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Five: He said, she said
Later that week at school, Pacey waited as Joey collected her biology books from her locker while he tried to figure out the answers to their homework assignment. Though she had spent hours explaining them to him last night, he was still confused by the mind-numbingly boring tables and graphs that were supposed to represent life cycles and breeding patterns of various crustaceans. He didnít have the patience to sit through any more explanations, the only concession was he got to spend time with Joey. Homework was another way of forgetting her troubles, and she had set them a harsh study routine in preparation for mid-terms. Pacey doubted even Andie could come up with so brutal a schedule.
"We can go over it again while we eat lunch, if you like," Joey offered, noticing his uncomprehending frown as he flipped through his notebook.
"Joey, youíre supposed to relax at lunch, you know. Take a break, that sort of thing. I donít know how you can keep this pace up, my headís about to explode."
"I donít have much choice," Joey replied darkly as she saw Jen further up the hallway. She had managed to avoid the blonde all week but it was getting harder to prevent herself from running into her. She knew the whole school was waiting for their inevitable confrontation, fueled by Abby and her malicious gossip. She was promising the cat-fight of the century and Joey was determined not to give them what they wanted. She painstakingly ignored Jen, and was pleased to see Jen seemed to have the same idea. There was an unspoken agreement between them that they avoid each other at all costs.
It was harder to do the same with Dawson however. Wherever Joey went she saw him ó in class, in the corridors, in the lunch line. He had even come to the Icehouse once but she had stayed inside and made Jack serve him. Joey hadn't spoken to him since the previous Saturday when he had dropped his bombshell, and she was doing her utmost to make sure she never would again. In her heart she knew it was naïve and unrealistic, but she wasnít ready yet. It still hurt too much.
As if on cue Joey saw him exit a nearby classroom and make a beeline for his locker. She felt her throat constrict painfully when he walked towards her, his satchel strap slung across his chest as always. The familiar sight made her feel worse, as if everything was still the same. Normally he would come up and kiss her hello, cheering her with his warm smile. She would notice his face light up when she smiled back and raised her face to receive his kiss. Then Dawson would casually swing his arm around her shoulders and they would wander off to the cafeteria together. The simple intimacies like that were the things she missed. Joey tried to brush aside the old feelings as Dawson caught her eyes now. He held her gaze for the briefest of moments before dropping his eyes and continuing past her without stopping. Joey blinked back tears and began rummaging in her locker again, even though she already had all that she needed from it.
Pacey stood beside her, watching every detail of her face as she dealt with seeing Dawson. Though she tried to pretend she wasnít upset when she was around Pacey, her true desolation would come to the surface when she thought he wouldnít notice. Pacey knew she wasnít any closer to feeling better, despite her protestations that she barely thought about Dawson anymore. It was obvious from the pain in her eyes now that all of his efforts had been in vain. Pacey had been trying to help her forget her worries but all she had been doing was pushing them aside. Eventually she would have to confront them head on or she would never get over it.
"Are you ever going to talk to him?" Pacey asked in a low voice so the others around them could not hear.
"Why should I?" Joey retorted defensively, annoyed that he noticed she was upset.
"They guy made a mistake, Jo, albeit an extremely stupid one even by Dawsonís standards. But you canít avoid him forever."
"Maybe not, but I can try."
"You think thatís going to make you feel better?"
"Maybe," Joey said, but her heart wasnít in it and there was no conviction in her voice. "EventuallyÖ"
"Well, youíve avoided him like the plague all week. Do you feel any better at all?"
"When I donít have to think about it I do."
"And how long do you honestly think you can keep that up?" Pacey knew he was beginning to anger her by his words, but he also knew it was time he stopped coddling her. He had to be cruel to be kind.
"I can keep it up long enough, thanks."
"Just talk to him, Jo. Give him the chance to explainÖ"
"Explain what?!" Joey finally exploded. "Why he felt the need to nail the blond bitch from next door when heís supposed to be in love with me?!"
Joey reddened from anger and embarrassment when she realized she had been yelling. People were whispering behind their hands and laughing at her, but she ignored them. She was too busy being angry at Pacey.
"I canít believe youíre defending him to me!" she said venomously, her voice almost a whisper.
"Iím not defending him, Joey, and I donít condone what he did," Pacey replied fervently. "I cannot begin to comprehend how he could do something to jeopardize what he has with youÖ how he could possibly bring himself to betray you like that. But I also know that you are not going to get past this until you confront himÖ Iím not defending him, Jo, Iím trying to help you not be so miserable. Iím not thinking of Dawson, Iím thinking of you."
Joey lowered her eyes, breaking Paceyís intense stare. She knew deep down he was right, but she was having difficulty conceding that she would have to talk to Dawson. She wished she could just go on talking and joking with Pacey and pretending Dawson Leery never existed. But Pacey was only telling the truth, what she already knew in her heart and her head.
"Which way did he go?"
Pacey smiled grimly as she admitted defeat. "I think he went out front."
