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For one endless moment, the parking lot of the brand-new Capeside Cineplex was silent. A million thoughts filtered through Dawson's mind as he tried to process the image of his two best friends kissing passionately. Then there was nothing but shock and searing pain that filled his chest making it hard to breathe.
Pacey watched as Dawson stood rooted to the ground across the aisle of the parking lot like a solid, unbending oak staring at them. For a second, the comical idea that he was in some kind of absurd wild west showdown passed through his mind and he felt the urge to pantomime drawing a 6-shooter from a pretend holster and drawl something inane like "Why don't we shoot for the little lady's hand here?" It passed and he figured he'd better say something. But Dawson beat him to the punch.
"This is a joke, right?" he croaked in a gutteral, gravelly voice that belied the fact that that he already knew the truth. A car passed by and his inertia was broken, he crossed the road to stand in front of them. "I get it. You set this up, so I would find you. This is a trick to get back at me for what I did to your dad, isn't it?" He directed the last part of this to Joey, who was still reeling from the fight with Pacey.
Seeing the heartsick look on his face, Joey was tempted to lie and say yes, it was all a joke. For 16 years, Dawson had always come first in her life. She had managed to push him out of her mind for most of the summer. Joey had been so angry with him over what he'd done that she hadn't allowed herself to even consider that she still loved him or contemplate the possibility of them gettting back together. She'd convinced herself that any guilt she may have had about her and Pacey's "extra-curricular activities," if you will, was unfounded. They were both single now, Dawson didn't have any rights to her, and in truth maybe, she had been seeking some revenge. Perhaps, a tiny, miniscule part of the attraction to Pacey had been in knowing that he was probably the one person she could be with that would hurt Dawson the most. But now Joey realized that no matter how angry he made her, she would always be at least a little in love with Dawson. She had been her whole life, it seemed at times and now, well, she didn't know how not to be.
Pacey watched Joey as she looked from Dawson to him. He could see the confusion and the agony in her eyes at the thought of having to tell Dawson the truth. He understood, because he felt it too. Despite what Dawson was probably thinking, Pacey had felt enormous guilt over the past few months. He had known it was wrong, that she was clearly marked Dawson's, despite the fact that they were in a distinct off period in their on-and-off relationship. Pacey looked at Dawson and knew he was seeing the same Joey they'd grown up with, the one that had carried a torch for him for years, but when he looked at Joey, he saw a different girl than the one he'd known all his life.
Pacey had come to know her as her own person, a smart, funny, beautiful woman who knew him inside and out and suprisingly enough, still liked what she saw. In the past week, he had given a lot of thought about what would happen between the three of them, when Dawson came back to town. Part of him had known all along it would come down to this and he had tried to prepare for losing her. Obviously, Joey would choose Dawson, he was the One, the soulmate after all. But Pacey couldn't deny though that a small part had held some hope-held it, still-that just this once he would be deemed good enough. Still, he was expected to make the noble move, play the hero, if you will, and he figured he might as well follow the script on this one. Ultimately, he wanted Joey to be happy. Even if it killed him, there was only one thing he could do. Joey saw Pacey bow his head then look away and without a word exchanged between them, Joey understood he was indicating that this was her decision to make. She could lie to Dawson and say yes it was a joke or make some other excuse that he so would no doubt believe in his desperation and Pacey would go along with it, if that's what Joey wanted. But she had seen the defeat and disappointment in Pacey's eyes and knew what it had cost him to make that concession. She couldn't do that to him, she wouldn't lie, no matter what it would do to Dawson.
Joey stepped forward, shaking her head. "It's not a joke Dawson. We didn't know you were there," her voice was soft, barely above a whisper but there was an undeniable strength in it. She watched as Dawson's face tightened and Joey felt cruel. "We didn't mean to hurt you Dawson-"
His eyes glittered and he barked out a harsh laugh. "God, could this get any more clichéd! Let's see what should my line be: "How could you do this to me?" Or how 'bout, "I thought you were my friends?" Something more classic maybe? 'Et tu, Brute?'" He gestured wildly, spitting the words out through gritted teeth. "I should have known this was too good to be true. I thought my life was finally falling back into place. Jen and Joey weren't fighting. My mom and dad were getting back together. And the two of you, that was the most unbelievable of all. My two best friends in the world mutually coexisting in harmony for the first time in 16 years. I can't believe I didn't see it. The bracelet, the driving lessons, the little glances and smiles, the new non-abrasive insult routine Guess you did a lot of bonding while sharpening that knife you just plunged into my heart."
Joey blanched at the coldness of Dawson's tone. She watched as the emotions played across his face: shock, sadness, betrayal, anger. Pacey had his eyes closed. All of a sudden it was just too much to take, this whole sordid night. She let out a choked sob then turned and ran off, not wanting to stay there another moment. Pacey wanted to call to her, to stop her, but he couldn't. He sagged against the truck's bumper and watched her go.
Losing his first target, Dawson reloaded and turned to Pacey. "So why'd you do it Pace? What about all that white knight crap with Andie? I thought you were in love with her. I thought you'd changed Pacey. What, your hormones couldn't stay faithful for three whole months?"
