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Four: The big chill
Joey didnít leave the house at all that Sunday. She told Bessie she wasnít feeling well and remained in bed the entire day, pretending to sleep. By staying home she knew she would effectively avoid seeing Dawson ó she doubted he would have the nerve to try and come over to talk to her. That suited her just fine. Joey wasnít ready to face him yet, and she wondered if she ever would be. She tried not to think about school the next day, when she would undoubtedly have to see both Dawson and Jen. Then there was the whole issue of the rumor mill.
Joey knew it their little interlude would be the talk of the school, and everyone would have something to talk about behind her back. She was used to being the subject of gossip because of her family, but Joey knew this would be even worse. People would be laughing at her or pitying her, and she didnít know which was worse. There was no avoiding it though ó she was damned if sheíd let Dawsonís betrayal affect her schooling in any way. It was the only thing that would get her out of Capeside, and Joey could never let anything stand in her way of that.
By Sunday night she was feeling slightly better. No word from Dawson, or anyone else for that matter. Joey had been mentally preparing herself for the onslaught she would face the next day and was determined to rise above it all. But somehow she knew that would easier said than done.
* * *
The corridors of Capeside High were crowded before first period with students chatting about their weekend, still celebrating the big basketball match their team had won, and generally catching up on what had happened since they saw each other last on Friday. Pacey was rummaging through his locker, hoping his English homework had somehow been miraculously completed and he wouldnít have to come up with another excuse for the teacher. He knew it was futile, the homework wasnít done and he was probably facing detention for another failed assignment. It didnít bother him too much, but he knew it would bother his father. It was not something he wanted to contemplate, and he was relieved when Andie walked up next to him.
"Well, if it isnít the life of the party," she smiled, obscenely cheery for a Monday morning. Pacey didnít even bother calling her on it, he knew by now that was just how she always was.
"You should have been there last night, McPhee, the place was jumping," he replied instead.
"There was a party last night? Why didnít I know about it?"
"Because they only let in the coolest and hippest people, and Iím afraid you just didnít make the grade."
"Iím crushed," Andie frowned sarcastically. "Really, to be excluded from a prestigious social clique that would allow you to join themÖ I may never recover from the rejection."
"Donít worry, Iíll see what I can do," Pacey grinned half-heartedly. Usually he liked stirring Andie, but this morning he just didnít feel up to it. It wasnít until he saw Joey come through the main doors of the school that he remembered why. Since taking her home after the finding her at the Ruins he hadnít even spoken to her, but he still worried about her yesterday. He noticed she looked exhausted and withdrawn and his heart went out to her. Andie kept talking, but Pacey was distracted as he watched Joey head for her locker.
She had almost made it there when she saw Dawson approaching from the other direction. She froze when their eyes met and he stopped in his tracks, staring at her mutely. Joey forced herself to look away and busied herself with her school books, but she knew he was still standing there. She prayed he would go away and leave her alone, but he seemed intent on trying to talk to her. Joey closed her eyes and wished she had some route of escape.
"Hi Dawson," Abby Morgan said sunnily as she sauntered past Joey. Abby knew she was going to enjoy this day immensely. "Bagged anyone else this weekend? I hear Friday night was a blast."
Dawson glared at her but couldnít think of any retort that would wipe the self-satisfied grin from her face. Instead he looked over at Joey, knowing she had heard the comment too. She was still trying to ignore him, but her shoulders slumped ever so slightly, a fact which was not lost on Abby either.
"Joey, I just wanted to say how sorry I am," Abby said sympathetically, but loud enough so everyone around could hear. "Arenít men pigs? You canít trust any of them."
Joey whirled around to face her, her eyes blazing with anger. But she didnít say anything. She shifted her gaze to Dawson and made him feel even more guilty for what he had done. Joey was being punished for his actions, and she wanted him to see how things were going to be now. Dawson broke her accusing stare and hastily walked away.
