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Roads Diverged

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I think both roads lead back to the same place. Right here. You and me, Pace. That's the one thing that won't change. Not if we don't let it.

~Joey Potter, “The Te of Pacey”

Preface

Two lines appeared on a short stick, and her life changed forever.

No matter what happened after, the first thing Joey did was sit down on the toilet seat and cry. Bessie heard her, of course, and made her open the door, and saw the stick, and held her sister, and cried with her.

That part was always the same.

 

Part One

I.

Joey thought she knew what she was going to do after she talked with Bessie; then she talked with Dawson at the hospital (not about that, about his own stuff) and changed her mind; then she met Lillian and changed her mind again; then she met Gretchen's gaze and made a decision. A decision not to decide.

In all the fuss over the baby, no one noticed when she pulled her boyfriend's sister out of the room for a minute. “Make Doug bring Pacey home. Please.”

Eyes wide, Gretchen nodded. “Then you're sure? You're—”

Joey jerked her head up and down once, not quite meeting Gretchen's eyes.

“Joey, I'm so...I don't even know...of course, I'll tell them to come home. Are you okay? Do you need anything? Do you want to go somewhere and talk about it?”

“Yeah, I do. With Pacey. I can't think about anything past that yet.”

“That's okay, Joey. Whatever you feel, whatever you decide to do, it will be okay. And I'm here for you, you know that, right?”

Joey nodded, numb, and accepted Gretchen's hug, all the time wishing it was Pacey's arms around her.

~*~*~

II.

The phone rang as Joey stepped into the house. It was finally Pacey.

“Hey, Gretchen told me I had to call immediately. What's wrong?”

She should have been diplomatic. She should have kindly requested that Pacey get his ass back to Capeside, so they could talk. But after the day—after the week—she'd had, all Joey could think to do was throw some of the burden on his shoulders. “I'm pregnant.”

She could hear the hiss of Pacey's in-drawn breath over the line, followed by a succinct curse. “But we were always safe. I always used—”

“They don't always work. And in a stellar example of the kind of luck that's followed me all my life, we just became part of that mythical three percent.”

“Shit. I'm sorry, Jo. What, what do you want to do? Whatever it is, I'll be there. I promise. I'll get Dougie to drive back tonight, as soon as I can, just, just let me know what you need.”

Joey took her first easy breath in hours. “That's what I need, Pace. I need you to come home.”

~*~*~

She was awakened at 4:17 A.M. by a persistent tapping at her bedroom window. Groggily, she looked over to see Pacey, bent almost double, outside it. Joey left her warm bed to let him in. “You could have waited 'til morning, dork.”

“This is morning when you're camping with my boy scout brother.” Pacey somehow managed to contort his tall frame through Joey's window without breaking himself or anything else.

Maybe it was his unusual mode of entry that made him loom larger in actuality than he did in Joey's mind. He smelled fresh and clean, like he'd stepped straight from the shower; his hair was still wet. He wore his ratty, old corduroy jacket.

Joey grabbed it by the lapels and buried her face within it, inhaling, filling her lungs with his scent. Pacey's arms came around her; he pulled her protectively close, tucked his nose into the strands of her hair and breathed.

Joey lost track of the minutes they spent locked together like that, finding comfort in the madness her life had become.

Finally, she felt brave enough to pull away and look him in the eye when she told him, “I can't have this baby, Pacey.”

Pacey flinched. It was in the space of a blink, but Joey saw it. But his hold on her didn't slacken for a moment. “Okay, Jo. Make the appointment. I'll go with you.”

“You don't have to do that.”

“It's my ba—problem, too. Of course, I'm going.”

“Thank you,” she said in a small voice. She looked at the clock. 4:32. Over an hour before her alarm went off for school. “Pace, would you, would you come to bed and just hold me?”

He kissed her forehead, nodded against her hair. Joey helped him slide off his jacket, then slipped into bed while Pacey took off his shoes. He was slow and gentle as he lay down beside her, as though he feared his touch could break her.

He pushed a strand of hair out of her eyes, tucked it behind her ear—its traditional place—and smiled sadly. “I love you, Jo.”

“Love you, too, Pace.” She closed her eyes and tried to sleep.

*~*~*

III.

“You don't have to do this, you know.”

Joey tuned out her sister's words. She focused on the picture on the wall across from her, a laughing red-haired woman, chin tilted to the sky, standing in the middle of an open field. Joey supposed she was meant to represent the freedom, the world of possibilities opening to the women who came here.

Bessie fidgeted in the chair beside her. “We could always come back another day, Joey. After you've taken some more time to—”

“Josephine Potter?” a blue scrub-clad nurse with a clipboard called out.

Joey stood. “That's me.”

“The doctor will see you now.”

Bessie gathered her purse and made to follow her, but Joey stopped her with a hand on her arm. “It's okay, Bessie. You can wait here.”

“But, Jo—”

“I know this is hard for you. It's enough that you agreed to drive me home. I won't make you watch, and, frankly, I don't think I can listen anymore to you trying to talk me out of it.”

“Miss Potter,” the nurse prompted impatiently.

Joey stepped away from her sister's open arms and followed the nurse into the clinic's antiseptic hallways. She didn't look back.

The nurse left her in an empty examination room, with a folded hospital gown, and instructions to put it on. The doctor would be there shortly.

After changing, Joey had a few minutes to sit alone and take in her surroundings. The smiling Asian woman in the portrait in this room was leaning over the bow of ship at sunrise. It hurt Joey in some indefinable way to look at it, so she surveyed the medical equipment to the side of the exam bed. Some of it reminded her weirdly of tools at her dentist's office. This whole procedure would take less time than having a tooth pulled and was supposed to be less painful, too.

Someone knocked on the door, then entered without waiting for a response. “Josephine? I'm Dr. Wharton.” The doctor was a kind-faced woman with salt-and-pepper hair. The hand she held out to Joey was firm and smooth, the nails perfectly clipped. For some reason, Joey couldn't stop staring at it, even after they shook hands and the doctor beckoned her to sit down.

Dr. Wharton looked over the file in her hand. “So you think you're about eight or nine weeks along?”

Joey nodded. “Yes,” she managed in a choked whisper.

Dr. Wharton glanced up and offered her a reassuring smile. “It's all right, Josephine—”

“Joey. Please.”

