“I walked past a wedding today.”
Dr. Lin stared back at Steven through the screen after he said that, an expectant look on her face. Several moments passed in silence, until enough time passed that Steven worried their connection had dropped and the feed was frozen. Eventually, though, she did adjust her glasses and speak up.
“Well, I bet that was quite a sight,” she began, obviously trying to prod Steven in going on, “I hear Califarmland is beautiful in the spring.”
“Oh man, it was gorgeous! ” Steven could just feel a wave of gushing coming on. If only this was a call with a friend, he could see himself going on about all the little details.
It had taken a long while for Steven to get all the way to the opposite coast, but he was loving that he’d made it here when he did. The place was already so lush. All the blooming spring greenery added to the charm. Anywhere he drove, there were vibrant fields of trees, flowers, crops, and more. His phone was already full of pictures he’d been sharing with Peridot, who’d been taking notes for her own agricultural practices.
This wasn’t a call with a friend, though. Not that Steven didn’t appreciate and value Dr. Lin and her work. He just had to remember that she wasn’t really a friend. Being a friend would mean she couldn’t help him the way she’d been doing for a while now. She was more like a coworker of Steven’s, and their job was to dig in his brain and mine out all the weird emotional gunk that he’d been compiling up there.
That was why Steven had brought up the wedding in the first place, even though it was something that might not seem like it would fit in their weekly video chats. Just today he’d learned about another thing in his life that he loved but that also put an uncomfortable feeling down in the pit of his stomach.
Steven took a deep breath in and held it for a moment, before releasing it. This was the part where he muscled through the weird emotions.
“Did I already tell you about how I planned a wedding when I was 14?”
“Bits and pieces.” Dr. Lin flipped through her notepad for a moment as she replied, eyes scanning the pages. “It was Garnet’s wedding, right? Or Ruby and Sapphire’s? Both?”
Steven couldn’t help but marvel at the absurdity of it all now, looking back at it. How many other therapists would be able to say they’d psychoanalyzed the implications of a wedding planned by a 14 year old for two space aliens that, together, formed an entirely new being?
“Right, both of them. I’m getting better at this fusion stuff.”
They both shared a chuckle at the notion. Given how much they’d struggled to talk about Steven’s experiences with fusion before, it was clear this was still an area they’d need to improve on.
Predictably, she was still very quick to pivot back to the subject at hand.
“So, you went walking by a wedding, and it was gorgeous!” she began, succinctly recapping the little they’d established so far. “That’s very nice, but I’m assuming there’s more to it than that if you brought it up here.”
“Yep.” Steven felt guilty for even saying so. For thinking the way he was now. About feeling how he did.
Too much of his life was spent carrying around guilt, he’d found out. It had always been disguised as something else, and well enough that he just mindlessly took it on. He’d assumed that the painful memories he’d held on to were just symptoms of helping other people, and that was something he liked, so dealing with the bad parts was just inevitable.
Of course, he knew that wasn’t true. Helping people didn’t have to intrinsically come with pain, but Steven had learned that too late. No, not too late. Maybe just late enough that now he had to work hard and try to separate the two things in his head. Something like that.
His fingers started to tap against the desk the laptop was sitting on, a mindless little tic to expel some kinetic energy. His other hand came up to cover his mouth.
“Steven,” she softly reminded him, “hands.”
Steven gave a little hum of acknowledgement, pulling his hands away from the desk and his face.
He sighed and reached for his pocket, pulling out a colorful little cube with little attachments on each side. It was a better outlet for his hands to work with when they just needed to move, or so he’d been told.
With that out of the way, Dr. Lin pivoted them back to the topic of discussion yet again. “Now, what about that wedding? It seems to have brought up memories of the one you planned.”
More than just that, but it was a good place to start at least.
“I think it happened when I saw the flowers,” Steven began, voice soft as he reminisced on the sight from a few hours earlier, “I think the bridesmaids were all holding orange peonies. Or maybe they were marigolds.”
He stopped for a moment, then looked into the camera with an intense expression. “Unrelated note, but the bridesmaids were also in these burgundy, mikado dresses that I loved.”
“Alright, I’ll give you two more ‘unrelated notes’ and then I’m cutting you off.”
Back to business, then. Flowers.
“So, I think they were peonies. That was the thought that made me think back to Garnet’s wedding,” he resumed his story, his thumb already sliding over a rubber disc on one side of the cube.
