"You do know we're going to have to talk actual therapy stuff soon, right?" I asked Casper on the day of our third lesson. We were sitting cross-legged on his bedroom floor, with an open packet of chocolate digestive biscuits in between us.
He eyed the biscuits from four feet away. "Yes," he said, drawing the word out. He continued staring before glancing at me and suddenly lunging towards the packet, grabbing a biscuit before I could stop him. He smiled, satisfied.
I studied the packet, also four feet away. "Wise move, Johanson, wise move," I said, as I darted forward and snatched up a cookie. Unfortunately, he slapped my hand as I was darting back, forcing me to drop it and retreat, sighing.
We were currently playing a game which I had made up on the spot - Get The Cookie From 4 Feet Away Without Getting Touched By Your Opponent. I, however, was losing badly, with only one biscuit. Cas had three.
Casper precariously stacked his biscuits, making them wobble. "Know any good oxymorons?" he asked absently.
"Er," I contemplated. "Original copy."
Casper seemed to consider it. "Not bad. Not bad at all."
"What about you?" I said quizzically.
"Definitely maybe," he replied.
I flicked a crumb at him. "That's a movie, that's not fair."
He huffed. "Fine... all alone."
I thought about it. "Hmmm. Ok. Accurate estimate."
"Nice. Almost ready."
I was surprised. "Hey, that's used a lot, isn't it?"
"Exactly. We have no idea that we're saying such contradicting things, you know?" Casper asked. He sounded childishly curious.
"I suppose so. Ok, then, awfully good," I replied.
"Artificial intelligece," he challenged me.
"Damn, that's right. Ok, melted ice."
He gave me a long, hard stare. "Butthead," he said at last.
I stared at him in surprise, then dissolved in to hysterical laughter.
"What - the bloody - hell?" I gasped, clutching my sides.
Casper arched an eyebrow at me. "It's not that funny," he said.
"I know, but - it was just so - random!" I laughed, trying to catch my breath.
Cas shook his head and plucked a biscuit from the packet. I immediately stopped laughing.
"That's not fair, I wasn't ready," I argued.
"Not my fault," he retorted, and was about to take another before I tapped his hand, and snatched up my own biscuit. And then the last one.
"And that was very fair," said Casper.
"It was," I proclaimed, and bit in to the crunchy cookie. Casper broke his in to two, and popped one half in to his mouth.
"Listen," he said, after a moment of silence. "I'm sorry about last week."
"You mean, about being all mad and everything?" I questioned, slowly chewing around my mouthful of chocolatey biscuit.
"Yeah, exactly," he said uncomfortably. I waved him off.
"It's ok, Casper. Really. I told you, I know the feeling. And hey, we're having a pretty decent conversation right now, aren't we? And we only argued at the very beginning of the session. It's an achievement."
Casper snorted, out of exasperation or confusion, I didn't know. "Alright then."
"Alright then," I smiled, raising my biscuit to him in a salute. And then I took a big bite.
"So," I mumbled. "What to do next?"
"Steal other people's biscuits," he replied, and grabbed one of mine.
Spluttering, I knocked his plate over and took one of his.
"Hey!" he said indignantly, and soon, we were immersed in a fierce battle of broken biscuits. Crumbs scattered across the room, arcing to the very corners of it.
Eventually (two crushed Chocolate Digestive Biscuits later), we stopped, and began collecting the fragments of the cookies. I popped a little in to my mouth, as we piled them in to my plate to share.
"Ok, I've got something," I announced, as we settled back on to the moderately uncomfortable floor.
Casper motioned for me to speak, studying his piece of biscuit like it was possible crawling with red fire ants.
"I'm going to say a word, and you're going to say the first thing you think of when I say it. Got it?" I explained in a purposely authority-filled voice.
"Is this a therapy game or something?" Casper asked, seeming amused.
"Not exactly," I admitted. "But come on, Casper. You're going to have to talk eventually. Why not make it a game?"
"I'm not exactly comfortable admitting my near-suicidal thoughts to anyone," Casper said wryly.
"Personally, I would feel better admitting it to a stranger than someone I know personally. That person would be too involved, otherwise."
"Ah," Casper said, waggling his finger at me. "But you're not a stranger, are you?"
"Exactly. Elementary, my dear Watson."
I ignored the (incorrectly used!) Sherlock Holmes reference, and thought of a word.
