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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?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

“She goes to him for amnesia, for oblivion. She renders herself up, is blotted out; enters the darkness of her own body, forgets her name. Immolation is what she wants, however briefly. To exist without boundaries.”
— Margaret Atwood, The Blind Assassin

***

Hamburg, Germany
2015

Rory settled into her leather seat and opened her laptop. While she waited for the MacBook to pick up the wifi signal, she plucked a French fry from the plate in front of her, dipping it in curry sauce before she ate it. The bar at the Hotel Atlantic Kempinski in Hamburg had a full menu, but after a long dinner with her grandparents at one of the city’s finest restaurants, Rory’s stomach was still growling and she just wanted fries.

Her grandparents had turned in early, but she wanted to do some research for her story. And if she could do it while drinking a martini and people-watching, why not?

Plus, she figured, if she wasn't alone in her room staring at the ceiling, it would be easier to distract herself from her thoughts.

Back when she was fresh out of college, traveling with the Obama campaign and spending a lot of nights in hotel bars drinking coffee, she used to enjoy making up stories about the people she saw. Names, reasons for traveling, backstories: That guy was definitely a Steve, and his wife was a Linda, they lived in Arizona, and they weren't going to leave Nashville without matching pairs of red cowboy boots. Those women were sisters —Suzanne, Carla, and Patty — and they were in Las Vegas because Carla had just been left at the alter, and they wanted to make the trip to see Cher in residency at Caesars because they did believe in life after love. Those two were software salesmen names Barry and Ken, and they were on a work trip in Chicago, had just closed their biggest deal ever, and would be waking up the next day with drunkenly-chosen and ill-advised tattoos of their company’s logo.

But now she just looked at all the people — the couples canoodling without a care in the world, the business travelers kicking up their feet after a long day of productive work — and felt sorry for herself. She had no one to canoodle with. She was canoodle-less. And she’d been kicking her feet up a lot lately, but not because of a satisfying day of work.

Before she turned to her research she checked her email. A message from her mom, nothing important, just a brief note that included yet another pun about Hamburg and hamburgers. An email from a guy she’d been seeing when she was in Brooklyn. He probably wanted to schedule a date for when she was back in town. She didn't open the email. Not a single message about work; other than the story she was currently working on, the freelance well was dry. She clicked away from her email and started her research.

Some of the Big Moments in life are expected —milestones you can see coming a mile away. Graduations, birthdays, weddings. You mark the calendar and mentally prepare yourself. Others sneak up on you, grabbing you by the shoulders and shaking up your life.

Rory was finishing her fries and trying to flag down the bartender to get a cup of coffee. He was at the other end of the bar, and on his way back in Rory’s direction he stopped to take someone else’s order first. “Macallan, neat,” the other customer said.

Her stomach dropped and she turned her head. It was a voice from another life. A voice she hadn't heard in years but would know anywhere. It couldn't be, she thought, but their eyes landed on each other, and it was.

Logan Huntzberger.

Rory’s body reacted before her mind could put together a coherent thought. Her face grew hot and she heard a rushing sound in her ears. Did she look as flustered as she felt? He didn't look flustered at all. A lazy smile grew on his face as he maneuvered his way toward her through the dwindling crowd.

He reached her. “I may have had a few drinks at dinner, but not enough to hallucinate this,” he said.

Rory’s mind was spinning and she couldn't put together anything witty, so she took the straightforward approach. “Logan! Wow. It's great to see you. This is such a surprise.” She slid clumsily from her barstool to give him a stiff hug and a kiss on the cheek. His cologne smelled expensive, like leather and amber, and his hand felt warm on her shoulder.

“You look great, Rory,” he said, picking up the drink the bartender had just placed in front of him.

“You too! You look great,” she repeated, smoothing her red dress.

He just looked at her, like they were sharing an inside joke she didn't quite remember, and she met his gaze. When she could bear it no more she sipped her martini, grateful that she hadn’t yet traded it for a cup of coffee. Logan glanced at her computer.

“I must say, you look extremely industrious with your laptop at the bar at 11pm, but please tell me you can spare some time for a drink with me. Surely your Google search for…” he squinted, reading her screen, “the best kebab in Hamburg… can wait.”

“It's for a story I'm writing,” she explained quickly, “about street food.”

“Street food?” He raised his eyebrow. “A woman of the people.”

“It's not what you're thinking. I'm going for an Anthony Bourdain, Parts Unknown vibe,” she said defensively. “And besides, good street food is the best.”

“I'm sure you'll be eating noodles in Hanoi with the president in no time,” he teased. He lifted his drink and gestured at an empty table. “So. Shall we?”

***

An hour later they were nursing their second round of drinks and Rory was starting to feel like she’d found her footing. In some ways he was like a stranger. He carried himself more calmly, less like he was trying to prove something. He'd ditched the clean shave for a bit of stubble. He was pulling off the fitted suit very nicely. He was giving her the polite, arms-length stories of his life, and she was doing the same. But at the same time, he still got her jokes. And she could still read his face, she realized. He was looking at her like he was truly glad to see her.

“So what came first, the story or the trip with your grandparents?” Logan asked.

“My grandparents are doing a big trip around Germany and Austria. They invited me to meet them here for a few days, mostly to go to the symphony with them before they move on to Berlin — it’s Mahler’s fifth symphony, and Grandma and Grandpa love Mahler. I've been working on this story on and off and I figured, when in Hamburg…”

“Eat a kebab. Naturally.”

They settled into a silence that was more comfortable than she would've expected. She felt his knee against hers under the table, and she could've moved, but she didn't. They were smiling at each other and she wasn't sure why. Probably something to do with their knees. Who knew you could say so much with your knees? she thought. But wait, what do I want my knee to be saying? She shifted away.

“I should probably go to bed,” she said. “We’re getting an early start at the Kunsthalle tomorrow.”

Logan scanned her face, tilting his head. A beat passed. “Sure. Sounds like you have a busy day. Museum, symphony. You should get some rest.” He swirled what was left of his drink, looking down at it like he was reading tea leaves. He looked back up at her. “Or.”

“Or?”

“We’re in a great European city, it’s a beautiful night. We’re still young, young enough, anyway. We have nowhere else to be, it's only midnight. Let's go.”

“Go where?”

“Out there,” he gestured toward the exit. “Anywhere. When in Hamburg, eat a kebab, right? Let's go find the best kebab in Hamburg.”

Her heartbeat quickened. She had a choice: the certain thing, bed at a reasonable hour, in the place the world expected her to be, where she would wake up the next morning feeling nostalgic but intact. The same person she was today, a mildly successful but underperforming freelance journalist with terrible health insurance, in Hamburg for Mahler and the Kunsthalle. Or. The thing that felt like the past but wasn't, because she knew how the past had ended, and she didn't know how this would.

“Let's go.” She stood. “Let's do it.”

***

Later, the lake glowed like a black pearl in the moonlight, and the lights of the buildings along its shores twinkled warmly. Rory and Logan sipped beers as they meandered, the Kempinski just coming back into view in the distance.

“I think we’re now the leading authorities on the kebabs of Hamburg,” Logan said, clinking his beer against hers.

“I've got more than enough material to finish my story now.”

“And then what?”

Rory exhaled. “Back to Brooklyn, I guess. On to the next thing.”

“It must've been quite an adjustment when you left the Boston Journal and started freelancing.”

She was silent, preferring to focus on the church spire in the distance and the warmth of Logan’s arm next to hers.

“Why'd you leave the Journal, anyway? It seemed like a good fit for you.”

She didn't answer. “Why'd you go back to working for your father?” she asked instead.

He sipped his beer. “Honestly? The startup failed. And I can't blame the recession. We screwed up and I kept throwing more money at it and in the end it bled me dry. So I had to make it completely on my own, from nothing, or crawl back home. I tried the first option. It wasn't working. I'm not cut out for instant ramen and public transit. So I went back to the family business. I've been in London seven years now and I love it. I do. I work for Mitchum, and he's still a dick, but I have my own projects and I love my work. Striking out on my own, I'm glad I tried it. It gave me enough perspective to appreciate the opportunities I've been given.”

It was a mature, honest answer, but it made her sad anyway. Rory looked out toward the lake, her eyes unfocused. In her head she was seeing pictures of the past. “We’re really not so young anymore, huh?” she said.

He gave her a concerned look. “Rory, I’m happy to make some calls if you want a full-time gig again. I know freelancing can be tough. It's a hustle.”

“No, I don't — that's not what I want. I don't need you to do that.” She fiddled with her bracelet.

“Your work is solid. That Slate piece was excellent.”

She narrowed her eyes in mock suspicion. “I always wondered who left the comment on that story saying, ‘Rory Gilmore has a brain made of mashed potatoes.’ Mystery solved.”

He laughed. “Oh, yeah, definitely me. The Internet is a cruel place.”

“So you've been keeping tabs on me, Huntzberger?” She elbowed him gently.

“I can’t say I hang your stories on the refrigerator, but of course I read them. I always have.” He wasn't embarrassed about it. She’d Googled him a few times over the years, but that wasn't something she wanted to share with him. He was a Huntzberger, so he was very Google-able. It was easy to find stories about his family, his work. Photos from social events. Even the occasional personal tidbit.

“You know, I always wondered if we’d ever run into each other,” she confessed.

“So did I. I have to say — I thought maybe it would happen at a Yale event. Or a charity thing in Hartford. I did not expect to walk into a hotel in Germany and see Rory Gilmore sitting at the bar,” he said. “But I'm glad I did.”

“So am I,” she agreed.

They were approaching the hotel. Logan rested his hand on the small of her back. She was hyperaware of the hand, of the exact placement of each finger, of the level of pressure and what it might say about his intentions. She thought of her empty room, of the possibility that the next thing she would do with her life was go to sleep in preparation for a day at the museum with her grandparents. Of the other possibility.

She stopped and turned to face him. “So,” she said.

“So,” he replied. “I guess we should call it a night.”

“I guess we should,” she conceded, but neither of them moved. Seconds passed. “Or,” she added softly. Her voice wavered.

His eyes crinkled and his mouth turned up at the corner. “Or?”

“Or,” she confirmed. She reached out, just to bridge the gap, touching his arm gently. She was four thousand miles from home; what was another six inches? She felt a million different things she couldn't make sense of, like she was holding a bundle of threads that were jumbled together and her hands were shaking too much to separate them from each other. And then he grew serious and pulled her close to kiss her, and all she felt was his mouth on hers, his stubble on her cheek, his fingertips on her hip, and the breeze coming off the black pearl lake.

Chapter Text

“I decided that the most subversive, revolutionary thing I could do was show up for my life and not be ashamed.”
— Anne Lamott, Operating Instructions

***

“And how does it work if I decide to get an epidural?”

Rory chewed the end of her pen, listening to the voice on the other end of the phone intently. She made a note on the legal pad in front of her.

Lorelai stumbled into the kitchen in her robe and slippers. She poured herself a cup of coffee from the pot Rory had brewed and took a big sip, inhaling the scent deeply as she drank.

“What if the anesthesiologist on call is out-of-network?…Are you serious?”

Opening the freezer, Lorelai grabbed a few frozen waffles and stuffed them in the toaster. She drained the rest of her coffee.

“Okay, well I think that's all I need for now. I'll call you if I have more questions. Thank you.” Rory hung up the phone and rubbed her forehead.

“When I heard you on the phone at four-thirty in the morning I thought maybe you were moonlighting for one of those middle-of-the-night sex chat lines,” Lorelai said. “Then I heard you talking about your deductible and I thought, ‘That’s a weird fetish.’”

“My health insurance company is supposed to have twenty-four hour customer service, but I can only get ahold of someone between the hours of three and five A.M.,” Rory vented.

Lorelai poured another cup of coffee and plucked the waffles from the toaster, setting them on a plate in the middle of the table and dousing them in syrup. Rory recoiled at the sugary smell; morning sickness had just started the day before. With a vengeance.

“What are you doing up, anyway?” Rory asked. “No bad dreams, I hope?”

“No bad dreams. Paul Anka was whining. He's been very needy since the wedding. I think he might be jealous of Luke.” She bit into a waffle.

Rory tapped her pen on her pad. “This is how much labor and delivery is going to cost.” She pointed to a number. “And if I need a c-section it’ll cost this much.” She pointed to another, bigger number.

“What? That's absurd. I've seen Call the Midwife. I'll deliver the baby for half that price.”

“Are you Chummy? No — Sister Julienne?”

“I'm Trixie. Duh.”

“I need to get a real, paying job, immediately. Do you think I can work at Luke’s or the inn?”

Lorelai looked at her skeptically. “Yes, but do you really want to?”

“Be able to afford diapers? Yes.”

“Maybe you'll sell your book.”

“Maybe. But if I do it’ll be months or years from now and there's no guarantee I'll make any real money.” Panic rose in her voice.

“How about the elephant in the room?” Lorelai toyed with her waffle.

“Huh?”

“Blonde, rich elephant? May speak with a Madonna-esque British accent due to living in London for too long?

“I think Lindsay Lohan is doing that accent these days.”

“He can afford to help. He can even afford a c-section. Or half a c-section, if you want to go Dutch.”

“And, what, I'm just going to send him a monthly bill? A pregnancy expense report?” Rory squirmed in her seat.

“Millions of people pay and receive child support every day.” Lorelai glanced down at Rory’s pen pointedly.

Rory realized she'd been clicking it over and over again. She put the pen down. “But that's not us. That's not supposed to be us. When we were together, it was like being in a bubble. It was just the two of us, spending time together. No obligations or expectations. No complicated family crap. No dinners with the other person’s annoying coworkers. We didn’t owe each other anything.”

“Well, the bubble is gone. It’s not just the two of you anymore,” Lorelai said gently.

Rory sighed. “And there’s a lot more complicated family crap.”

Lorelai looked down at her mug and wrinkled her nose. “This coffee is decaf, isn't it?”

“Yes, m’am. I was wondering when you'd notice.”

Lorelai dumped it down the drain.

***

Rory spent the morning at the Gazette writing an overview of the upcoming holiday events in town. There were seventeen, so it was going to take up a full page of the next issue. She wanted to head to Hartford for the afternoon to work on her book, but there was something else she had to do first.

She stepped out of the office and headed for Doose’s. The proprietor himself was outside, power-washing the sidewalk.

“Taylor!” Rory called, hurrying toward him.

Taylor gave her a wave and a chipper smile.

“Do you mind turning that off for a minute?” Rory shouted over the sound of the machine. “I have to talk to you about something.”

He complied and wiped his brow. “I love fall foliage just as much as the next guy, but when the leaves decompose, they leave the stubbornest stains on the sidewalk. It takes a lot of work to maintain a festive seasonal look without making people track decaying brown sludge all over town.”

“Sounds like a good motto for the Stars Hollow Public Works Department.”

He scoffed. “My power-washer is twice as powerful as theirs.”

Enough small talk; time to get down to business. “So, what did you think of the latest issue of the Gazette?” Rory asked casually.

“Oh, I thought it was wonderful. You've been making some really exciting changes over the past few months.”

“Thanks!” she chirped. “I really wanted to expand the arts and culture section—-”

“The new font you used for the poem really made it pop.”

“Oh. Right.” She cleared her throat. “So, Taylor, since I've been working so hard on the paper, and giving it a fresh perspective, our circulation numbers have increased by almost ten percent.”

“Is that so?”

“Yes. And I think to really keep the momentum going, I need to devote even more attention to it.”

“Do you?”

“And in order to do that, I need to get paid. In American dollars. The free apples your cashier has been giving me don't count.”

“My cashier has been giving you free apples?” he asked in horror.

Oops. She'd thought Taylor had instructed the cashier to do it, but now that she thought about it, the guy did smile at her a little too intensely. But she didn't want to derail the conversation now. “I thought — you know what, nevermind, that was just a joke. But I do need to be fairly compensated.”

“Rory, I'd love to. But a salary for you is just not in the budget.”

“I saw the budget.” Her expression hardened.

“Oh?” he said, suddenly preoccupied with adjusting the setting on the dial of the power-washer.

“Bernie Roundbottom got paid a salary. Well, ‘salary’ might be an overstatement. But he got paid something.”

“Well, yes, but —”

“Wait, I have more,” Rory interrupted triumphantly, holding up a finger. “Taylor, did you know that twenty percent of the visitors to the Woodbury Times website are from Stars Hollow?”

“No —”

“Doesn't it bother you that Stars Hollow residents are seeking their local news fix in Woodbury’s little corner of the Internet?”

“Well—”

“Don't you think the Gazette should have its own website? We can post all of our stories there, and the poem, and some online-only content too, like videos. And we can sell ad space. I’ll pound the pavement to get local businesses to advertise.”

“That does sound like a good idea,” he admitted.

“Great. So here's my proposal: seventy-five percent of Bernie’s salary to start, and then when the website is up and running, the other twenty-five percent. And once we start turning a profit on ad revenue, I’ll have a performance review, and depending on the numbers, I'll be considered for another raise.”

“You're leaning in very hard, Rory. I blame Sheryl Sandburg,” Taylor grumbled.

“Do we have a deal?”

Taylor sighed, exasperated. “Yes, we have a deal.”

Rory smiled brightly and reached out for a handshake. “Pleasure doing business with you.”

***

Emily spent the week in Hartford after the wedding, and she invited Lorelai and Rory for dinner the night before she headed back to Nantucket. Rory arrived a few hours early and locked herself in her grandfather’s study to work on her book. Who knew how much time she'd have to work there before the house sold? She needed to use it while she still could. Emily spent the afternoon deadheading the rose bushes in the back garden, and the house was quiet.

At six o’clock Emily knocked sharply on the study door. “Rory?” she called. “Since Berta emptied the fridge we don't have much to cook. All that's left is a lemon and a jar of mustard. Should we order something?”

Rory opened the door. “What did you have in mind?” Her morning sickness had faded; she was eating a few crackers every hour and it seemed to be doing the trick.

“Oh, whatever you'd like. Pizza, Chinese?”

Chinese food sounded amazing. “Grandma, have you ever had Chinese food delivered here?”

Emily thought about it. “I don't think so. But we got it one Friday night in Nantucket and I just love it.”

“Let me do a little Googling. I'll find the best Chinese delivery in Hartford,” Rory assured her, visions of kung pao chicken dancing in her head.

When Lorelai arrived and saw the array of takeout containers spread out on the dining room table she stopped in her tracks. “Well, knock me over with a feather.”

“What can I get you ladies to drink?” Emily asked, leading them into the living room.

“Oh, I'll get the drinks,” Rory offered quickly, jumping up from her seat. “I don't mind.” She poured wine for Emily and Lorelai and made herself a club soda with lime.

“No wine for you? What are you drinking?” Emily asked.

“Vodka soda,” Rory said casually. “I'm watching my weight.”

“Didn't you order three different dishes from the restaurant because you couldn't decide?” Emily asked, baffled.

“Well, yes, but — you know, every calorie counts.”

Lorelai coughed. “It's like when people order a Diet Coke with their Big Mac!”

Emily wrinkled her nose. “People do that?”

“Lots of people,” Rory confirmed.

By the time they sat down at the table, Rory was no longer salivating over kung pao chicken. When they’d ordered, a spicy dinner sounded delicious, but now her stomach churned at the thought. She passed the chicken to Lorelai and surveyed the remaining options. She needed something bland.

Her eyes settled on the vegetable lo mein. She scooped the noodles onto her plate, trying hard to ignore the smell of the kung pao.

“This is wonderful,” Emily declared, cutting off a bite-sized piece of an egg roll. “Rory, how are your noodles?”

Rory methodically twirled the noodles around her fork and took a bite. She tasted glue and soy sauce. Her gag instinct kicked in and she made a choking noise, covering her mouth as she struggled to swallow.

Emily looked at her like she'd just placed the forkful of noodles on her head. “Are you alright?”

“She's fine, Mom,” Lorelai reassured her. “There's a little bug going around town. Maybe she's got that.”

Saliva was pooling in the back of her throat. She wanted to swallow but she knew if she did, she would throw up. She closed her eyes and tried to breathe through the wave of nausea.

“You don't look alright,” Emily said.

Her stomach settled, at least for the moment. She dabbed her napkin against her mouth. “I'm fine. Really.”

Emily slid a plastic container of wonton soup toward her. “Maybe this will help. I always like something with broth when I'm sick.”

Rory’s fork clattered on her plate. What was the point? She was going to find out eventually. “Grandma, I'm not sick. I'm pregnant.”

“With meaning!” Lorelai interjected, going for the save. Rory gave her a slight head shake.

“No?” Lorelai said. “I guess we’re not — okay, we’re doing the thing.” She set her utensils down and looked at Emily expectantly.

“I don't understand,” Emily said. “Is that a joke?” She was stone-faced. Rory immediately regretted her impulsive decision.

“Not a joke,” Rory said.

“But how?”

“Really, Mom?” Lorelai asked.

“I just mean — you're not married.”

Lorelai groaned.

“Are you going to get married?”

Rory considered her words carefully. “I'd prefer to talk about that part some other time.”

Emily rolled her eyes. “Your generation would find things a lot simpler if you'd all just get married first and then get pregnant. You’re both in your thirties, what are you waiting for?”

Rory realized she was talking about Paul. She thought that Rory and Paul were having a baby. She made eye contact with Lorelai. Maybe it would be best to split the news into two parts, actually. Less shocking to Emily’s system. “Grandma, it's just not going to happen right now,” she said firmly.

She sighed. “Well. I was wondering if I'd ever have a great-grandchild.” She smiled. “Congratulations, Rory.”

Lorelai’s mouth hung open.

“Thanks, Grandma.” Maybe this hadn't been such a bad idea after all.

“I'd like the child to call me Great Nana,” Emily proclaimed.

Lorelai recoiled. “You are so not a Nana.”

“Well, what are you going to be called?”

Lorelai’s eyes widened. “I haven't thought about it.”

“Memaw!” Rory piped in.

Emily chuckled. Lorelai mimed catapulting a piece of chicken at Rory with her fork.

“Rory, do you need money?”

Rory was startled by the suddenness of the question, though she shouldn't have been. In this house, the topic of money was always just under the surface, ready to bubble up at any time. “What? Oh, no. I actually just got, um, a raise. Yesterday. So I'm fine right now.”

“I can give you an advance on your inheritance. It'll be your money eventually anyway. And I still feel terrible about your trust funds and I'd love to make it up to you.”

“Oh, not the trust funds again,” Lorelai moaned. “Tale as old as time, right here.”

“Grandma, it wasn't your fault the economy crashed. If I hadn’t withdrawn the money in 2009, it would be worth a lot more now. But I wanted to do that fellowship, and the stipend was —”

“A joke,” Lorelai chimed in. “‘Stipend’ is code for ‘minimum wage for Ivy League suckers.’”

“Well, yes, but what about Trix’s? I thought Bernie was a slimy hack but she insisted on investing with him. It still makes me sick,” Emily said bitterly.

“You should write ole Bernie a letter,” Lorelai said. “Give him a piece of your mind. Just don't fall in love with him.”

Emily rolled her eyes.

“It's a real risk,” Lorelai said, eyes wide. “Both Menendez brothers married women that started writing to them after they went to prison.”

“I read that Scott Peterson gets tons of love letters,” Rory added. In a twisted way, she could see the appeal: someone so far away, you were free to fill in all the gaps yourself.

“I am not going to be Bernie Madoff’s pen pal,” Emily scoffed. “Anyway, Rory, please let me know if you change your mind.”

***

Rory left the window cracked open on the drive home, even though it was cold. The nausea made her face feel hot and the brisk air felt good.

“I think you should take the money,” Lorelai said abruptly as she merged onto the highway.

Rory touched the side of her forehead against the cold glass. “I thought you, of all people, would tell me not to accept any money Grandma offered.”

“You don't have to do this the hardest possible way just because I did. That was a different situation, a different time.”

“I haven't decided which way I'm going to do this yet,” Rory said. “I'm not saying I'm going to do it entirely on my own. I mean, I'm obviously not doing it entirely on my own. I'm living with you.”

“Which you can do for as long as you want.”

“I just want to know that I can do it on my own. I need to know.”

Chapter Text

“You can look at a picture for a week and never think of it again. You can also look at a picture for a second and think of it all your life.”
— Donna Tartt, The Goldfinch

***

Rory’s palms were clammy as she tried to focus on the tiny TV in the waiting room at the doctor’s office. She shifted in her seat, unable to get comfortable, wondering how long they'd be waiting. She wondered if she should've brought her old copy of Swann’s Way; she probably could've finished the whole thing by now.

“Daytime TV commercials are the worst,” Lorelai said, leaning toward her. “Let’s make a bet. Loser buys pie. I bet the next commercial is for one of those fake colleges. No, wait, super-sketchy car loans. No, wait, mesothelioma lawyers!”

Rory gave her a serious look. “Can we just sit here quietly? I really just want to sit here quietly.”

“Silence it is,” Lorelai said, closing an imaginary zipper across her lips. She looked aimlessly around the room. There were a couple of visibly pregnant woman, one by herself and the other with her husband, and a few older ladies. The lighting was fluorescent, and a big pump bottle of hand sanitizer sat on the counter. There was no coffee.

The next commercial appeared. “Are you looking for a program to teach you computer skills and change your life?” the voiceover said. Lorelai grabbed Rory’s arm but made a pained show of keeping her mouth shut.

“That doesn't count. You changed your pick twice.” She sighed. “Okay, fine, guess the next one.”

“Rory?” a nurse called. They jumped up, practically before she'd finished the second syllable. Rory followed the nurse down the hall, and Lorelai trailed Rory.

“I'm going to leave you here with Jeannie, who's going to take some blood. When you're done, you can use the bathroom directly across the hall to give us a urine sample. Then you can meet me in room 4.”

Ten minutes later, Rory and Lorelai were in the exam room. The nurse handed her a pile of documents. “This is a pamphlet about cord blood banking. These are some forms you need to sign before you leave today. This is the information you need to make an appointment for your next ultrasound and genetic testing - you'll get an ultrasound here today, just to confirm the pregnancy, but the next one is at a different office,” she recited. Rory nodded along. Research cord blood banking; fill out forms; make an ultrasound appointment. She added them all to her mental list and would put them on her actual list as soon as she got home. Right after ‘Call Logan.’

“Here are some samples of prenatal vitamins,” the nurse said, handing her a plastic bag with a few boxes in it. “Try them all and when you find one you like, give us a call and the doctor will prescribe it.” Rory took the bag and handed it to Lorelai. She was already taking prenatal vitamins; she’d read about the importance of folic acid during pregnancy. But maybe the prescription ones were better. She'd look into that too.

“Now I just need to get some information from you,” the nurse said, bringing up Rory’s file on the computer. She recorded the basics, like height and weight, and took Rory’s blood pressure. “When was the first day of your last period?” she asked.

“Um,” Rory said, thinking. She never really kept track, but her birth control kept her periods pretty regular. Until it failed completely, of course. She scrolled through the calendar on her phone; she knew she could pinpoint the date because she ran to the store for tampons and picked up a gyro at Al’s on the way home, and he only did Greek on the third Saturday of the month. “September seventeenth.”

“Okay,” the nurse said, typing. “That gives us an estimated due date… of June third.”

“Oh, no,” Rory said, horrified. She turned to Lorelai. “June third!”

Lorelai closed her eyes and shook her head and half-laughed. “June third,” she said, rubbing Rory’s back to reassure her. “Perfect date. It’ll be fine.”

Rory crossed one arm over the other, rubbing her elbow, shoulders scrunched. “It seems like a bad omen to me.”

The nurse squinted at the screen. “Oh, wait, I clicked the wrong date.” She corrected it. “It's June twenty-fourth, actually. Sorry.”

Rory’s shoulders relaxed. “Much better.”

“Let's stick with that one,” Lorelai said. “Sold. Final answer.”

The nurse was probably immune to nervous rambling, working in an OB-GYN’s office. She continued: “So you're probably around eight weeks along. The due date is just an estimate, anyway. The doctor will give you a firmer date when she does the ultrasound. If you download one of the pregnancy apps it will tell you how big the baby is each week. I think eight weeks is a raspberry.” She held up her thumb and forefinger, holding an imaginary raspberry between them.

“A raspberry?” Rory touched her stomach, awed.

“You think that's cute now, but wait until it's a watermelon,” Lorelai interjected.

A few minutes later, Dr. Bell entered with a brisk knock. She was older than Rory but younger than Lorelai, warm but no-nonsense, and Rory could see why someone might want her in the room as they were pushing out a baby.

Dr. Bell got right down to business. “I can see that you got all the paperwork. And before you leave we’ll do an ultrasound. But first I want you to ask me any questions you might have. There's a lot of information out there about pregnancy and I know it can be overwhelming.”

“Great.” Rory pulled a notebook out of her bag. “I have a lot of questions. Exactly how much caffeine can I have? Oh, and which pregnancy books do you recommend? How many appointments will I have throughout my pregnancy? And what are your thoughts on the whole debate about inducing before forty-two weeks?”

Dr. Bell laughed. “Let's start with the caffeine.” She answered each question patiently, and Rory took three pages of notes.

“I think that's it,” Rory said, double-checking her list. “What's next?”

The doctor smiled. “Just the ultrasound. And based on your dates, we should be able to see a heartbeat.”

Rory's stomach fluttered.

“This ultrasound is transvaginal,” the doctor said, gesturing at the probe attached to the machine. “It shouldn't be painful but it might be uncomfortable. I’ll be back in a few minutes.” She handed Rory a paper lap cover and stepped into the hallway.

Rory undressed in silence and sat on the table, paper over her lap. The room was chilly, but the temperature wasn't the only cause of the goosebumps on her arms.

“There are so many jokes I could make about that thing,” Lorelai mused, looking at the probe.

Thankfully the doctor returned before Lorelai could pick one. “Let's see this baby!” She turned off the light and sat in a rolling chair.

Rory's heart was beating fast as she put her feet in the stirrups and laid back. “Mom?” she said faintly.

“Yeah?”

“Can you take a picture of the screen?”

“Oh, she can take a picture. Or even a video. Sometimes they move around,” the doctor said.

Lorelai squeezed her shoulder and pulled out her phone. Everybody turned to look at the screen.

“If you feel any pain at all, let me know. I'm going to insert the probe now,” the doctor said.

Rory craned her neck to look at the screen. This is the first time I'm going to see my future child, she thought. She didn't know what to look for. There was some black, and some fuzzy white, and a big dark circle in the middle.

“Okay,” the doctor said. “Let's see —”

She was quiet, clicking around the screen. Lorelai stood next to Rory, phone ready to take a photo. Rory watched the screen.

“Let's see — I'm having a little trouble — hold on,” she murmured. She adjusted the probe. “Oh, there — wait, I thought I saw it,” she said. She clicked and clicked and was quiet again. “Sometimes this machine is tricky — let me try…”

Then she flipped a switch and parts of the screen lit up red and blue. “This just checks for blood flow.”

She kept clicking.

“Have you had any bleeding or spotting?” she asked.

“No,” Rory said, and it started to dawn on her that this wasn't going the way it was supposed to go. She looked at her mom’s face; Lorelai was squinting at the screen. She laid back and looked up at the ceiling, feeling like she’d just swallowed something very cold. She was distantly aware of the fact that the doctor was wiggling the probe around to change the view, but the feeling didn't register.

Each click of the mouse was deafeningly loud in the church-like silence. Eventually Lorelai lowered her phone and put it in her pocket. Rory felt acutely like something she'd been holding tightly had slipped out of her grasp and out of sight.

The doctor withdrew the probe and took off her gloves. She turned on the light.

“It's possible that you're not as far along as we thought,” she started. “A week can make a big difference this early.”

“I only had sex once after my last period,” Rory said. “The dates — the dates can't be that far off.”

The doctor nodded. “Okay. Well, we’re going to do another ultrasound in a few days, and some blood tests to confirm. But if your dates aren't off, then it’s likely what's called a missed miscarriage. It's when you miscarry but the body doesn't recognize it.” She patted Rory’s arm. It was a practiced pat, one she'd probably delivered a thousand times before. “I'm so sorry.”

“Oh,” Rory said.

She launched into an explanation, something about hormone levels and chromosomes and a lot of other things that didn't matter, and Rory heard none of it.

Lorelai nodded along the entire time. “So, what happens next? She just has to wait until she starts bleeding?”

“She can,” the doctor said. “But there are other options. If you wait it out, it may take weeks. Or I can give you some medication that will make it happen. You will probably have painful cramps, and there will be a lot of bleeding. Or you can have a dilation and curettage, or a D&C, which is a minor surgical procedure where we’ll remove the contents of your uterus. That would be my recommendation, but it’s your choice.”

Her choice. What a choice. What a joke.

The doctor stood up. “I'd like you to come back on Friday, okay? Make sure you stop by the front desk on the way out. And take all the time you need in here. No rush.”

She left the room and shut the door behind her.

“Maybe it's just off to a slow start,” Lorelai offered. “She didn't say for sure.”

“She said, ‘Take all the time you need,’” Rory said flatly. “It's over.” And then her face crumbled and Lorelai wrapped her in a hug and she cried. For something she’d never intended but readied herself to embrace. For a stupid body that perpetrated a lie. For a door that had just closed, resoundingly, in her face. It felt so real, but it wasn't even real enough to bleed.

 

 

Chapter Text

Born, everyone
breathes, pays tax, plants dead
and hurts galore. There's grief enough
for each.” — Mary Karr

***

“It's so, so common.” Lorelai turned the car radio on, then turned it off. “I bet you know a lot of people who’ve had one. It doesn't mean there's anything wrong with your body.”

Rory stared out the window. “I know there's nothing wrong with my body,” she said woodenly.

“I just don't want you to worry. For the future.”

“The future? It’s not like there's any chance of this happening again anytime soon. Or maybe ever.”

“Don't say that.” She glanced at Rory before looking back at the road.

“I just don't get it. I did what I was supposed to do. I limited my caffeine intake, I don't smoke, I'm not overweight, I take my vitamins. I haven't had a drink since the night I was with Logan. We don't have any weird genetic issues in our family. I'm not that old. Why did this happen to me?”

“It's nothing you did or didn't do. You're just one of the unlucky ones. It just wasn't meant to be this time.”

“That's easy for you to say. You got pregnant once and it worked out just fine for you,” Rory snapped. Before the words came out, she’d wanted to say something hurtful. To take some of the pain she was feeling and redirect it toward someone else. But it only made her feel worse; the pain could only be multiplied, not subtracted.

Lorelai winced. “Look, kid, I'm really sorry. I'm trying to say something that will make you feel better and clearly I'm doing a terrible job.”

“Nothing will make me feel better. I'm allowed to feel bad about this.”

“Of course you are.”

“And I know what you're thinking. You’re secretly glad. It just all goes away, like it never even happened.” Rory's voice cracked.

“Rory, I'm not — this isn't about me. I just don't want to see you hurting.”

“Well, I am. I’m hurting.” Her face was wet and her nose was running, and she didn't have any tissues so she wiped her nose carelessly with her scarf. “I just — are things just supposed to go back to the way they were before? How do I do that?”

Lorelai pulled in the driveway and put the car in park. She squeezed Rory’s hand. “Why don't you start by putting on your pajamas and picking out a movie? I'll go pick up food.”

“I'm not hungry.”

“But you might be later. If you were going to be hungry later, what would you want to eat?”

Rory thought about it. “Sushi. And an Italian sub.”

“A classic combo.”

“Might as well make the most of it,” Rory said bitterly. She climbed out of the car and Lorelai watched her trudge to the front door. She froze before going inside. “Mom,” she called back. “The books.”

“What?”

Rory walked back to the car window, arms crossed, shivering in the cold. “I need you to go inside and get the pregnancy books out of my room.” She couldn't see them. She couldn't be in the same room as them. They didn't belong there anymore.

Lorelai unbuckled her seatbelt and sighed. “This sucks.”

“It really, really does.”

***

When Lorelai returned with the food she heard the shower running. She considered poking her head in to check on Rory, but she resisted; if she wanted to cry in the shower, she was entitled to cry in the shower. She dropped the bags on the counter and started unloading the sushi and sandwiches.

Her phone rang. “Hello?”

“You were supposed to call me after Rory’s doctor’s appointment,” said an irritated voice.

“Mom,” Lorelai breathed. She had totally forgotten. She slipped out the back door onto the porch.

“Did they give her a due date?”

“Mom, something happened.”

“That's cryptic.”

“They did an ultrasound. They couldn't find — it looks like she miscarried.”

“Oh.”

Lorelai waited for more. “Just oh?”

“Well, I'm terribly sorry.”

“I'll tell her you said that.”

Emily was silent again. Lorelai picked at the peeling paint on the railing.

“Are you still there, Mom?” Lorelai asked.

“Yes.”

“I tried to say a lot of things to make her feel better but I just kept putting my foot in my mouth.”

“There's nothing you can say that will make her feel better right now,” Emily said firmly. “She's going to need time.”

Lorelai cocked her head. “You sound very sure about that.”

“Well, its obvious, isn't it?”

“But you sound like… nevermind.”

There was a pause. “It happened to me, if that's what you're getting at. It's more common than you'd think.”

You had a miscarriage?” Lorelai asked incredulously, straining to keep her voice down. “When? Why didn't I know about this?”

“It was about a year before I got pregnant with you.”

Lorelai was in awe but tried to hold her tongue. “Wow, Mom, I'm so sorry.”

“Oh, it was a lifetime ago. But you never forget.”

Back inside, picking at sushi on the couch, Lorelai tried to imagine life with an older brother or sister. Maybe that kid would've been the golden child. Maybe her parents wouldn't have breathed down her neck quite so much. She could’ve been Prince Harry, naked in a Las Vegas hotel room while Prince William was cutting ribbons and hobnobbing with bishops and charity leaders. Everything could've been different. An extra chromosome, a tiny fluctuation in hormone levels. All the difference in the world.

Rory entered the living room with wet hair, cell phone in hand. “Logan called.”

“What did he say?”

“I didn't pick up.”

“Did he leave a message?”

“Yeah. Just, ‘Call me.’”

“Are you going to?”

“Nope,” Rory said tightly. She didn't believe in signs, or fate, or Ouija boards. But she did believe in wake-up calls. It was done, and maybe it was a mundane finish with the paper gown and the fluorescent lights, but not everybody gets an ending like Casablanca. Maybe the end of every love story, or whatever this was, is a little mundane anyway. Even Ilsa Lund probably felt like she got a raw deal with Victor Laszlo hovering and the deafening racket of the airplane propellers in the background.

