The third episode for an imaginary season three. Joan is confused about her relationship with Ryan, and her family have their own problems. Can she trust her friends to help?
Dedication: This is for everyone at ffn who took the time to read and review my stories. I really appreciate it, more then I can adequately express.
"So the purpose of marriage," Lilly was saying, "is for the couple to be a visible example of the presence of God, in a way they can't by themselves."
"Aha," said Helen, absently.
"By giving themselves, each to the other, exclusively-by, as they say, giving themselves as "irreplaceable and unsubstitutional people"-they're manifesting important truths about God."
"Yes," Helen agreed, still sounding distracted.
"Like, for example, that God loves us," Lilly went on. "and that, in God's eyes, we really are "irreplaceable and unsubstitutional"-every single one of us." She looked at Helen, who didn't respond. "And how He plans to crush us like bugs, any second now, and make some sort of sandwiches out of the remains," Lilly continued, in exactly the same tone.
"Uh huh," Helen nodded, and Lilly gave up.
"Okay, Helen? You seem a little distracted this evening. Is there something on your mind?"
In spite of her nervousness, Joan found herself finishing off the plate of pasta Ryan had prepared for her. It was unexpectedly delicious. So was the wine, when she remembered to pause and take a sip of it.
"I can't believe I'm this hungry," she admitted to Ryan. "It's sort of awful. I mean, with Bonnie in the hospital and everything. It's weird that I even have an appetite, after hanging around a hospital all day."
"It isn't weird at all," said Ryan gently, reaching to take the plate away from her. Irrationally, Joan clung to it for a minute, so he practically had to pry her fingers off. "It's a perfectly normal reaction. When we're forced to confront death or injury, we react by throwing ourselves into activities that remind us we're alive. Even when you feel numb from shock or grief, your body reminds you of the basic things you need: food, sleep, closeness with other human beings."
Joan felt exposed without the plate to shield her. She picked up her wineglass, and Ryan smiled, perhaps guessing that she was looking for something else to hide behind.
"You sound like you know what you're talking about," Joan observed.
"Joan's having dinner with a boy," said Helen.
"Oh," said Lilly, looking mildly alarmed.
"Not a boy, really," Helen continued. "A young man."
"Ah," said Lilly, looking even more alarmed.
"And I'm worried about what his intentions are," Helen said, and then laughed at herself a little. "Which, I realize, sounds ridiculously old-fashioned. But still."
"I can't stress enough," said Lilly, "how wrong a person I am to be having this conversation with. Just about the only thing I know less about than dating? Would be parenting."
"That's the thing. It's not so much the "dating" issues," Helen said, frowning in perplexity. "There's something...else. Something I can't explain, but it worries me."
Lilly leaned forward, looking interested. "What sort of something else?"
Helen continued to look puzzled. "My gut feeling is that he isn't-well, isn't evil. I don't get that sort of vibe from him, exactly. But there's something almost threatening about him, and I'm worried. I keep thinking I'm missing something. What if I was wrong to think he was a good person?"
Lilly shrugged. "Well, that's your department, isn't it?"
Helen looked mildly exasperated. "I know you're not a parent," she said, "but I thought you might, as my spiritual advisor, have something helpful to say."
"But I am," Lilly explained. "I mean, really: it's your department. Your charism, your gift, is called "discernment of spirits" for a reason, Helen. It isn't just some "I see dead people" thing. It's the ability to discern spirits, and know whether they originate from good or from evil. So if he doesn't feel evil to you, well, he probably isn't evil."
Helen said, sounding amazed, "That's...that's a bigger gift than I'd realized."
Lilly nodded, but looked slightly annoyed. "Yes, it's considered a highly valuable gift for a spiritual advisor, for instance," she said bitterly. "Not that I'm, you know, complaining or anything."
Ryan shrugged. "When I was fourteen, and my parents divorced, I reacted the same way, just as though I were grieving. I threw myself into any activity that offered distraction: parties, drugs, sex. All I wanted at the time was to turn away from the spectacle of my parents destroying our family."
"And away from God," Joan guessed shrewdly.
"Interference from the person responsible for creating all this chaos?" said Ryan. "Not needed, thanks. And the nagging efforts to get me to appreciate the random, horrible events the universe throws at us were a waste of time. Just look at this world, Joan. I've been seeing it clearly since I was fourteen, and I'm not impressed. I'm just smart enough to have realized how to play the game, and how to take advantage of my strengths."
"Why are you telling me all this?" Joan asked.
"I'm not sure myself," he answered, a bit too smoothly to be convincing. "I just know that there's no one else in the world like you, Joan. You're unique. And you're probably the only person in the world who understands me."
Joan wondered if that was true, or if he was trying to manipulate her somehow. She also realized that something-maybe the wine-was making her feel dizzy.
Ryan slid along the couch to sit closer to her, removing the empty wineglass from her hand and draping one arm across her shoulders. "And I'm the only one who really understands you, Joan," he said, and put one finger across her lips to silence her before she could argue. "You know it's true. I bet you haven't been able to tell a single one of your friends and family what you really are."
"Face it, Joan," he said. "We need each other. You want there to be some meaning to life? You think God's interference in our lives has some purpose? Fine: try this for a purpose. It cut us off from everyone else, and it brought us together."
His grip on her tightened, pulling her close, and he bent his face to lick her neck, delicately, as though she were something to be savoured. "And I know how to make you feel alive, Joan," he whispered, and she shivered under his touch.