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Five: In the name of the father
They made the journey to Hyannis in silence. Joey knew better than to push Pacey when he didnít want to talk, but that didnít stop her from wanting him to say something ó anything ó as they sped along the dark road. He seemed so unreachable, just like he had been before he revealed to her the truth about his abusive childhood. Joey didnít know what he was thinking now. The cause of all the pain and abuse he had suffered lay dying in hospital. How was he supposed to react to that? Joey didnít know the answer, and she guessed that Pacey probably didnít either.
When they arrived at the hospital they headed straight for the waiting lounge. Pacey didnít seem to notice Joey was there as he spotted his mother and rushed immediately to her. He hugged her quickly before he even acknowledged that Doug and Adam were also there. Paceyís brother squeezed his shoulder, a look passing between them that didnít involve anyone else. They were the only ones who shared the true and minutely detailed memories of John Witter and his violent behavior. His life-threatening condition meant something uniquely different to them.
Pacey took a deep breath before he could begin to question his mother. He could already see in her eyes much of what was going on, but he needed to know for sure.
"Iím glad you came, Pacey," his mother said before he had a chance to speak. "I would have called you earlier but I didnít know where you were. It wasnít until Doug arrived and suggested I try Joeyís house that I found you."
Pacey felt momentarily guilty and turned back to look at Joey for the first time since they left Capeside. He had been so caught up in his own mixed emotions that he hadnít given her a second thought. She stood a few steps away beside Dougís partner so as not to intrude in their conversation. She did not appear to be angry.
"How is he?" Pacey asked in a husky voice.
"Theyíre running some more tests now, so weíre waiting to hear from the doctor." Anne Witter spoke in a calm, even voice.
Pacey was not surprised at her detachment. Her husband may never have hit her, but he caused all five of her children to leave home before their time. Her daughters all opted for boarding schools, an idea which she supported so they would be safe from their father. It was her sons she had not been able to protect. As if the violence wasnít bad enough, in recent years Doug had been ostracized from the family for being gay and Pacey had filed an emancipated minor order. Both of them had kept in touch with her secretly, but it wasnít the same.
Anne Witter had not loved her husband for many, many years. She could have left as she threatened to do on many occasions, but he would just remind her of the fact that she had nowhere to go and no money of her own. She certainly did not have the resources to take the children with her, and to leave them behind with him was unthinkable. Even after they were all gone she stayed, though she could not say why. Now was her chance to be rid of him finally. Pacey wouldnít have been surprised if she was silently praying he would die just so she could have some semblance of a life back.
"What happened to him?"
"He was on his way home from some bar when it happened," Doug explained so his mother wouldnít have to. "They brought him straight here in an ambulance and Mom called me when she found out."
"I contacted the girls too but Iíve told them not to come until we know for sure," Mrs Witter continued. "I donít want them coming all this way unlessÖ"
She didnít finish the thought, but Pacey understood perfectly. She didnít want them to come unless it was for their fatherís funeral. He knew his sisters would not be keen to come home anyway. Though John Witter had never raised a hand to his daughters, all three of them knew how he treated Doug and Pacey and they despised him for it. All they could do was get themselves as far away from the family home as possible. Paceyís eldest sister had gone to the extreme of settling in Los Angeles with her husband and children so she would never have to have anything to do with her father again.
Pacey had more questions but he suddenly lost the will to ask them. He was trying to sort out how he felt about the situation when a middle-aged man in blue scrubs and a white coat approached them.
"Mrs Witter, Iím sorry this has taken so long," the doctor apologized.
"Itís quite all right, Dr Weinman. This is my youngest son, Pacey."
The doctor shook Paceyís hand perfunctorily then returned to his somber task.
"Weíve completed all of our tests and it is very serious, Iím afraid. Your husband had what we call an acute myocardial infarction ó in laymanís terms, a massive heart attack. Weíre treating his symptoms the best we can, but his heart still has an irregular beat and he is unconscious. I understand itís been some time since Mr Witter has seen a doctor?"
"Yes, Iím afraid my husband never trusted doctors. He has always prided himself on his health."
"That may be, Mrs Witter, but there is some evidence of long-term alcohol abuse that does not help his condition."
