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Eight: Last days of chez nous
The long week finally drew to a close as Pacey’s sisters packed up and returned to their own homes and lives. Their final day together on Friday was happier, with the news that Mrs Witter would be moving to Los Angeles to stay with Kerry and her family for a while. It meant that there would be no Witters in Capeside anymore, and for Pacey it meant he had no reason to come back to the small town. No reason, but Joey.
Even that was a tenuous connection. Joey was leaving for Brown the next day. Somehow they suddenly found themselves having to part when neither of them were ready for it. Pacey almost resented the fact that his family was taking such a long time to pack up and leave — it meant more precious time apart from Joey. Still, she was spending that last Friday working at the Icehouse and would not be free until the evening. Bessie and Bodie were planning a special dinner that Pacey had been invited to, but he had declined at the last minute.
Even though Pacey had spoken to Joey at length about his father and how confused he felt about his death, they had still not dealt with their feelings for one another. Pacey didn’t think he could sit through a family dinner pretending to be her best friend — not when he wanted so much more than that. Instead he began packing his belongings for his own departure the following week. He just hoped Joey would understand.
Unfortunately, she didn’t. She sat at home with Alexander, Bessie and Bodie, trying to appreciate the effort they had gone to in order to make their last meal together special. But she just felt like something was missing. Pacey should have been there. She was disappointed they hadn’t had the opportunity to sit down and discuss what was happening between them. She was leaving in the morning and now it just seemed easier to let sleeping dogs lie. If they confronted their feelings before she left it would only complicate matters. Joey thought about it all quite rationally, but it didn’t stop her from regretting the fact that she hadn’t told Pacey she loved him.
She thought she had been hiding her emotions quite well, but Bessie noticed her melancholy as they ate dinner. She had been planning some family activities after so Alex could spend some more time with his aunt, but she realized Joey had other things she needed to be doing. Bessie was tempted to be selfish and keep her sister with them — she was going to miss her terribly when she was away at college — but she would not stand in the way of Joey’s happiness. And Bessie knew who would make her happy, even if Joey stubbornly refused to admit it.
They finished eating in silence, Joey still picking at her food. She glanced at Bodie across the table and made a decision. "Okay, Joey, dinner’s over. We’ve got to get back to the Icehouse."
"What?" said Joey, startled out of her misery. "I thought you said you both had the night off."
"So did I," added Bodie in a low voice.
"I’m sorry, Joey, but you know how busy Friday nights get. Ruth can’t handle it all on her own." Bessie motioned for Bodie to take Alex and get him ready for the sitter. She wanted to talk to Joey alone. Her sister was still sitting at the table glumly, faced with the prospect of spending her last night in Capeside alone. "Joey, go and see him."
"Don’t turn naïve and innocent on me now. You know you have to talk to Pacey before you leave tomorrow."
"Why?" Joey said morosely. "It’s too late now."
"I think you’re just scared." Bessie waited as Joey’s eyes flared angrily. She had tried coaxing, hinting and bullying, now it was time to dare her sister into action. "You’re afraid he won’t feel the same way."
Joey opened her mouth to argue, but thought better of it when she realized Bessie was just being honest. She was scared of opening up to him and telling him the truth. "What if it just ruins our friendship?"
"If you don’t try and sort things out and are open with each other, the friendship is ruined anyway. So stop being a wimp and remember you’re Joey Potter. Get going." Bessie smiled as she practically pulled Joey from her seat.
Joey protested little as Bessie maneuvered her to the door. She knew Bessie and Bodie didn’t have to go to the Icehouse. Her sister was just doing what was best for her, yet again.
"Thanks, Bess," she said quietly before she left. "I know you made lots of plans for tonight…"
"All that matters is you getting what you want. That’s all I’ve ever wanted for you." Bessie grinned back at her, then shoved Joey unceremoniously out the door. "Just be back by eight tomorrow morning when we have to leave, okay?"
Joey ran down the stairs and headed towards Pacey’s apartment.
* * *
He was surprised to see her when he opened the door, so much so that he forgot to invite her in.
"Hi," he breathed softly.
