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He watched her despondent figure trudge up the stairs to her house, dragging her feet with what little energy she had left.
When she was safely inside, he started to make his way home as the big, round moon seemed to prance along in the sky with him. He wanted to hold her and offer her a shoulder to cry on but he knew she wouldn't have been ready to accept that from him.
He had promised her he wouldn't tell Dawson that she had read his letter. There had to be something else he could do.
"Pacey," his mother's voice rang out as he closed the front door behind him. "Andie called."
"Shit," he muttered, bringing his palm to his forehead. "I forgot about it. What did she say, Mom?"
The latter walked out from the kitchen, wiping her hands on a dish towel. "She seemed disappointed that you weren't home to take the call and a little preoccupied. It sounded like she had something important to talk to you about."
"Good going, Pace," he berated himself.
"She said she'd call back tomorrow. Maybe you should stay home."
"I will. Goodnight, Mom," he said before going up the stairs, two at a time.
Once he was safely in the confines of his own room, he collapsed onto his bed, smacked a pillow over his head and screamed into it.
Why won't that feeling leave him alone?
He faded in and out of his dreams, back and forth in a restless sleep. Even in between fits of reality, he kept seeing Joey's face but he knew he was hallucinating
So it was quite a bit of a shock when he opened his eyes and saw her looming above him, each leg on either side of his, approaching with what looked like a screwdriver in her hand.
All right, he told himself. If this is a figment of my imagination, I must have one hell of an imagination.
"Ahh-" he began to scream but was immediately stopped by a hand to his mouth.
"Shhhhhhh," Joey said.
Okay, so now it's talking to me. I am going mad.
It was only when he pinched himself, felt the pain and then pinched her on the arm and got a reaction as she moved her hand away, that he began to understand.
"What the hell are you doing here?" he hissed. "And were you trying to make a hole in my head?"
She made a face at him and continued to rub the sore spot on her arm. She moved her legs to one side, swung over and landed in position beside him on the bed. It moved, fully waking him from his sleepy state.
Wordlessly, she handed him a pencil.
Eyeing it, he took it cautiously from her. It wasn't a screwdriver, but anything within Joey's grasp seemed dangerous at that point in time.
Staring into the ceiling, she spoke monotonously. "I had to get out of the house."
"And you thought you'd try to kill me while you were at it." He scrambled off the bed and put the pencil back in the holder on the desk. It was then he realized that he had fallen asleep in the clothes he had been in all day. Glancing at his clock, he asked, "How did you get in anyway?" It was a quarter till midnight.
"The only thing I'm good at nowadays." She sat up and pushed herself to the edge of the bed where her feet could dangle. "I came in through the window."
Leaning against his desk, he crossed his arms and waited.
"I did warn you I'd bring a screwdriver to your temple one night in your sleep. It so happened I felt like doing it tonight."
"Joey," he sighed, crossing the room to sit by her. "You drop by in the middle of the night. You scared me shitless. You've made your point. Now, are you ready to tell me what else brought you here?"
She was looking down at the floor in dead silence. And then her façade broke down and she started to cry. "God, I hate you."
He wrapped his arms around her and rocked her. "Good, because I hate you too."
Between sniffles, she managed to say into his now, damp shirt, "I-I needed to talk to someone and all I could think of w-was you."
He kissed the top of her head. "I agree. That completely sucks."
She laughed in the middle of a sob and it came out as a snort.
He cracked up. "Please don't wipe your nose on my shirt. It's one of my favorites," he joked.
She pushed him away and grabbed a tissue from a box in sight.
He waited for her to blow her nose and pointed out the wastebasket.
"It hasn't been that long since I visited, you know."
"Six years, Jo. Six years."
"Really?" she grudgingly asked.
He looked at her as though it was needless to say.
"Whatever happened to us?" she questioned. "You know, as friends?"
"Nothing." He shrugged. "I was just never Dawson."
He said it without a thought and in such a nonchalant manner that Joey was taken aback and even a little disappointed. She leaned in to observe more closely, trying to decipher the look in his eyes. She could detect nothing.
Nothing that he wanted to give away, that is.
She went on all-fours and grabbed the dice from under the bed. "This one's a six," she said. "That makes it eleven. Answer the question, Witter."
"Joey, it's two-thirty in the morning-"
"Answer the question."
He rubbed his tired eyes and tried to come up with an impressive lie but his brain was too exhausted to work and he found himself about to break.
"All right. I got the scar on my cheek at summer camp before the start of sixth grade when I tried to impress some girls by swinging from one branch of a tree to another. And I fell, okay? Happy now?"
He shook his head in despair. Joey had suggested that they take turns to ask each other personal questions and then throw the dice and if both added up to an odd number, the question would have to be answered truthfully. If the number was even, the person was spared. They had been playing for half an hour and he had got only two answers out of her - nothing that he didn't already know or could have easily guessed.