“Joey,” the physician corrected herself with hardly a pause. “I'm not here to judge you or your choices. I know you've been given the literature and are aware of your options. I believe you've come here with a fully-informed and well-considered decision to terminate your pregnancy. Is that correct?”

“Yes.” It sounded so rational when Dr. Wharton said it. It didn't reflect at all the mind-numbing terror Joey had been living with the past three days.

“Okay then. The first thing I'm going to do is perform an ultrasound to make sure you're not farther along than you think you are.”

“I don't have to see it, do I?”

“Of course not. Assuming you're on target, I'll give you a mixture of drugs to take. Ibuprofen, Valium, and Vicodin. They'll take about thirty minutes to fully relax you, at which point I'll return and perform the procedure. You're familiar with what that entails?”

Joey nodded. She looked again at the suction tube. Like spit at the dentist's office.

“The actual procedure will take only a minute. There may be some mild discomfort and bleeding after. Because of the drugs in your system, you will need a ride home. Do you have one?”

“My sister. She's waiting for me.”

“Good. That's good, Joey. I also have the option of starting you on birth control pills today, so this kind of thing doesn't happen to you again.”

“We were safe,” Joey said in a rush. “We used condoms. Every time. I don't want you to think I'm some brainless twit who didn't even stop to think about the consequences.”

“I didn't think that, Joey. But condoms are not one hundred percent effective, as you've unfortunately discovered. Would you like a prescription for birth control?”

“Yes, please.” Joey blushed, embarrassed by her outburst. Why was she so defensive? She hadn't done anything wrong. She wasn't doing anything wrong.

You lied to Pacey, her treacherous conscience reminded her.

Yeah, well, he lied to me, too, she argued back, then silenced her inner debate to follow Dr. Wharton's instructions for the ultrasound.

Joey tried not to think about what the doctor was seeing, tried not to think at all. She caught a glimpse of the smiling woman on the boat and yanked her head in the other direction.

“You're exactly where you thought you were, Joey. Everything looks good. I'm going to have you swallow these pills, then lie back and try to relax. There's some magazines here, or I could have your sister come sit with you, if you'd prefer.”

“No!” Then, in a more reasonable tone, “No, thank you. I”ll be fine.” Joey obediently took the drugs and leaned against the pillows.

“I'll be back soon,” the doctor promised, then left her alone.

Joey glanced at the magazines, but couldn't see the appeal of which celebrity was cheating on which and with whom, and she had no need to craft the perfect Christmas party centerpiece. She stared up at the white ceiling, the sterile, florescent lighting.

“I'm doing the right thing,” she told herself for the hundredth time. “For both of us.”

A baby now would disrupt all of Joey's carefully laid plans for her life. It would place the dream of Worthington and a way out of Capeside forever beyond her reach. But she didn't think her motives were entirely selfish.

Pacey was unraveling. Joey had seen it for herself, even before Gretchen had warned her. This baby would be the final straw, the pressure that shattered him. Joey loved him too much to do that to him, too much to give him the guilt of this choice.

Too much to tell him the truth? insisted that awful little voice inside.

It wouldn't do him any good to know. It wouldn't change what had to be done.

But fear was digging a hole in her belly. These lies she and Pacey kept telling each other were going to be their undoing. Joey couldn't help feeling that in signing consent for this abortion, she had signed the death sentence on her and Pacey's relationship.

The drugs started working in her system. She couldn't hold the threads of her thoughts together anymore. She watched the portrait of the woman on the boat until the water seemed to move, the hull of the ship rocking up and down.

Joey closed her eyes. She tried to smell the salt tang of the sea, instead of the powerful disinfectants, tried to hear the roll of the waves and the whistle of the wind, instead of the gentle buzz of the lights. She pictured a moment of pure happiness, lying on the deck of True Love, Pacey's hand in hers, as they tried futilely to number the stars.

Distantly, a door clicked open, a voice said, “Are you ready, Miss Potter?”

There were noises and sounds and smells, but Joey was far away, with the sea and the stars and Pacey beside her.

*~*~*

“Are you all right, Joey?” Bessie asked, for what had to be the hundredth time, since they'd left the clinic.

“Fine.” Joey stared out the window at the ocean as it slipped by. Now that her high was ending, it had never seemed further away.

“Are you sure? Because you can talk to me, you know. Despite what you think, I'm not judging you.”

“I said I'm fine!” But there was a tightening in her throat, an itch behind her eyelids.

Bessie turned the truck onto the turnoff for the B&B without another word.

As Bessie pull to a stop, Joey made herself apologize. “I'm sorry I snapped, Bess. Thanks for your help today.” She smiled, but it hurt her face somehow.

“I love you, Joey.”

“I know.”

Joey went inside and helped make dinner. She played with Alexander. She did homework. At the normal time, and not a minute before, she kissed her sister good night and went to her room. She closed the door, got into her pajamas, and slipped into bed.

Then she curled into a ball and stifled her sobs in a pillow.

~*~

I.

Pacey arrived home two days later, too late to call or stop by, or so he said, but he was at her house bright and early the next morning to give her the traditional ride to school.

“Hey. Gretchen said you needed to talk to me?” he said as soon as she opened the door.

Joey tried not to think about the fact that he didn't so much as greet her with a hug, when he used to squeeze the breath out of her lungs after a few hours apart. She tried not to think about how he had lied to her about his trip with his brother during their phone call the previous day, how she put off telling him about her pregnancy. She tried even harder not to think about how her breakfast was threatening to make a reappearance any moment now. She thought instead about how the school day was just beginning, how Pacey had a test in English, and how she didn't need to give him something else to worry about three hours before it.

So she smiled and kissed his cheek as she walked toward the Witter Wagoneer. “I do, but nothing that won't wait until after school. Shall I quiz you on the way?”

She pretended not to notice the way Pacey's jaw clenched and shoulders slumped as he followed her to the car. He opened her door for her before heading around to the driver's side, and Joey marveled, as she always did, at how gallantry came to Pacey so effortlessly he didn't even realize how rare and special it was. She should tell him more often, but the scowl on his face choked the words in her throat.

