Prologue

Title: The Best of Intentions

Contact: MEGDENTON@prodigy.net

Rating: R for language

Date: 11/19/00

Series: Dawson's Creek

Disclaimer: Not mine. If Pacey comes up for grabs, I'll join the stampede, though. The song is by Travis Tritt. The poem is the work of Emily Dickinson. Skip, his neighbor, and the cow are mine.

Summary: Pacey meant well. He really did.

Warning: I'm afraid I leant my foul mouth to Pacey here. The language is a bit strong, nothing really offensive. There's some death here.

The Best of Intentions

By Starbaby

PROLOGUE: A PITY PARTY

Present Day

I had big plans for our future,

Said I'd give you the world somehow.

I tried making good on that promise.

Thought I'd be so much further by now.--Travis Tritt, The Best of Intentions

This was total crap. This was utter, ridiculous shit. Pacey Witter leaned against a tree and contemplated his predicament. In his 22 years, he had been called many things; most of them bad, but there had been some semi-flattering nods to his smoothness, his resilience, and his fortitude. Surely, he could think of some way to get out of this. Pacey shook his head. His ego was still healthy, if nothing else.

Well, Pace, I hope you're proud of yourself. This is a pretty kettle of fish, boyo

He sank down on a park bench, dropped his head in his hands, and groaned. Just days ago he had been flying high, sure that he was finally going to catch a break. Ole Pacey was flyin' high, ready to rake in the big bucks, kicking ass and taking names, man. And now...

Pacey kicked absently out at a pigeon. The bird completely ignored him, of course, and Pacey thought it an apt metaphor for his life. Only a few people had ever really cared whether he lived or wound up as roadkill.

Jesus H. Christ, Witter, why don't you have some whine with your cheese?

He was clearly the only one attending this pity party, so Pacey forced himself to think about something more important, mainly how he'd gotten into this holy mess. A gentle rain began to fall, and he leaned his head back to feel the drops on his face. The moisture peppering his skin took Pacey back to happier times, sailing on the True Love with Joey, Dawson , Jen, and Andie. Before everything went down the crapper. If only he could go back...

PART 1: A DROUGHT OF ALE WITH DAWSON

Monday, 4 P.M.

"I'm telling you, Dawson, it's a steal! I'm gonna make huge money! Want me to cut you in?" Pacey put down his beer. A little of the liquid sloshed over the rim of the can onto the pristine white counter top.

Dawson Leery was silent for a long moment as he reached over to clean up the spill with a napkin. Two-ply, Pacey noted. Scots dinner type. Dawson turned to the trashcan, and Pacey studied his friend with interest. Fair-haired and boyish, Dawson had a rather naïve sweetness.

The man was in his twenties, for heaven's sake, and had just graduated film school, yet Pacey sometimes felt the absurd need to still protect his friend, as if schoolyard bullies were going to set upon Dawson at any moment. Pacey would kick their asses halfway to Greenland if they tried.

He waited for Dawson to speak. They had slowly repaired their friendship after the Joey, fracas, but they were essentially the same young men. One was quick to anger, the other was too sensitive. Another meltdown would be disastrous to a friendship that had been through a spectacular fall and rise witnessed by all of Capeside, including the harbor patrol.

"Pacey…" Dawson began slowly, then stopped suddenly. He fidgeted with the keys to the apartment he had rented for the summer. Soon, he would go up to Boston to start a new job. Pacey would be bored without him. Jen and Andie were pursuing various high-falootin' degrees, Jack was off seeing the world. And Pacey? He couldn't even go down to the harbor club to look at the boats. Mrs. Valentine would stroke out if she saw him coming, then call the cops. Her sleazy son had grabbed Joey's chest, and poof! Drue found himself sailing past Greenland, headed for the equator.

Dawson began again. 'What does Joey think?" he finally managed.

Joey thinks I should find a good job and keep it for more than two months, although she'd never say it that way

Pacey slapped on his most innocent expression. "Well...I haven't told her yet, but she'll be wild about it. C'mon, don't be a wuss!"

