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He stared in shock at the face that was as familiar to him as his own, and knew immediately that she was just as surprised. They stared in silence at one another. The class rustled impatiently, the directing students knowing Dawson was good and wanting to see some action.
Mr. Farson cleared his throat. "Josephine. Dawson, when you're ready." Dawson tried to clear his head, shaking it a little, before forcing himself to focus. He knew Joey was doing the same, by the way her eyebrows tightened just a little.
"Ms. Potter," he said.
"Joey," she interrupted as if she had never met him before.
"Joey then." The name came out of his mouth as if it hadn't been years since he said it, and he reveled in saying it again. Just to see her was…she was waiting. "I'm Dawson."
"Pleased to meet you Dawson."
"Likewise Joey. So tell me, you a small-town girl, or a city chick?" Ease her in-nice and familiar. Every plan he'd made was completely out the window.
"Small town girl. I come from a small town on the East Coast."
"Nice place down there. So what do you miss about it now you're here in Chicago?" She'd been here all this time?
"Ah, in Capeside-where I come from, when you passed people in the street, you'd smile and say hello. When you were in a shop or at a bus stop, you'd have a conversation. Even if you didn't know them. Here, in Chicago, when people walk past me, their eyes slide off me as if I'm like the eighteen thousand other people they've seen today. They don't even see my face-and if they do, it's gone within two seconds."
"So, a big jump from Capeside to here, huh? Takes a bit of getting used to."
"Well-" she hesitated a little. "About three years ago I left Capeside and moved to Seattle, but we were actually just outside of Seattle, on farmland with no one else around. So, yeah, it still is a bit of a jump."
"We?" asked Dawson carefully. Joey stared imperceptibly at him.
"We. My nephew and I."
"Your nephew?" Joey looked at the ground, letting a small silence fall. The rest of the class was spellbound.
"My sister and her husband," Joey simplified the term, "died in a car accident when I was fifteen and their son, Alex was about nine months old. Hit and run-a drunk driver. The driver was just passing through."
"What about your parents?" He studied Joey for a second. He knew she was pushing the sympathy side a lot. But this was also pretty painful for her.
"My mom died of cancer when I was in the sixth grade." Joey spoke in a tear-filled, husky voice. Half of the class were crying themselves. "My Dad died shortly after my sister. He was killed in a prison break gone wrong. He wasn't even trying to escape. He was shot by one of the guards."
"So you take care of Alex?" he asked softly. "Yeah. We live in this tiny apartment, and he calls me Mom. He doesn't know I'm his Aunt Joey. I'll tell him one day when I know he'll understand, but right now, I want him to live in the fantasy of a mother. I wish he could have a father. I love him more than my next breath."
"That's pretty powerful love." Dawson was so sympathetic, so caring, and so compassionate in just the way he spoke.
"It's very easy to love him that much. He's my flesh and blood-I may as well have given birth to him. I think of him as my son."
"What's your first memory?" said Dawson, changing tacks, trying to mix her up a little. Joey didn't miss a beat, and Dawson could feel himself smiling. She hadn't changed one iota.
"Waking up with my best friend when we were three."
"What was her name? Your best friend."
"Him. He was a…a he."
"That's a little unusual. I guess it must have been strange."
"When we were kids it was fine, but when we got older it was very difficult-very hard to hold onto the friendship without letting attraction get in the way."
"So you were attracted to your best friend?" He had the class on a knife-edge, and this wasn't even an important question. Peter Farson realized what Jack had been talking about.
"Very attracted to him." Her eyes ground into his and she smiled very faintly, sending electricity through his body. Dawson opened his mouth to try to speak but his teacher addressed the class.
"That's it for today class. Next lesson you start discussing your films. Meet here, hook up with your partner and then you can go wherever you want for the rest of the day. See you then."
Dawson looked back at the desk, to see Joey gone. She forced herself not to cry all the way home. The snow bit at her, and extremities lost feeling as she concentrated on not crying. When she made it back to the apartment, she was too cold to cry. And she had to go out again in half an hour to pick Alex up. She threw her coat across the room and tried to do the same with her scarf but it floated in the air and effectively went nowhere.