Abby watched the exchange and couldnít have been more pleased. She sidled up to Joey, intent on ribbing her a bit more. Across the corridor, Pacey had seen the entire interaction and had had enough. Even though Andie was still chatting away oblivious to what was going on, he suddenly walked away from her in order to rescue Joey from Abbyís clutches. He could see she didnít have the strength to do it herself.
Andie stopped talking when she realized Pacey had gone. Stunned by the rebuke, she watched as he went quickly to Joeyís side, where he said something in a low voice to Abby. From the outraged look on the gossipís face, Andie could guess he hadnít been complimenting her on her outfit. Abby said something in reply but backed off from them, still smiling as she continued her patrol down the corridor. Now Pacey was talking quietly to Joey, and Andie was tempted to get closer so she could hear what he was saying. She couldn't help but notice the attentive way he murmured to her, and felt vaguely jealous. Though determined to find out what was happening, Andie wasnít given the chance. Joey nodded to Pacey and they both walked away towards the main doors and disappeared outside. Andie was about to follow but the first period bell rang and she realized reluctantly she would have to go to class. There was no sign of Joey or Pacey.
* * *
Joey waited by the side of the road that lead to Paceyís house, just glad to be away from school. Her plans to ignore whatever Dawson or Abby could throw at her were destroyed within the first five minutes. She was angry at them for making her feel this way, but furious with herself for allowing them to get the better of her. When Pacey had suggested ditching school for the day she had jumped at the chance, because it put off facing the stares and comments from her fellow students. Joey felt nothing but gratitude for Paceyís actions, and looked expectantly up the road for any sign of his return.
Soon enough she saw the familiar sight of the Witterís truck inching down the road. He was pushing it and hadn't turned on the engine yet, a sure sign that he had to Ďborrowí the car by hot wiring it. Joey smiled to herself as Pacey reached a safe distance from the house and gunned the engine. He drove up beside her and grinned jokingly through the open window.
"Hey, good lookiní, you want a ride?"
"Sure, where you headed?"
"I was headed up the coast, but Iíll take you anywhere you want, little lady."
Joey opened the door and jumped in. "The coast sounds good to me."
"Okay, Miss Daisy, itís just you and me."
Joey smiled as she looked out the window, suddenly realizing this was the first time since Dawson had confessed his sins to her that she had been able to do so. Trust Pacey to cheer her up. He had always had an innate ability to help her forget her worries. It didnít matter it what it was. Even when her mother died, their caustic banter had given her the only reprieve from the utter desolation sheíd felt. Now once again, Pacey had come to her rescue. The image of him riding in gallantly on a white horse to save her made her smile even more. She glanced over and saw that Pacey had been watching her, her smile echoed on his own lips.
"What are you smiling at?" he asked.
"Nothing. I was just thinking how glad I am to have a friend like you."
"Chucks, maíam, youíre makiní me plumb embarrassed."
"Iím serious, Pacey. You saved me from garroting Abby Morgan in the hallway."
"Well, if Iíd known you were going to do that, I wouldnít have intervened."
"Iím thankful you did. I canít face it all today." Joeyís voice had grown soft as she started thinking about all that happened. Pacey noticed her sinking spirits and frowned to himself. "I just donít want to have to think about any of it today."
"Then donít. Today is about forgetting everything thatís happened in the last few days. Today we celebrate the fact that we are young and carefree, and that my dad decided to sleep in this morning so I could get the truck. Letís ride."
Pacey flicked on the radio and nodded approvingly as some road-trip song blared out with an appropriately upbeat tempo. He slapped the steering wheel in time with the music and began singing along.
"ĎI been driving all night, my handís wet on the wheelÖí" He noticed she was just staring at him, battling her own emotions. He wasn't about to let her succumb to them now. "Come on, Jo, you have to promise to enjoy yourself today. I donít want to hear anything about Dawson, okay?"
"Dawson who?" she asked innocently. Pacey grinned at her as she joined in the song.