And of course Rory was sad, and of course her heart was broken, but just because an ending breaks your heart, that doesn't mean it’s the wrong ending.

Lorelai patted the couch next to her. “Take a load off. What do you want to watch?”

Rory sat down. “I was thinking we’d start with She’s Too Young and then binge that season of The Great British Bake-Off we've been saving for a rainy day.”

Lorelai put her arm around her. “Marcia Gay Harden on a crusade against teen syphilis and Mary Berry with her biscuits and sponge? Oh, hold me, it's too good.”

Rory leaned her head on Lorelai’s shoulder and turned on the TV.

***

The next few days dragged slowly in the moment, but later they seemed like a blur of time spent sitting at home and in waiting rooms. Lorelai pretended she didn't need to be at work. Emily sent flowers. Lane came by and brought her lunch. Lorelai told Luke she’d been dumped by some made-up boyfriend and he brought her donuts every night.

Every time Rory went to the bathroom, she braced herself before she looked down, but there was nothing.

She had another ultrasound to confirm what they already knew. She didn't cry this time. Her D&C was scheduled for the next day. She sat in the surgical center in a paper gown she’d accidentally put on backwards, IV in her hand, Lorelai next to her. When they led her to the operating room she held the back of the gown together as she shuffled along.

Lorelai smiled, a flat, labored smile, as she walked away.

Rory forced her own smile back. “Let’s get this over with.”

“See you on the other side.”

“Ready?” the nurse asked as she helped her onto the table. The lights were so bright.

“Ready,” Rory said, aiming for chipper but failing. Her lip wobbled.

“Oh, honey. Do you have any other children?”

She shook her head, an invisible golf ball in her throat.

“You're so young. You have so much time,” the nurse said.

“So young,” the anesthesiologist repeated. Rory didn’t feel very young. She squinted into the harsh light and thought about how unfair it all was, about Lorelai standing there during the ultrasound waiting to take a picture with her phone, about the meaning of the word curettage, and she realized: Other than losing Grandpa, this entire mess is the worst thing that has ever happened to me. I am currently in the middle of experiencing the worst thing that I have ever experienced in my life.

Then they slipped a mask over her face, and she breathed in, and she woke up in recovery with another nurse asking what flavor slushie she wanted. She chose cherry. She felt placid and sleepy. Lorelai came back to see her. “This slushie is delicious,” she commented, her tongue lazy, the straw slipping from her mouth.

Lorelai brought her clothes. “The nurse gave me these mesh granny panties for you to wear. I asked if they were La Perla. She wasn't sure. With what you're paying, they really should be La Perla.”

Lorelai helped her stand. Rory realized that there was a pad between her legs that she hadn't noticed when she was lying down. She removed it, grabbing the mesh underwear, and looked down. Finally, there was the proof.

***

She fell into an easy sleep when they got home. Lorelai used it as an opportunity to check on things at the inn and swing by Luke’s.

“How was Rory’s wisdom tooth surgery?” Luke asked.

“Oh, fine. She's sleeping off the drugs,” Lorelai said, kissing his cheek and grabbing the coffee pot.

“You know,” he said, wiping down the counter, “It’s funny. I remember the first time she got her wisdom teeth out. When she was eighteen. You made me put a cheeseburger in the blender.”

“Oh, yeah,” Lorelai chuckled. “Cheeseburger milkshake. That was disgusting.”

He dropped his rag on the counter and put his hands on his hips, turning to look her in the eye. “Wisdom teeth don't grow back.”

She pulled him into the storeroom. “Look, yes, I made up the wisdom tooth thing. But Rory is fine. I don't want you to worry. She’s just going through something private, and I need you not to ask her about it or speculate.”

“I just don't like knowing that something is wrong but not knowing what it is.”

She squeezed his arm. “I know. And I'm sorry. I don't like keeping things from you. But it's all for Rory.”

***

It was dark when Rory woke. Lorelai was sitting in a chair at the foot of her bed, reading a magazine.

“Hey,” Rory said groggily.

“How are you feeling?”

“Okay.” Her mouth was dry.

“I have water and food and extra-strength Tylenol. They wouldn't give you the good stuff. I guess they don't want you to Jamie Lee Curtis yourself into a painkiller addiction.”

“That would be bad,” Rory said.

Lorelai handed Rory her cell phone. “This thing was vibrating off the hook. Logan again.”

Rory scrolled through the missed calls and put the phone down.

“Does he know?” Lorelai asked.

“No. I don't know why he’s calling.” She rubbed her face. “Can I have that water?”

“Florence Nightingale, at your service.” Lorelai handed her a cup. Rory took a big sip.

“What now?” she asked.

“Well, for a start, I can read you People’s Sexiest Man Alive issue. I'll even show you the pictures if you're lucky.”

“Okay,” Rory said, settling back onto her pillow. “Go ahead.”

She spent the next week in bed or on the couch. She watched TV. She didn't write. She found an online forum about miscarriage. She read other people’s posts but didn't add her own. She stood in the shower and closed her eyes and focused on the feeling of the hot water on her back. She read Anna Karenina for the hundredth time. She cried sometimes, and other times she felt relieved. She put everything pregnancy-related — her notes, her bracelet from the surgery, her appointment card from the doctor’s office — in a pile in the corner of the room, and one day Lorelai must've found it because it disappeared. Her boobs weren't sore anymore and she was less tired. Logan called. He sent a text that said, “Please call me back.” She ignored it all. She wore her pajamas and when she felt the need to change, she put on another pair of pajamas. She gave Paul Anka belly rubs. He was grateful and licked her hand.

Eventually she started to feel herself solidify again, and she was sick of wearing pants covered in cartoon animals, and she wanted to go back into the world and write and move on to whatever was next. She got off the couch. She got dressed and went outside and took a deep breath. It was cold for late November, but it felt good. Lorelai was at the inn. There was a familiar soft silence in the air. She took out her cell phone and dialed.

“Mom?” She tilted her head up toward the sky and breathed. “I smell snow.”

 

Chapter Text

“Writing is a job, a talent, but it's also the place to go in your head.”
― Ann Patchett

***

It wasn't hard to keep busy. Rory wrote a long piece on the history of the Autumn Festival for the Gazette. This year they’d added a turkey pardon to the event, but the turkey escaped Kirk’s yard an hour before the ceremony, so they had to pardon a chicken. The story practically wrote itself. She volunteered for the can drive, wrangling an army of Stars Hollow High juniors eager to pad their resumes into breaking the town record for most cranberry sauce ever hoarded for donation. She asked every local business in town to advertise on the Gazette’s website. She helped Babette make an Instagram account for her cat.

She created a massive story board covered in color-coded index cards, with arrows connecting pieces with similar themes, to outline her book. “It kind of looks like a serial killer’s wall,” Lorelai remarked. “But in a good way. A very organized, methodical serial killer. A real Ted Bundy.”

She had so much energy. It was like one of those moods where you’re determined to get your house in order: you clean out the fridge, even the mystery takeout containers you’re afraid to disturb, organize your closet, and throw out all the tubes of dried-up mascara in your makeup bag. But normally those moods end after four hours when you collapse on the couch with a pizza, exhausted and self-satisfied. This one was still going. She was getting her house in order. And according to Wikipedia, she only met two of the seven criteria for a manic episode, and as long as she was under three, she didn't need to seek psychiatric help.

Every day she sat down with her coffee and snacks within reach and wrote for hours. Her goal was a thousand words a day, but she often blew right past that mark without even noticing. The stories were all there, just below the surface the whole time. When she invited them out, they came in droves, vivid and with a life of their own. Vocabulary choices, turns of phrase, putting chapters in order — she could do all that fine-tuning later. For now she just had to put her fingers on the keyboard and see what happened.

***

“You might want to start locking the door when you're home alone writing.”

Rory’s head snapped up from her computer screen. She sat cross-legged on the couch, laptop in front of her. She felt disoriented at first; it was dark outside, but the last time she’d checked the clock it was noon. A familiar face looked back at her, head cocked, dark hair shorter than the last time she'd seen him. The beard was new, but it worked for him. He wore a dark jacket and fitted jeans and was holding a toothbrush. “Jess!” she said, leaning forward for a quick hug. He smelled like himself, like soap and winter cold. “Wow. It's great to see you. I didn't realize I was so oblivious to the world around me.”

“Well, better me than Curt Duncan. I actually knocked, walked in, said hello, went upstairs to grab Luke’s toothbrush, and came back downstairs, and you didn't react once. I didn't want to interrupt you because you looked so productive, but I felt a little creepy just leaving.”

“Productive is a charitable word for how I look right now,” Rory responded, running a hand through her unwashed hair. She knew she wasn't a pretty sight. She'd been in the same position all day, every day this week. She was wearing leggings for the fifth day in a row. “It's an unwritten rule of the universe that a person can't wear leggings more than two days in a row unless they teach Orangetheory for a living,” Lorelai always said. The coffee table was littered with empty Pop-Tart wrappers, though she couldn't remember going to the kitchen or eating them.

“I'm just glad you're writing,” Jess said. “Still working on the book?”

“I am,” she nodded. “I don't know if it’s any good, but I’m enjoying the process.”

“Good to hear.” He clasped his hands in front of him.

She shut her laptop and rested it on the coffee table. “So what are you doing in town? I didn't know you were coming.”

“I'm just here for the night. Luke sounded like he was going to rip his hair out when he told me he was helping out Liz and TJ, and he needs every strand he's got, so I came up to pitch in. He forgot his toothbrush so I just swung by here to grab it for him.”

TJ had thrown his back out tying his shoelaces and had been laid up on the couch for days. Liz had a meltdown, and Luke stepped in. He had been spending the night at their house, so Lorelei was spending extra time at the inn, which worked for Rory because it gave her peace at home. Now that the Hartford house was on the market, there were prospective buyers traipsing through on a regular basis. It interrupted her work, and it upset her to see them planning out their own futures in those familiar rooms. She was spending more and more time in Stars Hollow.

“Did you hear that TJ got ahold of a bell and has been ringing it every time he wants something?” Rory asked, shaking her head at the mental image.

“Yeah, one night of bizarro Downton Abbey is all I'm going to be able to handle.”

Rory glanced at her phone. Another missed call from Logan — no surprise there. She’d gotten used to those in the past few weeks, and seeing his name on her missed calls list no longer made her feel sick to her stomach, though she still had no intention of calling him back. She turned the phone screen-side down and put it on the coffee table and pushed it out of her mind.

She hadn't noticed she was hungry while she was writing, but now that she’d come up for air she was distinctly aware that her stomach was growling. “Hey, do you want to grab some food before you head over to wait on Lord Grantham? I’m starving.”

“Sure,” Jess nodded.

“Just give me fifteen minutes - I really need a shower.”

“You said it, not me,” he said innocently, raising his hands and shrugging.

Rory tossed a throw pillow at him and hauled herself up. “Oof — I'm vertical! I've totally earned a burger.”

***

“So how’s Philly?” Rory asked, grabbing the ketchup off the counter and weaving her way back to the table by the window. Jess was hanging up his jacket, under which he wore a plain white t-shirt. Luke’s was quiet, and it hadn't taken long for Caesar to grill up their burgers. They both plopped down in their chairs.

“It's good,” Jess said. “But I'm actually moving.”

“Moving! Where? Why?”

“We’re relocating the business to Brooklyn. We’re trying to grow and there are a lot of people who will take us more seriously if we have a presence in New York.”

“I think that's the first time I've ever heard you refer to Truncheon as ‘the business.’”

He grimaced. “Don't even get me started. The last six months have been all financial statements and business plans. It's really not my thing but — it’s a necessary evil. We got lucky when we were starting out. We didn't know what the hell we were doing, and we managed to scrape by. But now we’re trying to turn it into something bigger.”

“Well, that sounds exciting. You guys do great work and if you can do more of it — even better.”

“What about you? Are you planning to stick around here for awhile or will you be on the move soon?” He took a bite of his burger.

Rory looked out the window, where Miss Patty was leading a group of young girls in glittery robes. She carried a shepherd’s staff wrapped in twinkle lights, waving it as she led the way.

“I'm staying around for now. Because of things like that,” she said, gesturing out the window.

He followed her gaze. “You just can't quit the Stars Hollow Christmas pageant?”

“It's helping me write. Not the Christmas pageant specifically, although this year’s Studio 54-themed remix of ‘Away in a Manger’ is truly an inspired choice. But just being here, really living here, seeing everyone and staying up to date on all the minutiae of Stars Hollow life. Before this past year I hadn't really lived here since — I don't even know. I think one summer in between jobs? Maybe 2009 or 2010? And Stars Hollow is such a central part of the story, and it's really hard to get it right without making it sound like Mayberry.” She was aware that she was talking very rapidly.

“Have you read Empire Falls?”

“No. Should I?”

“Russo does small-town life well. Gritty small-town, not like Stars Hollow, but worth a read.”

Rory pulled out a pen and made a note on her napkin. When she looked up, Jess was looking back at her, amused.

“What's that look about?”

“You've got a sort of deranged look in your eyes.”

She touched her face. “Valerie Solanas deranged?”

“No. In a good way, like a woman on a mission.” He pointed at her for emphasis as he clarified: “A non-violent one.”

“I am a woman on a mission.” She lifted her chin.

The door opened with a jingle and a gust of chilly air entered the diner, followed by Miss Patty, sans twinkle-lit staff. She spoke to Caesar at the counter before she spotted Rory and Jess and sauntered over.

“Well, well, well,” she said. “Look who we have here. Are those one hundred percent beef?”

Rory was about to answer when she realized that Patty wasn't eyeing their burgers, but rather Jess’s biceps. While they both sat there with their mouths wide open, Patty mimed giving one of his arms a squeeze, wiggled her fingers at them, turned on her heel and sauntered away.

Rory and Jess just looked at each other, Jess’ eyes wide in horror, Rory’s wide with glee.

“Don't you dare tell Luke,” Jess said, struggling to keep a straight face.

“I am definitely telling Luke! I think she actually licked her lips,” Rory said.

“I'm never taking my jacket off in this town again.”

“Sure, Pat LaFrieda.”

Despite his best efforts, he cracked a smile.

***

“So I think the last time I saw you before this summer you were still working at the Journal. What happened to that gig? I thought you liked it there.” Jess picked up a stray fry from his nearly empty plate.

Rory exhaled. “Oh, it's a long story.”

He shrugged. “I've got time.”

Rory considered how much to tell him and decided — why not? — all of it. “Well, it wasn't just one thing. But I was doing okay. I bounced around a few different beats. I was doing what I was supposed to do. And then the Boston Marathon bombing happened.”

His brow contracted in concern. “Were you there?”

“No,” she said. “But a couple days later, my boss asked me to go to the house of one of the victims. I was supposed to get a quote from her family.”

She sipped her coffee. “So I went, and I stood on the corner across the street for awhile. And I couldn't do it. I left and went to Trader Joe’s and just walked up and down the aisles. I didn't even buy cookie butter.” She fiddled with an empty sugar packet. “She hadn't been buried yet. They hadn't even caught the guys at that point. But that was the job. My job.”

“Not wanting to do that isn't a bad thing.”

She shrugged. “But it did make me a bad reporter. Other reporters for other papers went and got the quote, and I didn't. I couldn’t do the job. And I'm okay with that now. I mean, I wasn't at first. I spent awhile wondering if I had what it takes, and what ‘it’ even is, and whether I wanted it. I hung on for another six months and then I quit. I figured if I was freelancing, at least I could choose what kind of reporting I wanted to do.”

“Well, journalism isn’t what it used to be. ‘This Dog Wears a Hat, and You Won't Believe What Happens Next.’”

“Yeah. You’re right. Or maybe it was never what I thought it was. I don't know.” She rested her elbows on the table and leaned forward. “Remember when I wanted to be Christiane Amanpour?”

His mouth turned up slightly at one corner. “I remember.” She smiled back. Sometimes it's nice to talk to someone who shares your memories. Like talking about a movie with someone else who’s seen it. Rory had been reliving old memories a lot lately as she wrote her book. She was trying not to get nostalgic, but she had even found writing about some of the bad moments to be not altogether unpleasant. The luxury of writing about them ten or fifteen or twenty years later is that if you're lucky, you can relive those moments from another perspective. You can see where they led and what they built. You can see how they made you.

“ I was so sure, but I didn't have a clue,” Rory said.

“A tagline for teenagers everywhere.”

“And you — you just wanted to be anywhere but Stars Hollow.”

He looked at the room around them, from side to side and up to the ceiling. “Huh,” he said, holding up his hands. “And yet, here we are.”

***

A few nights later Rory was in New York, looking up at a pre-war brownstone, its lights glowing on the chilly winter night. The steady buzz of conversation was audible from the front steps. She rang the bell and the door swung open.

“Rory!” Paris said warmly, ushering her in. “I’m so glad you came.” Then, quieter and more bitterly: “When Doyle found out I was hosting a holiday party he planned one for the same night. He’s friends with the Duffer Brothers now. He’s got all the kids from Stranger Things there. How can I compete with that? I had to invite my entire staff to fill out the guest list.”

“It looks like you did a great job,” Rory remarked, looking around. The wine was flowing, the food was bountiful, and the fire crackled. It wasn’t packed wall-to-wall, but it was cozy.

Paris handed her a glass of wine. “Come talk to me in the kitchen.” Rory paused, glancing down at her drink. She’d had sushi and lunch meat and soft cheeses, and she’d thrown away the prenatal vitamins. But she hadn’t had a drink yet. She took a small sip and followed Paris.

“So, how are things with Doyle?”

Paris sighed. “He wants to try mediation. But only because I won’t agree to let the kids spend the summers with him in California. What are they going to do out there, surf?”

Rory clicked her tongue with sympathy. “I’m sure you'd miss them a lot if they were gone all summer.”

“Doyle and I are still having sex,” Paris confessed.

“Oh.” Her eyes darted to the side as she looked for an escape.

“Like, every time we see each other. Divorce sex is crazy.”

“I think there's a show about that on Bravo.”

“I’m having sex with other people, too,” Paris continued. “I’ve been on all the apps. You’ve got your Tinder, your Bumble, your Hinge. Coffee Meets Bagel. The League. I’m using them all. It’s very convenient. It’s like ordering a pizza.”

“A ringing endorsement.”

Paris launched into a five-minute tirade about why dating apps should have an STD test verification feature, until, blessedly, someone else walked into the kitchen and plucked a stuffed mushroom from a tray.

“Hi!” Rory said eagerly, sensing an opportunity to change the subject.

“Rory, this is Katherine. She works at Dynasty Makers,” Paris said, reluctantly giving up on her spiel. “Katherine, this is my friend Rory.”

Katherine was a reproductive endocrinologist at Paris’ clinic. She was also tall, with a full-sleeve tattoo on one arm, and was pulling off an avant-grade black velvet dress very impressively. Rory felt a little frumpy in her skirt and lace top, but Katherine turned out to be nicer than she was intimidating.

Paris next tried to drag both Rory and Katherine into speculating about where Doyle had learned the new trick he was using in the bedroom, but Katherine was not having it. “Stop thinking about it, Paris,” she said firmly. She turned to Rory. “So what do you do?”

“Oh, yeah, how’s the book?” Paris asked.

“I’m a writer,” she explained to Katherine before addressing Paris’ question. “It's coming along. It's… I can see what I want it to be so clearly. It’s hard, getting people’s voices right, figuring out what to include and what to leave out. But I know exactly what story I’m telling, and that helps.”

“Our very own Mary Karr,” Paris declared approvingly. “I have a friend at Random House. Let me know if you want me to give her a call when you're ready. What about men? Are you dating anyone?”

“Uh, no. Not really in the market for any pizza right now. I'm taking a long break from pizza.”

Katherine snorted. “Oh, God, did Paris compare Tinder to Dominos again?”

Paris was distracted by something on her phone. Her nostrils flared. “Doyle just posted a picture with Winona Ryder. That whiny klepto better get her hands off —”

Rory and Katherine met each other's exasperated gazes. Rory put her hands on Paris’ shoulders and steered her back toward the living room. “Phone down. Let's go. Party time.”

 

Chapter Text

“I'd rather eat glass than talk about this.”
— Bethenny Frankel, The Real Housewives of New York City

***

“I must say,” Lorelai said as they climbed out of the taxi, “the whole ferry ride thing seems a lot more appealing when you imagine it in summertime. This felt a little like the Titanic. I thought we were going to have to dodge an iceberg or two.”

Rory and Luke made eye contact over the top of the cab. “What?” Lorelai asked suspiciously.

“I bet Rory twenty bucks you'd try to do the whole king-of-the-world thing,” Luke confessed.

Lorelai gasped. “I am not Michael Scott.”

“That's what I said,” Rory agreed. “And, plus, your go-to Titanic reference is ‘Draw me like one of your French girls,’ not ‘I’m the king of the world.’”

Luke carried their bags to the front door as they tramped through the gray slush on the ground. They stopped on the porch, crowded in front of the welcome mat, shivering in the damp cold. Nobody knocked. Lorelai took a deep breath. “So,” she said. “New door, same —”

The door flew open. “You're here!” Emily exclaimed. “Come in, come in.” She waved them in with her right arm. Her left arm was in a sling.

“Uh, Mom?” Lorelai asked as they stamped the slush off their shoes and removed their coats. “What's with the arm?”

“Oh, it's nothing.” She leaned in to hug Rory, who was careful to avoid her left side. Luke kissed her cheek and Emily turned to Lorelai, waiting for a proper greeting, but Lorelai was preoccupied.

“Well, it's not just a fashion statement. If it were, I'd recommend the Mariah Carey edition, the bedazzled one. Clearly you did something to warrant the sling.”

Emily sighed. “I dislocated my shoulder.”

What?” Lorelai exclaimed.

“Grandma!” Rory said.

“How?” Luke asked.

“The front walk was slippery. I had a little fall. I'm really fine.”

“Why wasn't the front walk shoveled and salted?” Lorelai asked, horrified, envisioning her mother fallen, stuck in a snow-laden box hedge, hypothermia setting in, using her final breath to utter one last sentence from her frozen lips: “Lorelai, this never would've happened if you’d gone to your debutante ball.”

“Well, I sent Berta and her family home for the holidays, so it was just me here, and I certainly wasn't going to shovel.”

“Why didn't you hire someone? I'm sure some enterprising local kid would've gladly done it for a few bucks,” Lorelai pressed.

“Lorelai, I don't want to discuss it any further. Now would you just come in? I have drinks and Brie and spiced nuts waiting in here.” She strode into the living room, where a warm fire glowed and soft music played.

“Well, God forbid we keep the Brie waiting,” Lorelai moaned, following her.

***

New Year's Eve was sunny. They tried a morning walk on the beach but quickly abandoned it due to a frigid wind that felt like an icicle repeatedly stabbing their eardrums. Their faces were so numb the only thing they could feel was the mucus running out of their noses. Burying their faces in their scarves, they retreated to the house for the day, Rory writing, Emily and Lorelai bickering and laughing, Luke fixing a leaky bathroom sink and making breakfast for dinner.

“This is so great. Our last meal of the year is breakfast, and our first meal of next year will be breakfast too,” Rory pointed out gleefully when they sat down to eat.

“Luke, you poach an egg beautifully,” Emily praised him. “It's so hard to find someone who can poach an egg just the way I like it.”

Lorelai made a pouty face. “Hey, Mom, don't talk dirty to my husband.”

Emily ignored her pointedly. “Rory, how is the book going?”

“It's going well,” Rory said, cutting her French toast and dipping it in extra syrup. “I'm a little stuck right now on this one chapter but I’ll get through it.”

“Well, you're in the right place. Being near the ocean can be very inspiring for a writer. Hemingway wrote A Farewell to Arms in Key West.”

“I think that was thanks to the rum, not the beach,” Lorelai said, reaching over to nab a piece of bacon from Luke’s plate. Luke batted her hand away.

“There's more on the tray right in front of you,” he pointed out.

“I know, but I want yours.”

He served himself another piece of bacon from the tray and put the first piece on Lorelai’s plate.

“Oh!” Emily said. “You won't believe what I read in the Yale alumni newsletter. Guess who’s getting married tonight?”

“Who?” Lorelai asked, stabbing the bacon with her fork.

“Logan Huntzberger. Isn't that name a blast from the past? He’s marrying Rene Dreyfus’ youngest daughter. The wedding is in Paris.”

Lorelai dropped the bacon. Rory froze, like she'd just been pushed into the Nantucket Sound. The phone calls. The dozens of phone calls. He hadn't intuitively guessed that she was pregnant. He was trying to tell her he was getting married. He was getting married. Tonight. She finished chewing her bite of French toast to buy time to compose herself. What time was it in Paris?

“He's probably already married,” she said. “With the time difference.”

“I heard the wedding is at the Palais Garnier. Can you imagine? A winter wedding in Paris.” Rory could tell from the envious, dreamy tone of Emily’s voice that the bride she was imagining in a fur stole in a gilded room at the Paris opera house was sitting at this table eating breakfast. Her knife shook as she tried to cut another piece of French toast — French toast, she noted, there was a joke in there somewhere — and she set her utensils down. Her hands felt numb and useless, like she'd fallen asleep on them. She looked at Lorelai.

Lorelai’s eyes darted back and forth between Emily and Rory. Emily would smell blood in the water if she didn't distract her. “Mom, why on earth do you still read the Yale alumni newsletter?”

“I still like to see what our old friends are up to.”

“And what are they up to?”

“Well, more and more of them are showing up in the obituaries,” she said darkly.

Rory wasn't listening to any of it. “Will you all excuse me for a minute?” She put down her napkin and walked down the hallway. She could hear Emily asking in a hushed voice if Logan Huntzberger was a sore subject, and oh, if she had known she wouldn't have said a word, but really, why did Rory care after all this time? Was Logan the one that got away, because she'd always thought —

She closed the door to her bedroom, shutting out Emily’s voice, and picked up her phone. She rarely checked Instagram, but she knew she followed Finn and Colin. And sure enough, there they were: Finn, Colin, and Robert, dressed to the nines, each with a bottle of champagne in hand, bow ties askew. And in the next photo, Logan, looking happy, and her, in a white dress. It was the first time Rory had ever seen her. She was actual flesh and blood, not just an artificial inconvenience. She had dark eyes and full lips and an elegant chignon and perfect posture. She sparkled.

Rory felt like she was in a bar after last call and they'd just turned the lights on, like a fool who overlooked the sticky floor and peeling paint on the walls when the room was dim, who felt cute and charming until she caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror and noticed the mascara under her eyes and the boozy shine on her forehead. Every bit of ugliness that she hadn't let herself see throughout her affair with Logan, illuminated in high definition. She thought she might throw up.

Lorelai opened the door. “Can I come in?”

“Look.” Rory handed her the phone. They looked at the picture together.

“She's pretty.”

“She's real.”

“She always was,” Lorelai countered tentatively.

“It never felt that way. I never let it feel that way.” Rory swallowed hard.

“How do you feel about it now?”

Rory closed the app and flopped backwards onto the bed. “I feel ready for 2017.”

Lorelai flopped down next to her. “It's a new year. A clean slate. This will be the year you finish your book.”

They lay there for a few minutes in silence. Lorelai thought about Emily’s dislocated shoulder. Rory contemplated her position on the shitty person scale: probably less shitty than most catfishers. Significantly less shitty than Martin Shkreli. Maybe equal to parents who hire someone to write their kids’ college essays for them? Worse than people who don't give up their seat on the train for an elderly person, worse than that guy who went on the Bachelor four times. She thought about Odette, and Logan, and the fact that she’d only learned about about the wedding because Emily still read the Yale alumni newsletter. If it weren't for that, she probably would’ve read about it in the New York Times on Sunday.

And then her mind granted her a blessed escape. Rory sat upright. “I just got an idea.”

“Spiking the hot chocolate with Baileys?” Lorelai continued to stare at the ceiling.

Rory opened her laptop. “No, for the book. I've been stuck on this essay I'm writing about Friday night dinners, and I'm trying to capture the absurdity and it's really hard to get right, but that conversation we just had with Grandma at the table…I just thought of a way…”

“Okay, okay, I’ll leave you to it. Luke probably needs to be rescued anyway.” She stood up.

Rory didn't respond, her eyes fixed on the screen with laser focus as she typed at top speed, the wedding forgotten for the moment. Lorelai backed out of the room, which was quiet except for the rhythm of the tapping keys.

***

“Should we get Rory?” Luke asked as midnight approached.

“Nah,” Lorelai murmured, resting her head on his shoulder. “Let her be. She had one of those lightbulb over the head moments and I don't want to mess with her momentum. I think ringing in the new year with her book is exactly what she wants.”

“Nonsense,” Emily said from the kitchen, where she was lining up champagne glasses. “Rory can come out for five minutes so that we can toast to 2017.”

“Come on, Mom,” Lorelai sighed. “What are you going to do? Be like, ‘Yo, Rory, Imma let you finish your book but…?’”

Emily looked back at her, expressionless.

“Kanye? Taylor? No?”

Emily opened the refrigerator and took out a bottle of champagne. “Honestly, Lorelai, sometimes I think you make these expressions up just to confuse me. Half the time I understand what Berta is saying better than I understand you.” She began picking at the foil, but she struggled without the use of her left hand.

“Mom, let me do that.”

“No, thank you. I can do it.” She managed to peel off the foil and began removing the cage, but without another hand to steady the bottle, it slid around the countertop as she twisted.

“Mom!” Lorelai said sharply. “If you don't stop you're going to get corked in the eye, and then we’re going to be toasting to 2017 in the emergency room.” She grabbed the bottle, draped a towel over the top, and finished twisting with a proper pop.

“There,” she said, satisfied. “Now, I'll hold each glass and you can pour. Teamwork.”

Emily rolled her eyes. “Really, Lorelai, you're acting like I'm an invalid. I am perfectly capable of taking care of myself.”

“Mom, you fell on the ice and dislocated your shoulder. You're not perfectly capable of taking care of yourself. You were alone. What if you couldn't get up?”

Luke slunk down on the couch. It was 11:59, but it was probably safer for him to try to blend into the furniture than interrupt.

“That was an accident. A one-time thing.” Emily waved it off.

“I just — I’m worried about you, up here so far away from us. If something happened, it would take me six hours of planes, trains, and automobiles to get here. I know you have Berta and the gang but I don't know them, I don't know whether they're doing a good job, and—”

Emily put her hands on her hips. “What, are you afraid I’ll go senile and they'll swindle me into writing you out of the will and leaving everything to them instead?”

“Mom.” Lorelai gritted her teeth and squeezed the neck of the champagne bottle.

“Maybe I’ll take the Leona Helmsley approach and leave it all to that dog of yours.”

“You know this has nothing to do with your will.” Lorelai meant to set the bottle down the counter, but it was really more of a slam.

Emily picked it up and began to pour into an unsteady glass. Lorelai sighed and reached out to hold it in place. “I resent you patronizing me,” Emily said curtly. “Ever since you got here you've been treating me like you’re ready to shove me into assisted living to play bingo and eat Jell-O every night.”

“Oh, believe me, I am fully aware that I won't be able to put you anywhere unless I can throw you over my shoulder and carry you myself.”

“If you're worried about bearing the terrible burden of taking care of me when I am no longer able to do so, which is not now by the way, you can relax. I’ve already planned for all that. I have the Cadillac of long-term care insurance plans. I will have a live-in nurse.”

“Great. Wonderful. Well, you may want to stop paying those premiums because you won't make it to that point if you fall into a snow bank with a broken hip and freeze to death first!”

The clock struck midnight. Through the sliding door, fireworks lit up the sky over the water.

“Happy New Year,” Luke mumbled.

The door to Rory’s room swung open and she popped her head out. “Happy New Year!” she called down the hall.

Emily and Lorelai glared at each other. Lorelai lifted a glass. “Cheers, Mom,” she said, draining it in one gulp.

Chapter Text

“There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says ‘Morning, boys. How’s the water?’ And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, ‘What the hell is water?’” — David Foster Wallace, This Is Water

***

Rory swung by Luke’s bright and early on the first day of February. She had a long to-do list, and with a heavy dose of caffeine and the bright winter sun finally shining after days of gray gloom, she was ready to knock it out. She had to edit a story about Gypsy’s new electric vehicle charging station, she wanted to launch the website before the Firelight Festival, and she was in the middle of writing a climactic scene about Chilton that she needed to finish.

“Coffee to go, please,” she told Luke, resting her laptop bag on the counter.

“I'm going to make you a fresh pot. No stale coffee for you,” he said, like he did every morning. He dumped out the pot, poured new grounds into the machine, and turned it on. Rory flipped through the Washington Post while she waited. She wouldn't have time to read the newspaper for the rest of the day, so she needed to get through the front page at minimum.

From the corner of her eye she noticed Kirk seated on the stool next to her, looking in her direction.

“Something I can do for you, Kirk?” She didn't lift her eyes from the page.

“You looked like you were really engrossed in your paper. I didn't want to interrupt. I figured I'd wait until you turned the page. Are you turning the page?”

“Not turning the page yet.” She tried to keep reading, but his stare was distracting. She put her paper down in grudging defeat. “Fine, go ahead.”

“I heard you're accepting advertisements for the Stars Hollow Gazette website. I'd like to place an ad.”

She sat up straighter. “That’s great. But what for? Nothing that constitutes trademark infringement, please.”

“I'm opening a cat cafe. It's a home business. The cafe will be at my house. I've been looking for a job where I can work from home and set my own schedule, now that Lulu’s pregnant.”

Rory ignored the stabbing sensation in her stomach. She already knew; Lorelai had heard the news the day before and given her fair warning. Lulu was fifteen weeks along. Rory should've been nineteen weeks. At nineteen weeks the baby would've been the size of a mango. “I heard. Congratulations.”

“Thanks. I applied to sell LulaRoe but they turned me down, so I came up with this idea.”

She tried very hard to block the vision of Kirk in whimsically-printed leggings from her brain. “So people are going to come to your house and buy coffee and tea and cuddle with cats in your living room?”

“Well, I don't have a permit to sell food or beverages. So it's going to be more of a bring-your-own type of establishment. And I don't have any cats, so it’ll just be Petal.”

“So people will pay money to bring their own drinks and snacks to your house to pet your pig?”

“That's correct.”

“And this business is called…”

“Kirk’s Cat Cafe,” he said, as if it were the most obvious thing in the world.

She stared at him. “Right. Of course. Well, email me your ad copy and I'll send you the rates.”

***

Rory was reviewing the proposed layout of the new Stars Hollow Gazette website when the phone rang. She glanced up. Charlie was in the bathroom for the fourth time that morning; he'd tried to explain, but she’d cut him off at the word “prostate.” Esther was doing something that vaguely resembled opening the mail.

“Esther, if they remade 2001: A Space Odyssey with sloths instead of people, the credits would be rolling and that envelope still wouldn’t be open yet,” Rory said, exasperated. She picked up the phone herself.

“Rory, good.” It was Taylor. “Principal Merton just called me. Mrs. Peterson, the twelfth-grade English teacher, had a bit of a nervous breakdown. Apparently she taught The Awakening one time too many and tried to reenact the ending in the reservoir yesterday.”

“Oh, dear.”

“Oh, she's fine. If she'd taught Virginia Woolf instead it could've gone worse. Anyway, they have a substitute, but Mrs. Peterson’s lesson plans were lacking and — well, I suggested that they send the class over to see you today.”

“Me? Why?”

“Well, it is an English class. I thought you could tell them about the paper, what goes into an issue of the Gazette, maybe share some of your stories from the good old days at your previous jobs.”

“Hey, my good old days haven't happened yet. And I'm really busy, Taylor, I don't think—”

“I’ll make a note in your file for your performance review,” he offered.

She looked at the laptop, where the website layout was waiting for her. Her credit card bill would arrive tomorrow. “Fine. Send them in.”

***

“So I write and edit from here, and Charlie handles subscriptions, and Esther — is also here,” Rory explained to the crowd of Stars Hollow High seniors crammed into the office.

“You write all the articles?”

“Not all. But most of them. We don't have a big budget.”

“And you use that computer?” They looked at the dinosaur she’d dumped in the back of the room.

“Ah, usually not. It's… vintage. I mostly use my laptop.” She crossed her legs, then uncrossed them, then crossed them again. The whole operation likely looked like a joke to them. The dusty old office, the Metamucil on Charlie’s desk. And if they thought the paper was a joke, they probably thought she was part of the joke.

“What's the biggest article you've written for the Gazette?”

“Well,” she began. “A few weeks ago we published a story about a member of the Shade Tree Committee who took a bribe. Somebody wanted an oak instead of an elm and greased a palm. It got very ugly. He had to resign. I mean, it wasn't the Pentagon Papers, but for Stars Hollow —”

“What are the Pentagon Papers?” someone asked. They were looking at her blankly.

“What are the Pentagon Papers?” she repeated in disbelief. She let the question hang for a moment, expecting one of the other students to answer, but no one did. She went on: “Daniel Ellsberg, The New York Times, Vietnam? The White House Plumbers? Nobody knows what I'm talking about?”

Silence. She slumped back in her chair. This was going to be a long hour if they just stared at their shoes the whole time.

“Have you heard of Woodward and Bernstein? Seymour Hersh? Has anyone seen Spotlight? It won an Academy Award last year. Nothing?”

Crickets. “So, what are the Pentagon Papers?” someone finally asked.

Miracle of miracles, they wanted to know. At least one of them did. And, really, they needed to know. It was practically her civic duty to tell them. She stood up and walked around to the front of her desk. Where to begin? “Okay, so the Department of Defense did a study — actually, let me back up, I should start with Ellsberg — how much time do you guys have? We can order food if you want to stay through lunch.”

***

Rory finished her day with an email to her web designer, trying to butter him up. She would lay the groundwork now, leaving a trail of flattery as breadcrumbs, along with some woe-is-me tales of the challenges of the scrappy small town newspaper, so that in a few days she could swoop back in and ask for a discount. She chewed the top of her pen as she contemplated her word choice. It had to be subtle.

Her phone buzzed; it was Lane, asking her to stop by the shop.

When she finished her email, she grabbed her bag, turned off the lights, and headed over to Kim’s Antiques. She walked in and nearly ran into Mrs. Kim leading a pack of men and women in slacks and blazers around the shop. It was a little late for such a big group to be antiquing, wasn't it?