"If youíre thinking my husband is an alcoholic, Doctor, then you are correct," she stated with forthrightness. Both Doug and Pacey were a little shocked to hear her make the comment so openly. Their fatherís drinking was the one thing she made them promise never to reveal to anyone.
"Well, all I can tell you is the next twenty-four hours are critical. We are monitoring him very closely but until he regains consciousness we wonít be able to fully assess the extent of the damage to his heart."
"Thank you, Doctor," Mrs Witter said quietly.
"You can go in and sit with him for a while, though Iíd ask you only go in one at a time," Dr Weinman addressed all three of them.
Mrs Witter did not bat an eyelid. "No thank you, Doctor. Iíll just wait out here."
"Your husband may be unconscious, Mrs Witter, but we donít know for sure just how much patients in comas can hear. Often a familiar voice can help the patient to regain consciousness." Weinman couldnít understand how the woman before him could remain so calm and unmoved by her husbandís very serious condition.
"I appreciate your concern, but I will remain here." Anne Witterís voice was cold. She knew the doctor probably thought her heartless, but then he didnít know her husband.
Dr Weinman turned to her sons, wondering if the whole family felt the same way. "Would one of you like to see your father?"
"No," Doug responded immediately. He hadnít seen his father since he had moved to Providence and he wasnít about to now. The only reason he had come to the hospital was to be there for his mother. The Chief had made it perfectly clear that he no longer considered Doug his son after he found out about his homosexuality. The fact that his father had cut all ties with him didnít bother Doug one bit.
The doctor turned to Pacey now, ready to receive another negative reply. Pacey looked at his mother and brother, trying desperately to decide what to do. He didnít really want to see his father, but he was having trouble comprehending just how serious things were. His father may have been a closet alcoholic, but he had been the strongest and fittest man Pacey had ever known. He wasnít even that old, so Pacey couldnít believe that the heart attack was so bad.
He didnít want to appear a traitor to his family present, but something made him want to see his father.
"Iíll go in," he spoke up. Doug and his mother didnít question him, nor did they try and stop him.
The doctor motioned him down the corridor, and Pacey began to follow him slowly, almost reluctantly. He would still have to face his father, even if he was unconscious. Since he left home and the emancipation order was signed, Pacey had only seen the Chief by accident in the street, or when they passed each other on the road. They did not acknowledge each otherís presence on any of these occasions. He found himself feeling nervous at the prospect of seeing him again.
Glancing back over his shoulder, he saw Doug with his arm around their unemotional mother, talking quietly to her. But the last face he saw before he went into the ICU was Joeyís. She was looked after him with worried eyes, concern for him written all over her face. He turned away from the sight, fighting the urge to run back to her. He always felt safer when Joey was with him, and she was his strength when it came to dealing with his family and past. But this was something he had to do on his own. Taking a deep breath, he stepped through the door and into the intensive care unit.
* * *
Once Pacey had gone, Doug led his mother over the waiting room chairs and made her sit down. He stayed by her side, though she didnít appear to need the support. She patted his arm absently, her thoughts elsewhere. Joey and Adam took seats a discreet distance from mother and son, neither of them wanting to comfort them with meaningless platitudes that were insincere. They also knew both Anne and Doug Witter probably didnít need comforting anyway.
"I know it sounds awful," said Adam in a low voice so no one else could hear, "but I wish the old man would just die and be done with it. Anyone wouldíve died instantly but that SOB has to prolong the agony."
Joey and Pacey had stayed with Doug and Adam in Providence during several trips they made when she applied to go to Brown, so she knew him quite well. She understood his feelings that stemmed from his concern for Doug. Joey had a similar opinion of John Witter, so the comment didnít sound awful to her at all.
"Just when I think Dougís going to get past all of the anger and bitterness, the Chief has to pull something like this," Adam sighed. "Iím surprised Pacey can even go in there to see him."
"Me too," replied Joey softly. She was so worried about him, afraid that seeing his father would upset him more than it would help him. Joey didnít really understand his motives for doing it, all she did know was that John Witter had caused Pacey so much pain and anguish his entire life, and she didnít want it to continue.
"Donít worry, Joey, heíll be okay." Adam could see the fear in her eyes. He understood the desire to protect a loved one from Chief Witter.
