Joey sat back on the grass, resting on her hands as she stretched her arms out behind her, tilting her face up towards the sun and crossing her long legs out in front of her.
“Worst date you have ever been on?” Sue, the waitress with whom she was on break, looked up at her from the magazine she had spread out on her lap.
Joey scrunched up her face, thinking about this. “Worst in what way? As far as circumstances or personalities?”
“For the love of God, would you just answer the question, woman.” Pacey exclaimed from where he sat on top of the bench next to them, mumbling through a bite of the sandwich Joey had snuck out to him from the kitchen. “It’s a dating quiz in a magazine with Britney Spears on the cover, not a Senate hearing. You don’t need to qualify your every answer.”
Joey scowled at him and shook her head before narrowing her eyes. “Actually, you were there.”
Sue looked between the two of them with an amused smile. “Your worst date was with Pacey? That sure as hell explains a lot.”
Pacey made a face at her, mimicking her and pretending to laugh.
Joey giggled. “No.” She looked over at Pacey again. “Don’t you remember getting that call in the middle of the night to come pick me up?”
“Ah.” He replied, a light of understanding crossing his face as he nodded and dropped his head. “College boy.”
“Mm-hmm.” Joey nodded as well. “That one definitely set me back a bit.”
Pacey looked up, regarding her curiously for a moment. “I don’t think I realized he had gotten to you that much.”
“It wasn’t really him.” Joey shook her head and looked away for a moment. “As always, it was what I did to myself.” She finished in a quiet voice, shrugging her shoulders. “And, of course, we can’t forget that one date indirectly led to me getting back with Dawson, and we all know how that turned out.”
Pacey dropped his head a little and then tossed the remains of his sandwich into the nearby trash barrel, looking almost nauseous for a brief moment. “It’s hot as hell out here.” He grumbled under his breath as he pulled his shirt over his head, bunching it up in his hand to wipe at the sweat glistening on his forehead.
Both girls couldn’t help but look at him, their eyes surreptitiously traveling over his broad shoulders and muscular torso tanned a deep golden brown from his days out on the water. In the course of one short year, Pacey had gone from the self-proclaimed class clown to the guy all the girls in high school drooled over. And Joey had to admit that even she could see what it was they were all drooling about.
“Okay.” Sue sighed, looking back at the magazine and then to Joey. “Most romantic thing anyone has ever said to you?”
“Hey, I just answered one. It’s Pacey’s turn now.” She exclaimed.
Sue snorted and laughed as she looked at Pacey. “Wait, let me guess…your place or mine, right?”
Pacey grinned slowly and let his eyes drift over her. “You offering, doll?”
“Oh, please.” Sue guffawed as she rolled her eyes in exasperation, but her cheeks reddened as she looked back down at the magazine.
Joey shook her head at him with a smirk and Pacey just winked at her.
“Most romantic thing anyone has ever done for you?” Sue turned to Joey.
“Okay, now this…this I want to hear. We’re getting to the good questions now.” Pacey leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees as he watched Joey.
“The question doesn’t say ‘in bed’, Pacey.” Sue rolled her eyes again.
Joey squinted her eyes, considering this. “Well, I have to think about this one for a while…”
Pacey groaned and lowered his head as he and Sue exchanged weary looks.
Sue’s face suddenly brightened and she leaned in towards Pacey, lowering her voice conspiratorially. “A guy I dated once hung a sign off one of those bridges over Route 6 that said ‘I love you, Susan’ so I would see it on my way home from work.” She laughed as she sat back on the grass.
Pacey looked at her with a small grin. “Why does it sound like you weren’t too impressed by that?”
“My full name is Suzanne.” She rolled her eyes as she looked back to the magazine on her lap. “At least he didn’t spend money taking out a billboard or something like that.”
Joey smiled when she heard this. “Someone once gave me a wall.”
Pacey’s mouth dropped open and he almost fell forward off the bench. Recovering, he sat back and narrowed his eyes to watch her carefully as he lowered his voice suspiciously. “And, are you trying to say you found that to be romantic, Potter?”
