Joey wakes disoriented, locked in the eerie halfway state between sleep and consciousness.
She takes a few deep breaths and then opens her eyes. The dull half-light of pre-dawn is seeping through partially open window blinds. The room is unfamiliar and the mattress beneath her is harder than the one in her room at the B&B.
There’s a warm body spooned up behind her. An arm circles her waist, its hand splayed across her bare stomach, and she hears the sound of gentle breathing. She recognises that hand, knows intimately its every contour, down to the tiny scar on the index finger caused by an accident with a fishing hook when he was twelve.
Memories of the previous day race through her mind like jumbled scenes from a film. She recalls the heartache of Jen's memorial and wake and her pulse pounding during Pacey's heartfelt speech in the Icehouse kitchen. Her conversation with Dawson on the picnic table blurs with the long angst-ridden wait for Pacey to finish work. Then she remembers the words she said to him on his sailboat, words she should have said long ago. She sees his face, lit up with love as he kisses her.
She smiles as she remembers her relief and elation that they had finally found each other again.
After spending some time with Andie, Jack and Dawson, Pacey had taken her home to his flat. They'd fallen onto his bed in a tangle of arms and legs, hands tugging urgently at each other's clothes in their haste to come together.
Now, she feels his slow, even breaths tickling her neck and can tell he's still deeply asleep. She covers his large hand with her much smaller one, softly stroking the fingers that last night had moved so insistently across her body to perform their magic.
She feels that she might explode with the happiness thrumming through her and muses that the only time she can remember feeling so content was during the three months she and Pacey had spent on True Love.
Filled with a sudden irrational need to see his face, to reassure herself that he’s real, she rolls slowly onto her back, trying not to disturb him. He grunts at the movement, automatically adjusting his body to hers in his sleep. She links their fingers together and turns her head.
He's lying on his side, features relaxed in slumber, yet she notes the dark shadows under his eyes. She frowns at the sight. She knows he's exhausted from a combination of long working hours and the tragic events of the past two weeks. And he didn't get the sleep he needed last night, though she can't find it in herself to be sorry for being the cause. She reaches out and traces her finger over the soft skin under his eyes, then across his forehead, currently free of the deep crease she has always loved to touch.
She smiles softly. It's hard to believe that he's no longer out of reach, that she can touch him and have him touch her whenever she wants.
After their relationship ended so abruptly in senior year, she'd gone to college determined to make a fresh start. So many people had told her that high school romances hardly ever continue beyond school and that one day she'd feel little more than a fondness for Pacey, her first real love. She'd pushed her feelings down deep and waited for that day.
It never came.
Over the next five years, none of the men she dated made her feel as alive as Pacey did. Her affection never came close to the intensity of her love for him. It frightened her that even when she was in a serious relationship, it was so often Pacey's face she saw as she drifted off to sleep at night.
It had taken her a long time to realise that those people were wrong. She was never going to get over him. It truly was possible at sixteen to find the person with whom you were supposed to spend the rest of your life.
There is so much they need to talk about, so many things to decide. She lies quietly, soaking in the sight of him and begins to dream about the future.
Eventually, she drifts back to sleep.
Joey is woken for the second time by sunlight flooding the room. Pacey is lying in the same position, still fast asleep. She brushes a hand through his hair and drops a kiss on his forehead. Her watch tells her that it's 7 am. She remembers that he told her he has the day off today, so she decides to let him sleep a little longer. He needs it. She eases her body carefully from under his arm and hops out of bed.
The sun may be shining but it's early fall and the mornings have started to turn chilly. The wooden floor is cold under her bare feet as she searches the room for the clothes so carelessly discarded last night. She spots a blue sweatshirt draped over the back of a chair and smiles. That will do nicely for now. She quickly pulls it over her head. The fabric is soft and comforting and more importantly, it smells of him.
With a glance to check that Pacey is still asleep, she leaves the bedroom.
She visits the bathroom she'd discovered the previous night before moving into the open-plan living room. The furniture snugly filling the small space consists of a sofa, a couple of armchairs and a coffee table. The galley-style kitchen takes up one side, a low bookcase with two shelves above it stands against a wall, and a modest-sized TV sits in one corner.
She smiles as she remembers the gigantic TV Pacey bought for the flat he shared with Jack in Boston; the two of them had been so proud of it for the short time it was in their possession that they'd actually named it. What was it called? Betty? Bertha, that's it. She rolls her eyes at that; boys and their toys. In the end, it hadn't lasted twenty-four hours before someone destroyed it during a party. Pacey had never replaced it.
Joey makes for the kitchen and searches cupboards until she finds coffee for the filter machine. While it percolates, she takes a closer look at the living room.
There are two watercolour paintings on the walls, both sea views, and on the coffee table a couple of magazines are carelessly scattered, one about sailing and the other a tourist guide to Cape Cod.
A large wooden frame takes up most of the wall next to the kitchen. On closer examination, she sees it's a collage of photographs grouped around one central shot. She studies each shot in turn.
In the top left corner is the photo Dawson took of their group of friends just before Andie left for Italy; a quick scan confirms that it's the only photo that includes Dawson. Next to it is a shot of the gang around the dining table at Grams' house in Boston. She pauses to reminisce about the many Sunday dinners they'd eaten around that table.
To either side of the center photo is a lovely shot of Grams, Jack and Jen with Amy and one of Jen alone with her baby. Both photos make her heart ache.
On the bottom row, she's somewhat surprised to see a candid shot of Bodie, Bessie and Alexander taken outside the B&B. The final two photos are a closeup of a smiling Gretchen and Doug and one of a group at Pacey's restaurant, all wearing polo shirts sporting the Icehouse logo. She assumes they're Pacey's staff. She thinks she recognises one or two of them.