Distracted, he answered. "Andie broke up with me."
Before he could say any more, Dawson jumped back on the bandwagon. "Oh, I see now. She dumped you, so you figured what the hell, I'll just steal the love of my best friend's life. Why Joey, Pacey? Why couldn't you have found some bimbo to take advantage of? Just tell me, how long did you wait after I left town before you jumped her?"
Jen saw Pacey's eyes flare as he bit back an angry retort. She'd been watching him throughout this little drama. She'd seen the way he'd retreated and deferred to Dawson, the complete elation when Joey chose him, the guilt and pain that he'd hurt his friend. Her tone simmered with anger as sheinterrupted Dawson's bitter tirade.
"Dawson, would it be possible for even one minute for you to consider that there are other people hurting here?"
Dawson wheeled, sputtering with indignance. "J-Jen, Why are you angry with me? I'm not the one who turned traitor-"
She held up her hand, motioning for him to stop, feeling herself get more exasperated with him by the minute. "I understand that you're upset and I'm sure that in the World According to Dawson, this seems like one big conspiratorial plot to betray you. But this has nothing to do with you. Joey is not your girlfriend, she doesn't owe you any explanation. This is between her and Pacey, and I've watched the two of them dance around their feelings for each other all summer. They've used just about every excuse in the book to fight it-You, Andie, their pasts-but love isn't something you can plan," she paused, examining his closed expression to see if any of this was penetrating. "Dawson, for once in your life, let someone else have the happy ending."
She squeezed Pacey's shoulder in support and he smiled at her gratefully, as she walked past him, heading in the direction Joey went. Dawson was staring after Jen in awe. He couldn't believe this. He was the one who was wronged here. Joey betrayed him and so had Pacey. They were supposed to be his best friends. Jen and Joey used to hate each other and now Jen was defending her to him?! Dawson felt like he was trapped in some horrific alternate universe. Pacey and Joey were in love! Jen was disgusted with him! Jack had taken over his purpose in life! Where was the safe and comforting Capeside Dawson had always known? This was turning out to be one hell of a homecoming. Never one to deal with change well, Dawson lashed out at Pacey in frustration again.
"So Pace you didn't answer me. How does it feel to steal your best friend's girl? Did it even occur to you to maybe stop to consider my feelings before you started playing tonsil hockey with Jo?"
Buoyed by Jen's support, Pacey listened to his friend with a trace of annoyance now. Guilt slowly gave way to anger at Dawson's self-absorbed reaction.
"Did you not even hear a word Jen just said? It may be hard for you to comprehend but this is not about you, Dawson. Grow up."
"Oh that's priceless. I'm not the one here acting like a pre-pubescent boy who can't control his sexual impulses. And I'm not just going to sit by calmly watching while you take advantage of her and break her heart."
Pacey's temper broke and he turned toward Dawson, yelling now. "While I break her heart? You and your self-righteous moralizing. You want the truth Dawson, the hard truth? YOU broke her heart three months ago. You knew exactly what it would do to Joey if her dad went back to prison, but you could only see what was good for Dawson's safe little world. You didn't want to hear Joey's feelings. You made a mess, you broke her heart and you left her," he calmed down slightly, realizing they might both be screaming till their faces turn blue, if he didn't concede anything here. Pacey felt very tired suddenly. "And I'm sorry you feel betrayed Dawson and I'm sorry you found out this way. I really am. But you know what D, I'm sick of feeling sorry. I'm sick of apologizing and fixing things and playing the diplomat, because I've done that my whole life to some extent or another. Ever since I was a kid, I've been so afraid of screwing up and letting down the people I cared about. I tried so hard to be what they wanted me to be. My dad, my brother, Tamara, the whole damn town-I even had to be perfect for Andie. With Joey this summer, I didn't feel like I had to do any of that. I could just be myself, and she didn't get mad and she didn't leave and she didn't care if I wasn't perfect. So despite what you may believe Dawson, this isn't about sex, and it's not about out-of-control hormones," he paused. "I'm in love with her."
Suddenly Pacey didn't want to look at the shock and mottled fury on Dawson's face any more. He just wanted to find Joey and tell her what he'd said. He climbed in the truck and roared out of the lot, leaving Jack and Dawson standing in silence in the aisle.
Jack, who had remained silent as the whole melodrama unfolded, found it quite ironic that he was the one left to pick up the pieces of Dawson Leery's shattered ego. He looked over at the boy standing next to him with a
small amount of sympathy. Dawson's anger had dissipated at Pacey's speech and he now wore a look of utter disbelief. Jack had to say something. "I know I'm probably the last person you want to hear from right now, but you should know he's telling the truth. A lot has changed this summer."
Dawson sighed and plopped down on the curb. "That's looking like the understatement of the year right now. So, am I yet another cliché here, being truly the last to know?"
Jack sat down next to him and shrugged slightly. "I know they've been struggling with some serious feelings for a while but this was the first time I saw them act on it. I've only known there was something going on for a couple weeks. But I think Jen knew before that. Women's intuition and all that."
