A life less ordinary
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Nine: Un cœur en hiver

You alone have all of me
From you my strength is full.
To carry your burdens too
I give my world to you.

("Rapunzel", Dave Matthews Band)

When faced with a lonely lunch in the cafeteria, Dawson decided to head for the relative calm of the school library instead. Jen was taking some time off after her grandfather's funeral, despite her grams' misgivings that she would miss too much schoolwork. And Joey… Dawson grimaced when he thought about Joey. He hadn't spoken to her since the terrible night earlier in the week when she had told him about Pacey. Dawson had had every intention of seeing her - seeing them both - but Jen needed a friend and he was all she had. Dawson still felt guilty, he felt terrible about the whole mess, but he knew there was nothing he could do. There was nothing he could do to take back the words he had said to Joey, nothing he could do to take back his confession that had probably ruined their friendship. Nothing he could to do make Pacey better, to change what had happened on that fateful drive back from the prison…

Dawson had already played out all those what ifs. What if he had been the one Joey had asked to take her to the prison? The accident wouldn't have happened and Pacey wouldn't have been in the hospital. Joey wouldn't be angry at him, she wouldn't be the unfeeling person who had treated him so callously when Dawson told her how he felt about her. They could all go back to being the three friends they had been a fortnight ago - carefree, self-involved, soul searching teenagers. But now everything was blown to hell, and they would never be those people again.

The library was mostly empty, much to Dawson's relief, and he made his way to the study tables at the back. There were only a few lone students working there in the lunch break. Dawson, his thoughts consumed by his own sadness, stopped in his tracks when he saw one student in particular. She had her back to him, but there was no mistaking her. The long dark hair, the curve of her shoulders… it was Joey. Dawson was so surprised he couldn't move. He hadn't seen her all day, and assumed she was taking more time off school. He had expected her to be at the hospital with Pacey, not here in the library. 

Dawson looked around quickly, making up his mind whether to face her or flee. After a few seconds he realized he wanted to see her, wanted to talk to her, even if it was going to be uncomfortable. He had to face her some time, and it might as well be now.

He walked up behind her, and then slowly stepped into her line of vision. She had a pile of books open in front of her, and with a quick glance he saw they were medical books… all about spinal cord injuries. 

"Hey Joey."

She looked up, startled. But her expression changed to one of poorly hidden anger when she saw who it was. As soon as she felt it, the anger was taken over by feelings of betrayal and disappointment. Joey looked back down at her books, wishing he would go away.

"I didn't think you'd be back at school yet," Dawson said. When her silence continued, he began to feel foolish standing there in front of her. He slid into the seat opposite her and waited.

"How's your head?" he asked after an uncomfortable silence. He noticed she was no longer wearing the dressing on her forehead and the stitches had been removed. She was left with a small red scar along her hairline. 

"My head's fine, thank you," Joey said curtly, pretending to absorbed in the book she was reading. She didn't want to deal with Dawson now, she was still too mad at him.

"How's Pacey doing?"

"Oh, so you do care now?" Joey blurted out, her anger flaring again. "I figured you had forgotten your best friend is lying there paralyzed in the hospital."

"Of course I hadn't forgotten," replied Dawson, guilt-ridden.

"Then where were you, Dawson? It's been a week and you haven't been to visit him once since he regained consciousness."

"I know-"

"What kind of friend are you?" Joey continued, venting all the emotions she had kept bottled up for most of the week. "How do you think Pacey feels, knowing you couldn't even be bothered to come and see him?"

"That's not it, Joey…"

"Then what is it?" she snapped, eyes blazing. "You tell me, Dawson. Are you afraid? Are you so self-absorbed that you can't see that Pacey needs all the support he can get right now? He's paralyzed, Dawson. He's never going to walk again and you can't even come to visit him!"

Joey suddenly realized she was yelling at him, and everyone around them was staring at her. Her face burned crimson as she dropped her eyes to the book once more. Across the table, Dawson waited until people turned their curious gazes away. He leant forward and spoke to her quietly and earnestly, his eyes filled with tears. 

