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Seven: Cold comfort farm
I hear more than I like to
("Drive In, Drive Out", Dave Matthews Band)
The hospital was strangely quiet as Joey paused before Pacey's room in the ICU. She waited a moment, steeling herself for what was to come. Her mind flashed back to the last time she had seen him, just as it had done many times in the days to follow that first visit. She was suddenly afraid that she wouldn't be able to go in and face him again, especially knowing what she did now. Joey was fearful that she wouldn't be strong enough to hold it together, to pretend that everything was all right and Pacey wasn't permanently paralyzed. She stood before his door and had to stop herself from running in the opposite direction.
But then Joey thought about going home again and withdrawing into Bessie's darkened bedroom. It was there she had spent the past few days, sick with worry that Pacey would never wake up. Joey realized that she had to see him again just to allay her fears that he wouldn't make it. He was there, just on the other side of the door, awake and waiting to see her. She was surprised when a strange sense of calm enveloped her and Joey found she could move again. She had to see him, that was all there was to it. After taking a deep breath, she pushed open the door and stepped inside.
From the doorway, Pacey didn't look any different from before. His head was still clamped in traction, he was lying stiffly on his back, the bruises on his chest still garish. But Joey barely noticed his appearance this time, nor did she cringe at the sight of so many tubes and machines surrounding him. None of it mattered now , because Pacey's eyes were open, she could see him blinking as he stared at the monotonous hospital ceiling. He was truly awake, and Joey walked to his bedside with a sudden eager rush. An relief-induced smile lit up her face automatically as Pacey heard her approach and turned his gaze upon her. Their eyes met, but neither was able to able to say anything. Joey choked back tears of happiness as Pacey quickly scanned her face to make sure she was all right and that he wasn't dreaming. Both of them were just thankful the other was alive after the terrible accident. Words were insufficient to express the relief they felt.
"Joey," Pacey said softly after a long silence.
Joey blinked repeatedly to stop the tears welling in her eyes and she gingerly took his hand in hers. She sniffed and smiled again, not quite sure what to say to him. In the end she resorted to stirring him as usual.
"You took your time waking up," she commented lightly.
Pacey closed his eyes, and appreciative smile tugging at his lips. He was afraid she would react with fear when she saw him, or treat him differently, but Joey was just being Joey. He couldn't have hoped for anything else.
"I was having the wildest dream," he replied, his voice still scratchy.
"Don't tell me, bikini bimbos playing beach volleyball," said Joey with sarcastic disdain.
Pacey grinned. "You know it."
Joey was relieved he could still make jokes despite waking up and finding himself in the hospital. She wasn't quite sure how else to talk to him or what she was supposed to do. She stood a little awkwardly by his bedside, not able to sit down because then he couldn't see her, afraid that if she perched on the edge of the bed she would hurt him. So Joey just remained standing there, holding his hand and trying to avoid thinking about the truth she carried in her heart.
"Are you really okay, Jo?" Pacey whispered, interrupting her thoughts. The joking tone had disappeared from his voice completely and Joey could see the apprehension in his eyes.
"I'm fine, just a couple of stitches," she replied urgently, when she saw him looking worriedly at her bandaged forehead. Joey was overwhelmed that he was still concerned for her safety after all that he had been through. It didn't seem right that he should be giving her a second thought when his own predicament was so much more serious. But then Joey remembered Pacey didn't even know the full extent of his injuries yet. It pained her that she had to pretend she didn't know either, and she tried her best to banish the thought from her mind.
"Do you remember anything about the accident?" she tried instead, immediately regretting bringing the subject up.
"Beginning to… more than I want to anyway." Pacey glanced away and licked his lips nervously. "Was it… was it my fault? Did I…"
"No!" Joey cried fervently, seeing his anxious expression. "It wasn't you, it was the other driver's fault. Don't even think for a second that this was your fault."