Amethyst started out wanting roses. Ruby wanted hydrangeas. Peridot wanted sunflowers. Steven thought peonies were the way to go. There was a surprising amount of debate that went on among the lot of them, and all over something that hardly even mattered. Steven made it happen, though. It was important to him, more so than it had any right to be.
Of course it was important to him, it was for Garnet. Without a wonderful wedding, there might not be Garnet. That was doubtlessly an oversimplification of the situation, but the fear it was true had kept him working hard.
Steven’s eyes squeezed shut as he thought back, trying to focus on the memory.
“I tried so hard to make everything perfect, because it was all right after so many bad things happened. I thought…”
Wetness started to fall down his right cheek. He instinctively reached for the box of tissues he kept nearby during these video chats. “I thought that it was just my job to make something happy and good if I wanted to stop feeling bad about all the other stuff.”
“It wasn’t your job. There should never have been an onus put on you, as a child, to single-handedly cultivate a better environment for yourself or your family.” Dr. Lin laid out the fact with that authoritative tone of hers. “You know that, don’t you?”
Steven took a deep breath in, pushing down that instant urge to argue that nobody had ever made him feel that way. No matter how desperately he wanted to cling to that thought, it wasn’t true. Even if they’d never said the words to him ad verbatim, there was always a silent call for Steven to pick up the pieces of his broken family.
So, instead of saying anything, he just nodded and patted the tissue against one eye and then the other. There was a lump in his throat he didn’t want to struggle with right now.
There was a minute’s silence as Dr. Lin let him collect himself, with Steven giving a few false starts that trailed off into hiccups or little sobs. His freely-flowing emotions were starting to take over. He was determined not to let that stop him, though. There were still things he wanted to talk about.
“I still love that stupid wedding. Every minute of it. The pictures make me so happy.” He spat the last word out like it was a curse, his brow all furrowed.
There were so many mementos of that day Steven had tucked away, only to break them out when he needed a little positivity. Dried flowers stuck between the pages of a book. The bit of lacy material they’d wrapped Garnet’s bouquet in. An empty bag of Chaps that Onion had probably stolen before coming.
They were all precious to him, even now. No matter how much he would think about that time in his life and see the blueprints for all the trauma and complexes he’d develop later, that hadn’t changed. Garnet’s wedding was just a memory incapable of being marred by his current strife.
Frustration boiled up in him. The hand that was holding the tissue suddenly dropped it, flying up to grip his hair on the side of his head by its roots.
“I just want to hate it sometimes, but I can’t!” Steven’s voice rose some, even as he did his best to avoid alerting the other guests of the bed and breakfast he was staying at.
“Steven, hands.” Dr. Lin’s reminder was just a touch less gentle this time.
The hand in Steven’s hair initially tightened its grip in response, but let go entirely just as quick. It had taken a while, but that infuriatingly calm little two word reminder had been used on him enough times by now that he was fairly acclimated to understanding it by now.
So, he fought against the painful sensation welling up in his chest. It wasn’t anything physically wrong with him, he’d learned. Just more of his body’s learned reactions to stress and anxiety. It hurt, but it was a lot easier to deal with than some of his more intense responses.
Now he at least knew how to deal with these. It only took a great deal of reminding himself of just where he was in life right now, and that there were a great number of people out there ready to offer him their support at a moment’s notice. Family, friends, even the professionals he worked with.
Keeping all that at the forefront of his mind, it felt possible to come down from the wave of fear and resentment that had rushed over him. At least enough that he found his voice again, able to speak through it all.
A tense little moment passed as Dr. Lin watched Steven through the screen, eyeing him carefully in anticipation of any other anxious reactions. Once she seemed satisfied the urge had passed him by, she visibly relaxed a little in her seat.
“Steven,” she began, easing back into the conversation with her soft tone back on, “why do you think you should hate the wedding?”
“Because of what it made me do,” he shot back without a moment’s hesitation.
Steven’s head remained bowed, his tired eyes fixated on the cube in his hands. Dr. Lin wasn’t one to be deterred by a slight degree of avoidance, though.
“What did it make you do?”
They both understood exactly what Steven was getting at, but he was smart enough to realize she needed him to say it. To talk it out like they always did and squeeze all the patterns and habits out his brain that had built up over his entire life. It was all part of that hard work to replace those bad things with better, healthier things. Like putting his brain on a diet and replacing the junk food with celery and carrots. Rabbit brain.
You’re avoiding the question. He stopped himself in his tangential thoughts, forcing himself to focus back on the conversation.
“It’s why I proposed to Connie.”