"I was on my way to the hospital the day after I spoke to you, but I ran into Jen."

Joey narrowed her eyes at him in disgust, but Dawson didn't give her the chance to jump to any conclusions.

"Her grandfather died, Joey. She's a complete mess and she needed me."

"I didn't know," murmured Joey, feeling bad for Jen. She knew all too well what it was like to lose a loved one. But empathy for Jen did not stave off her annoyance with Dawson for long.

"Pacey needed you too, Dawson."

"Don't you think I know that?" he bit back, angry that Joey thought him so unfeeling. "I was planning on going up to the hospital this afternoon, if it makes any difference."

"Well, you can't," she said hotly.

"Why not?"

Joey's face fell slightly and she had to swallow the lump in her throat before she could continue.

"Pacey's having the operation today. They have to put a steel plate in his back."

Silence fell as both Dawson and Joey thought about their friend. She looked at him as he pondered her words, and had to admit that he did care about Pacey. Joey felt guilty for laying into him so heavily. She did it to make herself feel better, it wasn't even about Pacey, and now she was ashamed. Joey's voice softened as she passed over the book she was reading so Dawson could see the illustration of a spinal cord.

"This is where his cord is severed, so they put the plate here to help the vertebrae fuse together. Then he'll be able to have as much mobility as possible in a wheelchair," she explained gently. Joey had been doing plenty of reading on the subject so she could understand exactly what Pacey was going through. 

"Will he be okay?" Dawson whispered, his voice barely audible.

"He'll be out of it for a few days, but then after a month or two he'll be able to try out the chair. He'll have lots of physiotherapy and rehabilitation… It might take up to six months but they say he'll be okay."

Dawson rested his forehead heavily on one hand as he looked at the opposite page where there was a picture of a man in a wheelchair. He couldn't believe that would be Pacey. It all felt surreal.

As the tears began to roll down his cheeks, Dawson didn't wipe them away. After a moment he felt Joey's hand curl around his own and he entwined his fingers with hers. They stared silently into each other's eyes, and for the first time in days Dawson didn't think about how he had blown it with her, or how everything that had happened impacted on him. Dawson only thought about what Pacey was going through and how lucky he was to have Joey as a friend. He held onto her hand as he held onto that last thought.

* * *

By the following week, Joey felt like they had gotten through the worst of things. She and Dawson had settled their differences, and although they weren't as close as they had once been, they were slowly recovering their friendship. They had both gone to the hospital as soon as Pacey was able to receive visitors after his operation. Pacey, to his credit, had not punished Dawson for his behavior and was just glad to see his friend. Joey was relieved there was no uneasiness between them - Dawson and Pacey treated each other just as they always had, as if everything was normal. 

Pacey was as upbeat as he had been the previous week, if not more so. He had gotten through the operation without any complications, and the doctors were optimistic that he would be able to start using a wheelchair within six weeks. Pacey spoke about the operation and the long days in hospital with such light-hearted humor that it was difficult to think about the dark days following the accident. Both Joey and Dawson knew he was going to be all right, and it made all the difference in the world.

On Wednesday afternoon, Joey was finishing up her visit with Pacey. His family would soon be arriving for the evening "shift", as Pacey jokingly called it. But they had all settled into a sort of routine. His mother spent her days with him, then Mr Witter and Doug would come in the evening. Joey came every afternoon after school and then again on the weekend. Dawson often came with her, and even Jen had dragged herself out of the house and dropped by for a quick visit. She had apologized for not being the best company, but Pacey was just glad to see all his friends for the first time since the accident. He needed that sense of normalcy. 

While he wanted and needed their company, he couldn't help but be concerned about Joey. She came to visit him every day without fail, and he wondered how long she could continue to do so with school and a part time job. No matter what was going on, she arrived faithfully right on time as promised. Pacey knew she couldn't keep it up for long, and he was secretly afraid of the day when she would miss a visit. He didn't want to become dependent on her. And he certainly didn't want her to come and see him out of pity or guilt, so he began trying to let her off the hook. 

