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Jen sat in her living room, munching on an apple, while Jack pushed the tape into the player and turned on the television set.
He settled himself beside her on the couch and with remote in his hand, lifted and pointed, thumb poised on the Play button.
The tape began rolling.
They started badgering each other as they watched themselves on TV, running about the park like mad men, chasing after a football.
"You cheated," Jack pointed out, hand in the air.
"So did you!" she said, slapping him on the wrist. "Shush, I want to watch."
They continued to do so in silence, smiles on their faces.
As the tape played on, Jen became more engrossed and the half-eaten apple lay forgotten in her hand. Her smile slowly disappeared from her face and was replaced by astonishment. Why didn't I see it before, she asked herself. Looking cautiously at Jack, she wondered if he had noticed.
Clearing her throat, she got his attention. "Jack, do you see anything different, maybe even weird?"
He looked at her as if she was strangely paranoid. "No, do you?"
At least, he can't tell. "Nah, it's nothing," she explained and returned to eating her apple. I can't believe it, she thought, eyes on the screen. But I'm seeing it for myself.
She turned around when she heard a voice calling her name.
"Chris," she said to the figure who had jogged up to her side. "It's been awhile."
"Yes, it has," he agreed. They started walking and Chris didn't offer to begin a conversation so Jen decided not to say anything as well.
Finally, he broke the quiet. "I'm sorry about Abby."
She stopped in her step suddenly and blinked several times at the ground before meeting his eyes. "I'm sorry too."
He nodded and she bobbed her head awkwardly.
"I kinda miss her antics," he confessed. "I was constantly wondering what she was up to. Remember the time she "
Jen listened as he re-enacted a scene and laughed as he finished off his act with a wild gesture. "There'll never be another Abby," she said.
"No, there won't be." His laughter faded and came to a complete halt. "Look, I'll be honest with you. There was something I wanted to talk to you about."
She motioned that they should sit down.
"I'll get straight to the point. I don't know your friends very well, but I've been hearing this rumor that could be termed a little disturbing."
"Jason Euston's cousin, Matthew Bradley, is in town and he's been telling everyone that Pacey Witter and Joey Potter have some sort of a thing going."
"Pacey and Joey?" She shook her head. "There must be a mistake," she said but inside, she was very much inclined to believe that it was indeed, possible.
"That's what I thought at first and then I bumped into Jason and his cousin and I heard it from the horse's mouth." He took a breath of air before continuing. "Matthew Bradley has vowed to steal Joey Potter from her loser of a boyfriend, his words not mine, and close the deal, so to speak, before the end of next week."
"Should I even ask?"
"That's when he leaves," he explained.
Jen took a moment to ponder over his words. When that had sunk in, she questioned no one in particular. "Are you all like that?"
Chris didn't bother to ask what she had meant. "It wasn't that way with us. You knew what was coming," he answered, referring to the night they were supposed to have been studying for Mr. Peterson's test at his house, and probably many incidents that occurred thereafter as well.
"Yeah, I did, didn't I?" she mumbled. Retreating into her thoughts, she absently ran a hand through her hair.
"I'm not trying to be a Samaritan but Bradley is bad news. I just thought I'd let you know."
She brought her hands to the level of her mouth and bit the nail on her left thumb. It was an annoying trait she sometimes had. "Believe me, if anyone's strong-willed, it's Joey. She's not going to fall for his charm."
"That's not what I'm afraid of."
"What are you saying, Chris?"
The look on his face told him all she needed to know.
She was caught off-guard. "Rape?" she finally managed to whisper.
"Allegedly. I can't be sure," he replied, truthfully. "But just tell her to be careful."
She nodded. "I will talk to her."
Chris picked up his knapsack and stood up, indicating he was going to leave. He hesitated a second before leaning down to kiss her on the cheek. He surprised Jen and even himself. Smiling, he told her, "Take care, Jen Lindley."
He hadn't walked very far before she called him back. "Will I see you in the fall?"