Dawson nodded and looked at him suspiciously. "So, Why are you so calm about all this? I mean I know you've got this new sexual identity you're dealing with here, but you did have a thing with Joey for awhile. And Andie's your sister, shouldn't you at least be pissed off on her behalf? I half expected an announcement that they'd eloped any day, what with all they went through last year."
Jack smiled. "Well, my sister was the one that wanted them to break up. I felt pretty bad for Pacey to tell you the truth, but I know how much it hurt her too. But I respect her decision. Andie's focused on getting better and that's the most important thing for her right now.
"Joey's a very special woman and I'll always have a love for her, but if you're asking me if I'm jealous, then the answer's no. I think even when we were going out, it was really more of a close friendship than anything else. Kind of like what I have with Jen now. I just want Joey to be happy. And as much as you're not trying to hear it, I think Pacey does that for her Dawson."
The disbelief on Dawson's face made it clear he didn't agree, so Jack continued. "After Andie broke up with him, Pacey was devastated, but Joey was there for him. They spent a lot of time together. She helped him get over it.
At the same time, Joey wasn't exactly in a good place at the beginning of the summer." He looked at Dawson cautiously and hastened to add, "I'm not blaming you for that, by the way, it's just a statement of fact. But Pacey really cheered her up. He organized the big trip to New York and all these crazy things for us to do and they really worked. In fact, I've seen Jo smiling and laughing more in the past three months than in the entire year I've known her."
Dawson sighed, his ego bruised at the idea that Joey might not have been happy when she was with him. "I always thought I would be the one that could cheer her up and make any problem all better. This time I am the problem."
"Dawson, I'm sure between me and Pacey you're figuring you've been replaced in Joey's life lately."
Dawson looked up in shock, figuring he'd said something aloud that he shouldn't have, but Jack didn't notice. He wondered again how Jack McPhee had become this wise, perceptive guy who always knew the right thing to say at the mere age of 16. Maybe Dawson needed a visit to an ancient shaman in the woods. He really listened as Jack went on.
"But whatever it is that you two have, whatever that strange soulmate connection is between you, it's not going to go away overnight, or even over a summer. And no one can erase it or take your place. It'll always be there and I think that when the time is right for both of you, it'll happen. But I don't think now is that time."
Dawson stared thoughtfully at an oily puddle on the ground in front of him. An incandescent rainbow shimmered on its surface, and for one crazy moment, he wondered if it was some sort of sign mocking him. He thought back on all of the events of the previous year, from Jen's arrival and his slow realization of his feelings for Joey to the two breakups and all the crossed wires and fights and miscommunications they'd had this year. Maybe Jack was right and now was not their time. He knew he was far from forgiving Pacey and Jo, but he had a lot to think about.
Finally, Dawson smiled at Jack, wondering again what made this guy so smart. "Thank you Obi-Wan."
Jack laughed and in a dead-on impression of Alec Guiness said. "Feel the force, Luke. You must use it to find your way home." They stood and began walking back to their street, discussing the merits of Ewan McGregor and Liam Neeson in a galaxy far, far away.
Twenty minutes later, Pacey made his way around to Gram's back porch, realizing he should have tried here first. He'd been all over town looking for Joey. He'd tried her house, the ruins, he'd even gone back to the cinema to no avail. As he crossed the lawn, he looked distractedly over at the ladder propped up near Dawson's window. He wondered absently if Joey would have went to hide in Dawson's closet. He quickly dismissed that thought realizing that probably the last place she'd want to be right now was at the Leerys.
He pulled the screen door open, not bothering to knock and bolted up the steps to Jen's room. The door was half-open and he could see Jen and Joey sitting on the bed talking. He took a deep breath, gathered up all his courage and charged in to stand in front of a shocked Jen and Joey.
"Joey, I've been looking for you everywhere. I need to tell you-"
She interrupted him, her eyes wide and her voice emphatic. "Pacey, I-"
"NO! Jo, don't stop me. I need to say this to you." Neither of them noticed as Jen crept out of the room. "I've been such a total idiot. I was so worried about everyone else and I didn't think I deserved you, that I wasn't good enough. But despite what Dawson says-what you said earlier-this isn't about lust Joey. You were right when you said I was a coward. I was afraid to admit what I was feeling, to myself even. I thought for sure, you'd go back to Dawson. But I realized tonight, I can't let you go without a fight." He inhaled deeply, realizing he'd just said rattled all of that off without taking a breath.
"Joey, I want to be with you and I don't care who knows or who doesn't approve. You know me, the real me, I don't have to pretend with you. You have my heart, Joey. I love you."
His words didn't seem to be producing the desired effect. In fact, Joey stood there looking downright horrified, her eyes fixed on something behind him. He had a wave of deja vu for a moment, thinking this was eerily similar to the whole parking lot fiasco and seriously hoping he wasn't going to have to go two rounds with Dawson in one night. But before he could turn around, he heard a high strangled sob that definitely didn't belong to Dawson. Half-recognizing the sound, Pacey whipped around and felt faint for the second time that night.
Andie McPhee had come home.
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