“Here, let me get that.”
Joey took her cup of coffee and glanced over her shoulder to see Kyle reaching past her to hand the cashier a bill.
“Oh, you don’t have to do that.” Joey shook her head, her own money still clutched in her outstretched hand.
“I got it. Really.” He nodded towards the cashier. “Keep the change.”
Joey dropped her head, tucking her hair behind her ear. “Thanks.”
“No problem.” Kyle smiled brightly at her. “So, are you feeling any better since the other night? I feel badly that you had to leave the party so abruptly.”
Joey avoided his eyes as she turned and started moving in the direction of the table where Jen and Audrey were waiting for her. “Yeah, I think I was just a little overtired. Sorry about that.”
Kyle fell in step next to her as she walked. “It’s okay. I’m actually glad I bumped into you here because I was going to give you a call today. The foundation my uncle runs has a big holiday charity gala every year at the Ritz Carlton. It’s usually a lot of fun and it’s for a really great cause. So I was wondering if you might be interested in going with me this year.”
Joey raised her eyebrows. “Oh, um…when is it?”
“The second weekend in December, that Saturday night. They usually have some fabulous entertainment and the food is unbelievable. We can get dressed up, do some dancing…what do you think?”
They reached the table and Joey ignored Jen and Audrey as they peered inquisitively over the rims of their coffee cups.
"That does sound like fun.” Joey shrugged uncertainly.
“I promise you, it will be.” Kyle almost beamed. “I even have a suite reserved at the Four Seasons for a little after party. I have to run right now, I have an exam this afternoon, but I’ll give you a call later.”
“Okay.” Joey nodded.
“Bye.” He leaned in to give her a quick kiss before waving to Jen and Audrey and hurrying out the doors of the café.
Joey dropped down into the chair across from her friends, sipping her coffee and studiously avoiding their curious gazes from the other side of the table.
“So, spill.” Audrey finally leaned forward. “What was this he was just talking to you about?”
“Some holiday benefit.” Joey shrugged. “He asked me if I’d like to go. It’s for charity.”
“Oh yeah? What charity are we talking here?” Audrey smirked. “Rich boys trying to get laid?”
“Audrey!” Joey looked up quickly, glaring at her.
“Did you not hear the part he slipped in at the end there about the suite at the Four Seasons, Joey? Exactly how many people are going to be at this so-called after party? Besides the two of you, I mean.”
Joey opened her mouth to answer her but then closed it with a frown.
Jen spoke up, “I kind of have to go with Audrey on this one, Joey. If the guy is spending the money for a suite at a place like the Four Seasons, I have to assume he intends on staying the night there.” She paused. “And if you’re going as his date, I have to assume he intends on staying there with you.”
Joey noticed Jen and Audrey exchange knowing looks across the table and felt the irritation inexplicably rising up inside her, as if they were somehow patronizing her. “Well, maybe I want to stay the night with him. Did you ever think of that?”
They both turned their attention back to her in surprise.
“Um, okay.” Audrey shrugged. “Whatever. I didn’t realize you were that into the guy.”
Joey didn’t respond to this and an awkward silence fell over the table for a moment before Jen spoke again, turning to Audrey. “So, Drue told you that you are more than welcome at Grams for Thanksgiving, right?”
“Yeah, thanks, but I already bought my ticket home.” Audrey smiled. “I would have been so excited to finally meet the Grams, too. But don’t worry because I lectured those boys on making sure they don’t show up empty-handed and to help out with the dishes. Pacey assured me that he is a veteran of your Thanksgiving table…”
Joey’s head shot up. “Pacey’s not going home to Capeside for Thanksgiving? Why?”
Jen looked at her. “He didn’t really say. I think he must have to work.” She hesitated. “So, you’re getting a ride home with Jack and Andie, right?”
“Yeah.” Joey mumbled absently.
She didn’t know why she was so surprised to hear about Pacey’s holiday plans, but she supposed it had more to do with the fact that she didn’t already personally know about them. It felt strange and vaguely unsettling to hear things about Pacey’s life from other people. Joey sat back in her chair, gazing into her coffee cup as the conversation went on without her, and tried to ignore the hollow ache in her chest.
Joey hiked her duffel bag up over her shoulder as she trailed reluctantly behind Jack, her attention fixed on the stairs as she counted the steps in her head. Jack paused when they reached the landing, pulling his keys out of his pocket and turning to look at her before he unlocked the door.
“Pacey has a class right now, in case you were wondering.”
