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Three: About last night
Pacey had his feet up behind the counter at Screenplay Video, watching a movie without a care in the world. The nagging Nellie had found herself another hobby that precluded torturing him at work, so Pacey was rightfully contented. The store was deserted, not surprising for a Saturday morning, prompting Pacey to collect a few of his favorite videos and settle back to wile away the hours — and getting paid for the pleasure.
He was almost glad that Dawson hadn’t shown up for work yet. It meant he could cue up a Mighty Ducks movie and indulge himself before his best friend arrived and started insisting on something a little more profound. In Pacey’s opinion, you couldn’t get any more profound than Coach Bombay finding out the true meaning of team spirit. He let out a satisfied sigh and turn the volume up a notch.
When Dawson finally did decide to grace Pacey with his presence, he was already well into the final game sequence of the film and was unwilling to turn the video off. Pacey was set to ignore him, but the look on Dawson’s face made him reconsider. He looked like hell, and probably felt it too. Pacey couldn’t help but smile.
"Well, if it isn’t sleeping beauty. I hate to say this, buddy, but I would’ve stayed in bed a while longer if I were you. You could use all the help you can get this morning."
Dawson had expected the dig, and said nothing as he slumped in a chair behind the counter.
"You know, D, if I had any work ethic I’d remind you you’re over an hour late," Pacey said good-naturedly. But Dawson wasn’t biting. Pacey knew he would have to extricate the truth out of his friend if he was ever going to get back to his movie. He prepared himself to hear the latest crisis in Dawson’s little world. "Okay, what’s with you?"
Dawson let out a shaky breath, unable to hold things in any longer. He felt absolutely wretched and if he didn’t talk to someone about it he knew he’d go insane. Visibly upset, enough so Pacey actually grew concerned, Dawson started speaking.
"I don’t know what I’m going to do, Pacey. I’ve done something completely stupid."
"All right, tell Father Pacey what you’ve done. Confess your sins and receive absolution."
"I’m serious, Pacey. This is serious," Dawson blurted out, growing increasingly anxious.
"Geez, Dawson, calm down," replied Pacey with a frown. "What could you have possibly done to get you this worked up?"
Dawson paused, suddenly unsure if he could even say the words. Pacey was waiting expectantly, and he knew he couldn't hide from the truth forever. He swallowed with difficulty, his eyes downcast.
"I slept with Jen last night," he said almost inaudibly.
Pacey’s laughter was not exactly the reaction he expected or desired.
"Yeah right," his friend snorted. "Good one, Dawson, you actually had me going there for a second. Come on, what did you really do?
When Dawson didn’t answer, the smile on Pacey’s lips faded quickly.
"This is a joke, right?" Pacey waited for some kind of response but nothing was forthcoming. Dawson just met his gaze, his eyes dark and tortured. Pacey let out an incredulous sigh. "God, Dawson…"
"I know… What am I going to do?" His voice was pleading, but Pacey had no words of wisdom to impart. He just continued to sit there, his mouth open in disbelief.
"How could you do this?" Pacey finally managed to say, anger setting in after the shock had worn off. "How could you be such an idiot?"
"I don’t know," Dawson moaned, his head falling into his hands. "I can barely remember what happened. One minute we were talking and I was telling her about the problems Joey and I have been having lately. We had this cheap imported beer to loosen us up, but then… the next thing I knew we were making out and tearing each other’s clothes off."
He looked to Pacey for sympathy but received none.
"You really are a supreme asshole, you know that? What about Joey?" Pacey thought about the expression on her face when he left her at her door last night. She was all ready to forgive the creep, and now he had gone and done this. It made Pacey furious. "How could you do this to her?"
"I don’t know. I didn’t mean for it to happen." Dawson’s expression was mournful, his large eyes pained, his normally tanned face ashen and pinched.
"What are you going to tell Joey?" Pacey continued to interrogate him, though all Dawson wanted to do was curl up in a ball and die.
"Tell her? Nothing! I can’t tell her what happened!" Dawson snapped immediately. "God, she’d never speak to me again."
"You’d rather she heard it on the Capeside grapevine? Think about it, Dawson. Do you honestly think Jen is going to keep this a secret? The whole school knows she’s been trying to get you back since you started dating Joey. She’s probably boasting to Abby about her conquest right now. Would you rather Joey hears about this from someone like Abby Morgan?"
Dawson looked at his hands morosely, knowing he didn’t have a choice. He couldn’t let Abby and Jen rub Joey’s nose in his betrayal. He had no doubt they would, now that he admitted it to himself. He didn’t know what had possessed him to hurt Joey like that… none of it seemed real. Dawson couldn’t even picture himself with Jen on the beach now, it was if it had happened to someone else. He wished he could just pretend the whole thing had never happened, or he could use some kind of cosmic rewind button to go back and change the events of last night. But it was no use. He had made his bed, so to speak, and now he had to lie in it.
