“I really don’t usually do this kind of thing.”
Rory meant those words when she said them, though she wondered if Jess believed her. He didn’t really have much frame of reference since their acquaintance had been so short, but somehow Rory felt like she had known him forever. It was the only reason why she was doing this.
Well, maybe the alcohol was playing a part, but mostly it was just Jess and how well they got along, how easily they had connected. It was all too easy, or maybe Rory was being too easy, she thought, as they rolled around together on the bed. Right now, she didn’t feel as if she could help herself at all.
It wasn’t as if she were a virgin or anything. She supposed most young women her age couldn’t say they were without lying about it. All her friends had sex, and they weren’t always picky about the person either. Of course, she was thinking of Madeline and Louise or Logan and Finn. Rory was different to her friends that way, except for Paris actually. They were both a little more discerning about who they jumped into bed with, usually anyway. Jess was just different, in more ways than Rory could count right now, as he continued to assault her senses, but damn, if it didn’t feel good.
“I must be crazy,” she said aloud, hardly aware the words were outside of her head until Jess moved away.
“I’m not sure that’s a compliment,” he told her, smirking all the same.
“I didn’t mean it that way,” Rory assured him, catching her breath at last. “I just... Well, I meant what I said, I’m not this person. I don’t usually do this kind of thing and with a guy I just met.”
When he met her striking blue eyes, Jess was pretty sure that Rory was telling the truth, not that it bothered him much either way. When a woman as beautiful and amazing as this started kissing you and all, Jess knew it was a foolish man who tried to stop her. Still, if she didn’t want this to go any further, he wasn’t the kind of guy to force the issue. It might just kill him to be a gentleman right now, but he would do it, if that was how it had to be.
“I can go, if you-”
“No,” she said quickly, pulling him closer again. “No, I don’t want you to go. Unless you want to go?” she checked, looking more nervous about that than she ever had about what they were half way to doing a minute ago. “You don’t wanna go, do you?”
He had no words to give her, they really didn’t need them anyway. Moving in to kiss her again, Jess made his feelings very clear. He wanted this as much as she did, he wanted her more than he’d wanted anything in a long time, and if she was willing, which she was proving to be, this was going to be a hell of a night.
Truth be told, he hadn’t expected to have much fun when he came to this place. Some fancy hotel on the other side of Hartford was hardly the usual venue for his buddy’s band to be playing, but the strangest people liked Hep Alien’s own special brand of rock. It was enough people to make them some pretty decent money, though not quite enough for any of them to give up the day job. Still, Jess did pretty well at being both manager and roadie for Dave, Zach, Brian, and Lane, and he got a cut of the money for doing it. The gigs got him out of the house, the cash was never a bad thing, and yes, there were always women that were interested. None of them were quite like Rory though.
“Mmm, hold on sec,” she murmured against his lips, shifting out from under him.
Jess looked like he was all kinds of painfully disappointed, but Rory wasn’t really trying to get away, as she soon proved. With a smile on her lips, she stood at the foot of the bed, fumbling for a moment with the hidden zipper of her impressively sparkly dress, which suddenly fell from her body and pooled at her feet.
It was kind of thrill to see Jess’ eyes widen at the sight of her barely dressed. She had known he wanted her before, but now, there wasn’t a hint of a doubt in her mind about it. Rory joined him on the bed again, straddling Jess’ lap and helping him out of his clothes too.
This hadn’t been the plan at all, not even a little bit. Rory hadn’t come to this party with the intention of doing anything more than talking with her friends, dancing into the night, and maybe having a few drinks along the way. It was Logan’s twenty first birthday party, the real one, not the highbrow staged event that his parents organised, but the blow out that the Huntzberger heir really wanted to celebrate his coming of age.
When the band showed up, the girls had hoped for good looking guys to flirt with and they were not entirely disappointed by at least two out of three, though Louise had bemoaned the fact the drummer was a girl. She really did have a thing for drummers, with her only explanation being that rhythm could be important. Rory knew exactly what she meant though, as with much of what Miss Grant had to say, she often wished she didn’t.
