Inspiration: I wrote this off a prompt found on Reddit. The prompt itself was the first bit of dialogue of the story, right up until “Okay.”. I got great feedback on it so far on Reddit, I hope you’ll enjoy it too!
She lay in his arms, getting weaker by the minute. “You know how you would never lie to me?” she asked quietly. He smiled, holding her close. He replied with a heavy heart, “Never.”
“Please lie to me now,” she begged him. He swallowed and said sadly, “Okay.”
He took a few seconds to marshal his thoughts, then dove right in.
“Remember when we met six years ago? I was actually an undercover agent ordered to get to know you in order to get close to your friends Rodriguez and Baker. When we met in that bar, it wasn’t a coincidence. I deliberately fumbled my own drink to spill it on your sleeve and run my game. Then we’d gotten to talking because of that Chilli Peppers tattoo on your neck. Did you really never find it strange that I could have seen that tattoo while your hair was down? The fact was, I knew it was there. Actually, let me correct that. You did notice that I couldn’t have seen it and challenged me on that, and I had to come up with the excuse that I’d seen you brush your hair back with your hand as you always do, which allowed me to see it. Remember? That was a close shave, I’d almost given myself away. Thankfully your mannerisms saved the day.
“Eventually we started dating, and after a few months I moved in with you. Or rather, you were dating me and I was using you for information and your home as a base. I was trying to glean everything I could about your friends without getting too close to them. I was listening to your phone calls, especially when they involved Joe or Julio. If I had any qualms about using you, a bystander in this affair guilty of nothing more than having marked connections, they were quickly calmed down by the knowledge that I was doing my job to protect citizens and our country. And for a while everything was going well.
“It wasn’t always rosy, as you’ll remember. But we made it work. We made it work because I needed it to work. I made sure to always give you what you wanted. I was attentive and present, even in the hard times. And there were even a couple of times when you were on the brink of breaking up with me. I let those happen because I could gain something from them. But I also always made sure to fix things up and make amends.
“But there was a snag. At one point my bosses were too bold and decided to act on a piece of information before the usual vetting and evaluation process was finished. The reason was that a highly placed henchman of your pals’ was going to be around and we had to take him out as quickly as possible. But during that attack your buddies managed to trace a less-than-responsible call I’d placed directly from your phone to my bosses. That wasn’t supposed to be part of the communication strategy, but in the interest of time we’d had to resort to that.
“Then, as you’ll remember, I took off on what I’d called a “business trip”. I was actually in witness protection for those couple of weeks, knowing that that other fella was gunning for me. I staged an accident in which I would have almost certainly died, and went into hiding. Thankfully it worked, and he was never able to get to me. After months of this, and letting it be implied that I had indeed probably died in that accident but my body had been too mangled to identify, it seemed your buddies’ henchman gave up on me. Or at least he seemed to believe that I was dead. Of course, I couldn’t come back to you at that time because it would have meant giving the lie to the death story. But I knew I would have to get back into your life some day or other, in some way or other.
“That day came sooner than any of us in the Service had expected, to be honest. I couldn’t come back in my role as your live-in boyfriend, but still I had to find a way to keep tabs on you again. So I got a job at your favorite bar. That old rascal Jerry? That was me. You mentioned a couple of times that I sounded familiar, don’t you remember? The reason was that that bartender was familiar!
“A few weeks later the guy out to get me died in a shootout between gangs, and I knew the coast was clear to return. I wrote to you purporting to be in a hospital across the country, having supposedly just woken up from a coma. You didn’t believe me at first, remember? But I played my cards well. I made sure to make it sound like my mind was still addled by the coma, and my memory was only just coming back. I even had some slight surgery done to give myself credible scars from the ‘accident’.
“Then in one letter I mentioned that I remembered one thing vividly, the Christmas gift I’d given you. It was a beautiful music box, an exact replica of the one you’d had as a girl, and which played your favorite tune ever. I mentioned that that was one memory that was stronger than others. I even mentioned how you’d decided to keep it safe in the back of your closet, taking it out only on rare occasions when you were alone and feeling down.
“That convinced you that I was indeed me and not dead. You took days off work to come across the country to visit me at the hospital. Again, I played my part well, acting partly addled and confused, but recovering quickly.
