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Joey yawned, squinting as sunlight streamed across her face. For a moment, she stared up at an unfamiliar ceiling wondering exactly where she was. Then she remembered she was in Jen's room in New York and she sat up rubbing the sleep from her eyes. She saw that Jen's bed was already made and she was nowhere in sight. Joey got out of bed and hurriedly got ready and dressed, cursing herself for sleeping so late. Twenty minutes later, she walked down the hall to the living room as she finished tying an elastic around the end of her hastily twisted French braid.
She frowned at the empty living room but then caught the whisper of voices and quiet laughter coming from the kitchen. She walked towards the door, just in time to hear Jen shushing Pacey and Jack, "Be quiet. You'll wake her up." She opened the door and started to say "Too late" but only got as far as "too l-" before Jen, Jack and Pacey jumped up and shouted "Happy Birthday Joey."
Crepe streamers hung over the kitchen table and a plate held a wide assortment of pastries, muffins and other assorted breakfast foods. In front of an empty seat festooned with balloons and obviously reserved for her, a bagel overstuffed with cream cheese held a single candle, which Jen lighted as they all broke into the Happy Birthday song.
"But...how did you know? I didn't want to make a fuss." Joey sputtered with embarrassment, as she made a wish for a perfect last day in New York and blew out her candle. "Did you really think I would be so insensitive as to forget the birthday of a friend I've had since I was a mere toddler?" Pacey joked, his voice dripping with sarcasm. Seeing her cringe and turn even brighter shade of red, he took pity.
"Besides, your dad reminded me yesterday morning," he admitted with a wink. "And I promised him we'd take the 3:00 bus back, since he and Bessie weren't too happy about the lack of quality family time on your birthday."
Jen cleared her throat and looked sheepishly at Joey. "Um, speaking of quality family time, I have to go to brunch with my parents at noon and I promised my friend Lisa I'd stop by her house before I left. I'm really sorry Jo, if I had known ahead of time, I wouldn't have made the plans, but, well, would you hate me terribly if I bagged on the tourist stuff this morning?"
Joey swallowed the mouthful of bagel she had just taken and shook her head. "No, Jen don't worry about it. Go to your friend's. After all, we've got a whole fun-filled summer in Capeside to enjoy each other's company," she said wryly, wriggling her eyebrows in amusement. "Seriously, I don't mind."
"Well it's just past 10 so that leaves us with a good four hours before we head to the bus station," Jack said, as the telephone hanging on the wall behind him began to ring. "So birthday girl, what do you want to do?"
Joey was mulling it over when Jen called out in a sing-songy voice, "Jack, it's for you...It's Brian." Pacey and Jo hooted and hollered, teasing unmercifully as Jack looked up in surprise. Three sets of ears listened eagerly to the one-sided conversation.
"Yeah, yeah, me too.
"Oh...well I'd love to but it's my friend's birthday today and-" he was interrupted as Joey shouted for him to go out with Brian.
"Uh, can you hang on a second?" he placed his palm over the receiver and turned to Joey.
"Joey, it's your birthday. I want to spend time with you."
"Jack, you were flirting with Brian all last night. He is the first guy you've even shown a remote bit of interest in. You are not passing up a chance to go out with him for me. We can bond plenty on the five-hour bus ride home. And I expect a fully detailed report!"
"No, Joey really, I-"
Jo grabbed the phone out of his hand and said sweetly, "Hi, Brian, this is Jack's friend, Joey. He would love to go with you today. Have fun." and she triumphantly handed the phone back to Jack. "Thanks, Joey," Jack smiled as he returned to his conversation with Brian.
"Well, Miss Potter, looks like it's just you and me today. Where to?" Pacey leaned back in his chair, buttering half of an onion bagel.
Joey shrugged, "I thought we walked the whole city yesterday. In fact, my feet still hurt."
"You guys should check out Central Park," Jen offered helpfully, sipping a glass of orange juice. "It's huge, they've got a zoo and an awesome carousel. Plus it's a little more relaxed than the rest of the city, which is always good on a day like this."
"No kidding, it's gotta be over a 100 degrees outside. I'll have you know we risked death by sunburn heading down to the bagel shop this morning, missy!" Pacey wagged his finger, with a mock serious look at Joey.
"Well thank you guys, this was really sweet and much more than I expected."
"You're welcome, Jo." She stood up and walked over to Joey, surprising her by giving her a sort of one-armed hug. "I hope you have a great time today." She turned to Pacey and said, "And you mister are under strict orders to be nice and entertain the birthday girl."
All wide eyes and innocence, Pacey looked at Jen, "Jennifer, I'm hurt you would think I would be any less than the perfect host. In fact, I've already got the whole day planned," Both girls looked at him skeptically. "Yeah, I figured a little rat-hunting this morning, kicking around the homeless till 1:00 and then top it all off with more of those death-defying taxi rides. Isn't that what you always dreamed of for your 16th birthday Jo?"