He looked back and she could see a face filled with regret.
"We're moving to San Diego. My grandmother just passed away."
"I'm sorry." She didn't know what else to say.
"So am I." He gave a half-wave, straightened his knapsack and walked on without looking back again.
"Joey, I'll come straight to the point. Are you and Pacey a couple?"
She paused in the middle of her task when Jen walked into the store and cut to the chase as to why she was there.
"Who would bother going around telling people about this?" Joey stopped cleaning the doors altogether and took off her gloves. "No, wait. I retract that question and ask instead-", she said, picking up her cleaning materials. "Why the hell would anyone be interested anyway?"
"I'm not trying to pry, Joey," she told the latter's moving back until it briskly disappeared in between rows of shelves behind the staff area. Joey was going about her chore on her knees at the dirty woodwork located at the bottom. Jen stretched her stomach across the counter top so that she could see the latter. "I'm serious. I met Chris Wolfe and he told me about Matthew Bradley."
"Matthew Bradley, that jackass?" a male voice interrupted. Pacey had just walked in and proceeded to place a plastic cup of coffee on the shelf above Joey's head. "What's this about?"
"You tell me," she said to him. "What's this I hear about you and Joey?"
He took a sip from his cup. "It's spreading, I see."
Joey resisted the urge to kick him in the shin and instead, let out a growl of frustration and disappeared further back into the shelves of videos.
Pacey grinned and turned his attention to Jen. Seeing her grimness, his facial expression changed. "This seems important."
"Joey just made up the story to get rid of Bradley and his sister. It's no big deal."
"Pacey," she started, "Chris thinks that Bradley might have broken some laws back where he came from."
"Rape happened to be one of them," she finished.
Pacey removed the cup from his mouth. "What?"
Joey had dropped the cloth in her hand when she heard Jen's words. There was a further silence as the three of them delved into what should be said next.
"Bradley is bragging to everyone that he'll steal Joey from you by the end of next week. This is no laughing matter."
"I'm not laughing," Pacey replied.
"I am," Joey said, emerging from her cocoon. She threw the cloth aside and hands on her hips, she told them, "This is obviously some rich kid's idea of a joke. He wouldn't dare try anything. All this is just unsubstantiated gossip."
"I'm not so sure," Jen said.
Pacey followed on with uncertainty. "Jen, can you trust what you heard?"
"Come on! How many times have you heard dozens of guys like him say these things to make themselves look macho in front of their friends? I'm telling you, it's nothing!"
Joey's insistence was not catching on.
Pacey stared at her uneasily.
She helplessly threw her hands in the air. "How much can you trust a person like Chris Wolfe?"
"I believed him," Jen confidently told her.
"Yeah, you would."
"Joey, that was completely uncalled for," Pacey chipped in, at the same instant Joey realized she had gone too far.
"I'm sorry, Jen."
The fury on the latter's face relented to a calmer look and this time, she directed her comments to Pacey only. "I was hoping that the rumor about you two was true so you could watch her back. Just be really careful, okay?" She put her hand on his arm and squeezed it slightly before taking her leave.
"Oh, Jen!" Joey called out but the latter had already made her way out or simply pretended not to hear.
"You deserved it," he said without qualm.
"I really didn't mean to, okay?"
Pacey didn't seem to have heard her as he was more pre-occupied with what Jen had just told them. He knew that big talk amongst the rich kids was common but he also knew Jen Lindley wouldn't have come to them if she didn't have viable suspicions.
"Let's concentrate on the present situation. You're not to be out of my sight unless you're at home or some place safe or with somebody you trust."
"Whoa," she protested. "Let's not get ahead of ourselves here. I don't need anyone to protect me. I can take care of myself."
"I've got a strange feeling about this one, so this is what I have to say to you." He held her by the shoulders and looked her straight in the eye. "Shut up for once and just do what I say, all right?"
She pushed his hands aside and winced in exaggerated pain. "Look Superman. Are you sure you are not feeling strange because your underwear's on too tight?"
