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Eight: Above us the waves
I was falling always
("What Will Become of Me", Dave Matthews Band)
Dawson sat alone in his room brooding over the day’s events and wondering why nothing had turned out the way he’d expected. Things usually had an uncanny way of working out for him… but not today. After finally confessing his feelings for Joey, he just assumed they would be reciprocated. Even he could see how Joey felt about him. But that was before the accident, and Dawson was having a hard reconciling the fact that everything had changed now. Joey had received his confession with such apathy that he was at a loss what to do. Wounded pride was one thing, but Dawson felt ten times worse. For the first time he allowed himself to think that perhaps Joey didn’t love him after all. Perhaps he had left it too late.
When the phone rang, Dawson answered it half-heartedly. Whoever it was, he didn’t want to talk to them. It was only when he heard Joey’s voice on the other end that he sat up quickly on his bed, his heart beating faster.
"Hi." He was bewildered that she would be calling, but then the ever optimistic voice inside his head just told him she was phoning to apologize. Here he was feeling depressed and unloved as he replayed their difficult conversation over in his mind, and Joey was probably feeling just as bad. All of Dawson’s negativity left him as he waited anxiously for her to say something. When it seemed she was unable to, he decided to make it easier for her.
"Joey, if it’s about this afternoon—"
"I went up to the hospital after you left. Pacey woke up," Joey cut in.
Dawson felt a mixture of anger that she obviously was not going to bring up what had happened between them, and jealously that once again her thoughts were with Pacey. He hated feeling jealous of his best friend who was in the hospital — it wasn’t something that Dawson could ever feel good about — but he couldn’t help it. Ever since the car accident it was like Joey didn’t even want to know him.
"How is he?" Dawson tried to muster up at least the semblance of relief that Pacey was out of danger. Deep down he did feel it, but it was buried under a myriad of other emotions that surfaced when he heard Joey's voice.
"They did some more tests…" Joey trailed off, a foreboding silence falling between them.
It wasn’t like Joey to have difficulty telling Dawson the truth, and he immediately felt a twinge of apprehension.
"Joey, what is it?"
"They said he’s paralyzed from the waist down," she said quietly. "It’s permanent."
Dawson sat back against the bed’s headboard, truly stunned. "What?"
Joey said nothing, allowing the news to sink in. Dawson couldn’t believe it. During the last few days he had found it difficult to truly worry about Pacey, mostly because he was so preoccupied with his new found feelings for Joey. But Dawson had also never imagined that Pacey’s injuries would be so… permanent. All that time he had known Pacey would be all right, the alternative was not in the realm of possibility. Something like this couldn't happen to someone he knew — one of his best friends no less. Things like that happened to other people, in other towns. Not Capeside, Massachusetts. Not Pacey.
"They’re going to operate in a couple of days," Joey was explaining, but Dawson barely heard her. "He’s being really brave about it, either that or he’s in denial. But I think it would help if we all visit him a lot… You know, to help him adjust."
Dawson didn’t respond.
"Dawson? Are you listening to me?" Joey said, her voice sharp with impatience.
"Huh? Yeah, I’m listening…" Dawson murmured.
"Will you come and see him?"
"Of course I will," he replied automatically.
"Good." Joey sighed over the line. "I’d better go."
"Joey, wait," said Dawson quickly before she was able to hang up. "Are you okay?"
"Me? I’m fine, why wouldn’t I be?"
Dawson was surprised that she sounded so defensive. He frowned slightly, hearing real anger in Joey’s voice. "Are you sure?"
Joey let out a long breath, obviously trying to calm herself before she responded. "It’s just been a long day, Dawson."
"Try and get some rest."
He heard a bitter laugh and then she hung up without another word. Puzzled and hurt, Dawson replaced the receiver and wondered what had happened to Joey since the accident. Everything had changed so much — Joey’s behavior and now Pacey… Dawson didn’t want to have to think about Pacey, not yet. He felt as if he was in some kind of surrealistic nightmare where all of these bad things were happening and he was absolutely powerless to stop them. Dawson pondered how easily a nightmare could become reality. It was not a comforting thought.
* * *
It was with a heavy heart that Dawson set out for school the next morning. He knew his parents wouldn't have minded if he'd chosen to go the hospital to see Pacey instead, but Dawson didn't bring it up. He reluctantly admitted to himself that it was cowardly, but he just didn't know how to face Pacey yet. He didn't know what to say or how to comfort someone who just found out he would be in a wheelchair for the rest of his life. Instead of blaming his own inadequacies, Dawson made himself believe he was doing what was best for Pacey. He would go and visit him after school, or maybe tomorrow. Dawson didn't fully recognize his own stalling tactics.