He took her hand quickly and squeezed it. Joeyís eyes shone with a mixture of uncertainty and gratitude, and she slipped away to go in search of Dawson. Pacey turned to watch her go, waiting until she had disappeared around the corner. He sighed tiredly and just hoped he hadn't sent Joey off to do something she would regret. Secretly he was more afraid she would go and do something he would regret, like forgiving Dawson on the spot and falling into his arms. Pacey was immediately ashamed of the traitorous thought ó he was supposed to be helping his two best friends restore their relationship.
But Pacey couldnít help the selfish feeling. He suspected that if they did get back together then he would be relegated back to the status of second class friend, and Joey wouldnít spend time with him anymore. He had seen it happen once already, and Pacey didnít want a repeat performance. He had been reminded how much he liked having her around, and even if it meant Dawson was unhappy without her, part of him wanted them to remain broken up.
Pacey turned back and closed Joeyís locker, and almost jumped back in surprise when he saw Andie standing behind it. She smiled guiltily at him, also startled.
"Hey McPhee," he muttered once he had recovered his voice. He tried to cover up the blush that had stolen across his cheeks in case she could somehow tell what he had been thinking about.
"Howís Joey doing?" Andie asked concernedly. Like everyone else in the school, she'd heard what had happened with Dawson.
"Ah, I donít really know," Pacey said, glancing unconsciously after her. He was suddenly nervous because of the calm way Andie was watching him. Her knowing gaze put him off-guard and made him feel decidedly uncomfortable. "Um, I hope sheíll feel better in a few minutes after she talks to Dawson."
"You care about her a lot, donít you?" Andie asked with a sad smile. "I couldnít help overhearing what you were saying to her."
"Sheís my friend. I hate seeing her upset, thatís all."
"MaybeÖ I wish I had a friend who cared about me that way," Andie replied pointedly. She didnít hold out much hope that Pacey would look twice at her now, not after she realized the way he felt about Joey. She recognized the signs of unrequited love when she saw them, and wondered how long Pacey had felt this way about his best friendís girlfriend. It wasnít the ideal situation to be in, and she felt sorry him. Andie also felt a bit sorry for herself, knowing she had never really had a chance with himÖ not while Joey was around.
"Iíll see you, Pacey," she said quietly. He had turned to look again in the direction Joey had taken, and Andie left him there with his thoughts.
* * *
Joey watched Dawson from a distance before she approached him. He sat alone under a tree, throwing his lunch aside disinterestedly before flipping absently through a text book. He wasnít concentrating on his study, obviously deep in thought. The last thing he was expecting was for her to arrive in front of him. He dropped his book in surprise when she said his name, attempting to scramble to his feet. Joey stopped him.
"Itís all right, sit," she commanded, and Dawson obeyed. Joey remained standing as he tried to find the right words to say to her.
"Youíre speaking to me again," he managed to splutter.
Joey waited a beat, hoping he would be able to come up with something better than that. "Well, I thought it was time we did. Or at least, I was just convinced of that fact by someone close to us both."
"Good old Pacey, eh?" Dawson smiled ruefully. He knew Pacey had been spending a lot of time with her all week trying to cheer her up, and he was grateful. He did not suspect for a moment any ulterior motive.
"Yeah, good old Pacey," Joey replied and finally sat down opposite him. She crossed her legs and pulled distractedly at a few blades of grass. "So, do you have anything you want to say to me?"
Dawson let out a shaky breath, his blue eyes round like two large pools. "Of course I do, Joey. I've wanted to speak to you all weekÖ"
"Well, nowís your chance," she said coolly, not giving him an inch.
"The thing is, I've realized thereís nothing I could possibly say to you that would make up for what I did. I've thought of a hundred different explanations and excuses, but in the end there's none."
Joey was a little taken aback, expecting a barrage of emotive excuses to come spurting forth from his mouth. She had to give him points for not insulting her with such platitudes. She looked up and caught his eyes, holding them steadfastly, waiting to see if he would look away first.
"All I can say to you is that Iíve never been so ashamed of anything Iíve done before. I would give anything to change what I did that night, and I will live with the regret for the rest of my life. I never wanted to hurt you. I just lost my head momentarily, but I never lost my heart. It has always belonged to you and it always will. I love you, JoeyÖ and I will do anything I possibly can to make it up to you so you believe that. I don't want to lose you... Iím more sorry for what I did than you can imagine."
Joey glanced away before he did, not wanting to hear those words. They maddened her because they were so persuading and sincere. It would be so easy for her to give in and accept his apology. But she hardened her resolve. She didnít want to forgive him. He didnít deserve it. Joey just couldnít look him the eyes and tell him that however. When she raised her gaze to his she lost her courage. She was reminded of everything they had shared together, everything she loved about him. It angered her that even his betrayal could not destroy the feelings she had for him.
"I know I donít have any right to ask, but do you think you could ever find it in your heart to forgive me, Joey?" he asked, his voice barely a whisper.
