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Characters and concept belong to Kevin Williamson and WB.
One: The road home
Capeside, Massachusetts. Population 3582. It wasn't exactly the most exciting place in the world, nor the most beautiful. Joey Potter had seen many of those magical places, traveled the continents, visited the cities she had only dreamed about growing up. But now she was coming home to Capeside, quite of her own volition too. As soon as she had graduated highschool, Joey had left the sleepy bayside town, vowing never to return. She had been waiting her whole life to spread her wings and made her dreams a reality.
But now, almost ten years later, she found herself driving along familiar roads that led to her home town. The station wagon was filled with her worldly possessions, piled high on the empty passenger and back seats. Joey was not going home for a week or a month, she was moving her entire life back to Capeside.
When she moved interstate to go to college, Joey thought she would never be back. There was too much to see and do to waste her life in the backwater locale of Cape Cod. She had transferred schools three times, always seeking a new challenge or simply a change of scenery. Joey had taken classes all over the place but managed to put them together in a degree based on English and creative writing, with some psychology and history thrown in for good measure. It didn't add up to much in the job stakes, but she had somehow found herself a job with a publishing company, first proof reading manuscripts and over the years working her way up to a junior editorial position.
It was enjoyable work, but she wasn't passionate about it. Joey earned enough money so she could travel when she had time off, and she spent several months of every year living in places like London, Paris and Rome; Barcelona, Melbourne, and Johannesburg. She hadn't stopped moving from city to city in the States as well, spending time in all of the company's head offices. Most employees hated the idea of constant transfers, but Joey relished them. She had not stayed in one place for more than six months since graduating from college, but now she was finished with all of it. Now she going home for good.
Joey could have chosen to live in any of the exotic places she had visited, but she had decided to move back to Capeside instead. Apart from childhood memories, it held no other ties for her that London or Los Angeles did. Bessie and Alexander had long since moved to New Orleans to be with Bodie, so she had no family there. Her childhood friends were few, and they had all left Capeside just as she had. Joey drove on as the winter sun rose higher in sky, and realized this wasn't entirely true. Dawson, Jen, Jack and Andie had left years ago, but there was one person still there. One person she still called friend.
Joey had been surprised that it was Pacey who ended up staying. In highschool he had been just as keen to rid himself of the small town shackles as she had, if not more so. He certainly had no familial incentive to stay. Pacey had gone away to college like the rest of them but came home after finishing his business and marketing degree in New York. And instead of finding employment in keeping with his qualifications, Pacey had instead started a one-man chartered fishing business in Capeside. It wasn't exactly a business either, Joey remembered, more a case of him taking out boat loads of inept tourists who wanted to try game fishing nine months out of the year.
They had kept in touch over the years, semi-regularly anyway. Joey got into the habit of sending him postcards from wherever she happened to be living, and would occasionally get a reply sent care of the publishing company. They let each know what they were doing, but over the years the correspondence became more distant and polite, as if it were two acquaintances talking rather than old friends. Still, Joey was glad she would have someone she knew living in Capeside. After years of being on her own and forced to make new friends wherever she went, she was looking forward to not having to bother now. She already had a friend there.
* * *
Joey finally reached her destination just after midday. It had been a long drive from Washington and her body felt stiff as she climbed out of the car in front of the real estate agent's office in town. Capeside's main street was festively decorated for the holiday season, and Joey knew the tinsel and other Christmas icons would have been up since October. The town was populated only by locals this time of year, it wasn't until summer that Capeside showed much sign of life. As it was there were a few shoppers strolling along the main street, but it was hardly a busy affair. Joey didn't mind though, she was somehow comforted by the fact that so little had changed over the years. She didn't want to come home to find Capeside a coastal Mecca for the in-crowd. She had visited many places like that, but now she wanted to come home to the peace and quiet.
The real estate agent was expecting her, and had her keys and papers ready. Joey was renting a small house down by the creek, an abode not unlike the one she had grown up in. She had been distressed to hear that their house had been demolished to make way for a string of summer cottages, but as long as she was near the water she really didn’t mind. Joey signed the rental agreement and collected her keys, telling the agent she'd be quite able to find the property herself.