Still, out of all the members of Hep Alien - who actually rocked, as it turned out - it was the guy not playing an instrument or singing at all that caught Rory’s attention. She saw him first on the stage introducing the band, and then he seemed to disappear. First, he was down by the edge of the stage, back against an amp as he read a book for a while. Rory almost went over to talk to him a couple of times, but it never happened. Logan wanted to dance, and then Colin and Finn wanted their turn. Paris had a crisis with her dress and then there was an issue when the manager of the hotel came and asked them to dial the volume down as the hour got late. Somehow, it was up to Rory to smooth things over, the most sober and level-headed out of all of her closest friends a large amount of the time.
Rory finally got time to slip away to the bathroom, and then on the way back, she had spotted the mysterious non-band member slipping out through a back door. She couldn’t say whatever possessed her to follow a strange man in black who hung out with a rock band out into the dark. Rory was intrigued, that was all she could say.
He was leaned up against the wall of the building, reading still, by the light from the window, and holding a cigarette in his free hand. Rory had stepped back and audibly gasped at the picture he made. Sexy didn’t even begin to cover it.
“You lost?” he asked her, not even looking up from his book.
“Nope, I know exactly where I am,” Rory told him smartly. “I was actually wondering where you were going?”
“Nowhere much,” he told her, taking a drag from his cigarette. “You smoke?”
“Not usually,” she replied, shaking her head and moving closer, “but I do read, a lot,” she told him, peering at the cover of the book he held.
“All of your kind read,” he said, smirking terribly as he looked her over. “Austen, Dickens, Shakespeare, plus all those fancy textbooks for your fancy school.”
“Wow.” Rory shook her head, smiling in spite of herself. “Inverted snob, much?”
Jess closed his book then and just stared at her. Rory wasn’t sure if he knew what that smouldering look of his could do to a person, but at the time she hadn’t been willing to give him the satisfaction of letting him know.
“I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked, dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix, angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night.”
She watched his eyes go wide at what she knew to be a word-perfect quotation from the very book he held.
“Impressive,” he told her then.
“You can go to a fancy school, wear a fancy dress to a fancy party, and still know Ginsberg,” she told him, arms folded over her chest in triumph.
“I stand corrected.” Jess smiled, pushing off the wall very suddenly and getting right into Rory’s personal space without hesitation. “I’m Jess,” he told her.
“Rory,” she replied.
He nodded, whether just in acknowledgement of her name of in approval of something, Rory couldn’t be sure, and didn’t really get the chance to ask.
“How’d you feel about Bukowski?”
That was how it started. She rose to his challenge regarding the Beats and then countered with her own praise for the likes of Austen, a topic on which Jess could hold his own also. When she started shivering from the cold, amongst other things, they headed back inside. Since it was clear they couldn’t talk so close to the party, it just seemed natural for Rory to take Jess up to the room she had for the night.
“Don’t get any ideas,” she had said as they walked in. “You’re only here for your literary knowledge.”
“So, you’re saying you only want me for my brain?” Jess countered, smirking wickedly.
Rory had learnt very quickly that look was just dangerous, but that just made her love it all the more. They sat down to talk and that was exactly what they did, for hours. Rory lost track of time and she was pretty sure Jess did too. They drank shots from the mini bar, but not so many that they got stupid drunk. It was all just social, conversational, reasonable.
Rory kicked her high heeled shoes into a corner at some point and Jess’ leather jacket ended up hung on the back of the chair he spent most of the time sat in, while Rory lazed on the bed. It was all just friendly, like they’d known each other forever, until they started bickering.
Jess had some mad love for Hemingway that Rory couldn’t find a way to understand.
“Oh my God,” she groaned, rolling her eyes for good measure. “You and Logan should get together, he is always telling me the wonder of the great and powerful Ernest.”
“Logan,” Jess echoed, suddenly looking less amused. “It’s his party down there, right?”
“He your boyfriend?”
“No,” Rory said immediately, definite in her answer because it was entirely true. “I mean, we’re friends, good friends, but I’ve known him forever.”
“So, like a brother?”
