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The Places You Don't Walk Away From

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“You have to pick the places you don't walk away from.” 
Joan Didion, A Book of Common Prayer

***

She had a tendency for self-destruction when things weren't going her way. It was one of her worst qualities, and she knew it. Sometimes when she felt like she was falling off a ledge, she jumped instead, even if she was headed toward rocky waters.

The thing was, she was a person who didn't screw up very often. She was prepared for every pop quiz. She didn't get drunk in the parking lot before high school hockey games. She never missed a credit card payment or a work deadline. But when she messed up, she did so tremendously and with great dramatic effect. She was like a toddler grabbing a hot pan from the stove. She didn't have the sense of caution fostered by all the little mistakes to protect her from making the big ones.

This was one of the big ones.

***

Lorelai looked at Rory, unable to mask the astonishment, searching her face for a sign that she was joking. 

“Pregnant?” Lorelai repeated, as if it were a foreign word.

Rory nodded. 

“Are you sure?”

“Two pink lines on five different tests.” 

Lorelai grabbed her hands and squeezed them, an offer of comfort for Rory and an anchor for herself. “I can't believe I'm about to ask this question, but — how? How did this happen? Logan?”

Rory nodded again. 

“Is he still engaged?”

Rory knew Lorelai was trying to keep her voice neutral, but the question itself filled her with shame. “Yes. But I haven't told him yet.”

Lorelai’s mouth opened like she was going to say something else but she reconsidered. She tried again. The third time she got another question out. 

“What are you going to do?” 

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, are you going to — go forward with it?”

Rory scanned the quiet town square, her face solemn. “I don't know,” she said. She pressed her lips together. “No, I do know. I’m going forward with it.” 

Lorelai looked down at the ground, at the bottle of champagne on the step that now seemed wholly irrelevant. “I always wondered — after I told my parents I was pregnant, after the godawful things they said, I wondered what I would've done in their shoes. What I would've said to make my sixteen year old daughter feel a little less scared.”

“I'm not sixteen,” Rory said. 

“You're not alone,” Lorelai said, putting her arm around Rory. “I'm here. It's going to be hard, so, so hard, but it's going to be okay. It's all going to be okay.” She kissed the top of her head. “Let's go get pancakes.”

***

In the week since she'd peed on the first stick and felt the world tilt on its axis, she’d compartmentalized her brain because she had no other option. When she was with Lorelai, packing up the welcome bags for the out-of-town guests, fine-tuning the seating chart, and making sure the off-limit song list for the band was locked down tightly (Rule #1: No “Cha-Cha Slide,” no “Cotton-Eyed Joe,” no other songs with corresponding group dances), she thought only about the wedding. The rest of the time, she ran endless scenarios through her head, trying to determine how everything was going to play out. How she wanted it to play out. And when all that became too much and she started to spiral into a panic attack, she forced herself to write, because it cleared her head and somehow, the stuff she was putting out was pretty darn good.

The first step was figuring out if she was even going to have the baby, right? She'd signed plenty of petitions in support of NARAL. She’d donated to Planned Parenthood. It seemed logical to consider opting out: she had no income, no partner, no place to live except her childhood bedroom. But at the same time — she had a degree from Yale and a decent resume and a supportive family. People did this in harder circumstances every day. Lorelai had been sixteen and clueless with no job or life skills. She didn't even have a driver’s license at first. 

And Rory had been flailing so much without a direction to follow. Well, here was a direction. A big, blinking arrow. And then there was that unseemly thought loitering in her head, the one she couldn't shake: what if this was her only shot? 

She kept thinking: If Mom could do it…

And then there was Logan. She was sure he'd fulfill his obligations toward the baby, but the rest was uncertain. He might try to salvage his relationship with Odette. Rory knew nothing about her and what she might do. Would she scream or cry or throw things? Would she leave the room coldly and then act like it never happened? He'd give Rory money, but the thought of it made her sick. She couldn't rely on that. She would have to get a job, any job. She would get her teaching certificate and go see Headmaster Charleston about a position at Chilton. She would live with her mother until she could afford a place of her own. Lesson plans, diaper cream, Connecticut. She’d have to write as much of her book as she could before the baby arrived, because who knows how she'd be able to do it after. 

She had to finish her book. The book was the block bearing the weight of the Jenga tower that was her life. At least the version of her life that she recognized. If someone bumped it out of place, the whole thing would fall.

Sometimes she wondered, what if he wanted to be together? Together-together. He might leave Odette. He’d want Rory to move to London. He'd keep his position in the Huntzberger conglomerate and they'd move to a new apartment to start fresh. A bigger place, with a nursery and a room for the nanny. There was always a nanny in this version of the story. If she demanded a job, Mitchum would find her one, just to placate her. But it would all be for show. 

Or she could write. Logan would make sure she had a home office with a big window where she could spend the whole day locked away working on her book. A kept woman with all the time in the world to indulge herself in her passion. Not that it could ever be published if she joined the family fold; surely the PR firm they had on retainer would nix that from the get-go. She'd be allowed to write a children’s book, maybe. Something about a talking hedgehog.

Logan would leave work at seven and they would go to dinner at one of their favorite spots. No, wait, that wouldn't work with the baby. Logan never took her to the kind of restaurants that had booster seats. They'd have to start ordering delivery, or get someone to cook. She'd wait with the baby for him to get home, fussing over his cocktails and making sure the roast chicken was ready on time. Her grandmother’s life, after everything.

She'd be under the Huntzberger thumb, reliant on Logan, and to some extent on Mitchum. Logan would probably be pleased; he'd always wanted her to need him, to need him to be someone other than the person his father needed him to be. Well, be careful what you wish for. 