The last statement was uncalled for, but he needed to use the big guns. Dawson hated being called a wimp. He really wasn't a wuss, but his pretty looks belied that fact. Pacey thought his blonde friend, if born in another century, would have been at home wearing a ruff and churning out love sonnets for some big-haired queen, or riding to hounds on a fine horse. Pacey wasn't sure what they did with the hounds once they had them, but it all sounded very civilized. Pacey, if he was lucky, might get to be janitor in the hairy Queen's castle.

Dawson leaned both arms on the kitchen island and aimed his own volley. It wasn't as crude as Pacey's: "You might want to consult your wife before you invest all your money in pants for Western Europe."

Pacey sighed. Dawson was a good guy, but such a pessimist.

"It's simple. I give my buddy, Skip, about a thousand bucks. He buys Jeans for all those countries that can't get them." Pacey paused for a moment of silence for all those Europeans who had to wear knickers or whatever it was they wore over there. "He goes over. Sells them. And splits the profits with me, solving all my money problems."

Dawson seemed highly skeptical. One tawny eyebrow slowly climbed. He looked like Mr. Spock. The other man spoke carefully.

"It seems a little far-fetched, buddy. Like I said, you might want to ask Joey." Dawson realized his mistake too late. Pacey slammed his beer down, on purpose this time.

"I don't have to ask Joey anything. I don't need her goddamn permission and I don't need yours either!" he yelled, taking obscene delight in the glistening beer drops covering the island. Dawson eyed Pacey and the mess as if both had besmirched his honor. He tried again, using that infuriatingly reasonable voice, the one that had inspired Pacey to whack him over the head with a Tonka truck when they were ten.

"It's none of my business," he said, and Pacey would have chuckled if he weren't so angry. It was none of Dawson's business. Hah! He knew everything that happened on the creek, right down to how many pairs of support hose Grams Lindley bought on a weekly basis. "I know money's tight for you two. Joey's bean talking about moving out of the trailer and into an apartment. Maybe you should put the pants idea aside for awhile." He finished and smiled like a diplomat negotiating treaties in the land of Pacey.

Pacey was surprised and hurt by Dawson's lack of enthusiasm. When Pacey had gone tearing upstate to Joey's dorm and spontaneously proposed marriage, Dawson had kept his opinions and eyebrow under control. He probably knew it was an act born of pure terror. Sitting in Capeside one night, watching Roller Derby, he'd been seized by an irrational fear. Joey was about to receive her teaching certificate. She'd probably get a job offer from the University of Timbuktu, move away, and leave him far, far behind. He'd flown to her side so fast most of Cape Cod heard the sonic boom, then proceeded to beg, wheedle and cajole until he finally wore her down. He wasn't proud of himself, but he'd rather be ungentlemanly and married than ungentlemanly and alone.

Anger and pride Sumo-wrestled for control of Pacey. The match was called when he noticed Dawson reaching for his non-cheapo two-ply napkins. The man's life was so disgustingly orderly that Pacey wanted to hurl on his hardwood floors. He knew that his behavior was babyish and unfair. It wasn't Dawson's fault that his life wasn't a train wreck, too. Still, he rose and stomped to the door, throwing it open with a satisfying crash. Dawson tried to calm him, but Pacey wrenched his arm out of his best friend's grasp.

"Fuck you! Fuck your napkins! Fuck Spock and fuck the queen, too! She can take her freaking job and blow it out her pie hole!" Pacey stormed down the steps, ignoring Dawson's look of confusion. He threw his car into reverse and peeled away, spraying gravel on the perfectly manicured lawn.

Live long and prosper, man. Live long and prosper.

PART 2: JESUS WEPT

"You did what?'

Joey's voice was soft, but her fingers tightened on the sides of her cereal bowl. Store-brand puffed rice, he noted. About ninety-five cents for a sack the size of Eastern Montana. He'd caught her eating it for dinner one night. She said she liked that crap, but a quick glance in the cupboards revealed the rice, some Cheez Wiz, a fruitcake Dawson's mother had foisted on them at Christmas, and a can of succotash. That wouldn't do, so Pacey had spent the last of their gas money on takeout from Wing Ding Palace, then sat there while Joey ate every last bite of Hunan chicken. She'd been looking so thin lately.

