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The Weight We Carry Is Love

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Lorelai Gilmore sat surrounded by her favorite food and her favorite people, but despite the jovial conversation and the deliciously made dinner, she couldn’t concentrate on anything but the two teenagers sitting across from her who had been talking quietly, practically oblivious to the dinner party.

 

For the last hour, all had been sitting at the table in the living room, eating through Sookie’s spread, and talking in between bites of food. Currently, Sookie and Jackson were arguing about the merits of papaya, with Luke rolling his eyes every couple of minutes. And her daughter, usually a partaker in these conversations, had been engaged in a much quieter, but just as joyful exchange with Luke’s mysterious nephew by her side. There had been secret glances and secret smiles, and if Lorelai was correct in the body language, which she always was given that she’s such an expert, there had also been secret touches.

 

She had a bad feeling about this.

 

Her eyes narrowed when she saw a blush paint Rory’s cheeks before she hid it with another bite of mashed potatoes. Lorelai switched her gaze to the boy next to her, with his gelled unruly hair, his grey hoodie and baggy jeans, looking like the next iteration of James Dean or Dylan McKay. He gave her daughter a smirk before turning his head and looking into her eyes, his face now expressionless.

 

Lorelai frowned – that’s one hell of a poker face – and opened up her mouth to speak to this boy, who had done nothing but eat and talk to her daughter, but right when she was about to speak, Sookie, who had been flapping her arms in her argument with her husband, stretched out and knocked over the bottle of beer by Luke’s plate. This sparked a shout from Luke and a profusions of apologies from Sookie as she quickly shot up to wipe the mess, but she then knocked the plate of lemon herb turkey off the table, which fell to the floor in a large crash.

 

Lorelai silently cursed her luck as once again her attempt to question Jess and find out something about him was thwarted. All dinner long, she had been trying to edge in some very innocent - no agenda at all questions towards him; she couldn’t shake the feeling that he was nothing but trouble. However, her daughter seemed to have a sixth sense about when she was going to strike and redirected the conversation instead. And this time, she couldn’t blame her daughter since the interruption came from her best friend.

 

She watched as Jackson, Sookie, and Luke left the table to clean up the mess, and then glanced around, noticing the mostly empty plates around the table. Well, I guess it was over anyways, she thought with a sigh, as she too got up and started clearing the dishes. She shot another glance to the youngsters, and saw both of them looking at her.

 

“Look who’s finally joined us in the land of the living,” she said with a sardonic smile, a handful of plates in her arms.

 

Rory cocked her head in confusion. “What?”

 

“You know, for a second there, I thought I was stuck in some weird parallel universe, where I existed, but at the same time didn’t. Oooh, I was like Casper. Except not quite as white, and at least he could get people to talk to him.”

 

“Mom, what are you talking about?”

 

“Oh, I don’t know. Maybe the numerous times I tried to start a conversation with you two, but you were oblivious, lost in your own little world.”

 

“Oh,” Rory said, a tinge of pink coming to her cheeks. “Sorry. We were just…” she trailed off, unsure of how to finish the sentence. She peeked over at Jess and noticed he was biting back a laugh.

 

“Oh, I’m aware,” Lorelai said with a nod of her head. “I guess Einstein was right. Reality is an illusion.”

 

“Okay, okay,” Rory replied. “Are we finished then?”

 

“Looks like it, kid.”

 

Luke walked back into the room, wiping his hands on his jeans. He noticed the stack of plates in Lorelai’s hands and went over to her. “Here, I’ll take that,” he said, grabbing the dishes and turning to walk back into the kitchen. He almost bumped into Sookie, who was coming into the hallway with Jackson right behind her.

 

“Is that the cue for dessert?” Sookie asked, pointing to the plates in Luke’s hands.

 

“I don’t know. Ask Lorelai.” He sidestepped the couple, and continued into the kitchen.

 

“Did someone say dessert?” Lorelai skipped up to Sookie. “Oh best friend. What delicious goodies have you made for me?”

 

“Well, I started out by making a key lime pie, but then I wasn’t sure if Jess would like lime, since it’s an acquired taste for most people. So then I switched to a crème brûlée, but I remembered Luke tends to like things a bit more simple, so then I thought maybe some chocolate --”

 

“Sookie! What did you make?”

 

“Caramel apple pie! You can’t go wrong with pie, right? Cause if not, I can go back, whip up some --”

 

Lorelai reached out and grabbed her friend by the shoulders. “Sookie, breathe.”

 

The chef stopped her rambling with a grin and took in a few breaths.

 

“Caramel apple pie sounds perfect.” Lorelai turned to yell behind her back. “Rory sweets, come help dish out the pie in the kitchen. This way, we can control how much we get compared to everyone else.”

 

“Lorelai!” Luke admonished.

 

“Hey!” Sookie interjected. “It’s my pie. If anyone decides who gets to eat the most, it should be me.” Sookie ran off to the kitchen.

 

Lorelai gasped, affronted. “Are you telling me you wouldn’t give the biggest slice to your best friend and her only daughter? Sacrilege!” She ran after Sookie.

 

“Actually,” Rory spoke up, eager to get some alone time with Jess. “I’m not really feeling dessert right now.”

 

Lorelai had been halfway to the kitchen when she heard Rory’s reply. She stopped, completely in shock, turned, and slowly walked back to the living room. “You what?” she asked, jaw slightly open.

 

Rory caught her mom’s eye “I – well –”

 

“You’re saying no to pie? Sookie’s pie?!”

