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The Icehouse was nearly full as the afternoon dragged on, with tourists and summer regulars flooded out the door and onto the deck. Joey thought there was no end in sight, and if she hadn’t been so preoccupied with how much her feet hurt, she would have been mentally calculating her potential tips.
"How much longer?" she moaned to Pacey as she passed him on the way to the kitchen. Even after a long shift, he seemed as buoyant and full of energy as when they started at breakfast.
"Only an hour until we can escape. Unless of course this rush continues or someone calls in sick…"
"I’m finishing in an hour or I’m calling the union," Joey said decisively, passing another order through to Bodie.
The Icehouse had been doing great business for over a month as the summer trade in Capeside boomed. It was almost a different place in summer — a bustling resort town as opposed to the sleepy, pitifully boring place Joey was used to the rest of the year. Both she and Pacey had been able to boost their respective college funds as rich tourists continued to pour into the restaurant, so she never complained too loudly. Some days Joey even managed to smile at a few of them and doubled her tips. At least there was one perk to working the longs hours they did.
Pacey and Joey escaped the Icehouse that day only half an hour after they were due to finish, and as had become their habit, they discussed what they would do that evening. It had been the same routine since Dawson and Jen left — they worked all day then spent their nights off watching videos or going to the movies, occasionally taking a drive along the coast. Their destinations and activities may not have changed, but Joey had noticed a change in their friendship as they spent more time alone together. They were so used to having Jen and Dawson along whenever they did anything together, but now it was just the two of them. She couldn’t describe it anymore to say that things were different now.
When they started highschool, Pacey and Joey had not been the closest of friends. Their mutual friendship with Dawson had thrown them together but they spent most of their time antagonizing one another. When Joey’s feelings for Dawson deepened into something more, it was Pacey and not the object of her affections who noticed first. Strangely, this fact brought them closer together. And when Pacey’s family life disintegrated when John Witter's violent tendencies were revealed, it had been Joey to whom he turned. Since opening up to her and sharing his deepest, darkest secrets, they had become inseparable friends.
Throughout their remaining years at Capeside High they worked and studied together, and saw each other every single day. When Dawson finally noticed the hidden feelings Joey had for him and they decided to try dating, Pacey had become her confidante. She took her problems to him rather than Dawson, and it was a role that Dawson never regained even after he and Joey made the mutual and inevitable decision that they were better off as friends. By that stage, Joey trusted no one above Pacey, and their bond only grew stronger as time went by.
Joey could be herself around Pacey. There were no inhibitions or secrets — they had long since bared their souls and discovered each other’s strengths and inner demons. It was comforting to know there were no surprises with them, they were open and honest with other, sometimes brutally so. So when Joey noticed a shift in the dynamic of their friendship, she was a little concerned. The last thing she wanted was for things to change, but something told her neither of them had the power to stop it. No matter what happened, they would be forced to part company in a few weeks. Things would definitely be different then.
As they strolled home from the Icehouse, bound for Pacey’s apartment, Joey tried not to read too much into their new closeness. Above all, she wanted to maintain their relationship until they said goodbye. She didn’t want to think about what it would be like when he was gone.
"We’ve got to stop off and get groceries before going home," Pacey commented as they neared the market, interrupting her thoughts. "Unless you’re partial to Oreos and peanut butter for dinner."
"Damn, wouldn’t you know it, I had that last night," she recovered quickly from her reverie. "Let’s shop."
Pacey grinned as he held the store door open for her, gallantly ushering her in with a sweep of his arm. They each picked up a basket and began patrolling the aisles.
"Ooh, Cap’n Crunch," said Pacey, plucking a brightly colored box from the shelf.
"No wonder you’re so hyperactive at work, Pacey. No one should be so active on the breakfast shift. Now I know your secret — it’s all a sugar high."
"But it’s Cap’n Crunch with Crunchberries," he whined. "You can’t get more wholesome than that."
Joey gave him a look to silence him, then chose a more sedate cereal for him and removed the offending item from his basket. "Here, this is good for you."
"Thank you, dear," he said darkly, eyeing the muesli suspiciously.