“Hi, Mrs. Kim,” she said brightly.

“Hello, Rory,” she said in a clipped voice. “Lane is in the kitchen.” She turned back to the group. “Please excuse the interruption,” she said. “Now if you’ll follow me into to the other room, you'll see the charming detail. All original. Some say it was designed by McKim, Mead and White.”

Rory skirted the clusters of tables and chairs and cabinets, turned the corner at the table of vases, and entered the kitchen. Lane was sitting at the table. “What is going on here?” Rory whispered.

“Hey, Rory,” Lane said faintly. Her face was empty, as if her head was closed for business and her thoughts were were somewhere else.

“Is everything okay?”

Lane furrowed her brow, considering the question. “Yeah?” she finally said.

“That didn't sound very confident. Who are all those people out there?”

Lane looked up at her. “Momma’s selling the shop,” she said. “She's moving to a smaller place on Peach.”

Rory sank into the chair opposite Lane. “What? Why?”

“She said that now that the boys are older and she and my dad have enough money saved… they want to spend more time volunteering at church. Go back to Korea for awhile every year. She’s been getting homesick ever since my grandmother passed away.”

Rory tried to imagine being homesick for a place you haven't lived in thirty years. It seemed crazy. But it wasn't crazy at all, really, was it? The place where you grow up, where you experience all your firsts, where you become the first and second and third versions of yourself, it sticks to your bones. She’d once read in National Geographic that if you move halfway across the world and never go back, scientists can analyze the lead in your teeth and pinpoint where you came from. You can't shake it. Her own teeth probably contained plenty of Founder’s Day punch and Luke's coffee.

“That's going to be a big change,” Rory said, struggling to imagine it.

“What am I going to do? I help out here almost every day. And I can't remember the last time my mom spent more than three days away from Stars Hollow.” She lowered her voice. “I'm going to miss her. What is wrong with me?”

“Oh, of course you're going to miss her. But maybe it'll be a good thing. Zach will get a break from her arguing with him about feeding the boys chicken fingers, right?”

“Yeah,” Lane admitted. “That'll be a good thing.”

“A little distance can be healthy,” Rory said, thinking about Lorelai’s new habit of coming into her room every night to recap the day. It started out as five minutes but had gradually increased to twenty. Rory didn't mind it a few days a week, but did it really need to happen every night? There was only so much to say about the paper and the book and the inn. Sometimes she just wanted to go to bed early or read a book by herself. But as a non-rent-paying resident of the house, she didn't protest.

Lane raised her fingers to her temples. “We’re going to need to find a real babysitter. How do I find a teenager that charges a reasonable rate, doesn't spend the entire night on Snapchat, and listens to decent music?”

“You might have to settle for two of the three.”

“We hired a girl from the high school when Mama was sick last month and she was great, except when we came home she was playing ‘Body Like a Back Road.’ In front of my children.”

Rory wrinkled her nose. “Good God.”

“I let them stay up late and listen to Johnny Cash to try to undo the damage, but when I came back in the room they were playing Luke Bryan. I mean, ‘Country girl, shake it for me?’ I almost puked.” Lane buried her head in her hands and groaned. “This is so weird. I'm feeling... I don't know. What am I feeling?”

“You're feeling like a person who's about to go through a big change. I think it’s normal.”

“I guess.”

“And don't worry about Steve and Kwan. A little foray into the bro-country genre will be like their Rumspringa. They'll come home to the good stuff in the end.”

***

After the website officially launched with Taylor flipping a big fake red switch at the Firelight Festival to make it go live, Rory took a couple of well-earned days off, crashing with Paris in the city. She spent the morning at the New Museum checking out the Raymond Pettibon exhibit and then headed to midtown to hit up MoMA for the afternoon before meeting up with Paris for dinner. The next day when she was inevitably burned out on arts and culture she could engage in some vapid consumerism at Century 21.

In between museums she grabbed a sandwich at a little hole in the wall near Rockefeller Center. As she smeared mustard on her rye bread, worn Joan Didion paperback in front of her, she caught a glimpse of familiar strawberry blonde hair and thick glasses.

“Glenn!” she called out. The last time she’d seen him was at a Yale Daily News alumni event six or seven years ago, but he was a prolific Facebook user. She knew he had a calico cat, recently spent a weekend in New Orleans, and ate meatloaf for dinner last week.

His head swiveled toward her. “Hey, Rory,” he said, plopping down in the chair opposite her. “Have you joined the Manhattan rat race?”

“Nope, just here for the day. Are you still working at Marvel?”

He nodded. “My office is right down the block.”

“So how is the comic book world? Your job sounds so cool.”

“Oh, you know. Finish an issue, wonder if it’s going to be the failure that kills my career, repeat.” Rory had figured that the pile of Harvey and Eisner Awards sitting on his desk would've given him some comfort but apparently not. Some people are always waiting for the world to end.

“So you love it,” she said.

“What about you? I saw your New Yorker piece last year.”

She nodded. “Yeah, I’m… trying out local journalism right now. And I'm writing a book.”

“Aren't we all,” he said bitterly.

“Excuse me?”

“I just mean — everyone I know has a book draft in a drawer somewhere. I didn’t get anywhere with mine.” Her face probably fell like Glenn’s cat had fallen off the windowsill last month, because he added: “But I'm sure yours is different.”

“Oh, well, yeah, mine’s a little different. I'm trying to get it published.”

“Oh, you have an agent?” He perked up.

“Um, not yet, but I’m working on it.”

“Oh.” He glanced outside. “Well, good luck with that. I have to get back to work. I can't give them another reason to fire me.”

She stared down at her sandwich and thought of all the abandoned manuscripts sitting in other people’s desk drawers. Her stomach felt unsettled, like something was crawling around inside. What made her book different from theirs? She knew a lot of good writers. Glenn was one. But he'd packed it up and moved on to other things.

Well, she didn't have anything to move on to; that would help. And there it is: the silver lining of my failed career, she thought. She tried to quiet her fresh doubts. This had to work. It had to. There was nothing else. She picked up her sandwich and put it back down. She wasn't so hungry anymore.

Chapter Text

“My heart has followed all my days
something I cannot name.”
— Don Marquis

***

The Monday night dinner rush at the inn always finished early. By nine o’clock the last dessert was cleared from the table, the dining room was spotless, and all the guests were settled in their rooms. Lorelai was flipping through applications for the new housekeeping position when Rory walked in.

“Delivery,” Rory announced, holding up Lorelai’s phone charger. “As requested.”

“Thank you, thank you,” Lorelai said, grabbing it. “I always leave it home.”

“You know you're allowed to have two chargers, right? You can just keep one here.”

“Ah, yes, but then I'd need to come up with a new excuse to make you come visit me when the inn is slow.” She leaned over to plug her phone in behind the desk and stood back up. “Hey, do you want to sit down and have dessert with me? It's dead here and we have cake.”

Rory really didn't have a lot of time, but… cake. “What kind?”

“We have a chocolate fudge and a cinnamon crumb.”

Her eyes lit up. “Throw in a cup of coffee with that cinnamon crumb and I'm yours. But I can't stay long. I’m heading to New York to crash with Paris tonight. I asked Jess to read my manuscript and he just texted me that he's going to be in the city tomorrow, so we’re going to meet up.”

“Oh?” Lorelai was surprised. Jess was going to be the first person to read Rory’s book. Well. Somebody had to be the first, and Lorelai had turned down the opportunity when Rory gave her the first three chapters, so she should've known this day was coming. But did it have to be Jess? “Do you need to meet him? You can just email it to him. Save yourself a trip.”

“Mom, this is a big deal. I’m putting this thing out there for the first time. I can't just… email it.” She fluttered her fingers in the air, illustrating an email floating inconsequentially through space. “It requires a little pomp and circumstance.”

“Well, we better get it a mortarboard, then,” Lorelai said. She opened her mouth to say something but held back, pressing her lips together. She better not. But, no, she had to: “Rory, this thing with Jess, is it… just work? This isn't Cary Grant tricking Rosalind Russell into working on a big story just to get her back, is it? Jaunty hat, striped coat? ‘Don't be hasty, remember my dimple?’”

Rory slowly puckered her lips as Lorelai prattled on, as if her words were sour. Her chin jutted in stubborn disgust. “I have no idea what you're talking about.”

“What I mean is — do you think he’s going to try to use this whole book thing to get closer to you?” Lorelai shifted anxiously from foot to foot.

It's strictly professional. We’re just friends,” Rory said dismissively.

“So which is it? Are you friends or is it professional?”

Rory stared at her. Really? She wanted to interrogate her about this? First of all, there was nothing to it. Obviously. Second of all, she didn't need her mom’s protection. Especially from Jess. It was like part of Lorelai still saw him as the kid who broke Rory’s wrist, half a lifetime later. Wasn't he essentially Lorelai’s nephew now?

“It's both. But it's nothing more than that,” she said tightly. “I’m asking him to give me his thoughts on a document that includes five entire pages about the fight you and I had after I lost my virginity to Dean. Does that sound like something a person would do in a non-platonic situation?”

Lorelai studied Rory’s face. She just looked pissed off. “Okay,” she relented, backing off. “I get it. It was just a question.”

A beat passed and then Rory nodded, letting her off the hook.

They headed back to the kitchen, Lorelai leading the way. When she walked through the doorway she did a double-take. Every surface in the was covered, but not with food: with bottles of shampoo and conditioner, tubs of moisturizer and facial serum, and jars of massage oil. There was anti-aging cream, acne cream, pore minimizing cream, and cream of mushroom soup. Okay, the last one actually was food.

“Abort mission,” she said, stopping short.

Rory collided with her and peered into the room over Lorelai’s shoulder. “Nope,” she said as she glimpsed the chaos, turning on her heel. “I definitely don't have time for this. So long, cinnamon crumb. See you tomorrow night, Mom.”

Lorelai waved goodbye weakly without turning around. “Michel?” she hollered.

He swept in from the other room. “Yes, Lorelai?” He sounded chipper.

“Michel, why does it look like Sephora barged in and got in a fistfight with Ulta in our kitchen?”

“Oh, these are samples.”

“Why do you need so many samples?”

“I'm testing them for the spa. Companies keep sending them to us. I feel like a celebrity getting free clothes that the designers want me to wear in front of the paparazzi.” He was positively gleeful.

Lorelai surveyed the madness. There was just so much of it. “Well, have you narrowed it down at all?”

“This is the narrowed-down selection. I’ve already thrown out the obvious rejects.”

“Michel, we could've donated that stuff.”

“Trust me, it was more charitable to throw that garbage away.”

Lorelai picked up a foot scrub and sniffed. “This smells good.”

Michel took it from her and smelled it. He wrinkled his nose. “If you want your feet to smell like a prostitute.” He tossed it into the trash.

“Hey!” She gingerly peeked into the trash. It was mostly empty with no unidentifiable liquids anywhere, so she reached in and plucked out the foot scrub, clutching it to her chest. “I’d rather my feet smell like a prostitute than an accountant or a dockworker.”

He clicked his tongue disapprovingly and scanned the counter, looking for something specific. He picked up a tube of something. “Try this. Patchouli is the biggest fragrance trend of 2017.”

“Patchouli? Like, ‘smell my dreadlocks’ patchouli?”

“It's much more sophisticated than that. Tom Ford does a patchouli fragrance, and Tom Ford does not do dreadlocks.”

She sighed and looked around. “Are you sure you don't want help with this? It's a big project.”

He puffed out his chest. “I have been training my whole life for this project.” His eyes darted over to the mess. “However, it is an enormous task of vital importance, so a second opinion would be useful. But not your opinion. Someone with refined taste. Are there consultants we can hire for this sort of thing?”

An idea popped into Lorelai’s head. Something that would both fix Michel’s mess and address something else that had been bothering her for the past few weeks. “I think I know just the person.”

***

She made the call first thing in the morning. Michel had piled all the samples in the office so that the kitchen could actually be used to make breakfast and not just to exfoliate. Her desk was covered. As the phone rang, she picked up a tube of hair texturizing paste and fiddled with the cap.

“Hello?” Emily said.

“Mom, hey.”

“Lorelai. How are you?”

“I'm good, Mom. I haven't heard from you in awhile. Over a month, actually. Not that I've been keeping track or anything.” She wondered if she had done something to upset Emily without even realizing it. The last argument she could remember was New Year's Eve, but that was nothing and Emily was fine the next day. She braced herself.

“Oh, I've just been so busy.” Her tone was cordial but distracted. “Listen, I'm starting my begonias indoors this year so they bloom earlier, so I was about to head to the garden center.”

Lorelai relaxed her shoulders. “Oh, well, I’ll be quick. I was wondering if you could do me a favor. Michel is testing products for the spa and he's pretty overwhelmed.”

“Oh?”

“He could really use some help. Someone to go through products with him and pick the winners. Someone with discerning opinions who truly relishes making snap judgments and looks good doing it.” She laughed stiffly. “I thought you'd be the perfect candidate.”

“What do I know about choosing products for a spa?”

“You’ve been to every luxury spa in the state of Connecticut. Plus, don't you want to make sure we’re spending your money wisely? Michel is strongly considering going with patchouli-scented everything.” She hadn't intended to throw him under the bus, but the opportunity presented itself, and, well, it was an added benefit.

“Patchouli?” Emily sounded horrified. “It's supposed to be a spa, not a commune.”

“If you can come down next week I’ll make sure Michel is available anytime you want to meet.”

“Fine,” Emily relented. “I'll come down next week.”

Lorelai smiled, satisfied, and put the texturizing paste down on top of a pile of other hair products. She hung up the phone just as the entire pile collapsed and fell to the floor. Perfect.

***

Rory entered the restaurant and stamped the snow off her boots on the mat. She scanned the tables. It was halfway between lunch and dinner on a weekday, so it wasn't crowded. She spotted Jess sitting in a booth near the back, engrossed in his… iPad?

“Too much screen time causes brain damage,” she greeted him, unwinding her scarf. Her face was flushed from the cold.

He looked up. “I was wondering why I had a headache.” He closed the iPad’s cover and stuck it in his backpack, standing to give her a brief hug.

“Do you actually read on that thing?”

“Nah, I'm still a Luddite when it comes to books.” He pulled a paperback out of his back pocket to prove his point. “I was just doing some work.”

She slid into the opposite side of the booth and dropped her tote down next to her with a loud, satisfying thunk.

He glanced over at the bag. “Sounds hefty.”

“It's definitely got some heft to it. I hope you have room in that bag of yours.”

He smiled. “Plenty of room.”

“So what brought you to New York today anyway? Getting ready for the move?” She picked up the warm mug that was waiting in front of her.

“Yeah,” he said. “We were actually looking at office space. I checked out a couple of apartments this morning too. I just put my condo on the market.”

You have a condo?” She almost choked on her coffee.

“Don't sound so surprised.”

“I just never pictured you with a mortgage.”

“I like not having a landlord. Nobody to yell at me about the nail holes in the walls.” A waiter plunked down a plate of nachos in front of them. “I figured you'd be hungry,” Jess said.

“Bless you,” said Rory. She lifted a chip and held it in front of her like a champagne glass. “To first drafts and generous friends.”

Jess raised his own chip. “Cheers.”

She ate her chip, wiped her hands on her napkin and reached into her bag. “Okay. So, without further ado…” She took the manuscript from her bag, hugged it to her chest, and then placed it in front of him. “Take good care of it, please.”

“I'll be kind,” he confirmed.

“No, don't be kind. Be brutal,” she implored him, eyes wide. It was the most difficult thing she'd ever written by far, and for months, she'd been alone with it. She didn't want coddling. “It's like a puppy. The best way to take good care of it is strict discipline.”

He nodded, a solemn expression on his face. “I will train your manuscript not to pee in the house,” he assured her. He ate another nacho.

“In all seriousness, I really appreciate you doing this.”

He waved her off, his mouth full.

“I mean it. I know you're busy but it means a lot.”

She’d debated whether to warn him about the other things in the book that might surprise him (“Spoiler alert, in Chapter 25 I steal a yacht!”). But if she was going to do this, if she was really going to put her book out there and ask him for help, she had to just let go of it. And besides, if the book actually turned into something, everyone else in her life would be reading it too.

Jess’ phone vibrated. He glanced at the screen.

“You can get that if you need to.”

“Nah, it's just Matthew. I'm meeting the guys again later anyway.”

“It's weird. It's been just me and this book alone together for months. I almost chickened out today. I was thinking maybe I need to go through it one more time…”

“It's never going to feel perfect,” he said. “But the first step to getting it out there is to let someone else read it. What did your mom think?”

She realized that he didn't know. “She hasn't read it. She doesn't want to read it until it's done. You'll be the first.”

“Huh,” he said, blinking, playing it cool. He began flipping through the pages aimlessly.

“Don't,” she said, cringing. “I can't watch. It's like a professor grading your paper right in front of you.” She suddenly remembered the red flags. “Oh!”

He looked up at her.

“The red flags,” she said, pointing at the Post-It notes jutting out from a few of the pages. “As I was getting it ready for you, I realized… there might be some parts that you'd feel uncomfortable reading or giving me feedback on or both. Those parts are flagged. You can just skip them if you want. I would totally understand if it's too weird.”

“Why would it be weird?” he asked. She just looked at him, waiting for him to get it so she wouldn't have to explain: You're in the book, Jess, and it’s not all happy memories. It wouldn’t be awkward, exactly, to talk about that part of their lives, but it almost felt like it was two other, completely different people. In fact, she couldn't remember a time in the last decade when they'd had a conversation about their high school relationship.

Thankfully, she didn't have to explain, because it dawned on him. “Ah,” he said, looking down at the red flags. He shrugged. Clearly it wasn't a big deal for him either. “I can handle it.”

“Well, if you do read those parts, at least you can make sure they turn out to be good.”

“Not even Hunter S. Thompson himself could save Where the Buffalo Roam,” he quipped.

She scoffed. “My book is not Where the Buffalo Roam. At least I hope it's not.”

“I haven't read a word yet but I'd put money on not.”

Jess’ phone vibrated again. He frowned. “Do you need to go? I don't want to keep you if you have to get back,” Rory said.

“In a little bit.” He hesitated. “To tell you the truth I'm trying to delay a conversation I really don't want to have.”

“What's going on?” Rory asked.

He sighed. “Another press called Blue Fern — still independent, but way bigger than us — wants to buy Truncheon.”

“Wow.” Rory said, awed. “I've heard of them. That's a huge deal. Congratulations.”

He grunted. It wasn't a happy grunt.

“You don't like the idea?”

He squirmed in his seat. “They'd keep us on. We'd still run things, but they’d get a say in… everything. And if push came to shove, they'd be able to overrule us.”

“And you don't want to sell out.”

His mouth twisted reluctantly at the cliched expression. “I'm not a Beastie Boy,” he said, mildly defensive.

“But you don't want to sell out.”

“Kind of,” he admitted. He grimaced. “Ever since we started, we’ve only ever published what we wanted to. We’ve never had someone breathing down our necks, pushing us to do something just because it’ll be profitable, or telling us not to publish something awesome just because it's not going to sell like that book by the Fixer Uppers.”

“I never pegged you for a big Chip and Joanna fan,” she remarked.

“We used to have this intern who was obsessed with them. He took a long weekend once to go stay at their bed and breakfast or something. He just kept talking about the silos and the shiplap. Waco this and Waco that, but he'd never even heard of David Koresh.” He shook his head in disbelief.

“Kids these days,” Rory sighed.

“Isn't shiplap just wood paneling?”

Rory dipped a chip in salsa. “So the other guys want to do it? Sell?”

He shrugged. “They're open to it.”

“And why do they think it’s a good idea?”

He picked up a chip. “It's a lot of money. Not, like, a lot of money — not like ‘Oh, I was too busy sitting on my golden toilet to notice that somebody stole my yacht —’”

Rory sat up ruler-straight. “How did you know about that?”

He stopped, chip halfway to his mouth. “About what?”

“Not the golden toilet, the…” she trailed off. He was looking at her like she'd just doffed a tiara and a red clown nose. Huh. Strange coincidence. Well, he’d understand soon enough. “Nevermind. Carry on.”

“It’s not just the money itself. The money would let us do more with the business. We'd have an owner with deeper pockets. More resources, good connections. We could do more, be more.”

“That's quite a dilemma,” Rory said. She couldn't help but feel a twinge of jealousy. Here she was, spending most of her time on a book that might only ever be read by two people, both of whom were currently scarfing down nachos at the same table in a Brooklyn diner. Meanwhile, his life’s work was so valuable someone wanted to both buy it from him and pay him to keep doing it.

He tucked her manuscript carefully in his bag. “The way you feel about this book is the way I feel about Truncheon.”

He may have grown up and grown a beard, but she could never see him selling. “Well, do what I’m doing, then,” she suggested. “Make sure it's only ever in the best hands.”

***

That night, back in Stars Hollow, Rory tossed and turned in bed, wondering if Jess had started reading yet. What if he thought it was so bad he didn't even know what to tell her? Was it too warm and fuzzy in some parts? Too glib and jokey in others? She thought of the turns of phrase she was most proud of and wondered if it would look like she'd tried too hard. Had she killed enough of her darlings? She thought of a new, better way to end the first essay. Dammit.

She climbed out of her warm bed and threw on a sweater. Sliding into her desk chair, she opened her laptop. Maybe she could just make some quick changes and then email him the updated file. But what if he'd already started?

Get a grip, she ordered herself.

There was nothing she could do now that Jess had the manuscript. The rest of her edits would have to come later. She wondered if he'd mark it up by hand or send her typewritten notes. It was going to be pretty time-consuming. He had a lot on his plate, with work and now the possibility of selling his business. She felt a little guilty. He really needed to do his due diligence, but did he even have time?

She was still sitting at her computer. She had time, especially since she was wide awake at two in the morning, He had mentioned the potential buyer’s name — Blue Fern. Pretty much anything recent would be on the Internet where he could find it himself, but there was plenty of older stuff that was a little trickier to dig up. And she had access to some databases for journalists. There were public records she could search; had they ever been involved in litigation? Or filed for bankruptcy? That would be good to know. She bit her thumbnail as she considered where to start. It was the least she could do, really.

 

Chapter Text

“Is not the decisive difference between comedy and tragedy that tragedy denies us another chance?”

— John Updike

***

“I've marked all the best antique shops on this map,” Lorelai told the couple at the front desk, pointing to them with her pen. “That one is currently closed but these others are excellent. Happy hunting!” She smiled cheerily as they thanked her and headed for the door.

“Lorelai?” Michel was suddenly standing next to her.

She jumped and put her hand over her heart. “Where did you come from?”

“I had to sneak up on you like a cat because you've been avoiding me all day. I don't even like cats,” he said disdainfully.

“I know you want me to sign off on the skincare line you chose. I just — my mom cancelled again but I'm trying to reschedule for next week.” She walked into the library, Michel following.

“You've been trying to reschedule for a month. I don't understand why you want her advice so badly. She has good taste but she's getting old,” he said, whispering the word “old” like it was profanity. “She will want everything to smell like gardenias.”

Lorelai just grunted exasperatedly, busying herself with a messy stack of books that needed to go back on the shelf.

“This has nothing to do with our spa products, does it? Nothing to do with the vision that I am working so hard to bring into fruition. This is all about you and your mother and the never-ending cycle of resentment I’ve had to hear about for the last two decades of my life.”

Lorelai glared at him. “Michel, we’re not finalizing the product list until I say so, got it? I don't know why this is so hard for you to understand. Just deal with it,” she said sharply.

He looked at her like a parent waiting for a child to finish crying out a temper tantrum.

“I'm sorry,” she said, cringing. “That was too much. I just — today's a hard day. Chuck Berry died, and I was feeling really crappy and my mother didn't pick up the phone, again.”

“What does Chuck Berry have to do with anything?”

She shook her head. “Nothing. Forget it.”

He looked like he wanted nothing more than to forget it and walk away, but a sense of guilt and duty prevailed, and he sat down. “The dynamic between you and your mother has certainly changed recently. Usually you're the one running away from her.”

Lorelai finished straightening the books and moved on to the magazines, rearranging them in a fan shape. “That's how it’s supposed to be. But she left, and after decades of breathing down my neck and obsessing over the minutiae of my life, she doesn't seem to give a damn anymore. She wants a week at Christmas and two weeks in the summer and that's it.”

“I would have thought you'd find that ideal.”

“But she's not supposed to find that ideal.” Lorelai knew it sounded selfish. “She got rid of all the St. John and that was fine. She left all the oriental rugs in Hartford and filled her new house with sea grass and that was fine. She quit the DAR, which was possibly the proudest moment of my life as a daughter, and now she volunteers at a museum and goes for walks on the beach with her new friends, and that's all fine. I know it’s good for her, it's healthy. But it's like she got rid of everything that made her my mother and now she has no use for me.”

She took a deep breath and went on. “Maybe it's stupid, but even after I lost my dad, I never thought about what life will be like once my mom is gone. She's supposed to live forever. She's far too stubborn to die. There's not a single mortician in the world she'd trust to do her makeup properly. But when I saw her with her arm in the sling at Christmas, she looked — frail. She looked mortal.”

She trailed off as a group of guests clambered down the stairs, struggling with their bags.

“Michel can help you with those,” she said, hurrying into the foyer as one of the suitcases popped open.

“Do we not employ a bellboy specifically for this purpose?” he grumbled under his breath, standing. “Where is Austin, anyway? Flirting with Madison by the stables again, I bet.”

“You know way too much about our teenage employees’ love lives,” Lorelai commented primly. She paused. “But wait, I thought Madison was with Caleb?”

Michel scoffed, shaking his head at Lorelai’s outdated gossip, and then pasted on a smile as he approached the guests and their overstuffed luggage.

***

Rory fiddled with a binder clip, flicking the metal parts up and down, up and down. She looked back at Jess’ notes. He was right about her dad. She'd written him flat, an accessory, a plot hurdle, not a character. “I didn't understand why Lorelai was drawn to Christopher at all,” Jess had written. She needed to flesh him out. She'd tried, at least she thought she had. But she hadn't wanted the book to be about him. There were enough books in the world about fathers who disappoint their families. She was writing something else. But maybe she'd overcompensated.

She looked at the clock. The town meeting started in twenty minutes and she needed to cover it for the Gazette. She was at the office, but she wanted to swing by the house to drop her bag off beforehand. She'd deal with the Christopher problem later.

She hurried down the street, trying to avoid the few patches of snow still lingering in the end-of-winter cold. As she passed Kim’s Antiques she noticed the new sign. The new owner had been renovating for a few weeks, and she’d just started getting used to seeing the place without the old, familiar sign. It still felt strange, knowing that the rooms that used to be crowded with old treasures were empty, there wasn't a single Bible left in the building, and the formidable Mrs. Kim herself was halfway around the world.

“Bell’s Antique and Vintage Furniture,” said the new sign. The same but different. At least it wasn't a Chipotle.

She hadn't seen Lane in a couple of weeks and felt a twinge of guilt, knowing that Lane was going through a period of adjustment. She decided to change her plan. Instead of heading home, she'd stop by Lane’s house to see if she wanted to go to the meeting. She could just lug her bag around with her.

“I'd love to,” Lane said instantly, grabbing her purse and calling out to Zack and the boys that she'd be back in an hour. “I haven't left the house all day.”

“I saw the new sign,” Rory said. “How weird is it for you?” They began walking toward Miss Patty’s.

“Super weird. It's just starting to feel like it's irreversible, now that the place sold. Even when she comes back from Korea in a couple months things won't be the same.”

“How are you feeling without her here?”

“This might sound crazy but… I have too much free time now. I'm not helping out at the antique shop, I'm not getting dragged to church activities, we found a better baby-sitter for the nights when the band plays. I actually don't know what to do with myself when the boys are at school. I'm really freaking bored. I'll probably look for a job, but I have no idea what kind.”

They weaved through the crowd clustered around the entrance and found a pair of empty seats. “It's kind of cool,” Rory mused. “An opportunity to reinvent yourself. At least for eight hours a day.”

“Yeah,” Lane said, nodding and furrowing her brow as she thought about it. “Nico reinvented herself. She went from unsuccessful pop star to the Velvet Underground.”

“Arnold Schwarzenegger started as a bodybuilder and he became the governor of California,” Rory offered.

“Posh Spice transformed herself into a very successful fashion designer,” Lane said.

Babette poked her head in between them from the row behind them. “Clooney went from playboy to married father, all after he turned fifty. It's never too late for a change! Right, Patty?”

“Oh, yes. Ladies, at your age I was only on my second marriage. I had so many men left to experience.” She wiggled her eyebrows.

They were spared the details as Taylor called the meeting to order.

***

The meeting was a long one. The post office collection box was being moved and there would be room for a new flower bed. They had the option of planting dahlia or begonia bulbs. The debate was heated; sides were taken, loyalties tested. Andrew and his girlfriend broke up over it, but only briefly. Someone brought up tulips and the crowd went wild.

“Those need to be planted in the fall,” Taylor said, exasperated.

“The Dutch tulip bubble bursts again,” Rory remarked.

Mercifully, a treaty was reached: they'd plant lilies instead. Rory took copious notes, flexing her aching wrist once the matter was settled. She took out her phone to check the news quickly. She hadn't had time all day.

Lorelai snuck in as Taylor turned to the next matter. “What did I miss?” she whispered, sliding into the empty seat next to Rory.

“War,” Lane said.

“And peace,” Rory added. She looked down at her phone, frowning.

“Our next item of business is this year’s Easter egg hunt. Now, every year since — well, as long as I can remember — Doose’s Market has donated the eggs for the hunt. Large, white, Grade A eggs.”

Lorelai wriggled out of her coat and settled in. Rory leaned over and held out her phone, the New York Times homepage open on the screen. “Chuck Berry died.”

“I heard.” Lorelai replied. They exchanged a look. Lorelai squeezed Rory’s hand.

“Did Grandma call?”

“Nope.” Lorelai’s mouth was a thin line.

“This year, Mrs. Tucker has offered to donate eggs produced by the chickens she keeps in her yard.” He gestured at the elderly woman in the front row. “A very kind offer,” he said flatly.

“I'm supposed to go visit her in six weeks. I hope she doesn't forget,” Rory said. Grandma was different now. It was probably healthy, the act of remaking yourself when your whole world goes sideways. But in a way they'd lost her just like they'd lost Grandpa.

“Well, she'd be too busy if it were me, but maybe she can squeeze you in,” Lorelai replied drily.

“These are brown eggs, of varying sizes, that have not been graded by the United States Department of Agriculture. They could be C’s, for all we know.” Taylor’s voice dripped with disdain.

“Could they be D’s, Taylor?” Lorelai called out.

“Quite possibly,” he said.

“What about double D’s?” Gypsy chimed in. People snickered.

“We’d have to test them to be sure.”

“I think they can do that at Victoria's Secret, Taylor,” Babette yelled out.

Taylor finally realized that no one but him was taking the issue seriously. “This is no laughing matter, people. Can you even dye a brown egg?”

Rory’s phone buzzed and she glanced down to see who it was. “Be right back,” she said, climbing out of their row and leaving her notepad behind. “Take notes for me.” She slipped out the door as the conversation turned to Michael Pollan and the merits of hunting locally grown eggs.

“Hey,” she said quietly, answering the phone as she stepped away from the building.

“You busy?” Jess said.

“Just left a town meeting.”

“Let me guess. Voting on how to christen the new bike rack?”

“A debate about Easter eggs, actually.” She considered sitting down on a bench, but she’d left her coat inside and the night had turned cold. She shuffled back and forth along the sidewalk instead.

“Real versus plastic?”

“Close. Big Ag versus locally laid.”

“Ah. Should've guessed.”

Rory switched her phone to her left hand and shoved her right hand in the pocket of her cardigan to try to warm it up. “So, what's up?”

“We had our meeting with the Blue Fern guys today.”

“Oh, yeah!” He'd mentioned it a few days before but it had slipped her mind. “How was it?”

“It went well. I asked about that old lawsuit. Their explanation pretty much matched what I heard when I asked around.”

“Good. I knew it was probably nothing.”

“But I'm glad we knew about it. The guys really appreciated everything you sent. We all did, I mean. You're known as Harriet the Spy around here.”

“Well, I'm not one for tomato sandwiches, but I'll take that as a compliment. Anyway, it's the least I could do after all your help.” She shivered and bounced up and down on the balls of her feet to try to generate some warmth. “So are you going to do it, then? Sell?”

He paused. “The guys are leaning yes. I'm still… I don't know. We haven't made a final decision. I just keep thinking — what happens if we do it, and they want to change everything, or publish books we don't believe in, or fire us. And then it’s ten years of work down the drain. I wouldn't even know... I’ve never done anything else.”

“It's too bad you can't team up with them without giving up control,” Rory pondered, thinking about the benefits they'd be giving up if they turned the offer down.

“Yeah,” Jess said vacantly. “Anyway, how are the rewrites coming?” He'd reached his quota of talking about himself, as usual.

“I've been working on my dad,” she said. “I have some ideas I was planning to email you about later.”

“Sounds good,” he said. He was silent on the other end of the line for a moment. She balled up her hand into a fist and blew warm air into it.

“Wait — we need to find a way to team up with them without giving them control,” Jess said, repeating her words like he was hearing them for the first time. “Thanks, Rory. I have to go.”

She had no idea why he was thanking her but he was clearly having an epiphany, and she didn't want to interrupt to ask for clarification. “Sure. I better get back to the meeting anyway. I can hear Taylor ranting about why the eggs need to be white.”

“Jeez. I know Stars Hollow isn't exactly a hotbed of diversity, but I think he's taking it a little far.”

***

A few days later Rory sat at her desk, bored with the article she had to write about the Easter egg debate. She did a little online shopping (well, online window shopping, thanks to her bank account balance) and perused the New York Times website for awhile. There was a great in-depth article about the healthcare bill. It must be a fascinating time to be a political journalist, she thought. She felt a pang of regret as she imagined what it must be like in the newsroom at the Times or the Washington Post these days. To be right in the thick of things, breaking stories that mattered.

You don't want that anymore, she reminded herself. Don't idealize it just because you're at a distance now. The grass isn't greener at Politico just because there are good stories out there.

But there were so many important stories out there. Journalism really mattered in this climate, didn't it? She thought about the Stars Hollow High senior English class and how little they knew about the history of the profession. Were they paying attention to what was happening now? They really should.

She picked up the phone and called the high school. “Rory Gilmore for Principal Merton,” she said. She scrolled through the rest of the headlines as she waited.

“Principal Merton,” she said when he picked up. “I understand that Mrs. Peterson hasn't come back to twelfth-grade English yet. Is that right?”

“Yes,” he said hesitantly. “Are you writing an article about this? Because I assure you we’re still meeting all the state curriculum requirements despite her absence.” The Gazette was engaged in more hard-hitting journalism on her watch, and some people in town were apprehensive about it.

“No,” she said dismissively. “But I thought — if you're still looking for ways to occupy the kids’ time — you can send them over here again. There are some interesting things happening in the media. I'd be happy to talk to them.”

“Well, off the record, we are running out of movie adaptions of books from the reading list,” he sighed. “They've already watched three different versions of Pride and Prejudice. But you must be busy at the Gazette?”

She looked around the office. Charlie was snoring at his desk, head tilted back and mouth open like a gawping fish. Esther had gone to Florida for two weeks without even telling her first; Rory had only found out when she’d tracked down Esther’s granddaughter in a panic, wondering if she was dead. The website was running smoothly and the latest issue would be ready for the printer once she finished the Easter egg piece.

“I'm very busy,” she said. “It's a twenty-four hour news cycle, you know. But I’m a big proponent of a good education and I think this is important.”

“Well, okay, then. I'll have my assistant reach out to set up a time.”

Before she hung up the phone, she was already scribbling feverishly on a fresh sheet of paper. There would be a lot of ground to cover with the class, and she needed a solid outline.

Chapter Text

“There are moments which are made up of too much stuff for them to be lived at the time they occur.”

— John le Carré, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

***

Lorelai flopped down on top of the crisp white hotel comforter, limbs akimbo. She was sprawled out across as much of the bed as she could cover, but it was still big enough for Luke to lay down comfortably beside her.

She turned to look at him and batted her eyelashes exaggeratedly. “Okay, now that we’re here, will you tell me what we’re doing tomorrow?”

The corners of his mouth turned down disapprovingly. “It's supposed to be a surprise. It will no longer be a surprise if you browbeat me into telling you.”

She pouted, but nestled into the crook of his arm. “This is nice,” she commented dreamily, tracing her fingertip along his hand. The room was cozy and quiet. The view out the window was beautiful, with a picturesque stream meandering next to the building and the outline of the mountains in the distance. She had never been to Tennessee before.

He glanced down at her and kissed her forehead. “It is nice,” he agreed. “It hasn't been just the two of us in awhile.”

“What, you didn't envision spending our first year of marriage with my thirty-two year old daughter sitting in between us on the couch?” she said.

“Rory can stay as long as she needs to stay. It's her home too, for as long as she wants it to be. I would never say otherwise,” he said emphatically. He shifted positions, rubbing the back of his neck with one hand. “She will want to move out eventually… right?”

Lorelai patted his chest reassuringly. “I'm sure she will.” A beat passed, and then she lifted her head, her eyes narrowed in concern. “At least I think she will. Maybe we should stop buying the good snacks. She might get too comfortable. I don't want her to become Buster Bluth.”

“It's just… one of you is a lot,” Luke continued tentatively. “And don't get me wrong, I'm very happy with a lot. But two of you… two of you is a lot of a lot. Every single night I come home and I have to clean the stray marshmallows off the kitchen table. Every night. Who eats that many marshmallows? Not even the Stay Puft man.”

“Well, that would make him a cannibal, so definitely not.”

“And you two speak a language that I don't even understand. Sometimes I hear an entire conversation from start to finish and when it's over I have no idea what just happened. Like yesterday, you guys were going on and on about Colin Powell doing the Macarena. What was that about?”

“We were talking about the Iraq War. How did you miss that?”

“And the living room — it's become her office, when you're not sitting on the couch watching TV together. There's not a lot of room for anyone else.”

Lorelai winced. “Not a lot of room for you, you mean.” None of this was a surprise. His feelings were totally valid, and she knew he'd suffer forever if it meant making her and Rory happy. But that wasn't fair. “I promise this isn't permanent,” she said. “I'm sure once she finds a publisher for her book she’ll want to move out. She's already done with her first draft.”