There are no photos of Pacey's parents nor his other two sisters. These pictures represent the family Pacey has chosen rather than the one he was born into.
In the centre of the frame is a large photo of her and Pacey on the deck of True Love, arms around each other, huge grins on their faces.
She remembers when it was taken. They had reached Key West and spent the afternoon exploring. When they returned to the boat, Pacey persuaded a passer-by to take a shot of them. She had this photo's twin in her collection at home, safely stored in what she calls her 'Pacey Box', where she keeps all the momentos she's saved from their time together.
She loves that photo. She reaches out and runs her finger across it, leaving a print on the glass that she hastily wipes off with the sleeve of Pacey's sweatshirt. Her copy is dog-eared from the number of times she's pulled it out to remind herself of those three months of freedom and happiness. Warmth floods her at the thought that it means so much to Pacey too. She wonders if the two of them have ever stood looking at this photo at the exact same time, thinking of each other, then scolds herself for being ridiculously schmaltzy.
She heads back to the kitchen to find the coffee is ready. Further exploration turns up a container of blueberry muffins. She pours two cups of coffee, places three muffins on a plate, puts it all on a tray and makes her way back to the bedroom.
She sets the tray down, perches on the edge of the bed, leans over and kisses a still-sleeping Pacey softly on the mouth.
Pacey stirs slightly but doesn't wake, so she kisses him again and keeps kissing him until his eyes pop open.
"Morning," she says brightly.
Pacey smiles sleepily. "Isn't it the prince who's supposed to wake the princess with a kiss?"
"We live in an age of sexual equality, Pace. Get used to it."
"Oh, I think I can get used to this very quickly," he smirks. "And yet," he goes on, pulling up his pillow and propping himself against the headboard, "I see you've dutifully prepared breakfast for your man, thus perpetuating the antiquated role of the subservient little woman."
Joey hits him in the face with the other pillow.
"Oomph! I was just saying…"
Joey glares and he throws his hands up in submission. "Okay, I'm sorry. I'm not yet sufficiently awake to weather the effects of the Potter death stare. Get back into bed, woman, and please, please feed me intravenous caffeine."
Joey smiles sweetly and slides back into her side of the bed, passes Pacey a mug of coffee and dumps the plate of muffins unceremoniously between them.
Pacey looks at the plate and raises an eyebrow. "I seem to recall you frowning on eating in bed."
Joey shrugs and picks up a muffin. "Not if it's someone else's bed and I don't have to change the sheets."
She takes a bite. It melts in her mouth. "Pacey, these are delicious. Did you make them?"
"Of course, I made them!" he splutters indignantly. "You think I'd buy muffins from a rival establishment?"
Joey licks her lips. "Mmm. I can see having a chef as a boyfriend is going to have some major perks."
With a pleased smile, Pacey gulps down a few mouthfuls of coffee and helps himself to a muffin.
"Who'd have guessed back in High School that you'd end up a chef, cooking food to die for?" Joey muses. "I never saw you do more than toast a pop tart or warm a pizza in the oven."
"That's because Witter men weren't allowed in the kitchen." In a good approximation of John Witter's voice, he punches his chest and growls, "Man, hunt for food. Woman, cook."
Joey rolls her eyes. "How is your father, anyway?"
Pacey screws up his nose. "He's okay. He's spending his retirement fishing and getting on Ma's nerves."
"And how are things between the two of you?"
This is always a sticky subject. In the pause that follows, she carefully studies his face. His expression is likely to reveal more than his words. Pacey's relationship with his father has always been difficult at best, and dysfunctional at worst. But he has never liked to talk about it, even to her.
When they were kids, it didn’t occur to her to wonder why Pacey never invited his friends to his house and hardly ever talked about his family. Later, when she learnt more about the dysfunctional Witter family, she was shocked at how his parents treated their younger son. His mother constantly delivered condescending put-downs in the guise of maternal concern. His father, on the other hand, didn't pull his punches, figuratively and, on occasion, literally. He was openly aggressive and constantly disparaged his son.
Joey's eyes had been well and truly opened to the reality of Pacey's treatment by his family during the debacle that was his eighteenth birthday party. She's never forgiven herself for her part in that and will never forget the look of resigned hurt on his face throughout the evening.
She knows that Pacey's struggles with self-esteem stem from a childhood lived with parents who seemed to truly believe that he would amount to nothing. It had been almost impossible for him to pull himself out of that dark place, but he'd done it, slowly and surely.
Joey hates John Witter for what he did to his son. But she also knows that while Pacey bitterly resents his father for past hurts, he also loves him. That's a complicated relationship to untangle.
She’s brought back to the present when Pacey answers her question.
"Things are better, I guess. He reamed me out good and proper after the stock market fiasco. But he lent me money until I got back on my feet. Then it took considerable effort to convince him that his slacker son could make a career being a chef of all unimaginable and embarrassing career choices. I'm not sure if I told you that one of my aunts died and left him some money? Doug somehow persuaded him that the Icehouse would be a good investment. I think Doug swung it by promising him free meals for life. And the truth is, I couldn't have done it without him."
Joey's sure there's a lot more to this story and that John Witter never lets his son forget how much he owes him, but she chooses not to push. Not now, at least. There'll be plenty of time to dig into the intricacies of the Witter family relationships.
Joey sips her coffee, watching as Pacey demolishes the remaining muffin in two enormous bites.
"You still eat like a pig, I see," she remarks.