Instead, she asked him to name the three biggest influences on the Lost Generation. Pacey answered correctly. In fact, he answered every question correctly. But the more right answers he got—or the more Joey praised him for them—the darker his expression, the tenser his shoulders, the tighter his grip on the wheel, became.

Also, the more the Jeep bumped along the creekside road, the harder Joey fought to keep her breakfast where it belonged.

“That's great, Pace! You shouldn't have any trouble with the test today.”

“You don't have to do this, you know,” he snarled back.

“Do what?”

“Be my little cheerleader. We both know no matter how well I do on this test, it's not going to do anything to stave off my life of impending mediocrity.”

“Pacey, pull over.”

Pacey glanced sideways at her but kept driving. “Sorry you're stuck with my self-pity, Potter, but I'm not letting you walk three miles out of spite.”

“Spite has nothing to do with it,” Joey hissed through gritted teeth. “Pull over now, or I'm going to ralph all over the dashboard.”

Pacey's anger turned immediately to worry as he pulled over, but Joey barely noticed. She didn't even make it out of her seat, just opened the door, stuck her head over the gravel and let fly. Only once her stomach was empty did she become aware of Pacey holding her hair back and asking repeatedly if she was okay.

“Fine,” Joey mumbled, though her head was splitting, she was covered in cold sweat, and her mouth tasted of bile. She grabbed an Altoid from her purse.

Pacey had yet to start the car. He was staring at her, concern etched across his face. “What was that, Jo? Have you been sick?”

Lie, hissed one voice inside her head, while another one—which sounded suspiciously like a sanctimonious Dawson—insisted, Tell the truth.

Joey opted to continue her recent streak of putting off decisions. “Sort of. We'll talk about it later.” Pacey kept staring at her. She fidgeted, bit her bottom lip. Did not meet his eyes. “We'll be late for school!” She twirled her hair, pushed it behind her left ear. Did not meet Pacey's eyes.

A sharp, inward breath and muttered expletive finally brought Joey's head up to see his blue eyes, round as saucers, riveted on her face. “Jo, are you pregnant?”

She didn't confirm. She didn't deny. She sat there, a deer caught in headlights, and waited to see what he would do.

“You are, aren't you? You're pregnant.”

Joey thought she managed a nod. She was shaking badly enough she wasn't sure.

“Shit, Jo,” Pacey whispered. His eyes were bright, but his expression was unreadable. “Come here.” Without waiting for her to move, he gathered her into his arms and pulled her close.

Joey buried her face in the curve where neck met shoulder and breathed. It felt like the first free breath she had taken in a week. He smelled like sea and woods and Pacey, and he was warm and solid and real when she hugged him back. She felt safe, as though part or her burden had already been lifted.

“What do you want to do?” he breathed in her ear. She could hear the controlled panic in his voice, but his hold around her didn't slip.

Joey shook her head against his shoulder. “I don't know yet, Pace.” She forced herself to pull away and smile at him. “For now, I want to go to school. I want you to do well on your test, and I want to not think about it for the next six hours. After that, we'll go somewhere and talk, figure it out together.”

Pacey drew a ragged breath with a hint of a laugh in it. “How can my English test possibly matter compared to this?”

“What? You want our kid to grow up with a high school dropout for a dad?” Joey tried for a joke, but there were too many loaded words in that sentence. She wished them back even as she said them.

But Pacey caught them all and latched onto two. “Our kid? You want to keep the baby?” He tried to sound nonchalant, but Joey could almost feel the hope radiating off him.

She hated to crush that—it was so long since she'd seen any hope in Pacey—but she had to be honest. “I truly haven't decided yet, Pacey. We have a lot of things to talk about—after your English test.”

Pacey chuckled ruefully as he started the car. “Yes, ma'am.”

~*~

Afraid Pacey would reintroduce the subject at lunch, Joey headed straight for the table where Jack and Jen were already sitting. She grabbed only a small packet of Saltines from the lunch line; the cafeteria smell was nauseating.

The best friends were continuing their never-ending debate about colleges, but tactfully changed the subject to prom as Pacey approached.

“What are you wearing, Joey?” Jen asked.

“Oh, Bessie's offered to make me a dress, if I decide to go.” Joey made room for Pacey. He sat sideways on the bench beside her, his right hand rubbing soothing circles on her lower back, while he picked at his food with his left. She saw him frown at her meager lunch and shook her head slightly, a warning not to bring it up in front of their friends.

“Why wouldn't you go to prom?” Jack asked. “Don't tell me your absentee boyfriend hasn't asked you yet?” He threw a fry of judgment at Pacey.

Pacey caught the fry and ate it with a shrug. “Of course I have. Little Miss Antisocial here just isn't sure she wants to experience the final rite of passage.”

“I don't see the point. I've had a lousy time at every school function I've ever attended. Why would I want to commemorate my senior year—which has been one of the best years of my life—” Joey squeezed Pacey's thigh, so he'd know how much a part of that statement he was. “—with yet another public disaster.”

Jack and Jen lectured Joey on the importance of senior prom, even while acknowledging it would inevitably suck.

Joey tuned them out to focus on Pacey's hand covering hers on his leg, their fingers interlocking, fusing. His eyes watched her face in the tender, adoring way she loved, the look she'd seen so rarely lately, the one she had worried she would never see again.

Love you, she mouthed to him.

Love you, too, Pacey mouthed back.

“You both disgust me,” Jen lied with a wide smile.

Maybe, Joey allowed herself to hope for the first time, maybe we can make it through this.

~*~

Lucky if she heard one word in ten of her afternoon classes, Joey spent the remaining school hours planning and replanning her upcoming conversation with Pacey. There were so many things she wanted to tell him, so many things she wanted him to share with her, but she wasn't sure they could breach the wall of silence forming between them.

Not for the first time, she missed the True Love, their magic summer, the easy intimacy, a barnacle for his thoughts. Maybe Pacey had been right all along; they never should have come back to Capeside.

After a hundred imaginary confrontations, the final bell rang. Pacey was waiting by her locker by the time Joey arrived. Without a word, he relieved her of her bookbag, slung it over his shoulder, and wrapped her hand in his. His expression was much bleaker than it had been at lunch, but whether this was from his classes, worry about them, or something entirely different, Joey couldn't say. He didn't tell her.

They walked to the car in silence, hand in hand, but with a feeling of the hangman's noose hanging over her.

