I Love You, But... by: Jade
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When he didn't answer her the first time, she said again more forcefully, "Pacey!"
"Yeah?" he finally replied, still distracted. He looked away from the window to her concerned expression.
"Have you heard a word I've said so far?"
She removed the last of her clothing from her suitcase and hung it up in the closet. "I'm going to miss this house once it's sold. I hope this new apartment works out as well as my Dad thinks it's going to. Maybe I can persuade Jack to move back in with us." She opened her drawers and shuffled through her things to make space. "I haven't missed much at school, have I?"
"Nothing you can't catch up with."
Andie rattled on about something else that he simply couldn't focus his attention on. He had been trying ever since she got back but her words were going into one ear and out the next in the same instant.
She stopped in the midst of arranging her socks and her face fell as she started thinking about her summer.
For a brief lapse in time, there was silence as they each wandered into separate thoughts, backs toward each other.
It seemed a very unusual place for two people who were supposedly reunited in love to be - miles apart.
"Dawson, there's someone here to see you."
He wrinkled his brow at his father's announcement and wondered who could be at the door.
"Joey," he said softly when he saw her. For the past two days, the few times they had passed each other she had walked by like she hadn't seen him.
The corner of her mouth lifted a tad into a hesitant smile.
"Hello, Dawson," she said.
His face was buried in his hands.
"Mind if I join you?"
He uncovered his eyes and saw his father standing before him on the porch.
"Sure, Pop." He waved toward the empty seat. "Why not?"
John Witter stayed quiet and Pacey didn't need to look up again to know that his father was staring at him.
"Please don't lecture me now," he said, voice muffled beneath his hands.
"I once knew a guy who loved his best friend more than anything in the world. Then one day, he found himself in love with his best friend's girlfriend." He paused to take a breath. "He decided to take a chance and tell his best friend the truth. His best friend couldn't bring himself to forgive him
or her and the friendship was gone."
Pacey rubbed his temples, not sure he wanted to know the answer but asked anyway, "What happened after that?"
"From what I hear, this guy met this girl again after college and they've been blissfully married for 20 years now. But his best friend hasn't been happy for a long time."
He wasn't quite sure what to make of his father's story and his baffled expression reflected that.
The latter didn't make a move to enlighten him any further. He simply stood up, patted his son on the shoulder and left.
Joey thanked him for the drink he handed her.
"I'm surprised to see you here."
She was playing with her glass turning it between her palms and dripping water from the condensed surface onto the grass below.
"I thought it was time we straightened things out."
"Before I lose my courage completely, I want to say I'm sorry." She looked at him when she said it, determined to show her sincerity. "I've had a lot of time to think and what my father did had nothing to do with you. I needed someone to blame and you were there."
"I'll be painfully honest with you too."
She nodded, half-aware of what he was going to say.
"You hurt me and it's taken me a long time to come to terms with it."
"It's not going to go away overnight, I know. But I would like us to try to be
Dawson wasn't sure what had caused the melancholic look on her face when she said "friends" but it was obvious that she tried to conceal it.
"I would like us to be civil to each other too," he agreed. "We've been best friends for as long as we can remember. It would be a shame to forget that."
Her eyes clouded over. "Yes it would," she whispered. "Yes."
Pacey was walking with Dawson to class when he spotted her. He expected her to bolt in the opposite direction since she noticed Dawson before he did her, like she has been since school started.
What she did next took him completely by surprise.
"Hi," she said. She had walked up to them and initiated conversation.
Dawson acted like nothing was out of the ordinary as he greeted her back. They exchanged small talk as Pacey stood by.
The bell went and she excused herself to go to her first class. All the time she was talking, she kept her eyes on Dawson and nowhere else. Not even once did she glance his way.
He tugged on her arm, pulling her into a corner before she could protest as she walked out of the classroom. She had stayed back after her last class for the day to speak to her teacher about an impending assignment and by the time she was done, the school was already deserted.
"You want to tell me what's going on?" he questioned immediately.
"Nothing's going on," she denied.
"The strangest thing happened today. I find out that you went to Dawson's house last night and the two of you talked. And then it became clear that perhaps, it wasn't so much him but me," he said, his hand on his chest, "that you were avoiding."
