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Seven: Altered states
Joey eventually got her wish to keep busy over the next few days. The Icehouse was still overflowing with summer crowds and she had taken on all of Paceyís shifts too. She didnít complain about the work load as she would have a month before, because things were different now. By keeping busy she was able to keep her mind clear of other troubling matters ó for most of the time anyway.
It was the nights she dreaded. After work Joey found herself at a loose end, and she came to the realization that all she had done for the last two months was spend time with Pacey. There was nothing else in her life, nothing else she was particularly interested in doing if it was without him. Now that she was separated from Pacey, she could see how much she had grown to rely on his company, to just expect him to be there. It was more than a little disconcerting to find herself lost without him.
Joey was frightened enough by the idea, made worse by the fact that even if she hadnít realized it now, she would have been forced to when she left for Brown. Saturday was drawing nearer and she and Bessie had already packed most of her things. The departure that had seemed so far away at the beginning of the summer was almost upon her, and Joey didnít feel ready for it. She hadnít expected things to happen so quickly ó the date with Pacey, her undefined feelings about him, his fatherís death, Paceyís sudden disappearing act from her life. Joey felt completely out of control, and it was not a sensation that she enjoyed.
She had not tried to contact him again after the rest of his family arrived in Capeside. Joey had spotted him in town with his young nephews and nieces though, and a couple of his sisters. She had wanted to say hello, even just to hear his voice, but at the last minute she changed her mind and hid in one of the stores until they passed. For an instant she had felt nervous to be around him, especially in front of his family. They had not spoken about what had happened between them, or discussed what would happen to them when she left at the end of the week. It was like neither of them wanted to face up to the reality of their situation, and the truth about their feelings. Joey was nervous herself because she still hadnít worked out how she felt about him now.
It was not something she could put off forever. Even if nothing were to happen between them in the short time they had left, she didnít want to go off to college without first confronting just how her feelings for Pacey had changed. After years of friendship that had grown from an uneasy beginning to an extremely close bond, she knew she felt different now. It wasnít even the kiss that had revealed it, Joey could admit now that it had started before that, even if she couldnít say exactly when. But as she spent the days leading up to Mr Witterís funeral alone, searching her heart for answers, Joey came to realization that she did love him. Part of her always had.
The revelation, when it finally came to her, did not cause her to feel comforted as she had expected it would. She had supposed that admitting the truth to herself would have at least made her feel a little better. But although she was fairly sure of her own feelings, Joey still felt utterly miserable. She couldnít tell if it was because Pacey didnít know how she truly felt and she didnít know how to tell him, or that she would be gone in a few days anyway so there wasnít much hope for their relationship. Her greatest fear, however, was that he didnít feel the same way. She knew he cared about her, but if he loved her he wouldnít have shut her out of his life so abruptly.
Joey believed that if he truly loved her, Pacey would have opened up to her about what happened in the hospital room with his father. He would have told her what he said to him, if he had made peace with him, if his dad had said anything when he woke up. If Pacey was in love with her as she suspected after the way he kissed her, then he would have needed her to help him through this difficult time following his fatherís death. But none of that had happened, and Joey felt she had lost him before that had even had a chance to find out if there was more than friendship between them.
The four days before the funeral were the longest she had spent in her life. The days at the Icehouse may have passed quickly enough, but the nights were long and lonely. Joey had tried to avoid Bessie as much as she could without offending her sister, and she would invariably find herself going to Paceyís apartment as usual. As she climbed the steps to his door she prayed he was there ó perhaps he had returned for something or decided his motherís house was too crowded with the family there. Her hopes rose unwittingly as she put her key in the lock. But when she let herself in and found the place dark and empty, her loneliness returned.
It was not the same without him there. The apartment seemed sparse and uninviting, the antithesis if what it felt like when Pacey was there. On his instigation she had made the place her second home, the couch was even named in her honor. But on these nights she couldnít sleep on the sofa as usual. Joey snuck into Paceyís room, feeling almost like an intruder, and slipped into his bed. Somehow she felt closer to him as she hugged his pillow and she could pretend that nothing at all had changed between them. Pacey was still her best friend, someone she could share everything with, someone she trusted and cared forÖ someone she needed in her life.
