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Four: Eat drink man woman
Joey made the final touches to her hair and makeup and viewed the results critically in the bathroom mirror. She felt nervous to the point of nausea, but she still wanted to look good. Just like Pacey had said, he would be on show tonight — and so would she. Joey had never been comfortable in such situations, and suddenly prayed for divine intervention so they wouldn’t have to go the party. An earthquake, a city-wide blackout, a freak blizzard… anything was better than having to face all of those people. With a sigh, she resigned herself to the fact she would be going. And if they didn’t go soon they would be late. Snatching up her purse, she emerged from the bathroom to check on Pacey.
He stood with his back to her, flicking through an old sketch book she had lying around. Pacey had always loved her drawings. She remembered how he used to sit and watch her sketch something, his fascinated eyes never leaving hers as her hand flew over the page. He would marvel at her ability to take a plain object and recreate it on paper, somehow looking better than in its original form. Not being remotely artistic himself, Pacey was astounded by her talent. He had given her confidence in her own abilities that no one else had ever been able to do. Yet another thing Joey realized she missed about him.
Clearing her throat pointedly, she waited as he closed the book and turned around to face her. He had dressed in black tie according to her instructions, looking particularly suave. Joey tried not to dwell on how damned good he looked, but it wasn’t an easy task. They stared at each other in admiration, neither speaking for a moment. Joey knew the dress she was wearing was more revealing than what she would usually wear, but Hayley had convinced her to be daring. She rarely bought herself new clothes, but since this was a special occasion she had allowed Hayley to take her shopping and convince her to spend a small fortune on the dress. From the appreciative look in Pacey’s eyes she could tell it had been worth it.
"Well, I’m trying to think of an eloquent way to say this, but ‘wow!’ is about all I can come up right this second," Pacey said finally, stunned at her appearance. "You look incredible."
Joey blushed at the compliment. Coming from Pacey she knew it was sincere.
"You can’t tell me this place isn’t crawling with guys, Joey."
"No, as soon as they hear I have an insanely jealous fiancé with a rusty hatchet collection, most guys tend to steer clear of me." She grinned at him, feeling more beautiful and confident by the second as he continued to stare at her in wonderment. "I think I’ll be the one having to keep an eye on you tonight. Looking a good as that you’re sure to be propositioned by some of my so-called friends."
Pacey struck his best James Bond pose in his tuxedo, a mischievous grin on his face. "Let’s face it, we’re going to be the envy of every man, woman and child there tonight. It’s hard being beautiful."
Pacey held out his arm to her with the same mocking attitude and Joey accepted it gratefully. She was glad of the excuse to hang on to him tonight so she wouldn’t fidget nervously. Every time she thought about having to convince all of those people they were engaged… Joey felt sick again. But Pacey just closed his hand over hers reassuringly and smiled gently at her. Returning his gaze with a less than confident attempt at a smile, Joey nodded slightly and they headed out the door.
* * *
If there was one thing Alec Peterson knew how to do well, it was a party. He had hired out an entire restaurant in the most fashionable area of Chicago, and no expense had been spared when it came to food and drink. Joey and Pacey were accosted by waiters as soon as they walked in the door, barely having time to take off their coats before champagne flutes were thrust into their hands. Joey looked around the sea of faces but she didn’t recognise anyone at first. These people were her co-workers, she shared office space with them, but she was too nervous to focus on any of them.
"Would you smile? You look like you’re going to throw up," whispered Pacey in her ear. They stood by the doorway, Joey seemingly unable to put one foot in front of the other and walk into the room. "It’ll be fine, come on."
He gently led her away from the exit — her safety net — and they began to mingle through the crowd. Joey could feel people’s eyes on them, she could hear the whispers as they passed. Pacey didn’t seem to notice it at all, or if he did it didn’t bother him. She was tempted just to turn tail and run before anyone else had a chance to see them, but then Hayley spotted her from across the room. She looked at Joey with slightly widened eyes, and she could tell her friend was impressed with Pacey — his appearance at least. Joey was glad to see Hayley, because at least she knew the truth. She tugged at Pacey’s arm and made a beeline for her design partner, but then she heard a booming voice.
"Finally, here you are!" Alec Peterson beamed jovially. He had a half-filled glass of champagne in his hand and Joey could tell it was not his first. Her boss intercepted them before she had a chance to reach Hayley, who now approached them with her husband.
"Josephine, my dear, you look enchanting," said Peterson chivalrously. "And you, sir, must the be the lucky devil we’ve all be hearing about these last few months. Alec Peterson."
"Pacey Witter, it’s a pleasure to meet you." Pacey shook the man’s hand firmly, with his best charming smile.
"Do you know everyone else here?" Peterson continued, motioning to the small group surrounding them. "This is Richard Franklin of Westfield Enterprises, Hayley Price and her husband Aden…"
Pacey shook hands with all of them while Joey stood half a step behind him, as if shielding herself from them.
