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Two: Dangerous liaisons
Pacey, Andie and Dawson were standing awkwardly by a flaming metal drum, surveying the beach party glumly. What had promised to be the social event of the year turned out to be nothing more than a few groups of teenagers standing around drinking and waiting for things to liven up. It was already past eight and it seemed unlikely that anything was going to happen any time soon.
"And people think I give bad parties," Pacey said with a sigh.
"It has barely started, give it a chance," replied the ever-optimistic Andie. Dawson saw Pacey roll his eyes and had to smile. If Joey were there she would have beaten him to it.
"You know, youíre far too cheery for your own good, McPhee," Pacey continued. "How can you stand living with that sunshiny disposition all the time? Admit it, donít you make yourself nauseous sometimes?"
"What, Iím supposed to lock myself in my room listening to heavy metal dirges and bemoaning the fate of Generation X?"
"Yes," said Dawson and Pacey in unison. Andie shook her head in disbelief.
"At least thatís normal. No sixteen year old is supposed to be this upbeat."
"Well, I donít care what you think, Pacey. I intend to have a good time tonight," Andie said with conviction, a smile plastered on her face.
Dawson stopped listening to them as they continued to exchange sarcastic remarks. He had little interest in Paceyís love life when he had his own to consume his thoughts. He scanned the small crowd again for any sign of Joey, hoping that Bessie hadnít put her foot down and refused to let her off work. Just when he had made up his mind to go in search of her, Dawson saw Joey arrive in the shadows of the trees beyond the beach. His chest swelled with happiness at the sight of her, and Pacey and Andieís banter faded into the background. Dawson just wanted to watch his girlfriend, savoring each moment of her approach. It wasnít until he saw Jack walking a few steps behind her that the shine in his eyes faded. He didnít move or speak, momentarily mute from the surge of anger that flared within him.
"Great, Joeyís here. Now the partyís gonna liven up for sure," said Pacey, his voice dripping with sarcasm. He was ready to go home right then, knowing the party was never going to get any better.
"Oh, thatís so sweet. She made Jack come too," Andie gushed, grateful that Joey had been so thoughtful. Jack needed someone to coax him out of his shell, and Andie couldnít be the one to do it all the time. She ran over to greet them, linking her arm in Jackís.
"Sorry Iím late," said Joey as she came up to Dawson. "I had to convince Bessie she didnít need me around with only three tables to serve."
She waited for Dawson to kiss her hello but he made no move towards her. He just stared at her with an unreadable expression on his face.
"Maybe she was just annoyed at losing both of you at the same time," was his cold response.
"Sheíll get over it." Joey was trying to ignore it, but there was no use pretending Dawson wasnít annoyed with her. She pleaded ignorance though, wanting to see if heíd admit the reason behind his ill-humor. "What is it, Dawson? Is everything okay?"
"Itís nothing," Dawson replied, shrugging the questions off. He knew there was no use making a scene in front of everyone. "You want something to drink?"
* * *
An hour later things hadnít improved much. The party was still lifeless, though more people had arrived. Dawson, Joey, Pacey, Andie and Jack were sitting around talking, trying to stave off boredom in the hopes that something was going to happen to liven things up. Andie dominated the conversation with cheerful observations about life in Capeside, but only Pacey had the heart to respond to her questions and acknowledge her comments. Jack was preoccupied drawing endless circles in the sand with his finger, while Dawson and Joey silently fumed at one another. The prevailing mood was oppressive, and it didnít help matters at all when Jen and Abby arrived.
The brunette had spied the group of friends as soon as they got to the party and made a beeline for them. Sitting down uninvited, Abby smiled her best false smile and took over the conversation. Jen was less forthright and sat quietly on the edge of the group next to Dawson.
"Well, this has to be the most exciting group here. We couldnít resist joining you," said Abby loudly, ignoring the less than welcoming look from Joey. She set her sights on Jack instead. "Hi, I donít believe weíve met. Iím Abby Morgan and this is Jen Lindley."
"Hi," mumbled Jack, his voice barely audible. "Jack McPhee."
Abbyís eyes were still gleeful as she recognized an easy target. "How long have you been here in Capeside, Jack?"
"About a month," Andie chirped up, misreading the tone of Abbyís words as sincere. "Hi, Iím Andie, Jackís sister."
Abby turned her gaze on the blond girl, but the look was dismissive. She smiled falsely and turned her back on Andieís outstretched hand. Pacey looked away in annoyance.
"So, JackÖ youíre a waiter at that quaint little diner, the Icehouse, right? You must find that a real challenge."
Jack looked helpless, unsure whether Abby was making fun of him. He was tongue-tied and felt his face turn pink as the condescending look in her eyes increased with every second he stalled his response.
"Leave him alone, Abby," Joey spoke up, unable to watch Jack flounder any longer.
