A life less ordinary
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Five: Les misérables

You think life is like a movie
Where it all works out in the end.
I think life is like a desert
Where does it go, where does it end?

("True Reflections" Dave Matthews Band)

--Joey felt like she had been asleep for weeks. She had barely stirred from bed since her return from the hospital. With the blinds drawn she existed in perpetual darkness, pretending she was just following doctor’s orders and resting when she was really hiding from the world. Luckily no one had called her on it yet. Bessie had sent Alexander to stay with Bodie and his parents out of town so the house wouldn’t be in a constant uproar, and she had even moved herself onto the couch so Joey could have her own bedroom for once. Joey never showed any gratitude, but she was thankful that her sister seemed to understand she didn’t want to be bothered by any of them. Bessie had even managed to keep Dawson away.

There had been some visitors of course. Doug Witter had taken her statement about the accident, probing her incessantly for details of the crash, the demeanor of the truck driver and many other things Joey did not want to think about. The dangerous driving charge would not be difficult to prove, and Doug informed her that the driver had confessed to falling asleep at the wheel when he veered over to the wrong side of the road. Joey listened numbly as he spoke, but she really didn’t want to hear any of it. Nothing would change the fact that Pacey was still in the hospital in a coma, and no one knew when he would wake up. Only then would they know how extensive his injuries were and if there would be some paralysis. Joey was having difficulty concentrating on anything other than that.

It didn’t take long for the nightmares to start. Despite all the sleep Bessie assumed she was getting, Joey was still exhausted. She would wake at least three times a night, hearing the screaming of tires and thunderous noise of the impact. She would feel the incessant rolling of the jeep and the terrible pain as her head hit the window. But the nightmares about Pacey were the worst. In every single one she imagined him dead. Sometimes he was crushed by the collision, other times thrown through the windscreen and onto the road. One time she had even dreamed he was decapitated right before her very eyes. As the nightmares became more gruesome, Joey was almost afraid to go to sleep. But she still stayed in bed, more afraid of entering the real world again when so much was uncertain. Joey still didn’t know if Pacey would live or die and she couldn’t face any of it until she did.

* * *

He wandered the school corridors, still the same Dawson Leery, but somehow different. He didn’t notice people looking at him or whispering in muted tones that he was the guy whose friends had been in the car accident on the weekend. Everything was surreal to Dawson now: the hallways, the students, the classes. He went about his day as usual but everything had changed. He was just coming to realize how different things might have been if circumstances were altered… if it were Joey in the hospital in a coma instead of Pacey. That was bad enough as it was, Pacey was his friend. But if it had been Joey instead…

Dawson couldn’t help but contemplate it. His flair for the dramatic prompted him to always ponder "what if?". He had often wondered what it would be like if one of his parents died, if he lost one of them just as Joey had lost her mother. Dawson had always pictured himself numb with grief, stoically standing at the funeral, everyone watching him with worried expressions. But he would keep it all together, he would be brave. He would hide his desolation and carry it with him always. Sometimes Dawson even caught himself thinking it might make him a better film maker. To truly understand grief would make it easier to portray it in a movie. Not that he ever wished one of his parents dead of course… it was just something he imagined sometimes. A hypothetical situation.

But never once had Dawson imagined it would be Joey whom he lost. She would always be in his life, Dawson had no doubt about that. Best friends like they were was a once in a lifetime bond. He knew he would never find anyone he had such an affinity with. Pacey was his friend, his pal, but Joey… Joey was different. Dawson couldn’t even begin to imagine what it would be like if she suddenly wasn’t there. It never dawned on him that she could just as easily be taken from him as Gale or Mitch or Pacey. So now, after the accident and for the very first time, Dawson allowed himself to consider how he would feel if Joey died.

The idea frightened him beyond his wildest dreams. He couldn’t just shrug the thought off either, he couldn’t just say "well, it’ll never happen to someone like Joey." Dawson realized it could happen to someone like Joey, in fact it nearly had. If Pacey had swerved to the left instead of the right, she could have easily been killed, or at least in a coma like Pacey was now. It could be Joey lying in hospital, her head clamped in traction, her body bruised and battered. Dawson was so terrified of that alternative that his worry for Pacey was put on hold. He was still trying to overcome the crippling realization that but for the grace of God, it could have been Joey instead.

