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Twelve: The crying game
("Seek up", Dave Matthews Band)
Annie Dorsky walked with purpose into the hospital. She had been waiting for this day - the day when Pacey would finally break. She had known it was coming soon, his behavior over the last few weeks showed her that. When she had received the call from Doris that things hadn't gone well at Pacey's surprise birthday party, Annie was on her way to the hospital immediately. It was all going to come out today.
There was a small crowd of people standing outside Pacey's room, including Dr Bradshaw, Jason, Doris and Pacey's parents. All of them looked concerned, and Mrs Witter was in tears. None of them made a move to go into room however. Annie pressed her lips together and headed straight for them.
"I'm glad you're here, Annie, he won't let any of us in," Dr Bradshaw said as soon as Annie was in earshot. "I don't want to have to sedate him, but if you can't talk to him I'm going to send Jason and a few of the boys in with a shot."
"What happened?" Annie asked quickly, pulling off her light jacket and rolling up her sleeves.
"He came back from Joey's surprise party upset," explained Doris. "Then she went in to talk to him and he threw a tray of food at the wall. Joey ran out and since then Pacey's completely trashed the room."
"He almost hit me in the head with a water jug when I went in to try and calm him down," Jason added. "The kid's got a good arm."
"What's wrong with him, Annie?" Mrs Witter asked, clasping her arm. "He has never behaved like this before."
"No, and that's the problem. Pacey has been bottling up his anger for three months and he had to blow sometime. I guess today was a good a day as any."
"Can you help him?" asked Mr Witter gruffly. As much as he hated Annie, he knew she was Pacey's best chance.
"I'll help him help himself," Annie answered cryptically. "Has anyone seen Joey?"
"Not since she ran out of here like the devil was after here. The poor girl's probably scared out of her wits." Doris shook her head sadly.
"All right, I'm going in," said Annie with stoic determination. She looked like she was marching off to war.
The blinds were drawn so the room was bathed in shadows when she stepped inside. Annie silently ran her eyes around the room and took in the damage that had been done. Books and magazines littered the floor, the bedside cabinet was upended, and one wall was covered in splattered hospital food. Annie took a few steps inside.
"I told everyone to get the hell out," came a muffled voice from the far side of the room.
Annie peered with difficulty through the dim light, but she couldn't see Pacey. She walked past the bed and saw his upended wheelchair on the floor. Pacey sat a few feet away, pressed into the corner of the room. He legs lay stiffly out in front of him.
"You tell me to get the hell out every time I come to visit, and it hasn't stopped me yet," Annie said in her usual bright tone of voice. "How's things, Pacey?"
"Just peachy," he muttered, refusing to look at her.
"I like what you've done with the room - I always thought this place could do with a little redecorating. But the wall, the wall is definitely my favorite. Very Jackson Pollock."
"Annie, can you just leave me alone?"
"Sorry, pal, no can do." She walked over beside him and lowered herself with difficulty onto the floor. She looked distinctly uncomfortable with her generous frame seated on the cool linoleum, and Annie huffed and puffed until she had gotten herself into a tolerable position. Her fidgeting had no affect on Pacey.
"So why don't you tell me what happened today?"
"Go to hell."
"Not until my time is up, then I'll be pleased to meet the devil." Annie stared at the same point on the floor that Pacey was apparently so interested in. "I'm not going anywhere until you talk to me this time, Pacey. So we may as well get this over and done with."
"What makes you think I want to talk to you about anything?" he said bitterly.
Annie looked around them. "This room tells me, Pacey. So why don't you just do yourself a favour and get whatever it is off your chest. I promise you'll feel better."
Pacey pressed his head hard against the wall, trying to stop tears forming in his eyes. He doubted he would ever feel better again. There was a tight ball of rage in the pit of his stomach that had erupted, shocking himself as well as everyone else. But the fury was still there, boiling away inside him and he didn't see how talking about things could make him feel better. He said nothing, and neither did Annie for a full five minutes. After a while she continued, when it was obvious that he was not going to.
"Sounds like you gave Joey quite a scare today."
Pacey closed his eyes and wished he could block out her voice as well. He would have tried to get away from Annie if he could, but his wheelchair was lying on the other side of her and he doubted she would help him.
"You're angry at her, aren't you?" Annie said evenly, as if she was commenting on the weather.
"She shouldn't have organized a party," Pacey replied in a low voice.
"Maybe she thought you could do with some cheering up. Maybe she thought your sixteenth birthday was worth celebrating."
"She shouldn't have done it."
Pacey shook his head, not wanting to answer her. But the words just came spilling out. "She had to do it outside… she has no idea how difficult it is for me to go out there now."
Annie didn't speak, she let Pacey talk.
