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Seven: Choices of the heart
"You look like hell," Hayley commented as she entered Joey’s new office and closed the door.
Joey sat at her drafting table, her head held up by one arm. The sleepless nights were showing on her face as she scratched absently at some blueprints. Her normally spotless work area was littered with unfinished plans and crumpled worksheets. Joey’s hair was tied up haphazardly in a bun, but it still looked like she had just crawled out of bed. Her rumpled clothes did nothing to promote the image of the newest junior partner to the firm. She was a mess.
"You always know just what to say to cheer me up, Hayley," Joey replied sarcastically.
"Jo, it’s been days, what’s going on with you?"
"I just broke up with my fiancé, remember? I’m supposed to be depressed."
"That’s all well and good when Peterson and the others are around, but it’s just you and me now. I know this funk of yours isn’t some act for the benefit of the people in this office."
Joey set her pencil down and sighed. Following her original plan, she’d announced to Peterson after Pacey left for Boston that they had decided to call off the engagement. Not able to bring herself to make him out as the bad guy, she had told everyone that the decision was mutual, that their long distance relationship was just too difficult to maintain. Joey had endured the incredulous reactions of her boss and co-workers, and accepted their kind-hearted attempts to buoy her spirits. But she was still depressed, and could not hide it from anyone. Joey thought it ironic that for the first time she was not acting. She could not remember a time in her life when she felt so down.
"I did lose him lose though, Hayley, that’s the whole point," Joey explained tiredly. "I completely wrecked any chance I may have had with Pacey, and it was all my own fault."
"Did you honestly expect things to work out differently? You were both acting at the party."
"No, we weren’t. At least, I know I wasn’t. I had no idea he could still make me feel like this. But I ruined everything a long time ago. I took him for granted for so long that I don’t deserve him now."
"Jo, I don’t mean to sound like a heartless bitch, but you really have to snap out of this," Hayley frowned, walking towards her. "Maybe you are in love with him, or maybe you’re just feeling sorry for yourself because you can’t have him… but if you don’t get over it soon you’ll be sacrificing a very promising career."
Joey looked up sharply, her eyes wide from her friend’s betraying words.
"You know it’s true, Jo. Just take a long look at yourself. Your look terrible, you come in late, you haven’t kept your work up. We are currently in the process of putting together a multi-million dollar project, and all you can do is sit in here and stare out the window, pining for a man who doesn’t love you. It’s time to grow and face your responsibilities."
Hayley ignored the tears that were welling in Joey’s eyes, and reassured herself that the best thing to do was be completely honest with her. Everyone else in the office, including Peterson, was indulging her in this behaviour, and Hayley had had enough. There was too much riding on this project to sacrifice it over Joey’s unrequited love.
"The final drafts of the mall entrance are due at the end of the week. If you don’t meet the deadline, Jo, I have to consider replacing you on this project," Hayley finished. For the first time she was speaking not as Joey’s friend but as a senior partner.
"I instigated this project," Joey said defensively. "This is my project."
"Then act like it. Tidy yourself up and get back to work." Hayley hardened her stare before she stalked out of the room, leaving a forlorn Joey at her desk.
She had never been spoken to like that, and was not yet ready to acknowledge that Hayley was doing it for her own good. Joey just felt abandoned by the one real friend she had made in Chicago, and she felt more alone than ever. She was used to being on her own, yet she realized when Pacey had come to stay just how much she missed his company. He knew her so well — all her secrets and all her stories, and she knew all of his. She missed having someone to share that with, be it a friend or a lover. In Pacey she had had both, and lost both as well.
* * *
Hayley’s threat had been real, and Joey did not take her words lightly. She spent the rest of the week working around the clock in order to get her work finished. Joey actually found solace in the work, and was able to forget her many woes as she concentrated only on her blueprints. Alec Peterson applauded her diligence, but secretly worried about her. Despite Joey’s renewed energy in her work, he could tell she was still suffering over her loss. Normally he would have been satisfied that her productivity was back to its usual high level, but for once Peterson realized perhaps it wasn’t enough after all.
