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Author’s Note: I hope everyone had a wonderful Easter. For those who have been waiting patiently, I apologize for the delay - I’ve been away for the past 3 weeks or so and had no chance to get any writing done. Okay, let’s get right to it.
Joey blinked. She hoped like hell she wasn’t hallucinating.
The man opened out his arms to her and she ran into them.
“Daddy,” she whispered.
“A little TV isn’t going to make much difference,” he replied, almost nonchalantly.
“I’m warning you, don’t test my patience.”
He looked right into his father’s eyes.
John Witter looked like he was about to explode.
He let a few moments pass before getting to his feet. Turning to his mother, who had come out of the kitchen when she heard the commotion, he said as calmly as he could, “I’ll be in my room.”
Joey couldn’t stop grinning. “I’m so glad you’re home.”
“I’m glad to be home.”
Her grin wavered a little as a thought hit her. “Dad?”
“Will you be leaving again soon?”
He put his arm around her and squeezed her tightly. “I’ll be staying for awhile.”
“Honey, just try not to antagonize him before tomorrow’s Parent-Teacher meeting.”
“Oh I see, tonight’s just a prelude then.”
“Can you turn around when you’re talking to me?”
Pacey remained with his back to her. “I am sick and tired of listening to the excuses you make up to explain his attitude toward me.” He reached for a book on the shelf and sat himself at his desk. “I really should start on my work now, don’t you think?”
He was glad when he heard the door close behind him, for a few seconds later, a tear fell from his eye and left a water mark on his opened page.
“Tell them you’re quitting.”
“You can’t do this to us.” Sarah Potter began to sob softly. “How are the girls and I going to cope if anything should happen to you?”
“Nothing is going to happen to me, I promise you.”
“I’m begging you to stop, we don’t need the money.”
“Sarah, please don’t do this! You know I have to go through with the deal.”
“All I know,” her voice quivered, “is that I’m not sitting around, waiting for some call to tell me that you’ve been caught or you’re dead-”
Joey had heard enough. She slipped away silently, as she no longer felt thirsty.
The next morning, she awoke to the sound of her mother crying. She knew even before she looked: her father was gone.
Joey had found herself with nowhere else to go. She hadn’t felt like staying home, nor had she felt like going to Dawson’s. Left with no other alternative, she came back to a spot she hadn’t visited in years.
As she looked around her, she noticed that little had changed. The giant trees around her still provided shelter from the sun; the birds that resided in these trees still chirped happily; every now and then, a breeze would come along, lightly touching the surface of the otherwise, undisturbed creek.
No, she was wrong. Everything had changed.
A memory so familiar ran through his mind: he saw a nine-year old Joey, knees to her chest, sad and vulnerable.
Joey closed her eyes and reveled in the feeling of the wind against her face. As hard as she tried, she couldn’t stop the tear that found its way down her cheek.
Behind her, Pacey stood watching. Then he turned away, and headed for the other direction.
Taking a seat across from Joey, Dawson looked from one friend to the other. “Well?”
“Wonderful,” she mumbled as she offered a brief smile and then returned to reading a book, in which she seemed so engrossed.
Pacey glanced at her and frowned. Realizing that Dawson was waiting for him to say something, he absently replied, “Yeah, couldn’t be better.”
“Well, my Mom and Dad decided to...”
Neither of them was paying any attention. As Joey found herself re-reading the same paragraph over and over again, she decided that there was no use in pretending she was getting any studying done. She shut her book and looked up, only to meet an equally sad pair of eyes.
With Dawson chattering in the background, both of them stared at each other. It was her turn to frown. As Pacey noted the question in her eyes, he looked away before she could ask him anything.
Hastily, he patted his friend on the shoulder and added, “Great to hear that, Dawson. Tell us more.”
She said nothing but continued to watch him.
“What? Do I smell bad or something?” he joked.
“You know something. I see it in your eyes,” she said, matter-of-factly.
“I know we have more arguments than proper conversations, but I’m not totally insensitive and neither are you. I just wanted to say tha- thank you for caring.” She started to walk away but then stopped to add, “I may not look it but I’m an okay listener.” Without waiting for his reaction, she made a move to leave.
She turned back and he took a step forward.
“So am I,” he said.
She stared blankly at him and then broke into a slight, awkward smile.
“I’ll remember that.”
“Hmmm,” she replied, her mind not exactly on dinner.
Bessie picked up the telephone, poised to dial the number. “Pepperoni or Seafood?” she asked.
After her sister had put down the receiver, Joey decided to satisfy her curiosity.
“Do you remember any of the Witters from school?”
Bessie shifted in her chair at the dinner table to face the latter who was sitting on the couch. “Witter? As in your friend, Pacey Witter?”
She wrinkled her brow in confusion. “Why don’t you ask him then?”
Joey shrugged. “He doesn’t say much about his family. I was just wondering, that’s all. It’s no big deal.”
“Well,” she thought hard. “I do recall Doug Witter. He was one year older so I didn’t really know him but from what I heard, he was pretty obnoxious just ‘cause his father’s the town sheriff. Constantly bringing up the fact to impress girls and to scare the guys. Such a daddy’s boy.”
“I see,” Joey said softly.
“Is Pacey anything like his brother?”
She drifted off for a moment before shaking herself back down to earth. “No, no,” she replied. “Couldn’t be farther.”
The doctor closed the door behind her and gestured to the chair. “Sarah, please take a seat.”
“I don’t want to sit down!” She realized she had been shouting and lowered her voice. In a calmer tone, she pleaded, “Carrie, just give it to me straight. Please.”
“I received the test results this afternoon.” The doctor sighed. “Sarah, I’m afraid chemotherapy’s our next option.”
He smiled and she came to sit beside him on the bed. They sat in silence as he shuffled through some old baseball cards that he intended to give away.
“I got a letter from UCLA today.”
He stopped shuffling and laid the cards aside.
“I was unconditionally accepted.”
He took her hand. She looked worriedly at him. “I don’t want to leave you here-”
Determined to put on a brave front, he said without hesitation, “I’ll miss you, Lee, but it’s definitely time for you to go.”
She hugged him tightly to her. “Just remember if you ever need me...”
“Thanks, sis.” He was trying his best to swallow past the lump in his throat. “But this is the last place you should ever come back to,” he added, his voice almost devoid of emotion.
“We’ll be fine,” she kept repeating.
To be continued...
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