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Almost three hours later, Joey watched Jen settle into the seat next to her on the bus. She had just finished wringing Jack dry of all the details of his morning with Brian and he and Pacey had wanted to sit together so they could listen to the Sox game on a set of detachable headphones. She looked over at Jen thoughtfully, glad that they had cleared up some issues in their complex friendship. It had been a long time since Joey had a girlfriend to talk to and she was surprised to find herself actually wanting to confide in her when Jen asked how her day had been.
"It was actually a lot of fun. How'd brunch with your parents go?"
"Not so great." She frowned sadly. "My dad barely spoke two words to me the whole time. I'm not sure what else I can do. I've apologized every way I know how."
"Maybe your mom's right, you just need to give him some more time."
"Maybe," Jen said unconvincingly, then quickly changed the subject. "So tell me more about what you guys did today. I have to admit I had my reservations about leaving the two of you alone together all day. But seeing as how you both made it back with all limbs intact so apparently, it went ok."
"Actually," Joey said, looking at the boys in front of them to be sure no one was listening, "it was more than ok. I had a great time-with Pacey," she scrunched up her face comically. "How strange is that?"
"It's not strange at all," Jen smiled. "Pacey's a good guy, and he's a lot of fun." Catching something odd in Joey's expression, Jen narrowed her eyes at her. "Wait a minute, how much 'more than OK' was it?"
Joey looked at her with a measuring glance. Jen wasn't sure what exactly Joey was looking for, but it seemed whatever silent test had transpired, she had passed it. Quietly, Joey filled her in on the day's events. She was unprepared when Jen burst out, "He almost WHAT?!?" She covered Jen's mouth with her hand. Looking over the seat, she saw to her relief that Pacey and Jack were completely absorbed in the game.
"Could you not announce to everyone on this bus that Pacey and I nearly kissed?…Twice," she added as an afterthought.
Jen's eyebrows nearly shot into her hairline and her eyes looked like saucers as she yelped "Twice?"behind Joey's hand. Joey removed her hand and sighed. "So what happened?" Jen said more quietly.
"Nothing. The moments passed and we just moved on."
"But did you want him to kiss you?"
"I…It was…strange." Joey said, feeling at a loss for words.
"Good strange or bad strange?"
"Well, I gotta tell you I'm not that surprised after the way he looked at you last night."
"What do you mean?"
"I mean the guy looked like someone dropped an anvil on him when you walked into the room. He obviously liked what he saw."
"He was probably just surprised. I don't usually wear stuff that short. He loves Andie."
Jen shook her head, knowing Joey was in denial. "He may love Andie, but he's still a red-blooded American teenage male. He saw a gorgeous chick and he couldn't help but look."
Joey laughed. "Gee Jen, somehow, I don't think the phrases 'Joey Potter' and 'gorgeous chick' are synonymous in Pacey's mind."
"Fine, Jo, but if I were you and it happened again, I'd make sure it wasn't just an almost," Jen said, pulling out a magazine. "That boy is a damn good kisser." Grinning, she began flipping through the latest pages of Rolling Stone.
Joey sighed and looked out the window, knowing she'd have plenty to think about on the way home.
Two hours later, they pulled into the Capeside bus terminal, gathered their bags and piled into Pacey's truck. Jen and Joey sat in the back, so the guys could listen to the end of the game on the radio.
When they turned into Joey's yard, she saw Bessie, Alex and her dad standing together on the back steps and a little pang struck Joey as she looked at her family. She felt a momentary sadness that her mom couldn't be there, and she jumped out of the truck and ran to hug them all. Amid shouted greetings and happy birthdays, Bessie directed everyone to the picnic table set up with drinks and junk food. Jen and Jack went inside to call Grams, as Pacey showed Alex the toy plane Joey had bought for him. Over cake, the four of them recounted their New York tales with glee.
"It was the most incredible view…"
"…off the subway, we saw this rat that was as big as house cat…"
"You should have seen us trying to squeeze into this little booth…"
"…and Jen's apartment is incredible…"
Bessie met her father's eye and smiled. It was quite obvious that Joey had had a wonderful birthday, despite the fact that she wasn't in Capeside.