 

“Well, I mean, this was a lot of food, so I think I can wait on the pie for right now…”

 

Lorelai blinked in surprise before she exclaimed, “RED ALERT! RED ALERT! IT’S HAPPENING! MY DAUGHTER IS OFFICIALLY A POD PERSON!”

 

Everyone’s head whipped around at Lorelai’s outburst and watched as she started running around the house, waving her arms emphatically.

 

“MOM!” Rory yelled, taken aback by her mother’s antics.

 

“QUICK, WE NEED TO EVACUATE THE HOUSE IMMEDIATELY! AND WHATEVER WE DO, WE CAN’T FALL ASLEEP!” Lorelai started to do jumping jacks in the hallway and used her feet to try and shoo the dinner party outside.

 

Luke, who had come out of the kitchen, shook his head and face palmed. “Lorelai, what are you talking about?” he groaned out with his face in his hand.

 

“It’s invasion of the body snatchers! I thought we still had a few years before they came, but we don’t. They’re here!”

 

“Wow,” Jess drawled out, watching the older Gilmore with amusement. “You weren’t kidding when you said your mom was a little crazy,” he whispered in her ear.

 

“Jess,” Rory admonished.

 

“I mean, I thought she’d just be a more grown up version of you, but nope. She’s definitely got a few screws loose in her head.”

 

“Jess!”

 

Rory took a deep breath before turning to her mother. “Mom, stop,” she said, standing up to get Lorelai’s attention. “I promise it’s me. Everything’s perfectly fine.”

 

“It can’t be fine! You said no to pie!”

 

Jess snickered.

 

“Shut up,” Rory muttered as she leant towards Jess.

 

“She’s got a point,” he muttered back.

 

Rory rolled her eyes. “Mom, honestly, it’s fine. Besides, I can eat the pie when I get back.”

 

Lorelai froze again for the second time in a few minutes. “Get back?” she asked slowly, fully addressing her daughter. “Back from where?”

 

Seeing her mom’s serious face, Rory realized her misstep. “Well, um… actually…” she stammered, trying to find a way to diffuse the argument she felt was coming.  “I promised to show Jess around town, so we’re gonna go.” She grabbed the cuff of his hoodie and pulled him up, heading to the door.

 

“Aw, they look so cute together,” Sookie said as she watched the younger pair. “Don’t they?” she asked, turning her head to Lorelai. Her smile faltered when she noticed Lorelai’s expression. “Uh-oh,” she whispered to herself. She quickly grabbed Jackson and Luke. “Come on boys. Help me outside with something.” She dragged them out the back door, talking over Luke’s protests.

 

Lorelai’s attention turned back to her daughter when the door was shut. “I’m sorry. You what?” Lorelai asked, following after her daughter and Jess to the front entrance.

 

“I told Jess I’d show him around town,” Rory replied as she grabbed her jacket and slipped it on.

 

“You have to do that now?” Lorelai nervously asked, glancing out the living room window. The sun was fully set and all the daylight was gone.

 

“What’s wrong with now?”

 

“It’s dark outside.”

 

“And? It’s Stars Hollow. You know nothing bad ever happens here.”

 

“I just mean it’s dark. If you’re going to be showing someone around, wouldn’t you rather wait until it’s light out and he can actually, you know, see the town?”

 

“I figure it’s better at this time. That way there’s not a lot of people around, and he doesn’t have to see we have twelve different stores that sell unicorn ceramics.”

 

Jess, who had been staring at his shoes during their exchange, shot his head up at the last part of Rory’s statement. “Wait, what?”

 

“See?” Rory gestured to Jess’ bewilderment. “It’s fine. I’ll be back in a few minutes. Come on, Jess.” She grabbed his sleeve again and turned to leave.

 

Lorelai felt her stomach clench at her daughter’s familiarity with the dark-haired boy and unease settled deep in her chest. When the two teenagers were right about to leave out the door, she spoke up again. “Uh, Rory?”

 

Rory stopped, sighed, and turned around. “Yeah?”

 

“Can I talk to you in the kitchen for a minute?”

 

She bit her lip to keep back a snarky reply before whispering to Jess. “I’ll be right back.”

 

She quickly walked over to her mother in irritation. “What?”

 

“It’s just..” Lorelai trailed off, a bit hesitant to speak her mind. Were her suspicions valid or was she being completely ridiculous?

 

“What?” Rory repeated louder, clearly exasperated.

 

Lorelai shook her head to clear her thoughts before continuing. “I’m uncomfortable with this.”

 

“Why? I’m just showing him around town.”

 

“When it’s dark outside,” she said, motioning to the window. Three heads popped out of sight, and she shook her head.

 

“Why do you keep saying that?”

 

Lorelai could tell her daughter was starting to get angry. “Look,” she said gently. “I know you don’t have a lot of experience in this…”

 

“In what? Being a tour guide?”

 

“No. Rory… guys like him…”

 

“Guys like him?”

 

“Look,” Lorelai said as she took a deep breath. “You think they’re cool cause they have this dangerous vibe and they’ve watched a lot of Sylvester Stallone movies --”

 

“Oh, so because he’s part Italian, he’s obviously watched Rocky and Rambo a million times.” Rory rolled her eyes. “Mom, you don’t even know him.”

 

“Well, neither do you. That’s my point. And you don’t know ‘cause you’ve only had one boyfriend who was nice and sweet --”

 

“What does Dean have to do with this?”

 

“You can trust a guy like Dean.”

 

“And what? You can’t trust Jess?”

 

“Well…” Lorelai said, gesturing to the front door with her hands.

