"Dawson?" She finally uttered. Her voice was weak and questioning.
"Gretchen..." he replied, staring at her. Dawson swallowed. "What are you doing here?" The two maintained about three feet of distance between them.
"I..." She seemed at a loss for words, stopping her speech to think, "you know I went on that road trip..."
"And it brought you to LA..." He looked down at the floor then up at her, "Did, did you know I was here?"
"No," Gretchen shook her head, her eyes dropping.
Dawson looked to Colin suddenly. "You saw those photos...yet didn't tell me you knew her?" He questioned, his eyes dancing between the two.
"I didn't want to Dawson. I mean, I was just trying to process it myself, I didn't want to interfere with anything"
"Wait so you knew I knew Dawson?" Gretchen inquired. "And you two are...friends. Did you bring me here so we could run into each other accidentally on purpose?"
"No, Gretchen, that's not it at all. I've been trying to keep you two apart all night--" He admitted a little too quickly.
Dawson held out a hand to stop Colin, moving towards the two of them, leaving Vanessa confused standing there and watching this all go down, "Stop right there Colin" he interjected, "what in the world would give you the right to keep us apart? What did you tell him, Gretchen?"
"Nothing, Dawson! I didn't tell him anything," she paused, looking to her side. Her tone changed from annoyed to sad and forlorn, "there's nothing to tell."
Dawson's eyes switched to Gretchen instantly, his heart breaking all over again. He didn't know what she meant by that, that there was nothing to tell. If she had nothing to say about them then he must have been in a completely different relationship. "Nothing to tell?" Dawson asked softly, moving closer to Gretchen, "what do you mean, Gretch?"
Gretchen looked up at Dawson slowly, her eyes scanning his body before meeting his own. She gazed into them for a few moments, absorbing the confusion that lay within. "I...I" she hesitated, "I don't really know...actually."
"Yes, you do." He stepped in even closer to her again, never breaking the emotional stare they were sharing. Dawson was almost in kissing distance of Gretchen and he took her hand in his, his heart pounding in his chest. "Talk to me, Gretch"
Colin and Vanessa stood there watching them. Gretchen shut her eyes and turned her head as Dawson took hold of her hand. She looked almost as though it pained her to be this close to him. She took in a deep breath of air and exhaled it slowly before looking back at Dawson. The tension overwhelmed them both, and she was still in such shock that she could barely speak. Dawson's face fell as he watched Gretchen swallow the lump in her throat, and he let go of her hand then rubbed the back of his neck. "I'm sorry..." she voiced finally. "I'm just...trying to process this all, I guess."
"Me too." Dawson whispered, glancing at Colin and Vanessa peering over their shoulders. "Do you want to...maybe...talk somewhere, privately?"
"Yeah...sure." Gretchen looked at Colin briefly. Her trust in him was gone. She didn't understand why he would want to do that to them, to her. Colin turned around quickly, obviously ashamed of himself. Vanessa turned to him right away, placing a hand on his shoulder and asking him what was going on.
"Come on, Gretch." Dawson said and led her to an isolated table in the back of the club.
Gretchen sat next to Dawson slowly. Her stomach was doing flip-flops and her heart beat so fast and so loud she thought that maybe Dawson could hear it. She didn't know what to say at this point. There was so much, yet so little to be said. Out on the open road, she'd made up speeches and effusive monologues in her head. Every word, every thought and emotion would be perfectly spoken and well thought out. What she had to say would make him cry, or would make him feel really bad, at least. But now nothing would come out. All of those words, those damned words that they lived on were gone. They were forgotten. None of them mattered. Nothing she thought she would say would be said because it wasn't the right moment. It wasn't the right situation. There was no "right" situation though, there never had been, and there never was going to be. It was just something Gretchen thought up to ease her troubled mind. And in all reality, the only moments that would ever present themselves would be unexpected ones, because she learned that that's just how life worked. Things never happened the way you expected them too. Life would sneak up behind you and violently knock you on your face with no mercy what so ever, and as you lied there paralyzed and bleeding, life would keep on moving. Maybe that's what she loved about road trips so much, because even though her mind and her heart might be stuck somewhere, she could at least say her body was moving, and she was letting life go on its way, taking her along for the ride. But now it was like she had gone full circle. As far away as she thought she had been, she was really just back where she started: In love with a man whom she knew things would never work out. In love with someone whose love for her would never be as strong as her love for him. He didn't know that though; he didn't know how much she really loved him.
