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Ten: No way out
In the week leading up to Christmas, Joey and Dawson traipsed all over Capeside like they were ten years old again. They visited secret places they had discovered and guarded fiercely from other invading children. They hid amongst the Ruins and tried to frighten each other in the fading light of the short winter afternoons. They spent the evenings watching old movies and reliving their famous film marathons. They spent almost all of their time together trying to catch up on all that was lost during the three years they had not spoken.
Bessie was a little hurt that Joey wasnít spending more time with them, particularly when her excuse for coming had been to spend more time with her family. But Joey was wary of being around Bessie now, because her sister knew that something was up with her and she was trying to find out what it was. She was suspicious of the fact that Pacey had not called the entire week she had been there, and as far as Bessie knew, Joey had not tried to call him either. That alone was enough to tell her something had happened between them. That, and the fact that Joey flat out denied the suggestion they were having problems. Bessie knew her sister better than that.
Bessie was only trying to help of course, she didnít realize that Joey couldnít talk to her about any of it. This was due mainly to the fact that she didnít know herself what was wrong. Joey had tried not to do too much soul searching since she had arrived in Capeside, but she invariably found herself pondering why it was she had come here. The bitter feelings she had felt in Boston had left her, but she still had no explanation why. It was easier for Joey to spend time with Dawson who remained oblivious to her troubled state. It was Bessie she had to stay clear of.
"Is he having an affair, is that it?" her sister demanded one afternoon, a couple of days before Christmas.
Joey looked up from the cookies she was icing, her mouth open in surprise. Bessie had taken to ambushing her at the most unlikely of moments. "What?"
"You heard. Is that why you came running home?"
"No, Bessie, Pacey is not having an affair." Joey sighed tiredly.
"Are you?" she pushed relentlessly.
"Youíve been spending an awful lot of time with Dawson. Is it just a coincidence that he turned up in Capeside the day after you did?"
"Bessie, this is ridiculous. Just stop it, okay? There is nothing going on with Dawson, and nothingís wrong with Pacey and me. Enough!"
"Donít lie to me, Joey. Youíve been moping around here every second youíre not out of the house doing something with Dawson. You jump every time the phone rings and I see the hurt in your eyes when itís not Pacey. When are you going tell me why youíre so upset?"
"Iím not upset. I just felt like getting out of Boston for a while. Pacey is an intern, they donít get proper holidays, so I came by myself. Stop giving me the third degree and butt out of my life!"
Joey threw down the butter knife she was holding and stormed out of the house. She was fuming with anger as she pulled on her coat, stalking out of the front yard as fast as she possibly could. She had forgotten how aggravating Bessie could be when she wanted to push an issue. Joey knew it was because she cared, but it was the same with Pacey ó she didnít want to be forced into facing her feelings.
Pacey had been occupying her thoughts more and more these past few days. Bessie was right when she said Joey was anxious whenever the phone rang now. Even though she had told him not to, she wondered why he hadnít called. She had no idea what she would even say to him if he did phone, but that didnít stop her from expecting it. Joey pulled her coat tighter around her shoulders and walked to the Ruins. She didnít know what she was going to do.
The old ghost of a house matched her emotions perfectly that afternoon as she sat amongst the rumble. A worn shell of something that had once been whole, that was how Joey felt. Pressing the palms of her hands into her temples, she let out a sob that been building in her chest all week. Her heart actually ached, a physical manifestation of the emotional pain she felt. She was so confused and lonely and scared and bitter. She was awash with emotions that she could not process all at once. Joey had tried to keep them in check but all she had done was make herself miserable. She wondered if she was ever going to get past this and resume the life she had once enjoyed. Failure to do that was the thing she feared most.
Eventually Joey wiped her cheeks and rested her head against the stone wall. The time she had spent with Dawson this week had been fun, but she was just putting off the inevitable. She was trying to avoid confronting her own feelings and sorting through them so she could explain to Pacey why she had been so hurtful. She had pieced together some of it but she still wasnít feeling any better. Joey closed her eyes and would have given anything just to silence the voices in her head.
"Here you are."
Joey snapped her eyes open with a start. For a split second she thoughtÖ But it was only Dawson. He took a seat beside her uninvited, in no real hurry to begin a conversation. Joey waited a full five minutes to see if he would break down and speak first.
"Bessie sent you, I suppose," she eventually said in a dull voice.