Now she was staring into her bowl as if the airy little puffs were performing some feat of cereal wonder. Pacey repeated himself. "I invested..."

Joey interrupted. "I heard you the first time. You're telling me that you took all the money we have, which wasn't much to begin with, and gave it to a man you barely know so that he can buy jeans, sell them overseas, and come back, trailing clouds of glory, and give you part of this vast fortune?"

"Well, you see..." Pacey attempted to speak and, again, Joey broke in.

"Tell me, Pace. Where is he going to sell these pants? Did he tell you what country?" Joey raised her eyes and Pacey was shocked. She didn't look angry. She looked hopeless. Defeated. That wouldn't do, either. He tried to reassure her.

"Skip mentioned the Ukraine. He said stone-washed denim was really big in the Urals." Pacey had a vague recollection of the general area, garnered from his single viewing of "Dr. Zchivago." Dawson had forced him to watch it once, but taken his video and left in disgust when Pacey laughed at the main character's furry hat.

Joey laced her slender hands together and lowered her forehead to the tabletop. Pacey hoped that wasn't where he'd spilled Sprite last night. The air conditioner whirred softly in the summer heat. Joey spoke at last.

"Jesus wept." Her murmur was nearly drowned out as the air conditioner made a rather ominous clanking sound. "The people in the Ukraine are mostly wheat farmers. The women wear babushkas. They're too poor to go clubbing, Pacey!" Joey's voice rose, a tad hysterically toward the end.

Pacey felt the blood drain from his face. If the Ukrainians weren't in fashion, where in bloody hell was Skip? He'd fibbed to Dawson when he said that he was only considering the pants idea. Uh-oh. He was up Shit Creek without a paddle, and Joey was going to sink with him. So he did what all good little Paceys did when frightened and backed into a corner. He got angry.

"Well, sorry, Miss smarty pants! I'm not a teacher"-he gave the word a sarcastic edge-"just a dumb nothing! I don't know how to find Skip, the Ukraine, a decent job, or the two-ply napkins at Grocery Land-"

Joey leaped to her feet. "If I didn't teach, we'd have nothing! You keep losing our savings! We were doing good when you were taking tourists out fishing, but then that guy called Dawson a fruit and you knocked him overboard-"

"And he sued us for every penny we had, I know!" Pacey finished off her recap of the fishing fiasco. Perhaps the papers wouldn't have made such a big deal if he hadn't motored away for awhile to look for lobster, leaving the schmuck floundering in the ocean. The Boston Globe called it a "high-seas hoopla."

Pacey stormed from the trailer, pausing to throw the doorknob as far as he could when it came off in his hand. "Pacey!" Joey called, just as Dawson had. Even in his agitated state, Pacey realized that Joey and Dawson were the only two people on earth who could put up with his crap. He had enough crap to start his own sewage plant. Enough crap to fertilize the Ukraine. Jen Lindley would revert to drugs if she had to deal with him. Andie McPhee would have some kind of attack.

Jesus wept, huh? Pacey felt like blubbering too. But first he would find Skip and dismember him. Slowly.

PART 3: WHEN SKIP SKIPPED TOWN

Tuesday, 4 P.M.

"Skip! While you're hiding in there take a good luck in the mirror! Your ugly mug will never look as good again! I'm gonna take your ears and tie them on top of your head like Dumbo the elephant, then rip the nose from your face and shove it up-"

"He ain't home."

Pacey's door-pounding, window-rattling tirade was interrupted by a craggy old voice. He whirled, wild-eyed, to find a trollish old man, cradling some gardening tools, leaning over the fence that separated Skip's tiny brown lawn from the next.

"Where is he? A public killing would be more fun anyway!" Pacey was beyond furious, saying things he otherwise wouldn't. Dru Valentine, Opera, and being ripped off were the three things Pacey Witter hated most in all the world. The first two he could mock with great style and flair but the third sent him into orbit.

