Author's Notes: Thank you to Laura for all your help.
The sea breeze coming in off the water started to turn colder as Joey wrapped her arms around herself and trudged aimlessly through the sand around the outskirts of the party. Someone had set a bonfire on the beach, and the glow from it lit up the faces of all the people she had grown up with in this sleepy little town.
While each one was familiar to her, as she watched them interact, laughing and talking amongst each other, Joey felt for a brief moment as if she were looking at a group of strangers. Then she realized with a certain amount of regret that she might as well have been. She scanned the crowd again, sighing as she tucked a piece of hair behind her ear, and her eyes finally fell upon the person she had been searching for.
“Hey Witter.” She strolled up to where he was sitting on a rock near the dunes that led down to the water.
“Potter.” He nodded at her, taking a swig of his beer as he slid over to make room for her.
Joey sat down next to him and they watched the crowd for a moment in silence until she turned to face him. “So, what is the life of the party doing sitting over here all by his lonesome?”
Pacey grinned and shrugged his shoulders, still looking out at the people mingling around the fire. “Just thinking, I guess.”
“Really? On our high school graduation night? Isn’t it kind of late to start that now, Pace?” Pacey chuckled a little and shook his head, taking another swig of his beer as Joey turned to face away from him with an amused grin. “So, what were you thinking about?” She asked after a moment in a less teasing manner.
“I was actually thinking about you.” He replied quietly.
Joey looked at him, raising an eyebrow skeptically.
He glanced back at her and smiled as he caught the look she was giving him. “Don’t get your hopes up, babe. Not like that.”
Joey smirked as she narrowed her eyes at him and shook her long brown hair.
“I was just thinking about the future. About what’s out there for all of us. What’s out there for you in particular.” He looked at Joey again, and the sincere tone of his voice and the serious look on his face caught her off guard. “Because if anyone deserves bigger and better things than this one horse town can offer…it’s you, Potter.”
Joey continued to watch him and her face softened. “Well, I don’t know about that.” She replied as she turned to look out over the party again. She glanced at him out of the corner of her eye. “But as far as the bigger and better things out there go, I’m pretty sure that you are the one who is going to find them.”
Pacey bowed his head as he kicked at the sand with the toe of his sneaker.
Joey regarded him for a moment, and then leaned in towards him. “What? The future looks bright for everyone except you?” She asked, her voice laced with sarcasm as she bumped her shoulder playfully against his.
“You know…” Pacey raised his head but didn’t look at her face. “If you asked me that question a couple of months ago, I might have given you a very different answer.” He shrugged his shoulders, meeting her eyes finally. “But, I don’t know…I have to say that things have definitely started to look up.”
“Finally realized that you are old enough now to legally subscribe to porn?”
Pacey shook his head with laugh. “Sometimes I think I might actually miss you next year, Potter.”
Joey smiled slowly and nodded her head as she stuffed her hands in the pockets of her jeans, waiting for the inevitable wisecrack to follow. She turned to look at him when it didn’t come. Pacey was just watching the bonfire send sparks up into the night sky, the flickering lights reflected in his dark blue eyes.
“I think I might know the feeling.” She said softly and she saw just the hint of a smile play across his features.
She stood up with a sigh then. “Well, it’s getting late.” She looked down at him before she started towards the parking lot. “Always a pleasure, Pacey.”
She had only gone a few feet when Pacey called out to her. “Hey…”
She stopped short and turned around to look at him expectantly.
Pacey hesitated, and then smiled. “See you tomorrow, Jo.”
She smiled as well, blinking her eyes. “Yeah. See you tomorrow, Pace.”
Joey stepped outside, feeling like her limbs were defrosting in the heat of the afternoon sun, having spent the better part of the day in the chilly air-conditioned dining room. She held her hand up to shield her eyes from the glare and looked down towards the main dock in the marina. She could see the launch in the distance, meandering its way through the crowded harbor, and she started on her way down to meet it.
Joey had been working at the Yacht Club for almost a year now, having started there during the previous summer. During the fall and winter she had mainly worked weekends, but now that school was out, she had increased her shifts to almost every day. Sometimes even working doubles, as she would gladly take on the shifts of any other waitress looking for time off for last minute dates or summer parties. Her college expenses were looming over her, and even though she had taken out loans and applied for every possible scholarship that she was eligible for, she was still feeling the burden of what her Ivy League education was going to cost her.
As she spent most days and nights in servitude now, the one bright spot was that Pacey had started working there as well, driving the community launch that brought the members out to their boats at their moorings and transported them back and forth from the other yacht clubs on Capeside Harbor. And, since she and Dawson were finally over and Pacey was currently in between girlfriends, as he liked to say, they had started to hang out quite a bit again.