There was no use pretending things were the same though. They could never go back to being the friends they had once been. Joey was almost sorry she had allowed herself to fall in love with him, because she would never have the same relationship with him again, even if the feelings were unrequited. Joey would end up lying there for hours, her mind too flooded with thoughts to sleep, and would eventually pick up the photograph she had left out for him.
It was the picture Bessie had taken of them before they went to Yacht Club, the shot taken when he had tickled her and made her laugh. She had never seen herself looking so happy, her face lit up by a broad grin. Pacey was standing slightly behind her, smiling down at her with a look that made her feel she was the only person in the world to him. Joey touched her finger to his face and wished he was there with her in person. She needed him back in her life.
* * *
Pacey sat on the porch the night before the funeral, enjoying the cool breeze and the peaceful quiet after spending the evening breaking up arguments between young cousins. He rarely saw his sistersí children and though they could be little terrors, he did miss them and their mothers. Being the youngest of the five children he had always been his sistersí favorite, particularly when their father and then Doug began making his life a living hell. When they left one by one to go to boarding school he suddenly found himself without that attention and he had missed it terribly. It had been the only thing in his childhood that made him feel special. It had taken Pacey some time to forgive his sisters for the abandonment he felt after their self-preserving departures from the Witter family home. But they were all older now and a little wiser, and Pacey missed them too much to hold grudges.
"I see Iím not the only one who needed to escape," a voice said, interrupting his thoughts. It was Kerry, his eldest sister. She sat down beside him on the porch swing and began to rock it gently back and forth. Taking a deep breath, she closed her eyes and took a moment to appreciate the familiar Capeside night.
"No matter what you say about this place, it still has the prettiest summer nights," she breathed, smiling. "Itís just not the same in L.A."
"Iíd rather give up the charming evenings than spend the rest of my life in this place," replied Pacey, though not bitterly. The days when he thought heíd end up stuck in Capeside forever were gone.
"Ha, you wait. Youíll be in Baltimore this time next week and I bet part of you will actually miss good old Capeside."
"If I do itíll be a very small part." Pacey frowned slightly, trying not to think of all the reasons why he never wanted to set foot in the town again. Too many memories haunted him here, and he doubted they would all be buried with his father tomorrow.
Kerry didnít want to hear the embittered tone in her brotherís voice. The family had survived several days together without digging up their ugly past and home secrets. She saw no reason why she and Pacey should do it now. Some things were best left in the past were they belonged.
"You know weíre all proud of you getting into UMBC, Pace. Youíve really done well for yourself."
"Better than Dad ever expected I guessÖ Not exactly the work of the black sheep of the family. He never said anything though, he never acknowledged anything I achieved after I left this house."
Pacey looked at her sister and caught her pained reaction. He wanted to talk to her about how he felt, how confused he was over their fatherís sudden death. But just as she always had ó just as all his sisters had ó she was trying desperately to avoid the conversation. Their father was a taboo topic that they never discussed, and even though he was gone now, Kerry still did not want to open up their familyís version of Pandoraís box.
"Iím glad I got to meet Adam while I was here, I think heís great," she said with false cheer, changing the subject. Pacey smiled to himself and had to admire the way his mother and sisters could do that so easily to avoid talking about the most difficult of topics. "I canít remember seeing Doug so happy."
"Yeah, Adamís a good guy," Pacey admitted with a sigh, knowing he was not going to get any help from Kerry. "I think heís actually managed to wean Dougie off his show tunes obsession."
"We should all be grateful for that." Kerry glanced at her brother out of the corners of her eyes. "And what about you, baby boy?
"What about me?"
"Is there a special someone in your life?" Kerry grinned when she saw the faintest of blushes appear on Paceyís cheeks. "I knew it! Who is she?"
"SheÖ sheís a friend, thatís all. At leastÖ I think thatís all. Things are a bit undefined at the moment."
"A friend, huh? Donít give me that, I see that look in your eyes, Pacey Witter. Come on, Iím your sister, youíre supposed to talk to me about these things so I can give you some female advice."
"Iím supposed to talk to you about a lot of things, Kerry, but we donít discuss them, do we?" Pacey answered, a little harder than he meant to. He softened his tone, seeing the hurt and guilt that had sprung up in her eyes. "I just have more important things on my mind at the moment than if the girl Iím in love with feels the same way about me. I thought it would help having you all here so we could put things to rest once and for all. But if weíre just going to continue sweeping things under the rug and pretending nothing is wrong with this family, then I guess I donít need to be here after all.