 

“Oh my God.” Rory immediately turned around and started walking away.

 

Lorelai grabbed her arm and stopped her. “Look, he’s the type of guy that will expect things.”

 

“Things?”

 

“Yeah. Things that tend to happen in the dark. And judging from the way he was looking at you during dinner, it doesn’t take much to guess where his thoughts are headed.”

 

“I don’t believe this!” Rory exclaimed, now feeling very done with this conversation with her mom. “I’m not little red riding hood and Jess isn’t some big bad wolf that’s out to take advantage of me.” She paused in her tirade when she realized she was partly to blame for this conversation. If only she had told Lorelai about Jess months ago, they wouldn’t be having this argument. But now would be the wrong time to address it.

 

“How do you know?” Lorelai pressed further.

 

“Because I’m the one that offered to show him around town.”

 

“But --”

 

“Mom, enough!” Rory said, putting her hands up. “I’ve got to go. He’s standing by the door, and what kind of hostess would I be if I left my guest unattended?”

 

“But --”

 

“Relax. It’s Stars Hollow. You can see the whole town in fifteen minutes, and I promise, I’ll be back in thirty.”

 

Lorelai paused in her retort. “You promise?” she asked warily, her eyes boring into Rory’s.

 

“Yes,” Rory said firmly. “Now can I go?”

 

“Okay.” Lorelai relented, letting her defenses down. She may not trust Jess, but she did trust her daughter.

 

“Thank you,” she said, making a beeline for the door.  She gave Jess a brief tug on the arm before hollering to her mother. “Try not to eat all the pie without me!”

 

“I make no promises!” Lorelai hollered back as Rory and Jess left the house. She walked over to the windows, and through the curtains, watched as they walked down the steps with smiles on their faces. Again, her stomach clenched.

 

Yup. Bad feeling indeed.

 

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

 

“And finally, we have the Twinkle Light store, which is where we go every Christmas to get the best decorations. Harry, who runs the store, has always loved Mom, so he tends to throw in a few extra lights when we leave. When I was younger, it was my favorite place to go. Since we didn’t really have a lot of money, coming to this store was like a splurge, and we’d take the little bit of lights we were able to get and put them up all over the house, and then we’d put the ornaments on the ceiling fans and make a little game out of it.”

 

Rory interrupted her own chatter with a laugh, her face warm and bright as she reminisced about her childhood. She had taken Jess around the town and pointed out the various places that played a huge part in her growing up. Still, there was one place left on the list. She continued walking, this time in the direction of the inn.

 

Jess, who had remained quiet throughout the tour though acknowledging Rory’s comments with a slight nod, gave a half smile and a single “Huh.”

 

Rory turned to him as they continued their walk and smiled shyly, tucking her hair behind her ear. “Yeah, I know. It’s probably boring compared to New York, but the people are what make the town really interesting. You’ll get to meet some of them tomorrow if you haven’t already.”

 

“Oh boy. I can’t wait,” he drawled.

 

Rory gave him a soft swat against his shoulder. “Hush you. I promise it’s not all bad. It might not have the culture of the city, but it can be home.”

 

“I guess I’ll just have to take your word for it. Although,” he said, reaching out his hand to grab ahold of Rory’s. “I can say this place has one thing that New York doesn’t have.” He lightly brushed his thumb over her knuckles.

 

She blushed, her cheeks burning red as thoughts of their kiss rushed through her mind. She inhaled sharply and tugged him forward. “Come on, there’s one more place I want to show you.”

 

She heard a slight groan beside her. “Aw, cheer up buttercup,” she teased. “We’re almost done.”

 

“Yeah, that’s what you said at the last six places we’ve stopped at.”

 

“Well, I just want to make sure I’m being thorough. Come on. I want to show you where I grew up.” She tugged his arm again, their hands still linked, but instead of pulling him forward, she found herself being pulled backward into his chest.

 

“You know,” Jess said, whispering into her ear. “I can think of another way you can be thorough. One that will be fun for both of us.”

 

Rory shivered slightly as his voice sent tingles up her spine. She chuckled nervously before replying. “Since when is hanging out with me not fun?”

 

Jess grabbed a strand of her hair between his fingers. “Hanging out with you is always fun, especially in person. But I think there’s only so much of Stars Hollow a newbie can take in one day. Plus, now that I’m here...” he stopped, bending down to place a soft kiss on the hollow of her neck. “… I’ve got something else I’d rather look at. I can see the haunts of this place anytime.”

 

Rory felt her heart beat quicken as his lips met her neck. She swallowed and bit her lip before taking a deep breath to steady her nerves. “You bring up a good point.” She turned around, her body now facing his. “What exactly did you have in mind?” she asked, her eyes on his chest, slightly afraid to look up into his eyes.

 

Jess cocked his head as if in thought. “Well,” he said, his mouth pursed thoughtfully. “I seem to recall several conversations where a certain girl was really interested in seeing my book collection.”

 

Rory’s eyes flew up to meet Jess’ as she felt excitement thrum through her body. “You brought your books with you?” She grabbed his hand again and started walking in the direction of the diner.

 

Jess smiled at her haste. “Slow down,” he said, pulling on Rory’s arm slightly. “It’s not like I could bring all of them. Only the necessities. There’s only so much I can fit in a duffle bag.”

 

“Well, which ones did you bring?” They quickly walked across the lawns to get back to the town square.

 

“Hemingway, obviously. Bukowski. Kerouac. A few others.”

