Just between friends
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Five: Stand by me

Joey wasnít sure where to start looking for Pacey. She was afraid he had gone to confront his father, or maybe run away all together. Despite the fact that he had opened himself up to her last night, he couldnít even face her now. Joey hoped that it was only embarrassment that caused his reaction, and that he hadnít forsaken her all together. She was worried about him and wanted to be there for him, but she couldnít do that if he was going to be self-conscious about sharing his raw emotions with her. Wondering where he might have gone in his current state of mind, she made a snap decision and went home. When Joey saw his broad back on the end of her dock once more, a grim smile immediately spread across her face.

"Here you are," she commented, taking a seat beside him. Pacey didnít seem surprised to see her.

"Howíd you know?"

"I donít know. Instinct maybe. I was hoping youíd be here."

They sat in silence for a while, looking out over the still, warm waters of the creek.

"Whatís going to happen now, Pacey?" she asked finally, but it was not an inquisition.

"I havenít thought about anything else all day. But the truth is I just donít know."

"Have you thought about talking to someone? A police officer in Hyannis maybe?"

"If I honestly thought that would help, Jo, I would. But you know how well respected my father is in this town. It would end up being the suspicions of the perpetual screw-up versus the word of the beloved protector of this sleepy burg. No one would believe me."

"I believe you."

"And youíre the only one. Jo, even Dawson thinks my dad is a great guy, and he is supposed to be my best friend."

"Donít you think youíre underestimating him a little?"

"Am I? The guy rejects reality and lives in his own little fantasy world, Joey. I think this is just a bit too real for our friend Dawson Leery. I know you probably donít have any secrets from him ó apart from the obvious fact that youíre in love with him ó but I really donít want him finding out about this, okay?"

Joey chose to ignore the bitter accusatory tone Pacey used when he mentioned her feelings for Dawson. She realized, much to her disappointment, that there was an element of truth to his words. Dawson would probably respond with incredulous disbelief if Pacey tried to tell him what went on last night. She mulled over this revelation, wondering what that said about the object of her affection.

"Iíve only got to last two more years. Then I can graduate and get the hell out of this town. Iíll just enroll in a little college somewhere far away and forget this place ever existed." Paceyís eyes were shining with hope as he thought about the future. Joey knew exactly how he felt. The anticipation on his face soon faded though.

"Guess Iím going about it the wrong way, arenít I? A few more 32s in biology and I can pretty much guarantee the only job I'd be qualified for involves a name tag and a hair net."

"Well, at least we can do something about that. Youíre an intelligent guy, Pacey, you just need to apply yourself," Joey replied sternly.

"Youíre sounding dangerously like my father now, Jo."

"But Iím willing to help you, Pacey, Iím not just putting you down. We can study together."

"Why?" he asked in a small voice.

"I thought you wanted to go to college."

"Why are you willing to help me?"

"Because Iím your friend, and thatís what friends do. You helped me when you punched that guy out at the beach partyÖ yes, I know it was you and not Dawson." Joey smiled ruefully. "It wasnít the first time youíve been there for me, Pacey. You understand about the whole tragic Dawson issue, you make me laugh when Iím down, and you donít think less of me because of my family situation. I know that behind our acerbic barbs and bickering, we really care about each other. You deserve a whole lot better in life, Pace, and if I can help you achieve that in any way, Iíll do it. Iím not gonna bet against that Witter guy, because I know he can make it out of here. And it wonít be if the circus is hiring."

Pacey listened to her words with difficulty. He wasnít accustomed to such praise or someone having faith in him. He was embarrassed by the sincerity of her statement. Joey could see his discomfort, and tried to bring a smile to his face.

"Besides, I want you to be beholden to me for the rest of your life. So when you make it out of here and are a great success, you wonít forget me," she said lightly.

"I already am beholden to you, Joey, more than you will ever know," Pacey answered seriously, his eyes growing dark. "And the idea that I could ever forget you is incomprehensible."

Joey glanced away momentarily, surprised at the emotion in his voice. She guessed she just wasnít used to bonding with Pacey, but the truth was it didnít feel so bad. She curled her fingers around his own.

"So thatís settled then."

They resumed staring at the horizon, thinking their own thoughts. Pacey had been formulating a plan of action in his mind and it was time he put things into place.

"Iím going to Hyannis this afternoon to talk to Doug."

"What do you think the two of you will do?"

"I donít know, itís up to him, I guess. But I have to confront him with this, even if itís just to let him know that heís not alone. I owe him that."

Joey squeezed his hand and leaned her head on his shoulder. "I can come too if you like."

"Thanks, Jo, but I think this is something I need to do on my own."

"Then Iíll be here when you get back."

He rested his cheek against the top of her head and closed his eyes. "Iím counting on it," he whispered.


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