"And if you ever waltz through the door at 3 am again, young lady…" Joey sighed and rolled her eyes, as she pushed the carriage through the narrow aisles of the local grocery store. Bessie had been lecturing her ever since she'd walked through the door last night at 3:15 a.m. Joey figured her sister had been so busy yelling at her that she didn't notice the exact time. She played a short-lived game of peek-a-boo with Alex before she was supplanted in his affections by a box of Cocoa Puffs. Finding not a single other thing of interest in the market, Joey reluctantly turned her attention back to her sister who was still prattling on. "…You know very well that your curfew is 1 a.m. when you're not working and that means in the house, not making out in the car with your boyfriend."
"Boyfriend!" Joey protested, paying full attention now. "It was Pacey, Bessie. We were not making out and he is not my boyfriend! We're just … it was a…" she fumbled to explain without letting it slip that the kiss had just been a way to distract Bessie, "…a misunderstanding."
"Oh, right, because people always tongue their friends in greeting. Look, there's Grams, maybe I should try it now." Joey couldn't help but smirk at the thought but she still glared at Bessie.
"It was just a weird moment okay? Pacey is just my…" she paused, wondering why "friend" suddenly seemed so inadequate to describe their crazy messed-up relationship. Not that he wasn't her friend. He was probably her best friend at this point, but he was also her confessor, her commiserater, her partner in crime, her …more. She decided to try again, clearing her throat and declaring emphatically, "Pacey and I are NOT going out."
"Well, that's good to hear." A familiar voice chuckled rather mirthlessly in her ear and Joey whirled to find Dawson behind her, looking at her with a quizzical expression. She could only stare in surprise; it had been about three weeks since Dawson had stormed out of the club and she'd had that most unfortunate valium accident, and Joey had seen neither hide nor hair of him outside of the two classes they had together. When they were in school, he wouldn't meet her gaze and he'd even managed to evade her at lunch. Dawson was smiling guilelessly now though, as if they were still the best of friends. "Hey, Bess, hi, Alex," he lightly tickled the baby's stomach and the little traitor gurgled with satisfaction in a most irritating way, Joey noted.
"So, It's been a while huh? Haven't seen you since that night at the-" Sensing the impending doom if he blew her cover in front of Bessie, Joey cut him off at the pass, grabbing his arm and practically pulling him across the floor with her. "Dawson, why don't you come with me to get some cheese at the deli."
He allowed himself to be led over to the far counter and watched bemusedly as Joey picked a number from the dispenser, then stood with her arms crossed, staring pointedly away from him. They stood in silence for a few moments, until he couldn't bear it anymore. "So, I guess you're wondering why I was avoiding you." Joey's eyes didn't even flicker as she disinterestedly lifted a hand to study her fingernails. "Okay, obviously, your tenacious silence can be translated to mean you're upset with me." Joey hooted, but still refrained from saying a word. Dawson ran a hand through his hair in exasperation. "Look, Joey I'm sorry, but it was …weird seeing you up on that stage. I mean lately, I feel like you've turned into a different person, the clothes, the makeup, you're with Pacey ALL the time, then when I saw you on that stage…I just wondered what happened to the Joey Potter I knew all my life, the Joey Potter who's always been not just my best friend but the center of my universe. Jo, when everyone else in my life has been rendered certifiably insane, you're the person I turn to, the one I can always count on to be my ground zero, you know? My parents are both acting crazy, my mom's in a job and a city she hates, my dad has turned into this super-testosterone enhanced football coach, my friends are acting like they were lobotomized over the summer … I guess, when I saw you on that stage, acting so un-Joey-like, it was just … too much. Just please, don't be mad, okay? I can't take another month of pretending neither of us has ever heard of the other."
