There was nobody around when I walked into the kitchen next morning.
I was hungry, and it was easy to find enough to get me started. My grandparents always cooked us stuff and brought it over in little tupperware containers. This morning there were big homemade cinnamon rolls. I carried them, along with a glass of orange juice, outside to eat.
The only sign of life was a figure on the dock down by the Elliots', and something about it looked familiar in a way that made me forget to take another bite.
Pacey? Was it Pacey, sitting there with his back against the pilings, dangling his feet in the water?
I didn't even take time to think. I cut across the grass and onto the trail, moving quickly.
He watched me come, and gradually details became clear. He was wearing only a faded pair of jeans, rolled up so they wouldn't get wet. His chest and shoulders had developed considerably since I'd seen him, and he had a golden tan over all those muscles. Was that a six pack I saw? His hazel eyes looked me over as I walked out on the dock.
"Hi Joey," he said, as if we had met yesterday.
My voice sort of stuck in my throat, though I'd never had any trouble talking to Pacey before. "Hi. I missed you at the thingy last night."
"I don't go to those much anymore," he said. He was openly inspecting me, and I realized I was still wearing boxers and a t-shirt. I wished I had changed. Although Pacey had seen me in my pajamas before.
"You haven't changed much," I said.
"You haven't either," he said. "Well, except you used to wear clothes when you talked to me before. Did you have fun last night?"
"Yeah, it was okay. There were a lot of people there I had to catch up with, but I really wanted to talk to you and Dawson. Jen sorta hung out with Chris the whole time," I said.
"Grant there?" he asked without expression.
"Oh. I figured he'd be there. That's one reason I wasn't," he replied.
I lowered myself onto the edge of the dock, fairly close to him. "Because of Doug?"
"Because of me," he corrected. He reached for my glass of orange juice and took a swig before handing it back.
"What's that mean?"
"It means I don't feel comfortable around any of them and particularly not around Grant and Bill Bodean." He looked me straight in the eye. "I kind of thought I might hear from you, after it happened."
He'd been disappointed, but he was giving me another chance.
"I didn't know about it till I got back home yesterday. Nobody in my family writes, or even calls, most of the time."
Pacey grunted. "I got your Christmas card, but it didn't say anything."
"You didn't answer it," I said.
"No." There was a pause. "I didn't know what to say to you, Jo."
"Like I don't know what to say to you now."
"We always used to be able to talk to each other. Even if we were biting each other's heads off at the same time."
"Yeah. I missed that when I was in Paris. I'm still struggling with this Doug and Abby thing, though. I can hardly believe it."
He stared at me, then drew in a deep breath that sent interesting movement through his chest. "Do you believe it? That my brother killed her?"
I hesitated. "Everybody seems to think he did. Including Terah."
"Yeah. That's what really crushed him, you know. Terah. She never came to see him. Never talked to him. Didn't even write him a note. So he knew she had believed it. He didn't see how she could, after all the plans they had made together. He never looked at another girl, or guy, for that matter, after he and Terah started dating. He didn't even like Abby. Why would he have been messing around with her?"
"That bothered me, too. You don't believe he did it, do you?"
"No." He drew up one knee and clasped his hands around it, staring across the water. "I know he didn't. I know Doug. He may be a pain, but he didn't kill Abby Morgan."
"I never thought he was a liar," I said softly, "but Jen says everybody lies sometimes. The way you and me and Dawson did when we were kids and didn't want to be punished for something."
"That is a whole different thing from what happened to Abby." He fell silent for a moment.
"I didn't think Doug ever hung out with Abby anyway. I mean, sooner or later, she bugged just about everybody in pants, including you and Dawson," I thought out loud.
"Yeah, she did bug everyone. Even me. And Doug just thought she was a pest."
One phrase hung in my mind. "Even you?" I asked, though when I thought of it, I remembered that day in detention.