Dawson breathed in and out heavily and slowly. His rhythm becoming steady as he watched Gretchen and wondered what she was thinking. She looked so beautiful, as always, but there was something about the way the dim lighting accentuated her eyes that caught his attention. There was something different about them; they looked sad. She looked tired, distraught and emotionally drained. He wanted to say something, to break the overbearing silence hovering between them. But he couldn't think of anything to say. He didn't know where to start. As he gazed at her he asked himself if he was still in love with her. He didn't know anymore, he hadn't thought about her recently, but that didn't mean he didn't still love each and every amazing thing about her. She inspired him in a way that no one else ever did, and she forced him out of this cold, dark place he had wallowed himself into. Gretchen had changed his life; she had changed him. That was something he would always love her for. He would always love her for the way she helped him grow and find his passion for film and life again. He would always love her for the amazing woman she was. Something Dawson learned in life though was that you don't have to be in love with someone to love them. For instance, he could say that he always loved and always will love Joey, but he wasn't in love with her anymore, and he hadn't been "in love" with her for some time now. Was it the same way with Gretchen? Dawson determined that these would be the defining moments.
She redirected her gaze finally, a small smile curling up on her lips. "Would you say this is fate or just a fucked up coincidence?"
Dawson laughed as he felt some of the tension begin to disintegrate. "Well, that depends on what we do with this moment..." There was a short silence between them, "But I'm leaning more towards the fucked up coincidence." He smiled.
Gretchen laughed and grinned at Dawson. "Well, whatever the hell you want to call it" she said, "it's good to see you again."
"I've missed you." She stated simply, fixing her eyes on Dawson.
Dawson nodded slowly, "I know...I have too."
They both smiled a little, and Gretchen lowered her eyes from Dawson's. It hurt so much to look into them and to remember everything they had, wondering if he felt the same way. There was no way she could tell if he was still in love with her. She wanted to know though, for her sanity's sake among other things.
"This is weird..." Gretchen said out loud.
Dawson looked to her and laughed slightly. "Yeah...it is."
"It shouldn't be though. I don't want it to be."
"I don't either...but you have to admit this is kind of strange." He shifted in his seat slightly, wiping a sweating palm on his dark jeans.
Gretchen nodded, "That I can admit. You're the last person I expected to see here. What are you doing here though, I thought school didn't start until the end of August?"
"It doesn't." Dawson stated. "I got into the summer program." He couldn't help smiling as he articulated his last few words.
She smiled at him sweetly, "That's great Dawson, really. I'm proud of you."
Dawson's lips curled up in a small grin and he looked at her, examining the sudden change in Gretchen's expression. A second a go she had been smiling, now she looked like she was thinking deeply about something. "What are you thinking?" He asked softly.
Gretchen looked up at Dawson, choosing her words before speaking, "I'm thinking about the times when it wasn't weird."
He let out a small sigh, "That was the past though. You can't dwell on the way things used to be."
She was shocked. Dawson wasn't dwelling on the past? "Well, someone's changed." She laughed a little.
Dawson shrugged. "I guess." His eyes switched down to the glass table.
Gretchen watched him, and she leaned over, almost mechanically tucking a piece of falling hair behind his ear. Dawson looked up at her when he felt her touch. "Gretchen..." Dawson spoke sweetly. She looked away quickly, afraid of what was to come. "What's wrong? You seem...sad."
"Why would I be sad?" She snapped defensively.
"I don't know. Sorry." Dawson sighed and looked away. He began to breathe heavily without even noticing it. He was searching the deepest parts of his mind for something to say, for someway to start a conversation. All he got was a big, empty silence though, just this overbearing quiet that was stabbing at his heart.
"G-d, you would think we'd have a myriad amount of things to say to each other..." Gretchen laughed a little, breaking the heavy, soundless air amid them.
"I think we do, but neither of us know where to start." Dawson replied deeply, grateful of the speech between them.
"Or want to start." She gazed at his face, emphasizing the word "want" as she spoke.
"Or want to start." He repeated, agreeing with Gretchen in hushed, sad tones. He didn't want to be the one to reveal all first, and he could tell that neither did she.