That was what he needed to say. Steven had officially done his part. Dr. Lin didn’t respond, though. Just fixed him with that expectant stare that silently told him to go on.
“The wedding made me so happy, and I kept thinking of it that way for the next two years. It was just the one, unambiguously happy thing I got to have since I started being a real Crystal Gem.
“When I was stuck on Homeworld and scared the Diamonds weren’t going to understand, I thought of the wedding and said that love could do anything. When we were dismantling the empire and gems were afraid of change, I showed them the wedding as an example of gems embracing all the things they could do and be. When I couldn’t see my family whenever I wanted ‘cause I was too busy up in space, I’d look at pictures of the reception and think about how we’d do something just like that as soon as we were done!”
The cube in Steven’s hands ended up on the desk at some point during his little rant, discarded once his hands felt too tired to fidget anymore. His whole body felt a little like that now, a little run-down and in need of a nap. Subconsciously his eyes drifted to the clock in the corner of his screen.
Fifteen more minutes. You can manage that.
“When things started to get stressful again, one thing I didn’t want to do was face it alone.” He grabbed another tissue. “Connie was the person I was most scared of being without, especially with her college stuff.”
Jayhawk University. Still a very likely candidate for Connie, according to their video call yesterday. “So then I thought about her leaving, and I looked for someone to get advice from.”
“From Garnet.” Dr. Lin pulled a face. Not quite one of disappointment, but definitely one that hinted at disapproval. Just slightly, though.
“Yep. I ended up getting Ruby, though. And then Sapphire.”
“Both of whom said that proposing was the way to go for you as a sixteen year old human.”
“Well,” Steven interjected, “they’re gems, they didn’t really get that the age thing is—”
“Steven,” she cut in, “we’ve agreed not to use the gems being alien as an excuse to avoid giving them culpability.”
Ugh. She was right. Steven hadn’t even known what “culpability” was when they’d started together, but only three days in he’d had to promise to stop defending the gems from it. Cultural divide wasn’t a good reason for beings who’d lived on Earth for a long time to treat him how they did, or so Dr. Lin had said.
Fine, then. Steven would assign them the blame.
“Okay, yeah, they messed me up!” The words spilled out of him suddenly, clearly barbed but not quite aggressive. “They said I should propose, and then I followed along stupidly and things got worse and worse!”
Steven’s choice of self-deprecating language clearly wasn’t appreciated by Dr. Lin, but she didn’t hone in on that right away. She actually did something unusual. She removed her glasses and set her notepad aside, adjusting herself in her seat and looking at Steven head on through her camera.
“Steven, do you know very many human married couples?” she asked.
The abruptness of the question threw Steven a bit, but he quickly started to think of the ones he did know. The Maheswarans. The Barrigas. Vidalia and Yellowtail…
Wait, was that it? Did he seriously only know three of them? Huh.
“A few,” he sheepishly admitted.
“And do you think any of them had a path to happiness that resembled Ruby and Sapphire’s?”
“Well, of course not,” Steven remarked with something that almost sounded like a laugh, “they’re human!”
Dr. Lin didn’t say anything after that. She let Steven’s words hang in the air for a moment, holding in there for a long time, until finally her point seemed to land.
Suddenly, Steven’s eyes widened as he sat up in his chair, reaching up to gingerly touch the tips of his fingers to his chin. “ Ohhhhh.”
With that, Dr. Lin gave a self-satisfied little grin and a hum of contentment. The moment of a patient reaching a moment of catharsis was always satisfying, and it seemed Steven was no exception to that rule.
“There we go, now you’re getting the picture!” She replaced her glasses on her face and picked up her notepad to scrawl down a few quick notes. “I don’t suppose you’ll actually be attending any human weddings any time soon, will you?”
“Actually, there’s one coming up!”
An excited little grin crossed Steven’s face as he thought about it. “Mr. Smiley and Mr. Frowney got engaged a few months before I left home. They’re set for an autumn wedding in Kansas, where they met.”
“Oh, well that’s some fortunate timing!” Dr. Lin said with a surprised little edge in her voice, “Do you think you can try something for me as the wedding rolls around, and in the time before then?”
“I want you to look at those married couples you know, and get a better understanding of them and their past. Maybe even chat with them about their relationships, if you’re up for that.”
An assignment. Steven was no stranger to getting those at the end of a session. Well, this one sounded easy enough at least.
Steven didn’t really think that sitting down to talk about Doug and Priyanka’s romantic history was on the table, but he was sure Vidalia wouldn’t hesitate to tell him as many stories as he wanted. Who else would be more open than a woman who gave her son a tape of his own birth and used to tell Steven about how his dad used to be hot?
