A/N: Guys, where are you? I updated, just for you. Review and updates might come sooner and in greater length. That is a hint in case you could not recognize it. XD
"What are you doing here?" Joyce rasped, after the momentary silence had subsided. "What…what makes you think that you have the right to just barge back in after everything that you did?"
"Meagan wanted me to come," John told her, pulling the chair up and sitting beside it. You had to remain close to Joyce when she was talking or else you couldn't hear her. That voice of hers was not coming back anytime soon, a fact for which he was mainly grateful. "She said that you were calling out my name. Got used to that, didn't you?" he asked smarmily, making sure to put in a dig.
Joyce winced and took another small sip of her water. "I don't want you here," she sighed, making sure to stare at anything but him. John snickered at her, and put his elbows on the railing of her bed.
"That's not true is it?" he asked her, knowing that that it wasn't. "You still feel the same way about me that you did in high school, you're just too afraid to admit it. That's why you left home isn't it? I know this is the first time you've been back since the autumn when you left to go to your dinky law school."
"That dinky law school would be Yale University," Joyce mumbled, feeling her voice lose its power by the second. "And so what if I didn't come back? What was there left to come back to? My parents probably didn't even notice that I'd left, all of my friends were at college with their own lives, and you were gone," she accused, turning back to him with her haunted green eyes.
John shrugged, a small smile lighting up his face. "You can't say that I didn't warn you about it," he told her easily, leaning back in his chair. "You were the only one who knew as a matter of fact. Don't try to tell me that I was unfair to you."
Joyce scoffed at him, the gesture bringing a grimace of pain to her face. "Don't you dare pull this crap on me," she ordered him, struggling to sit up. "Don't you dare do it." She tried to push herself up with weak arms that could not support her weight. John, feeling sorry for the nearly dead woman, tried to help her up. "I can do it myself," she snapped at him, her eyes flashing furiously. John withdrew, sending her a nasty look. "You lost every right to help me when you left."
"I'm sorry if you started this wanting pity, but you're not going to get any," John told her. "How long has it been since then? You still can't let go of it? My God, you're even more pitiful than you were in high school. It was bad enough having you follow me around like a starving puppy in high school, but if you were doing it all this time…you need help Joyce. This just isn't right. I could have you arrested for stalking."
"Nice changing the subject," Joyce muttered to him, sinking back into her pillows. "Sooner or later you're going to have to talk about it, and then you'll realize what you did."
"What I did? did I break your heart? Ruin your poor little girl self-esteem?" John asked, sarcasm dripping from every word that he spoke. "Oh dear, what a horrible person I was when I was fucking eighteen years old! I'm almost thirty now! You think that I can be held responsible for any of the decisions I made back then?"
"You made them, whether it was yesterday or ten years ago!" Joyce said, straining what was left of her voice to start yelling at him. "And it's not like you gave me a lot of opportunity to say all of this when you left!"
"Save it Joyce," John told her wearily. "You're about a decade too late. It's not going to change anything. Let's face it. We're different people. And our little thing was just that-little. It was only your mind that changed it into this great epic love story for the ages. We didn't really mean that much to each other after all."
"I wasn't to you," Joyce whispered, her emerald eyes reflecting the pain that John had come to recognize so well. "I know that I was never anything to you, no matter how hard I tried to love you. I would've given you the world and you threw it back in my face like it was worthless. Don't you dare talk to me and tell me what I felt, don't you dare."
"Joyce, in case you didn't understand the first eight times I told you, let me tell you again!" John said, raising his voice. Joyce immediately stopped her tirade. Her face reflected fear for the first time. His face had turned white with barely contained anger and his words were short and terse. "You're not a part of my life anymore, not that you ever were. I've grown and I've changed, and believe me, I've forgotten all of the hell that was my life in high school. I haven't thought about you for almost eight years now. I have erased you. Do me a favor. Do the same. Try to live your life without me in it. It'll be amazing once you do, I guarantee you. Because this? This is just sad." John chuckled unkindly, his barbs hitting exactly where he wanted them to. He could tell that he had hurt Joyce by the way that she bit her lip, ducked her head, and at the opposite direction.
But she had changed in some ways as well. The old Joyce would have cried, and then would have made some profession of disbelief or love. The adult Joyce quickly changed her expression of disappointment and turned back to John. He could see the hint of tears lurking behind her eyes, but even this trace of weakness was quickly hidden. It was an amazing, and most welcome transition, he had to say that.
"So if you want me gone from your life, and if I was never a part of life…how come you're here?" Joyce asked him, n knowing smile spreading across her face. "If I mean that little to you, then how come you were waiting by my bed for me to wake up? How come you came in the first place?"