Dawson knew he should probably feel guilty because if it. He should have been preoccupied with worry for Pacey who was still not out of the woods. The doctors were talking about paralysis and other serious complications, but it just didn’t compute with Dawson. It was Joey who consumed his thoughts. He was only beginning to understand what she truly meant to him. Her presence at the beauty pageant and the possibility of her going to France had awakened in him feelings he never knew existed. His conversation with Mr Potter at the prison had made him admit certain things to himself, but he had been unable to say them to Joey when she asked him for a reason to stay in the country. But that was then. He couldn’t hide from the truth now, not when he had come so close to losing her. Dawson Leery loves Joey Potter. Once he allowed himself to think it, Dawson didn’t let it go.

So now, back at school only a few days after the accident, Dawson was in turmoil. He wanted to tell her about the epiphany he had experienced, the sudden realization that Joey had been waiting for for so long. But he wasn’t sure how he was going to approach her now, especially after what had happened at the hospital. Dawson wasn’t sure she had forgiven him for lying to her about Pacey’s condition. Since they had seen their friend in the ICU, Joey had barely spoken to him at all. She had been discharged that same day and had been at home with Bessie looking after her ever since. Dawson had tried to visit her on several occasions, but each time Bessie told him that Joey didn’t want to see anyone. She was supposed to be resting anyway, so Bessie was adamant that she needed to be left alone.

But that was three days ago, and Dawson was wondering how long he could stay away from her. He wanted to tell her everything, to reassure her that he loved her, that he had for so long but was just too stupid to admit it. Dawson wanted Joey to know that she meant the world to him… that without her he would be lost. He wanted her to understand that he needed her in his life, and that his feelings far surpassed friendship. Dawson wanted to pour his heart out to her, but he had been forced to keep it all in and now it was starting to take its toll.

He decided he couldn’t wait anymore. Joey would have to know the truth now. Today. Dawson left school in between classes, unconcerned by the notion he was skipping school. Some things were just more important in a young man’s life.

* * *

When Bessie came knocking on her door in the early afternoon, Joey was ready to tell her she didn’t want any lunch again. She barely touched anything her sister brought and wished she would just leave her alone. Bessie popped her head inside the door but she didn’t have a tray with her.

"Joey? Are you awake?"

Joey mumbled incoherently, hoping she would take the hint and go away. But Bessie walked inside instead. The light that streamed through the open door hurt Joey’s eyes, and when Bessie suddenly ripped open the blinds, the room was filled with a blinding white light.

"Bessie!" Joey gasped, pulling the covers over her head to shield herself from the pervading sunlight. "What the hell are you doing?"

"What I should have done days ago," Bessie said calmly, perching herself beside Joey on the bed and pulling the blankets off her head. "It’s time you got up and out of this room."

"The doctor said I had to rest."

"That’s right. What he didn’t say is that you have to mope around here for days, too afraid to face the world. You can’t hide in here forever, Joey."

"I’m not hiding," she replied meekly, but both of them knew she was lying.

"Good, because Dawson is here."

"I don’t want to see him, Bessie." Joey said immediately. It had become her automatic response.

"I don’t think he’s going to accept no this time, kiddo." Her sister smiled faintly. "Dawson can be quite persistent when he wants to be."

"Please, I can’t…"

"Yes, you can." Bessie stripped back Joey’s blankets, giving her no choice in the matter. "You might want to brush your hair or something. I’m sending him up now."


But it was no use, Bessie was already out the door. Joey let out an angry breath and raked her fingers through her hair in frustration. She stood up a little stiffly and pulled on her robe that was lying across the end of the bed. Joey didn’t have the energy or inclination to change out of her pajamas or do anything about her disheveled appearance. She had never been a vain person, but usually she would have at least tried to look decent for Dawson. But now she didn’t care in the slightest if he saw her this way. For the first time, Dawson’s opinion meant absolutely nothing to her, Joey was too annoyed to even register the thought. She sat numbly on the bed as she listened to his footsteps coming up the stairs.