 

Rory rolled her eyes at his response. “In that case, I think I’ll wait for the full collection.”

 

“Have fun waiting on Liz. And what’s wrong with my books?”

 

She sighed. “We’re really not gonna have this argument again, are we?”

 

“Don’t tell me you’re admitting defeat already.”

 

“I thought you said this was gonna be fun for both of us.”

 

Jess shot her a look. “Since when is debating about books not fun for you?”

 

Rory bit back a smile, and shrugged. “Maybe since the debates always go back to Hemingway.”

 

“Well, the man is a genius.” They reached the door to Luke’s.

 

“Yeah, of boredom.”

 

“Well, maybe I can change your mind,” he said with a raise of his eyebrows. He grabbed his wallet from his back pocket, and pulled a card out of a slot. He slipped the card between the lock, and shimmied it back and forth, pushing the latch in and swinging open the door.

 

Rory walked past him and rolled her eyes at his non-traditional entry. “And how exactly would you do that? You haven’t managed it in the last five months. I doubt you could do it now.”

 

“A simple change in tactics.”

 

“Change in tactics,” she repeated, unconvinced.

 

He stepped towards her, running his hand down her arm, until their hands were joined again. He bent forward and whispered. “Why don’t you come upstairs and I’ll show you?”

 

Rory shivered again at his touch. “Upstairs?” she breathed out, feeling anticipation running through her veins.

 

Jess nodded and smirked before leaning over and placing a kiss on her lips.

 

She responded immediately, wrapping her arms around his neck as warmth shot to her core. She moaned softly when she felt him place his hands on her hips, and followed his touch up the stairs and into the apartment.

 

 XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

 

Lorelai stood pacing in her living room, her gaze constantly going to the window. Jackson and Sookie had left twenty minutes prior, but Luke sat on the couch, waiting for Rory and Jess to get back. Lorelai let out another groan as she glanced at the clock: 9:45pm. Fifteen minutes past the time Rory was supposed to be back. Where the hell is she? Lorelai thought as she resumed her pacing. Her legs itched to head to the front door, but Lorelai tried to keep them in check. No, we’re trusting Rory. Remember, you’re the cool mom.

 

She paced a few more minutes before she couldn’t deal anymore. Her thoughts circled around one idea: Jess leading Rory into trouble. That’s it, she thought as she raced upstairs to grab her keys from off the bed.

 

Luke, who had been twisting his cap in his hands, Lorelai’s worry making him antsy, rose up from the couch in alarm as Lorelai darted up the stairs. “Lorelai!” he called, walking over to the staircase and peering up. He heard her footsteps coming back down.

 

She turned the corner, and he saw the keys in her hand. Immediately, he knew her train of thought. “Lorelai,” he said, trying to reason with her. He stepped in front of her to block her path to the front door. “I’m sure she’s fine. She’s only a few minutes late. Let’s give them a little more time.”

 

“This isn’t some kid we’re talking about. It’s Rory. She’s a stickler for deadlines. She’s never late. And now she’s almost twenty minutes late.” She tried to sidestep past him, but Luke didn’t budge. “Luke, get out of my way!”

 

Luke kept his ground as he did his best to keep the upset woman in front of him. “Lorelai, everything is fine. I’m sure she’ll be back in a couple of minutes.”

 

“Everything is not fine. She is out with a teenage boy in the middle of the night.” She tried to step by him again but failed.

 

“She’s out with Jess. She’s fine.”

 

“You wouldn’t be saying that if you actually saw how he was looking at her tonight.”

 

Luke rolled his eyes. “And how exactly was he looking at her?”

 

“Like he wanted to devour her.”

 

“Devour her?” He started laughing.

 

“Of course you wouldn’t get it. You’re a guy. And his uncle, but I know Rory --”

 

Luke cut her off. “Exactly. It’s Rory. You know nothing’s going to happen. And Jess may be a teenage boy and a bit of a smart ass, but he’s quiet and keeps to himself. Besides from what I could see, he actually likes Rory. I don’t think he’d do anything to hurt her.”

 

She threw up her hands when another attempt to go around him failed. “Why would your sister send him to you unless if he was trouble? And how can you know what he’s like when you haven’t even seen him in several years?”

 

Luke opened his mouth to retort, but realized she had a valid point. Unfortunately, in that moment, Lorelai took advantage. She quickly stepped around him and shot out the door, down her steps, and into the night.

 

Luke shook his head, put the cap back on his head and followed. “Lorelai!” he yelled again, jogging to catch up to her. “What are you gonna do? Go around town, yelling her name? You’ll wake up the neighbors, not to mention Taylor, and then I’m gonna have to deal with his crazy, and I’m not prepared to do that right now.”

 

“Then I’ll deal with him. I highly doubt he’ll want to deal with me when I’m in full on Mommy mode.” She took a few angry steps before calling out loudly, “Rory!”

 

“Oh jeez,” Luke muttered as he thought of a way to calm Lorelai down. What’s the one thing that can capture her attention and make her listen to reason? He pondered for a few seconds before the answer finally came to him. He briskly walked in front of her again, and this time, grabbed her shoulders to get her to focus on him. “Lorelai, stop. Why don’t you come to the diner and I’ll make you some coffee?”

 

Lorelai paused slightly in her determination at the mention of her favorite drink. Luke noticed and continued speaking.

 

“I’ll make you some coffee and we can sit in the diner. From the window, we can see most of the town, and we’ll be able to see when Rory finishes her tour with Jess.” He held his breath to see if his suggestion would work.

