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Between heaven and hell
I find sometimes it's easy to
("So much to say", Dave Matthews Band)
"I can't believe this is really happening," Pacey said.
His mother smiled at him with shining eyes, even his father threw him a grim smile.
"You've come a long way, sweetheart," Mrs Witter said proudly. She knew her husband felt the same way, he just had difficulty showing it. But to his credit, John Witter had softened considerably since Pacey had been in hospital.
It had been six weeks now, almost an eternity from Pacey's perspective. But the day had come - today he would finally get into a wheelchair for the first time. No more days spent lying in his hospital bed, going insane with frustration. He was in a rehabilitation wing now, so his surroundings were a little more tolerable than the hospital ward. However the days were still monotonous, each felt like it would never end. But today would make all the difference - he would be mobile again. Pacey had spent his time counting the hours to "Chair Day" as the hospital staff called it.
He glanced over at Joey, smiling at her again and silently thanking her for being there. She was missing school to spend the all important day with him, and he had never been more grateful to her. He needed her support because it was going to take most of the day before he would actually get into the chair. A nurse would come in each half hour and raise the head of his hospital bed a few inches only. It was explained to him that the slow process was necessary because his blood pressure would be low after the prolonged period lying flat on his back. His head would be raised inch by inch in order for his heart to adjust to the new seated position.
Pacey had to bite back his impatience. Given the chance he would have sat up on his own in one fell swoop, so eager was he to get into his wheelchair. He couldn't see the point of the long drawn out schedule, it was yet another form of torture that he had to endure at the hospital. It was for this very reason that he had wanted Joey to be there. He needed all the help he could get to keep his mind off the ticking clock that was hanging on the wall. Even after six weeks, one day felt like forever.
The nurse came in for the first bed adjustment, much to Pacey's relief. But the bed head was raised less than five inches, causing him to let out a frustrated breath.
"I don't feel any different. Can't you put it a bit higher, Doris?" he asked bluntly.
"Trust me, Pacey, we are doing this for a reason. So stop your complaining, all right?" Doris grinned at the Witters, having gotten to know all of Pacey's friends and family very well over the weeks.
"You're all sadists," Pacey retorted, half-joking, half-serious. "Come on, Doris, just a few inches higher?"
"Behave." Doris made a note in his chart. "See you in half an hour, Pacey."
Pacey rested his head back on his pillow.
"Well, this is going be fun," he sighed. "Anyone up for Parcheesi?"
"Try and be patient, son," Mrs Witter said gently.
"Maybe we should get you some magazines or something," said Mr Witter. In truth he was happy for any excuse to leave the room. He had never been particularly comfortable when visiting his son and could not stand still for long. John Witter hated feeling useless.
Pacey understood his father's edginess, and nodded to his parents. It was probably better if they stayed with him in turns anyway. He was going to be bad company all day.
"Looks like the first shift is yours, Jo. You up for it?" he asked, turning his head to look at her. At least he could do that now, no more neck braces or traction.
"I think I'll survive." Joey smiled first at Pacey and then at his parents.
Mr and Mrs Witter left the room, leaving Pacey and Joey alone. Joey sat back in her chair, trying to think of something to say to distract Pacey's attention from the clock on the wall. She could see him adjust his viewing mirror so he could get a better look at the time piece, counting the seconds. Unfortunately it wasn't going to make the time pass any faster.
"Did I tell you what happened at the Icehouse yesterday?" she said brightly.
"Don't tell me, Jack was being a klutz again," replied Pacey distractedly.
"Knocked over a whole rack of glasses when the place was packed. Bessie was furious."
"This Jack sounds like the Inspector Clouseau of Capeside. Why did you hire him again?"
"Yeah, well, he's all right. He's a nice guy, actually." Joey lowered her eyes, suddenly interested in a spot she saw on the floor.
Pacey grinned at her. "He's a nice guy, is he? I see, so that's your hiring policy at the Icehouse," he said, teasing her. "Watch out, Dawson."