"What happened to dinner?"
"Bessie got tired of my moping. She practically banished me from the house." Joey shifted her weight nervously from one foot to the other. Pacey just stood there holding the door ajar, unsure what to say. "Do you think I could come in?"
"Oh… of course, yeah… sorry," he murmured absently. "Why didn’t you use your key?"
"I don’t know, it just felt… strange." Joey stood awkwardly in the small living room, noticing the half-packed boxes littering the floor. It really was the end of an era. Pacey would be leaving his apartment, a place that had become her sanctuary over the past couple of years. "Actually I thought I’d better give this back to you."
She handed him the box he had given her when he first presented her with a key to the apartment. He took it slowly, feeling the finality in the gesture. Joey would never come over to his apartment again, never pop her head around the door to see if he wanted to do anything, never spend the night on the couch and have breakfast with him the next morning. They had spent so much time together here and now it was all over.
"You nearly all packed then?" she asked nervously, trying to make small-talk. She wasn’t doing a very successful job. Pacey just nodded and they fell into silence once more.
"What time are you going in the morning?" he ventured after a long pause.
"Bessie wants to get away by about eight." Joey had always wondered why Pacey hadn’t offered to drive her. She didn’t realize he just did not trust himself to leave her in Providence when the time came. It would be bad enough saying goodbye in Capeside.
Pacey nodded again now, at a loss to know what more he could say that went beyond inane chatter. They had been through too much together to hold up the pretense for long. They both had much more to say to each other than discussing travel plans.
"Joey, I’m sorry about this week," he began earnestly. "I didn’t mean keep you away, I just thought I should spare you from the further trials and tribulations of the Witter family… You’ve already put up with it for so long…"
"I wanted to be there for you, Pace, that’s all. I hate seeing you so upset by all of this... I like being the one you turn to." Joey lowered her eyes and took a deep breath. "I thought maybe you kept away because of what happened after the Yacht Club last week."
Pacey pondered her words, a slight frown creasing his brow. "Maybe that was part of it, I don’t know." He wanted to tell her everything, but his nerves were getting the better of him once again. Pacey had to make a decision whether to really open up to her now or not. "I guess part of me didn’t want to see you because it meant facing up to how I feel about you. And because it brings me round to the obvious question… how do you feel about me."
Joey met his eyes. It was a statement not a question, but she knew Pacey was seeking an answer. "I thought I knew," she said. "I thought you would always be my best friend, the one person I feel safe with, who I can share everything with, who I’d never keep things from. But I haven’t been a very good friend to you, Pacey, I haven’t been completely honest. I haven’t told you how I really feel… how things are different now."
He waited on tenterhooks for her to continue.
"Nothing’s been the same this summer when it’s just been the two of us. It took me a long time to admit it but I knew things were changing, even though I didn’t really want them to. I was afraid I’d ruin things again, and lose my best friend in the entire world. But when we went out for dinner and then at the porch…" She blushed slightly at the memory of the emotions he had stirred within her when he kissed her. "Even then I tried to pretend I didn’t know how I felt. But being apart from you this week, and knowing that I have to leave tomorrow… I’ve stopped hiding from my own feelings. That’s why I came here tonight. Even though the timing stinks and I have no right bringing this up now, I didn’t want to go away regretting that I never told you the truth."
"If you interrupt me now I’ll never say it… I love you, Pacey." She felt a rush if relief having finally spoken the words which had proven so difficult to admit. "So, about that obvious question…"
Pacey looked at her calmly though his insides were doing somersaults. Through a small smile he said, "Do you have to ask?"
He stepped towards her and cradled her face gently in his hands. "Joey, I have loved you for as long as I can remember. It has always been you."
Joey smiled at him through tears of joy that glistened in her dark eyes. "We’re quite a pair, aren’t we?" she said ruefully. "It’s taken us this long to admit what was obvious from the start. We waited all this time because we were too self-conscious and scared to face the truth."
"We’re both as bad as each other," replied Pacey, his eyes still shining with happiness. "Maybe that just means we deserve each other."