* * *
"Okay, everyone, thank you for all your hard work so far, but this is just the beginning," Hayley said as she concluded her weekly meeting with the Westfield project design team.
She’d assigned new tasks and deadlines to ensure the project would be completed on time and within budget, and so far everything was going to plan. Everyone on the team was pulling their weight, even Joey. She glanced at her friend in the corner of the room and noticed that although there were still dark shadows under her eyes and she was more withdrawn than usual, Joey was getting back on track. She spent nearly all of her time at work and never mentioned Pacey to anyone. People in the office had soon picked up on her silence, and had stopped trying to console her. Hayley was relieved that even Peterson had seemed to drop the subject.
"Well, that’s it. Let’s get back to work." Hayley smiled encouragingly as the team filed out of the room. "Jo, have you got a minute?"
Joey stopped by the door and waited as everyone else left. She eyed Hayley a little suspiciously, still remembering her harsh words. She’d barely spoken to her since, and then it was only ever about work.
"I just wanted to say that the new foyer designs are great. The Westfield execs are really pleased," said Hayley in a friendly voice. She had been trying to restore her camaraderie with her friend ever since she’d confronted Joey in her office. Hayley hoped she had forgiven her by now.
"Thanks," Joey replied as sincerely as she could, but the word still came out flat.
"How are you doing?"
Hayley felt the setback, but did not give up. "Aden and I were hoping you could come to dinner on the weekend. The kids want to see you too."
"I don’t know, Hayley, I’ve got a lot of work to do…" Joey trailed off, tired of being angry at her. It just took more energy than she had at the moment.
"Jo, I’m sorry about speaking to you the way I did. I never meant to offend you… Believe it or not, I did it because I was worried about you. I was doing it for your own good."
Joey knew Hayley was telling the truth, and even though her methods were questionable, her intentions were honorable. It was time to forgive her, and have her friendship back. Joey knew she needed every friend she had at the moment.
"Let’s not talk about it anymore, it’s forgotten," Joey said, smiling faintly. Hayley sighed with relief and nodded.
Both women walked out of the conference room back towards their offices.
"Feeling any better?" Hayley ventured.
"A little better… sometimes."
"Have you spoken to him?"
Joey paused for a moment, feeling the familiar wave of sadness hit her whenever she thought about Pacey. "I’ve nearly called him a few times… but I get as far as picking up the phone and chicken out. I guess I’m afraid she will answer, and then I wouldn’t know what to say. Hell, I wouldn’t know what to say if Pacey answered either."
"Maybe in time…"
"Maybe." Joey said the word even though she didn’t believe it. Something told her she would never see Pacey again. Too much had happened between them to ever hope for an amicable reunion. Joey was too much of a realist to believe otherwise. For this reason, she was especially shocked when she and Hayley rounded the corner to her office and they saw Peterson shaking someone’s hand. Joey stopped dead in her tracks when she saw that someone was Pacey.
Hayley was just as surprised to see him, and glanced protectively at Joey to gauge her reaction. She was frozen to the spot, bewilderment written all over her face as Peterson clapped Pacey on the shoulder and looked around to see them.
"Jo, here you are! We’ve been waiting for you," Peterson said cheerily, totally oblivious to the stunned look on her face or Pacey’s growing unease. He put his arm around Pacey’s shoulder as the two of them stared at each other, neither able to say anything at first.
"Now, don’t be mad at me, Jo. I know you probably think I shouldn’t have interfered, but I couldn’t stand to see two young people separated because of simple geography. A friend of mine who runs the Chicago Academy for the Arts is always on the lookout for good staff, and when I told her about Pacey here… well, she called him for an interview straight away. And not surprisingly, she’s snapped him up."
Peterson was obviously pleased with himself, and did not catch the uncomprehending look that flooded Joey’s face. She looked from one man to the other, unable to take in what her boss was saying. It was not quite the reaction that Peterson had been expecting, and he couldn’t understand why neither Joey or Pacey seemed overly excited by the prospect of seeing each other again. He frowned slightly to himself.