"Jo, shouldn't you be at the Icehouse?" Pacey asked out of the blue that afternoon, looking at her intently. A mirror had been positioned above his bed so he could get a better view of his visitors without straining his neck.

Joey glanced at her watch, conscious of the time. She didn't want to intrude on the Witter's visiting time with Pacey.

"Huh?" she mumbled, pulling out her bus schedule.

"Remember your family business? The place you used to spend so much of your free time? Bessie must be pretty unimpressed." 

"Actually I'm only going to work a couple of shifts a week," Joey explained, dismissing the line of conversation. "That way I can come visit more often."

Pacey's brow furrowed.

"I thought the money you were earning was going towards your college fund. You shouldn't jeopardize that because I'm laid up in here, Jo."

"There's plenty of time for that, Pacey," said Joey, not wanting to hear his protests. She was not able to admit her visits to the hospital were just as much for her benefit as Pacey's. Joey couldn't admit it to him because she couldn't even admit it to herself.

"Besides," she continued lightly. "I found a replacement, this new guy called Jack. He and his sister are starting at Capeside High. I think they're from Providence or something."

"What about your schoolwork then?" Pacey said, not letting her change the subject. "You have to spend over an hour on the bus to get here and back. When are you going to have time to study?"

"I'll make the time," she stated simply. When he didn't appear to believe her, Joey squeezed his hand. "I want to come and visit you, Pacey. Please let me."

Pacey sighed quietly and resumed staring at the ceiling. In truth he was relieved that Joey would still be around as much as she had been, but that didn't stop the nagging thought in his mind that made him feel so uneasy. He couldn't work out what it was, but it was definitely there.

"Okay, Joey."

She smiled, putting an end to it. She never wanted Pacey to think he was a burden to her.

"Well, now that's settled, I'd better get going. Bessie's going to pick me up from the bus depot. Your parents should be here soon." Joey slipped off the stool by Pacey's bed. "I'll see you tomorrow?"

"See you tomorrow." Pacey made a concerted effort to smile back at her.


Joey walked out of the room, and took in a large breath as soon as she stepped out into the corridor. She took a moment to lean back against the wall, summoning the strength to keep going. Joey was exhausted, although she never let Pacey see it. But some days were harder than others. She tried never to think about how much she hated the hospital room Pacey was in. The colors, the smell, the medical equipment, all of it made her so uncomfortable that she was ashamed of the relief she felt when she was able to leave some days.

As she collected herself, a heavy-set woman in an eclectic outfit walked up the corridor to Pacey's room. She had short dark hair and a friendly, if a little bizarre, look about her. The woman stared at Joey and smiled, and Joey tried her best to reciprocate the effort. She blushed a little when the woman's eyes traveled to the scar on her hairline, and Joey began walking away. When she was a safe distance she looked back over her shoulder and saw the woman still watching her thoughtfully. Joey quickened her pace and made her way outside, all the while wondering who the strange woman was.

* * *

Annie Dorsky walked into Pacey's room, taking in her surroundings without much interest. She had seen many hospitals rooms in her time, they were all alike. The only differences were the patients occupying the rooms, and they were only thing she was interested in. This one in particular, Annie thought to herself. This one was going to be a challenge.

She pulled up the stool beside the boy, and sat down with a humph. 

"Phew, I knew I should have taken the elevator, those stairs nearly killed me," she said pleasantly in a low Southern drawl. 

Pacey had been staring at the ceiling, trying to get over the familiar feeling of loneliness that plagued him whenever Joey or one of his visitors left. He hated being alone in the hospital room, or cell, as he liked to think of it. Unable to move and all by himself, each minute felt like an hour. But now there was a woman sitting beside him, smiling at him like she had known him all his life. He frowned at her suspiciously.

She didn't seem to notice his expression. "Oh, I know I need the exercise and I should take the stairs, but I figure, if someone invented an easier way of getting around it'd be real shame not to use it."