“Not exactly,” Rory tried to explain, making a face at the idea of Logan being related to her. “I mean, we’re that kind of close, I guess, but we have been closer in the past, so no, not a brother. Just a good friend, but never a boyfriend, not really. Definitely not now.”
There was no way for Rory to know what Jess meant by his non-verbal remark. He didn’t plan for her to know, so that worked out fine. It was good to know that Rory wasn’t dating Logan, and he had to assume, since she hadn’t mentioned any other guy tonight, that she was free and single. Jess didn’t hate knowing that. Not that he had realised at that point in the evening quite what was going to happen. He hoped, but he didn’t know. Of course, that made it seem like he went up to Rory’s room purely for the sex that may or may not happen, but that wasn’t true. Just talking to her had been weirdly fun and then when they really got into a discussion about Hemingway and her argumentative side came out, well, Jess hadn’t thought Rory could be any more attractive, but she proved him wrong.
“You can’t get into Hemingway, but you can read The Fountainhead and have a clue what that political nut Ayn Rand is babbling about?” he challenged her. “You’re cracked.”
“It’s not my fault if you’re not smart enough to keep up with an intelligent woman,” she countered, smiling too wide.
Whether she meant Rand or herself, Jess wasn’t sure, but he assumed both. He wasn’t mad about her knocking his intelligence. After all, he was self-confident enough to know how smart he was and was pretty sure he could already read Rory well enough to know she was kidding anyway.
When she moved to get up then, presumably to get a celebratory drink now that she had won their debate, Rory got her foot caught in her dress or the covers of the bed. Whichever it was, she almost went sprawling, and it was only thanks to Jess’ excellent reactions that she didn’t end up face down on the carpet.
“Wow, nice catch,” she told him as he helped her back up onto the bed.
They were so close together, it would’ve been the easiest thing in the world to kiss her, but Jess hadn’t done it. He gave it serious thought, but before he actually got as far as deciding to make the move, Rory had done it for him. There was no way in hell Jess was about to argue as she pulled him down onto the bed beside her.
They were just kissing at first, but it didn’t take long for hands to start wandering. He was waiting for Rory to back off, to come to her senses and throw him out, but it never really happened.
“I really don’t usually do this kind of thing,” she told him between fevered kisses.
Jess had a feeling that was probably the truth. It didn’t follow that the society types were all terrified virgins, saving themselves for arranged marriages. The world rarely worked that way anymore, and though it was probably true for some young women, he was pretty damn sure this wasn’t exactly Rory’s first rodeo. She was too good to be a complete amateur.
Still, Jess was wary. As much as he wanted this, he had to be sure she did too. Rory was special, he knew it from the moment he laid eyes on her tonight. He couldn’t explain it, not for the world, but she was. She was very special, and he did not want this to be something she would regret in the morning. He went so far as offering to leave but she promised she didn’t want that. The next thing he knew she was slipping out of her dress and taking control of the situation in a big way. That was fine with Jess, if it was fine with Rory. Actually, it felt better than just fine from where he was right now.
In the morning, there was no way to know what would happen next. Chances were they would both walk away and that would be that, but neither Rory nor Jess were thinking about how this ended, only how it began, as the last of their clothes were discarded haphazardly into all four corners of the room. They only knew here and now, hungry kisses and the impatient fumbling of hands for protection before their bodies finally moved as one. The rest of the world disappeared entirely in the moments that followed. Tonight was all there was, tomorrow be damned.
“Rory? For heaven’s sake, Rory?”
“Huh? Oh, sorry, Grandma,” she apologised immediately on realising the whole table was staring at her. “What did you say?”
“I simply asked if you had an enjoyable time with your friends last night?” Emily tried again. “Honestly, was it so wonderful that you can’t concentrate on anything else?”
“No. I mean, yes. I mean, er, we had fun,” Rory confirmed, nodding her head. “I’m sorry, I guess I was up pretty late. I’m just tired, but it was definitely a great party.”
“Well, that’s lovely, though I’m sure I don’t understand why Logan required two events for one birthday.”
