Pacey stacked the wooden crates on the dock, pausing momentarily to adjust his leather gloves, his breath forming tiny ice crystal clouds in the cold early morning air. There was almost an eerie, intensified silence in the air around him, the kind of soundlessness that always preceded snow. He briefly considered stopping for coffee, but then decided he just wanted to be done and out of there as quickly as possible.
He turned back to the crates he was loading, his mind turning back to Joey, as it always did. But, that was one of the downfalls of the repetitive actions required for manual labor. There was nothing else to occupy his thoughts here except her. Pacey sighed heavily, shaking his head as he lifted another crate. Now he’d stooped so low as to try and make excuses to himself.
The tips of his fingers were getting numb again and he stopped to readjust his gloves, glancing up at the buildings of the Boston waterfront behind him and the pale gray sky above. He had really felt like he was close to making some kind of breakthrough with her the other day, that maybe she was finally going to tell him what he had been waiting all this time to hear. He had to almost chuckle at the irony that she could believe he would want anyone but her. If she only knew how wrong she was. If only he could figure out how to tell her how wrong she was.
He hadn’t told a girl he loved her since he was sixteen years old. Back when he barely knew what love was. Of course, it wasn’t like he had some firm grasp on the concept now. But, regardless, he still remembered how scary it was to attempt to hand his heart over to someone like that. And then how it felt when she had turned around later and basically dropkicked it into the trash. None of that compared, however, to the all-encompassing, mind-consuming, heart-gripping terror he felt at the thought of opening himself up in that way to Joey, of giving the one person in the world who could ultimately destroy him the power to do so.
Sometimes he didn’t know where his confidence, or arrogance, as she seemed to like to call it, came from when he was around her, because that was the last thing he was feeling when they were apart.
“That’s it, Witter. Just those and you’re done for today.” The dock foreman came up behind him, perusing over the forms on his clipboard.
Pacey grunted in relief as he slid the last crate on the platform, the feeling pretty much gone from his fingers by this point. “I could kiss you right now.”
“Please don’t.” The foreman walked away, his attention never wavering from the clipboard in his hand
Pacey left the dock and trudged over the footbridge that led downtown, watching the choppy, dark waters of the harbor swirling around through the grates below his feet, his only mission at this moment to find the strongest, hottest and largest cup of coffee the city could offer him. He was moving in the opposite direction of the pedestrian traffic, people heading out of their offices for the lunch hour, and rushing to get back before the snow.
His head was bowed slightly as he walked so that the first thing he saw was a pair of boots standing in his path, unyielding amidst the sea of moving bodies. He slowed to a stop as his eyes traveled up her long jean-clad legs, over her woolen winter coat to the multi-colored scarf wrapped so high around her neck so that all he could see was the tip of her nose, tinged a rosy pink color from the cold, her hair whipping across her face from the wind coming off the water, and her eyes shining at him from where she stood in front of him on the bridge.
“Hey.” He said softly, furrowing his brow slightly as he wondered if this was just a coincidental meeting.
“Hey, Pace.” She reached up to pull the scarf down out of the way to speak, brushing a stray strand of hair out of her eyes. “I, um…was wondering if I you had a minute.”
“Sure.” He shrugged, hesitating.
She frowned. “I kind of just wanted to ask you something.”
Pacey sighed and tried to ignore the slight sense of foreboding as he shoved his hands in his coat pockets and motioned for her to follow him out of the way of the throngs of people on the bridge. He stopped and turned to face her, leaning back against the concrete railings, just as the first flurries of snow began to fall from the sky.
“I, um, had a conversation with Drue yesterday that has me kind of confused.”
Pacey felt the tension start to mount inside him. Conversations with Drue were never good things.
“See, he said…we were talking and your name came up and…”
Conversations with Drue where his name came up were even worse.
“He seems to claim that you’ve had certain feelings for me…for a long time.”
Pacey felt like the words were suspended in the air between them, floating in front of eyes in slow motion along with the snow, as he felt his heart drop with a resounding thud into his stomach.
“I mean, this is Drue we’re talking about…” Joey amended quickly, her words rushed and confused. “And, believe me, I am well aware of the stories he tells and how he likes to aggravate people, but I just kind of wanted to talk to you and…I mean, I know it’s crazy because you, because you…”
“Because I what?” Pacey asked quietly.
