The words stared back at her. She flipped her pen over the knuckles of her right hand, though it kept falling onto the paper where the words were listed. She had seen people fiddle with a pen in their hand – weaving it in and out of their fingers, though she was never able to master it. (Sure, she had mostly seen people do it in the movies, but it must have been a little possible, right?)
Noelle pressed her lips together not sure how she was going to get through this assignment. She had just finished her homework for school and now had to worry about this task. Was it legal for a therapist to give their patient homework? If it was, it definitely should have been illegal.
She had only been seeing her therapist once a week for about a month. They were slowly getting to know each other but Noelle wasn’t sure how this list of words would help her. She still wasn’t going to feel confidant in anything she did – her soccer team, homework, any creative work she’d done. There were still going to be days when Noelle wasn’t going to want to get out of bed and go to school, see or talk to people, and not want to do anything at all.
A knock came at her bedroom door and when Noelle looked over her shoulder she noticed her friend in the doorway. She must have left her door open which was a mistake. Noelle had no intention of seeing anyone or talking to anyone tonight.
He walked into the door and stood over her at her desk. “Hey, you were missed at school today.”
“Okay,” Noelle said. How else was she supposed to reply to that? She wasn’t sorry she missed school. Besides, it wasn’t her fault she missed school anyway. Her brain didn’t want to get out of bed this morning. She was lucky she wasn’t back in bed right now.
Also, she certainly wasn’t going to go back to school because people missed her. Who missed her anyway? The teachers? Of course they were going to say that. She knew her classmates didn’t miss her. Aside from Alexander, she had no friends.
Noelle let out a sigh. She turned around in her desk chair and placed a tick mark on a sheet of paper in the corner of her desk. It was one tick mark of many covering the page.
“What’s that for?” Alexander asked.
“My therapist told me to mark whenever I begin to over think. I think she wants to gauge just how much I do it,” Noelle explained.
“Ah, okay. Did you want to talk about it? You don’t have to, but I’m here if you want.”
Noelle gave him a small smile. “I appreciate that. I always knew you were here even though I don’t act it at times.”
“I know.” Alexander placed a gently hand on her shoulder. “What’s that list there?”
Noelle rolled her eyes. “It’s a list of virtues. My therapist wants me to circle five to ten words that describe me.”
“Oh, well that’s easy.”
She narrowed her eyes at him. “They’re a list of virtues. You know, positive words. How am I supposed to circle five of these things? I told her I might be able to get one but she said I needed at least five. She wasn’t going to accept any less than that. Do you know how stressful this is?”
Noelle continued. “She said it gently, of course. I like my therapist, I really do. But I don’t think it’s fair that I have to really think on this when it stresses me out. Virtues aren’t exactly something I have too many of. How am I supposed to pick a couple out that explain who I am? Not to mention I’m going to totally sound arrogant if I do circle a couple of these words. Who likes arrogant people? No one.” She paused. She wrote another tick mark on the other sheet of paper.
“Okay, I hear you. But let’s just take a look at this list,” Alexander replied reaching over his friend. “There are a lot of words here and I bet there are way more than five that describe you.”
“Hear me out.” Alexander stared at the sheet. “I can easily point out some words that describe you.”
“Of course you can. My parents could too but you guys are just being nice,” Noelle said gently. “Besides, my therapist told me I need to pick the words out on my own without any influence from anyone else.”
“That’s fair.” Alexander nodded.
Noelle turned back to the list and grumbled under her breath about it staring at the words.
“Why don’t we talk about something else and take your mind off of that list?” Alexander suggested.
“I’m seeing my therapist tomorrow afternoon though. I really should get this done. I’ve honestly lost sleep over this,” Noelle replied.
“Be sure to tell your therapist that,” Alexander said. “But let’s just talk for a little while. I won’t stay long. I don’t want to distract you too much but it seems as though you need a break.”
Noelle sighed. She turned away from the list of words once more. She didn’t know why her mother had allowed Alexander to come up to her room in the first place. She loved him, they were best friends, but she wasn’t in the mood to see or talk to anyone. Alexander was just about to use up the last bit of strength she had for the day and once he left, she wasn’t going to want to think about the list anymore. Though she couldn’t argue with him – she really did want to do something other than think of that list.
“What do you want to talk about?” she asked.
Alexander sat down at the end of her bed and grinned. “Do you remember how we met?”
Noelle furrowed her brows in confusion. “Of course I remember. Why do you want to talk about that?”
He chuckled. “You tell me. How did we meet?”
“One of our classmates outed you before you were ready. You were pretty embarrassed and upset,” Noelle recounted.
“And who punched that classmate in the face and got suspended for it?”
