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Four: The other side of midnight
I don't understand at best
("What Would You Say", Dave Matthews Band)
Joey blinked hard against the blinding sun that streamed through the window and onto her bed. She felt its warmth and was comforted by it, realizing the room she was in was quite cold. Once she could focus her eyes properly, she scanned her surroundings, at first unsure where she was. It was only when she tried to move her head that she remembered everything. The events of the previous evening hit her like a ton of bricks. Joey remembered being in the car with Pacey, the terrible noise as the truck collided with them, the long anxious wait she endured before she knew he was going to be all right.
She was still in the hospital, she realized, but no longer in the emergency room. It was a tiny room she was in now, with dull sterile walls that seemed to bleach the life out of the cheery yellow sunlight. Joey wondered if she should call for someone to let them know she was awake. Glancing around for a call button to alert a nurse, Joey noticed Dawson curled up in a chair in the corner under the window. He looked decidedly uncomfortable, but had somehow managed to fall asleep in the stiff wooden chair. She smiled to herself and didn’t have the heart to wake him.
Joey turned her head back and grimaced as she felt a sharp pain. She tentatively touched the dressing that covered most of her forehead and remembered the stitches she had on the cut. Joey hadn't felt too bad after the accident — she had been more numb than anything — but now she had developed a splitting headache. The need to call for a nurse was heightened, and Joey was tempted to ask for a handful of aspirin at the same time.
After less than a minute, a large smiling nurse entered the room.
"Well, you’re finally awake!" she said brightly, bustling towards her.
Joey immediately put a finger to her lips so the woman wouldn’t wake Dawson. She understood immediately but still went about pulling Joey’s chart from the foot of the bed, making an unnecessary amount of noise.
"How are you feeling, honey?" she asked, her eyes still on the chart.
"Apart from a killer headache, okay I guess," Joey replied grimly.
"Well, that’s to be expected, you got a nasty knock." The nurse smiled down at her as she strapped a blood pressure strap to Joey’s arm and tucked a stethoscope into her ears. Joey waited patiently as the nurse took the reading and recorded it in the chart. She noticed her name tag was inscribed with ‘Edna.’
"Hey, Edna, do you think I could have some aspirin?" Joey asked as the nurse continued her observations.
"Soon, hon, after the doctor has seen you."
"Great," she muttered under her breath as her head throbbed painfully.
"You’ll be as right as rain in a few days," Edna continued cheerily.
Joey didn’t think it fair the nurse should be so happy when she herself felt so awful.
"I’ll take your word for it."
"You’re a very lucky young lady, you know," the nurse said kindly, replacing the chart. She walked back to Joey’s bedside, tucking her blankets in as she went. "They’re terrible things, car accidents. I never want my boy to get his license… I was real sorry to hear about your boyfriend. It’s such a tragedy when someone so young like that…"
Joey felt her whole body freeze. She could have sworn her heart stopped beating. She shot the nurse a wide-eyed stare, her mouth open in shock. The woman was talking as if Pacey was dead, Joey thought, but she could barely comprehend what that meant. Joey was dazed with fear.
Edna noticed her frightened reaction and figured she probably hadn't taken the news in last night in her confused state. She fussed over Joey in a maternal manner, patting her hand and sounding as encouraging as she could.
"Now, don’t you worry, hon. Doctors can do amazing things these days and rehabilitation practices are improving all the time. Just look at that Christopher Reeve — and his injuries were much more serious than your young man’s."
Joey let go of the breath she’d been holding and felt a flood of relief that Pacey still alive. For a moment there she had thought… But then her elation was destroyed when the nurse’s words sank in. Christopher Reeve. Joey remembered that Christopher Reeve was a quadriplegic. He was completely paralyzed and on a respirator… Joey couldn’t believe it. Tears filled her eyes as she dared to think about Pacey like that.
"Don’t worry, honey, everything’s going to be all right," Edna cooed. She finally realized that perhaps Joey hadn't known about his condition at all and she shouldn’t have mentioned it. Edna hoped she wouldn’t get into trouble for divulging the information.
"I need to see him," Joey whispered, interrupting her thoughts of self preservation. "Can I go see him?"
"Well, he’s in ICU and they only let immediate family in there…" Edna said slowly and with uncertainty in her voice.
"Please," Joey pleaded, staring at her intently. Her own discomfort was forgotten when she imagined Pacey lying there… Joey had to stop herself from bursting into tears.
Edna looked over her shoulder for other staff as she contemplated the request. She didn’t look into Joey’s frightened eyes for too long before she gave in to the request. "All right then, but you’re going in a wheelchair, okay? You’re not even supposed to get up before the doctor sees you."
"I’m fine, I feel fine," Joey lied, pulling herself further upright.
"Okay, I’ll be back in a minute. I’ll just check that the coast is clear."
Edna glanced around furtively as she scurried out of the door. Joey's throat clenched tight as she waited impatiently for the nurse’s return. She was so preoccupied with worry that she jumped from fright when she heard a noise behind her.
"Hey, you’re awake," said Dawson as he uncurled himself from the painful position he had fallen asleep in. He was still exhausted, but when voices had awoken him and he saw Joey wide awake, he suddenly could not sleep anymore. He grinned sheepishly as he hobbled towards her bed, not noticing the black look on her face. "How are you feeling?"
"You lied to me," Joey growled at him, her voice low and deadly.
Dawson took a step back in surprise. Joey’s eyes were full of hatred. "What?" he managed to stammer.
