Friday, November 8, 2010
Pacey Witter closed his checkbook and sighed. A balance of $54.37 six weeks before Christmas was not a good thing. The $1100 bill for repairs to his 2004 Chevy Tahoe had hit hard. Transmission and suspension work were not in his budget.
Even though Pacey had two or three DJ jobs lined up every weekend between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, he was uncomfortable with his present financial state. The money from his holiday gigs would be good, but he knew that January would be a slow month. The New Year would bring an increase in his rent and medical insurance along with the tuition bill for Spring Semester.
Pacey got up from the kitchen table, walked over to the counter, and reached for the phone book. After finding the number he wanted, he grabbed the phone and dialed. “Hello, Lorena. Pacey Witter here to provide a temporary solution with permanent satisfaction. What golden opportunities do you have for me today?”
The woman on the other end of the line giggled. “Pacey, always a pleasure to hear from you. You’re the kind of guy that brings real meaning to our company slogan. Besides, it’s been a crazy morning and I appreciate the laugh. When are you available?”
“I’m taking four classes this semester, but they’re all in the day. I can work Mondays and Thursdays after 5:00, Tuesdays and Wednesdays after 12:00, and Fridays until 4:00. I need to keep Friday nights and the weekends open for my DJ work. With these crazy hours, I guess I’ll be exploring my options in retail again.”
“Pacey, what’s your height and weight?”
“6’ 2”, 180 pounds, all muscle of course.”
“Of course. Well, I do have something for you at the mall. It’s a little different than anything you’ve done before, but you do have a good sense of humor…”
Tuesday, November 26, 2010
“Mommy, can I wear the ruffley skirt?” The little girl turned to her mother, excitement shining in her big brown eyes.
“Sure, if it’s clean. Let me check your dresser.” Joey Potter picked up her three-year-old daughter and hugged her tightly. “We are going to have a lot of fun this afternoon. Mommy has a surprise for you.”
“What Mommy, what is it?”
“Well, if I told you what it was, Lillie, it wouldn’t be a surprise anymore, now would it? Let’s see about that skirt.” Joey searched through the drawer for a minute. She pulled out a denim skirt with a white lace ruffle across the bottom. “Good, it’s here. Now what do you have that matches? Hmmm… well, this sweater will look nice.”
“Good. Let’s get you cleaned up and we’ll be on our way.”
He’d been working for two weeks and Pacey knew Lorena at A-1 Temps had been right about one thing. This job certainly was different.
“Ho, ho, ho, Merry Christmas!” Pacey discreetly adjusted his fake beard as the next child approached. That was the one thing that made the hot suit, the obnoxious parents, and the long hours bearable - watching the kids’ faces light up with joy when it was finally their turn to visit Santa.
The little girl wore a blue sweater covered with snowflakes. She seemed mesmerized as she cautiously climbed up on Santa’s lap. She bent her hand in a tiny half wave and whispered, “Hi, Santa.”
“Santa hears you’ve been a very good girl this year.”
She nodded her head solemnly, her eyes wide with wonder. Santa pointed at a teen-aged girl dressed in an elf costume. “Now look at the elf and smile.”
The flash went off and Pacey was rummaging through his bag for a candy cane and coloring book when he felt it. “Oh no, “ he groaned silently, “I’ve been christened.”
“Miss,” he called to the girl’s mother, “your daughter got a little excited and had an accident.”
The woman reached out for her child and in a flustered voice offered her apologies. “Sir, I’m terribly sorry. I’m so embarrassed! It was such a long line and it’s her first visit with Santa and I guess she was just so excited.”
Pacey looked up at the little girl’s mother and froze as the wave of recognition swept over him. He dropped the Santa voice and sighed, “Joey Potter.”
“Yes, that’s me,” she responded. “How did you…” She stopped when she met his eyes. “O my God.” Joey gathered Lillie in her arms. “I’ve got to get her into dry clothes. I don’t know what to say. This is so strange, seeing you again.”
Pacey stood as Santa’s helpers explained to the impatient crowd that Santa needed to take a quick emergency break. “Ho, ho, ho, boys and girls. I’ve got to take care of a little problem in my workshop, but I’ll be back in a jiff. I’ll make sure everyone in line gets a chance to see me.”
Pacey turned away from the crowd and looked back to where Joey had been standing. She was gone. “Did you see where the woman and the little girl went?” he asked one of the “elves.”
“She just ran off. I guess she was too embarrassed.” The girl laughed. “Didn’t even wait to see the picture.”
“Good. Let me have it. I need a souvenir of this one.”
“Goodnight, sweetheart. Sleep tight.”
“Mommy, do you think Santa’s mad at me?”
“Oh, Lillie! No, not at all. He knows you were just excited. On Christmas Eve, we’ll leave Santa an extra cookie or two to make it up, okay?”
Lillie smiled. “A cookie with extra sprinkles.”
“You bet. Now go to sleep. We’ve got a long train ride to Aunt Bessie’s and Uncle Bodie’s ahead of us tomorrow.”