Joey was away from school again, and Dawson wasn't surprised. He guessed she was back at the hospital with Pacey, and tried in vain not to feel a little jealous about that fact. It was ridiculous that he should feel that way, but he was human and he couldn't help it. Dawson knew there was nothing going on between them, but ever since he could remember he had always come first with Joey. He was her best friend in the entire world, and everyone else, including Pacey, were acquaintances in comparison. It was no surprise then that Dawson felt uneasy by the new closeness Joey and Pacey apparently shared.
Dawson continued to feel alienated at school without his two closest friends. He really had no other friends beside them, only Jen. When he discovered she wasn't at school either, he wondered if things would ever get back to normal. The day passed slowly, and as the last period drew to a close, Dawson mentally prepared himself to visit Pacey in the hospital. He had no excuse not to, and he knew Joey was expecting him. Dawson trudged home first, taking his time, trying to think of what he was going to say to Pacey.
When he saw Jen sitting on the wooden swing in her grams' front yard, Dawson was immediately heartened. Just having someone to talk to after a very lonely week was enough, but he instantly decided to ask her to come to the hospital too. It might make things easier having her beside him, especially if he was to face Joey as well. A smile lit up his face as he approached her.
"Hey, Jen, where were you today?" he said lightly, dumping his satchel on the ground and taking a seat beside her. "I didn't see you in school."
"I didn't go," she replied dully, staring at the still waters of the creek.
Dawson saw she was upset about something and wondered if Joey had called her to tell her about Pacey. It seemed strange that Joey would do so, considering the poorly hidden animosity with which she usually treated Jen. The glimmer of good humor left Dawson when he realized there was nothing to be happy about.
"Did you hear about Pacey?"
"No… is he all right?" asked Jen a little sluggishly, as if she had to remember who he was.
"The doctors say he's paralyzed from the waist down… and it's permanent," Dawson explained, choosing his words carefully. He waited for some sign of shock or deep-felt concern from Jen, but her expression was blank. It took a few seconds for the meaning of his words to penetrate, and when they did she let out a small betrayed laugh.
"That's just perfect… Fifteen years old and permanently paralyzed. I'll have to get my grams to explain that one to me," Jen said bitterly, almost choking on the words.
Dawson frowned at her, realizing that something was really wrong with her. He knew people reacted differently to bad news, but he hadn't expected this from Jen. She had always gotten on well with Pacey, so she must have been affected by the seriousness of his injuries.
"Jen, are you okay?" he murmured under his breath, concerned only for her. The gentleness in his voice caused Jen's eyes to fill with tears, another reaction he had not anticipated.
"No, Dawson, I don't think you could say that."
"What is it?"
"It’s everything… I don't understand any of it anymore." Jen smiled faintly as she kept her gaze permanently on the water. She didn't trust herself to look at Dawson. "Maybe if I had my grams' faith, or at least some belief in God so I could understand why these things happen. But it just doesn’t make any sense to me… Why would someone as young as Pacey have this happen to him when none of it was his fault? How could God take my gramps when he was getting better? I just don't get it."
"Jen… I'm sorry," Dawson started, feeling utterly helpless. Jen's face was filled with pain and all he could do was slip his arm around her shoulder. "When?"
"Early this morning. They said he went peacefully… didn't feel a thing," she stated slowly, the words growing harder. Jen's eyes brimmed with tears as an aching lump rose in her throat. "We thought he was getting better, he actually woke up. He said my name for the first time in… And then he had another stroke and he just slipped away."
Dawson kneaded her shoulder and took her other hand in his.
"Why did this happen?" she asked him, turning to face him properly for the first time. Her eyes were red and puffy, silently begging him to make some sense of it for her.
Dawson's heart went out to her and he shook his head imperceptibly. He had no explanation for her about her grandfather, no explanation why Pacey was suddenly facing the rest of his life in a wheelchair. Like Jen, Dawson didn't understand any of it. Instead he hugged her to him, comforting her as she cried angry tears to mourn the person she had loved best in her short life. Jen gripped the front of his shirt with white knuckled strength as she gave in to her emotions. She knew she couldn't cry like this in front of her grams, who comforted herself with the knowledge that her husband was with God now. Jen received no consolation from this; she was alone with her grief and misery. Only Dawson's strong embrace helped her in the smallest way to accept the fact that she would never see her gramps again. She held onto him and cried for a long time, and he did nothing to try and stop her.