"Moved out two days ago. Packed up his little Volkswagon and roared out of here. That car has loud exhaust." The last was spoken with a disgust usually reserved for phrases like 'mass murder' or 'bleeding hemorrhoid.' The gnome squinted at the irate, red-faced young man before him. "Didn't you used to ring my doorbell and run? You'd take off like a jackrabbit but that skinny blonde friend of yours tripped over a rake and landed facedown in my mums!"

"Must have been someone else," Pacey muttered, edging toward his car. The little man waved his garden hoe, apparently ready to avenge his long-smashed chrysanthemums. Pacey vaulted into the driver's seat and peeled away.

He roared through the streets, too fast for a residential area. With his luck he'd mow down somebody's grandpa on his way to the Piggly Wiggly for denture cream. He slowed down until Capeside fell behind him. Ahead lay the endless miles of farmland that criss-crossed New England. Out here, he could rant, rave and pound the steering wheel without fear of being nabbed by some Ponch-wannabe.

He cranked down his window. The air smelled of cows, freshly cut fields and approaching rain. Pacey drove for hours with the radio tuned to a soothing heavy metal request station. He sang along with Motley Crue. He tooted his horn at some surprised nanny goats. Gradually, Pacey began to feel marginally better. Once the fog of anger lifted, resignation set in. He had violated Joey's trust again. He had screamed about napkins. He had lost their savings. Actually, it was her savings. His own contribution might have bought the doormat for Joey's dream apartment.

What had he been thinking, marrying her in the first place? She deserved to be free from the cycle of poverty. Instead, he bound her to it with ties of love and devotion. No one had ever loved him like Joey, and he adored her, yet still managed to be an albatross, her cross to bear. Pacey's demons were suddenly to close for comfort, and he stepped on the gas, desperately trying to outrun the knowledge that he was the bad seed of Capeside. On the radio, Axl Rose welcomed greenhorns to the jungle, screaming warnings in his banshee-like voice. Pacey approached a hairpin turn at seventy miles an hour, exhilaration pounding in his brain as he cleared it. He was mildly surprised that the car hadn't wrapped itself around a tree.

The cow standing in the road, however, was a complete shock.

Pacey wildly spun the wheel. He passed by the cow so closely that he saw it blinking boredly. It was a Jersey, he noted wildly. As the car spun away from the lucky cow, toward the trees, panic must have taken over and dulled the terror, because Pacey wondered how come he was facing south after traveling north for hours.

He had no recollection of smashing into the pines. As he crawled from the wreckage what must have been hours later, Pacey noted that he'd demolished some rather nice trees. The next coherent thought came as he stumbled onto the deserted road: if Pacey found that cow, he and Joey were eating barbecue tomorrow.

Amazed that he was unhurt, Pacey started down the deserted road. He didn't look back at the remains of the car.

PART 4: SAILOR SONGS

Wenedsday, 1 A.M.

Shit, it was cold. Nights in New England were chilly, even in summer. Pacey still felt vaguely disoriented, but ran along to keep warm. Occasionally, dizziness threatened to topple him into a culvert or brook, and he was forced to sit with his head between his knees until the feeling passed. Pacey rested when he grew short of breath, but feared falling asleep. His head ached like, well, like it had made the acquaintance of the windshield, truth be told. He sang loudly to keep from drifting off, a medley for the midnight commute through whatever the heck county he was in.

Easy listening for all you accident victims jogging home tonight

His voice echoed off the hillsides and Pacey amused himself by imagining all the forest creatures stampeding for the Canadian border. It kept his mind off...other things. Mainly the fact that he'd soon be single. He had no job, no money, no car; soon he'd have no wife. Maybe, just maybe, Joey would go easy on him. At least he hadn't hit the cow. His situation wasn't all that hopeless. The beef was intact. With that thought, he broke into song again.

"What do we do with the drunken sailor?

What do we do with the drunken sailor?

Ear-lie in the morning.

Put him in the bed with the Captain's daughter

Put him in the bed with the Captain's daughter..."