"And she invited complete strangers… They all looked at me in the wheelchair and I saw the pity in their eyes, even Dawson and Jen. It made me so angry." Pacey was having difficulty breathing now as he tried to hold back the sobs that racked his chest. "She shouldn't have invited those people."
Now Annie spoke up. "And you're angry with her."
"Say it, Pacey."
"I'm angry with her," he repeated obediently. "She shouldn't have organized a surprise party."
"Bullshit, that's not why you're angry," Annie said abruptly. "What are you really mad at?"
He shook his head, tears streaming down either side of his face now. He couldn't say out loud why he was really so full of fury.
"You have to do it, Pacey. Say it now. Tell me why you're so angry at Joey," demanded Annie. She pushed him relentlessly. "You blame her for the accident, don't you? If Joey hadn't asked you to drive to the prison that night it wouldn't have happened. That's why you're so angry, isn't it?"
Pacey made a strangling noise in his throat. "No! It wasn't her fault!"
"She begged you to drive her there. It was because of her you were out on that road."
"The other driver then, is that who you're angry at? The stupid son-of-a-bitch who fell asleep at the wheel and plowed right into you… Is that who you blame?"
Pacey pressed his fists to his temples, squeezing hard. "No!"
"Who do you blame, Pacey? Who are you angry at?"
Pacey started crying in earnest, but Annie kept pressing him as he bawled.
"Tell me whose fault the accident was! Tell me why you're going to spend the rest of your life in a wheelchair! Say it, Pacey!"
"Me! It was my fault!" he screamed at her, and began crying even harder.
Annie took a deep breath and sat back against the wall. "And there we have it," she said quietly. "At least you finally said it."
"I was too busy talking to Joey, I wasn't paying attention. And then when we came around the corner I didn't have time to get out of the way…" Pacey gasped out through heaving breaths. "If I had been paying attention I would have seen the truck's headlights on the road or I could have slowed down going around the corner… But I didn't, I wasn't concentrating on what I was doing. She was smiling at me and I looked away from the road… Oh God, Annie, it was my fault!"
Pacey suddenly pressed himself against Annie's chest and she immediately enveloped her arms around him. He continued to cry and tremble, and she made no attempts to stop him.
"I could have killed us both… Joey could have been killed…" he continued to moan.
Annie ran her hand over his short hair repeatedly, rocking him gently. "But she wasn't seriously hurt, was she? And neither was the other driver. You're the one who's in a wheelchair, Pacey."
"It was my fault…"
"And you think this is your punishment?" Annie asked gently. Pacey's sobs grew quieter and she felt him nod against her chest.
"It was my fault," he whispered again.
"I don't believe that for a second… There's a reason these things are called accidents, Pacey. You can never point the finger at one person. You'll just tie yourself up in knots if you try to lay blame. But let me tell you something, and I want you to listen to me." Annie lifted his head tenderly so he was looking straight into her eyes. "It wasn't your fault."
She smiled at him softly, her face and words sincere. She was speaking from the heart, and it showed in her eyes. "It wasn't your fault."
Pacey looked as if the weight of the world had been lifted off his shoulders, and fresh tears fell down his cheeks. It was difficult not to believe everything Annie said to him as she looked at him so intently. Pacey was overwhelmed with gratitude for the brash, contentious woman. He had never felt more trusting of another human being as he did Annie Dorsky. He hugged her again, squeezing his eyes shut and holding onto her for dear life.
"Help me, Annie."
Annie held him tightly and smiled as she rested her round cheek on his head. He had a long way to go, but she knew Pacey was going to make it now. She was surprised how deeply the realization hit her - she had not known how much the boy had come to mean to her. Annie kissed the top of his head and rocked him some more. He was going to make it.
"Happy Birthday, kid," Annie said under her breath.
* * *
Joey wasn't quite sure why she did it, but a few hours later she pleaded with Dawson to take her back to the hospital. Dawson was not convinced it was the best thing for Joey or Pacey, but she refused to listen to his protests.
"Will you at least let me come in with you?" Dawson said as they walked inside the rehabilitation wing.
"No, I have to see him alone," replied Joey as she spied Annie by the nurses' station. She stopped and squeezed Dawson's hand. "I'll be all right. Just wait here."
Joey approached Annie slowly, taking in deep breaths in order to stay calm. Annie's face lit up when she saw her, and Joey let out a small sigh of relief.
"I'm glad you came back, Joey," Annie smiled cheerily.
"Is Pacey all right?" she asked timidly, remembering how angry he had been.
"Pacey is going to be fine," the psychologist assured her. She surprised Joey by putting a friendly arm around her shoulder and began walking with her towards Pacey's room. "He had a very big afternoon, so he's pretty exhausted right now. But I have a feeling he'd like to see you."
