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something gave you the nerve to touch my hand (it's nice to have a friend)

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At the age of fourteen, Joey Potter would say that she has a pretty good life. 

Sure, it’s far from perfect. Her mom works long nights at one of the local bars and reeks of old beer and stale cigarettes when she sneaks in to kiss her daughters goodnight in the early hours of the morning. Her dad is always stressed about one thing or anything concerning the Ice House, the restaurant business being impossibly unpredictable. Not to mention she’s sharing a bedroom with her twenty four year old sister and they fight over everything

But, she has a roof over her head, she never goes to bed hungry and she has clothes on her back (which yeah, the kids at school tease her over her pants being too short and her shirts being too baggy because her and Bessie don’t have the same body type, but they’re still clothes ). So, she really can’t complain about much. 

She also has Dawson, the greatest friend in the entire world. Dawson, whose cute, smart, funny, and chose Joey to be is best friend. Bessie constantly teases her for how much she talks about Dawson and how much time she spends with him, but Joey doesn’t care. She’s pretty sure she’s in love with him and will be for the rest of her life, and sometimes she thinks he feels the same way. 

She’s fourteen and life is good. 

 


 

Life is good, until one day it isn’t. 

Cancer. Noun. A disease caused by an uncontrolled division of abnormal cells in a part of the body.

Joey’s not dumb, she knows what cancer is. When she was nine, the librarian at Capeside Elementary’s husband died of cancer and all the students were told in hush voices by the teachers what an awful and terrible thing it is, and that they should all be nice to Mrs. Kenmore when she comes back to school. 

Capeside was a small town, so when someone was diagnosed with something as awful as cancer, everyone knew about it. Old ladies would whisper about how horrible it was as they shuffled down the street, school kids would point and stare and every church in the area would add you to the prayer list. Joey was no stranger to this behavior. 

She just never expected it to happen to her. Until she’s fourteen and two months and her mom is diagnosed with cancer. 

Dawson is there as she sits at the end of her family’s dock and cries, big wet tears, and he hugs her close to his chest. He whispers that everything is going to be okay, and foolishly Joey believes him. It’s the last time for a long time that she feels any sort of comfort. 

Her mom spends the next ten months in and out of the hospital and Joey watches as her mom transforms into someone she doesn’t even recognize. Her dad disappears for days on end, depending on if their mom is in the hospital or not, sometimes he has money and sometimes he doesn’t. The only constant during this time is Bessie, who gets Joey up every morning and forces her to eat, even when she doesn’t want to. 

The whispers are even worse than they usually are when someone has cancer. 

Because this time it isn’t just Joey’s mom whose town gossip fodder, but her dad too. Rumors of him selling drugs to pay for Joey’s mom’s hospital stays, and sleeping with the young blonde waitress at the Ice House to keep himself satisfied run rampant. Now everyone looks at Joey with this sad pity in their eyes and all Joey wants to do is disappear. 

Dawson is the only person who manages to cheer her up. She spends almost every day that summer at his house, watching movies in his bedroom and eating dinner with his parents. It’s the only good part of that summer. 

 


 

Freshman year sucks. 

Between classmates who whisper behind her back and spending her evenings either at the Ice House, where her dad is stressed, cranky and constantly lashing out at her or Bessie, or at the hospital, where her mom is withering away and Joey is forced to sit in the cold, funky smelling waiting room, she spends most days wishing she could just disappear. 

It’s honestly amazing that she still gets As on her report cards. 

But then again, she has a feeling most of her teachers are pitying her. They all look at her with these big sad eyes, sighing when she’s the last one to leave the room because none of her classmates want to be around her. It’s the same look that Dawson gets on his face sometimes when he thinks she’s not looking. 

And she hates it. 

Getting pity from her teachers and random townspeople is bad enough, the last thing she wants is for her best friend in the whole world to pity her too. 

His parents do it too, she can see it when she comes over after school when she can’t push herself to go to the hospital or her dad is being distant. They hover around the dining room table, constantly bring snacks and ask Joey about her day at school and they always offer to send her home with casseroles or pasta dishes. 

She gets it, really she does, her mom was the same way when Mrs. Ryan’s husband got sick a couple years ago, but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t hate it. Bessie accepts all the food and sorry looks with a thankful smile on her face, but to Joey accepting it just means accepting the worst. 

So, instead, she develops a scowl that for the most part gets people to leave her alone. Except for Dawson who merely chuckles at her whenever she flashes it at him, and she pretends like the sound doesn’t make her heart soar in her chest. 

 


 

Joey rings in her fifteenth birthday in the hospital waiting room. 

She doesn’t even notice that it’s past midnight, the hours all blending together and becoming indiscernible, it’s only when Bessie bumps her with her shoulder, holding up a cupcake from the hospital cafeteria that it clicks in Joey’s head. The cupcake isn’t that good, the frosting is hard as a rock and the cake is stale, but the tears still prick in her eyes as her and her sister share the treat in the empty waiting room. 

Their dad is unsurprisingly nowhere to be found. 

Mom is in the middle of one of her bad stretches. It’s been three weeks since she was admitted and they don’t think she’s gonna get to go home anytime soon. She, of course, is as optimistic as ever and Joey knows it’s mainly for her sake, that her mom doesn’t want to admit to her young daughter that she’s probably never going to come home again. 

Part of Joey wants to scream at her mom and tell her to just be honest and stop giving her false hope, but the other part clings to that hope like it’s a life preserver. She’s not ready to let go yet. 

“Happy Birthday, Jo.” Bessie mutters when Joey starts nodding off, pieces of cake and frosting still stuck to her lips. She smiles softly against her sister’s shoulder and for the first time in a long time, Joey feels like everything might be okay. 

Except of course, when it isn’t. 

Because later that day, fourteen hours into Joey’s fifteenth year on this earth, her mom dies. 

Bessie and Joey are in the room with her, and her eyes closed and her face serene. She’s just finished telling Joey how proud she is of her, how she can’t believe her little girl is fifteen already. She said she just needed to close her eyes, to rest for a second. 

But, a second turns out to be forever and before Joey can even thank her mom, tell her she loves her, her mom is gone. The heart monitor beeps loudly, intrusively, and Joey stares at her sister, wide eyed. 

“Bessie.” She whispers, barely audible over the beeping. She doesn’t know what she’s asking Bessie, what she’s expecting her older sister to do. But it’s the only thing she feels like she can do. 

For what it’s worth, her sister doesn’t answer. Doesn’t try to comfort Joey with false words, doesn’t try and reason with the tragedy they now have to live with. She just pulls Joey into her arms, chin resting atop Joey’s head. 

They stay there until a doctor finds them a couple minutes later, a doctor who ushers them back out into the waiting room, a doctor with pity and regret in his gaze. Joey wants to scream, wants to cry, push and shove and run. But she knows it won’t do anything, won’t bring her mother back. 

So, instead she follows Bessie, holds her hand, and sits. 

It’s the worst birthday of her entire life. 

 


 

The next couple weeks drag slowly, but somehow Joey doesn’t feel like she lived any of it. 

The funeral is held, most of the town shows up and Joey hates it. None of these people cared about her mom when she was alive, so why do they care now. People that Joey’s never even seen before are coming up and hugging her and telling her how sorry they are and it makes her want to scream. 

Eventually it’s all too much for her and she runs. 

Dawson finds her later sitting on the dock in front of his house. She doesn’t know why she came here, but it’s the only place she felt like she could breathe. Being home makes her think of her mom and being anywhere else makes her feel like she’s a spectacle that everyone is staring at. His house is the only place she feels like herself. 

“I’m so sorry, Joey.” Dawson says softly, hand on her shoulder. The words are shallow and Joey kind of hates that he uses them, but they feel sincere coming from him, and the weight of his hand on her shoulder feels more real than anything the last couple weeks has. 

They don’t say much more after that, Dawson doesn’t bother filling the silence like he did all year long. He knows there’s nothing else he can say, nothing that will make this horrible, awful, thing any better. Joey’s grateful for that. 

She doesn’t know how long she sits there with him, but it’s dark when his mom finally drags her away and drives her home. Joey doesn’t want to, doesn’t want to go back to that house that reminds her of her mom, but she knows she owes it to Bessie, so she goes without complaint. Dawson hugs her, but his arms are loose around her body and she so desperately wants to bury herself into his chest, but she doesn’t. Instead, she just sighs, holding in the tears that sit heavy on her chest. 

However, when Gail Leery pulls up to her house, she wishes she had fought Dawson and his mom about staying at his house, because surrounding her house are three cop cars, lights flashing bright against the dark, moonless, night. And in the center of it all is her dad. 

Mrs. Leery gives her a look, but Joey ignores it. Bessie is standing on the front porch and even from here, Joey can see the anger in her sister’s eyes. It’s a different kind of anger than Joey has ever seen from Bessie before, but Joey can identify it as anger nonetheless. 

“Thanks for the ride, Mrs. Leery.” Joey finally says, jumping from the car before her best friend’s mom can say anything. None of the policemen in her front yard look at her, and her dad purposefully ignores her. 

“So, the rumors were true, huh?” Joey asks when she makes it to the front porch. Bessie is staring out at the water, a calmness in her eyes that almost scares Joey, and would if it was directed at her. 

“Yes they were.” Bessie says simply, eyes not wavering from the water. The gathering of police officers have started to move and Joey doesn’t want to look in their direction, her dad is the last person she wants to look at right now. 

So, instead, she nods, pushing her way into the house. The house that she’s spent the last couple weeks avoiding as much as possible. The house that still has her mom’s jacket hanging by the front door, and her shoes still in the hall. The house that still smells like her mom’s perfume. 

The only place that’s free of her mom is her and Bessie’s bedroom, so that’s where she goes, slamming the door behind her. The room is still, and quiet, a rarity considering the amount of fighting that usually takes place in it, and Joey takes a deep breath, the tears in her chest becoming too heavy. 

And for the first time since her mom died, Joey cries. She cries until she can’t see the room around her, until she can’t breathe without wheezing. She cries until her legs can’t hold her upright anymore and she’s sprawled out on the floor in front of the door. 

She cries until Bessie finds her hours later, carrying her to bed without a word. 

She cries until she doesn’t have any tears left. 

 


 

The only saving grace is that it’s summer vacation. Thankfully, with her mother dying so close to the end of the school year, the teachers were nice enough to give Joey the rest of the year off. She’s a good enough student that she’ll be able to make it up next year, so she doesn’t have anything to worry about. 

Joey doesn’t really care that much about the school work, hell, she would have been glad to have a distraction, but she’s grateful she doesn’t have to go to school. Grateful that she doesn’t have to see anyone that she doesn’t want to. That she can spend hours alone, or with Bessie, and she doesn’t have to listen to the whispers. 

However, the good fortune of summer vacation doesn’t last long. 

“Joey, hey.” Dawson’s voice is hesitant over the phone and Joey’s stomach sank. It was only a couple days away from the fourth of July, and she had a feeling she knew what he was calling about. “I’m glad I caught you.” 

“Well, I don’t really have anywhere to go, now do I.” Usually Joey saves the snark for everyone else besides Dawson, but right now she thinks he deserves it. Dawson sighs on the other end and annoyance rises up inside of her. 

“No I guess not.” He mutters, clearing his throat. “Look, my parents think it might be for the best if you and Bessie skipped out on the picnic this year. Just with everyone going on, being social is probably the last thing that you need.” 

The fourth of July Leery family picnic was a town staple and Joey knew that most of Capeside would likely be in attendance. It was bound to be a nightmare, and Joey had been dreading it, but she had been going since she was six years old, in fact it was the first time she had ever met Dawson, so not going felt like a punch in the gut. Not only to her, but to their friendship. 

“Oh.” Joey says simply, other words being buried underneath the stupid tears that get caught in her throat. She refuses to cry over this, especially when Bessie is standing next to her at the stove. “How thoughtful of them.” 

“Yeah.” Dawson mumbles, and Joey can almost visualize him standing in the hallway, hand in his hair. “And, you know, they also think it might be best if maybe we don’t hang out as much anymore.” 

Dawson’s words flood over her like ice water. She feels like an idiot, she should have seen this coming, really she should have. She’s the girl whose mom is dead and whose dad is in prison, no self respecting parent would want their kid, especially a golden boy like Dawson, to be friends with someone like her. 

“I tried to tell them that it was unfair but they seemed pretty adamant.” From the way his words leave his mouth, like he’s forcing them, Joey gets the sense that he didn’t try too hard. But she’s too tired to fight. 

“It’s fine. I get it.” She says sharply, not bothering to feel bad about the way her words sound clipped. “I’ll see you round, Dawson.” 

She hangs up the phone before he can respond. 

Summer vacation is kind of a drag after that. Joey spends almost all of it alone. She goes for walks in the woods, she reads on the dock in front of her house, she lays in the grass and pretends that her mom is still there. 

Overall, it’s a boring summer. She doesn’t cry much, but she’s lonely. She misses Dawson, which is the worst part of all. 

 


 

The first time Joey goes into town since her dad got arrested is the day before school starts. Bessie wants to watch a movie, and Joey surprises both her sister, and herself by offering to go into town to the video store. 

“You sure, sis?” Bessie asks softly. Bessie knows it’s more than just the chance of seeing other people, it’s the chance of seeing Dawson. But maybe that’s part of the reason why she doesn’t hesitate in saying, 

“Yeah, of course. I’m going to see everyone at school tomorrow anyway, so might as well get used to it.” 

She waits until it starts getting dark, though. Hoping that venturing out a little after seven will help her avoid the big crowds of her classmates, that most people will be either at one of the end of the summer parties that Joey’s never been invited to, or at home eating dinner. 