"Well?" prompted Pacey impatiently, not letting him postpone the decision.
"I have to tell her, don’t I?" Dawson asked despondently.
"I think it’s the least you owe her, Dawson."
"But how am I going to tell her?" he continued in a small voice.
Pacey’s face softened slightly, and for the first time he felt some pity for his friend’s predicament. Obviously it was a hideous mistake that Dawson regretted, but Pacey couldn’t help but feel angry for Joey’s sake. She didn’t deserve to be treated that way. Pacey put his hand on Dawson’s shoulder, mulling over his question. He didn’t have the easy answer he needed to hear.
"Dawson, I have absolutely no idea."
* * *
Abby smiled sweetly when Jen’s grandmother answered the door, making polite small talk with the old woman before stealing up to her friend’s bedroom. She had been dying of curiosity all night and now she had come to find out what had happened. Abby entered the room without knocking and found Jen seated at her dresser doing her hair in the mirror.
"Well?" she blurted out excitedly, unable to contain herself any longer.
"Well what?" smiled Jen innocently, looking at Abby’s reflection in the mirror.
"I waited for an hour last night before I went home… You didn’t come back, so I’m assuming mission accomplished?"
"There was no mission last night, Abby," Jen said calmly, aggravating her.
"Aw, come on Jen, did you nail him or not?" she whined, throwing herself on the bed. "Don’t keep me in suspense!"
"What a charming description. I didn’t nail Dawson." Jen turned around slowly so she faced Abby. "But if you’re asking whether or not we shared an intimate moment… then yes."
"Oh my God! You nailed him!" Abby gasped, her eyes wide with admiration.
Jen smiled slightly, pleased with herself and the obvious elation on Abby’s face. It was silly, but she couldn’t help being proud of her own conquest.
"I don’t believe it, I never thought Dawson had it in him… You really are a slut!"
"Hey!" Jen bit back, offended.
"Hey, I meant it as a compliment!" Abby placated her. "Jen Lindley, you’re my hero! Bad girl gets one over the Ice Maiden."
Abby jumped up and threw her arms around Jen dramatically. "I’m so proud of you I could cry!"
Jen laughed softly at her enthusiasm, but she was beginning to feel slightly awkward as Abby continued to fuss over her.
"So, what’s the plan now? A declaration over the P.A. at school? Flyers? How about a sky writer?" Abby grinned unashamedly. "Can you imagine the look on Joey Potter’s face when she finds out?"
"The objective of this little exercise was to get Dawson back, not ruin Joey’s life," Jen reminded her. It was only now she could see the two went hand in hand. Jen felt a twinge of regret that she hastily ignored. She wanted Dawson back, that was all. She just didn’t know if she had him now after having him last night. Jen wasn’t sure what would happened now.
* * *
Dawson took his time walking to the Icehouse. He rehearsed what he was going to say, but he just grew more dissatisfied with his attempts and felt his courage waning. He had no idea how he was going to admit his fateful mistake to her. Joey trusted him and now he had destroyed that. The worst thing was, he realized just how much he loved Joey last night, not Jen. Jen had only ever been a passing infatuation. He was in love with Joey. It had just been sex with Jen last night, Dawson knew he could only ever make love with Joey. But now he realized he probably never would. He had ruined everything.
He found her delivering the bill to a couple on the deck, bestowing a rare smile on them as they left a generous tip. Tucking the money in her apron, Joey glanced up and saw Dawson. A huge grin spread across her face when she did, so happy was she to see him. She had tried calling him that morning but his mother said he was still asleep and Joey had begged her not to wake him. She’d been planning to track him down after she finished work to apologize, but he had beaten her to it.
Dawson saw the look in her eyes and almost wished she was still angry at him. It would have made things easier when he confessed the truth. But she looked so pleased to see him that Dawson had to restrain himself from turning on his heel and running in the other direction. He couldn’t bear to face her.
"Hi," she murmured as he forced himself closer.
"I’m glad you’re still talking to me. I’m sorry about last night."
"Joey…" Dawson stopped, unable to put into words what he had to reveal to her.
Luckily a customer called for her from a nearby table and Joey looked around distractedly. She threw him a rueful grin.
"Can we go somewhere and talk?" Dawson persisted.
"I can probably get off in 15. I’ll get Jack to finish up for me."
Ignoring the mention of that person, Dawson said, "I’ll meet you down by the water."
"Okay," she smiled at him again, anticipating an amorous make-up session. The impatient customer called her again and she pulled herself away. "I gotta go… I’ll see you there."
