A life less ordinary
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Eleven: The big blue

When you look into a mirror
Do you like what's looking at you?
Now that you've seen your true reflection,
What on earth are you gonna do?

("True Reflections", Dave Matthews Band)

Joey was excited. She had been planning for today for weeks, and she wanted everything to go perfectly. She arrived a little earlier than planned at the hospital, carefully smoothing her new shorts and hair before she walked into Pacey's room.

She found him staring out the window, a familiar sight she had encountered all too often since Pacey had been in his wheelchair. She could imagine how eager he was to get back out into the real world now he was mobile again. But even after a month of being in the chair, his doctors were still making him take things slowly. Joey smiled when she thought about the surprise she had in store for him, and was barely able to keep her excitement in check.

"Hey you," she grinned as she entered the room.

Pacey returned her smile, however she couldn't help but notice a sourness in his eyes that never used to be there. She had seen the same look for weeks now, a fact which continued to puzzle her. Joey figured that as soon as Pacey got his wheelchair he would be cheerier than he had been on the hospital ward. He had for a time, they had shared some of their old comradeship on his Chair Day. But since then he had grown increasingly quieter and Joey didn't know why. Sometimes she thought it might be her fault - since her confrontation with Annie she had found it difficult to always be upbeat around Pacey. That was why Joey had planned her surprise today. It gave her something to do to her keep her own spirits up as she planned everything, and it would give Pacey one of the happiest days he had had in the hospital. At least, that was the plan.

"Joey Potter, hello," said Pacey. He noticed the secretive smile she wore, and raised his eyebrows at her. "What's with you?"

"Oh nothing," she replied lightly, but she wasn't doing a very good job of hiding her knowing expression. "What's going on today?"

"Nothing much. I had physio this morning. I guess my parents are stopping by later."

"So, no plans then?"

"Joey, in case you have forgotten, I'm kind of stuck in here. So unless you count catching up on the daily soaps, then no, I don't have any plans."

"Good." Joey grinned again and pushed his wheelchair out of the corner of the room. "Hop in."

"Why?" asked Pacey suspiciously.

"I'm breaking you out of here."

"What?" Pacey looked startled. 

Joey was busying herself putting his sneakers on and tying the laces for him. He watched her without speaking, wondering what she was up to. Pacey realized it wasn't an excited kind of wondering either, he was just feeling uneasy.

"Jo, you know I can't just take off from here… there are rules," Pacey said a little lamely.

"Is this the same Pacey Witter who used to thumb his nose at authority?" Joey brushed off his words, she was too happy. "Come on, live a little."

Pacey was tempted to point out that actually no, he wasn't the same Pacey Witter anymore. But the expectant look on Joey's face persuaded him to go along with her, for the time being anyway. Pacey drew the wheelchair closer and spent the next few minutes pulling himself into his chair. Joey stood back and waited, she knew better than to try and help him. Pacey had quickly let her know when had gotten his wheelchair that he had to do things for himself. 

Joey waited until Pacey got his breath back once he was settled in the chair, but then she was suddenly impatient for him to see his surprise.

"Come on!" she said brightly, heading for the door.

Pacey followed her, tentatively at first. "Joey, you know we're going to get stopped by one of the nurses."

"Oh, I don't think so." Joey smiled over her shoulder at him and kept walking. 

They passed Doris at the nurses' station and Pacey was surprised when she waved them goodbye, making no attempt to ask where they were going or to try and stop them. Pacey frowned.

"Jo, wait up. What are you up to?" Pacey didn't like to be kept in the dark about things.

"It's a surprise," was all that she would say. Joey held open a door leading to the hospital garden. "Out you go."

Pacey paused, looking at the bright sunshine and lush garden that was just outside. He saw a few patients walking with family members or hospital staff, enjoying the fresh air. But he suddenly found his hands would move and he couldn't go forward. Pacey had not been outside the hospital in 3 months except on a few rare occasions with his rehabilitation group. There were three other spinal patients at the hospital in different stages of recovery, and their occupational therapist would sometimes take them out to a shady spot in the garden for an hour or two. But they always went together - this was the first time Pacey was facing the outside world alone. 

He looked up and saw Joey was frowning down at him, not understanding why he was stalling. He grew embarrassed under her stare, and decided he was being foolish. This would be no different from being with the rehab group, he told himself. He could do this. Pacey was disconcerted to find that his hands were shaking as he pushed himself out the door and into the garden. Joey smiled to herself and shut the door behind them.

The sunshine was blinding and Pacey had to wait a moment until his eyes adjusted to the natural light. Joey noticed for the first time how pale he was now, compared to the tanned adolescent he had been. After so long inside, she was convinced he needed to be out in the fresh air more often, and decided then and there that they should conduct their visits in the garden from now on.