By the time Pacey reached a rest area, he had run out of both patience and jaunty sailor songs. The place was deserted except for a tomato truck, and that was about to pull away, headed in the general direction of Capeside. Pacey thought fast. He had approximately eight cents in his pocket, not even enough for the pay phone. He couldn't hitch in his muddled state. Any potential ride would think he was on a drunken toot and boot his sorry ass out. He'd already gone sailing into the pines once tonight, thank you very much, and didn't care for the experience. He hurried forward and jumped onto the back of the vehicle and hid himself among the boxes. As the truck bumped down the road, Pacey looked around. It had to be the head injury, but things seemed...different, somehow. Altered. Pacey leaned back, but didn't doze. He hummed softly to keep sleep at bay.

"Cape Cod girls, they have no combs,

Haul Away! Haul Away!

They comb their hair with Codfish bones..."

He lucked out for the first time that night when the truck passed within a mile or two of the trailer park. He'd go home, assess the damage to his person and his marriage, then decide whether he needed the hospital. He was on Joey's medical insurance plan, at least. As for car insurance...that had lapsed about six months ago.

Ka-ching! Pacey's luck strikes again!

PART 5: FAMILY CIRCLE

Wenedsday, 8 A.M.

As he stumbled up the walk in the early morning light, Pacey felt the strangeness again. He felt detached from his surroundings, as if some profound change had taken place while he lay unconscious. Colors seemed heightened, but objects felt distant. Coming through the screen door, Pacey noticed that the doorknob had been reattached. Joey had probably crawled under someone's trailer to retrieve it. Could this day get any worse?

Joey sat at the living room window with her back to him. Dawson sat beside her, leaning forward with his arms resting on his knees. Pacey took a deep breath. Time to face the music.

"Hey guys. I guess you must have heard about my little mishap judging from the looks on your faces. But I can explain. There was this cow. A brown cow..." he was ready to play that angle, but trailed off when neither his wife or friend responded. He waved at them. Nothing. He called loudly. Nothing. He did a little salsa number across the room. Still nothing. Dawson was speaking now.

"Everyone's on their way home. Jen, Andie, Jack, Gretchen. The Witters are…" Dawson paused, apparently searching for the correct phrasing, and finally finished with, "...grieving in their own way."

Pacey was confused. His parents and siblings were mourning the loss of his car?

What the hell?

Joey turned toward Dawson. She was crying, and at Dawson's words, gave a watery snort. "In their own way..." she repeated softly.

"Dawson," Joey continued in a frighteningly small voice, "Did he suffer?"

Oh, God

"No, Jo. They say it was a broken neck. Instantaneous." Dawson's tone was soothing, but Pacey, who knew him well, heard a quaver. It was almost undetectable, but definitely there, the slightest tremor in the force.

Pacey spoke loudly, desperate to get their attention. "Joey! Dawson! Leery, you asshole, if this is a joke..." He broke off when his shouting had no effect on the two figures sitting statue-still in the morning sunlight. Desperate, Pacey picked up a couple of magazines and hurled them at the wall. They made a satisfying thwacking sound hitting the wallpaper, and Pacey turned to savor the reaction he was sure to get. Dawson and a mess couldn't coexist, after all. But they didn't gasp, glare or wag their fingers at his little tantrum. Pacey pointed wildly at the heap of battered periodicals.

"Look at those! I threw those!" He cried, swinging his eyes back to the corner, and his mouth dropped open in amazement.

The magazines were gone.

Slowly, ever so slowly, Pacey looked toward the end table he'd scooped them from. There the magazines sat, neatly stacked. Joey's copy of "Family Circle" was on top, Pacey noted dazedly. The cover advertised a miracle diet, which she didn't need, and a dream house, which she needed very badly. As Pacey stood in shock, Dawson rose and gripped Joey's hands.

"I have to take care of a few things," he said softly. "Bessie's here. I'll be back as soon as I can." Only then did Pacey notice Bessie hovering in the kitchen doorway. Joey's eyes met Dawson's, communicating without words.