His voice was increasing in volume and agitation and was beginning to echo down the corridor. Joey headed for the nearest exit before anyone overheard them.
"I didn't think it was in your nature to grasp at straws," she retorted.
He held onto her elbow and she swung around. "Is this it?" he asked accusingly. "You're back with Dawson and you want me to say it's over so you don't have to do it yourself?"
"Stop putting words in my mouth!"
"Then tell me the truth!"
Her infuriation and frustration got the better of her and she didn't care anymore if anyone heard her as they continued to yell at each other.
"What truth! Have you even made up your mind about what you're going to tell Andie?" Unfortunately, she hadn't counted on the odds of breaking down in tears and she tried her hardest to keep her voice from trembling. "Why do you expect me to know what to do when you obviously have no clue yourself?"
He looked utterly crestfallen as he brought her into the chain of his embrace. She wrapped her arms around him and rested the side of her face on his shoulder.
"Please don't make me do it," he quietly pleaded.
"Dawson and I are not back together."
He went on as if he hadn't heard her. "I renounce the choice you gave me. If you want it to end, you're going to have to tell me because I could never bring myself to say the words."
Her response was to hug him even closer. Maybe if I shut my eyes tight enough, it'll all go away, she thought in utter hopelessness.
He had no idea how Time managed to escape their notice but it did and before either of them knew it, it was a month to Christmas.
"You sure you don't want to come along?" Andie asked for the umpteenth time, still hoping that he'd change his mind about going to Rhode Island for Thanksgiving.
He shook his head. " It was hard enough getting Jack to agree to go. You and your family need to be by yourselves."
"All right." She reached out to kiss him on the lips and he returned her gesture less than wholeheartedly.
It wasn't the first time she sensed that he was holding back. Faking a cheery façade that she did so well, she refused to admit to herself that things haven't been right between them for months.
"I'll see you Monday?"
"I'm sure you know that Dawson and his Dad are going to Philly to visit his Mom."
"Does that mean you, Bessie and Alexander will be able to make it for dinner at my place instead?"
"I don't know."
Jen sighed. "Come on, it'll be just Grams and me. I don't think I could take the torture alone. You should be grateful I'm willing to share it."
Joey rolled her eyes in amusement. "All right. I'll have to ask Bessie first but she'll probably say anything to avoid being bogged down in the kitchen by a turkey. The thought of cooking it herself gives her the shivers."
Joey's lightened mood turned serious as she remembered why she called Jen out in the first place.
"I don't know why I'm going to tell you this," she confessed.
"Maybe it's because I'm listening."
She smiled wryly at her reply. "I used to tell Dawson everything. Now I can't for obvious reasons. I can't even talk to Jack for fear of putting him in a spot."
"Glad to know I'm your first choice."
"I was kidding." She leaned in closer over the table. "Look, our friendship," she said, wrinkling her brows, "if you can even call it that, is weird. I'll be the first to admit that the civility between us is starting to become very enjoyable. You want to talk, I'll be here. You don't want to, that's fine with me. I'm here because I know what it's like when you want to be heard but there's no one around to listen."
"Thank you," she said and she meant it.
Joey signaled for the waitress for another cup of coffee before continuing to speak.
"Things between Dawson and I have been improving of late. The friendship will never be the same of course but it's close enough." She paused to allow her order to put on the table. She tore open a sachet of brown sugar and poured it into the cup. "He suspects something."
"That isn't the main problem." It was more of a statement than a question.
Joey was still constantly amazed at how perceptive Jen was. "No," she said. "I think some part of him wants us to be
"He's never actually said anything?"
"No, but you know how Dawson is. It takes awhile for his too-rational mind to catch up with the heart he wears on his sleeve."
"In other words, he doesn't know it yet but everyone else does." Jen started drawing imaginary circles on the window she had the side of her head against. "I've been there." Joey opened her mouth but Jen stopped her before she could apologize another time. "Please don't say you're sorry and you wished things could have been different because I'm not."
The former took a sip of her coffee instead.
"Thank you," Jen noted with humor. "Just think, if all that had happened hadn't happened, I could be in a very bad place right now."
"Let's not go there. We're here to talk about you, so talk."
"You can guess how much I hate the term 'sneaking around'."
Jen nodded in understanding.