He let go of her and she stumbled slightly at the sudden lack of pressure.
"I've said it before and I'll say it again. I'll be fine!"
He ignored her, sat himself down and proceeded to open his magazine. "You hear someone screaming her head off in here?" he asked nonchalantly.
She walked around the obstacle of the counter to stand in front of him. "It's time to make good my threat. I'm definitely going to kill you in your sleep one night. I think I'll make it a screwdriver to your temple." Then she left in a huff.
"Joey, come back!" He scrambled off his stool and ran after her. Standing in the doorway of the store, he was torn between leaving it unattended or going after her since he decided on their new policy of her not leaving his sight. He needn't worry as he saw her walking back.
Pushing past him, she muttered something unintelligible as she realized she really had nowhere else to go.
He breathed a huge sigh of relief. He felt more than a little ridiculous as he wondered if perhaps, all this was just a little too dramatic for his taste and he and Jen were really just being paranoid. Then he shook his head rapidly as if to quash what he had been thinking. It's much better to be paranoid than sorry in the end. After all, it's only two weeks. And fortunately enough, the thought of spending time with Joey didn't appear to be a repellent, in spite of how much of a pain in the ass she was.
"The song," he added, pointing toward the speakers from which music was blaring, while he took a quick swipe at his cone before any of it dripped onto his hand. "Catchy tune."
She looked blankly at him and was jarred out of it when she was handed her mocha-flavored single scoop.
"Something's on your mind," he observed. They walked out of the ice-cream parlor and were immediately enveloped into the heat. "Anything I should know about?"
"What is the matter with-" He stopped walking. "Has Bradley been harassing you?"
She let out the breath of air she had been holding. "No," came her reply.
He waited to no avail.
"Spill it," he finally said.
Pacey gave up pressing her for an answer. They soon found themselves by the docks, watching fishermen at work.
She threw away the remains of her melted snack and he followed suit. She moved up to the railing and closed her eyes against what little of the wind was blowing their way.
"Dawson wrote me."
He had come up to stand beside her.
"I got an e-mail from him yesterday. He sent me a second one immediately after, telling me that he had made a huge mistake by writing in the first place and told me not to read it, if I hadn't already." She laughed humorlessly. "I didn't, not until this morning."
Turning to his side, he looked at her worriedly.
She looked right back and spoke before he could get a word in. "He's hurting and he's angry but he wanted to know if we could work things out." Concentrating on an imaginary spot beyond him, she continued, "You feel caught in the middle of all this."
On his part, it was needless to say.
"I wouldn't want you to tear your fingernails out for relief if you hear another word about me and Dawson."
He wrinkled his brows in puzzlement. Slowly, it dawned on him that he had made the comment once. "He mentioned it, huh?"
Despite the solemn atmosphere surrounding their conversation, she couldn't help but smile, although it never quite reached her eyes.
"Talk to me," he insisted. "The truth."
"The facts are the truth." She turned around, her back toward the ocean and the breeze. "The fact is I love him but I can't seem to bring myself to forgive him. The fact is he's angry at me for pushing him away-"
"The two of you can find a way around this."
She went on as though she hadn't heard a word he had said. "The fact is we always seem to end up hurting each other. The fact is we may not be as right for each other as we thought."
Her voice had a tone of resignation and dejection that he had never encountered before in her.
"The fact is," she said looking back at the waters, "being apart may be the best thing that's happened to us in a long time. Helps clear the head." Closing her eyes, she took a deep breath of fresh air and let it out silently.
He understood completely that the time wasn't right for her and Dawson, just like it wasn't for Andie and him. Rationalizing didn't always make things easier though. "But not the heart," he finally said.
At that, she opened her eyes and within seconds, she felt them well up with tears. She refused to let them drop.
Pacey looked the other way, allowing her the privacy she needed to regain her composure.
Both of them remained in this position some time after the noise from the docks had begun to die down and the sun began to embark on its descent for the day.
To be continued
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