Dawson headed for the door and Pacey was torn between staying with Joey and finding out where his friend was going. If Pacey understood the situation correctly, he was dead. Doornail city for Pacey. Whatever Dawson was doing must have something to do with his demise. Maybe there was still a way out of this. Pacey fought to slow his racing thoughts. With one last look at the girl he'd loved so long, Pacey followed Dawson out to his sporty little car. Opening the car door, he fought to comprehend the reality of his situation. He hadn't really thrown the magazines. He wasn't really opening the car door. He was no longer making a mark of any kind on the world.

PART 6: PHANTOM PAIN

Wenedsday, 9 A.M.

This was getting tiresome. Again, Pacey was standing with his mouth hanging open, staring at an inanimate object. Only this time it wasn't magazines, but his own corpse. Beside him, Dawson Leery shook like he had a bad case of the flu.

The body wasn't bloody. In fact, it-he-was barely marked. Except for a few bruises and the distressing fact that his head was sitting at an odd angle, he looked asleep. His head had never been screwed on right anyway. That ridiculous thought kept him from breaking down completely. Dawson, however, had never done flippancy well. The blonde man tore from the room after nodding tersely at the white-coated physician, who clucked his tongue sympathetically. Pacey ran out of the morgue, reaching Dawson just as he was climbing into the driver's seat, eyes streaming.

Pacey forgot that Dawson couldn't hear him. "Hey, buddy, maybe you shouldn't drive..." He never finished the thought, because Dawson slammed the car door closed, right on Pacey's fingers-or whatever he had now that his mortal body had been turned in like a pair of bowling shoes after the last string. To Pacey's surprise, it hurt. It hurt like hell! He screeched and hopped around on the sidewalk, waving his hand in agony. His flailing must have resembled a strange Hokey-Pokey and Pacey was glad, for the moment, that he was invisible. Dawson's Jeep roared away in a spray of gravel. A big chunk thunked into Pacey's kneecap.

Muttering curses, Pacey clutched his fingers and started down the street. The pain faded very quickly, and he gathered his thoughts as he walked. In Anatomy class, he'd woken up just in time to hear the lecture on phantom pain. The body knows that a limb isn't there, but the brain doesn't grasp the concept right away. That made sense. He was a ghost with phantom pain. How delightfully appropriate, he thought disgustedly. Feeling utterly defeated, Pacey limped toward the park.

PART 7: PITY PARTY REDUX

PRESENT DAY

Though you deserve so much better

You won't find devotion more true,

Cause I had the best of intentions,

Loving you.-Travis Tritt

He'd been there at least a couple of hours, awash in despair. The pigeon couldn't see him. The love of his life couldn't see him. His door-slamming friend couldn't see him. He hadn't been this distressed since Dawson made him listen to Yanni Live at the Acropolis.

Pacey remained on his bench, lost in thought, until the late afternoon shadows began to creep through the trees. Was this what death was? Remaining in a state of limbo, the spirit refusing to stand down in spite of the body's disintegration? No, he felt sure that this wasn't forever. He didn't want to leave Joey, but he felt sure that he wasn't where he was supposed to be. It was a new knowledge, and he was unaware of its onset or origin. If he remained here, silently watching over Joey's years, a trace of his presence might linger, stopping her from living fully. That worried him more than anything. Little horned guys with pitchforks he could handle, Joey not living her days to their fullest was a consequence his soul couldn't endure.

He rose at last. There was no accompanying creak of muscles. Whatever made up his present form was finally getting the big picture. He was no longer a live being. It was a cliché, but there really was no more pain. In body, anyway. He felt stronger, but not quite ready to face more of Joey's tears, and there would be many. He may have been no good for her, but she loved him, of that he had no doubt. In frustration, he kicked out at a bush. He couldn't hurt it, after all. Maybe that's what this time was for, working out those volatile emotions before going…wherever. One thing was for sure...he'd make a shitty angel.

PART 8: EULOGIZING

Wandering along the darkened streets, with no clear destination, Pacey found himself moving toward Dawson's house. Not the apartment, but the old homestead where his parents still lived in over-affectionate bliss. They were away for the summer, and Pacey was sorry he wouldn't get a chance to see them one more time and whisper his thanks for all they'd done to make his life better.