"Joey’s already told me so much about you all I feel like we already know each other," Pacey smiled convincingly.
"It’s nice to see you finally in Chicago, Pacey," Hayley replied, unable to resist having a slight dig at her friend. Joey deserved some punishment for lying to her. "We were beginning to think you didn’t exist and Jo had made the whole thing up!"
Pacey laughed smoothly along with the others, unfazed by the less than subtle comment. Luckily everyone else was oblivious to Joey’s further mortification.
"I know, I’ve been sadly neglecting my poor fiancée. But just knowing she has such good friends here taking care of her makes me rest easier at night." Pacey patted Joey’s hand that was still linked around his arm, carefully drawing her closer to the group. When she was by his side properly he slipped his arm around her waist possessively, kissing her cheek lovingly for effect. Joey felt the whole thing looked completely staged, but no one seemed to notice. Hayley just smiled knowingly over her glass as she sipped her champagne and Joey began to relax slightly.
"I don’t know how many times I’ve tried to convince him to come to Chicago to visit, but unfortunately Pacey is just as much of a work horse as I am," Joey said through a smile. She took a deep swallow from her glass and tossed her head casually to the side, her demeanor belying her nervousness.
"Well, we wouldn’t be here tonight if you weren’t," added Peterson, giving Franklin a friendly nudge in the ribs. "I’m sure our new friends at Westfield Enterprises appreciate all your hard work, Ms Junior Partner."
Hayley rolled her eyes imperceptibly at Joey, noting that their executive partner was already well on his way to topping his efforts of the last company party.
"You must be very proud of her, Pacey," Rich Franklin said. "She worked like a dynamo on our proposal."
"Well, that’s my Joey-bear." Pacey glanced at her out of the corner of his eye, knowing that would annoy her. But surprisingly she hadn’t noticed the endearment, or at least it hadn’t bothered her. She was too relieved to see that Pacey was fitting in well with her colleagues, and no one had suspected the fraud yet.
"What line of work did you say you were in?"
"I teach English at a junior highschool in Boston."
"English, eh? That must be interesting," chimed in Peterson, never one to be left out of a conversation for long. "How did you decide to teach that?"
"Well, when I was fifteen I had an illicit affair with my English teacher, so I guess you could say I was inspired at a very early age."
Joey almost choked on the mouthful of champagne she had been swallowing. Pacey had replied in a deadpan voice, and now he calmly waited for their reaction. Hayley looked astonished, the others just stunned. Joey wished the earth would open up and swallow her whole, anything to escape the awkward silence that had fallen. Everything was ruined, Peterson would realize the truth and she would be fired and forced to return to Capeside to work in The Icehouse for the rest of her life… But then Joey heard a sound and she looked up anxiously. It was a chuckle. Peterson was chuckling. Soon he was roaring with laughter and the others were joining in. They all laughed at Pacey’s good joke, causing him to laugh too. Even Joey managed a slight giggle as Peterson wiped his eyes and clapped Pacey on the shoulder.
"An affair with your English teacher, that’s priceless… It’s about time Jo let us get to know you, Pacey. We’ll have to convince her to keep you here much longer than a weekend."
"I wish you would," Pacey answered Peterson, but his eyes were on Joey. She smiled at him gratefully — thankful he had ingratiated himself with her boss so well. And even if he only said that as part of the act, she was suddenly glad he had. The idea of Pacey staying in Chicago longer than a weekend held great appeal for her.
Joey smiled and leant up to kiss his cheek, catching the corner of his mouth. They stared at each other momentarily, causing the others to think how happy they looked together. It also caused Hayley Price to wonder what Joey had been keeping from her. This wasn’t the casual boyfriend from college she had described. Hayley could see there was a lot more to their relationship than that.
* * *
It was another couple of hours before Hayley managed to speak to Joey alone. Peterson had insisted on personally introducing Pacey to just about everyone in the room, treating him like his new best friend. Even Joey had grown tired of the seemingly endless rounds of meeting and greeting people they did not know, but Pacey was indefatigable. He charmed them all with his winsome smile and witty conversation. Joey had finally extricated herself from his side when a few of the senior partners had drawn Pacey into a serious discussion about the NBA. She snatched up another glass of champagne from a passing waiter and drank it quickly, so great was her relief that the evening was working out as planned.
"Well, someone is certainly the belle of the ball, isn’t he?" Hayley murmured quietly as she sidled up next to her friend.
Joey remained looking out over the crowded room, a smile plastered on her face. "I’d forgotten what a good actor he is. We used to star in our best friend’s movies as teenagers, but this surpasses anything we did for Dawson."
"Are you sure it’s all acting?" Hayley asked casually so as not to get Joey’s defenses up.
"What do you mean?"