Joey rolled her eyes at him. "You know there's nothing going on with Dawson… That ship has sailed."
"You don't mean Jen…"
"No, nothing like that. We're just better off as friends."
"Is this the same Joey Potter who spend all of last year in a hormonal haze over our mutual friend and local aspiring filmmaker? I must say, I'm very disappointed in you."
"Bite me, Pacey," Joey said sternly. The annoyed expression on her face didn't last long though, and a small smile formed on her lips. She felt happy when Pacey bantered with her, just like in the pre-accident days. It rarely happened any more, not like before, and she admitted to herself that she missed it.
"You wait 'til I'm in my chair, then I just might take you up on that. There'll be no getting away."
"I can't wait," she said mockingly.
A comfortable silence fell, and Pacey returned his attention to the clock. There was still twenty minutes to go before Doris would be back to raise the bed any higher.
Joey watched him as he stared intently at the clock. When she thought about the "old days", it only made her notice how different Pacey was now. While he tried to be the same light-hearted Pacey, some days she could see it was a real effort for him to keep his spirits up. He was careful not to let her see it, but sometimes when Pacey didn't know she was looking, she would see the dull look in his eyes. It wasn't something that Joey wanted to deal with - she wasn't sure she could. Cowardly though it was, she knew it would be better for Pacey if she just did whatever she could to keep him upbeat.
The physical changes were harder to ignore. Joey had been shocked the first day she had seen Pacey's new haircut. Because he was unable to have a proper shower or wash his hair, he had persuaded the hospital barber to shave most of it off. His hair was cut so close to his head now that she could see the painful scars above his ears from the horseshoe clamps he had worn while in traction. Joey tried her best not to look at them, but it wasn't something she could avoid. His haircut, combined with his thinner face and body that was devoid all his baby fat, made Pacey looked utterly different from the fifteen year old boy she had known.
Joey missed that boy. She missed her old friend. But there was nothing to be gained from living in the past. They all had to move on.
"I brought a deck of cards," she said, pulling them out of her backpack. "Just in case you grow tired of my sparkling conversation."
Pacey looked back at her and smiled with real warmth. His eyes glowed with fondness for his friend who was helping him through what was turning out to be the longest day of his life.
"No offense, Potter, but why don't you deal those cards right now?"
"Ingrate," she grinned, and did as he asked.
* * *
By lunch time, Pacey was half way there. He couldn't get over the simple pleasure of seeing everything from a semi-normal perspective once more. Not the even the fact that he was starting to feel a little nauseous dampened his spirits. In only a few more hours he would be in his chair.
Pacey's parents had left for the hospital cafeteria after Joey offered to stay with Pacey while they got something to eat. She was pleased that he was so happy and couldn't keep the smile from her face as she dealt the cards for yet another round of gin.
"Joey, give it up, I'm whooping your ass at this game," Pacey said, rubbing his hands together.
"Ah, Pacey, always so eloquent."
"You're just a sore loser."
"I didn't think we were even keeping score…" she protested, looking with dismay at the crummy hand she had dealt herself.
"Nice try, Potter. If you think you're going to get away with it that easily-" Pacey started, but was suddenly interrupted by a familiar drawling voice.
"Yoo hoo, anyone home?"
Now it was Pacey's turn to roll his eyes as Annie Dorsky entered the room.
"Well, look at you…" his psychologist marveled seeing him in his half-upright position. "You're not as ugly as I thought from this angle."
"Charming," Pacey replied, annoyed with himself that he had forgotten she would be coming in to see him today. He saw Joey staring at the woman with a puzzled look on her face, and figured he had better make the introductions. "Annie, this my friend Joey Potter. Joey, this is a pain in the ass called Annie Dorsky."
"Charming," Annie echoed, and crossed the small room to shake Joey's hand. "Don't mind Grumpy here, deep down I bet he's real glad to see me."