"Don’t you see? This means Pacey will be moving to Chicago, so there’s no reason why your engagement can’t be back on."
Joey was startled back to life but the statement, and finally regained use of her legs. She turned quickly and fled into her office, slamming the door behind her. Peterson looked after her, puzzled.
"Well, I don’t understand this at all. I thought you kids wanted to be back together."
"I think I need to talk to Joey alone, Alec," Pacey finally managed to say. He hadn't anticipated feeling the way he had when he saw her again. Pacey had spent the last two weeks trying to convince himself he was totally over her, but he knew now it was a lie. He would never be totally over Joey Potter.
* * *
Pacey left Peterson and Hayley standing there and made his way to her office. Pausing before her door, he steeled himself before he brought his hand up to knock softly on the pale wood. He wasn’t really expecting a response, so he opened the door slowly and stepped inside.
Joey was standing with her back to him, staring blankly out of the high-rise window at the other inner city buildings. He could see her reflection in the pane and waited until she lifted her eyes to his. They stood there in silence for a moment, gazing at each other via the reflective glass.
"How are you doing, Joey?" Pacey asked. Small talk seemed the best option at that moment.
"I was doing fine until a couple of minutes ago." Joey turned around to face him properly, her dark eyes saddened and a little afraid. "What are you doing here, Pacey?"
He opened his mouth to say something light-hearted — anything to avoid her painful gaze. But there was no use trying to play down the consequences of their actions.
"Alec rang me a few days ago and told me about the Arts Academy. They’re after a new English teacher and wanted to interview me," he explained. "I flew in to meet the principal this morning and she offered me the job. It’s an excellent school, Joey, one of the best in Chicago… I’m not the only one with career aspirations, I guess."
"But you know why Peterson arranged this, don’t you? He thinks we only broke up because of the distance that separated us… We both know it was a lot more than that."
Pacey smiled bitterly to himself, shaking his head. "So let me get this straight, I’m supposed to turn down the greatest job opportunity I’ve had just because you made up some story about us being engaged? Just when I think you aren’t the most selfish person I’ve ever met, you go and say something that reminds me that you are."
"What am I supposed to tell Peterson now?" Joey snapped angrily. "He’s expecting the engagement to be back on. How am I going to explain that not only are we not back together, but you already have a new girlfriend on your arm two weeks later?"
"Quite frankly I don’t care what you tell him. I’m sure you’ll be able to come up with some plausible story. You are the master liar around here after all." Pacey breathed out loudly, trying to calm himself down. He hadn't meant to argue with her. It was the last thing on his mind, and yet somehow he and Joey always ended up at odds. He still didn’t know why that was.
Joey crossed her arms defensively over her chest, burned by his allegations. The worst thing was that Pacey was right. She was being selfish, expecting him to turn down a job offer that would boost his career significantly, just because she was living in the same city. But Joey had no idea what she would say to her boss when their engagement was not magically restored. She couldn’t even begin to formulate a plan to explain away Pacey’s girlfriend, who would no doubt be moving to Chicago with him.
"You don’t have to worry about Lucy," Pacey said quietly, as if reading her thoughts.
Joey glanced at him immediately, holding her breath unconsciously. "What do you mean?"
"I mean that she won’t be leaving Boston… at least not to come here with me."
"What happened?" Joey breathed, though she dared not hope what his response would be.
Pacey sat on the edge of a chair on the far side of her desk, contemplating the floor as he answered her. "She knew my coming to Chicago that weekend was more than just a favor for an old friend. I’d made the mistake of telling her all about us when we first met, and Lucy guessed that I said yes to you for more reasons than I admitted… She didn’t say anything at the time, or even hint that she knew all along. But when I came back she asked me straight out if I had any doubts about our relationship — if there was any reason why she should doubt my commitment to her… I didn’t even have to answer her, she already knew just by looking me."
A painful lump rose in Joey’s throat as Pacey raised his eyes to meet hers.