John made no answer, and Joyce's smile grew wider. "See, that's what I thought," she whispered, a wise look coming over her face. John looked back at her, resentment as well as admiration shining in his hazel eyes. He had no easy reply for her astute question, and for the first time, Joyce's eyes shone with triumph.
"I thought your Senior Prom was supposed to be this huge event that you'll remember even when you're senile and you won't remember your kids' names," Joyce remarked to Chelsea. Chelsea nodded vacantly in Joyce's direction, but Joyce could tell that she was paying attention. "Well so far tonight I have dodged at least two barfing drunkards, one of them the Captain of the cheerleading squad, I have smelt at least two people who got high before they came to prom, and in a freak accident, I saw a couple attempting to get it on down the corridor where the bathrooms are. This is indeed something that I would wish to forget."
"Oh, it's just for the happy people that the prom is fun," Chelsea remarked. "Not that you're depressed or anything. I'm just saying that you, and I was well, came into this thing with preconceived notions. And you're trying to make it live up to your expectations, and trust me on this, it's not going to."
"How do you know?" Joyce asked, feeling like picking a fight. Chelsea scoffed and looked at her, a large smile on her face.
"Because I know that your idea prom has something along the lines of you standing all alone on the dance floor, forgotten and forsaken, and John waltzing in, scooping you up in his arms for a slow dance and declaring his undying love for you. Do I have it right?" Chelsea asked, a playful smile lighting up her features. Despite the fact that Chelsea had just roundly insulted her, Joyce smiled. When Chelsea made fun of you she did it in such a way that you laughed along with her, even though you understood that the joke was on you.
"You know me too well," Joyce agreed, fiddling nervously with her necklace. She just felt uncomfortable in a place where there were so many happy couples, celebrating their life and youth. She felt like an outsider, a pallbearer in the midst of a wedding. There was no place for single people at the prom.
"I think coming alone was a mistake," she told Chelsea.
"What?" Chelsea asked, leaning in close. Of course we would be near the speakers, wouldn't we? "I can't hear you!" she shouted, grabbing Joyce's arm and pulling her to the drink table. "now what?"
"Nothing," Joyce said, shaking her head sadly, scanning the members of the crowd. Every single other person from her class had the special glow of the prom on their faces. Meagan and her boyfriend…what was his name again…were positively incandescent Benjamin, that was his name. They had been together fairly long, considering Meagan and her boyfriends. It had started with his email and her note, and they had started dating later that day. He seemed fairly nice, and Meagan was happy around him, so that seemed to be working out.
"Come dance with me," Michael demanded, seizing Chelsea's wrist and dragging her out with the couples. Chelsea gave Joyce a sad smile as she was pulled away.
"Oh, that's all right, I'll just stay here then, shall I?" Joyce asked, wishing that she at least had someone to talk to if she couldn't have anyone to dance with. She looked like a complete loser, complete with a dress that it would take her three years to pay for, jewelry that had cost entirely too much for fake stuff, and a hairdo that meant that she could not move her head more than three centimeters.
Joyce rotated so that she could see if there were any late arriving couples, and in the process she caught a speck of red moving quickly. She squinted and saw that it was John, making his way down the hallways of the hotel. Picking up her dress, completely ignoring her hair, she started to walk swiftly after him.
She was soon in a dark and deserted corridor. There was only one fluorescent light glowing, making the white doors gleam unnaturally. "John?" Joyce whispered, the rustling of her gown the only sound in the hallway.
She screamed when someone grabbed her arms. A hand was roughly put over her mouth and her terrified eyes saw that it was John grabbing her. "Come on," he told her, keeping his hand over her mouth and pulling her down the hallway until they reached a small door. He shoved her outside and quickly followed her. Joyce glared at him, feeling angry for the shove and for his general treatment of her.
"What do you think you're doing?" she asked him angrily. A sudden thought came to her and her hands flew up to her hair. "You could have messed up my hair! Do you know that this hair cost me thirty dollars? You'd better hope that it's not messed up," she threatened. Yes, worrying about her hair might have seemed superficial, but she had paid for that hair, damn it! and now John was trying to come and mess it up, just like he always did.
"Stop worrying about your damn hair," John told her. "Why'd you follow me?"
"I don't know," she told him, shrugging nonchalantly. The warm May night surrounded her, the chirping of the crickets the only sound besides their voices. "I just thought that you might need someone to talk to."
"Well, you were wrong," he told her, smirking cruelly at her. "I was just getting out of that hellhole. It was a waste of time going there."