"So, what are we eating tonight?"
"You expect me to cook for you after the day I’ve had?"
"Hey, my day was just as bad," Joey retorted with a roll of her eyes. "You didn’t have to mime the menu to a bunch of Finnish tourists, if I recall."
"Okay, okay. I’m voting for pizza," opted Pacey, pulling a box from the freezer.
"As long as it’s vegetarian."
Pacey held up the correct box already in his basket and smiled sarcastically. "You have me well trained."
"Just as well." Joey walked ahead a few paces and selected a few items she knew Pacey always bought.
"Honey, you want the three-ply or the paper with the little pink flowers on it?" he called out to her in an annoyingly loud voice.
She grimaced and narrowed her eyes at him in mock anger. "You know I like the blue butterflies, sweetheart."
"How could I forget?" Pacey added the toilet paper to the basket and grinned at her. Their little shopping routine was playing out as usual. Some of their very frank and very staged discussions of feminine hygiene products and contraceptives caused some interesting reactions from other shoppers.
"Listen, Jo, I’m getting you a new toothbrush. The one at the apartment is really disgusting… Look, here’s a little pink one with Miss Piggy on it. Perfect. Anything but that old ratty one, I don’t know how you can keep using that thing."
"Probably ‘cause I’ve been using yours for the last few months," Joey replied lightly, trying to gross him out. She was surprised when he just accepted the comment with a shrug and tossed their favorite toothpaste in amongst the other groceries.
"I’ll just grab some salad stuff for dinner. Don’t worry, I won’t forget the apples you like," Pacey called over his shoulder, disappearing into the next aisle.
Left alone, Joey frowned slightly to herself. When had their conversations become so domestic? When had they learned each others’ likes and dislikes so well? Since when did Pacey not care if she used his toothbrush? It was the little things like that that had made her realize how things had shifted between them. When Dawson and Jen left they had begun acting like some old married couple; shopping together, eating together, even finishing each other’s sentences. It was eerie.
She rounded the corner and spied him loading up some fruit and vegetables.
"You know what I’d like?" she asked, deciding she would test him. "I was thinking we should get some—"
"Fresh oranges for some breakfast OJ?" Pacey finished, pointing to a bag already in the basket.
Joey closed her mouth and stared at him. Just as she thought, eerie…
Pacey caught the look that flashed across her face and he quickly turned his attention elsewhere. He guessed Joey was feeling the same weirdness he was. It wasn’t a bad feeling, but definitely different from their usual chummy, best friend interaction. It had started when their other friends left for New York, and Pacey secretly wondered if it was due mostly to Dawson’s departure. He couldn’t stop the nagging thought that he was just a replacement best friend, even after all they had been through.
It was a fear that Pacey had battled for several years now. He knew that Joey and Dawson had shared a very special relationship for many years that hadn’t included him. They had grown up together, discovered new feelings and emotions together that bonded them for life. Joey had been secretly in love with her best friend for so long that Pacey wondered of she would ever truly get over him. Like most unrequited loves, she had built up an idealistic notion of what love was, and the kind of person she wanted Dawson to be. Ultimately it was an ideal that Dawson himself couldn’t live up to, and their romantic relationship had failed.
But Pacey was afraid that her idea of love and expectations were still unrealistically high. It plagued him because he doubted whether he could ever come close to her preconceptions. Try as he might, he had never been able to overcome the fact that while he considered Joey his best friend in life, she was also his one true love. It was the only secret he had ever kept from her — his cowardice and lack of self esteem forbade him from letting her know. It was hard for Pacey to believe that she cared about him as much as she did, that she had sacrificed so much of her time and energies to help him and be his friend. To even entertain for a moment the idea she might one day feel something more was preposterous and beyond all hope, in his opinion.
In the past Dawson had always stood in the way. If not in reality, then the fantasy he embodied in Joey’s mind. He was a hurdle that Pacey thought he would never be able to overcome. Now Dawson was gone but his legacy remained. Pacey would never be good enough for her, no matter how much he loved her. He had stopped pretending things would ever be any different. And yet here she was, obviously feeling the noticeable change in their relationship… Pacey didn’t dare hope she felt even an ounce of what he felt for her. There was always the issue of Dawson Leery.