“You couldn’t have felt…I would have known, right?” Joey shrugged nervously, trying to smile as if it was a joke and she was just getting the punch line. “So, anyway, I think I’ll just be going now, because this was obviously one of Drue’s…”
“What if it’s true?” Pacey heard the words leave his mouth before he had time to think.
“What if what’s true?” Her voice softened as her eyes widened slightly.
“Well, what exactly did he tell you?”
Joey blinked her eyes at him a few times, tiny white snowflakes dotting her dark lashes like twinkling stars, before dropping her head. “He said that you’d been in love with me for years.”
Pacey shook his head, letting out a soft breath. “Again…what if it’s true, Jo?” He drew out each word in a low voice this time, waiting for her response.
“It can’t be.” She whispered.
“Because I would have known, Pacey.”
“What if you didn’t?” Pacey shrugged, starting to become agitated as his voice rose in frustration. “What if I’d been in love with you for years and you never knew?”
He paused briefly before continuing, his voice changing. “What if I was so ridiculously in love with you that I couldn’t see straight most of our junior year of high school? What if I was so desperately in love with you that I had to jump on a boat and sail down the East coast, hoping that maybe if I put fifteen hundred miles between us I could get through fifteen minutes without thinking about you? What if I was so pathetically in love with you when we were working at the Yacht Club together that my entire day revolved around whether or not you’d come see me on your break? What if I was still so in love with you right here and right now that it hurt me just to look you?”
Joey’s mouth fell open, the shock and disbelief registering on her face. “How…I don’t understand…”
Pacey dropped his head and then turned to stare out at the water, trying to regain his composure as his heart pounded against his chest wall.
“The whole time I was with Dawson?” Her voice was soft and weak, faltering on the words.
Pacey closed his eyes tightly shut, slowly shaking his head. He hadn’t been able to bring himself to admit to that part. He turned back to look at her, his blue eyes dark and tortured. “Yeah.”
“Why…why didn’t you ever…?” Her wide eyes were round and dark against her skin, paler than her usual complexion.
Pacey cringed inwardly at the look on her face, as if she were seeing a complete stranger in front of her. “Tell you?” He finished for her with a soft, sarcastic laugh. “Gee, I don’t know. Maybe because I was afraid if I did you’d look at me the way you are looking at me right now, like I’m out of my mind.”
”I…I just can’t believe…all that time…” She was stammering as she absently touched her hand to her forehead.
Pacey watched her, recognizing every moment, every scene, every word that flooded her memory. Every time she cried on his shoulder about a boy, every time he gave her advice, every time he showed up a little too early or lingered a little too long, everything he said to her and everything he didn’t. Everything he was supposed to be to her all these years and everything he wasn’t.
“Yeah. I know.” Pacey dropped his head in defeat. “So, now that you have the answer to your question, I’ll just be on my way.”
“Pacey, wait.” She said softly as he started to walk past her.
“What?” He stopped but didn’t turn back, afraid to even feel a shred of hope.
“I…I don’t know what to say right now…this is all such a…”
Pacey felt his stomach clench as he stood there waiting for her to finish but she was silent next to him. He turned finally to look at her face and saw the tears standing in her eyes, the pain and confusion etched in her features. Not really the reaction he had been hoping for.
“I’ll make it easy on you, Jo. You don’t have to say anything, okay?” He started to move away again.
“Pace, please don’t just leave like this…”
He let out a soft, sad chuckle as he shrugged his shoulders. “I really don’t know how else to leave, Jo.”
“Well…can I see you later? Please?”
“Yeah, whatever.” He couldn’t even meet her eyes.
Pacey shoved his hands in his coats pockets and continued on his way over the bridge until he lost himself in the city, the snowflakes hitting his face instantly dissolving against his skin and sliding down his cheeks like tears, so that a person passing by him on the street would never even notice if one or two fell from his eye and not the sky.
“Where the fuck is he?”
Jack looked up in surprise as Pacey stormed into the condo. “Drue?” He asked, sitting back and frowning. “Why? What’s going on?”
Pacey didn’t answer, walking over to Drue’s bedroom door and pushing it open before pacing back and forth across the living room floor, muttering to himself.