Joey looked back at him and shrugged her shoulders with a smile. “I hadn’t really had anyone do something like that for me before.” She hesitated. “Or since.”
”A wall? What’s up with that?” Sue interjected, looking back and forth between them in confusion.
“Long story.” Joey smiled at her sweetly. “And, this has been an enlightening 20 minutes, but I have to be getting back to work now.” She stretched her arms out in front of her and stood up.
Sue stood up to follow her. “Yeah, me too. Bye, Pacey.”
Pacey just waved and watched them walk away for a moment before he called out. “Hey, Jo...”
Joey turned around to look at him as Sue continued on her way in. “Yeah?”
Pacey jogged up to her. “What are your plans for the Fourth of July?”
Joey tilted her head towards the Yacht Club behind her. “You’re looking at it.”
“Yeah…but they’ll let you out in time for the fireworks, right?”
Joey considered this. “Actually, I think that they are planning to have earlier seatings for dinner that night. Why?”
“A couple of guys I know are having a party down at Carson Beach that night. I’m working here during the day and then heading over after my shift. If you want to go over with me, I can hang around and wait for you.”
Joey grinned. “You know…that kind of sounds like fun. I haven’t had much of a social life lately.”
“Well, considering you’ve been spending most of your free time with me, I’ll try not to take that as an insult, Potter.”
“You know what I mean, Pace.”
He smiled at her. “Yeah, I know. Come find me down at the dock if you need a ride home later.”
“Okay.” Joey went to walk away and Pacey reached out suddenly to gently grab her elbow. She turned to look at him, raising her eyebrow.
“So, let me get this straight…were you or were you not admitting that you thought that was romantic?” He smirked, his blue eyes shining mischievously.
“So what if I was?” Joey replied simply, turning quickly to disappear into the Yacht Club, leaving Pacey standing there to just watch her go.
“Hmmpf.” Pacey muttered under his breath, looking slightly perplexed as he turned to head back to the marina.
Joey retied her apron as she entered the dining room, waving to the other wait staff as she glanced over at the tables they had been covering for her while she had been on break. She approached the main serving station and, reaching for a pitcher of water, she was surprised to find that her hand was trembling.
Joey pushed through the heavy back doors that led out to the delivery area in the parking lot, the warm rush of the summer evening washing over her. She had snuck through the kitchen entrance immediately after cashing out her last check, afraid that if she departed through the front hall reception area, Mrs. Valentine might have found some reason for her to stay.
The sun was beginning to set, sending pink and orange streaks across the dark blue and purple sky. As she passed the rose gardens on her way around the building, Joey breathed in their sweet fragrance mixed with salty scent of sea air. She felt a certain amount of excitement and exhilaration fill her, as she had been eager to finally have a little bit of fun this summer and she had almost forgotten what it was like to have a whole night of freedom from work. She pulled up the slinky strap of her tank top and then reached down to momentarily hop on one foot as she adjusted her sling-back sandals. Stuffing her uniform deeper into her bag, she hiked it up over her shoulder as she made her way down towards the dock.
She saw Pacey standing on the wharf near one of the small schooners at its slip, talking animatedly with the boat’s occupants. She vaguely recognized some of the people on the boat as being part of their graduating class. While Pacey may have distanced himself from her and Dawson in their senior year, he certainly seemed to have become quite friendly with a lot of other Capeside High students. Especially after he had hooked up with Drue as his partner in crime. Their pranks and their parties had reached almost legendary proportions. Add to that the speculations that Pacey seemed to have quite literally charmed the pants off several of the most attractive girls in school, and his esteemed reputation with the boys of their senior class had been firmly established.
A lot of what Joey knew of Pacey’s romantic entanglements over this past year, however, were just things she had accidentally overheard in the ladies’ room at school. She had only personally met one or two of the girls he purportedly dated. The one thing she had noticed was the way he seemed to keep everything so casual. She remembered how he had been with Andie, and she never saw him act like that with any of these girlfriends. She wondered sometimes if she had underestimated how badly Andie had broken his heart.
