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Half of the childcare centre had chicken pox, and Alex had been lucky to escape unscathed. As a result, with most of the other children showing signs of having caught it, Annabelle had closed down the centre for a week. Alex was overjoyed at the prospect of spending more time with his Mommy, but it wasn't exactly what Joey needed right now. Her first class on that Monday was drama-today they were supposed to be storyboarding after they were given their basic plot line.
She'd spent the weekend trying to buy Alex new shoes, but all had been too expensive. Finally Joey had reworked the budget, cutting out her own need for new shoes, in order to buy Alex a smartly priced, water-proof pair of leather boots. He wore them today, along with a new coat that she'd found for ten bucks at some bargain store. It was in perfect condition. Sometimes you just had to look to find the sale. It seemed most of Joey's time these days was trying to solve money problems.
She walked down the halls, trying to hurry Alex along, his little legs moving as fast as possible while he stared with wonder at the high ceilings, bright windows, thousands of giant people in bright clothes and the riot of noise that surrounded him. Nobody paid any attention to him and Alex was feeling a little put out. Or so he told Joey.
They were already five minutes late, and she didn't want to be any later, so with a quick swoop she picked him up and started to run. His breakfast was in her hands, and she promised he could eat in a just a few minutes. "Now Alex, this is Mommy's classroom. This is where she learns things. Because you can't go to Mrs. Ryan's, you are special enough to come to Mommy's class. But you have to be really quiet, and let Mommy and the other grown-ups work."
"Will there be other children?"
"No Alex. You'll be the only special one." They were almost there; it was the next classroom.
"What about toys?"
"I brought some of your ones from home. But you have to be quiet when you play with them. This morning we might go to the park, or somewhere nice, but this afternoon Mommy has a history class. And the teacher probably won't be very happy. As for Mr. Farson this morning-I don't know what he'll think." Joey hadn't meant for Alex to hear the last bit, but apparently, he had.
She pushed the classroom door open as Alex said, in his carrying, piping voice, "Is Mr. Farson a mean man?"
Every head in the class swiveled to the doorway. Mr. Farson stopped in mid-sentence. Alex looked around and Joey tried not to blush. I will not be ashamed of my Alex. To a stranger the picture they painted was actually quite a lovely one. Two dark heads-bent towards each other, the girl with her arms tight around what one would presume to be her son. The little boy had big blue eyes, while the girl's were a vivid green. Everyone was still watching. Joey was trying to think of something to say when Mr. Farson grinned and said, "I certainly hope not Alex. Have you come to learn drama?" Alex rose to the occasion.
"Mrs. Ryan closed the childcare for a week, 'coz the kids have chicken pox, but not me. And so I've come here. But not to learn-I want to play with my blocks, and I will be quiet. And the history teacher won't like me. That's what my Mommy said anyway. You're from the pizza place, aren't you? My Mommy looked pretty that night. You were there with that man." Alex's little finger pointed to Mr. Cornwall. "You said my Mommy had a nice smile."
"Alex," said Joey sharply. She tried to find a seat. The only one left was beside Dawson. She refused to look at him. Mr. Farson handed them their assignments on a piece of purple paper. Dawson had no idea why he noticed that. The paper was the same colour as the cardigan Joey was wearing. Between them, almost like a barrier, Alex played with his blocks. Occasionally he asked Joey something and she answered in whispered tones, smoothing his hair and making him blow his nose. He turned their assignment over. Mr. Cornwall had told them that each of the assignments had been individually picked.
"Um, Joey," he said. "You wanna read the assignment?" Joey stared at him.
"Could be a step in the right direction Dawson." He handed it over, and she took the opposite end of it. Locks of her untidy hair kept falling forward and impatiently Joey kept tucking them back. Alex was pulling at her leg and she handed him a piece of paper and a pencil. How had she known what he wanted? Her eyes flickered over the writing, and Dawson watched fascinated as the green, translucent orbs, round and perfect took in what they were seeing. He had always loved Joey's eyes.
"Individually picked they said," Joey spoke after a few minutes. Alex was happily drawing away. Mr. Farson skirted around the boy, telling the class they were free to go.
"Come back next lesson with lots of ideas," called Mr. Cornwall as the class moved out of the lecture room. Joey handed Dawson the piece of paper pack.