Jack slowly raised an eyebrow in concern. “Are you okay?”
There was the sound of voices in the hall then and suddenly Drue and Audrey emerged through the front door, smiling and laughing.
Pacey froze in position, staring Drue down as his eyes darkened. “Hey, you want to explain to me just what the hell you were thinking by going and opening your big mouth to Joey?”
Drue hesitated, his smile fading. “What do you mean?”
Pacey shook his head in disgust, closing his eyes briefly. “You know what I mean. Don’t play dumb with me, Drue.” He almost growled.
Drue laughed nervously. “Hey, look…I thought she already knew, to tell you the truth. As a matter of fact, I was fairly certain that she’d just been yanking your chain around for a while but…”
Before he could finish, Pacey flew across the room, picking Drue up by his throat and throwing him against the wall, pinning him there so he couldn’t breathe.
“Stay the fuck out of my life, do you understand?”
“Pacey!” Audrey shrieked. “Put him down…”
“Pacey…” Jack stepped forward. “C’mon, man…”
Drue made a choked attempt to speak, his shallow, gasps of air filling the deadly silence for a brief second until Pacey released him finally, allowing Drue to slump against the wall.
“I’ll even make it easy for you.” Pacey was suddenly calm. “I’ll just find a new place to live. I’ll be out of here by the end of the month.” He turned and headed for his bedroom.
“You’re crazy.” Audrey scowled at him, rushing to Drue’s side.
“Yeah, I know.” Pacey muttered sarcastically.
“Jesus, Pacey…” Drue rubbed his throat with his hand, calling after him in a hoarse voice. “You don’t have to fucking move out over this. I did you a favor, believe me.”
Pacey emerged from his bedroom with his McGrath’s shirt stuffed under his arm, passing by everybody in the room without looking at them as he headed for the front door.
“Pacey, don’t be so fucking dramatic…” Drue appealed to him, sighing and rolling his eyes, but Pacey disappeared through the door without another word.
He started down the stairs, slowing to a stop when he saw her standing at the bottom.
“Joey.” He shook his head as he continued on to pass by her. “I really can’t do this with you right now.”
He crossed the foyer and disappeared through the front door, not bothering to look back.
Audrey dragged Joey by the arm down the sidewalk in front of their dorm.
“Audrey…really. I’m not in the mood to go out tonight. Especially not to some frat party.”
“I’m not going to let you sit and mope around our room anymore. It’s not healthy. You haven’t been eating. I know you haven’t been sleeping. You freak out every time the phone rings. You need to get out and get your mind off that boy for a couple of hours or you’re going to lose it.” Audrey shook her head definitively.
Joey frowned, lowering her gaze to the sidewalk. It was true that she was no closer to getting anywhere with Pacey, no closer to processing everything he had told her that day on the bridge. To know that he might actually reciprocate her feelings was one thing, to have everything she had ever believed to be true turned upside-down was another. And Pacey seemed to have just shut down after she’d gone to his place to try to talk, putting up this impenetrable wall between him and anyone else. She hadn’t heard from him despite the several messages she had left on his machine and when she called again that afternoon, Jack had to finally admit that he hadn’t even seen Pacey in a couple of days.
They climbed the steps to the front porch of the frat house, the music and noise spilling out around them as Audrey pulled the door open. They maneuvered their way into the crowd, Audrey immediately falling into conversation with a group of guys by the keg.
Joey stood behind her with her arms folded across her chest, fidgeting and glancing around the party. She was hoping that she could last long enough so that Audrey wouldn’t make a fuss when she went to leave.
“I’m going over to talk to that boy by the window. He’s in my history class.” Audrey leaned back to whisper conspiratorially to her. “I need to try and sweet talk him out of his notes for this exam we have coming up next week.”
“Drue’s rubbing off on you already.” Joey rolled her eyes.
She sighed as she stood there alone now, stepping out of the way to let people pass by her to the keg, and then strolled aimlessly into the next room, lost in her thoughts.
She looked up and smiled. “Oh…hi, Elliot.” Elliot was in her English class, a nice, unassuming guy who was one of her first friends at Worthington.
“You should come over here and join us.” Eliot motioned around to the smiling faces of the people he was standing with, all of them from her class. “We were just discussing what we all think of Professor Wilder‘s book. You know…” He laughed. “What we really think, not what we have to say about in front of him.”
