Just between friends
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Six: A kind of loving

Pacey drew his truck to a jolting stop outside the hospital. He switched off the ignition and sat there still holding the steering wheel, wondering what on earth he was going to say to his brother. He had thought of nothing else the entire journey, but he was still none the wiser. How could they make up for years of pain they had caused each other with one simple conversation? Pacey sighed and loosened his tight grip from the wheel. He wasnít sure how they could reconcile matters, all he knew was they had to find a way so they could decide what to do about their father.

With relief he saw no police cars in the carpark or blue uniforms on the way to Dougís room, suggesting he had no visitors at that time. He paused in the doorway, momentarily having to renew his courage. Doug was awake and staring out the small, clouded window in his somber room. He was sitting up now at least, and looked considerably stronger than he had the night before. Pacey cleared his throat noisily to catch his attention.

"Hey, Doug."

His brother turned his head gingerly and Pacey got a better look at the gruesome bruise that covered his left cheek. A small smile twitched at Dougís mouth. For the first time in a very long while he was actually glad to see Pacey.

"I was wondering when youíd come." Doug waited for him to come closer to the bed, motioning him to sit on the end. Pacey settled a little awkwardly at his brotherís feet, carefully avoiding his eyes. "You know, donít you?"

"Know what?" Pacey said innocently, but it was a façade.

"About everything. Why I was in Settlerís ParkÖ what happened there."

"Yeah," came the hushed reply.

Doug smiled grimly. "I really have underestimated your intelligence over the years, havenít I, Pace? It was easier to think you were just a clueless moron. But we both know better than that."

Pacey hung his head.

"Iíll spare you the sordid details of my private life, itís bad enough that he knows what happened."

"What are you going to do about Dad?"

Doug shrugged painfully, tears pricking in his eyes. "I donít know, little brother. Youíd think I wouldíve worked it out by now, wouldnít you? I mean, considering the number of times something like this has happened to one of us. But the truth is, Pacey, he hasnít laid a finger on me for so long, I have no idea what to do."

Pacey regarded his words silently, his chest growing tighter. "This is all my fault," he said quietly.

"What?"

"DadÖ all of this. If I hadnít teased you incessantly about being gay then maybe he never would have found out. He wouldnít have followed you to the park and seen youó"

"Noó"

"Doug, you know itís true! If I wasnít such a wise-ass, or if Iíd ever considered what might have happened to you if Dad knew the truthÖ I know what he is like, I should have realized what would happenó"

"Pacey, stop, all right?" Doug insisted, watching him getting more and more worked up. "You were a pain in the ass, Iíll admit, but this wasnít your fault. Iíve known that I was gay since I was your age, okay? Iíve been dealing with this for ten years now, and it was only a matter of time before the old man pulled his head out of the sand and faced up to the truth. He suspected it when I was a teenager, and from his reaction then I knew Iíd have to cover it up. So I became the dutiful son, I followed in his footsteps and did everything he expected of me, including dating women. I played the part for ten years but I just canít do it anymore. And as crappy as I feel right now, itís an incredible relief that I donít have to pretend anymore."

"You donít blame me?"

"No, you little butt-wipe," Doug said affectionately. He had meant it as a joke but Paceyís eyes misted with tears at the familiar put-down.

"Why do we always do that?" he asked with difficulty. "Why did we start treating each other the way we do, Dougie? Sometimes I think you must hate me so muchÖ I donít know when that started to happen. Do you remember when we were kids? It was you and me against that bastard. We always said weíd stand up to him together when we were old enough. Why did things change?"

Doug looked away, just as upset as Pacey. He had often wondered about that himself, but they had never even come close to discussing it together. It was like an unspoken rule between them. But if they were getting things out in the open now, they had to face their deep-seated animosity for each other as well or it would just continue to fester.

"Do you really want to know the truth?"

"Yes," Pacey said firmly.

