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One: The last picture show
"Look, I know what I saw. It was big and it was ugly and it attacked me and it's still out there just waiting…"
"I may not believe you, Stephanie, but I believe in you."
Dawson and Jen cheered as they watched the familiar scene on the television, much to Pacey and Joey’s embarrassment.
"God, do we have to watch this? It’s truly painful," Joey muttered. The schlock horror sea monster movie they had filmed when they were fifteen made her want to hide behind her pillow in shame, so bad was the acting.
"Wait, wait, you have to appreciate the skillful editing job I did here when you refused to kiss Pacey," Dawson grinned, rewinding the tape so they could see it again.
Joey rolled her eyes and glanced at Pacey beside her on the couch. He just smiled at her, remembering the animosity that had plagued their friendship only a few years ago. They had long since stopped trading insults with one another, much to everyone’s relief. It amused them both to watch themselves on the video, making them realize how much had changed between them. Joey couldn’t remember why they clashed so often back then, considering Pacey was now her closest friend in life, along with Dawson.
Her attention was drawn back to the screen when Pacey and Dawson hooted at Jen’s first appearance in the film — the beautiful and bright cousin from New York. Joey smiled at their reaction, reminded how she had once despised blond girl next door. While Joey’s jealousy over Dawson and Jen had soured the girls’ friendship initially, time and maturity had allowed them to resolve their differences and they had become firm friends. It had only taken a year or two…
But as the four of them sat there in Pacey’s apartment reliving their cinematic achievements, Joey could not have been more contented. They were her friends — the best she was ever likely to have. They had been through so much together; relationships, breakups, new loves, secret and unrequited loves… and they had survived three years at Capeside Highschool. Joey began to feel a little nostalgic as they spent yet another movie night together. Because tonight was different — tonight would be their last.
"Don't worry. I'll help you find your cousin."
"That's so sweet of you. I can never thank you, I know."
Three years of highschool, many years of friendship. All of it would change forever when the four friends went their separate ways. The prospect had seemed so far away when they were at school together, and yet here they were — their last night together before Dawson and Jen left for New York the next day. Nothing would ever be the same again. Despite promises to keep in touch and vows they would be friends forever, Joey was too much of realist to believe it would turn out like that. Her jovial mood faded when she looked at her three friends now, their cheery faces laughing at themselves on the screen in Dawson’s C-grade movie. She was going to miss them.
They watched the rest of the movie in contented silence, interspersed with the occasional embarrassed groan at a particularly dreadful line or scene. At the end they all cheered as their names appeared crudely on the screen, then Dawson flicked the remote and the screen went black.
"A film for the Ages," Dawson toasted solemnly, holding his soda aloft.
"God, I hope not," replied Joey. "Promise me you’ll use your talents for good instead of evil when you’re in film school, Dawson."
"Nothing could ever replace this masterpiece. When I’m at school I won’t have you guys to star in my productions for a start."
"I’d see that as an advantage if I were you, D," Pacey grinned. "Let’s face it, the acting really sucked… except for that extremely convincing and surprisingly good looking sea creature."
"See, it’s modesty like that that I’m going to miss in New York," Dawson said morosely.
"If you intend to be working with professional actors in your career, Dawson, I don’t think you’ll have the opportunity to miss it too much," Jen contributed half-heartedly.
An awkward pause followed as each of them contemplated Dawson’s ill-chosen words. No one was supposed to mention missing anyone out loud tonight — it was their one unspoken rule. But now all they could think about was the fact that Dawson and Jen would soon be gone from Capeside.
It was difficult for the two of them not to be excited about leaving for New York though. Dawson would be spending the summer as an intern in a production company — a prestigious opportunity that Mr. Gold had recommended him for — before starting at NYU. Jen was going home to her parents in New York and then spending a year off before deciding if and where she would be going to college. She recognized the need to go somewhere like New York if she was to ‘find herself’, because living in Capeside with her grandmother was hardly the ideal way to do it.