"What did I do?" she asked innocently. "I was just trying to be friendly. I thought Jack might like to meet some new people, so he knows not everyone in Capeside is frigid and stand-offish."
Abby made the comment without losing the smile from her face, making it difficult for Joey to retort angrily. Dawson didnít even seem to notice the dig, which made her all the more riled.
"So, Jack, if you ever want to see the sights of Capeside, you know who to ask," Abby pushed on relentlessly. "Iím sure I could think of something that would push your buttons."
That was enough for Jack. He murmured something about going to get a drink, and hastily retreated from the group. Andie looked after him with a frown, and did not object when Pacey suggested they go for a walk too. He could tell she was getting increasingly put out by Abbyís teasing of her shy brother, and Pacey wasnít sure he was ready to see her get really angry. The two of them walked off after Jack, leaving Abby smiling triumphantly.
"I think he likes me," she purred, grinning at Jen.
"Why donít you just lay off him, Abby? Youíre not impressing anyone with your attempts at wit," Joey said darkly.
Abby opened her mouth to respond, but to her surprise Dawson beat her to it.
"What do you care?" he asked, unable to hide the accusatory tone in his voice.
"Excuse me?" retorted Joey incredulously. She turned her angry glare on Dawson, much to Abbyís glee and Jenís interest.
"Donít you think Jackís old enough to take care of himself? He doesnít need you to defend him. And if he does, then maybe you shouldnít have brought him along tonight."
"What is that supposed to mean?"
"I just donít understand why it was necessary for you to bring him here on what was supposed to be our date. You know, a chance for you and me to spend some time alone together."
"What, like weíre doing now?" she spat, growing increasingly hostile.
"Hey, youíre the one who brought the walking disaster area."
"You know, Dawson, you can be such aÖ" Joey stopped herself when she realized Jen and Abby were listening intently to every word of the argument, the latter grinning a satisfied smirk that boiled her blood. With a huff, Joey jumped up and pulled Dawson with her so they could talk privately. They walked a fair distance away where she continued her tirade.
"Well, that was easier than I anticipated," said Abby, still straining to hear what they were saying to each other. While she couldnít make out the words, she could plainly see the furious expression on their faces as they kept arguing. "Sheís sure got a mouth on her, hasnít she?"
"Just what is it youíre hoping to accomplish, Abby?" Jen asked. Though she knew she shouldnít, she was secretly pleased to see Dawson and Joey at odds with each other.
"Iím setting you up to get the man of your dreams on his back tonight, though I still donít know what it is you see in Barney Rubble there."
Jen ignored the comment and kept her eyes glued on the sparring couple.
"And if all goes to plan, tonight is the night you get to remind Dawson why he should be with you and not Josie there."
"Joey," Jen corrected.
Abby and Jen stopped talking as Joeyís voice was suddenly raised loud enough for all of them to hear. She was practically screaming at Dawson now.
"The whole world doesnít revolve around you, Dawson!"
Abby laughed out loud. "Right in cueÖ" she murmured.
They watched as Joey stormed off alone, Dawson not even bothering to go after her. He looked around embarrassed, catching the eyes of several people who had heard Joeyís angry words. When his gaze fell upon Abby and Jen, he turned away abruptly and began walking towards the water.
"Man, you owe me big for this," said Abby, giving Jen a nudge in the ribs. "Nowís your chance. Get after him."
Jen only hesitated a moment before hopping up.
"Wait, donít forget these." Abby pulled a six-pack of beer from her bag and thrust it at Jen.
She accepted the alcohol and gave Abby a grin. Jen trotted off but had not gotten very far before she heard Abbyís voice ring out.
"Make sure you donít come back with dry underwear!"
Jen reddened with embarrassment at her crass friend but did not cease her pursuit of Dawson. She had gone this far, and nothing was going to stop her now.
* * *
Dawson had stalked off so quickly that Jen had to break out into a run to catch up with him.
"Dawson, wait up!" she panted as she drew closer to his side. He didnít stop walking though, in fact he barely acknowledged she was there at all. Jen matched his stride with difficulty and tried to smile enticingly while her chest heaved with every breath.
"What do you want, Jen?" he snapped.
She ignored the rebuke and the unfriendly tone in his voice. "I just thought you might need someone to talk to."
"Maybe I do, but what makes you think that person would be you?"
That one hurt. Jen stopped walking and Dawson felt guilty enough over his harsh words to stop too. His expression softened when he realized he was angry at Joey, not Jen. He had no right to take his ire out on her when she hadnít done anything.
"I thought you might need a friend, thatís all," Jen whispered, real tears in her eyes. Dawson felt worse.
"Iím sorry, Jen, I didnít mean to bite your head off." Dawson sighed, annoyed at himself. "I canít seem to get anything right these days."
He flopped down on the sand and hung his head between his bent knees. Jen took her time and settled beside him, caching the six-pack behind her.