Only when they were both inside the car—Pacey opened her door for her again, because of course he did—did he look at her and ask, “Where to?”

“Wherever you want.” In her afternoon musings, Joey had been unable to decide whether homefield advantage was something that would matter.

Pacey nodded as he started the car. “First things first. You need to eat something.”

Joey opened her mouth to argue, then abruptly closed it again. What was the point? He's seen her lose her breakfast, and her non-existent lunch. Plus, the nausea had passed for now, and she was ravenous. As if to second the point, her stomach rumbled. “Aye, aye, Cap'n,” she agreed instead.

Pacey shot her a smile and drove quickly—yet still silently—to the beach house. Joey was a bit surprised; after all, there was bound to be better food at the B&B. But Gretchen wasn't home, and perhaps Pacey didn't feel up to facing Bessie yet.

“How about a Joey shipboard specialty?” Pacey asked as he scrounged around the small kitchen.

A nostalgic half-smile flitted across Joey's face. “Sure.” She had grown immensely sick of fish aboard the True Love in a remarkably short time, and might have eaten peanut butter sandwiches for breakfast, lunch and dinner if Pacey had let her.

He set one before her now, along with a glass of orange juice.

“Thanks, Pace.”

“Well, it's not exactly haute cuisine, but I do what I can.” Pacey made himself a sandwich; for long minutes, they ate in silence.

This deafening silence rang in Joey's ears, like the gathering air pressure before a storm. Something had to break. And soon.

“So are we ever—” Pacey began at the same moment Joey blurted out, “We have to quit lying to each other.”

Pacey's face was purposely blank. She wanted to hit him. “What do you mean, Jo?”

“I mean I know you weren't fishing with Doug. I know you got drunk and were arrested. Gretchen told me. But she shouldn't have had to tell me, Pacey, because I should have heard it from you!”

“Jo, I—”

“No, let me finish. I know I started this with my lies to Dawson and about Dawson to you, and I'm so sorry, Pace. Really, truly sorry, because I never want you to feel second-best with me, because you're not. You're everything. But we won't make it if we don't start talking openly to each other again. And if we're not going to make it, there's no point in even talking about this other thing.”

“I was embarrassed,” Pacey admitted, when she let him speak. He busied himself cleaning up their snack, so he didn't have to look at her. “That's why I didn't tell you. It was such a stupid stunt—ditching school to get drunk with Drue, who I don't even like—but I felt like it didn't even matter, that nothing I did would ever matter, that I don't matter.” His hands rested on the edge of the sink, head bowed in defeat.

Joey wrapped her arms around him from behind. She laid her head between his shoulder blades and willed him to believe what she was about to say. “You matter to me, Pacey. Everything you do matters to me. You're thinking for two, remember?”

Pacey turned to face her, his arms folding around her waist. Carefully, his eyes searched her face as he asked, “Still just two, or is it three now?”

“I don't know, Pace. When I think about having this baby, I feel terrified, like my whole life is falling apart. But when I think about not having it, I feel sick, like I'd be losing a vital piece of myself. So I need to know what you want, what you honestly want.”

“I want you to do whatever is best for you.”

He meant it. She knew he meant it. But she also knew he wasn't being entirely honest with her. Still. It was infuriating. “It is just possible, you know, Pace, that whatever is best for us is what's best for me.”

“What's best for you is Worthington and the quickest road the hell out of here. Let's face it, Jo, you deserve better than this place, and you deserve better than me.”

Tears stung her eyes. She grabbed hold of his face and cradled it between her hands. “Pacey Witter, you don't get it, do you? There is no one better than you. I could look through all of Worthington, or the eastern seaboard, or the entire world, and I would never find anyone who loves me like you do, or who I could love even half as much as I love you.”

He kissed her, desperate and yearning, then held her tighter as he buried his face in the crook of her neck. “I love you, Jo. I'm just so scared.”

“Isn't that usually my line?” she teased, stroking his hair where it fell on his collar.

Joey felt his laugh against her skin. “Yeah. Not exactly my finest hour, but you asked for the truth, and there it is. I'm terrified.”

She was more relieved by his honesty than she could have been by any show of bravado. “Of what?”

“Of screwing this up. Of losing you. Of not losing you, but having you resent me for losing your dreams. Of resenting you for giving them up for me.”

She pulled back and forced Pacey to look at her again. “Do you want this baby, Pacey?”

Pacey sighed and closed his eyes. His head rested against her palms as though he was too exhausted to hold it up any longer. “Yeah, I do. But I'm worried the main reason I want it is because it ties you to me, and that's stupid and selfish and a crap reason to have a baby.”

“Well, it's not the worst reason I've ever heard. It's also not the best one.” Joey smiled, bit her tongue between her teeth as she drew a reluctant smile from Pacey.

“Do you want this baby, Jo?”

Joey drew a deep breath and tried to be as honest as he had been. “When I started to think I might be pregnant, I was horrified. I could almost see Worthington slipping away in front of me. It wasn't until after I took the test—really, not until after I held Dawson's baby sister—that I realized there's this whole potential person inside me. Part of you, and part of me, and I find that thought beautiful. But that doesn't necessarily mean it's the right time for it.” She bit her lip. Honesty, she'd insisted. Honesty. “I want to go to Worthington, Pace. I know it's selfish, but I don't want to give it up.”

“Then you're going, Jo. Have the baby, don't have the baby, you're going to Worthington, if I have to work four jobs or sell my organs to make it happen.”

Joey nodded slowly, as her mind kicked into overdrive. “Okay then. What happens next is you and I are going to order a pizza—I'm still starving—and we're going to sit down and see if there's any possible way we can make it work financially, logistically and personally to have a baby and go to Worthington.”

Pacey grinned from ear to ear.

“What? Why are you so happy?”

“Remember our economics assignments? Andie and I had more problems than that, and I still walked away with a Viper.”

For the first time in a week, Joey laughed.

~*~

By the time the pizza arrived, they were already at work, papers spread across the table as Joey studied the problem harder than she'd studied for any test in her life.