Joey stopped in her tracks. "Are you sure that's a good idea? He was so mad at me this morning…"
"Pacey wasn't mad at you, honey, only himself. He's been angry at himself this whole time, he just happened to take it out on you first."
"Why is he angry at himself?" Joey asked, wide-eyed.
Annie smiled knowingly. "I think I'll let Pacey explain that one. He may not be up to it right now, but one day I'm sure he'll tell you everything."
They reached the door to Pacey's room. Joey was still scared to go in.
"Go on, it's all right." Annie gave her a small shove, then smiled to herself as Joey shuffled slowly inside.
Pacey was lying down in his darkened room and for a moment she thought he was asleep. But when she took a few more steps he heard her and turned towards her.
"Hey, Pacey," she smiled lopsidedly, not able to manage anything more.
Pacey did indeed look tired as he held out his hand to her. Joey did not hesitate in taking it, and she sat down next to him without a second thought.
"Pacey, I'm sorry about the party…" she started but he immediately cut her off.
"Shh, don't apologize, Jo. I'm the one who should say sorry."
She gripped his hand firmly and blinked back tears. His voice was drenched in exhaustion.
"Thank you for coming back," he murmured, barely able to keep his eyes open.
"I'll always come back, Pacey, no matter what," Joey replied softly.
Pacey smiled and leant back against his pillow. "Come on up here with me."
Joey slipped onto the bed beside him and Pacey curled his
arm around her shoulder. She leant into his chest and hugged him back,
thankful beyond words for this moment. They lay there in each other's
arms, and fell asleep within minutes. It had been a long day.
* * *
A few days later Pacey was dutifully reading a school text book and trying in vain to remember the periodic table. The doctors had suggested he might be able to leave the hospital in a few weeks, and Pacey figured it was time to get his life back in order. When he heard a knock at the door he was surprised, because his mother had just left and it was too early for Joey to be there after school.
Pacey was surprised when Andie McPhee peeped into his room, in her hands a small gift. He put his book down and watched as she walked fearlessly into the room, a wide smile on her perky face.
"Andie?" he stuttered.
"So you remember! Well, that's encouraging." She walked towards him and sat down uninvited on the stool by his bed, as if she visited him every day.
"What are you doing here?" Pacey had no idea why the girl would show up at the hospital. He hadn't even met her properly at his surprise party.
"I just thought I'd drop by to say hi," she said cheerily, not paying any attention to his puzzled reaction. "I've spent some time in hospitals myself so I know how nice it is to receive visitors."
"I guess…" Pacey answered politely, but he still thought her a little strange.
"Besides, I wanted to bring you your birthday present. You didn't get a chance to open it the other day…" She handed over the square gift wrapped in brightly colored paper.
"Yeah, about the other day…" Pacey murmured, embarrassed when he remembered his poor behavior.
"Hey, that's none of my business," she replied immediately, letting him off the hook. "Although you did miss out on the yummiest cake that Jen's grandmother made… Sorry we didn't save you any."
Pacey smiled at her, quite bewildered. Andie did not seem to mind that he had been so rude to them all, nor did she press him for an explanation.
"Well, aren't you going to open your present?"
He nodded dumbly and tore off the wrapping paper. Opening the cardboard box that was inside, he saw a Magic 8 ball.
"Ha, would you look at that," he smiled, holding the cheesy present.
"Ask it a question," she prompted him in her own bubbly way.
"Ah, let's see… Am I going to get out of here anytime soon?" Pacey shook the ball and they both peered at the answer.
"'All signs point to yes'," read Andie. "That's good, right?"
"That's very good." Pacey handed it to her. "Your turn."
"Um, Is Pacey going to let me come and visit him again?" she asked, then shook the ball. Andie read the answer, then gave it back to him.
"'Outcome is likely'," he quoted, then smiled at her again.
"The Magic 8 Ball never lies," Andie said in a dramatic voice.
"I don't get it, McPhee, you don't even know me."
"Not yet… But it won't take me long."
"Why?" Pacey asked, unsure of her motivation.
"I don't know, I figure you're the kind of person I'd like to get to know, that's all. Joey and Dawson and Jen have told me all about you, and I guess I want to be your friend too."
Pacey shook his head slightly in disbelief. He had never met anyone so impossibly upbeat before.
"So what do you say, can I come and see you again?" She smiled, raising her eyebrows as she waited for his answer.
Pacey shrugged his shoulders but a small smile formed on his lips. "Outcome is likely."
Andie grinned wider. "How do you feel about cards, because I have to warn you that I am impossible to beat at gin rummy."
She pulled out a deck of playing cards out of her handbag and began shuffling them expertly. Pacey rested his hands behind his head and tried to look nonchalant.
"I suppose I could give it a go."
Andie caught the hint of a challenge in his voice and dealt the cards with relish.
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