Joey tried not to wince but Annie's grip was as strong as a man's as she squeezed her hand. She recognized her as the woman with the unusual taste in clothing who had stared at her outside Pacey's room a month ago. Joey had just assumed she had just come to his room by mistake, she didn't realize that Pacey knew her.
"I'm sorry, are you a friend of the family?" Joey asked, curious about the strange woman who was larger than life, both in appearance and apparently personality.
"No, I'm Pacey's shrink," Annie said causally, tossing her satchel off her shoulder and pulling up a chair to sit beside him. The metal feet of the chair scraped loudly along the floor, like fingernails down a blackboard. Pacey groaned inwardly.
"Didn't he tell you about me?"
"Ah, no," Joey replied simply.
"Well now, Pacey, I have to say that hurts. And here I thought you and I were becoming good friends."
"Like I've been telling you all along, you're delusional," said Pacey. He glanced back at Joey. "And she thinks I'm the one who needs a shrink."
Annie laughed loudly and slapped her knee, while Joey tried to smile. She was suddenly very uncomfortable, and a little unsettled that Pacey had not told her he was talking to a psychologist. It made her wonder what they talked about… Did they talk about the accident? Did they talk about her involvement? Joey didn't really want to know, nor did she really want to be there anymore. She stood up abruptly.
"I'll leave you two alone," she murmured, embarrassed as they both stared at her.
"Joey, you don't have to go…" Pacey began.
"No, it's okay. I'll go and get some lunch and come back later." Joey tried her best to sound normal but she knew she was failing miserably. She snatched up her bag and backed quickly out of the room. "See you soon."
"Nice to meet you Joey," Annie yelled after her. She sat back in her chair, blissfully unaware that Pacey was staring daggers at her. When she noticed his expression she feigned ignorance. "What?"
"Nice entrance, Annie, you scared her off," Pacey said angrily.
"What did I say?" she asked innocently, pulling out a candy bar from her bag.
"How about 'I'm Pacey's shrink'? That wasn't exactly what I'd call tactful. Not to mention a breach of doctor-patient confidentiality."
"Are you ashamed of seeing a psychologist?" she asked him point-blank. "Are you trying to hide something?"
Pacey sighed and rested his head against his pillow. She was trying to catch him out again. Whenever they were having a conversation, Annie had an annoying habit of dropping a confronting question in without warning. Her usual loud, jovial manner would be replaced by a quieter, more serious tone. Pacey soon learned it was her professional demeanor, and he soon learned that he didn't like it.
During the weeks after her first visit, Annie came to see him three times a week. Some days they would talk about the weather or Monday night football. Other days she would ask about his family and friends - a personal issue, but one that Pacey could handle. He told her all about his strained relationship with his father and how it had changed - even improved - since he had been in the hospital. Mr Witter was making a concerted effort to get closer to his son, and secretly Pacey liked talking to Annie about it because most of the time it was pretty confusing. She had helped him speak about issues from his childhood that he had never opened up to anyone about.
But there was one thing he didn't talk about, no matter how much Annie tried to coax it out of him. Pacey steadfastly refused to talk about the accident or the fact that he was facing the rest of his life in a wheelchair. He would only tell her that it wasn't going to make any difference anyway, it wasn't like he was destined to be a pro-basketball player. He would have probably ended up as a drone in some company, planted behind a desk five days a week. And he could do that just as easily in a wheelchair - more easily in fact, he liked to joke. Pacey knew she wanted him to open up about his fears and anxieties about the accident, but it wasn't something he could bring himself to do.
Lately they had been discussing the relative merits of American cars versus their Japanese and Korean competitors, but today Pacey got the feeling Annie was going to get on his case about the accident again. She just had that 'cut the crap' look about her again.
"Today's the day," she said, munching on her candy bar. "Chair Day for Pacey J. Witter."