"I know the feeling," she murmured. "It helps if you talk about it though."
Dawson looked up at her, staring into her eyes to try and ascertain her motives. She held his open gaze, allowing him to read only innocent intentions. Dawson cursed himself for being paranoid.
"Maybe I could use a friend tonight," he admitted.
Jen smiled and handed him a beer. "We all need friends sometimes, Dawson."
* * *
Pacey walked Andie to her car. Even though he had been wanting to leave the party for some time, he was suddenly sorry she was going so soon. But Jack had decided heíd had enough after Abbyís little performance and was already in the car with his seatbelt on. He wanted to go immediately and Andie did not have the heart to refuse him.
"Are you sure you donít want a lift?" she asked, regretful too that their evening was coming to a premature conclusion. Even if it hadnít been a real date, it was the closest she and Pacey had come to one.
"Nah, itís okay, Iíd rather walk."
"Sorry I have to leave so early."
"Oh well, partyís dead anyway."
"Is there some kind of pattern emerging here?" she smiled mischievously. "Are all Capeside parties this dull, or just the ones you go to?"
"Actually, I seem to recall they were all swinging until you arrived in town, McPhee," Pacey returned the barb with a grin.
"Ridiculous, Iím impossibly upbeat, remember? You must be the social black hole."
"Iím crushed," Pacey mocked her teasing words.
Andie grinned back at him and opened the car door. "To be on the safe side, maybe we should avoid parties for a while."
"Thatís assuming Iím going to ask you out again."
"Oh, you will," she said knowingly.
"And why is that?"
"I already told you, Iím upbeat. Admit it, you love it."
Without another word, Andie got into her Saab and drove away, leaving Pacey standing there with the smile still on his lips. He waited until her taillights had disappeared down the road before sauntering off towards his house. Pacey took his time, his thoughts consumed with Andie McPhee as he tried to work out why he was so drawn to her. He was preoccupied as he walked along the empty road, so he almost missed the dark figure walking by the dune fence. It was hard to make out who it was in the darkness, but then the large moon came out from behind some clouds and he saw it was Joey.
She glanced over her shoulder, her expression dismissive though she secretly pleased he was there. She didnít want to be alone with her thoughts anymore, and even Paceyís company was welcomed.
"What are you doing out here all alone?" he asked, walking up beside her. "Whereís your blond shadow?"
"If youíre referring to Dawson, right now I couldnít care less," she replied dully, not breaking stride. She just wanted to go home.
"Ouch, what happened there?"
"Dawsonís just being a selfish, unfeeling cretin, thatís all."
"A selfish, unfeeling cretin? This is the Dawson Leery weíre talking about, right?" When she didnít respond to the amusement in his voice, Pacey forced himself to be serious. "What happened?"
"Heís actually angry I asked Jack to come along tonight, can you believe that?" Joey snapped, angry once more when she remembered Dawsonís behaviour. "He says he wanted us to have a nice romantic night together ó so he asks me to a stupid beach party half the schoolís been invited to. Talk about intimate."
"Maybe heís just jealous seeing you around another guy. Itís perfectly natural. If you were my girlfriend, Jo, Iíd probably feel the same way."
"So, I canít have male friends now? I canít even talk to you without Dawson jumping to conclusions?"
"Letís face it, Joey, we havenít talked since you and Dawson started going out. Weíve barely had a conversation since the night we went to see your dad."
Joeyís fury faded when she realized Pacey was telling the truth. They hadnít talked at all, except perhaps a passing greeting in the halls at school. She had been so preoccupied with Dawson of late that she had neglected the other people on her life. Joey admitted to herself it was kind of pathetic, considering how few people she actually had in her life besides her boyfriend. She felt suddenly guilty that she hadnít spoken to Pacey for so long, and that, like Dawson, she had forgotten his sixteenth birthday. Despite the fact they hadnít always gotten on terribly well in the past, in the months leading up to her relationship with Dawson, she and Pacey had actually started to become good friends. But all of that had been forgotten after one kiss from her best friend.
Pacey noticed the dark expression on her face and tried to lighten things up.
"Donít worry, I havenít taken it personally. Not that Dawson has anything to worry about with meÖ He knows Iím too much of a gentleman to take advantage of you and besmirch your image."
Joey looked at him with amusement in her eyes. "Besmirch my image? Have you got one of those new-word-for-the-day calendars?"
Pacey laughed quietly, glad to see she wasnít angry anymore. "Nah, Andie must be having a bad influence on me."
"Andie, eh? Whatís the story there?"
"Nothing. You knowÖ" Pacey was suddenly embarrassed.
"Dawson told me she came to his house to ask about you." Joey couldnít resist teasing him, just as she had done countless times in the past.
"How many times have I told you how irresistible I am? And you thought I was being immodestÖ"
"Hey, at least sheís close to the right age this time. Decided to lay off older women for a while?"
