Note: This is a sequel to "Just Between Friends" and draws upon events from the series.
The Last Picture Show cont'd
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.