His luck was drastically failing him and he was hardly taking the game seriously. He shouldn't have agreed to the stupid thing in the first place.
She handed him the dice. "Why this game?" he asked and he flung them out.
She couldn't get out of this one even if she tried. "Because I've come to the realization that I don't know you as well as I thought I did. In fact, I don't think I know you at all. And this game's not going to change that overnight but it's a start to finding out."
Honesty from Joey, to him, was always a surprise. He had nothing concrete to contribute to her answer.
"I thought you were just being an annoying busybody."
"Sorry to disappoint you," she replied. She rolled the dice in her hand back and forth. "Okay, I'll give you an easy one this time. Who was the first girl you ever had a crush on?"
He couldn't stop her from producing an odd three.
She knew the answer even before she asked it. It was simple: Kristy Livingstone. Either that, or some girl he knew back in his old hometown. But she was willing to bet it was the former.
Pacey started to fidget. It was apparent that he felt very uncomfortable.
"What?" she questioned. "This one's a given."
"You really don't want to know this, Joey," he stressed.
She wrinkled her brows in puzzlement. "Come on, even if it were someone who was horrendously ugly, it's been so long." She scooted closer to him. "I'll forgive you," she teased.
He looked back worriedly at her. The striations of blue in his eyes seemed to stand out as he hesitated once more before he formed the words.
"It was you, Joey."
She swallowed visibly. "Haha, very funny."
"What can I say?" He shrugged. "I could have lied but now that I know this game is far more important to you than I thought it was at the beginning, I didn't want to."
She blinked at him.
"Don't get so worked up," he reached over to smack her arm lightly. "After all, it was a long time ago."
"You're right," she managed to say. "You really caught me off-guard there for a moment but I'm okay now."
They eyed each other in silence.
Pacey interrupted eye contact by swinging the dice. "Tell me, Magic Numbers, could Joey Potter ever love anyone else the way she loves Dawson Leery?"
The look on her face was a contortion of different feelings. She was irate at Pacey for surprising her with the truth after so many years and she was bothered that he had asked his question. And then she was peeved at him because he fully expected her to reply resoundingly in the negative. He had put her in a spot. But above what little anger she really possessed, she was torn with doubt. Because as she thought about the months gone by, the months not spent with Dawson, she finally admitted to herself that she wasn't ready to say no.
"You don't want to know, Pacey," was what she said.
He fully regretted asking because he hadn't been sure he wanted to know. A buzzer went off loudly in his head. Wrong answer, Joey. Wrong answer. You should have said no.
Someone was screaming his name from a distance away. What, was it Saturday already? Saturday was his family's day to bond, in other words, the one day of the week they designated to yelling at each other.
He found himself sitting on the floor, leaning against the foot of the bed, with his neck stretched backwards and his head resting on the mattress. His mouth had been wide open and he now brought his jaw back to it when he heard his mother yelling at him again.
"W-wh-wha?" he mumbled, half blinded by the sunlight streaming in through the window.
He tried to move his arm but it was pinned down across his lap by a weight. Looking down through half-opened eyes, he saw a head of brown hair.
"O-ouch." His neck was stiff from being in the same position for the past five hours and it ached to shift his head from side to side. With his free arm, he shook the sleeping figure on the shoulder.
"Jo, get up," he croaked. His voice was husky as it usually was in the morning.
She moved from sleeping on her side to her back, allowing Pacey to look her fully in the face. Her eyes were closed and her mouth was slightly opened as she breathed out through the gap.
In spite of his disheveled state, the strangeness and the novelty of the situation had to make him chuckle. She did look lovely even-
"Pacey, Andie's-" his mother paused as she opened the door to find the two of them in their current positions. "-on the line," she finished. "Is there something I should know about?"
Pacey gently lifted Joey's head off his lap and onto the floor. "It's not what it looks like, Mom." He struggled to stand up. "We'll talk outside," he spoke softly.
"You bet we are," she replied.
Joey roused from her sleep as she heard a door closing and the sound of muffled voices speaking behind it. She opened her eyes and adjusted them to the sunlight. She found herself in an unfamiliar room.
Where am I?
Pushing herself into a sitting position with the palms of her hands as support, she took in the posters on the walls and she recalled.
She groggily got on her feet and walked to the door. Opening it just a pinch, she peeked out and heard Pacey talking on the phone further down the hallway.
"Yes, you heard my mother right. Joey's here."
He paused to listen to the other party.
"She was upset about her problems with Dawson and she needed someone-"
She had heard enough. Quietly, she closed the door. Looking around, she was contemplating exiting from where she had entered but ran out of time when Mrs. Witter softly knocked and walked in.