Dawson nodded. "You guys have a fight?"
"Sheís worried about you, Joey. And Iím beginning to be as well. Some of the time youíve been so happy and it was just like when we were kids. But then other times I notice you staring off into space and youíre a million miles away."
"Iíve had a lot on my mind, I guess."
"Want to tell me about it?" he asked gently.
"No," Joey replied immediately. After a few moments she added, "But I think I probably should. I donít think I can do it alone."
Dawson waited patiently, taking her hand in his while he did so. "Whyíd you really come back here, Joey?"
Joey squinted against the warm winter sunset, hiding the grimace that flashed across her face. She wrapped her arms around herself, but her shivering wasnít caused by the chilly breeze.
"I did want to see my family for Christmas, despite what everyone thinksÖ" she began, but Dawson just gave her one of his ĎI know you better than thatí looks.
"All right Joey, that has been established. So why didnít Pacey come too? And donít say itís because he had to work, I want the real reason."
Joey looked at Dawson carefully, drawn by the caring the look in his eyes. It reminded her of her old friend, and how she had always been able to tell him just about anything. Staring straight ahead so as to avoid his gaze, she began speaking quietly.
"I told him I didnít want him to come because I needed some space to sort things out. I came home for a lot of reasons, some of which I havenít quite figured out yet. I guess I should have told someone the main reason Iím here, but it just seemed easier not to tell. That way I didnít have to think about it myself."
Despite himself, Dawsonís immediate thought was that she had left Pacey for good. It had occurred to him repeatedly during the past week, but now he really believed it might be true. The idea was intoxicating, finally making him realize that he still had feelings for Joey which went beyond friendship. He had lied when he told her he felt betrayed that Pacey and she had kept their relationship a secret from him. The real reason behind his bitterness towards them was that he couldnít face seeing Joey with another man. He knew in his mind it was stupid ó they had never been able to work things out when they were together as a couple, but that didnít stop his heart from wishing the opposite. If something had come between Pacey and Joey now, Dawson could only take it to mean that somehow he was supposed to be with her. He waited expectantly for her to continue.
"A few days before I came home, I was in the hospital," she went on. She waited as he opened his mouth in shock and began to say something, but with one look she silenced him. She couldnít have him interrupting if she was going to get through all of this. "Pacey found me unconscious when he came home from work and he took me to the emergency room. It turned out I was pregnant."
Dawson felt his heart stop. Pregnant. Without thinking he glanced down at her belly but she just shook her head.
"It was an ectopicÖ do you know what that is?"
"Yeah, I think soÖ" Dawson stammered. "Itís when the baby grows in the wrong place, isnít it?"
Joey nodded and resumed staring at the sunset. "So, they operated and that was that. I had no idea I was even pregnant so Pacey had to tell me when I woke up from the anestheticÖ and the fact that I wasnít anymore."
"Joey, Iím really sorry. I canít imagine what that mustíve been like for you, to lose a childÖ"
"It wasnít as if it was a planned pregnancy, or I had any hopes or expectations about having a baby. It came as just as much a surprise to me as everyone else. In fact I felt numb about it, you know, like it wasnít real. Pacey was kinda upset. He thought I was really grieving over everything that had happened and he suggested we see a counselor. I was really down after it happened and the hospital staff blamed the hormones, the loss, the emotional turmoilÖ but the truth is Iím still just numb over the whole thing. I donít feel anything. The pregnancy wasnít why I had to leave."
"Why did you, then?"
"The truth is, I havenít been happy for a while. Not with my life as it is now."
Dawsonís hopes soared unwittingly once more. He knew there had to be a better reason why Pacey hadnít come with her. If she had just lost a baby then it made even more sense for him to be by her side. He wasnít, so there had to be more to the story.
"Why are you unhappy, Joey?" Dawson prodded when she was silent once more.
"It's everything, I guess. Boston, my study, my jobÖ Nothing is working out the way I thought it would. When I was in high school, the one thing I wanted most in the world was to get out of Capeside. I didnít care how I would do it, all I knew is I had to make it somewhere else if I was ever going accomplish anything in this life. So I did. I went away to college, I did well in my classes and had success in my professional life, I fell in love and settled down to a life that should have been enough to content me. But something was always missing, and I never knew what until now."
Dawson sucked in a breath, unable to believe his ears. Joey was staring at him intently now, a small smile on her lips. It couldnít have been a more perfect moment if he had scripted it himself. He had imagined their reunion over and over in his mind and this blew every fantasy out of the water.