Joey couldn’t help but grin as the people in the group moved and shifted to make room for her. “Yeah, I was beginning to wonder if I was reading a completely different book.”
Everyone laughed, agreeing with her as they all started speaking at once. Joey felt herself relax, finding it easy to fall into the conversation, a brief respite from her problems. Eliot leaned over. “I’m glad to see there are at least some smart girls in that class that haven’t fallen under Wilder’s spell.”
“His spell?” Joey rolled her eyes. “Please…”
She hesitated in what she was going to say as someone bumped roughly into Elliot as they walked past, sending him stumbling back a few steps. The guy turned, placing his hand on Elliot’s shoulder as if to apologize, and Joey saw that it was Kyle Walthorp.
Kyle frowned as his gaze fell on her and Joey noticed that something seemed different about him, he was slightly disheveled and his eyes had a strange look to them. Joey felt a slight sense of foreboding when she realized he must either be drunk or on some kind drugs.
“I wouldn’t even bother, friend.” He smirked instead of apologizing, shaking his head at Elliot and patting him on the shoulder. “It’s not worth the effort, believe me, I know.”
Elliot scowled slightly, looking at Joey in confusion. She shifted uncomfortably, hearing the voices around her quiet as everyone’s attention in the group focused on Kyle.
“Do you know this guy?” Elliot asked in concern, seeing the look on her face.
“Oh, yeah. She knows me.” Kyle nodded at Elliot, turning to narrow his eyes at Joey. “The thing is, though, I guess I really didn’t know her. See, you could kind of say that I have friends in high places around this campus, Joey. And some interesting information from the financial aid office was recently brought to my attention.”
Joey’s eyes widened, glancing quickly around her to see that everyone was listening now.
“I realize a lot of people get financial aid packages, that’s no secret, but apparently students who have parents incarcerated in state penitentiaries for drug dealing can be eligible for additional funds because that would be considered special circumstances. Another clause obviously thought up by some bleeding heart liberal, huh?”
Joey felt the heat rising up in her cheeks, swallowing as her mouth went dry, feeling everyone focus their gazes on her.
“To think I was going as far as to rent a suite at the Four Seasons.” Kyle laughed harshly. “I guess I could have just bought a trailer with the same money. That’s more the kind of atmosphere white trash goes for, isn’t it?”
“Fuck you, asshole.” Audrey was suddenly there, standing next to Joey and wrapping her arm around her protectively. “Don’t take it out on everyone else just because you can’t get laid.”
“Don’t…” Joey cut in softly. Kyle had a certain dangerous edge to him and Joey regarded him warily, recognizing more definitely now that he had to be on something. The last thing she wanted was to see him snap on Audrey. She glanced around to see people staring at her and whispering to each other. “Let’s just go.” She held onto Audrey’s arm.
“What a loser! What, he has nothing better to do but go around and harass women at parties?” Audrey spoke a mile a minute once they left the house and reached the sidewalk, heading home, her voice escalating in anger and irritation.
Joey walked next to her, offering no response to Audrey’s rant, the tears sliding silently down her cheeks.
Pacey slipped quietly into the darkened condo, not bothering to turn on any lights as he made his way to his room. He had been crashing on the couch of one of the guys he worked with on the docks and needed to pick up some clean clothes before he headed over to cover his shift at the bar.
He was crossing the living room to the front door to leave again when he heard Audrey’s high-pitched voice drifting out from Drue’s bedroom.
“It was so awful. You should have seen her face. He was going on about her father being in jail and her being white trash and the poor thing just stood there and took it. He made sure everyone in the room heard him, too, the prick.”
“Yeah, that sounds more like the Kyle we all know and love.” Drue’s sarcastic voice answered her.
Pacey hesitated and then reached for the doorknob, feeling the heat of anger rising up inside him, suffocating him, as he slammed the door shut behind him and rushed down the front stairs.
Pacey dropped the cases down next to the cooler with a thud, the bottles inside clanking together noisily. He glanced up briefly at the band on stage and, as he returned his attention to his work, his eyes suddenly fell on a group of guys who looked vaguely familiar to him, most likely part of the regular college crowd that flocked there every time McGrath’s featured live music. He narrowed his eyes as the group started to head in his direction, realizing for the first time that Kyle Walthorp was one of them.
