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"Look at these people," Pacey commented, standing up from the chair on which he had been sitting for the past hour, with his feet propped up on the counter, watching some B-grade horror movie. "Is it really that hot out there?"
Joey, who had been leaning against the front counter, browsing through a magazine, looked up to see what he meant. Their shift had begun at ten this morning and as usual, business was slow until about half-an-hour ago when the heat had become somewhat unbearable and tourists were filing into the place, to escape from the weather and to enjoy a few minutes of blissful air conditioning.
"Oh, my Goddess," he continued as he spotted an attractive and well-endowed brunette, who looked to be about ten years their senior, in the crowd.
Joey narrowed her eyes. "Remember, your bizarre mother complex never got us anywhere good."
"Hey, I was merely pointing out a beautiful woman," he responded. "I wasn't going to jump her or anything. There's no need to get testy."
Joey raised her brow at his words and looked him up from head to toe. "Me, testy?" she scoffed. "You're one to talk, lover-boy," she added, with a deadpan expression.
Pacey stared at her and kept a straight face for as long as he could. "Joey Potter, are you coming on to me?"
She rolled her eyes heavenward. "You wish."
"You know you are." He grinned. "Who can blame you?"
Before she could think up a suitable retort, they were interrupted by a young but forceful voice.
They took a timeout from arguing and turned toward the voice and saw a girl of about twelve years, with cute dimples and long, auburn hair pulled back neatly in a ponytail, with not a single strand out of place. She pushed her designer frames back up the bridge of her nose distractedly while gazing at Pacey.
"May we help you?" Joey queried.
Ignoring her, the little girl started smiling, showing off the little dents in her cheeks. "I'm Jessica. What's your name?"
Pacey pointed to himself. She nodded.
"I'm Pacey. What can I do for you?"
"I think I like you," she replied. "You're cute."
Joey snorted loudly. Pacey glared at her not-too-kindly.
"Ignore her." He waved Joey aside and offered a handshake. "Well, hi Jessica, I'm glad to meet you."
She smiled even wider until Joey cleared her throat loudly. Her face fell a little as she seemed annoyed and a tad disappointed. "Is she your girlfriend?" she asked Pacey.
That resulted in a burst of spontaneous fake laughter and the duo shouted in unison, "No way!" That brought about a few turned heads in their direction.
Like a makeover ad, the after-frown on Jessica's face disappeared and was replaced by her before-smile. She was about to bombard Pacey with more personal questions when she heard her mother calling.
"Jessica, we have to go."
She sighed loudly, her mouth forming a pout. "That's my mother." She took step by step backwards reluctantly. "She's going to scream her head off in about ten seconds if I don't leave. I don't exactly appreciate a scene."
Pacey nodded in understanding and flashed his most charming grin. Joey just stared at him.
Jessica ran the rest of the way out of the store shyly.
"That was a stupid thing to do," Joey said.
Pacey snickered. "Oh, lighten up! She's what, twelve years old? What harm could there be?"
"Haven't you heard? Twelve-year-olds with six-figure trust funds are lethal these days."
"You know, Miss Cynic, it wasn't too long ago when we were still kids," he started, "sans the rich part, of course." Crossing his arms, he interrogated, "Haven't you ever had a crush on someone older than yourself and fantasized they would return that affection, in some small way?"
"I just think that it's not always best to offer illusions even if they do make you feel better about yourself because eventually, people get hurt."
"Joey, she may be loaded with cash but she's still only a child. Andie's taught me things aren't always what they seem." He shook his head. "How can I ever change your view of the world?"
"Simple," she shrugged. "You can't."
"Uh oh," she muttered under her breath, not in the least surprised as she spotted the bobbing of a head of auburn hair from the store window.
"Pacey!" she called out. "There's someone here to see you."
He walked out to the front. "What?"
Grabbing the tapes out of his hands, she indicated she was going to take over his duty in the back. "You have company," she gestured toward the entrance with her head and walked off quickly, leaving him to deal with the approaching customer.
Sure enough, Jessica was back.
"Hi, Pacey," she greeted, barely containing her excitement. A boy, around Pacey's age followed soon after, complaining audibly.
"You dragged me out of bed to drive you to a video store? Just what is so attractive about this place?"
"Oh quit whining, Matthew!" Jessica blushed, slightly embarrassed by his words. "Pacey, meet my incorrigible brother, Matt. Matt, this is Pacey."
"Ah, incorrigible. We belong to the same family then," Pacey joked.
Matt stared at him with disdain. Dismissing the latter, he viewed his surroundings as though they weren't worthy of his privileged background.
Oh great, a guy who thinks he's too good for common people like us, he thought and immediately concluded that he didn't like Matthew immensely.
"What can I do for you today, Jessica?" he asked, pointedly ignoring her brother.
"We can't stay long but I was hoping I could buy you a soda when you got off work and we could talk."
