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It was a perfect fall day. Glittering slate-green ocean in every direction, as far as the eye could see. A dramatic patchwork of silvery gray clouds and brilliant blue sky overhead. The bracing freshness of the salt air. The day crisp but not bitter cold. A few gulls trailing the modest but sturdy ferryboat. Joey leaned against the starboard railing and took a deep breath of clean sea air. The Portuguese Princessa -- even the name of the boat was perfect. Storybook-like.
Or should have been. In someone else's movie.
Joey sighed to herself. Next to her, Dawson seemed to take her sigh for one of happiness. He smiled at her -- a private smile. A slow, sexy, intimate smile.
Yup. Perfect. The young lovebirds with their not-so-secret secret. Fresh memories of their shared kisses. Their feelings for each other smoldering clandestinely, oblivious to the friends and classmates around them on the boat.
Except that it didn't seem to be working that way.
Joey cast Dawson a sidelong glance. Deep-set hazel eyes under thick sandy-colored brows, strong nose and mouth, commanding face. Sun-streaked blond hair. Handsome. A definite babe. And smart. Sensitive. Funny. Joey's friend, her best friend, and the guy she'd been dreaming about for...well, for a long, long time. Afraid to even admit she'd been dreaming about him because she'd wanted him so badly.
And finally he'd returned her feelings. The kisses they'd shared the other night still burned in her mind. The softness of his lips on hers -- turning to eager intensity. His large palm stroking her hair. The way they'd drunk each other in, as if they couldn't possibly get close enough. As ifthey never, ever wanted to stop. Joey's cheeks got warm just thinking about it. It was incredible.
But in the bright, crisp, head-clearingly cool light of day, she wondered if being together was the right thing to do. What had those kisses meant? Were they for real? What would happen to their friendship now?
"What?" Dawson asked, studying her face.
Joey shook her head. "Nothing." She felt uncomfortable under his gaze. "I -- um, I guess I had too much o.j. at breakfast. I'll be back in a sec."
"Yeah, sure, Joe," she heard Dawson say quizzically even as she beat a retreat from the deck of the boat.
She nearly bumped into Jen on the little staircase that joined the upper and lower decks. Jen was making her way up, a pair of binoculars in her hand.
"'Scuse me," Joey said, squeezing by her.
"Joey. Are you all right?" Jen's voice was full of concern. "You're not getting seasick, are you?" she asked.
"Seasick? Last time I checked, it was as calm as a lake out there," Joey answered brusquely.
"Oh. Good. Well, hurry back," Jen said. "We're almost at Stellwagen Bank. You don't want to miss the whales."
"Whatever," Joey muttered, continuing down the stairs. Did Jen think if she was extra nice to Joey, Joey wouldn't notice the way she'd been oozing all over Dawson lately?
Joey entered the cramped, stuffy ferry bathroom. Jen had gotten her chance with Dawson already, and she had thrown it away. Why did she have to start laying on the New York charm again now that...Well, now that what?
Joey locked the door behind her, unzipped, and sat down on the thinking seat. Now that it was her turn? But was it really? She couldn't deny the reality of Dawson's kisses, or the sincerity in his hazel eyes. And he'd been super sweet all morning, showering her with smiles whenever no one else was looking.
So what was the deal with Joey's stomach? Why did she feel like she was hosting a wash and dry cycle internally? Why was Dawson making her feel so nervous all of a sudden?
Did her uncertainty have to do with Jen? Well, that certainly could be part of it. What if Dawson wasn't totally over her? What if Joey let herself believe -- let herself really fall for the idea of Dawson and Joey, Joey and Dawson, only to have Dawson go back for another rewrite? Decide the hero should end up with the curvy blonde who'd breezed into town?
And then there was the timing factor. A couple more weeks and Joey could be learning about romance the French way. A semester in Paris. Far, far from Dawson and Capeside. Au revoir, tout le monde. Funny how Dawson had turned Romeo right about the time she'd applied for her passport. Right about the time he'd had to start thinking about Capeside without her. What if she decided to stay? Would Dawson suddenly start thinking of her as ole pal Joey again? As soon as the plane had lifted off without her and she was stuck in Capeside and he had her where he wanted her?