Pacey does a passable imitation of a pig's snort and nuzzles his nose into the side of her neck. Joey giggles. "Stop that! It tickles!"
Pacey obligingly replaces his nose with his mouth and begins to kiss his way along her neck, sending shivers of pleasure down her spine.
"Much better," she murmurs, stretching her neck to allow his lips access to more skin. "But shouldn't we think about getting up?"
Pacey's hands drift up under the sweatshirt, caressing her naked skin.
"Later," he whispers, and as his hands move higher and begin to work their magic on her breasts, Joey willingly succumbs.
Later, showered and dressed, Pacey asks, "When do you have to be back in New York?"
"Tomorrow," Joey answers despondently. She doesn't want to think about it. They have only one day together before the realities of life part them again.
Pacey's expression reflects his disappointment. "So soon?"
"I have to. I've already extended my leave for ten days beyond the original agreement. I won't have a job to go back to if I don't turn up on Monday."
Pacey brightens. "That still gives us a whole day and night together. I have no firm plans, so we can do anything you want. Bodie's taking care of the Icehouse."
"I can't afford another chef yet," Pacey explains, "so I have an arrangement with Bodie that he covers for me when I can't be there. In return, I help him out with the B&B when he needs me. It works for both of us."
Joey wonders why neither Bessie nor Bodie has mentioned this arrangement during the past two weeks. Then again, maybe she shouldn't be surprised. Since she broke up with Christopher, her sister, in particular, has very pointedly avoided the subject of Pacey – and Dawson – allowing Joey the space she needs to make her own decisions.
"Bodie's a great guy," Pacey says. "So, what do you want to do today?"
Joey doesn't even have to think about it. "You know what I'd really like to do?"
"Hmm." Pacey cocks his head to one side and pretends to consider. "Wrestle a crocodile? Run away to the circus?"
Joey rolls her eyes. "Both tempting options, but no. I want you to take me sailing, Pace."
Pacey's grin almost breaks his face. "That I think we can arrange. It's what I'd planned to do anyway before I knew I'd have a deckhand on board."
"Deckhand!" Joey splutters indignantly. "First mate, at the very least."
"I guess you were a good first mate on True Love," Pacey concedes, "so consider yourself promoted. We can call into the B&B to get you a change of clothes, and then I'll sort us out a packed lunch at the Icehouse."
Joey smiled contentedly. "That sounds perfect."
An hour later Joey and Pacey walk into the Potter B&B hand in hand.
Bessie is in the kitchen, clearing up after serving breakfast. She turned to look at them, arms folded, and raises her eyebrows expectantly.
“Hi Bessie,” Pacey says breezily. “And how are you this fine Capeside morning?”
“As well as I was when you saw me yesterday.” She looks pointedly at their linked hands. “Is there something you two have to tell me?”
Joey called the night before to say that she was staying at Pacey’s flat because it was too late to walk home. She didn’t say anything else, preferring to share their news in person. Now that the moment has come, she can’t stop smiling. Glancing at Pacey, she can see he too is wearing a big, stupid grin.
“Well, now you mention it, there is something,” Pacey says.
Bessie cocks her head expectantly.
“I’m taking Joey sailing for the day, so I’m hoping I can borrow that big picnic basket we used for Alex’s last birthday?”
Bessie scowls at him and turns pointedly to Joey. “Josephine Potter! Have you and this jackass finally got your shit together?”
“Hey!” Pacey protests the insult.
“Yes,” Joey says simply.
Bessie’s scowl is wiped from her face by a beaming smile. “Well, it’s about time.” She advances on them and envelopes them both in a big hug. Then she looks at Pacey. “What did you have to do, Pacey, tie her down until she admitted she loves you?”
“Nothing quite so kinky,” he replies, smirking. “Actually, she admitted it without coercion. I was as surprised as you.”
“Hey, I’m in the room,” Joey says indignantly.
Bessie clicks her fingers. “Oh, shit. Now I owe Doug Witter $50. You couldn’t have waited a few days and declared your undying love over the phone?”
“Excuse me?” Pacey says, eyebrow raised.
“Doug bet me that the two of you would get back together before Joey went back to New York. I thought it might take Joey a little longer to make her decision.”
Pacey grins while Joey rolls her eyes.
“Is our love life really that interesting?” she asks plaintively.
“Yes,” “Absolutely”, Bessie and Pacey say together.
“Seriously, I’m very happy for you both,” Bessie says. “You know we already think of you as part of the family, Pacey. I’ve always hoped you’d get back together one day. Joey has never been happier than when she’s with you.”
Pacey looks smug and Joey smiles and squeezes his hand.
“So,” Pacey says, clearing his throat. “About that picnic basket?”
An hour later, True Love II pulls away from the dock.
The wind whips Joey's hair away from her face as she leans her elbows on the rail and watches Capeside recede slowly into the distance. The sight takes her back to that day they sailed away for the summer in True Love. The day she told Pacey she was in love with him.
The day she chose him over Dawson.
Her feelings at that moment are still vivid in her memory: relief that she'd finally said the words, excitement at the thought of the adventure ahead and more than a twinge of regret that she may have broken Dawson's heart.
But most of all, outweighing all other emotions, was the enormity of her feelings for Pacey. For weeks, since Dawson had found out about their budding relationship and, in a panic at his reaction, she'd ended things with Pacey, she'd ruthlessly stamped down those feelings. She'd desperately tried to convince herself that she was doing the right thing, that the best option was for the three of them to return to being friends.
But she'd been so miserable. When she'd danced with Pacey at the anti-prom, and he'd whispered to her that he remembered everything, she'd thought her heart would burst with longing for him, and still, she'd turned her back on him and let him go.
