Love and other catastrophes
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Nine: Secrets and lies

Dinner with the Leerys was not bad as Dawson had made out or as painful as Joey anticipated. They plied her for news of school and work but luckily the issue of Pacey was sidestepped quite effectively, thanks to the tactful Mrs. Leery. The older woman could see her discomfort when his name was brought up, despite her efforts to conceal it. Joey smiled at her gratefully when she smoothly changed the topic of conversation when Mr. Leery started to insinuate the possibility of wedding bells. Dawson stared dumbly at his plate whenever Pacey was mentioned, so soon even Mitch got the point and steered clear of the issue as well.

"I want to hear more about Dawson and this job at the Skywalker Ranch," Joey said brightly, covering up her own heartache. It was too much to try and play blissfully happy Joey with the perfect life for long.

"Oh well, you know George and I are like that," he joked, holding up crossed fingers.

"Heís doing very well. All his supervisors say so," Gale said, proudly patting her sonís hand. "Did you tell Joey about your short, honey?"

"Mom," Dawson glared with embarrassment. "Iím twenty-five years old, quit treating me like Iím ten."

"I canít help it if Iím proud of my sonís achievements," she countered lightly, collecting the empty dishes from the table. Standing behind Dawsonís chair she gave Joey a wink, letting her know she was just trying to stir him. "My baby, the film makerÖ"

Dawson huffed, his cheeks pink. "Thank you, mother."

Gale and Mitch grinned at each other and withdrew into the kitchen.

"Whatís this about a short?" Joey asked.

"I shot a film last summer when I was on vacation and it looks like Iíll have the chance to screen it at Sundance."

Joey could see the excitement written all over his face and was glad to see Dawson had retained his passion for movie making.

"I mean, itís no Schindlerís List, but itís a start."

"It doesnít involve a swamp creature, does it?" she scoffed.

"Only in a cameo," Dawson smirked. "God, do you remember that film? Right before we started high school and you made me take the kiss out because you refused to lock lips withó"

Dawson stopped himself before he mentioned Pacey and blushed again. "Some things change, eh?" he finished.

Joey smiled but it was with her mouth only. Her eyes remained cold and detached. Dawson was characteristically oblivious to her discomfort.

"You know, I think I still have that tape in a box upstairs. Wanna see?"

Before she could protest, Dawson was hauling her upstairs to his bedroom. Once inside, she saw that little had changed from the last time she saw it over three years ago. Spielberg posters adorned the walls, and the E.T. doll still had pride of place on his pillow. It felt so strange being back in a room she had known better than her own growing up. She looked around in wonderment before perching on his bed.

Dawson started burrowing in a box of old camcorder tapes, leaving her to her thoughts. After a few minutes he held a tape up in triumph, and began hooking up the old viewing equipment. Joey laughed at his childlike enthusiasm and settled back on her old side of the bed, dumping E.T. unceremoniously on the floor.

"Hey, thatís a collectorís item," he said as he jumped on the bed beside her.

"How could I forget?" Joey replied with mock horror. Good old Dawson and his Speilberg obsession. She felt so safe being back here in his bedroom, staring at the familiar TV screen. She looked over at Dawson and smiled as the tape began to play. Throwing her an adorable look that would have set her fifteen year old heart aflutter, they lay back to watch their masterpiece.

Joey couldnít believe how young she looked on the tape, how young all of them looked. She was fifteen and carrying the weight of the world on her shoulders then. Her unrequited love for Dawson had been the center of the universe. Joey sighed bitterly when she remembered how serious she thought her problems had been at that age. She would give anything to have them back instead of the ones she was faced with now. It didnít help she was watching herself on the screen with Pacey, the unmasked swamp creature. Those were the days when she still thought Pacey Witter was the clown he made himself out to be. They seemed so long ago.

Dawson was watching Jen on the screen, his former heartís desire before he had recognized his love for Joey. The blond-headed beauty had stolen his heart the first moment he saw her, but it had turned out to be nothing more than a teenage crush. He recognized now that Joey had really been his first true love. It may have taken him years to realize it, but part of him would always love her, and his future girlfriends would all be measured against her. So far none had made the mark. Dawson looked over at Joey again after the film finished, wondering what to say to her.

