Dawson Leery is on my mind. He seems to have permanently planted himself there, wedged himself in between thoughts of rediscovered love and being home again. There is always some strands of thought of that self-involved boy across the creek, the puppet master of his own personal melodrama. I was always one of the stars. Now I just want out.
I haven't spoken to Dawson since I started at Worthington. We had one or two awkward conversations in which he tried to convince me that the kiss we had shared before he left meant something cosmic and life-altering, not just my last-ditch effort to hold on to a past that was quickly slipping away. Then, as I failed to return his messages and became more frantically involved with schoolwork, he stopped calling.
I am almost ashamed to say that I didn't miss him very much.
Pacey is trying to calm me down. I have a bad case of the hiccups. He's doing the amazing double-task of driving and stroking my hair, saying, "It'll be okay, Jo."
"I don't want to see him," I say suddenly.
"Well, I..." he sighs. "I don't know, Jo. I made my peace with the man. Didn't you make yours?"
It's funny that we're talking about this now. On the way to my father's funeral, Dawson is still in the spotlight.
"Sort of." I think for a second before blurting out, "I kissed him before he left."
Pacey's hands tighten visibly on the steering wheel, and I wish I hadn't said it. Why did I? To hurt him? To confirm that I got over him? Because I didn't. He should know that by now. "Well, I can't say I'm surprised."
I know it's tearing him up inside. Throughout our nearly a year together, Pacey's one true fear was that all I wanted was to go back to Dawson. And when he broke up with me, that's exactly what I did. I feel disgusting. "It was a mistake."
"Why, because you couldn't follow up on it?" he says, then puts up his hands. "Sorry, that was uncalled for."
If I were him I wouldn't have apologized. He has every right to be angry. I was in love with him and I kissed someone else. It's about as close to cheating as you can get, except we weren't actually together.
"I dated someone briefly while I was in the Bahamas," he says slowly. "Since we're coming clean I guess I should tell you."
"Okay," I say quietly.
"Her name was Maria. She was really sweet, but..." he sighed. "It didn't work out because all I could think of was you. I didn't want to hurt her so we broke up amiably. That was pretty much it." He catches my eyes for a second before re-focusing on the road. "We didn't sleep together."
"I didn't sleep with Dawson," I say quickly.
"I know you didn't." He rubs his hands on his jeans. "I talked to him. We've been in touch."
"What did he say?" I ask.
"Nothing about sleeping with you, that's for sure," Pacey says, smiling. "And knowing Dawson, he'd be all about rubbing it in my face."
"Jo, you know it's true." I sigh. The thing is, I do. Pacey rolls back his shoulders a bit and steadies his breathing. He's used to playing second fiddle to Dawson in my thought patterns but that doesn't mean he likes it.
Pacey pulls into a spot in front of the church and turns off the ignition. There is complete silence for a few moments before he says quietly, "Are you ready?"
I nod, and open the door. I'm afraid to say anything, afraid to break the truce we seem to have come to.
He takes my hand and helps me out of the car. When I stand up, he doesn't let go, and I catch his eyes for a moment gratefully. We walk into the church, fingers entwined.
The minister is almost finished with the short sermon about redemption and happiness in heaven when Dawson makes his way into the church. He tries to be quiet but my eyes are drawn to him anyway. His hair has been cut short and he's dressed smartly in black pants and a white dress shirt. He holds his jacket over his arm and sits down a few rows behind me, giving the other people a nervous look. His parents are already there, and his mother shoots him a questioning look.
Suddenly, a girl enters, her long blond hair piled on top of her head, her navy blue dress impeccably fitting. She sits next to him, and I notice as she takes his hand.
Everything falls into place.
Pacey and I are sitting outside of the Potter Bed & Breakfast. The sun has set a mixture of coral pink and purple, spanning the sky with its radiance. I know Pacey wants me to speak, but I'm unsure of what to say.
"What are we doing?" he asks.
I wonder if he means tonight, or ever. They seem like one and the same thing. I shrug. "I don't really feel like partying," I answer.
"I mean us, Jo. What's going on with us?"
I don't have an answer, and I wish I did. I want to say to him everything I feel, that there is nothing I want more than to go back to high school and those eleven blissful months where we were everything together. I want to tell him that I think we can be together again. But all I say is, "Why didn't you call? You were close by."
I can see his eyes darken visibly. "I had some demons to deal with, Jo. They had nothing to do with you, and you knew that. I didn't want them to ruin everything."
"But you met my train," I say.
"I met your train because I wanted you to give me another chance. I love you, Jo." He looks at me with those gorgeous puppy-dog eyes and I melt instantly. I want to be angry, but I can't figure out why.
"I love you too," I say slowly.
He brings his hand up to my cheek, caressing it lightly. I shiver slightly. I want to credit it to the cold but I know that couldn't be farther from the truth. "Pace, I..."
He leans in and kisses me, softly at first. It has been months since I've had this kind of contact, and it feels so wonderful and right. As the kiss deepens, I remember one of the reasons I adored being with Pacey. The boy had the gift when it came to kissing. Nothing has changed.