“Eventually they gave me a clean bill of health and discharged me. You did all you could to allow me to go back home with you, which was exactly what I wanted and needed, because my mission still wasn’t over. As soon as I got back, still pretending to be homebound for a few months, I resumed my observations and contacts. You never suspected a thing. The bugs were still in your phone and the lining of your handbag where I’d left them. I knew you hadn’t changed either of them because I’d been listening to you the whole time while I was away.
“After a few more weeks I knew the time was ripe to be healthy again, and started to go out and about once more. That’s when things had to move into high gear. There was about to be a big conference of the heads of the network we were investigating, and we had to take this chance to get all the top men at once. I ramped up my listening and watching, and made sure to glean all the details about that conference, their security arrangements, the lot.
“Unfortunately I got ever so slightly sloppy in the process. I hacked into their system and apparently triggered some sniffer I hadn’t anticipated, which traced me back to your home. That’s when, I’m sorry to say, you became a prime target. All of a sudden I had to act as a bodyguard as well. After discussing this situation with my bosses we agreed to deal with this by using you as a scapegoat but protecting you. We really tried everything to keep you out of this, and really only resorted to this when the situation required it.
“Remember how I made sure you never left the house alone? That was the reason. One of my guys was following you everywhere to protect you, and when we were out together I kept looking out for threats everywhere. I couldn’t afford to lose you.
“And after all, it wasn’t supposed to be for very long. We were on the verge of taking the whole network down, and that would have been the end of the mission. You and I might yet have had a peaceful happily ever after, a true one. Or at least…” He sighed. “Or at least that’s what I would have told you.”
“The night of the operation I told you I had to be at work late. What really happened was that I donned a ski mask and camos, and together with half a dozen other colleagues infiltrated the big house where the conference was taking place. A couple of flash-bangs later, we’d neutralized every one of them. All except one, who managed to get away. And unfortunately he caught up to us.
“And clearly he figured a slow, drawn-out punishment was in order. That guy who bumped you with his umbrella yesterday? That was him. I recognized him a second too late, and signaled to my colleagues to follow him and get rid of him, discreetly. You’ll be glad to hear they got him. But the damage was done. That little ricin ball in the dish? He slipped it into you with that umbrella. Clever. Stuff not seen since the Cold War. And no cure.
“And now the docs say you won’t make it. I’m sorry. I’m truly, truly sorry. I never meant this to happen. It didn’t need to happen. Now the mission is over, and you’ve become unfortunate collateral damage.”
“Wow” she said weakly. “Could have been a lot worse, huh?”
The effort of speaking was torture to her, and she winced.
“You’ve always been a great storyteller.”
He said nothing and just squeezed her hand, tears already coming to his eyes.
The pair kept chatting, as lightly as possible, until her condition was so bad she couldn’t speak at all and was lapsing in and out of consciousness. He stayed by her side another four hours before she finally flatlined. Then the doctors tried to revive her, but to no avail. She was gone.
He collected her stuff, signed some paperwork and left the hospital. Instead of going home, however, he went to a public park and sat on a bench where an older man was reading a newspaper.
“So she’s dead?” the man asked him. He nodded sadly, unable to say it out loud.
Then the elder folded his paper, turned to him and said, “Man, you just can’t afford to get attached to them. It gets in the way. It always does.”
He said nothing for a minute. The older man started gazing around the park, lost for words too.
“She asked me to lie to her”
“She wanted me to lie to her, as if I were inventing one of my stories.”
“And did you?”
He shook his head.
“I told her everything. The truth of it. I’ve been lying to her for so long that that was the best thing I could think of. It’s not like she’d be able to tell anyone, after all.”
The older man nodded slowly, and said nothing.
“There’s only one thing in the story I actually lied about. Well, I couldn’t tell the truth about that in a story that was supposed to be all lies.”
“And what’s that truth you kept from her?”
He said nothing for another minute, then asked, “Are we done here?”
The older man pushed the folded-up newspaper toward him.
“Your retirement package.” the old man said simply. Then he got up, straightened his suit, added, “I’ll expect your ID and everything in the mailbox tomorrow.” and walked off.
After five minutes the younger man picked up the newspaper and left, knowing what would be hidden inside it: a new identity, the title deed to a house in a foreign country and a credit card in his name with enough on the account for the rest of his days. It was just a shame that he’d have to spend that time alone. As he thought of her passing he began to cry. The one truth he hadn’t been able to tell her, and about which he wouldn’t have been able to lie even if he’d wanted to, was the fact that despite all this, he genuinely loved her.