Joey gave him a small, grateful smile and linked her arm in his.
"You and Pacey are certainly dressed up tonight," he said, trying to lighten the mood.
"We were out on aÖ kind ofÖ date."
"A Ďkind of dateí?"
"I guess it was a date. I donít know," Joey replied, a little flustered. She didnít know what it had been after the kiss they shared. She didnít know what would happen now, but she was afraid that this incident with Paceyís father would intrude on what would have been their last precious week together. It was the only time they had to sort out how they felt about each other before Joey left for Brown.
"Well, all I can say is itís about time. Doug and I have been wondering how long it would take for you kids to get together."
"Weíre not together, Adam. At least, we havenít talked about it."
"Come on, Paceyís been head over heels in love with you since Iíve known him. Donít tell me youíve never noticed."
Joey didnít answer. Since Bessie had hinted at the same thing, she began wondering if she had known all along that Pacey felt more than friendship for her but she just hadnít wanted to see it. Maybe she didnít want to admit it to herself after what happened with Dawson, or perhaps she was just a coward. But then Joey couldnít be sure how Pacey felt. It was all well and good for Adam and her sister to speculate how he felt about her, but Pacey had never said anything himself. She thought she might have misinterpreted the kiss, considering he had barely spoken to her since it happened.
Joey wouldnít be sure about anything until she and Pacey could talk things through. She looked down the corridor towards the ICU and wished they were anywhere else but here. She wanted to be back with him outside her house where they had begunÖ something. Joey tried to stop herself from imagining what might have happened if the phone had not rung when it did.
* * *
John Witter was hooked up to several different machines monitoring his vital signs, his face covered by an oxygen mask. Pacey waited for the doctor to leave them before he took a step closer and really looked at his father. He couldnít believe that the man lying in the bed was John Witter, someone he had feared his entire life. He seemed so small lying there with many tubes running in and out of his body. His skin was pasty, his bare chest covered in gray hairs, his shoulders shrunken and weak. Though it had only been two and half years since Pacey had a real conversation with his father, he seemed to have aged considerably more. Pacey was thoroughly shocked that he looked so old. His father had always seemed ageless as well as supernaturally powerful, so it was quite a realization that he was mortal too.
Pacey sat down by his bedside, unsure what to do. He still wasnít sure why he had even come in ó he could have declined just as his mother and Doug had done. But there was something nagging at him, something he had difficulty defining. He sat and stared at his unconscious father for some time, trying to sort through his conflicting feelings. It was a while before he could bring himself to say anything.
"Um, the doctor said Iím supposed to talk to you," he started awkwardly. He felt stupid speaking to him because he didnít really believe his father could hear him. Pacey cleared his throat, shaking off the uncomfortable feeling. "Itís supposed to help if you hear a familiar voice. I donít suppose mine is one youíd want to hear but Iím the only one who came in. Iím also wondering myself why Iíd want to help youÖ I guess I just felt I had to come to see for sure that this is as serious as the doctor says. You always seemed invincible to me. Maybe thatís just something leftover from my childhood."
Pacey paused, his eyes down cast. "I suppose the reason Iím here is that we have a lot of unfinished business between us. I probably wouldnít have plucked up the courage to talk to you anytime soon, so maybe this is a blessing in disguiseÖ There are lots of things I want to say to you, most of it pretty bad, so it should probably wait for another time. Itís nothing you donít deserve, but unlike you I donít believe in kicking someone while theyíre down. Both metaphorically and literally speaking," he said darkly, remembering the brutality of his fatherís attack on Doug, as well as the many times he had unleashed his violent anger on Pacey.
"There are so many things I want to ask you, and I donít think itís fair you get out of it by dying. You owe me an explanation and, if nothing else, thatís why Iím here trying to get you to wake up. I want you to be around to answer my questions, because itís the only way Iím going to get on with my life. So here goesÖ,"Pacey lowered his voice earnestly. "I want to know once and for all why you have hated me so much my entire life. I want you to tell me what I ever did to deserve it. Because I canít figure it out, and believe me, Dad, Iíve spent a lot of time thinking about it."