 

Lorelai debated briefly in her head about Luke’s idea. Although she felt pretty desperate to find Rory and make sure that nephew kept his hands far away from her daughter (although she had to admit that Rory’s hands were just as quick to touch Jess), she knew rampaging through the town wouldn’t really help matters and would only make a lot of people upset, Rory included if she found her. She exhaled a deep sigh before nodding her consent. “Fine. But if they haven’t shown up by 10:15, I’m going back out there.”

 

Luke nodded and together they walked the short distance to the diner.

 

“Curse you for using my one weakness against me,” Lorelai muttered as she walked beside him.

 

Luke chuckled. “It’s your own fault. I wouldn’t know about it if you didn’t come in ten times a day just to get a cup of coffee.”

 

“Well, it’s your fault for making such a heavenly drink. If you didn’t make it, I wouldn’t need to come ten times a day.”

 

“Oh, okay. Well I’ll just stop making it then.”

 

“LUKE, DON’T YOU DARE!!!”

 

Luke chuckled again as they came up to the diner. Everything was quiet and dark, except for a small light coming from the upstairs window. He shook his head and grumbled, “That little punk.”

 

“What?” she asked, confused by his statement.

 

“I told Jess to stop leaving that light on when we’re not in the room. I even turned it off to demonstrate, and he just went and turned it back on. Probably to spite me.” He took out his keys and unlocked the door, letting them in.

 

Lorelai stood outside and looked at the light for a long second, feeling her stomach clench tighter and tighter before she hurried into the diner and up the stairs to the apartment.

 

Luke stood, puzzled by her speed up the stairs. “Lorelai?” he called. When he heard no answer, he shrugged and went over to make the pot of coffee. Before he got to the counter, a sudden shout made him freeze.

 

“OH MY GOD!”

 

Jess and Rory, who had been so engrossed in their make-out session on the couch that they didn’t hear the doors open, sprang apart at the shriek, both leaping from their lying position into a standing one. Rory’s eyes widened as she took in the sight in front of her. There was her mother, standing in the doorway, her hand raised on the wall and her jaw dropped in shock.

 

OH MY GOD  

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

If you had asked Lorelai this morning how her life was, she would have told you that it was fine, great, more than great. It was fan-frakkin-tastic. She had a job she loved, being manager of a quaint and quality inn. She had two best friends that kept her fed with amazingly greasy cuisine and coffee. And she had a wonderful daughter who, aside from coffee, was her reason for existence.

A daughter who never got in trouble and was the apple of Stars Hollow’s eye.

A daughter who could make a teacher cry with an article on cement.

A daughter who always preferred her nose in a book compared to the company of teenage boys.

A daughter who had made her so proud every time she laid her eyes on her because she was perfect.

The same daughter who was currently horizontal on Luke’s couch with a teenage boy on top of her, lips pressed open against his, and was that a moan?!

Lorelai did the only thing she could do in these circumstances. She screamed.

“OH MY GOD!!!!!”

“MOM?!”

Lorelai watched in mounting horror, her hand against the wall for support, as the two teenagers leapt apart from each other, hurriedly adjusting their clothes, their hair, their lips for presentability. Lorelai’s eyes only bugged wider as the kids grew apart, because all of a sudden, images of Rory crying as she sat on a toilet, her hand holding a positive pregnancy test ran rampant through her mind and she couldn’t stop a second scream from escaping her mouth.

“OH MY GOD!”

“What are you doing here?!” Rory cried, her hands still smoothing down the flyaways from her hair. A quick glance at Jess confirmed that he was in the same state she was: confused mortification. She turned back to her mom, who was now scrunching up her eyes and shaking her head.

“My eyes! My beautiful eyes!” Lorelai yelled as her hands furiously rubbed at her eyes. “Quick, someone call Agent J or Agent K and get them to flash me with that thingy so I can unsee that!”

“Mom!”

“What?! Are you done? Can I put my hands down now?”

“Yes, we’re done! Suffice to say the mood has been sufficiently killed.”

“Great,” Lorelai said as she peeked through her fingers before returning her hands to her side. “Glad to be of service. Just call me the official teenager mood killer.”

“Mom!”

Lorelai opened her mouth to reply, but all of a sudden there were heavy footsteps on the stairs and Luke’s face appeared in the doorway, a dishrag over his shoulder. “Lorelai? What is it?” he asked rapidly, checking her over for any injury before he noticed Rory and Jess standing awkwardly a few feet away. “Rory? What – what are you doing here? Your mom’s been looking everywhere for you.”

“Oh, well, I’ve been here,” Rory answered vaguely.

Luke’s eyes narrowed. “Right…” he trails off and observes the scene. Lorelai’s angry. Rory’s cheeks were flaming red. And his nephew was looking stubbornly at the ground. Oh great.  “What’s going on?” he asked.

“Nothing,” Rory said quickly, noticing the reply on her mother’s lips. “Jess just wanted to show me his books, and we lost track of time.”

Lorelai smiled sardonically, channeling her inner Emily. “Yes, and what part of showing you his books involved his lips on yours?”

“Wait, his WHAT?” Luke yelled in outburst. He rounded on his nephew, who flinched from Luke’s volume.

Rory reached out a hand to stop Luke’s advance on Jess. “Luke, stop! He didn’t do anything.”

“Didn’t do anything?! He’s kissing you!” He flung his hands between the two teens.

“Which I wanted him to do!” Rory shot back, annoyed.

Luke deflated in shock. “Wait, you, what?”

“I wanted him to kiss me. It takes two to tango after all.”