"At least you’re getting out of here sooner than Pacey and I will," Joey ventured, trying to counter the melancholy that had settled in the room. "I can think of worse things than spending a summer in New York."
"Yeah, some of us will be stuck serving the oh so benevolent tourists at the Icehouse," Pacey joined in. "I’m going to wear out my most charming smile just so I can earn enough in tips to see me through my first year in Baltimore."
"I’d keep practicing if I were you, Pace," teased Joey.
"Hey, I’m just getting warmed up. I have all summer to work on it."
"Listen you guys, in a couple of months you’ll be out of here too," said Dawson, attempting to buoy everyone’s spirits. "Joey will be tucked up in Providence at Brown, already working on her application to Harvard. And Pacey, you’ll be swotting away at the University of Maryland on your way to becoming the world’s greatest social worker."
"All true," Pacey grinned mischievously.
"Who would have ever imagined Pacey in such a selfless and unglamorous profession?" Joey scoffed sarcastically. She could tease him about it because deep down he knew she was extremely proud of him and the career decision he had made.
"I must admit, Pacey, three years ago I would have voted for professional car thief," said Jen.
"An American Gigolo, if you had asked me," Dawson contributed. "Joey?"
"Hmm… stunt driver, definitely."
Pacey let them have their fun, nodding magnanimously at depreciative jibes. He wasn’t about to take it lying down though.
"You’re one to talk, Miss Josephine. In light of your career choice, your disparaging remark is hardly justified. Anything’s gotta be better than law. At least I’ll be helping people," he countered, his eyes twinkling.
"Lawyers help people," she replied defensively.
"Face it, you want to study law because you like to argue."
"I can’t help it, it’s what I’m good at," she grinned, poking him in the side with her foot. "It’s your fault I’ve had so much practice at it."
They smiled at each, momentarily forgetting Dawson and Jen were in the room too. Pacey and Joey had been through a lot together, sharing their hopes and aspirations, as well as their fears and lack of self confidence. Their friendship strengthened them both, and they had relied upon it as the years passed at Capeside Highschool. Dawson and Jen were their friends too, but there was a special bond between Joey and Pacey that went beyond that. It could not be defined by either of them, but without it both knew their lives would have been remarkably bleaker. It made saying goodbye all the more difficult.
"I’m gonna miss you guys," Jen said at length, sighing. All smiles faded as they were again reminded of their imminent separation. "It’s going to be weird not having you around to talk to anymore. And no more movie nights… I’m actually going to have to start dating on a Saturday night."
"Shock, horror!" Dawson cried, clutching his heart.
"It’s your fault, you started this tradition!" She threw a cushion at him which he easily ducked. Movie night had started out with just Joey and Dawson, and occasionally Pacey when he and Joey could be civil to one another. But in the last couple of years it had become an institution for all of them. No matter what happened between them or who they were dating, Saturday was always movie night for just the four friends.
After Pacey moved into his own apartment they had relocated from Dawson’s bedroom. Away from his video collection they had even expanded their viewing to more than Speilberg films, though Dawson did insist on a monthly viewing of E.T. or Jaws, or another classic by the director. The move had also made things easier for Joey and Dawson after they dated briefly as juniors. They were determined to go back to being friends without any awkwardness when things didn’t work out between them, and it helped not finding themselves lying together on Dawson’s bed once a week. Jen and Pacey were just as keen to avoid any uncomfortable situation that might taint their friendship with one another.
They had skillfully avoided any other relationships within the small group, in fact none of them dated much at all. Pacey had spent the last two years working diligently on his school work in order to make up for a disastrous first semester of his sophomore year. He had escaped his father’s house and his continual ridicule thanks to his brother, and had achieved results that continued to astound his former teachers. Though his social life consisted only of movie night and studying with Joey, the rewards were worth it. He had graduated in the top 5% of the class and received a partial scholarship to UMBC. His own case worker had helped him get into the School of Social Work there, her old alumni, and he was well on his way to making something of his life.