One thing Gretchen believed in fully was honesty. Her honesty though, with Dawson at least, would only extend to a certain point. She told as much as she knew needed to be told, and kept the feelings she feared would hurt her to herself. Dawson didn't realize this about Gretchen though. All of her inner most feelings, insecurities, and even her hopes and dreams were unbeknownst to him. And they would stay that way, Gretchen knew, because she didn't want to hurt herself again. As hard as she tried not to, she always ended up getting hurt somehow. Intentionally or not, pain would repeatedly encroach upon her heart.
Dawson took in a big gulp of air and let it out with a heavy, tension-laden sigh. He stared at Gretchen, his eyes traveling from her face down to where her fingers tickled the edges of a round coaster lying in front of her. By this time Dawson realized he would have to be the one to start this conversation. Although she didn't know it, Dawson was very well aware of how Gretchen's mind worked. It was very much like Pacey's, in the way that she'd put off expressing her feelings up until she was about to explode. He knew she wouldn't say a thing until provoked, and that it would also be seriously toilsome to get the information he wanted to come out of her mouth. "All night..." he began nervously. The sudden sound of his voice jarred Gretchen's gaze away from the glass table and to Dawson's greenish eyes. "All night," Dawson repeated as he formed his words cautiously, "I've been watching you. The only thing was I never saw your face until you turned around back there." Gretchen raised her eyebrows curiously and listened intently to Dawson, "And I was hoping, in one part of me, that it wasn't you, because I didn't want to deal with...deal with this." He motioned between them, "And because I don't regret anything that happened in our relationship, I didn't want to have to bring things up again...but in the other part of me, I was wishing it was you. That out of some weird twist of fate you would be here. So I could see you smile again, hear you laugh again, and have those sparks I feel when we're together run through me one more time..."
"And now that you know it's me?" She questioned softly, her deep eyes wide, "which part of you wins?"
He looked away. This had been the decision Dawson had been dreading all night. Gretchen was waiting anxiously for an answer; he could feel her eyes burning into his skin as he struggled to choose. What he said could change both of their lives as they knew them. It was so soon that she was asking this question though. He still had no idea what he was feeling, or what he wanted. "Neither," He answered finally and looked back to Gretchen, "because things are too complicated to think clearly right now. They're too weird for me to make any sort of decision."
"Then what do we do?" Gretchen knew what his answer would be. Asking the question, though, was vital to keep the conversation going.
"We talk. We put this whole thing into perspective and sort out any feelings we've been bottling up lately." Dawson offered sincerely.
Gretchen moved her eyes away for a moment, letting a small breath of air out of a nervous smile. The feelings she'd been bottling up were enough to write a book about. "When I saw you standing there, my whole body felt like all the life was taken out of it." She opened up. "I felt weak and now I still feel weak because I know I'm powerless to make anything happen."
"What would you want to happen, and how do you know you're powerless against it?" Dawson asked. The one small word that would answer the question popped into his head.
"Us, Dawson." She answered, "G-d, I mean, all this time I couldn't stop thinking about you, about us, and about what we had, because when I left that morning with out you, I knew what I was leaving behind. I was leaving this absolutely amazing person who inspired me like no other, claiming that his place was there and mine wasn't" Gretchen swallowed before continuing. "And the pain of that has just been so overbearing. I'm powerless though, because yet again we have an impossible situation." She looked at Dawson, "And you know I'm not good with impossible situations."
There was a short silence as Dawson processed everything Gretchen had said, while trying to figure out how to respond. He drew a complete blank, so instead he found himself bringing up an entirely different topic. "I think I read over that letter you wrote me a million times," He laughed, embarrassed, "I've almost memorized some parts of it, actually. In it you said you were in love with memore then I even knew. I want to know, Gretchen." Dawson spoke softly and sincerely. He leaned in towards her over the square table, "I want to know how in love with me you are."
She looked away, wincing while letting the tiniest bit of air escape from her throat. "Why?" Her tone turned piercing. Dawson asking her something so egotistical irked Gretchen to her core. It was the kind of thing you just wonder about, not actually put out there in the open. If she wanted him to know how in love with him she was, she would have told him by now.