The first hurdle was money. Babies were expensive; there was no getting around that. Fortunately, Bessie was a big believer in insurance—it had already saved them once when the Ice House burned down—so the medical costs would be minimal. Bessie had also saved most of Alex's baby clothes, so if they had a boy, he could have his cousin's hand-me-downs. If they had a girl, perhaps Gail would be willing to pass on some of Lillian's things—

“That's assuming the Leerys will still speak to me once I tell Dawson our big news,” Joey pointed out.

“You haven't told him yet?” Pacey pretended to be reading one of Joey's lists, but she could see his insecurities rising to the surface.

“No, I wanted to talk to you first. Only your sister and mine know so far, and I'd like to keep it that way until we decide for sure what we're going to do.”

“So how badly does Bessie want to kill me right now?”

“About as badly as I did at sixth grade camp when you put the snake in my tent.”

“Aren't you ever going to let that one go, Potter?”

“It was. A snake. In my tent.”

Pacey chuckled. “A gesture of love from a misguided boy, I assure you.”

“Uh-huh. Right.”

Joey finished her list of items they would need for the baby. Crib, stroller, car seat, high chair—even second-hand, they would add up. Plus, bottles, breast pump, baby monitor, pacifiers. A never-ending stream of diapers, possibly formula, eventually baby food.

Pacey whistled as he took in her final tally. Then he shrugged. “Who needs two kidneys anyway?”

“Pacey!”

“Kidding, Jo. I told you, I'll work as much as I need to. And we can live off ramen and peanut butter. Plenty of college students do that, even without the baby excuse.”

“And while you're working these eighty hours a week, and I'm going to class, who will be watching the baby?”

“Gretchen's thinking about moving back to Boston. She wouldn't mind some auntly babysitting duties.”

“And when she's busy?”

“I don't know, Jo. I'll work nights or something, so I can be with the baby while you're in class.”

“And when would you sleep? When would we see each other?”

Pacey watched her warily. “Having second thoughts already?”

“And third and fourth. I'm not convinced we can do this, Pace, but I'm not convinced we can't, either. But we have to figure this stuff out.”

“Maybe we should call it a night. I know the longer we wait, the harder it will be, but you don't have to decide tonight, do you?”

Joey shook her head. “Not tonight, but soon.” She'd done enough research to know that if she was going to have an abortion, she wanted it to be in the first trimester.

“Okay. So I'll give you a ride home, we'll both sleep on it, and start again tomorrow.”

“Why do I need to go home? I thought I'd stay here tonight.” Joey was proud of herself for suggesting that without dropped eyes or a stammer. She did blush, damn it.

“Isn't your sister already planning my gruesome murder?”

“About that...I might have exaggerated a bit. Bessie's disappointed, mostly in me, I think. But I told her we were always safe, that one must have ripped or something. She doesn't hate you, Pace; she's known you too long for that.”

“Dawson's known me even longer, and he's managing just fine.”

“Dawson doesn't hate you, Pacey. I thought you two were doing better lately.”

Pacey snorted. “And how long do you suppose that will last when he discovers I've impregnated his erstwhile soulmate?”

Joey rolled her eyes. “Who hates who again? You're dying to tell him, admit it.”

“I admit there's a gross male part of me that would like Dawson to know.” He took her wrist and pulled her into his lap. “But there's another part of me that knows how I would feel if the situation were reversed, which is how I know if he doesn't hate me now, he will very soon.”

He sounded so genuinely bereft that Joey couldn't stop herself from kissing his brow. “I'm sorry, Pacey. I never wanted to come between you two.”

Pacey laughed, a little bitterly. “Yeah, I'm sorry, too, but even if I'd known it would cost me Dawson's friendship? I wouldn't change a moment with you. Wouldn't, won't, can't stop loving you.”

Joey smiled, alive to the tips of her toes. “Well, that settles it. I'm definitely staying here tonight.”

Pacey smirked up at her. “Yeah?” He kissed her slowly, thoroughly, the way that made her heartbeat pound through her ears.

“Yeah,” she whispered, a breath away from his lips. “After all, what's the worst that could happen? I'm already pregnant.”

*~*~*

III.

Pacey came home, but nothing was the same. They didn't touch anymore. Joey wasn't sure if that originated with her or with him, but their relationship had been tactile from the very beginning—from before the beginning, when he pulled her braids and she pushed him in the mud—and its absence was galling.

Joey wanted to change it, but every time she thought to reach out, the specter of that antiseptic room stopped her hands.

They talked, they bantered, but every word felt forced, a script prepared to hide the deeper truths they both concealed. Joey couldn't remember the last time they'd been able to meet each other's eyes.

It felt like a slow, creeping disease, tainted and ugly. Like the strained days before her mother's death. Like cancer.

~*~

I.

The solution to their logistical problem came from an unexpected source.

Joey was walking to class with Jen when another bout of morning sickness hit. She rushed to the bathroom without a word.

Jen, curious, followed her in and found her retching in an open stall. “Joey? Are you okay?”

“Fine,” Joey muttered, wiping vomit from her chin. She went to the sink to clean up without looking at her friend.

“Are you sure? Stomach flu sucks. You might as well take the day off. It's not like they're going to teach anything you don't already know anyway.”

“I said I'm fine, Jen.” She grabbed a piece of gum from her purse. Jen's eyes were wide when Joey confronted them in the mirror. “There goes the bell. We should get—”

“Joey, are you pregnant?”

Joey wasn't telling people, but she was also a terrible liar. “Please don't tell anyone.”

“God,” Jen swore at a deity she didn't believe in, “of course I won't. Have you told Pacey yet?”

Biting her lip, Joey nodded.

“How'd he take it?”

“Great. Perfect, even. But I haven't decided if I'm going to keep it or not.”

Jen studied her face for a minute, then smiled softy. “Yes, you have. Congratulations, Mom.”

Angry for no reason, Joey stomped past Jen and started pushing all the stall doors open. The last thing she wanted was an eavesdropper making her the scandal of the school. Again. “It's not that simple. I still want to go to Worthington, and financially, we can maybe swing it, if poor Pacey works his ass off. But who's going to watch the baby? And Pacey's never lived in a house with a newborn. I have, and it sucks. How will I be able to study? We'll never get any sleep. Babies are only beautiful in the abstract.”