When Pacey had come back from his sailing trip the summer before their senior year, he had been different towards her. Distant, even somewhat cold. She had been hurt when he left without telling her, as they had helped each other through a lot of rough times in their junior year and she had thought that they were finally putting aside all those old animosities towards one another and becoming real friends. She was even more hurt by his strange attitude with her when he returned. By that time, of course, she had been back with Dawson. She sometimes wondered if the reason Pacey had kept his distance then was because he had already come to realize things about Dawson that it had taken her this whole year to figure out.
In any case, she was just glad to have Pacey’s friendship back. It was a friendship that meant a lot to her, one that she had missed more than she cared to admit. A friendship that, once upon a time, she even secretly believed could actually be something more.
Joey reached the landing and leaned on the rope railings as she watched Pacey pull up, the bumpers on the side of the launch thudding against the wooden planks of the dock. He quickly tied the boat off, jumping over the side in one swift movement to offer a hand in assistance to the attractive young woman that had been his passenger. Joey just smirked and rolled her eyes as she walked towards him.
Pacey’s gaze was still following the woman as she made her way up to the porch of the Yacht Club, her hips swaying in the sarong skirt she had tied around her swimsuit. He quickly looked away as he saw Joey approaching.
“Potter.” He nodded with a grin. “You’re looking lovely, as per usual.”
“Hmm.” She folded her arms across her chest and raised an eyebrow. “So nice of you to notice.” She murmured sarcastically, shaking her head at him. “You know…don’t you think it’s time you gave up on your fantasy that one of these rich young trophy wives, unsatisfied by the aging and possibly impotent husband, is going to take you on as the willing and able cabana boy in some twisted scenario, Pace? That stuff only happens in really trashy romance novels.”
Pacey just laughed at this and turned away to hop back up on the launch. Joey grinned and came over to stand next to the boat, watching as Pacey began to clean out the storage compartments and check the gear on board for his next trip.
“So…to what do I owe the pleasure of today’s visit? Are you just on a break, so you came down here because you were bored and hoped to amuse yourself a little at my expense?” He grinned at her, his voice lowering. “Because you know I have no problem with that just so long as you continue to wear those short skirts with your uniform.”
Joey frowned, quickly glancing down at her skirt, and then scowled at him as he chuckled to himself.
“Actually…I was wondering if I could ask you a favor.” She began hesitantly as she raised a hand to shield her eyes from the sun again, watching his face.
“Well, I guess that would depend entirely on the nature of your request, Potter.”
Joey sighed. “Are you going to the party the Leery’s are having for Dawson tonight?”
Pacey seemed to hesitate and he frowned. “Oh…is that tonight? I know that Gale left me a message on my machine about something like that.” He took a deep breath and then exhaled loudly. “Yeah. I guess I have to go wish him well, right?” He looked at Joey, his eyes a somber grayish blue now. “When is he actually leaving for California?”
“Tomorrow.” Joey replied in a flat voice. She bit her lower lip nervously. “So…I was wondering if maybe I could go with you to the party. Gale kind of had a hard time with our break-up…she was actually calling me for a while there to talk about it. I’m not really in the mood to face the whole Leery clan by myself. And I don’t think I’m really up to getting stuck there rehashing everything, you know? Not after it took Dawson and I so long to actually end it.”
Pacey raised an eyebrow as he considered this, a troubled look clouding his features. “So, what? You want me to be some kind of escape plan for you, Jo?” He asked in a low voice, not meeting her eyes.
Joey grimaced. “I guess. Kind of.” She admitted. “That’s really awful of me, isn’t it?”
Pacey shook his head with a heavy sigh. “I just don’t know if I…” He stopped what he was saying to rub his eye tiredly with the palm of his hand and was silent for a moment. “I guess we should have a signal.” He said finally, narrowing his eyes as he glanced at her.
Joey wrinkled her forehead in confusion. “A signal?”
“Yeah.” Pacey shrugged his shoulders and gave her a half smile. “A signal to let me know you’re ready to leave. You know…a gesture, a word, a phrase.”
“How about ‘Pacey, I’m ready to leave’.”
“That works for me.”
Gale threw open the door, and Pacey raised his eyebrows as she immediately pulled Joey from his side into her embrace. “We’ve missed you so much around here.” Gale squeezed her a little tighter as Pacey maneuvered his way by them to walk into the house, meeting Joey’s wide eyes in semi-amusement.
“Hi, Mrs. Leery.” He said quietly.
