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Joey climbed the familiar ladder to Dawson’s room that night, having finally escaped Bessie and the Icehouse. She paused tiredly outside the window, suddenly unsure if she should go in. Dawson was annoyed at her because she had been closed mouthed about what was going on with Pacey, and she wasn’t sure she had the energy to put up with his insecurities tonight. Joey had not heard from Pacey yet, and had no idea what had happened with Doug and their father. She had tried to call him but there was no answer. Not able to bring herself to actually go over to his house in case Mr. Witter was there, she had opted for Dawson’s instead.
Peering inside, she stuck her leg through the open window and pulled herself in. Dawson was sprawled on the bed watching a video just as she expected. There was something reassuring in that, considering how unpredictable Pacey’s life was.
"Hey," she said casually.
Dawson eyed her nonchalantly, before returning his attention to the television screen. "So, you’re actually talking to me now?" he replied with poorly hidden annoyance.
"Come on, Dawson, I was always talking to you."
"You have barely spoken to me all day. Why do I get the feeling you’ve been trying to avoid me?" He flicked off the video.
Joey bobbed her head guiltily for a moment. It was true she had not sought him out after she returned to school that afternoon because she was too busy thinking about Pacey. She didn’t want to have to explain things to Dawson, believing she would be betraying Pacey’s trust if she did so. Dawson just had a way of wheedling things out of her when she was upset.
"I’ve just been busy, Dawson. I had to work all afternoon so I haven’t even had a chance to see you," she lied convincingly, or so she thought.
"Come on, Joey, I know you better than that. This is your best friend you’re talking to, okay?" He sat up on the edge of the bed, facing her where she still sat perched on the windowsill. After a dramatic pause he blurted out, "Is there something going on with you and Pacey?"
"What?!" Joey tried to sound incredulous, but she was making a poor attempt at it, she knew.
"He told me about the other night, after you guys went home from the carnival. Are you dating now, or what?" The accusatory sarcasm in Dawson’s voice revealed his hidden envy.
"First of all, I don’t know why you’re coming all the jealous boyfriend with me," Joey said, her anger rising. "It’s none of your business what goes on with Pacey and me."
"I thought I was your friend!" he cried.
"You are my friend, but I shouldn’t be copping this attitude from you if that’s all you are." Joey swallowed the end of the sentence, afraid where this line of conversation might lead. If Dawson wasn’t so oblivious she would be worried that he might read something into her words. It was getting harder for her to disguise her true feelings for him, but what made things worse was that she was beginning to doubt them herself. After everything that had happened with Pacey, she was beginning to wonder if her feelings for Dawson were nothing more than an adolescent crush. The issue of their tortured relationship, once the focus of her life, seemed utterly frivolous now in light of Pacey’s problems. She felt immature and petty, to be so wrapped up in her own concerns that she had been neglecting one of her friends who had needed her for so long.
"That doesn’t answer my question, Joey," Dawson said quietly. "Are you going out with Pacey?"
"Would you care if I was?" she asked boldly.
Dawson opened his mouth to answer, then closed it again. He realized he wasn’t sure whether he did or not. On one hand, Joey was his best friend and he wanted her to be happy. If she had found happiness with Pacey, then he should be glad for her. On the other hand, the thought of her with Pacey made him so uncomfortable that he couldn’t bear to imagine them together. He was jealous, plain and simple. But was he jealous because he wanted her for himself, or because she hadn’t chosen him? Dawson just couldn’t answer her question so simply.
"I… I don’t know," he stammered.
The small glimmer of hope in Joey’s eyes faded. If he had answered in the affirmative, all of her doubts of her feelings for Dawson would have been silenced. But once again he was stringing her along, not willing to entertain the idea that they could become more than friends. Joey sighed tiredly and rubbed her forehead, wondering how much time she had wasted the last few months mulling over the question. She was just so exhausted from the whole the thing.