"Have you heard from Dawson recently?" Pacey asked, resuming his stroll down the market aisles.
"Dawson? Where did that come from?" Joey wondered what had suddenly brought their friend to Pacey’s mind. She also tried to work out why Pacey suddenly seemed so cagey about the subject of their good friend, for all he was trying to hide it.
"You know, I was just thinking it’s been a while since we heard from him. I wondered if he’d called or anything."
"I got a postcard the other day. He’s so busy at the production company he didn’t have too much to say. Except that he missed us, and Jen." Joey began to laugh softly as she thought about him. "D’you know, I get the feeling Dawson thought he’d actually be working on movies while he was there. Instead they’ve got him running errands for the crew and fetching coffee. Coffee for the support crew mind you, not even the actors and the director… Poor Dawson."
"Yeah, life’s tough," Pacey murmured a little bitterly. He couldn’t help but be jealous about the twinkle in Joey’s eyes when she mentioned his name. Silently he cursed himself. When had he begun feeling jealous over her? He had endured six months of them dating and he never felt this envious.
"I thought I mentioned his postcard to you. I did, didn’t I?"
"No. Must have slipped your mind." Pacey pondered her light-hearted words. Her countenance didn’t really change when she mentioned her ex-boyfriend and lifelong friend, but Pacey found himself feeling distinctly unsettled that she hadn’t told him Dawson had contacted her. Now he couldn’t even be sure things had really finished between the two of them, considering all they’d been through together. He ventured carefully, "You miss him, don’t you?"
"Of course I do," Joey replied, surprised.
"It must be strange not having him around, considering—" Pacey stopped, suddenly engrossed in the contents of his shopping basket.
"Nothing." He abruptly tried to change the subject. He didn’t want to open that can of worms just yet. "Hey, are you done? Because I think I’ve got everything I need."
"Yeah, I guess," Joey frowned, wondering what he had been trying to say. "Pacey, what is it?"
"Nothing, really. Let’s go."
"I miss Dawson, of course I do. He’s been such an important part of my life for as long as I can remember, and it’s not the same here without him. But the truth is—" she paused, unsure she could explain things without him taking it the wrong way.
"What?" Pacey waited expectantly for her answer.
"The truth is I’m kind of glad you and I have this time together before we go off to college." She smiled at him, waiting for his reaction. "We’ve always had Dawson and Jen hanging around too, but now it’s just us. I’m going to miss you when I go to Providence."
Pacey was taken aback, but he did his very best not to show it. She had said the words so easily, too easily in fact. He didn’t know what she meant by the comment, or how he was supposed to interpret it. Joey was waiting for some kind of response so he forced himself to decide what to say.
"Me too…" It wasn’t what he wanted to say, but under the circumstances it was the safest option. It wasn’t enough though, he couldn’t just leave it at that. He had been contemplating matters for weeks now, and couldn’t let things rest just yet. He cleared his throat purposefully. "Things are different between us now, aren’t they?"
Joey was surprised, but mostly relieved that he felt it too. Just what it meant, she had absolutely no idea. But at least they were both experiencing the shift in their relationship. It wasn’t just her imagination.
"I thought it was just me."
"I don’t know why. I mean, nothing’s changed how we feel about each other—" she stopped again, she just couldn’t put it into words. The look in Pacey’s eyes suggested he could.
"I think it was safer when Jen and Dawson were around."
Joey didn’t quite understand what he meant by the comment, and something told her not to press the issue. She suddenly felt nervous. "What do we do now?"
Pacey shrugged slightly, not willing to commit the awkward conversation either. "I guess we go home, have dinner and watch a movie like we always do."
They proceeded to the checkout and waited in silence as the cashier rang up the groceries. Joey and Pacey were doing exactly what they usually did, but this time there was nothing usual about it. Without their realizing it or expecting it, something had definitely changed between them. And both of them knew things would not go back to normal.
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