Dawson would often say, in his typical Dawson way, that Pacey was using all these girls and that he was only interested in one thing. That was another aspect to the situation that didn’t quite sit right with Joey. For one thing, other than his usual jokes and teasing, she had never seen Pacey making any kinds of serious moves on girls. At least not when he was in her company. And, for a high school boy who was supposedly getting all that sex, Pacey had not seemed to be really happy to her. There was a kind of sadness, almost a sort of restlessness, about him sometimes. But he had never let Joey back in enough to find out what it was.
Joey looked up and a smile slowly spread across her face as Pacey glanced over to see her making her way down the dock and their eyes met. “It’s about time, Potter.” He called out to her with a grin, his twinkling blue eyes standing out against his tanned skin. “Are you ready?”
“All set.” She grinned back as she reached his side. The grin quickly faded and she felt her stomach suddenly do a strange, unexpected little flip when his body brushed against hers as he turned to head towards the parking lot and she caught a slight whiff of his aftershave. Regaining her composure and blaming it on her anticipation of the night’s festivities, Joey followed him along the dock. Glancing over at the water, she noticed they were passing by his boat at its mooring.
“I have to say I’m a little surprised you didn’t have some date lined up for tonight, Pace.” She nodded towards the boat. “To go out and watch the fireworks from the water.”
Pacey glanced out at the boat and cringed inwardly. “Yeah. I guess I must be losing my touch. I think I’ve hit a little dry spell in the dating area.”
Joey smirked at him, as she knew that Pacey didn’t have any trouble getting dates. “Still haven’t found the girl to fit the name?”
Pacey just looked at her, furrowing his brow in confusion.
“True Love?” Joey offered, raising her eyebrows and smiling in amusement.
“Ahh…” Pacey sighed knowingly and felt his stomach sink. “Yeah, you know, I’ve done some thinking. Maybe the fact of the matter is that I named her that because…well, that’s what she is.”
Joey thought about this for a minute. “So, the boat would be your true love?”
“Yeah. Something like that.” Pacey smiled at her indulgently and nodded, wanting to be finished with the conversation.
“Well…I guess that’s kind of romantic.” Joey nodded as well, watching him out of the corner of her eye as she smirked. “In a really, really sad and pathetic way.”
They had reached his truck now and Pacey went to open her door for her. “You know, you keep up the sweet talk like that, Potter, and you may just get lucky tonight.”
“In your dreams.” Joey rolled her eyes with a laugh as she climbed up into her seat.
“Every night.” He sighed under his breath as he shut the truck door.
Joey could hear the music and voices from the party drifting up from the beach as Pacey threw the truck into park and cut the engine. He quickly reached behind his seat and pulled out a sweatshirt, offering it to Joey.
“What’s this?” She hesitated before taking it from him.
“Well, it’s going to get cold down here by the water tonight and I had the feeling that you might not dress appropriately. Not that I’m complaining, mind you, because I happen to be a big fan of your skimpier outfits.” He grinned wolfishly. “But I just don’t want you to be crying to go home before the fireworks are over.”
She just shook her head at him and climbed out of the truck. They had only made it half way across the beach to where the party was set up when she shivered and carefully pulled the sweatshirt on over her head, casting a quick look in Pacey’s direction. He smiled to himself, but didn’t say anything.
“Hey Witter!” A very inebriated young man stumbled towards them as they reached the crowd. “You made it!”
“Sean, how long have you been here?” Pacey said as he appraised him.
Sean shook Pacey’s outstretched hand, turning to blatantly stare at Joey. “Man, you get all the hot chicks.” He sighed dejectedly.
Pacey chuckled, glancing at Joey. “No. Not this one, my friend.” He shook his head. “She’s too smart to get involved with the likes of me.”