Her question took Dawson by surprise and he paused to think about the actual reason for his curiosity. "Chalk it up to my ego." He laughed jokingly. Gretchen made a noise that mixed between a chuckle and a sigh, and closed her eyes for a moment, shaking her head with a small grin on her face. "No, but really," He serioused, "I think I want to know so that maybesome of these questions I have can be answered."
"Questions..." She nodded, her eyes tightening suddenly. Her annoyance with Dawson had peaked very quickly at his 'chalk it up to my ego' remark. "You mean like...why we never slept together, or how I really felt about you and whatever the hell it is you had slash have with Joey?"
Dawson almost choked. "Not really, but sure if you want to throw those ones in there, go ahead."
Suddenly a wave of regret washed through Gretchen. The confusion and turmoil inside herself was causing her to say things she normally wouldn't have said. What she was attempting to do was to hide her pain with those snapping comments and biting remarks. "I'm sorry..." Her tone softened, "I don't know why I just started up like thaton the defensive I guess. Forget it though..."
"No, Gretch," Dawson interrupted in that demanding tone of his. "You mentioned it so obviously you want me to know what your answers would be."
"How could you assume that?" She could feel the anger growing inside of her as she tried to avoid answering the questions she had posed at all costs.
"Because people don't just mention things like that when they don't want anyone to know." He argued, re-emphasizing his point.
"I made a mistake, Dawson!" She raised her voice slightly, but quickly lowered her volume as she remembered where she was. "Haven't you ever said something with out really thinking about it? Somechurlish comment you were just thinking but somehow let slip out?"
"Yes, of course." Dawson answered quickly, "But I think in this type of situation elaborating seems like a reasonable thing to do."
"Why? Is there something you're hoping I'll say? Some specific thing you want to hear?"
"No!" He shouted quietly, "No." He repeated, this time calmly. "I just want to know the truth."
Gretchen nodded, an annoyed expression on her face. She looked back to Dawson, her eyes were tight and penetrative, "I'm not quite in a tell all mood right now, thanks though. I really appreciate the offer." Her sarcasm cut through him like a knife.
"Fine." He nodded in understanding, "If that's how you want it to be." Dawson began to stand up, fed up with Gretchen for the moment. She watched him, silently wondering what the hell she just did. Gretchen knew that what she really wanted was to just sit and talk with him like they used to, but her defensives were up and she couldn't seem to let them down. Dawson stopped suddenly though, sat back down and looked at Gretchen demandingly. He wasn't prepared to give in just yet. She always won; maybe it was his turn for once. "Actually, Gretchen, that's not how it's going to be. There will be no progress if you don't say anything."
"Progress? Progress in what, the saga that is Dawson and Gretchen?"
"Of course I'm talking about progress in our relationship, because right now it feels like we're going nowhere fast. And all I want to do is try to work things out, Gretchen. You obviously have some unresolved issues with me and with us, and I think this might be a good time to resolve them."
She shut her eyes momentarily, then looked back at Dawson, feeling herself giving in. "Do you really want to know?"
"Would I have asked if I didn't?"
"Then tell me," He spoke gently, looking at her, "Tell me, Gretch, please."
That drove Gretchen absolutely crazy. Dawson would call her "Gretch" when her full name seemed like it would be more appropriate. In highly emotional situations and moments, he'd softly utter the first part of her name, and it was one more thing that made her feel weak. She pressed her lips together and turned her head towards Dawson. Green eyes gazed into rich brown ones and they locked together for a moment. She blinked though, unable to look directly at him as she spoke. "You know how I told you we didn't sleep together because I didn't want to open myself up like that just to be left?" Dawson nodded. "Well, that was only part of it."
Dawson fixed his gaze on her face. He wanted to know the other part of it so badly. There was more. He knew it that day in the hospital; he knew it now. The only difference was that he would actually get a glimpse, if not a full view, of this other piece of her that she kept so tightly sealed.
"It was also that you had just found out about Pacey and Joey, and I didn't want to take that next step with you when deep down you were probably just trying to prove to yourself that you could move on just like Joey had." She revealed. There was more though, more that she swore to herself she'd never tell him. It was the part of her that felt like the fall back girl that Dawson would never get to see. She refused to make herself seem more insecure then she already was.