* * *
They spent the day driving along the coastline, stopping every now and then to revisit places from their childhood. They joked and laughed as they had done back then, innocently and without a care in the world. Joey and Pacey talked about everything and nothing, keeping their light-hearted conversations free of any negative subjects. Whenever she was reminded of something Dawson had said or done, Pacey was there with a joke and a wicked grin. Joey wondered what she would have done without him, but it was a thought she didn't put much effort into contemplating. She had him, and she wasn't about to question why.
Pacey dropped her off that afternoon with only a couple of minutes to spare. Joey ran up the steps leading to the Icehouse, and hoped Bessie wouldnít comment on her belated arrival for work. He'd tried to convince her to blow work off too, but Joey was adamant that they get back to Capeside in time. She had told Pacey she couldnít stand his singing a moment longer, but the truth was she didnít want Bessie to start asking her where she had been. She hadn't told her sister what had happened with Dawson because she didnít want to hear anything Bessie had to say on the matter. Whether her would be reaction was empathetic or angry on her behalf, Joey wasnít ready for anyone else to know.
She pulled on her apron and glanced quickly at her sister behind the counter, before starting to clear tables of empty plates and glasses. Joey could feel Bessieís eyes on her but chose to ignore her. She was so involved in what she was doing she didnít hear Jack walk up beside her.
"I can do that, you donít have to clear tables," he stated, taking the bussing basin from her.
Joey looked up and saw immediately that he had heard the news about Dawson. She knew he was just trying to be kind, but his sympathetic expression maddened her. Damn rumor mill, she thought to herself. Everyone knew already. Joey realized too late that her absence from school that day would have only fueled the gossip. If she had stayed and faced the snide comments and whispers behind her back, showing they didnít bother her, then perhaps people might grow tired of the latest scandal and find something else to talk about. But instead she had run away, and now it was be all the more harder to go back tomorrow.
"I can clear tables just fine, Jack," she answered bitterly. "Iíve been doing it a lot longer than you."
"Itís okay, Joey, I can cover for you with Bessie. I donít mind doing your work too."
"Why would you do that?" she asked accusingly.
"Well, you knowÖ" Jack stuttered, suddenly shame-faced. "I mean, I heard what happened so I thoughtó"
"Hereís a tip for you, Jack. Donít think. Iím perfectly capable of doing my job, thank you very much." Joey snatched the basin of plates from him and almost crashed into Bessie as she turned abruptly to go into the kitchen.
"Joey, whatís going on with you?" her sister asked evenly. She had heard her last exchange with Jack.
"Nothing, I just want to get on with my work." Joey tried again to walk away but Bessie still stood in her way.
"The school called."
Joey glanced away guiltily, expecting Bessie to read her the riot act. But to her surprise Bessie only looked concerned.
"They were worried about you, thought you must be sick because you never miss school." Bessie didnít want to have to ask for an explanation, but she could tell Joey was not about to be forthcoming with one. Bessie sighed in exasperation at her younger sisterís muteness. "Joey, what is going on with you? Youíve been in some kind of funk for a couple of weeks now, but this weekend was the worst. Now youíre skipping school? Whatís gotten into you?"
Joey suddenly met Bessieís eyes, her own shining with rage. She slammed down the dishes, ignoring Jackís nervous jump at the noise and his embarrassed stare.
"You want to know whatís wrong with me? Iíll tell you. Dawson screwed Jen on Friday, all right? My boyfriend, who's supposed to be in love with me, went and cheated on me with that New York whore. So forgive me if Iím not all sweetness and light at the moment!"
Bessie opened her mouth, shocked at the statement, but Joey grimaced before she could say anything. Ripping off her apron, she stormed past Jack and ran out of the restaurant. Bessie started to go after her immediately, but Jack put his arm up to stop her.
"No, Bessie, let me."
Bessie began to protest, but conceded that she didnít really know what to say to Joey anyway. She couldnít believe Dawson of all people would betray her like that ó he just wasnít the type. No wonder Joey was so miserable, she thought. Bessie nodded at Jack to go talk to her.