Frustrated she tried to find something else to throw, but a photo of Alex was the closest thing and the sight of her nephew calmed her down a little. He'd been here, in Chicago for months. Months and months, experiencing the same weather as her, watching the same television, walking down the same streets. For some inexplicable reason they'd both ended up here. Perhaps it was Fate.
"No," Joey growled angrily. "Screw Dawson Leery. Asking
me about my shitty life. The nerve of that naïve, stupid, inexperienced,
annoying, pain-in the-arse, abandoning, bailing…" she ran out of
words and let our her breath. "Friend," she said softly.
"Best friend." Sighing she leant against the door. "The
love of my life." God, she sounded corny.
THREE YEARS EARLIER
She'd been at Dawson's when Deputy Doug and Pacey had shown up. She and Dawson had been in the kitchen, searching for something to eat. Gail and Mitch were in the living room, both reading the newspaper. They'd found some corn chips and were making their passage back through the living room when there was a sharp rap on the front door. Rather then let his parents get up, Dawson walked the few extra steps and opened it up.
It was Deputy Doug. Behind him, Pacey was walking up the steps. "Dawson. Can I come in?" Deputy Doug sounded serious. Shrugging, Dawson stood back to let the man pass. Joey was now by his side, and Gail and Mitch were walking over to the door. Deputy Doug stopped just over the threshold. Somehow, all of them knew something was wrong. Pacey arrived, and he was holding Alex.
"Pacey, what are you doing with my nephew?" Joey was smiling as she said it, staring at Pacey with a perplexed expression. Pacey didn't answer-he could barely look Joey in the eyes. In his arms, Alex whimpered just a little. "Pacey?" Suddenly Joey's eyes squinted a little. "Is that blood on his shirt?" Her voice was suddenly wavering a little, and Dawson could see the small spattering of red over Alex's shoulder. "Pacey?" Her voice was fast loosing control.
Doug cleared his throat, and tried to say something but he couldn't, the words seeming to catch in his mouth. Joey was horrified, swinging her eyes back to Pacey for some sort of explanation. Joey's body was lined up against Dawson's and every muscle in her body was tightened. Behind him, his parents weren't breathing so well. The look on Pacey's face was awful. Torn and broken, sympathetic and dying with anguish.
"It's your sister," Pacey said softly, barely audible, but every word hammered through Dawson's mind. There they'd been standing; Gail behind her, Mitch behind his son, Dawson to her right, holding the corn chips. She had the glasses of water. Deputy Doug was looking at nothing and Pacey was looking into her eyes, holding the whimpering Alex as tightly as he could. "It's your sister," he'd said in a husky voice. "Her and Bodie…" his words were broken, quiet, but furiously loud in her mind, a cavern of empty space. She stared at him. "They were hit by a truck, Joey. They died on impact," he'd said.
She remembered the glasses hitting the floor, though she couldn't recall having dropped them. The water bounced out and onto the floor in large splashes, in slow motion. She'd looked down at them horrified at dropping water on Gail's carpet. She was trying to form an apology, but her mouth wasn't working. Alex's cries barely reached her ears. Someone else was crying-it was Gail she realized. Mitch's hand was on her shoulder, his thumb rubbing in circled motions. Deputy Doug was trying to explain, but she wasn't listening. Pacey cut his brother off with a hand on his wrist. Deputy Doug's querulous voice stopped assaulting her mind. Alex's cries broke through her frozen thoughts again, but it didn't register.
Died on impact, kept running through her mind. Died, died, died. DEAD, something seemed to scream at her, jarring her back into thought, her body jerking a little. She was shaking off Mitch's hands, barely seeing Alex. She turned desperately, trying to find him in her hazy vision. And there he was his eyes glistening with tears, his hands helplessly close to her, but not wanting to touch her until she signaled to him. He knew her so well.