"Good, cause that's exactly what I've been doing." Joey leaned back with her shoulders slumped. "I feel like such a hypocrite."
"Are you planning to tell Dawson before he finds out on his own?"
Joey stared off into space and for a moment, Jen thought that she might have missed the question completely.
"I've tried," she finally admitted, "several times. But every time I looked into his face and realized that it wasn't just our friendship I was going to ruin, I stopped."
"Does Pacey know about this?"
"My decision to tell Dawson?" Joey shook her head. "As often as he can, he makes up an excuse to tell Andie and then he comes over. We'll be watching some sitcom on TV and we'll be laughing, but all we're really doing is trying to forget
Alex absolutely adores him." She took a deep breath. "We do everything but talk about what we're going to do. I was planning to tell Dawson that I had met someone else over the summer but that was it. I wasn't going to drag Pacey into it."
"But he is in it. An attempt to ease your conscience but aren't you forgetting that Dawson is no longer as naïve as he used to be?"
"Must you be so brutally frank?'
"Look. I don't always believe in the 'honesty is the best policy' concept. Sometimes, I think it's downright BS. If you are planning to be with Dawson and Pacey, Andie, you're going to hurt him if you tell him. Maybe you'll tell him in the future but not now. It may be a myth but I have it on good authority that people don't hurt as much when they don't know what they don't have to know."
Joey was trying to take it all in. "The only problem is I don't think it's Dawson I want," she let out slowly.
Jen sighed and rested her head back against the window.
"I was afraid you were going to say that."
It was a tradition in itself that the holidays usually brought out the worst in people and were trying times for families. With Thanksgiving weekend over, Christmas approaching and the countdown to New Year's Day in the new Millenium having begun, it was no wonder that a somber cloud lingered where it wasn't wanted.
Andie strode with determination toward Joey.
"I need to talk to you. Could you spare a couple of minutes after school?"
She was slightly taken aback by and wary of the direct request but she agreed.
"Good, I'll see you then."
Joey was left biting her bottom lip in dread and confusion.
"I can't keep this in anymore," he whispered whilst keeping an eye on the man at the front of the class to make sure they weren't being watched.
"What are you talking about?" Pacey asked, less cautious if anyone heard.
"I wasn't sure before but now I am." He pretended to note something down that the teacher had just said. "Joey's hiding something."
Pacey stopped playing with his pen. "What makes you think that?"
"I know Joey and she's acting strange."
As timely as he always was, Mr. Travis interrupted. "Anything I can help you with, Mr. Leery, Mr. Witter?
Dawson was quick to intervene. "No, sir. Couldn't quite see a word or two on the board but that's over now." He nudged his friend for support.
Pacey nodded absently.
Joey crossed and uncrossed her fingers several times before she found enough courage to approach Andie.
"Glad you came," was all she said. She didn't even bat an eyelid when Joey slotted her legs through and settled on the bench beside her.
Joey decided it was best to remain silent until she had an inkling of what this conversation was to be about.
"How was your Thanksgiving?"
"Fine. And yours?"
"I wasn't supposed to see him but I did."
"Pacey?" She was utterly confused.
"Sam. I went to see Sam at the hospital."
Joey fidgeted uncomfortably.
"I told him before I had a boyfriend and it wouldn't work out between us."
"I was right. I saw him again over the weekend and I was more certain than ever that Pacey is the one I want." And for the first time that day, she looked Joey right in the eye as she spoke. "He's one of the good ones."
Joey turned away and Andie's eyes started to brim with tears.
"He's been so distant. When he's with me, his mind is always somewhere else."
"Andie-" she tried again.
Joey's gaze shot up to the latter's face, stupefied. She supposed it would have been redundant to ask how Andie had figured it out - secrets always surfaced, no matter how long and how deep they were buried.
She found herself unable to speak, least of all in defense.
"It's important that I find security in my life right now. My doctor feels that that would be the key to complete recovery."
Andie found her hand and held on to it. "You'll always have Dawson. I have nothing if I don't have Pacey."
Joey tried to move her hand away but was unsuccessful. "Andie, please don't do this."
"Joey, I'm asking you not to take him away from me. He's the one and only good thing that's happened to me and I don't want to lose that."
She knew she was headed toward the doom of emotional blackmail the minute she realized this conversation was about Pacey. What was she supposed to say?