"You lied to me about Pacey," she said. "You just happened to leave out the fact that he is paralyzed. You told me he was all right."
"What? They don’t know if he is! The doctor said it’s too soon to tell… We didn’t want to worry you, Joey. I thought—"
"You still should have told me. I had a right to know the truth. I trusted you, Dawson."
Dawson opened his mouth to explain further, but every excuse seemed meaningless in the light of day. It had been easier to excuse the lie the night before, believing it was for her own good. But Dawson could see now that he had been wrong. Before he had a chance to apologize, the nurse entered a room pushing an empty wheelchair.
"You ready, hon?"
Joey nodded and slipped out of the bed, not caring about covering herself with more than the flimsy hospital gown she was wearing.
"Where are you going?" Dawson asked weakly.
"To see Pacey."
"Are you sure that’s allowed? I mean, you should be resting," he said hastily.
Joey glared at him, her eyes burning with fury. "Dawson, if you try and stop me now I will never speak to you again. This is not an idle threat, it’s a solemn promise. I’m going to see Pacey."
She did not look at him again, and her eyes remained steadfastly ahead as the nurse turned her around and started wheeling her out the door. Without another a word, Dawson followed her.
* * *
"Now, you can only stay a minute," Edna counseled as they made their way up the hospital corridor to the Intensive Care Unit. "He’s still unconscious anyway."
Edna stopped just outside the door to the ICU room. Joey looked up and saw ‘Witter, SCI’ written on a small whiteboard on the door.
"I’ll let you take her in," the nurse said to Dawson. She didn’t know who the boy was, but he obviously cared enough about Joey to spend the night by her bedside. "Remember, not too long."
Dawson nodded and waited as Edna held open the door. He pushed Joey inside, glad that she had not refused to let him. The room was darkened, and it took a few seconds for their eyes to adjust to the dim light. A curtain had been drawn around the bed so Dawson stepped forward to pull it aside. He stopped short when he saw Pacey, unable to move momentarily. He didn’t even realize he was standing in front of Joey until she shoved him impatiently from behind. Dawson turned around and looked deep into her eyes. Joey’s chest tightened when she saw the terror that had flooded his face. He stepped numbly aside, and Joey got her first glimpse of Pacey.
He was lying his back, his body bare from the waist up. The cuts and bruises she could see were gruesome enough. One side of Pacey’s chest was swollen painfully and almost black in color. Her eyes traveled up his torso to the stiff neck brace he was wearing. IV tubes protruded from both arms, and a thicker tube was taped into place in his mouth. The pale blue plastic piping lead to a respirator by the bed that hissed with every breath it pumped into his lungs. Pacey’s face was covered in small cuts and abrasions like her own, but it was then she saw what had shocked Dawson so profoundly.
There were two clamps attached to Pacey's head just above his ears, culminating in a metal brace that was keeping his head and neck perfectly still. The clamps were pressed so tightly against his skin that they appeared to have been drilled into his skull. Joey saw the brace was attached to traction weights. She was horrified by the sight of him, repulsed by her own fear and shock. Joey just knew she couldn’t bear to look at Pacey a second longer. She thrust her shaking hands on the wheels of her chair and almost ran over Dawson’s feet in an attempt to back out of the room as quickly as possible.
"Get me out of here," she managed to say through ragged breaths.
Dawson obeyed without question, and pulled her out into the brightly lit corridor again. Joey was as white as a sheet, and he knew she had been traumatized by the sight of Pacey so seriously injured. She had been stunned into silence and stared blankly ahead as the nurse took over and wheeled her back to her room.
* * *
Joey waited silently as Bessie signed the paperwork to discharge her. Dawson had stayed by her side since they returned from seeing Pacey, but she didn't acknowledge his presence. Joey was itching to get out of the hospital, she couldn't bear to stay there another minute. Luckily the doctor agreed to let her go because she only had a mild concussion, but she was under strict instructions to get plenty of bed rest. She wasn't about to protest. Joey felt she could crawl into her bed and not get out again.
Dawson sat glumly beside her. He wanted to talk to her, to make sure she was okay after being so upset seeing Pacey. But Joey was ignoring him and he wondered if she was ever going to talk to him again. It was strange though, she didn't appear to be mad at him anymore. She had just closed herself off completely after they'd gotten back to her room. He knew they shouldn't have gone to check on Pacey. Dawson himself hadn't been prepared to see his best friend like that. He tried his hardest not to picture his battered body and the terrible head clamps… Dawson suspected Joey was having as hard a time as he was, trying to erase that image from her mind.
"Okay, you ready?" Bessie asked, tucking some papers into her purse.
Joey didn't respond immediately, her thoughts a thousand miles away. But when she felt Dawson's hand on her arm she roused herself hastily.
"Oh no you don't," Edna admonished her as she approached the three of them. "It's the wheelchair until you're out the door, Joey."
Normally she would have protested at the humiliation of being wheeled out of the hospital like an invalid when she was perfectly able to walk, but Joey kept her mouth shut. She slumped back in the chair and allowed Edna to push her out. It only took a few seconds for the idea of herself in a wheelchair and Pacey to collide. Joey grimaced inwardly when she allowed herself to contemplate the connection. She couldn't think about it now, it was just too difficult. Joey just wanted to go home and try and blot out all of the thoughts from her mind. It seemed like the only way she could escape the idea that Pacey would, in all probability, be paralyzed.
Joey squeezed her eyes shut and clenched her fists so tightly that her fingernails cut into her palms. She concentrated on the pain rather than thinking about Pacey.
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