Pacey knew he had only done so well because he had the support of his friends, Joey in particular. Without her help and encouragement he wondered where he might have ended up. Sitting behind the counter at Screen Play Video seemed most likely. Pacey was relieved that even though he would be losing Jen and Dawson the next day, he would still have Joey around for the next couple of months before they left for their respective colleges. He wasn’t quite ready to say goodbye to her — but then again, he wondered if he ever would be.
* * *
It wasn’t like Pacey hadn’t had time to prepare for his eventual parting from her. Joey had been accepted into Brown’s Early Action program before she was even named class valedictorian. She and Pacey had worked diligently on their applications to many colleges on the east coast, but Joey had her heart set on going to Brown. Her acceptance into the Ivy League school fulfilled all her hopes and dreams, and she was able to share her elation with the one person who had encouraged her all along.
Pacey had been so proud of her when she received the letter. Once he stopped dancing her around the room, he began making excited suggestions and plans for her move to Providence. She would have Doug and Adam there if she needed anything, and she would not be too far from Capeside and her family. With Joey’s future decided, Pacey was able to adjust his plans accordingly. Unbeknownst to Joey, he hastily applied to Rhode Island College so he could be near her.
But his decision to pursue a career in social work stood in the way. Pacey had endured a less than ideal upbringing and becoming an emancipated minor at fifteen had forced him to grow up very quickly. His social worker, Amie, had been part of his support network and had shown him the rewards of helping others. Pacey felt he was in a position to help other teenagers in similar circumstances to his own, and felt an indefinable obligation and need to give something back. Amie had been thrilled when he expressed an interest in following her career path, and immediately recommended he apply to the University of Maryland. The School of Social Work at UMBC was considered one of the best in the country, and she believed they would be lucky to have Pacey. Amie recognized in him a gift that would ensure he became an excellent social worker.
Joey had helped him fill in the forms, and coached him through the various application processes. She had mixed feelings about him going away to Baltimore, but she could see how much it meant to him. Though he applied to other colleges, he wanted UMBC. And for that reason, she wanted it for him as well. Joey put aside her own disappointment that she wouldn’t have him around anymore, and the sinking feeling that they would grow apart as highschool friends often do.
When Pacey’s college responses started coming in, he was surprised to find he had been accepted to several good schools. Once he thought he would be lucky to get in anywhere, and now he found himself having to choose. But it was the University of Maryland that he waited for. When the letter arrived he had been so nervous that he hadn’t even been able to open it. It had sat in the middle of his bare coffee table all afternoon until Joey arrived that evening to study. She noticed immediately that something was wrong with him, as he paced nervously in the living room when she unlocked the door.
"Pacey? What is it? Has something happened?" Joey was fearful when she saw how anxious he was. He had been through so much with his family already that she was afraid something else had happened.
He opened his mouth to answer her, but couldn’t find the words. Finally he motioned towards the table and drew her attention to the letter with the UMBC crest stamped on it.
"What does it say?" she asked excitedly.
"I don’t know, I didn’t want to open it by myself," Pacey answered.
"Why on earth not?" Joey tossed her bag down and picked up the letter.
"Well, if it’s good news I’ll definitely need someone to celebrate with, and if it’s bad news I’ll need someone to talk me down off the roof."
"Pacey, you’ve been accepted all over. You’re going away to college no matter what."
"I know, but this is the one that counts, Jo. This is the one I’ve worked so hard for. This is the best I could do and it still may not be good enough… I just wanted to prove to myself as well as my father that I’m good enough."
Joey’s heart thumped painfully. No matter what Pacey achieved — and he had achieved so much since leaving home — he still set store by John Witter’s low opinion of him. Two years later and he still felt he had something to prove. It saddened Joey that Pacey still doubted himself, since she had so much pride and faith in him. It didn’t matter if he got into one particular college or not, in Joey’s esteem he had already proven himself. She told him just as much as he stared blankly at the white envelope.
"You’ll never know until you open this," she continued, holding the letter out to him.
Pacey reached out to take it, but then hesitated. "I can’t," he murmured. "Will you open it, Jo?"