"I wasn’t being to fair to Lucy. She doesn’t deserve to be with someone who’s in love with another woman." Pacey broke Joey’s gaze, wondering how he could allow himself to admit such things to her. He had tried to keep his feelings hidden for so long but now he was too tired to continue to do so. "Lucy was great about it, you know. She could have screamed and thrown things and made my life a misery, but she just packed her things and said she hoped I’d be happy. She left before Alec even called me about the job here."
"I'm sorry," Joey murmured.
"Are you?" Pacey bit back in an accusatory tone. But as soon as his anger flared, it drained away again. He stared unseeing at his feet once more.
She walked around her desk slowly until she stood before him. Pacey was still sitting on the arm of the chair, so when he finally looked up at her their eyes were level. They stared at one another for a long moment, reading the emotions that burned in each other’s eyes.
"Go ahead and accuse me of being selfish again, Pacey, but what does this all mean for us?" Joey asked quietly when she could trust her voice.
"I don’t know," replied Pacey just as softly. "I don’t know if I can put myself through this again, Joey. I don’t know if I can be with someone again who’ll never love me as much as I love them. It’s too hard… and it hurts too much."
"What if they realize now how much you really mean to them… how much you always have?"
"Yes, I do," Joey said, her eyes filling with tears. She smiled slightly, and was relieved to see Pacey smile back.
"It’s nice to hear them finally say it," he whispered, and then cleared his throat so his words came out stronger. "But I still need some time. I think we both do."
Joey nodded sadly, admitting the wisdom in his words but nevertheless feeling disappointed.
"I still have to see out the rest of the term in Boston before I start at the Academy in the Spring. Maybe those couple of months will do us good. I need to think things through, Joey, and even then I’m not ready to be somebody’s fiancé."
She accepted his words and did not argue. Joey knew things wouldn’t be as simple as she’d like them to be, but there was hope, and that was more important to her than anything else.
"Any objections to starting from scratch when you are ready?" she asked hopefully.
Pacey grinned at her. "You mean like a proper first date?"
"We never did have one of those, did we?" Joey said ruefully.
"No, I guess not." The smile faded slowly on Pacey’s lips. "One of the many mistakes we made, I guess."
"Do you think we can learn from them?"
"I know I have," Joey replied assuredly.
"Me too." Pacey stood up, stepping closer to her. "Maybe if we take things slowly…"
"Slowly’s good." Joey’s voice was hushed as Pacey’s face was only a foot from her own. She was mesmerized by his pale eyes, unable to keep her imagination in check. It didn’t help when he reached up to touch her cheek softly, running his thumb across her warm skin.
"Slowly," he repeated, as he bent to kiss her tenderly. The embrace only lasted a few seconds, but it sealed the unspoken promise between them.
"I have to go," Pacey said quietly, his forehead resting gently on hers. Neither of them had opened their eyes yet. "My plane leaves soon."
Joey nodded slightly but instead of stepping back, she wrapped her arms around his waist and hugged him gently. She just wanted to feel his strong arms around her once more before he left. She smiled to herself when he hugged her back tightly.
"I’ll see you in a couple of months," she said once they had separated.
"Yeah," Pacey smiled. "Just don’t go getting engaged in the meantime."
"Promise," she smiled back.
He walked slowly to the door, stopping before he opened it.
He turned around once more. Joey didn’t rush into his arms again or plead with him not to go so soon. Instead she gave him the thing he had wanted most from her the entire time they’d known each other.
"I love you," Joey said without fanfare or dramatic build up. She said the words honestly and without expecting to hear them back. She just wanted him to know.
Pacey smiled at her slightly. "I think I could get used to hearing that."
He said nothing more and slipped out the door, closing it gently behind him. Joey sighed contentedly, and put aside thoughts of everyone in the office waiting to hear what had happened. She knew Peterson and Hayley would be in to interrogate her at any moment, but for now she just sat down at her desk and looked calmly over the blueprints she had laid out. Joey smiled to herself, her mind already thinking two months ahead when she and Pacey could try, for the first time, to make each other happy. Joey couldn’t wait.
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