Paceyís tone became more urgent as he raised his eyes to face his father. He felt tears prick the backs of his eyes but he ignored them. He focused his attention solely on the hidden questions and doubts that had plagued him for so many years.
"Why is it that you never believed in me? No matter what I did it was never good enough for you. Even as a little kid you told me Iíd never amount to anything. You never once took pride in anything I did, you just waited for me to fail. What kind of effect do you think that has on a kid? What hope did I ever have of proving you wrong if you destroyed my self esteem? I know I was never as good as Doug in your eyes, but I was still your son, you know. It was your job to believe in me and be proud of me. You were supposed to love me, Dad. So I want you to wake up and tell me why you never did. I want to know why you decided I was a worthless human being and why you felt you had to remind me of that every chance you got.
"Because the way I see it, Dad, Iím not the loser you always made me out to be. And itís taken me a long time to be able to believe that myself. I think Iíve turned out pretty well, despite your efforts to the contrary. I have proven you wrong. Did you know I graduated near the top of my class? I only ask because you didnít come to the ceremony like all the other proud parents. Not that I was expected otherwise, of course. Why change your behavior now, right? You probably wouldíve thought Iíd just cheated anyway. Sorry to disappoint you, but the idiot son you were always so ashamed of actually has a brain in his head. I got accepted into a great college and Iím going to make something of myself.
"Actually, in an ironic sort of way, I owe my chosen vocation to you. If you werenít such a lousy father I never would have known what a social worker does. So thanks to you Iíve discovered that itís what I want to do. I got into a pretty prestigious school in Baltimore and Iím leaving soon. I wonít be spending my life pumping gas like you so often predicted. I wonít be spending my entire life in a dump like Capeside either, so you were wrong on both countsÖ You were wrong about me, Dad, right from the very beginning."
Pacey felt warm tears on his cheeks and he wiped them away quickly. It was an automatic response because his father had always warned his sons never to cry in front of him. If they did, the repercussions were swift and severe. Even though his father was unconscious now, Pacey still made sure his cheeks were dry before continuing.
"I donít know why Iím bothering to say all of this to you now," he continued quietly, having vented most of his anger for the moment. "The thing is, I donít think Iíd ever be able to do it when youíre awake. I donít even know that I really want to hear the answers. They say the truth hurts, right? But I just need to understand it before I can put it all behind meÖ Iíll have to do that if Iím ever going to believe in myself and be proud of my achievements. Iím not going to let you screw up my entire life. I have too many important things I want to do. Thatís why I need an explanation, why you need to wake up. Letís face it, Dad, itís the very least that you owe me."
Pacey stopped talking, suddenly wearied by the whole scenario. Here he was putting himself through an emotional wringer, talking to a man who could not hear him. But getting the words out had been a relief. They were thoughts he had kept hidden for so long that just facing up to them had to be beneficial. Pacey put his head in his hands, wishing he could stop thinking now. He just wanted to rest.
There was no much point staying any longer. He had talked to his father just as the doctor wanted, but now he wanted to be as far away from the room as possible. He didnít want to look at his fatherís prostrate body anymore, or to listen to the quiet beeps of the cardiac monitor. Pacey stood up and remained by the bedside for a few moments longer, deciding there was nothing more he could say.
Just as he was turning to leave he felt something brush his hand. Looking down, he saw it was his fatherís fingers. Pacey let out a surprised gasp as his fatherís eyes opened, his weak grasp around his hand trying to stop him from leaving.
"Dad?" he said in a small, almost child-like, voice.
His father moved his lips slightly under the oxygen mask but no sound was made. He was not strong enough to speak but his eyes were clear and lucid. Pacey stood there mutely as his father stared up at him with great intensity. The gaze was almost pleading, causing Pacey to frown from incomprehension.
"Iíll go get a doctor," he managed to say.
But John Witter squeezed his hand slightly to stop his son from going. His fingers were devoid of strength, his face growing paler as Pacey stayed by him. After a long minute he looked towards the door of the ICU, knowing he should go and get some help. With almost an apologetic look, he pulled his hand away from his father.
"I have to find someone, I wonít be long," he stammered, backing towards the door. His fatherís eyes followed his retreat, his fingers still outstretched towards him. Pacey gave him a nod and crashed through the doors, tearing back to the waiting area that adjoined the nurseís station.