“Alright, I’ll try that.” Steven gave a nod, already grabbing his phone from his jacket pocket, just to make a note to shoot Vidalia a text at some point. “Is this one of those assignments where you can tell me what the point is right now, or are you gonna tell me after I come back and talk about my results?”
“Ha ha.” Dr. Lin’s tone was heavily monotone, even though she smiled at him. “I’ll tell you exactly what this is for.”
To better illustrate her point, she decided to take up the method of literal illustration. She dragged her pen across a fresh page of her notepad for a moment before lifting it up to the camera, letting Steven see what she’d written.
Two circles, one on each side of the page. One containing the words GEM WEDDING, the other, HUMAN WEDDING.
She began by tapping the point of her pen against the former circle. “There’s a definite crux in regards to your relation to Garnet’s wedding. Beautiful as it may have been, it was definitely created in an environment that instilled a number of unhealthy ideas in you.”
The paper dropped out of the frame for a moment, leaving Dr. Lin’s face staring at Steven. “You said that you wished you could hate the wedding, and I understand. But I don’t think you necessarily have to feel that way.”
The little diagram came back onto the screen, only for Dr. Line to bring her pen up and draw a thick little line between the two circles. A clear and definite separation of the two concepts.
“What you need to do, Steven, is thoroughly and completely divorce these two ideas from each other in your mind.”
Typically, Steven would’ve made a silly little comment about the choice to use “divorce” in that statement because heh, wordplay. As it was, though, he was feeling emotionally compressed enough to just sit there quietly and take in the information being presented to him.
“Garnet’s wedding is something dear to you and your family, and I think you should be proud of what you put together as a child,” she explained, pen drifting to the gem side of the paper again, “but it’s not something you can replicate in your own life and relationship, and that’s okay.”
The paper shifted just a bit, enough for Dr. Lin’s face to peek out from behind it. “Is this making sense?”
If the contemplative mood Steven suddenly found himself being hit by was anything to go off of, he’d say yes. This would give him a lot to think about, after he emotionally recovered a bit.
“Yeah,” he confirmed with a nod, “yeah, I think it does! Thank you.”
“Well, that’s why we’re here.” The notepad came down from the screen one last time as Dr. Lin came into view again.
She peered off into the corner of her own screen for a moment, only to look back at him again.
“We’re almost at our time, are there any other pressing matters you’d like to quickly discuss or make note of?”
“Nah, I think I’ve hit capacity for today.” And then some. “I could really use a nap before I head out to that sunset vineyard tour.”
“Understandable. I trust you’ll have lots of pictures for me at next week’s session.”
“So many you’ll have to tell me to stop and focus.”
“I wouldn’t expect anything else.” The woman smiled as she relaxed a bit, reaching forward to place her hands on her laptop. “I look forward to speaking with you again next week, Steven.
“Goodbye, Dr. Lin.”
Just like that, Steven’s video app closed out of the call. They’d closed at 88 minutes today. Not too shabby.
He slowly closed the lid of his laptop until it shut with a faint click, slowly sliding his chair back and standing from the desk. Well, that was one productive session.
Sparing a look behind him, Steven’s eyes were quickly drawn to the bed. It was really comfy, and that nap he mentioned was calling his name right now. Before that though, there was just one little thing he wanted to check on.
The messenger bag Steven carried with him, tossed onto the floor by the bed when he’d come back for the video chat, was pulled up onto the mattress alongside Steven when he flopped down on it.
Delving inside, the teen dug around for a moment before finding what he was looking for. Retracting his hand, Steven pulled a little orange flower out. It was just a little something he’d picked up off the grass when he’d walked by the wedding earlier, probably blown off one of the many floral decorations by the light breeze.
“Now then, are you a peony, or a marigold?” he asked the flower aloud, turning it this way and that in his hand to try and decipher the mystery.
Unable to discern it by sight alone, he brought the petals up under his nose, getting a quick little whiff.
Ooh. Definitely a peony.
Honestly, even though he didn’t know exactly why, Steven was pretty pleased to have figured that out. Without any better place to put the thing, he tucked the stem of the flower into his hair as he lounged back on the bed. It took a little shifting about and rolling around, but he quickly found a comfortable position that allowed him to start drifting off.
I think I’d like pink peonies. It was the last thought he had before finally falling off into slumber. Pink peonies would be perfect for a wedding.