"Half way there," replied Pacey lightly. He was afraid of what was to come, and desperately tried to think of something to avoid talking about his paraplegia. "So, how about that Knicks game? You see it?"
"So, that was Joey," Annie said thoughtfully, sucking caramel out of her teeth. "It's nice that she could be here today."
"Joey's a good friend," Pacey answered dully, feeling her turn the conversation already. He was in for it.
"How has she been coping after the accident? It must have been pretty scary for her. Wasn't she there when they were trying to cut you out of the car? It said in your file it took almost an hour." Annie shook her head contemplatively. "I don't know how I'd deal with that, watching one of my friends being rescued from an accident like that, not knowing if he was going to make it."
Pacey let out a long, controlled breath, and kept his gaze on the wall at the end of the room. He was used to Annie's confronting attempts to make him think about the accident.
"I wouldn't know, I was unconscious. I don't remember anything about that night," he stated calmly, but the evenness of his voice was paper thin.
"I bet Joey does. I bet she still has nightmares about it," Annie prodded, keeping a careful eye on Pacey's reaction.
"Well, why don't you ask her then and leave me alone?" Pacey snapped, his anger flaring.
Annie nodded to herself. Pacey's emotional walls had slowly begun to crumble in the last week or so. He was finally letting his anger erupt. And although he always tried to cover up his momentary lapse with a joke, Annie knew she was getting to him.
"Maybe I'll do that," she said, huffing as she got to her feet. "Did she say she was going to cafeteria?"
"Annie, you leave her alone," Pacey warned, his eyes narrowing.
"You told me to ask her, so that's what I'm going to do. If you won't tell me what happened, Pacey, then I guess I have to get it from Joey. You know as well as I do that until you face up to what happened, you are going to be an emotional cripple."
Pacey's eyes blazed with fury. "As opposed to being an actual cripple? Go to hell, Annie."
"Actually, I think I'll try the cafeteria instead."
Pacey fumed as she waddled out the door, he couldn't get any words out he was so incensed. She was already half way down the corridor before he managed to find his voice again.
"Annie? Come back here!" Pacey yelled, his face red and blotchy. "Annie?! You leave her alone, goddamn it!"
* * *
Annie found Joey and the Witters sharing an uncomfortable silence as they ate their lunch in the cafeteria. She sat down uninvited and was all smiles.
"Hello there, John, Liz. Hello again, Joey."
"Annie," Mrs Witter said coldly.
She had heard from Pacey how the psychologist had been giving him a hard time. The protective, mothering part of her prevented her from being friendly towards the woman, despite the fact that Annie was only trying to help her son. Mrs Witter did not approve of her methods at all and had even tried to have another psychologist assigned to Pacey. Unfortunately all the doctors she spoke to seemed to think very highly of Annie, despite her questionable methods. Mrs Witter was told in no uncertain terms that if anyone could get results and actually help Pacey, it was Annie.
"We should probably get back down there so he isn't alone," Mr Witter said, surprising his wife. It turned out that he disliked the woman even more than she did, after finding out she used to be a hippie with a rap sheet from protests in the 70s. Annie also had a negative and, not surprisingly, very vocal attitude towards law enforcement officers, so their's was an uneasy relationship.
Mr and Mrs Witter stood up abruptly from the table and left to rejoin their son. Joey watched them go and wished she had spoken up so she could go with them. But Annie was sitting there smiling at her, and Joey felt she couldn't just leave too. She smiled back uneasily, and continued to use her fork to play with the salad she had bought, but had no intention of eating.
"Lunch no good today?" Annie boomed, helping herself to the fries that Mr Witter had left on his plate.
Joey was mildly disgusted. "Um, I'm not really hungry."
"Really? A skinny thing like you? You look half starved to me." Annie grinned at her as she drowned the leftover fries in ketchup and continued to pick at them. "So you and Pacey grew up together, didn't you?"
"Ah, yeah. Yes we did."
"You and Pacey and Dawson, that's right, isn't it?"