“Come on, Mom,” said Lorelai, rolling her eyes and sipping her coffee. “Twenty-one is a big deal. Celebrating with your family is great but conversing with great aunts and corralling eight-year-old cousins isn’t any young person’s idea of a real good time. Hell, I’m not so young anymore and it’s still not my idea of a good time,” she said, winking at Rory across the table.
“Yes, well, not all young people are as you were then, Lorelai,” said her mother haughtily.
“Come now, Emily,” said Richard, peering over his newspaper at her. “I don’t think it does the youngsters any harm to blow off a little steam now and then. Logan is a fine young man with a circle of friends who are all reasonable people from good families. They had a little unsupervised fun, got a little rowdy out of the sight of us old grown-ups. I’m sure nobody, least of all our Rory, did anything you or I wouldn’t have done at that age.”
Rory only smiled when her grandfather looked at her, then averted her eyes quickly and got on with eating her breakfast. She was pretty sure the party last night had been full of people doing lots of things the great Emily and Richard Gilmore wouldn’t approve of, including underage drinking, dancing that bordered on the sleazy, probably gambling too, and then there were those that snuck up to hotel rooms together for certain carnal activities. Rory could hardly think about her own behaviour without blushing so she tried to think of other things, at least until her grandparents left the table.
“So,” said Lorelai the moment they were alone, “it was a pretty rocking affair last night, huh?”
“Pretty rocking,” Rory echoed, pushing her now cold eggs around her plate still. “I had a good time.”
“How good is good?” asked her mom, trying as hard as she could to meet her daughter’s eyes. “Oh, that good?”
“It’s not what you think.”
“What do I think? C’mon, kid, spill it. You know you want to.”
Rory smiled because she couldn’t help it. Honestly, her mom was great and like nobody else’s that she knew. It was like having a best friend who was also a mother, and as weird as that sounded to other people when she tried to explain it, Rory loved the relationship they had. Still, telling her mom what happened last night was going to be a little painful and embarrassing.
“I met this guy at the party.”
“Someone you didn’t know? How is that possible?” asked Lorelai, wide-eyed at the very idea.
After all, everybody knew everybody in Hartford’s high society. All the families were connected through blood or marriage, business deals or deep-bonded friendships. Rory had pretty much grown up with all the kids her age from the area, many of them attending Chilton right alongside her. Some were now fellow Yalies and others just saw her regularly at social functions.
“Um, he came along with the band. He’s kind of their manager, I guess, but he’s not as lame as that sounds. I mean, you know, the cool guys are usually in the band, and the manager is the guy who’s not good enough, but Jess isn’t like that at all.”
“Yeah, that is his name,” said Rory, grinning in spite of herself. “We got to talking. I mean, the party was fine, good music and food and everything, but I guess I just wasn’t really in the party mood, and then I saw Jess, just sitting there reading. I mean, who reads at a party?”
“You, sometimes,” Lorelai noted.
“Well, yeah, but apart from me.”
“Yeah.” Rory smiled big. “So, anyway, we talked a lot, about all kinds of books and some movies and music. He was just interesting and fun and...”
“Attractive?” asked Lorelai when her daughter’s voice trailed away.
“Very, very attractive,” Rory confessed, ducking her head. “He has this whole James Dean vibe and he’s so smart. You know how they say, ‘Smart is sexy’? Well, Jess is the poster boy for that phrase.”
“Ooh la la!” said Lorelai, fanning herself with her hand. “If I were a few years younger I think I’d’ve been fighting you for this guy.”
“Mom!” Rory complained, rolling her eyes and finding the blush coming back to her cheeks full-force. “It’s so weird. I mean, you know me, I’m not always great with the strangers. New people make me nervous so I either don’t talk or I babble, but with Jess it was just... easy.”
“Not too easy I hope,” said Lorelai with a significant look.
Only when her daughter became extremely interested in her coffee cup did her mom get the idea that maybe Rory had been that easy last night.
“I really, really did not mean for it to happen,” she said in a rush, finally looking up at Lorelai again. “It just... did.”
Rory wore a pained expression, looking left and right as if she expected her grandparents to return any second and catch her talking about something so scandalous. Lorelai did much the same thing, though of course Richard and Emily were long gone. There wasn’t even a maid around to hear what was being said, but that didn’t mean both Rory and Lorelai didn’t lean a little further across the table towards each other and lower their voices another notch or two, just in case.