“Two to…” Luke trailed off, his eyes growing wide. Rory wants… it?

Rory saw Luke’s expression turn from angry to horrified and realized where his thoughts went. “No! Not like that. Just, you know… a tango of the tongues.” As the words left her lips, Rory wanted to find a hole and hide away in embarrassment. That wasn’t any better.

One glance at Luke told the same. His face was distorted in mortified disgust. “I did not need to know that last part.” He shrunk back and looked between the two young ones before standing next to Jess.

Jess, who for years had prided himself on his self-preservation skills, decided to remain silent during the exchange between the two women and Luke, despite the ridiculousness of the entire situation. They had only kissed. It didn’t warrant this kind of outburst and inquisition. Still, he kept his mouth shut.

At least until now as he watched Rory put her face in her hand. This moment was too good to pass up. Amusement present on his face, Jess leaned over to speak to Rory. “A tango of the tongues?” he whispered.

Rory groaned as her hand ran down her face. “It just slipped out.”

“That’s what she said,” he replied with a smirk.

“Jess!” she half-yelled back at him, her cheeks heating up at the implication. Dirty, she thought.

He chuckled briefly, sparing a glance back at his uncle before speaking. “There’s just a slight problem.”

“What?”

“I’m not too keen on dancing.”

Rory grinned. “Oh, well your tongue says otherwise. Says you’re a regular footloose. Tongueloose?” She threw the word around in her head, trying it out.

Jess held back a laugh that was threatening to leave past his lips. “Tongueloose?” he repeated, the corners of his mouth twitching.

Rory nodded. “Yup, tongueloose. I’m gonna start calling you Ren McCormack.

The amusement fell off of his face. “No.”

“Why ever not, Ren?”

“Do I look like Kevin Bacon to you?” As the words left his mouth, he felt the sudden desire to facepalm. He glanced down at his attire, oblivious to Rory doing the same, and quickly made note of the very obvious similarities between him and the 80s heartthrob’s portrayal of a dancing city boy. He looked back up, saw mirth lighting up the apples of her cheeks, and quickly pushed a reply out of his mouth. “Don’t answer that.”

Rory’s answer was a growing smile.

Lorelai watched the interaction between her daughter and Luke’s mysterious nephew with a frown. She knew attraction, remembered how it felt with Christopher, all excitement, mischief, and adventure. She remembered the flushed cheeks, the butterflies in the chest, and the jello legs that could barely support her frame. But this - the teens looked lost in each other - this seemed different. It was almost as if they... She clenched her hands into fists, letting anger course through her. For the umpteenth time tonight, she was once again left out of a conversation with her daughter. She grabbed the tendrils of the night’s frustration and let it fly out of her mouth.

“Hello! Angry mother over here!” she yelled, grabbing everyone’s attention. “Oh good, your ears are still working. By the way,” she said, her attention on Jess. “Mark Morrison called from the 90s. Said he wants his mack back.”

Jess shot a look at Rory out of the corner of his eye before looking back, his face completely blank except for a smirk outlined at the corner of his mouth. He tilted his head at Rory, as if to say ‘she wants it.’

Lorelai’s eyes turned into slits. That punk.

Rory looked between her friend? boyfriend? and her mom, feeling the tension rising in the room. “Mom, why don’t we talk about this at home?” she asked, trying to rationalize with her mother. She took a few steps away from Jess to steer Lorelai out the door.

“We’re not leaving this room until I understand what’s going on,” Lorelai said sternly, focusing back on her daughter. “First, you’re having random conversations with Tristan, a guy you’ve told me repeatedly that you hate, in the middle of the night, and now here you are taking Will Smith’s advice and getting jiggy with it with a complete stranger on Luke’s couch!”

“Getting what?” Luke asked in confusion. “What the hell does that mean?” He turned a questioning gaze on his nephew. Had something more happened?

Jess rolled his eyes and ignored him.

“Nothing!” Rory cried, getting increasingly frustrated. It was just a kiss for crying out loud. “It means nothing because nothing happened!”

“Oh, so what? I’m imagining things now?” Lorelai cut in. “I’m just suddenly thinking my good and respectable daughter likes being mounted by some Dylan McKay wannabe in Luke’s apartment?”

“Mom!”

“Oh jeez.”

Luke grimaced. “Lorelai!”

“Cause let me tell you, this is the last scenario I would like to imagine,” Lorelai continued. “I’d imagine living in a Willy Wonka factory floating down the river of chocolate, but instead of chocolate, it’s coffee. I’d imagine that my hands were turned into refilling ice cream cones so that when I’d finish with one, another one would pop back up in its place. Hell, I’d imagine getting a lap dance from Taylor and his megaphone while Kirk sang hit me baby one more time in the background.”

“Okay stop!” Rory yelled, throwing her hands up. “You’ve made your point!”

“Well thank God because I wasn’t sure. I mean, we’ve already established that you’ve been abducted and replaced with a pod person after refusing Sookie’s pie, but –

“Mom!” She shared a quick look with Jess, who now sported a hard set to his jaw, as done with the questioning as she was.

“I’m sorry. I just want to understand what’s going on. Last I checked, you weren’t ready for anything serious with a guy. I mean, isn’t that why you and Dean broke up? Because he said I love you and you couldn’t say it back?” Images of Dean with his new girlfriend walking in the square came to her mind. “Wait…” she paused, a sudden thought forming in her mind. “is that what this is about? You’re upset because he’s dating that blonde girl now? Thought maybe you’d even the score?”

