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[Previously in "Conspiracy Theory": Joey still has feelings of guilt about Pacey's accident. Jen finds out that she is HIV positive. Pacey and Joey have a disagreement about where the fault of the accident lies. Pacey tells her that he just wants to forget the accident, and be who he was before. Because he fears she is only close to him out of guilt and obligation, he asks her for some space. Dawson makes plans with Natasha. Pacey confides in Dawson that he thinks he messed up with Joey.]
In the doctor's office waiting room, Jen seems just as nervous as she was yesterday. In twenty-four hours her life had drastically changed, and she had no idea what she was going to do about it. Her eyes were shifting all over the room. She would glance, and then look away from the only other person in the room. A girl, in her mid-twenties was sitting across from her. She looked healthy, but Jen wondered if she had HIV too. The girl noticed Jen's nervousness. "Is this your first time here?" she asked her.
"Huh?" Jen said.
"Is it your first time here?" she asked again.
"Well, sort of," Jen said.
"I'm Mya," she said, extending her hand.
"Jen," Jen said, shaking Mya's hand.
"So Jen, are you okay?"
"Yeah," she said. "Fine."
"You look a little upset," Mya said.
"Do you have it?" Jen asked her quietly, looking away from her.
"What AIDS?" Mya asked. Jen shook her head. "Yes." Jen didn't know what to say. "Do you want to talk about it?" Mya asked.
"What AIDS?" Jen said.
"Uh-huh," Mya said. "I can lend a sympathetic ear, or I could tell you about it."
"Can you tell that I have it?" Jen asked.
"I can," Mya said. "A normal person can't. You're a young female in the office of an infectious diseases doctor. You're nervous, and I can see in your eyes what I saw in my own after I just found out. It's not like you're stamped on the forehead."
"I just found out yesterday," Jen said.
"How do you feel about it?"
"Scared, afraid, hopeless, helpless. Like the grim reaper is following me around."
"I can understand. You have to realize, though, that the grim reaper is a busy person. I am twenty-five years old. I found out that I was HIV positive eight years ago. I was diagnosed with AIDS two years ago. The grim reaper didn't have time to follow me around."
"You must be strong," Jen said. "I'm not."
"Jen, do you want to hear my story?"
"Do you mind telling it?" Jen asked.
"I'm still living so that I can tell it," she said.
"Okay," Jen said.
"I was fifteen, and in love with the boy next door. I thought that I was doing the responsible thing. I asked my mom to help me with birth control, and although she very much opposed the idea, she took me to the clinic. They put me on birth control pills. They didn't mention anything about condoms, or safer sex, or AIDS. I didn't know what AIDS was. I was fifteen, it was before they knew a lot about it, and it was something that gay people got.
"About two years later I had graduated from high school, and when I moved in with my boyfriend -- the same one -- I looked for a job. They gave me this physical, and did all these tests. I got a call from them saying that I didn't get the job because I had HIV. Which is very illegal now, by the way. Two years later, and I still didn't know what HIV was. I was just like you are, scared. I was scared to death. I was going to die. I was never going to have babies. People were going to look strangely at me, treat me different, discriminate against me. He had it too. We didn't know what we were going to do. So we kept it a secret.
"Another two years passed, and he got sick. We were scared to death about losing the jobs that we did have, about our families hearing about it, about everyone knowing. We went to this clinic that was a two and a half hour drive away. We started all these medicines. It was scary. We had to tell our families. They understood. Really they had to. He got sicker. I used a book, and I found this cancer which had about the same symptoms that he had, and told everyone about that was what was wrong with him. AIDS really tires the body out, and he was so tired, and was fighting so many infections that he couldn't work anymore. We moved in with my mom. I took care of him. I don't want to scare you, but the last stages of AIDS are not pretty. Blindness, dementia, loss of body control, utter weakness, I saw it all. I was there with him when he died.
"I knew that it was only a matter of time before I died. I knew that someone would have to take care of me, like I had to take care of him. That was enough incentive for me to fight. I found a new doctor, close to home. He wouldn't even touch me. Then I found Dr. Morgan. She's a really good doctor. I started getting sick. She was trying all of these different drug combinations on me, and nothing worked. Six months after I was diagnosed with AIDS, I had to quit my job, because I couldn't take the exhaustion anymore. I finally began telling people what was wrong with me. It was okay for a while. I was sick, but not badly. A year ago, I was hospitalized when I just couldn't fight this one infection anymore. My viral load was five times what was good. I had so few t-cells that I could've given them names, and I thought that I was going to die. I got better. I still wasn't good, but I was better. I had slowly made the assent up the ladder of pain medications. I made a goal then that I would see twenty-five. Horrible don't you think? Actually hoping and wishing to live to twenty-five. It was only four months away, but it seemed like an unreachable goal. After I was in the hospital, the visits got fewer and fewer, the calls lessened. I could pick my true friends out.