Joey plugged in the nightlight, turned off the lamp, and quietly closed the bedroom door. She walked into the living room, flopped down on the sofa, and squeezed a throw pillow tightly against her chest. She thought of the words to a Gram Parsons song she had learned from a college roommate, The Return of the Grievous Angel. “Pacey Witter,” she whispered, “twenty-thousand roads I went down and they all led me straight back home to you.”
Pacey climbed into his green Tahoe, started the engine, and slipped a CD into the player. It was the Ben Harper CD he’d loved since high school. The disc’s funky rhythms and grooves usually made for great driving music, but tonight the tunes barely registered in Pacey’s consciousness. His mind was filled with the image of Joey.
Six years had passed since he’d had any contact with Joey and almost seven since he’d seen her. This afternoon, when he looked into her eyes, he’d been sent tumbling back to their summer on True Love and the emotional year that followed. It was the time in his life when he thought that loving Joey Potter, and having Joey Potter love him, was all he needed.
As senior year progressed, they had become practically inseparable. When Joey was accepted to Columbia University, Pacey agreed to go with her to New York. Joey would live in the dorms and he would find someone looking for a roommate and rent an apartment. He planned to get a job and take some courses at CCNY. He still hadn’t decided what he wanted to do with his life, but he knew that more than anything else he wanted to share it with Joey.
Their families and friends were generally supportive with one exception - Dawson Leery. He’d never gotten over the fact that Joey had gotten over him and he never stopped resenting Pacey’s love for the girl he thought should be his. When Dawson heard their plans to go to New York City together, he was as dismissive, nasty, and hostile as he had been the previous spring when the truth about Joey and Pacey was revealed.
Tensions boiled over in the summer following graduation. After Dawson upset Joey for the umpteenth time with another vicious diatribe about what a huge error in judgment she was making by staying with Pacey, a confrontation between the former friends ensued. “Well, Dawson, “ Pacey said in an even voice, “I’m the colossal mistake that’s going with her to New York.” With that, Pacey walked away and never spoke another word to Dawson Leery.
Sadly, while Dawson failed to tear Pacey and Joey apart, life succeeded. On August 3, 2001, three weeks before they were to leave for New York, John Witter suffered a massive stroke. The prognosis was poor, but his father was a very strong-willed man. With the help of all the family - his mom, Doug, Kerry, Gretchen, Cheryl, and Pacey himself - John Witter slowly recovered. By the time his dad had progressed far enough that caring for him by herself would not be an overwhelming burden on his mother, two years had passed.
Pacey went to New York and tried to resuscitate the feelings Joey and he had shared. After a few months, it became clear to both of them that too much time had passed, too many changes had occurred. Pacey returned to Capeside and tried to start over. Initially, Joey and he made an effort to remain friends, but even that link could not be sustained. The letters became more infrequent, the e-mails briefer, the phone calls filled with more awkward silences. Ultimately, Pacey left Capeside and all contact between them ceased.
When he reached the three-family where he rented a small apartment, Pacey pulled into a parking space and turned off the ignition. He flipped on the dome light and looked at the photo of himself dressed as Santa with Joey’s daughter on his lap. “I don’t know if I can go through all this again,” he thought. “If she cares, now she knows where to find me. Now she knows where I am.”
Wednesday, November 27, 2010
Joey stood in Penn Station clutching Lillie’s hand. The #95 Northeast Direct was on time, scheduled for departure at 11:30 AM. For the past four years, ever since Bessie and Bodie had sold the B & B and relocated to Williamsburg, Virginia, Joey had taken the same train down the day before Thanksgiving. Bessie and her three kids would be waiting at the station when the train arrived at 6:41 PM. The hugs and kisses and squeals of delight that would ensue always put Joey in a holiday mood.
This year when they disembarked, Joey nervously scanned the crowd on the platform until she spotted Bessie and the children. She felt a flush of warmth at the sight of them, but she knew from the knot in her stomach that this Thanksgiving would be different. Her chance encounter with Pacey Witter at the Newport Centre Mall had changed everything.
Lost in thoughts of Pacey as she stared into the flames crackling in the fireplace, Joey didn’t hear Bodie come in. She jumped when he leaned down and gave her a kiss on the cheek.
“Joey,” Bessie chuckled as she joined them in the family room, “you look like you’ve seen a ghost.”
“Yeah,” Joey sighed. “Funny thing is, I really have. I really have.”
Wednesday, December 4, 2010
“Excuse me, miss. Could I ask a favor?” Joey grinned and waited for the girl to look up.
“What is it?”
“The guy playing Santa is an old friend and I’d like to surprise him. Can you make sure I’m the last person in line to see him tonight?”
“Yeah, sure. It’s 7:30 now and we close at 8:00 sharp. We usually stop letting people in line around 7:45 or so. Just hang tight.” The teen-ager stared at Joey for a minute. “Your name’s not Andie, is it?”
“No, why do you ask?”
“Well, Pacey is always cracking jokes and making us laugh and he always calls us elf girls his little Andies. Says we remind him of some girl he used to know. I thought maybe it was you, but you don’t really look like an elf.”