Luckily, she manages to avoid seeing anyone she knows, only having to dodge a couple of older ladies whose eyes she can feel on her even after she turns the corner. Most of the people wandering around are tourists and for the first time in her life, Joey is grateful for them. 

The bell of the video store rings softly as she opens the door and Joey’s heart jumps into her throat at the idea of Dawson sitting behind the counter. She hasn’t seen him since early July, right before the picnic, and despite the anger she feels towards him, she also just misses him. 

But when she looks up, it’s not Dawson sitting behind the counter. No, instead it’s a brunette boy with a bad haircut that Joey has never seen before. 

“Who are you?” The boy, who looks to be about her age, looks up from whatever it is that he’s doing to look at her, confusion written all over his face. 

“Excuse me?” 

Joey feels a flush of embarrassment at the harshness of her words, but she refuses to back down. 

“You heard me, who are you? I’ve never seen you before.” She crosses her arms across her chest, and the boy, who Joey hates to admit is actually kind of cute, smirks at her. 

Leaning forward on the counter, he raises his eyebrow at her. “Is that how you introduce yourself to everyone you meet? You’re quite the charmer, aren’t you.” 

Rolling her eyes, Joey takes a couple steps towards the counter, arms still crossed protectively across her chest, but feeling a little more comfortable. There’s something about this strange boy that makes her feel comfortable, safe almost. 

“Fine.” She retorts, resisting the urge to stick her tongue out at him. “Hi, nice to meet you, now who are you?” 

He must realize he’s not going to get anything else out of her, because he grins then, hand extending across the counter. “The name’s Pacey.” 

Joey snorts. “Seriously?” Pacey, which Joey cannot, refuses actually, to believe is his real name, frowns. “I know I was a little rude at first but you don’t have to lie and give me some ridiculous fake name. If you don’t want me to know your name, at least make the fake one a little more believable.” 

“Hey, you don’t wanna believe me that’s fine, I can show you my birth certificate if you really want but swear on my life it’s my real name.” He holds his hand to his chest as he speaks and Joey bits her lip, holding back laughter. 

It’s quiet then, and Joey wanders between the aisles, eyes barely skimming over the movie titles. Honestly, she had no idea what movie she wanted, she had come hoping to see Dawson, hoping he would smile at her like he always did and give her a movie that he thought was perfect for her. 

“So, what about you?” Pacey asks after a minute or so of silence. Joey has disappeared from his view, in the new releases aisle, but she still furrows her brow in confusion. After a second he adds, “Who are you?” 

Joey rolls her eyes, popping her head out from between the aisles. “What makes you think I’m gonna tell you that?” 

“Well, I told you, why can’t you tell me. Unless you’re in like witness protection or something and you’re not allowed to tell me.” He considers that for a moment, smiling. “Which honestly, that would be kinda cool, I’ve always wanted to meet someone in witness protection.” 

Joey can’t help the smile that forms on her face, maybe it’s because this guy doesn’t know her and therefore is just talking to her like she’s a normal person, but she likes it. “Fine. But remember, I only laughed once.” Pacey holds his hands up in surrender, grinning at her. “Joey.” 

“Joey? That’s a cool name. Is it short for something or were your parents really gunning for a boy and even after they had a girl they decided to give her the boy’s name anyway.” 

She winces slightly when he mentions parents, but Pacey doesn’t seem to notice, which Joey is grateful for. The last thing she wants is for this stranger to know she has some kind of parental trauma when she feels normal for the first time in months. 

“Yeah, rumor has it the first words my mom said after they said ‘it’s a girl!’ was, ‘oh, crap.’” It feels weird, joking about her parents, but it also feels nice. Pacey doesn’t look at her like anyone else in town would, he merely grins, the sound of his laughter filling the room. 

It feels good, making someone laugh. 

“I’m pretty sure that was my mom’s reaction when the doctor told her she was pregnant with me, apparently it’s not a fun experience having a kid after you have your tubes tied.” 

The brashness of Pacey’s words surprise her and she snorts, bursting into laughter. She doesn’t know how long she stands there laughing, but eventually her sides hurt and Pacey is looking at her with some kind of combination between confusion and amusement. She feels her cheeks warm with embarrassment, but she’s still smiling. 

“Ah, so humor works with the lady.” 

She shrugs, walking to the counter, resting her elbows on it. “Not always, but catch me at a good moment and I might give you a chuckle or two.” She says, smirking. Pacey grins, shaking his head. 

“Well, now that we’ve established that, did you come in looking for something in particular or did you decide to come in and terrorize the new guy in town?” 

“I have been known for my terrorizing capabilities.” She teases, enjoying the way he smirks at her. “I don’t actually know what I’m looking for.” Joey admits after a couple beats of silence. 

Pacey nods before a small smile forms on his face. “How about I pick you something and give you permission to yell at me if you hate it?” 

“Giving me permission to yell at you? That’s a dangerous game to play.” 

“I’ll take my chances.” He replies, clicking a couple keys on the computer before handing her a tape. It’s familiar, being handed a tape hand picked for her, it’s something Dawson used to do to her all the time. But, there’s also a sense of unpredictability to it, because Dawson knew her,  sometimes better than she knew herself. This Pacey guy though, he didn’t. 

Rocking back and forth on her heels, she hesitates. “It’s Josephine.” She says after a moment. “My name, it’s Josephine.” 

Pacey smiles then, a real one, big and wide. “Well, Josephine, happy to make your acquaintance.” He gives her a cross between a bow and a curtsey and nearly loses his footing in the cramped space behind the counter. Joey bits back laughter when his knee slams into the underside. 

“And now that I’ve made an impression, maybe it’s best if you just go now.” Joey nods, a smile still on her face. Pacey waves weakly, one hand clutching his knee as he winces in pain. 

It isn’t until Joey is halfway home that she realizes that she was glad it wasn’t Dawson behind the counter. 

 


 

The first day of school is kind of a nightmare. 

Everyone stares at her, whether she’s at her locker in the hallway, washing her hands in the bathroom or sitting in class, there are always eyes on her. People she’s never even noticed before seem to be looking at her. Sometimes it’s with that familiar look of pity she’s been dealing with for so long, but sometimes it’s with judgement. 

By third period Joey wants to scream. 

It also sucks that she doesn’t have Dawson. The only reason freshman year was bearable is because she had someone to sit with at lunch, or walk down the hallway with. She doesn’t have that anymore, though. Dawson isn’t in any of her classes and the one time she sees him all morning, he’s leaning up against his locker talking to a blonde girl Joey has never seen before. 

She feels like she’s been punched in the stomach. 

When lunch finally comes around, Joey considers skipping out on the cafeteria and eating in the library or outside, but the librarian is strict about what foods can be eaten and the forecast calls for rain, so Joey is stuck. Luckily, she manages to find a lone table in the corner, and sits with her back to the rest of the room, eyes trained on the windows that look out on the quad. 

“Hi there, Josephine, I was hoping I would find you.” The voice cuts through the static of the cafeteria buzz and with scrunched eyebrows, Joey looks up to find the video store boy, Pacey, she reminds herself, looking down at her with a smile. 

“Excuse me?” She questions as he drops his lunch tray down next to her. “What are you doing?” 

He quirks one eyebrow, looking at her questioningly as he sits down. “Sitting. Eating lunch. Enjoying the rare twenty minute reprieve from the horror that is public education.” 

Joey rolls her eyes, “Yeah okay, but why are you sitting here?” 

It’s not that Joey is necessarily mad that Pacey has decided to sit with her, but after the morning she’s had she really just wanted to be alone. Besides, there’s no way that he’s gone through an entire morning at Capeside High and hasn’t heard. Maybe this is his way of taking pity on her, which if it is, she’s really not interested. 

“Well, because quite frankly I don’t really know anyone else here and I’d rather not go through the awkward I tell someone my name and they laugh in my face routine while I’m trying to eat. And considering you and I have already done that…” He trails off and Joey shakes her head, fighting a smile. 

“Ah, so you’re sitting here because you think I won’t laugh at you?” Pacey shrugs, taking a bite of a carrot stick from his tray. “I wouldn’t bet on it, but I suppose I see your logic.” 

He smiles, leaning back in his chair, hands folded behind his head. “Besides you are one of two people in this entire school I’ve had an actual conversation with and the other one is the guy I worked with over the summer and truth be told, he’s a little bit of a prick.” 

“A prick?” Joey questions, sitting up straighter in her seat, heart constricting ever so slightly in her chest. She knows he’s talking about Dawson, and hates to admit how curious she is to hear about him, even if it’s from Pacey. 

Pacey nods, “Yeah, he’s not that bad but god I was going to rip my ears off if I had to listen to another dissertation about why Steven Spielberg changed the face of cinema. Like yeah, sure, the guy’s made some hits but c’mon, Jurassic Park is not the height of cinema.” 

Anger rises up inside of her, a protectiveness over her best friend ( former best friend, she reminds herself bitterly) threatening to bubble over the surface. She swallows it, though, Dawson wasn’t her best friend anymore and she had no duty to defend him, especially over something that wasn’t necessarily untrue. Dawson did in fact think Jurassic Park was the height of cinema. 

“Alright, fine, you can sit here.” Joey says eventually, tucking her hair behind her ear. Pacey smirks at her, nodding, even though she’s pretty sure he wouldn’t have stayed sitting here regardless. “But, touch any of my food and I’ll kill you.” 

He holds one of his hands up, his other going to his chest. “Scouts honor.” 

Joey eyes him, lips pursed. “You were a boy scout?” 

Opening his water, Pacey brings the bottle to his lips, smirking. “No.” 

And for the first time all day, Joey laughs. 

 


 

School continued like that for the rest of the week. Pacey sat with her at lunch, she pretended to be annoyed by him and he tried to steal food from her. 

But lunch isn’t the only place that Pacey talks to her, because after that first day he seems to be everywhere. They don’t have many classes together, but the few that they do he sits next to her. He always seems to be waiting for her near her locker or hanging around outside her classes to walk with her in the hallway. 

The first time he meets her after class, Joey thinks it might be a coincidence. Maybe he had a class down the hall and happened to be walking by as she was coming out, but then he was there the next period leaning against the row of lockers. By this point, Joey was really starting to think that he was pitying her. Because the thing is, people stare at them constantly. 

Joey can feel everyone’s eyes on her as she walks down the hallway and she knows Pacey does too, unless he’s the most oblivious person on the planet. 

“You don’t have to do this, you know.” She said on Friday of the first week when Pacey walked up next to her as she exited her math class. He was coming from his history class down the hall and his elbow knocked with hers as he looked at her. 

“Do what? Stand next to you as we walk down the hallway?” Joey rolled her eyes, feeling a surge of annoyance bubble up inside of her. “I mean I can stand a few feet behind you if that makes you more comfortable.” 

“That’s not what I meant.” She snapped, stopping when she reached her locker, opening it with more force than necessary. She was already getting enough pity from the rest of the school, she didn’t need Pacey treating her like she was stupid on top of all of that. “You know what I mean.” 

For what it was worth, Pacey looked like he was genuinely confused by what she was saying, his brow furrowed and his mouth pressed in a thin line. “I honestly have no idea what it is that you’re talking about.” 

“You don’t have to lie to me.” Joey slammed her locker, turning to walk to her next class, groaning when she remembered it was chemistry and Pacey was in it with her so he had no choice but to follow her. 

“Lie to you?” Pacey jogged slightly to catch up, stopping when he was standing in front of her. Joey sighed, crossing her arms across her chest, they only had a minute before the bell would ring and the last thing she needed was to be late. “What would I be lying to you about?” 

Pushing past him, Joey continued down the hallway, desperate to make it to chemistry before the bell rang. If her and Pacey were both late, she would be the subject of gossip for an entirely different reason. “Forget about it.” She said, leaving Pacey standing behind her.

However, what Joey didn’t account for is that Pacey was persistent, because when class let out an hour later, he was standing outside the door waiting for her. 

Wordlessly, he walked with her to her next class, giving her an easy smile when she broke off to enter her English class. “See you later, Jo.” 

The nickname tugs at her heart in a way that makes her chest hurt. It’s a nickname that she hasn't heard since her mom died, not that Pacey would know that. No one else ever called her that, Dawson stuck with Joey and Bessie usually called her Sis, so the familiar nickname stops her in her tracks. 

Maybe she had been too hard on him. That still didn’t mean he wasn’t pitying her though. 

“I meant what I said earlier.” She said softly when he appeared by her locker after her English class. School was out for the day, so kids were milling all around, some looking at them, some too focused on getting out of the building now that it was the weekend. Pacey still looked confused. “You don’t have to be nice to me.” 

“Why do you think I’m only being nice to you because I feel like I have to?” He questioned, falling into step with her as they made their way to the front doors. “You act like that’s the only reason I would want to talk to you.” 

Joey sighed, holding her books protectively to her chest. After her freak out earlier, she feels odd talking about it, she feels vulnerable. “I just, I know that you’ve probably heard stuff about me and I just want you to know that I’m fine, I don’t need someone to talk to me just to, like, make me feel better.” 

Pacey moved in front of her, standing just a couple inches taller. They were outside now, the afternoon sun warm on her face, there were less students standing around now, so Joey didn’t feel quite so suffocated. 

“You may not believe me, but I honestly don’t know what you’re talking about. I haven’t heard anything about you.” 

Joey scoffed, shaking her head. “Yeah right, I’m all anyone talks about.” 

Pacey bit his lip, shrugging his shoulders. “Gossip is stupid, I’m already the new kid I don’t need to listen to gossip especially when some of it would be about me. Besides why should I care about what a bunch of people I don’t know have to say.” 