They approached the bar and Kyle leaned forward, shouting at Pacey over the music. “Can I get three Sam Adams?”
Pacey shook his head slowly, staring him down as his blue eyes began to darken. “Sorry. I’m not the bartender.”
“Hey, wait a minute.” Kyle paused. “Don’t I know you, pal?”
“Man, did you pick the wrong night to come in here.” Pacey muttered as he shook his head and let out a soft, bitter laugh.
“Excuse me? Do you have a problem?” Kyle narrowed his eyes at him, still shouting over the music.
“Yeah. Yeah, I do. I have a big problem.”
“Well, why don’t you do something about it then?” Kyle threw his arms up in the air and Pacey smirked dangerously as he noticed him take a tentative step back, moving closer to his group of friends.
“I don’t know. Are you sure you can handle it? From what I hear, harassing helpless girls is a little more your style. I’ll tell ya, it takes a big man to do something like that.” Pacey wiped his hands on the bag rag, appraising Kyle.
Erin had been coming over to grab some beers from the cooler and hesitated as she heard Pacey’s words, glancing apprehensively back and forth between him and Kyle.
Kyle’s mouth fell open slightly. “I don’t know what you’re talking about, chief. But I really don’t appreciate that kind of slander. I’d advise you to stop right there.”
“Stay away from Joey from now on, and I think we can reach a mutual agreement on that.”
“Joey? Joey Potter? Is that what this is about? Christ…” Kyle laughed harshly. “You don’t have to worry about that, pal. The whole point of slumming is to get a little more bang for your buck and I already wasted far too much of my valuable time on what probably wouldn’t even have been a decent fuck, that girl has such a stick up her ass…”
The last thing Pacey heard over the blood rushing through his ears was Erin scream his name as he jumped over the bar in one swift movement, diving on Kyle’s chest as he pummeled him to the ground, his fists hammering into his face. Pacey couldn’t stop punching him, not even as he felt the cartilage in his nose crush under the force of his blows.
Suddenly there were several strong arms pulling him off, holding him back and he saw Kyle laying there moaning and holding his bloody face. His friends came over to help him up and prop him against one of the bar stools. Pacey continued to stare him down, his chest heaving and his eyes still black with rage.
There was the sound of sirens and then lights flashing through the darkened windows of the bar. Pacey saw the police burst through the front doors, wondering how long he had actually been beating the guy for them to already be here. He shook himself loose from the arms still restraining him. “I’m okay.” He muttered.
The police made their way through the bar, the crowd opening up for them to pass by. Kyle was holding a bar rag against his face now and pointed at Pacey, calling over to the officers. “He assaulted me. That guy right there. A completely unprovoked and vicious attack. You should throw his ass in jail.”
One of the officers went to talk to Kyle while the other approached Pacey, listening to statements of witnesses on his way.
“So are you saying you would like to press charges, sir?”
“Hell yeah, I want to press charges.” He exclaimed indignantly. “Look at me. And I want him fired from this place, too. I’m a well-respected customer here. I should sue.”
Pacey noticed the bar manager had appeared from his office. “I don’t think you’re going to have to worry about that, sir.” He glared at Pacey as the officer moved behind him to snap a pair of handcuffs on his wrists. “You’re out of here, Witter. Don’t bother coming back.”
Pacey nodded silently, making no attempt to resist the officers as they read him his rights and led him out the front doors. They placed him in the back of the waiting cruiser before they climbed in the front seats.
“So, do you want to tell us what that was all about back there?” The officer in the passenger side glanced back at him through the metal grate and sounded vaguely disinterested, despite his question. “You beat that guy pretty good and you don’t seem to have a scratch on you.”
Pacey only shrugged, looking out the window.
“Well, you’re going to have to come up with a story before your arraignment in the morning since he’s pressing charges now, so you better start thinking.”
When they arrived at the police station, Pacey quietly complied with all the booking procedures. Finally it was time to actually lock him up.
“You got anyone you want to call first, kid?”
Pacey glanced over at the pay phone on the wall, chewing on the inside of his lower lip for a brief moment. “Nope.” He answered softly before they led him away.
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