Joey looked over at Pacey, meeting his eyes with a smirk.
Sean looked back and forth between them both. “No, dude. She totally wants you. I can tell.”
Pacey tore his gaze from Joey to look back at his friend with a frown. “How are you getting home tonight?”
He grinned triumphantly. “I’m not. I’m planning on sleeping on the beach.”
“Good.” Pacey placed his hands on Sean’s shoulders and turned him around before giving him a tiny shove back towards the party. “Make sure that you do that.” Pacey looked back at Joey and raised his eyebrow, his deep voice teasing her. “You hear that, Potter? According to Sean, you want me.”
Joey smiled slowly but before she could reply, she heard someone else calling out to them. She turned to see Jen approaching them.
“Hey! I didn’t know you two were going to be here tonight.” She smiled as she hugged them both. “Drue dragged me here hours ago and now I can’t find him.”
“Well, speak of the devil.” Joey smiled as Drue suddenly emerged from the crowd as well.
“And the devil appears.” Drue grinned, bowing graciously before he reached over to pat Jen on the top of her blond curls. He looked over at Pacey. “Witter! Just the person I‘ve been looking for all night.” He put an arm around his shoulder. “Come walk with me, my friend. I have a proposition to discuss with you.”
Pacey rolled his eyes a bit, giving Joey a quick smile. “Hopefully this won’t take long.”
Joey watched them go and then she turned to Jen. “So, I guess this is the part where we hit the keg, huh?”
“Oh…no, no, no.” Jen shook her head as she linked her arm through Joey’s. “There is a delightful group of partygoers over here to our left that thought enough to bring a battery-powered blender with them to make frozen drinks.” Jen started to lead Joey in that direction. “And I have decided that such resourcefulness awards them the honor of being our new best friends.”
“You always did have good taste in friends.” Joey grinned as she followed her.
Joey was halfway through her second drink and had just started to feel the hazy affects of the alcohol when Drue suddenly reappeared. She frowned a little in disappointment when she saw that Pacey wasn’t with him.
“If you’ll follow me, ladies, I have found us the perfect front row seat for the fireworks.” He motioned with his hand for them to accompany him towards the big rocks at the far end of the beach that covered the hill leading up to the boardwalk. “They are going to be starting any minute now.”
“Um…where’s Pacey?” Joey asked, sipping her drink as she walked.
“He, ah…should be along shortly.” Drue replied and Joey thought she heard something in the tone of his voice.
They passed another bonfire on their way down the beach and in the light of the flickering flames Joey saw Pacey standing and talking with someone. She hesitated a moment when she recognized the person as Leah White. She was a year behind them in school, a tall, attractive girl whose father was a long-standing member of the Yacht Club. And, for a short time that year, she had been one of Pacey’s girlfriends.
Joey dropped her head, a strange feeling starting to rise up in her stomach. She glanced back over her shoulder as she walked, narrowing her eyes as she watched them interact. This girl was leaning into Pacey as she talked and Joey saw how intimate their conversation appeared to be. She shook her head, throwing back a gulp of the icy, fruity liquid in her cup.
Dawson had once teased her that it was in her nature to be slightly jealous of the girls Pacey dated. He claimed that she put some kind of emotional stake in the few people she kept close to her and she didn’t like to share her friends. It was another one of Dawson’s theories that she never quite agreed with. Although she had to admit there had to be some explanation as to why she never particularly liked any of the girls she saw with Pacey.
Joey followed Jen and Drue as they clumsily scaled the side of the small rocky hill at the end of the beach, cursing under their breath, until they finally reached the wide, flat boulders at the top. They sat just as the fireworks started going off overhead. The flickering colored lights illuminated the night sky and Joey looked back down to the group at the bonfire to see that Pacey had disappeared. Leah White was gone as well. Joey frowned and sighed, leaning back to take another sip of her drink.