She flashed him a fake smile and rolled her eyes. "I'd say it's everything but torturing small animals."
"See now I classified that under rat-hunting, but hey we can expand that to include squirrels, poodles, pythons Whatever you want. Nothing's too good for my friend Joey on her birthday," he grinned.
His friend Joey proceeded to elbow him none too gently. Jack hung up the phone and the foursome made plans to meet back at Jen's at 1:30.
Joey and Pacey went downstairs and as soon as they had stepped outside the building's front door, the heat of a New York City summer hit them like a brick wall.
"So I bet you never thought you'd be spending your birthday here with me of all people," Pacey said, as they walked the few blocks to the park.
"No I didn't, but I've gotta say, I'm having a lot more fun than I expected to. If I was back in Capeside, I'd probably just be sitting at home moping." She didn't finish her sentence to say moping over Dawson but Pacey knew what she meant anyway.
"You know he asks about you all the time." Joey's head popped up and she looked at Pacey and then feigning indifference, she looked back down and shrugged noncommittally, jamming her hands in her back pockets.
He sighed. "Josephine, Josephine, Josephine," he shookay his head. "Have you forgotten that I've been a captive audience to The Dawson and Joey Show for more years than I care to remember? Don't pretend with me that you aren't dying to know what's going on with our golden boy."
"I'm not!" she shouted indignantly, crossing her arms over her chest.
He snorted. "Sure, just like I'm not the least bit curious about what it is that Andie's been doing in Providence, despite the fact that she's obviously not spending her time writing to me, seeing as how I haven't gotten a letter from her in the past two weeks." He clammed up abruptly, sorry he had said so much.
"She will, Pace" Joey said, touching his arm. He shrugged off her touch, with a black scowl and muttered "Whatever" picking up the pace as they crossed the street to the entrance of the park.
Joey walked faster her long legs easily catching up to him as she tried to convince him. "I mean, for some ungodly reason, the girl is crazy about you, and-" Joey stopped in mid-sentence and cringed. Pacey looked over at her strangely, "What?"
"Uh, bad verbiage choice."
Pacey's lips twitched and he couldn't help laughing. He looked at her and held out a hand. "I'll make you a deal Jo. Once we're back in Capeside, I'll listen to you vent about Dawson and I'll tell you all about my sordid problems with Andie. But until then, I just don't want to think about it anymore. We're in New York, it's gorgeous out and all I wanna do is have some fun and enjoy the scenery. okay?"
She shookay his hand. "Alright Monty Hall. You just better hope Sheryl Crow isn't waiting for you behind curtain number 2 with a year's supply of lard."
But Pacey's attention had already been caught by something new. "Hey, look at all the horse and carriages, now that's the way to get around. You just sit back in your nice comfy carriage and have somebody else cart you around. Let's go, Jo." He rushed over to a large white carriage hookayed up to a light brown palamino and started climbing in.
Joey had walked over to a nearby sign to look at the posted prices and her eyes widened in alarm. "Pacey" she hissed, "It's 32 dollars!"
"I know. Don't worry about it, all the hours I've been working lately do have one benefit." He pulled out an overstuffed wallet. "Come on, I got it."
Joey held back, shaking her head. "Pacey, it's too expensive."
"Joey come on you only turn 16 once. Besides, my feet are killing me and it's hot as hell. Do you really want to wander around Central Park till you're sweaty and smelly and exhausted when you could take a perfectly nice comfy carriage ride?"
She lingered maybe a half a second before motioning Pacey to scoot over and climbing up. As they sat, waiting for the driver who was chatting with some others on the corner, a small Indian man carrying a huge basket full of flowers stopped next to their carriage. "You buy flower for your girlfriend?" he asked hopefully, smiling and holding out a perfect red rose.
"I'm not his-" Joey started to explain when Pacey cut her off. "Sure, how much?" As Pacey paid the man, Joey sat back dumbfounded and utterly speechless.
He turned back to Joey and handed her the fragrant flower. "Happy birthday Jo." Pacey reclined against the plush cushions of the seat, acting as if buying her a rose was an everyday occurrence. He saw her awestruck look and could practically hear the wheels turning in Joey's confused mind. Liking that he had managed to surprise her, he shrugged nonchalantly at her questioning glance. "No biggie. My mom once told me a woman should never have a birthday without receiving flowers."
Despite the way he was playing it down, Pacey could see that the gesture seemed to mean a lot to Joey. He wasn't sure what exactly had possessed him to buy it for her, but something had told him it was the right thing to do. Besides, he liked seeing her killer smile. "Thanks Pacey," she said softly, sniffing the center of the flower.