Looking back, it's all very clear to her now. If she could have the time over again, she'd do everything differently. But back then she was confused, conflicted and afraid. She'd tried desperately to hold on to Dawson because he was safe. She knew what she was getting with him because in truth their friendship hadn't changed much since they were young children, even when they'd tried unsuccessfully to be a couple.
Her friendship with Pacey was radically different. He constantly challenged her to push herself, to be bold, to try new things. To stand up for herself and for what she believed in. When she was with him, she felt both courageous and secure because she knew without question that whatever happened in her life, he would always be there to pick her up.
When she'd run down to the dock to find him, praying that he hadn't already left, she'd blurted out, "I think I'm in love with you."
And he'd gone completely still and asked, "You think, or you know?"
That question punched through every single one of the defences she'd put up and fiercely protected over the previous few weeks. She had no hesitation in answering confidently, "I know." Because she did know. She'd known for a long time, maybe right back to when they'd taken dance lessons together. She'd let her insecurity and fear of losing Dawson come between them. In that moment, she let it all go. And it was liberating.
How many times over the years, during times of fear and indecision, had she thought back to that moment and tried to emulate it? That moment when she'd let go of fear and willingly embraced the future? Too many times. And every time, she'd chosen the easy way out. She'd spent so much of her life afraid to move forward, clinging to the past and the security it offered.
She looks at Pacey, his back to her as he steers the little sailboat out of the harbor. He's wearing khaki shorts and a form-fitting black t-shirt that pulls tight across his broad shoulders. She wonders when he'd given up the hideous Hawaiian shirts and baggy slacks. She feels a rush of love and desire that leaves her lightheaded. She feels sixteen again.
She walks behind him where he stands at the wheel and puts her arms around his waist, pressing her body tight against his back. "This brings back so many memories," she whispers.
He turns his head, brushing a kiss into her hair. "Good memories?"
"Good and bad. But only good ones after we sailed off into the sunset."
Pacey smiles. "It was kind of romantic, wasn't it?"
"I was so happy then and I'm even happier now, but I keep thinking that it isn't right, to feel like this the day after we buried Jen."
"I know, I feel the same," Pacey admits. "But I think Jack was right. Jen wanted her friends to be happy. So, us being together is kind of a way to honour her memory. Does that make sense?"
Joey smiles. "Perfect sense, and it's a good way of looking at it."
"I promised Jen I'll always be there for Amy," Pacey says, "that I'd set aside Saturday nights to spend with her.” He pauses, expression troubled. “Now, I'm not sure that's a promise I'll be able to keep."
Joey looks at him questioningly. He doesn't elaborate, but she knows what's going through his mind. He thinks he won't be around to spend time with Amy because he's going to sacrifice everything that he's built for himself in Capeside to move to New York to be with her. She has her own thoughts on that, but she isn't ready to have the conversation yet.
Instead, she says, "It's such a big deal for Jack to take Amy."
"It is, but he'll have Doug to help," Pacey says.
Joey has almost forgotten. During their conversation on the dock last night, Jack revealed that he and Doug are back together. Doug no longer wants to keep their relationship secret and seems keen to have a future with Jack and Amy. Joey's happy for them and knows that Pacey is too.
"Who would ever have guessed that Doug and Jack would hook up?" she remarks.
Pacey grins. "Not me. Just goes to show that anything can happen – and usually does."
After sailing for a couple of hours, they drop anchor near a small cove. Pacey opens up the picnic basket he filled earlier at the Icehouse. They sit side by side on the bench, eating in companionable silence.
After a while, Pacey glances at her and asks, "Last night you told Jack that Jen already knew about us. How come?"
Joey swallows a mouthful of bread and cheese. "We talked in the hospital. About you, mostly," she answers honestly. "We were talking about Dawson's show, and I told her that it had never been a question of who I was meant to be with; it had always been you. She told me I had to stop being afraid and tell you that I love you."
"She did?" Pacey smiles. "Then I'll be ever thankful to her for that piece of advice." He looks out across the ocean, sadness in his eyes. "I'm going to miss her so much."
Joey nods. "Me too. And I keep wishing I could go back and do things differently with Jen. I was so mean to her in High School."
Pacey grins. "I remember the first time we met her; you gave her the patented Potter death glare. I'm surprised she didn't get back in the cab and leave town."
"How would you know how I looked at her?" Joey counters. "You were too busy gawping at her legs."
"And the rest of her," Pacey teases.
Joey rewards him with the patented death glare. Then she sighs. "I was such a bitch to her."
"You were," Pacey agrees, a little too readily. "And all because of Dawson."
"Yes, it was because of Dawson," she admits. "But it wasn’t just that," she continues, looking at him out of the corner of her eye to gauge his reaction. "Later, I was jealous of her because of you."
"What?" Pacey sounds shocked. "You never told me that. Why? There was never anything between us."
Joey shrugs. "Maybe not, but you got on so well. And there was that stupid sex with no strings pact."
"Except that we never actually had sex," Pacey grins, "as you well know. Plus, you still hated me at that point."
"Actually, I didn't," Joey admits. "That was the problem. I think that was when I'd started to fall in love with you, but I wouldn't admit it. Why do you think I over-reacted when Dawson and I found you and Jen making out in the cloakroom at the dance studio?"
Pacey's jaw drops. "That was because you were jealous? I thought it was because you disapproved. I believe you said something along the lines of, "You think it's okay for friends to use each other as scratching posts?"