“There is a set of stairs right back here you know.” Joey quickly looked over her shoulder at the sound of Pacey’s voice to see him approaching them from behind, jumping playfully from rock to rock. He regarded them all. “You guys looked like some drunken version of the Eco-Challenge.” He dropped down to take a seat directly behind Joey. He leaned forward to peer over her shoulder and his deep, husky voice tickled her ear. “Whatcha drinking there, Potter?”
Joey smiled, feeling the heat from the alcohol rising up in her cheeks. She held up the plastic cup, offering it to him, and he took it in his hand. “Some kind of fruity thing.” She shrugged her shoulders.
Pacey went to take a sip and then caught a whiff of the alcohol. “Yeah, some fruit and lots and lots of rum.”
“It’s my night off.”
Pacey gave her back her drink without a word, looking amused.
Joey turned back to watch the sky. After a moment she grew uncomfortable and adjusted her position on the rock to lean back. She bumped against Pacey’s body behind her and was just about to move again when his hands came to rest lightly on her shoulders, his fingers gently tapping along to the beat of the music that drifted up from the party. Leaning back against him a little, she smiled contentedly as she looked up at the fireworks going off above them.
“Oh, the keg’s out. I’m so bummed.” Joey turned to look at Pacey with a pout, holding her empty cup in her hand.
He scratched his head, chuckling a little. “That sounds like something that would be on a Top Ten list of things you’d never hear Joey Potter say.” He gently took the empty cup from her hand. “Maybe that’s a sign that I should get you home now.”
Joey frowned. “Do we have to? I was having so much fun.”
“Yes. I noticed.” Pacey smiled. “And, I hate to be the one to break it to you, but I think the party’s over, Jo. Drue’s gone already, if that tells you anything.”
Joey looked around to see only a handful of people left on the beach, the bonfires extinguished. “Oh.” She sighed forlornly. “Okay.”
They started in the direction of Pacey’s truck and he turned to regard her with a smile. “So, what’s going on with you tonight? Are you just trying to get in shape for all those Worthington parties you have to look forward to this fall?”
Joey smirked at him as she slurred her words a bit. “I know you think I don’t know how to have fun. You think I’m uptight.”
Pacey opened his mouth, pretending to be shocked by the accusation. “I never said that!”
“Hmmpf. But you thought it.” Joey narrowed her eyes at him. Her legs started to feel heavy as they trudged through the sand and she start to veer off to the left. Pacey reached out for her arm to pull her towards him, putting her back on course. “You think I’m boring.”
“Now, I definitely never said that.” Pacey shook his head.
“It’s okay.” Joey shrugged and sighed as she walked. “I am kind of boring. I admit it. Bessie tells me that I’m afraid to take chances.”
Pacey considered this but didn’t say anything.
“The thing is…” Joey leaned in towards Pacey and he had to take her arm to adjust her again as she bumped into him. “I’m not afraid to take chances. The chances have never presented themselves for me to take them, you know?”
Pacey furrowed his brow for a moment and then raised his eyebrows. “Well…then you look for them.” He said simply as he shrugged his shoulders.
“Look for what?” Joey replied, confused.
“Chances to take.”
Joey nodded seriously as she thought about this and then looked at him with a smile. “That’s what you do, isn’t it, Pace?”
He let out a little hollow laugh. “Not really.”
“Yes, you do.” Joey grinned. “I want to be more like that.”
“Well, I guess college would be a good place to start then.” Pacey offered with a small smile.
“Or I could start right now.” Joey giggled and Pacey was reminded of how many drinks she had that evening.
“Yeah, but taking chances with lots of alcohol in your system is usually not advised. And, besides…it’s cheating.”
“How is it cheating?” Joey narrowed her eyes at him.
“Because then it’s the booze talking, Potter.”
Joey stopped short in the sand, folding her arms across her chest. “You just don’t think I’m capable.”
Pacey slowed to a stop, turning to look at her as he discreetly checked his watch. “Yes, I do, Jo.” He assured her. “But it’s getting really late and I think all those chances you’re looking for have probably gone to bed for the night, so why don’t we…”
“I think one of them is standing right in front of me.” She cut him off with a giggle.