Joey frowned slightly but acquiesced. She was dying of curiosity herself now, though part of her dreaded the outcome. Tearing open the envelope unceremoniously, she pulled out a single piece of paper.
"Dear Mr Witter…" she read quietly, before she stopped reading aloud. Her eyes skimmed furtively down the page as Pacey stared at her intently, trying to read anything in her expression. When a look of disappointment appeared in her dark eyes, he had his answer.
"Pacey, I’m sorry…" Joey whispered.
He let out a deep breath and tried not to let the utter disappointment and desolation overwhelm him. Joey raised her gaze to his.
"I’m really sorry you’re going to be in Baltimore while I’ll be up in Providence. I don’t know who I’m going to study with now." Joey let the wide grin she had been holding in with difficulty escape her lips.
Pacey was just flabbergasted, not quite able to comprehend what she was saying.
"I got in?"
"You got in."
Pacey did not jump for joy or yell out triumphantly. He took in the news with such a sense of relief that he felt unable to express any other emotion. Joey was bursting with pride and, unable to contain herself any longer, she flew across the room and enveloped him in a bear hug. Pacey just held onto her, and for the first time he felt an ounce of self pride. Having Joey there to share it just made it all the more meaningful. Without her he couldn’t have done any of it. He held onto his lifeline and thanked whatever higher power had given him a friend in Joey Potter.
* * * * * * * * *
The last movie night that Dawson, Jen, Joey and Pacey spent together was a bittersweet affair. They reminisced about the good times they had shared, laughed over old jokes and events, promised faithfully to keep in touch, and to hold regular reunions in Capeside whenever possible. It was early morning before Jen and Dawson finally decided they had better head home to try and get at least a couple of hours sleep before their departure. They said no goodbyes to sadden the night any more, leaving that difficult task until the day.
Dawson opened the door for a weary Jen and turned back to Joey. "Do want to stay at my place one last time?" he asked hopefully, seeing she was already preparing her usual spot on Pacey’s sofa.
Joey looked down at what she was doing, then in the direction of the kitchen where Pacey was cleaning up. She had not slept over at Dawson’s house like old times in over a year. They had not wanted to confuse things between them, considering their "tortured subtext" together, as Pacey had dubbed it. She felt safer here with him, because Pacey was her true friend, and only her friend. There was no emotional baggage to deal with, unlike the Dawson scenario. Joey wasn’t sure she would ever be able to go back to the way things had been, sleeping over at Dawson’s, even if it was for only one last night.
"I think should just stay here as usual, Dawson," she replied carefully. "I don’t want to tempt fate now, do you? You’ll be leaving in the morning."
Dawson nodded, but his disappointment was obvious. "I guess we can’t ever go back to the way things were when we were kids, no matter how much we want to."
"Part of growing up, I guess."
"Yeah. When did that happen?"
"Somewhere between us taking baths together and going away to college," she smiled.
Dawson gave her a long, last look before leaving. "Goodnight, Jo," he said softly.
She stood unmoving for a minute or two after he was gone, lost in her thoughts. Pacey emerged from the kitchen and saw her staring off into space and hugging a pillow to her chest, her bed on the Memorial Couch only half made.
"Jo?" he murmured, breaking her reverie. "You staying tonight?"
Joey focused her gaze on him and the smile returned to her face. Even after a year he seemed surprised that she chose to stay at his place rather than Dawson’s. It was one of the few remaining insecurities he had and it made her feel special — Pacey still needed and wanted her around.
"Yeah, I’ll stay."
A small familiar smile twitched at his lips as he nodded. "Okay. See you in morning, Stephanie."
Joey settled down onto her couch and waited for Pacey’s bedroom light to go out before she switched off the lamp beside her. Her mind flashed with images of the horror movie they had been watching, and she suddenly wondered if she would have the same reservations about kissing Pacey if they were to do it over now. It was the last abstract thought that ran through her mind before exhaustion overcame her and she fell asleep.
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