“Well, I’m glad to hear that.” Joey laughed. “Actually, Andie was this great girl who went to high school with us. Pacey’s right. She did appear a little elfin-like.”
Joey waited patiently, her confidence bolstered by the words of support she received from Bessie and Bodie when she told them over Thanksgiving about stumbling into Pacey Witter. At 7:45, Santa’s helper motioned Joey to the end of the line. “There’re two families ahead of you and that’s it for the night. You’re the last one.”
“Thanks so much. I appreciate your help.”
Joey smiled as she walked up to Pacey who was sitting on a bench beneath an arch decorated with holly, red bows, and twinkling white lights. “Hey.”
Joey reached into the bag she was holding and pulled out a Mrs. Fields cookie and a half-pint of milk. “I brought you a present. It’s the least I could do after the other day.”
Pacey took the food and smiled. “Not to worry. They prepare you for that in Santa training. It could have been worse.”
“Yuk. I hope you get combat pay.”
Pacey laughed. “Not exactly. Well, I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask you the big question. Ho, ho, ho, what do you want for Christmas?”
Joey leaned forward and took Pacey’s hand in hers. She held it tightly and he gently squeezed her hand back. “I’d be very happy if we could go somewhere, have a drink, and talk for a bit.”
“I’d like that, Jo. The restaurant on the first floor is open ‘til midnight. We could go there. Give me twenty minutes to change and get cleaned up. I’ll meet you in front.”
She smiled broadly. “Thanks, Pacey.”
Joey watched the mall anxiously, searching the faces of the holiday shoppers for a glimpse of Pacey. When she spotted him striding towards Houlihan’s restaurant, her chest constricted and she felt her face flush. Manhood looked good on Pacey Witter. He was wearing work boots, faded blue jeans, and a navy blue sweater with red and white trim. He carried a brown overcoat across his arm. His hair was longer than she remembered and slightly tousled. She knew from his broad shoulders and chest that he must be working out regularly. As he moved closer to her, Joey took in his face. The years had replaced the softness of youth with leaner, harder lines and he looked more handsome than ever. His smile and sparkling blue eyes were still dazzling.
“You look amazing,” Joey said softly as Pacey hugged her close.
“Look at you. The most beautiful girl in Capeside is now the most beautiful woman in… New Jersey?”
“New York City, actually, and I know I’m not even close to being the most anything in New York.”
Pacey ruffled her hair. “I like the shorter cut. It gives you an air of sophistication.”
“Little Joey Potter all grown up,” Joey said, eyes rolling.
“Something like that. C’mon. Let’s go inside and get a table.” He put an arm around Joey and led her to the hostess. “Two, please. Non-smoking okay?” He turned to Joey for approval and she nodded her agreement.
The hostess sat them in a corner away from the bar. When Joey took the menu from the girl, Pacey noticed for the first time that Joey wore no rings. They studied their menus in silence for a few minutes before the waitress came to take their drink order. “I’ve decided. Do you know what you want, Pacey?” Pacey shook his head “yes” and Joey continued. “I’ll have the munchie combo and a Diet Coke.”
“I’ll take a cheddar cheeseburger platter, medium, with a Sam Adams.”
“I’ll be right back with your drinks, “ the server promised as they handed her their menus.
Pacey couldn’t help smiling as he studied Joey’s face. She’d grown into a woman with grace and beauty and she seemed more at ease with herself than when he’d last seen her. Yet he couldn’t help but notice the lingering sadness in her hazel eyes. “So, do you wanna tell me about your daughter?”
“Lillie… Lillian May.”
“After your mother…”
Joey nodded. “The May is for Louisa May Alcott and for her birthday - she was born on May 16th. She’s three-and-a-half.” She nervously twisted her fingers. “I missed my mother so much when I was having Lillie. I just wanted to bring her close in any way I could.” She stopped to let the waitress serve the drinks, took a sip of her soda, and continued. “I was living with her father, his name is Jonathan, and we’d been talking about getting engaged when I found out I was pregnant. He didn’t handle the news very well. He started staying out late, partying, running around. I thought it was the suddenness of it all, that maybe once he had time to process everything that he’d be happy. But it didn’t happen. It wasn’t what he wanted… we weren’t what he wanted. I left him when I was seven months pregnant.”
Pacey reached across the table for Joey’s hand. Tears clouded her eyes and she looked down, trying to keep them from falling. “I was scared and angry at myself for getting into such a difficult situation. All my education and achievements and I ended up like Bessie anyway. And at least Bessie had Bodie - I was all alone. Anyway, Bessie and Bodie had sold the B & B and moved to Williamsburg, Virginia the previous fall. They wanted me to come down there with them. I thought about it, but my work and my doctor and my friends were all in New York so I decided to stay. When Jonathan’s parents found out what had happened between him and me, they really rallied behind me. I’m a scenic designer and I met Jonathan through my work in the theater. His family is very wealthy. Mr. and Mrs. Spencer helped me find my apartment and they’re very generous to Lillie and me. They want to be good grandparents to Lillie even though their son doesn’t care enough to be a good father to her.”