"Now don't get all mushy on me, or I'll be forced to recite lines from 'Rambo' or 'Die Hard'." She smiled at him but said nothing, sitting back and thoughtfully twirling the stem of the flower in her hands, looking out over the lush tree-dotted lawns as the driver led the horse through the park.
They sat in companionable silence for several minutes until Joey spoke. "You know, the last time I received flowers from a man, he proceeded to tell me he was gay." She looked at him with a mischievous glint in her eye.
Pacey raised his hands "Hey don't look at me. I totally support Jack but I ain't moving to Christopher Street anytime soon." He looked at Joey, who was lost in thought, stroking the velvety petals of the flower.
"Since we're obviously not going to be able to refrain from discussing our love lives, can I ask you something Jo?" She looked at him expectantly. "What made you choose Jack over Dawson? I mean I got the D-man's version, some mid-life crisis type bullshit about you needing time to find yourself or something, but I figured he was overanalyzing as usual."
Joey laughed, but there was a sadness to her expression. "As ridiculous as it sounds, that really was my reason. I just...." frustrated Joey, stopped. "It's hard to explain, it just turned into this big mess. But I didn't leave Dawson for Jack. I left for me." Pacey looked at her with a mixture of skepticism and confusion.
"Ever since we were little kids, Dawson was like my safety net. Whenever bad stuff happened, I knew I could run to the Leery's house, climb up that ladder, and push aside all the horrible things that come with reality. I did it more and more over the years and soon it started to feel like that was all I knew how to do. I felt like I was becoming about as one-dimensional as a character in one of his movies."
"Fair enough, so why Jack?"
"I was really happy with Dawson, I was. But then we had to do that econ project where I had to pretend to be a single career woman. I guess I just realized someone else's dreams weren't enough for me. I got interested in drawing again and Dawson-God, he was so condescending about it all. You know, as if nothing could be important if it didn't directly affect Dawson Leery." Pacey nodded, it was one of the least likable characteristics about their friend.
"I mean I guess I should have known it would happen sooner or later. Dawson always saw only what he wanted to see. You remember the night of the Miss Windjammer pageant? He tried to make his big move and I turned him down. I told him I didn't want him to like me for the makeup and the dress, that I wanted him to love me for the same person I'd always been. I think he tried you know, but he couldn't quite do that. It was like he had this perfect model in his mind of who he thought I was or who he needed me to be. And when I started getting into art again, he couldn't handle it because it didn't fit into that mold he had made," she laughed bitterly. "Wasn't in the script."
She sighed and looked back up at Pacey. "Anyway, we started fighting all the time and Jack just kind of blundered right into the middle of it all. It turned out we had a lot in common. He liked art, and he made me feel good about myself. He really listened to me, to what I wanted. It was the first time a guy showed interest in me for myself, not for the place I filled in their happy ending, or as a boost to their womanizing ego."
Pacey looked at her with a wounded expression and Joey quickly realized her blunder. "Oh Pacey, I didn't mean..."
"No it's okay, Jo. I know my sudden interest during our little field trip was weird. What can I say? I really missed Tamara and to my overwhelming shock, I had a really good time with you that day. I shouldn't have tried to kiss you though, I knew how you felt about Dawson."
"Well if it makes you feel any better--," she stopped looking embarrassed. "Never mind."
"Oh no," Pacey exclaimed, leaning forward eagerly, sensing a juicy tidbit in waiting. "You opened the can Jo, now spill the beans."
She blushed and put her hands over her face. "I can't believe I'm going to tell you this. But well...there were a few nights, when I wondered about what might have happened if I kissed you back."
"Oh really?" he said, grinning smugly and leaning back and stretching his arms out over the back of the carriage. "So I starred in a few of Joey Potter's personal fantasies, eh? I knew you couldn't resist the Witter charm."
She rolled her eyes and planted her elbow firmly in his ribs. "Ouch, hey, no need to get violent, just cause you can't control your overpowering lust for me."
"Gee Pace, is it me or is your head getting bigger by the second?"
"Well if you think my head is big, you should see-" The rest of his comment was smothered under Joey's hand. "PACEY!"
He was nearly hysterical, he was laughing so hard. Joey tried valiantly to bite back a smile, but soon surrendered to the giggles herself. They were still wiping tears of laughter out of their eyes as the driver pulled up in front of the carousel, as they had requested. Pacey jumped out, cursing as he landed squarely in a patch of mud. Joey was eyeing the ground, trying to figure out the best way to get down without getting her sandal-clad feet stuck in the muck, when Pacey reached up, put his hands around her waist and swung her out of the carriage, setting her down on a dry grassy patch in front of him. She looked up at him in surprise, all too conscious of the fact that she was standing awfully close to him and Pacey still had his hands on her hips. For a moment it seemed to Joey as if everything had frozen, including them. She wasn't sure how long they stood there just looking at each other before the driver interrupted. "Hey you gonna pay me or what?"