Joey sighed, fully aware that Dawson was a fine line away from actually blaming her for this whole cold war he was waging, yet that he still managed to make her completely melt inside, like she always did when he said things like her being the center of his universe. She was spared an extra minute to gather her wits when the counterperson called her number. She placed the order then turned to Dawson. "I'm not mad, Dawson, not anymore anyway. But you're not off the hook entirely. In fact, if you didn't like seeing me onstage you should be blaming yourself. "
He turned to her in surprise "What? Joey, I never --"
"The only reason I took the job at the strip club was because I thought that's what you wanted. Pacey told me Eve worked there and you certainly seemed taken with her when I saw you on your dad's boat. … I just wanted you to realize I'm not some innocent little prude that everyone seems to think I am."
"Look, Joey, you don't need to take some sleazy job to get my attention, and you don't need to be like Eve. Eve…isn't who you may think she is anyway. She's a troubled young woman who's got a lot of issues to work through. Her life really isn't as easy as it may seem."
"Oh, really?" Her voice dripped with sarcasm, "Great! Maybe we can get together over coffee and I can tell Eve what it's like to have a dad whose doing his second tour of duty in prison for drug trafficking and she can tell me what it's like to break a nail and need your highlights retouched." Joey was close to seething as she nearly ripped the cheese from the poor returning counterboy's hand with a scowl. "And my job is not sleazy--"
Realizing he'd made a crucial tactical error in sticking up for Eve, Dawson retreated. "Okay, I'm sorry, Jo, you're right. Look, I don't want to argue with you. Okay?" He quickly swiped a small white toothpick flag sticking out of a display of international cheeses they passed as they made their way back to Bessie and waved it before her eyes. "Truce?"
Joey smiled begrudgingly . "Truce."
"Good." He beamed, his eyes twinkling with good humor once more, "because I am actually here not to stock the larders for Thanksgiving as you may have guessed, but to ask you to accompany me to a party tonight."
Joey looked skeptical. "A party?"
"Yeah, Chris Wolfe's having a big bash at his house and I figured we could go and make fun of the sloshed keggers like old times." When she merely raised a skeptical eyebrow, he decided pleading would be in order. "Besides, I've missed you, Jo. Our junior year didn't exactly get off to a great start, so I thought maybe we could use a second chance. What do you say?"
She couldn't help the tremor of excitement tingling in the churning pit of her stomach. A second chance, could mean all kind of things she knew. After all, maybe he was just talking about friendship. Still, he had invited her to a party, so maybe he meant more. "Hmm…a night spent dodging the copious vomit of drunken classmates and disgusting public displays of affection?" She pretended to seriously mull it over, then grinned. "Tempting, I must admit."
"Good, then it's a date." Dawson beamed innocently at her as they reached Bessie and Alex and Joey dropped the cheese into the carriage.
"And where's my half-pound of prosciutto?" Bessie looked at Joey expectantly. Joey glared at her and muttered "Be right back," as she trudged off in the direction of the deli counter once more.
"So, it looks like you two made up?" Bessie smiled at Dawson, who was watching Joey's retreating form.
He smiled in return. "I think that's a safe guess, at this point."
"Well, I for one am so glad! Now that she won't be spending ALL her free time with Pacey I won't have to worry so much. I mean I don't begrudge my little sister a boyfriend, but Pacey is a bit… well more than I expected. Not to mention, I remember all too clearly what it was like to be 16 and have too many hormones to deal with. Catching them making out in a car is one thing, but I don't think I like the idea of--." She chattered on as she swung a cranky Alex out of the carriage and started bouncing him on her hip, but Dawson didn't hear the rest. There was too much angry steam building between his ears. His face felt like it was on fire, as he turned away to compose himself. Joey and Pacey making out in a car? Bessie had to be wrong. Still, they were spending a lot of time together. This wasn't exactly what he'd had in mind when he asked Pacey to take care of her, he thought bitterly.
Joey bounded over to the carriage and Dawson fought to get a grip on his fury. She dropped the lunchmeat in the carriage and started to say something about the gross way the counter boy had stared at her. Then she focused on Dawson's thundercloud of an expression and Bessie's slight look of chagrin.
"Well, thanks, Jo." I'm just going to leave you two to say goodbye," and Bessie quickly whisked Alex back into the cart and walked down the aisle.
"Dawson, what's going on? Are you ok?ay You look like-"
"My best friend just died?" He asked in clipped, cold tones. "Maybe that's because she is dead."
