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Never Been Better by Aimee

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Matthew Caufield slammed the door of his father’s fourteenth story penthouse, his home for this weekend, cursing Capeside High and all who suffered under it’s constricting rules. He threw his school bag, which would no longer be of any use to him, onto the floor and walked straight into the kitchen. Opening the refrigerator door, he pulled out a bottle of Budweiser, twisted the cap off, and allowed the smooth flavor of alcohol to seep down his throat. He set the bottle onto the glass table, which according to his father was only for show, and let a trembling hand rake through his dark brown hair. His expulsion from Capeside High was less than twenty-four hours old, infact it’d been within the hour, which might have been the reason he was still so shook up. He slid down the wall, and crouched on the ceramic floor, holding his legs close to his chest. It felt wrong for a man of his age to want to be comforted, want to be held...but he did. He wanted to hear that everything was going to be alright, and that his father wasn’t going to beat the shit out of him when he came home from another hard day at the office. To avoid that, he just wouldn’t be home when his father was. Which was normal, his father would just assume that he hadn’t come for a visit this weekend, and considering how the marriage between him and Matt’s mother had ended..he wouldn’t call her. That still didn’t sooth the need to be comforted. No one, however, would do that for a lowlife creep such as himself....that much he knew for a fact. If he had just left the mural alone, maybe everything would have been alright. Sure, there would have been more fights, more drugs, more trouble...but nothing else would have caused his expelling.

Which was why, Josephine Potter and her boy-toy Pacey Witter were going to pay. With their reputations, morals, and anything else Matt could think of. He smirked and began planning his evil scheme.

~*~

"Personally, I like...um...believe...that Matt Caufield, ya know?.. He like, shouldn’t have been expelled. I mean how immature to expel, like the hottest guy in the entire school just because he..um...he painted over some stupid scribbles, ya know? And...uh...He...should...um...Come back...Capeside High needs him! So...yeah...um..Go-o-o Minutemen!!" Dalsie Peterson chomped on her gum a few times before blowing a kiss to the standing ovation that somehow arose from the auditorium. She ran off to a group of other cheerleaders on the stage, giggling, and continued a previous conversation-most likely about their current boyfriends or some new type of make-up one of them had stumbled across.

Pacey Witter stood alone in the back of the room, watching the madness in disgust. He turned and began to walk out only to run straight into Joey.

"Ow.. I mean hi. I was just coming to get you, what’s going on.." She lifted her head, trying to peer over his shoulder at the noise coming from the room a few steps away. Her faded overalls were spotted in paint, from the mural the two had spent the afternoon and early evening recovering.

"Oh, that?" He played dumb. "It’s some kind of...pep rally. Yeah. Let’s go back, I wanna finish up and get out of here before they all do so we don’t hit any traffic."

She gave a small huff, and unsuccessfully tried to walk past him. "Pep rally? At eight o’clock at night? Oh, and traffic in Capeside huh? C’mon Pacey, what’s the real reason you aren’t letting me see what’s going on in there..."

"Joey, just don’t okay--"

"--Alright, everyone settle down..we have a special speaker present here tonight.." Pacey turned around, surprised at the interruption. As he did, Joey slipped into the room, and stood beside him. Knowing there wasn’t anyway to convince her she didn’t want to be here, he reached down and held her hand. "You’re going to hit me later for letting you stay..." He whispered, just before the speaker began again.

"..Ladies and Gentleman... Matt Caufield!"

The audience, consisting of mostly jocks, cheerleaders, and rich buddies of Matt himself; cheered. Clapping their hands together for so long that Joey hoped they’d all have a callous or two the next day. Then the man himself stepped up to the microphone, making her stomach drop. The man who ruined what had kept her going for the past month, now stood before her and for once Josephine Potter was utterly helpless. She knew there was nothing to be afraid of. After all, he was only human. She clenched Pacey’s hand tighter than she meant to, and searched for the words that would take it all away. He squeezed back. She watched as he kept his gaze staring straight ahead, as if he was afraid to see the hurt in her eyes. The hurt from watching all her peers cheering for the man who had destroyed her self-esteem, and caused her to be forever scarred with the memory of that day. First the heartbreaking scene of revealing a ruined masterpiece, then this. A rally held behind the faculty’s back in order to plot against the expelling of someone who deserved it. Then he spoke, making everything even worse.

