauralee declares.
I insist, “Stay in our garage apartment. It comes with Lauralee’s cooking.”
“So, I beat the death sentence, but, now, this…Lauralee’s food?” Bud laughs, easing the tension.
“I’ve improved since high school,” Lauralee says.
Bud’s laughter becomes uncontrollable. Suddenly, as though someone pushes an emotional button, he begins weeping.
Silently, I hand the car keys to Lauralee. She’ll bring the car around, leaving us men alone.
“Bud, what is it?”
“Finally, I’m on the outside, and Lauralee is here… first thing. The irony is incredible, that’s all.”
“She’s my wife, now…”
Bud interrupts me. “Your testimony prevented a first-degree murder conviction. I want to know why.”
“Why did you lie, Ernie? You were an eighteen-year-old kid with beliefs—a love of God, church-going. Yet, you placed your hand on the Bible, and stated that you saw me arguing with Frank, saw me trip over a bat, and hit Frank in the heat of passion. But you weren’t there, until after the fact. Why did you lie?”
I sigh. “It wasn’t easy. Lauralee, believed you incapable of planning a murder. Yes, Frank had a thing for her, but we both thought you were too level-headed to believe his lies. We had faith in you. I felt duty-bound to help, in any way I could, especially since Lauralee was pregnant with your child.”
“It wasn’t my kid, Ernie.”
“Frank, bragged about the position of Lauralee’s birthmark—intimate placing, isn’t it? He told me other things, that no one would know, unless…”
“Wait… you meant to kill, Frank?” I panic.
“No. Don’t worry. I whacked Frank in a jealous rage. I paid the price for my temper and Lauralee’s lies. Today, I get a fresh start. I’m suggesting you do too.”
I’m lost, confused.
“Lauralee duped everyone; apparently, she still is. Accidentally, I killed a messenger bearing the truth. She knows the real father of that kid. It isn’t me; it wasn’t Frank. My gift to you is a chance for a clean slate. Ask Lauralee. Goodbye, Ernie.”
As a cab carries Bud to a new life, I shuffle towards my car hesitantly. I’ve raised the baby as my own son. Am I ready to believe who the real father is?
Before I even sit, Lauralee blurts out, “Please, Ernie, forgive me.”
“Sixteen years, Lauralee…not one attempt to tell me Bud wasn’t the father?”
“I was afraid you’d leave me.”
“No matter how it started, I thought we had a good marriage,” I holler.
“Had? Ernie, our marriage is the best.”
“Wrong! It’s based on lies.”
“I’ll tell you everything… now.”
I cringe as Lauralee exhales her ugly, lascivious past.
“Ernie, you took me to church. You told me about the Lord. He changed me.”
“Then, pray He gives me the strength to forgive, to forget. Frank died because of your lies; he doesn’t get to start over.”
“I think about that,” she sobs, “daily.”
Compassion floods my heart—stupid youth. “I need time, Lauralee. Time to heal… then, hopefully… we can build on a new, truth-filled foundation.”
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