Joey eyes widened slightly before she narrowed them to look back at him. “It’s really not necessary for you to feel like you have to tell me things like that.”
“I know.” He smiled at her kindly and Joey’s face softened, relenting as she gave him a self-conscious smile in return.
They entered the condo and Jack tossed the mail he had picked up in the foyer onto the countertop separating the living room from the kitchen. “Andie should be meeting us here soon. And my dad will be picking us up on his way out of the city. If he can’t find parking around here this time of day, he’ll probably just pull up outside and honk the horn.” He raised his eyebrows and smiled at her as he walked over to the couch to open his backpack. “So, what’s on Bodie’s Thanksgiving menu this year?”
They were interrupted by the sound of keys in the hall outside and then Pacey emerged through the front door. His eyes immediately locked on Joey’s and they both seemed to freeze for a brief second before she abruptly turned away.
“Hey…Pacey.” Jack greeted him hesitantly. “I thought you had a class?”
“Yeah.” Pacey shrugged as he walked over to the counter to pick up the mail Jack had just dropped there. “I blew it off.”
“Hmmpf.” Joey made a soft noise under her breath.
“Did you want to say something over there, Jo?” Pacey asked nonchalantly as he sifted through the mail in his hand, not bothering to look over at her.
“Aw shit. She’s going to kill me.” Jack suddenly groaned from where he had been digging through his backpack as he pulled out a manila folder. “This is Jen’s paper that’s due today. I was supposed to drop it off in her teacher’s mailbox because she was running late for work this afternoon. Crap. What time is it?”
“4:30.” Pacey answered, glancing up at the clock in the kitchen.
“He’s there until 5. If I run I can get this over there in time.” Jack started for the door. “Sorry, Joey. Andie should be here any minute.” He glanced between the two of them, pausing momentarily. “You guys are going to be all right if I…”
Pacey turned to look at Joey, his face blank except for just a hint of amusement in his eyes. “You don’t have a problem being left alone with me, do you, Jo?”
“It’s fine.” Joey spoke through gritted teeth, avoiding Pacey’s gaze. “Just go, Jack.”
“Okay. I’ll be back as soon as I can.” He gave a quick wave before he darted out the door.
They stood there alone in silence a moment before Pacey walked away from the mail, shrugging his coat off as he crossed the living room to his bedroom. Joey eyed him warily, moving over to sit on the arm of the couch. He reemerged from his room, headed back to the kitchen, without looking over at her.
“Do you want anything?” He asked as he opened the refrigerator door.
Joey looked down to examine her fingernails. “All set, thanks.” She paused, lowering her voice. “And I just wanted to let you know that I didn’t appreciate that little stunt of yours the other night.”
“Stunt?” Pacey walked out into the living room, taking a long swig from the water bottle in his hand before tilting his head to appraise her. “Is that what you thought it was?”
Joey glanced up at him quickly, meeting his eyes briefly. “I know you, Pacey. You were just trying to get a reaction out of me. It’s what you do.”
Pacey smirked, nodding his head. “Yeah, and I have to say you’ve given me some pretty memorable reactions.”
Joey’s eyes flared as she heard the suggestive tone of his voice and she stood up, turning to face him. “I can’t believe you.” She exclaimed. “Who are you? How can the person who goes out of his way to do something so kind and caring like what you’ve been doing for Andie be the same guy who sleeps around so carelessly with so many random girls? I can’t seem to figure out how to reconcile the two in my mind.”
Pacey looked at her a moment, his eyes darkening. “Gee, sorry, Jo.” His deep voice was laden with sarcasm. “But you’ll have to learn to forgive the rest of us for being human. Most of us are mere mortals. We can’t all be Dawson Leery.”
“What’s Dawson got to do with anything?” Joey looked at him, scowling in confusion.
Pacey dropped his head. “Forget it.”
“This is about you, Pacey. I…I just don’t get it. I don’t get you.”
“What’s to get? After all, you’re the one who told me everyone knows what I’m all about, right?” He let out a small bitter laugh. “You know what? I’m done. I’m fucking done feeling guilty and apologizing to you about what happened that night when we both know that you were doing whatever you could do to avoid any kind of discussion with me, which I can only assume meant that you didn’t really want anything to happen anyway…” Pacey hesitated when he saw her face fall. His tone softened, questioning her. “Did you, Jo?”
Joey fidgeted nervously, biting her lower lip as her cheeks flushed a light shade of pink. She lowered her gaze to focus on the floor.