"Heís awake!" Pacey said loudly to both his family and the medical staff around the desk. Doug and his mother jumped to their feet, almost in disbelief, while Dr Weinman started towards him. "I was talking to him and he open his eyes and squeezed my hand."
"Okay, Pacey. Itís a great sign. You stay here while we examine your dad and weíll let you all know soon." The doctor gave Mrs Witter and her eldest son a reassuring nod and clapped Pacey on the shoulder. He followed a couple of nurses down the corridor to John Witterís room.
Pacey looked at his mother and brother, but he couldnít explain to them what had happened. They were waiting for the Chief to die, both of them probably wanting it. But when his father looked at him the way he had, Pacey had felt connected to him for the first time in many years. No words had passed between them, but he knew his father was trying to tell him something. Maybe he had heard everything Pacey had said. Even if he hadnít, Pacey suddenly felt that he could try and work things out with his dad, to sort through the questions and feelings he had.
The thought was a great relief to him, but not one that his family could understand. He looked around for the one person who might, and Joey was immediately by his side. She took his hand in her own, seeing the excitement in his reddened eyes. When she smiled supportively, Pacey had to stop himself from kissing her right then and there. He could always rely on Joey to understand and be there for him, two of the many reasons he had fallen in love with her.
Pacey did consider it odd that he was rejoicing the fact that his father had regained consciousness, after all that had happened between them. He had wished him dead on many occasions growing up, but now he actually glad he was not. It didnít make much sense to him, but he thought it probably came down to the fact that they had a lot of talking to do. Much of it would be painful, and Pacey didnít know if it would make any difference in the long run. He doubted he could ever forgive his father for all that he had done to him, but by putting some old ghosts to rest, Pacey might have a better shot at being happy. He began planning what he would say to his father once the doctor decided he was up to it.
They waited in silence, each of them contemplating how they felt about the news. Joey was a little surprised to see that Pacey was so relieved at the prospect of his fatherís recovery, but she knew familial relationships were never black and white. Even if Pacey thought he hated his dad, some part of him would always love the man simply because he was his father. She had experienced the same mixed emotions with her own father, so deep down she could understand his happiness.
They waited for what seemed like an age before there was any word from the doctor. Finally he reappeared from the ICU and began walking towards them. Pacey stood up immediately, his fingers still entwined in Joeyís. His mother, Doug and Adam slowly joined them as Dr Weinman approached. When the doctor looked up saw all five of them waiting for him, his face grew solemn. This was the part of the job he hated most.
"Mrs Witter, Iím very sorry but your husband suffered another heart attack and this time we could not revive him. Iím afraid we werenít able to save him."
"What?" Pacey cried in disbelief. "He woke upÖ he squeezed my hand."
Dr Weinman nodded patiently. "He regained consciousness briefly but when you left the room, Pacey, he went into cardiac arrestÖ This can happen with very serious heart attacks ó the muscle just isnít strong enough to get a normal rhythm back. The damage from the first MI was very seriousÖ If itís any consolation, it happened very quickly and he would not have felt any pain. Iím very sorry for your loss."
The doctorís words were sincere, especially since this son was the only one of them who seemed affected by the death. Mrs Witter just accepted the news stoically which made him feel rather uneasy. He recognized grief when he saw it, and he did not see it in her at all.
"What happens now?" she asked evenly.
"Thereís some paper work that needs to be signed and some arrangements to be made. If you and your sons would like to come with meÖ"
Doug and Mrs Witter made a move to accompany the doctor but Pacey was still too stunned to follow. He couldnít believe his father was dead. All of the hopes and expectations he had hadÖ once again John Witter had let him down. Pacey was suddenly filled with bitterness, he felt utterly cheated. After everything that had happened, his father had still found the ultimate way to let him down. Pacey refused think about it now, preferring to bury the disappointment and rage as he had so often in his life. He went to go after the doctor, but Joeyís hand in his stopped him. She looked at him with sympathetic eyes, wanting desperately to comfort him. But he didnít want or need her comfort now, he was too angry. He pulled his hand from hers abruptly and stalked after his mother and brother.
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