“Rory, honey, please tell me you were at least careful with this guy.”
“Of course, we were careful. Mom, I’m not stupid.”
“I know, babe, but this is... well, it’s not exactly like you. It’s not really all that much like me either, although you know there was that one time.”
“One time?” Rory echoed with a look.
“Okay, two times, but I’m still declaring that second one a bout of temporary insanity!” she said, shuddering at the memory. “It’s still not like you.”
“It’s a little like me,” Rory considered. “I mean, there was that one time with... Logan,” she whispered, stopping talking entirely when the maid came to clear the table.
The second she was gone, the girls leaned back in to each other again.
“That was a little different,” said Lorelai definitely. “First off, your pretty serious relationship with Tristan just went down the toilet so you were not in a brain-using place, and second, you and Logan have known each other since you were babies. The Huntzbergers and the Gilmores have been buddy-buddy for more years than even I’ve been alive.”
“I don’t think that automatically gives me a free pass to sleep with the heir to the family business,” said Rory, shaking her head.
“No, but it makes a little sense at least. A prince and a princess go together, but a princess and... well, a guy like him,” she said, unable to resist the Star Wars paraphrase.
Rory rolled her eyes.
“You don’t even know Jess.”
“No, sweets, you don’t even know Jess, and yet.”
It sounded awful when she put it that way and Rory knew it. She wanted to tell her mom it wasn’t how it sounded, but actually, it kind of was. After all, she really didn’t know Jess all that well. They only met last night and had gone from hello to sex inside of a few hours. She probably wouldn’t ever see him again but she wouldn’t trade those few hours for the world.
“Do you think I’m a terrible person?” she asked Lorelai worriedly.
“No, babe, never,” her mom promised. “I just think you’re a twenty-year-old woman who met a nice guy and got a little carried away. It happens to the best of us and at least you were careful, so that’s something. Still, probably best we never mention this to Grandma and Grandpa, and that the whole one-night stand thing does not become a regular event”
“Wasn’t really planning on either thing becoming a habit.”
“Lorelai?” Emily called before re-entering the room, prompting the Gilmore girls to drop back into their respective seats just in time.
“I was hoping to drop by the inn tomorrow with Bitty Charleston to finalise details for the DAR event next weekend. You’ll be available at one o’clock?”
“Uh, yeah. Pretty sure I can squeeze you and Bitty right in.” Lorelai smiled. “Speaking of the inn, I have interview questions to finalise before tomorrow,” she said then, getting up from her seat. “Are you sticking around, babe, or are you Yale bound?”
“Staying for now,” Rory confirmed. “I’m hoping to have kind of a lazy Sunday then get up early in the morning to head back - my first class isn’t until ten tomorrow.”
“Cool. Then maybe we can spend some more time catching up later,” she said with a wink.
“Definitely,” Rory agreed, smiling wide.
She continued to smile even as her grandmother waxed lyrical about the next DAR event. Usually Rory would listen and potentially even be interested in the arrangements, depending what the event was for and how involved she was. Today was different. Today, Rory’s mind was wandering elsewhere and for a change she wasn’t distracted by worries over school work or thinking about the fun she would no doubt be having at the next Life and Death Brigade event. Instead her mind was full of Ginsberg quotes, a sexy smirking face, and a night she would never forget.
He flinched badly when his friend smacked him in the arm, not because it hurt at all, but just because she had surprised him.
“Geez, Lane,” he complained. “What’s wrong with you?”
“Better question, what’s wrong with you?” she asked, frowning hard. “You’re in this whole world of your own today. I mean, I know your ability to get lost in a book is legendary, but now you’re drifting away to another planet without the book. Is something wrong?”
Jess hadn’t realised quite how easily he was zoning out. He could honestly tell Lane that lack of sleep was the culprit, because he genuinely hadn’t gotten that much rest last night, one way or another. At the same time, he was pretty sure that wasn’t the whole truth and wasn’t entirely sure he was ready to tell Lane what was.