“Yeah, Jess mentioned that.”

“Right.” She squirmed. “He’s read it.” Imagining Jess reading the book felt a little bit like knowing that someone who wasn't supposed to see you in your underwear had seen you in your underwear. Especially because she hadn't read the book, so she had no idea how she looked in her underwear. But she needed to just suck it up. Rory said his feedback was helpful. They were talking on the phone or exchanging emails about her edits almost every day. It was a lot, actually. And she heard their conversations; they weren't always talking about narrative structure or good dialogue. They talked about Truncheon, and movies, and sometimes she took her phone into her room and shut the door.

“Hey, you don't think…” Lorelai started but trailed off.

“Nah,” Luke shook his head with confidence. “I asked him awhile back. He said no way. Ancient history.”

“Yeah, she said the same thing.” Lorelai felt a little better knowing she wasn't the only one who’d wondered.

Enough about Rory, she thought. They were in a beautiful inn on the fringe of the Great Smoky Mountains and they were all alone. She flipped onto her stomach to face him. “So,” she said, smiling like she had a secret. “We’re out of the house. No impressionable children around…”

Luke wrapped his arm around her waist and tugged her closer. But then his phone rang. He reached over to the nightstand and silenced it without even looking at the screen. He cleared his throat. “You were saying,” he prompted her.

“I have an idea about what we can do tonight.” She leaned forward.

“You do?” He gently pushed her hair out of her face.

“And it doesn't involve marshmallows or Colin Powell,” she said, leaning in to kiss him.

***

Rory had the house to herself for a few days, and she was excited about it. She decided to spend the first night alone soaking in her solitude. She wore her favorite sweatpants, the old ones with the hole in the butt. She ordered Indian food for dinner. She watched the HBO Carrie Fisher-Debbie Reynolds documentary, finally, after months of Lorelai promising they'd watch it together and then getting distracted by other movies over and over again. As she got ready to climb into bed, she debated which reading material to curl up with: something old that she wanted to reread, like The Remains of the Day? Or something new, like the George Saunders novel she'd just picked up from the library?

Her phone vibrated. It was Jess. Why was Jess calling her at midnight?

“Rory, Luke's not picking up his phone. Do you know where he is?” He sounded panicked. She'd never heard him this rattled. Her stomach flipped.

“He took my mom to Dollywood for her birthday. Why? What's wrong?”

“Shit. That's this weekend?”

“What's wrong?”

He breathed a deep, heaving sigh into the phone. “Liz got into an accident and — I don't know, TJ is incoherent and I don't know what's going on or how bad it was and I need Luke to go to the hospital. I'm on my way but it's going to take me at least another hour thanks to these goddamn idiot drivers going sixty in the left lane.” He shouted the last part.

“I'll go,” she said in a rush. She was already wiggling into a pair of jeans and shoving her feet into her shoes.

“You don't have to. She’s probably fine, knowing TJ, I just don't know — It's late, I wouldn't even have called, I'm just —”

“Jess, I'll go. I'm already going. I'm gone.” She grabbed her keys.

***

Rory found TJ in the nearly empty emergency room, slumped over in a chair, head in his hands, groaning. His daughter Dewey was sitting next to him, arms crossed. Luke and Jess had coined her nickname — short for Doula — early on so that she didn't have to go through life with “My parents have poor judgment” written on her nametag. Dewey’s tangled hair almost reached her waist, and over her pajamas she wore an oversized, worn cargo jacket. Rory was sure the jacket had belonged to Jess in high school.

“What happened?” Rory asked breathlessly.

“Mom crashed her bike.” Dewey's face was pinched with disapproval.

“Bike, as in — bicycle?” She didn't think Liz had a motorcycle, but it was Liz, so it wasn't safe to assume anything.

“Bicycle,” a guy a few seats away confirmed. “She had part of the chain embedded in her knee when they brought her in.”

“Who are you?” she asked. He wore a rumpled button-down shirt with sleeves that were too short and was tapping his toe incessantly. She'd never seen him before in her life.

“I'm Joe. I'm in here a lot — you start to watch other people to pass the time after awhile.”

Rory turned back toward TJ and started to crouch down in front of him to reach eye-level. She needed some answers.

“I'm pretty sure I have cancer,” Joe went on. “That or a kidney stone, according to Google. Last time I came in I thought I had a blood clot in my leg. Turned out to be a pulled muscle, but how was I supposed to know that?”

“Uh-huh,” Rory said politely. She waved her hand in front of TJ’s face to no avail. Finally Dewey leaned over and poked him. He looked up, bleary-eyed. “I thought Luke would come.”

Rory straightened up from her crouch. “Luke is in Tennessee, but Jess is on his way.”

TJ groaned again. “Jess is going to be so mad.”

Rory smiled at Dewey. “We’ll be right back, okay?” She grabbed TJ by the sleeve and tugged him out of earshot.

“TJ, focus. Is she okay?”

“She's all banged up. Nothing’s broken but they think she has a concussion.”

Rory felt a wave of relief. At least he wasn't talking about fractured skulls or brain bleeding.

He wrung his hands. “I never should've started on the medical marijuana.”

“Why do you have medical marijuana?” Rory asked incredulously.

“When I hurt my back, the doctor prescribed it.”

“A real doctor?”

“Yes, my doctor. Well, she's not officially a medical doctor,” he said, putting air quotes around “medical doctor.” He cleared his throat. “I think she’s technically an aromatherapist.” More air quotes.

Rory closed her eyes for a moment and rubbed her temple. “That's — you know what, nevermind. What does your medical marijuana have to do with anything?”

“The doctor gave it to me but I didn't use it. It’s just not for me. But Liz did — a little at first, but then she was refilling my prescriptions without even asking. Not good. Not good for Liz. But I let it go. We’ve been having a little money trouble, she's stressed, you know? She usually just sits in the backyard and smokes a joint after Dewey goes to bed. But tonight she smoked a little too much. She wanted to go for a bike ride after. To see the full moon. She was looking up at the sky and, boom, she fell right into a ditch.”

“Jeez, it's like Pee-wee’s Big Adventure meets Pineapple Express.”

TJ hung his head like a dog that knocked over a Christmas tree. “Look, it's going to be okay,” she said, patting his arm awkwardly.

By the time Jess arrived, Rory had asked the nurse to change the television to the Disney Channel for Dewey and convinced TJ to sit still with a cup of herbal tea. She was reading her book; she'd gone for the old Ishiguro. When Jess walked in the door his hair was a mess and his face ashen. She jumped up to intercept him.

“She's okay,” she said quickly. “I tried to call you.”

“My phone died in the car. What happened?”

“Stay calm, okay?” She grabbed both of his arms, as if that would force him to keep his cool. “She fell off her bike.” He waited for the rest. “After smoking some pot.”

“A lot of pot,” Joe chimed in. “She was baked. When I first saw her I thought she had a stroke or something. But it was just the pot. I thought I had a stroke once, you know.”

“Can it, Joe,” Rory snapped.

The muscle in Jess’ jaw twitched. “Un-fucking-believable.” He broke away and moved past her.

“Let's go, Dewey,” he said. Dewey jumped up from her seat, glad to see him.

“Where are you going?” TJ asked.

“It’s two in the morning. She's got school tomorrow. She needs to be home sleeping, not here sitting vigil for her stoned mother who can't bike in a straight line.” His voice cracked with anger. “You can wait for Liz.”

“Don't you want to see her first?” Rory suggested. “She has a concussion. The nurse is in there with her right now but we can go back in a minute.”

“No.”

“But, Jess, TJ said she's really upset —”

He turned to Rory. “Thank you for coming,” he said. “I’m really grateful. But you don't need to be here for this. Go home and get some sleep.”

“You shouldn't be alone,” she pressed. “I'll go with you. I don't mind.”

He hesitated and then tilted his head toward the exit reluctantly, indicating for her to come along.

Rory glanced back at TJ and his pathetic face and followed Jess and Dewey out the door.

***

Jess and Dewey sat in the kitchen talking for a long time. Rory gave them space, sprawling out on one of the couches in the living room; there were three, arranged in a U-shape. Several Buddha statues stood on the coffee table and a mishmash of knight and elf figurines clustered on the windowsill. A big tapestry featuring a medieval jousting match hung on the wall. Rory turned on the TV but kept the volume low. She grabbed a soft knit blanket and wrapped it around herself. It was so late…

She woke with a start sometime later and sat up, wiping the sleep from her eyes. Jess was sitting on one of the other couches, reading a book, his face serene. The book she’d brought, actually.

“Sorry,” she said. “I didn't mean to doze off.”

He raised his eyes from the page. “You looked too comfortable for me to wake you up.”

“Coffee?” she offered, and he nodded. She headed for the kitchen.

“How's Dewey?” she asked when she returned, her voice still gravelly with sleep. There were no mugs in the kitchen cabinet, only faux-wood tankards. She handed one to Jess.

He shrugged. “Not thrilled. Apparently the doctor’s kid is in her class and she's afraid he’ll tell everyone what happened. I had to teach her what a HIPAA violation is. I'm not even sure I know exactly what a HIPAA violation is. She's sleeping now.”

“Are you okay?” she asked gently, sitting next to him.

He shook his head and rolled his eyes. “She's an idiot. She's not the type of person who can just smoke a little pot. She needs to be sober, full stop.”

“And TJ needs to find a new doctor. Call me crazy but he might want to consider one who actually has a medical degree.” She took a sip from her tankard. “You're a good brother.”

“Yeah, well. I can't do anything about Liz, but Dewey’s not a lost cause yet.”

“If there's anything I can do — help her with homework or something — let me know. I'm a mile up the road. I can look out for her.”

He forced a half-smile in acknowledgment and put down his coffee. He picked up the book. “I haven't read this in a long time. It's so good it’s actually depressing.”

Rory nodded vehemently. “Because I know I’ll never write anything half as good! I totally agree with you. He writes with the most incredible restraint. That part where Stevens is sitting on the bench and the guy offers him —”

“The handkerchief,” Jess finished. Their eyes met.

Rory pinched the charm on her bracelet between her thumb and forefinger. “I hope you saved my page,” she said.

He showed her the bookmark still safely ensconced in its place. “You didn't have to stay,” he said, looking at her carefully.

The change of subject threw her off. “Oh, well, I wanted to. Someone needs to look out for you every once in awhile. Not that I was much help snoring on the couch.”

He looked down at his coffee. “Well, I appreciate it. But I want to be clear: you don't owe me anything. Don't feel like you have to help me out just because I helped you out.” His face was tense and serious. It sounded so transactional.

“That's not how it is at all,” she said. “I just… wanted to.”

The late hour made her feel a little drunk, and she felt an impulse to be candid: to thank him for his support with her book, to say how glad she was about the friendship that had developed between them over the past few months, to express her admiration and appreciation for his steadiness. But it was too still and quiet and they were sitting too close together for such intimate words. She didn't want him to misconstrue them. Not that he'd given her any indication that he would be prone to such a mistake.

Huh. The fact that she felt any discomfort at all gnawed at her gut, as if maybe she was the one misreading the situation, so she pushed it all to the side and asked: “So, how's your new apartment?”

And then the front door opened with a bang and they both turned. “Go right up to bed,” TJ said, walking in, arm around Liz’s waist. She was wearing a neck brace. TJ looked in their direction. “She's a little woozy. It's from the painkillers, not the other thing.”

Rory looked back at Jess, but his gaze was focused on the scene past her. His mouth was a grim line. “Just what she needs,” he said drily. “Opioids.”

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

"She was the kind of girlfriend that God gives you young, so that you'll know loss the rest of your life."

— Junot Díaz, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

***

Rory clicked send and the next issue of the Gazette was off to the printer. She double-checked her email, as usual, to make that sure it went through and that the attachment was the correct one. It was, which meant the work week was adjourned and she was free for the next three days. That night she'd be in New York having dinner with Paris; tomorrow morning she would meet Paris' friend from Random House for breakfast; and then she was off to Nantucket for a weekend with her grandma.

She jammed her laptop into her tote bag and turned off the light, grabbing her suitcase and heading for the door. She was locking it behind her when a shadow appeared over her left shoulder. She turned, startled as she realized that someone was right behind her, and jumped out of her loafers as her heavy bag slid off her shoulder into the crook of her elbow. A mugger? A frotteur? No, just Taylor.

She took a deep breath as she composed herself. It took her a minute to get her left foot back in her shoe. "Taylor, you scared the crap out of me."

"It's not five o'clock yet, Rory. Sneaking out early?" He looked down at her, his mouth puckered disapprovingly.

"It's four fifty-eight and the next issue has been signed, sealed, and delivered to the printer," she said shortly, suppressing a glare. She tapped her foot, now that it was securely ensconced in its shoe. "Is there something I can do for you? I'm on my way out of town."

He grew even haughtier, standing up as straight as possible to maximize his ability to look down his nose at her. "Taking tomorrow off, then?"

"Yes, I'm taking tomorrow off, and don't even try to make me feel bad about it. Now, I really need to go, so is there something you need?"

"Yes," he said, businesslike. "The one hundredth anniversary of the opening of Stars Hollow High School is this fall. We're having a huge celebration, a festival, really. We'll start to nail down details at the next town meeting. Anyway, I was thinking it might be nice to have a special commemorative issue of the Gazette to go along with the celebration. Articles about the history of the school and its alumni. We have a lot of wonderful photos in the school archives."

"That sounds like a great idea," Rory said, several ideas already popping into her head. Ideas for stories that would take a lot of time to research and write. "It's a big project, though."

Taylor hemmed and hawed and finally gave up the goods. "There's some extra money in it for you, if that's what you're getting at. And a budget for you to hire a couple of freelancers to write a piece or two. A small budget."

"Great," Rory said, grinning broadly. "I'll get started next week." She started to turn toward her car but then stopped abruptly, remembering a topic she'd been meaning to discuss with Taylor ever since the bank had signed a year-long deal for ad space on the website. "Speaking of money, we're due for that meeting about my —"

"Your raise, yes, yes, I'm well aware. Is everything about money with you? Whatever happened to good old-fashioned town spirit?" He pumped his fist demonstratively.

"I'm full of town spirit but, funny enough, I've never found a way to use it to pay my bills. Does it work like Bitcoin?"

He headed back toward Doose's, probably afraid that if he lingered any longer she'd steal his wallet. "We'll set up a meeting for a few weeks for now, after your weekend getaway and any other jaunts you may have coming up."

She lugged her bags to her car and headed for the city, brainstorming story ideas the whole way.

***

Rory took a photo of the book sitting on top of her suitcase and stared at it. She needed a decent caption. She bit her lip and typed out a Tweet about passing the time at JFK with @TriciaLockwood's memoir Priestdaddy. She added something about heading to Nantucket to visit Gilmore girl #1 and posted it before she changed her mind.

She had a modest Twitter following from her years in journalism, and she figured staying active on social media as she queried literary agents could only help. More followers meant a bigger built-in audience. And a bigger built-in audience meant a higher likelihood of getting published. There was no shame in trying to Rupi Kaur her way in the door a little bit.

Except Tweeting sucked and she didn't feel like she was any good at it. Did the effort it took to compose that Tweet add any positive value to the universe? Did anyone really care what book she was reading at the airport?

She was early so she whiled away some time eating a danish and drinking coffee at a sticky plastic table off the concourse. She was actually really enjoying the book. And it was generous of her grandma to buy her a plane ticket to Nantucket. Since she was coming from New York, the drive would've been at least seven hours, but the flight was a quick puddle jumper.

Doyle had the kids for the week, so dinner with Paris the night before had been Thai food and wine on the couch while Paris showed her all the photos her private investigator had taken of Doyle over the past few weeks. "Do you think that's his girlfriend?" Paris held up one picture and stabbed at a woman's face with her finger. "I know he's screwing someone. I just know it. I can smell it on him, it's primal."

Rory studied the photo and tried not to spur any further conversation about the smell of Doyle's love life. She pointed at the woman's apron. "I think she's just his barista. Unless he likes to rendezvous with his girlfriend while she's ringing up his coffee from behind the counter at Starbucks."

Breakfast with Paris' friend was productive. She only handled fiction at Random House, but she gave Rory the names of some agents she thought would be a good fit, people who focused on memoirs and essay collections. When Rory added those names to the list Jess had given her, she had a solid dozen prospects. When she got home after the weekend, it would be time to perfect her query letter. But for the next few days, she was just going to relax and clear her head.

***

"Okay, so we have chicken salad on pumpernickel toast — Jackson's dill is incredible right now, it's like the Platonic form of dill. And carrot salad with these amazing crispy chickpeas. Ooh, and I can't forget the ricotta cake with almond and blood orange!" Sookie swung around sharply to get the cake out of the oven, narrowly missing the dishwasher walking by with a stack of dinner plates. "You're going to want to die and be buried in this cake." She dropped the baking dish on the counter with a clatter and began searching high and low for the bottle of wine she'd brought.

"Sookie." Lorelai smiled serenely and uncorked the wine, which was sitting on the counter right in front of them. "Sit down and have a drink with me. You did not have to make all this food. Jeff is a perfectly capable chef. We have short ribs on special this week and they're delicious."

Sookie's lip curled. "I'm sure Jeff does just fine," she said charitably, a good thing since Jeff was standing by the sink. "But the dill."

"Okay, you know what? The dining room is empty right now. The lunch rush is over. Why don't we go sit out there?" Lorelai patted Sookie's arm and pointed toward the door.

"And Jeff isn't the Salt Bae guy! I thought you were serious when you told me you hired the Salt Bae guy."

Lorelai dragged her out of the kitchen by her sleeve.

After resettling in the dining room with the chicken salad toasts and the carrot salad and the ricotta cake, Lorelai finally poured the wine and raised her glass for a toast.

"To a good meal with best friends and —"

"I want to sell my half of the Dragonfly to Michel," Sookie blurted, an agonized expression on her face. She took a generous gulp of wine.

Lorelai set down her glass. "I know."

"You do?"

Subtlety had never been Sookie's strong suit. "You haven't been here since the wedding, and then out of the blue you call me and ask if we can have lunch at the inn. And every time I talk to you, you tell me all about the expensive dairy equipment you want to buy for your farm."

"Imagine this cake with homemade whipped cream from my own cows," Sookie said dreamily, forcing a forkful of cake on Lorelai even though they hadn't touched their sandwiches or salads yet. It was sublime. But then she grew serious. "So what do you think?"

"It makes perfect sense," Lorelai said. She smiled reassuringly. "And it makes me sad. It's the official end of an era."

"It was a great era." Sookie reached out her hand, and Lorelai took it and squeezed.

"The best. It's all downhill from here."

They exchanged a sentimental look. "So, you're okay with it?" Sookie asked.

"Of course I'm okay with it. I want you to have the life you want. I don't want you to be chained to this place if it means you don't get to fulfill your new dream of milking cows every morning." Lorelai had been expecting this moment for some time. But that didn't make it much easier. She poked at her chicken salad sandwich with a fork and then took a bite. Sookie would notice if she didn't eat.

"It's weird. The farm, the dairy — it wasn't something I dreamed of my whole life. I never fantasized about cows. But now… it's what I want."

"You're allowed to want new things. Life doesn't have to be one thing forever. Hell, in six months I'll be running a spa with Michel." Lorelai took a big sip of wine as her mind turned to the spa. Her to-do list started to invade her mind — hiring, the marketing plan, the online booking system — but she pushed it away.

"You must be spending a lot of time with your mom, too, right? Since she lent you the money and all. I'd imagine she wants to be very hands-on." Sookie tasted the salad, made a face, and added some dill.

Ugh, her mother. Yet another thing she didn't want to think about. "Apparently even my mother is not immune to the whole changing-your-life-around thing," Lorelai said gloomily. "She doesn't seem to have the time of day for me."

"What?" Sookie looked at her, slack-jawed. "We're talking about Emily Gilmore, right?" She scooped the carrot salad onto Lorelai's plate.

"The one and only. She has a new life in Nantucket. New friends, new hobbies." She filled Sookie in on Emily's fall on the ice, the sling, the spotty communication, the cancelled trips to Stars Hollow.

"Jeez. Well, when she lost your dad, I guess she had to… adjust."

"Yeah. I just never thought this was how she'd adjust."

"Maybe you should try to talk to her about it."

Lorelai choked on her carrot salad as she scoffed. "Yeah, because that always works out so well for us. I think I'll stick to the old standby of holding my tongue until it all blows up into a big fight." She pushed her food around with her fork. "Can we talk about something else? I just don't want to think about my mom right now."

Sookie was obviously concerned but relented. "Okay," she said, slicing the cake. "So how is our dear friend, the Mussolini of Massage?" She giggled at her own joke.

Lorelai was grateful for the change in subject. "He cried over towels the other day," she said. "He spent months tracking down these special Turkish cotton towels he remembered from a spa he went to in Newport one time five years ago, and he just found out they've been discontinued. There were actual tears."

"Was it like the time a guest spilled hot cocoa on his Savile Row suit?"

"I think it was worse." She looked down at her plate. "He really wants the spa to be perfect."

Sookie turned her gaze to the inn around them, to the woodwork around the fireplace they'd spent so much time obsessing over and the jukebox they'd been so excited to set up and the pictures on the walls they'd picked up at quirky thrift stores all over Connecticut. "I remember how badly we wanted to make this place perfect."

"And we did it, sister." Lorelai took another bite of cake, savoring it. Maybe her emotions were influencing her tastebuds, but she was pretty sure it was the most delicious, saddest cake she'd ever eaten. Sweet and bitter. It tasted like the last course of the best meal of her life.

"Yeah," Sookie said, her eyes brimming and her voice hoarse. "We did."

***

With fifteen minutes to go until boarding, Rory decided to wait by her gate. She shoved her phone in her pocket, grabbed her coffee, and slung her overstuffed bag over her shoulder. With her free hand she dragged her suitcase through the narrow space between tables. A little bit of coffee sloshed onto her hand. "Shoot," she said. She wiped her hand with a napkin and tossed it into the trash. Weaving her way past a family parked in the middle of the concourse with their bags and dodging a moving golf cart driven by an airport employee who was steering mid-text message, she passed the bathroom, which smelled of disinfectant, and decided to quickly stop by the bookstore to buy an overpriced paperback in case she finished Priestdaddy before her plane landed.

But she didn't get to the bookstore, because she collided with Logan Huntzberger first.

"Really?!" she exclaimed too loudly. The shock felt a little like someone had played a drunken game of Operation on her internal organs, shaking her up and putting her heart in her stomach and her lungs in her head. "How does this even happen?"

"Rory," he breathed, relieved, like he'd been looking for her everywhere and just happened to find her here. Well, it's always the last place you look. "Can we talk?"

Her first instinct was to bolt but she knew it would be pointless. He wanted to talk, and he got what he wanted. If she ran to her gate, dodged the attendants, made it down the jetway and onto the plane without getting arrested, he'd just buy the seat next to hers.

"I don't understand how this is even possible." She allowed him to lead her to a cluster of seats in the corner, empty thanks to their distance from any active gates and lack of cell phone charging stations. They were right next to a McDonalds and the air smelled like French fry grease.

"It's not a coincidence," he admitted quickly, sitting across from her so he could look her in the eye and leaning forward, elbows on his knees. "When I heard that you were here — there aren't a lot of flights to Nantucket. It was easy to find you."

"How did you hear I was here?" Nothing about this made sense.

"Your Tweet," he said as if it were obvious.

Her stupid Tweet. She'd mentioned JFK, and that she was flying to Nantucket — that probably narrowed it down to just one flight. It was a good thing she didn't have a John Hinckley, Jr. on her trail. "This is why I hate social media," she grumbled.

"I was already here. In another terminal, on a layover. I'm supposed to be on a flight to Vancouver right now." He was looking at her the way that only he could. Like it was the first time. Like she was there just for him.

"So, why aren't you? On the plane to Vancouver?" She fidgeted with her bracelet and crossed her legs.

"I tried to get ahold of you for months — months," he said, his voice suddenly strangled. Her eyes darted away and she swallowed, her throat drying up. She wasn't emotionally prepared for this conversation.

She crossed her arms like her legs, as if her body were a braid she needed to tangle together so she could stay in one piece. "I've been really busy. The book is really coming along. I'm still living at home while I finish it. I eat so much crap when I'm in Stars Hollow, it's like my tastebuds transform into a teenager's. I'm really into Cocoa Puffs right now," she rambled.

She forced herself to stop, took a deep breath and wiped her damp hands on her knees, and tried again. "Logan," she said. "You got married." For the first time, she glanced down at his hand, where she found a simple gold wedding band.

He followed her gaze and curled his fingers. "I know that, Ace. I was there. I didn't know if — if you knew."

"My grandmother told me. She read about it in the Yale alumni newsletter." She didn't mean to sound hurt.

"That's why I called you every day for a month straight. I wanted you to hear it from me before it happened. I wanted —" he was talking very fast and he paused, adjusting his tie, clearly weighing whether to go on, "I wanted to make sure —"

"I saw some pictures on Instagram," she cut him off, the safest bet.

He studied her face. "I wanted to make sure there was no alternative."

So there it was. There had been a window. If she had given him the choice, he would've taken it. Or maybe he was just saying that because it wasn't an option anymore.

Because it really wasn't an option anymore. "She's beautiful," Rory said, her voice wobbling.

He flinched and looked away, watching a toddler eat a fruit snack off the carpet while the toddler's mother coughed violently into a napkin. For a minute she thought he might cry. Every form of refuge has its price, Rory thought, and then wondered why the hell she was thinking of the Eagles at a time like this. He stood abruptly, moving to the seat next to her, turning toward her. His face settled. "I loved you. I need you to know that."

She squeezed her thighs, trying to hold on. "That was never our problem," she said. "But it's no use anymore. For either one of us." She gave him a weak smile. "I'm doing well, you know. Better than last year. I'm good. Are you good?"

"I'm — I'm doing okay. I don't want you to think, with me coming to find you like this… I know it's too late to change things. I'm going to be a good husband." She wasn't sure if he was talking to her or himself. He touched his ring. "We're trying for a baby," he added, in the middle of the airport next to the smelly McDonalds with a thousand people surrounding them, a thousand people flipping through magazines and debating whether to buy a Toblerone and hoping they could squeeze their luggage into the overhead bin so they didn't have to check the bag because what a pain that would be.

She dug her fingernails into her kneecaps. She hadn't thought about her pregnancy in awhile, but she did then. She could tell him. She could tell him right then and he'd break into a million pieces right there in the middle of the airport. But she'd loved him too, and she didn't want him to break. "Wow," she said, because there was no adequate word, not even one of those many-syllabled German ones like Torschlusspanik (the fear that time is running out to achieve a life goal) or Drachenfutter (a gift given to appease an angry spouse). "Logan, I want you to be happy. Please be happy."

"Okay." He nodded. "I'll be happy. Just for you." He tapped the side of her leg with the back of his hand.

"JetBlue Flight 1591 to Nantucket is now boarding," the gate attendant announced over the loudspeaker.

"That's me," she said, even though he already knew.

He leaned forward in his seat and ran a hand through his hair. "So… this is it?" he asked, frustrated.

"I don't know what else to say," she said, equally frustrated, and she really didn't. She had the distinct sense that the words they wanted to say didn't exist, and on the off-chance they did, they couldn't be conjured here, next to the airport McDonalds and the woman with the hacking cough and the toddler eating off the floor.

He sat back in resignation.

"Walk me to my gate?" she offered.

He stood up, glad to have a task to complete for her. He took her bag, and they walked toward the gate in silence. When they reached it, he set her bag down and turned to face her. He just looked at her for a moment, and she let him. She knew that if she ever saw him again, it wouldn't be like this. It would be standard pleasantries and terse kisses on the cheek and feeling very old. She already felt like he was far away.

He watched her as she thought about these things, and she couldn't help but tilt her head and smile because it felt like the right way to end it, and when she did his eyes crinkled and he smiled back. He still had one more good line in him, so he used it: "Maybe in another life, Ace."

She didn't tell him that there was a brief time when the other life could've been this one. That she'd lived it for a little while. That he'd almost had the opportunity to fight for it, and she might've given in, if not for a malfunction of biology. But the truth about that wasn't necessary. The only truth that mattered was that it was over. She didn't need to leave him with anything wistful or poignant or memorable. She just needed to leave him, one more time. So all she said was: "I better go." And they exchanged one more look, and then she went.

Chapter Text

"What are our expectations? Which of the things we desire are in reach? If not now, when? And will there be some left for me?"
— Anthony Bourdain, Parts Unknown

***

Rory hurried home from work. She had an unread email from an agent, and she wanted to read it in the privacy of her own home. Or as private as it can be when you’re surrounded by Lorelai, Paul Anka, and possibly Luke, depending on whether Caesar picked up an extra shift. Well, at least she could read the email in the privacy of her own bedroom.

She passed the new flower bed in the town square. The first lilies were about to bloom. A pretty choice; she should get a picture for the Gazette.

She poked her head in the mailbox before going in the house. There were four catalogs for Lorelai and a letter for her. The top left corner was stamped in navy ink: “The Porter Agency.” Michael Porter was a prominent literary agent who operated via snail mail only. Her stomach plunged to her feet.

She grabbed the mail and jogged into the house. Lorelai heard the front door open and close and bounded down the stairs to greet her, but Rory was already dumping the catalogs on the kitchen table and making a beeline for her room.

“Anything good?” Lorelai asked, picking up the catalogs and flipping through them. “You know, these things are really anti-climactic these days. I've already seen all this stuff on the Anthropologie website. But I guess I need the catalogs so that when I exercise enough self-restraint not to buy a cute top when I'm shopping online, they just sit there on the counter watching me, reminding me to go back and add it to my cart.” She made the pages open and close like a mouth. “Lorelai, buy me. Buy me!” she hissed in a screechy voice.

No answer from Rory.

“Rory? I'm doing a bit out here and I think it's pretty good — hey, everything okay in there?” Lorelai asked.

Rory was staring at the envelope, hands shaking a little, trying to psyche herself up to open it. “Fine,” she called back. “I'll be out in a minute.”

She tore it open and unfolded the single piece of paper inside. The first word her eyes landed on was “sorry,” which wasn't a good start. She deflated like the balloon held by the girl in the whimsically patterned skirt riding the vintage bicycle on the cover of the Anthropologie catalog. She sat down on the bed to read the whole thing.

It was a generic rejection letter with a handwritten note from Mr. Porter himself scrawled in the white space at the bottom. “Great writing, fresh voice, but I can't sell this,” it said.

Rory opened the bedroom door. Lorelai, seated at the table, looked up and saw the letter in her hand. “Another response?”

“Another rejection,” Rory said. “I even paid for postage for this one.”

Lorelai plucked the letter from her hand. “He gave you some good feedback,” she pointed out as she read.

“He rejected me twice. Once in his form letter, and then because that wasn't enough, he hand-wrote a second rejection, personalized just for me.” She plopped down across from Lorelai, slouching in the chair.

“He said you're a great writer with a fresh voice!”

“A great writer with a fresh voice and no agent,” she said bitterly, rubbing her forehead. “Will you get my chart? I can't stand up. I need to wallow pathetically in this chair for at least twenty minutes.”

Lorelai squeezed her arm and got up to grab the massive dry erase board from the bedroom. In precise handwriting, Rory had written the names of all the agents, the dates she'd queried them, and the status of their responses. As they replied — if they replied — she moved them to the appropriate column. Half of them hadn't responded at all, which usually meant they'd rejected her without actually informing her. Most of the actual replies she'd received were rejections too. A few agents had requested her full manuscript, but she hadn't heard anything further from any of them.

Rory erased Michael Porter from the non-response column, uncapped a red marker, and wrote his name and a brief summary of his reply in the rejection column. She scanned the rest of the list for the millionth time and her eyes landed on a name — Alana Anderssen.

“Oh!” she said. “I got an email from her. I totally forgot.”

“Ooh, read it right now,” Lorelai commanded, sitting down again and resting her chin in her hand attentively. Rory braced herself as she opened the email on her phone.

“Rory, I loved the sample chapters you sent me,” she read aloud. She sat up a little straighter.

“Good start,” Lorelai commented.

“The way you write about the mother-daughter relationship is fresh and clever and you have so many interesting stories to share,” she went on. “I'd love to see you take a stab at fictionalizing it. I'm really focused on YA novels right now and I think this could be a great one.” Rory wrinkled her nose like the words smelled bad. Her shoulders sagged.

“Just hear her out,” Lorelai encouraged. “Keep going.”

Rory read the next few sentences silently. She pressed her lips together and her nostrils flared. “I can't believe this,” she said.

“Tell me.” Lorelai braced herself for a cutting insult or discouraging criticism.

“Ahem.” Rory cleared her throat. She read in the most neutral voice she could muster: “What if the mom character had a superpower?” She paused and looked up at Lorelai, whose face began to twist in confusion. “Or —” she held up a finger for dramatic emphasis — “if both characters were secretly mermaids. Mermaids are really hot right now.” She gave up and let her phone fall to the table with a clatter, crossing her arms in front of her.

“Oh, God, so many jokes to choose from,” Lorelai breathed, drumming her fingertips together.

“Euuuuuurgh!” Rory groaned in frustration. Unbelievable. Months of her life, every bit of effort she had in her, writing and rewriting, baring the sometimes painful history of her family, telling all the best and worst stories she had inside her — she'd tapped herself out, fully and completely. She was a near-empty glass, the stiff cocktail already slurped up, just a melting ice cube left at the bottom. And Alana Anderssen was talking about turning Lorelai into Wonder Woman with fins. If that was her takeaway from the sample chapters, Rory must've missed the mark completely. She'd aimed for literary, for a review in the New York Times, and apparently she'd hit a bootleg version of Twilight, aquatic-style, instead.

“Easy, tiger,” Lorelai said, watching Rory’s face as she spiraled. “Alana Anderssen is an idiot.”

Rory’s distant eyes focused on Lorelai. “Alana Anderssen is one of the best agents out there. Paris’ friend gave me her name. Oh, my God, I have to forward this to Jess, he’s going to think this is insane.” She picked up her phone and began tapping at the screen. She wished she could see his face when he read this email. Mermaids. He might actually vomit.

Lorelai stared down at the dry erase board. The rejection column was getting pretty crowded. It was hard to find an agent, hard to get published, Lorelai knew from everything Rory had told her and everything she'd read on the Internet. But this was Rory. Rory would find a way, and Lorelai’s job was to keep up her spirits until she got there.

“I don't care how good she is. She doesn't know what she's talking about, not when it comes to this particular book. You are so, so good, and one of the people on this list is going to see that. Now let’s watch Splash tonight, in celebration of Alana Anderssen not being your agent,” she suggested.

Rory glanced at the dry erase board. Lorelai’s words hit home: screw Alana Anderssen. Rory was right and she was wrong, and there were a few more names on that list, and at least one of those people would agree with her. “Fine, but I want you to use this as an opportunity to think about who’s going to play you in the movie version. It's gotta be someone who’ll look good with a flipper.”

“Up where they walk, up where they run…” Lorelai began to sing. She aimed an imaginary microphone at Rory.

“Up where they stay all day in the sun,” Rory grunted, handing the microphone back to Lorelai. She could humor her until she finished the chorus.

***

Later that week, Rory parked herself at the counter at Luke’s for a midday coffee break after a morning spent with Taylor reviewing the Gazette's online ad revenues. Now, she was no Arianna Huffington, but the numbers looked pretty good. The meeting was mostly a success, though Taylor was disappointed in the number of graphs and charts and went on a ten minute tangent about Nate Silver. He had to circle back with the board of directors, but if all went as expected, she would get a raise.

She was debating whether to have a BLT for lunch or just a muffin when a tiny person in a big cargo jacket clambered onto the stool next to hers.

“Hi, Rory,” Dewey greeted her.

“Dewey,” she said, surprised. It was noon on a Thursday. “Aren't you supposed to be in school?”

“I got suspended.” She rolled her eyes. “Mom had to go to work so she dropped me off here. Where's Uncle Luke?”

“Uh, he's in the back. He just got a delivery. Sorry, did you say you got suspended?”

Dewey nodded matter-of-factly.

“I don't think anyone told me.” She'd spoken to Jess two days ago, and she'd seen Luke that morning.

“Oh, Jess doesn't know. And neither does Uncle Luke. Mom thought it would be better if I told him. She always does that when she doesn't want to see his reaction. Like when she had me tell him she got her nose pierced.”

“What happened at school?” Rory asked.

Dewey sighed, a world-weary, Grapes of Wrath, trampled-by-the-system kind of sigh. “Everyone heard about what happened to Mom and saw her stupid neck brace. Sophia R. has been calling Mom a druggie and a crackhead for, like, two weeks.”

“A druggie? A crackhead?” Rory repeated in disbelief. Dewey nodded. “Oh, come on, it was just pot!” she said. Then she remembered her audience. “Not the point, though, so just — let's move along.”

“I just got so mad and sick of it, so I pulled her ponytail. Just once. My school has a rule that if you do one thing that counts as violence, you get suspended so… they suspended me.”

“Did Sophia R. get suspended?”

“Nope.”

“Unbelievable,” Rory said in disgust. “So how long are you suspended for?”

“A week. Do you think Uncle Luke will let me have a donut or is he going to be too mad?”

Rory felt rage bubbling up inside her. She thought back to the night Liz went to the hospital, to Dewey sitting silently in the waiting room, and the look on Jess’ face when he walked in, and the way he explained medical privacy law to a ten year old so she wouldn't be afraid to go back to school. She remembered her offer to Jess: to look out for Dewey. She reached across the counter, took the lid off the donuts, and grabbed one with a napkin, handing it to her.

“Cool,” Dewey said. “I'm not allowed to do that.”

It was so wrong. Here was a bright kid trying to stay on the right track, a kid with some issues at home, with an extended family doing the best they could to support her, being attacked by some ten-year old Heather wannabe over something that should be private, and Dewey was the one who got suspended? No. This was not going to happen.

She found herself standing up and marching over to the elementary school and into the principal’s office, and it wasn't until she was sitting across from Principal McCormack that she started to think about what she was going to say.

“I'm sorry, Rory, but I'm a little unclear — what is your relationship to Doula?” the principal asked, his gray brows knitted. He had rosy cheeks and wore a wooly cardigan that didn't match the steely glint in his eye. Principal McCormack hadn't been at Stars Hollow Elementary School when Rory attended. If he had, it would've helped; Rory had single-handedly brought up the school’s average standardized test scores by three points.