"Dawson. Donít take this the wrong way, but Iíd seriously consider destroying that tape. Otherwise when you get famous, Hardcopyís going to discover it and embarrass the hell out of you."

"Are you kidding? This is a classic piece of Leery cinema. It would be a crime to destroy it. Besides, theyíll want it for my clip segment when I get my Lifetime Achievement Award from the Academy."

Joey laughed silently. "Oh, is that right?"

"Your mocking tone is noted, Ms. Potter. Youíve now been struck off my Oscar acceptance speech."

They fell into a friendly silence, smiles still on their lips. Dawson stared at the ceiling and thought about all the times he had lain here like this with Joey. He wondered if she was thinking the same thing, as she stared off into the distance.

"Weird, isnít it?" he ventured.

"Hmm?"

"Being here again like this. Together in my room."

"Yeah."

Dawson wasnít used to a monosyllabic Joey. "I mean, countless movie nights, heart to hearts, in-depth philosophical discussions. We opened our college acceptance letters here together, lost our virginity in this bedÖ"

Joey shut her eyes. She should have known Dawson was going to bring that up. "A lot of memories," she said, making light of his words.

"You know, I've missed you a lot, Joey. I wish we hadnít lost touch like we did." There was real regret in his voice, but Joey wasnít terribly sympathetic.

"Yeah, well, Dawson, we both know why that happened."

Dawson bobbed his head guiltily. "Guess I acted like a bit of a jerk, didnít I?"

"A bit."

"I know. Itís just that when I came to see you that weekend, Joey, the last thing I expected to find was you and PaceyÖ you knowÖ"

"Having coffee together?" she looked at him incredulously.

"Having coffee, yeah, but then he lent over and whispered in your ear and you laughed all coquettishly and started kissing him right there in front of God and everyone."

"We didnít see you standing there, Dawson, your train was early. We were going to tell you ourselves but we didnít have the chance." Joey sighed, remembering the disastrous day when Dawson had stormed into the coffee shop demanding to know what the hell was going on. When she and Pacey confirmed they were in love, he had accused them of lying to him by keeping their relationship a secret. Despite their protests, Dawson had just left without another word and jumped back on a train to New York.

"It was a shock, okay? I mean, you and Pacey had a less than idyllic relationship when we were at school together here. When he made a move on you then, you turned him down flat. I just donít understand what changed."

"I changed, Dawson, and so did Pacey." Joey suddenly wanted him to understand why she had fallen in love with Pacey then, especially since she didnít know how she felt now. "Everything was different in college. We didnít know anyone else at first so we relied on each other for company. We helped each other through some really hard times and we made it out the other side better people for it. He changed so much in those first few years of school, once he was away from his family. He grew into a responsible, intelligent, caring man, so donít try and make me feel guilty for falling in love with him!"

"I didnít mean to do that, Joey," Dawson said softly.

"Well, you did! You cut us off without giving us a chance to explain. Not that we owed you any explanations at all, Dawson. There was nothing more than friendship between us."

"Iím sorry if I hurt you, Joey. Thatís the last thing I wanted to do." Dawson put his arms around her and hugged her to his chest. "Youíre the last person in this world Iíd ever want to hurt."

Joey accepted his embrace, swallowing the lump that had risen in her throat.

"Is there a statute of limitations on apologies?" he murmured.

"Ten years, according to ĎWhen Harry Met Sallyí."

"Plenty of time then," Dawson smiled into the top of her head.

They lay there together for a long time, neither of them speaking. Dawson felt himself drifting off to sleep, and realized Joey was too. He guessed what a long and exhausting day it had been for her, and he didnít want her to leave.

"Joey?"

"Hmm?"

"Wanna stay over?"

"Okay," she mumbled, already drifting off to sleep in his arms. Dawson tightened his grip a little and ran his hand through her hair. Although he was tired, he didnít want to fall asleep just yet. He just wanted to enjoy the feeling of Joey in his arms again for a little longer.

 

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