“Oh…hi, Pacey, hon.” She smiled and reached out to quickly pat his arm while still hugging Joey.
Pacey saw Jen and Drue in the living room and went over to greet them. He turned to see Gale dragging Joey by the arm into the kitchen, anxious for her to see the baby. Joey shot him a slightly desperate look, and Pacey couldn’t help but drop his head and laugh a little.
“What’s so funny?” Jen asked, her eyes on Pacey.
“Nothing.” He shrugged, turning to face her.
“So, um…” She began slowly. “Joey came here with you tonight, huh? You two certainly seem to be spending a lot of time together lately.” She arched her eyebrow as she watched him for a reaction.
Pacey glanced at her, seeing the question on her face. “Easy there.” He chuckled in a gruff voice. “Down, girl.”
Drue had been looking at the framed photographs on the mantel above the fireplace, only partially listening to their conversation, but now he quickly joined in, intrigued by the tones of their voices.
“What’s this?” He cupped his hand to his ear and he leaned in between them. “Are these rumblings as to some sordid activity in this little town that I’m not privy to?” He looked at Pacey, placing his hand on his shoulder. “I know that you’ve had half the girls in school…but you and the Ice Princess, Witter? I couldn’t have made up a story that good.” He laughed. “And, believe me, I’ve tried.”
Pacey shook his head and sighed tiredly. “There’s no story. Move along, people. Nothing to see here.”
“Oh…I think things might just be starting to get interesting around here.” Jen giggled and Drue grinned along with her.
Jack arrived then, glancing around at all their faces. “Hey. What’s going on?” He smiled curiously.
“Nothing. Nothing is going on. These two are trouble together.” Pacey shook his head again as he started to walk away, barely concealing his irritation.
Jack laughed with them and patted him on the back. “You’re just figuring that out now, buddy?”
Pacey walked into the kitchen and almost stopped short at the sight in front of him. Letting out a soft breath, he smiled and tilted his head to appraise Joey. She was sitting in a chair, holding Lily and making sweet noises as she gently ran her fingers along the baby’s cheek. She looked up at Pacey, her face still filled with amazement at the tiny person in her arms.
“You look good like that, Potter.” He smiled, his blue eyes regarding her warmly. Joey just smiled shyly at him and looked back down at the baby.
Suddenly Dawson came through the back door. “Oh. You two are finally here.” His voice had a slight edge of annoyance to it. “My dad is just about to throw some food on the grill, but I had something that I have been waiting to show everyone. Let’s go into the living room.”
All the guests filtered into the living room as Dawson busied himself setting up his film projector. Joey had taken Lily upstairs to her crib and now slipped in quietly to take a seat on the floor in front of the couch where Pacey and Jack had landed. She glanced behind her to look questioningly at them but they both just shrugged their shoulders in response.
“All right.” Dawson began, smiling at everyone. “Since I am leaving tomorrow to begin to officially pursue my career in film-making, I thought it was only appropriate that we should mark this occasion with the one that started it all.”
Joey’s eyes widened and she slowly turned to glance over her shoulder at Pacey, who just dropped his head into his hands.
“It was, of course, a rough effort.” Dawson continued with a laugh. “And the story itself, well…there were a few plot holes here and there. So, I thought it might be more interesting if I showed you all the unedited version, so you could have an idea of how an aspiring film-maker, or maybe just someone who aspires to be an aspiring film-maker, goes about actually making their first movie.” He grinned comically as he started the projector. “I give you all “Sea Creature From The Deep”, The Director’s Cut.”
Joey closed her eyes, hearing the giggles and snickers fill the room and then Pacey groan softly under his breath behind her. She looked up at the screen and couldn’t help but smile to see much younger versions of them locked in a very familiar battle.
“You did it again. You grabbed my ass.”
“Like you even have one.”
Jack laughed out loud. “So, that’s it? The beginnings of the great love affair between Pacey and Joey?” The rest of the room joined in his laughter. He looked back and forth between them and nodded his head. “That’s really beautiful, guys. Very heart-warming stuff.” He pretended to sniff back tears and wiped at his eyes.
Joey turned around to swat at his knee, making a face at him as she stuck out her tongue. She glanced over at Pacey then, who was resting his chin in his hand, his elbow propped up on the arm of the couch. He held her gaze for a moment and then a small, almost sad smile came to his face as he gave her a quick wink. Joey held his gaze for a moment and smiled as well before she turned back to watch the movie.
After a few minutes, Joey noticed out of the corner of her eye that Dawson had moved over to stand next to her. He bent his knees to crouch down, glancing at her.