“Don’t you have tables to clear?” he asked her, running a hand back through his hair.
“Don’t you?” she countered, smirking the way he usually did.
With a huge heaving sigh like it was the biggest deal ever, even though he was smiling at the same time, Jess pushed away from the diner counter and bussed a couple of tables.
Lane shook her head as she headed for the kitchen to drop off an order with Caesar. If Luke were here, Jess wouldn’t slack so much, but Lane was pretty sure his head wouldn’t be any less in the clouds.
When her shift was done a half hour later, Dave came to meet her, but Lane was in no hurry to leave.
“Something’s wrong with Jess,” she said worriedly.
“Is he sick?” asked her boyfriend, staring across at his buddy. “He doesn’t look sick.”
“He’s not sick but he’s... quiet, day-dreamy, moody.”
“Lane, you just described Jess on a normal day,” said Dave shaking his head. “I’m sure he’s fine. Now, you ready to go?”
“I guess.” Lane sighed. “Bye, Jess!” she called to him, throwing her hand up in a wave as she followed Dave out of the door.
Though Jess’ hand came up briefly in acknowledgment, Lane wondered if he even knew who he was responding too. Now his head was buried in a notebook, pencil streaking across the page so fast it was almost a blur. Writing was better than silent dreamy weirdness, Lane decided, but there was definitely something up with her friend, she was sure on that. She was telling Dave as much as they walked around the corner hand-in-hand, running straight into a guy coming the other way.
“Luke!” she greeted him with possibly too big of a grin. “Hey, are you headed in to the diner?”
“Well, it is my place and I do work there, so yeah,” he said, wondering what was up with her. “Something wrong, Lane?”
“Nope, no, not really.”
“She thinks there’s something going on with Jess,” Dave explained for her. “But he’s fine, right?”
“Sure, yeah, he’s fine.” Luke nodded. “I’ll see you guys later.”
He moved away from the young couple as quickly as he could, diving into the diner and heading straight over to where Jess was taking an order.
“Finish up with the customer, then upstairs,” he told his nephew in a low voice.
Jess had no idea what was going on and had a feeling he’d rather not know given the tone Luke was using right now. Still, he dutifully finished taking the patrons order, dropped it off at the kitchen and then hurried upstairs to the apartment where Luke was waiting, arms folded, foot tapping.
“I just got back from the wholesalers.”
“Cool, we’re a little low on pickles,” said Jess, nodding his head.
“Oh, is that so. Low on pickles, huh?” said Luke, with a look. “How about jewellery, we got enough of that?”
“What are you talking about? What jewellery?”
“Oh, I don’t know, maybe a nice bracelet?” asked Luke, pulling a certain sparkly item from his pocket and dangling it in front of Jess. “Funny, I don’t remember owning something like this. The only other person who drives my truck would be you to haul the band’s equipment, something you were doing last night. Did you also rob a jewellery store on the way home, Jess?”
“Geez, you’re cracked.” Jess rolled his eyes. “If I knocked over a jewellery store, one bracelet would be a lousy haul,” he said smartly. “C’mon, you know I didn’t steal it.”
“Then where’d it come from?” asked his uncle crossly. “I know Lane doesn’t have fancy things like this. Have you been... behaving inappropriately with girls in my truck?”
Jess smirked at the phrasing. He had a bet going with himself that if Luke ever had to say the word ‘sex’ in front of another person his head would explode. One day, he was going to find out for sure, though maybe today wasn’t the time to push it.
“There was one woman,” he said pointedly, “and she was never in your truck. Best guess, the bracelet got caught on something I was wearing and landed up in the truck when I drove home,” he said, shrugging his shoulders. “Can I see it?”
Picking the bracelet from his uncle’s fingers, Jess looked it over and couldn’t help but smile. The sparkly parts were probably diamonds, but in-between were simple silver charms that made total sense, including a book, a heart, a graduation cap, a letter R.
“You know who it belongs to?”
“You know where she lives?”
“I can probably find out,” Jess considered, nodding his head.
“Then you get it back to her, fast,” Luke said firmly. “I don’t want the cops coming calling accusing us of theft.”