She drove in the direction of her old neighborhood, recognizing familiar landmarks and noting new additions. Every now and then she got a glimpse of the creek through the trees and she was heartened by the sight. Pulling up into the correct driveway, she barely noticed the small timber house that was nestled in amongst the oak trees. Instead Joey got out of the car and walked straight to the water's edge located at the end of her backyard. The old dock was all but rotten and was probably useless, but Joey didn't care. She looked out over the crystal waters of the creek, seeing the familiar marshland and smelling the musty odor of mangroves, and she knew she was home.
A million memories flooded her mind as she took in a deep breath. Now she knew why she had come back to Capeside. She could not be connected to her childhood anywhere else, and that was what Joey needed. This was her inspiration. She stood by the creek for a long time, savoring the old delights she had taken for granted in her youth. It wasn't until the wind picked up, making her shiver as it came off the cold water. Joey returned reluctantly to the house so she could unpack.
It only had one bedroom, but there was plenty of room for her. Joey had rented the place fully furnished so she wouldn't have to bother buying much, and she was confronted with a very eclectic collection of dusty décor from the 50s and some newer (and more vulgar) pieces of furniture. She wandered through the tiny kitchen, noting the faucets were stiff, and hoped the pipes weren't frozen. The weathered floorboards creaked as she climbed the stairs to the second floor where the only bathroom was situated. The shower was leaking and the door didn't shut properly, but Joey ignored all of these imperfections. The bedroom was surprisingly spacious and it overlooked the water. Joey loved it immediately.
She was less than enthusiastic about unpacking straight away, restless after the long drive. So after unloading the car and leaving the boxes containing her belongings dumped unceremoniously on the living room floor, Joey decided to go for a walk. She pulled on a warmer coat and set out along the creek bed, walking back towards town. The path was deserted and she was left alone with her thoughts until she drew closer to the marina. At least here there was some sign of life. Hundreds of boats were moored along the commercial docks, most of them battened down for the winter. The shops and restaurants along the marina had multiplied, and some stayed open for their off-season patrons.
Joey headed for the S.S. Icehouse, her old workplace, only to discover it was now a swanky boardwalk coffee house called The Java Joint. She smiled sadly at the change, but ordered a cup of coffee nevertheless, needing to warm herself up after her walk along the chilly water's edge. She stood on the deck and sipped her latté, gazing out over the boats and wondering which one was Pacey's. Joey had his address in her pocket, but she guessed she would find him at the marina rather than at home. At least she hoped she would. It had been at least six months since their last postcards to each other, and she suddenly wondered if he was still in Capeside. She hadn't really considered the alternate possibility, she just assumed he would be there as always.
The notion that Pacey might have left spurred her on. Joey started down the line of docked boats searching his out. After fifteen minutes she realized it would take hours to search them all, so she stopped at a hotdog vendor on the pier to ask where she might find him.
"Excuse me?" Joey said to get the attention of the attendant who was engrossed in a battered paperback he was reading. She suddenly realized she could not remember the name of Pacey's boat. Something about 'action' but she couldn't be sure.
"What'll it be?" the man said gruffly, nestling an unlighted cigarette butt in the corner of his mouth.
"Oh, dog with slaw," Joey replied after a moment's hesitation. She didn't want the disgusting mess he was putting together but she guessed it was only fair she bought something. She handed over her money and smiled in thanks. "Um, do you know where I could find Pacey Witter? Is his boat moored nearby?"
"Reel Action? Yeah, it's on Dock 4, 'bout half way down." The man smiled knowingly at her and Joey guessed she wasn't the first woman to come looking for Pacey. As she thanked him and started walking away, he called after her, "He didn't knock you up did he? Don't tell him old Pete told you where to find him!"