Doug breathed in as deeply as his broken ribs would allow. "I remember what it used to be like with Dad when were younger. Heíd get mad and you and I would cop the brunt of it so heíd leave Mom and the girls alone. I guess it was the only way we could survive, to stick together. But Iím nine years older than you, Pacey, and I was able to stand up to him much earlier than you. I was glad, you know? I thought I could protect you from the worst of it. When I got bigger Dad knew he couldnít kick my butt any more and get away with it so easily. So he started to leave me alone. After a while I realized it just meant you always got it, and I should have done something about it. But Iím ashamed to say that by then part of me was glad he was leaving me alone and picking on you instead. I was trying to deal with all of these questions about myself and who I was, so it just made things easier when Dad let me be.

"When I was seventeen, I decided to get the hell out of Capeside so I could be who I was inside without having to play up to the Chiefís expectations. I was all packed, ready to go. Iíd met someone at school and we were going to live in Boston together away from the small minds of that small town. The night before I planned to leave though, something happened. You had been playing in a PeeWee baseball game that day and struck out in the last innings. Do you remember? Good old Coach Witter blamed you for the team losing and by the time I got home, Dad was already drunk. He really laid into you that night ó your back was covered in bruises, the worst it had ever been. Do you remember what happened when I found you hiding under the porch? You begged me to protect you from him. You cried and held on to me and wouldnít let go. And it was then I knew that I couldnít leave, that if I did there would be no one to look out for you any more. So I told Scott I couldnít go with him and I stayed in Capeside.

"And, God help me, Pacey, I hated you from that day forward. I blamed you and resented you for making me feel like I had a duty to stay. I vented all of that anger on you when you were growing up. Thatís why we fight, why I call you worthless and a no-good screw up. Itís also why you were always on at me about being gay. We just got into this cycle of hate because I couldnít leave you alone with that man. I stopped blaming him, and I made myself believe it was all your fault. I know you probably hate me now and that is my fault. I brought this on myself because I was too much of coward to really stand up to our father."

Doug rested his head back against his pillow after the long soliloquy. Pacey had just listened, crying silently and dreading every word.

"I donít hate you Dougie," he managed softly. "I may have growing up, but only because I thought you didnít love me. I didnít knowÖ I didnít know what I had done to deserve it. Instead of asking I just hated you back."

"Pretty screwed up, eh Pace?" Doug admitted. "But when you consider the son of a bitch who raised us, itís no real surpriseÖ Just for the record though, I love you, Pacey. Youíre my little brother and though I did a very good job of showing otherwise, I have always loved you."

Pacey smiled through his tears, as did Doug.

"Just donít try and hug me, all right? The old manís still got a damn powerful kick."

"Okay." Pacey wiped his face and the two of them settled into the first comfortable silence they had shared in years, having made peace with each other. The truth was painful, but at least now it was all out in the open. They could finally start repairing old wounds that had been inflicted long ago leaving debilitating scars. Pacey was just glad they knew where they stood with each now, before the vicious cycle continued to destroy them. He finally had his big brother back.

The only impediment to their reconciliation was the very reason for the near-ruination of their relationship ó their father. They had still not decided what was to be done about the matter of the assault on Doug. Pacey looked over at his brother, and knew he was thinking the exact same thing.

"You could report him," Pacey said with new found determination. "Iíll stand by you, Doug, and do whatever it takes to get him convicted."

Doug thought about this carefully, touched that Pacey seemed to support him despite everything that had happened. "I wish it were that simple, Pace, I really do. But if I make any allegations against him, you know what will happen. Everyoneíll find out Iím gay and I wouldnít be able to show my face around the station again. You donít know how homophobic those guys are. I would lose my livelihood, my friends, my status in our little communityÖ And all so some Internal Affairs guy, who Dadís probably fished with for twenty years, can give him a rap over the knuckles and that will be the end of the matter. Theyíre not going to send John Witter down for laying into some fagÖ especially if itís his own son."

"But itís not right!"

"Not a lot is. Things suck in this life, Pacey, remember? Thatís something Dad taught us very well."

"So youíre just going to go back to work, like nothingís happened?"