"Alex. We're gonna go someplace else. So, let's pack up your things and unpack them when we get there."
"Where are we going?"
"Don't know. It'll be an adventure." Winter had actually blessed them with a snow-free sun-shining day. The grass looked positively green and inviting. Dawson suggested they go to the park down the road, about a block away and with a nod of her head, Joey agreed.
They had to walk slowly and it irked a little with Dawson, but he saw Joey's unfaltering patience and soft hands when it came to Alex and he decided he could be that patient too. When they reached their destination Dawson spoke up. "I'll go get us a coffee and something to eat."
"You don't have to do that," Joey said quietly.
"No. But I want to. Will Alex have anything?" Alex opened his mouth and Joey answered for him.
"No, he won't. He's got a muffin in the bag. Don't you Alex-boy?"
"No fair," said the three-year-old.
"You didn't expect me to be fair, did you Alex?" Dawson grabbed his bag and headed off. He was walking back with the burning hot coffee when the idea began to form. He was watching Alex and Joey as they played between the trees, running and dodging, Alex desperately trying to outrun his aunt.
Quietly, he put the coffee down and pulled his camera out of his bag. He still had the same one-couldn't afford a better model. He crept a little closer, and flicked record. They didn't see him as they continued to run, weaving around Joey's bags, Joey finally grabbing Alex. She threw him up in the air and tickled him, his shrieks bringing a smile to Joey's worn face. She fell down to the grass and let Alex fall on her stomach.
Dawson zoomed in, and captured the faces, Alex kissing Joey... Then he tickled her, his little fingers finding the sensitive crevices Dawson once had years ago when they were children. Joey's hair had fallen out and she laughed, rolling on the ground.
Dawson arrived about ten minutes later as Alex doodled on a piece of paper. "What took so long?" she asked, taking the black coffee, which was still very hot. He handed her a chocolate donut.
"You know me too well," she muttered. "There was a queue. I saw a few other students sitting at the tables."
"Oh," she said, arched her eyebrows and took a bite of donut. It was hard. It was very hard. They saw each other every second day and worked on their film. And it was unbelievably hard. She never said anything else about their past, about what had happened to her and him, but it was always there though, always in the front of their minds when they said anything. And worse was when they touched, because they did have to.
Their handpicked assignment said, "Period piece. Young woman dealing with the traumatic loss of a lover-can be done in any form, only allowed to hear the one woman speak throughout."
So they'd discussed it, and decided they'd do a silent film. A lot more of the acting responsibility lay on Joey, but she was happy with that, and she'd pointed out that Dawson wasn't allowed to use any language to be emotive.
Alex had gone back to the childcare centre just before they started filming and that last Monday before the film was due-the Friday; they'd raided the costume department. Finally, they'd found what they were looking for. It was a hoop-skirt dress, with layers of ruffles and petticoats that drove Joey up the wall. Dawson had to verbally remind her not to stride out so long. She'd thrown him the look he knew so well, and it had caught him in the stomach, twisting his gut. The dress was a green colour-silk, with a tight waist, dipping front, no sleeves and white gloves. The problem was that she had to be hooked into a corset to wear it...
He'd been waiting for her to come out of the change rooms at the costume department when she'd said in a loud voice, "Dawson, you better know how to hook up a corset."
"It's joined on to the skirt-the costume department took a bit of short cut. Before I can pull the bodice up, I have to be laced into this corset."
"And what makes you think I'd have any idea?"
"I don't expect you to have any idea, but at least you can actually see it. I think I know what you have to do. I'll talk you through it." Most of the other directors were waiting around for their actors to change and all of them were listening to the exchange with interest.
"Well, open the door Joey," Dawson had said impatiently.
"Relax Joey, I'm quite sure it's nothing I've never seen before." Dawson refrained from pointing out that he could hardly do anything from out there. The door was swung open. She stood holding the corset up to her chest, her perfect shoulders showing.
"When did you have the chance to see a corset, Mr. Leery? Or perhaps I don't want to know the answer to that."
"Very funny," he muttered.