She had to admit she had a hard time believing that he didn’t listen to the gossip, but there was something about the look on his face that made what he said believable. “You mean all week, you haven’t listened to anything, you haven’t noticed people staring at me, at us, in the hallway.” 

“Well yeah, I noticed that. But I thought people were staring because you were hanging out with the new kid.” 

Joey snorted, rolling her eyes. “So you thought it was all about you?” She teases, giving him a small smile. “But seriously, you mean that you started sitting with me at lunch and walking with me in the hallway because you felt like it?” 

“Yeah, believe it or not, Jo, some people move to a new town and want to make friends with people.” There’s that nickname again. Sighing, Joey gulped. “So that’s what I was trying to do.” 

Somehow the realization that Pacey was actually trying to be her friend surprised her more than his admittance that he didn’t listen to gossip. Because, even before her dad went to prison and her mom got cancer, people didn’t exactly want to be Joey’s friend. There was a reason Dawson was really her only one. 

Which is part of the reason Joey was still apprehensive, even if Pacey sounded as sincere as they come. “You’re trying to be my friend?” Pacey nods. “You actually want to be friends with me?” 

If Pacey was annoyed by Joey’s constant questions he didn’t show it, but he did sigh ever so slightly. “Yes, even after your continuous doubt in my nothing but sincere efforts, I do still want to be friends with you.” 

Joey wants to ask him why, she certainly doesn’t see any friendly, desirable traits in herself, especially nowadays, but instead she merely smiles. She’s not really sure if she needs any friends, and she has a hard time convincing herself she wants one after everything that happened with Dawson, but something about Pacey gnaws at her and pushes her walls down. 

“I should get going.” She says after a moment. “My sister is waiting for me.” Bessie probably wouldn’t notice if Joey was home a little later than usual, but she also wasn’t willing to risk the potential barrage of questions. 

“Yeah, me too.” Pacey said, giving her an easy smile. Joey appreciated that, appreciated that he wasn’t pushing her, it’s something Dawson always did. “I’ll see you Monday?” His voice raises at the end like it’s a question and Joey nods. 

“See you Monday.” 

Joey surprises herself by looking forward to Monday all weekend long. 

 


 

After that, Joey and Pacey are friends. Sure, they aren’t best friends who hang out every weekend or have inside jokes, but they’re still friends. And it’s nice. 

They sit together at lunch and Pacey starts buying two cookies every day so she can have one and Joey packs extra pretzel sticks to share with him. Sometimes they talk, mainly about meaningless stuff like school or Pacey’s job at the video store (Joey never asks about Dawson and Pacey never mentions him). Sometimes they don’t talk at all, and Joey likes that too. 

Pacey walks with her to her locker after almost every class, but now Joey smiles at him and they complain about homework or the fact that the AC isn’t turned on despite the sweltering temperature. It’s simple, easy, uncomplicated. 

Her friendship with Pacey is different from her friendship with Dawson in pretty much every single way possible, but honestly, that’s the best part about it. 

With Dawson, things could never be simple. Dawson himself was the opposite of simple, he was theatrical and dramatic and their friendship was too. Their conversations were over the top and Dawson was constantly asking her these big meaningful life altering questions, desperate for every interaction between them to mean something. Not to mention, Joey’s ever growing feelings for him throughout their teenage years also put a not unnoticeable tension on their friendship. 

Pacey wasn’t like that, not at all. Unlike Dawson, Pacey wasn’t theatrical and didn’t demand attention walking into the room. He was easy going, and he relied on his humor to get people to notice him, but not in the annoying class clown kind of way that Joey despised. Their conversations were laced with sarcasm and insults that weren’t really insults, and Joey found that they could ramble on and on about the smallest things. 

She liked that. 

 


 

Of course the easy, simple nature of their friendship can only last so long, and honestly Joey isn’t surprised by the manner in which it complicates itself. 

She can tell as soon as Pacey sets his tray down on the table on a random Wednesday at the beginning of October, that something’s wrong. He has a look on his face that Joey’s never seen on him before and he’s hesitant in the way he sits next to her. Her heart hammers in her chest, nerves and anger and frustration and anxiety all mixing together to burn her skin. 

“Hey.” He says, his voice soft, uncertain and without its usual brightness. Usually when Pacey joined her, he was ready to immediately launch into a story, something about a ridiculous comment made by someone in his math class, or a funny anecdote about working at the video store. 

“Hi…” Joey muttered, face red as she looked down at her food. The turkey sandwich that she was eating was suddenly flavorless in her mouth and Joey had to breathe deeply to lessen the weight that sat heavy on her chest. 

Pacey was wordless as he sat down, his body stiff next to her, like he was trying his best to avoid accidentally touching her. “So, um,” 

“Just say it, Pacey.” Joey remarked, cutting off his mutterings. She knew that he had finally figured it out, that he had started listening to the whispers. It was a month into the school year and so far there had been no disasters or scandals that were dramatic enough to overtake the news of Joey Potter’s dead mother and incarcerated father. 

For what it was worth, Pacey didn’t flinch or react to her words with anything more than a simple nod of his head. “Y’know Grant Boding?” 

With a sigh, Joey nodded. Grant Boding was an asshole, a typical jock who thought he ran the school just because he wore a letterman jacket and knew how to throw a football. She wasn’t surprised that he was involved in this somehow. 

“He said some stuff during geometry.” 

“About me?” Joey questioned, already knowing the answer. Pacey looked at her for the first time since he sat down, his eyes telling her what she already knew. “And what did Grant Boding have to say about me?” 

Pacey sighed softly, leaning forward, elbows on the table. “It doesn’t matter what he said.” 

“What did he say?” Joey asked again, desperately hoping her voice didn’t give away the anxiety that was running through her body. “Just tell me.” 

Looking down at his food, Joey watched as Pacey gulped, his Adam's apple bobbing. “He asked me why I was spending all of my time with someone who would probably end up either in prison or dead within the next ten years.” 

Well, there it was. The knife to the heart. Pacey finally knew the truth and the ease that she had settled into with him was shattered. 

“Oh.” Is all she manages to say, voice tight and eyes refusing to look at him. “So, I guess this is it, then?” The last thing Joey wants right now is to prolong this, so the sooner Pacey gets out of here, the sooner she can just pretend all of it never happened. 

“What?” Joey didn’t know if she imagined disbelief in his voice or if it was actually there but she felt his body shift closer to her, their elbows touching on the table. “Why do you think this changes anything?” 

“How can it not?” Joey practically snaps, looking at him, flinching her arm away. “Now you know. Now you know, the reason that everyone stares at me when I walk down the hallway and the reason why I was so hesitant to be friends with you. Now you know the truth about me and my family and why on the first day of school I was sitting over here in the corner by myself.” 

Pacey doesn’t react, at least not in the way she expects him too. “And now you can know that none of that makes me want to not be friends with you.” 

Before Joey can control it, there are tears pooling in her eyes. She doesn’t know exactly what the catalyst for them is, knowing the people are saying that kind of stuff about her or that Pacey is seemingly unwavering in his friendship, which after Dawson she feels undeserving of. 

If Pacey notices her tears he doesn’t comment on them. “I mean, I get it now, why you might have thought I had different motives that first week, but when Grant Boding said that to me, all I cared about was the fact that he was saying that about you.” 

“It’s what most people say about me.” Joey muttered, eyes trained on her hands in her lap, her fingers threaded together tightly. “Better get used to hearing it.” 

“I’m sorry, that you have to deal with shit like that.” Joey chuckled ruefully. “But I’m not suddenly sitting here because I feel sorry for you, I’m sitting here because you’re my friend and I’m mad and upset that some asshole in my class was talking about you.” 

Despite the sincerity in his voice, Joey still had a hard time fully believing him. “So, you don’t care that your only friend at this school has a dead mom and a dad in prison?” It’s the first time she’s said it aloud to him, in fact it’s one of the first times she’s said it aloud to anyone. 

One of the perks of a small town where everyone knows everything about everyone, you never have to repeat yourself. 

“No.” His response is quick and unwavering and Joey glances at him. He has a small smile on his face. “We all have shit that we’ve gone through in our lives, it doesn’t change who we are.” 

“And you’re not mad or upset that I didn’t tell you?” 

Pacey shrugged, body relaxing ever so slightly as he took a sip from the milk carton on his tray. “No. I mean, I’m kinda upset that I had to hear it from Grant Boding when he was trying to insult you, but I get why you didn’t tell me.” 

“You do?” 

He smiles and Joey can’t help but return it. “Yeah. I mean, I’m the new kid who doesn’t know anyone or anything and you’re the girl who has had her whole life put on display for everyone to see. And now, you get the opportunity to have someone not know this thing about you, and just see you for you instead of your life’s story.” He shrugged, like it was the easiest thing in the world to understand. “I would keep it to myself too.” 

There’s something else hidden beneath his words that Joey catches. Like, maybe these words mean something to him too, but things are fragile and the last thing she wants to do is push him. He never pushed her to tell him anything, and if she owes him anything, it’s the same courtesy. 

And if anyone gets it, it’s her. 

“Well, thank you.” She said softly. “I’m sorry, that I’m such a spaz.” 

There’s more to her apology that she hopes comes across, and the way Pacey nudges her with his elbow, a grin on his face, tells her that he hears what she’s really saying. “Anytime, Jo. And don’t worry, you’re not that much of a spaz, a klutz, absolutely, but a spaz, nah.” 

The bell rings, preventing both of them from eating any of their lunch, but Joey can’t bring herself to care. 

 


 

Joey starts to feel less guarded in her friendship with Pacey after that. 

There’s still walls and boundaries with him that never existed in her friendship with Dawson, like for all intents and purposes Joey still doesn’t know anything about Pacey or his family, but that doesn’t really bother her that much. Sometimes she felt like she knew too much about Dawson, considering they had spent almost every second together the last ten years. 

They also still don’t hang out much outside of school, but it’s more than at the beginning of their friendship. Joey will come to the video store sometimes when Pacey is working and bother him, and they spend afternoons down by the water doing homework when it’s nice out. But Joey has never been to his house, a stark difference to her friendship with Dawson, where she often felt like she spent more time at his house than her own, and he’s never been to hers. 

She feels more comfortable around him, though, feels less like she has to hide things from him. When they’re walking together down the hall, she doesn’t feel like she needs to run away and hide. It feels better, she thinks, that he knows. 

Because the fact that he knows and still chooses to stand with her, is more than she could say for everyone else in her life. 

 


 

Her first real break comes the week after Halloween. When she walks into school on the following Monday, the first thing she notices is not a single person is looking at her. In the last two months she’s gotten pretty good at ignoring it, the stares, but there’s still a distinct feeling that comes along with it, so when the feeling is non existent, she definitely notices. 

The second thing she notices is Pacey practically skipping up to her locker as she deposits her books and jacket. He has a shit eating grin on his face and bounces on the balls of his feet when he comes up next to her. 

“What is going on?” She asks, amusement at his expression laced in her voice. “Both with you and everybody else.” 

Pacey leaned against the locker next to her, waggling his eyebrows. “Y’know Abby Morgan?” He asked and Joey groaned, nodding her head. Unfortunately, she was very familiar with Abby Morgan, who had made her disdain for Joey known on more than one occasion. “Apparently she got caught in the middle of an ecstasy induced threesome with Warren Gary and Chris Wolfe at Matt Caulfield’s Halloween party.” 

Eyes wide, Joey let out a breathless laugh, shaking her head with disbelief. “You’re kidding.” While she didn’t doubt that something had happened at Matt Caulfield’s rather legendary Halloween parties, she had a hard time believing something that extreme had happened. 

“Nope.” Pacey said, emphasizing the p. “I guess she had like no shame about it either, which is getting just enough talk.” 

That didn’t surprise her. Abby Morgan was a force to be reckoned with and never did anything with shame or regret, which is something Joey had always envied about her. “And how exactly do you know all this, were you there?” 

Pacey didn’t seem like a party person, but how was Joey to know for sure. They hadn’t talked all weekend, they never really did, so for all she knew he could have been there. But he shakes his head. “Nah, but it’s all anyone’s been talking about all morning. Not to mention Barbara Johns and one of her weird friends came into the store yesterday when I was working and wouldn’t stop yammering about it.” He shrugs, pushing himself off of the locker so they can start walking towards homeroom. 

“While I’m not necessarily excited to hear about it all day, it is nice that excluding you, who bothers me every day without fail,” Pacey smirked at her, “no one else is paying any attention to me.” 

“That’s high school for ya, Potter.” Joey smiled at the nickname. One of the things she had noticed about Pacey is that he almost never called her Joey, instead calling her Potter, or Jo. “People exhaust the hell out of one topic and then something else more exciting happens.” 

Joey sighed, she knew Pacey was right, and that it had been slightly ridiculous to think that people would spend all year talking about her screwed up family, but it was hard to believe until she had some kind of evidence. Maybe this year wouldn’t be so bad after all. 

“Well, I guess this just means that for the first time in my life, I’m actually grateful for Abby Morgan.” The first bell rang as they came up on Joey’s homeroom and Pacey smirked at her, knocking her with his elbow, nodding a goodbye. 

Joey watched his retreating body with a smile on her face. 

However, as Joey learns throughout the day, it turns out that a bathroom drug induced threesome wasn’t the only exciting thing that happened at Matt Caulfield’s party. Because, as luck might have it, Matt Caulfield’s party also happens to be where new girl Jen Lindley and film nerd Dawson Leery made out in a closet during seven minutes in heaven. 

Joey first hears the gossip during her second period psych class. At first she thinks she misheard, because there was no way that Dawson would even attend a Matt Caulfield party, they had spent all of last year gapping at the horrors and stories that would come from these parties. 