"I hope so," Joey said quietly. She didn’t want to talk anymore. They were breathing in unison now, ignoring everything around them except each other. Tentatively she stepped closer to him, never once breaking his mesmerizing stare.
He leaned in to kiss her forehead, causing her to shiver as his lips touched her skin. The thrilling sensation lingered long after he stopped. She felt electrified by his touch, a comforting yet ecstatic feeling that warmed her entire body. Joey waited in breathless anticipation as his face inched closer to hers again, his mouth seeking her own this time. After an eternity their lips came together in a long, passionate kiss, the likes of which she had never known. Her own heartbeat deafened her as Pacey’s gentleness was replaced with a desire that matched her own.
After a few minutes she pulled away from him breathlessly. "Pacey?"
"Hmm?" His response was muffled as he continued to nuzzle her neck.
"Can I stay here tonight?"
"You always stay here, you don’t have to ask."
"I don’t mean on the couch," she said with deliberate calm.
Pacey pulled back quickly and looked into her eyes. They were clear and certain as she smiled crookedly at him.
"Are you sure?"
"Remember what you said about living your life without regrets? Well, that’s what I want too." She snuck her hands into his and stared intently at him. "Whatever happens tomorrow, I want to be with you tonight."
Pacey wasn’t about to argue. Kissing her again, he allowed her to lead him into the bedroom. The surety of their love for one another was irrefutable, and it exploded in a single burst of requited passion that obliterated any hopes of simple friendship between them.
* * *
Joey lay awake at dawn — too anxious to sleep, too contented to get up and face the day. She snuggled against Pacey’s chest and reveled in the feeling of his warm, bare flesh against her own. Knowing she would have to head home soon so she could finish packing up the truck, she tried to commit every last detail of him to memory, every emotion and sensation she was experiencing. Her mind was still spinning when she thought about the night they had spent together, but it was all too new and intense for her to register it properly yet. At least she would have that last memory to take with her to Providence — the feeling that she was loved completely and unconditionally by another human being. Pacey had shown her just how much he worshipped her, and she still blushed at the recollection of their actions.
Joey wasn’t sure how she could leave him now. They had talked for some time as they clung to each other, neither daring to let go. Pacey was worried they had moved too quickly and things would be more complicated when she had to leave in the morning. But Joey had reminded him that the last thing they were was impetuous — it had taken them this long to even admit how they felt about each other, something that seemed like the easiest thing in the world now.
It was still a frightening thought though. She had finally found the one person she wanted to be with, but circumstances were forcing them to part for an unknown length of time. Joey had no idea when she would be able to see Pacey again, and the idea that he wouldn’t be around when she went college saddened her beyond her wildest imagination. She had no conception of what it would be like not having him to talk to whenever she needed comforting or someone just to listen to her. He wouldn’t be there to bicker with, to get angry at, and he wouldn’t there to make up with her. She had grown so accustomed to his company that she didn’t quite know what it would be like to be deprived of it. All Joey knew as she lay there in his arms was that she wished she had never heard of Brown or UMBC. She never wanted to leave Pacey again.
But reality intruded in her own little dream world. The sun was rising outside and she had to go. She couldn’t give up college and neither could Pacey. They would just have to deal with their separation like so many other couples. It wouldn’t be easy, she knew they might not survive a long distance relationship. Joey was comforted by the knowledge that they’d at least had one night together when she could show him just how much she loved him. She would have the memory of him always.
When Joey rose to leave, she hesitated before waking Pacey up. He slept so peacefully that Joey thought she could actually see a smile still on his lips. She couldn’t bring herself to disturb him. If she did wake him and he begged her not to go, Joey doubted she had the strength to fight him. It was easier just to leave and not tempt fate. After she had dressed and gathered up her belongings, she paused by his bedside and watched him a moment longer. Joey pulled out the photograph of them before their date that she carried in her bag and placed it on her pillow so it would be the first thing Pacey saw when he woke up. She hoped their cheery faces would make him smile before he remembered she was gone.