Jack walked back over to the truck and fished out some brightly wrapped presents from his bags. "And this is from me, Pacey and Jen," he said, leaning down and handing her two long rectangular boxes.
"You guys didn't have to get me anything," Joey said, surprised.
"Just open them, Joey!" the trio chorused.
"Ok, ok!" she quickly unwrapped the two boxes and pulled out several sketch pads with different types of paper and some beautiful color pencils.
"Thank you guys! They're great, I can't wait to use them."
After Joey opened a stack of CDs from Bessie and Alex, Mr. Potter cleared his throat and stood up, capturing everyone's attention. He pulled a long thin box wrapped in shiny gold paper from his pocket and handed it to Joey.
"I was going through some of your mom's things in the attic and I found this. Go ahead, open it." She opened the box and inside lay a delicate gold heart-shaped locket.
"I gave that to your mom on Valentine's Day the year we got married." Joey opened the locket to see a picture of her mom and dad together,when they were maybe in their early 20's. Tears shining in her eyes, Joey stood up and threw her arms around her father.
"I know that wherever she is,Joey, she's so very proud of the beautiful, smart, talented young woman you've become. I love you honey."
The rest of the group smiled at the girl hugging her father tightly. Jen sniffled slightly, touched by the emotional bond between the two, as she thought of her own father. Jack saw her bittersweet expression and put this arm around her and kissed the top of her head. She smiled up at him gratefully. In the few weeks that Jack had moved in with her and Grams,the two had become fast friends. Both of them had taken their turns at playing the outcast and being judged by the small-town minds in Capeside--a common ground that had developed into deep respect and admiration for each other's determination.
Joey picked up the necklace and asked Bessie to clasp it for her. Bessie handed the baby to Pacey and stood behind Joey, clasping the thin chain about her sister's neck as she held her long dark hair out of the way.
"There," Bessie said, turning Joey around. "It's beautiful Joey." She smiled at her sister, knowing they were both thinking about their mom.
"Um, Bessie," Pacey interrupted, rather anxiously, "I think the little guy's trying to use his diaper as a flotation device."
Bessie lifted Alex out of Pacey's lap, felt his rather sodden diaper and nodded in the affirmative. She grabbed Pacey's hand and turned toward the house, saying "Come on Pacey. I'll show you the fine art of diaper changing, then this little boy is going to bed."
Joey, Jack and Jen guffawed as they heard Pacey trying to wheedle his way out of the dirty stuff. Joey smirked, "typical masculine reaction," sparking a defense by Jack and Mr. Potter of their gender.
It was nearly an hour later when Jack and Jen stood up and announced regretfully that they should be going home, since Grams was waiting for them and all. Pacey stood up and started digging in his pocket for the keys, but Mr. Potter stopped him.
"I can drop them off Pacey, it's right on my way to work. I've got third shift tonight." He leaned over and kissed Joey goodbye. "Happy birthday, honey."
Goodbyes were exchanged all around and Bessie began clearing off the picnic table. Joey and Pacey walked over and started picking up cups and plates of half-eaten food, but Bessie waved them away. "I'll get this. You guys go take a walk or something." Joey looked at her suspiciously.
"Who are you and what have you done with my sister?"
"Don't worry, Miss Smarty-Pants, I plan on working you like usual tomorrow," she grinned. "You and I have a date with Mr. Clean and the kitchen windows. Now get going before I change my mind."
Joey groaned and turned to Pacey. "Come on, I've got a few hours before the coach turns into a pumpkin." They walked to the end of the dock behind Joey's house and sat down taking off their shoes and dangling their feet in the water. Joey leaned back on her outstretched arms.
"Well, Pacey as much as I hate to admit it, you were right."
"Do my ears deceive me? Did Joey Potter just tell me I was right about something?" he mocked playfully.
"Yeah, well don't let it go to your head or anything, but the trip was a great idea. In fact, I think this is the best birthday I've ever had," she sighed contentedly, and looked at Pacey kind of shyly. "Maybe it's a good sign that this summer won't be an excruciatingly boring one," She grinned.