“You don’t see him at all?”
“No, he’s essentially estranged from his family now and they’re his only link to Lillie and me.”
“Joey, I had no idea about any of this. When we fell out of touch with each other, I thought that’s what you wanted. I left Capeside for a few years and cut off ties with everyone.”
“Where’d you go?”
“I bought another boat and this time I sailed north. I ended up in Boothbay Harbor, Maine and spent three years there working as a fisherman.”
“What made you stay there?”
Pacey chuckled. “Originally it was just a place to dock, but it happened that I landed there in June at the start of their Windjammer Days festival. It was déjà vu all over again and I just stayed.”
“So did you enter their beauty contest, too?” Joey asked playfully.
“Nah, my Braveheart routine was too rusty. Plus, I don’t think my fisherman buddies would have understood.”
They sat quietly, thinking about the changes that had occurred in the years since they’d last been together. “You know,” Pacey said, “ I never expected to see you again. I never stopped thinking about you, imagining you in New York, wondering if you’d found work you loved, wondering if you were happy. I never thought things would be so hard for you.”
“Pacey, I don’t want you to get the wrong idea. I’m okay. I love my daughter more than I ever realized I could love anyone. I don’t feel sorry for myself because I had her, I feel sorry for her because I wasn’t wise enough to give her the father she deserves.” Joey paused for a moment, then softly sighed. “I, of all people, know how hard it is to grow up missing a parent.”
The waitress arrived with their order. “May I have another beer and a refill for the lady’s Diet Coke?”
“I want to hear about you. How is your family, Pacey?”
“Everyone’s good, even Pop. He has some residual speech and movement impairment from the stroke, but he’s able to take care of himself now. He and Mom moved out to Attleboro to be near Doug and his family. When Doug realized Pop was never going to be well enough to come back as Chief, he had a hard time continuing on the Capeside force. An opportunity to join the Attleboro police force opened up and he took it. He’s Captain of the Detective Bureau there now.
“Yeah, he married one of the nurses who took care of Pop when he was sick. Her name’s Ashley. They have two little girls - Laura’s four and Stacey’s seven months.”
The server returned with their refills. “How about your sisters?”
“Carrie got remarried to a guy she met through one of the kid’s soccer leagues. They’re living in Provincetown now. Cheryl’s a flight attendant who’s still unattached and loving it. Gretchen went back to college after Pop recovered. She started dating a pre-law student and they ended up tying the knot, too. They live down the Jersey shore and she just had a baby boy in August. His name’s David. They’re how I ended up here. I had grown tired of life in Maine and I wanted to be near family again. I just didn’t want to go back to Massachusetts. Gretchen and Danny were already in New Jersey. I lived in Point Pleasant for a while and worked chartering the fishing boat. When I moved to Maplewood, I started managing a Blockbuster. That’s where I met my friend Ari who got me into DJing. Now I’m back in school trying to get a degree in business and I work DJ gigs on the weekends.”
“How’d you end up as Santa?”
“I had a big car repair bill I wasn’t expecting. When I need extra cash, I usually pick up temp work through an agency. This job was the best fit for my crazy schedule. What brought you from the city to this mall?”
“Well, the PATH, actually.”
“Still a wise-ass.”
“Seriously, Pace, the PATH trains are cheap and convenient. I can fold up the stroller, bring Lillie along, and then do all my shopping. We were leaving for Bessie’s for Thanksgiving the next day so I thought I’d surprise Lillie with a visit to Santa. Turned out the surprise was on me.”
“Oh, I beg to differ. I’m quite certain that the real surprise that day was on me.” Pacey grinned at Joey who blushed furiously.
“I still can’t believe that happened. Lillie was so worried that Santa would be mad at her. I told her we’d put out extra cookies on Christmas Eve to make it up to him.”
“Poor kid. Is she okay about it now?”
“Yeah, she just keeps talking about how nice Santa was to her and asking for their picture. I ran away so fast that day I forgot to buy the photo.”
“Don’t worry. I have it. It’s at my apartment.”
“You took the picture of Lillie home?”
“I wasn’t sure if you’d come back again. I was afraid you seeing me upset you. When I looked at the photo of your little girl, all I could see was how much of you is in her. I couldn’t let them throw the picture away.”
The waitress stopped by the table to inquire if they wanted any coffee or dessert. Joey glanced at her watch. “It’s almost 10:30. I really need to get home.”
“Just the check, please,” Pacey told the server. He looked at Joey and sighed. “So, Potter, where do we go from here?”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean is this a one-time get together for old times sake or do I get to see you again?”
“Do you want to… see me again, that is?”
“Joey, do you even have to ask?”
The waitress brought the check and Pacey reached for his wallet.
“No, Pacey, please let me. I invited you out, I’ll pay.”
“Don’t be silly, I’ve got it…”
“Please, Pace. Next time can be your treat.”
“So there’s gonna be a next time.”
“I’d like you to meet Lillie under less chaotic circumstances.”
“That would be nice.” There was an awkward moment of silence before Pacey continued. “I guess this is where we exchange phone numbers and e-mail addresses and all.”