"Finally, the doctor put me on a different combination cocktail. I had a big party for my twenty-fifth birthday. My viral load is in a pretty good range, and my t-cell count is up. I don't even feel like I need to set a goal for twenty-six. I live in the reality that it could stop working every day though."
"So how do you feel now?" Jen asked.
"I don't feel too bad now. I still have the fatigue, and the pain. My sight is deteriorating. I'm having the early signs of dementia. My life is full, though. I know how to take care of myself. I can do many things that most people can. I tell people what it's like to have AIDS. That's my job, and that's why I'm still here. If I can just hang on, they might have a cure. There is hope. And even though some of the things that I've told you sound scary, you have even more hope."
"What do you mean?" Jen asked.
"How old are you Jen?" Mya asked.
"Fifteen," Jen said.
"You found out that you have the virus early, right?" she asked.
"I just tested negative two months ago," Jen said, hoping that would answer her.
"Your life might be a pain in the ass for a while, but with the right medications, they can keep the virus undetectable in your system. That could be for a very, very long time. Hell, in the past few weeks they announced that you could even have an HIV free baby. There is hope for your life. You can be happy, semi-healthy, fulfilled. You have to know that you can fight it though. You can't give in. And never, never let it get you psychologically. You need to remember that it's possible for you to beat it."
"Is that what you do?" she said.
"This virus has been festering in my body for ten years. It went more than six without being treated. I'm still here, and I'm not knocking on death's door yet. If I die, I am ready to accept it. But I'm not giving up. The hell if I'm going to follow the grim reaper. He is going to drag me away, and not until everything that I need to do is accomplished. God knows when that is. I just don't."
"Thank you," Jen said. "There are probably so many questions that I could ask you, but I can't think of them."
Mya pulled an old receipt and a pen from her purse, and began writing on the back of it. "Here," she said. "If you need someone to talk to, you call me. You know, I go to the support group too. You should come."
"Thank you," Jen said. "Nobody knows about this. You are the only one that I've told. I don't think that going to a support group is the best place for me to go. In a small town like this everyone will know."
"I don't want to push you," Mya said, "but you should tell someone. Friend, family. It will help to have someone to talk to. If you don't, though, promise that you'll call me."
"Okay," Jen said.
"You have to understand two things. It doesn't matter what the people in this town think. They don't pay your bills, they aren't your judges, they don't know what your life is or was like. You need to understand that you are a victim. I don't care how you got this disease. You are a victim of its wrath. You may be partially responsible, but it's not entirely your fault. It's just one of those things that life gives us that we must deal with. Some people understand that. Some don't.
"This may be a horrible analogy, but people step on an airplane fully aware that it may crash. If it does, everyone is sympathetic. Whatever you did to get this disease may have been careless. I will give the people that. You were fully aware that you may get it. You shouldn't be faulted for being HIV positive, any more than those people who got on that plane should be faulted. You carry that with you. Accept that you got this through your own actions, but don't spend time blaming yourself. You can't change it now. You can only deal with it."
"Jennifer," the nurse said, coming out from behind the door.
Jen looked at Mya, and said, "I will. Thank you very much. I feel a little better now."
"Please think about the group," Mya said.
"Okay," Jen said, giving her a half-smile. Mya smiled back at her as she watched her walk through the door.
For the first time since she had found out, she had hope. Between what Mya and Dr. Morgan had told her, she almost believed that she might be able to beat this. Her life was going to change; that was inevitable. However, the nature of the change was up to her. 'I'm going to beat this,' she thought, as she walked back through the waiting room, swinging the bag full of literature she had gotten from the doctor.
When she left the office, she heard her named being called from behind her. "Jen," a female voice said.
Jen turned around to see Natasha running to catch her. "Hi, Natasha," she said in an indifferent tone of voice.
"How are you doing?" Natasha asked, concerned. "Dawson said you weren't yourself today. You're not sick, are you?"
"Sick?" Jen said, thinking. "Yes, I am," she continued, faking a cough.
"A cold?" Natasha asked.
"Yeah," Jen said. "You know, I would hate for you to get sick, so I should go. I really need to get to the pharmacy."
"Oh, sure," Natasha said. "It was nice to see you. I hope you're feeling better."
"Thanks," Jen said.
"If there's anything I can do. . ." Natasha said, attempting to befriend Jen.