Joey just looked helplessly at the exit of the cafeteria, wishing she could escape from the bizarre woman.
"I've been talking to Pacey and his family so I can piece together what his life was like before the accident," Annie continued. She noticed Joey's discomfort but paid it no mind. "So, what was Pacey like, Joey?"
"Pacey?" Joey shrugged. "Pacey was the same person he is now… he's a goof ball, a joker…"
"Is that what he was like before the accident?"
Joey was trying to smile but it just came out as a puzzled grimace. "Yes. Like I said, he hasn't changed."
"Huh," said Annie thoughtfully. "Funny."
"It's just that if you asked me to describe Pacey now I wouldn't have said he was a goof ball or a joker. I'd say he's a scared kid trying to hide behind his sense of humor because he's too afraid to face what happened the night of the accident."
"Well, you don't know Pacey like I do. He's doing fine," said Joey dismissively. She was offended by Annie's suggestion to the contrary.
"I may not know him very well, Joey, but this isn't the first time I've worked with spinal cord patients. I can see the common symptoms."
Joey shook her head, as if trying to block out her words.
"He's very protective of you, isn't he?" Annie said more gently. "He was driving you home after taking you to see your father, wasn't he?"
Joey nodded, suddenly mute. She felt a familiar lump in her throat and she knew if she had to speak Annie would hear the emotion in her voice.
"You asked him to drive you out to Daleman Prison that night?" Annie's tone was calm, her voice almost hypnotic. Joey felt herself nodding again. "Did you get to talk to your father, Joey?"
She nodded, and this time she cleared her throat. "Pacey slipped the guard some money and they let me talk to him through the fence."
"He's a good friend… a good friend." Annie smiled softly. She stayed silent, letting Joey make the next move. It took a few minutes, but she finally spoke up.
"It happened on the way back," Joey whispered, her memory clouding with images from that terrible night. She heard the shattering of glass and terrible crunch of metal, felt the nauseating rolling of the jeep once more.
"The accident," Annie prompted her when Joey clammed up.
"The truck was on the wrong side of the road. We came around the corner and it was there right in front of us."
"What did Pacey do?"
"He swerved, but it was too late to get out of the way." Joey's voice faded into silence, her eyes welling with tears.
"Do you still dream about it?"
Joey nodded, brushing away the few tears she allowed to fall.
"Have you spoken to anyone about it? Your mother or maybe the councilor at school?"
"My mother's dead," Joey said flatly. "I live with my sister, but I haven’t spoken to her about anything. I haven’t really spoken to anyone."
"Maybe you should talk to Pacey about it," Annie suggested.
"I can't do that," replied Joey immediately.
"We've never talked about the accident - I don't want to upset him." Joey was annoyed with herself as more tears began to fall.
"Your heart's in the right place, Joey, but I think the best thing you could do for him is confront him about what happened. For yourself as well."
Joey looked away, smiling sadly. "I can't… especially not today. It's Pacey's Chair Day, he has been looking forward to this for weeks."
"Maybe not today, Joey. But I'm afraid that if Pacey doesn't start to deal with what happened, it's going to severely impact on his rehabilitation. He won't even admit that anything is wrong with him, let alone allow you to see it. But he's in trouble, Joey, and I'm worried about him."
The words frightened Joey and she stared morosely at the psychologist, wishing she had not brought any of it up. Joey felt ten times worse than she had when dealing with the memories of the accident on her own. She couldn't see how bringing things up with Pacey would help him. All it would accomplish would be to make him depressed and despondent as well. Joey wasn't prepared to do that.
"I'd better get back, he'll be wondering where I am."
Annie sat back in her chair and did not protest. She didn't want to push Joey too far because she needed the girl on her side.
"Just think about what I said, Joey. Will you do that for me?"
Joey paused after standing up, but then nodded ever so slightly. Without another glance at Annie she hastily walked out of the cafeteria.