Pacey just stared at her, wondering who on earth the crazy woman was. He watched as she proceeded to take a can of soda out of her hessian satchel and took a long unladylike gulp. After making herself more comfortable on the stool, she looked at over at him via the mirror and smiled.

"I'm Annie, by the way," she said casually. "And you're Pacey Witter."

"How do you know?"

"Says so on your file." Annie pulled out a folder from her bag and tossed it on the end of his bed.

"Do you work here?" Pacey asked, not sure what was going on. "You're not some mental patient who's escaped from the fifth floor, are you?"

Annie chuckled loudly, making her double chin wobble. "I'm not a mental patient, though if you asked my ex-husband he might say otherwise. The goddamn son-of-a-bitch," she grinned, not losing her cheery tone.

"Okay," Pacey said uneasily, wondering where he had put his call button.

"I work here sometimes… when they need me." 

"Don't tell me you're one of those people sent in to cheer patients up?" Pacey asked with disdain. "One of those hospital clowns?"

"No I am not," Annie replied in a booming voice, pretending to be offended. "Are you saying I look like a clown, boy?"

"No, no I didn't mean that." 

Annie began laughing again when it looked like Pacey was scared of her. She loved putting people off guard when she first met them. In her line of work she needed a good icebreaker. 

"You're right about cheering people up though," she went on, friendly once more. "At least, that's what I try to do. I'm a clinical psychologist." 

"A shrink?" Pacey's tone was incredulous. "Why do you want to talk to me?"

"Well, let's see…" Annie said, standing up to get a better look at him lying in the bed. "Seems to me like you're in here for a pretty serious reason."

"My spinal cord was severed at T5 and 6. I'm a paraplegic," Pacey stated very business-like, his gaze unwavering as he looked her right in the eye. 

"I know, honey, it’s in your file," replied Annie gently, but without pity. 

"So what's there to talk about?" 

"Oh, I don't know… How about, how are you doing?"

"I'm just peachy, thanks. How are you?"

Annie sat back down with a sigh. She had been right, this was going to be a difficult case. She had known it as soon as she had seen Pacey's file. Fifteen year old, car accident, wasn't his fault, permanently paralyzed. He would be feeling a myriad of emotions and any one of them could just about ruin his life if she didn't help him deal with them. What made things worse was that he was still in denial. His stoic demeanor had not yet been replaced by anger, despondency or grief. And until it did, Annie knew his real recovery from the accident would not begin.

"Well, I guess the doctors called me in for no reason then," Annie said, trying a different approach. "You sure have made my job easy, Pacey, and I thank you."

"No problem." Pacey was unsure if she meant what she was staying. To his surprise she abruptly packed up his file in her bag and deposited the soda can in the trash, readying herself to leave.

"I guess I should get going so I don't take up any more of your time," she said, getting to her feet.

Pacey looked away, realizing he was about to be left on his own again. Annie saw the sudden fear in his eyes and how hard he was trying to mask it. 

"Thanks for dropping by," he said sarcastically.

Annie smiled grimly. "That was Joey who just left, wasn't it? She was in the accident too."

Pacey's eyes darted back to her immediately. The look of suspicion had returned, mixed with something else. Concern, pain, guilt… she couldn't really tell. But Annie knew she had hit a nerve.

"How did you know?" he whispered.

Annie bent down closer to him, lowering her voice as well. "It's all in the file, Pacey."

Pacey felt confused… he wasn't quite sure what he felt. But when Annie looked at him it was like she could read his thoughts and emotions - two things he had kept safely locked away since the accident. It was disarming, even frightening. To his embarrassment, he felt tears welling in his eyes as she continued to stare evenly at him.

"Still think we have nothing to talk about?" she asked.

Pacey blinked and a single tear rolled down the side of his face. He looked up at the ceiling, willing Annie to go away. She seemed to understand this, and pulled her bag up onto her shoulder.

"I'll see you around, Pacey."

Annie shuffled out the door, leaving him be. But not for long, she thought to herself, she couldn't afford to leave him be for long. Annie knew what would happen if she did. She had seen it too many times before.


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