"There are some things about Dad that I have to sort through. Maybe it is stuff I can only do on my own. But I have to do this before I can go on with my life so I am not constantly affected by what went on here when we were growing up. I want to put it all behind me too, but it means dealing with it, not pretending it never happened in the first place." Pacey let out a shaky breath and got up from the swing. Kerry had been listening to him with tears in her eyes which she tried to blink away. "Listen, Kerry, I think need to go home tonight because itís not helping being here."
"You are home, Pacey," she cried.
"No, Iím not. This place hasnít been my home for two and a half years." He smiled at his sister softly, not wanting to make her upset. But he felt unexpected relief after his sudden decision to go back to the apartment, needing some distance between himself and the past he was trying to face. "Iíll see you tomorrow morning. Tell Mom Iíll be here early to help her."
"Okay," Kerry said a little helplessly.
Pacey didnít look back as he headed for his truck. In his mind he was already home.
* * *
Stepping into his darkened apartment, Pacey felt much calmer. Being back in familiar surroundings that were comforting rather than confronting allowed him to relax for the first time since his father died. He had thought spending time with his mother and siblings in the family house would help him sort through his feelings about his father and his death, but after three days Pacey realized it only made things harder. He couldnít talk to anyone there because they didnít want to hear about his conflicting emotions or confusion.
The only person he wanted to talk to was Joey. He knew now that she was the only one who would understand and support him. He knew it had been wrong to treat her so coldly at the hospital and after, but he was so consumed by his own shock and uncertainty that he had not wanted to burden her with his familial problems again. He hoped she would forgive him, and that he hadnít blown things with her. Pacey knew they still had some things to work out between them after the events of Saturday night. He wanted to talk to her about all of it. In the end, he would just settle being near her again because he missed her.
Pacey did not switch on any lights as he made his way to his bedroom. As soon as he entered the room he stopped short, seeing Joey curled up in his bed. He was more than a little surprised to see her there, but then overwhelmed with happiness, relief and love that she was. She was fast asleep, a slight frown creasing her brow as she hugged a pillow to her chest. As much as he wanted to talk to her and hold her in his arms, Pacey didnít have the heart to wake her. He was so taken by her serene beauty as she lay there that he moved silently towards her and carefully lay down beside her. He was just glad to be this close to her after not seeing her for several days. Pacey stared at her and listened to the comforting sound of her breathing until he finally drifted off to sleep himself.
* * *
Joey awakened late the next morning, much later than she had intended. It was almost ten before she was able to rouse herself from the dreams that had kept her locked in her unconscious. The strangest one she had was of Pacey ó she dreamt he was lying there beside her, sleeping peacefully. It was strange because it had seemed so real. Joey could still hear his deep breathing and feel his warmth in her mind. When she woke she had looked immediately to see if he was there but he was not. She sighed and realized it must have been a dream after all.
It wasnít until she saw the glass of freshly squeezed orange juice waiting for her beside the bed that she understood. Smiling with shy relief she picked it up and knew that only one person could have put it there. Joey immediately jumped out of bed and checked the other rooms for him, but Pacey was no longer there. She wasnít really surprised, it was getting rather late. She was buoyed by the knowledge that he had at least made the gesture of a peace offering, and for the first time in days Joey didnít feel so anxious about being apart from him. Nothing was irreconcilable. She was also a little embarrassed that he had found her asleep in his bed, but at least then he might take it as a sign that she hadnít given up on him. She would be waiting to sort things out between them after the funeral, or whenever he was ready.
Thinking of the funeral, Joey realized quickly it was in less than an hour. She had to go home and shower and change so she could be there for him. As she gathered her things and rushed out the door, she almost crashed head-on into Dawson who was about to knock.
"Dawson!" she managed to say in surprise before he caught her up in a hug.
"Bessie sent me hunting for you. Do you realize how late it is?" His admonition was tempered with his familiar, loving smile that revealed he was glad to see her.
"Donít you start on at me, Bessieís bad enough." She smiled and took his hand. "Give me a ride home and weíll catch up on the way."
* * *
John Witterís funeral was positively grand by Capeside standards, the sleepy town had never seen anything like it. There were dozens of officers in full dress uniform, state police officials, and at least two hundred citizens there to pay their respects. Chief Witter had devoted the last fifteen years to protect and serve the loyal Capeside community and had been beloved by almost all. In fact, Pacey noticed some people visibly upset as they sat through the obligatory church service and sermon, much more so than the deceasedís family.