Soon I'm devouring him, sucking on his lower lip as my tongue tangles with his. He's breathing heavily and I lean slowly down on the dock while he straddles me. I know it's too much, too soon, but I couldn't care less. Like always with Pacey, common sense simply falls away.
I awake with an ache in my back, and I realize we fell asleep on the dock. I move slightly and realize that Pacey's jacket is wrapped around my shoulders.
Pacey is nowhere to be seen.
I guess I should have expected it. Not that Pacey is the love-'em-and-leave-'em type-he's not-but this is a lot to take in at once. It makes me think of how on silly soap operas they always make it seem like couples will revert back to what is comfortable to them whenever given the opportunity. Pacey and I couldn't really talk about what changed, but we knew what hadn't. We both still possess that fire within us that never goes out, that fire that flames and sparks when we're together.
Something rustles behind me, and I see Pacey emerge from the B&B, carrying a steaming plate and a blanket. He's wearing khaki pants and a sea blue shirt that matches his eyes. He looks amazing. He sits down next to me and tosses me a smile, saying, "Didn't think I'd left you, did you?"
"Actually..." I say, trailing off.
"Oh, Jo." His eyes look sad, and he puts down the plate and puts his arms around me. "I'd never do that. You know that."
"You did it this summer," I say, and immediately regret it.
"I left because I thought you wanted me to," he says slowly. "And because I had to get away." He runs his hand through his hair and says, "You've said it best, Jo. The one thing I do best is run away."
I feel sick to my stomach, and my thoughts drift to the lies to Dawson, the pregnancy scare. The kiss. Who was running away? From the best surprise I've ever had, no less. Who would have predicted Joey Potter and Pacey Witter?
And suddenly I am running, away from that dock and that man who makes me confront who I am.
My cell phone is ringing as I come into my room at the B&B. It was a gift from Bessie and Bodie, a sneaky way for them to keep track of me at all times. Very few people have the number. I pick it up. "Hello?"
It's Jen. She sounds worried. I haven't been checking my messages. Maybe she's called before. "Hi, Jen."
She sighs with relief. "Oh, Joey, I'm so glad I reached you. How are you? I was so sorry to hear about your father..."
"I'm okay. The funeral was yesterday. It was hard, but...I'll be okay," I say slowly.
"I'm so sorry I couldn't make it to the funeral. I was planning to come to Capeside, and then Grams came down with something and I didn't want to leave her alone."
"Oh, I understand. It's okay."
"So have you...seen everyone?"
"How's that going?"
I don't want to tell her about Pacey, about our frantic reunion on the dock last night and my frantic departure this morning. I just want to cry, to let go. "It's...a little stressful."
"Just take everything one thing at a time, Jo. It'll be okay. Don't let Dawson get on your nerves," Jen giggles.
I smile. Jen means well. "I'll try. It's hard sometimes, though, you know."
"Yeah, he's a pain. Here, hold on a sec." I hear some clicking, and then, "Jo?" It's Jack.
"Hey, Jack!" I say. I miss him. He's such a steady person, he's always helped me to keep my head. When I was trying to decide whether to sleep with Pacey, he made me realize that everything was, indeed, under my control, and that I could trust my own judgement. I love him for that.
"Hey, babe. How's Capeside?"
"It's okay. I wish you were here."
"Yeah, me too. Got midterms this week. Otherwise I'd be all about coming to see you. How are you?"
"I'm dealing," I say, twisting my bedcovers between my fingers.
"Well, try to let some ghosts go while you're there, huh? And come visit Jen and I at the apartment when you get back. We miss seeing you, Miss Workaholic."
I smile. I visited Jack and Jen at their tiny studio apartment in Boston a lot before I really got into the grind. "I will, I promise."
"So, how's Pacey?" Jack asks, cutting through the bullshit.
"He's...he's pretty good, Jack. He's transferring to BU next semester from Community College and he's...he's really getting on his feet."
"Sweet! So Pace'll be up here with us. That rocks my world. Okay, sweetie, I love you and I want to hear everything once you come back, but I have got to go study some before my bio final tomorrow at 8:30 in the A.M."
"Good luck, Jack."
"Good luck to you too, Jo."
The phone line goes dead, and the tears come.
Later that evening I'm sitting alone in the TV room, trying to concentrate on some inane sitcom I can't remember the name of. The sound of the doorbell ringing startles me, and I get up to answer it. I know before I open it that it isn't a guest.
His voice is weak and he looks like he has been crying. "Jo," he says, and just the sound of him saying my name breaks my heart.
"Come in, Pace," I say, and I'm surprised at how dead my voice sounds. It completely masks the emotional circus going on inside of me.
I lead him to the couch and we sit down. He runs his hand over the fabric, wanting to be busy with something. He's so nervous he's shaking. "Jo, don't do this to me."
I am silent.
He looks up at me, and I can't look away. "I love you so much, Jo, I can't just walk away from this. You can't tell me that last night-" his voice breaks. "Meant nothing," he finishes weakly.
"It didn't mean nothing..." I say.