"Well, you paid for a tux, so you might as well stay," Joyce told him carelessly. She tried to tell herself not to care about him, but it failed as it always did. "And you paid for your ticket. So unless you want to waste your money, stay."
"You just want me to stay so that you'll have something to ogle at," he told her nastily. "You don't care about my welfare at all."
"That's bullshit," she told him, her voice shaking with barely contained passion. "I bet that I'm the only person that does care about you at times. Don't you dare accuse me of things that you don't know the first thing about." John looked surprised at the vehemence of her reply and actually stepped back half a pace before returning, with double his first strength.
"Whatever," he said, a sadistic smile now lighting up his features. "You probably followed me just because you thought that you could get some back here. Disappointed now, eh?"
Joyce's face went entirely blank. "Do you enjoy hurting people?" she finally asked him in a dead voice. "Do you enjoy being alone, with everyone hating you? Because it seems that's what you're trying to do. I have spent the entire year trying to love you, trying to care for you, and see past all of your faults, and you keep making it so damn hard. I think that I'm getting through, that maybe you're starting to understand that there is someone in this world that cares whether or not you live or die, and then you come and throw my kindness back in my face." She shook her head, and stepped away from him. "I don't know if I can keep this up or not John," she admitted to him, sinking down on the bench that rested beside several flowerpots.
"So?" John asked, shrugging nonchalantly, though, if he were to admit the truth to himself, he rather wondered why she was giving up, now, after she'd been through so much. "I never wanted your attention in the first place."
Joyce laughed bitterly, throwing her head back, and John wondered if he had finally driven her insane. "That's just the kind of shit that I've been trying to look past, and into the person that exists inside of you," she told him, still shaking with the force of her laughs. "See, because I have a theory. It's that I'm the only thing that kept you alive this entire year." She looked at him seriously, no longer laughing. "Meagan told me about you, when you were a sophomore. She told me that you wanted to kill yourself, and when she told me that I was so scared that you might try to do it again, and I felt like it was my duty to save you. And you won't let me!" she shook her head, the same bitter, self-mocking smile coming on her face again. "It's the greatest irony. You need to be saved, but you're just intent on living in your misery and in your absolute hatred that you can't bear the thought of being saved. I reach out my hand to pull you in and keep you from drowning and you make it out to deeper waters. And I'm through with you. I can't take this anymore. You're killing me John, you really are."
She stood up and walked away. John marveled at the self-control and poise that Joyce now possessed. Why hadn't it come out before now? Had it just been buried and it needed an absolute extreme to pull it out? Being the sadistic person that he was, he decided to test it, just to see if it would hold up. Besides, if he was to admit the truth to himself, he actually didn't want her to go. He had a feeling that if he let her go it would be the last time he would ever see her.
"Don't go," he asked her softly. Was it just his imagination, or did he see her strong steps falter somewhat. "Please…Joyce…don't leave me like this." It wasn't his imagination. She was slowing down. She was turning around. A look of absolute loathing and disgust was on her face, but if he looked deep enough John could see that she also had pity in her eyes. It was working. He felt a surge of triumph, but managed to keep his look of pathetic inferiority on his face. She took one step towards him, and then another. He understood the passion of fishing, about how it was all about reeling your prey in.
She was finally standing in front of him. Ha, where's your self-control now? He thought triumphantly, the grin almost slipping onto his face. He reined in his emotions and looked at her apathetically.
"Come on," he said, holding out his hand to her. She hesitantly took it, and looked at him uncertainly. "They're going to start the slow songs soon, and I know that you couldn't bear to miss that." Joyce could sense a mocking tone in his words, but did not say anything as John led her back into the ballroom.
They were just in time. In order to save money, the Junior Prom had been doubled with the Senior Prom, and the only significant recognition of the all the Seniors happened during the Senior dance. The DJ had just announced the Prom King and Queen, who were to lead the dancing. Joyce's mouth dropped open as she saw Meagan and Benjamin slowly revolving on the dance floor, crowns topping their heads.
"Now there's something that I never would have predicted," John murmured right beside her. Joyce could see Mark and Brooke go out to join Meagan and Benjamin, along with Michael and Chelsea. She felt a slight pressure on her hand and before she knew what was happening, John had led her out to the dance floor.
"I don't think that's going to be the only thing that's unpredictable," she told him softly as he put his ahnd on her waist. John looked at her strangely, but did not say anything to contradict her.
And indeed, Joyce was right. As Brooke was scanning the crowd for familiar faces, she caught sight of a familiar crimson head. Her eyes widened as she realized who he was dancing with. "Holy hell," she whispered, dragging her eyes away from the couple and fixing them quickly on Mark.
