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Three: A simple plan
The airport was crowded on Saturday morning while Joey waited for Pacey’s flight to arrive. She sat watching the tourists and holiday makers, the bustling and squabbling families, the focused business people traveling alone as they rushed to make their flights. Usually she was oblivious to goings on around her but today she was fascinated by all of them, mainly because it was keeping her mind off the fact she was about to see Pacey again. In the week leading up to his arrival she had become increasingly anxious, not only because she was concerned they wouldn’t be able to fool her co-workers, but also because she was looking forward to seeing him again. They had spent many years together after all, both as friends and lovers, and she had forgotten how much she enjoyed his company. Joey just hoped there wouldn’t be too much awkwardness between them, especially considering how much was riding on this weekend.
Eventually his flight from Boston landed and she moved over to stand by the gate, scanning the crowd for his tall frame. It was a good thing Pacey was so tall, she feared losing him in the surging mass of people as they streamed off the plane and were greeted by loved ones. She couldn’t help but stare at these happy reunions, though she was trying not to be too obvious. Joey was drawn to a young woman who practically ran into the arms of a man waiting for her, ignoring the bouquet of roses he had in his hands. She leapt into his arms and held onto him like she never wanted to let go. Joey was momentarily struck by the strength of their emotion, and the unguarded displays of affection they lavished upon each other. Feeling slightly jealous, she mentally chastised herself for intruding on their intimate moment.
Turning back to the crowd and trying to ignore the loving murmurings that were coming from the newly reunited couple, Joey suddenly saw Pacey walking towards her. He hadn’t seen her yet, so she was able to watch him for a few seconds before their eyes met. She was taken aback at his appearance, struck by how handsome he was. It was an instinctive reaction by most women when they saw him, and one she knew he was not aware of. That was part of his beauty — the modest way he carried himself, the unassuming way he dressed, his disbelieving reaction to compliments. He was no more conscious of his attractiveness than he was his charm, for all the false confidence he exuded. Joey waited with baited breath as he slung his coat bag over his shoulder and tried to spot her in the waiting crowd at the gate.
When he did notice her finally, a smile lit up his face. Pacey had a smile that did not stop at his mouth, his eyes danced merrily as he came slowly towards her.
"Well, well, Josephine Potter… It’s been a while," he grinned, taking a moment to carefully eye her up and down. "As beautiful as ever I see."
"And you’re as sincere as ever, Pacey Witter." Joey returned his smile and joking tone. Not quite sure if she was supposed to kiss him hello after their history together, she settle for hugging him briefly. "It’s good to see you."
"You too." His eyes twinkled as he continued to gaze at her, until she began to feel self-conscious.
"Thanks for coming this weekend, Pace. You’re a lifesaver."
"What can I say… I could never say no to you, Joey." Pacey tried to cover up the nostalgic tone in his voice when he saw a look flash across her face. He relied on his jocularity, just as he had always done in situations which required any real emotion. It had been his defense mechanism since childhood. "Besides, I could never resist an acting challenge. And this is one Dawson Leery himself would be proud of."
"Think you can pull it off then, playing my fiancé?" Joey teased.
"I think so… I’ve some experience in the area."
Joey lowered her eyes for a second, deciding to let that pass too. She hadn’t anticipated feeling so mixed up upon seeing him again — she was happy he was here, but found herself thinking of the past, remembering what they were like together. It was something she hadn’t allowed herself to do too often in the six months she had been in Chicago. It didn’t help that Pacey was making mild references to their past relationship, forcing her to face those memories. Joey decided the best thing to do would be to get back to the apartment — anything not to prolong the awkwardness she was beginning to feel as they stood there in the busy airport.
"We should probably get going, we’ll have to discuss what’ll happen tonight and get you settled in."
"I’m all yours. Do with me what you will," Pacey said, holding his arms out expansively.
Joey smiled to herself when an impure thought popped suddenly into her head. Shaking off the inappropriate image, she took his arm and they began worming their way through the crowd to the airport exit.
* * *
"Nice place." Pacey nodded his approval as he looked around the loft.
It was sparsely decorated, either by design or Joey’s lack of effort. She was in the kitchen making coffee, leaving him to look around himself. There wasn’t that much to see — aside from a bedroom and bathroom, the rest of the apartment was one open space encompassing the kitchen, living and dining rooms. It was really too big for one person, and Pacey wondered how she could stand to live here alone. Joey had put up a few of her own drawings to decorate the walls, but even they could have done with a coat of paint. Pacey could tell she didn’t spend much time here. Knowing Joey the way he did, he guessed she lived mostly at the office. At least it seemed to be paying off, now that she had just been made junior partner.
"So what exactly should I be expecting tonight?" he asked, strolling towards the kitchen bench and taking a seat opposite her.
"My boss, Alec Peterson, will just be doing the traditional ‘welcome to the firm, thanks for the multi-million dollar account’ spiel. I don’t think it will be too painful. My plan is to go and make and appearance, then we can leave."
"But I’m here to be on show, right?" teased Pacey.
"They’ll want to meet you, yes," Joey replied, a little reluctantly. She was still embarrassed by the whole thing, and it didn’t help that he was grinning mischievously at her. Joey hoped he realized this was a serious situation.
"Well, you’d better fill me in on what you’ve told them so I’m convincing. If we’re going to do this, let’s give it our all."
"Where did that little piece of inspirational philosophy come from?"