“She’s my… cousin,” Rory said, settling on a description that was sort of accurate though it felt entirely wrong. “It takes a village, you know,” she chuckled uneasily.

The principal nodded as though Rory’s statement didn't clear things up at all but he was going to act like it did to move this conversation along. “Well, I've already spoken to Doula’s parents, so I'm not really sure what more I can say. We have a zero-strike policy when it comes to violence. Doula knew that. Every student knows that and pledges to follow the policy.” He punctuated his explanation with a magnanimous smile.

Rory mirrored his expression, forcing a polite smile of her own. “Listen, I understand your policy on violence. I get it. You take a strong stance and it’s easy to enforce.” A strategy began to take shape in her head. If she could just channel Claire Underwood for a minute, she might be able to pull it off. She leaned back in her seat and pressed her fingertips together like a church steeple, pausing for effect. “But, tell me, what is your anti-bullying policy?”

“Well —”

“Because Sophia R. has been bullying Dewey incessantly for weeks. That girl has been spreading rumors about Dewey’s family nonstop. And, frankly, it doesn't seem like this school did a thing to try to stop it. So you sit back and let the kids go Lord of the Flies when there’s serious verbal abuse, but you draw the line when somebody tugs on a ponytail? What kind of policy is that?”

Principal McCormack’s mouth hung open. “Rory, I can assure you —”

“I don't need your assurances,” Rory cut her off, picking up her bag and standing up like she had better places to be. “I am the editor-in-chief of the Stars Hollow Gazette and I am fully capable of conducting an investigation into this school’s failure to manage a bullying problem myself.” It would be wildly unscrupulous and she'd never do it in a million years, but she could make the threat. The threat was just morally ambiguous.

She met the principal’s gaze. She didn't blink first.

She was back at the diner in fifteen minutes. Dewey was in the middle of breaking the news about her suspension to Luke, who was squeezing a rag so hard Sophia R. could probably feel it in her ponytail. His face was red and he looked ready to blow.

“Everybody, relax,” Rory announced as she sat back down on her stool, her chin held high. “I took care of it. Dewey, your suspension is going to be removed from your record and you can go back to school tomorrow.”

“Oh. Does that include gym?” Dewey asked.

“Probably,” Rory said. Doula’s face fell. “Why? Do you have gym class with Sophia? Because I'm pretty sure you don't have to worry about that little Regina George anymore.”

Dewey picked at her donut. “No, I just don't like gym. Who's Regina George?”

Mean Girls?” Rory ventured uncertainly as she realized that the movie was older than Dewey. She searched her brain for a reference Dewey would get but came up blank. “Wow, I am so out of the loop on kids’ pop culture. Who’s the Sophia R. character in your favorite movie or TV show?”

Dewey brightened. “Oh, on The Cove there's this really mean character named Marina, she picks on the new girl Sailor all the time, but it turns out she's actually really upset because she just found out Poseidon is looking for her and she's secretly a mermaid —”

“Of course she is.” Rory shook her head and cursed Alana Anderssen.

“Dewey, why don't you go in the back and count the pickle jars for me?” Luke asked impatiently. Dewey obliged. When she was gone, Luke turned to Rory. “What did you do?” he asked, setting down his rag.

“I went in there and gave the principal a piece of my mind, violating several sections of The New York Times ethics handbook in the process, by the way. But lucky for us I don't work at The New York Times, so — nothing to worry about there.” She filled him in on the details of her meeting with Principal McCormack, savoring the big ending: “So I warned him that I might have to write an exposé on the school’s discipline failures, really pushing the anti-bullying thing, you know, since that's a hot-button issue and no principal wants to be accused of being pro-bullying. He backpedaled like Warren Beatty at the Oscars. He bent the knee, he kissed the ring, however you want to slice it — we went toe to toe and he surrendered. It was a wise decision, after all. I’m a Gilmore, I know how to strong-arm somebody into giving me what I want.”

When she finished, he was looking at her like her face was a street sign in a foreign country whose language he didn't speak.

“What?” she asked self-consciously, the gleeful grin evaporating from her face as she patted her hair and wiped a non-existent crumb from her lip. “I know it might backfire, I know Sophia will probably keep picking on her, but I was so mad I didn't think about that until after.”

Luke worked his jaw, suppressing an amused look. “Eh, if she wants to keep her pigtails she’ll keep her mouth shut. No, I was actually trying to figure out whether you remind me more of Lorelai or your grandmother right now — it's a close call. I'm seeing a little of both. It's actually kind of creepy.”

***

Rory finally began getting her second round of responses from the agents who'd read her sample chapters and requested her full manuscript. The first two were polite rejections. The third arrived before she'd even gotten out of bed one rainy morning. She sat up halfway, leaning on her elbows.

“Love this,” it began, but Rory had learned not to get her hopes up.

“I’d love to talk more about the possibility of representing you. I think we can get this published if you rework it a bit. The family stuff is nice but I think the parts that will get this sold are the bits with the love interests. Can you change the focus to the romances with the mom/daughter theme more in the background? Beef up all the boyfriends and you're golden!”

She collapsed back onto her pillow and groaned, pulling the covers up over her face.

***

“So I heard you got Dewey out of some trouble at school.” Jess sat across from Rory at the kitchen table, the dry erase board between them, several new names added to the list. Rory would query them in the morning.

“Oh, not really. I helped a little.” After her fury had died down, she’d felt a little uncomfortable with what she'd done. It wasn't really her place. In spite of what she'd told Principal McCormack, Dewey wasn't family. It all made her seem a little deranged. A little desperate. Desperate for what, she didn't like to think about.

“I need some coffee.” She stood and turned toward the coffeemaker, her hands busy as she prepared a fresh pot. “I heard she got suspended, and I ran into the principal, and, well — I merely inquired about the school’s inconsistent rules about ponytail-pulling and verbal abuse. He thought I made a good point and reconsidered his initial decision, and that was that.”

“Really,” he said skeptically, like she'd just told him she'd tap-danced for the principal.

She was sure he was looking at her. She focused on the coffee brewing in front of her and brushed imaginary lint off the back of her jeans as she waited. “Yup, really.”

“Interesting. This town sure is full of gossips, then, because the story I heard was completely different.”

“Well, you know Babette and Miss Patty. They like to embellish for dramatic effect.” She grabbed two mugs from the cabinet and placed them next to the coffeemaker.

“Sure, sure. My source wasn’t Babette or Miss Patty, though. It was Luke. Not usually one to fan the flames of the rumor mill.”

“Oh, you'd be surprised. My mom’s been watching The Real Housewives of New York City before bed lately and I think it's rubbing off on him.” She lined up the milk and sugar.

“Don't you want to hear what I heard?”

“I have a feeling you're going to tell me no matter what, so go ahead.” The coffee was done; she started to pour.

“I heard Rory Gilmore stormed the principal’s office like the beaches of Normandy.”

She spun around and shot him a look. “Come on.”

He was leaning back in his chair, balancing on the back legs. His hands were folded behind his head, a smirk on his face. “I heard she threatened the principal like a Corleone. Something about a hit piece in the paper that would sink the principal’s career. Or was it a hit man that would sink the principal’s body in a concrete drum?”

“Very funny.” Rory rested her hands on her hips. She bit her cheek to avoid giving him the satisfaction of making her laugh.

“I heard she had ice in her veins that day, and the principal still shivers when he hears the name Rory Gilmore.”

“Okay, fine.” Rory relented, throwing her hands in the air. “The rumors are true. I browbeat the principal into lifting Dewey’s suspension. Happy?” She carried the mugs to the table and gestured at the dry erase board with her chin.

Jess set the front legs of the chair back on the floor carefully and got up to put the board on top of the refrigerator to make room for the coffee. She crossed in front of him as she put the milk back and he touched her arm to avoid a collision. Huh, she noted briefly, just a flicker of a thought in her mind. Are we the kind of friends who touch each other's arms?

They sat down. “I'm just saying, it sounded pretty badass to me,” he said. They exchanged a look, his sincere, hers begrudging acceptance. She slid his mug over to him and he nodded thanks. They settled into quiet and the space between them filled with something unfamiliar. In all her life until now Rory had never noticed how small the kitchen was.

She changed the subject. “Anyway, what's the latest with Blue Fern?”

Jess and his partners had proposed an alternative to selling the company; Blue Fern could buy twenty-five percent. They'd be involved, and reap some of the rewards, but control would still rest with Jess, Matthew, and Chris. Blue Fern had accepted, and Jess was describing the next steps in bringing them into the fold: “They're going to have a seat on our board of directors. Also, we need to have a board of directors,” Jess said. He went on to talk excitedly about the new books they were hoping to publish, and Blue Fern’s connections with the American Booksellers Association.

“You guys deserve a bigger stage,” Rory said. “I'm really happy for you.” When she looked down she realized her hand was on his forearm. Huh. Maybe they were the arm-touching kind of friends.

He ran his hand through his hair. “Yeah, yeah, a bigger stage. We just have to try not to go all Nirvana and hit ourselves in the face with a bass guitar when we get out there.”

Rory smiled, making a mental note to find that video on YouTube later. “I think you'll do just fine.”

Just then her phone buzzed on the table. It was a New York number she didn't recognize.

“Hi, this is Celia Jones from the Osmond Agency calling for Rory Gilmore?”

Rory jumped up from her seat like she'd spilled hot coffee in her lap. Jess looked at her, curious.

Rory’s hand shook as Celia Jones from the Osmond Agency raved about her book. She sounded young, and she mentioned something about being a junior agent — Rory remembered her request for the full manuscript, but she didn't remember anything else about her or her agency or how she got onto Rory’s query list in the first place. Much of the conversation was a blur, except for this: “I'd love to represent you.”

“Wow, that's — that's incredible. Thank you so much. Do you think the book needs any major changes? I've had a couple of agents tell me I need mermaids, or more romance.”

“Ugh. Definitely no mermaids. Maybe a little more romance, but just a little. I think the focus of the book is right where it needs to be.”

Rory felt like she was dancing or jumping up and down, but she caught a glimpse of her reflection in the window and she was standing still, her free hand pressed against her forehead. She looked at Jess, her eyes shining. He couldn't hear the other end of the conversation but it was clear from his face that he got the gist.

At that moment Luke walked into the kitchen, scooting around Rory and opening the refrigerator to deposit a couple of takeout containers he'd brought home from the diner. He crouched down to clear a couple of Rory’s older takeout containers off the bottom shelf. “Jess, you almost ready to head to your mom’s? I got the cake,” he said, oblivious. Jess shushed him.

Again, Rory blanked out on several minutes of conversation, but she managed to register the fact that Celia was going to call her again the following morning.

She hung up the phone and squealed, spinning around in a circle. Her sudden noise and movement startled Luke, who jumped up and slammed the refrigerator door. The dry erase board slid off the top of the refrigerator and bounced off his head before crashing onto the floor.

“No offense, Rory, but I am really sick of this damn thing,” Luke said, rubbing his scalp.

Jess glanced at him and then looked back at Rory, leaning back in his chair again with a satisfied smile. “It's your lucky day, Luke. I think she’s about to retire it.”

Chapter Text

“Was anything in the world truer than that intuitive leap of the heart?”
— Richard Russo, Empire Falls

***

“I think the manuscript is ready,” Celia said, adjusting her glasses. “The last round of edits really sharpened it. It’s funny and it breaks your heart at the same time.”

After weeks of phone calls and emails, Rory and Celia were meeting in person for the first time at Celia’s office in Manhattan, in a nondescript building a dozen stories above the chaotic traffic below. Madison Square Park was just around the corner, although you couldn’t see it from the office.

Rory had originally intended to play it cool and professional, but Celia had been enthusiastic from the get-go and it was infectious. “I just can’t believe this is happening,” Rory marveled. “I mean, I’ve been working on this book for almost a year, and now it’s time to send it out into the world and see if anybody bites.”

“I’m confident that someone will bite,” Celia declared. “I have a few publishers in mind that I think are going to be interested.”

“It just feels like it’s all happening so fast.”

“It doesn't always happen like this. When I read it the first time I could tell that you’d already done a lot of editing. Not everyone does that.”

“Well, I actually enjoy editing. My work and other people’s work. Cleaning things up, making sense of messes. And I did have help. A friend of mine runs an indie publishing company and he gave me notes.”

“Huh, I wonder if I know him. I have contacts at lots of indie presses.” Celia was young, younger than Rory, maybe. She was still trying to prove that she could hack it as an agent and not just an assistant.

Rory picked up the manuscript in front of her and flipped through the pages distractedly, looking for a particular section that still needed work. “He’s actually in the book,” she said offhand.

“Oh, Jess?” Celia asked eagerly.

Rory’s eyes bugged out as she let go of her page. “How did you…”

Celia blinked. “The book. The last time we see him he’s starting up that press with his friends, right? It was really nice to see him grow up a little. For a secondary character he was really well fleshed-out.”

“We really need to change those names before we send this to publishers,” Rory said, hoping that there were a lot of guys named Jess working for indie publishing companies and that Celia wasn’t a gossip.

“Are you guys…?” She wiggled her eyebrows.

“No! No. We’re just friends.” Rory felt like she’d just caught someone rummaging through her medicine cabinet, even though she knew she shouldn’t. Celia was perfectly nice and she was on Rory’s team. But besides the handful of other agents she’d queried who’d read her entire book, Celia was also the only person in the world who knew her family and friends from her manuscript rather than from life itself. They were characters to her. And Rory wasn't used to that yet.

“I’m going to start sending out feelers this week. I’ll let you know when I start hearing back, okay?” Celia asked as she showed her to the door. “I have a really good feeling about this one.”

***

Rory found the right doorbell, pressed it, and waited for the buzzer. She was early; she’d given herself a cushion because she didn’t know how long her meeting would be, but she’d overestimated. She tapped her foot impatiently. She wanted to tell Jess all about her meeting with Celia.

He didn’t answer the door. Maybe he wasn’t home yet. She could just wait out front, or find a coffee shop. She wondered where he’d want to go for lunch. But just then someone walked out of the building, and she caught the door before it shut. She climbed the stairs to the third floor and found his apartment.

He was definitely home; she could hear his music through the door. She knocked once and then tried calling him, but he didn't pick up. Finally she twisted the doorknob.

The door was unlocked. “Hello?” she announced herself cautiously, peeking her head in. The apartment was pretty much what she’d expected: decorated minimally, open floor plan, leather couch, record player in the corner. One wall had the most glorious floor-to-ceiling built-in bookshelves, which were currently empty. There were cardboard moving boxes everywhere.

No sign of Jess in the main living space. She peeked into the room to the left, which turned out to be the bedroom. He wasn’t there. She glanced to the right. The bathroom door was ajar, and she caught a glimpse of skin.

Oh, crap. What if he wasn’t dressed yet? She cringed, stepping closer to the bathroom but averting her eyes. “Jess?” she called tentatively, but the music was so loud. She debated whether to knock.

The bathroom door flew open. He almost ran right into her and jumped back, startled. “Jesus Christ,” he said, putting a hand on his naked chest, over his heart. He was wearing jeans but no shirt.

“Sorry!” she exclaimed, slapping her hand over her eyes and peeking through her fingers. “The door was unlocked.”

He turned off the music. “You’re early. We were moving furniture at the office this morning so I had to come home and shower.” He patted his wet hair with a towel.

“Well, at least you’re wearing pants,” she quipped, sitting on the couch.

“My new mantra anytime I’m having a bad day.” He flashed an easy smile and headed for his bedroom, clearly unbothered by her intrusion. Her embarrassment faded. No longer distracted by her own blunder, she noticed something on his chest, a couple inches below his collarbone.

“Is that a tattoo?” she asked curiously, craning her neck.

He reflexively covered it with his hand and mumbled something unintelligible, continuing into his room.

“Hold it right there, mister.” She hopped up from the couch.

He froze halfway to the closet and turned reluctantly. He knew her well enough to know there was no squirming out of this one.

“If you don't show me I'll have to assume it's a butterfly.”

“The butterfly tattoo is actually on my lower back,” he deadpanned.

Rory stood in the doorway. “Come closer. What does it say?” Here was a thing she didn't know about him. She thought she knew him pretty well, better than most people know most other people, but this had literally been sitting there under his shirt and she'd had no idea.

He reluctantly shuffled toward her until he was close enough. She read it aloud: “This is water.” She looked up. “DFW?”

“Chris went to Kenyon. Graduated the year he made that speech,” Jess explained. “He showed it to me not long after.”

“It's a great speech.”

“This was a long time ago. Way before they made it into a book.”

“Sure,” she said, amused, hanging onto the sides of the doorframe and leaning forward to examine it more closely.

“If I knew it was going to turn into a whole thing…”

“I get it. You knew all about it before it was mainstream.” Needling him was always fun. And, actually, it was pretty funny, Jess getting a tattoo of a line from an obscure graduation speech that ended up going viral and being turned into a book now available in hardcover, paperback, and for Kindle for the low, low price of $9.99.

“I got it done when I was too young to appreciate how permanent it was.” He rubbed it like he was trying to erase it.

She looked at the tattoo again. She could see his chest rising and falling as he breathed. It was actually a pretty nice chest, she noted. He also had a good stomach, solid but not too toned. Too toned meant vanity and carbohydrate avoidance. And jeez, Miss Patty was not wrong about his arms. She was close enough to feel the warmth coming off his body, leftover from the shower. He smelled clean.

She was suddenly cognizant of the proximity of his bed.

“Rory?” His voice jolted her out of her thoughts and their eyes met. She had a funny feeling, like a hand was squeezing her solar plexus. He looked at her quizzically. “It doesn't have a hidden message when you look at it with your eyes crossed. Can I go change now?”

“Yes. You are dismissed,” she said, pointing at him in attempted nonchalance that just felt clumsy. She retreated to the couch. Weird. This feeling was weird. Sean Spicer hiding in the bushes weird. Ariana Grande licking donuts weird. Tom Cruise jumping on the couch weird. Just weird.

He reappeared fully clothed a few minutes later. “Nice bookshelves,” Rory said.

“I had to choose between this place with the bookshelves and an elevator building, so… I take the stairs.”

“Well, you made the right choice.” Rory swept her hand along one of the empty shelves.

“Hey, I have to hop on a work call before we go — do you mind? Sorry, I thought you were coming at noon. I’ll leave you to it out here. And then I want to hear all about the big meeting.”

“No problem,” she said. “I’m good.” She still felt shaken from whatever had happened between her and his bare chest and a few more minutes to recover could be useful.

He shut himself in the bedroom for his call. She looked around the quiet room and her eyes landed on the unpacked boxes. The first one was labeled “NOVELS - 1950 TO PRESENT.” She opened it.

Nothing was organized. She pulled out one jumbled stack of books after another, shuffling through them to read the titles. Pynchon, Bellow, McCarthy, Roth. Of course. Exit West — she’d been wanting to read that. The Blind Assassin, A Clockwork Orange, White Teeth, Snow, Catch-22. An Ann Patchett novel, but not the best one. She began to stack the books in piles. Salman Rushdie, Hilary Mantel, Junot Díaz, Colson Whitehead. All the Neapolitan Novels. A surprising amount of John le Carré — he must’ve gone through an espionage phase. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Beloved, some Ursula Le Guin. In a row she found a bunch of books set in New York, probably read in anticipation of his big move: The Goldfinch, Invisible Man, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, A Little Life, Underworld.

When Jess reappeared in the living room, the box was empty and the books were lined up on a few of the shelves.

“What on earth happened in here?”

“The best books are on this shelf because it’s at eye-level,” she said proudly. “The not-so-good ones are down there at the bottom.”

“Uh-huh,” he said, stroking his chin and examining the shelves, his head tilted sideways to read the titles.

“The ones I haven’t read are in the middle — you can decide where they go. The Updikes are in the garbage. And the ones I really want to read are right here.” She held up four books and smiled cheesily, waving them back and forth in front of him.

He raised an eyebrow. “Are the Updikes really in the garbage?”

“No,” she admitted.

He looked at the books she was holding. “Rory, would you like to borrow those?” he asked, faux-earnestly, as if she hadn’t already staked a claim.

“Why, I would love to! How thoughtful,” she replied, immediately stuffing them into her bag.

He looked back at the shelves, studying the way she’d sorted them. “Hmm.” His forehead wrinkled. He moved a couple of books from one shelf to another. He looked at her pointedly as he shifted the Updikes from the bottom corner to a place of prominence. He wasn't even an Updike die-hard; he was just being contrary. He spotted the le Carrés. “Oh, yeah. I was really into spies for awhile.”

He finished assessing her handiwork. “You’re nuts,” he concluded, but his mouth was turned up at the corner and she was grinning back, her face warm. And it felt familiar, like slipping her feet into a pair of broken-in shoes she'd found at the back of her closet. It felt like the time she'd visited Boston after a couple years away, boarded the T, and realized that she still remembered exactly where her old stop was. Realized that she still knew the map of the entire system by heart.

She still knew the map by heart.

Oh, shit, she thought.

***

“Ms. Geller will see you now,” Paris’ assistant announced, opening the door to her office and ushering Rory inside.

“Get Rory a coffee,” Paris ordered from her desk. She stood and smiled broadly at Rory, reaching out for a hug. “So good to see you. It's been, what, a month?”

“I know! I’m so glad you were free last-minute. I was already in the city and I thought it would be nice to catch up before I head back,” Rory said.

Paris sighed. “Well, I shouldn’t have been free. I blocked off Tuesday afternoons for Timothy's debate tournaments but then he didn't make the team,” she said darkly, gesturing across the room. Timothy was sitting in a chair, oblivious, headphones on, looking at his iPhone.

“Third graders have debate teams?”

“Oh, yeah. It's cutthroat at New York prep schools. Martha Raddatz moderated the last one. Timothy was supposed to be prepping all weekend before the tryouts but he just sat in his room playing the guitar.” She spat “playing the guitar” in disgust, like it was “smoking crack” or “giving himself a DIY tattoo with an unsterilized needle and pen ink.”

“He plays the guitar?”

“I know. I tried to buy him a cello. If he wanted to be Yo Yo Ma I could accept it. Yo Yo Ma went to college. But he wants to be Jimi Hendrix. Did Jimi Hendrix go to college?”

“I don't think so. But Brian May has a PhD in astrophysics,” Rory offered.

The office phone rang. Paris picked it up and slammed it back down. She shouted into the hallway: “Carol, I told you to hold my calls. Do you know what it means to hold my calls? It doesn't mean to send them through to me.”

Carol tried to explain, tentatively. “But it was Chelsea Clinton calling about the board meeting for that non-profit —”

“God, she's so needy. Just hold all my calls. No exceptions.” Paris massaged her temples and kicked off her stilettos. She glanced over at Timothy. “All he talks about is music. I don't know how to talk about music. I don't want him to hate me.” She leaned forward, lowering her voice. “He's already in therapy. The divorce has been very upsetting for him.”

Rory winced sympathetically. “How's that going?”

“One more court date in two weeks. I just want it to be over.”

“How's Gabriela taking it?”

“She's scarily adept at playing Doyle and me against each other. He got her a new bike and before I knew it I was buying her a horse.” She pointed to a picture frame on her desk with a photo of Gabriela in riding boots and a helmet. “It's actually impressive.”

Rory looked at Timothy in the corner, his music audible even with the headphones. “You know, I have an idea,” she said. “Do you have time to drive up to Connecticut?”

***

“So, Timothy, can I see the music on your phone?” Lane asked. They were sitting on her front steps. Steve and Kwan were running around in the yard.

“You have a lot of great stuff,” Lane said, scrolling through. “Hey, do you want to see where my band plays?”

“You have a band?” he asked in awe. “But you're a mom.”

“Moms do all kinds of things besides work,” Paris protested.

Timothy followed Lane into the house. “Whoa!” Rory and Paris heard him exclaim. His exclamation was followed by several minutes of chaotic drum-banging.

“When we were kids, Lane used to hide her CDs under the floorboards so her mom wouldn't find them,” Rory told Paris.

“I don't want that,” Paris said, staring at the sidewalk. “I just want what's best for him.” She looked at Rory, an unfamiliar expression on her face. Uncertainty.

“Maybe you should try embracing his interests instead of squashing them. Plus, if he's any good, it'll look great on his college resume.”

“I'm just worried about his middle school resume. He's at Dalton but that place is full of drooling halfwits. I’m trying to get him into Horace Mann.”

Timothy left Lane’s with a list of songs to download — “You’ve got classic rock covered, but you really need to try more punk,” Lane opined. And Paris left Lane’s with some brownie points in Timothy’s eyes.

“Thank you both. This really made him happy,” Paris said as they left. She smiled gratefully. “Doyle is going to be so jealous.”

 

Chapter Text

“The smell and taste of things remain poised a long time, like souls, ready to remind us, waiting and hoping for their moment, amid the ruins of all the rest.”
— Marcel Proust, Swann’s Way

***

Lorelai and Rory sat on the couch at Kirk’s Cat Cafe. Petal was perched at their feet, ignoring them. Most of the furniture in Kirk and Lulu’s living room was old hand-me-downs from Kirk’s mother, but Lulu had warmed the place up with framed pictures drawn by her kindergarten students. There was a half-assembled crib in the corner.

“So which pie do we want to start with?” Lorelai pondered, eyeing the two slices they'd brought from Weston’s. “The peach is my favorite. Do I want to start with my favorite or finish with my favorite? I mean, ‘save the best for last,’ sure, but does that apply to food? What if the coconut cream fills me up and then I don't have room for the peach?”

“Well, I want the coconut cream.” Rory sipped her coffee. “So why don't we just each eat our own instead of splitting them?”

Lorelai scoffed, sliding the coconut cream closer to herself protectively. “But then neither of us will know whether we made the right choice. At least if we each eat some of both, we’ll have scientific confirmation of which one is better.” As she went on about the merits of sharing, Rory’s eyes glazed over like a Weston’s cruller.

Several weeks had passed, but she was still shaken by what happened at Jess’ apartment. At least by what happened in her head. She’d tried to forget about it. She watched Burt Lancaster in From Here to Eternity, Brando in A Streetcar Named Desire, Ryan Gosling in Crazy, Stupid, Love. A bare chest palate cleanser. But it didn't do the trick, because it wasn't just about that. The part she really couldn't forget was the feeling in her gut, the static electricity, the invisible hook pulling her in. The goddamn bookshelves. Movies wouldn't cut it.

“I think I need a man,” she announced with conviction.

Lorelai carefully finished chewing a bite of pie. “But we only ordered peach and coconut cream.”

“I need a night out. A date. A… you know.” She shifted in her seat, not wanting to go into any more detail, and reached down to pet Petal. Petal sneezed, and Rory withdrew her hand quickly.

Lorelai worked very hard to keep her face serious, but Rory could see the effort. “Well,” Lorelai said diplomatically. “It's been awhile since you've had a… you know.”

“I just haven't been thinking clearly. I'm getting distracted. I told myself I wouldn't date until my book was done. I thought it would help me focus, but right now it's having the opposite effect.”

Lorelai relinquished the coconut cream and turned to the peach. “Look, celibacy does wonders for the monks with their beer and the nuns with their cheesecake. It made that Tesla guy very productive.”

Rory gave her a skeptical look. “Elon Musk?”

“No, the one Davis Bowie played in that magician movie.”

This conversation was taking a left turn.

“Anyway, you don't have to go to that extreme. And you don't have to punish yourself for… for the thing with Logan.”

Rory hadn't thought of that. She wasn't afraid of repeating history; she took every birth control pill at eight on the dot every morning, no exceptions. She hadn't missed a single pill since the month it happened. But maybe her pregnancy and miscarriage still had her all mixed up subconsciously. Hesitant to move forward, confusing a safe and steady friendship for something else. That was probably it. It made a lot of sense.

“Maybe I just need to rip the Band-Aid off. A low-key date, no pressure.”

“Something easy. Or someone easy.”

Rory shot her a look. Lame joke, but it reminded her of something Paris said at her holiday party: It’s like ordering a pizza.

“Maybe I should try one of those dating apps,” she ventured.

Lorelai’s eyes lit up with all kinds of crazy ideas behind them. “Oh, yes, please. Okay, here's the deal: I promise not to make fun of you for using one of those apps if you let me swipe. I've always wanted to swipe on one of those things.” In her excitement she dropped a bite of pie crust in her lap. “Aw, shoot. Hey, Kirk, do you have a napkin?” she called out.

The door to the kitchen swung open and Kirk appeared. “I've got a paper towel for a quarter, a paper napkin for fifty cents, or if you want to go classy, a cloth napkin for a buck.” He held up the three options.

“Kirk, we paid ten dollars to get in here. We had to bring our own food and drinks. You can't charge us for a napkin,” Lorelai complained. Rory searched her purse and found a crumpled receipt at the bottom with the loose change and pen caps. She handed it to Lorelai, who used it to wipe the crumbs from her jeans.

“Sorry, but Lulu put her foot down. I need to close Kirk’s Cat Cafe by her due date. I'm trying to squeeze every ounce of profit out of this place while I still can.”

“Oh, the pregnant lady doesn't want her living room to be a place of business once the baby’s here? Surprise, surprise,” Lorelai said.

“Babette is going to be bummed. She's been having her book club meetings here,” Rory said.

“And she keeps trying to sneak in her own cats. It makes Petal — and me — very uncomfortable,” Kirk said darkly. “We have a bring-your-own food and drink policy, not a bring-your-own cat policy.”

Lorelai set up Rory’s profile as she finished her pie. Within minutes she was swiping through guys on Rory’s phone. Rory sat next to her on the couch, flipping through the channels on Kirk’s TV (ready to argue if he reappeared and tried to charge them for it) and looking over Lorelai’s shoulder. “Weird mouth,” Lorelai said. She swiped left. “That's not a real job.” She swiped left. “Not enough pictures.” Left. “Too many pictures.” Left. “I can't tell which guy he is in this picture, which makes me think he's the one with the face tattoo.” Left. “This guy looks familiar.” She showed Rory.

“He looks just like the Craigslist killer. Or maybe the actor who played the Craigslist killer in the Lifetime movie?”

Lorelai recoiled and swiped left. “Either way.”

A message popped up: there were no more possible matches in their chosen geographic radius. Lorelai gasped, scandalized. “We ran out of single men on the Internet?”

“I didn't think we were even applying particularly high standards,” Rory said, grabbing her phone from Lorelai and closing the app. Maybe this was a bad idea.

“Hey,” Lorelai said, nudging Rory with her elbow. “What prompted all this, anyway? You said you’ve been distracted. By what?”

“Oh,” Rory said, grabbing the charm on her bracelet and focusing on the TV.

“Sex dream?”

Rory looked back at Lorelai. “Yes,” she lied. “Weird sex dream.”

“About?” Lorelai asked expectantly, leaning forward. Lorelai loved dreams more than anyone Rory knew. She even liked to hear about other people’s dreams, which most normal people find to be one of the most boring topics of discussion on the planet.

“It's kind of embarrassing,” Rory stalled, trying to think of a name.

“Paul Ryan again?”

Okay, that happened one time three years ago and Lorelai never forgot it. Rory regretted even telling her about it. Except it was very handy at the moment.

“Yes,” she said, eyes downcast, expression abashed, selling the lie. “Paul Ryan. Again.”

Lorelai wrinkled her nose and shook her head to rattle the mental image out of her brain. She picked up Rory’s phone again. “Hey, look,” she said. “One new guy. Regular job, acceptable number of photos, doesn't look like any famous murderer I've ever seen.”

Rory’s response was immediate: “Swipe right, sister.”

Just then Kirk burst into the room again. He was holding his phone and his hands were shaking. “Lulu’s in labor!”

“What?” Lorelai jumped up. “She's four weeks early!”

“We’re not ready yet! I need to meet her at the hospital but I'm not done putting the crib together, and I need to call Babette and cancel her book club meeting —”

“We’ve got it, Kirk,” Lorelai said firmly. “You go.” He hesitated.

“Go!” Rory urged him.

He ran out the door and they heard his car start. They heard the crunch of the gravel as he backed out of the driveway. And then they heard the metallic smash of his car colliding with Rory’s innocently-parked Prius as he turned into the street.

***

That night Rory sat on her bed with her laptop, chewing her lip as she looked at her bank account balance. The car was totaled, but there was no money for a new one. Would she even qualify for financing?

If only she could sell her damn book. Then she wouldn't have to sweat when her bills arrived every month. She wouldn't have to mooch off Luke every day for coffee and lunch. She’d be able to replace her beloved car.

She began to tie her hair back, but the worn-out hair tie snapped. “Great,” she grumbled. Conjuring enough money to buy a car out of thin air was an arduous task that required a ponytail, and she couldn't even manage that.

Imagine having a new baby to care for right now? she pondered. Everything would be different. Her due date had passed a few days before. She'd felt a sharp pang that morning when she started taking notes for an article and wrote the date at the top. June 24. It was supposed to be a big day. A life-changing day. Instead she'd written a piece about the fundraiser for the volunteer fire department (where Miss Patty’s Girls had performed a new number to “We Didn't Start the Fire”), eaten a burrito, and not sold her book. Everything was supposed to be different for her by now, but it was all still the same.

She scanned her desk and dresser for a spare pack of hair ties. Nothing. Maybe somewhere in the closet? She sifted through the clutter, moving further into the mess as she went.

She found it in a back corner, under a pile of old textbooks she'd shoved in there about a decade earlier.

Not her hair ties.

Her Birkin.

She pulled it out from under the books and brushed off the dirt. Hot pink, ostrich print — wait, no, it was real ostrich, surely — it had never been her style, exactly, but she'd appreciated the gesture when Logan gave it to her. She'd carried it a few times during college, but people always commented on it, and she didn't like the tone of their voices when they asked about it. There was something uncomfortable about someone being able to size up a purse and calculate exactly how much it cost, especially when that cost included five digits.

She could sell it, she realized, perking up at the easy solution to her car woes while simultaneously feeling a little embarrassed by the fact that she had been panicking about her bank account while this ridiculous thing sat forgotten in her closet.

She Googled the bag. Hers wasn't in perfect condition; she'd spilled coffee on the interior lining once, and it was a bit misshapen after years of being crushed in the closet under the literal weight of her entire Yale curriculum. But her jaw still dropped when she saw how much she'd be able to get for it.

As she lay in bed that night, she felt pleased with herself. There had been no internal torment about whether to get rid of such a significant reminder of her relationship with Logan. She'd briefly wondered if it was wrong to sell it, but her main focus had been the fact that she really needed a car. She hadn't hemmed and hawed and reflected on her history with Logan. She hadn't reminisced about the day he gave her the Birkin. She was over it.

She'd been over Jess, too, for what seemed like forever. But now? Her eyes popped open in the dark. Okay, so there was the shirtless tattoo incident. But that was just one weird moment.

Well, fine, she’d also felt a little something at Liz and TJ’s house, when they were on the couch together, talking about the book. And there was that night in the kitchen when she noticed that they were touching each other's arms. And there was one time when she'd reached over to smack him playfully and he'd caught her wrist and she'd felt a weird, heavy feeling in her chest, and she could've sworn he'd made an odd face and let go of her arm like it was a hot poker. Like maybe he'd noticed something strange between them too.

So, fine, it wasn't totally new. But it was just a physical thing, a chemical attraction.

Well, no, that wasn't exactly right. He was in Stars Hollow a lot, to see Dewey. There were a few times they'd just hung out and watched movies or grabbed food and not talked about the book at all. And those had been really great nights. If a clueless observer who knew nothing of their relationship had seen them, they easily might have mistaken those nights for dates.

Her face began to feel hot and her stomach churned. She climbed out of bed and opened the window to feel the breeze on her face. She closed her eyes and exhaled slowly, trying to calm the frenzy of swirling thoughts in her head.

She liked to spend time with him. To talk every day, to support him and have his support. And she couldn't deny it — she’d really enjoyed seeing him shirtless.

She drank a glass of cold water, and then a glass of wine. She did some deep breathing exercises. She still felt unsettled.

She lay down on the floor and reached under her bed, sliding out an old box. She rummaged through it until she found the journal with the correct label, the one from the spring of 2003. When she opened it, she was startled to find that the pages smelled like Clinique Happy. It was Lorelai’s favorite perfume back then, and Rory had always nabbed it from her dresser.

She took a deep breath, inhaling the familiar scent, and suddenly she was a senior at Chilton again. A senior at Chilton, waiting around for her boyfriend to call.

It was time to remind herself of a few things.

Chapter Text

“Every heart has its own skeletons.”
— Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina

***
Rory was sitting at her desk at the Gazette after-hours, the office quiet, Esther and Charlie long gone for the day. The clock ticked loudly. She was staring unfocused at the screen of her laptop, the little folders on her desktop blurred into blue blobs.

Celia had called three hours before and Rory still couldn't get her words out of her head. “This is the kind of advance I think we can get you,” Celia had said, throwing out a ballpark number. “I know other agents have gotten something similar for essay collections like yours this year.”

“Oh.” Rory sank into her desk chair in disappointment. “Um, I saw a headline in the New York Times the other day — this guy that got a million dollar advance?” She was slightly embarrassed to say the word million out loud.

Celia had launched into a long explanation about why that guy's book was different, and how it was so rare, and how Simon & Schuster had overpaid anyway, and why a big advance could sometimes hurt, and how her estimate for Rory was actually higher than average because of the quality of her storytelling. And it all made sense. But Rory kept crunching the numbers in her head and they were weighing on her like a volume of Swann’s Way. She wanted to rent an apartment in New York. She wanted the means to focus entirely on her writing — to promote her book, and then start working on the next one. Fiction, maybe. But now she was learning that even if the book sold, even if she jumped the last hurdle on this seemingly impossible path, she'd need a freaking day job. It wouldn't be enough to be a writer. She'd have to be something else too.

And then there was the night ahead of her. She had to dress cute and drive to Woodbury for her Bumble date. It seemed an impossible task. She was drained of bravado.

She was getting the feeling she sometimes got, the feeling that she was falling toward a mess and she was going to jump into it instead. Some people who fear bridges aren't afraid that the bridge will collapse. Instead they’re afraid of the irrepressible urge to drive right off the side. Rory understood that feeling.

So when Jess walked in — Jess, of all people — he was doomed from the start. She'd forgotten he was coming. He was taking Dewey back to the city for the weekend to see a play and visit the Museum of Natural History, and he'd promised to stop by. She didn’t have it in her to lift her eyes from her computer.