Pacey ran his hand over his hair, before raising his eyes to look at her again with a sigh, not bothering to wait for an answer. “You and I also both know you walked out that door that night with someone else. Someone else that you just happen to be dating now.” He paused, chewing on the inside of his lower lip. “Funny how that worked out, isn’t it?”
Joey looked away and folded her arms across her chest, but didn’t respond.
“So, I saw you with this Kyle guy the other night, Jo. When you first got to that party.” Pacey spoke slowly, watching her carefully. “And it suddenly dawned on me that you didn’t look like you wanted to be there. As a matter of fact, you looked like it was the last place you wanted to be.” Pacey approached her, stopping only inches away from her. “And I’ve just been trying to figure out why you’d look like that when you were on a date with this guy. Do you have any answers to that one?”
“Why do you think you deserve an answer from me after what happened?” Joey glanced up at him quickly before looking away again.
“Now, see…right there.” He pointed at her, shaking his finger. “I’ve also noticed that you have a very different look on your face when you’re around me. That one I had a little more trouble figuring out, though. But, you know, I think I’ve finally got it.” He lowered his voice. “I think you’re scared.”
Joey rolled her eyes, but avoided his gaze. “Please. Don’t flatter yourself, Pace. You don’t have that much of an affect on me.”
Pacey stepped in even closer as he raised his hand up to gently brush his knuckles against her cheek, caressing the soft skin with his thumb. “So then why are you shaking right now, Jo?” He whispered in a husky voice, pausing before asking, “What are you scared of?”
She swallowed nervously, lifting her gaze finally to meet his eyes, losing herself for a moment in the deep blue depths and feeling once again like he could look right into her thoughts.
“Nothing.” She muttered unconvincingly.
“What is it, Jo? Tell me.” He spoke softly, gently, and his deep voice washed over her.
“I don’t know.” She barely whispered the words, wrinkling her brow as she lowered her head.
“Are you scared to be with me, Jo? Why? What are you afraid of?”
She was silent for a long while. “You’ll do it again.” She answered finally, her voice breaking on the words.
“No.” Pacey shook his head calmly and spoke with quiet determination. “I won’t.”
Joey looked at him before closing her eyes with a teary sigh and shaking her head. “Face it, Pacey. I wasn’t what you really wanted.”
Pacey dropped his hand, his mouth falling open slightly as he took a step back, blinking his eyes. “Is that what you really think? You couldn’t be more wrong, Jo.” His voice lowered to the point where his words were barely audible. “You were all I wanted.”
"Well, then why did you…” She stopped herself from what she was going to ask as the tears welled up in the corners of her wide eyes. “What happens when the next girl comes along who…?”
“I told you. That’s not going to happen.” Pacey cut her off as he fixed his dark blue eyes on her.
“How can I know that, Pace?”
“You can’t know it. You just have to take the chance. It’s right here for you to take.”
Joey quickly raised her head to meet his eyes again, remembering the conversation they had on the beach that night, so long ago. It seemed like another lifetime and in reality it had really only been a few months. She felt the lump rise in her throat, unable to tear her gaze from his face as he raised his hand again to gently touch her chin, tilting it up. He leaned down towards her and she closed her eyes as he barely brushed his soft lips against hers, the gentle, familiar touch sending an overwhelming rush of emotions through her whole body.
She jumped back, covering her mouth to muffle a sob. “I’m sorry, Pace. I can’t do this right now.” She picked up her bag and slung it over her shoulder as the tears started to fall. “I’m going to go wait downstairs for Jack and Andie. I’m sorry.”
Pacey sighed heavily as he watched her run away, the door closing in his face.
“Joey? Hey there!”
Kyle smiled in surprise as he emerged from the lecture hall and jogged down the steps to where Joey had been waiting for him on the sidewalk. He rested his hand on the small of her back, leaning in to kiss her on the cheek.
“I was going to call you last night but I wasn’t sure what time you were getting back from home. How was your Thanksgiving?”
“Good, thanks.” Joey gave him a weak smile as she wrapped her scarf a little tighter around her neck and they started to walk. “How was yours?”
“Oh, the usual Walthorp family gathering.” Kyle grinned. “Maybe you’ll have a chance to meet some of them at the benefit.”
Joey cringed slightly and slowed her walk to a stop.
“Kyle, I was actually waiting for you because I need to talk to you.” She hesitated briefly, nervously playing with the strap on her backpack. “I’m sorry…but I can’t go to that party with you.”
“Oh, I see.” He frowned, his voice changing.