Joey feels her face redden at the memory of her angry tirade. "I was upset. I lash out when I'm upset."
"You do?" Pacey feigns surprise, then grins, eyes twinkling. "So, Penny Pretty's theory about the screwball mating ritual was right after all."
Joey groans and puts her head in her hands. "That was so embarrassing."
"I think she also said something about there being enough sexual tension between us to power a Kiss reunion tour," Pacey continues relentlessly, obviously enjoying her mortification.
"Enough!” Joey throws her hands up. “You know, there are times when I really wish you didn’t remember everything."
“Oh, there are lots of other things I remember,” he replies conversationally. “I could write a book: ‘Insults and jibes: a history of Pacey Witter’s abuse at the hands of Josephine Potter.’ I think my favourite was when you called me a butt plug—"
Joey digs him in the ribs.
“Ouch! Let’s amend that to ‘Insults, jibes and physical violence.’” He rubs his side and Joey leans down and kisses the sore spot.
She realises how much she’s missed this lightning-fast verbal sparring, back and forth; there was a time when they could keep it up for hours. It makes her happy that they’re already so comfortable with each other that they’ve slipped right back into it.
"But you and Jen were good friends in college, right?" Pacey asks, suddenly serious.
"We were," Joey agrees. "Better friends, anyway. I think there was always a bit of tension between us. I just wish I'd made more of an effort to see her over the past few years, but life was busy, and then she had the baby."
Pacey nods. "I know. And looking back, I think she distanced herself from her friends because she didn't want us to know she was so ill."
"Why would she do that?"
"Because she didn't want us to worry and feel obliged to look after her."
Joey ponders this. He's right; that's exactly what Jen would do.
"She was such a good person," she says. "So much better than I am."
Pacey nudged her with his elbow. "Oh, you're not so bad. Once you get past the shouting and the glaring and the punching—”
Joey slaps him on the arm and he points at her in triumph. "Point made! I’ll be black and blue by the time we get back to Capeside."
“Don’t be such a baby,” Joey scolds. “I promise I’ll kiss it better later.”
Pacey waggles his eyebrows. “I’ll hold you to that promise, Josephine.”
They finish eating. Pacey packs the remains of lunch back into the hamper and sits back down. Joey scoots close to him and leans her head against his chest. His arm comes around her, holding her close.
Joey thinks she'd be happy to stay like this all afternoon until the sinking sun forces them to return to port. She's missed being close to him and feeling the security of his arm around her. She's missed simply being with him.
But there are things they still need to discuss. One of them particularly has been weighing on her mind. Although she mentioned it briefly in their conversation at the Icehouse, it's important that he knows where she stands. She isn't looking forward to the conversation but knows she shouldn't put it off any longer.
She sits up, turns to face him, and says, "I guess we should probably talk about the elephant in the room."
"Elephant? Are you trying to tell me I've put on weight?"
Joey pokes him in the ribs. "Idiot. Though come to think of it, you have bulked up a bit."
At his indignant look, she adds hastily, "That's a compliment. I meant you've put on muscle in all the right places."
"Good save, Potter. So, if I'm not the elephant, I guess we're talking about the one and only Dawson Leery."
Joey turns so that she can look him in the eye. "I talked to him yesterday, after the wake, about our friendship and how we'll always stay close friends. I agreed that we’re soulmates, but—" She stops abruptly.
Pacey's body has gone rigid.
Crap, Joey thinks. What possessed her to repeat that particular word?
"If it weren't for Dawson, could you ever love me like that? Like a soulmate?"
She's never forgotten the moment Pacey asked that question, standing beside the wall he'd rented for her. In her confused state, she hadn't given him an answer. They've never really discussed it since, but for both of them, the word has become a thorn in the flesh.
She wishes she hadn't used that emotive word in conversation with Dawson yesterday.
She wishes she hadn't repeated it now.
Yet she'd promised herself that from now on, she would always tell Pacey the truth and never keep anything from him. She knows only too well that lying to him, either directly or by omission, was one of the factors that led to their break up.
"It's just a word, Pace," she says hastily. It doesn't mean anything."
"You know that it does, Jo," he says stiffly.
Joey reaches for him, but Pacey pulls away from her. He stands and leans his elbows against the rail, staring out to sea.
"Pacey?" She gets up and walks across to stand beside him. She puts a hand on his arm, but he shakes her off. She bites her lip. “Pacey, please don’t do this.”
She waits for him to speak. His expression is blank, and she can't read what he's thinking.
After a few minutes of uncomfortable silence, he asks tightly, "So, if you and Dawson are soulmates, what does that make me?"
This time, Joey puts a hand on his arm and holds on when he tries to pull away. She tightens her grip and pulls at his arm until he turns to face her. Then she takes one of his hands in both of hers, fixes her eyes on his and says, "It makes you the love of my life, Pace."
Pacey holds her eyes for a long moment, but he doesn’t respond and turns to look out to sea again. The silence stretches. It can’t be more than five or ten minutes but to Joey seems an eternity. Yet she doesn’t speak, letting him have the space he needs. She’s terrified that all his old insecurities are returning and is determined that this time, she’ll get it right.
Eventually, Pacey lets out a long shuddering breath and his rigid stance relaxes. She thinks she sees tears glistening in the corners of his eyes as he says softly, "Okay."
"It's okay. We're okay. I'm sorry, Jo. I'm so sorry I reacted like that, I thought I was past the stupid rivalry with Dawson. It's just … that word … soulmates … it's like a trigger and hearing you say it now brought it all back."