"So does that mean you agree to place the remainder of your summer's sure-to-be overstuffed social calendar in my hands, Miss Potter?" Pacey's voice dripped with sarcasm and a smug grin stretched from ear to ear.
"Alright...on one condition," he looked at her expectantly. "No movie nights. For once in my sixteen-year existence, I think I'd like to try three whole months without a single extracurricular activity that requires my eyes to be glued to a screen."
"Hey, I'm all for living in the real world. I never did understand why Dawson doesn't get tired of watching the same crap day and night. I mean I've got nothing against movies, they're fun and all, but I'm discovering life's a hell of a lot more interesting."
Joey looked at him thoughtfully. The difference between Dawson and Pacey was immeasurable. Where Dawson was an idealist, Pacey was a realist. Where Dawson was cautious, Pacey jumped in with both feet. Where Dawson dreamed, Pacey lived. And for the first time in a while, Joey wondered, no--yearned,to know what it was like to not think and dissect, but just do, to grab hold with both hands and take what you wanted from life, rather than to sit back and wait for it to come to you. A heavy silence descended as Joey's inscrutable gaze rested on him and Pacey fidgeted uncomfortably. He had the sinking suspicion his criticism of the ever-perfect Dawson hadn't gone over too well, so he changed the subject abruptly.
"Well, Ms. Potter, the day's fun is not over yet. For Paceydini's last amazing feat of the day, I'll need you to hold out your hand and close your eyes."
Joey chuckled. "I don't know. The last time you asked me to do that,you put three fat slimy worms in my hand."
"Yeah, we were also 12 then and despite what your addled brain was thinking, gummi worms don't exactly cut it as bait," he looked at her sternly. "Now if you don't do as I tell you, you won't get your birthday present."
Jo looked at him confused. "What are you talking about Pacey? You guys gave me the art supplies, don't you remember? And you paid for the carriage ride this morning. And you bought me the…flower."
"Oh well fine, if you don't want it…" he made a move as if to get up.
Joey grabbed his arm and yanked him back down, "I didn't say that."
She promptly shut her eyes and held out her hand as instructed, wondering what the heck he could possibly have planned. Knowing Pacey, he was probably going to put an egg in her hand and make her smash it or something. She felt his arm brushing against hers and impatiently asked if she could open her eyes yet. He looked up at her face, thinking she looked oddly like she had when she was ten, all gleeful innocence and pigtails.
"Wait a minute, don't get all testy………… Ok, you can open them now."
Pacey almost laughed at her crestfallen expression when she opened her eyes to see that her hand was empty. Then she noticed the shiny glint at her wrist. She raised her arm to look at the inexpensive linked silver chain looped around her wrist. Dangling from the middle of it was a small silver charm in the shape of the Empire State Building. When she didn't say anything, Pacey wondered if it had been a bad decision to buy the bracelet. They had stopped at a little store in the bus station to buy snacks and reading matter for the ride home when he spotted it near the register. It had reminded him of the conversation he had with Joey the day before about staying on top of the Empire State Building forever. He had thought it would make a great birthday present at the time, but seeing her silent, serious expression now, he guessed he'd blundered once again. Good job Witter, that went over like a lead balloon.
He cleared his throat nervously, "I, uh, …I just figured instead of a mental picture, next time you could look at that." She still didn't say anything. "Just forget it, Jo, it was a stupid idea."
"No!" Joey said sharply, lifting her head and looking straight into his eyes.
"It's…perfect." A slow smile spread across her face. "I love it."
A heavy silence fell and Pacey was sure that if he didn't leave right then, that…well, he was just sure he had to get out of there. He swung his legs out of the water and picked up his shoes.
"Although I'm pretty sure no one's left the porch light burning, I better get home."
Joey stood up, shoes in hand and walked with him across the yard to the truck.
"Pacey?" she said, as he pulled open the door of the truck and pulled his keys out of his pocket. "Thank you…for everything."
He climbed into the truck pulling the door shut behind him, then he looked over at her and smiled. "Happy Birthday, Jo."
She stood at the edge of the driveway, watching the truck pull out down the road, unconsciously fingering the silver charm at her wrist, a little smile playing on her lips. She stood there for a moment, then turned and walked back up the steps into the house.
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