"Where are we going, Joey?" Pacey asked with difficulty. Luckily she didn't hear the fear in his voice.

"This way."

Pacey followed her down one of the garden paths, guiding his wheelchair over the smooth concrete. After a few minutes Joey suddenly veered off the path and waited for him to follow. She saw the ground was a little rough so she insisted on pushing him.

"I can do it," Pacey said through gritted teeth. 

"It'll only be for a minute. Besides I want you to close your eyes," Joey whispered in his ear.

"Joey, this is ridiculous," he said, growing increasingly unsettled with the whole arrangement.

"Stop arguing and close your eyes." Joey waited until Pacey obeyed her, then slipped a blindfold from her pocket. "And just in case you feel like peeking, I'm taking precautions."

Pacey said nothing as the blindfold was slipped over his eyes. But when Joey started forward again and he felt the jolting of the wheelchair as it passed over the uneven ground, Pacey grew frightened. He felt like he was out of control. They were going down a small incline, going faster than normal. He panicked and grabbed the frame over the wheels of the chair, trying to slow himself down, but just as he did Joey stopped completely. Pacey thought he heard whispers and then he felt her fingers grappling for the blindfold. With a sudden rush the material was removed and a number of people jumped out from behind the picnic table Joey had brought them to.

"Surprise!" the beaming faces cheered at him, making Pacey sit back in his chair from the shock.

He couldn't quite comprehend what was happening, there were too many sights and sounds that flustered him for a moment. Joey emerged from behind his wheelchair and promptly strapped a paper party hat on his head.

"Happy 16th Birthday, Pace!" she grinned, planting a quick kiss on his cheek.

Pacey let out his breath in a rush. He had almost forgotten himself. Today was his birthday. He looked wide-eyed at Joey, then at the other people who were now crowding around him. Dawson and Jen were there, as well as two strangers, a dark haired boy and a blond girl. They all wore party hats and had birthday whistles which they proceeded to blow. 

"Happy birthday, man," Dawson said, slapping him on the shoulder. Pacey winced, but Dawson didn't seem to notice.

Jen congratulated him and kissed his cheek at well. Then Joey, all smiles, introduced the two strangers.

"Pacey, this is Jack and Andie McPhee."

"Hi Pacey," Jack mumbled shyly.

"Happy birthday, Pacey," Andie said, even more excited than Joey. She suddenly rushed forward and kissed his cheek too, even though he didn't know her.

Pacey was stunned, unsure how he was supposed to react. Joey pushed him over to the picnic table where there was a vast array of food and a chocolate birthday cake with sixteen candles on it. Dawson began pouring soda into paper cups for everyone in preparation for a toast.

"Pacey, we couldn't let this momentous occasion pass without a celebration. Today you're sixteen years old…"

"Sweet sixteen!" Jen laughed. Everyone else joined in but Pacey. His face was still stony.

"So I'd like you all to charge your glasses to your friend and mine, Pacey Witter. Happy birthday, buddy."

There was a chorus of happy birthdays and everyone sipped their drink. Joey handed Pacey a cup, noticing he hadn't drunk anything, but he shook his head numbly. Joey was puzzled. Pacey had not even smiled once, nor did he appear particularly happy about his surprise party. She looked at the others around the table and saw they had noticed his black expression too. Joey felt helpless, and was grateful when Andie spoke up.

"I know, why don't we open the presents!" She clapped her hands. Everyone murmured in agreement and placed a small pile of presents in front of Pacey who still had not spoken. When he made no move to open any of them, Joey prodded him gently. Everyone was uncomfortable now.

"Pacey, don't you want to open your presents?"

He finally turned his gaze on her and Joey recoiled when she saw pure hatred burning in his eyes. Pacey couldn't move because he was suddenly impotent with rage. His face grew red.

"No, I don't want to open any damn presents," he spat through ragged breaths. The others looked at each other in puzzlement, but Pacey was only focused on Joey. "How could you do this to me?"

Joey opened her mouth in surprise but Pacey abruptly tore the party hat from his head and pushed himself away from the table. He turned without pausing, and was quickly making his way up the small slope to the path. 

"Pacey?" Joey ignored her other friends as she went after him. 

He was panting hard as he pushed himself back up to the path, it was hard work. Sweat was falling into his eyes making it difficult for him to see but he continued on relentlessly. Joey, a painful lump in her throat, saw his distress and tried to help by pushing a little from behind.

"I can do it!" Pacey screamed at her.

Joey was stunned, and her hands dropped to her side. Pacey pushed on and made it to the concrete path. Without turning back to look at her he sped off towards the hospital. Joey felt tears stinging her eyes as she stood there frozen to the spot. She didn't know what had gone wrong. She had just been trying to surprise him on his birthday… Sadness welled in her chest as she tried in vain not to cry. Dawson appeared behind her and immediately put a comforting arm around her shoulder.