Pacey headed across the lawn. Years ago, he'd stood in this very spot and stammered an apology for the Joey mess, a brouhaha famed in story and song. Dawson, that do-gooder, had been picking up branches thrown about by the storm. If he listened closely, Pacey could almost hear their young voices on the breeze that sighed over the Creek at night. Almost paralyzed with fear, he had asked forgiveness, if not right away, then in the future. Dawson, eyebrow climbing, had given a typical hard-assed answer.

Until then, he'd said.

Pacey had agreed, then turned and fled like his shorts were on fire. That was the beginning. As stronger friendship sprang from the ashes of a friendship devastated by a civil war, of sorts, when brother turned against brother and sacred lines were crossed. It took a long time to get back to a good place, because Dawson Leery could be a stubborn shit.

The lights were on, and the front door was unlocked. Pacey let himself in, like he'd done hundreds of times before. Sometimes, he saw Dawson's life as perfect in comparison to his own, but the man did have his own problems. Standing here, in this house, it was easier to remember some spectacular meltdowns, Leery-style. Gayle's affair, for example. They might as well have sky-written it over Capeside. Then there was the immortal moment when Joey sent the obnoxious birthday boy face down into his cake. Pacey would carry that visual with him into the next life. There were good memories too: countless nights spent watching videos, days spent with a family somewhat happier than his own. A baby was even born here.

Dawson sat at the kitchen table, scratching away at a writing tablet. Two empty beer cans stood at his elbow. Pacey leaned over Dawson's shoulder to read the pad. It was blank but for some doodles, but Pacey's own name was written at the top. He flopped into the chair next to Dawson's.

"I take it that's for me," he gestured to the paper, which he assumed would contain his eulogy if Dawson ever stopped drawing squiggles and started eulogizing, for God's sake. The phone rang and Dawson rose to answer it. He looked older than he had that morning in his apartment. Was it really just a couple of days ago? Pacey listened intently to his side of the conversation.

"Yeah, Jen. Right...cremation, then a memorial service...I don't know what Joey wants to do about that..."

Pacey felt a little nauseous when Dawson mentioned that little trip into the big toaster. But what did it matter anyway? He couldn't haul his body around in his current state. Hi, I'm Pacey and these are my mortal remains.

So it was Jen Lindley on the phone. Pacey smiled, remembering their brief attempt at a sexual relationship. She was more like him than any of his other friends, a wild-child with free-love leanings. He remembered the storm and how Jen had puked three times over the railing of the True Love, which was heaving, too. Desperate to keep her from hurling up a vital organ, Pacey had wisecracked. "Jeez, Jen" he'd yelled over the scream of the wind, "You're greener than that time you walked into the loo right after Grams' prune juice kicked in!" She'd stopped tossing her cookies and the two of them lay flat on the tilting deck, laughing hysterically into the driving rain. Toilet humor had always amused them both. A good girl, Jen.

Dawson hung up and returned to his chair. Pacey watched him expectantly. Finally, he began to write. By morning, it was done. It was all good, and very flattering. Pacey fought the urge to preen. But it was the first paragraph that he read again and again, leaning over Dawson's shoulder in the opalescent morning light.

"Capeside. The name says it all. Some of us are born beside these waters. The first sound we hear is that of the waves. We sail, surf and explore the mysteries of the ocean. As we grow older, the scent of the sea enters our blood. We long for that salty tang, and take it in with the same eagerness as when we first drew breath. Pacey was one of those rare people who loved the ocean and respected its power. He did not fear it, though. He'd sail in any weather. That is an apt metaphor for his life. Bumps, squalls, and choppy weather made the journey more gratifying. But for Pacey, I always would have avoided the rough patches. He dragged me through them kicking and screaming and showed me my own strength in the face of the storm...

Pacey read that passage over and over. He'd never thought of himself in those terms. He didn't know Dawson thought of him in those terms. Maybe, just maybe, his life hadn't been a total train wreck, after all. Dawson fell asleep on the table as dawn crept through the blinds and Pacey quietly crept away. Old habits died hard.