And how often would she see her own family and friends? Lorelai would visit when she could, but she had an inn to run and a life of her own. Emily would come, and they'd go to tea and shop. She'd never see Lane. Her child would never know anything other than the glass box life of privilege and penthouses. Stars Hollow would be the weird little town without a gourmet grocery store that they visited twice a year, where nobody wore a jacket and tie and the ceilings were all too low.

Maybe she was imagining it all wrong. Maybe he'd have to leave London. Odette’s father was a crucial business associate of Mitchum’s. The story would be a massive scandal in the Huntzbergers’ social circle: an elite pairing shattered by the groom-to-be as he impregnated an old college girlfriend. God, it might even make Page Six. Mitchum wouldn't stand for it. He’d distance himself from Logan and Logan would have to start from scratch again, without his father’s connections. The people in his network probably wouldn't touch him with a ten-foot pole, for awhile at least. He’d be under an immense amount of pressure, and to top it all off he'd have the added responsibility of a new mouth to feed. He’d settle for a safe job somewhere, something boring that would leave him feeling unfulfilled. Eventually he'd resent her and the baby for taking him away from his old life. He'd come home from work and Rory would attempt to make spaghetti and meatballs halfheartedly and they'd eat dinner in silence. He'd run off with his friends to blow off steam and she would sit at home, wondering how they got there. 

Or maybe it would all work out fine and they'd live happily ever after. 

She went to see her dad, hoping for some clarity. The clarity didn't come. She was just about to fall asleep that night when another terrifying thought jolted her awake: If her grandfather were here, he would think he had failed. They had all made it through the Chilton years, the Yale years, the fledgling years of her career. “You're on your way,” his emails often said, always arriving in her inbox within hours of one of her pieces being published. He'd figured out how to set up a Google Alert for her name. And somehow the whole time, the here to which she'd been headed was apparently this one.

And then there was Lorelai, and labor, and Emily, and Luke (Luke with a baby in the house!), and the baby, somehow so easy to forget in all this. Would it be a boy or girl? Would she know what to do when it cried or fussed? Would it sleep? Would she sleep? As it grew up, would they be close, like Lorelai and Rory were? Would it like the same books and movies? What if it liked sports and skateboarding? How would it be affected when it found out about its scandalous beginning? What if it was more Huntzberger than Gilmore? What kind of father would Logan be? What kind of mother would she be? She had never pictured it. It wasn't that she didn't want to be a mom. She was just so focused on other things that she'd never thought that hard about it.

Every day these thoughts cycled through her brain, spinning faster and faster, until three days before the wedding she reached her breaking point. She had to talk to someone. 

***

“So what's up?” Lane asked, concerned, settling into the couch. “Your message was ominous.”

Rory swallowed. “No one’s going to come home, right?”

Lane nodded. “The boys are at school, Zach is at work, Momma’s at the shop. We have at least an hour.”

“How are the boys?”

“Oh, you know, I spent last night wondering why I was washing glue out of Kwan’s hair instead of touring the country playing with the Flaming Lips — who have a new album coming out, by the way — but otherwise they're great. Oh, do you want coffee?”

“Sure,” Rory said reflexively. Lane hopped up to go to the kitchen. 

Then Rory realized. “Oh, wait,” she called out. “Can I have decaf?”

Lane froze and spun around. “Decaf? You want decaf?” 

“Yes, please.”

“I've never seen you drink decaf coffee in your life.”

 “I know.”

“Is there a… particular reason you're drinking decaf? Or have you just decided to kick the caffeine habit after almost two decades of addiction?” 

“There's a very particular reason.”

Lane came back to the couch and perched on the arm like it was made of glass. “Rory,” she said gingerly, brow furrowed. “Are you saying what I think you're saying?”

“I'm pregnant,” she said. It still felt like she was talking about someone else’s uterus. “I'm pregnant. I'm pregnant. Wow, that's the first time I've said that out loud.”

Lane’s eyes were wide. “Tell me everything.”

Rory started talking and didn't stop until she ran out of steam a half hour later. “Hey, do you mind if I make some of that decaf coffee?” she finally asked.

“I'll make it,” Lane said, standing. “You know you can have a little caffeine, right? One cup of regular coffee won't do anything.” 

“I didn't know that,” she said. “I don't know anything. I need to start reading some pregnancy books. Why haven't I started reading pregnancy books?” 

“You know,” Lane said from the kitchen, “you've talked an awful lot about what Logan is going to want to do. But I haven't heard you say a word about what you want.”

Rory played with the her bracelet, a gift from her grandfather. It was a wisp of a silver chain with a tiny dangling charm shaped like a pen. “Can I get that coffee first?”

Lane returned with two steaming mugs. “Here,” she said. “Now talk.”

Rory looked down into her mug, waiting for the coffee to cool. “Our relationship over the past year, ever since we reconnected — it was like a big game of chicken. It’s really fun and exhilarating but all you're doing is trying to see how close you can get without crashing and breaking everything, you know?” 

“And you swerved first,” Lane pointed out. “He wanted to give you the key.”

She took a sip. “Yeah, I swerved first.”

“And you had good reasons for that.”

“I did. But now…” she trailed off. “As soon as I tell him, he's going to have a plan. And I don't want to go along with his plan just because it's easy. He’ll make it sound easy.”

“Figure out what it’ll be like without him first,” Lane suggested. “And then let him tell you what he thinks it’ll be like with him.”

That night, Rory lay awake in bed, turning Lane’s words over in her mind. She had to come up with her own plan. She opened her computer and started adding books to her Amazon cart; she had a lot of reading to do. She looked at her order: The Mayo Clinic Guide to a Healthy Pregnancy, Expecting Better, Secrets of the Baby Whisperer. Operating Instructions by Anne Lamott. And, of course, Mommywood by Tori Spelling.

She had swerved first. For good reason. But why were they playing such a reckless game in the first place?