"Come on, Jo, I see the looks you’ve been giving him. You can’t tell me he hasn’t charmed the socks off you too. Any number of women and a few of the men here would be more than happy to leave their shoes under Pacey’s bed tonight."
"That may be, but I’m not one of them. Pacey and I finished things six months ago," Joey replied, though deep down she was beginning to doubt those words. She was definitely feeling something she hadn’t anticipated, but she wasn’t sure if it was because of Pacey or the alcohol she had consumed. Either way, she found herself regarding him differently as she watched him across the room. He was laughing along with Peterson and a few of the others, fitting in like he had known them all for years.
"Care to remind me why?"
"Huh?" Joey hadn’t been listening to Hayley, far too absorbed in her own thoughts.
"Why did you break up with him? For the life of me I can’t figure out why."
Joey just smiled. The truth was she couldn’t have explained it at that moment even if she had wanted to. Hayley noted her silence and wondered to herself what her friend had gotten herself into bringing Pacey all the way to Chicago. But she didn’t have a chance to question Joey further, because Pacey appeared by her side.
"I’ve finally escaped," he whispered quickly. "Hurry up and dance with me before Alec finds someone else to introduce me to."
Hayley laughed as he swept Joey up in his arms and led her onto the dance floor. Joey hastily thrust her glass at her and grinned mischievously at her friend over Pacey shoulder. Then they were swallowed up by the crowd on the dance floor.
Joey rested her head against Pacey’s shoulder, feeling entirely at home in his strong arms. The champagne had warmed her considerably and she snuggled contentedly against him, glad when he tightened his grip around her waist.
"So, how do you think it’s going?" he murmured in her ear. She was exhilarated by the feel of his warm breath against her sensitive flesh, so she took her time answering.
"I think you’ve missed your calling," she said lazily, her still shut as she relaxed in his arms.
Pacey grinned and whirled her quickly around, causing Joey’s head to spin from the effects of the champagne. They danced on in silence for a while.
"They’re not so bad, your colleagues. They all think highly of you."
"Are you listening to me?"
Pacey smiled slightly and brought the hand that was holding hers in to rest against his chest. Joey was being lulled into a sweet oblivion by the gentle swaying movement of their dancing and the soft music. Pacey slowed their steps down further so they were barely moving, enjoying the feel of her in his arms. It had been a long time since he had held her like that, and he recognized now how much he had missed it — how much he had been missing her. The past was supposed to remain there, dead and buried, but Pacey just wanted to revel in it for a while longer. Tomorrow would come soon enough.
* * *
Joey’s intent at the beginning of the evening was to make a brief appearance at the party before slipping away unnoticed. In the end, they were amongst the last to leave in the wee hours of the morning. As Pacey and Hayley’s husband helped bundle Alec Peterson into a cab, the less than sober executive partner gave Pacey’s shoulder a squeeze.
"You have to move to Chicago permanently, young Pacey," he said, repeating the same words he had uttered many times during the evening. "I’m going to ring some people I know and see if we can’t arrange something… It isn’t right, two young people so in love being separated like that…"
Pacey just nodded indulgently, knowing the older man was just tired and emotional due to the considerable amount of alcohol he had consumed during the party.
"All right, Alec, watch your head now." Pacey made sure he was in safely and the cab driver knew where to take him. Then he shut the door and waved the taxi off.
Joey and Hayley were chatting quietly a few steps away, but now they wound up their hushed conversation as Aden hailed another cab.
"Well, it was a pleasure meeting you, Pacey," Hayley said knowingly. She looked back at Joey whose cheeks were reddening by the second. "I hope this won’t be the last time we see you out here."
Pacey was not sure how to answer, knowing that Hayley was the one person who knew the truth about him. She just smiled and kissed his cheek, and Pacey shook Aden’s hand. After they had driven off too, he was left alone with Joey outside the now darkened restaurant.
"Guess the next cab has to be ours," he commented inanely, alone with her without an audience for the first time since they’d left the apartment.
Pacey suddenly felt nervous — unwilling to give up the charade just yet, but knowing it could not continue. Joey shivered slightly in response, and he wondered if she was feeling the same way.
"A bit," she lied. Joey actually felt surprisingly warm, but she did not protest when Pacey put his arms around her, rubbing her arms gently.
"Better?" he asked quietly. His breath came out like mist in the cool morning air.
"Much better," murmured Joey, tucked securely under his chin. She closed her eyes and hung onto him. She felt his lips press against her forehead and she smiled slightly to herself.
Pacey’s eyes were wide open as he contemplated what was
happening… what would happen if he didn’t do something about it.
He wasn’t sure if he had the strength to stop it if it did… So it was
with a measure of relief that he saw another taxi pull up to the rank.
He gently withdrew his arms from around her and opened the cab door for
her to get in. With a small sigh, Pacey knew it had been the last time
he would hold her like that. He couldn’t allow it to happen again.
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