Pacey eased onto the edge of the guest bed, assuming an awkwardly straight posture. He let out a lame smile as the bed creaked and the mattress sagged enormously underneath him. “That was smooth,” he mumbled to himself.
Stifling a laugh, Joey felt herself relax a little. “Put on a few pounds there, Pacey?”
He glared at her, embarrassed but still smiling. “You know what the holidays do to my dress size.”
“You never met a pie you didn’t like.”
They looked at each other for moment. It was as if they stopped to appreciate how easily they fell back into their old routine. “Well, that’s not exactly true. What about Bodie’s Mincemeat Mishap?” Pacey shuddered. “I mean, really, how dare they call that pie?”
The memory quickly came back to Joey. “That taught me not to eat recipes from the 11th Century.”
“You know,” Pacey pointed finger at her accusingly. “That sounds like it’s just a joke, but I bet that’s actually when mincemeat pie was invented, wasn’t it?”
Joey shrugged. “That’s what you get when you go to an Ivy League school.”
“You’re such a smartass,” he laughed. “So, now that you mention it, how is school going?”
“It’s been fine… what have you been doing with yourself lately?”
They both thought of Ashley at that moment. And just as quickly as they had become comfortable with each other, the feeling was gone again.
Andie, Jack, Jen, sat around the living room, trying to make polite conversation with Ashley. So, where are you from? Oh, it’s lovely there. Where do you work? That must be nice. How funny, ha ha… It turned out that Ashley was a few years older than the group and worked as a paralegal. She was well mannered, expertly hiding any of the emotions she had regarding the situation. Later, as she excused herself to use the bathroom, the others quickly and quietly began their analysis.
“It’s hard to hate her, she’s so charming,” Andie whispered.
Jen leaned closer to Andie and Jack. “I think that’s why I hate her,” she said. “She’s too perfect for him.”
Jack shook his head. “I think she’s a lot like Joey, which is why he went for her.”
Andie kept her eye on the bathroom door and listened for any signs of Ashley. “I wonder how he got her to come back inside. I sure wouldn’t if I was her.”
“No kidding,” Jen agreed. “I don’t understand why they didn’t just leave in the first place.”
“Now we all have to pretend like things aren’t horribly awkward,” Jack offered. He glanced at his watch. “It would help if Joey and Pacey would get out of that bedroom already.”
“So, what do we do?” Pacey asked.
“What do you mean?”
Pacey thought for a moment. “Well, do you want us to leave? I’m mean, I don’t want--”
“--No, that’s not fair. I don’t want you to feel sorry for me.” She looked down, could no longer face him. It hurt that he was already trying to make his exit. How could he just get up and go, leave things between them like this? Leave with her? Everything that was unspoken between them was killing her and she wanted to get it out. But what could she say? Only that she hated and loved him all at once.
“Jo,” he said sadly. Joey looked up, surprised by the intimate use of her nickname. “That’s not what it is. I think you were having a good time until we showed up, and… well, if I can’t even deal with this situation, I don’t see why Ashley should have to.”
“Oh, Ashley, of course…”
Her reaction was harsher than he had expected. He hadn’t meant to hurt her, but was surprised at how easily she had shown her anger. “Give me a break, Joey. Like you haven’t been dating?”
Joey hated when he was right. “Maybe I have, but at least I didn’t parade those guys around you like they were some trophy.”
Pacey got up from the bed and closed the distance between them. He shrugged, “Well, that’s easy when we haven’t seen each other, let alone spoken in months.”
Joey defiantly took another step towards him. “Well, you can’t say I didn’t return your calls, because there weren’t any.”
“True enough, but the same goes to you.” Pacey studied Joey’s face, but he couldn’t read her. He felt drained already. More sad than angry, he admitted, “It took both of us to turn this into the flaming train wreck that it is.”
“Maybe you’re right,” she sighed. Fighting with him was easy, but it wasn’t going anywhere. There were to be no revelations tonight, no apologies or acceptance of blame. Joey’s accusations were met with equal ammunition from Pacey. “I guess we’re back to your question: what do we do?”
Becoming aware of their closeness, Pacey took in the moment. She smelled familiar, but still exciting, like she had changed some small thing about her. It wasn’t new perfume, as she had worn the same kind for years, and made it known so that Pacey could buy her a new bottle for their Christmases spent together. Was it new shampoo? Lotion? Maybe it had just been so long that he had forgotten such details? He missed knowing everything about her.
He realized he hadn’t answered her question, but still didn’t know what to say all the same. “Well… It might be even more awkward if we left now, don’t you think?” Joey didn’t respond. “Do you think you could make it through dinner with everybody? And then I, we could leave after?”
“I should be the one to go, you don’t have to.”
“No, please, I want you to stay. You deserve to be with your friends. They’ve missed you, I know.”
“Sure,” Joey put on a halfhearted smile. “I’ve missed… them, too.”
Before thinking about it, Pacey lifted his hand and rested it on her shoulder. “Are you ready?”
“Sure,” Joey lied.
Part Six -- Coming Soon