Noelle paused a moment before throwing her head back and laughing. “I forgot about that… I must have blocked it out of my memory. My parents were so mad at me.”
“I wasn’t mad at you though. We became fast friends after that despite not really talking to one another before that day.”
“Yeah, that was a good time. I mean, I’m sorry you went through that though.”
Alexander shrugged. “Hey, my job was done for me even if I wasn’t ready to tell people yet. And I made a new friend that day, so how can I look back at such a day with a sour face?”
Noelle nodded in agreement with a grin still on her face. That was a good day despite Alexander being upset and her getting in her first (and last) fight in school. Also, her first (and last) time being suspended.
“Hey, aren’t some of those words on your list?” Alexander asked.
Noelle frowned. He had to bring that up now? They were just having a good conversation.
“I mean,” Alexander amended his statement, “are there any words on that list you can find that remind you of us meeting?”
Ah, she saw where he was going with this. She picked up her pen and scanned the list of many words that faced her. Two jumped out at her.
“Acceptance, I accept you for who you are.” She circled the first word on the list. “Friendliness? We became friends that day.”
“I would say you’re friendly. You’ve always tried to make sure someone had somebody to sit with at lunch, for example,” Alexander agreed.
Noelle circled the word. Then she chuckled to herself and crossed out the word, “peace”.
“You’re a peaceful person,” Alexander argued.
“I punch people in the face.”
He laughed. “Okay, but that was one time.”
She looked at the list again. “What about creativity? I was creative in sticking up for you.”
Alexander narrowed his eyes. “I wouldn’t exactly call that creativity… I’m not so sure your therapist would like to hear you talking about how punching people in the face is a creative way to get them to stop doing whatever they’re doing. I would say you’re creative in other ways though.”
“What do you mean?”
“You think of new ways to do things or to fix things. Remember we worked together on a science project freshman year? We worked so hard on it and had many late nights and spent our weekends on it.”
“Well, yeah. That was our final project, right? It was easier than a test and, if I recall, we were both doing pretty lousy in that class,” Noelle added.
“We didn’t have the best science teacher that year though. I wouldn’t go so far as to blame us for our lousy grades,” Alexander corrected.
“That’s what all dumb people say.”
“We’re not dumb, we just talked a lot in class. Do you remember the project? The solar system?”
Noelle nodded. “I remember we thought it was weird to be learning about the solar system in high school when that was something we went over in elementary school.”
“I agree, but you remember the actual project?” Alexander egged on.
“You mean the food?”
“We didn’t make it out of food at first. It was all Styrofoam pieces and we had tried to think of other materials. But we took the easy way out and painted Styrofoam and attached them to Popsicle sticks. But then my dog got to it?”
“Oh, yeah…” Noelle said trying not to laugh. “That was an interesting day. The project was due the following day and for once we didn’t procrastinate.”
“So, what did you do?”
“We went to the grocery store and we bought a bunch of baking supplies and ended up remaking the solar system using cake and cookie dough.”
“That was all your idea and it was the most fun we’ve ever had. I’d say that’s pretty creative,” Alexander stated.
Noelle looked back at her list and circled, “creativity”. She read the other words and circled another. “Determination? We could have given up the whole project but we didn’t.”
“That makes sense to me.”
“I didn’t get angry that you left the project on the table where the dog could easily get to it. I saw an opportunity to improve upon on our project. Despite our hard work the first time around, we were both flexible in just doing the whole thing over again,” Noelle explained.
Alexander smiled and gave her a nod. “I think that makes sense.”
Noelle circled the word and squealed with excitement. “Hey, that’s five!”
“See? I knew you could do it. There are many other words on there that describe you too. But you have your bare minimum for your therapist. Maybe you can get some good sleep tonight.” Alexander stood up from the bed and leaned over his friend’s shoulder.
Noelle looked back at the list and circled two more words. “Loyalty and thankfulness,” she said. “I am thankful for your company and friendship, especially since I’m having a hard time lately.”
Alexander put his hands on her shoulders. He gave them a gentle squeeze before massaging them.
“Loyal because I believe we’ll be friends forever no matter what. I know that sounds corny but we’ve both been through hell and only came back because the other got us out.”
“So you do believe you’ll make it out of this rough time?”
Noelle hesitated to reply but she nodded. “I do. I know it’ll take time, but I understand my parents, my therapist, and you are all here no matter what.”
“Exactly. That’s what we’ve been trying to tell you all along. I’m glad you see it for yourself. However, if you lose sight of it again, we’ll point out these words and have a chat,” Alexander explained.
Noelle chuckled. “Who knew this exercise would actually be helpful? Honestly, I can’t wait for therapy tomorrow.”