"I thought maybe I did something wrong, that you could've… and it was because of me… " He didn't have to finish. Pacey was obviously relieved at the news, and it broke Joey's heart to think it was because he was afraid she could have been hurt by his actions. She wondered when he had gone from being the annoying guy who used to antagonize her to the selfless friend lying before her. She hated the fact that she had come so close to losing him and up until now had never fully appreciated his friendship. At least she knew differently now.
"I'm glad you're awake, Pacey." Joey squeezed his hand. "You had me scared these past few days."
"Don't worry about me," Pacey said, smiling weakly. "Indestructible."
Joey lowered her eyes and nodded. She was trying to remain cheerful for Pacey's sake, but with each passing moment she could feel the dread rise within her. While she was overcome with gratitude that he had survived, the knowledge of his paralysis could not be ignored. The dreadful reality of his situation was finally sinking in and Joey knew that if she stayed much longer he would be able to tell the truth just by looking at her. Rather than face that frightening prospect, Joey began to think of something to say so she could leave.
"Did you talk to the doctor?" Pacey murmured almost under his breath.
Her face flooded with fear as her eyes met his. Too late… she had waited too long to leave. Joey opened her mouth and managed to stammer a few syllables, only to be silenced by Pacey.
"I'm paralyzed, aren't I?" he said calmly, as if commenting on the weather. When he saw her surprise and then immediate panic, he only smiled. Joey looked stricken, as if she had given it away, so Pacey spoke up again. "I overheard the radiology staff upstairs."
"Pacey, I…" Joey's words caught in her throat as she realized she couldn't deny it to his face. He needed no confirmation however, and his stoic gaze returned to the ceiling.
"It's funny, I knew I couldn't feel my legs but it wasn't until they actually said the word that I realized."
Joey was waiting for him to get upset, to cry or become angry, but Pacey's expression was blank. The resigned way with which he was handling the news was unsettling and made her feel even worse.
"I'm so sorry, Pacey," she muttered uselessly.
"Guess it could have been worse, right?" he replied half-heartedly, smiling again in order to cheer her up.
Pacey's words turned out to be portentous when his family and Dr Donnell chose that moment to enter the room. They were looking at Joey for some sign that things were all right, that she hadn't told Pacey the truth as promised, but all she could do was nod slightly and take a step back. She didn't want to be there when they talked to him, to tell him what he already knew, but Pacey had other ideas. Sensing what was to come, he did not let go of her hand as the doctor greeted him, and when she looked into his eyes again they were begging her to stay. Joey swallowed with difficulty, but kept her place by his side. Doug loomed behind her, trapping her there even if she had been able to bring herself to leave. Mr and Mrs Witter took their place on Pacey's other side along with Dr Donnell. An oppressive silence descended upon the room before Mr Witter stepped in close so Pacey could see him properly.
"Pacey, we need to talk to you," Mr Witter began gruffly. He cleared his throat noisily and stared at the floor. Showing no sign that he was going to continue, Joey realized how nervous the stern chief of police was. It struck her for the first time that John Witter could be human, rather than the unfeeling bully he made himself out to be. He was actually nervous now, the fear etched on his grizzled face. For the first time in her life, Joey found herself in the unlikely situation of feeling sorry for Mr Witter.
Pacey was waiting patiently for him to say it, trying to remain calm for his own sake as well as his father's.
"About those tests you had," Mr Witter went on finally, unable to meet his son's eyes. But each word was harder than the last. He took Pacey's hand awkwardly and swallowed hard. He was stalling now, and everyone knew it. The occupants of the room waited in the uncomfortable silence as Mr Witter found the courage to say what he had to.
"Pacey… son…" His words trailed off once more and John Witter bent slowly over the bed, bringing Pacey's hand up to his face. It took a few seconds for Joey to realize that he was attempting to hide behind it. He was trying in vain to stay in control but emotion had gotten the better of him and Mr Witter was crying. Joey was embarrassed but she found she couldn't look away from the unimaginable sight. Everything she thought she knew about Pacey's family was no longer relevant as a weeping Mrs Witter hugged her husband from behind. She heard Doug make a noise behind her and turned just in time to see him leave the room. Out of all of them, it was Pacey who managed to hold it together.