Dawson watched as she took more orders, hating himself for the first time in his life. He made himself turn away and found his way down to the pier to wait for her. He had a feeling it was going to be the shortest fifteen minutes ever.
* * *
Joey spotted him sitting on the end of the long dock, facing out over the water. She smiled to herself as she approached him, wishing she’d had time to go home and get changed before she met him. She’d been on the breakfast shift and knew she smelled of fried bacon. But Joey was anticipating her rendez-vous with Dawson too much and didn’t want to put it off any longer. She had spent most of the previous night thinking about him, and decided she had something she needed to tell him. She tucked her hair behind one ear, suddenly nervous, and cleared her throat to catch his attention.
Dawson turned around slowly, trying to put off the confrontation for as long as possible. Joey smiled at him again, sending a dagger through his heart.
"Thanks for coming," he said politely, wondering if he should ask her to sit down.
"Why wouldn’t I come? You didn’t think I’d still be mad about last night, did you?"
"Listen, Joey, about last night… we have to talk."
"I know," said Joey quickly, and Dawson felt his throat constrict. But Joey was still looking at him normally, if a little anxiously. "Can I go first?"
He was too surprised to protest.
Joey took a deep breath and began her carefully planned speech. "I’m sorry I brought Jack to the party. I should have asked first… I knew you wanted it to be just the two of us, but the truth is I wanted other people around. I knew if the others were there we wouldn’t have the heart to heart talk we’ve been putting off."
"Joey—" Dawson started, bewildered by these turn of events. Here Joey was acting so contrite when he was at fault. He couldn’t let her continue.
"No, Dawson, let me finish. This is hard enough as it is," she went on despite his protesting expression. "I told you I was scared I had nothing else in my life but you… and instead of finding whatever it is I need right now, I started to push you away. I don’t know why I did it — I guess I thought if I did it wouldn’t give you option of leaving me. Because that’s what I’m truly frightened of, Dawson, the idea terrifies me. But I’ve been doing a lot of thinking and I realize I don’t want to push you away. I don’t want to lose you… I’m sorry I’ve been dumping all my insecurities on you recently, but that’s all they are. You’ve been so understanding… and I love you for it."
"What?" Dawson whispered.
"I said I love you," Joey repeated, slightly embarrassed by the open admission. "I guess we haven’t said that out loud yet, have we?"
Dawson was flabbergasted, at a total loss for words. Joey was waiting expectantly for him to say it back, and the incomprehension in her dark eyes tortured him as he remained silent.
"Dawson, what’s wrong?" she said, truly worried now.
"Joey, I…" He looked into her trusting face and her loving gaze, desperately wishing he could avoid hurting her. But there was no going back, nothing he could do but tell her. "Joey, I slept with Jen last night."
She didn’t respond, her face remained blank. He was afraid she hadn’t heard him and he would have to repeat the awful words. His pleading eyes searched hers for some sign she understood what he had said. Finally Joey let out a sound that was a cross between a laugh and a gasp.
"What?" She thought he must be joking, and wondered how he could consider that funny. But as she looked at his guilty, penitent expression she realized it was no joke. Too shocked to say anything, Joey backed away a few steps, shaking her head in disbelief.
"Joey," Dawson moaned, wanting to say something, do anything that would take the pain away.
He held out his hand to stop her from leaving, but with a sudden movement she slapped it away from her. She couldn’t let him touch her, or come anywhere near her. She couldn’t look at him anymore or listen to his pleas. With betrayal burning fiercely in her eyes, she turned around and ran away as fast as she could. Joey heard him call after her but she paid him no mind, concentrating only on pumping her legs faster so there was some distance between them. Her sandshoes thumped loudly on the old wooden boards of the pier as she neared its end, not stopping as she sped onto the street.
Joey kept running until her chest was burning and her vision started to blur. She pushed her tired legs and protesting lungs, ignoring the pain, seeking refuge but finding none. When she arrived at the Ruins she almost collapsed, throwing herself against a crumbling wall and breathing harder than she ever had in her life. No matter how deep her breaths were she couldn’t seem to get enough air. Sweat streamed down her face, but it soon with mingled with equally salty tears until she couldn’t tell the difference.
She sank to her knees on the rocky ground, unable to move another step. The muscles in her legs were quivering from the exertion but she ignored the uncontrollable sensation, unable to think about anything but Dawson’s confession. He had slept with Jen… He had slept with Jen… The words repeated themselves over and over in her mind until she couldn’t bear it any longer. Joey clamped her hands over her ears in an attempt to shut the whispered phrase out of her mind. She allowed the painful sobs that had been building up in her chest to erupt, her face crumpling in misery. She cried until she thought she had no tears left, but still the aching did not stop. Joey tucked her knees against her chest and curled up in a ball, protecting herself from the rest of the world. She just needed to find some peace.