Oddly, Jen's smile only widened during Joey's diatribe. “Sure, but they're also cuddly and sweet, and that new baby smell? Better than any drug I've ever tried. Not to mention, the last time I heard you so passionate about anything, you were trying to convince me you weren't in love with Pacey. So I say again, congratulations, Mama.”

Joey groaned and rolled her eyes. “Come on. We're late for class.”

~*~

Two days later—two days in which Joey kept trying and failing to justify the decision Jen said she'd already reached, two days in which she'd tried to make Pacey study at least a bit for his finals in the midst of their personal drama, two days during which Bessie repeatedly reminded her it was time to make an appointment at one clinic or the other—Jen plopped her lunch tray down across from Pacey and Joey and solved their second dilemma.

“It's decided. We're going to Boston Bay.”

Joey smiled. “I'm so glad, Jen. We'll be able to see each other sometimes.”

“I'm hoping for better than that. See, Grams is coming with us. She, Jack and I are looking for a place, and we want you two to join in on this little Full House adventure. Don't worry, I haven't told them about the baby—”

“Who told you?” Pacey asked, but Joey shushed him.

“But when they do find out, in addition to paying lower rent than you would in some rathole by yourselves, you'll have three, free, live-in babysitters. How's that for logistics?” Jen finished triumphantly.

Pacey grinned at her. “Pretty good, Lindley. Pretty damn good.”

~*~

“So it's a definite no on prom then?”

“Definitive and complete no,” Joey answered cheerfully. “Unless you're willing to forgo our fine ramen dining for the next year.”

“And you're not upset at all about missing our senior prom?”

“Upset about losing a night to small talk with people I can't wait to never see again, dance badly to worse music, and pray the chicken dinner doesn't come up on me in front of the whole senior class? Please. I think this may be the happiest moment of my pregnancy. Possibly my life.”

Pacey chuckled, playing with a wayward strand of her hair. “In that case, Miss Josephine Potter, would you do me the honor of accompanying me to a small, private affair on Saturday next?”

“Pacey, it doesn't do any good to skip prom if you spend the money on some absurd surprise for me. I'm more than fine just hanging out, watching a movie.”

“Minimal expense, I swear. But it's prom night, Jo. Whatever you say, I want to make it a night you'll remember. Fondly, I hope.”

His pleading blue eyes weakened her resolve. “Less than fifty dollars?”

Pacey raised his hand, palm flat. “Swear on my grandmother's grave.”

“Fine. You got yourself a date.”

~*~*~

II.

Pacey's foot beat a nervous staccato against the tile floor. Joey placed a hand on his knee in an attempt to still it. He grabbed her hand and squeezed. She turned her palm up; their fingers interlocked. Pacey's foot stopped tapping.

Joey studied the other people in the waiting room. A teary girl who looked even younger than Joey sat next to a granite-faced woman who could only be her mother. Two women, well put-together and dressed for the office, gossiped in one corner; for the life of her, Joey could not decide which one was pregnant and which was the ride. Only one other man was present. A gray-haired executive in a business suit sitting next to a busty, much younger blonde. Affair, Joey decided.

The door opened. “Josephine Potter?” the nurse called.

~*~*~

The consultation was a blur to Joey. Her doctor was named Wharton, had a kind voice and beautiful hands. Pacey sat beside her the whole time, fingers tangled with hers. He spoke only once, to ask about the risk to Joey. Minimal, assured Dr. Wharton.

Joey watched Pacey's pale face as she swallowed her painkillers and muscle-relaxants. “Maybe they should give you some of these.”

Pacey smiled feebly at her joke. “I'm all right.”

Dr. Wharton left them alone while the drugs took effect. Pacey's eyes darted restlessly about the room. Joey was fascinated by a picture on the wall.

“So prom's tomorrow,” Pacey said after minutes of strained silence.

Joey laughed. She couldn't help it. It was so absurd, waiting for an abortion while discussing the school dance like any normal teenager. “I'm sorry. You're right, it is. But I'm not going.”

“You have to, Jo. We already made plans with everyone, remember? And it's senior prom. You'll regret it if you don't.”

“I am not going to feel like celebrating a day after this.” Her gesture encompassed her body and the room around her. “You can go, if you want. Tell everyone I have the stomach flu or something.”

“Why would I go without you? If you really don't want to, I'll let Jen know we're opting out. We could have pizza and movies at the beach house, I guess.”

Joey's pills were kicking in. She felt loose, relaxed in a way she never, ever was. Her eyes took a catalog of Pacey Witter from his dark hair—he'd never had a good haircut, not as long as she'd known him—to his brow lines, the creases at the top of his nose where wrinkles would form one day. His eyes, ocean blue, deep and changeable as the sea he loved so much. His nose, too big to be handsome, but somehow perfect on his face. His mouth was thin, but his lips were soft and mobile, and his tongue knew just what to do. The baby-round cheeks, and the small scar from a sledding accident when they were eight. The chin, which would never be called strong, but gave his face a cuddly lovableness.

The broad shoulders and the biceps which were bigger than Dawson's, but not jock-level defined. The flat stomach—she wondered sometimes if it would stay that way as he aged; Pacey hated exercise regimens, regimens of any kind—and slim hips.

Joey giggled as she thought of the parts of him she couldn't see, his perfect ass and the protruding penis, which she couldn't say she found aesthetically pleasing, but she liked the feel of it inside her, filling a void she'd barely realized was there until him.

Jen had asked Andie once about Pacey's size. Andie had grinned, raised a brow, and said, “Look at his feet.”

Joey looked at Pacey's feet, in their big, brown boots. “You're so beautiful,” she told them.

Pacey snorted. “You're high as a kite, Potter.”

Joey pulled her eyes back to his face and grinned. “Yeah. Remember when mine got stuck in a tree, so you climbed up with me and untangled it, and Dawson sang, 'Pacey and Joey sitting in a tree,' until you got mad and threw mud at us both?”

Dr. Wharton poked her head in the door. “Everything all right in here?”

“She's as relaxed as she'll ever be.”

“I'm flying kites,” Joey agreed.

While Dr. Wharton readied for the procedure, Pacey pulled his chair even closer to Joey's side. He wrapped his arm over her head on the pillow and stroked her hair. He glanced at the doctor once, grimaced, and trained his eyes on Joey's face. She stared right back at him.

“Pace?”

“Yeah, Jo?”