"You’re my friend, Dawson. You always have been and I hope you always will," she spoke up finally. "But so is Pacey. We may not show it all of the time, in fact we may act like we loath each other. But deep down he needs me more than you do. And feeling needed like that… like you actually make a difference in someone’s life… that’s what I need from him."
"Pacey needs you?" Dawson murmured, confused. "I need you too, Joey! You’re my best friend in the entire world."
"I know that. And maybe you really believe you need me in your life. But deep down, I don’t think you truly understand what it means to need a friend like Pacey and I do."
Dawson’s mouth gaped. Even though Joey's comments weren’t said terribly negatively, it still felt like a criticism. "What is that supposed to mean?"
"Look around you, Dawson. Take a step back and look at your life. I know you think you’ve had it tough since your parents started having problems, but compared to the rest of us you’re living in a fairy tale. Your parents both love you, you are the center of their world. They give you everything you want, indulge you in your passions and support you no matter what. You do well at whatever you set your mind to, you always get whatever or whoever you want. You even have the perfect blond model next door to swoon over just to add some angst in your otherwise blissful life. A bit of melodrama in the false reality you’ve immersed yourself in. Well, not all of us are as lucky as you, Dawson. Try to remember that."
He sat there in a stunned silence, his eyes growing wider as she berated him. Joey had never spoken to him so harshly or honestly before. He couldn’t believe this was what she really thought of him. Was he really so oblivious and unfeeling as she made him feel right then? Dawson didn’t believe so, and couldn’t let her think that.
"My life may look perfect from the outside, but you and I both know that nothing is as perfect as it seems."
"Don’t split hairs with me, Dawson! Try having your mother waste away before your eyes and die on you, just when you need her the most. Try losing your criminal, womanizing father at the same time, and living with that stigma in a small-minded town full of over-privileged snobs. Try living with a father that thinks you’re worthless, who remind you every day that you are unwanted and unloved… Try that, then tell me your life isn’t perfect."
Tears were rolling down Joey’s cheeks and she was powerless to stop them. Taken aback, Dawson immediately put his arms around her and hugged her to him. She accepted the embrace, but any romantic thoughts had vanished from her mind. She just wanted the comfort of her friend.
"I’m sorry," Dawson whispered as he held onto her.
Joey gently pulled away from him, wiping the last of her tears away. "It’s not your fault. I can’t expect you to understand what it’s like. I wouldn’t want you to know what it’s like. But, Dawson, please don’t deny me the right to need someone who does, or for him to need me more than you do. This is not a competition, or a reflection on our friendship. I want you and Pacey in my life."
"I’ll always be here for you, Joey."
"I know that." She smiled her crooked smile at him, wondering how things would work out for them all. If nothing else, she had come to the realization that having Dawson as a best friend would mean much more to her than anything else… for now anyway.
Dawson looked awkwardly out the window, a thought still nagging at him. Joey caught his troubled gaze and raised one eyebrow questioningly. "Okay, can I ask you something?" he asked nervously.
"As your friend, and Pacey’s… Is there something else going on with you two?"
Joey couldn’t help but laugh at Dawson’s haplessness. His way of always looking for the dramatic angle was one of the things that endeared him to her. She stopped chortling and composed herself, knowing that there was only so much she could reveal to Dawson without Pacey’s consent. "Pacey and I are just coming to terms with the fact that we don’t hate each other like we pretend to. We’ve been reminded how much we need all the friends we can get. I care about him a lot, Dawson, but we’re not going to get pinned or anything. So don’t worry, okay?"
"Okay." Dawson seemed content with the answer. He still felt Joey was holding out on him a little, but it was all that she felt she could share with him at that time. Trying not to dwell on the idea that it might be anything else, he gave her a sly grin.
"‘Get pinned,’ eh?"
"Sure. Isn’t that what happens in the Richie Cunningham world you live in?" she smirked.
"Cute," he grinned.
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