"I’ve started coaching the junior basketball team at school." Pacey reached over and took the steaming cup of coffee from her. "I’ve got a hundred meaningless platitudes I can use."
"Since when were you the expert basketball player?" Joey joked, remembering back to their own highschool days when Pacey had not been known for his sporting prowess.
"I’m not, that’s why I’m the coach. I get to be one of those highly strung, sadistic assholes who take out their own failed sporting aspirations on innocent, unsuspecting junior high kids."
"I highly doubt that. I bet you’re the kind of coach who takes the team out for ice cream after losing a big game."
They moved out of the kitchen and took a seat on the couch. Joey smiled when she saw the embarrassed look in Pacey’s eyes as he came clean.
"Okay, it was for burgers... but it was a really hard game, and they tried so hard..."
Joey laughed, and Pacey couldn’t help but join in. They sat back in silence, just enjoying being in each other’s company again. Joey was surprised how easily they fell back into old habits — how easy it was to feel comfortable around him as if nothing had changed between them. She could almost forget about the night ahead, and the fact he was leaving again tomorrow. Joey was just content to enjoy the moment, even if it wasn’t going to last long.
"About tonight, Joey," Pacey prompted, ending the moment sooner than she would have liked.
Joey sighed and sipped her coffee, avoiding his eyes.
"Okay — the history of Joey and Pacey, according to everyone at Peterson-Waterhouse. Basically I told people the truth. We grew up together in Capeside, though we didn’t like each other much at school. We both went to college in Boston, you were at UMASS studying English and getting your teaching degree, I was at the Boston Architectural Centre. Neither of us knew too many people in Boston so we hung out a lot, becoming really good friends. Then we started dating a couple of years later and when I got the job here in Chicago, you proposed. You have to see out your contract at the school before you can come and join me here. We’re planning a Spring wedding in three or four years time — we really don’t want to rush things. And that brings us up to date."
"Wow, you really have given this a lot of thought, haven’t you? Next you’ll be telling me you’ve chosen the bridesmaids’ dresses."
"Navy blue of course," Joey grinned. "What else do you think we talk about during our lunch breaks?"
"Oh, I don’t know, how about what’s going on in the world? Politics, art, literature?"
"Right, like that’s what you and your buddies talk about in the teachers’ lounge."
Joey slapped lightly him on the shoulder. "Liar."
"Look who’s talking!"
Joey blushed slightly, her joking mood vanishing. She didn’t like being reminded of the fact she had been lying through her teeth to the people at work for the past six months. Pacey noticed her discomfort and hastily sipped his coffee. He hated it when she clammed up like that. He would have to try and maintain a level of joviality if they were going to get through this tonight. Pacey didn’t break the silence that had fallen until he saw the ring on her left hand. He put his hand over hers, fingering the small sapphire ring gently.
"Nice touch," he commented lightly, smiling at her to bring her round again.
"It was my mother’s. I wanted to make it look official."
"Well, if that’s all you’ve gotten out of me over the years, I’d say I’m a pretty lousy fiancé. Where are all the fancy presents I’ve lavished upon you?"
A small smile twitched at Joey’s lips as she recognized Pacey’s attempts to lighten the mood between them.
"There were flowers of course, you always remember to send flowers."
"Hey, what can I say? I’m just a thoughtful guy," he grinned immodestly.
"Then there’s this bracelet that you bought me for our first anniversary." Joey showed him the gold linked chain around her wrist, its clasp a filigree heart.
"Very nice," Pacey murmured approvingly. "What good taste I have."
"And this is the necklace you gave me when I threatened to call off the engagement." She pulled out a fine gold chain from under her shirt, in its center a small diamond.
"You were going to break off the engagement?" he asked mournfully, like the idea pained him. He began protesting defensively. "But what did I do to deserve that? I didn’t do anything! I sent you flowers, bought you presents…"
Joey laughed. "Every engagement has to have some sort of crisis, otherwise it wouldn’t be serious. But don’t worry, I forgave you."
"Why do I feel like I should change my name to Algernon Moncrieff?" Pacey asked ruefully.
"Don’t you mean Ernest?"
Pacey grinned at her, pleased she got the literary allusion. But then, he learned long ago never to underestimate Joey’s intelligence. It was because of her he had applied himself so studiously at college and had read Oscar Wilde in the first place. Without her guidance he doubted he would have had the stamina to see out his first year at college. But he had stayed, and eventually found himself teaching highschool English to a group of young teenagers not unlike himself and his friends at that age. Pacey was very glad, and a little surprised, to discover he had a real talent for teaching. He had never considered himself good at anything in particular, but here he was making a success of his chosen career. It was Joey who had convinced him of his gift, believing in him from the very beginning. It was one of the many reasons he had fallen in love with her.
But now everything was different, he reminded himself. He was with her again, but this time it was to play a role he never would in real life. A few days before, Pacey had almost rung and cancelled the whole weekend, unwilling to dredge up the past and face emotions he had wanted to bury forever. He knew no good could come of it, and it wouldn’t be a simple case of acting a part then going home. But Joey had needed him, he could not ignore the pleading in her voice when she asked him to come to Chicago. So he put aside his own misgivings and portents of doom and had taken the plane. Now all he had to do was get through the next twenty-four hours without allowing himself to feel anything for her that went beyond friendship.
He smiled at her, wishing he could silence the thoughts
in his mind that were so distracting. Pacey hoped they could just enjoy
themselves, then at the end of the weekend go back to their separate lives.
Anything more would complicate his life in a way that he was not ready
for. Not again.
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