“Promise me we'll take our kids kite-flying.”

Something flitted across Pacey's face, sad and wistful and aching. “Sure, Jo. Whatever you want.” He kissed her brow.

Joey grabbed hold of his face. “No, Pacey, promise me.”

Pacey hesitated.

“And you're all done,” Dr. Wharton announced.

~*~*~

Joey had some minor spotting and pain over the rest of that day and the next. Nothing to be concerned about, according to what she'd learned. She'd suffered worse from her regular monthly.

Beyond the pain, what Joey felt most was relief. The worst had happened, but it was over now. Life could return to its regularly scheduled broadcast.

For the better part of those two days, Pacey never left her side. She wanted the comfort of her own room, so he hooked up a TV and VCR in there. He brought Joey her favorite snacks, rubbed her sore back, and was generally the perfect boyfriend she'd been missing the past few weeks.

“You're so good to me. What did I ever do to deserve you?”

Pacey looked up from the stack of videos with a rueful grin. “Something awful in a previous life.”

Joey rolled her eyes. “Can you ever just take a compliment? I'm tired of movies. Come here.” She patted the bed, and Pacey obediently made his way to her. “Let's read.”

So while their friends were dressing up and bidding adieu to adolescence through another meaningless ritual, Pacey and Joey curled together with her battered copy of Anne of Green Gables between them and read the story of the fiery-tempered girl who broke her slate over a boy's head because he called her Carrots.

The sun went down. The moon rose. Joey listened to the hypnotic pull of Pacey's voice. She watched his face and reached a conclusion, easy as breathing. She put her hand across the pages, so Pacey would look at her instead of the book, and told him, “If I ever do have kids, Pacey, it will only be with you.”

Pacey closed the story, his expression shuttered. “You can't promise that.”

“And yet I just did.”

“You're going to Worthington in the fall, beginning your life. You're going to meet hundreds of new people, about half of whom, statistically speaking, will be men. You were smart enough not to tie yourself down with a baby. Don't be stupid and tie yourself down with me.”

Crushed, Joey searched his face. “What are you saying, Pace? Are you breaking up with me?”

Pacey reached out, cradling her jaw in his hands. “No, I'm not. I should, but I can't seem to make myself, even though I know it's what's best for you. I just want you not to feel obligated to—”

“Obligated! I don't feel obligated. I love you, Pacey.” Joey grabbed his face in return and brought their foreheads together. “When is it going to enter your thick skull that I don't want an out? I don't want to meet someone new, and I don't believe there is anyone better. There's not another guy on earth who would have stayed here the last two days, watching 'The Princess Bride' and Disney cartoons and reading my favorite books. So stop ruining it.”

Pacey huffed a laugh. “As you wish.”

Joey grinned. She tossed the book back onto her nightstand and straddled Pacey's body. “Farmboy, give me a kiss.”

Pacey sat up slowly, eyes caressing her. “As you wish.”

~*~

I.

Bessie insisted on making Joey a dress, even though Joey pointed out there was no point when no one but Pacey would see it, and soon she'd be too big to ever wear it again.

“So you've decided? You're keeping the baby?”

“I think so,” Joey admitted, as she watched Bessie stick pins in the lavender satin wrapped around her still thin form, although she'd had to make alterations in the bust. “We've talked through most of the physical stuff—the wheres, whys, hows. I just want to make sure we're on the same page about, you know, us. But...I want it, Bess. We both do.”

Tears shone in her older sister's eyes as she hugged her—carefully, because of the pins. “Then I'm happy for you. It's going to be harder than you can possibly imagine, even with all your lists and charts, but it's going to be better than you can dream, too.”

“Thanks, Bessie. For everything.”

“What are big sisters for? Now, let's make you a dress that will knock that boyfriend of yours flat on his ass.”

~*~

“Wow.” Pacey hadn't literally landed on his posterior, but he took a step back and his jaw dropped as he surveyed Joey in her backless lavender sheath. “I never understood the word 'breathtaking' until this particular moment.”

“Shut up, Pacey,” she grumbled, but flushed with pleasure at the compliment. He didn't look half-bad himself in Doug's tux—the Broadway tux, Pacey usually called it, as it made its semiannual appearance whenever Doug went to New York to take in the new shows.

“My lady,” Pacey continued playing it up, offering her his arm. “Your carriage awaits.”

Joey giggled as she wrapped her hand around his elbow and followed him to Gretchen's car. “You're such a dork, Witter.”

“See? I told you! You're far too cynical for my romantic gestures.” He swung open the passenger side door and leaned on the top of it in his recklessly charming way. “Now shut up, get in the car, and try to remember for one night that you're a girl.”

“Not likely to forget it in these heels. Also, you're ridiculous.” She leaned across the barrier of the door to kiss him lightly. “And wonderful. Thank you.”

“Any time, Potter.” After helping her in, Pacey practically bounced over to his side of the car. He seemed like a whole other person since she'd told him about the baby. Or rather, he seemed like his old self—brash, uplifting, selfless—instead of the worried, bitter Pacey she'd adjusted to over the past few months. While she was thrilled with the change, Joey kept waiting for the other shoe to drop, for the Pacey-can't-deal-with-Pacey side of his personality to come out.

She pushed the thought to the back of her mind and asked brightly, “So where are we off to?”

“You'll find out soon enough. Have some patience, woman!” He grinned at her.

To Joey's surprise, he drove them to the marina. She saw dozens of her formal-clad classmates boarding the rented prom boat. “Pace, I thought we'd—”

“Don't worry, Jo, that's not our stop.” Pacey parked the car a few blocks further on and then walked her to a much quieter section of the pier, where several small sailboats were docked.

“Pacey, I don't care how good a deal you got, I am not helping you restore another boat.”

Pacey laughed. “Not bought or even rented, just borrowed.” He jumped aboard one of the small craft and held out his hand for her to join him.

It took Joey a minute to recognize the boat. “Jack's dad's?”

“Yeah, it was actually Jack's idea. Figured he owed me after the fiasco at the regatta last year.”

“That wasn't Jack's fault,” Joey mumbled absentmindedly as she boarded. She was excited about the idea of a night sail with Pacey—she missed True Love almost as much as he did—but, “I wish you'd told me we were sailing. I'm not exactly dressed for it.”