Lorelai silently prayed this was the case. She could handle Rory being jealous. She could handle Rory wanting Dean back. She quickly darted her eyes to the quiet broody teen in the gray hoodie who kept exchanging glances with her daughter. Nope. She couldn’t handle Rory wanting that.

“No!” Rory cried, just wanting this whole exchange to end. “He has nothing to do with this. I’m happy he’s dating Lindsey. He should be dating Lindsey.”

“Right.” The pit in her stomach Lorelai had been feeling all day was like a balloon. How much more could it grow before it popped?

“Besides we broke up months ago,” Rory continued, missing the mounting panic in Lorelai’s eyes. “We’ve both moved on.” She dared a glance at Jess and found him looking back at her. She gave him a small quirk of her lips.

“Clearly.” Lorelai watched the teens share a brief smile.

Rory turned back to her mother and continued. “In fact, I haven’t mentioned him in months. You’re the one that keeps talking about him. If you ask me, you’re the one who’s not over him.”

Jess smirked at Rory’s sass before getting an elbow nudge from Luke.

Lorelai’s eyes flashed with indignation. Where did this hormonal teen standing in front of her come from? Where was her daughter? “Hey! Don’t talk to me like that. I’m not the one that was discovered with a strange guy’s lips attached to mine, when I just met him ten seconds ago.”

“Jess isn’t a stranger!” Rory was mentally cursing herself. All of this could have been avoided if she had just told her mom. Why didn’t she tell Lorelai?

“Oh, I’m sorry that I don’t know the exact minutes of your acquaintance tonight! Let’s change that ten seconds to two hours and see if it changes anything.” Lorelai pauses as if in thought before shaking her head. “Nope still weird.”

“That’s not what I meant!” Rory’s voice increased in volume, matching her annoyance.

“Then what do you mean?!” Lorelai yelled back. “Tonight’s the first time you guys have ever talked!”

“No it’s not!” Rory screamed.

“I – “ Lorelai stopped mid-retort as Rory’s words sunk in. They’ve talked before tonight. The pit had now dropped from her stomach to the floor. “What?” she asked weakly.

Rory took a breath as she saw the anger fall from Lorelai’s face. “Tonight’s not the first time we’ve talked,” she repeated calmly.

The secret smiles. The secret glances. The quiet conversation only meant for two. The suspected footsie at the dinner table. The experienced making out session she had walked in on. The clear comfortability these two had around each other. Lorelai looked at the facts and saw what they clearly spelled, but she needed Rory to tell her. “What…” she swallowed back her fear. “What are you saying?” she asked, doing her best to keep her voice steady.

Rory shared another look with Jess and he gave her a slight nod of encouragement. She turned back to her mother. “The late night phone calls?” she said. “I wasn’t talking to Tristan. I was talking to Jess.”

Phone calls. Talking to Jess. “What?” Lorelai asked, clear confusion on her face.

“Jess,” Rory reiterated, gesturing between herself and the boy next to her. “Me and him, we’ve been talking on the phone the last five months.”

“Five months?” Lorelai repeated dumbly.

“Yes.”

“All those phone calls, they were to Jess?”

“Yes.”

Lorelai tried to do the math in her head. “How? How is that possible? He’s from New York!” A light bulb went off in her head. “Which is where we went, five months ago…” she trailed off, silent in thought.

“Yeah,” Rory exhaled on a breath, feeling relief that the truth was finally out.

Lorelai remained silent as she thought back to that day in Manhattan, about the several stops at the different street vendors and shopping. She tried to remember Jess’ face through all the traffic, but she kept drawing a blank. “I don’t understand. I was with you the entire time, and I don’t remember meeting him at all.”

“Well, that’s because technically we didn’t meet that day.”

“You didn’t meet that day?” she repeated, confusion rising even more along with panic. Had she truly reached the stage of parenting a rebellious daughter? And she thought she had done so much to make sure Rory did not become her. “So what, now you’re skipping school and taking a bus to New York for a day?” she asked.

“What?” Rory asked, taken aback by the suggestion since Lorelai knew how much she loved school. “No!” she stated emphatically. “I would never do that! Why would you even say that?”

“Because it’s the only explanation left!” Lorelai cried in frustration, just wanting a straight explanation. “If you didn’t meet him on our shopping trip, then you must have gone back to the city when I wasn’t with you, and the only time I’m not with you is when you’re at school.”

“That’s not –” Rory stopped and collected herself. She needed to try a different approach because her mom was clearly not letting this go. “Look, do you remember the copy of Howl I bought that weekend?”

“The one some douche completely defiled with his chicken scratch, and you almost blasted out my eardrums about? Yeah, I remember.”

“Well…” Rory held out her hand and pointed it at Jess. “It used to belong to Jess.”

Lorelai now wanted to join her stomach on the floor. “What?” Was the books line not actually a line? He was actually into books? Johnny Depp impersonator actually liked to read? Wait. Books. Rory. Jess. Oh dear God.

“He’s the one that wrote the notes,” Rory said.

It wasn’t just chemistry. It was shared interests too. “Jess wrote the notes?”

“Yes.”

“He can actually read?”

“Mom! Of course he can!”

“Okay. It’s just surprising, given his lack of communicative skills at dinner, but okay.” Lorelai took a deep breath, acknowledging that this was bad, very, very bad. Until a sudden thought popped into her head. “Wait, a book still doesn’t explain how you exchanged phone numbers.”

“Well, he left his number in the back of the book, and I called him.”

Lorelai stiffened. “You what?” Lorelai asked in a low tone. She didn’t.