Just go for it, Joey told herself. Stop thinking about it so much. Dawson's fault. Somewhere along the way she'd caught his habit of analyzing everything to death. Carpe diem. Seize the day. Except something was holding Joey back.
Suddenly the boat rolled portside. Joey gripped the steel railings on the sides of the stall. Above her head, from up on deck, she could hear the faint but unmistakable collective gasps and excited squeals of her classmates. Whales! Joey finished up and raced out toward the action.
"Just ahead, at about one o'clock, you can see the fluke -- that's part of the tail -- of a male humpback whale," said a deep voice over the boat's loudspeaker system. It was Dr. McCann -- "You can call me Jim" -- from the Oceanographic Institute, a ruddy, round man with a bushy gray beard who was leading their field trip out of the Capeside harbor. "There seems to be another one just under the surface at about three o'clock," he added, using the points of a clock to illustrate the positions of the huge mammals.
Joey rushed up the narrow staircase. Jim McCann continued to track the whales' positions, like a radio announcer recounting a play-by-play of some big baseball game.
"One o'clock. There he goes! Right out of the water! Okay, diving down again. There's the tail -- straight up. Means he's diving deep. Probably won't come up again right away."
Joey burst onto deck and scanned the ocean. "Oh!" their guide's voice exclaimed excitedly. "Starboard side! Ten o'clock! There's the female -- and she's breaching! Look at her! Right out of the water!"
The boat rolled to the other side as everyone dashed to starboard. Joey saw the enormous creature split the surface of the water nose first and shoot straight up like a rocket. She heard her own shriek of delight meet dozens of others in the salt air. My God, the whale was absolutely huge! And beautiful! The whale arched over the water and sliced back into it smoothly. The water splashed up in fountains of white foam around her.
Joey caught sight of Jen jumping up and down excitedly, grabbing Dawson's arm, pulling him into an impetuous hug.
Suddenly Joey felt her own excitement snuffed out cold. Dawson was smiling just a little too broadly. Okay. So all their schoolmates and teachers were smiling, too. But still...
As if feeling her eyes on him, Dawson turned and spotted Joey. His smile only got bigger. He motioned her over with a big wave. "Joey! They're jumping right out of the water! Come on!" he hollered.
Jen took her hands off Dawson. Joey made her way over and squeezed in between him and Pacey. Dawson leaned over to her. "I missed you," he whispered in her ear.
Joey managed a small smile. Okay, so maybe she was making too much of Dawson and Jen. But there was still something inside her that was holding back. Something that wouldn't let her just melt into Dawson's arms. What was it about finally getting what you wanted? Thought you wanted. No, wait. She did want Dawson. Had always wanted him. Still wanted him. It was just...what? That she needed to make sure she wasn't going to get hurt?
Something like that. It sounded good, at least.
"There's the bull again. One o'clock," said Jim, his voice amplified across the deck.
Joey rushed with everyone else to the other side of the boat. She felt herself gasp as the whale surfaced -- massive, sleekly gray-black with a giant steel-white belly. If Joey had been in the little rowboat she used to ferry herself to Dawson's house, that creature could have swallowed her and the rowboat in one bite, just about.
"And there's another one at two o'clock," Dr. McCann said. "Look at him slapping his flukes against the water. That's called lobtailing, and no one's really sure why they do that. A show of strength? A mating ritual? Or maybe it's just fun. Oops -- there's the female again!"
Everyone was running from one side of the boat to the other and back again. Exclamations of delight and amazement rose in the salt air.
"A male and a female," Dr. McCann said. "Now, humpback whales are known to mate for life. Once they find each other, that's it."
"Yeah, that's what they say," Pacey wisecracked.
Dawson looked at Joey, rolled his eyes, and laughed.
Joey managed to laugh, too. But she couldn't help thinking that those whales had it made. At least they knew exactly what -- or who -- they wanted.
Copyright © 1998 by Columbia TriStar Television, Inc.