Joey almost faints with relief. "I'm sorry too. Maybe I shouldn't have said anything, but I wanted to be totally honest with you, I wanted you to know what Dawson and I said to each other yesterday. He's so fixated on this idea of us being soulmates, that I took the easy way out. But I made it very clear that there will never be anything more than a close friendship between us. That's what I meant when I used that word."
“That’s what you meant, but does Dawson see it the same way?" Pacey asks.
Joey chews her lip. "I can't promise you he doesn't still have romantic feelings for me," she says honestly. "But I believe he's accepted that I have none for him, and never will.” She reaches up and cups his cheek. "I need you to believe that. Promise me, Pace, that you believe me. I know I gave you so many reasons in the past not to trust me, I know I kept letting my fear of losing Dawson's friendship come between us. But I'm telling you now, that will never happen again. Tell me you trust me on this."
He closes his eyes for a moment, then leans into her touch. "I trust you, Jo," he says. "And I know I was part of the problem back then. I was so fucked up, so insecure, I could never fully accept that you'd chosen me over Dawson. I kept expecting you to change your mind."
"And how do you feel now?"
"Now? It's different. I'm different. I think I've finally got to a place where I can believe in myself. I mean, I still fuck things up sometimes, but I also know that I've achieved a lot, I'm good at what I do, and I think I can make a success of my life."
"And do you believe that you deserve to be loved?" she asks softly.
He smiles and puts a hand over hers as it rests on his cheek. "Yes, I think I finally do."
Joey presses her body into his side and his arm comes around her. She knows how deep-rooted his insecurity is and how difficult it is for him to rise above it and believe in himself.
"I'm glad," she says. "Because there are a lot of people who love you."
Pacey clears his throat and wipes a tear from the corner of his eye. "So, how do you think Dawson will resolve the final episode of The Creek?"
"Oh, I know the answer to that," she says confidently.
Pacey raises an eyebrow. "I thought he hasn't decided yet."
"He thinks he hasn't, but there's only one way he'll go. He'll end it by bringing Colby and Sam together."
Pacey snorts. "Isn't art supposed to imitate life?"
"That's a philosophical argument we don't want to get into. Anyway, it's just the end of Season One. Anything could happen in Season Two. But while we're on the subject of Dawson—"
Pacey groans. "Haven't we talked about Dawson enough for one day?"
"I just want to know if you think you two can ever be friends again?"
Pacey pauses for a long moment, then says, "If that's what he wants, then yes. I've told him before that I'd like to be his friend again one day, but he's never wanted to hear it. I did wonder last night if maybe he's changed his mind."
Joey looks at him quizzically. "That thing he said to you on the dock about his two best friends kissing? That meant something to you, didn't it?"
Pacey chuckles, his breath tickling the top of her head. "It was something he said to me way back in sophomore year, only it turned out that he didn't mean it."
Joey settles back against him, dropping a kiss against his neck. "Tell me about it."
"Later. Time's getting on, so if we want to go ashore, we'd better do it now."
They wade to shore and choose a spot on the beach where Pacey lays out a large towel and a cool box of sodas. They lay down together and within minutes Pacey is asleep and snoring. Joey smiles indulgently and gets out the book she’s brought.
She gets so absorbed in the pages that an hour passes quickly. She glances at her watch and nudges Pacey with her foot. He grunts and opens his eyes.
“Sorry.” Pacey sits up a little and leans back against his pack, fingers laced behind his neck. “I didn’t mean to go to sleep.”
"That’s okay, I think you needed it. But you're not off the hook. I want to hear that story about Dawson and sophomore year."
Pacey groans. "To be honest, it's a bit embarrassing."
"Really?" Joey snickers. "Then I definitely want to hear it."
"If you must." Pacey sighs.
Joey sits up and leans forward expectantly.
"Okay," Pacey begins. "Remember that day you and I went hunting for snails?"
"Because you killed the first lot with your ridiculous snail menage a trois idea. How could I forget?"
"I was thinking out of the box!" he protests. "But yes, that day. And afterwards, we went to the carnival—"
"You're missing out the part where you let the boat drift away and we had to wade through freezing water and then you made me change into a blanket so you could ogle me naked."
"Hey!" Pacey says indignantly, "That's not the relevant part of the story and anyway, you can't tell me you didn't have fun that day."
"I did have fun," she reflects. Then she shoots him a mock-stern glare. "But admit it, you did ogle me while I was changing."
Pacey flushes and rubs his neck. "Just a little bit. I was a fifteen-year-old boy, what did you expect?"
"Hmm," she huffs. "I'm not sure that's a valid excuse, but I'll let it slide. Continue."
"I'll continue if you stop interrupting."
Joey mimes zipping her lips closed.
"So, after the carnival, I took you home and—"
"You kissed me." Joey can't resist ending his sentence and he holds up a warning finger.
"Yes, I did," he goes on. "Not my finest moment. But before that, at the carnival, I had a bit of an epiphany. We'd had such a fun day and I'd enjoyed being with you and it occurred to me that our adversarial relationship, with all the aggression and verbal sparring, was maybe, on my part, just a way of covering for the fact that I actually … liked you."
"Wait!" It's Joey's turn to hold up a finger. "Are you telling me you liked me even before the snail thing?"
"Yes. Well, kind of. I realised that day that I was attracted to you and probably had been for a long time, I just didn't want to admit it."
"Wow." Joey considers this revelation. "Why have you never told me that before?"
Pacey shrugs. "I don't know. I guess it never came up. Anyway, at the carnival, I took Dawson aside and asked his permission to kiss you."
"You did WHAT?" Joey is horrified at the thought. "Like I was some kind of possession? Why did you think you needed his permission?"