"Then what did it mean? Are we together again? Can I come to see you at Worthington and hold your hand and meet your friends and learn who you are again? Because if I can't then I'm giving up." He says this with such definity that I am almost frightened. "I can't go on living this life that isn't mine without you."
One sentence runs through my mind as if it had been tattooed there. It was the sentence that allowed me to kiss Dawson when I knew it wasn't right, the sentence that convinced me he was worth holding on to.
When I'm with you, I feel like I'm nothing.
I wonder what has changed.
"I'm scared, Pace," I say quietly. "I'm scared of letting myself love you again and then you breaking my heart into a million pieces because of your insecurities and my faults. I'm scared of being the one person you despise because I'm not enough and I-" I choke up. "Most of all I'm scared of losing you, because you matter to me more than anything, and being without you for six months of my life has been like having a part of me torn out."
I look up and see that Pacey is crying, holding his head in his hands. "I'm scared too, Jo," he says. "I'm scared that I'm not enough for you, that you don't trust me, that..." He sighs. "Joey, why didn't you tell me you thought you were pregnant?"
The question catches me off guard, and I don't know what to say. "You were away, and-"
"Wasn't it something that I was a part of?" His voice is so hurt I want to cry. "Didn't I have something to do with it?"
I wasn't ready to discuss this topic again with anyone, let alone him. My voice breaks when I say, "I didn't know what to say, Pace."
"I just feel so horrible, Jo. Here I was off somewhere with Doug while he tried to reform me and knock some sense into me, and you were all alone, dealing with one of the biggest scares of your life. I should have been there for you and I'm so, so sorry." He takes my hand and squeezes it.
"I'm sorry I didn't tell you," I say. "I was afraid and I knew you were dealing with a lot of stuff...we were both keeping things from each other and I didn't think you trusted me to help you, so..."
"What I was going through had to do with me, Jo," he says emphatically. "It was childish and stupid and I didn't want you to have to be a part of my journey into juvenile delinquency."
"But I was a part of it," I say slowly. "I was a part of it because I was a part of you."
He notices the past tense at the same time I do, and his shoulders slump. "What does this mean, Jo? he asks.
I find myself wishing that Dawson was still here to act as a convenient excuse for our break up, because I know that he had something to do with it the first time. I feel oddly empty as I say, "Pace, if we can talk about this, it's because it's over."
"What's over?" he asks.
When I'm with you, I feel like I'm nothing.
I wince. "I just want everything to be okay with us again, Pace."
"I do too, Jo. Please let everything be okay." He looks at me, and the instant our eyes connect, I know I am making the right decision.
"I love you, Pacey," I say.
"I love you too, Joey," he says.
"Will you come back with me to Boston?" I ask.
The doorbell rings at 8:30 a.m. on the day I'm going to make my way back to Worthington, and I wonder what guest could possibly want to check in this early. As I make my way downstairs, it becomes apparent that this is no guest.
My past has come to visit.
Dawson has his hands stuffed in his pockets and his hair is rumpled. When I open the door I see he wears this expression that makes him look like an indecisive puppy. "Hello," I say slowly.
"Jo, I've been meaning to visit," he launches in right away. "This is my first time home in six months and it's been a little crazy, with so much to do, and-"
"It's okay, Dawson," I say, cutting him off. "I understand." So many blondes, so little time.
"So how have you been?" he asks.
"Well, I didn't expect for my first visit home to be for a funeral, but...it's been okay," I say.
"I thought the service was really beautiful," he says.
I nod. "How's school?" I ask.
He shuffles his feet a little bit, and I know he's wondering if I'm going to let him inside. I'm not. "It's...it's school, you know? Good stuff, bad stuff. How about you?"
"I've been busy," I say, not really out of way of explanation. "It's a difficult place, academically, so I struggle sometimes, but I like it, overall."
"So have you talked to Pacey?" he says suddenly.
"I've been spending most of my time with him, actually," I say, and wonder how he could have failed to notice us sitting together at the service, him standing with me at the funeral, him holding my hand at the wake. "We're going...we're together."
Dawson does one of those imperceptible double-takes that I'm sure will help him out in Hollywood, and tries to smile. "I'm...I'm glad. He's in Boston now, right? Or outside of..."
"In a suburb. He's going to try to move to the neighborhood where Worthington is so we can be closer together. And he's going to BU next semester."
I know Dawson is surprised by how definite things sound, and in a way, so am I. I also know it's none of his goddamn business and if he has a problem with it I can tell him where to stick it.
But he takes it well. I suspect it has something to do with the blonde and the fact that he's on the opposite coast now, so what does it matter if his two little high school friends are still attached at the hip? I know I'm being harsh, but at some point you realize who's really important, and then...then you let go of the rest.
"Well, I should go pack. I'm leaving this afternoon. It's been nice seeing you, Jo," he says. Awkward and weird is more accurate, but Dawson's permanently perched on the sunny side.
I nod. "Have a good semester, Dawson," I say, and he knows that means goodbye.
"You too, Jo," he says. He goes down the steps quickly, and takes the path as if he's starting a race.
To his credit, he doesn't look back.
If he had, all he would have seen was the door. I'm tired of waiting on the porch for him.
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