Joey sighed before continuing. “I also need to apologize because I haven’t been completely honest with you. You asked me once about that night you drove me home from the bar, if there was someone else then? Well, the truth of the matter is that there… kind of still is. He had done something and I guess I was just hurt and angry with him, and that’s why I answered you the way that I did. But, I still have all these feelings for him and he’s always on my mind and I still have to figure a lot of things out, so it’s not fair to you….”
“Well, what makes you think this guy won’t do something to hurt you again?” Kyle cut in quietly, his jaw clenching.
“Even if he did, it doesn’t change how I feel right now, Kyle.” Joey replied in a measured voice. “I’m sorry about all of this. You’ve been nothing but nice to me and…”
“And you obviously prefer someone who isn’t so nice to you.” He sneered.
Joey was slightly taken aback by his tone. “He’s not like th…I’m sorry.” Joey replied as she dropped her head with a frown, not bothering to explain any further, realizing she could never explain exactly what Pacey was to her, especially to someone who didn’t know him.
Kyle let out a short, bitter laugh as he started to walk away. “I guess I should wish you good luck. Sounds like you’re going to need it.”
Joey pushed through the door of her room, groaning under her breath.
“What are you doing here?” She placed her hands on her hips and scowled at Drue sprawled on Audrey’s bed, flipping through one of her magazines.
“What does it look like I’m doing?” He didn’t bother to raise his head as he turned another page. “I’m waiting for Audrey.”
“Well, where is she? And how did you get in here? If you want to wait for her there’s a student lounge right across the hall, you know.”
“Yes. I know.” Drue replied dryly. “I was waiting there. And, as fascinating as the discussion on the existentialism of SpongeBob Squarepants was, how could I not take advantage of a perfectly good opportunity to possibly irritate and inconvenience my favorite choleric coed?” He looked up at her with a grin.
Joey sighed in exasperation, walking over to her desk to throw her backpack down, pulling her books out one by one.
“So, Audrey tells me you’ll be attending the annual Walthorp Holiday Gala this year. You must be very impressed with yourself. Everybody who’s anybody is going to be there.”
Joey turned to look at him over her shoulder, noting the sarcasm in his voice. “Not that it’s any of your business, but no, I’m not going.”
“Really?” Drue raised an eyebrow in mild surprise. “What’s the sense in dating up if you’re not going to take the advantage of the fringe benefits?”
“Yeah.” Drue shrugged. “I mean, you’re a smart girl, Joey. Why would you want damaged goods like Pacey Witter when you can have top shelf, right?”
“Shut up, Drue.” She snapped at him, turning back to her books. “You have no idea what you’re talking about.”
“Yeah, Pacey says that a lot to me too. But think it’s all pretty clear. After all, there must be some good reason as to why you keep throwing the guy over for smug, condescending pricks like Dawson Leery and Kyle Walthorp.”
“Once again you have the story wrong, Drue. You’re missing a few keys facts such as, oh, I don’t know, Pacey screwing the girl he works with? I’m not even dating Kyle now, not that it matters. And why does everyone keep bringing Dawson into this?” Joey raised her voice slightly. “Dawson and I had been over for months before Pacey and I started this thing. That’s another story you have totally wrong, Drue.”
Drue opened his mouth to answer her but nothing came out as he narrowed his eyes, watching her carefully for a long while. When he finally spoke, his voice was soft, almost full of wonder. “And, to think, all this time, I just thought you were a cold, heartless bitch. You really are that clueless aren’t you?”
“What?” Joey shrugged her shoulders and shook her head in confusion.
Drue sat up, running his hand through his hair, momentarily ignoring her and continuing on as if he was speaking to himself. “You never even knew. This whole time.” He shook his head. “The kid put himself through hell and you were completely oblivious.”
“What are you talking about, Drue?” Joey was becoming angry and impatient.
“Pacey,” he sighed tiredly, regarding her finally, “for reasons beyond my comprehension, believes himself to be in love with you. He has for years, as near as I can tell.”
Drue’s cell phone rang at that moment and he pulled it from his jacket. “Hey, babe. Yeah, I’ve been waiting here in your room. All right, I’m leaving now.” He clicked the phone shut and stood up. “Well, I can’t say this hasn’t been interesting, Potter.” He started for the door, turning to glance at her one last time before he left. “Personally, I never thought you were worth it. But I was always hoping that you might prove me wrong some day. Oh well.”
Joey just sat there, frozen in position at her desk, staring at the floor with her mouth hanging open.
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