“I think I have paper.” Joey rummaged through her purse for a bit. “Here it is. I’ll write down my info.” She tore a sheet out of her notepad and handed it to Pacey. “Here’s paper for you.”
Joey paid the bill and the two began to leave the restaurant. Pacey put his arm around Joey and pulled her close to his side. “I missed you, Joey,” he sighed. “I missed you something fierce.”
After taking Joey to the PATH station, Pacey walked back to his Tahoe for the short drive home. He was way too wired for sleep anytime soon so he was relieved that his first class Thursday wasn’t until noon.
Seeing Joey again after all this time felt good, but it also left him unsettled and afraid. Pacey had been devastated when he finally was able to join Joey in New York only to find that they had grown so far apart. He had still been in love with her; he had never stopped being in love with her since their junior year of high school. He had realized Joey still loved him, too, but he had sensed that she was no longer in love with him. By the end of senior year, the bond between them had been unshakeable. They had known one another better than they each knew themselves. To find that connection corroded to the point where they felt uncomfortable and out of place with one another was heartbreaking. The decision to go their separate ways had been mutual, but he’d always believed Joey had given up on him too soon.
He thought of her often during the years that followed, but he was enough of a survivor to force himself to move on. Eventually, he wooed and won and even loved other women, but nothing ever felt as true as the love he’d had with Joey.
By this time, he had arrived home, parked the car, and entered his apartment. He put his keys on the counter, tossed his jacket on the sofa, and opened the front closet. He reached up to the top shelf and took down an old Hammermill copier paper box. He carefully set it on the living room floor and removed the top. Pacey looked at the contents and sighed as a torrent of emotions was unleashed. Each item brought back memories of the happiest times of his life. There was the penguin pennant from the New England Aquarium, the keychain from Faneuil Hall, and the guide to the Freedom Trail from their trip to Boston; the Class of 2001 graduation program from Capeside High and their senior prom picture; cards and stickers from their first Valentine’s Day; and photos and souvenirs from their summer aboard True Love. Beneath a handmade Christmas card from Joey, he discovered what he wanted.
When his father’s sudden illness had forced Pacey to stay in Capeside, they had tried at first to think of ways to make their separation less painful. Joey had remembered how comforting they’d found reading to each other aboard the boat. She’d gathered her favorite children’s stories - The Velveteen Rabbit, Good Night Moon, Where the Wild Things Are, Corduroy, The Polar Express, and How the Grinch Stole Christmas - and read them aloud on tape for him. He cherished the tape and had listened to it often, even sometimes after their break-up. Eventually, he realized that the tape served to hurt him more than to comfort him and he put it away.
He took the tape, went into his bedroom, put it in his portable CD/cassette player, and turned out the lights. He lay on the bed and let the sweet sounds of Joey’s voice wash over him. And for the first time in a very long while, Pacey Witter cried.
Friday, December 6, 2010
“Guaranteed delivery by 12 noon tomorrow,” the postal clerk stated as he handed Joey her receipt and her change.
“Thank you.” It was Pacey’s 28th birthday on Saturday and she wanted to show him that she remembered and let him know how much she still cared. The gifts she chose were simple, but if he felt even one shred of what she felt for him, their message would be loud and clear.
Saturday, December 7, 2010
Pacey was printing out the last page of a paper for his Consumer
Behavior class when the doorbell rang. He peeked out the window,
saw the mail truck, and dashed downstairs to answer the door. He
wondered who the package was from. His parents usually sent a check
and he’d stopped exchanging gifts with his siblings years ago. As
he signed the postal slip, he glanced at the package and saw the New York
return address. He brought the box inside and put it on the kitchen table.
Pacey grabbed the scissors from the junk drawer and slit it open.
Inside was another box wrapped in plain white paper decorated with a sketch
of a sailboat. He opened the attached card and read the message.
Happy birthday. These gifts can’t make up for all the birthdays
I’ve missed, but I hope they show you I haven’t forgotten.
He slowly took the paper from the present, being careful not to rip the drawing. Pacey opened it and found a package of blueberry pancake mix, a book of Hans Christian Anderson stories, a postcard of the New York City skyline at night, a copy of David Gray’s White Ladder CD, and a compass. He walked over to the telephone, found the paper with Joey’s number, and dialed.
“Hello, Jo. It’s me. I got the gifts you sent me and I just have one question.”
“What is it, Pace?”
“When can I see you again?”
Thursday, December 12, 2010
The PATH was crowded, but Joey found the last empty seat in the car she entered. She’d spoken with Pacey a couple of times on the phone since he’d received her presents, but this was the first chance they’d had to be together. Joey knew she had put herself on the line with the birthday package, but God had given her another chance with Pacey and she was terrified of messing things up again. In the past, Pacey had always been the one to make the grand gesture - he bought her the wall, he decided to sail True Love to Key West, he surprised her with the trip to Boston for graduation. He had never been afraid to tell her or to show her how much he loved her. Joey tried to reciprocate, but too often she felt she was taking one step forward and two steps back. Pacey had never seemed to mind her insecurities, her hesitation, her uncertainty. He had believed she loved him and that belief had allowed him to accept her flaws and forgive the hurts she’d inflicted upon him. He had loved her wholly and unconditionally; she had always held a part of herself back. If Pacey was willing to open himself up to her again, she knew that this time she would love him with abandon.