"Hey, big crowd we got tonight. How’s everybody doing?"

They cheered again, ignorant robots that they were.

"This should be good..." Pacey whispered sarcastically to her, trying to bring humor to the situation. "Don’t worry Potter, this man’s a fool with words." She smiled slightly, and nodded.

"So, I guess you’ve all heard about what happened because of Witter playing snitch, huh?"

Silence. Matt smiled, and tilted his head to the side like an innocent puppy dog.

"What? You mean to tell me none of you knew? Yes.. it’s true. Capeside’s own future gas-n-go pumper turned me in." A small boo rose from the seats infront of where the ridiculed stood. All of which, had seen him come in. Pacey stood stiff, now understanding how Joey felt more than ever. People who he didn’t even know, somehow knew him and though they didn’t know the story were casting blame and evil glares in his direction. Eventually, Matt found what they were booing at and brought it to everyone's attention.

"Ah. Things have just gotten better, my friends. The man of the hour has graced us with his presence! Welcome Mr. Witter, we’re so ...glad you could make it...oh and look! He bought--I mean brought--his own date.. who might this be you ask? None other than Joey Potter, who might I add, was also part of my expelling. You see ladies and gentlemen..."

He took a breath, and looked Joey as well in the eye as he could. "...what Joey painted offended me dearly...and yet I’m the one who received punishment."

His smile was what bugged her, the flakiness behind it, the lies and blame it held. The more he blabbed on, the more worked up he got. Soon, his words were fast, blending together, and blaring throughout the room for everyone to hear. "If any of you had seen it before I destroyed it, you would agree. I saved your hearts from the hurt you would have experienced, had the mural not been mutilated. Understand Capeside High, that I risked my enrollment for all of you! And yet, these two traitors are still here! I say, you do something about it."

The crowd, more worked up now than ever before, roared in agreement and chanted phrases the two were glad they didn’t understand.

Joey and Pacey, hands still clenched, stood in shock. People they didn’t even know, suddenly now were their worst enemies.

"It’s all a bad dream, it’s not real...it’s a dream." She whispered, mainly to herself, but Pacey heard her and he knew holding her hand even tighter wasn’t going to help. "God, wake me up. Please.." She trembled, holding back tears to avoid even more embarrassment. She wanted to run. Run out of the auditorium, run out of the school....hell run out of Capeside. The crowd seemed to get even louder, if that was possible. They were all turned, sending daggers through their eyes. Then it hit her, the whole school was against them. She saw people she’d known since kindergarten and at one time had been friends with. People she’d tutored in Math and History. People she’d served dinner to at the Icehouse. People...who were now telling her she wasn’t welcome anymore. This...was true rejection, something Joey had always felt, but never believed was totally true. Not sure of how much more she could take, she let go of Pacey’s hand and sprinted out of the room. Pacey took one last look at the hundreds of people chanting and staring, he wanted to attack all of them, beat them to the ground like he did to the one who’d started it all. He wanted to scream at them, make them try to realize that what they were doing proved that all they were... were followers. Instead, he chose to run after the only one who still cared about him, the one true person he could always count on. As he ran through the double doors after her.

"That’s right...run you cowards. Just remember, revenge is sweet."

~*~

The overcast night sky set the mood of depression fairly well, or so Pacey thought. Joey’s voice emerged from it as he approached her.

"Liar. That wasn’t a pep rally." He found her sitting on a bench, just a few feet outside of the school. "And if it was, I don’t want to go to another one." As he got closer, he saw her eyes were damp from tears, yet her voice didn’t shake. He wished he could have half the control she did.

"I-I know..." He stuttered.

"Then why would you say it was?" He tried to remember that she wasn’t mad at him. Now wasn’t the time for a sarcastic comeback. For once he’d have to be serious, one wrongly said word could alter the outcome of the situation...which most likely wouldn’t be good anyway.