The crude man's laughter drifted after her but Joey ignored him, dumping the hotdog in the closest bin she could find. She walked quickly towards the numbered docks, and spotted the one she was after. Joey made her way along the line of moored yachts and other craft until she came to one that had 'Reel Action Capeside, Mass.' painted on its stern. She recognized the Witter family's boat now, the one Pacey's father had begrudgingly allowed him to pay off. Joey looked aboard expectantly, hearing the sound of hammering from below. She smiled as she heard him swear to himself, probably after hitting his finger with the hammer.
"Hey, pervert, you down there?" Joey called out, unable to keep the smile from her face after recognizing Pacey's voice.
After a few seconds his head emerged from the cabin of the boat, followed by his body. He looked at her, puzzled, as he wiped his hands on the old shirt he was wearing above faded jeans. Joey wasn't surprised he didn't recognize her at first. Her hair was cut short to just below her ears now, and most of her face was hidden by her dark sunglasses. She grinned as she tugged them from her nose, waiting for his reaction.
"Joey Potter? Is that you, you prude?!" Pacey laughed, crossing the back of the boat quickly and jumping up onto the dock in front of her.
"In the flesh," she said as they hugged each other. When he let her go, eyes still shining with disbelief, she continued, "Still answering to pervert then? Some things never change. Old Pete thought I was one of your girlfriends trying to track you down."
"Yeah well, old Pete's spends his days reading Mills and Boon, and wouldn't take too much notice of him." Pacey held her at arms' length and shook his head, smiling at her appreciatively. "It's so good to see you, Jo. You look incredible."
"Like the hair?" she asked coyly, showing off the stylish bob she sported now.
"You look quite the jetsetter," he laughed. "So what brings you back to little old Capeside? Forgotten how the simple folk live while you travel the world?"
"No, I just decided to try life here again. I've retired my passport and taken a house down by the creek."
"What? You've moved back to Capeside?" he snorted in disbelief.
"God, why on earth would you want to do that?"
"It's a long story," she smiled evenly, making it clear she didn't want to get into it right at that moment. "I'm going to start writing my own stuff instead of just editing someone else's work."
"Yeah, kids' books mainly. I want to start illustrating again. Thought this was a good a place as any to do it."
"Well, that's great… although I'll admit I never thought I'd see you round Capeside again. Not after how hard you worked to get out of here."
"I could say the same about you," she said, glancing at his boat. "I guess some things change after all."
"You think you're up to having me around again like the old days?"
"I don't know…" Pacey teased, his eyes twinkling mischievously. "I haven't had much practice trading acerbic barbs with anyone lately."
"It's just like riding a bike, don't worry. I'm sure you'll get back into the swing of things in no time."
Pacey smiled and suddenly hugged her again. "God, it’s good to see you, Joey."
Joey felt tears prick her eyes at the sincerity in his voice, and she admonished herself for being so stupid. But it had been a long time since someone had missed her, or made her feel special. Joey was overwhelmed with gratitude for her childhood friend who, without knowing it, made her feel good about herself for the first time in a long while.
* * *
After Pacey had given her the grand tour of the boat and showed her the improvements he was making during the winter months when there were no tourists about, they walked back to her house. He was impressed with the place, but she knew it was out of politeness only, and offered to help her unpack. They spent the rest of the afternoon catching up on their respective lives, telling stories and filling each other in on what they had been doing over the past few years. Pacey listened intently to her tales of foreign lands and she laughed as he recounted the exploits of some of his city clients who proved to be less than able seamen.
She studied him carefully as he chattered away unconcernedly, noticing the small changes in his physique and body language. His brown hair was just as short as it had always been but he hadn't shaved for a few days. The combination of the three-day growth and the old work clothes he wore fitted in with his relaxed demeanor. It was obvious that Pacey was pretty happy with his life as it was, and Joey couldn't help but be envious.
She was glad to hear that even though Pacey might not be living up to the unrealistic expectations of his father, he was running a successful small business and enjoying himself in the process. He made enough money to pay his rent and keep up the maintenance on the boat, and though he had enough business in the tourist season to take on extra staff and run more boats, Pacey liked to be a one-man show. He didn't want to run a fleet of charter fishing boats, he was content to keep things small and simple. Uncomplicated. Joey could understand that, especially after deciding to move home to Capeside. If there was one thing life was here, it was uncomplicated.
