The Price of Truth
Eleven-year-old James sat outside the principal’s office, eyes down and fiddling with his fingers. He could hear the muffled conversation behind the door but couldn’t make out the words, surely that was for the best. But his mind was imagining the worse. What was taking Dad so long? The office door clicked open, James didn’t want to look but he had to, Mark was his best friend. Their eyes met briefly, James saw it. The hurt, disappointment, anger and betrayal in Mark’s eyes. Mark glared at James as he rushed by to the seat farthest away. Finally, James’s dad Ben arrived. He came over and tapped James on the shoulder before heading over to the receptionist. James stole another peek at Mark, nothing. He looked anywhere but in James’s direction. After what seemed an eternity, Ben liberated James from the scene.
With his head resting against the glass of the car window James closed his eyes for long periods. Ben regularly looked over to his young son, careful to pay attention to the road. “You did the right thing, James, I’m very proud of you.”
James sank back in the chair, took a deep breath, “Then why do I feel so horrible?”
“Because you care about Mark. You’re feeling his pain.”
“I don’t want to.”
“I know, it’s not pleasant right now but it will pass.”
James frowned, “Mark has been my best friend all my life and now he hates me.”
“That may be how he feels at this moment. He’s angry. You still did—”
“—the right thing, I know. I don’t think the right thing is that great.”
“Well, you’re definitely not alone there, but why?”
“Mark and his cool friends did the wrong thing but I’m the one who’s going to lose. None of them will ever talk to me again.”
“For a time, maybe.” James bit his tongue to keep it still and quiet, Ben saw it. “You’re angry.”
“Yes, it’s not fair.”
“Okay, but that’s not why you’re angry.”
James spun around to face his dad, “Yes it is.”
Ben pulled over and parked the car near a quiet park, “Let’s go for a walkie talkie.” Their code for an honest, confidential father-son chat.
After walking a short distance, ensuring nobody was in earshot, Ben stopped. “What are you remembering right now?”
“Mark calling me a dirty rat, a tattletale, a squeak and other stuff.”
“Only the guilty say such things.”
“He yelled at me saying he hates me for what I did.”
“What did you do?”
“I told the truth.”
Ben released a knowing smile, “Yes you did as you always do. You know, for that, you are the one in the right.” They resumed walking slowly along the path, James would occasionally kick a rock with his shoe as he shuffled along. Ben frequently turned to his son watching and waiting.
After some time, James looked up to his father, “Dad, did this ever happen to you?”
“Yes, of course.” James automatically raised his eyebrows. “I’ve told you enough about my past that you shouldn’t be surprised.”
“Unlike you, I went along with my friends, I lied. That meant they still liked me but I never felt good deep inside. I had trouble sleeping for a long time, then that passed. It didn’t bother me anymore because I got comfortable with all the lying. As always, it didn’t end well. The lies upon lies covered us for a time but the truth always comes out eventually. When it did, we were all in much more trouble for much longer. But that wasn’t even the worse of it.”
“By covering up what we did for so long, we became good at it. By getting away with it,” Ben used his fingers to make quotation marks in the air, “we were emboldened to keep on the wrong path. It’s only when the truth was exposed we, well I, realised it wasn’t just the wrong path we were on, it was a very deep hole we’d been digging for ourselves.”
James stopped, picked up a stick and threw it hard before turning to face Ben, “So what was worse than being in big trouble?”
“I lost the trust of my family and those that did care for and love me. Of course, I didn’t care right then, I was angry because we’d been caught, much like Mark. I wouldn’t listen to anyone because I decided they were all against me. I caused a big problem with all of my relationships. And it went on for a long time because I wouldn’t admit my fault.” Ben placed his hands on James’s shoulders, “Lies are just not worth it. They can give a false sense of peace at first but lies lie to you. They will trap and control you. They cause so much harm, much more than you’re experiencing now.” They continued walking for some time. “All relationships come at a cost, how much depends on whether they’re based on truth or lies.”
“Dad, I think I know why I’m angry now.”
“I’m angry at what they did, they knew it was wrong and tried to get me involved too.” Ben knelt to the same level as his son’s pain-filled eyes placing a hand on his shoulder. Ben watched closely as James continued the thought, “They did wrong but I got hurt too.”
“Yes, Yes! You got it. They hurt your friendship and put you in a very uncomfortable position. So, your anger is right but be careful what you do with it.”
“What do I do with it?”
“Let’s find a healthy way for you to process and express it, where no one else is hurt.” Ben smiled, “Want to go pummel the punching bag?” James smiled. “But there’s one more thing.”
“Yeah, I know. I’ve got to forgive them.”
“Yes, it’s hard to do but very important for you too.” They turned around and headed back, “You may need patience, even a lot of patience James, but eventually you’ll see good things in life when you do the right thing.”
“Dad, you think mum will ever forgive you?”
“She has a son, she’s an amazing woman for sure.”
“Then why can’t you get back together, it’s been so long now?”
“Well, as I said, lies cause a lot of damage to people and relationships. We’re working on the healing. Even when forgiveness is granted and received, it may still never be the same as it was.”
“Does that mean Mark and me will never —”
“No, not for certain. You’re going to have to fight for your friendship.”
“Really, shouldn’t he come and apologise to me?”
“Ideally yes, but shame and guilt will probably stop him, they’re very strong. He’ll believe the lie that you’ve rejected him. So it’s up to you to forgive him and tell him so. He’ll have to receive it and own up to his wrongdoing to make amends with you. That’s up to him. Let’s hope he’s not as stubborn as I was. He’s a good kid, just made a mistake. ”
“Yeah, he shouldn’t listen to the others, just me.” They both chuckled.
James walked into the school grounds with sore arms and feeling tired. The boxing session with Dad was fun but the nearly all night conversation was even better. Dad does understand my position and perhaps Mark’s even more so. James glanced at the piece of paper he was carrying then nervously scanned the environment. There he was but he wasn’t alone, typical. Mark was hanging around with them. This was a worthy fight, as he and Dad had discussed at length, and he has the power. Heart pumping fast, James gulped before walking towards them. They looked and saw him coming, disgust on their little faces except for Mark. Mark’s friendly eyes were there briefly but were quickly full of scorn. Mark’s friends starting mocking James but he kept his eyes on Mark.
“Mark, I still want to be friends.” The others laughed and teased but James kept his focus.
Mark started to walk away with the others, “Well, I don’t want to friends with a loser.”
“Mark, you did the wrong thing, not me, and you know it!” James glanced at his notes as Mark looked back, don’t hesitate, “I forgive you.” There it was again, the softness in his friend’s eyes for just a second as he slowly turned away again, “It’s up to you now!” James watched as they walked away before looking down at his notes. The words were smudged from the sweat of his palms. He took a deep breath, although he was still in an anxious state, it was quickly subsiding. Dad was right, it was hard but boy it felt good to do that. James looked up again to catch Mark watching him before he rounded the corner.
This short story was inspired by a prompt provided by Reedsy.com. If you're interested in participating or would like to read other short stories, you can find the Reedsy Weekly Writing Prompts by clicking here.
Prompt Used: Write about a character who is incapable of telling even the smallest lie or half-truth.