He greeted her by dropping a white paper bag on her desk. “I happened to be in Bushwick today,” he said. “I know you like those cookies from L’imprimerie. Hey, did you read that Matthew Klam profile I sent you? It’s pretty wild how —” He noticed her face. “Everything okay here?”

She glanced at the paper bag and didn’t answer. He dropped into the chair across from her and sat in her mopey silence for a minute. “Rory?”

She looked up at him. He was scruffy, which was his best look. He was wearing a dark T-shirt and looking at her intently and he’d brought her a cookie, and she started to feel like she needed to do something with her hands. She stood up and moved to the back of the office, aimlessly sorting through the stacks of old issues piled on the dusty shelves. “This isn’t going to work,” she finally said.

He studied her face warily. “Cleaning up the office, or…”

“What kind of advance do you think I can get?”

He considered the question and threw out a number. It was close to Celia’s. She picked up a pile of paper and dropped it in the recycling bin with a loud thud.

“You’re disappointed,” he said, an observation. “Look, the number I gave you — that would be a great advance. Most writers get less.” He stood up, hands in his pockets, and meandered back in her direction. He leaned against the table with the TV on it.

“I’m trying to turn this into a career.”

“It will be. This is just the beginning, I know it is. Be proud that you wrote something great.”

She turned away from him, busying herself with a messy box full of yellowed invoices. God, what did Esther do all day?

No neutral arbiter of right and wrong could find fault with Jess’ words. They were well-intended at minimum and maybe correct as an added bonus. But they made her angry, in the way things do when you're already mad and you're looking for a reason. Like the gas is on and all it takes to ignite everything is somebody sneezing too loud.

She looked at the dates on the invoices, pointedly ignoring the weight of his eyes on her. Every single one in the box had been printed before her college diploma. She dumped the box in the garbage. “I need to move out. I need to live on my own again. I can’t work at the Gazette forever. I was stuck, and the book was supposed to get me unstuck, and it’s not, it's not doing that. If anything, I’m more stuck than before.”

She needed to keep moving. Her desperate gaze landed on a plastic crate filled with floppy disks. Now there was a relic she could've shown the kids from the high school. “I’m starting to wonder if this whole thing was a waste of time.” She sorted through the disks, her eyes scanning the labels without actually reading them. She wondered if it would feel satisfying to snap the disks in half. Like popping bubble wrap.

“Give me a break.” He looked up at the ceiling and massaged his neck. She was starting to exasperate him. She could see it. She was relieved to know that she could have that effect on him. “You're a writer, Rory. You wrote this book because you had to, because once the idea planted itself in your head you couldn't fathom doing anything else. And you’ve loved this entire process, haven’t you? The writing, the rewriting? The thirty minute lecture you gave me on the Oxford comma?”

She certainly didn’t love the part where she couldn’t get him out of her head. She lugged the crate over to Esther’s desk and dropped it right in the middle, squashing a dogeared issue of Reader’s Digest.

“I need to move forward. This whole year has been about find a way to do that. But I'm living at home, going to town meetings, and when I’m not working or writing, I'm talking to my high school boyfriend.” She finally stopped to look at him.

High school boyfriend. For eons they hadn't spoken about that aspect of their history. There was an occasional mention of a memory, but stripped of all the emotional context: Do you remember when we saw this movie? Not, Do you remember when we saw this movie but I fell asleep in your arms and didn't see the end? Even when he read her red-flagged pages, the parts about him, he limited his notes to form and not substance. He wrote just enough for it not to be a big deal — because the biggest deal would've been if he felt too uncomfortable to say anything at all — but he skirted the meat of it. It was an unspoken agreement, and she violated it.

That threw him. He blinked like an unprepared understudy she'd just thrown onstage. Who, me? He tried to sidestep it. “I had no idea you've been hanging out with Dean.” He laughed uneasily. The joke fell flat; its audience was unreceptive.

She was quiet as he tried to figure out what to say next. She imagined several ways this might go.

When he finally spoke his voice was gentle. “Look, I know you’re under a lot of pressure. I’m just trying to help. I want you to have the success you want.”

“What I need is for you to stop trying to help.” Her voice rose. She was sick of being a person he mentored, an author he advised, one of many work projects. She was sick of being his friend, the person who went to the hospital and yelled at the principal and organized the bookshelves. Both of those things had gotten her into this mess, and now they were a constant reminder of their own inadequacy. They were less than what she wanted. But the thing she wanted was stupid, wrong, unfathomable. Especially for someone who claimed to be trying to move forward with her life.

“I thought my help was exactly what you wanted.” He said it bitterly, like he resented it. Either he was just annoyed at her — a definite possibility — or he, too, was dissatisfied with the status of things. She honestly did not know which possibility she preferred. But he steered the ship back on course, into the safe waters of her book: “Maybe you should take a break for a few days. Clear your head. On Monday we can talk about what Celia said.”

Something snapped inside her like a rubber band, a fat one that was holding everything together. “I don’t think that’s necessary,” she said shortly, sitting down in Esther’s chair. “Celia knows what she’s doing, and you’re busy with Truncheon right now. I think you should just focus on that. You don’t have to worry about me.”

“Rory.”

“Thanks for everything. I really appreciate it. But I don't need your help anymore. We’re good.” They were many things, but good was not one of them.

A hurt expression flashed across his face before he could mask it with his usual stoic facade. They stared at each other for a long time. His jaw twitched. “I think… I think I better go,” he said.

What a surprise, she thought. Jess, taking off. She felt a sense of satisfaction when she recognized the familiar old habit. See, this is why it would never work, she told herself. We’re still the same people after all. No matter that she'd orchestrated it, practically pushing him out the door herself. He went, like he always did.

He hesitated for a moment at the door, his hand hovering above the knob. “Look, I know you’re worried about the book, but don’t take this out on me, Rory. It’s not fair.” Embarrassment curdled in her stomach. He wasn't even gone yet and she already felt like an idiot. She was thirty-two years old; she couldn't grab the hot pan off the stove anymore.

“This isn't just about the book,” she said. She didn't mean to say it. She was overcompensating, pulling because she'd pushed too much. Not that it wasn't true.

He turned and met her eyes slowly, cautiously. If he knew what she was talking about, he didn't show it. But he didn't ask: Then what is it about? Later, replaying the moment, she'd wonder about that. Wouldn't a person ask, if they didn't already know, or if they weren't afraid of the answer? The unasked question hung in the air like a piñata full of bees.

“I'm sorry,” she said. “I didn't mean it. It won't happen again.”

“It's okay.” He softened, relaxing his posture. “Let’s just forget about it.”

She had to fix things, but she couldn't leave the piñata. “You better go anyway,” she said. “I’m sure Dewey’s waiting. I have to go too. I have a date.”

She studied his face carefully as she said it. Part of her wanted to see a pained flinch, or his neck muscles tightening to suppress his jealousy. So that she'd know for sure. But it was Jess, so there was no way she'd ever get that, even if… well. Even if.

He raised his eyebrow and nodded once. Whatever that meant.

But she didn't go on her date. She cancelled. She simply couldn't bear to walk into a bar and find the right stranger and make small talk and think about someone else. She went home and ordered a pizza instead.

***

Luke was at Liz and TJ’s when Jess arrived to pick up Dewey, trying to replace the lightbulb in the porch light. It was almost dark, and he struggled to balance a flashlight in the crook of his arm as he unscrewed the glass dome.

“Why isn't TJ doing this?” Jess asked, looking up at Luke on the stepladder.

“Hold this flashlight,” Luke said. Jess points it at the porch light. “TJ thinks he has electromagnetic hypersensitivity.”

“What? Did his aromatherapist tell him that? Please tell me they're still using electricity in the house.”

“It's apparently a very mild case. The only thing he can't do is change a lightbulb.” Luke handed him the screws and the dome.

Jess shook his head. “Convenient.”

“You got here later than I thought,” Luke commented.

“I stopped by to see Rory for a bit.”

“Oh, yeah?” Luke kept his voice casual.

“I just wanted to make sure her agent is doing right by her.”

Luke unscrewed the dead bulb and passed it down to Jess. He gave him a long look.

“What?” Jess asked.

“Nothing's changed there, right? Besides the book thing, nothing’s… happening, there?”

“I don't know what you mean.” Jess looked out at the road, watching a passing car.

“You do know what I mean.” He gestured for Jess to pass him the new bulb.

Jess picked up the bulb and examined it. “I'm not going there again,” he said, handing it to Luke. “No offense, but those Gilmore women are a lot to handle.”

“But worth it. He screwed in the bulb. “And anyway, it's not a logical thing. It's love.” He proclaimed grandly: “We are all idiots when it comes to love.”

“I’ve read a few sonnets but I'm not familiar with that one. Is it Shakespeare?” Jess tested the switch just inside the front door to make sure the light was working.

“I'm just saying.” He took the glass dome and the screws back from Jess. “You spend half your time helping her with her book, making up excuses to come to Stars Hollow to see her.”

“It's just a favor for a friend,” he protested.

“A favor is helping a buddy move his couch into his new apartment. Whatever this is, it's not a favor. And forget about your dopey self for a second. I live with her. I see her every day. And I think she's got feelings for you.”

“She's on a date tonight, Inspector Clouseau,”Jess said bitterly.

“Are you serious?” Luke's face dropped and he shook his head. “Dopes. Both dopes.”

Jess pressed his lips together, like he was afraid of what he'd say if he didn't. But after a pointed look from Luke, he finally spoke begrudgingly. “It's not simple. The two of us. It never has been. Even now, when it's starts to seem like…” He shook his head and didn't finish the sentence. “We’re always going to screw things up.”

“Have you tried actually talking to her about it?”

Jess just shook his head, and then the moment of openness was gone. “Hey, did Dewey say what books she was assigned for summer reading? Maybe I can pick them up this weekend.”

Jess’ face was impassive. Luke let the change in subject slide without objection.

***

Saturday morning Rory and Lorelai sat on the steps of the gazebo, enjoying their coffee before heading to work.

“It's not Ga-dough, like Waiting for Godot?” Lorelai asked.

“No, I think it's Ga-dote, like ‘my doting mother.’”

“Well, either way, I think we should try to learn that badass walk she does onto the battlefield.”

“Ms. Gilmore?” a voice came from the bottom of the steps. Rory looked down and saw a familiar face: Kendall Parker, one of the Stars Hollow High students from Mrs. Peterson’s English class.

“Kendall!” she said. “How was graduation?”

“Polyester robes, goofy hats, ‘Pomp and Circumstance.’ Pretty standard.”

“Are you getting excited about college?”

“Really excited,” she said. She twirled her signature elaborate fishtail braid in her hand. (“How do you guys know how to do that?” she'd asked Kendall and her friends once before, impressed with their elaborate hairstyles. She didn't even know how to work a curling iron when she was seventeen. “YouTube,” they'd answered.)

She went on, shyly: “I wanted to tell you — I'm going to major in English and try out for the paper. I think I want to be a journalist. I really liked our field trips to the Gazette this year.”

“Really?” Rory’s hand flew to to her sternum. She eagerly offered some encouraging words and dictated her email address as Kendall typed it into her phone. “If there's I can do to help, don't hesitate to ask.”

“Actually, there is something I was wondering. I'm in Stars Hollow all summer and I lifeguard at the pool three days a week.” She gestured at the uniform she was wearing, a white tank top over a red bathing suit and matching shorts. “Do you think there's anything I can do for the Gazette during the rest of the week? It would be so cool to have some work experience before starting school.”

Rory’s first instinct was no way; if Kendall spent the summer picking up Esther’s slack or trudging around town in the hot sun delivering papers, she'd probably switch her major to chemistry before she set foot on campus. But then she got an idea. “In the fall we’re going to be publishing a special issue of the paper for the one hundredth anniversary of the high school. Why don't you write something for it? You can work on it over the summer on your own time and do all the research yourself.”

Kendall's eyes widened and she increased the speed of her braid-twirling. “That would be amazing.”

“Stop by the office this week and we’ll brainstorm some ideas.”

Kendall thanked her profusely and skipped off to work.

Lorelai nudged her with her elbow. “Hey, you were really good with her.”

“You think?”

“Uh, duh. You inspired her to study journalism! And instead of drinking wine coolers with the hot college boys she works with at the pool, she wants to spend her free time writing a story for you this summer.”

“Huh.” All of her rambling about the Pentagon Papers and Spotlight and Florence Graves and the Snowden stories — at one point she'd even gone on a tangent about the Zodiac killer’s letters to the press, though she couldn't remember what her point had been — and it turned out at least one of those kids was actually listening. Not only listening, but convinced. Convinced that the media had power and responsibility, and that good reporting mattered. Convinced enough to want to try it for herself.

It made her feel something. Not nostalgia for journalism, not a desire to get back in the game. It just felt nice to motivate someone. It felt nice to tell a captive audience all of the things she found most interesting, to see their faces as they heard her favorite stories for the first time, and now to know that it mattered.

She thought back to her meeting with Headmaster Charleston last year. She'd been so insulted when he suggested she become a teacher. She thought it would be a way to retreat from the real world, where she'd failed, to nestle herself safely in the place where she'd thrived best. It seemed like a declaration that she'd peaked in high school and needed to relive it.

But maybe she had been wrong. For now she had the Gazette and the pennies it put in her piggyback each week. But the right time to leave Stars Hollow again was coming. And she'd need a day job.

Chapter Text

“I am hitting my head against the walls, but the walls are giving way.”
— Gustav Mahler

***

The weird night that Rory and Jess had fought — was “fought” the right word? — was a blip, a rogue wave. It happened and then it was over and they seemed to reach an unspoken understanding never to speak of it again. She emailed him a picture of Kirk and newborn Baby Kirk in the diner wearing matching outfits; he texted her about work; the world kept spinning at the same pace.

True, some things were different, but in a healthy way. Their relationship was correcting itself. Three weeks passed after they got coffee, and they didn't see each other once. The volume of electronic communication slowed. The problem, Rory decided, was that they had simply been spending too much time with each other. Too much time talking to each other, responding to each other's messages too fast. A bit of distance was better. She started to feel some clarity. She didn't have real feelings for him. Proximity wasn't love. And she had bigger things to worry about, anyway.

But the day she got the call from Celia telling her that her book was going to be published, her second thought was that she had to tell him in person. Her first thought was:

“Mom!”

Lorelai clambered down the stairs wearing one flip flop, the other in her hand, alarmed by Rory’s scream. “Is the spider back, because I got a good look at him the other day and I swear he looks just like the ones from Arachnophobia —” She stopped in her tracks when she saw Rory’s grin. “That's not spider face.”

“What's spider face?”

“You know.” Lorelai made a face, part disgust, part fear.

“Fair enough. Well, this is my book is getting published face!”

There was gasping and squealing and jumping for joy all around. Rory was triumphant. Celia had mentioned the advance, but for the moment it felt wholly irrelevant. Totally beside the point. The point was that she was a real writer, and it was all worth it.

“We better tell Luke,” Lorelai said breathlessly when they calmed down. “He's going to want to start building a new bookshelf for the diner.”

“It's not going to be released for a long time. More than a year, probably.” Rory’s head was spinning as she imagined a hardcover book with her name on the cover.

“Yeah, and that's the kind of lead time he needs to build the biggest bookshelf in the world. You're going to outsell JK Rowling once he places his pre-order.”

There was one concern sticking in Rory’s mind. Something that needed to be done, now that this was really happening. Something that she and her mom hadn't discussed since November. She hoped it would go well. She thought the book was fair and honest. But she wasn't Lorelai.

She got a copy of the manuscript from her room and held it out in front of her. “I think it's time,” she said.

Lorelai reached out gingerly and took it, looking at the cover for a long time. “Yeah,” she said finally. “I think it is.” She looked back up at Rory with an apprehensive smile.

Rory wrung her hands. “If you don't like it, just have Lady Churchill take it out back and burn it for you.” She laughed uneasily.

“I'm going to love it,” Lorelai reassured her, as much for her own sake as for Rory’s. “I'll read it in Nantucket.” Then she slapped her hip. “Dammit! Nantucket. Luke and I have to leave in an hour. But you and I need to celebrate! I'll call your grandma and tell her we’re not coming until tomorrow.” She took out her phone.

“Mom, no,” Rory said, swiping Lorelai’s phone from her hands. “Things have been so weird between you and Grandma. I don't want your trip to get off on the wrong foot.” Luke and Lorelai were about to spend two full weeks with Emily. It would be the first time they'd seen each other since Christmas. After months of spotty communication and cancelled plans, Emily had called Lorelai to confirm the dates they'd agreed upon the previous fall. Lorelai was surprised that Emily didn't try cancelling again. It needed to go well.

“But what about you?” Lorelai asked.

Rory waved her off. “I'll be fine. I'll celebrate. In fact, I think Lane said she was free tonight.” That actually wasn't true. In fact, Lane and Zach had just dropped Steve and Kwan off at summer camp. They were going to a concert that night. Rory didn't know why she said it, but it probably had something to do with the plan that was starting to come together in her head.

Two hours later, Luke and Lorelai were gone and Rory was on her way to New York.

***

She didn't want to call ahead. He wasn't at the office, but the guys told her where he usually grabbed a sandwich, so she went there. She had to walk several blocks and it was hot and muggy and her thighs were sweating. She patted her face with a tissue and ran her fingers through her hair before she walked inside.

It was a tiny place and she was face-to-face with him as soon as she stepped through the door. He looked up as she stood in front of him and cocked his head. Like he was surprised to see her, but also not surprised at all. Like he was expecting her to make some sort of proclamation, but he wasn't sure what kind.

“I did it,” she said. Her mouth was parched and her voice was raspy; she tried to clear her throat.

He put down his book and leaned back. He didn't need any additional details to know what she meant. “I knew you would.”

She sat down across from him. “I sold it to Riverhead. Riverhead.”

“They're lucky to have you.”

“I'm really thirsty,” she said.

He handed her his unopened bottle of water and she took a big gulp. “I appreciate the personal touch, but you could've delivered the news over the phone,” he said. He took a bite of his sandwich.

Maybe this was a bad idea. She’d thought everything was fine, but that was before she'd seen him in person. And now everything felt wrong. She felt self-conscious of her sweaty legs and frizzy hair and unquenchable thirst and her presence in his sandwich shop. She puffed herself up with faux-careless confidence in compensation. “I wanted to tell you in person. I didn't want to wait,” she said with a casual shrug. “I couldn't have done it without you.”

“I'm really happy for you,” he said, smiling. But it was a smile on the level of, I'm happy they gave you an extra pickle with your sandwich, not, I'm happy that your dream is coming true. Her self-consciousness began to harden into a pit in her stomach. There was a distance there. She'd known that, on a certain level. Even invited it, been relieved by it. But now that they were face to face, it was unsettling.

“Can we go for a walk or something?” she asked.

He glanced outside, into the broiling sunlight. “It's ninety degrees.” But she'd come all this way, and it would be a bigger deal to refuse, so he went with her to the park. She got them ice cream sandwiches and they sat on a bench under a blessedly shady tree.

“I just can't believe it. My editor is amazing and I’m already so comfortable with her,” she told him. “I'm supposed to get the contract next week. It's a good deal. A little better than what we talked about last week. When I had my… meltdown.” She laughed uneasily.

“Make sure you have a lawyer look at it,” he warned, his eyes landing on hers lightly and then jumping to the gangly kids kicking a soccer ball, the group of friends lazing around in the grass on beach towels, the dog sunbathing on its side.

“I have more rewrites to do,” she went on. “They’re sending line-by-line comments. I'm a little nervous to see what they have to say. But they get it, they understand the book, and I love their other work, so.”

“They do great work,” he agreed.

“I thought maybe we could celebrate,” she said cautiously, angling her knees toward him. “We can go to the Mmuseumm and see the cornflakes and the knock-off fast food restaurants of Iran. And then maybe grab dinner?”

He scratched his neck. “I have a lot of work to do this afternoon.”

Maybe he did. But she was certain that a month ago, even if he'd been slammed at work, he'd have blown it off to go to the Mmuseumm to celebrate her book deal. Hell, one time he was at Liz and TJ’s when she finally found the right word for a sentence in Chapter One that she'd been struggling with from the beginning, and he swung by with tacos and they watched My Cousin Vinny to celebrate. Maybe she was violating the unspoken agreement they'd reached, to maintain their friendship like nothing had changed, except to turn the dial down a few notches. But it felt like the pendulum had swung too far in the other direction.

He must have sensed that something was about to surface that would lead to a confrontation, because he quickly made a offer: “I’ll be in Stars Hollow this weekend for Dewey’s summer concert. She's got a solo. Drinks?”

“Sure,” Rory said, feeling like a mollified child. She looked down at her ice cream sandwich. It was melting in her hands.

***

Rory had so much work to do. It reminded her of college, when she'd go from class to the library to class to the paper and then collapse into the bed at the end of the day. Or the late nights at the Herald when she was fact-checking pieces written by the big-name reporters while simultaneously chasing her own stories, every day a blur.

She knew her editor’s comments were coming, and she wanted to get as much work as possible done for the paper before that happened. Because once she had those notes in her hands, she wouldn't be able to think about anything else.

She'd already put the next issue of the Gazette to bed, but the deadline for the Stars Hollow High anniversary edition was less than three months away. It presented different challenges than a normal issue; it wasn't about the news or current events. It needed to capture the most important facets of what the school was, and what it meant, over the past hundred years. She'd hired a few freelancers and pulled old photos from yearbooks and past issues of the Gazette, and she was working on some pieces of her own.

She met with Kendall, who walked into the office with her braid twisted into a tight bun at the back of her head, a pen behind her ear and a notebook in hand.

“I want to write about Stars Hollow High couples,” Kendall began eagerly. “My grandpa passed away a few years ago and my grandma is dating her high school sweetheart. I have their prom photos. And I was just thinking, there are probably a lot of other couples out there with good stories.”

Rory liked the idea, and she liked that Kendall was so excited about it. The issue needed more human interest pieces, anyway, so it was a perfect fit. “Just make sure you find a good hook. An overarching theme, a point of view,” she advised her.

“I feel like a real journalist.” Kendall beamed. Her eyes were hungry and she was ready to go. It was a feeling Rory remembered.

“You are a real journalist,” Rory told her.

***

Jess had never been to the secret bar. “So if Taylor walks by, they turn off the lights and we move everything into the corners?”

“Pretty much,” Rory confirmed, sipping her wine. “Make sure your cell phone is on silent. Gypsy almost blew the whole thing once when hers rang while everyone was hiding.”

“Did Taylor join the Anti-Saloon League or something? I remember him getting awfully jolly after a few cocktails at the wedding last year.”

“Nothing to do with the temperance movement. Just Taylor logic. Stars Hollow has never had a bar, and thus he thinks Stars Hollow should never have a bar.”

Jess shook his head. “Man, Ken Burns could've done a lot with this place.”

He was more relaxed than the other day. They were joking and laughing. He wasn't avoiding eye contact. It felt normal. It felt like the way things were supposed to be.

Toward the end of the night, Rory felt comfortable enough to ask: “Will you do some editing for the special edition of the Gazette?”

He made a show of turning to look behind him and then gesturing to himself in mock confusion. “Me? I thought maybe David Farenthold was sitting back there. You know, an actual journalist.”

“You don't have to write anything. You don't have to do any research. But you could edit this thing in your sleep, and it would be such a big help. With the book and everything, I'm just overextended. I can even pay you.”

He made a face. “I don't want your money.” He took a long sip of his drink. “Are you sure it's… a good idea?”

“Yeah,” she said dismissively, shaking her head. “I just — it would mean a lot.”

He was looking at her carefully when the lights went out. “Five-O!” someone called out. Taylor. Rory blew out the candle on their table and Jess’ face disappeared.

In the shadows, pressed up against the brick wall as they waited for Stars Hollow’s own Carrie Nation to reach a safe distance, she turned her head toward him and whispered, “So?”

A moment passed. “Okay,” he said.

Later, she wondered if he would've said yes if they hadn't been standing next to each other in the dark, each unable to see the other’s face. And if he hadn't said yes, what about the events that followed? Would everything have turned out differently?

 

Chapter Text

“You know how you sound…? Like a man who's trying to convince himself of something he doesn't believe in his heart.”
— Casablanca

***

Lorelai was tempted to take her heels off. The Stars Hollow High anniversary celebration committee was ramping up its planning, and the group had reserved the dining room at the Dragonfly for its weekly meetings. They ran her ragged every time. Taylor was very particular about the food — he always worried that if it was too heavy, the committee members would be too tired and sluggish to get their work done. Then they needed a projector set up for their PowerPoint presentations, and they always had technical difficulties because none of them actually knew how to work the system. This week she'd given them a tour of the stables because they were thinking of borrowing the horses for the parade. Not to mention the fact that it was her first day back after the trip to Nantucket and she hadn't worked a day in the last two weeks.

By now she should've learned to wear flats on days when their meetings were scheduled, but she’d always been susceptible to the siren song of a cute and impractical pair of stilettos. By the time the group walked out the door, the only thing stopping her from kicking off her pointy toe pumps was the knowledge that she wouldn't be able to squeeze them back onto her swollen feet. The guests would definitely find it strange if she walked around barefoot.

She needed to take her mind off the pain and when she spotted Michel at the front desk, she remembered that she needed to talk to him anyway.

“Hey, Michel, is something up?” she asked. “This morning the new landscaper told me he tried to ask you where the sprinkler control box is and you growled at him.”

Michel pursed his lips and glanced up at her before looking back down at his computer screen. “I did not growl,” he said. “I may have groaned. Very different.”

“Whatever, growl, groan, grunt —”

He recoiled. “I most definitely did not grunt. I'm not a pig.”

“So, why didn't you just answer him? I had to walk him all the way out back and I'm pretty sure that started the whole blister situation I now have on my left heel.”

He wrinkled his nose slightly at the word “blister.” She leaned on the desk, taking some of the weight off her feet. Finally he realized she wasn't going away. “I was trying to sulk, and he interrupted,” he admitted.

“Why were you trying to sulk?”

He reluctantly weighed whether to go on. “I noticed that we got a new Yelp review. Four stars.”

She patted his arm. “Oh, don't worry about that. I mean, it bugs me when we don't get all five stars too, but you can't win ‘em all.”

“You don't understand. The review mentioned a particular reason for the docking of the fifth star.” He closed his eyes and gathered himself. “They said ‘The French man at the front desk smelled strongly of patchouli.’”

Lorelai snorted.

“They said it was off-putting. They implied that I am some form of hippie. I was wearing the Tom Ford cologne. It cost three hundred dollars. I bought the big bottle.”

Lorelai was laughing, her shoulders shaking, her hair in her face. She wiped the tears from her eyes as he stared at her murderously.

“This is your fault,” he accused.

Me?

“If your mother would've come to help me with the products for the spa, she never would have let me get swept up in the patchouli trend.”

“Well, no, she certainly wouldn't.” Her response was flippant but his words stirred the frustration dwelling dormant in her gut. How much nerve did Emily have, to promise to come and then put it off and put it off? They still hadn't ordered anything, though Michel had tentatively finalized the list of items they were going to choose weeks ago. Now that was out the window.

“I don't want the Dragonfly Spa be a four-star spa,” Michel said. “I want it to be a five-star spa.”

Needling him was one of her favorite pastimes, but regardless of the treasure trove of jokes that Yelp review was handing her on a silver platter, now wasn't the time. She thought about her lunch with Sookie and the way they'd reminisced about the work they'd put into the inn, the tireless hemming and hawing over the tiniest details. Maybe she'd grown soft over the years, or maybe it was because it was more Michel’s dream than hers, but she wasn't waking up at three in the morning to worry about the spa. She was working hard and she was determined to make it a success, but she wasn't bleeding for it. Not like he was. He was the one stopping mid-conversation to scribble indecipherable notes about herbal tea and towel warmers. He was the one making clandestine visits to the best spas in the state, trying to poach the top masseuses and aestheticians. He was the one who smelled like patchouli.

She was done waiting around for Emily. She would have to handle things herself.

“How about this? I'll make time this weekend. I will sit down with you and we’ll go through everything in your hoard of samples that doesn't smell like a stoner’s dorm room, and we won't stop until we find the perfect products. Even if we smell so many that our nose hair falls out.”

Michel’s brow relaxed and she was glad to be able to relieve some of his stress. And then she realized her toes were numb, and she decided it was time to call it a day.

***

The smell of sawdust and the echoes of pounding hammers filled the air in the building formerly known as Pretty Pastures, Home for the Aged, soon to be known as the Dragonfly Spa. Lorelai had changed into sneakers.

“I want to make sure Michel didn't have them install a dance floor when I was in Nantucket,” Lorelai said, waving at Tom as she stepped over an extension cord and weaved her way past a pile of unfinished wood floorboards and a miter saw.

Rory followed her, carefully tiptoeing through the construction zone maze. “Some people might like a little EDM with their seaweed body wraps. Could be an untapped niche market.”

“So this is where the front desk will be,” Lorelai said, pointing to the left. “And then through here will be the relaxation room, which is going to have a nice fireplace and an array of refreshing beverages and lots of cozy places to sit.”

“Sounds very zen.”

They weaved their way to the back of the building. “Massage rooms will be over there, and then we’ll do skin treatments in here. Waxing will go down in that room, and nail treatments will be in the corner so you can look out at the town square while you're getting a pedicure.”

They were back in the foyer. “What's going in the room on the right?” Rory asked.

“Still up for debate,” Lorelai said. “Michel wanted to put a flotation tank there.”

“One of those pod things?” Rory shivered in disgust. Who would want to be that alone with their thoughts?

“I nixed it. Super creepy, right? Like that Ryan Reynolds movie where he's trapped in a coffin?”

“Just without the while kidnapping thing.”

They ventured upstairs to see the rooms that would become offices and storage. Then Lorelai convinced Rory to check out the attic with her. Michel always refused, and she never wanted to go up alone.

Rory climbed the pull-down stairs first. They made it up without incident and pulled the chain to turn on the single bare bulb in the center of the room. It was empty.

“Well, that's disappointing.” Lorelai peered into the corners to make sure they weren't missing anything. “I was hoping for a secret safe or a box of old love letters or something.”

Rory brushed the dust off the single window on the front wall and crouched down to look outside. Luke’s was just visible across the town square. “So how were things with Grandma?” Part of her didn't want to ask, because it was a question she'd been asking on a regular basis for her entire life and the answer was rarely ever “good.” She'd take a “fine,” even. But she knew the answer wouldn’t be “fine.” So it was her duty to keep asking.

“Really weird. She was totally normal.”

Rory looked back at her. “That is weird.”

Lorelai crossed her arms tightly. “I don't see her at all in over six months, she blows me off again and again, she barely calls, and yet once we’re there, nothing's changed. She wasn't harboring a secret grudge. She wasn't waiting for me to apologize for some minor offense I committed months ago without even noticing. She just has a new life now, and she doesn't seem to care that I’m only a part of it three weeks a year —”

Rory shrieked as a shadow passed along the wall behind Lorelai. “I think I just saw Archy and Mehitabel!” She bolted for the stairs.

“You saw what?”

Moving, something was moving over there in the corner. It scuttled away. Or maybe it scampered. What's worse for an unidentified living creature in the attic, scuttling or scampering?”

Lorelai followed her quickly, practically jumping out of the attic down to the floor below, and they slammed the door shut. They moved a safe distance away, down the stairs and out to the backyard, where there was an overgrown, weedy garden and a wrought iron bench under a big elm tree.

“Did you talk to her about it?” Rory asked, sitting on the bench.

“No.”

“Maybe you should've.”

“I wanted to make it through one trip without a fight.” Lorelai couldn't sit still. She worked her way through the garden. There were massive purple dahlias toward the back.

“Did you?” Rory asked skeptically.

“If she lectured me for a half hour about the inadequacy of my dollar store cherry-scented sunscreen and I used it anyway just to spite her, does that count as a fight?”

“Is that why your nose is peeling?”

Lorelai pulled a few of the gnarliest weeds. “I've decided that if this is the way she wants it, fine. I give up. We can be the kind of mother and daughter who have two pre-scheduled visits a year and that's it.”

“I think you should keep trying,” Rory implored her. “She's still getting used to her new life.”

“Nope. I’m done. I'm tired of trying.” Lorelai was weeding a bit too zealously, Rory noticed, as she uprooted a dahlia by mistake, the poor plant an undeserving victim. “Hey, once I'm used to this new arrangement, I’ll probably like it better.”

Rory gave her a measured look, which Lorelai pointedly avoided as she focused on the flowers. Rory decided to let it go. “Did she say whether anything’s happening with the house?”

Lorelai shook her head. “Still hasn't sold. She's had a bunch of offers but she's holding out for full price. Why? Do you want to use your grandpa’s office again? I'm sure it's fine with her.”

“No, just wondering. I don't have time to drive to Hartford anyway. I've been working nonstop, basically double-time at the Gazette, plus the… the book.” She eyed Lorelai nervously. They'd been together for an hour and neither of them had mentioned it. Maybe she didn't read it. No, she definitely read it. Maybe she was still trying to find the words to ask Rory if her publisher would sue her if Lorelai forced her to back out of the publishing deal and incinerate every copy instead.

“So what did you think?” she finally asked. “Did I besmirch the Gilmore name?”

Lorelai dropped a fistful of weeds. “Oh, honey. That ship sailed a long time ago. I could teach a master class in besmirching the family name at the community college.”

“So?”

Lorelai sat down on the bench. “Well, I now understand how Larry Flynt must've felt playing the judge in The People vs. Larry Flynt,” she began. She laughed and then grew quiet. Rory’s heart beat fast as she watched her choose her words carefully.

Finally Lorelai looked up at her. “It was beautiful, Rory. Beautiful, and true, and painful in parts, not going to lie.” Her voice cracked. “There are a few chapters I probably won't be rereading. And that's okay. Because there are other parts I want to read again and again, even though I was there for most of it. It was just… right. It was the book you were meant to write.” She nodded. “It was the book you were meant to write.”

***

“Okay, the piece on the original construction of the building is done. I'm going to email it to you. What did you think of the article on sports highlights? Sporty enough?” Rory chewed her pen as she squinted at her computer, sitting cross-legged on the couch.

Jess, parked in the chair with his laptop on his knees, nodded as he looked down at the screen.”You’ve got your games, your matches, your meets. We covered all our… nope, not going to say bases.”

“So it's good to go?”

“Right after I finish fixing these last few typos.”

She looked at him skeptically. “What typos?”

He smirked. “I know you'd like to see your name in between ‘Strunk’ and ‘White,’ but even you make a grammatical error from time to time, believe it or not.”

She tossed a crumpled piece of paper at him. “I would get great pleasure from the opportunity to take a red pen to something you write for once.”

“You can proofread my grocery list, if it's really that important to you.”

“Oh, you just wait. I will have my moment someday, and I will use the reddest pen I can find.”

He finished typing and clicked Enter, and a few seconds later the typo-free article appeared in her inbox.

“So are you ready to give up publishing and make the switch to journalism?” she asked as she marked the article complete on her to do list.

“Oh, yeah, I think I'll apply for an internship at the Gazette. Work my way up.”

She made a face at his sarcasm and had a snappy comeback ready, but the doorbell rang. “Pizza!” she announced, setting her computer down on the coffee table and hopping up to get the door.

She made room for the box on the coffee table and grabbed two plates and a few napkins from the kitchen. “I've narrowed down the options for the cover photo,” she said as she handed Jess a slice. “I'm going to show you the finalists and I want you to tell me which one you like best.”

“How many finalists are there?”

“A few,” she said vaguely, pulling up the folder on her computer. “Okay, twenty.” She glanced up at him. “Come sit here so you can see.”

He obliged, picking up his plate and sitting next to her on the couch. She set up a slideshow to go through the photos automatically so she wouldn't have to click through with pizza grease on her fingers. Then she picked up a slice and sat back.

“We’re more than halfway done with the issue,” she mused as the photos began to scroll. “Soon the special edition will be finished and I'll be done editing the book.”

“What are you going to do then?” he asked.

“Still figuring it out,” she said nonchalantly. A few ideas had been percolating in her head for awhile and were starting to take shape, but she wasn't ready to talk about them. Not until she was sure. “I'm definitely moving, though.”

“Yeah?”

“My mom and Luke need their space back.”

“So where are you going to go?”

She glanced at him. He was watching the screen. “Queens, probably.”

He finished chewing, slowly, and put his plate down before he turned to look at her. “I live in Queens.”

“I'm aware. I've been to your place.”

“You following me?”

She rolled her eyes. “Don't flatter yourself. It's a big city.”

A hint of a smile showed itself at the corner of his mouth. “I'll remember that when you come knocking, asking for a cup of sugar.”

There was a mischievous glimmer in his eye. She'd expected these jokes. But of course she wasn't moving to Queens because of him. She wasn't Felicity. She'd planned to move to Queens a year ago, before everything changed, before he'd moved there. Lots of people lived in Queens.

A black and white photo appeared on the screen. It was taken on V-E day. After the principal announced the news to the students, they had streamed outside, gathering on the front steps in celebration. Rory reached out to pause the slideshow. Jess stretched out his arm to do the same.

“That's the one,” he said as he clicked the button, and their arms brushed against each other. She felt a familiar squeezing sensation in her chest. They both sat back at the same time. Jess rubbed his arm. Rory crossed her legs and pinned herself to the arm of the couch.

“I love this one,” she said.

He didn't respond at first. She couldn't look at him. Then he cleared his throat and said, “Check it off your list. This one’s perfect. Are we done with the front page now?”

Rory scratched her head as she visualized the front page with this photo and the cover stories, all of which were already complete. Then a realization dropped like a stone in her stomach. “Oh, crap,” she said. “We need a poem, don't we?”

 

Chapter Text

“In bantering lies the key to human warmth.”
— Kazuo Ishiguro, The Remains of the Day

***

Lorelai breezed into the diner carrying a big bag of candy and chips. “Ready?” she hollered.

“You’re late,” Luke called back from the kitchen.

“Sorry, I was in a really intense argument with Michel about which Taylor Swift album is the best.” She set her bags on the counter and checked the time on her phone.

“This is an issue you have a strong opinion on?” He delivered a few plates of eggs, walking briskly, and returned to the kitchen for sides of bacon.

“Well, no, but Michel does, and toying with his emotions is a treasured American pastime in my mind. Right up there with baseball and Black Friday shopping.”