"There is no way I could bring myself to take another order from that son of a bitch. I donít want to ever be in the same room with him again. And Dad certainly doesnít want a homo on his squad, so weíve come to an arrangement. Iím transferring to Providence, and basically it will be like he never had me for a son. Iíve been cut off, cut out of his life, and let me tell you, Pacey, itís the best damn feeling in the world!"

Pacey stared at him, momentarily stung by the joyous look in Dougís eyes. So, he was leaving after all. Despite what he just revealed to Pacey, he was going to walk out now and leave him on his own with their father.

"I have to go this time," Doug began seriously, reading Paceyís thoughts. He could see the disappointment and betrayal written all over his face. "Pacey, if I donít leave now you know what will happen. Iím sorry that I wonít be there to protect you, but letís face it, I havenít done a very good of that for a long time."

"You were still there, Doug."

"I know. But I canít be anymore, okay?"

Pacey nodded, but he felt close to tears again. He would still be forced to live out the next two years in his fatherís house, only now he would be the sole recipient of his fatherís anger. He couldnít dare to hope that having lost his eldest son, his Dad might actually start to care about him again. It was a dangerous hope that would only lead to disappointment. Pacey had lived with him too long to ever imagine John Witter would start to treat him with some measure of respect and kindnessÖ and love, like he was supposed to.

"Pacey?" Dougís voice was tentative, wondering if he had blown it with his brother already.

"Yeah?"

"Are you serious about getting that emancipated minor order?"

Pacey just looked at him, the answer was obvious. "But whatís the point, Doug? Thereís no way I can afford to move out, unless I have a fairy godmother looking out for me."

Doug smiled to himself. "Well, I guess you got the fairy part right at least."

"Huh?"

Doug reached over to the night-stand beside the bed and picked up a set of keys. "Here," he said, tossing them to Pacey.

"What are these?"

"The keys to my apartment. Or should I say, your apartment."

Pacey just stared at him in disbelief. Doug grinned, them winced as his bruised cheek protested.

"I canít very well use it in Providence, so you may as well take it. Itís better than any roach-infested hovel you could afford working part time after school."

"But thereís no way I can afford the rent on a place like that, Dougie, come onÖ"

"Donít worry about that. Rentís paid up Ďtil you graduate thanks to the Capeside Police Force."

"Youíre kidding?"

"Hey, Iíd say itís the very least that man owes youÖ and me. He gets to keep his career and his reputation. Now itís our turn."

Pacey was speechless. He couldnít believe the turn of events in the last half hour. It seemed as if someone had just handed his life back to him on a silver platter. He sighed incredulously when he thought about what having his own place meant, and more importantly, what it would be like to have a big brother again.

"Now, I want you to listen to me," Doug lectured, making Pacey look him right in the eyes. "This isnít an excuse for you to waste away the rest of your highschool days like a college frat boy. You are going to start applying yourself, so you can get the grades to get into college. You are going to make something of yourself, you hear me?"

"I know, I know. I owe it to myself to be the best that I can be," Pacey recited Dougís familiar words.

"Bullshit, you owe it to me." Doug stared at him intently, so he saw he meant it. "You owe it to everyone who cares about you. And itís the only way you can prove that miserable old prick wrong. You show him who you really are, all right, Pacey?"

"Okay," Pacey answered quietly. He knew Doug was right ó right about all of it. Playing up to his fatherís worthless son persona had been his way of coping with the devastating realization that his dad didnít love him ó not like he was supposed to, which was unconditionally. Somewhere along the way it had just gotten easier to goof off and not set himself up for the inevitable disappointment that would occur when Pacey tried to please him. But now he would be on his own. There would be no disappointments because he would be doing this for himself for the first time ever.

"I wonít let you down, Doug."

"Good." He smiled at his brother and nodded, knowing he was making a pledge that he would uphold.

"Iíve already got the study thing covered anyway," Pacey grinned, thinking of Joey. He suddenly wished she was there, so he could let her know that everything was going to be okay. It felt great to have someone like her to share that with ó to share whatever happened to him, good and bad. Friendship like that was rare, and he planned to treasure it ó to treasure her ó always.

 

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