Michael was another who saw the couple together. He pointed them out to Chelsea, watching the expression of disbelief go across her face. "Yeah, who's for the theory that we're living in an alternate universe?" he asked her sardonically.
Joyce slowly rotated with John, her eyes never leaving his face. Halfway through their eyes locked on each other, and they could not tear them apart. I love him, Joyce realized, taking in every small feature of his face, every single flaw and freckle. He's dished out the worst at me, and I still love him. Does that make me incredibly weak, or incredibly strong?
John's thoughts were running on somewhat of a similar path. What's the worst that she could take? He wondered, staring intently at the top of her head. Isn't it amazing that I can hurt her so deeply and she still stays? She still has belief in me after all this. What's the worst thing that I could say to her, to make her hurt so deeply that she'd never come back, never love me again? John realized to himself that he had no answer to this question. There was one thing in the world that was stronger than he was and that was Joyce's persistence.
Joyce was praying that the song would never end, that she would never have to leave this happy moment, but the music came to its crescendo and then slowed. Her eyes didn't leave John's but he tore his eyes away from her and stepped away from her. What's the worst you take? He wondered, biting his lip uncertainly.
"So long and goodnight," John murmured to Joyce, ripping his hand from hers and walking away. For the first time that she could remember, Joyce did not feel forlorn as he walked away from her. Somehow, she knew he'd be back. A faint smile lit her face as she realized that she had won in this game. While John might not love her, or even like her that much, he would be back. She had captured his mind with her persistence, and now he had no choice but to come back.
Brooke and Chelsea rushed over to see her after the dance was over and John had left. "What happened?" Brooke asked. Joyce smiled and shrugged, her smile fading at Brooke's next words. "Did you drug him or something?"
"Just forget about it," Joyce said, shaking her head and standing with Brooke and Chelsea, watching the couples rotate on the dance floor. "Let's just be happy for once, please?" Brooke and Chelsea nodded, smiling as for once, their lives didn't seem to be falling apart in front of them.
"See, that's what I thought," Joyce said, smiling maniacally. John wondered whether or not she could be classified as human anymore. She tried to push herself up from the hospital bed, but her arms could not support her weight and she fell back to her back, wheezing painfully. She coughed and wheezed and John was terrified that she would die without him being able to stop her.
A harsh beeping came from the heart monitor. John looked at it in terror as he saw the spiky lines go lower and lower. He pushed the call button desperately, his own heart racing with terror. A nurse came running in and her eyes widened when she saw the heart monitor beside Joyce's bed. "We need to get a doctor in here," she panted, starting to push Joyce's bed out of the room. Another nurse came and joined her, both of them straining to get through the door quickly.
"Please get out of the way, we've got a crash here!" the nurses called, pushing Joyce wildly through the hallways, the other nursing keeping Joyce's IV bag suspended. John tried to follow them, but he was stopped by yet another nurse. Where do they all come from? "No sir, I'm sorry, you can't come any further," she shouted, holding her arms outstretched. "We'll send you word when we're done. Please stay back." John walked to the end of the hallway, staring after them, his adrenaline slowing down. Please let her be all right, he prayed, hearing her disappear. Oh God, if I ever asked you for something let it be this. Please don't' let her die.
He heard running footsteps come from behind him and he winced as he turned around. Matthew and Jacob came running, looking at the disarray left behind in Joyce's room. John swallowed but could not say anything at first to the two angry men. "What the hell happened?" Jacob demanded angrily, pushing John up against a wall. "What the hell happened?"
"She had a crash," John said, though he knew that wasn't the entire truth. He angrily shoved Jacob's hand off of his shoulder. Their argument had pushed her fragile system over the edge to the point where her body could not sustain the stress. "She…she suddenly got sick and the nurses came and took her back into the operating room. I don't know what's going to happen."
"She was awake?" Matthew asked, coming close to John. "She was awake and you didn't bother to tell anyone?" John could not meet Matthew's accusing brown eyes.
"Yeah, she was awake," he mumbled to the floor. He finally looked up straight into Matthew's eyes, thinking about how Joyce had looked when they wheeled her out. He finally knew what the worst was that Joyce could take. The worst that she could take was her own body and her personality. Those would be the things that eventually killed her, not him. At least, that was what he was going to tell himself until someone proved him wrong.
Matthew shook his head, more like he was disappointed with John rather than he was angry at him. "Haven't you done enough to her?" he asked softly before walking away with Jacob. "We're going to have to call everyone else," John heard him saying to Jacob as the two walked down the hallway to the evil Waiting Room.
John milled about in Joyce's former room. He could almost hear her soft voice saying to him the words that Matthew had.
Haven't you done enough?