Joey leant over him and kissed him softly on the temple so as not wake him. She breathed in deeply, inhaling his scent and fighting the urge to bury herself in his embrace. With tears in her eyes she forced herself to back away and let herself quietly out the front door. She almost ran away from the apartment block, not daring to turn back. If she stopped now she would never be able to leave him.
* * *
Bessie said nothing when she arrived home, biting back the questions she was dying to ask. She decided she would get all the details of Joey’s evening during the trip to Providence. Her sister was grateful for her silence and settled at the kitchen table to spend her last breakfast with Alexander.
The last couple of hours before they had to leave flew by quickly. Bodie helped pack up the truck then left for the Icehouse with Alexander. He and Bessie had decided it might take Alex's mind off Joey leaving, as he had not been handling the fact his aunt wouldn't be living with them anymore terribly well. Joey said a quick goodbye to him and then waved them off. Now that it was just Bessie and herself, there was little excuse not to leave. Something held Joey back though, and she knew what it was. She didn’t want to leave without seeing Pacey one last time.
Bessie was getting impatient to be on the road however, and Joey knew she couldn’t put off the inevitable. Although she wanted to see him again, part of her hoped he was still asleep and would miss her departure. Then she wouldn’t have to face the difficult goodbye scene at all. Cowardly though it was, Joey knew it would make things a lot easier on both of them. She went inside to retrieve her knapsack and take a final look around the house she had grown up in. Joey suspected she was even going to miss the fold-out couch and living room that had been her make-shift bedroom for years. At least it had prepared her well for dormitory life.
"Joey," Bessie called from outside. It was not said impatiently though, which surprised her more than anything.
Moving out onto the porch, she saw why her sister had alerted her. Pacey’s truck pulled up in the yard and he got out slowly. Her heart thumped in her chest as she watched him have a few words with Bessie. Then he looked up and met her eyes and she was oblivious to everything else. They smiled slightly and began walking towards each other, prompting Bessie to tactfully climb inside her truck to wait for her.
"Hey," Pacey said gently.
"Are you all right?"
"I’m okay." Pacey couldn’t think of the appropriate words to say what he was feeling. Joey understood his inability to verbalize all they needed to say to each other. They stood there in a silence that spoke volumes, each forgiving the other for being tongue-tied.
"I’ll come to Providence when I can, even if it’s just for the weekend…" Pacey ventured, aware that Bessie was waiting to go.
"Don’t. Let’s not make promises we can’t keep, Pacey," Joey replied firmly. She wouldn’t get through the conversation without throwing herself in his arms otherwise. "You’re going to be busy with work and school and so will I. I don’t want us to say we’ll keep in touch and then find it’s just too difficult."
"I’ll miss you," he said quietly, trying to allay her fears that he would just go off to college and forget her.
"I’ll miss you too." Tears sparked in Joey’s eyes. "I wish things had turned out differently. I wish we’d both been honest with each other like we’ve always pretended to be. I should have told you long ago that I love you."
Pacey swallowed with difficulty and hugged her to him. She held on to him for a long time, wishing she didn’t have to let go.
"I love you, Joey," he whispered into her hair. "Don’t ever forget it."
"I won’t." Joey stepped away and tried to smile at him while she wiped her eyes. She looked over her shoulder at Bessie. "I’d better go… I just don’t want to say goodbye to you."
"Then don’t. Just say ‘I’ll see you soon.’"
"Even if it’s not true?"
"The truth isn’t always easy to face," Pacey sighed. "We both know that well."
"Then I’ll see you soon, Pacey."
"See you soon, Jo."
Joey took a step away, then turned back quickly to kiss him. Pacey returned the passionate embrace and held onto her tightly. It took all of her will power to pull herself from him, and she hastily turned away so she wouldn’t have to look at him. She was safely in the truck before she allowed herself to look back to wave goodbye. Pacey stood in her yard trying to put on a brave face. Smiling sadly, Joey held her hand up against the window and let it sit there as Bessie pulled out of the yard. Joey turned around and watched until Pacey was out of sight. Then she turned back and faced the open road before her, trying to imagine what her life would be like without Pacey Witter in it. It wasn’t a cheery thought, and Joey did not try and stop the tears that began to slide down her cheeks.
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