"Thanks," Jen said. "I'll see you tomorrow." Jen's tone was genuine. She thought that this could be one of her first changes.
"Tomorrow?" Natasha said to herself, as she watched Jen walk away.
She started to think about what just happened, and noticed that she was in front of Dr. Morgan's office. She linked everything together slowly, and came to the conclusion that Jen may have HIV. It was obvious that Jen wanted it to be a secret, and she was saddened that she wouldn't be able to help her.
[Song: "On and On" by Erykah Badu]
"Are you sure that you feel like doing that?" Mitch asked.
"Yes," Pacey said. "Why does everyone ask me that?"
"We just don't want you to overdo it Pacey."
"Thanks, but I'm fine."
"An increasing appetite is a good sign," Mitch said.
"I'm really fine, Mr. L, really. I think that I might even go back to school tomorrow."
"I don't think that's such a good idea Pacey. Why don't you give yourself until Monday?"
"I never envisioned myself arguing to go to school," Pacey said, as he sat with Mitch at the table.
"I went into the school today," Mitch said.
"For what? Has Dawson been sneaking in the girls locker room again?" Pacey asked, laughing.
"I'd be proud if he were," Mitch joked. His tone turned more serious. "I, um, went to speak with your teachers."
"Why?" Pacey asked, a little upset.
"I just wanted to let them know what was going on, and what to expect when you got back."
"You mean my memory?" Pacey said.
Mitch shook his head. "It will be easier if they know, that way they might understand."
"I know," Pacey said. "I just didn't want any sympathy, or for them to dwell on it."
"They won't," Mitch said. "They all spoke very highly of you."
"Yeah right," Pacey said with a chuckle. "They're probably scared that I'll get them fired just like. . ." his voice trailed off. He was surprised that he would think of Tamara now.
"What?" Mitch asked.
"I'm sure you know," Pacey said. "I don't really want to talk about it."
Mitch shook his head. "They all said that you were doing really well, and that they would work with you so that it could stay that way."
"They said I was doing well?" Pacey asked, shocked.
"You didn't know that?" Mitch asked.
"Well, I guess that I did. It's just that I've never heard anyone say that about me before."
"Pacey you are doing incredibly. You have done a complete 180 since you moved in here. I am so proud of you. I couldn't ask for you to do better than you're doing."
"Before the accident," Pacey added.
"At all," Mitch said. "The accident is just a chapter of your biography. Even that was phenomenal. You were hurt because you didn't let someone else get hurt."
"Just because she wasn't in the hospital, or didn't have any scratches doesn't mean that she wasn't hurt," Pacey said.
Mitch looked confused. "What do you mean?"
"I mean Joey would've rather gotten hit by that car. She feels guilty about it. She keeps telling me that, and tonight she told me that it was hell for her to have to sit there and wait while I was unconscious."
"It was hell for all of us Pacey. You need to understand that she is going to feel responsible. It's just human nature. She can't help it."
"I know," Pacey said. "I can't help how I feel either."
"Huh?" Mitch asked. He was confused again, and wondered if he just wasn't up on the 'hip teen lingo.'
"Mr. Leery, yesterday afternoon I told her to stay away for a few days. It was horrible. I was cold and angry."
"You know that is partly because of the nerve damage?" Mitch asked. Pacey shook his head. "Why did you tell her that?"
"I want to put this behind me, and I don't want her pity. We're not in some middle Eastern country where if you save someone, they become your slave. I want her to be with me because she wants to. It just hurts me that it has to be this way."
Mitch processed what Pacey said for a moment. "Do you. . .love her?" he asked.
Pacey looked away from Mitch. "They say that to be in love the person needs to love you back," he said, trying to avoid answering.
"Do you love her?" Mitch asked again. Pacey looked up from his half-eaten sandwich, and shook his head gingerly. To Mitch, it almost looked like it genuinely pained Pacey to answer. He didn't know what to do or say. "Why did you break up with her?" Mitch asked.
"If I tell you the truth," Pacey said, "will you not say anything?"
"Yes, unless it involves a felony."
"It doesn't," Pacey said. "But it might make you angry."
"I don't think I will," Mitch said. "Try me."
"When Joey and I went out, it was just a hoax. She seemed to love Dawson more than anything, and Dawson just wasn't getting it. So we decided -- I decided that we could pretend to date, and I thought that if Dawson got jealous he would finally want her," Pacey said, ashamed.
"And it worked," Mitch said. Strangely he wasn't bothered by the fact that Pacey had deceived Dawson, but was almost proud of the length Pacey went to for his friends.
"Yeah," Pacey said. "The break up was fake, because the relationship was fake."
"Something wasn't fake," Mitch said.