He found her not far away, leaning over the edge of the deck, breathing hard. Jack walked up quietly and stood beside her for a while, content just to be next to her in silent comfort. He hated seeing her upset, in fact Jack admitted how profoundly her sadness affected him, but part of him was almost glad this had happened. If Joey was no longer with Dawson then perhapsÖ Jack stopped himself thinking the enticing thought. It was neither the time nor the place to be making a move on her. He just wanted to try and cheer her up for the moment.
"Iím sorry, Joey," he murmured quietly once she her angry breathing had returned to normal. She just looked exhausted now, as the events from the past few days caught up with her, both physically and emotionally. He didnít notice her wince at the words. "For what itís worth, I think Dawson Leery must be the worldís greatest idiot to jeopardize what he has with you. He doesnít know how lucky he is."
Joey sucked in her breath, clenching her fists unconsciously.
"I just want you to know that there are others who care about youÖ Others who wouldnít do anything to hurt you."
She managed to control her ragged breaths quite well, swallowing back the cutting response that had first sprung to mind. Joey turned to face him, surveying his sincere visage calmly.
"No offense, Jack, but thatís not what I need to hear right now."
"What do you need to hear?"
He was so eager to please, wanting to say anything to make her feel better. Joeyís anger drained at the sight, knowing he meant well. The problem was there was nothing he could say that would make any difference to how she felt.
"I donít know what I needÖ all I know is youíre not the person I need to hear it from." Joey noticed the hurt look that appeared in Jackís dark eyes, but she glanced away. "You donít know me, or Dawson, or anything about our history."
Jack thought about this for a moment. "Is there someone you can talk to who does?"
Joey looked at him in surprise. She wasnít used to Jack being so astute. She pondered his question and knew the answer.
"Yeah, there is."
"Good. I hope they can make you feel better, Joey."
"Thanks, Jack," whispered Joey, grateful for his concern. She knew who she needed now, thanks to him.
* * *
When Joey arrived at Paceyís house, she found him scrubbing its white walls with a large scrubbing brush. Her dark mood was replaced with one of slight amusement as she watched him dip the brush into a large bucket of soapy water, his bare arms covered in suds.
"What are you doing?" she asked in a bemused voice. The mere sight of him had cheered her immensely and Joey wondered fleetingly how he did it.
Pacey turned around at the sound of her voice and a grin spread across his face when he saw her.
"The school called." He shrugged, his eyes laughing at his own ludicrous predicament. "Iím not exactly flavor of the month with good ole Chief Witter."
"Sorry," said Joey immediately, feeling guilty. "Itís my fault you ditched."
"Hey, I donít need much of an excuse to cut school," he replied quickly, banishing any blame. "If anything I was the one who lead you astray. Did Bessie find out?"
"Yeah, but sheíll be okay. I told her about Dawson, soÖ I expect Iíll be spoiled and pampered for the next few days, and sheíll put up with my self-indulgent behavior."
"I think youíre entitled to be a little self-indulgent, considering."
"Yeah, well, I donít want to make a habit of it." Joey glanced around, suddenly uncomfortable. When she was with Pacey she didnít want to think about how depressed she was. She wanted him to make her forget her troubles, even if only for a few hours. "Thanks for today, Pacey. I really needed it."
"Thatís okay," he said dismissively, embarrassed by her gratitude. Joey seemed to notice his discomfort too and gave him a quick smile.
"So, you got another one of those?" she asked, motioning to the scrubbing brush.
Pacey grinned and pulled one from the bucket, tossing it to her. The shower of sudsy water that followed made her gasp, but Joey flicked the brush back towards him so he got splashed too. She laughed playfully and took her place by his side, scrubbing the white timber. They worked in silence for a few minutes before Joey suddenly giggled.
"What is the point of this anyway?"
Pacey caught the mirth in her eyes and began laughing too.
"I have absolutely no idea."
They laughed jovially together as they worked, and for the
next few hours Joey didnít think about Dawson Leery once.
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