Dawson smiled automatically as soon as he saw her, remembering that it had been a few days since he was last with her. He wasn’t used to staying away from Joey for any extended length of time, and his chest swelled with emotion at the sight of her. Not noticing her lank hair and sallow face, a familiar smile curled Dawson’s lips as he greeted her softly.

"Hey, Joey."


It wasn’t exactly the effusive welcome he had been hoping for, but Dawson was unperturbed. He had been carefully planning everything he wanted to say to her — words he should have spoken long ago. He recognized now that he had just been hiding from his true feelings, preferring to remain safely in the realm of friendship where Joey was concerned. But despite his protests that adolescence had not changed their relationship, Dawson admitted now that it had. Nothing had been the same since Joey first brought to his attention the fact that things evolve and that their friendship could never be the same as it was when they were kids. Everything was different now.

"How are you feeling?" he asked. Dawson decided to take his time before dropping his bombshell. In truth he was suddenly beginning to feel a nervous fluttering rising up from the pit of his stomach.

"Um, okay," Joey replied dully, tightening her robe unconsciously around her throat.

"I’ve missed you these past few days."

Joey didn’t reply. She was staring intently at the floor, twisting her foot distractedly. For the first time in his life, Dawson felt uncomfortable around her. He could have reached out and touched her, but her mind was a million miles away. She had not even looked at him once since he’d come in, and he frowned at her behaviour. As the seconds passed he could feel himself losing his courage. Small talk was the only option.

"I heard the faculty had to pick someone else to go to France. Somehow I don’t think Nellie Olsen’s going to make a very good ambassador for this country." Dawson was trying to be lighthearted, but then realized Joey may not have known she had been replaced in the exchange program. "Oh, God, Joey… did you even know?"

"I told Bessie to ring them when I got home from the hospital. I’m not going anywhere."

Dawson breathed an unconscious sigh of relief. Just knowing for sure that she wasn’t leaving made him dizzy with gratitude. He could not lose her now when he had just discovered what she truly meant to him.

"It’ll be great not having Nellie around for a semester… there’ll be no one to torment Pacey and me at work anymore."

With the mere mention of Pacey’s name, a dark cloud descended upon them. Joey’s shoulders slumped slightly and Dawson winced. He hadn't meant to bring him up, but now that he had said it, there was no taking it back. Joey’s thoughts immediately returned to Pacey’s bedside where she had first seen him after the accident. The horrifying image she had tried her best to banish from her mind flooded into her memory once more. There seemed to be no escape from the thoughts, just like her nightmares. Joey tucked her knees under her chin and tightened her arms around her legs.

Dawson was thinking about the accident too, but once again his concern was for Joey and not Pacey. He was reminded just how he would feel if she had been the one so tragically injured. It impressed upon him the way he truly felt about Joey, and his need to tell her the truth. He had to tell her how much he loved her and always would.

"Joey… I’m sorry I brought it up. I wanted to come here and make you feel better, not remind you of the accident. The last thing I’d ever want to do is hurt you, you know that."

Joey’s eyes remained downcast, but Dawson pushed on.

"I’ve done nothing but think about everything that’s happened the last couple of days, and how close I came to losing you. I don’t think I’ve ever been more afraid in my entire life when my mother woke me up to tell me you were in the hospital… For a split second I thought that maybe… maybe I’d never see you again." Dawson swallowed with difficulty, reliving the painful memories and the soul searching that had followed.

"I guess I’ve been a real coward lately. You were always talking about being honest and admitting the truth, but I just couldn’t do it. It was safer if I just pretended that everything was the same between us, that our friendship had not changed since childhood. But it has changed… we’ve changed. And I’ve finally realized what has been so obvious to you all along. There’s more to our relationship than friendship now."