Rory swallowed, recognizing the sudden shift in tone. Her mother was serious now. “I called him,” she repeated hesitantly.

“You called him?”

“Yes.”

“You called Jess?”

“Yes.”

“Yes, Jess?”

Rory rolled her eyes. “Mom!” she reprimanded.

“I’m sorry. A rhyme like that has to be exploited.” She shot another look at Jess, who was also rolling his eyes. She glared at the attitude and continued. “So let me get this straight. After almost 17 years of good behavior and common sense, you one day buy a book in which some weirdo left his number, and it compels you to forget everything I’ve ever taught you about strangers, and you call the number?”

“Well, I –“

Lorelai cut her off. “What were you thinking?! Rory, the only people who leave their number in weird places are pedophiles and axe murderers.” She broke off as Rory and Jess’ heads snapped up in unison. “Uh –” she let out as Jess and Rory shot each other another look.

“Told you,” Jess muttered.

Rory gave him an annoyed look before turning back to her mother. “Look, he made an argument about how Ginsberg and the Beats inspired the punk rock music scene in New York, and I spent all day in class wondering what he meant, so when I got home, I called him.”

“You called him?”

“Haven’t we already established that?” Jess scoffed under his breath. Hearing the remark, Luke, who had been silent through the exchange, laid a hand on his shoulder and shook his head at Jess in warning. Now was so not the time. Jess rolled his eyes and exhaled his frustration, crossing his arms over his chest.

Luke did the same.

“Yes,” Rory continued, ignoring Jess’ remark. “And we surprisingly didn’t talk about the book that time, but we did talk about Dean and his mom –”

“Wait, you told him about Dean?” Lorelai interjected.

“Yeah. And he made me feel better, made me feel like there wasn’t something wrong with me because I couldn’t tell a guy who had been amazing to me that I loved him.”

Lorelai sighed, silently cursing Dean for dumping her daughter. “Babe, I could have told you that. In fact, I tell you that all the time.”

Rory nodded. “I know, but hearing it from Jess was different, more freeing somehow, and after that day, we conversed about books and music and movies and everything really, until it became a daily thing.”

Lorelai could feel the fight leaving her. “A daily thing,” she repeated.

“Yeah, so, he’s not a stranger. In fact, aside from you and Lane, he’s probably my best friend.”

“Best friend?” She could feel tears coming from behind her eyes. She had been left out of all of this.

“Yeah. And I’m sorry. I didn’t want you to find out like this. I was planning on telling you. I wanted to tell you. I just didn’t know how, not without it being a thing.”

“A thing?”

“Yeah. This --” Rory gestured wildly in the air. “Kind of thing. A boy kind of thing.”

Lorelai remained silent for a few moments as she digested the information. One, these two shared a conversation on the phone after their trip to New York. Two, a single conversation turned into a conversation every day for the last five months. Three, Jess wasn’t just some boy. Rory thought of him on the same level as Lane, and god she couldn’t say it, but maybe her. And four, this wasn’t some passing fancy or crush. This was serious.

She remembered the giggles in the night and the conversation they had on the couch. “I asked you if there was a boy,” Lorelai stated hollowly.

“I know,” Rory responded, feeling guilt and regret eating up her intestines. She should have just told her.

“I asked you point blank to tell me who he was –”

“More like yelled…” she amended quietly.

Lorelai ignored her, continuing in the same empty tone. A singular truth about this whole affair was at the edge of her mind. “You told me there wasn’t a boy. That there wasn’t a thing.”

“I know. It’s just,” Rory thought of a way to explain it, to stop the broken look of betrayal that was etching its way onto Lorelai’s face. “it’s always been the two of us, and you never take it well when I talk about a guy. I --” She stumbled, seeing a look of hurt pass through her mother’s eyes.  “I just didn’t see how you’d take it if I told you I was talking to one in New York.” Her eyes shifted downwards, unable to look at Lorelai.

“Right,” Lorelai replied numbly.

“Are you still mad?” Please don’t be mad, she silently thought. I don’t want to fight anymore.

The room stood quiet in a slowly suffocating silence, the only sound the ticking of the clock as the seconds passed by and the small fidgets made by the men in the room, clearly uncomfortable.

Rory slowly brought her eyes to look up. “Mom?” she prompted fearfully at the frozen figure in front of her.

Phone calls behind closed doors. Secret friendships. Indifference to her ex-boyfriend. Lorelai looked at all the facts and It all boiled down to one thing. “You lied to me.”

She watched as her daughter’s eyes clouded with guilt, watched as Rory remained speechless. She turned her head to the stoic man who looked as surprised and lost as she did by the revelation, his gaze shifting from one teenager to the next. And last, she turned her eyes to the boy with hunched shoulders and baggy jeans who’d barely looked at her all evening, the boy she’d wanted to flog and quarter for jumping on her daughter as if she was some easy lay.

She wanted to keep the anger in, to blame this entire situation on him, that if he hadn’t entered their lives, she and Rory would still be just fine. But the hate she had felt earlier towards this James Dean incarnation dissipated into sadness because, if she was being honest, this wasn’t his fault. He wasn’t the one who instigated the friendship. Well he did leave his number in a random book. Who does that? Probably the same type of person who calls a random number in a book. Ugh.

She could make excuses all day, but the simple truth remained: he wasn’t the one who lied.

Her reverie was interrupted as Rory called for her attention again. She took another look at her daughter, her best friend, and felt the broken trust between them, before turning and walking out of the apartment, the door closing in a soft click behind her.