* * *
By late afternoon Pacey was sitting almost completely upright in bed. They had kept him like that for over an hour, waiting to see if the position would have any adverse affects on him. Pacey looked ashen, which worried his parents and Joey, but he continued to smile and reassure them he was all right. Small beads of sweat appeared on his upper lip if he moved his head too much, but he found that if he kept his eyes shut and concentrated on anything but the sick feeling in his stomach, he was okay.
"Pacey, my man, the time has come to meet your new best friend." Jason, one of Pacey's favorite orderlies, came into the room pushing an empty wheelchair.
"You're a sight for sore eyes, Jase. Where have you been all day?"
"Doing the rounds as usual. There are plenty of patients a lot prettier than you, pal." Jason grinned as he spotted Joey in the corner of the room. "Well hello, Josephine. You're looking ravishing today."
"Hi Jason." Joey blushed. She hated being the center of attention.
"All right, you smooth talker, why don't you just wheel that baby over here so I can make her acquaintance," said Pacey.
"I hope you're talking about the wheelchair, Witter," Joey smiled. It had taken a few hours but she had finally restored some of her good humor after the encounter with Annie.
"Hold your horses, Pace. We still have to wait for the Doc and the harness that's going to get you into the chair." Jason slapped his hand, giving him a grin. "Happy Chair Day. Congratulations, man."
After waiting the entire day for this moment, Pacey was suddenly nervous. One of his doctors and a number of nurses and orderlies arrived to help with the bed to wheelchair transition. Joey and the Witters were soon pressed into one corner of the room while the hospital staff arranged Pacey in a special lifting harness. He smiled bravely through the bustle at Joey, but she could see the fear in his eyes as he was carefully lifted off the bed. The doctor watched him closely as he was moved over to the chair, where he was left hovering for a minute.
"How are you feeling, Pacey?" asked Dr Bradshaw, eyeing the blood pressure monitor.
"Um, a little seasick actually," Pacey answered with difficulty, growing paler by the second.
"Okay, just hang on. You're blood pressure's getting a little low so we're going to put you into the chair… Gently now."
Pacey was lowered into the wheelchair, but he was feeling too woozy to really know what was happening. White spots began to dance before his eyes.
"He's going, Doctor," reported one of the nurses who was undoing the straps of the harness.
"Okay, let's tip him back, people. Jason, get in behind him."
"Hold on, Pace," Jason said, close to his ear, but Pacey didn't hear any more. Everything went completely black as he lost consciousness.
* * *
When he came to, Pacey felt strange. He opened his blurry eyes and immediately saw Joey and his parents hovering over him, all three fraught with worry. Then the kind face of Emma Bradshaw loomed into view and she smiled at him.
"Pacey, how do you feel?"
"Dizzy," he murmured. He heard a relieved cry from his mother, and felt someone squeezing his hand. "What's wrong with me?"
"You just got upright a little too fast for your body, that's all. Remember I told you about how low your blood pressure is because you've been lying horizontally for so long?"
"Hmm," Pacey mumbled, but he really didn't remember much of anything at that moment.
"Your pressure's stabilizing now so you'll start to feel better soon, okay? Everything's all right."
Most of the other staff had left now, just leaving Dr Bradshaw and Jason who sitting behind Pacey's wheelchair and supporting him at a 45-degree angle.
"Hang in there, Pace, it'll be all over soon."
"Stay with us, buddy."
Jason smiled over Pacey at Joey who was still looking frightened. She had not let go of his hand for a second while Pacey's parents spoke quietly with the doctor.
"Where's Joey?" Pacey asked suddenly, trying to open his eyes again. They were so heavy and wouldn't cooperate.
"I'm right here, Pacey. I'm holding your hand," she replied urgently, squeezing it so he could feel her.
"Did I do it?"
Joey smiled through misty eyes. "You sure did, Pacey. You made it into your chair."
Pacey smiled weakly as the room slowly stopped spinning. He had done it.
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