"Why?" Pacey rolls his eyes. "It's obvious, don't you think? You were his best friend. He was ridiculously possessive of you and yes, he did act as if he owned you, even back then. You were the only one who didn't see it. I didn't think he'd take it too well if I just kissed you out of the blue, and you were bound to tell him about it."
"Huh." She has to concede that he's right on all counts. "Okay. So, what did he say?"
"At first, he said he'd be fine with it. Then he said he'd changed his mind and he wasn't. Then, almost in the same breath, he said no, it was fine, and what could be better than my two best friends kissing? I got out of there at that point so he couldn't change his mind again."
"So, having gained Dawson's permission, you went ahead and kissed me."
Pacey huffs out a laugh. "Yeah. And we both know how well that went."
"Well, I was into Dawson back then, and you took me by surprise." She looks at him coyly.
"That doesn't mean it wasn't nice."
"You thought it was nice?" he asks, sounding surprised.
"Yes," she answers casually.
He waggles an eyebrow. "Just 'nice'?"
"Just nice," she repeats firmly. "I think that's the best you can hope for to describe a brief kiss that came totally out of the blue from a boy I thought I hated."
"As opposed to using the same word to describe your first sexual experience with the boy you'd been dating for nine months who was suffering agonies of self-doubt as to whether his performance had been adequate and had, in any way at all, met your expectations?" Pacey asks dryly.
Joey gives him a wry grin. "You're forgetting that I was a virgin who was terrified of performing inadequately with a boy who had so much sexual experience."
They smile at each other for a moment. Then Joey sighs. "We were so young."
"That we were," Pacey agrees.
Joey studies his face. "Did I hurt you badly when I rejected you that day?"
She hates the thought that she'd hurt him, but back then, she hadn't given the incident much thought. She was so used to Pacey brushing off her insults and barbs that it never occurred to her that he might take her rejection badly, that he might actually have feelings.
How little she'd understood the real Pacey Witter back then.
"A bit," he shrugs, "but I'd been expecting it, especially as I knew you were besotted with Dawson. So, I pushed my feelings down deep, and then you and Dawson started seeing each other, and I met Andie. And I did love her, Jo. I really loved her, but I think I always knew we wouldn't make it in the long term, even before we split up. We were too different."
"Andie was good for you," Joey says and means it.
"Yes, she was," Pacey says seriously. "She was the first person who believed in me and made me think I could be a better person and make something of myself. It was good to see her again, despite the circumstances. It's been too long."
"It has," Joey agrees. "But it looks like that will be changing. Andie's already looking at dates for our next reunion."
He chuckles. "She'll have it planned out like a military operation."
"She'll probably send us a colour-coded spreadsheet with graded options."
Joey lies down beside him and scoots close. "You know," she says, "if you want, we can carry out some practical experiments to see if we can improve on that 'nice' rating."
"Is that wise? You know what a slacker I am when it comes to experiments."
Pacey pulls her into his lap, and she rests her hands on his chest.
"It's worth a try, don't you think?" she says.
Pacey smirks and kisses her. "How was that?"
Joey considers. "I'll give that a 'very nice.'"
Pacey kisses her again, slower, and deeper this time. Then he pulls away and raises an eyebrow.
"That was a definite improvement. I award it a 'very, very nice'." She wraps her arms around him and wriggles closer. "But I have a feeling you can do better…"
The rest of the afternoon flies. They reluctantly return to the boat around 4 pm and spend the return journey catching each other up on events in their lives over the past few years.
Back at the flat, Pacey sifts through the stack of mail that arrived that morning. He throws all of it into a pile on the coffee table except one, a white envelope with a logo stamped on the outside. He holds it as if it's a precious object and Joey looks at him curiously.
"Is that work? This is supposed to be your day off."
"Yes, it is, but it's… I'm just hoping…"
He stares at the envelope for another long moment, then quickly tears it open and pulls out a single sheet of paper. As he scans it, his face lights up and breaks into a beaming smile.
"What is it?"
"It's from the New England Tourist board. They've given the Icehouse an award as the best new restaurant on the Cape."
"Wow, Pace, that's amazing." Joey pulls him into a hug.
"It is amazing. This is big, Joey. It will mean a huge boost for the restaurant. There’ll be features, and we'll get prime advertising space in all their publications and on the website."
Then his smile falters. Joey knows immediately what he's thinking. She says, "I think maybe it's time we talk about the future."
They make coffee and sit down side by side on the sofa.
"So, this is how I see it," Pacey begins. "We've both built good lives for ourselves. But it's going to be difficult to keep a relationship going at a distance and frankly, I don't want to."
"Neither do I," Joey agrees. "I want to be able to see you every day. I feel like we've already wasted so many years when we could have been together, and that's all on me."
She's surprised when Pacey shakes his head. "It's not all on you, and I don't think those years were wasted. I mean, I missed you and sometimes I couldn't bear the thought that we'd never be together. But now we are, I can look back and see it was a good thing. It gave both of us time to grow up and discover who we are and what we want from life. It gave me time to sort out some of my issues, to become a better man, someone you can be proud of."
She frowns. "I've always been proud of you, Pacey. I should have told you that more often."
"I probably wouldn't have believed it anyway," Pacey shrugs.
"Do you believe it now?"
Pacey smiles and kisses her. "I do."
She kisses him back. They make out for a few minutes until Joey pulls back reluctantly and puts some space between them. "Less making out, more talking."
Pacey gives her the puppy dog eyes that she somehow finds the fortitude to resist.