Pacey was caught off-guard by her directness. He foresaw trouble as clearly as he now knew Joey had been right all along. With much difficulty, he tried to think of how to soften the blow of his rejection. The solution hit him: he had to lie.
"Jessica, I would love to but I can't. Company policy doesn't permit us to socialize with customers outside of work. I'm real sorry."
"But I can't be considered a customer. I haven't rented anything," she reasoned.
Pacey couldn't argue with that. Think, man. And fast.
"Erm, well, you see "
He would never attribute the virtue of perfect timing upon Joey but there she was, intervening at the right moment. He had never been more grateful to her.
"Pacey, where did you put the second stack of tapes that came in yesterday?" she asked, studying a clipboard in her hand.
Matt who had wandered off to the section of new releases nearer to the exit out of boredom, looked up when he heard a new voice. He was bowled over by what he saw.
"I am beginning to see the attraction of this place."
"Huh?" Joey frowned as she heard no answer to her question but instead a strange voice. "What?" she added, losing her train of thought.
A boy who bore an uncanny resemblance to last season's quarterback on the Capeside High football team, Cliff Elliot, practically launched forward to greet her. She moved one step back instinctively.
"Hey there, my name's Matt. And you are ?"
"Not interested," she answered, without so much as a reaction.
Pacey almost sniggered when she said it but he controlled the urge to, while noticing the directness that ran in the family. Well, like sister, like brother.
Matt seemed hardly put off by Joey's hostility. In fact, he appeared to be even more determined and insistent.
"Joey Potter," he read off her name tag. "You're far too pretty to be working behind a counter all day. How about joining my cousins and I for some fun tonight? We're throwing a party by the beach and we'd love it if you came."
Obnoxious jerk, Pacey thought.
Not in the least impressed by his flattery, she didn't even try to force an outward appearance of sunny disposition.
"Thanks for asking but I'm otherwise occupied tonight."
"How about you, Pacey?" Jessica interrupted. "You could come, couldn't you?"
"Well," he stalled, looking to Joey for salvation. She just gave him a look that said 'I told you so'. He decided he would tell Jessica about Andie and was about to when he was interrupted.
"Come on, Joey, it's not like you have a boyfriend to hold you back," Matt allowed his voice to drift off as he observed Joey's reaction. Without thinking, her face changed and he knew he had hit the nail right on the head.
"So, you've just broken off with someone," he said, pleased with the idea that she was single.
Pacey was gradually getting pissed off with his attitude. "Hey, that's enough! She doesn't want to go and that's that."
"Pacey," Matt practically spat out his name. "I'm sure Joey can speak for herself."
Regaining her composure, she was now infuriated. "Well then, she said, "you might try being a little more polite-," she took a deep breath and realized that there was a way to get rid of both their problems but only if Pacey played along.
"-to my boyfriend," she finished.
Pacey thought he had heard wrong and turned around, thinking there was someone else behind him. Under different circumstances, Joey would have laughed out loud at his confusion but this could be saved for later. Right now, they had a part to play.
"Boyfriend? What boyfriend?" Matt asked.
Jessica caught on a little faster than the rest of them. She stamped her foot and glared at Pacey accusingly. "You told me she wasn't your girlfriend!"
Pacey didn't know how to defend himself. He remained speechless and confused.
"Technically, she said to Jessica, "it was true. Until last night, that is."
"What happened last night?" Matt demanded to know.
"We had an argument at the beginning of summer and decided to remain friends. But yesterday, I realized just how much I still -," she paused, trying to swallow past the lump in her throat and the distaste in her mouth, "- loved him. And he felt the same way, so we made up." She grabbed his hand. "Right sweetie?"
By this time, Pacey had caught on and was intrigued by the way Joey's mind worked. He reached out his free hand to tuck her hair behind her ear and made the motion of kissing her near the ear but in reality, he was whispering.
"That's not the only thing we made up."
Joey squeezed his hand and stepped on his foot simultaneously. Pacey resisted the urge to scream in pain and push her away. Instead, he grimaced and turned it into a forced smile.
"Right, sweetie," he agreed. She lifted her foot off his and he breathed a sigh of relief.
"We're always fighting," Joey continued. "But it helps to keep the love alive."
"Oh, I'm sure it does," Pacey muttered.
Joey gritted her teeth. "What did you say, baby?"
"I said what I feel is true love."
"Oh, I'm sure it is," Matt mocked. He leaned toward Joey again and flashed his pearly whites. "If you ever get bored, just ask for the Bradleys. We'll be around for awhile." Turning to his sister, whose face had turned the color of beetroot, he beckoned her to follow him. "Come on, Jessica. Let's go." She needed no persuading as she stormed out.
Pacey brought his hand up in a careless wave. "Good-bye," he called out awkwardly. When they were out of earshot, he began to chant. "Liar, liar, pants on fire."
Joey took a deep breath and bestowed a glare upon him.
He wasn't intimidated. "Now what, sweet pea?" he asked.
To be continued
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