It was cold and damp, the scent of snow in the air, as Pacey waited on the platform for Joey. He needed to see her, to touch her, to look into her eyes. The events of the past few weeks had taken a wrecking ball to the wall he had so carefully built around his heart. Left vulnerable and exposed, he had to figure out just where they stood and where, if any place, they were going.
The maroon hat and scarf she wore caught his eye as Joey stepped off the PATH car. Pacey walked closer to the exit turnstiles and waved. Joey smiled and hurried toward him.
“Hey, Potter.” He put his arm around Joey and hugged her close. “It sure is cold out tonight.”
“My car’s out front. We’re going to my place, right?”
“Yeah, we need to talk.”
“Do you want to pick up some food on the way? Pizza? Chinese?”
“Chinese sounds good.”
Pacey opened the SUV’s door for Joey and she climbed in. He started the engine and pressed the radio presets ‘til he found a good song. “You always liked this song in high school,” he said to the strains of Matchbox Twenty’s Bent.
“When I hear it now, it makes me think of you. How much you helped me all through junior year before we got together.”
“I had known you forever as the girl most likely to insult me.”
“Or be insulted by you.”
“That, too. I remember how surprised I was to discover what a softie you really were.”
“I worked hard at being a cynic. I guess I could say the same for you. Who knew that inside your sarcastic exterior beat the heart of a romantic?”
They laughed, then Joey became serious and reached out to touch Pacey’s arm. “All that time I was so worried about Dawson, about saving my friendship with him. I was so blind. You are by far the best friend I’ve ever had. You always liked me for being me, not for being some air-brushed version of the girl you thought I should be.”
“You were perfect as is.”
“I was far from perfect and you know that, Pacey.” Pacey sighed and Joey gave his hand a squeeze. “I have a little tidbit that will lighten the moment. Guess what Dawson’s doing these days?”
“I never knew that mentioning Dawson Leery could be a day brightener.”
Joey giggled. “Trust me on this one. He graduated college with his degree in film and went out to Hollywood expecting to be hailed as the next Speilberg.”
“Yup, figured he’d be offered a partnership in Dreamworks by the time he was 25. Well, he’s still out there and he’s making a decent living. He’s even making films.”
“So, what’s the punch line?”
“It turns out that Dawson’s little niche in the cinematic kingdom is industrial training films.”
“Safety training, OSHA rules - you know those stupid videos they made you watch when you went to work for UPS. Those magical movie moments are now brought to you by Capeside’s own Dawson Leery.”
“I guess that brought his head down a size or two.”
“Pacey, this is Dawson we’re talking about. Nothing could shrink the size of that noggin.”
They laughed again as Pacey eased into a parking space in front of his favorite Chinese take-out. They went inside, ordered eggrolls, wonton soup, sweet and sour pork, fried rice, and scallion pancakes. The delicious smell filled the car for the short ride to Pacey’s apartment.
Pacey continued the conversation. “So you kept in touch with Dawson all this time?”
“Sort of. We exchange Christmas cards and an occasional e-mail. Once I recognized him for the pathetic, self-absorbed creature that he is, it became a kind of comic relief to see what he was up to. He was such a jerk to you, Pacey. You should have beaten the crap out of him back in high school.”
“The thought did cross my mind a time or two.”
“Anyway, I really have more contact with Gale and Mitch. Can you believe Katrina’s in Fourth Grade? Guess who’s her teacher?”
“Don’t tell me Mrs. Dinnerman.”
“Ding, ding, ding. She’s still putting fear in the hearts of nine-year-olds throughout the Village of Capeside.”
When they finally arrived at Pacey’s, he went around the SUV and opened Joey’s door. He guided her up the staircase and into his apartment. “I have the third floor. I like it, but in the summer I have to run the AC all the time.”
Joey surveyed the living area and smiled. “I see Spencer Gifts took care of all your decorating needs.”
“Nah, only the Homer Simpson poster and the lava lamp. Sears and the Bargain Express handled the rest.”
Pacey put the Chinese food on the kitchen table then hung their coats in the front closet. “You want soda with this? I actually thought ahead and bought a bottle of Diet Coke since I knew you were coming over tonight.”
“Thanks. That’ll be fine.”
“Are paper plates and cups okay?”
“Sure. Give them to me and I’ll dish the food out.”
They sat down together at the table and began to eat. Joey filled Pacey in on the whereabouts of their other Capeside friends. Jack was a youth counselor in Miami. He was presently unattached and enjoyed an occasional foray into South Beach. Andie was a real estate attorney in Boston. She was engaged to an orthopedist with the wedding slated for June, 2011. Jen had moved to Boulder, Colorado where she ran a crafts cooperative. She was living with Travis, her boyfriend of five years, and they had a two-year-old son Taylor and another baby due in March.