"What happened, Jo?" he whispered, his voice full of concern for their friend.

"I don't know," she replied mournfully. "But I have to go after him."

Jen arrived at that moment. "I don't know, Joey. Maybe you should leave him alone for a while. He was pretty upset."

Joey turned her tear-stained face on both of them. "I have to help him," she said simply, and walked away towards the hospital as well.

Dawson and Jen looked back at the picnic table where Jack and Andie were standing a little awkwardly. 

"I guess we'd better pack everything up," said Jen with a sigh. "So much for happy birthdays."

Dawson didn't reply, he was too worried about Pacey and Joey. He had never seen Pacey so angry, especially at Joey. He didn't like the fact she had gone after him so quickly, and hoped she would be all right. Dawson wondered if they would ever be all right again.

* * *

Doris had just finished changing Pacey's bed sheets when he suddenly came tearing into the room. She looked up in surprise at his abrupt return, taking in his heated expression.

"Well, that was quick," she stated, as Pacey busied himself getting back into bed. "I thought Joey had prepared a surprise lunch for you."

"She did," muttered Pacey, not interested in having a conversation with Doris. 

The nurse bit back the comment she was about to make when she saw Pacey was in no mood for talking. 

"Do you want me to bring you some lunch? The trolley's right outside."

When Pacey didn't answer she decided to go ahead and get him a tray. She could see the boy was in a lot of pain, and thought it best if she give Annie Dorsky a call. It wasn't one of her usual days, but Doris figured she would want to be here if Pacey was this upset. 

"Here you go, hon," she said kindly, pulling the bed's movable tray closer to him. "It's not great, but I guess you're used to hospital food by now."

Doris' light-hearted comment made no impression on Pacey. She sighed as she left him alone, deciding it was what he needed. She walked back up to the nurses' station to call Annie, so she didn't see Joey approach his room from the other end of the wing.

By the time she had made it to Pacey's room, Joey was nervous. She wasn't quite sure what she was going to say to him or how he would react. She paused at his doorway and peered in. Pacey was sitting up on his bed, just as he had been when she came to get him. The sight heartened her, perhaps he wouldn't act so differently now. But when she walked slowly into the room, her spirits fell once more. Pacey's face was filled with anger, and he steadfastly refused to look at her. A tray of food lay untouched on his table.

"Pacey?" she said quietly, willing him to at least acknowledge her presence. Joey waited, but he still didn't look at her. "Pacey, I'm not quite sure why you're so mad at me… I just wanted you to have a nice surprise. It's your birthday after all."

Pacey was silent, but she could see his jaw was clenched tight.

"Jack and Andie have wanted to meet you for ages. I guess I've told them a lot about you." Joey knew she was sounding lame, but she couldn't think of anything to say that would make him look at her. 

"Is it because it was a surprise? I thought you liked surprise parties. Remember your 13th birthday when you thought your folks were taking you to see your grandmother? Then they took you to that restaurant and Dawson and I were already there and…"

"Joey, if you wouldn't mind I'd rather be alone now," Pacey said stiffly, using all his self control. 

"Pacey, please talk to me," she pleaded, but he just kept staring out the window. Joey took a step closer to him. "I want to help. Please tell me what's wrong."

"I said I want to be alone," he whispered, his voice deadly.

"I won't leave you alone when you're upset like this!" Joey cried vehemently. "I'm your friend, Pacey, you can tell me anything."

"If you're my friend, you wouldn't have put me through that just now," he said through ragged breaths, finally turning his head to look at her. Joey almost wished he hadn't - his eyes were still full of fury.

"What did I do?" she asked, her voice barely audible. Tears formed in her eyes once more.

Pacey saw how upset she was but he just hardened his heart. His expression grew callous as he tried to keep a tirade of abuse from emanating from his lips. 

"Please, Pacey…"

At that moment, Pacey lost it. "Jesus, Joey! What part of 'I want to be alone' do you not understand?!" he bellowed at her.

Joey took a step back, shaking her head. When Pacey saw she was wavering, he dealt the final blow.

"Get the hell out!" he screamed, and smacked the tray of food that was lying in front of him at the wall. 

The sharp clattering sound of the metal tray against the wall and floor made Joey jump in fright. The food was plastered on the walls in a sickening mess of colors and textures. Pacey was breathing heavily, daring her to say anything else. Joey gulped and ran out of the room, truly scared of him. She tore down the corridor past the nurses' station where Doris was just hanging up the phone. The nurse called after her but Joey did not stop. She kept running until she found Dawson and the others outside. With a sudden rush of tears she ran into his arms, holding him tightly and letting out the heaving sobs that she had tried so hard to stop. Dawson held her securely and let her cry.


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