A loud sob, barely a human sound, shattered through her unmoving vocal
cords, low and harsh. Her hands weren't moving; her legs were numb. With
the greatest effort she could exert, she made it to Dawson's arms. They
closed around her, firm, comforting, strong. Her tears fell silently on
As Dawson walked down the hall, the phone on his level was ringing.. No one else was round. Without realizing, he picked it up. "Yes?"
"Dawson man, it's Pacey."
"Pacey," he said deadly, trying to connect the thought. It made it through and everything he associated with Pacey flew through his mind. "Pacey," he said his voice more in control.
"You okay, Dawson?"
"Yeah, I'm fine," he said, realizing his voice was a little hysterical. "Just fine. Why wouldn't I be? Just bumped into Joey-she's my partner-taller, thinner. Hair's really long. Well not much longer then before. Still got the same green eyes. Face was pinched."
"Joey? Our Joey?"
"My Joey," said Dawson quickly. "My Joey."
"Okay, your Joey. How do you think she's doing?"
"How's she doing? I'm the one on the phone, going hysterical, wondering if I'm quietly going insane and you want to know how she is?" Pacey let his breath out loudly.
"Dawson," he said sharply. "Think for two seconds. What was the last thing she saw of you? What's her life been like since? Think for two seconds you stupid, selfish man." Pacey's harsh words cut him right back down, and every ounce of hysteria disappeared.
"Oh God, I can't believe I was so stupid."
"I can. Listen to me. I have her number. Ring, find out the address-go and see her in person. You have to go, okay. Go." Pacey reeled off the number and then rang off. Dawson stared at the numbers for a little moment. Then he picked up the phone.
Alex was still finger painting when she arrived, so they left twenty minutes later then they usually did. The painting was of her-all dots and lines and swirls, and like a true mother, Joey said it looked just perfect, and she wasn't really that beautiful. He'd giggled, and kissed her. She'd carried him home, wanting to spend as little time outside than she really needed to. He'd chattered as they'd walked through the snow. Nonsense talk, gibberish that meant nothing to her. He was humming as they came up the steps. Just before they reached the landing Mrs. Peters from down the hall came hurtling down. She stopped on the step below Joey.
"Josephine dear," she said, "we were all wondering what you were planning on doing these Christmas holidays. You and Alex spent Thanksgiving alone and everything and we don't want that for Christmas do we?" Joey stared blankly at her neighbour.
"Ah, we're," she hadn't made any plans, "probably going back to Capeside, but I'm not too sure."
"Well, if you don't, you and little Alex are completely welcome to come and spend Christmas with my family."
"Well thank you Mrs. Peters. I'll keep that offer in mind. You have a good time at the theatre tonight." It was Wednesday and Mrs. Peters always went to the theatre with her sister. Joey continued up the stairs.
"Are we going to Capeside?" asked Alex, as his little arms tightened around her neck a little.
"Loosen your grip a little honey. Just a little, thank you Alex. We might. I don't know. We might go back to Seattle and visit James. Who knows?"
"I'd like Capeside better!"
"You don't remember it Alex."
"No, but you say it is good."
"It's beautiful in Capeside. Our house is right on the creek-it's a big house. The bathroom is the same size as the bedroom. And the town is nice and small, with lots of interesting things to see. And the gardens are really pretty. And it's right by the sea."
"I'd like to go there, Mommy."
"We'll see Alex. It would cost a lot of money to get back there. Train tickets to get there and get back and other things too. But we might go."
"Who's that Mommy?"
"Where Alex?" Alex was pointing at the door to their apartment. Joey followed his finger. He was pointing at Dawson. She stared at Dawson, her anger flaring again, until Alex repeated question reached her ears.
"Who's that? Mommy?" Joey swallowed, feeling that simple bodily function was impossibly hard.
"That's Dawson, Alex. Remember I was telling you about him the other day. He was there when you were born."
"Why is he here?"