“They finished eating and put away the leftovers and cleaned up the table. “Let’s go into the living room, Joey. I want to talk about the things you sent me.”
“Don’t they speak for themselves?”
“Well, yes, but I want to make sure they’re saying the same thing to me as they do to you.” Pacey took the box from beside the sofa. “Let’s start with the blueberry pancake mix. It reminds me of the B & B, of the weekend when I brought the critic out there. That was the first time I’d ever watched you sleep.”
“I remembered you telling me that one time when we stayed up all night talking on True Love. You confessed that weekend was when you realized you were falling in love with me.”
“Yes, after that I couldn’t stop thinking about you no matter how hard I tried.”
“When I think about my life, I realize that having Pacey Witter fall in love with me was one of the best things that ever happened to me. So that’s why I put the pancake mix in.”
Pacey pulled out the Hans Christian Anderson book. “This is for True Love, right? We used to read to each other from this book at night.”
“The Little Mermaid was my favorite. I still have the tape of you reading it that you made for me when I left for New York.” Joey felt a flush in her face. “Sometimes after I put Lillie to bed, I’ll go back to my own room and listen to it.”
“C’mere.” Pacey took Joey into his arms and buried his face in her hair. He gently kissed her head and whispered, “I listened to your bedtime story tapes for years.” Joey began to sob softly. “Don’t, Jo, please don’t cry.” Pacey’s voice cracked as tears welled in his own eyes. “We were happy on True Love, the world felt right… that’s what you meant with the book.”
Joey nodded and took a tissue from her purse. “I didn’t know if you’d understand the postcard. That was more about me.”
“We docked outside New York City one night on the way back from Key West. We sat on the deck for hours looking at the skyline, talking about all the millions of people in the world and how lucky we were to have found each other. Is that it, Jo?”
“We felt so strong and safe in each other’s love that night. After we broke up, I’d look at that same skyline and think how alone I felt.”
“Why didn’t you ever try to reach me? I thought you were happy, so I let you live your life in peace.”
“When you were in Capeside taking care of your father, I was discovering a whole new world filled with interesting people, and places, and events. At first, I missed you and I wanted you to be here with me to share in my discoveries. Eventually, I became so wrapped up in my new life that I forgot about my old one. By the time you joined me in the City, I was a different person than the girl you knew from home. I finally felt that I had emerged from being Little Joey Potter from the Wrong Side of the Creek. But you were still Pacey and somehow that unnerved me. It was like you knew the real me and would pull off my mask and reveal my true identity to my new friends.” Joey put her head in her hands. “I can’t even look at you. I’m so ashamed at how shallow I was. I thought I was better than you, Pacey. Instead of cherishing you for the person you were inside, I started to close you off because on the outside you didn’t meet the standards of my new life. We never had a chance to make things work because I didn’t want them to anymore.”
“I always felt as if you’d given up on us before I ever came to New York.”
“The joke was that once you were really gone, when I stopped hearing from you for good, I began to realize that you were by far the better person in this relationship. I realized that you were the best thing to ever happen to me. And the new men in my life could never quite escape the dimming effect of standing in the very large shadow you cast.”
“You said you had thought about marrying Lillie’s father. Didn’t you love him?”
“Oh, I loved Jonathan and I thought he loved me, too. We shared a lot of fun and passion, but even in the best of times his love never felt as pure, as whole as yours. But I pushed my doubts aside because I thought you were gone for good. I didn’t want to spend my life loving a dream and letting reality slip by.” Joey hesitated a moment, then continued. “What about you, Pacey? Did you fall in love again?”
“Yes, I’ve had a couple of serious girlfriends, but it was hard to live up to what we had. Still, I learned a long time ago that I could live without you and be happy. I always knew that being with you was the best time in my life, but I had to let go. I had to move on. So I did.”
“Which brings us to the White Ladder CD.”
“That’s the one thing I couldn’t handle. After you were gone, I never played it again. I’m not even sure I know where my copy is.”
“Funny, I played it all the time in the beginning. As if by playing it enough, I could purge my system of all thoughts of you.”
“I can’t listen to that CD without remembering our first time making love. Thinking of how close we’d been and how distant we’d become was too painful to bear.”
“You know the first song is Please Forgive Me.”
“Jo, it’s not the forgiving that’s the issue. I need to know that you’ll love me with all your heart because I can’t stand the thought of your breaking mine again.”
“You haven’t opened the compass, have you?”
Pacey looked at the pocket compass’s wooden case. “Well, no, I didn’t think to.” He smiled. “Is this a dig at my less than stellar navigational skills?”
“Pace, please. Just open it now.”
Pacey lifted the instrument’s lid, examined it carefully, then closed his eyes. Joey had drawn a small heart with the initials “JP” and pasted it over the compass’s north marking. “I guess I would have saved myself some sleepless nights if I’d opened it sooner.”
“I told you once that my heart was a fixed point. You’re my true north, Pacey. I know that now and if you’re willing to try again, I promise you this time I won’t disappoint you. I love you, Pace, with all my heart.”