"So what do I do here?" He closed the door on the wry grins and dancing eyes. At least everybody else found it amusing. He was trying very hard not to consciously connect the thought of Joey, with her finely sculpted back showing, her shoulders completely bare. And he forced himself not to look at her reflection. Her hair was already up, in a series of complicated curls that left Dawson amazed. Joey's straight dark hair had become a massive pile of quivering whorls that moved with her; a few ran down the back of her neck.
"You know when you tie laces up and you pull from the bottom to make them tighter?" Dawson was nodding slowly and before she had to instruct him about the rest, he grabbed the bottom lace and pulled.
"Ow!" she exclaimed and glared at him. He was already pulling the next lace, impossibly tight.
He kept pulling, asking her if she could breathe. Joey nodded, not trusting herself to speak-thank God she hadn't lived in the days of corsets. Her body jerked every time he pulled, and she grimaced, holding onto the hook on the back of the door. She hoped her curls didn't fall out.
She could practically feel her kidney's meeting for the first time, their curved walls touching. Her liver was moaning and her lungs were at the stage where you couldn't have distinguished between the two of them. His hands moved up the corset, pulling even tighter, looking very professional as the laces whipped and sang through the holes. He reached the top one, pulling at the two separate laces now. His knuckles kept maddeningly brushing the curve of one of her shoulder blades. He couldn't stop it, and Joey felt herself furiously blushing.
"There we go, Joey," he said.
Slowly, she pulled the bodice up, shimmying into it. There were no zips-Dawson had been forceful when he said he wanted authenticity. A zip would ruin the entire effect as the beginning of the film stared with the view of Joey's back, her fine neck. The two emerged, and took in the grins of their peers. Joey tried to stride away but her legs kept getting caught in the skirts. Dawson tried hard not to smile.
Peter pressed stop and turned to look at Jack. His friend was staring at the television. He could see Jack's eyes a little red, rimmed with tears he hadn't cried. Peter felt the same way-drained, saddened, but somehow uplifted. The film had only gone for about ten minutes. It had been completely silent, without even music, something that had surprised Jack a little. He knew little about the art of directing. His job had been to pay attention to Joey's acting, but even he knew that this Dawson kid was brilliant.
It had opened with the back of Joey's head: her thin neck, with its white skin and dark, lustrous curls. Her face had turned to the side, as the camera moved back. The camera took in all of the features, including her petite hands. The woman-Joey-had been a perfect lady, even after her lover had died. She'd gone about her business, quietly frustrated at her loss, her outlet being seen when no one else was around. Tightened hands, thrown vases. Finally, it had ended with Joey suddenly walking out of her chambers at the dusk, the rain falling all around her, her hair wet and clinging to her scalp, her dress plastered to her body.
Peter continued to watch Jack. His friend eventually said, "One day, I can say I taught him. One day I can say I knew him."
Joey was heading out to pick up Alex when Will came banging at the door. "Some boy on the phone. Dawson or something. What a name!" She followed her super down the stairs, wondering why he'd called her.
"Hello," she spoke cautiously into the receiver.
"Joey. Joey, is that you?" His voice kept breaking up.
"You're breaking up Dawson."
"I know, I know. I can hear you though. I have-I'm at the airport Joey. I got a transfer to California University-San Francisco. Someone dropped out of the program, so I have to go now, or I'll miss it. Now. Pacey said he could-I could stay with him. Joey…" there was a silence. "Oh, damn it Joey, that's the final boarding call. I have to go-Joey, I'm sorry. Sorry. I wanted to tell you that-" he breathed on the other end of the phone. "I'll call when I get there. Okay?"
His revelation had stabbed through her heart. He was leaving. Just now, when they'd finally…when they'd finally what? What had they finally done? Not argued about the issue at hand. But she couldn't bear the thought the loosing him again.
With desperation she said, "Yes. Call me. Or I'll call Pacey."
"And Joey," he said. "I have a reason."
"Um, reason?" she'd asked, trying to make her eyes focus on something, anything.
"For throwing my life in your face. It's because I want you to be a part of my life. Good bye Joey," he said, and suddenly he was gone. Again. At least this time Jen, her mouth and tongue, her tears and her vulnerability had been nowhere in sight. Small consolation, she thought, and went out into the snow. She couldn't feel it touching her.
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