The second thing she thinks is that she has absolutely no idea who Jen Lindley is. She supposes that says more about her than it does anyone else, that she’s allowed her school world to become so small that the only person she’s acutely aware of at any time of day is Pacey. In fact, she can’t even remember the last time she saw Dawson for more than just a brief moment. They don’t have any classes together this year, (which a year ago would have been Joey’s worst nightmare), so the only opportunities Joey has to see him are in the hallway, and even then, they never seem to be in the same place at the same time. 

Which honestly, is fine by her. 

It’s not that Joey has any ill will towards Dawson, in fact, sometimes it feels like it’s still quite the opposite, or that she’s even made a conscious effort to ignore him. But she’s afraid. Afraid that if she’s around him all of her defenses that she’s spent the last four months building, will crumble. She’s scared that he’ll have the same effect on her as he always has. 

By lunch, her head hurts, all the talk of Abby Morgan and Dawson and the pop quiz she’d had in her French class, exhausting her. Pacey is quick to pick up on her mood and quietly munches next to her. 

“Can I ask you something?” She asks, the gnawing curiosity about Dawson and the mysterious Jen becoming too much for her. Pacey seems to know more than she does, even if Joey’s pretty sure she’s the only one he talks to, at least from what she can see. Pacey looks at her, mouth full of potato chips, which makes her grimace. “Do you know who Jen Lindley is?”

She ignores the way her face burns with embarrassment. Pacey considers her for a moment, choosing not to comment on her blush and she’s eternally grateful that he swallows his food before speaking. 

“Um, yeah, she’s in my Spanish class. She’s cute, blonde, from New York. She’s dating that Dawson guy who works at the video store with me.” 

That’s another thing that Joey has kept to herself, her history with Dawson. While Pacey knows about her family, she hasn’t been ready yet, and she’s not sure if she ever will be, to dive into her past friendship with Dawson, considering it’s one of the biggest reasons she’s been so hesitant with Pacey. 

“Oh.” She says, nodding. “I’ve been so off in my own little world I had no idea who she was.” 

“Well, that’s just because you already have one new kid breathing down your neck, can’t blame you for not having time for anyone else.” He teases, throwing her a smirk. 

Joey laughs, “You’re right, being your friend is so exhausting.” 

Her laughter only grows when he misses her with his french fry and hits the senior sitting behind her. 

 


 

“Hey, what are you doing for Thanksgiving?” 

“Huh?” 

Pacey looks at her like she has three heads as they step out onto the quad. It’s one of the last semi warm days of the year just a couple weeks before Thanksgiving and their plan was to walk down to one of the picnic tables by the water to do their homework, even though it was Friday. 

“Thanksgiving, you know, the day where we for some reason celebrate the Natives getting murdered by greedy Europeans with a feast of turkey, mashed potatoes and of course the most important piece, cranberries.” 

Joey glares at him, his sarcasm definitely not appreciated. “Obviously I know what Thanksgiving is.” 

Holding his hands up in surrender, he jumps in front of her, walking backwards down the sidewalk. Joey only feels slightly bad for hoping he trips. “Hey, my apologies, but maybe you’re like a Jehovah’s Witness or something, they don’t celebrate any of those holidays.” 

“I think Jehovah’s Witnesses are also opposed to violence and I definitely would not hesitate to push you into traffic right now.” Pacey frowns moving back to standing next to her. Joey feels kinda bad for snapping at him, but the truth is she’s been trying to avoid thinking about Thanksgiving. 

“Yikes, sorry. Sore subject?” She shrugs and he nods in understanding. That’s one thing she likes about Pacey that she never had with Dawson. Pacey understands her limits, when she doesn’t want to talk about something, he doesn’t make her. 

But, Joey wonders if maybe talking about it will make her feel better. So, for the first time in their three month friendship, she pushes forward. 

“It’s just, you know, it’s the first Thanksgiving without my mom and my dad’s not around obviously, so I don’t know how thankful my sister and I will be feeling.” She sighs and glances over at Pacey, who’s watching her patiently. “Thanksgiving used to be my mom’s favorite holiday, she loved cooking for everyone and seeing us all around the table together…” 

She trails off, swallowing down the bundle of tears that linger in the back of her throat. Pacey wordlessly puts his hand on her shoulder, squeezing softly. The gesture is nice, and his hand is warm through her jacket. 

“What about you?” She asks after a moment, not wanting to linger in the sadness for much longer. “What’s the Witter family tradition?” 

Pacey winces and Joey freezes, hoping she didn’t hit a sore spot. In the three months of their friendship she’s never seen Pacey react the way he did and guilt washes over her instantly, flooding her veins like ice. 

“I’m sorry, you don’t have to answer that if you don’t want to.” She adds on, anxiety running up her spine. Pacey merely shakes his head though, giving her a smile. It’s not as easy as his usual one, but it still looks genuine, so she feels a smidge of relief. 

“It’s fine, Thanksgiving’s just not a big holiday around my house. With it just being me and my mom, she’ll probably work and I’ll probably do nothing.” 

Joey’s heart squeezes in her chest, it doesn’t escape her that this is the first piece of his family life that Pacey has shared with her, but his words still pierce her. His tone, however, fails to give away how he feels about the whole situation, and she can’t piece together from what he said the full scale of his family. 

She figures now is not the time to pester him with questions, he never did it with her and she owes him the same. Though, she does hope he knows that she’s there for him, just like she knows he’s there for her. It’s what friends are for, after all. 

“Well, if you’re not doing anything and I know I’m not doing anything, maybe we could do something together.” The invitation comes tumbling out of her mouth before she can properly think it through, but she doesn’t regret it, especially after she sees Pacey smile. 

Joey watches as the tension disappears from his shoulders and he turns to smirk at her. “Is this a proposition? Are you propositioning me, right now, Potter?” 

Gapping, Joey feels her face burn with blush, her body tingling as she reaches over and slaps him on the arm, hard. “God! Pacey!” She exclaims, having the sudden urge to push him into the ocean, which would not be fun this time of year. “Leave it to you to turn a nice, friendship moment into something gross.” 

“Gross? Sex is a very natural part of life, Josephine, it is not gross.” Joey groans at her full name, glaring at him, very tempted to slap him again. As much as he’s taken to calling her Jo and Potter, he’s also taken to calling her Josephine, especially because he knows how much she hates it. 

“It is when it’s with you.” She retorts, giving him a smirk. He gasps in mock offense, holding his hand to his heart, eyes narrowing to glare at her. 

Truthfully, Joey tried to avoid thinking about Pacey at all in that sense. Sure, she had eyes and could see that beyond his truly awful haircut (which she had definitely teased him about on multiple occasions, and he just remarked that she was lucky she didn’t know him when he had frosted tips), he was a pretty attractive guy, but she could not fall for him. She had done it with Dawson, and like everything else about their friendship, she was trying to do this one differently. 

“You wound me. But, I suppose I will take you up on your offer, unless of course, a better one comes around.” 

“Yeah, I did hear Heather Graham might be coming into town, so I expect you’ll probably be ditching me for her at the first possible second?” 

With a laugh, Pacey slings his arm around her shoulder, “Ah, Potter, you know me so well, this is exactly why I keep you around.” 

Joey spends the rest of the afternoon trying to ignore the way her body buzzed at the contact. 

 


 

To say that Dawson was the last person Joey expected to have waiting by her locker the last day of school before Thanksgiving would be an understatement. But, nevertheless, when she walks into school on Tuesday morning, there he is. 

“Joey, hi.” His words are tentative, like he knows he’s on thin ice, which he is. And, as much as Joey’s stomach swoops at the fact that he’s talking to her, it doesn’t escape her that it’s been five months since he’s so much as looked at her. “How are you?” 

“Fine.” Joey says, words clipped. While in the past, Dawson would be the last person she would take up this kind of tone with, she thinks right now it’s validated. “What do you want?” 

Dawson pauses, teeth worrying his lower lip as he nervously bounces on his heels. Joey takes this opportunity to open her locker, glancing down the hallway. Pacey is usually at her locker by this point and right now he would be a welcome sight. 

“Well, um…” Joey clears her throat, slamming her locker shut, arms crossing over her chest. Dawson flinches at her anger, but she doesn’t back down, narrowing her eyes at him. “I was just wondering if you had any plans yet for Thanksgiving.” 

“What?” She can’t see her face, but if she could, she would imagine her eyebrows are as high up on her forehead as they can go, because that was just about the last thing she was expecting him to say. 

He gives her a small smile, pushing his hair back. Joey knows from years of friendship that it was a clear cut sign that he was nervous. “Yeah, plans for Thanksgiving, I was thinking you know, maybe if you didn’t have any, you’d like to come over to my house.” 

Anger washes over her, hot and loud. “You’ve got to be kidding me.” 

“Excuse me?” 

Joey scoffs, half tempted to just walk away from him, but her irritation is far too high for her to not go at him. “Six months ago you uninvited me from your Fourth of July party and told me you couldn’t hang out with me anymore but now it’s totally fine? Now you’ve deemed that I’m worthy enough to be seen with in public again, that the shame of my family doesn’t bother you anymore.” 

Luckily, the morning is still early enough that plenty of people are milling around the hallways, and with a five day weekend just around the corner, no one is paying her any attention. However, she spots Pacey in her periphery and knows she’ll owe him some kind of explanation. He’s smart enough to keep his distance though, and she’s glad he does, because knowing her he’d become just as much of a target if he tried to approach her now.

“Joey, I-” Dawson’s face is red, and Joey feels a tiny bit of shame for yelling at him, but it’s not strong enough to stop her from cutting him off. 

“No, you’ve spent months ignoring me and pretending like I don’t exist and you don’t just get to decide that you want to be friends with me again. That’s not how this works, that’s not how friendship works.” Joey takes a deep breath, forcing herself to end her ranting before she says something she regrets. 

“I’m…” Dawson trails off, looking down at his feet. “Sorry.” 

“Yeah, well, it’s a little too late for that.” Her voice is quieter now, and she doesn’t even bother hiding the hurt in it. Dawson deserves to know how he made her feel. “And for the record, I already do have plans, so I would have said no anyway.” 

She walks away before he has time to come up with a response. 

And runs right into Pacey. 

“Hi.” He looks a cross between confused and entertained and Joey rolls her eyes, but she feels the irritation slowly melting away. “That was quite the, uh...”

“Display?” She finishes for him as he trails off, brushing past him slightly so she can continue walking down the hallway. He follows her without a moment of hesitation. 

“I guess that’s a word for it.” He steps into stride with her as she leads them in the direction of the sophomore homerooms. “I didn’t know you two knew each other.” 

Joey knows it’s just a comment, and she doesn’t hear any judgement or really anything other than sure curiosity in his tone, but she still feels guilty. Guilty that he’s spent the last three months of their friendship mentioning Dawson in casual conversations when musing about the video store and not once did Joey give Pacey any inkling of her history with him. 

“Yeah, we uh, used to be friends.” She says, shrugging her shoulders slightly. Pacey looks at her like he knows there’s more to the story, but he doesn’t push her, mainly because the first bell rings before he can, but also because that’s just the kind of friend he is. 

In fact he doesn’t bring it up again all day, but this time, Joey can’t tell if she’s happy or upset about it. 

 


 

“Are you sure you’re going to be okay by yourself?” Bessie waves her hand at Joey’s question, taking a seat on the couch. Pacey is going to be here any minute to pick her up and Joey would be lying if she said she wasn’t at least kind of tense. 

“I’m going to be fine.” Her older sister says, putting her feet up on the table for emphasis. “I have a pizza on the way and Bodie’s gonna call around eight and they’re running an Elizabeth Taylor marathon on TV, I got everything I need.” 

Joey sighed as she put her jacket on, guilt and nerves stirring in her stomach. “Positive?” 

Bessie rolled her eyes, tired of Joey’s constant questions. “Absolutely. Now go out, have fun and don’t do anything I wouldn’t do.” 

Rolling her eyes, Joey groaned in embarrassment. “Bessie…” She practically whined, ignoring the smirk on her older sister’s face. “All we’re doing is getting Chinese food.” 

There had been a rather lengthy discussion between her and Pacey the other day about what exactly they were going to be doing as a replacement for Thanksgiving. Pacey, of course, suggested partying and drinking or perhaps something more extreme like starting a cult in the woods. Joey had not appreciated the suggestions and told him they were getting Chinese or not hanging out at all. 

In the end, she won. 

“So that’s what the kids are calling it these days.” Bessie teased, wiggling her eyebrows. For a second, Joey was reminded of Pacey and cursed life for surrounding her with people like this. 

Cheeks warm, Joey shoved her hands into her pockets. “What is that supposed to mean?”

Her sister laughed at the expression Joey’s face. “Well, let’s see, you’re spending Thanksgiving out on a date, with some guy you haven’t even introduced me to yet, so I’m only saying that it sounds like something else is going on here.” 

“Pacey and I are just friends.” As if to emphasize her point, Joey heard a horn honk from outside. “See, if this was a date, he would come and knock on the door like a gentleman.” 

Bessie only laughed, shaking her head, like she couldn’t believe the words Joey was saying. “Whatever you say, sis.” 

Not bothering to continue bickering with Bessie, who she knows wouldn’t believe her anyway, Joey merely gives her sister a wave and exits the house. The cold air hits her and she walks quickly to Pacey’s waiting car. 

She had been slightly nervous, and embarrassed, giving Pacey her address the other day at school. She was more than aware of the small size of the Potter house, with its peeling paint and rickety front porch. It was well loved, and was one of her mom’s pride and joys (after Joey and Bessie, of course), for being able to pay all of it off. But, it was small and less than dignified compared to the typical Capeside home. 