"It's okay, Dad," he said quietly. "It'll be okay."
Mr Witter was wiping his eyes now, but still remained hidden behind Pacey's hand and his own. He sniffed loudly in an attempt to disguise his momentary break down, probably remembering for the first time that Joey was still in the room as well as the doctor.
Joey remained by Pacey's side during the whole conversation that followed. Dr Donnell took over and explained to Pacey what his injuries meant. He remained focused on the positive aspects of the test results — now that they knew Pacey's cervical vertebrae were not affected they could remove the horseshoe clamp and take him out of traction. Pacey was relieved at the news and Joey saw that despite the medications he was on, the clamps screwed into his skull above his ears were causing him great pain. The fact that he hadn't complained once about it made her fully understand how brave he was. It was difficult to comprehend how he could remain so after what had happened.
There was more talk of an operation to repair the damage to Pacey's spine, and mention of so many unfamiliar medical terms that by the end Joey's head was spinning. Mr and Mrs Witter, quiet now, were listening just as intently as Pacey to the procedures that were to follow. The only sign that Pacey was affected by any of it was an occasional weak pressure Joey felt on her hand as he reassured himself that she was still there. He somehow managed to keep his composure throughout the whole discussion, even when the doctor informed him he would be in a wheelchair for the rest of his life.
Eventually Dr Donnell informed them that Pacey needed to rest. Everyone felt some sense of relief at the words, no more than Joey herself. She had heard just about all she could and she needed to leave before it became too much. She waited as Mrs Witter kissed Pacey's forehead and Mr Witter squeezed his shoulder. They shuffled out of the room with the doctor, physically and mentally exhausted. Joey watched them go and then turned to see Pacey's eyes on her again. If she was at a loss for words before, she had absolutely no idea what to say to him now.
"Thanks for staying," he began, much more reserved now.
Joey felt helpless. "Try and get some rest." She knew it sounded pathetic but it was the first thing that came to mind. "Will you be all right?"
She saw the first sign of fear in his eyes, but Pacey quickly covered it up. "Told you, indestructible."
Joey smiled as best she could and gave his hand a final squeeze. "I'd better get out of here before the doctor orders me out… Bye, Pacey." She broke his gaze with difficulty and started out of the room.
Unable to see her anymore because he couldn't move his head, Pacey's voice was suddenly panicked. "Joey?"
She rushed back to his side, her face taut with concern. "I'm here."
"Will you come back?" Pacey sounded as scared as a child being left alone for the first time.
Joey found it was easier to smile now, and she did so to reassure him. "I'll be back first thing tomorrow. I promise."
Placated by this knowledge, Pacey breathed a sigh of relief and she knew it was all right to leave now. Joey reached out and lightly brushed the hair from the corner of his forehead. The gentle gesture calmed him even more and he smiled back at her.
"I'll see you then."
Joey made it out of the room this time, but was suddenly at a loss what to do now. Looking around, she couldn't see the Witters or Dr Donnell anywhere. She suddenly felt just as alone and afraid as Pacey did, standing there in the stark hospital corridor. Part of her wanted to go back in to be with him, but it would have been for her own comfort and not Pacey's. The events of the day were catching up with her and for the first time Joey was able to let herself feel all the emotions she had been forced to hide in front of him.
The permanency of Pacey's injuries, the reactions of his family and Pacey himself… all of it hit her at once. Joey felt herself giving into the terrible sadness that had been building up inside of her. She walked quickly down the corridor away from his room, blinded by tears that had not been permitted to fall up until now. She had no idea where she was going, she couldn't think or feel anything but the desolation in her chest. It wasn't until she almost crashed into Bessie that Joey actually started to cry. Safe in her sister's arms, Joey wept bitter tears for Pacey and his family, for everything they had been through since the accident and everything that was to come. And although she didn't realize it at the time, Joey also cried for herself.
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