"So tell me about all these girlfriends," Joey said mockingly as they sat down to an early dinner of take away pizza. She was embarrassed she didn't have anything else to offer him, but Pacey didn't seem to care.
"Oh, you know, what can I say? I have to beat them off with a stick some days." Their eyes met and they laughed quietly at each other. Pacey dropped a soggy piece of pizza back onto his plate. "Truth is, it's pretty slim pickings around here, except during the summer."
"So let me guess, it's rich middle-aged tourists instead? A little summer diversion for them and an uninhibited lay for you? You take the husbands fishing during the day and take the wives to heaven and back at night."
"I think I liked it better when you were a prude," Pacey said, throwing his balled up napkin at her. He smiled but he was uncomfortable that she wasn't far from the truth... Just not to the extent she was joking about. But ever since Andie left Capeside he hadn't allowed himself to fall in love with anyone else. It disturbed him sometimes when he remembered that had been ten years ago.
"So what about you, Miss Joey? The way you've been travelling the world, I bet you have a man in every port," he grinned, changing the subject.
"You now it's the truth," Joey replied sarcastically.
"At least Dawson's gone ahead and done the responsible thing and gotten married." Pacey sighed, settling back on the faded couch. "We missed you at the wedding."
"I know. I was in London on assignment and I just couldn't get away," Joey said dismissively. Pacey noticed her discomfort and guessed he would feel the same way if Andie ever got married. There was something about losing one's first love forever that left an indelible mark. Pacey hadn't been surprised when Joey did not come to Dawson's wedding.
"Did you ever run into him in LA?"
"No," replied Joey, packing up the pizza box distractedly. "Funnily enough, it's one place I haven't spent a lot of time in. I've never met his wife."
"She's okay," Pacey commented, wanting to make her feel better. "But she's an actor, and you know what they're like. Dawson would have been better off with you, I've always thought."
Joey laughed to herself. "We could never coordinate our feelings so we were actually in love with each other at the same time, you know that. We were never meant to be together."
"Meant to be's a pretty hard ideal to live up to. At least it is in my experience."
"You sound like a hardened old sea captain, Witter. You’re only 27."
Pacey grinned at her and his laughter lightened the mood in the room considerably.
"Have you had enough to eat?" Joey asked.
Pacey nodded and got the picture when she should stood up expectantly. He glanced at his watch and saw it was only 7.30, but Joey was obviously waiting for him to leave.
"I guess I should get going," he said politely. "You must be tired after your long trip."
"I hope you don't mind, it's just that I've got this terrible headache…"
"Ah, a familiar excuse!"
"I'm serious, Pacey," she smiled, handing him his coat. Her head had been throbbing for some time but she was enjoying his company too much to say anything. "Thanks for staying for dinner though, it was great catching up. Do you want me to drive you back to the boat?"
"No, it's okay, I'd rather walk. It's a beautiful night… Listen, you have to come out on the boat some time, the views are spectacular." He seemed eager to make sure he would see her again soon. She appreciated it, feeling included again after spending so much time on the outside.
"Pacey, I'm living here now, remember? You're going to be sick of the sight of me in no time."
"I highly doubt that." Pacey flashed her his best charming smile.
"Always the flatterer," she smirked, pushing him playfully out the door. "I'll see you later."
Pacey flopped down the few steps from her porch and turned around.
"Jo? It's great having you back. I've missed you a lot."
"Me too," she said softly. "Who would've ever thought it?"
Pacey grinned and waved goodbye, heading back along the path to the marina. Joey waited until he had disappeared before stepping back inside the house. She looked around at the dirty glasses and plates, and the boxes still lying half unpacked on the floor, but was suddenly too tired to worry about any of it. It would all still be there in the morning, so Joey trudged upstairs to bed nursing her aching head. She had all the time in the world to get settled in.
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