Dawson's gaze dropped slightly. "I guess you're right..." He stated, "that night part of me might have just beentrying to prove something to myself, but..." A small breath escaped his throat and he looked at Gretchen, "but most of me truly wanted you. G-d, I mean, for the longest time you were my biggest fantasy, you know?" He smiled boyishly and Gretchen laughed slightly, "and then there you were, right in front of me. The waves were crashing on the beach and a small fire created an orange glow on us. It was like a movie. But thenyou stopped me and reality smacked me in the face again, leaving me wondering...feeling helpless, embarrassed and confused."
"Dawson, I was hurting too." Her eyes were wide, looking into Dawson's. "I swore to myself I'd never tell you this, but that night after you fell to sleep, I sat there crying. I think I wanted it just as much as you did, and knowing I was the one who stopped something I was craving so badly made me both sad and proud of myself."
"But if you wanted it so passionately, why did you stop it? I still don't understand."
"Because I had to, Dawson." She explained. "For the sake of our relationship." And of my heart, she thought in the back of her mind.
"Our relationship was thriving at that point though...it wouldn't have ruined anything." He argued.
"We can say this and that, talk, explain, analyze and question all we want, Dawson, but you know its not going to change anything that happened. It never has with anyone, it never will." Her voice was full of wisdom. "Certain things happen in life for what ever reason, and you can't stop or make them happen. They just do. And as blurry as those things may seem, as puzzling as the reasons may be...we just have to except them, and whatever happened in the past."
Dawson resisted his urge to chuckle. "Did you ever think about listening to yourself, Gretchen? I mean, there are certain things about you that I can just sense. And right now it's obvious to me that you've been holding onto the past. It's all over your face." He looked into her eyes. There was a thin layer of water building over them and she blinked, looking away. He was so right that it hurt her. She was telling Dawson to do one thing, and doing the complete opposite herself. "It's in your eyes," Dawson raised a tender hand to her cheek, "And it breaks my heart because you have to move on. You are an amazing, beautiful woman with so much to share with the world. So much to share with some other lucky guy who will happen to stumble upon you."
"It breaks YOUR heart?" She pushed his hand down. "It breaks your heart because you assume I haven't moved on? That is the biggest load of bullshit I have ever heard, Dawson. You have no idea what you are talking about. I have moved on." She lied, but kept her gaze on him in order to make it less obvious.
"Gretchen," Dawson urged, "Don't lie to me."
Her mouth dropped open and her eyes tightened instantly, causing her brow to furrow. "How could you be so blatantly conceited?" Dawson looked down, not sure how to respond to that. It was wrong of him to assume such a thing, but deep down he didn't want her to be over him. Maybe it was selfish possessiveness, but maybe it was also because he thought that they still might have a chance. There was a tense silence for a few moments and something inside of Gretchen snapped. "Fine. I'm not over you, okay? Are you happy now?" She stared at him heavily.
Dawson sighed, looking away from her and shutting his eyes tightly. He brought his hand up to the brim of his nose, rubbing it in between his thumb and forefinger. "I don't know," He answered in a deep voice, opening his eyes and dropping his hand.
"I guess I'll give you some time to figure it out then." She rose, feeling the need to get away.
Dawson watched her, "Gretchen, no, come on"
"Why? What would I gain by continuing this conversation? Just let me go. Okay?" She looked into his eyes for a second then started to head back towards the table where Colin was quickly.
"Gretchen! Wait..." He followed her through the crowd. By the time he got to the table Gretchen was pulling Colin up from his seat. Their eyes locked again and Colin looked to Dawson, giving him a disgusted stare. Colin had no idea what was going on, but he didn't want Dawson to have anything to do with Gretchen anymore if she felt like she had to leave so quickly.
"No, Dawson. I have nothing left to say to you." She brushed past him towards the door of the club, Colin following briskly behind her.
"Gretchen! Come on! You don't even know what I was going to say..." He pushed through the people, screaming after her. She looked back at him momentarily from the doorway, but a sudden need to burst out crying overwhelmed her, and in order to hide this from him she escaped from the club, still dragging Colin along with her. Dawson rushed out of the door, and onto the city sidewalk. Gretchen and Colin were already getting into a car not too far down the street. "Gretchen!" He tried again. "Gretchen...please" He got no response and watched the car pull out of the space. Dawson dropped his head into his palms and groaned to himself. When he looked up, the car was already driving down the street.