"I don't know." Dawson stood up, a little unsure of himself, his hands behind his back. I wish I didn't know him so well, thought Joey. She confidently strode forward, ignoring her weak knees and spinning head. Somehow, she got the door open. She had to push with her shoulder again, trying not to jostle Alex. Joey left the door open as she walked into the freezing apartment. "Alex, baby, why don't you go into our room and see how Teddy's doing. Don't forget to give him and a bath and his medication."
Alex gave his aunt a quick kiss before running off. Soon, Alex wouldn't kiss her at all-he'd be too big for that and Joey enjoyed every spontaneous show of affection he made.
But Dawson was behind her. She knew. If he hadn't closed the door she would have known. Slowly she turned, trying to form thoughts in her mind, trying to work out what she wanted to say, but everything she thought of fell flat against her scrutiny.
Painful silence stretched, minutes passing, while Joey couldn't look at Dawson, although his eyes were on her. The only thing that could be heard was Alex's voice that sounded like a bird twittering behind the door. Finally Dawson spoke. "You're looking thin Joey."
"It happens," she answered guardedly. He had to speak now and Joey continued not to look at him, looking at the ground, her nails, the window, the kitchen. Anything but what was in front of her.
"Yeah. Lots of stuff happens. But, uh, how have you been?"
"How have I been? That's an original question. I mean, aren't you going to ask me something a little more meaningful. Oh, I forgot, you already did all that, in front of thirty-eight strangers and two teachers…"
"Joey-" said Dawson slightly exasperated. "Could we not?"
"Okay." She acquiesced too easily and Dawson tried to steel himself. She ran her hands down her jeans. "So you left Capeside, huh? How are your parents?"
"They're good. Very happy to have me out of town. Their separate love lives go on unabated. Of course, they have their sex slip-ups all the time. They're together, but don't live with one another."
"I'll bet. I'll also bet that Jen misses you," said Joey, her voice suddenly sharp again. She couldn't help herself-Dawson always knew how to push her buttons and now he was doing it without speaking. Dawson raised his eyebrows at her.
"Could we please not get into this?"
"Come on Dawson. Why not? You got to know all of my sordid details, and I'm quite certain yours are much better. They always were Dawson. Or at least you always made them bigger."
"Please Joey," he said, almost begging. "I didn't come here to argue with you. I didn't."
"Then why did you come here?" Alex's voice rose. He was telling Teddy off, and she could hear him powerfully in her mind, a reminder of her life.
"I don't know Joey."
"Then leave. Let me get on with my life. We'll do this film and that's it. Go, Dawson. Go on, back to your dorm room and your parents and your money and your girlfriend. Go back to your television and your telephone, and when you may have figured out a reason for coming here and throwing your life in my face, come back." Joey turned away and forced herself not to listen as he left. Quietly she sat on the floor and burst into tears. She cried for Bessie and Bodie and her father. She cried for everything she had lost. She just let herself cry.
Alex came out. "Mommy? What's wrong?" He had never seen Joey cry.
"Nothing, Alex. Nothing's wrong. Just, um…" Joey tried to clear her eyes. "Just come give Mommy a hug. She needs it." She didn't think she could have held him tighter.
Pacey very nearly went and banged his head against a brick wall. He barely contained his desire to fly to Chicago and beat the living crap out of Dawson. The fact that his friend could be so unbelievably gifted and intelligent, yet so oblivious, ridiculous and blind was a fact that continually astounded him. No matter how times Pacey told him, no matter how many different ways he tried, Dawson never quite got the message.
Dawson may have been the only person in the world who understood Joey, but there were some signals he completely missed. Like the fact that the girl was in love with him, and still hurt and bitter about the fact that the last time she saw Dawson, he was playing tonsil hockey with Jen. Even if Pacey sent Dawson a video about it, outlining every item of Joey's obvious behaviour, Dawson wouldn't have got it. He wasn't going to until he lost Joey again, and knew that in this life, on this world, there was only one woman for him, and she went by the preferred name of Joey.
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