"It wasn't supposed to happen this way," Pacey said. "When it started, sure I had these feelings for Joey. I did it because I just wanted to spend time with her. Then, I fell in love. I wasn't supposed to. But she was supposed to live happily ever after with Dawson. That was what she wanted, and that was how it was supposed to be. I messed up somewhere along the line. I don't know where, though. She was never supposed to break up with him."
"But they did," Mitch said. "And clearly they are better off as friends, because they fought all the time when they were together."
Pacey raised his hand "Me again," he said.
"Now how does that have to do with you?" Mitch asked.
"Joey told Dawson that I had sex with her," Pacey said.
"We didn't," Pacey clarified, "but that's what she told him. He hated the idea."
Mitch was growing more confused by the minute, and was unsure what to think. "Joey and Dawson are through," he said, "so what's stopping you now?"
"She doesn't feel the same way. She deserves better than me."
"What?" he said. "Whatever happened to proud Pacey? What did you do? Sell your self esteem for a quick buck?"
"Proud Pacey was just an act. He went well with screw-up Pacey. I figured that when I got rid of one, that I might as well have get rid of the other one."
"Did your father do this to you?" Mitch asked.
"Naw," Pacey said. "That's just the way that I am."
"Someone made you feel like this."
"Inadequacies and insecurities are a part of life. We just have to accept them," Pacey said, echoing something he used to tell himself.
'I could kill that man for this,' Mitch thought to himself. He knew that he couldn't say that to Pacey. He wanted to end the conversation before the homicidal tendencies worsened. "We have sure been all over the place in this conversation," Mitch said.
"Thanks Mr. Leery," Pacey said. "You know, I've never had someone who I could talk to. . .as, like a father."
"I'm glad that you can talk to me," Mitch said. "I want you to know that I want to help, to listen whenever I can."
"I do," Pacey said.
Mitch smiled at Pacey as he walked out of the kitchen. Once he was in the living room, he yelled to Pacey, "I have to go out for a little while. I'll be back."
"Okay," Pacey said to him. Pacey knew that he wasn't back to normal yet, when he laid his arm and head on the table, and pushed the sandwich out of the way. After a couple minutes of rest, he fell asleep.
"Yeah," Joey said. "I just wanted to. . .I don't know."
"You want to talk about it?" Dawson asked.
"It just seems like things aren't going right," she said. "I don't know what else to say."
"Pacey told me what happened yesterday," Dawson said.
"What did he say?"
"He told me that he asked you for some space because he thought you were only hanging around out of pity."
"Do you think that's true?" she asked.
"No. I don't think so. Who knows?" she said.
"You don't know?" Dawson asked.
"I don't think so," she said. "I felt for Pacey before this. Can I really help it if the accident intensifies my feelings for him?"
"No," he said, "but you need to understand that his life has been altered, and he just needs some time." Dawson paused, then added, "he's not happy about making that decision."
"So why did he do it?" she asked, confused.
"It's what he thinks is best. He's not pushed you away. It's just for another day. Things will work out," he said.
"Do you believe that?" she asked. "After all that's happened."
"What else can I believe in?" he said. "It's good to expect the negative, I guess, but it doesn't do anything but get you down. Maybe expecting the positive could make it happen."
"I don't follow, Dawson," she said.
"Joey, for once think that the glass is half-full."
"What's the difference?"
"It depends on whether you're drinking or pouring," he said with a smile. She laughed at his little joke. He thought it might be good to get her mind off of her troubles. "Let's watch a movie," he said.
"Okay," she said.
[Song: "Victory" by Puff Daddy]
"I have a warrant for the arrest of Mitch Leery," Doug said.
"What?" she asked. "On what grounds?"
"Assault," Doug said.
Gail stood with a look of disbelief. Mitch walked towards the door, and held his hands out, with fists clenched, and wrists close together. Pacey darted for the door, ducking in front of Mitch. "What's this about?" Pacey asked him, angrily.
"If you care," Doug said. "This man assaulted our father."
Pacey looked at Mitch. Mitch could see the questioning in his eyes, and just shook his head. Pacey couldn't believe what was happening. Just as Doug began to put the handcuffs on Mitch, Joey and Dawson walked down the stairs. "What's going on?" Dawson asked.
No one answered him, and Doug slowly began reading Mitch his Miranda rights.
Note from Kilby: The characters and settings used in this story are not my property, and I am not making any profit from their use. Mya's story is based on the story of someone I met who delivers speeches on living with AIDS when she spoke in one of my classes. I didn't ask her permission to use her story, but I don't think that she would mind, because my main goal was to use it to educate. That is her goal as well.
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