Pacey’s mouth dropped open as he froze on the spot. “Huh?”
“What would you say if I kissed you right now, Pacey Witter?” She smiled slowly, raising an eyebrow suggestively.
Pacey didn’t even seem to flinch, as if he were still frozen in place. “Umm…huh?” He repeated and this time his voice cracked just slightly.
Joey took a couple of steps toward him, closing the distance between them, until she was right in front of him. “I said…what would you say if I kissed you?” She grinned.
Pacey swallowed, his mouth going dry as his eyes drifted over her face, just inches away from his now. “I’d say you’re drunk, Jo.” He finally said in a low voice.
“So, then I’m cheating, right?” She whispered breathily as she leaned into him, bringing her hands up to hold his face. She gently touched her lips to his, sighing as she felt how soft they were. She took his bottom lip between hers and then let her tongue glide along his lips, parting them. Leaning into his body a little more she deepened the kiss, slowly sliding her tongue into his mouth, tasting him, before pulling away to look at his face. He met her gaze and she saw about a hundred different emotions fly through his eyes, finally landing on what could only be described as sheer, abject terror.
Startled, Joey quickly stepped back, her heart pounding and her stomach doing somersaults. “I don’t think I feel so good.” She muttered as she brushed past Pacey to hurry towards the truck.
Pacey just stood there and stared at the spot she had been standing in, feeling like the ground had dropped out from under him.
Pacey pulled his truck off the side of the road, glancing over at the floodlights that illuminated the gated driveway across the street. He sat there a moment, chewing on the inside of his lower lip as he reached over to adjust the volume on the radio. Suddenly the passenger door flew open.
“It’s about time, Pacey.” Leah huffed in a hushed voice as she climbed up into the seat, reaching over to pull the heavy door shut behind her. “I expected you to be here over an hour ago. It’s almost two in the morning.”
“Sorry.” He muttered. “I had to drive…some people home after the party.”
“Whatever.” She sighed, tossing her hair back. “So, where are we going? The beach house? I overheard my dad saying that he is getting up by 6:00 am tomorrow for a golf game, so I have to be back here before…” She slid over closer to him on the seat as she spoke, leaning in to kiss him. Pacey unconsciously pulled away before her lips touched his and Leah sat back to look at his face. “What is it?” She narrowed her eyes accusingly as she watched him. “You don’t have any condoms on you again?”
Pacey cringed, shaking his head as he rested his hands on the steering wheel. “No. It’s just that I, ah… I don’t think this is…um, a good idea anymore.” He struggled to get the words out, not meeting her eyes.
“You have got to be kidding me.” Leah said through gritted teeth as she closed her eyes. “First you completely blow me off for the fireworks, and I forgive you for that. We make this plan to hook-up later, and now I find out you’re just here to blow me off again?” Leah’s voice rose in anger with each word. “Twice in one night, Pacey? That has got to be a new record. Even for you.”
Pacey lowered his head, his eyes darkening as he gazed out his windshield. “I know. I’m sorry.”
“Don’t you ever get sick of saying that word?” She shook her head at him wearily and then exhaled loudly, dropping her head into her hands for a moment. “I don’t know what the hell is wrong with you, Pacey, but I’m starting to think you need serious help. First you act like you want to be with me, then can’t get away fast enough when I’m actually here.” She reached for the door handle, looking at him. “I’d tell you not to bother calling me again, but, let’s face it, when did you ever call me before?”
Pacey opened his mouth to speak, wincing at the pain he saw in her eyes and knowing he put it there, but had no words. Leah slammed the truck door shut and he saw her run back across the street and disappear up the long driveway.
He dropped his head, leaning forward to bang it against the steering wheel, and groaned under his breath, still trying to fight the emotions he had felt rising up inside him ever since that kiss on the beach. Twenty-two seconds versus a year of denial, regret and longing.
He did need serious help.
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