“I was hoping I could maybe talk to you later. You know, just the two of us…” He said softly, keeping his voice in hushed tones as he watched her.
Joey swallowed, her throat going dry, and turned away from the movie to look at him. “Well, um…maybe we could talk after the movie is over?” She whispered back, not willing to offer any more.
Dawson sighed and looked disappointed. He nodded finally. “Okay. Why don’t you meet me up in my room after I finish this? I really wanted to spend some time alone with you before I leave.”
“Okay.” Joey nodded as well, giving him a half smile. Dawson walked away and she discreetly glanced over her shoulder to look at Pacey, but his eyes stayed fixed on the movie screen.
Joey stepped out onto the porch, letting the screen door slam shut behind her. In the moonlight that filtered down through the trees, she could see Pacey and Jen sitting on the back bumper of his truck on the other side of the yard. She took a deep breath and dropped her head as she made her way across the lawn to them.
Jen stood up as she approached. “Hey.” She said softly, cringing in sympathy as she saw Joey’s face. “Everything okay?”
Joey just nodded, feeling the heat rising up in her cheeks as she wiped at her red-rimmed eyes. She glanced at Pacey, who lowered his head and held her gaze, his dark eyes filled with concern and something else she could not recognize.
“Yeah. Just the usual.” Joey said finally as she shrugged her shoulders.
Jen gave her an encouraging smile as she reached over to squeeze her arm. “Okay. Just call me if you want to talk. I’ll be up for a while.”
“Thanks Jen.” Joey nodded as the two girls hugged each other.
Jen turned to walk into her house, patting Pacey on the shoulder as she left them. He watched her walk away for a moment and then turned his eyes back to Joey, chewing on the inside of his lower lip.
Joey sighed shakily. “Can we go now?”
Pacey stood up and walked to the passenger door on his truck, holding it open for her. He then walked around and climbed into the driver’s seat, placing his keys in the ignition. They started down the driveway and he pulled out onto the road that led to the B&B.
“Well, so much for our plan.” Joey sniffed, sounding slightly annoyed.
Pacey took his eyes off the road to look over at her, his voice rising slightly in frustration. “What did you want me to do, Jo? Go up and drag you out of his room? For all I knew you wanted to be there.”
Joey was momentarily taken aback by his outburst, but then sighed, bringing her hand to her forehead. “I’m sorry. This isn’t your fault, Pacey. I’m just…mad at no one in particular. I don’t mean to take it out on you.”
Pacey sighed as well and rested his arm on top of the steering wheel. “It’s okay.”
Joey glanced over at him as they were approaching her driveway. “I don’t really feel like going home.”
Pacey raised an eyebrow, considering this. “Fine by me. Where do you want to go?”
“I don’t know.” She turned to look out the window again. “Can we just drive for a while?”
“We can do whatever you want.”
Joey continued to look out the window as they drove through the almost deserted downtown area, the buildings and houses giving way to the trees and shrubbery on the outskirts of town and then the marshy outlands appeared as they headed towards the beach.
“I don’t think things will ever be easy where Dawson and I are concerned.” Joey said at last, wiping at her eye again. “Everything always has to turn into some big life-altering, impossibly complicated drama.”
Pacey glanced at her but didn’t say anything in response.
Joey turned her head to look directly at Pacey with a slight scowl on her face. “Do you know he actually thought I was going to stay there with him tonight? That he told me he was a little hurt to find out that I wasn’t considering it as well?”
Pacey took a deep breath, puffing his cheeks out, and then slowly exhaled. “Really?”
“I don’t know why I’m still so surprised when some of that old arrogance starts to surface. As much as Dawson may have appeared to have grown up on the outside, sometimes he can still be that same oblivious, infuriating 15 year old…” Joey shook her head, not finishing that thought before beginning on another. “He was actually insinuating that he thought I might need the comfort of…” Her voice trailed off again and she was quiet for a moment. “Then he told me that he was worried about me.”
Pacey looked at her in confusion. “Worried about you? Why?”
“Worried about how I was going to do next year. You know, at Worthington.” She glanced at Pacey. “That he was concerned about me really being on my own for the first time and that I might have a hard time without him being there for me. That I don’t know how college guys can be…oh, and how the scholastic atmosphere there is going to be so much more competitive than I am used to and he’s afraid I’ll take on more than I can handle.”
Pacey glanced over at her and saw the familiar look of doubt on her face. The look he had seen Dawson put there time and time again.
