The Bad Project

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Chapter 45. Bronnie’s Surprise/Crystal

Crystal was very tired after all the excitement at the hospital, helping Marianne’s older sister, Lily Wu, and finally the good news that Marianne was on the mend. She slept for twelve hours straight, and felt very loggy when she finally got up and got on her jeans. She used her heating coil to make herself a cup of coffee; the dining hall wasn’t open between 9:30 and 11:30 AM. As she sipped it, she thought about counseling again. She had made herself a promise about that during the crisis. Could she fulfill that promise?

“I’m not crazy,” she said aloud. Of course, she knew she wasn’t. But counselors were trained to help you get past mental roadblocks in your life. She had one. Now that she’d admitted that to herself, it looked more like a mountain than a roadblock. How could she love anyone when even seeing a gentle sexual touch in a movie made her anxious? She didn’t know if she could talk about these things with someone else, especially someone whom she didn’t even know. A counselor. But that was the essence: it was someone she need never see again when her treatment was over. All of the embarrassment and pain would just be packed up and put away. For good, maybe. She decided she would go ahead and fulfill her mental promise, made under the duress of Marianne’s hospitalization and her fear that her roommate would die.She realized that hiding her problem was a sort of death itself, a different kind of closure that kept her away from parts of life she’d otherwise enjoy and want to be part of. The mountain is a barrier, not just a mountain. I need to go over it, around it, through it, whatever it takes, she told herself. She thought back to her conversation with Grandma. She knew she would want her to look for a way past this barrier. She wanted Leroy to overcome his problems, and she wanted the same thing for Crystal. “And so would Mom if she was still here,” she whispered.

There was a timid knock. Crystal walked over and opened the door. It was Bronnie. “I missed you at gospel choir, and we all prayed for you. And then I called Jason and heard what you’ve been going through.” Crystal was not able to keep herself from tearing up, but tried not to cry outright. Bronnie didn’t make it easier by giving her a bear hug. For some reason, that made her want to cry even more. But she kept it all back except for a tiny sob.

“Baby, I feel for you. You two are so close, it’s almost like going through it yourself. But Jason said she’d be okay now, right?”

“Yes, that’s right. She’s gonna be fine. I’m just kind of emotional right now, with all the stress.” She gave Bronnie a watery smile and motioned for him to sit down. He sat in Marianne’s desk chair and looked at Crystal with a doubtful expression.

“What’s the matter? I’m okay, really,” she said. He didn’t need to be all tensed up, her worries about Marianne were over now.

“It’s not this, it’s just that I have something I want to talk with you about, and I’m trying to decide if this is the right time or not. Probably not, you’re really overwhelmed right now.”

“Don’t be that way. I am fine, really! Just tired. But nothing is wrong.” Crystal smiled, trying to encourage Bronnie to say what was in his mind. But before she could stop herself, she said what was in her own mind. “Bronnie, I sort of promised myself during Marianne’s darkest hour, that I’d get counseling about something bad that happened to me in high school. I was trying to decide if I am strong enough to do it or not. But I think I can, so things are getting better.” Oh, no, I didn’t want to tell anyone about the counseling until I was sure. I really don’t have myself under control right now. How can I be so stupid? What will he think of me, that I’m nuts?

Bronnie got up and sat on the bed next to Crystal’s chair so he could take one of her hands. “It’s strange how things work out, Crystal. It’s counseling I wanted to talk with you about. I know you’ll be upset, but when I went to tour Caltech with Jason he told me what happened to you.”

“He did what? How could he tell anyone about what happened to me? That bastard. Who needs brothers?” Crystal snatched her hand back, folded her arms across her chest. Her eyes flamed.

Bronnie kept calm. He smiled at Crystal and said, “He told me because I let him know how I was starting to feel about you, and he wanted me to know how hard it would be to—get you to have a normal man-woman thing going.” Crystal felt like a coach whose players have just doused him with a cooler of iced Gatorade. She shivered and felt unable to say a word.

Bronnie went on, “He said how you were the heart of the family, everyone so proud of you and you always wanted to make sure everyone was doing okay before you did anything. But after that awful thing happened to you, you got distant. You still took care of people, but you lost that shining happiness you used to have. Jason said, anyway, he felt like some part of your heart was all frozen up. He said he tried to talk to your Grandma but she didn’t see it that way. But he loves you and he wants you to be able to put all that behind you.”

Crystal felt so cold she could have been literally frozen, but Bronnie’s words made her heart start to feel warm. Jason had never said anything to her about feeling she had changed. She wished he had, but now she knew how he felt. And like Grandma, he seemed to feel she could get over it somehow. Although she was still angry with Jason for telling, she couldn’t stop her eyes from shining, and they gave Bronnie their own message of encouragement.

“I’m not asking you anything now, it’s too soon. But I wanted to see if we could take some counseling together, when you’re ready.” Bronnie took out a photo from his wallet and showed her a couple, perhaps in their late 20’s. He said, “My friend Walter here in this picture did that with his wife Tina before they were married, and it cleared up a lot of things so they could make a fresh start and trust each other. I don’t know if we’ll ever go there, I’m not pushing you into any commitment now. I just want to see if we can have a relationship. Just think it over and I’ll talk with you about it next week.” He took the photo back and carefully inserted it back into its place in his wallet. Crystal loved the care he used with the photo. It matched his care with her and Marianne, with Cherie, and made her think he was trustworthy.

A moment of silence elongated between theml with the two looking into each others’ eyes. Crystal felt a glow of happiness, along with the stress of knowing she would need a lot of the counseling she had been dreading. She told Bronnie, “I’m going to need counseling on my own first, Bronnie. I don’t know how it will go, but I hope I can be ready to do what you’re asking of me in a few months. I have feelings towards you too, but I can’t name them yet. But I’m hopeful.”

She hoped Bronnie could tell how she felt without her having to put it into words. She had suffered so much from the rape, including the long, hard guilt trip and having her father work day and night. Now her Forscher Award would free him from needing to work the third job, and he’d be around more, she hoped. Things might be a lot better in her family. She hoped she could get past the rape through counseling. It seemed that both Grandma and Jason thought she could. Maybe she and Bronnie could restart a relationship on a more solid footing. Bronnie didn’t sound like he was going to change his mind. She hoped she was worth it, that the counseling could repair her heart.

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