Hours later, Pacey found her still sitting there motionless. He stopped in his tracks when he saw her, uncertain now whether he should approach her. When Dawson had told him what happened, the first thought that popped into his mind was that he needed to find her. Pacey wasn’t sure what he could say or do to ease her pain in any way, but he knew he had to try. Joey needed a friend, and he was all she had now.
He walked up noisily so as not to startle her, and eased himself to the ground beside her. Joey didn’t look up. He sat there awkwardly for a moment, then reached out his hand and placed it on her bowed head. He felt stupid, but he knew he couldn’t force her to accept his consolation. Finally Joey raised her face to his, even though she knew from his touch it was Pacey. Her red, swollen eyes searched his for some explanation, but he had none to give.
"I’m sorry, Jo," he whispered, wishing the words didn’t sound so useless.
Joey grimaced and wiped her blotched face with trembling fingers, but she wasn’t quite ready to stop crying yet. Trying to hide the tears behind her hands, she felt the terrible well of sadness build up inside her again and the tears flowed more freely. Pacey hesitated a moment before putting his arms tentatively around her, expecting her to shove him off brusquely. But instead she let her body go limp against him, accepting whatever comfort he was offering. She wept openly now, and Pacey tightened his grip around her shaking body. He kissed the top of her head and let her cry for as long as she needed to.
* * *
Dawson returned home that afternoon after walking aimlessly around Capeside for most of the day. He couldn’t sit still, his thoughts immediately returning to Joey and the look on her face when he told her what happened. The image tortured him every time it flashed in his mind, and Dawson knew he deserved the self-inflicted punishment. He wondered if he could forgive himself for hurting her the way he had, let alone if she would ever find it in her heart to forgive him.
He slumped up the stairs to his house, thankful his parents were both out. He didn’t want them to see him this way, because they would know immediately that something was wrong and interrogate him until he told the truth. He wasn’t ready for them to know what he had done. Betraying Joey was bad enough, but having sex for the first time would be the clincher. He knew his parents would freak out, especially if they knew he had been drunk, the sex was unprotected and was with Jen — the girl with a past. Dawson didn’t even want to contemplate that side of things.
All he wanted to do was crawl under his blankets in his darkened room and pretend like the last twenty-four hours never happened. But his plans were spoiled when he saw that Jen was sitting calmly on their porch swing, waiting for him. The sight of her made him stop dead, not to mention making his heart skip a beat. It wasn't love or lust that did it, it was the thought he would have to deal with Jen now. Dawson didn’t know if he had the strength or the patience to do that just yet.
"Hey," she said casually, as if she’d just come over to borrow a cup of sugar.
"Jen, what are you doing here?" he spluttered, anxious to get rid of her. He felt a wave of nausea hit him from his hangover, and knew she was the catalyst.
"I came to talk," she continued seductively, walking towards him. "I came to talk about last night."
Dawson shut his eyes and waited for his stomach to settle. He could smell her over-powering perfume and it reminded him instantly of them together on the sand, his face buried in her neck, breathing in the same sickly sweet smell… It took all his will power not to throw up on her shoes right then.
"Jen, please, I can’t do this now," he whispered, beads of sweat appearing on his upper lip.
"Dawson, we have to talk about us."
"Us? There is no us!" Dawson retorted, suddenly angry. "I’m in love with Joey, not you! Why can’t you just accept that?"
Jen’s eyes blazed with fury. "If you’re in love with Joey then why did you spend last night with me and not her?"
Dawson had no answer. It was a question he had asked himself repeatedly since it happened.
"I made a mistake." It was all he could come up with.
"A mistake? Are you calling me a mistake?" she fumed.
"Yes. Go home, Jen." Dawson unlocked the heavy wooden door and stepped inside the house, slamming it shut in her face.
"You can’t treat me like this, Dawson Leery!" Jen yelled, loud enough so her grandmother stepped out onto their porch next door, looking worriedly in her direction. Jen saw the old woman and kicked the door savagely, knowing she couldn’t scream at him with her grams listening in. With a scowl on her face she stamped down Dawson’s front steps and continued down to the creek, away from her grandmother’s inquisitive stare. She looked over her shoulder at Dawson’s window, and vowed he hadn’t heard the last of her.
Dawson watched her from his bedroom, thankful his father had insisted on taking the ladder away from his window. The last thing he needed was Jen climbing up to continue their bitter confrontation. Dawson was glad to see she had given up for the time being and fell onto his bed. Covering his eyes with one arm, he lay huddled under the bedclothes and tried to sleep though it was still the afternoon. Dawson he didn’t care. He just wanted to stop thinking for a while, and sleep offered him the oblivion he desperately needed. He couldn’t think about any of it anymore.
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