“Whoa, nice view.” Pacey said when she climbed into the passenger seat. Joey blushed, but the car was dark and she knew he couldn’t see her. “Your sister all set?” 

Joey nodded, “Yep. She teased me about leaving her, but she said she was fine.” 

Pacey backed out of the driveway and began the drive into town, a comfortable silence settling between them. The streets were pretty empty, with most people still in the middle of their Thanksgiving feasts, and even as they pulled into town, there were few people milling around. 

“Hey, so you’re paying right?” Pacey asked when they parked the car near the restaurant. “Since this was your idea and all.” 

He had a teasing smirk on his face and Joey shoved him slightly on the sidewalk. “Do something to make it worth my while and maybe I will.” 

They entered the restaurant and Joey turned around to stick her tongue out when Pacey stepped on the back of her feet, nearly tripping her out of her shoes. The hostess looked amused when they approached her and a couple minutes later they were seated in a booth in the back corner. 

“Do you think the hostess thinks we’re on a date?” Joey asked when the hostess handed them their menus, giving them a knowing smile. Pacey hadn’t seemed to notice, too busy staring at the front page of his menu. 

He looked at her over his menu, a grin on his face. “Eh, probably not, anyone here can tell that I’m way too pretty for you.” 

Joey groaned, rolling her eyes and Pacey smirked. However, his smirk quickly morphed into a grin, eyes softening. “What?” Joey asked, feeling herself blush, although she really didn’t know why. Pacey was looking at her in a way he never had before and it was making her insides warm. 

“Nothing, I just…” He paused, leaning forward on the table. “I think everyone here knows that you are way too gorgeous to be seen out in public with a guy like me.” 

“Stop.” She muttered, covering her face with her hands. Pacey’s words sent a hot tingle down her spine and she felt her nerves twitch. “More like everyone here is wondering why you’re taking pity on me.” 

Rolling his eyes, Pacey sat back, arms across his chest. “When are you gonna get it through your very pretty, but also very thick head, that nothing about this friendship is me taking pity on you.” 

“Did you just call my head pretty?” 

Pacey continued out like she hadn’t spoken. “If anyone is taking pity on someone in this friendship it’s you, because lord knows I’m a handful and a half and no other person has the patience to put up with me.” 

Joey laughed, but she didn’t miss the heaviness behind his words, even though he was giving her a smile. “I am a saint for putting up with you aren’t I?” She teased, giggling at Pacey smirk. 

The waitress approached the table then and the conversation shifted to food, and then to school and everything else of that nature. Before Joey knew it, they were finishing up and Pacey surprised her by paying for both of them, even though she tried to argue with him, he didn’t hear it. 

“As we established, you put up with me, so it’s the least I can do.” 

A little while later, they found themselves down by the water, meandering slowly. Despite how dark and cold it was, Joey wasn’t quite ready for the night to end yet. And seemingly neither did Pacey, if his continuous conversation and his avoidance of walking back to his car said anything. 

Maybe it was the atmosphere, or maybe it was the fact that it had been so long since Joey had felt this close to someone, but she felt like maybe she was finally ready to open up to him. Pacey had done nothing but prove himself a spectacular friend, and Joey realized that being honest with him would just deepen that bond. 

“So, I have to be honest with you about something.” She said when there was a slight lull in conversation, Pacey was looking out in the distance and turned to look at her, eyebrows crinkled. 

“What do you mean?” 

Clearing her throat, Joey pursed her lips, smiling at him nervously. “The other day, when you saw me talking to Dawson, and I told you we used to be friends, I wasn’t telling the entire truth.” 

“Ah, lemme guess, ex boyfriend?” Shaking her head, Joey hated how her stomach sank ever so slightly at the comment. 

“No, not quite.” Tilting her head back, she sighed. “Before you know, everything with my family happened, we were best friends, until he decided that we weren’t anymore.”

Pacey slowed down his walk, and they came to a slow stop, both staring out at the water. He didn’t say anything in response, clearly waiting to see if she was going to elaborate, but the way he was looking at her told her that he was listening. 

“We had been best friends since we were kids, you know, every memory from age six to fifteen, there’s Dawson. I spent every weekend at his house, I ate dinner with his family, every summer we would swim in the creek or ride our bikes into town and get ice cream.” She swallowed, not wanting to cry. “He was there for me when my mom died, but after my dad got arrested, he told me it probably wouldn’t be the best idea if we hung out anymore.” 

Words still unspoken hung in the air and Joey let out a deep breath, her breath curling in the air around them. Wordlessly, Pacey covered her hand with his own, squeezing it softly. They stood there for a few moments, the cool air making her shiver, but she felt warmer than she had in months. 

“It’s why I was so nervous I think.” She says a couple minutes later. “To tell you things.” Tearing her eyes away from the water, she looks at him. “Here was this person who knew everything there was to know about me, who knew all my thoughts and dreams and fears, and at the end of the day, he walked away from me because of something I had no control over.” 

Pacey nods, his face shrouded in understanding, but an unmistakable hurt in his eyes. For a moment, Joey feared it was directed towards her, but she knew better at this point. If there was something she had learned about Pacey, it was that he was the most empathetic person she had ever known. 

“And you were afraid if I knew those things I’d walk away too.” 

“Yeah.” She breathes. “When Dawson said all that to me, I didn’t really want to make any other friends, y’know, if my best friend in the whole world doesn’t want to be around me, why would anyone else. So, I held you at arms length. I figured if I never let you in, then I wouldn’t be as hurt if things ended the same.” 

There’s a trace of a smile on his face, the moon illuminating his features in a way that Joey thinks makes him look wise. “What made you change your mind?” 

She shrugged, brushing her hair behind her ear. It doesn’t escape her that his hand is still holding hers, and it surprises her that she doesn’t want him to let go. “Well, I guess for one I figured you were bound to find out eventually, small town and all, and also I realized that you weren’t Dawson and by keeping you in the dark, I might be doing us more harm than good.” 

Pacey fully smiles then, looking at her. “So, you discovered that you actually like me?” He teased, knocking her with his hip. She groaned, but couldn’t keep the smile off of her face. 

“Yeah, god knows why though.” 

“Oh, Potter, you flatter me.” Dropping her hand, he held his own to his chest, eyelashes batting as he smirked. “A guy of my standard does not deserve such high praise from a lady such as yourself.” 

“You are so full of it.” She said, shoving his shoulder, laughing softly. “I was starting to think that maybe you were the one that put up with me now I know it is definitely the other way around.” 

Pacey chuckled, eyes drifting back out to the water, and Joey’s followed. The night was calm, despite the chill in the air, and the water was as still as Joey had ever seen it. She couldn’t help but think that it reflected how she felt inside. 

The silence stretched on for a few more minutes before Pacey cleared his throat, and began speaking, voice so low at first that Joey had to inch closer to him to hear the words. 

“My dad was the sheriff in my old town, a town not unlike this one but down in Pennsylvania. Everyone in town loved him, he was one of those popular guys, fair and respected.” It’s the first time Joey has ever heard Pacey talk about his father and her breath hitches, her body still. 

“He wasn’t that great of a dad though, but then again maybe I wasn’t that great of a son, but either way, we didn’t have the best relationship. I’m the youngest of five, so by the time my dad got to me I think he was pretty sick of raising kids.” 

Pacey took a deep breath, looking down at the ground before looking back on the ocean. “I had a pretty shitty relationship with him. Sometimes he was great, but most of the time he wasn’t and I resented him. And then he died.” 

The words crash over her like a bitter cold ocean wave, in fact she feels like someone came over and threw her off the dock. Her breath freezes her in her throat and she searches Pacey’s face desperately for his emotions, wanting to read him before she reacts. His eyes are distant and he’s not looking at her, all she can see is the profile line of his face. 

She has the overwhelming urge to hug him. But she doesn’t know if he would take kindly to that, so instead she does what he did for her just minutes earlier. She covers his hand on the railing of the dock and squeezes. 

He turns his hand so that their hands are clasped together and if Joey’s not mistaken, she senses a bit of desperation in the way his fingers squeeze hers. She doesn’t say anything, letting the words unspoken hang between them, their shared hurt of a lost parent and complicated relationships being more than enough. 

Joey isn’t sure how long they stand there, but she knows that it didn’t feel like nearly long enough and when Pacey let go of her hand, she missed it. 

 


 

They don’t really talk about Thanksgiving after that. 

Pacey calls her that Saturday, Joey isn’t sure how he got her number and when she asks he teases her for forgetting that the phone book exists before launching into a story from his shift the day before that he just had to tell her. It’s weird, him calling her, but she likes it, and she has a smile on her face for the rest of the night after they hang up. 

However, when Monday comes, Pacey is standing by her locker, the same as always, a smile on his face. He greets her, breezily and as easy as always, knocking her arm with his and telling stories of work the day before. 

It’s like nothing between them has changed, except everything has changed. 

Because there’s something unspoken between them now, with their sharing of traumas and understanding of each other’s lives beyond their shared lunch table. Something that only they understand and know about each other. 

Joey thinks she might finally realize what it means to have someone understand you more than anyone. She never really had that with Dawson, he might have known everything there was to know about her, but as much as he listened to her talk about her mom, he never really got it or her. 

Pacey did. 

While there was still so much they didn’t know about each other, Joey didn’t know the circumstances of his father’s death, and he didn’t know the full story of what happened the week her mother died. They still shared this thing in common. This thing that allowed them to be there for each other in a way that no one else quite could. 

Joey starts to believe that this may be what it really feels like to have a best friend. 

 


 

December goes by with nothing life changing or earth shattering taking place. Well, outside of the usual school gossip, at least. Joey goes to school, hangs out with Pacey, comes home, does her homework and the next day she does it all over again. 

She loves every minute of it. 

It feels like her life has been a non stop, moving disaster for the last six months, so for the most exciting thing to happen within a thirty one day period is that she accidentally drops a jar of spaghetti sauce one night, is the kind of thing she can totally get behind. Pacey teases her for giving a rather dramatic retelling of the event the following day at school, but he also laughs so she feels rather good about the whole thing. 

Christmas comes and goes and Joey mourns the first Christmas without her mom. Unlike Thanksgiving, she can’t fathom abandoning Bessie, so she spends the day curled up on the couch with her sister, drinking hot chocolate and watching old cartoons. They both cry during the old Grinch cartoon, it was always their mom’s favorite, but she goes to bed that night with a smile on her face. 

She hears rumors one day, while shopping in town with Bessie, of Dawson and Jen Lindley breaking up. She surprises even herself for barely having any kind of reaction. 

It’s a good month, so when Pacey asks her to hang out on New Year’s Eve, she doesn’t hesitate to say yes. Usually, she spends her New Year’s Eve with Dawson, in his bedroom, ringing in the New Year with movies and junk food, so it’s honestly a relief when Pacey suggests they go out for the holiday. 

It’s truly a testament to how well they’ve gotten to know each other that Pacey understands that when she agrees to “go out” for the night, she means eating pizza and then wandering around downtown just the two of them. 

They ring in the New Year sitting in the front seat of Pacey’s car, tapping milkshake filled paper cups together. Pacey had insisted they get milkshakes from the twenty four hour diner just outside of town, and Joey had resisted because it was well below freezing outside, but with the heat blasting and warmth flooding through her with Pacey’s company, she had to admit it was a good idea. 

All in all, it’s a good New Year’s Eve. Different, but good. 

Joey’s been noticing that a lot lately, that things now are so much different than they used to be. Her friendship with Pacey, her relationship with Bessie, school, life in general and while she would never say that she thinks she’s better off without her mom, she’s starting to think that some of these differences are better. 

At least, when it comes to Pacey, she’s almost certain this different is way better. 

 


 

“Hey, Jo.” Joey immediately picks up on the tone in Pacey’s voice as he sidled up next to her one random Thursday in January. He had a smile on his face, but it didn’t quite reach his eyes. “Ready for another day?”

Joey rolled her eyes, closing her locker, shaking her head. “No. But at least it’s almost Friday.” She was actually looking forward to this weekend more than most, her and Bessie were going to the mall a few towns over to check out the post Christmas sales, some much needed sister bonding. 

“Yeah.” He said, a fake brightness to his voice. Joey’s eyebrows crinkled together and she reached out and tapped his arm. Physicality was a new thing between them, so she was still a little tentative, but Pacey was usually fairly receptive, and more times than not, he was the one initiating it. 

She stopped them, hand still resting on his arm. “You okay?” Pacey shrugged, looking down at the ground momentarily before his eyes met hers. There was an exhaustion to them that made her heart sink and she smiled sadly at him. 

“Let’s just say today is a momentous, but not joyful, milestone in the life of Pacey Witter.” Under normal circumstances, Joey would have chuckled at his dramatics, but the tone of his voice made her pause. 

“What do you mean?” She asked softly, if he wanted to tell her, he would, but if he didn’t, she wouldn’t push him. Pacey shrugged again, looking around at their milling classmates. The first bell would ring in a few minutes, so the hallways were still filled with students, but no one was paying them any mind. 

She saw his Adam’s apple bob in his throat. “In the simplest of terms, sixteen years ago today a certain someone we both know began his existence on this earth, much to the frustration and anger of his two parents.” 

Realization ran through her body, and she smiled slightly. “Pacey, is today your birthday?” 

“That it is.” He said with a small nod, hands shoved into his pockets. “And not only was my ma completely non celebratory this morning, it seems as though she has just decided to ignore it all together. Not that that’s really any different than any other of my birthdays, but…” 

Joey’s stomach clenched and an overwhelming sadness for her friend came over her. She may have had the worst birthday last year, but it was an outlier in an otherwise fantastic track record. She had never known what it felt like to have your birthday go completely unacknowledged. 