Dawson stayed with her until her sobs subsided and they sat in each other's arms, staring out over the familiar creek. He was vaguely aware of time passing and nightfall approaching, but Dawson made no move to leave her. He would not be going to the hospital now, Jen needed him. He didn't like to admit to himself that he was glad for the excuse not to go. Dawson tightened his arms around Jen and silently thanked her for needing him. He knew in his heart he didn't want to face Pacey yet… or Joey. He remained there with Jen until it was dark, hiding from both of them.
* * *
True to her word, Joey arrived at the hospital that day as soon as visiting hours started. Pacey was more lucid after he was given a lower dosage of painkillers, and greeted her with a heart-felt smile. He looked considerably better than he had the day before, and Joey was relieved to see that the painful head clamp had been removed and he now wore only a neck brace to prevent any further damage.
"You don't look quite so much like Frankenstein's monster anymore," she commented cheerily as she placed a small bunch of flowers by his bed.
"Wildflowers, you shouldn't have," he grinned, raising his voice an octave. "I'll go all giggly."
"They're from Bessie, she figured this room could do with some colour."
The hospital room was one of the bleakest Joey had seen, more like a cell than anything. She imagined it would feel like one too, if she were stuck there unable to move.
"Put them on the ceiling and I'll be set," Pacey said, returning his eyes to the familiar view above his head. "It gets to be a bit monotonous when all I see is the ceiling or the floor."
Joey nodded, having noticed he was on a different kind of bed. Pacey explained that he had to be rotated every four hours to face the ceiling or the floor so he wouldn't develop bedsores. Joey feigned intense interest in the mechanics of the Stryker frame as she tried desperately to keep any negative thoughts at bay. Pacey noticed the deliberate way she was avoiding asking anything personal that might make them both face the stark reality of his situation. He was relieved that he could just joke with her and not think about it at all.
"Just some of the delightful things I am adjusting to in here," he said brightly. When a middle-aged nurse entered the room, he was glad of the distraction. "Ask Doris here, she'll tell you."
"What are you going on about now, you scamp?" the nurse chastised in a no nonsense tone, trying not to smile. "I knew you'd be trouble from the start, with your jokes and your charming smile."
"I've got all the nurses wrapped around my little finger," Pacey told Joey, his eyes dancing mischievously. "You should hear some of the things they've offered to do for me…"
"And you know it’s the highlight of my day, Pacey," replied Doris blandly as she replaced the catheter bag on the side of his bed. She threw Joey a knowing smile.
"Now, now, you don't have to act jealous, Doris," said Pacey, noticing the two women looking at each other. "This is Joey and she's just a friend, you know you're the only woman for me."
"Nice to meet you, Joey. I noticed you here yesterday… I don't know whether to envy or pity you, knowing this one like you do."
"See, she loves me," Pacey sighed as he glanced at Joey.
Joey grinned in response, glad to see that Pacey's sense of humor was intact — in fact it was in overdrive. Any fear that she had seen in him the day before had vanished… or at least it was well concealed.
"Uh huh, I love you so much that I want you all to myself for a moment," Doris said pointedly for Joey's benefit. "It’s time to change your gizmo, Pacey."
He looked at Joey with the tiniest hint of embarrassment, which was quickly covered up by a jovial smirk.
"She just wants to see me naked at every opportunity," he explained.
It took Joey a few moments to work out what the double talk meant. Feeling dense, she mumbled an apology and backed out of the room.
"It won't take long," Doris told Joey, as she prepared to change Pacey's catheter.
Joey escaped out into the hallway and looked around, embarrassed for herself more than Pacey. She wasn't used to the routines his condition entailed yet, but she was determined not to let them affect her. Joey realized she really knew very little about paraplegia and decided then and there to read up on it. If she was going to help Pacey during this period of adjustment, then she needed to understand what he was going through.
While she was waiting for the nurse to finish up, Joey was joined by Mr and Mrs Witter who had come to see their son. And so the visitors kept coming the rest of the day; Doug, Pacey's sisters, Bessie… They all stayed for various lengths of time, joking with Pacey and helping him keep his mind off his injury. Joey stayed the entire day, wanting to be with Pacey, but also waiting for Dawson to come.
By lunch time she had made up her mind that he had gone to school after all and would come afterwards to visit Pacey. But as the afternoon wore on and dusk fell, Joey's spirits continued to sink. Visiting hours were almost over and Dawson, or Jen for that matter, had not come. She knew she should be angry with him for neglecting Pacey when he needed all the company he could get, but Joey found herself just feeling overwhelmingly disappointed in Dawson. She tried to hide that fact from Pacey, and neither of them mentioned Dawson's absence. It was easier not think about what kind of person would stay away from one of his supposed best friends laid up in the hospital. Joey didn't want to think about him at all.
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