"Joey, what a lovely surprise to find you here. You haven't been here since you were a kid."
All she could do was nod as the latter started making Pacey's bed and picking up his dirty laundry off the floor.
"When did you get in? I didn't hear the doorbell."
"Errr, around midnight. I came in through the window."
Margaret Witter regarded her quizzically but didn't say anything more about it. "Well, breakfast is ready downstairs. Why don't you go wash up and we'll talk more later."
Joey nodded again. She breathed a sigh of relief when she was left alone. This is way too surreal.
She caught fragments of Pacey's conversation as she walked out of the room toward the bathroom at the other end of the hallway.
"Andie, is something wrong?"
"I miss you too. I love you."
She rushed into the bathroom and closed the door quietly behind her. She felt like an eavesdropper, intruding upon someone's profession of undying affection for his one true love. Shaking her head rapidly, she tried to ignore the sarcasm that came along with that last thought.
"What the hell is wrong with you, Potter," she reproached softly.
She walked right into him, both of them having rounded a corner from different directions at the same time. She, having used the bathroom and he, the telephone.
She held on to him for dear life as he steadied her. "You okay?"
"You seem to be directing that a lot to me recently."
"All right, I'll try to tone it down."
"Kids, breakfast's on the table," his mother called out.
"Come on," he said, wrapping his arm around her as if everything was normal, as it should be.
Normal, the voice screamed inside of her. How could he act like he hadn't said what he said?
"Okay, we're going to make our way downstairs now. Watch your step."
She shot him a sarcastic glance but he was regarding her with real concern masked beneath the condescending remark.
Get a grip, Joey. You're making a mountain out of a molehill. It meant nothing to him and that's why he said it so that he could totally forget about it.
She was so preoccupied, she hasn't anticipated the problem that would greet her at the dining table once they got there.
John Witter was sitting at the head of the table.
Pacey looked from her to the latter and back again. He shut his eyes as it hit him. "Shit," he muttered under his breath. He found himself cursing more in the summer than he had in the entire school year.
A confrontation with the man who sent her father to prison wasn't exactly what she was looking for right now but she wasn't about to turn on her heels and run out of the house either.
"Morning, Mr. Witter." She hoped that no one noticed the tremor in her voice as she said it.
"Morning, Joey," John Witter replied awkwardly. If it was possible, he appeared even more ill at ease than she was.
The tension was mounting and Pacey considered ushering her away from the table after making some lamer of an excuse but Joey moved forward and took a seat before he could open his mouth.
Following her cue, he sat down as well, taking the chair that separated the two of them.
The relationship between father and son wasn't smooth sailing either even though some of the bumps along the way had been flattened out by newfound understanding of each other. Still, Pacey got the odd feeling now and then that his father was holding back, which in turn, prevented himself from pouring his heart out.
John started to say something to Joey but then changed his mind. He stood up and brushed the crumbs off his pants. "I-I gotta get to work. It was nice seeing you again, Joey."
"Likewise," she answered in a quiet voice. Inwardly, she was heaving a huge sigh of relief.
He took his leave and they were left alone once more.
"I'm so sorry," Pacey turned to say to her. "I wasn't thinking."
She waved his apology aside. "I'm fine." She started buttering her toast and added cheerfully. "Let's eat, I'm starving."
He was hardly deceived by her bravado.
"Have you called Bessie?" he asked, coming down the front steps where she was sitting.
"Yeah," she said, taking a mug of hot chocolate they had left to cool earlier, from him. "She knows I'm here."
Settling a few steps above her, holding his own mug, he leaned back on one elbow and stretched his legs out.
"I'm really sorry about what happened with my Dad."
"Pacey, I don't think you should be worrying about me."
"What do you mean?"
"She tells me everything's fine."
Joey didn't have to look into his face to note his doubt. "But you don't think so?"
"I'm probably just being overly sensitive, as you've so kindly informed me," he pointed out. "My instincts are usually right, but they always turn out to be bad news." He took a sip. "Maybe deep inside, I don't want to know."
He had only a side view of her as she nodded in agreement. What he couldn't see was her increasingly troubled expression that sent creases around her eyes.
Her next words were spoken so softly, he had to ask her to repeat herself.
"I've thought about it. The answer's no." She turned around to look at him. "I could never love anyone else as much as I love Dawson."
He couldn't put together a coherent sentence fast enough before she handed him her half-empty mug and got to her feet.
"Thanks for everything. I appreciate it."
She smiled and then she was gone.
Joey Potter was truly an enigma. She was always springing surprises on him when he least expected them. He decided that it would be a long time before he could ever catch up with the mechanics of the way her mind worked. Not that it would be a good idea to figure out what exactly was running through her mind.
No, it wouldn't be a good idea to get any closer to Joey at all.
To be continued
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