"Red," I said.
"Blood," he said automatically. A flash of guilt reflected in his eyes, but he continued looking at me steadily.
He hesitated. "Fake."
"Hey," I said warningly. "You paused, right there. What was the first thing you thought of? And don't lie to me and say that it was the first thing you thought of, because I know it wasn't."
Casper shrugged. "Honestly, I don't know what to think of happiness. It feels like an illusion created to keep us sane. I remember vague flashes of happiness - a good feeling. But it never lasted and it was just a thin veil hiding everything else. So I just said fake."
There was a moment of silence, where I didn't know how to respond.
"Your turn," Casper proclaimed. "Pink."
"Panther?" I said, still a little uncertain.
"Black and white..."
He wrinkled his nose. "How is hyphenated weird?"
"It's not. It's the first thing I thought of. But, come to think of it, I don't see the purpose of hyphenated words. Why hyphenate them? It's one more irrelevant character in a word . It's like, you can't decide whether to squash the two words together or keep them apart, so you fix a little line inbetween them, thinking, here's a compromise. I mean, how weird is that?"
"Extremely," Casper said solemnly, plucking a crumb of biscuit from my plate, and rolling it around in his fingers. "I've tried to explain it to people before, but they just don't get it. I had a fierce debate with my fourth grade teacher about it. She argued that I couldn't argue with proper English, and then I said that SHE wasn't proper English, because she was a - Well. It wasn't a nice or proper word."
I laughed. "You were a charming fourth grader. I was the teacher's pet."
He rolled his eyes. "Of course you were. You're a seventeen-year-old therapist. Teachers like smart kids, and you're a genius."
"Not a genius," I said defensively. "My mum taught me at home before I got any schooling, so I was put in to first grade instead of kindergarten. And I may have skipped a grade... or two."
"So not a complete genius," he muttered, "But a semi-genius."
I picked up a biscuit piece and aimed it at his face. He batted it away easily.
"You're easier to talk to, you know?" he said suddenly. "You're not so cold and posh as the other therapists. They were just doing it for the money, it seemed. But you're better... more... charismatic."
Charismatic. I blinked at that word. I didn't like being called it - mostly because I didn't like to think myself as such. I laughed, almost darkly.
"I'm not charismatic. I can't be," I said flatly, silently urging him to be quiet, as he was reaching out to a touchy subject.
"But you are," he said matter-of-factly. "Look at yourself."
"Casper, I'm not, leave it," I said, becoming irritated.
"But you are," he said in a convinced tone. "You're confident, and you put up a good front. You always seem to do good stuff, and you work for the better. You have excellent grades. Bet you were popular, too. Sage Thurling, you are almost the definition of perfect."
And I snapped.
"Stop it," I told him sharply, angrily. "I'm not perfect. I'm NOT perfect, I never was and frankly, never will be. Perfection is an illusion. But I didn't used to think that. People were always insisting I was perfect. It's what started this whole thing. Oh, Sage, you're so good at everything, I wish I was as perfect as you! Sage is the perfect daughter; anyone would want her! You're just so perfect, Sage!" My voice was ugly as I mocked others. "And when you hear something so many times, you start to believe it. And then I screwed up, and suddenly I didn't feel perfect anymore, and I was horrified, because perfection was what I WAS. It was me and I was it and after I realized I actually wasn't, I felt useless, irrelevant, pathetic. I felt... not good."
My outburst was over, and my voice's volume had rapidly decreased. "So don't call me anything close to 'perfect'," I said softly. "Because I'm really, really not."
Casper stared at me, and I sighed, ashamed of my outburts, ducking my head. It didn't happen often that I got so annoyed that I snapped at people, but it had today. I so wished it hadn't.
There was silence for a minute.
"I'm sorry," Cas said at last, voice quiet. "I didn't know what 'perfect' meant to you. I didn't mean to upset you like that."
"I'm sorry, too," I said in a small voice. "I shouldn't have snapped at you. It was really unprofessional."
He shrugged. "Professional is boring. Don't become like that."
I smiled. "Alright."
So, in the end, Casper wasn't the one who revealed something about himself; I was. But that was beneficial for me, actually, because for the rest of the lesson after that, he became more... comfortable, and intimate around me.
Maybe it was easier to tell a stranger something rather than someone you knew, but I was extremely hopeful that for us, that wouldn't be the case.