But to Pacey, that really said it all about John Witter. On the outside he appeared to be the most charming and honorable of men that it was no wonder he was well respected by the public. Behind closed doors it was a different story. He was cruel and vicious, selfish and sadistic. Pacey had to remind himself of that fact as the minister droned on about the Chiefís selfless acts of bravery. By the end, to Paceyís consternation, the congregation had him painted as a saint.
The procession from the church to the cemetery took on the appearance of a parade as the mourners followed along behind the hearse. More people lined the streets to give Chief Witter a final goodbye, some waving small American flags left over from the Fourth of July. The sickeningly patriotic sight almost caused Pacey to burst out laughing, but everyone would have just explained away the inappropriate reaction as grief-induced. The morning was rapidly disintegrating into a farce, and Pacey had just about had enough. His only consolation as they stood by the burial plot was Joeyís face in the sea of people.
He was standing apart from the crowd with his family as they waited to throw symbolic handfuls of dirt on the coffin as it was lowered into the ground. Pacey caught her eye and Joey gave him a small, reassuring smile that spoke volumes. He noticed that Dawson had come up for the funeral too and was appreciative of his friendís support. Pacey didnít even feel jealous that he was standing there with Joey as he might have done a couple of months ago. Joey didnít smile or look at Dawson the way she did Pacey, and he let himself believe in their bond with all his heart. He couldnít wait to be alone with her so they could finally talk about what was on both their minds. Pacey remembered just how much he missed when he had slept beside her the night before. Now he just wanted to be near her again.
Once the burial was over, a large number of the attendees retired to the house for the wake Mrs Witter had prepared. She had put as much planning and preparation into the afternoon tea as if it were a party, though she managed to remain demure as she received peoplesí condolences. Pacey, Doug and their sisters found themselves bombarded by similar well-meaning guests who wanted to remind them that their father was in a better place, that in time the pain would easeÖ John Witterís sons and daughters received the words in stunned silence lest they betray their true emotions which were to rejoice and be thankful he was gone for good.
The wake was still crowded with people after a couple of hours and Joey wondered if she would ever be able to get Pacey alone. To make matters worse, she and Dawson had been trapped by Mrs Ryan in a corner of the Witter living room where she regaled them with biblical stories and reminiscences from her youth. Almost another hour later Joey had had enough. She couldnít listen to the perky conversation of Jenís fundamentally religious grandmother a second longer. With ill-concealed abruptness, she suddenly announced she needed to get some air.
She felt a little better outside, at least she could breathe better. Paceyís nieces and nephews played obliviously in the yard while smiling parents sat around and mused about the innocence of children. Joey envied them their right to run around and have fun while the rest of them had to pretend they were mourning for a man she despised. She scanned the crowd both inside and out for Pacey now but could not find him anywhere. She was disappointed because at the funeral he had seemed to want to talk to her as much as she did him. Once again, the gods had conspired to keep them apart.
"Donít worry, I told Mrs Ryan you were overcome momentarily," said Dawson, walking up beside her on the porch. "She said sheíd say a prayer for you."
"I feel better already," Joey replied sarcastically. Her eyes still roamed over faces searching for one in particular.
"You looking for Pacey? I havenít seen him for a while. Maybe heís out back helping."
"Hmm," Joey murmured absently.
"I hope I get a chance to talk to him before I have to leave tonight. I wish I could stay longer, but I feel better knowing that youíll here to look out for him." Dawson eyed Joey carefully, seeing she was not listening to a word he was saying. She was consumed with looking for Pacey, it was like nothing else registered. Her face held a mixture of concern and worry for their friend, but there was something else tooÖ something he had never seen before today. And the way they had stared at each other at the cemeteryÖ Drawing in a sharp breath that caught her attention, he stared at her incredulously. "My God, you love him, donít you?"
"Of course I love him. Heís one of my closest friends in the world." Joey frowned as she replied, knowing it to be a half-truth that she wouldnít be able to fool Dawson with.
"I know you love him, Jo. I mean youíre in love with him."
Joey didnít answer, instead she concentrated on watching the children running around in the yard. Her silence was all the confirmation Dawson needed.
"When did this happen?" he asked in a soft, not unkind, voice.