Joey smothered her smile and hoped she hadnít offended him. She wasnít even sure Pacey knew Dawson had told her the whole sordid tale of his affair with Ms Jacobs. Joey didnít want to alienate Pacey right after getting her friend back. Her voice grew sincere.
"Sheís nice, Pacey. Iím glad for you."
"Yeah, sheís okay," he admitted. He wasnít sure he felt entirely comfortable discussing Andie with her though.
Instead he changed the topic, carefully avoiding anything to do with Dawson or Andie so neither of them would have to think about those people in their lives. Pacey and Joey talked inanely about trivial matters all the way back to her house. They were having such a good time catching up that Pacey was almost disappointed when he realized they had arrived at the Potterís.
"Well, here we are," he commented reluctantly.
Joey smiled, somewhat surprised she had been able to avoid thinking about Dawson along the way. Pacey was able to keep her mind occupied so she didnít dwell on their disconcerting argument back at the party. Joey wondered vaguely where her boyfriend might be, but then banished the thought from her mind.
"Thanks for walking me home, Pace."
"Hey, you never know what deviants are lurking around Capeside this time of night."
"Yeah, better to get one to walk you home, Iíve always thought."
Pacey grinned at her, then bowed his head as he inspected the ground at his feet.
"Seriously though, thanks for keeping me company and letting me vent back there about everything. Thanks for stopping me obsessing about it."
"Anytime," he said with all sincerity.
Joey fixed her gaze upon him, feeling the need to recapture their sarcastic interaction that deep down she enjoyed so much. "No antagonistic barbs then? No witty rejoinder? Youíre losing your touch, Pacey."
"I just thought Iíd take it easy on you, seeing we havenít talked in a while. Iíd hate to scar you permanently with by acerbic tongue."
"I think youíve just used up all your good one-liners on someone else," she said with mock jealousy. "Is that true, Witter? Have you been trading insults with someone else?"
Pacey laughed, ignoring the truth in her words.
"Andie sounds like a good person. I hope things work out for you guys," Joey smiled.
"Yeah, you too," replied Pacey pointedly. "Donít be too hard on him, Jo."
"I wonít," she said, beginning to feel regret over her behaviour at the party. She hadnít meant to publicly humiliate Dawson, but she was starting to realize that was what she had done.
Pacey saw her confusion but decided to leave her so she could sort it out on her own. He didnít want her to think he was interfering, he was just glad to have gotten some of their comradeship back.
Joey watched him go, remaining on the porch for a while longer. Her thoughts were now consumed with Dawson and she resolved to make up with him first thing in the morning. She had been too tough on him lately, but it was not his fault. She had her own problems to work out, but they didnít stem from Dawson. He was the one thing in her life she could depend on. Joey made a promise to herself to make things up to him as she slipped inside the house.
* * *
Back at the beach, Dawson and Jen stared out over the dark ocean. He continued pouring his heart out about Joey, not noticing the slightly bored look in Jen's eyes. She feigned interest in his ramblings, her intent clear now.
"So then she tells me her entire life is attached to me and that it scares herÖ She doesn't want to lose me but she's been pushing me away. Now suddenly she's spending all her time with that Jack guy and I'm just supposed to stand back and do nothing?" Dawson moaned, taking another swig of beer from the rapidly diminishing six-pack.
Jen watched him carefully, assessing the perfect moment to make her move. She murmured understandingly, but she had stopped listening to his words. Dawson looked up and met her eyes, waiting for her to say something.
Jen picked her moment. "It sounds to me like she doesnít know what she wants," she said softly, her voice intentionally husky. "Do you know what you want, Dawson?"
Dawson caught the meaningful words and for the first time was conscious of what was happening. He had been too caught up in his own confusion and anger before, but now Jen was spelling it out. He wanted to put a stop to it right then, but he found himself staring at her dark blue eyes, powerless to stop. He felt dazed, like the whole scenario wasn't real, like he watching it on a movie. Dawson's gaze traveled unwittingly down to Jen's full red lips and he wondered distractedly what the hell he was doing. But the nagging voice in his head didn't drown out the impulse to keep going. He felt like he couldn't stop himself now, even if he'd wanted to.
"Do you know what you want, Dawson?" Jen whispered seductively once more, spurred on by his receptive stare. "Because I know what I want."
Dawson stopped listening, stopped thinking. He just concentrated on Jen's creamy face in the moonlight, blocking out every other sensation. Her lips murmured something else but he didn't hear it. He leant his face into hers, silencing her with words with his mouth. He felt her smile against him, her eyes wide open as he kissed her again. Dawson was oblivious to everything else but her soft, welcoming lips. As she reclined slowly onto the sand, his mouth and body did not break contact with hers. Jen wrapped her arms possessively around his shoulders, determined not to let go.
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