“That's okay, Jo. If your dress gets in the way, you can always take it off,” Pacey said, with a leer and a hilariously overdone waggle of his eyebrows.

“Pig,” Joey laughed, even as he took off his jacket and settled it around her shoulders.

For a while after that, all their conversation was about launching the boat. They fell easily into the rhythms they'd established during their summer at sea. Joey was surprised at how such a mundane ritual could make her so happy. Her dress wasn't really a problem, but she did take off her shoes and toss them in the cabin.

“Much better than a night spent dancing with pinched toes,” she sighed.

Pacey opened up her traditional space between him and the wheel, then wrapped around her, chin on her shoulders, hands expertly steering the small craft. “Not missing prom?”

“Not remotely.” She gazed up at the stars, growing ever clearer the further they got from shore. She listened to the gentle lapping of the sea against the hull.

“I think all my happiest memories involve you, the sea, and the stars,” Pacey breathed her unvoiced thought.

Joey nodded, knowing he could feel it, not trusting herself to speak.

After several minutes of comfortable silence, a new thought came to her, one much less welcome, but one she had to question. “Pacey, if we have this baby, there's not going to be any sailing off into the sunset. Not for years and years, if ever. Are you okay with that?”

Pacey didn't answer. Instead, he lowered the anchor. “This seems like a good spot.”

“Good spot for what?”

“Dinner. You didn't think I'd bring you all the way out here and not feed you, did you? Give me some credit.”

“It better not be fish,” Joey grumbled, as Pacey drew her down into the cabin.

“Not fish,” Pacey promised. He led her to a chair at the tiny table and, with a flourish, produced a Tupperware container. “Voila! Cabbage and ramen sesame salad.” He pulled another dish out of the warming pan. “Ramen chicken stir-fry with mixed vegetables.” Finally, he unearthed a Ziploc bag from one of the cupboards. “And peanut butter cookies for dessert. I know I said less than fifty dollars, but it turned out less than twenty. You sure are a cheap date, Potter.”

Glowing, delighted, exhilarated, Joey laughed. “Pacey, you're unbelievable! This is perfect. Thank you.”

Pacey started dishing out their plates. “I figured we could use a little practice to adjust our palates. And to answer your earlier question...” He took her left hand between both of his and looked her straight in the eye. “I love sailing, Jo, but you are the great adventure of my life. I'm not going anywhere.”

Joey's heart warmed at Pacey's impassioned words, but a niggling worry at the back of her mind made her say, “What changed, Pace? A few weeks ago, I was afraid you were ready to throw in the towel on us. Now, you're more sure than you've ever been. It can't all be the baby.” She frowned. “At least I hope it's not. I don't want to be one of those women who trap a man with a kid, so if you're only staying because—”

Pacey grabbed her gesticulating hands. “Jo, Jo, Jo, relax! That is not what is happening here. I worry about the opposite, that maybe you'll feel stuck with me because of the baby.”

“I have never felt stuck with you, Pace. I've wanted to push you off a boat a few times, but even then, I always would have helped you back on.”

Pacey grinned, his thumb caressing her palm. “And it's that kind of forthrightness that's changing me, Jo. The way you've approached this whole pregnancy; you've been...rational isn't the right word, but logical maybe. I know that if you decide to keep this baby, it will be because you think we can do it, not because you're trying to humor me, or fix us. For so long, I've felt these walls being built around me, shutting me out from the world, the future, you. I've been dreading the day when I couldn't even see you through the cracks anymore. But it's like you took a sledgehammer to those walls. I can see a future for us now, and I want it, baby or no baby.”

“Baby.”

Slowly, the meaning of her one-word response dawned on him. Joey watched the joy diffuse across his face. “Baby? You mean it, Jo? You're sure?”

Joey nodded, smiling and crying at the same time. She would blame hormones if Pacey's face wasn't reflecting back the exact same sight. “I'm sure. We can do this, Pace.”

“And you want to? It's not for my sake.”

“I'd do a lot for you, Witter, but I've seen labor. Trust me, I wouldn't go through that for anybody, if I didn't want it for myself.”

“God, Jo.” Pacey grabbed her and held her tight. He laughed through a voice choked by emotion. “I love you so damn much.” He kissed her fiercely; then he pulled away, his touch gentling, and sank to his knees before her. “And I love you.” He pressed a kiss to the curve of her belly; his hands cradled her hips.

Joey ran her fingers through his unruly curls and knew she'd made the right choice.

*~*~*

III.

The death blow, when it came, was almost a relief. Except it happened in front of three hundred of their fellow students, on prom night, on a boat. The boat was the part of the equation Joey found most difficult to accept. She and Pacey and boats meant magic and joy, not the bitter invectives Pacey hurled at her.

Joey was almost detached from the event itself. She heard Pacey's accusations and rejected them. They weren't true, as nothing about her and Pacey was true anymore.

If you only knew, she thought, if you only knew the real reasons you should hate me.

She walked away from the ashes of their relationship. Dawson followed her, but she sent him away. She had not told Pacey the truth, so her last act of loyalty to him would be to keep it from Dawson, as well.

Pacey found her later, not to undo the damage, but to soften the blow. “You deserve better than this place, and you deserve better than me.”

“You've got that backwards, Pace. You deserve better than me.”

He looked completely thrown by her words, but Joey didn't clarify. She just walked away.

*~*~*~*

IV.

She considered abortion. She was an eighteen-year old high school student with a minimum wage job and a massive college tuition looming. Of course, she considered abortion.

But by the time she held baby Lillian in her arms, Joey had pretty much decided to keep it. She couldn't kill her baby for her own selfish convenience. She was scared to death, but she was going through with her pregnancy.

Bessie and Gretchen were the first to know. The next person to tell, obviously, was Pacey. Joey couldn't find a way to tell him on the phone. But once he came back, they were hardly ever alone. On the rare occasions they were, Pacey acted oddly distant. Or maybe Joey lost her nerve.

She finally concocted a plan that suited her for its sheer ludicrousness. While other senior couples were having the after-prom sex debate, Joey would tell Pacey the result of their ski trip tryst. At least no one could say it lacked originality.

That scenario never came to be. Pacey and Joey never had an after-prom. After prom, there was no Pacey and Joey.