Dawson waited for some sign of acknowledgment from her, some evidence that she was even listening to him. He was pouring his heart out to her but Joey seemed so distant and withdrawn.

"Joey?" he prompted, his voice catching in his throat.

She finally raised her eyes to his, calmly taking in his pensive expression and emotional gaze. Dawson waited breathlessly for several seconds, waiting for her to speak. Eventually she did.

"We still haven’t heard anything from the hospital," she commented flatly. "Mrs Witter said she’d phone as soon as he woke up, but she hasn’t yet."

Dawson frowned from incomprehension. Had she even heard a word he’d said? He felt embarrassed that his heartfelt words made no impression on her at all. Dawson wondered if he wasn’t being obvious enough about his intentions, or maybe she was just nervous too and didn’t know how to react. Between the two of them, they had avoiding serious issues down to a fine art. Dawson tried again.

"Joey, don’t you see, I get it now… everything you’ve been trying to tell me for months. I finally understand what we really mean to each other… what you mean to me."

She resumed staring at the floor, her face completely blank. "I heard you the first time, Dawson."

Shrinking back, initially from surprise and then hurt, Dawson’s eyes clouded with disappointment. It didn’t make the slightest bit of difference to her. He had envisioned many different ways she might react to his revelation and declaration of love, but he had never imagined this. Dawson didn’t know whether to be embarrassed or angry or devastated. His emotions were in turmoil when it seemed Joey felt none.

"I guess you’re still tired," Dawson managed to say, making up an excuse more for his benefit than hers. "I should let you rest."

Joey didn’t protest when he stood to leave, or call his name as he made his way to the door. She didn’t jump up and fly into his arms, apologizing for her behavior and admitting she felt the same way. Joey didn’t act like the heroine in a movie, drawing an emotional scene to its climax and setting up a happy ending. She remained seated on the bed, just as she had been when he came in. For her, absolutely nothing had transpired. Dawson’s face felt tight, his heart pounding in his chest as he murmured goodbye and slipped out of the room.

* * *

Joey lay back onto the bed, unseeing. She felt completely empty, devoid of all feelings. Deep down she knew she should be feeling a swirl of emotions, the most obvious being elation that Dawson had finally come to realize how he truly felt about her. Joey noted dully that had he said those very same words to her a week ago, she would have been rejoicing. They would be settling into their new relationship as a blissfully happy couple. But he had told her today, not a week ago when it would have made a difference. It couldn’t now, because she was different. Joey knew things would never be the same again.

With resignation that should have been alarming to her, Joey admitted that she didn’t feel anything for Dawson anymore, or anyone else for that matter. She just could not register anyone else’s pain or suffering because her mind was elsewhere. The only person who consumed Joey’s thoughts was Pacey, and she was trying her very best to block him out too. She didn’t want to be concerned with any of them, it was too hard. When she felt numb like this she couldn’t feel the fear or the hurt. Emptiness was the only alternative she had.

She lay in bed for another stretch, staring into space. It could have been two minutes or two hours, Joey had no concept of the passing time as she withdrew into her shell. But suddenly Bessie burst through the door. The sudden noise didn’t startle Joey, she just glanced tiredly over at her sister.

"I don’t want any more visitors."

Bessie ignored her. "Mrs Witter just called," she explained quickly. "Pacey woke up."

Joey felt a spark ignite within her. She sat bolt upright, her world suddenly invaded with a hundred different thoughts and sensations at once.

"Is he all right?" she asked breathlessly.

"They don’t know yet, they’re performing some tests on him now."

Joey’s eyes widened. "Bessie—" she began.

"It’s okay, I’ll drive you there now."

Joey smiled for the first time in days. She pulled off the covers and jumped out of bed with energy that surprised even herself.

"But just one thing, okay?" Bessie said lightly, taking in her appearance. "Have a shower and change you clothes first, all right? I don’t think it’s sanitary to go to a hospital in your condition."

Joey didn’t need to be told twice. She was tugging off her robe as she ran for the bathroom, not wanting to waste a minute. She had to get to the hospital as soon as she possibly could to see him.


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