He shook his head slowly, a look of disgust crossing his face. “Jesus.” He muttered under his breath as he watched the road. He turned to face Joey, meeting her eyes for the first time since they had left the Leery’s driveway. “The only thing Dawson is worried about where you are concerned is that he knows he can’t keep this great secret to himself anymore, because when you get out there in the world, everyone is going to realize what an incredible person Joey Potter is. That she is a force to be reckoned with.” He smiled at her, his face softening momentarily, and Joey gave him a half smile in return, sniffing as she wiped at her eye with the back of her hand. “If you ask me, I think it sounds like Dawson is getting his first taste of insecurity.”
Pacey paused for a second to let his anger subside before speaking again, realizing that the tone of his voice had been harsher than he intended. “Don’t you think it might be possible that he’s the one who is starting to worry, Jo? He’s about to take off for the other side of the country to follow that life-long dream we’ve been hearing about all these years and he might be starting to face the reality that he is just going to be one very small insignificant fish in a great big pond. And, if he doesn’t realize it yet, believe me…he’s going to. I’m afraid our sheltered friend Dawson might be in for a bit of a rude awakening out there in the real world.”
Pacey glanced at her quickly before returning his eyes to the road. “Not that he probably won’t turn out to be everything that he wants to be, but you have to admit they lay it on pretty thick around that house as far as the extent of his talent goes.” He smiled slyly and Joey couldn’t help but giggle. “Especially when all the kid really has to show what he’s made of is that debacle we had to sit through tonight.” He paused before adding, “Although I have to say that I was pretty good in it.”
Joey smirked sadly. “So, Dawson was feeling a little bit of anxiety at the thought of leaving for college, and he just wanted to sleep with his security blanket tonight…is that what you’re saying, Pace?”
Pacey’s mouth dropped open and he furrowed his brow. “That’s, ah…not what I…” He stammered.
“Don’t worry about it.” Joey reached over to touch his arm, sparing him from finishing what he was trying to say. “I’ve come to a lot of realizations about my relationship with Dawson over these last several months. Whatever you might think of us as an outside observer, I’ve probably already thought it myself.” She sighed as she turned away again. “I just wish that I had these revelations a long time ago. I could have saved us both a lot of heartache. I sometimes think about how we got back together last year. I wonder sometimes if I had just let myself, I don’t know…not be afraid to be alone for a while, maybe even opened myself up to meet new people…” Her voice trailed off as she looked out the window.
Pacey tightened his grip on the steering wheel and then released it, but didn’t say anything.
“After I got my acceptance into Worthington, we were waiting to see what colleges he would get into and I think there was this unspoken understanding…we knew by then it was over and it was as if we were just waiting for someone else to tell us that, so we wouldn’t have to admit it to ourselves. When Dawson didn’t get into NYU, and then his acceptance letter from USC came the very next day, I…I almost felt relieved. The proximity of New York might have meant that we would have felt some obligation to hang on, California meant we would inevitably have to say good-bye.”
They continued down the road for a while in silence and then they were driving past the beach. Joey turned to look at him. “Can we get out here?”
Pacey shrugged his shoulders as he started to pull over. “Sure. If you want to.”
They got out of the truck and strolled down towards the dark water, slowly walking out over the flat rocks that stretched out into the surf.
“Tide’s coming in.” Pacey noted as they watched a wave break in front of them, sending the salty spray up into the night sky.
Joey looked out over the beach, the moonlight shimmering off the water and the twinkling lights of Capeside illuminating the silhouettes of sailboats moored in the harbor.
“I forget how beautiful it can be here.” She smiled as if she were seeing it for the first time. “Sometimes I think I’m really going to miss it when I leave for college.”
Pacey smiled as well, stuffing his hands in the pockets of his jeans. “Well, you know what the good thing about Capeside is?” He looked at her, tilting his head.
Joey just shook her head.
“It’s always going to be here for you whenever you want to come home.”
Joey grinned, raising her eyebrows as she pondered this.
“But…you’re not going to have time to miss it, because you are going to busy out there doing all kinds of amazing things.” Pacey continued quickly. “You should be so proud of yourself for what you’ve accomplished, and you should only be looking forward to getting to enjoy everything you worked so hard for all these years. You’re going to meet all kinds of new people and have all kinds of new experiences.” He shrugged his shoulders as he looked out at the water. “The last thing I am is worried about you, Jo.”
Joey smiled at him again, her eyes shining. “I know I’ve told you before that I don’t say it as often as I should, but…thank you, Pacey.”
She reached over to give him a hug, leaning up to wrap her arms around his shoulders. Pacey hesitated before he tentatively hugged her back, his hand gliding over the back of her hair, barely touching it, as he sighed inaudibly.
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