“I love you, too, Jo.” Pacey took Joey’s face in his hands and gently kissed her. Then he stood and reached out to help her up. He took the David Gray CD and put it in his stereo, selecting the eighth cut. “Would you like to dance with me?”
The melodic piano filled the room, matching note for note the couple’s yearning and desire. This year’s love had better last/Heaven knows it’s high time/I’ve been waiting on my own too long. They swayed to the music, wrapped in each other’s arms. Pacey softly touched his forehead to Joey’s, then rubbed his nose against hers. Finally, he brought his lips to hers once more, their passion for one another fueling the intensity of their kisses.
“I want you so much, Joey.” He brushed the hair away from her neck and began to trail tender kisses from her nape to her ear. The gentle flick of his tongue and the warmth of his breath made her shiver with desire. “Make love to me, Jo.”
Joey took his hand and laid it on her chest. “Do you feel how quickly my heart is beating? I want to be with you, too,” she murmured, “but we can’t. I need protection.”
“I have condoms…”
“I got pregnant with Lillie using condoms, I can’t trust them anymore. I’ll have to get on the pill.” She smiled mischievously. “It’ll be just like high school again for a little while. It was worth the wait, wasn’t it?”
“Yeah, it sure was, though I’m sure not looking forward to a case of blue balls at age 28.”
“You know, Pace, just because we're not having sex yet, well, there are certain things we can do.” She leaned closer and whispered in his ear, “And I’m really not talking about tickling.”
Joey looked at the clock, leaned back into Pacey’s arms, and kissed the bottom of his chin. “It’s getting late. I need to get home and relieve the sitter.”
“Should I drive you home? I can do that if you want.”
“There’s no need. The PATH is safe and lets me off only a block from my apartment. Just bring me back to the Newport station.”
“Sure. I’ll get our coats.”
Pacey helped Joey with her jacket, then put on his comfortable brown coat. “Oh, wait. Let me get the Santa picture for Lillie.” He found the photo on the counter and handed it to Joey. “Should I bring some CDs for the ride?”
“Yes, I think that’s a splendid idea,” she said as she bemusedly studied the snapshot. “And Pace…”
“I never told you, but you make an adorable Santa.”
Tuesday, December 24, 2010
“But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight/ ‘Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!’” Pacey silently closed the book and looked at Lillie who’d fallen asleep between Joey and him on the sofa. “Do you want me to carry her to bed?” he whispered.
“Sure. We’ve already put out the milk and cookies for Santa and the carrots for the reindeer, so we’re all set.”
After they’d tucked Lillie in for the night, Joey took a big box out of her bedroom closet and carried it into the living room. “Are you certain you don’t mind doing this?” she asked Pacey.
“Not at all.”
She took a scissors and slit the tape on the box, revealing the parts of a bright red tricycle. “Now you’ll get to experience first hand the two words that put fear in the heart of every parent on Christmas Eve- “assembly required.”
As Pacey built the tricycle, Joey filled Lillie’s stocking and put out the rest of her presents from Santa. When they were finished, Joey dimmed the lights and they cuddled on the couch bathed only in the warm glow of the Christmas tree and the candles on the mantel. “Thank you for being here tonight, Pacey.”
“Thank you for asking me.”
“I’d like to give you your present now.” Joey looked under the tree for Pacey’s gift. She’d covered it in silver foil paper decorated with angels and placed a cascade of white and gold curling ribbon atop the box. Pacey carefully removed the wrapping to reveal a box from the Metropolitan Museum of Art Shop. Inside was a small sculpture of a hand cradling a man. “I’ve always loved this piece, so when I saw the reproduction I couldn’t resist. It’s by Rodin. It’s called The Hand of God.” Softly she added, “I thank God everyday that He brought you back into my life.”
Pacey took her hands in his and kissed them lovingly. “It’s beautiful, Joey, the sculpture and the sentiment. I have something for you, too.” There was a flat package left in the shopping bag in which he’d carried the Christmas cookies and the doll he’d brought for Lillie. “This is for you, honey.”
Joey removed the snowflaked blue paper from the gift and stared at the photo in the sterling silver frame. Tears welled in her eyes. “Is that your…” She choked on her words, unable to finish.
Pacey nodded as he wrapped a comforting arm around her shoulder. “It’s my new boat. The picture’s a few years old, but I still have her. She’s down by Gretchen’s.”
The photo showed a smiling Pacey standing aboard a blue and white fishing boat. The name of the vessel, painted in elegant script across the stern, was the Joey P.
“You named your boat after me. Why?” Joey asked in a voice thick with emotion.
“When I got my first boat, I was following a dream. True love was something I longed for, but didn’t know if I’d ever find. Falling in love with you made that dream a reality. It didn’t matter that we were apart, in my heart I knew the truth. You are my true love, for once and for always, so I named my boat after you-the Joey P.”
The glimmer of the tree lights illuminated their faces as they kissed tenderly.
“Merry Christmas, Jo.”
“Merry Christmas, Pace.”
In comfortable silence, they held one another tightly, this time determined never to let go.
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