“Pacey…” She said softly, unsure of the words that would make this any better. So, instead, she did the only thing she could, she stepped forward and wrapped her arms around his torso, tucking her head into the crook of his shoulder. 

“Jo…” Pacey’s voice was quiet against her ear. He didn’t say anything else though, just responded to her hug, squeezing her body against his. 

The bell rang around them, but Pacey didn’t let go, at least not at first, and Joey didn’t want him to. The hug was warm and comfortable, Pacey’s arms secure and safe around her body. “Happy Birthday, Pace.” 

She felt him smile against the skin of her neck and when he released her a moment later, there was a little bit of his familiar light back in his eyes. It wasn’t as much as there usually was, but if Joey could have a hand in making his day better, she would take it. 

“Thanks, Jo.” The second bell rang, which means they would both be late to homeroom, but Joey couldn’t bring herself to care. Pacey gave her arm a squeeze before he walked away, the weight of his hand lingering on her skin. 

She spends the rest of the morning contemplating what she can do to further improve Pacey’s day. 

“So, I have an idea.” She said when Pacey said down next to her at lunch. There was a sad looking piece of cake on his tray and Joey wondered if someone in the cafeteria had heard through the grapevine, which seemed unlikely, or if it was just a rather serendipitous coincidence. 

Pacey looked at her, eyebrows raised. “You do, do you? I’m not sure how I feel about that, your ideas usually aren’t that good.” 

As happy as Joey was that Pacey had gotten some of his sarcastic joy back, she couldn’t help but feel offended that he was directing at her. Besides, her ideas were great . “Hey, I resent that, just a couple weeks ago you told me my idea of pizza on New Year’s was a great idea, no take backs now.” 

He held his hands up in surrender, jerking to the side, nearly off his chair, to avoid her haphazard attempt at a backhand. Usually she’s right on target, but it is his birthday after all, so she’s trying to go easy on him. 

“Do you want to know my idea, or not?” She asks after he’s righted himself in his seat, french fry tangling from his mouth. God , he can be such a guy sometimes. 

He swallows, shrugging his shoulders. “Fine, fine. What exactly is your brilliant idea, oh wise one.” He teases, raising his eyebrows. She has to resist the urge to reach out and backhand him, this time without missing her target. 

“I think we should go to the movies tonight. I know it’s Thursday so the selection kind of sucks, but it might be fun.” She notices Pacey tense in his seat, his shoulders straightening and her heart twists. 

“You don’t have to do that.” Pacey whispers, avoiding her gaze. “We don’t have to hang out tonight just because you found out my parents, well parent this year, sucks at remembering my birthday.” He sounds embarrassed and ashamed and Joey’s stomach curls, hot and angry but also sad and she reaches out to rest her hand on his shoulder. “Jo…” 

“What?” She says, practically forcing him to look at her. “If you are about to play the pity card I’ll slap you, and this time I won’t miss.” Pacey’s eyes flick up from the table to glare at her, although his eyes lack any real malice. 

“Joey, you really don’t -” 

She cuts him off though, crossing her arms across her chest. “No I don’t, but I want to. Is it so bad that I want to spend my best friend’s birthday with him?” It’s the first time she’s ever called Pacey her best friend, but the title feels right and true and she smiles. “There’s no pity with us, not then, not now, not ever.” 

Pacey finally meets her gaze with a small smile. “I’m your best friend?” 

She snorts, rolling her eyes. “Against my better judgement, and despite all my attempts to stop it, you Pacey Witter have wormed your way into the coveted spot of being my best friend.” He smiles at her, teeth showing and eyes bright and teasing. “And as my best friend, that means you need let me take you to the movies for your birthday.”

“Fine, fine, fine.” He says, rolling his eyes, the smile still on his face. They’re silent for a second, Joey taking a bite of her sandwich and Pacey sipping his lemonade. He smirks at her then, “Does this mean you’re gonna pay? Because that really sweetens the deal, I think it’s only fair that sometimes the girl pays.”  

“Oh, Pace, you really do prove every single day that chivalry is far from dead.” She retorts, not bothering to point out that she’s pretty sure that rule only applies when the boy and girl in question are dating. 

And she ignores the weird fluttering in her stomach that excites at the thought. 

 


 

That night Joey spends as much money as she can on movie tickets, popcorn and candy and based on the smile that rests on Pacey’s face as they settle into their seats, it was a good idea. 

“I heard this movie is really bad, so this should be fun.” She whispers when the lights dim. Pacey chuckles and leans closer to her, elbow resting next to her on the arm rest. 

“Well, luckily there are only a few other people here,” And he was right, there were only about three other people in the theater, a group of what looked like middle school aged kids who were sitting close to the screen, “So, chances are we won’t get kicked out for laughing.” 

Joey laughs softly, leaning back in her seat, eyes focused on the previews. Pacey leans over to whisper about how dumb each movie looks and Joey bites her tongue, not wanting to laugh too loudly. This was so unlike going to the movies with Dawson, who would watch the screen with rapt attention, barely even noticing if there were other people around him. 

She thinks back to one time when they were in middle school and came to see some drama movie that was getting Academy Award buzz and Dawson didn’t spare her one glance throughout the whole movie. In fact, he had walked right out of the theater on his own when it was over and only noticed she wasn’t with him after he had gotten into his mom’s car. 

Pacey doesn’t follow the same movie watching procedure. Joey had learned pretty quickly that unlike Dawson, who had gotten his job at the video store in order to experience as many movies as possible, Pacey got his for the money. Pacey would watch anything as long as there were enough explosions, crude jokes and pretty girls in it. 

Weirdly enough, she finds that she likes that about him. 

With Dawson, every movie was about the script and how the camera helped tell the story, which Joey definitely believed there was some merit too, but sometimes Joey just wanted to watch a bad action movie. Those seem to be Pacey’s bread and butter too, and is exactly the movie they’ve come here to see tonight. 

They spend the next two hours trading witty comments about the bad effects and the lame dialogue, trying not to disturb the kids up front, who seem to be genuinely having a good time. Pacey shares his m&ms with her, and Joey pretends to be grossed out when he takes multiple sips of her diet Pepsi, but she really doesn’t care that much. 

Besides, it’s hard to be mad when halfway through the movie he shoves a napkin into her hand when she’s about to wipe the popcorn grease on her jeans. He must have pulled it from his own pocket, as it’s crumbled and wrinkly and she looks at him, eyebrows knitted together. 

“You’re one of the messiest eaters I’ve ever seen. You wipe your hands on your pants at least once a lunch period.” Wordlessly, she accepts the napkin, strangely touched by the gesture. She had never even noticed that she did that, let alone that Pacey would have noticed. 

She spends the rest of the movie with a warm tingle through her body that she doesn’t think has anything to do with the heat kicking on right at the climax of the big fight scene. 

“So, you were right. That was an absolute steaming pile of crap.” Pacey says as he throws their trash away when they exit the theater. “The ending didn’t even make any sense.” 

“It was still fun though, right?” 

Pacey slings his arm over her shoulder, leading them through the double doors and onto the street towards his car. “Jo, it was the best birthday I’ve ever had.” 

She smiles all the way home. 

 


 

As a general rule, Joey hates Valentine’s Day. 

Don’t get her wrong, she understands the meaning behind it. She gets why people love it so much, and for a while when she was a kid she loved it too. When she was elementary school, Valentine’s Day was one of her favorite holidays, it was the next best one to Halloween because it was all about candy and who had the coolest cartoon characters on their cards. 

Then she hit middle school and it became about so much more, and as the girl who had been painstakingly in love with her best friend who never felt the same way about her, Valentine’s Day was just a cold reminder of that. Besides, if you really loved someone that much, would you need a special day just to show it? 

However, she’s determined to be different this year. And by different she means ignore the whole thing all together. Valentine’s Day falls on a Friday this year, so Joey makes plans to hang out with Pacey on Saturday, the ultimate distraction. 

What she didn’t count on is Pacey being a Valentine’s Day magnet and reminding her of this stupid day nearly all day long. 

By lunch she’s witnessed him receive multiple cards from girls Joey has never seen before and he’s been asked out, twice, with her standing right there. She can only imagine what his day has been like when he’s roaming the halls alone. 

“So, going to take any of those girls up on their big Valentine’s Day invitations?” Her question comes out more bitter than she had intended, but she has yet to discover the source of said bitterness. 

Pacey scoffs however, taking a bite of his pizza. “No, I don’t even know most of those girls, I think going out with them would be an unpleasant experience.” 

“Unpleasant?”

“Yeah. I mean, I hardly know them and have no interest in going out with them, I’m not going to say yes just for the hell of it.” He shrugs and Joey finds herself smiling at his thoughtfulness. Most guys would jump at the chance to go out with a girl, even if they didn’t actually like them. “What about you?”

Joey, who had just raised her water bottle to her lips, lowers it slowly and looks at him, eyebrows raised. “What about me?”

“Any big plans for this glorious day, you had to have gotten some appealing offers.” There’s something to his tone that Joey can’t quite put her finger on, but she pushes past it, instead shaking her head in response. 

“Please, not a single person has spoken to me all day, well besides you.” Pacey smirks, taking a victorious bite of his pink and red frosted cookie. “Anyway, people as a general rule tend to avoid me, so guys aren’t exactly jumping at the chance to go out with me.” 

She shrugs her shoulders, feeling suddenly exposed and vulnerable. It’s weird, her and Pacey had had conversations about their dead parents, but her lack of a love life feels like a line she shouldn’t gross with him. Pacey merely nods however, contemplatively chewing. 

“Their loss.” He says softly, meeting her gaze. Her stomach flips at the look in his eyes and her palms begin to sweat and she really doesn’t know why. All of sudden she feels like she can’t breathe. She wants to open her mouth and ask what he means, but before she can the bell rings, cutting off any further conversation. 

“Gotta get to class,” Pacey says, balling up his napkin and throwing it on his tray. “See you later, Jo.” 

He’s out of his chair and into the crowd before she has a chance to catch her breath. 

However, turns out, when the school day is over, it’s not her interaction with Pacey that she’s thinking about. It’s the one with Dawson. 

“Joey.” Dawson nearly appears from thin air by her locker when she’s depositing her books at the end of the school day.  She practically jumps out of her skin, smiling nervously as she closes her locker, too taken aback to react any other way. “I was hoping to find you.” 

“Well, you found me.” She snarked. They hadn’t spoken since his attempt to invite her to Thanksgiving, and while part of Joey was curious as to what it was he wanted, she also wasn’t in the mood for small talk. Not with him, at least. 

She was suddenly really annoyed that Pacey had to work right after school, so he was gone already. Joey had the distinct feeling Pacey and Dawson didn’t get along very well, so he would have been the perfect escape route. 

“I was hoping maybe you were free tonight?” Joey froze, unsure that she heard him correctly. “I was thinking we might catch dinner and a movie, if you’re interested. Like you know, a date.” 

Joey’s first instinct was to say no. She had done a lot of moving on and not thinking about Dawson in the last few months, thanks to her friendship with Pacey, but a large part of her was still burned from what had happened between them. Besides, Dawson didn’t make her heart skip and her skin tingle like he used to, so would it all really be worth it. 

But on the other hand, he was doing what she had wanted him to do for years . This was the first boy she had ever dreamed about kissing or being with or anything else like that, and he was standing here asking her on a date. It was something that twelve year old Joey would have only imagined, so didn’t she owe it to herself to at least know what it would feel like?

Ultimately the need to please her younger self wins out which is why just a couple hours later, she’s nervously pacing back and forth the length of the Potter house, her sister watched amused from the couch. 

“Stop laughing at me!” Joey exclaims on her fourth lap of the kitchen, groaning when her sister merely chuckles in response. “I’m nervous.” 

“I can tell.” Joey groans, resisting the urge to plop herself down on the couch next to Bessie, knowing if she does, she’ll never get back up. Part of her wants to just stay here with her sister, watch crappy romance movies and pig out on junk food. 

But she promised Dawson, and herself, that she would do this. And unlike him, she’s not about to break a promise. 

At exactly seven o’clock, there’s a knock at the door and Dawson enters after getting called in, dressed in a blue button down and khaki pants. Joey suddenly feels like she clashes horribly in her red sweater and denim skirt, but she merely smiles and accepts the flower he gives her. It’s a rose, which is appropriate for the holiday, not her favorite, but she doesn’t dwell on it. 

“You look great, Joey.” He’s smiling at her and she returns it, but his words don’t seem to have any kind of effect. 

“Thanks. You too.” Her stomach is a bundle of nerves, and Joey wonders if they’re the typical first date kind of jitters or if she’s simply nervous about being alone with him for the first time since June. 

Bessie sends them off a couple minutes later, giving Joey a knowing smile that makes her heart twist uncomfortably. Joey readies herself for what’s to come, even though she has absolutely no idea what she’s expecting. 

Dinner is honestly kind of boring. He brings her to the pizza place that her and Pacey went to on New Year’s and does all the gentlemanly things, pulls out her chair for her and helps her with her coat. She can’t help but feel like there’s something off about the gestures though, but she pushes the thought away. 

However, her off feelings are spiked when the waiter comes over and Dawson orders a large pepperoni and mushroom for them to share. That had been Joey’s favorite when they were friends, so it makes sense that he would order it, but when she had come here with Pacey they had split a Hawaiian that was to die for and she had been looking forward to ordering it again. But she pushes the bad feeling away, besides it wasn’t Dawson’s fault that her tastes had changed. 

(She chooses not to focus on the fact that it was his fault that he didn’t know her well enough anymore.) 