"We all thought maybe she had something going with that guy, Vincent, and he must have been thirty or more. But Jen says that Vincent hated her. Plus he hadn't been around for a while by the time the murder happened, or he would have been a suspect instead of my brother."
"I don't know any Vincent. Who was he?"
"Just a guy that Jen and Abby met that was working on a boat or something. Jen told me about him. She said that she and he went out one time, but her grams caught them making out in their kitchen and that was the end of that. Jen thought maybe that he went after Abby after that. But we couldn't know for sure, seeing as Abby can't tell us anything."
"What happened to him, then?" I took another gulp from my glass, and passed him the orange juice.
"I think he finally had to leave town on his boat or something."
"Did the cops investigate Abby's death?" I asked.
"Yeah, they came when her body was discovered. But my dad was called in to do the real investigating, since he's the only qualified guy on the police force here to do that. He came back saying that all the evidence led to Doug. I couldn't believe that he wouldn't just lie and hide the evidence for Doug. But I guess since he's the sheriff, he wanted to keep up his image." He put the empty glass down on the dock and wiped the back of his hand across his mouth. "They arrested Doug because they still couldn't find anyone else. My dad didn't seem to care too much. He just said, 'I'm disappointed in you, Doug. You're starting to act more like Pacey.' Typical of my dad."
I was still back a minute or two. "Is there a chance this Vincent guy hadn't really left the area? He sounds like a better suspect than Doug. Especially since Jen thinks he hated Abby."
"Except for the fact that the police checked up on him, and he had an alibi. Several people testified that they saw him at a bar in Rochester. Actually, my dad was there. He was following a lead on some candy stealer or something. He saw Vincent. So he wasn't the one who strangled her."
I began to figure out why they might have picked Doug for a suspect. "So there weren't many people it could have been except the ones right here in Capeside."
"They were pretty sure it was somebody here, at the creek. They had already caught that lady killer, anyway, so it couldn't have been him."
I felt a chill run up my arms, remembering that Friday that I had come so close to the lady killer. "So nobody could have driven in or out from the creek that night Abby was killed? It happened at night, right?"
"Yeah. The Morgans saw Abby right after supper, and then her cousins were sent and found her shortly past midnight, after Mrs. Morgan found out Abby wasn't home yet."
It was a scary thought. I'd known practically everyone in Capeside since before I could remember. How could someone I knew have killed Abby, no matter how big a pest she was? After all, she couldn't make anyone do what she wanted; all they had to do was ignore her.
"Who do you think it was, then, if it wasn't Doug?"
I didn't look at his face, but at his hands, tanned and still, lying on his thighs.
"I've spent hours wondering about it," Pacey said, almost inaudibly. "I don't know, Joey. All I'm sure of is that Doug never killed anybody."
We sat there for a while in silence, listening to the lap of the water around the pilings, feeling the sun warming our skin as it rose higher into the sky.
But for myself, I felt an inner excitement at being back here, back in Capeside- sitting next to Pacey the way I had when I was eight and he'd put the wriggling worms on my hook because it made me queasy to do it myself.
I knew that if nothing had happened, I would be sitting here with Pacey talking about my trip to Paris. He would be questioning me about what the girls looked like, and how many dates I'd had, and how much I had thought about Dawson and him. But something had happened.
I wanted with all my heart to do something to help him now, the way he'd always helped me. Only I didn't know how.
Suddenly he got to his feet, reaching down to pull me up, too. His hand was warm and strong, and I felt as if my blood got thicker, pounding in my ears.
"I've got some stuff to do for my mom first," he said, letting me go. "But after that I'm going down to the creek by Dawson's. Wanna come?"
"Sure," I said. I could see several figures out on my grandfather's dock. "I'd better put in an appearance at breakfast."
"Okay. Meet me in an hour and fifteen minutes."
His grin was the same as I remembered it. I nodded, checked the time, and watched him heading into the woods before I took the path along the edge of the creek. I had to do something to help him, I thought.
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