She was a fairly private person--shy is what most people would call it--and she did not generally like the local dating pool even though she was optimistic about finding what she called a "soul mate".
"Well, how was the date?"
Joan closed the door behind herself and began untangling herself from her outdoor clothes. "It was fine. He's a nice guy."
The man on the couch turned over to face the door and rescued the TV remote from under his elbow. "But it wasn't fine, because you look like he put cod liver oil in your coffee."
"Oh, no; it wasn't him." Joan walked into her bedroom. "I'm going to change in here but I can keep talking--it was the movie. I hated the movie. It made me think of all the stupid things I've done in embarrassing social situations. Well, you know I have self esteem issues." She pulled on a pair of sweat pants and shuffled back into the den with a pile of books and a handful of writing instruments.
"Self-esteem? Joan. What crap."
"What else do you call it, then? I know I do stupid things, I don't like it, and I know that I shouldn't lower my standards of What Is Socially Acceptable in order to make myself feel good."
"But they still haunt me."
"What do you do about that?" She set the books down and went to make a cup of tea. Her roommate, William, moved over on the couch to make room for her on their only jointly owned piece of furniture: the only piece of living room furniture, actually. It faced the glass wall, which looked over the downtown area of the city. At night, the sky seemed dim and orange near the horizon, fading into a sharp velvet blue in which there were never any stars. The lights from the buildings below sparkled in familiar patterns all the way down to the boardwalk and the docks.
"I generally ignore them."
"What if you can't ignore them?"
"Then you aren't trying hard enough." He turned back to watch the city lights.
"Never mind. I don't want to deal with that right now." She pulled the tea bag from her mug and left the soggy packet in the sink. Feeble revenge, since she knew he hated it when she did that. Joan felt as if she were unclean, felt as if she could use a bubble bath. But that would take energy. Never mind about that, too. "I know I can't get rid of them--even if I ignore them, it just means I spend effort doing that. It's probably better to deal with the issue where it is."
"Why did you take the issue with you on the date?"
"It isn't something I particularly like exposing to men I hardly know." She put down her mug on a newspaper that was lying on the hardwood next to the couch, and crawled underneath a blanket next to William. "You know what would be really nice?"
William sighed, sleepy and not particularly wanting to get any more self-reflective. "What would be really nice, Joan?"
"It would be nice if I could be with someone whom I felt comfortable being myself with. I mean, somebody that even if I felt these terrible thoughts about myself and knew they were true--if I could still feel that they loved me enough to see past that fault."
"You said 'whom'. Ha ha."
"I mean, it would just be nice to feel as if I didn't have to be so defensive and perfect all the time."
"Half the time I don't think people even notice those huge events you think happen."
"Doesn't stop them from being real in my head; I really don't know how to differentiate." Tea was cool enough now. It felt nice to finally be holding a mug and not one of those dainty teacups or commercial styrofoam things they had at work.
"You make it sound so easy."
"No it isn't." Joan said it too fast and realized that instant that she had just participated in the lowly elementary-school arguments they'd had forever.
"Pshaw. Is too."
"Are you just arguing to argue with me or what?" Maybe that would end it. She was too tired to deal.
"No, I mean it."
"No, you don't."
"Stop it." William was getting sleepy, too. He slouched down on the couch till he could only see the sky outside the window.
"You stop it."
"I think I need another beer."
"I'll get one."
"Oh, thanks." A pause while she got up to fetch a beer from the fridge. The room had darkened noticeably from the few minutes ago when she'd gotten home. Walking back to the couch, she heard William's voice before she saw him. "I wish you were a guy."
"Yeah, well I wish you were straight." She nudged their space heater a little closer to the couch and sat back down.
"Wow, that's messed up."
"Huh." They toasted with a mug of tea and a bottle of beer.