They chat about school and what classes they’re both taking, and Joey is honestly kind of glad for the fact that they have entirely different schedules so there’s no shortage of stories to tell. Joey talks about how much she loves her history class but she thinks Mr. Peterson, the english teacher, needs to get a grip and not take everything so seriously. Dawson recounts how he managed to convince Mr. Gold to let him join film class and has plenty of stories about the class that pretty much all boil down to the same idea, that no one in that class besides him knows what they’re talking about. 

Joey doesn’t mention Pacey and Dawson doesn’t ask about him. 

The check comes and Dawson pays, making a quip about how it was the right thing to do and Joey smiles to herself, thinking back on Pacey’s birthday and the conversation they’d had about it, before Dawson snaps her back to the present. 

“The movie starts soon, so we should get going.” 

Joey nods, still kind of distracted, following his lead. He grabs her hand as they begin to exit the restaurant and she immediately notices how wrong it feels. “What are we seeing?” 

“Oh, it’s this new political drama. Getting a lot of buzz already.” He has this excited grin on his face and Joey’s heart drops, but she doesn’t let her smile falter. “I think you’ll like it.” 

She really has to wonder how he came to that conclusion. 

Dawson leads them to the theater and Joey starts to feel bad that he’s paying for everything. While this is a date, it just gives her bad reminders of when she had to lean on him for everything when they were friends. She doesn’t say anything though, not in the mood to start an argument. 

The movie is just as boring as Joey thought it would be, but Dawson seems to be enjoying himself. His eyes stay trained on the screen the whole time, his only movements coming when he reaches into the popcorn bucket. It feels just like old times, and she hates it. 

She grimaces when she wipes her greasy hands on her skirt. 

When the movie is over, Dawson drives her home, rambling on and on about how much he loved it, barely noticing that she spends the entire car ride staring out the window. She’s glad he had a good time, but she’s honestly just ready for the evening to be over. 

“So, I had a really good time tonight, Joey.” He says when he’s walking her to her front door. Joey can see Bessie still sitting on the couch in the living room very obviously looking at them out the window. 

“Me too.” Joey says, hoping he doesn’t hear the lack of enthusiasm in her voice. It wasn’t like she had an awful time, per se, but she definitely was underwhelmed by the whole experience. “Thanks for inviting me along.” 

He smiles at her, a smile that a year ago would have made her knees weak, but now has no such effect on her. She expects that to be it, for him to maybe give her a hug or something of the sort, but he doesn’t. Instead he leans forward and kisses her. 

Nothing. 

That’s the first thing she notices, that she feels absolutely nothing. She had spent years wondering what it felt like for him to kiss her, dreamed about him pressing his lips against hers and now that it’s actually happening...nothing. 

To be completely honest, she’s actually kind of relieved. She had spent the whole evening feeling off and now she finally realizes why, it’s because any left over feelings she might have had after he abandoned her this summer, are totally gone. She owed herself this date to test it out, and now she knows. 

She’s completely and totally over him. 

“I’ll see you on Monday, Dawson.” She says when he pulls away, his eyes still closed. He jerks them open at her words, hurt flashing across them. Joey smiles tightly, but Dawson’s lips form a tight line. 

“What? That’s it?” He asks, anger present in his tone. She takes a small step back, she should have predicted this. Dawson had always had a bit of a temper when they were friends, but that anger had never been directed at her. “I kiss you and that’s all.” 

She shrugs, refusing to feel bad. Joey didn’t feel anything when he kissed her, or when he put his hand in hers, or when he pulled out her chair for her, or anything else that’s happened this evening. And she’s certainly not going to pretend just for his sake, especially after everything that’s happened between them. 

“I’m sorry.” She says, not really sure what she’s apologizing for. At this point, she really just wants him to leave. She wants this night, and this conversation, to be over. “I had a nice time tonight, but Dawson this isn’t going to happen.” 

He scoffs, loudly, and she crosses her arms across her chest. “You can’t be serious? Why are you holding what happened against me?” 

Now it’s her turn to be angry, rage floods through her veins and her hands ball into fists, her nails piercing her skin. “Excuse me?” 

Dawson rolls his eyes, “You’re still upset about what happened this summer, so you’re punishing me by pushing me away.” 

“What happened this summer?” Joey is surprised by how even her tone is, because she really just wants to yell at the top of her lungs. “You mean when my mother died, my father was sent to prison and then my best friend in the world abandoned me because he didn’t feel like dealing with it?” Dawson doesn’t react, his jaw twitching angrily. “You’re the one who pushed me away, first.” 

She turns, ending the conversation. If Dawson wants to continue to stand here and be angry, he can but Joey just wants to get away from him. Besides, eventually Bessie will tell him to leave. She’s about to step into the house when Dawson finally speaks. 

“Joey, tell Pacey I said hi.” And with that, Dawson stalks away back towards his car and Joey is left standing in the doorway. 

Bessie comes to stand behind her, watching Dawson get into his car and drive away. Her hand squeezes Joey’s shoulder and Joey turns to smile sadly at her sister. She doesn’t regret what she said, and she stands by how she feels, but she can’t help but be filled with a bit of a sadness at the seemingly unrepairable brokenness of her and Dawson’s once unbreakable friendship.  

 


 

“So, what’d you do last night?”

Pacey cracks open a soda as he sits down next to her on her couch. It’s only the third time he’s been over to her house but he certainly doesn’t seem uncomfortable making himself at home. She rolls her eyes as he places his feet on the coffee table. 

Truthfully, she had debated whether or not to share what happened last night with Pacey. She wasn’t necessarily ashamed of it or anything, but she didn’t know if it was worth divulging. Before she could reply though, Bessie appeared from her bedroom, pulling a sweater on. 

“Hey Jo, I gotta run into town.” She said, gathering her hair into a knot at the back of her neck. Bessie also sent a small grin to Pacey, who lifted his soda can in greeting. “I should be back within an hour, but if I’m not you can stick that casserole in the fridge into the oven.” 

Joey nodded. “Sure thing, Bess.” She gave her sister a smile, looking over at Pacey who was also giving her sister a smile. “Take your time.” 

“Thanks, also Pacey feel free to stick around for dinner, there’s plenty.” The casserole was from Bodie, he was working pretty far out of town these days, so his opportunities to come over were few and far between, but he always made sure he brought some food over so the Potter girls were well nourished. 

Joey was grateful for the invitation to Pacey. After a couple months of teasing from Bessie, Joey had finally introduced the two of them and she was happy that they got along. Of course, they had quickly ganged up on her and teased her mercilessly about the tiniest things, but she was happy her sister liked him. 

“I’m sure I’ll be right here when you get back.” Pacey says with a small smirk, causing Bessie to laugh. She’s out the door a couple seconds later. Joey kind of hopes Pacey will drop the earlier subject, but he turns to look at her. 

“So….do anything last night?” He had a look on his face and Joey rolled her eyes. He was horrible at keeping a secret. 

He totally knew. “You totally know.” 

Pacey chuckled, shaking his head slightly. “Yeah, I totally do, well not everything but I know something happened.” He took a sip of his soda, laughter growing when she humphed and crossed her arms across her chest, stubbornly. “Don’t worry, it’s not all over town, Dawson mentioned it earlier.” 

That freezes her, Dawson told him? God, she can only imagine what he said either to Pacey or around him. He had sounded pretty bitter last night when spitting out Pacey’s name, like it was some kind of accusation for something she hadn’t done. “I’m sorry.” Is the only thing she can think to say. 

“What are you apologizing for?” Pacey’s face is contorted in confusion. “Dawson was the one being an asshole about it.” 

Of course he was. He was an asshole last night, so of course he was an asshole today. “What did he say? Do I even want to know?” Joey grumbles, suddenly feeling antsy. She was fine with Dawson giving her an attitude, even though in her mind she didn’t really deserve it, but Pacey definitely didn’t deserve it. He hadn’t done anything wrong. “And I guess I’m apologizing that you had to hear about it from Dawson.” 

Pacey shrugs her words off, waving it away like it’s the last thing he’s worried about. “When Dawson came in this afternoon so we could trade shifts, he basically said it was my fault that you had rejected him last night. When I told him I had no idea what he was talking about it, he laughed and accused me of keeping the two of you apart.” 

Anger washes over her, how dare Dawson. She clenches her jaw, teeth grinding uncomfortably and Pacey is looking at her with his eyebrows raised. “And what happened after that?” She said through her teeth. 

“Told him again that I had no idea what he was talking about, reminded him to lock up and came over here. I know it’s none of my business but what happened last night?” 

Joey sighed, relaxing her body. Being angry at Dawson wouldn’t accomplish anything, he had proved to her last night that he wasn’t worth it and that letting him go was the best thing she could do for herself. Right now, the best thing she could do is focus on Pacey, the person in her life that was worth it. 

“Dawson asked me out after school yesterday.” She whispered, already wincing at the memory of what had happened. “Another thing that I wasn’t totally honest about when it comes to me and Dawson, is that when we were friends I had a massive crush on him.” She feels her cheeks burn at the confession and Pacey smiles knowingly at her. 

He nods, “So, you said yes because you felt like you owed it to yourself and wanted to know what it was like?” 

Joey meets his gaze, a small smile on her lips. There he goes again, knowing her better than she ever thought someone could. “Yeah, that’s exactly it.” They share a grin before Joey breaks eye contact and looks down at her lap. “I had spent so long dreaming about it, I knew I would regret it if I never knew what it was like.” 

“That’s understandable.” Pacey says softly, inching closer to her on the sofa, touching her knee with his. The contact sends a shiver up her body and for the first time, she doesn’t think it has anything to do with the slight draft in the room. 

She swallows it down, however, wanting to focus on finishing the story. “So, we went out, dinner and a movie, just about as basic as you could get.” Snorting, she shakes her head, feeling kind of embarrassed now that she’s talking about it. “Nothing bad or wrong happened, something was just…”

“Off.” Pacey finishes for her when she trails off and she nods. 

“I knew before he brought me home that this was probably both the first and last date we would ever go on, but it was nice to know for sure, you know?” Pacey nods, a look in his eyes that made Joey’s stomach swoop. “Let’s just say that I don’t think Dawson agreed with my feelings.” 

Pacey snorted and Joey felt herself smiling. “Yeah, and he thinks it’s my fault.”

That turned her smile into a frown. She still couldn’t believe Dawson had the nerve to blame Pacey for her feelings when all Pacey had done was be a better friend than Dawson had ever been. 

“I’m sorry he said that to you.” She whispered, still frowning. Pacey gave her a small grin, though, giving a half shrug with his shoulder. “When he mentioned you last night, I never thought he would go and say something to you.” 

“It’s okay.” He said softly, covering her hand with his own, squeezing softly. “He’s an asshole and I know that I don’t know any of the details of what your friendship was like before I moved here, but from what I can tell, you deserve better.” 

A warm feeling swept through her entire body at his words, and at the feeling of his hand on hers. In fact, it had been something she had been noticing a lot lately, the feeling of warmth that often came hand and hand with Pacey. She liked it. 

“That’s why I have you.” She said after a few comfortable beats of silence. Pacey’s face morphed into a smile, his hand squeezing hers again. 

“Yeah, you do.” He whispered, and Joey wondered if she imagined the extra emotion that was packed into the words. “And you always will.” He added, turning to completely look at her, a smile on his face that sent a shiver down her spine. 

Joey didn’t know if she had the right words to say to that. The words were something that she had heard before, Dawson used to say that they would always be best friends, that he would always be there for her. That had obviously ended up not being true, and Joey was skeptical to believe it from someone, but there was something about the way Pacey said the words and the look on his face that told Joey he meant them. 

Not to mention, he had proved to her over and over again. 

Leaning her head on his shoulder, she sighed, content. She still didn’t know the right words to say, but by the way he moved his arm to go around her shoulder and his head leaned on top of hers, she knew it said more than her words ever could. 

They stayed there in comfortable silence until Bessie came home. 

 


 

It hits her that night when she’s lying in bed. 

Pacey’s been gone for hours, he took Bessie up on her offer to stay for dinner but didn’t hover around much after. He was out the door by eight with a promise to call her tomorrow and see her on Monday. He had lingered for a moment on the porch, giving her a wide smile before turning and walking up the driveway. 

It’s the same exact place that Dawson had been just one day earlier, but that’s where the similarities end. Because as Joey watches Pacey walk away and get into his car, she has a smile on her face and a warm feeling has pooled in her stomach and suddenly she can’t wait for tomorrow. 

And, as she lies awake that night, she realizes it’s more than just the fact that Pacey’s her best friend. It’s the fact that when he promises to call or see her, he does. And he always knows what to say to make her feel better, and knows how to make her laugh and when to leave her to work things through herself. He was by the best conversation, and sparring, partner she had ever and no one could handle her mood swings quite like Pacey could. 

But it wasn’t just all that. It was the fact that whenever he touched her hand or put his arm around her shoulder, the feeling would linger sometimes for hours after. Not to mention that sometimes she would feel butterflies in her stomach when he smiled at her, or her heart was beat faster when their eyes met. Or how the name Joey didn’t feel right coming from him because she was so used to him always calling her Jo, or Potter. 

And perhaps most importantly, he’s still there. Through everything, all he knows about her and her messy, screwed up life, he still proudly calls himself her best friend. 

So, it all clicks for her. There were the basic reasons that her date with Dawson hadn’t gone well, but perhaps Dawson had been at least partially right when he had snarked out Pacey’s name before leaving. Because, maybe the biggest reason it didn’t work is because all those feelings she used to have for Dawson she now had for someone else. 

Yes, despite all her efforts not to, she was in the process of falling for her best friend. 

 


 

Once the realization that she had developed more than friendly feelings for Pacey hit her, Joey tried her best to not let it affect how she acted around him. She had done well enough not letting her feelings for Dawson change the way she acted around him but something about these feelings for Pacey were different. 