Pacey sighs, defeated. "Okay. So, I was thinking, the Icehouse is doing well, and this award will give it a big boost, so I shouldn't have any trouble selling it—"
"No," Joey interrupts firmly.
"No?" Pacey raises an eyebrow.
"No. You're not going to give up your restaurant and come to live with me in New York."
Pacey frowns. "Well, I'm not going to ask you to give up your dream and come back to live Capeside. There are hundreds of restaurants in New York. I'm sure I can get a job as a chef somewhere."
"I'm sure you can, but that isn't the point."
"So, what's the point?"
"The point is that this restaurant is your dream, Pacey. It's your future."
"And working at a publishing house in New York is your dream and your future."
"No," Joey says confidently. "It isn't. It hasn't been for a while, and it's time for me to admit that to myself."
Pacey looks confused and opens his mouth to speak, but Joey holds up a hand to stop him.
"Just hear me out, then you can tell me what you think. Firstly, you may think I'm living out my dream. But the truth is, I'm not. In High School, I was desperate to get out of Capeside, you know that better than anyone. I wanted to go to college so I could have a successful career and never have to worry about money again. I wanted to be able to repay Bessie and Bodie for everything they'd done for me since Mom died and Dad went to prison."
She pauses. She thought a lot about this earlier as she lay beside him in his bed. Now, she's confident of what she wants and what is the right way forward for both of them. She needs him to understand what’s in her heart because she's only too familiar with his white knight complex. His instinct will be to fall on his sword, and she won't let that happen.
"So," she goes on, "I graduated and got a job in New York. Since then, I've had a promotion and I'm doing okay. But the truth is, I don't like living in a big city. It's just not me. I know that sounds ridiculous after all my big talk about escaping Capeside, but it's the truth."
She pauses again, this time to gauge his reaction. He's watching her intently, his brows drawn together in a slight frown, and she resists the temptation to reach out and try to wipe it away.
"Just before I left to come here," she continues, "I was looking at the internal job vacancies, and I saw a job in our Boston office that would be a slight promotion. And I almost applied, but I was still with Christopher then, and I hadn't decided what to do about our relationship, so it seemed like bad timing. But now, there's nothing to stop me. And the closing date isn't until the end of next week."
She almost laughs at the comical expression on Pacey's face as he struggles to take all this in.
"So, what, you're saying you want to move back to Boston?" he asks eventually.
"Yes. Well, sort of. The company is flexible about working practices, and I know at least one junior editor who works part-time at home. I could do that and spend a couple of days a week in Boston."
She reaches out, takes his hand, and looks him in the eye. "What I want more than anything, is to move home to Capeside."
Pacey looks dazed. "But… you hate Capeside! You're always finding reasons not to come home."
She leans forward. "You're right, but Pace, don't you see? I didn't stay away because I hate Capeside. I stayed away because you were here. I wasn't ready to be with you, and I couldn't be near you without wanting you, so the easiest thing was to stay away."
Pacey's eyes widen into saucers as he listens to her words. Then he gets up and walks over to the window. He stares out of it for a long time, then says quietly, "That's a lot to take in."
She nods. "I know it is." She stands and walks across to join him at the window. "Tell me something. What are your dreams now that the Icehouse is open?"
Pacey looks at her. "Well, opening the Icehouse was a big enough dream at the time, and I couldn't quite believe it when it happened. And I know it's still early days. Realistically it will be at least another three years before I start to turn a decent profit, and that's if everything goes my way. But I'm starting to think of things I can do to make it the best restaurant in the Cape.
"And then…" he pauses and ducks his head shyly. "This is probably a totally stupid idea, but I think I'd like to open another restaurant somewhere else and maybe one day have a chain of Icehouses all over the Cape, maybe even in Boston." He laughs self-consciously. "I know that's just a wild dream."
Joey hadn't been sure what he'd say in response to her question and is both surprised and overjoyed to hear that he has such big dreams. Sixteen-year-old Pacey's biggest dream had been to graduate high school, and he'd had no confidence in his ability to do that.
"It's a good dream to have, Pace," she says. "And I don't think it's stupid. Look at what you've achieved in five years. You've discovered what you're good at, that you love, and you're making a success of it."
He nods. "Who'd have thought, eh? I know I'm good at what I do, and this has been the right move for me. But I'd give it all up tomorrow to be with you, you know that, right?"
"Yes, I do know that." She smiles. "And I love you for it, but if we go with my plan, you won't have to."
Pacey turns and puts both hands on her shoulders, eyes searching her face for confirmation. "Jo, is this really what you want?"
"Yes," she says firmly and puts her hands over his. "This isn't a compromise, Pace. I'm not giving up my dream for yours. I want to go on working in publishing, I want to work my way up to editor, and I think I'd like to write a book one day. But I want to do these things here in Capeside, with you. So, we can both have a job we love and raise a family together."
A smile starts on his face, broadening into the wide grin that always sends her heart flip-flopping. "So, we're going to have a family?"
"Of course, we are. I mean, not just yet, but eventually, of course, I absolutely want a family with you. I'm thinking of three kids and a dog, maybe a couple of cats."
Pacey nods solemnly. "Three kids and a dog sound doable. But I'm drawing the line at the cats."
"What's wrong with cats?"
Pacey puts an arm around her shoulders, and she leans into him as they look out of the window at the darkening sky and the small strip of orange glow over the sea, just visible beyond the rooftops. She listens as he waxes lyrical about the merits and drawbacks of cat ownership.
She sees their future stretching out before them. She sees happiness, triumphs and joy. She knows there are bound to be tough times, failures and heartache. But she knows there’s nothing to fear because they'll be facing both the good and bad times together.