Tears were rapidly falling down Andie's face and Joey couldn't help but be choked up by emotion too.
"My Mom's not getting any better and the relationship between Jack and our Dad has worsened. I can't deal with all of this on top of losing Pacey." She put her arms around her stomach as though in pain. "I can feel it. He's going to tell me he wants to break up."
Joey wrapped her arms around Andie. "Everything's going to be okay," she finally said. "Pacey isn't going to leave you, I promise."
"You've been with her the whole summer. Wouldn't you know if she met someone?"
"It's not like I spent every single minute of the day with her," he quickly interjected. "I have a life too, you know."
"Yeah," Dawson said, finally sitting down after having paced his room a dozen times. "I'm glad you were with her at that party though. If I ever catch sight of Bradley, I'll kill that asshole!"
"You and me both, buddy."
"Maybe the incident's affected her more than we think which would begin to explain her behavior."
Pacey hated to ask but he had to know. "Dawson, you're not thinking of getting back with Joey, are you?"
"What do you think?" he evaded.
"Well, are you?" Pacey's tone was harsher than he had intended and Dawson raised his brow in surprise and was under the assumption that Pacey was reacting so strongly against the idea because he didn't think it was a good one.
"Too soon, huh?" Dawson plopped back against his bed. "You may be right but I can't help it. I'm still in love with her."
Pacey felt sick to the stomach and he walked to the window for fresh air. "Have you said anything to her?"
"Not yet." Dawson glanced at his watch. "But I'll be seeing her tonight and I'll get straight to the point about what's bothering her first. This time round, I'm going to take things slow."
"Good luck," he managed to croak out. "I hope you get some answers tonight."
"You and me both, buddy."
He was sitting by the docks as usual, waiting for her.
Listening out for her footsteps, he spoke as soon as she was within earshot. "Dawson wants to know why you've been different lately."
"I've been expecting it."
"What are you going to tell him?"
"I'm going to tell him nothing's been bothering me."
Pacey looked over his shoulder at her. "Then you've definitely thought this over a lot more than I have because I'm going to tell Andie the truth."
"You can't do that."
He stood up and turned around. "Why can't I?"
"You tell her and then what?"
"Then I'll leave. I can't stay in the relationship, it wouldn't be fair to her. Or me."
She shook her head stubbornly. "No, you'll be making a huge mistake you'll regret for the rest of your life."
"What are you saying?"
She turned on her heels and headed for the house. He followed and moved to stand in front of her before she could walk past the door.
"What's going on?"
"I finally made a decision," she said without a hint of emotion in her voice or her demeanor.
He took a step back at her coldness. "Were you planning to tell me about it?"
Her eyes lifted to his and in the same emotionless tone, she said, "We both know what Dawson has in mind and when he asks, I'm saying yes."
Pacey ran his hand through his hair and gave a short, humorless laugh. "So, I guess that's the extent of what you feel for me."
She side stepped him and reached for the doorknob. "I suppose it is."
He grabbed her hand. "I don't believe you."
"It's the truth."
"Then look me in the eye and tell me you feel nothing for me."
She swung her head up and looked him straight in the eye.
"I feel nothing for you," she repeated forcefully but with dead calm. "Don't throw away what you have with Andie because of some summer fling."
Don't you understand? We can't feel the same way about each other. Andie needs you.
He stared at her a long time before letting go of her hand. "Summer fling," he said quietly. "So, the words have been spoken." He brushed past her, moved down the stairs and didn't look back once as he continued down the road.
Joey didn't wait to see if he'd stop as she fumbled with the door and hastily entered the house and closed it quickly behind her. She slid down it on to the floor and then huddled and cried her heart out.
She didn't know how long she had been sitting there until a tiny hand grabbed a fistful of her hair, forcing her to look up.
"-ey," he said, in childish mode.
Through her tear-filled vision, she saw her nephew's face and held him to her. "Alex, you're walking," she said in awe.
"Jo," he repeated. "-ey."
Glancing over him, she saw Bessie standing down the hall, looking worried and concerned but Joey could not offer her any assurance that she would be fine because she didn't feel like she was ever going to be.
She regarded Alexander's smiling face and kissed him on the cheek, then hugged him some more.
To be continued
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