Despite how long she had harbored those feelings for Dawson, they had never made her feel like this. 

Because now that she’s realized these feelings, she notices everything so much more acutely. When Pacey’s arm brushes against hers in the hallway it makes her skin buzz and tingle, and she literally finds herself getting distracted by it. It also certainly doesn’t help that Pacey has become more physically comfortable in their friendship and now he touches her all the time. 

Before, she had noticed, sure, but it had been more of a comfort than anything else. She had enjoyed the way she felt safe with his hand covering hers, or his arm slung around the back of her chair in the cafeteria, but she had never thought too much of it. Now, it was all she noticed. 

“Are you okay?” Pacey asked one day a few weeks after Valentine’s Day. His hand had just brushed up against hers as they walked down the hallway and while Joey knew it had been accidental, it still made her shiver. 

Nearly jumping out of skin that she had been caught, Joey nodded quickly, tucking her hair behind her ear. “Yeah, I’m fine. Just cold.” She said. Pacey nodded, a skeptical look on his face, but he didn’t question her. 

But he also didn’t drop it either, as two seconds later he was removing his sweatshirt, a comfortable looking blue zip up that looked well loved, and draping it around her shoulders. “Here, hopefully that’ll keep you warm.” He smiled, eyes twinkling. 

The bell rang before Joey could thank him, Pacey disappearing down the hall with a slight nod of his head and another small grin. 

The gesture honestly just made her feelings for him run even deeper. 

God , she was so screwed. All this time she had been grateful for how much easier and different her friendship with Pacey had been, and part of that was because of her lack of feelings for him. And now that she had those feelings, she was terrified that they would ruin everything. 

After everything that had happened the last year, losing Pacey was an unacceptable option. Joey had already lost one best friend, one who wasn’t nearly as good as Pacey was, and she didn’t think she had the strength to go through it again, especially because this time, Pacey wouldn’t be there to help her piece it all together again. 

So, Joey decided, she was going to not tell him. 

Besides, it’s not like he would ever feel the same way about her. 

 


 

March and April go by without much to write home about. 

Dawson ignores her, even more so than he had before their Valentine’s Day date. Before, she might see him in the hallway or outside of school, but now even if she thinks she sees him, he’s gone before she can even figure out if it’s him. But she’s honestly not too broken up about it, she doesn’t really want to see him, not now or ever. 

He gets back with that Jen Lindley girl, and Joey barely bats an eyelash. 

School continues on as it has all year. She’s been doing well in all her classes, and by now the teachers have stopped taking pity on her, so she doesn’t have to deal with their stares. She takes notes, does her homework every night, passes her tests. 

Her and Bessie continue to move forward as they always have. Joey starts waitressing at the Ice House, which is getting busy again with the tourist season right around the corner. It’s the first year she’s had to work, and Bessie struggles teaching her the ropes as she’s not super coordinated, but she likes the work. It keeps her busy and having a little bit of extra cash is nice. 

Not to mention, working a couple days a week after school keeps her mind off of Pacey. It also keeps her from being around him all the time. In fact, she purposefully makes sure her schedule is opposite of his, so nearly every day one of them is working.

It’s not that Joey wants to avoid him. But avoiding him makes it so much easier to deal with the fact that every time he so much as looks at her she feels like her entire body is on fire.

If Pacey noticed that she was avoiding being alone with him, he didn’t say anything. She thought one day, when she made an excuse that she had things to do over the weekend so they couldn’t hang out, she had seen his face fall before he gave her a smile, but she couldn’t be sure. Joey felt bad, horrible actually, for pulling away from him, but it was the only thing she could think to do. 

Because the more time she spent with him, the more her feelings grew and the harder it was to admit to herself that it was definitely one sided. She needed to protect herself before it all blew up in her face. 

So, March and April went by without anything exciting, and honestly, she doesn’t know if she’s happy or sad about that. 

 


 

Joey’s birthday that year falls on a Sunday. 

Truthfully, it’s a huge relief to have the day already off from school (not that she would have hesitated skipping, but at least she’ll avoid any extra conversations about the whole thing), and have a built in excuse to spend the entire day sulking around doing nothing. But, having the day itself off, doesn’t stop the days leading up to it from being emotionally exhausting. 

Pacey picks up on her inner turmoil the Wednesday before, raising his eyebrows when he spots her haphazard ponytail and bloodshot eyes, a combination of a lack of sleep and her alarm not going off. He doesn’t comment though, which she appreciates. 

They haven’t talked about her mom in months, and he has no idea of the day that looms on the horizon and Joey wants to keep it that way. 

Luckily, Joey’s lack of friends from before Pacey helps make sure that no one says anything to him, and the fact that Joey’s familial situation shifted out of the gossip rotation months ago assures her that no one will bring up the one year anniversary while they’re at school. Joey just needs to get through the next couple days, and everything will be fine. 

Which, she should have realized, was easier said than done. 

By Friday, Pacey looks worried when she comes to school barely put together, and while she’s able to avoid his glances all morning, he’s looking at her with this look in his eyes, like he’s afraid she’ll disappear on him. 

“Let’s eat lunch outside.” He says when he meets her by her locker after her French class. It’s not a question, or really even a suggestion, and Joey kind of hates that he’s bossing her around, but she doesn’t really feel like facing the cafeteria and she doesn’t have the energy to argue, so she follows without a word. 

The sun is warm and high when they exit the building, and they quickly find a spot on the front lawn under a tree. There are some other people sitting around, but it’s not nearly as stuffy and crowded as the lunch room. 

“Jo, is everything alright?” The words leave Pacey’s lips before they’re both even completely settled on the ground, in fact Joey hasn’t even taken her lunch from her bag yet. If she thought Pacey was going to beat around the bush with this, she was clearly mistaken. 

Tears prick her eyes at both the question, and the nickname, it poking at her heart more than usual. At first she shrugs, not wanting to answer the question. It’s too much, too much to talk about, too much to push on him, and it’s just easier to lie and avoid him all weekend. 

Pacey’s not having it, though. 

“You just, you’ve been a little out of it all week.” He speaks slowly, like he’s trying to use the right words to express how he feels, but also not make her feel like he’s pitying her. She swallows down the sob that builds in her throat. “And I know that we have this whole unspoken agreement between us, that you know we don’t push each other to talk about things, but I want…” He pauses, and Joey forces herself to glance up at him, there’s worry and sadness written all over his face and she hates it. “I need you to know that no matter what’s going on, you can always tell me.” 

Joey nods, reaching up and wiping at her face. “I know.” Taking a deep breath, she takes in Pacey’s face. His eyes look into hers with a depth of care and concern she had never seen before and she knows he means all the words he’s saying. 

“You don’t have to, but, I’d really like to know.” He adds, reaching over and squeezing her shoulder. “Because, maybe I can help, or make it better, or maybe I can’t do that at all, but I can try.” 

Guilt washes over her, guilt for avoiding him lately, and feeling herself push him away all because of whatever feelings she may have for him. Because first and foremostly, he’s her friend, her best friend and she wants him to know these things about her life, because he’s right.

“My birthday’s on Sunday.” She says after a beat of silence. Pacey doesn’t say anything, but his hand squeezes her shoulder again. Joey likes that he knows her well enough to know there’s more to the story. “Sunday also happens to be the one year anniversary of my mom…” 

She trails off the end of the sentence “died” hanging understood in the air between them. Joey watches as Pacey’s face sinks, and she prepares herself for the apology she’s heard a million times in the last year, but it never comes. It never has, not from him. 

Pacey’s not like that, he doesn’t use empty words and promises like Dawson used to. He’s a man of action, so when he pulls her into his arms, wrapping them around her body, she knows he means it.

She doesn’t know how long they sit like that, her head pillowed against his chest where she can feel and hear his heart beat through his t shirt, and his arms locked securely around her as his head nuzzles against her crown, but she knows she doesn’t want it to end any time soon. 

Eventually, the bell rings, but Pacey doesn’t move. 

“We can skip next period.” He whispers and she smiles, nodding her head. 

Next period turns into the rest of the day and when that lands them detention for three days, Joey can’t bring herself to care. 

 


 

Pacey calls on Saturday. It’s not completely unheard of for him to do so, the last couple months they’ve taken to talking on the phone quite regularly, in fact. But, Joey knows that he’s really calling to check on her, even if he doesn’t come out and ask her how she is. 

He tells her a story about his older sister (another thing Joey has learned about him in the last couple months, of all his siblings, his sister Gretchen is the only one he really talks to) and while it doesn’t pull Joey out of her funk, it’s a nice distraction for a little while. She doesn’t say much during the forty five minute long conversation, but she doesn’t think Pacey was expecting her to. 

Bessie doesn’t comment on the fact that she spends the entire day sitting on the couch staring at the window. 

Sunday rolls around and covers the cape with dark clouds and blankets them in rain. Joey thinks it’s appropriate for the day. Her sister makes pancakes and Joey forces a smile as she sits at the counter before disappearing back into her room. 

It’s the most pathetic sixteenth birthday on the planet, but Joey doesn’t care. Her day is going to consist of lying in bed and trying not to cry and she’s perfectly okay with that. At least it’ll be better than her last birthday. She doesn’t think anything will be worse than her last birthday. 

However, she supposes she shouldn’t be surprised when even the best laid plans can get shaken up. 

And this shaker upper? None other than Pacey Witter. 

When Bessie knocks on her door sometime in the afternoon (Joey’s not really paying attention to the time, but the tv out in the living room has switched to old movies, so the Sunday morning news programs are over), Joey isn’t expecting her to say someone’s here to see her. 

“I think you’ll be really disappointed if you don’t come and see them.” Are the parting words she leaves before closing the door, (not all the way Joey notes, when there’s no click of the latch). Joey doesn't want to get up, the air is chilly and she’s perfectly fine just spending her day in bed, but her curiosity is itching at her. 

So she leaves her room and goes to the front door, and there’s Pacey, all six feet, two inches, standing just outside the cover of their front porch. He’s soaked to the bone, hair flat against his forehead and his raincoat doing little to protect him from the elements. In one hand he’s holding a pink pastry box from the bakery downtown with the cupcakes she loves and in the other he’s holding a bouquet of pink lilies. 

Her favorite. 

And suddenly as she looks at him, everything that’s been building for the last couple months, ever since that disastrous Valentine’s date with Dawson comes into clear focus and she’s left to catch her breath as the realization washes over her. 

She’s completely and totally in love with him. 

Her feelings have been clear for a while, but it’s now, with him standing in the rain on her birthday just to bring her cupcakes and flowers that it hits her. 

And right now all she wants to do is kiss him. 

“Happy Birthday, Potter.” Pacey says with a smile as she steps out onto the porch. The air is chilly but she doesn’t care, the look on Pacey’s face warms her. She doesn’t know what he’s expecting, he looks a little nervous, rocking back and forth on his heels. 

She doesn’t say anything though, because if he’s taught her anything it’s that sometimes actions are louder than words. 

Her lips are on his before he can speak again. At first, Pacey hesitates, his mouth still against hers, but it’s only for a moment before he’s kissing her back with just as much furiosity. Her arms move around his neck in an effort to pull him closer to her and he’s taken a step forward, his feet between her legs to close the gap between them. 

Joey’s only vaguely aware of the fact that it’s raining and that she’s only wearing a thin tank top and pajama pants. She shivers, both from the cold and kiss, but she doesn’t care, especially when Pacey pulls his lips from hers, and pushes their foreheads together, a smile on his face so wide it makes her insides glow. It’s like he’s the goddamn sun. 

And then he laughs and Joey doesn’t think she’s ever heard a sound more beautiful. “So, good birthday surprise?” 

“It’s the best birthday ever.” She says, smiling, even though there’s rain getting in her eyes and her hair is stuck to the back of her neck. “Thank you.” 

Pacey’s response is to kiss her again and her stomach swoops. This is absolutely, one hundred perfect, something she could get used to. 

 


 

She wakes up the next morning with a sniffle and her head feels stuffy. But, Pacey picks her up for school and kisses her across the gearshift and she’s smiling so wide she feels like her face might split in two. 

 


 

At the age of sixteen ( and a half, the half is very important), Joey Potter would say she has a pretty good life. 

Yeah, it’s certainly not perfect. Nothing is ever going to bring her mom back, and she misses her every single day. And her dad isn’t going to get out of prison anytime soon (not that Joey is even sure she wants him to, but it still hurts that he’s gone). Her and Dawson still aren’t speaking, but that’s one loss she’s pretty sure she can live without. 

But, she has her sister, who makes sure Joey is fed and clothed and goes to school every day, not to mention, her boyfriend Bodie has just moved in with them, and he’s the best cook Joey’s ever known. She has a roof over her head, no thanks to Bodie’s recent hire at the Ice House as their new cook and a busy tourist season, for the first time in a long time, money isn’t as much of a worry as it used to be.  And sure, she’s still wearing her sister’s hand me downs, but she’s starting to fill the sweaters up, so it’s not as bad. 

Most importantly though, Joey has Pacey, the greatest friend, and boyfriend (it’s been six whole months and Joey still can’t believe that part is real) in the entire world. Pacey, who's funny and sweet and whose hand fits perfectly into hers and knows exactly what to say when she’s feeling down. Pacey, who looks at her like he thinks she’s the prettiest girl in the world and kisses her like he knows she is. Pacey who, for some reason Joey still doesn’t quite understand, chose her

Joey’s absolutely certain she’s in love with him probably will be for the rest of her life, and every day he reminds her that he feels the same way about her. 

Yeah, Joey’s sixteen (and a half), and life is good.