PART 9: THE MOMENTS

He spent the morning with Joey. She just sat there by the window as friends and relatives hovered and puttered. The rituals of death were meant to comfort, but Joey seemed to withdraw more.

I'm so sorry, Joey. I couldn't give you silver combs, only codfish bones. I should have given you more.

Pacey watched in awe as people he'd mortally pissed off in life brought cakes, pies, and casseroles to comfort his widow. If they'd offered tuna noodle and chop suey while he was alive, Joey wouldn't have been stuck with puffed rice and succotash.

At noon, Dawson arrived. Joey rose, thanked everyone, and walked with Dawson out into the sunlight. Pacey followed curiously. They climbed into the car, and Pacey squeezed his tall frame into the back seat. They drove into the bright afternoon, and Pacey cast a look back at the trailer. He could almost see it quivering from all the life within. He thought of a verse he'd read once when forced to write a paper on American poets:

The bustle in the house,

The morning after death,

The solemnest of industries

Enacted upon earth...

Good old Emily Dickinson. She was thinking of death years before it would occur. Most people, like Pacey, were unprepared. He didn't want to go yet.

At the waterfront, Dawson reached under the front seat and pulled something out. Pacey's stomach rolled over for a biscuit. He was an enlightened guy, really spiritual now that he'd experienced the Big D, but looking at the urn containing one's ashes was disturbing, to say the least. He followed Joey and Dawson far across the wooden docks, enjoying the feel of them beneath his feet, even if there was no creek where he trod.

"This is illegal, you know." Dawson's voice was wry.

"I know" Joey answered with a sad smile, "but I think he'd want to be as close to the water as possible."

Soon the ashes were pouring out, some dancing with the current and others sinking into the sea. Joey and Dawson sat and dangled their feet into the water. Pacey stood behind them, watching the gulls dive over the water.

Leave my ashes alone, you goddamn birds

"Jen will be here tonight" Dawson spoke up. "We'll pick you up for the service in the morning."

Joey nodded. "I'm still going to have a stone put up, someplace to visit on his birthday and our anniversary." Her words were thoughtful.

Dawson looked out across the water. "I forgot his birthday once. You never realize how much you regret those bad moments, once someone's gone."

Pacey remembered Joey saying something similar once. Her voice floated back over the byways of memory:

It's the details that define us, she'd said. The moments.

They were silent for awhile, until Joey spoke of the stone again. "They suggested a carved boat with a furled sail, but I don't want that for Pacey. I want one with sails full to the wind." She flung her arms out to demonstrate. Joey looked so young, in that moment.

So did Dawson, sitting with his knees drawn up to his chest. "I think that's perfect." He concluded with a smile.

Suddenly, Pacey knew where to go. Joey's words triggered a memory, a picture he'd held close to his heart for a long time. He knew what to do now. It was time to go.

But he lingered there on the dock, looking at the delicate arch of Joey's collarbone, the dark fall of her hair. He touched the side of her face, knowing she couldn't feel it, but it brought him comfort.

Take care of her Dawson, or every time you go to have sex for the rest of your life, I'll haunt your bedroom with a Mariacchi band from the great beyond

It was hard to let go.

PART 10: THE TRUE LOVE

Pacey didn't look back as he made his way past moored boats bobbing at anchor. He knew exactly where to go. He had done this before, many times. At last, he came to his destination.

There she was. The True Love, his own lost ship of dreams, lost years ago to the sea. But she stood before him now, as beautiful and new as the first day he'd boarded her. The most glorious summer of his life was spent on the True Love, eating clams and listening to children's stories below decks.

Stepping back onto her decks was exhilarating. She was ready to sail with the wind, but Pacey cast a longing look back toward where he'd left the two best friends a man ever had. Can I ever come back, he wondered? He knew the answer somehow. No, he could never return, but someday they'd come to him. As he took to the sea, Pacey recalled the last lines of the Emily Dickinson poem:

The sweeping up the heart,

And putting love away,

We shall not want to use again until eternity.

FINIS