"You mean how long have I felt this way about him or when did I finally admit it to myself?"
Joey sighed, but it did feel good to at least to talk to someone about her emotions. And for once Dawson wasnít acting jealous and protective. "I have no idea when I fell in love with him. I donít think I could ever define one particular moment in time. But I only realized it myself these last few days while weíve been apart. I havenít even told him yet, and now itís too late."
"Itís never too late, Joey," he said supportively.
"Isnít it? Iím leaving in less than two days, Dawson. Paceyís going to Baltimore a few days after that. How often do you think weíre going to see each other?"
"Would you rather you never did anything about it? Do you want to run the risk of regretting it the rest of your life?"
Joey looked at him sharply, reminded of Paceyís words at dinner. He had said he did not want to live a life of regrets. Maybe Pacey was right. Maybe Dawson was right too. If she didnít go and confront him and admit that she loved him, she would always regret it. Confessing her feelings might simply complicate matters, and it would not change the fact she was leaving on Saturday. But she had to do it nevertheless. She owed Pacey the truth, and she owed it to herself to tell him.
"Maybe youíre right, Dawson. Iím going to go find him." She gave him a quick peck on the cheek and a smile. "Thank you."
"Hey, thatís what friends are for," he replied sincerely, giving her a hug. "I just want you to be happy."
She smiled at him a few seconds more, then left to tell her best friend that she was in love him with him.
* * *
When she did not find him in the house and no one else could tell her where he had disappeared to, Joey knew in her heart where to find him. She went straight home and found him sitting on the end of her dock. The sight of his broad back against the setting sun and dazzling water filled her with love and reassurance that things were not so different from before. When he truly needed her and her alone, this was where Pacey came to wait for her.
She walked up quietly behind him, stopping a few feet behind the old fishing stool he was perched on. Then she waited.
"I knew youíd find me," he said quietly, still facing the water.
"I knew youíd be here," she answered just as softly. Joey walked over to the side rail and leaned against it as Pacey turned so he was sitting beside her.
"Quite a show, wasnít it? The Chief would have loved it."
"At least itís over now," she murmured, double meaning in her words. She hoped he would be able to put many of the painful memories of his father behind him now.
Joey frowned slightly, seeing he was more upset than he had originally let on. At the funeral and cemetery his face had been stoically calm like the rest of the family. But now she saw real pain in his eyes that almost resembled grief.
"Pacey? What happened at the hospital?" The question was non-confrontational, but Joey knew he just needed prompting before he would open up to her now.
"NothingÖ I donít know. I just asked him why he always hated me, thatís all. He was still unconscious so he probably didnít hear anything. But when he woke up he tried to tell me something. He couldnít speak though, so he tried to hold my hand. Then he just looked at me with this expression Iíve never seen before."
"Maybe he was trying to ask for your forgiveness."
"I guess Iíll never know. The son of a bitch died before he could even do that."
"And you feel cheated, donít you?" she asked carefully. "Itís perfectly natural, Pace. Youíre allowed to feel angry at him."
"The thing is I donítÖ not really. I shouldnít be upset about his death, I know itís crazy," he said, fighting back tears. "That man never spoke a kind word to me in my life. He made me believe I was a worthless loser, the perpetual town joke. He beat me, he put me down, he did everything in his power to make me hate himÖ So why do I miss him?"
Joey swallowed hard. She realized he must have needed to talk about this for days, and she felt saddened that he hadnít opened up to her before now. She squatted down before him so their eyes were almost level.
"You miss him because he was your father and you loved himÖ It didnít matter he was a lousy dad who never understood who you really are. You loved him and thatís why it hurts that heís gone. And though he may not have shown it, he loved you too."
Pacey looked at her with bewildered eyes. "He did?" he whispered in a small, disbelieving voice. "How do you know?"
"Because youíre his son," Joey said, taking his hands in hers. Pacey's eyes flooded with relief and hope that what she was saying was the truth.
"I wish Iíd heard him say it, just once."
Pacey couldnít back the tears any longer. Joey stood up and gently cradled him against her, his cheek pressed against her stomach. Paceyís arms tightened around her waist as she held him securely, allowing him to release all of the pent-up emotions he had been battling with. He needed to be comforted by his best friend now, so Joey put aside her mission to confront him about their relationship and just held him close. In her mind it was just as important as a declaration of love.
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