"What was missing, Joey?" he breathed, wanting to hear her say it.
"This place!" she said dramatically, totally oblivious to the frozen expression on Dawsonís face. "Capeside, this crummy little town I was so desperate to get away from. Isnít it ridiculous?"
Joey laughed quietly, but it was a strained laugh caused by the outpouring of emotions she had just unleashed upon herself. She did not want to let herself believe that the answer to her happiness lay in Capeside. But she could not deny that being home had affected her in a way she had never imagined. She felt almost whole again, and it was only now she realized just how unhappy she had become in Boston.
"Itís not just the town, I guess, but also the memories I have here. I canít run away from my past anymore, I need to be here to embrace it. All of it, my mom and dad, growing up like I did ó the girl from the wrong side of the creek. I want to write, Dawson! I want to put down on paper everything that happened to me here so I never forget it. I want to sort through my own need to escape all those years ago and now my need to be here again. I want to face it all."
Dawson exhaled slowly and pulled himself back from the edge. He had almost made the biggest fool of himself and was silently cursing his own conceited ego. He could see Joey had no feelings for him that went beyond friendship. It was a line they had crossed before and had been burned in the process. She was wise enough not to pursue it again. Besides, there was still the matter of Pacey.
"What about your boyfriend, Joey? Have you shared this new outlook on life with him?"
Joeyís face fell at the mention of Pacey, and the light that had been shining in her eyes turned into sadness. The revelations she had had were so sudden. She had not allowed herself to contemplate what they would mean for Pacey and their relationship. She thought of the bitter way they had parted, the way she had treated him after she returned from the hospital. She had been so consumed with her own unhappiness that she had not considered his beyond a fleeting thought. Joey felt such guilt over that fact, and increasing despair that he hadnít called her since she had been home. She thought constantly about him alone in Boston, and wondered if she had blown it.
Dawson watched the emotions flood her face and could see how much she still loved Pacey. There was a time when Dawson himself had been the cause of her happiness and pain, but not anymore. He could not deny that, no matter how close they actually got or how much he thought he loved her, the feelings Joey had for Pacey went beyond that. They were part of each other, a fact Dawson would have to learn to live with if he was ever going to have his friends back. He missed them both, that was certain, and if he was destined not to be with Joey, he would make damned sure he was her friend again. He missed their comradeship more than anything, because it was part of who he was.
"I think itís time you gave Pacey a call, donít you?"
"I think you might be right," Joey said with a shaky voice. "I just hope itís not to late, Dawson. I donít know what Iíd do without him."
"I bet he feels the same way about you."
"You donít know how I treated him the last couple days we were togetherÖ the last couple of months really. I took out my unhappiness on him and blamed him for it because it was easier than admitting the problem was with me. I resented him for working all the time, for not noticing that I was unhappy. The whole episode in the hospital just brought things to a head and I made him think I donít care about him anymore. I wouldnít be surprised if he never wants to have anything to do with me again."
"I would," Dawson grinned slightly. "Paceyís not an idiot, Joey. And only an idiot would give you up. I know that better than anyone."
Joey smiled sadly at her old friend with whom she had shared so much. She leant in and gave him a hug, glad to have him back in her life.
"You always know the right thing to say, Dawson."
"Iíve watched a lot of movies, remember? All of that sentimentality has been bottling up for years."
"Do you think heíll forgive me?" she asked in a small, scared voice.
"Of course he will. And heíll do anything he can to make you happy again, Joey. I know he will."
Dawson hugged her back for a moment, then broke away from her. With as much cheer as he could muster, he grabbed her hand and hauled her from her seat on the cold ground. "Right then, weíd better work out what youíre going to say to Pacey when you call him. Christmas is only two days away so youíd better do it before then. Come on."
Joey felt like an enormous weight had been lifted from her shoulders. She understood it all herself now, why sheíd been so unhappy. All she had to do was make Pacey understand it too. She smiled gratefully at her old friend and felt the first real hope she had in months. Dawson dragged her down the path and began racing with her, just like they did when they were kids.
"Last one back has to jump in the creek naked!" he yelled as he pushed her out of the way so he could have a head start.
"Dawson Leery, youíre such a cheater!" Joey squealed, as she took off after him. Their laughter echoed around the Ruins just as it had done when they were growing up.
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