"Jo, I’m sorry... I didn’t want you to get hurt."

"They hate me Pacey...they hate us. We didn’t do anything, and they all hate us! Believe me, I’m hurt." Her hands held the back of her neck, allowing her wrists to rest on her shoulders. He sat down beside her, and wrapped her in his arms, surprised when she didn’t resist to them. "All I’ve ever done to those people was try. I tried to be who they wanted me to be. I wanted to hide them from who I really was, the real Joey Potter...daughter of Capeside’s only convict, and the only kid here with no one to turn to on Mother’s Day and say ‘I love you’. I’m so different, Pacey...I hate me too."

It was like a slap in the face, only it hurt much more. He lifted her head from his shoulder, moving a strand of loose hair behind her ear, and gazed into her teared-over eyes. He felt his own eyes start to water, and his stomach begin to tighten. How could she degrade herself on their account? She couldn’t possibly ever know how important it was to him, that she knew what they said wasn’t true.

"Josephine Potter, don’t ever say that. You are so special, more than everyone in there put together." He felt like a kid again, with all the shaking his voice was doing. Her face scrunched up as she tried to hold tears back for what seemed like at least the twentieth time. However, try as she did, she ended up surrendering to them. She sobbed in his arms, and he held her against him once more. The moment felt perfect, if you ignored the situation that had caused it.

"You and your mushy talk. Stop it, you’re making me cry." She muttered.

"Okay." He whispered, even though he knew she was kidding. He stroked her hair, which calmed her down a bit.

"I’m sorry..." Her voice cracked.

"Shh...You don’t have anything to be apologizing for." She moved her cheek to his shoulder after nodding, wrapping her arms around his neck.

"Yeah I do...I have plenty. I’m sorry for everything. I’m sorry for painting the mural, I’m sorry for not sticking up for myself, I’m sorry you had to hear everything said tonight..." She didn’t finish. Her emotions wouldn’t let her, and she ended up breaking down. He let himself melt into her shoulder, enclosing her body as close to his as possible. A small gasp she made for air, let him know his grasp was too tight, and he relaxed a bit. His love for her was so strong that no matter what hurt he was going through, he would hide it to make hers disappear. Holding her and listening were all he knew to do for her now. It was if they shared the same soul. If he had the choice, they would. No one but her could ever know the pain both of them had, caused from Matt’s lies and accusations. He knew this wasn’t something either of them would forget by tomorrow. However, it was something that was going to make their friendship even stronger, and if that was the only good that came from it...so be it.

"You know my first thought after what happened tonight was suicide."

"Joey, please..."

"No, it’s true. I know it’s stupid, but I thought it would be the only way out. I came out here expecting to be cold and alone. Truthfully Pacey, I wasn’t sure you’d stay tonight."

"What..?" He was more shocked than anything.

"I know, another stupid part on me...I’m sorry. It’s just, I figured you wouldn’t want anything to do with me, because this whole thing was my fault and I pulled you into it. Don’t say it wasn’t, I know it was and so do you." He gave her a quick reassuring squeeze and said it anyway.

"Joey, if I lost you...I don’t think I’d be able to continue living this hell we call existence. Get it through your head, this was not your fault. If anyone is to blame it’s me...for starting the fight with Matt." Joey let the words sink in for a moment, then nodded.

"I don’t know what I’d do without you either. I’m not going to play ‘Whose fault is it anyways?’ though...I just want you to know that I appreciate you being here tonight."

He smiled. "Thanks. I liked having you here too."

They sat in each others' arms for what seemed like hours, before tears were consumed by rage. She broke from his grasp and stood up, throwing her hands in the air.

"Why?" She shouted as loud as she could. "Why is nothing I do good enough for anyone?! Why do I even try...No matter what I do, I’m thrown to the ground. Isn’t there anybody out there who cares?!" Then she felt his hand on her shoulder, and she knew...there was.

"I’m so scared, Pacey. I don’t know what to do, I don’t know how to stop him...I’m so lost."

"I know, Jo. I know."


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