Joey was mildly miffed, wondering what brought about this sudden change of mood and when their conversation had suddenly started to resemble the cast-off scripts of a soap opera summer storyline. "Okay, I'll bite. What's your problem?"
"My problem is that I thought I knew who Joey Potter was. Despite the makeup and the black clothes and the sleazy job, I was fairly certain you were still the same girl underneath. And now I realize, I never really knew you at all, did I?"
"Dawson, cut the melodrama and tell me what you're angry about. I thought we'd been all through my "sleazy job" and that you were okay with it."
"Oh, I am okay with that, Joey. I'm okay with the Joey that wants to get up on stage and bare everything for some disgusting slobs willing to shove money down her g-string." He ignored Joey's outraged protests and leaned closer to her, seething with anger. "It's the Joey who so glibly lies to me about wanting a second chance, when just last night she was making out with my best friend that bothers me."
Dawson watched as surprise, then guilt, then fear made their way across her face. And without saying another word, he turned and walked away.
Joey sagged against the shelves behind her, not sure her legs would be able to hold her at the moment. She wanted to cry, she wanted to yell, she wanted to stop him and tell him it wasn't true. To explain about Bessie and the club and this whole stupid plan to get him back. But something -maybe pride?-that Joey could barely recognize held her back. Instead, she simply watched as Dawson walked away from her one more time.
It was dark when the phone rang in the Potter household. A contrite Bessie, who had spent the entire drive home from the grocery store apologizing to Joey, slinked into her room. "It's for you," she cringed at the hopeful look on her little sister's face. "It's Pacey. I already told him you don't want to talk to him"
Joey flopped back facedown on the bed. "Tell him again."
"Look Pacey, she doesn't-" Bessie stopped, listening. Then said with a confused look, "He said to tell you to get on the phone or he'll tell me all about the cowboy hat."
Angrily, Joey sat up and grabbed the phone from Bessie. "That's blackmail Pacey."
His familiar chuckle echoed over the line. "Hey, dangerous times call for dangerous measures, Potter. So what's this all about? I hear you're pouting because Dawson suspects-correctly for a change-- that we're having hot and heavy late-night grope sessions."
"He is not CORRECT! That kiss was because of Bessie and that's all it was, just a kiss."
A silence fell on the line and if she hadn't already felt so bad about Dawson, Joey just might have felt guilty about lying to Pacey. Even as distraught as she was, she knew that describing what had happened as "just a kiss" was woefully inadequate, if not an out and out lie.
"Look whatever, Potter. If that's all it was, that's all it was. So don't make such a big deal out of it and Dawson will look like the jerk here. Come to Wolfe's party with me and talk to him. Just explain the deal with Bess and presto, problem solved."
Calmer now, Joey sighed. "Pacey, you know it doesn't exactly work that way. When Dawson's mad, he won't listen to anything-"
"Then make him listen, Jo. I mean come on, I love a pity party as much as the next guy, but this tortured star-crossed bullshit between the two of you is entirely that. If either of you acted or reacted with even one iota of common sense, instead of high theatrics every time you had a misunderstanding we wouldn't be going on "Dawson Loves Joey," the 10th season here. Frankly, I've had about all I can take. You're coming to that party if I have to drag you out of your bedroom." Realizing he was shouting, Pacey dialed it back a bit and cracked a joke to ease the tension. "And let me tell you, I never thought I'd be telling a girl I'd drag her out of a bedroom."
It worked. Joey laughed in spite of herself and found herself saying, "Okay, fine. Pick me up in an hour?"
"An hour! The party'll be half over. What do you need all that time for?"
"Pacey, if I'm going to this party, I'm going to look damn good. There is no way I'm letting Dawson have the satisfaction of seeing my puffy eyes and bedhead. Give me an hour and I will have every jaw on the floor when we walk into that party tonight."
There was a pause. "Jesus, Potter push my buttons, why don't ya. See ya in an hour." He clicked the phone back onto the receiver and leaned back on his bed, trying very very hard not to fantasize about what Joey Potter would look like in an hour.
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