Luke rubbed his forehead as if the act would massage forth something he'd forgotten, and apparently it worked, because he grabbed the ketchup and extra napkins and delivered them to the table by the door.

“Why do you have so many snacks?” he asked, suddenly noticing her bag on the counter. “It's only an hour away.” The plan for the afternoon was to pick up a custom-made armoire she'd ordered for the inn on Etsy from a farm near Norfolk.

“You can never be too prepared for a road trip.” He was back in the kitchen and she craned her neck, trying to find him. “You seem really busy. Where's Caesar?”

“Here's the thing. Little change in plans.” He stuck his head out. “Caesar called in sick, so I have to stay here.”

“Oh.” She was disappointed. Every good road trip movie has at least two people in the car. Thelma needed Louise. Priscilla wouldn’t have made it to Alice Springs if Tick had been by himself. “Well, that's okay. I'll just take the truck. I can go by myself. I'm sure the guy can load the armoire up in the bed for me.”

Luke made a face like he'd sucked on a lemon. “One guy? Seems like a two-man job.”

“Well, maybe the guy has a guy.”

“Jess is going to drive you. He was in town anyway.”

What? No, Jess is — oh, hey Jess,” she said as Jess emerged from the back.

“Ready?” he asked, unreadable.

She picked up her snacks. “This will be fun,” she said through gritted teeth. Long drives usually were. The playlists, the candy, the license plate game. But she wasn't sure if Jess was capable of having fun. It wasn't in his nature, the same way some people don't have the gene for rolling their tongue or liking the taste of cilantro. “You can pick the music,” she offered, an act of diplomacy.

As Jess grabbed coffee, she shot Luke a look like an elbow to the ribcage. Could there be anything worse than two hours trapped in a car full of stilted conversation and somebody else’s music? Bed bugs, maybe.

“You better hit the road,” Luke said, smiling, satisfied, like this whole situation was an IKEA table and he'd just assembled all four hundred sixty eight pieces. The next look she gave him was like a kick in the shin. She walked out the door.

Jess lingered behind for a moment. “You owe me one,” he said to Luke darkly. “You owe me two if she tries to start a sing-along.”

***

They drove in silence for the first few miles. It wasn't that she disliked him. She hadn't disliked him in a long time. It was just abundantly clear that they had nothing in common, nothing that clicked. There was a side of Luke that meshed with Jess and a side that meshed with Lorelai. Same for Rory. But they weren't the same sides. It was a Venn diagram with no overlap. Lorelai glanced over at Jess uncertainly and cleared her throat. “So you've been in Stars Hollow a lot lately.”

“Dewey’s in fifth grade now.”

“Time flies.”

“With Liz and TJ as parents, the only thing standing between her and a career as a crystal healer is me, coming around to make sure she's doing her homework.”

“That is…probably true,” Lorelai said, nodding. “It must be easier now that you're in New York. Shorter drive.”

“Yeah.”

More silence. Jess tapped his thumb on the steering wheel repeatedly, like he was keeping time. “How's the Dragonfly expansion going?” he asked, cooperating with her attempt at civility.

“It's great,” Lorelai said brightly. “Well, no, it's actually hell, with the permits and the contractors, and I gave Michel creative control and he's drunk on the power — but the spa should be up and running sometime in the fall.”

“That's… great.”

Another mile went by. Lorelai decided to open a bag of chips to give herself something to do, but the crinkling of the bag only accentuated the quiet. She tried to withdraw each chip stealthily, without touching the sides of the bag.

“So, how's work for you?” she asked.

“Work’s good,” he said. “Busy.”

“I bet.”

He rubbed his beard. “We just brought in some investors.”

“I heard something about that.”

“They’re helping us expand. More books, more marketing, growing our website, putting on some bigger events.”

“Follow the signs for Route 8,” Lorelai instructed. “Well that sounds exciting. Congratulations.”

“It is,” he said. “Big change, though. We've spent ten-plus years building this thing.”

“It's your baby.” Like the inn, she thought. Something made from scratch, born, grown, coddled when needed, flourishing. All yours.

“Now we have weekly check-ins and monthly meetings. We have to go to San Francisco in a couple months to go over next year’s business plan at their corporate headquarters.” Jess eased onto the ramp for Route 8.

“Well, I’m quite familiar with the strings that come with money. I've been wrapped up in them a few times myself,” Lorelai said. “But — good Lord.”

Jess hit the brakes. Stretched out ahead of them, as far as the eye could see, were lines of cars, bumper to bumper to bumper.

“It’s like the scene from Weekend,” Jess added grimly.

“Chip?” Lorelai offered him the crinkly bag.

***

Three miles and twenty minutes later the chips were gone and there was no end in sight to the traffic jam.

“Google Maps is showing the road as red for at least another five miles,” Lorelai said. “I feel really bad. I'm sure you didn't want to run this errand anyway and now here we are. Stuck.”

“Don't worry about it.”

Lorelai mentally reviewed all the topics they'd already discussed. They'd done work and family. What else? There had to be something else. Hell, they needed about half a dozen something elses per mile at this rate.

“So, are you still seeing that girl — Laura, was it? The one Luke and I met when we were in Philly? She took us to get those amazing soft pretzels.”

Jess shook his head. “We split up a year and a half ago.”

Lorelai winced. “Sorry. Luke totally told me that and I just completely forgot.”

He didn't say anything. She went on: “It's a shame. She was a sweet girl. And she had great taste in pretzels. Unless she broke your heart or something. In which case her pretzels suck.”

Jess changed lanes, wedging in between two cars. “It wasn't anything dramatic,” he said. “It just didn't fit.”

“Well. It needs to fit.”

***

“Okay, now you go.”

“Fifties,” Jess said.

“Lucille Ball,” Lorelai replied without hesitation.

“Of course.”

“Sixties,” Lorelai challenged him.

Jess tapped his chin, thinking. “Ann-Margret,” he decided.

“Have you heard about Hugo and Kim?” Lorelai sang.

“This decade. The twenty-tens,” Jess said.

“Hmm,” she deliberated. “Emma Stone.” She pursed her lips, considering the remaining decades. “Okay, I'll be magnanimous and give you the eighties. But there is only one right answer here.”

“Traffic’s easing up,” Jess said.

“That's it?” Lorelai said, peering out the window at the two cars on the side of the road, the dented bumper, the police car behind them. “A fender bender?”

“I refuse to contribute to the rubbernecking,” Jess said, eyes focused straight ahead, picking up speed as the traffic thinned out.

“So what's your answer?” Lorelai asked.

“Jessica Rabbit,” he replied.

She glared at him.

“Kidding, don’t kill me,” he said. “It’s Molly Ringwald. Of course. I know. Forties?”

***

Rory swung by Lane’s on her way home from the Gazette. As she knocked, she heard a familiar but out-of-place voice coming from inside.

“Is Paris here?” she asked, baffled, when Lane opened the door. Lane wore a bemused smile.

“Oh, yes. Paris is here. Presenting a business proposal.”

“Who is that? Lane, I want to show you the results of some polling I did,” Paris called out.

“A business proposal?”

Lane tilted her head toward the living room. Rory looked around the corner. Paris had set up a projector that was currently displaying a large pie chart. There was a stack of color-coded, tabbed binders on the coffee table.

“Rory?” Paris called out. “I'm glad you're here. It would be great to hear your feedback.”

“I'm a little afraid to ask, but what, pray tell, is going on here?” She picked up a binder and flipped through the pages of bar graphs and flow charts.

Paris opened her arms widely and grinned. “When we have a million followers, you can say you were at our very first meeting.”

“You're starting a cult?”

“We’re starting a YouTube channel,” Paris announced grandly.

“A what now?”

“Paris had an idea. A YouTube channel to teach kids about rock music,” Lane explained.

“Lane and her band will choose and play music. Covers, maybe some original stuff.”

“Timothy will play with us sometimes.”

“He's got to earn it, though. He’s starting regular guitar lessons in the city. If he doesn't stick with them, he doesn't play.”

“And we’ll also talk about the music, and the bands, and the history and influences, and everything a kid who thinks music is cool should know.”

“Timothy will do most of the heavy lifting on that,” Paris clarified. “He's done Toastmasters. He can handle it. And my focus groups have shown that kids much prefer to watch when another kid is doing the talking.”

“Ah, of course, the focus groups,” Rory said.

“I have a friend who can film and edit the videos and I'll handle the music licenses.” Paris clasped her hands in front of her and looked at Rory expectantly. “So, what do you think?”

Rory glanced back and forth between Lane and Paris. They both looked excited. She furrowed her brow, trying to imagine it. She remembered Kendall and the braid tutorials she watched religiously. “It sounds… like it actually might work.” It was very Paris: right on the border between crazy and genius.

“I think it's going to be fun,” Lane declared.

“We have a lot of work to do,” Paris added solemnly. “But if we can average a hundred fifty thousand views per video, I think Timothy should be able to get into Juilliard.”

Rory was suddenly distracted by something glittering on Paris’ left hand. “Paris, what is that?”

“What?” She followed Rory’s gaze. “Oh. This.” She beamed. “The divorce was finalized on Friday.”

“Traditionally that results in the ring coming off, not going on.”

“We left court, where I wiped the floor with him — Laura Wasser never knew what hit her — and I was about to get in the cab, and Doyle grabbed my hand and got down on one knee. It was the most romantic thing he's ever done.”

“So you're getting married again?”

“Next month. You'll get your invitation this week.”

“Huh,” Rory said, only mildly surprised. A big smile grew on her face as she pictured the two of them back together, in their familiar routine of bickering and mutual admiration. “And all is finally right with the world.”

***

“I think it's Red.”

Red has the highest highs,” Lorelai acknowledged. “But don't you think 1989 is stronger across the board?”

He grunted a maybe.

“And we keep forgetting about Fearless. We can't ignore the country albums even if they’re not our bag. We’re professionals here. Come on, Lester Bangs.”

“Lester Bangs would've jumped out the window before she could say ‘Tim McGraw.’”

“Okay, maybe we should listen to the Jake Gyllenhaal song and the Harry Styles song again. Then we can compare.” Lorelai scrolled through the songs on her phone.

“We need Rory,” Jess sighed. “She would've been taking notes this whole time.”

***

“I don't remember the black eye! Why was I not at that Friday night dinner?” Lorelai asked. The armoire was in the bed of the truck and they were on their way back to Stars Hollow, an hour behind schedule.

“I think you were out of town? I'm not sure. It was just me, Rory, and Emily. I think I showed up really late, too.”

“Oh, I remember hearing all about it afterwards.”

“I'm sure Emily sang my praises. You know those memories that you can't relive in your head because they just make you cringe so badly? That’s one of mine.”

“I've got a few of those. But I can't say any of mine involve a swan. A bottle of Boone’s Farm, maybe,” Lorelai said. “I don't think Rory ever told me the part about the swan. I would remember it. Oh, take the next exit.”

Jess signaled to get over to the right lane. “I'm pretty sure Rory doesn't even know about it. I think I told her I got hit with a football or something.”

Lorelai snorted. “Was it at least a rabid swan?”

“Can swans get rabies?”

“I don't know, but it would make your story better.”

“It was a violent, aggressive swan. A real Natalie Portman.”

***

“I told her to write a letter to herself about it,” Jess said.

“That's an old therapy trick, isn't it?” Lorelai remarked. A moment passed and then she whipped around to face him. “You've been to therapy!”

His jaw tensed. “You're not supposed to accuse someone of going to therapy.”

“It's not a bad thing. I like therapy. My therapist turned out to be kind of crazy herself, but other than that, I liked it.”

He relaxed his jaw. “So did I,” he admitted.

“So I was right,” she said, congratulating herself.

“My mother is Liz. Is it really that surprising?”

“Not surprising that you needed it. Surprising that you went.”

“Yeah, well. I could say the same for you.”

“My mother is Emily. Is it really that surprising?”

***

“I'm not saying you need a college degree — obviously you're doing fine without one. But it has its benefits. Mainly to shut up the people who think not having one makes you a failure.”

“Maybe someday. I don't know, after I got my GED I was already working at Truncheon and I didn’t really see the point of going any further.”

They settled into silence for a minute.

“You know, Rory almost didn't finish Yale. Can you imagine? If anyone was made to thrive at college, it was her.”

“That's what I told her.” He glanced over at Lorelai. “I saw her. While she was taking time off school. I actually went out to dinner with her and her boyfriend.”

“Logan?” Lorelai was surprised. Now there were two people she couldn't imagine interacting.

“He was a douche and she seemed to be floundering. I kind of went off on her about how she belonged at Yale. I felt bad for awhile after, like maybe I was too harsh, but I don't know. She did belong at Yale. And she figured that out herself eventually.”

“Huh.” It  may have been a long time ago, but Lorelai was sure Rory had never mentioned this to her. She thought back to Rory’s homecoming and triumphant return to school. To this new facet of a story she thought she knew by heart. “Huh.”

***

“My thirteenth birthday gift was a private lesson in table manners from Bunny Pemberton from the Hartford School of Etiquette.”

“Liz once sent me to school with pot brownies for a bake sale. And to this day I'm not sure if it was an accident or not.”

“I gave my Bionic Woman doll to the maid’s daughter and Emily accused her of stealing it.”

“One time Liz didn't come home for a week. I chewed gum every night for dinner.”

“Whoa, okay, this game got dark fast,” Lorelai said. “I fully acknowledge that yours was objectively worse.”

“Eh, I made it out alive.”

Lorelai chewed her lip. “I think I may have been too hard on you when you were a kid.”

“You don't have to —”

“You were an asshole and I was completely justified in not wanting you to date my daughter, don't get me wrong about that. But I should've had more sympathy.”

He shrugged. “It wouldn’t have helped. I needed awhile to figure things out.”

“And therapy,” Lorelai added.

“And therapy,” Jess agreed.

He pulled into the Dragonfly’s driveway and put the car in park.

“This was… surprisingly fun?” Lorelai said. “Thanks for driving with me.”

“Next time, just pay the extra fifty bucks for delivery,” he ribbed her, and she waved him off, but there was warmth between them that wasn't there before. It had just taken fifteen years, a forced road trip, and some icebreaker games in bumper-to-bumper traffic to get them there.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

“And that, my friends, is my farewell to the newspaper game.”
His Girl Friday

***

Rory sipped her lemonade and sank her toes into the grass. The sound stretched out in front of her, vibrant blue up close, fading into a haze of pink at the horizon. She'd been to Nantucket a few times, but she still wasn't used to watching the sun set over the water. She rested her head against the back of her chair and breathed in the salty air.

“I'm terribly sorry about that.” Rory turned as her grandma padded outside and took a seat in the Adirondack chair next to her, cell phone in hand. “I had to take the call. My new real estate broker has two people in a bidding war over the house.”

“What happened to your old broker?” Rory asked.

“I had to fire him. I don't think he's fit to sell children’s shoes at the mall, let alone houses. Nearly a year on the market with no good offers! It was extremely stressful.”

“I can't imagine being stressed about anything here,” Rory said dreamily. “It's so peaceful.”

Emily’s expression relaxed as she followed Rory’s gaze. “September is one of the nicest months in Nantucket. Most of the tourists are gone and the weather has just been so lovely.”

She was wearing her Nantucket uniform: cotton pants in a neutral color, breezy cardigan. She usually wore loafers but on this occasion she'd branched out into sandals. Rory was pretty sure this was the first time she'd ever seen her grandmother’s toes.

“How's the museum?”

Emily smiled with just a touch of smugness. “I did a special tour for a young boy’s birthday party last weekend. The family specifically requested me.”

“Wow, the other docents must’ve been jealous.” Rory chuckled at the mental image of feuding museum volunteers battling for the spotlight.

Emily lifted her sunglasses to get a better look at Rory. “Anyway. Let's get down to business, shall we? That way we can spend the rest of the evening enjoying each other's company.”

“Business?”

“The reason you're here. You asked to visit last minute. You're only staying one night. You're here for a reason.”

She shouldn't have been surprised. Emily Gilmore could sniff out an ulterior motive a mile away. “Well,” she began. “I've been trying to figure out what I'm going to do next.”

“After the book is done?”

Rory nodded. “With my advance I’m going to rent my own place in the city.” She deliberately avoided the word “Queens” so she wouldn't have to see the look of horror on her grandma’s face. “But I need to work. I'm going to do some freelance editing. Pick apart someone else's words for a change. And Paris is starting a fertility blog for her business and she's hiring me to ghostwrite her posts. Nothing glamorous, but she’ll pay me on time. And my editor introduced me to Elise Locker —”

“The novelist? She went to Smith,” Emily interrupted excitedly. “She's very good.”

“She's amazing, and she's putting together a collection of essays by different women about growing up with unconventional families. She asked me to contribute something.” Rory kept going, quickly, so Emily didn't have a chance to object to the notion that Rory came from an unconventional family. “But I've also decided to enroll in classes part-time so that I can become a teacher.”

“Teacher?” Emily’s brows were knit in confusion. “I didn't know you had any interest in being a teacher.”

“Neither did I.” Rory laughed. “But a lot has changed this year.” She watched a pair of boats slice through the water, one after the other. “Remember when Grandpa taught? At Yale?”

Emily was still looking at the boats, but she went somewhere far away in her mind for a moment. “He so enjoyed being Professor Gilmore,” she said. Then she came back to Rory. “I think it's a wonderful idea. And I'm relieved to hear that you have a plan. To be perfectly honest I've been worried about you for quite awhile.”

“I know. Not that you needed to. But I know.”

“But surely you didn't come all the way out here just to tell me about your career plans.”

“Well, no,” Rory admitted.

“Are you here because you need help paying for your classes?”

“What?” Rory said. “No!”

“Because my old offer still stands. If you'd like an advance on your inheritance, it's yours. I know your grandfather would have been honored to help with this.”

“No, no,” Rory said hastily. “I have it covered. Really. I didn't come here to ask for money.”

Now Emily looked intrigued. “Well, what is it, then?”

It was Rory’s last opportunity to turn back. She still wasn't sure if she should say anything. Had inserting herself into the middle of things ever worked well in the past? She'd considered that question on the drive up and the answer was closer to no than yes. But even if it was a mistake she'd already made too many times, it was a mistake she was going to continue to repeat. She was okay with that.

“It's actually about Mom,” she said. “You and Mom.” There was a third boat on the water now, trailing behind the others. They were headed west, all three chasing the sun.

***

Later in the week, Rory was working on the layout for the special edition when the door opened. Kendall bounded into the Gazette's office, her hair long and wavy with one braid winding its way around the side and back of her head.

“Before you read my article, I want to explain, because it took a turn I wasn't expecting,” Kendall began nervously, holding her folder to her chest.

Rory had been there before. Just recently she’d started a piece about Miss Patty’s Labor Day revue that ended up morphing into a meditation on performative femininity. “Sometimes those are the best stories.”

“My original plan was to write about all different Stars Hollow High couples. Old ones, young ones, couples who met in high school, couples who both went to the school but didn't meet until years later.”

“But?”

“But, after I interviewed my grandma and her boyfriend, I met another couple that dated in high school and rekindled their romance decades later. They reconnected on Facebook. And then I heard about another one — they went to the senior prom together in the nineties, and then they split up and married other people. They both got divorced and one day he just sent her an email to say hello, and now they're engaged.”

“That's quite a pattern,” Rory remarked.

“So I did some research, and it turns out, it wasn't just coincidence. It's actually a trend, mainly because of social media. People getting back together with people they dated forever ago.”

Rory felt something pricking at the back of her neck. She scratched it but it didn't go away. “So that's what you wrote about?”

“Yes.” She handed her folder off to Rory. “I interviewed five couples — my Grandma, and the others I just mentioned, and another couple that reconnected on Facebook. And then the last couple — they never actually dated in high school, but they both had big crushes on each other and then ten years later they ran into each other at a grocery store in Providence.”

“You don't say.” Rory smiled weakly.

Kendall's face was glowing and she was talking a mile a minute. Rory knew she should be pleased to see her so enthusiastic about her story. But she was too busy wondering if the universe was toying with her.

“Don't you think it's a little… pathetic?” Rory interrupted. “Not pathetic,” she backtracked, remembering that Kendall had written about her grandmother. “Just… to get back together with someone you dated twenty or fifty years ago… isn't it dwelling in the past?”

Kendall wrapped her braid around her finger, thinking. “I don't think it's about dwelling in the past. Or going back. All these people had moved on with their lives. But when they found each other again, the magic was still there. I think that's amazing.”

“Hm.” She twisted her bracelet until the chain was tight against her wrist, then let it go. “It sounds really compelling. I'll read it tonight, okay?”

Then she changed the subject to Kendall’s first semester of college. She loved her classes. She mostly got along with her roommate, except for the too-frequent soup microwaving that left the room smelling like a Campbell’s can. She was planning to sign up for the paper in a few weeks, and she was going to try to get a journalism internship for the following summer., even if it was unpaid.

“Even if it's unpaid. I'll waitress, too, if I have to,” Kendall said. She hesitated for a moment and then asked: “Hey, do you think I can intern here next summer? If I don't find anything else?” She winced he bit her lip, realizing how it sounded. “Not like it's a back-up plan or anything,” she added quickly.

Rory almost laughed. She looked at the old computers in the back, and at Esther scratching off lottery tickets at her desk. The printer had been beeping for the last fifteen minutes straight because it was out of paper. “I can promise you a recommendation letter, but I'm not going to be able to get you an internship. I'm actually not going to be working at the Gazette much longer,” she admitted.

As much as she liked to grumble about Esther’s work ethic and her fear that no one read anything she put in the paper other than the poem on the cover, she still felt a bittersweet twinge of something when she said it. “It's just time for me to go.”

***

So many of her dreams had involved being untethered. Traveling the world, pursuing the story wherever it took her. Seeing every square inch of this earth that she possibly could. Inserting herself in the thick of things, going where the interesting people were. Those dreams were movie montages: an olive oil festival in Italy, cut to street protests in Hong Kong, cut to a pitch meeting in a New York skyscraper, cut to a bustling newsroom in Washington DC. She wanted to be the girl at the airport running out of pages in her passport, pen dangling from her mouth as she wrote feverishly on her laptop, needing to look at her ticket to remember where her next flight was headed because she couldn't keep track.

Maybe it was because she’d done all those things for awhile, or maybe it was because she’d romanticized it all too much, or maybe it was because we age out of most of our dreams eventually — but now when she was falling asleep at night she thought of different things. A book on the shelf with her name on it. The shelf, a sturdy one, in an apartment all her own. An apartment in an interesting place full of interesting people, yes, but nailed down to the ground all the same. A coffee shop where she was a regular, a familiar route to work every day, a job where she could dig in, where she stayed in one place long enough for someone to remember to bring in a cake on her birthday. At the end of a long day, her feet in someone’s lap on the couch.

She had always admired women who barreled through life on their own terms, refusing to be pinned down by anyone else: Dorothy Parker, Eleanor Roosevelt. Hell, the only book she'd ever read so many times it fell apart was her biography of Colette. But the ultimate example in her own life of a person who slipped every set of binding chains was her father. In trying to be Eleanor, had she ended up too much like him? Wriggling free of everything that mattered, floating too easily into an unexpected current. Was it always that way? Was it inevitable? People still read Sophocles for a reason.

It took more guts to put in stakes, she'd decided. And she wanted it. She was ready.

Chapter Text

“If only I could stop hoping. If only I could say to my heart: Give up. Be alone forever. There's always opera. There's angel-food cake and neighborhood children caroling, and the look of autumn leaves on a wet roof. But no.”
— George Saunders

***

Rory was sprawled on the couch at home one Tuesday afternoon staring at her rewrites when there was a knock at the door.

“Come in!” she called, too focused to get up.

The door opened. “It's me,” Jess announced himself.

She sat up. “Hey! Is it already four?” He had texted her that morning to say he was going to be in town, and they made plans to meet up for coffee before he headed home.

“It's four,” he confirmed. “What is going on in here?” He surveyed the pile of crumpled pages covered in red ink.

“Oh, you know, just shredding my own lovingly written words into pieces for about the fifteenth time today. Do you mind if I finish going through this one more time before we go? I just need ten minutes.”

“Not at all,” he said, plopping down in the chair. He pulled out a book.

Rory returned to her work, chewing anxiously on her pen as she considered a comma.

She had just crossed out the comma when her phone rang. She glanced at the caller ID before answering. “Hey, Paris,” she said.

“I'm finalizing my seating chart. Are you really not bringing a date?”

“Uh, no, it’ll just be me.”

“You're still not dating anyone?”

“Nope.”

“Jeez. Okay, well, that's actually perfect, because I'll seat you next to Doyle’s cousin Skip. He's nothing special — he's a dentist, he went to Dartmouth, he's in an a cappella group — but he's single. I told him you have nice teeth. It's the best I can do. I would've put you with our old neighbor who lives in DC now, but he just got caught sexting college interns and it's been all over the news, so he's laying low for awhile.”

Rory's eyes widened in horror. “Is your old neighbor that recently disgraced Congressman who just resigned?”

“Yes.”

“So Skip was actually your second choice, after the high-profile pervert?”

“He wasn't that high-profile. House, not Senate. Anyway, the pickings are slim.”

“You know what? Hang on a second.” She covered the phone with her hand. “What are you doing Saturday night?” she asked impulsively.

Jess looked up from his book. “Uh, nothing special, I think.” He furrowed his brow. “Why?” he asked warily.

Rory uncovered the phone. “Actually, you know what, I do have a — I am bringing someone after all. So you can just go ahead and seat me with him and put Doyle’s cousin somewhere else. Far away.”

“Suit yourself,” Paris said, hanging up before Rory could say another word.

Rory put her phone down and turned to Jess with wide, blinking eyes. “So,” she said innocently. “I need a favor.”

“What’s happening on Saturday?”

“Well, Paris and Doyle are getting married.”

“I thought Paris and Doyle were already married?”

“They were. And then they got divorced. And now they're getting married again.”

“No kidding? A Taylor-Burton — you don't see that every day.”

“She threatened to set me up with Doyle’s cousin if I don't bring a date. His name is Skip. He's into a cappella. If he tries to sing ‘The Lion Sleeps Tonight’ I might stab him in the throat with a cocktail fork. Please?”

He sighed dramatically.

“It's at the New York Public Library,” she said brightly, trying to sell it.

He shrugged. “I'll go. If only to prevent the bloodshed.”

“Okay, then,” she said, surprised at how little begging it had taken. At first she felt relief at the fact that she'd dodged Paris’ torturous setup attempt. But then she realized that bringing Jess to the wedding meant bringing Jess to the wedding.

***

Saturday arrived quickly. Per Paris’ request, Rory got ready with her at a hotel. “Just to make sure the makeup artist doesn't make me look like a whore,” Paris had said. Once Paris was satisfied with her face, Rory hurried to the library to meet Jess.

They found each other out front. It was just getting dark, and the steps of the library were scattered with tiny glowing candles. There was a buzz in the air as the guests milled around outside.

“You look…” He stopped, blinking. The rest of the sentence didn't come. A car horn blared.

“Thanks,” she said, immediately feeling a little stupid for thanking him for a compliment he hadn't actually given her. Maybe he was going to say that she looked tired. She straightened one of the straps of her simple blue dress and leaned in for a hug. “Where’d you get a tux on such short notice?”

He brushed off his lapel. “Found it in the back of my closet. Just had to dust it off.”

“You do not own a tuxedo. Where else would you go that requires a tuxedo?” Rory asked suspiciously. Was he serious? He couldn't be serious.

He shrugged and smirked. “Grocery store. Car wash. And I’ve been wearing it a lot more since I just joined a new cappella group. In fact, one of the other guys from my group is here — should we go find him and do a little harmonizing?”

Rory pointed a finger at him in mock seriousness. “Don't even start. You're wearing a penguin suit so I expect you to behave like a gentleman.”

***

Paris had been heavily involved in the event planning, so it was organized with military precision and tastefully designed down to the last detail. The ceremony was brief and low-key — “For God’s sake, it's a second wedding,” Paris had snapped when the wedding planner had asked if she was going to have bridesmaids. “Do I look like a Kardashian?” Rory didn't quite understand why two hundred guests at the New York Public Library were acceptable but a few bridesmaids weren't, but hey, she hadn't even been married once. And at least this meant she didn't have to be in the wedding.

After the ceremony the guests funneled into Astor Hall, a grand space in all its glory, full of white marble, high ceilings, and graceful arches. It was lit warmly with round tables surrounding a dance floor.

“Aw, man,” Rory said, a little disappointed.

“What? Not enough orchids?” Jess said.

“It's kind of stupid now that I think about it, but I was hoping that since the wedding is at a library, the reception would be in a room with, you know, books.”

He smiled, shaking his head. “You wanted to be able to pick out something to read in case the music is bad.”

“I just thought it would be cool.”

They found their table and settled in among a few other Yale Daily News alumni that Rory hadn't seen in years. Most of them were still terrified by Paris, but Doyle was enough of a bigwig that people came just for the networking opportunities. A year ago she would've hated this kind of thing because everyone was always interrogating each other about their careers, but now she felt okay about it: she was writing a book, and it was being published, for real. And Jess was doing just fine with the type-A crowd, too, Rory realized as he described Truncheon to one of her old editors, Bill. After their dinner plates were taken away and people started to feel the effects of the flowing wine, they started drifting off to the dance floor and the bar.

“How painful is this for you?” Rory asked when they were alone at the table.

“It’s fine,” Jess said, “but I could use another drink. Do you want one?”

“Yes, please,” she said, and he headed off for the bar.

Bill reappeared at the table. “Hey, Rory, before I forget - can you give this to Jess?” He held out his business card. “I'd like to pick his brain about a few things. Maybe get coffee next week or something. Ask him to call me?”

“Oh! Yeah, no problem,” Rory said, surprised. She felt a little burst of pride.

Just as he arrived back at the table with their drinks, the music slowed. He set the drinks down on the table and reached out his hand expectantly. “Want to dance?”

“Sure,” Rory said, caught off guard, trying to ignore the fluttering feeling in her chest. This is just a normal thing that people do at weddings, she reminded herself. She put down her napkin and stood, and he took her hand. They made their way out to the middle of the dance floor.

Jess turned to face her squarely and she settled her free hand on his shoulder, while he rested his on her waist. God, he looks good, she noted first. Take a cold shower, she chided herself immediately thereafter.

Paris and Doyle were right next to them locked in an embrace, barely swaying to the music, so Rory busied herself with looking at the happy couple.

“Two crazy kids in love,” Jess commented, following her gaze.

“I actually think it's going to stick this time,” Rory remarked.

“I didn’t think you were a romantic.”

“No?” she asked. She considered it. “Well, I did cry during The Notebook.”

“You did?” He raised his eyebrows.

“We ran out of Red Vines and the store was closed.”

He shook his head. “Heartbreaking.”

“Luke and my mom seem to have done it,” Rory continued. “And what about Liz and TJ? If they can make it work…”

“… maybe there's hope for the rest of us,” Jess finished.

“If, you know, that's what you want,” Rory hedged.

“Sure.”

They fell silent. Rory could feel Jess breathing. Was he breathing normally, the way you'd breath when dancing with a friend? Or was he breathing a little faster, the kind of breathing that signaled non-platonic feelings for your dance partner? At one point they turned their heads at the same time and his beard lightly grazed her cheek. She scanned his face, trying to read it, but it was so damn inscrutable. Maybe a little too inscrutable? Was he trying really hard to hide whatever was going on in his head?

“Did you read Kendall’s article?” she asked. An opening salvo.

But before he could answer, Doyle shouted, “OKAY, ENOUGH OF THIS!” Rory let go of Jess’ hand as everyone turned to look. The music stopped. “I’M READY TO SHAKE MY MONEYMAKER. CAN YOU DROP A REAL BEAT?”

A new song came on, something with so much bass Rory felt her rib cage vibrate.

Jess tilted his head, gesturing toward the door. “Somewhere quieter?” he hollered over the music, and Rory nodded. She grabbed two glasses of champagne off a tray as they left the dance floor and handed one to Jess. But before they could escape the room, a hand grabbed Rory’s shoulder. It was Paris.

“Hey!” Rory said, turning around. “Everything is so beautiful.”

“Best wishes, Paris,” Jess said, raising his glass.

“Oh, hey, Jess, it's great to see you!” Paris said in a friendly voice. She turned to Rory and changed her tone. “My idiot second cousin was flailing around on the dance floor and she pulled out one of my bobby pins. You'd think she'd have a modicum of coordination by the age of nine, but apparently not. Anyway, can you come help me?”

“Sure,” Rory said. She looked at Jess and mouthed a helpless apology.

***

Paris led her to a quiet room off to the side that was reserved for brides and their entourages.

“You and Doyle seem really happy,” Rory remarked as she leaned over to examine the curl that had fallen out of Paris’ updo.

“He's probably out there doing the worm as we speak. The only reason we had the wedding here is that he’s obsessed with the Sex and the City movie. But alas, this is the life I chose.”

Rory surveyed the supplies in the room. Hairspray, tampons, deodorant. “Aha,” she said, spotting a basket of bobby pins. She grabbed one. “I may not be Vidal Sassoon but I think I can fix it.”

“Thanks,” Paris said. “So, what's the deal with Jess?”

“There is no deal with Jess.”

“Really? Please.”

Rory was ready to bubble over with anxiety, and she was tired, so tired, of walling it off inside herself. “Honestly, I don't know. Maybe it's crazy. But I feel like there's something there.” Rory felt a wave of relief as she finally said it out loud. “I don't know if he's feeling it, though. Sometimes I think... but then I'm not so sure.”

“Well, it’s you, so I'm sure he's pining away too.”

“It's different this time. It's been so long since it was like that between us.”

“What does Lorelai think?”

“I haven't told her.” Rory held the bobby pin with her teeth as she tucked the curl into the rest and then inserted the pin.

“Because of the whole family thing?”

“What do you mean?” Rory asked.

“Well, you're family. I don't mean in an icky Game of Thrones kind of way. I just mean in a complicated way.”

“Yeah…”

“So, if you ever break up, you’re still going to see each other for the rest of your lives. You can't put Lorelai and Luke in a position where they have to take a side. So either it has to work out forever, or it has to end amicably. Whatever that looks like.”

“You're right. It is complicated,” she said weakly. She sprayed the back of Paris’ head with hairspray and stepped back to admire her handiwork. “All set.”

Paris patted her hair to make sure it felt secure. “He’s my favorite of all your old boyfriends,” Paris continued before opening the door, “if that's worth anything.”

***

Rory reentered the hall, where the musical selection was still shaking the champagne glasses. She carried a new weight on her shoulders. Paris had rattled her, and her stomach churned. Forever. That was a big word.

Jess’ seat was empty. She checked the bar, but he wasn't there either. She scanned the perimeter of the room - nope. Finally, she walked tentatively toward the dance floor, where Doyle was arching his back and hopping forward, trying to clear an imaginary limbo bar.

“Rory.” Jess grabbed her arm.

“Oh, hey. I was wondering if you'd somehow been taken hostage and forced to do that fishing rod dance move with Doyle.”

He leaned in conspiratorially. “I found something even better. Follow me and stay quiet.”

He led her out of the hall and up two flights of a roped-off staircase. He looked back and forth down the hallway to see if anyone was there. Then he crossed the hallway and opened a door.

“After you,” he said, gesturing inside.

“Jess, what —” she started to say, but stopped when she went inside. They were in a long room filled with heavy wooden tables and chairs, dotted with brass lamps. Big chandeliers hung from the ceiling, which was ornate and gilded, with painted skies full of fluffy clouds. And then there were the books: shelves and shelves of them lining the walls all around the room.

“This is the main reading room,” Rory said in a hushed voice. She’d been there before, but not like this. “I cannot believe we’re in the main reading room of the New York Public Library all by ourselves right now. Am I dead? Am I in heaven? We are definitely not supposed to be in here.”

Jess shrugged, entertained by her excitement. “You said you wanted to see books.”

She walked down the aisle in the center of the room, turning in a circle to see everything. “I mean, could there possibly be a more perfect way to experience a library? One of the greatest libraries in the world, no less?” She looked back at him. “You know what it almost feels like?”

“What?”

The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler.”

He laughed and shook his head. She turned away and walked over to the bookshelves across the room, running her fingers along the spines of the books. He trailed behind her by a few steps.

She turned back and shot him a grateful look. “This is incredible. I'm never going to forget this.”

“It's not a big deal,” he said, adjusting his bow tie. He noticed that she was still watching him and gave her a measured look. They were older, and his face was a man’s face now, but she still recognized that look.

He was feeling it, the thing between them. Wasn't he? She was pretty sure. He’d come to the wedding. He'd brought her up here. And he was looking at her like that.

Everything was quiet except for the faint sound of music from below. It was so still, him and her in the cavernous room filled with books. A room a mile long, with just the two of them standing a foot apart.

The look on his face — it was an answer and a question at the same time. Her cheeks felt warm. Part of her was telling herself to just stand there and keep looking at him, to wait for him to kiss her or say something irrevocable, or to kiss him herself or say the things she wanted to say. But another part of her, the part thinking about what Paris said, the part that had gotten quite comfortable being alone over the past year, the part with an instinct for self-preservation at all costs, was saying bail, bail, bail.

She thought he was moving closer to her but then she realized that she was moving closer to him too. His fingertips grazed her wrist, gently, just a whisper of contact. The loudest whisper she'd ever heard.

“I think —” she said.

“Do you —” he said at the same time.

Just then the door opened. They both spun around, expecting a security guard, but it was two women, both giggling. Rory recognized one of them.

“Oh, I guess we weren't the only ones who had this idea,” the blonde nurse with thick glasses and said when she spotted Rory and Jess.

“Sorry to interrupt,” said the brunette. She was tall and thin with a full-sleeve arm tattoo. Her name came to Rory after a moment: Katherine. They'd met at Paris’ holiday party. “We just figured — wouldn't it be cool to see the main reading room without anyone else here?”

“No worries,” Rory said lightly, trying to hide her disappointment. “We had the same thought.”

“Rory!” Katherine said, grinning, as she recognized her. “It's great to see you.”

“It's nice to see you, too, Katherine.” Rory smiled politely, hoping they would excuse themselves, but they drew closer instead. “Oh, this is Jess,” she finally said.

“I'm Katherine,” the brunette said, reading out to Jess for a handshake. “This is Andi. We work with Paris. I'm a reproductive endocrinologist at her clinic. Andi is a nurse.”

