She was deep into a website project on her laptop when Christian came home later. She saved her work and closed the laptop.
“So?” She asked, as he sat across the table. “How was it?”
He eyed her. “You enjoy talking about yourself?” He asked.
“To a stranger?”
Joanne shrugged, “Sometimes that’s easier.” She said. “Strangers don’t judge. They don’t really care. They aren’t personally involved.”
“So you’ve done this before? Talked to a psychiatrist about your problems?”
“Uh, no. Not really.”
Christian shook his head. “So how can you know you’d like it? What do you think it’s like, having to go through unpleasant memories that you’d rather forget? It’s not much fun!”
“Sorry.” Joanne replied.
“So if you enjoy talking about yourself so much, why don’t you tell me what you were going to tell me this morning?”
“You’re not a stranger.” Joanne reminded him. “That makes things more complicated. Which doesn’t mean I won’t tell you anything.” She added as she saw his face change. “It just means, you won’t be indifferent and on top of it, my memories involve you. It’s not like I’m going to be talking about people you don’t know or care about. I’m going to be talking about you!”
“So tell me, why didn’t you want me to come to the hospital with you?”
Joanne cocked her head. A corner of her mouth turned up and a slight frown appeared between her eyes.
“Actually,” she said, “I did.”
He frowned. “You make no sense.”
Joanne closed her eyes. She did not know where to begin. Her hands fluttered as she tried to find a place to begin.
“To understand this,” she began, opening her eyes again, “You have to understand one thing.”
“I hate to be a charity case.” She said, looking down at her hands. “When I was so sick that I couldn’t work anymore, and had to lower my course load at university, you invited me to come stay with you, so I wouldn’t have to pay so much for an apartment.”
Christian nodded. “I was saving money too.” He reminded her.
“I know, but then you cooked most of the time, and you started to drive me places instead of having me take the bus all the time, and you looked out for me.”
“Don’t get me wrong,” she looked at him, “I appreciate all you did for me so much. You were… so good to me. I just wanted more. I didn’t want to be this poor girl you were helping out, just because you were this kind, generous person. I wanted to be more than that. I hoped that you were maybe getting something out of it too. It seemed so one-way all the time. I wanted you to want to be around me because you liked me, not just because you wanted to be nice to me. I wanted to be a friend. An equal. Maybe even a good friend.”
“Once you took me somewhere for the weekend.” Joanne continued. “You mentioned something about wanting to keep on eye on me. I asked you if you were just worried about me, or if you actually wanted me there.”
Joanne looked down at her hands again. “You said you were worried about me. I took it to mean that the only reason you were bringing me was so you could keep an eye out for me, like I was someone you felt responsible for, but otherwise it wouldn’t make a difference if I was there or not.”
“But of course it made a difference!” Christian exclaimed. “You thought I didn’t enjoy having you around?”
“Well, I didn’t think you were bothered by my presence or anything, but I started to think it didn’t make a difference to you if I was there or not.”
Christian looked at her like he thought she was crazy.
“I didn’t have many friends growing up.” She said. “I was teased a lot. I didn’t have the same sense of self-worth back then that I do now. I was used to people not caring one way or another about me.”
Staying here with Christian for two weeks was turning out to be quite intense, Joanne thought. She wondered briefly if she would survive.
“I became quite good at pushing people away before they could reject me.” She said simply.
“Ahhh.” The light came on in Christian’s eyes.
“Yeah, except I wasn’t really trying to push you away. Not consciously anyway. I really did want you to come, but I wanted you to feel you had a choice. I didn’t want you to feel obligated. I worded it wrong, because I made you feel unwelcome. I’m sorry.”
“You say that a lot.” He remarked.
“I am. For a lot of things.”