Joey fought herself, trying not to look at him. But she did eventually meet his pleading, tear-filled eyes.
"I donít know," she answered softly. "I donít know for sure right now."
"Then when?" he breathed.
"Donít ask me that, Dawson, I honestly donít know. But Iíll let you know when I do."
Dawson accepted her words, though they werenít the ones he was hoping to hear. He smiled faintly at her and nodded, and wasnít surprised when she hastily got up and walked away. It was not the best outcome, but he realized it was a start.
* * *
Mitch Leery walked passed his sonís room on his way to his own, but paused when he saw Dawson sitting by the open window, staring off into space. On his desk lay his computer and school books, both untouched. Mitch was surprised at his inactivity, for only a week before he had been bristling with ideas for a new film script. Now Dawson sat absorbed in his own thoughts, not looking at anything in particular. Mitch was afraid he might disturb some artistic reverie, but the miserable look on Dawsonís face suggested he was not mulling over his film project. Something else was bothering him.
"Dawson? Everything all right?" Mitch asked tentatively, taking a few steps inside his room. His son didnít appear to hear him at first and he had to call his name again before Dawson responded.
"Huh? Oh, hi Dad," he mumbled absently.
Mitch frowned at his despondency which was very much out of character. Dawson was disinterested in his work, and now he was barely responding when spoken to. Mitch decided it was time they had a talk. He sat down on Dawsonís bed and leant his elbows on his knees.
"Listen, Dawson, I think we need to discuss some things that have been going on recently. Obviously youíre upset about something and itís time it came out in the open."
Dawson looked up sharply, wondering if his father had heard the news also. The whole school knew the fateful mistake he had made with Jen. It had been the hottest piece of gossip for days and showed no signs of abating, thanks to Abby Morgan. Now it seemed the story had filtered down to his parents. Dawson couldnít think of anything worse than discussing what heíd done with his father, but Mitch showed no signs of going away.
"Dad, I donít thinkó"
"No, wait, son. Itís nothing to be embarrassed about. I know what you must be feeling," said Mitch encouragingly. "I know you probably donít feel too comfortable talking about this with your old man, but I like to think weíre friends as well as father and son. I know whatís bothering you."
"You do?" Dawson asked quietly, on tenterhooks.
"Itís your mother and me, isnít it? Youíre worried about our relationship."
Dawson breathed out a sigh of relief that he masked with a nod of agreement. His father didnít know yetÖ
"Look, Dawson, this is a confusing time for all of us. Your mother and I just need some time to sort out how we feel. Weíve had to deal with some pretty heavy stuff, thatís why weíve been seeing that marriage counselor. But I donít want you to worry about this, okay? Weíll work things out. This doesnít change how either of us feel about you."
"I know, Dad."
"Good." Mitch slapped him on the knee and smiled. One of the worst things he had had to deal with was the effect Galeís affair had on Dawson. Their son was obviously sensitive to the tension in the house, and he wished he could do something to protect him from it. The last thing he wanted was for Dawson to get hurt.
Dawson looked at the sincere expression on his fatherís face and felt guilty for lying to him by not revealing the truth behind his misery. He was ashamed of what he had done, and didnít want his dad to think any less of him. The fact that Gale had cheated on him would probably make him take Joeyís side, and Dawson wasnít sure if he was ready for Mitch to see him in the same light as Bob the anchorman. He had always been very close to his father, and he didnít want to jeopardize that relationship. But something was nagging at him, and he thought Mitch might be able to help him after all.
"Dad, can I ask you something?"
"I need an honest answer from you, friend to friend, not father to son, okay?"
"Do you forgive Mom for the affair with Bob?"
Mitch sucked in his breath as he thought about how he could reply to such a question. "Well, weíre sorting out a lot with this counseloró"
"Do you forgive her?" Dawson asked insistently.
"The truth?" Mitch asked. Dawson nodded in response. "No, I donít."
Dawson remained silent, profoundly affected by the answer. Mitch saw the despair rise in his eyes and immediately wished he had lied. But he didnít want to start lying to his son just because the truth was confronting. Mitch expected the truth from Dawson and could only give him the same in return.
"Do you think you ever could?" he whispered.
"I donít know, Dawson, I really donít. I donít know if Iíll ever be able to trust her again, and that makes it very difficult to forgive her. But Iím working on it. I want to forgive her."
"But you donítÖ" Dawson repeated almost under his breath. He sat back in his chair and resumed staring out of the window. His father didnít forgive his mother, and Dawson knew in his heart that meant Joey would never forgive him either. He had been clinging to that last shred of hope, but now it was gone. She was gone forever.
Mitch was concerned at the pain
he saw in his sonís face and desperately tried to think how he could remedy
things. But Dawson wasnít interested in talking anymore, that much was
obvious. Mitch nodded grimly to himself and stood up. Dawson didnít even
acknowledge him leaving the room.
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