“Working with Paris. That must be interesting,” he mused.

“Imagine being one of Patton’s lieutenant generals and you're just about there.” She smiled. “What about you, Jess?”

“I run a small publishing house,” he said.

“And he's a published novelist,” Rory added.

“Well, ten years ago,” he said.

“That's awesome,” Katherine said. “What's your novel about?”

“Hard to explain.”

Katherine smiled. “The meaning of the universe, etcetera?”

“Something like that.” He cleared his throat. Katherine laughed. Rory wrinkled her nose involuntarily.

The door opened again, but this time it was a security guard.

“Sorry, we were looking for the bathroom and we just got lost,” Andi tried.

“Save it,” he said, bored. “Back downstairs, please.”

Rory moved slowly so that Andi and Katherine would leave first. She took one last look around, trying to imprint it in her memory. “Thanks,” she whispered to Jess as they filed downstairs, elbowing him gently.

“You're welcome, Claudia Kincaid.”

Just before they reentered the hall, Katherine twirled around to face them. “Hey,” she said, pointing at them. “I know this might be awkward, but I've had plenty of booze tonight. Are you two dating?”

They froze and glanced at each other.

“At first I thought you were, but then I thought you weren't. The vibe wasn't clear,” Katherine went on.

The vibe wasn't clear. Rory almost laughed. She thought about the moment between them upstairs. And she thought about what Paris had said. Forever. Forever forever forever forever. It was such a long time, and it required complete certainty. And after she'd done all that thinking she realized that Jess hadn't said a word. Somebody needed to answer the question. “No, definitely not,” she said quickly. “We’re just friends. That's it. Practically family.” Too far. Her eyes darted to the side. Jess’ face was a brick wall.

“So you don't mind if I — if I talk to Jess alone for a minute?”

Oh. Rory realized where this was going and her face flamed. She swallowed nervously. “Not at all. Jess is a — he’s, um, a grown man, an adult man. If you want to talk to each other, or whatever, you can go right ahead.” She waved her hand casually. “And I will be at the bar.”

She bolted for the bar without waiting to see what happened next. “Martini, please, and fast,” she called to the bartender. She wondered how their conversation was going. Katherine was really cool, cooler than Rory. And more accomplished. And she already lived in the same city as Jess. Not that it was a competition. Rory wasn't going to pursue him. She couldn't. Upstairs it had seemed like there was a window, the possibility of something, but she wasn't thinking straight. She was caught up in the wedding, the library. There were so many good reasons not to act on these feelings. And, besides, if Jess wanted her, would he really be talking to Katherine right now?

***

Half a drink later, she was staring at her glass when Jess came up next to her.

“Hey,” he said.

“Hey,” she responded with forced cheeriness. “How was — that?” Her words came out a bit strangled.

“You okay?” he asked.

“I'm fine. I'm great.”

“You sure?”

“Yes, I'm sure. Why wouldn't I be?”

“Okay.”

“So what did she want to talk about?”

He flagged down the bartender and ordered a drink. Rory downed the rest of hers in one shot.

He turned to her. “She asked me out,” he said matter-of-factly.

“Oh,” Rory said. “Well, that's… what did you say?”

His eyes locked on hers. “I said yes.”

Her heart sank. “Oh — you did. Well, I, I think that's great.” She forced the words out. “Paris has only said good things about her, so she's probably amazing.”

Jess didn't respond, and Rory couldn't will herself to say anything more. They stood silently at the bar, the bass continuing to vibrate for what felt like all of eternity.

Chapter Text

“The rest of the world was black and white /
But we were in screaming color”
— Taylor Swift

***

Summer temporarily woke from its slumber the day of the Stars Hollow High anniversary celebration. It was mid-fall, the leaves already changing, the whole world tinged with amber, but hot and sunny. By evening the heat had mellowed, but it was still warm.

“Almost time to go!” Lorelai yelled down the stairs. “You ready?”

Rory looked down at her jeans and t-shirt. “I'm ready,” she called back upstairs.

Lorelai hurried down. “Your last town event as a Stars Hollow resident! I may shed a tear.”

“Don't waste the hankie. I'll be back next month for the Autumn Festival. Where's Luke?”

“We’re meeting Luke and Jess in front of the diner.”

“Jess is coming?” Rory’s stomach plummeted. They hadn't spoken since the wedding two weeks before. Every time she typed out a text message, she erased it before sending it. And he hadn't reached out either. She knew he was heading to San Francisco for his big meeting with the investors the next day, so she’d figured he wasn't coming.

“That's what I thought Luke said. But you're his buddy, you'd know better than me. Why wouldn't he come? Didn't he help you with the anniversary issue?”

“Yeah, of the Stars Hollow Gazette, not Vanity Fair. Hang on, I have to change.”

She hurried into her room and pulled a sundress and a cardigan off a hanger. She ran a brush through her hair and quickly applied some mascara and blush. As she was dabbing on some lipstick Lorelai appeared behind her in the mirror.

She studied Rory’s face and hair. “You're primping.”

“So?” Rory checked to make sure there was no lipstick on her teeth.

“You didn't primp before I came downstairs.”

“Who cares when I primp?”

“You only primped when you heard Jess was coming.”

“Oh, come on.”

“I was right! There's something going on between you two. You like him,” Lorelai accused.

“That's ridiculous.”

“My God. You said no, and Luke said no, and I thought it was a little weird that you brought him to Paris’ wedding, but I wasn't going to bring it up again. But it's true. The year is 2002, your Chilton skirt is in the washing machine, our jeans only zip up to our hip bones, and you like Jess.”

“No, I don't.”

“Nicolas Cage just married Lisa Marie Presley, Christina Aguilera is getting Dirrty, and you like Jess.”

“Mom.”

“Hey, do you think we can stop them from making Gigli before we get transported back to 2017? And you like Jess!”

“Mom!” Rory snapped, slamming the tube of lipstick on her dresser. “Will you please just stop?”

Lorelai’s jaw dropped. “This is for real.”

“I quit dating. I wrote a book. I sold my book. I found an apartment. My life is moving forward. And yet somehow here I am, feeling — what I'm feeling. I can't help it. We sit on the couch and he reads and I write, or we watch a stupid movie, and we just talk and hang out, and one day, I realized — oh, I want to do this with him every day.” She took a breath. “I'm sure you think I'm crazy.”

A smile slowly spread across Lorelai’s face. “I don't think you're crazy,” she said. “Jess is a great guy.” She snapped her fingers. “Oh, damn, I guess that means it can't be 2002 after all.”

Rory gave her a look.

“Does he know?” Lorelai asked.

“No. And he’ll never know.”

“What? Why?”

“Because it's Jess. If he doesn't reciprocate, then our friendship is ruined and Thanksgiving dinner will be really awkward every year.”

“We don't have Thanksgiving dinner with Jess.”

“Figurative Thanksgiving dinner. Every time we’re in Stars Hollow at the same time, I’ll be trying to avoid him and he’ll be shaking his head at his old high school girlfriend who still carries a torch for him.”

Lorelai sat down on the bed. “Okay, yeah, that could be awkward. But maybe he's carrying a torch too. He has been coming to Stars Hollow an awful lot this past year.”

“That might be worse! Then if we date and then break up, the awkwardness will just be magnified. God, imagine what that would be like for you and Luke?” Rory sat down next to her.

Lorelai was quiet for a moment. “One of my biggest fears over the years, with all of my relationship screw-ups, was that I would teach you the wrong things about love.”

“Mom, no.”

“One of my biggest screw-ups was being too afraid of what was right in front of me to go after it. There were so many years that Luke and I could've spent together that we spent apart because of things that seem so stupid now. I don't want that for you. Be honest with yourself. Don't worry about me and Luke and Thanksgiving dinner. If you think he's your guy, tell him. Any possible consequence of that is better than the alternative.”

She squeezed Rory’s shoulder. “Wear those pretty earrings Grandma gave you,” she suggested on her way out of the room.

***

Rory’s stomach was in knots as they walked to Luke’s. The sun had set, and the lights of the ferris wheel and the cotton candy booth in the town square twinkled. There was a colorful balloon arch and a “100 Pies of Stars Hollow High” baking competition. A photo booth had been set up with a multitude of props.

“Hey, girls, check out this top hat on Morey!” Babette called out to them from the photo booth. “Doesn't he look like a sexy Abraham Lincoln?”

“Dibs on sexy Abraham Lincoln for my next Halloween costume,” Lorelai declared with glee.

Luke had closed the diner early, since everyone in town was at the celebration and there was plenty of food for sale there. They found him standing out front, arguing with Kirk.

“I haven't run hurdles since I was eighteen. If I do it now I'll fall on my face and probably break a hip,” Luke was insisting, clearly exasperated.

“Why would you be running hurdles?” Lorelai asked, joining the conversation.

“I'm directing the opening ceremony and I need a former Stars Hollow High athlete to light the ceremonial cauldron. Luke was a varsity hurdler, so I need him to jump some hurdles with the torch and then light the flame,” Kirk explained.

“Oooh, Luke, light it with a bow and arrow like at the Barcelona Olympics,” Lorelai cajoled him.

Luke groaned. “There will be no hurdling and no bow and arrow.” He pointed toward the pretzel stand. “Hey, Kirk, I think I just saw the pitcher from last year’s baseball team. Maybe he can light it with a flaming fastball.”

“That's way better than hurdling,” Kirk said, disappearing.

Esther toddled by with a stack of copies of the Gazette. Lorelai grabbed one. “And in a shocking upset, the Pulitzer Prize for Best Newspaper Assembled on a Pre-Y2K Computer goes to Rory Gilmore!” she exclaimed, flipping through the pages. “Hey, this looks great.”

“Make sure you read the story about the sit-in at the school gym during the Vietnam War. It's actually fascinating,” Rory said. “Oh, and if you look closely on page four, you'll find an old picture of Lane in her cheerleading uniform.”

“There's Jess,” Luke said, spotting him as he weaved through the crowd in their direction, hands in his pockets. He looked good in his short-sleeve button-up and black jeans. Her palms started to sweat.

“Hey, Jess,” Lorelai chirped.

“How was your drive?” Luke asked.

“Not bad,” Jess said.

“Traffic?”

“A little.”

Luke shook his head. “I don't know why you didn't come up last night. The traffic would've been better.”

“I told you I couldn't.”

“Oh, yeah,” Luke said. He turned to Lorelai and Rory and raised his eyebrows. “Jess had a date last night.”

“A date?” Lorelai inquired. Jess glanced at Rory. She was instantly self-conscious about the brightness of her lipstick.

“A first date,” Luke continued.

“Are you writing a gossip column for the Gazette?” Jess sniped. He tapped his thumb against his leg repeatedly.

“A date with some fancy doctor.”

“You know what, Luke, I think we should go grab a seat for the opening ceremony. I want to make sure we’re a safe distance away during Kirk’s Carl Diem moment,” Lorelai said, pulling Luke by the hand. She held up her copy of the Gazette. “Great job on this, both of you! We’ll see you guys later.”

And then they were gone, and Rory and Jess were alone. He rocked back and forth on his heels, hands in his pockets. “So. Should we —”

“I better make sure everyone gets a copy,” Rory interrupted, reaching out to grab a stack of papers from Esther as she meandered by again. She pivoted sharply and started to walk.

How many chances could two people have? There had to be a finite limit. He'd left her to go to California. She’d gone to Philly and kissed him and stomped on his heart when she told him she loved Logan. Years passed, they were just friends, and then... So many stops and starts and almosts, chickening out and deflecting and sending mixed signals. The moment in the reading room at the library. And then she'd practically shoved him into Katherine’s arms. It was completely rational for him to say, You know what, this is never going to actually work. And move on with someone else.

All she heard was the muddled sound of the crowd in her ears, and as she strode through the swarm of people, their shapes were carnival-colored blurs. She wasn't handing the newspapers to anyone. She had no idea if he'd tried to follow her until she felt his hand wrap around her wrist, gently pulling her to a stop.

“What are you doing?” he asked.

She studied his dark eyes. His hand was still on her wrist.

“Can I have one?” someone asked, tugging on a paper. Rory handed him the whole pile. “I don't need…” he started to say, but Rory was already walking away.

“Come on,” Rory said, sliding into the photo booth. She couldn't have a conversation with him — at least not the conversation they needed to have — in front of all these people.

He sat down next to her. The booth was small; their legs were touching. Babette tried to hand them a pair of funny glasses with a mustache but Rory waved her off, leaned over, and shut the curtain.

“So, first date with Katherine,” Rory commented, in what she hoped was a very casual voice. She just needed to know. How many chances could two people have? Had they already used all of theirs, or was there one left?

“Yep.”

“How was that?”

He shrugged.

“You're chatty.”

He looked down at his feet and then met her eye. “We don't usually talk about this kind of stuff.”

“Well, why not?”

He didn't answer. The camera was clicking but neither of them was paying attention to it.

“So, how was it?” she pressed.

“It was a date. Dinner, drinks, conversation. That's it.”

“Well, will you go out with her again?” she demanded. Not so casual. There was so much she wanted to say, but she wanted to be sure first, needed to be sure first. There was so much at stake.

“Why do you sound so hostile?” He narrowed his eyes.

“I'm not hostile.”

“I must be imagining things, then.”

She felt so frustrated with her own paralyzed inability to say what she wanted that she thought she might cry. She was so scared of ruining things by telling him how she felt that she was ruining things by not telling him how she felt. She turned her head, as if something fascinating were happening behind her right shoulder, so he wouldn't see her face.

“Look, Rory.” His voice softened. “Nothing happened. It was stupid. I shouldn't have gone, anyway, I just…” he trailed off.

She felt relief, and then panic. This could be it, then. The big moment. And she didn't even know exactly what she wanted to say. “It's really hot in here,” she interjected. “I need to go.”

She squeezed past him, out into the warm night. Babette shoved a photo strip into her hand — what a moment to capture in photographs — and she started moving, not sure where she was going, just away. She was vaguely aware that at the speed she was moving, it probably constituted fleeing rather than walking.

Most of the crowd was streaming toward the high school for the opening ceremony. Rory let herself get caught in the current, moving with everyone else. But as they turned toward the football field, she made a left and finally started to slow down.

“Rory!” Jess had followed her.

She didn't turn around, just picked up her pace again and kept going. “I have to be somewhere — I forgot —”

“Will you slow down?”

“I can't.”

“I think we should talk.”

“Later, I promise —”

But then she realized where they were, where she'd led him, and she stopped dead in her tracks. Jess caught up with her, and out of the corner of her eye she saw him sidle up next to her, facing the same direction she was. She couldn't look at him, so she looked down at the photo strip in her hand.

In the first photo she was looking straight ahead and he was a blur, his head turning. In the second, her eyes were closed and he was rubbing his knit brow. They were both looking down in the third photo.

She breathed in sharply when she saw the last one. It was the only one in which they were looking at each other. They were bickering when the picture was snapped, she knew. But in the photo their chins were tilted and their eyes were soft, like the act of looking at each other alone required great care.

They were looking at each other like they were professing their love to each other. The realization startled her. If someone just looked at the picture, they'd think they were catching the tenderest moment of a starry-eyed couple. They'd never know that behind the scenes, they were arguing.

Which was funny, because it felt like the opposite to her: the fighting was on the surface but the love was underneath.

“You forgot you had to be here?” he asked skeptically. They were at the lake. In front of them was the bridge. Overhead was a canopy of trees enclosing the lake in a dome of papery autumn leaves, half caramelized, the other half a riot of apple red. It was mostly quiet, but every time the breeze floated through, the leaves danced.

“I have a very important business meeting,” she deadpanned.

He meandered on ahead of her, looking around. “Huh,” he noted. “Weird.”

She followed him tentatively. “What's weird?”

He gestured at the sky. “This place. I haven't been here in, what, almost fifteen years? This was my favorite place in Stars Hollow. I spent so much time here back then. Reading books and kicking rocks.”

“I distinctly recall you doing a lot of brooding on this bridge.”

He cracked a smile.

She looked around, too, a thousand memories flitting through her mind, and then their eyes settled on each other. “If I told you back then that we’d be here fifteen years later, would you have believed me?” she asked. He shook his head.

She walked past him, onto the bridge. She stopped about halfway across, facing the water. She looked back, but he was still standing in the grass. “Are you coming?” she asked uncertainly.

He hesitated, but then shoved his hands in his pockets and walked out onto the bridge. He stopped a few feet away from her.

She looked up at the treetops again. The breeze played with the hem of her dress. She fought the urge to cross her arms.

“Rory.” His voice was soft. It felt like an act of intimacy, him saying her name like that. The trees whispered. Rory stared straight ahead at the lake.

“Will you look at me?”

“I can't.” Her voice cracked.

“Why?” He said it like a challenge.

Her impulse was to fire a question right back. “What are you thinking?” she wanted to ask. But no. It wasn't fair. He was standing there, wasn't he? It had to be her. She had to be the one to answer the questions first. What are you thinking? What do you want? She exhaled slowly, trying to calm herself. She thought about The Remains of the Day. About the price of self-preservation. She thought about the looks on their faces in the photo.

Screw it.

“We never had a real chance.” Her voice was wobbly. She cleared her throat and stood up straighter. “First it was you, then it was me, and we were kids anyway. And I was fine with that. That's life. We moved on, we grew up. But here's the funny thing about it. We moved on and grew up and yet, right now, we’re still standing here. Why? It's because that thing, that thing that I don't have words for, it's still there. It pulls us together. But now, the things that there are words for, those are there too: reliability, for one. Self-awareness, for another. Maturity. Communication —” she laughed wryly — “at least about everything except this. And I think that's a pretty powerful combination. I think it can make something pretty special, and I want to find out for sure. And I think you do too.”

She turned to face him. He was looking back at her seriously. Like she was of grave importance. Or like he was considering having her committed, one or the other. She walked over to him slowly, unconsciously, until he was only about a foot away. They were so close to each other. She could see every detail of his face. She heard him swallow thickly. He smelled like soap and toothpaste.

“I'm —” she stumbled. “Are you?”

“Yes,” he said. “Yes.”

She didn't hesitate; she couldn't anymore. She ran one hand up his arm, sliding her fingertips under the sleeve of his t-shirt. His shoulder was warm and strong. With the other hand she grabbed the hem of his shirt and pulled him closer. He reached toward her and traced her cheek gently with his thumb. She shivered despite the weather. His arms slid around her waist, pulling her body up against his, and she could feel his heart beat against hers. She wrapped one arm around his neck. There was so little space left between them , just a couple of inches really, and just as Rory became aware of that fact, she was kissing him, and he was kissing her back. The trees sighed in relief: Finally.

After awhile she pulled away from him. “So, just to be clear — what I said — that was the same thing you were thinking?”

“Well, I might not have used so many words,” he teased in a low voice, short of breath. She poked him the ribs. He kissed her again.

And then someone was clapping loudly, which seemed like a sin in this place, and they broke apart. She heard Taylor's lecturing voice from the end of the bridge. “Kids, break it up. This bridge is the property of the town of Stars Hollow, and the town of Stars Hollow does not condone this type of inappropriate behavior, in public no less. Do your parents know where you are?”

Rory buried her head in Jess’ chest and laughed. His heart was still beating fast. “We’re just two consenting adults here, Taylor,” Jess said drily.

“Oh, who is — Jess? Jess Mariano? And who is that with you?” Taylor’s voice grew louder as he stepped closer. “Is that Rory? Jess and Rory?” He sounded scandalized but thrilled. “Interesting,” he practically sang.

“We better go,” Rory whispered. “Taylor’s about to go all Walter Winchell and we should hunker down before the news breaks.”

A smile played at Jess’ lips. “Let's go hunker down then.”

She touched her mouth as she stood, as if she expected to find evidence that something important had just happened there. Then she reached over to wipe the traces of lipstick from his face. They walked back toward the school in silence, arms leaning into each other much more than was necessary, like they were carrying a secret in between them and it would get out if they parted. People were filtering back into the square, the ceremony over. They were approaching the crowd and Rory was about to speak when she made eye contact with Lorelai from a distance. She separated her arm from his.

“Hey!” Lorelai exclaimed, walking toward them, Luke trailing behind. “We were wondering where you were.” She studied Rory’s face, squinting slightly. Rory played with her bracelet, trying not to give anything away.

“Liz called. She's looking for you, Jess,” Luke said. “Dewey needs help with her homework. Something about a diorama emergency? I don't really know what a diorama is or how it helps anybody learn anything they need to know for college or the real world, but there you go.”

“Right now?” Jess asked.

Lorelai was still reading Rory’s face. Her eyes narrowed further and she tilted her head. She opened her mouth to speak.

“Well, it is a school night. You better go,” Rory told him stiffly. She gave him an awkward pat on the shoulder. “See you later, Jess.”

He looked quizzically at the shoulder she'd just patted and shook his head. “See you later, Rory.” They exchanged a look. Jess nodded at Luke and Lorelai. “Night, everyone.”

Lorelai turned to watch as he headed off to Liz’s.

“Hey, Luke, I think you left something in the bleachers,” Lorelai said. “We’ll meet you at home.”

“What? No, I didn't. What did I leave in the bleachers?” He patted his pocket for his keys and wallet.

“I meant you left something on at the diner. The coffee. I left it on, actually. I made a pot before you locked up.”

“I never leave without making sure the coffee is off.”

“You did this time.”

“I think it's more likely that you're hallucinating.”

“Luke,” she said pointedly. “Just go make sure the coffee is off and we’ll meet you at home.”

“Okay, I will go pretend to check the coffee so that you and Rory can be alone to talk about whatever just happened between Rory and Jess.”

Rory opened her mouth. “What, you think I'm oblivious?” he continued. “It may take me a little longer to pick up on things but give me some credit. I recognize those moony faces. I've seen them before.” He walked away grumbling.

“Love you!” Lorelai shouted. She turned slowly back to Rory.

“So, what happened?”

“I thought you were going to grill us both right there with that face you were making!”

“What happened?”

Rory rolled her eyes and sighed. But then she smiled, and she told her everything.

***

Later that night, as Rory paced around her room, reliving the moment, Lorelai knocked on her bedroom door. Rory felt woozy, but in a good way. Like she'd just ridden a roller coaster, if she were a person who really liked roller coasters.

“I'm here as your friend, not your mother,” Lorelai said.

“That usually means you're going to say something dirty.”

“Jess is leaving for San Francisco tomorrow, right?”

“Yes. For a week.”

“I bet he's done with that diorama by now.”

“If he's not then he really needs to work on his hot glue gun abilities.”

“Are you going to see him before he goes?”

“I don't know — I'm not really sure what —”

“Literally, get a room,” Lorelai interjected. She held out a key.

Rory looked at it. “What is this?”

“This is going to prevent a thirty-something year old man from trying to climb in your bedroom window tonight, and me from having to sleep with earplugs.”

“Why would he have to climb in the window? You wouldn't let him in the front door?”

“Hush. Leave me my funny visual.” She pressed the key into Rory’s hand. “This is the key to Room 12 at the Dragonfly. The cottage out back. Very secluded. I just swung by really quick and picked it up for you.”

“This feels a little Heidi Fleiss.”

“Good night,” Lorelai sang with a big smile, backing out of the room and shutting the door.

Rory looked down at the key. Her hand closed around it and she swallowed hard. She took out her phone.

***

A half hour letter she was sitting on the couch in the room, bouncing her leg, fidgeting with her hair. Light on or off? she debated. Off was a little too let's-get-down-to-business. She left the light on.

She heard a light knock and took a deep breath. Her heart was beating like she'd just sprinted up all four flights of stairs in Paris’ apartment. She tousled her hair. She stood up and opened the door.

He was leaning against the post on the small porch, hands in his pocket. One foot on the ground, the other against the post. Mouth turned up at the corner. His eyes, dark and heavy, were fixed on hers.

She bit her lip unconsciously and challenged his gaze with her own. Her chest burned like she'd just swallowed a shot of Sookie’s homemade plum brandy. He looked over her, his eyes flickering down and then back up again. She felt a little thrill at the implication, as if the fact that he was there weren’t implication enough. She caught his eyes with hers again and held them.

Emboldened and out of patience, she reached into the hall, grabbed him by the arm, and pulled him into the room in one swoop. He stutter-stepped into her, their bodies colliding firmly, and she found his mouth with hers. The kiss was satisfyingly imprecise. He dragged his teeth along her bottom lip and she slid her hands under his shirt, up his stomach and around his back. She felt so dizzy she wasn't sure if she was still standing, but he was holding her tightly. He maneuvered around so that he was the one facing the hallway, pushing her body up against the door to close it, and released his mouth from hers to kiss her neck. She reached out her arm, fumbling for the light switch, and the room went dark.

***

In the morning she woke up gradually. Her first hazy thought was, I am not in my bed. Her second was, There is a naked man next to me. And finally, The naked man is Jess.

He began to stir at the same time she did. “Hey,” he slurred sleepily, his voice rough, lazily tracing a finger through her hair.

“Hey.” She was in the crook of his arm, head on his chest. She touched her lips to his skin and breathed in. She wanted to take in the details, to marvel at the fact that they were here, in this bed, together. But there wasn't time. “You better get up,” she whispered. “Your flight.”

He kissed her forehead. “One week,” he said. “And when I get back we’ll be living in the same city.”

“In the same place. At the same time.”

Chapter Text

“Love is the only argument you can win by saying yes.”
— Patricia Lockwood, Priestdaddy

***

Rory held Jess’ arm as she reached around him to grab her toothbrush from the bathroom sink. He rested his hand on the small of her back as he leaned over the kitchen counter to grab a banana while she made coffee. What a novelty, she thought, to be able to just reach out and touch the person you want.

“I'll be back tonight,” she said as she zipped her bag and looked for her car keys. There was something she needed to do in Hartford. And she needed to do it by herself. “I can go back to my place. Or I can come here.”

“Come here,” he said, like it was obvious. He kissed her shoulder. She'd been settled in her new place in Queens for a few weeks, but she hadn't spent many nights there.

“Hey.” She picked up the book she was reading the night before. She was only halfway done, and if she was just going to come back tonight… “Can I leave this here?”

“Sure.” He found her keys and put them by her coat.

“Nightstand okay? Or…” They both turned to the bookshelves at the same time.

“Take one.” He tilted his head toward the shelves. Realizing that they were mostly full, he grabbed the books from one shelf and squeezed them onto another shelf. He rapped his knuckles on the newly empty one. “All yours.”

She placed her book carefully on the shelf. “You’re sure it's not too soon?” She was enjoying asking questions to which she already knew the answers.

“Hmm.” He stepped closer to her, taking her hands and looking down at them. Her gaze dropped to follow his. So little space between them; how had it taken so long to get here? “Now that I think about it,” he said softly, “I really don't know you well enough at all. Maybe in another year.” She rested her face in the crook of his neck and laughed.

“In five years you can keep a toothbrush here,” he said. She kissed his stubble.

“Ten gets you a drawer in the nightstand.” He pushed her hair out of her eyes.

“By the time your teeth fall out, enough time will have passed that I'll be comfortable with you keeping a spare box of Polident in the cabinet.”

He was holding her face with one hand, and she looked at him. “You haven't noticed that I’ve already got a set of wooden teeth? There's so much you have to learn about me.”

“Well, we’ve got time.” Their mouths met. Truly an incredible thing, kissing the person you want to kiss whenever you want to kiss them.

***

Lorelai stood in the dining room, turning slowly in a circle. It was completely empty: no table or chairs, no paintings on the walls, no drapes on the windows. All the rugs were gone; it was the first time she'd ever seen the bare hardwood floors. They looked naked.

Her footsteps echoed as she walked slowly from room to room. The rooms looked so big with nothing in them. They used to be so intimidating, so stifling, each one filled with the weight of a hundred painful memories, as ever-present as the candlesticks on the mantle.

Here is the kitchen where Mom dropped a glass when I told them I was pregnant.

Here is the bedroom where I was a girl. Where Rory spent her first year and I cried hot tears every night, overwhelmed by our circumstances and miserable with my parents, fantasizing about the freedom to create my own version of a life for us.

Here is the dining room, the scene of every Friday night dinner. The bad ones, the awkward ones, but also the good ones, the funny and surprising ones.

Here is the living room where I sat with my pride at my feet, asking them to pay for Chilton. An event that set into motion years of reforming our relationship, a process full of starts and stops and circles, one step forward and two steps back, moments of anger and frustration but also love and joy, a process that continues to this day. Well. With Mom, anyway.

She was about to wander into Richard’s study when the front door opened and she heard a pair of sensible heels clacking in the foyer. She poked her head out and saw Emily Gilmore in a suit and pearls.

“You're dressed up,” Lorelai commented. She hadn't seen Emily wearing St. John in two years.

Emily only looked a little surprised to see her. “I needed to wear something appropriate for the closing. It's at Briggs Whitaker’s office.”

Lorelai's was pretty sure Briggs Whitaker had already been ancient when she was a child. “That guy is still alive?”

“Of course he's alive. He's still practicing law. Anyway, the buyers and the agents will be there too. If I don't wear something nice, I’m sure they’ll wonder if they're overpaying for the house. What are you doing here, anyway?”

Lorelai looked at the spot by the door where the coat rack used to be. She shrugged. “I just wanted to be here. One more time.”

Emily’s face turned solemn. She began her own slow walk through the house, Lorelai trailing behind.

“It's weird. Now they're just… rooms,” Lorelai said.

“Somebody else’s rooms.” Emily stood where the drink cart used to be. Lorelai could almost see Richard next to her, pouring martinis as Emily looked on. Emily was quiet for a minute, lost in her own memories.

“Hey, Mom?” Lorelai said tentatively. Emily looked up. “While I have you here, what day do you want us to come for Christmas this year? I want to mark the calendar. Assuming, y’know, you still want us to come.”

“Well, actually, I've been thinking.”

Lorelai's heart sank.

“What about Thanksgiving?”

“Instead of Christmas?”

“In addition to Christmas.” Emily moved slowly toward the patio, looking outside into the garden.

“Oh,” Lorelai’s eyebrows shot up in surprise. “Well, we are having a big thing at our house this year. We’d love to have you.”

“That sounds perfect.”

“And the spa opens the week before, if you want to come up early for the grand opening,” Lorelai said, thinking out loud. “You can stay at the inn. It’ll be really nice.” She was a little embarrassed by her excitement. She bit her lip to hide her smile.

Emily continued to gaze outside for a moment before turning to Lorelai. “I've been very busy this past year,” she said. They exchanged a look. “It's an adjustment. I'm still trying to get it right. Next year will be… better. I'd be delighted to come for the spa’s opening and Thanksgiving.”

Lorelai smiled and put an arm around her, squeezing her close. “Great, we’ll have a paper plate with your name on it.”

“Paper plate?” Emily stepped away to get a good look at Lorelai’s face, to see if she was serious, her mouth hanging open.

Just then the door opened again. “Hello?” Rory called out.

“What are you doing here?” Lorelai and Emily asked at the same time in the exact same tone. Lorelai shivered.

Rory glanced back and forth between the two of them in amusement. “Probably the same thing you're doing. There was so much traffic. I wanted to be here an hour ago.” She did a double-take. “Wow, it's empty!”

“What's up with your face?” Lorelai asked suspiciously.

Rory touched her cheeks, feeling for crumbs from the muffin she'd eaten in the car, but she came up with nothing. “I don't know how to respond to that.”

“Your face looks lovely as always,” Emily offered.

“You look too happy for a person who just fought traffic to get here. Is it Jess? I mean, we’re all happy for you, but don't make us sick.” Lorelai said.

“I actually do have some news,” Rory said. “I just got a call from my publisher. I now officially have a release date for my book.”

After congratulations all around, Emily checked her watch. “I need to get to the closing.”

“I'll meet you outside, okay?” said Rory. “I just need one minute.”

Emily and Lorelai headed out the front door, chattering about paper plates, and the house grew quiet as the door closed behind them. Rory took a deep breath and pulled the tiny flash drive from her pocket.

It was the smallest one she could find. She'd originally wanted to bring a paper copy of the manuscript, but it was too bulky to hide. Besides, her grandfather always stayed up-to-date on the latest technology. He would've been able to figure out a flash drive.

In the corner of his study, near the wall where the painting of Rory once hung, there was a gap in the trim, a spot where you could wedge something small, practically into the wall itself. Where nobody would find it. Well, nobody still living in this world, anyway.

She left it there for him.

After scurrying outside, she found Emily and Lorelai waiting for her out front. Emily locked the door, and all three Gilmore women stood together on the front steps, facing the house.

“Ready?” Emily asked softly after awhile. Rory put an arm around her. Lorelai touched the doorbell, one last time, her eyes closing for a moment.

“Ready,” she finally said, her voice hoarse. Rory grabbed her hand and squeezed it.

“I have to go to the lawyer’s office for the closing,” Emily said. “Thank you both for coming.”

“I'm coming with you, Mom,” Lorelai said. “Briggs Whitaker is about ninety-seven years old and there's a fifty percent chance he's going to fall asleep at the table. I'll be there to kick him in the shin and wake him up.”

“I'm coming too,” Rory chimed in. “I'm good for at least one kick.”

Emily looked like she was going to object, out of habit. But she didn't. She looked back and forth between her daughter and her granddaughter and before she could get emotional, she put on her sunglasses. “Well, okay then,” she said. “Let's go.” And they pulled out of the driveway one by one, their three cars in a caravan, and the house disappeared from sight as they turned into the road.

Chapter Text

“There are no endings. If you think so you are deceived as to their nature. They are all beginnings. Here is one.”
— Hilary Mantel, Bring Up the Bodies

***


One Year Later

Stars Hollow had never hosted a literary festival before. With all the other celebrations and jamborees and contests and carnivals in town, many people were surprised to learn that the 2018 literary festival would be the very first one. Sure, there was the used book sale that served as a fundraiser for the library every year. And Miss Patty swore up and down that she remembered a literary festival taking place in the early ‘70s, but upon further reflection she realized that she was just thinking of a spat she’d witnessed between Truman Capote and Gore Vidal at a party in New York City. Finally, Taylor checked the official town records to confirm and officially proclaimed it the First Annual Stars Hollow Literary Festival.

In the morning the stage — really the gazebo with a festive banner hanging overhead and a microphone in the middle — was open to anyone who wanted to read an excerpt of original writing, and there was a line for the microphone from nine to twelve. Kirk debuted his new film, a children’s short — “sort of an avant-garde take on the Lego Batman Movie,” he described it solemnly — which left most people scratching their heads, except little Poppy Kuschner-Gleason, who applauded the film with wild abandon.

Hep Alien performed between readings, with a set list inspired by books. Steve, Kwan, and Dewey danced in front of the band with Timothy and Gabriela to a rousing rock rendition of Kate Bush’s “Wuthering Heights.” Paris filmed the kids while barking orders at Doyle, who held a boom mike. The kids had become friends as the YouTube channel developed; even Dewey had become part of the group and sometimes sang with the band in their videos.

Rory’s reading was the main event, and in fact the reason this whole festival was happening in the first place. A few minutes before it was set to begin, she waited next to the gazebo, holding her book. Her own book, with her name on the cover, bound and published, newly released just the week before. She still found herself opening it up and reading the first few pages every so often, just to remind herself that it was real.

Miss Patty’s class was performing a dance inspired by Rory and Lorelai’s rush to get to Chilton on her first day of school (complete with pink tie-dye costumes and cowboy boots) when Rory felt a tap on her shoulder. It was her mother.

“Are you seeing this?” Rory asked gleefully.

Lorelai furrowed her brow. “I don't think my shorts were that short — oh my God, is that kid in the tie supposed to be Headmaster Charleston?”

“Miss Patty has really outdone herself.”

“So, I've been dying to ask all day — how did the big move go?”

“Not bad,” Rory said. “I conveniently had three strapping men to carry the heavy stuff. And, I mean, I've been practically living there for awhile anyway, so it doesn't feel that different.”

“But now that it’s official you can slowly get rid of the bachelor stuff and make it really nice. Throw the neon beer sign in the dumpster. Try to take over a foot of closet space each month. That way he won't even notice until it's all yours.”

Rory smiled. “Well, Jess doesn't own a neon beer sign, but I may use your strategy for the closet space.”

The dancers finished and Taylor took the stage to deliver a long-winded introduction of Rory that mainly focused on his own role in her life.

“I'm so proud of you,” Lorelai whispered suddenly. Rory could hear the emotion in her mom’s voice but didn't want to look at her. It was her first reading as a published author and she certainly couldn't cry.

“You have no idea,” Lorelai continued. “I don't even have the words to express how freaking proud I am because I think you wrote to them all down.”

“And without any further ado, here is our very own Rory Gilmore!” Taylor exclaimed with a flourish.

“Oh, Mom,” Rory said, trying to keep her voice steady. She threw her arms around her until Taylor cleared his throat pointedly, and then she climbed the steps to the gazebo.

“Knock ‘em dead, kid,” Lorelai said.

In front of her was — well, what felt like her whole life. Miss Patty and Babette sat in the front row. Kirk was weaving through the crowd, hawking “autographed” copies of her book that she certainly didn't remember signing. Lulu was bouncing Poppy in her lap. Paris and Lane were trying to corral the kids on a picnic blanket in the grass, where Timothy and Dewey were squirting each other with water bottles.

Lorelai took a seat in between Luke and Emily, who'd been chatting for the last half hour about the work Emily was doing on her new condo in Hartford. After the spa had opened, she’d decided to spend the cold half of the year there. She liked stopping by the spa once or twice a week to check on things, and Lorelai liked complaining about it.

Emily’s videographer was set up in the back, and Rory could've sworn she saw Christoper shuffling around somewhere behind the last row. Sookie had brought her family down for the day, and she was passing out homemade flavored popcorn as Michel snapped pictures for Instagram.

And then amid all the craziness, there was Jess. He was sitting on Luke’s other side, fiddling with something in his pocket, smiling his half-smile at her. He'd had his hand in that pocket all day.

He nodded at her encouragingly as she stepped up to the microphone. She felt a fullness in her chest, like her heart might explode from how unfairly happy she was, and she tried to burn the entire scene into her brain so she could remember it forever.

“Hi, everyone,” she finally said. “I'm so happy to see you all and so excited to read an excerpt from my book, Gilmore Girls.” She opened the book, passing the dedication page (For Richard Gilmore, of course), and arrived at her place. She took a deep breath and began to read aloud.