Like a switch had been flicked, Joey became aware that she had been holding her breath and she stepped back quickly, as Pacey scurried over to pay the driver. She exhaled hard. God, all that talk about lust must have gone to our heads. Pacey rejoined her and to avoid any awkwardness, she quickly said, "Carousel?"
Pretending as though nothing had happened, Pacey nodded firmly. "Let's go!"
They rode the carousel three times then visited the zoo, feeling more and more like little kids as the morning went on. It was nearly a quarter to one before they headed back to the entrance and grabbed two hot dogs and a pretzel to share for lunch. "So," Pacey said between bites, "we've got about an hour before we have to be back at Jen's. Anywhere else you want to go?"
Joey thought for a moment, then her eyes lit up. "Actually, there is one place...Do you remember the movie 'Big'?"
"Sure, you must've made us watch it a hundred times that summer before fifth grade, Tom Hanks plays a twelve-year-old. And they go to F.A.O. Schwartz...Hey, you wanna go to a toy store? Sign me up."
"I loved the part where they're dancing on that huge keyboard."
After asking a few people on the street, they realized they were just a few blocks from the store and headed over. About 10 minutes later, they stepped through the revolving doors into a paradise of toys and stuffed animals. The huge clock in the center of the floor that reached up about three stories was playing the store's theme song "Welcome to Our World, Welcome to Our World, Welcome to Our World of Toys." They hopped on the escalator, passing enormous life-sized stuffed jungle animals and as the stairs climbed to the second floor, a huge candy store came into vision. Joey sighed, "I think I'm in heaven." Like grade-school children, they hopped from one room to the next playing with all the various toys on display. Joey decided to buy a model plane for Alex and as they headed toward a register, they saw it. The keyboard from Big was still there, laid out in a small hallway leading from the lego room to the Barbie Doll emporium.
They exchanged a look then ran down the hall to the keyboard, and started stepping on various keys and making a general racket. Playfully, Pacey grabbed the rose Joey had carried over from the park and put it between his teeth, then pulled Joey towards him, ignoring her protests as he slid one arm around her waist and clasped her free hand, pointing it out in front of them. In a bad French accent, he said "Let's tango, dahling" although it sounded more like "Less ango alin" what with the stem in his mouth. He mashed his cheek against hers and swept Joey down the length of the keyboard and back. They were both laughing so hard, Pacey almost spit out the flower several times. Noticing they had an audience of several small children and their parents, Pacey braced his arm under Joey's back and bent her backwards into a dramatic dip. The blood rushed to her head, and already giddy from laughing so hard, she nearly lost her balance but Pacey's arm held her up. Their small audience cheered as Pacey stuck the rose behind Joey's ear and a young dad in the audience shouted "kiss the girl." Joey looked up, her smile faltering, as for the second time that day, she wondered if Pacey was going to do just that. She refused to even consider that it was a slight sting of disappointment she felt, when Pacey only looked at her for a long moment then hauled her upright again. Laughing and out of breath, their faces redder than they should have been, they bowed and curtsied quickly and walked away heading for the register again.
This time the awkward silence was unavoidable as Joey paid for Alex's gift and they headed for the exit. They made an effort at small talk on the way back to Jen's, but the conversation lagged as their minds became occupied with their own thoughts.
Had she really felt disappointed that Pacey didn't kiss her? Joey pondered. Granted, their relationship had matured over the past year from the antagonistic dueling one they had once had. The snail-hunting trip had helped them find some common ground and their friendship had become more of a teasing one, with an underlying knowledge that if they really needed each other's support or an ear to listen it would be there. It must be New York, Joey thought to herself. It was the trip and all the forced bonding that was making them act so crazy. Dancing at a club, taking a horse and carriage ride, tangoing in a toy store-not exactly typical Joey Potter behavior. Still, Jo had to admit, she was having a great time. In fact, she had laughed so much the past two days, her jaw muscles ached a little. And, she was surprised to admit, most of her great time had been thanks to Pacey.
Pacey saw the tiny smile playing on Joey's lips and wondered if she was thinking about the two "almost" moments they had had today. When they had started talking about the ill-fated kiss of the previous year, he had been reminded of the attraction he had felt for Joey. Actually, "reminded" wasn't the right word, he thought, more like hit over the head with it like a sledgehammer, like he had been last night when she walked into the living room in that mini-skirt. Surely it was pure nostalgia and his currently unfulfilled male longings with Andie away and all that had made him almost kiss Joey twice. He closed his eyes and sighed. He couldn't believe this was happening he had a beautiful, smart girlfriend who he loved and who he had heard from only twice in the month since she had left Capeside, a little voice nagged in his head. Frowning, he realized his determination to have some fun this summer might have been a very bad idea, after all.
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