You see Joan at the library, in the theoretical physics section. She's got two books, both heavier than she is, in her hand, and her brow is furrowed. "What's up?" you say, because you like Joan but you really don't think she's crazy enough to take theoretical physics. She doesn't seem the type.
"Oh. Uh." She holds one of the books up in her delicate hand. "I'm trying to help Luke. My brother. Is Luke. I told him I'd get him a book."
She doesn't seem particularly comfortable, and you think you may have startled her. "Your brother likes theoretical physics?"
Sometimes, you want to not like Joan, because of Adam, but most of the rest of the time you want to like her, because of Adam. And besides, you like her anyway. Joan rolls her eyes and says, "My brother would marry theoretical physics if it would say yes."
"It's nice of you though--" you say to her, and sit at her table. "Picking up a book for him."
"Yeah." Her tone is caustic. "He owes me big. It took me forever to find these."
"You guys close?"
"Um," Joan says, and looks thoughtful. She replies eventually, "Yeah, surprisingly enough. We kind of are. Luke's a year younger than me, so."
"That's nice," you tell her. "Family is nice, I mean."
The way she looks at you, a momentary flash of sympathy, makes you realize Adam's told her all about you - you and your falling out, your running away from the familiar, your crazy parents and your mostly dysfunctional siblings, your pathetic attempt to start a new life. Then she shifts in her chair, and asks, "do you have brothers and sisters?" and you realize her momentary lapse of sympathy was just for whatever tone was in your voice when you said 'family'.
"Three brothers, and three sisters," you tell her, and try to keep it light.
"Wow," and Joan blinks. "Impressive."
"Yeah, uh, mom doesn't work, and dad's a--" and you swallow. "Dad's a minister, so."
"Wow," Joan repeats. "Some family. You close to any of them?"
You picture Lucy for a minute, pastoring with her new husband and probably already pregnant; Matt, Mary. Your parents. You say, "my little sister. We were pretty close, growing up."
All you've really known about Joan other than she has pretty mundane taste in films, is that she was in therepy every week for as long as you've known her, or of her. She seems too with it to be in therapy, and you wonder what that says about you.
You tell her, "well, I moved away. And I guess - me and my family aren't really on the same page anymore." You picture having That Talk with your parents, and then the probable slamming of doors that would inevitably follow. You can't afford to pay your tuition on your own, and the meddling that all sides of the family and parish would try is just too much to want to bother, really. "I wouldn't want Ruthie to have to get in the middle. She's the only sensible one."
Joan's quiet for a second, looking down at her physics books. You debate leaving. Telling practical strangers your story, that's so lame you can barely call it a sob story, is no way to make friends. And you used to be good at making friends. Apparently not pretending is harder than it looks.
Joan interrupts your thoughts by saying, "religious difference of opinion based on lifestyle choice? Right?" Your head snaps up; Joan smiles gently. "I saw the way you looked at Adam."
Ah. you mutter, "does he know?"
"Adam?" You see Joan roll her eyes again. "Adam. I love Adam. But-- he wouldn't care? But he." She pauses. "Sometimes things just don't occur to him unless they're *really* obvious."
You feel kind of stupid, caught out in a crush by the guy's girlfriend. By his live-in-sin wife, even. "Sorry," you tell her.
Joan stares off into the stacks for a second. "I used to get jealous," she tells you. "I mean, really jealous. There was this one girl," she says. Then she shrugs. "But what good does it do?"
"None, I guess."
Joan stands up, books tucked under her arm. "You should call your sister," she says. "I bet she already knows."
Ruthie. You miss her, miss her good cheer and oh-so-practical side. Ruthie stands on her own, damn the consequences, if it suits her, for no other reason than she wanted to at the time. "I'll see you later, Joan."
Joan nods, smiles again. Ruthie is absolutely nothing like Joan, but for some reason she reminds you of Ruthie, slightly, just a bit. It makes you like her more.