With that, he stormed back downstairs to the diner, presumably to work. Jess knew he should do the same, his shift wasn’t over yet. Still, he went back to his job with a smile on his face. After hours wondering about Rory and if he could or should ever see her again, now the decision had been made for him, and he liked the choice that fate had made.
“Hey, Zach!” Jess called, knocking on the front door even as he let himself in. “You here, man?”
“Chill, Jess, I’ll be out in a sec!” his buddy called back, appearing a few moments later from the bedroom, pulling a T-shirt over his head. “Dude, I have had the worst day. I could not wait to get out of the working man clothes and back into something a little more rock ‘n’ roll, you know?” he said, gesturing to Led Zeppelin’s logo displayed across his chest.
“Yeah, I know what you mean,” Jess agreed easily. “Listen, that party last weekend at the hotel.”
“The Huntzberger birthday gig? Yeah, man, that was an awesome night!” Zach enthused, grinning wide. “Not only did we totally rock, but those society chicks were all over me, dude. You know, two of ’em took me up to their room and I gotta say, not a bad way to spend a night,” he said, with a look that could only mean one thing.
Jess smiled at his friend’s enthusiasm but it was tough not to roll his eyes. Zach was a real guy’s guy, totally into the sex part of ‘sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll,’ which was better than the drugs part as far as Jess was concerned, but he was still kind of a cliché to his mind.
On this occasion, Jess wasn’t sure he should judge Zach too harshly for his bed-hopping. After all, he was here because he had slept with a woman he just met on Saturday night and now, three days later, actually wanted to find that woman to return a bracelet he had already held onto too long. Didn’t that just sound stupid now that he thought about it?
“So, your cousin got us the gig in the first place,” he said to Zach. “I was just wondering, does he have access to the computer? I kind of need to know the name that goes with a room number that night.”
“Hey, you got lucky too?” said Zach, grinning wide, and faking a friendly punch at Jess’ shoulder, the way guys did. “I thought you disappeared on us, man, but half the time you’re just totally into a book or something. Wait a second,” he said then, shaking his head, “you don’t know her name?”
“Not her whole name,” Jess admitted, shifting awkwardly, “and I need to find her.”
In his pocket, his hand closed around the bracelet Luke had found in the truck. He needed to get it back to Rory, his uncle had been right on that, but quite honestly, Jess also just wanted to see her again, no matter how crazy it seemed.
“Dude, I can totally help you out,” Zach assured Jess, thankfully not asking any more questions about his buddy’s liaison last Saturday night, “but Marty’s not the guy. He just tends bar on the weekends when he’s not swamped with college stuff. Now, the girl who works the front desk, she was really, really into Brian for some weirdo reason,” he said, making a face. “Anyway, I’ll bet if you take him over there with you, she would totally spill any info you want.”
“Huh,” said Jess, finding it as weird as Zach did that any girl would be fawning over Brian, but it took all kinds to make a world, and this time it was going to work to Jess’ advantage. “Thanks, man,” he told Zach, slapping him on the back and then moving to leave.
“So, what’s so great about this chick anyway?”
Jess hand stilled on the doorknob at the sound of his friend’s question, and the second one that followed it up fast.
“You must’ve had some night with her if you wanna see her again, right?”
There was a smile on Jess’ lips that he couldn’t help but he wasn’t about to explain anything right now or speak about his night with Rory. He wouldn’t sully it with cheap talk that way.
“I’ll see you later, Zach,” he said instead, letting himself out of the apartment.
Before he even reached the street again, Jess had his cell in his hand and was dialling Brian’s number. At least he was less likely to ask too many questions or make too many jokes like Zach might. Jess just really needed to get this done. He needed to see Rory again. He only hoped she would be glad to see him.
Rory physically jumped when she realised her room-mate was yelling at her.
“Paris, you just scared ten years off my life!” she complained, turning in her desk chair to glare at her.
“Really? Well, I’ve been calling your name for what feels like a half hour while you continue to stare at nothing at all,” said Paris, folding her arms across her chest. “Don’t even tell me you were concentrating on your paper, because I haven’t seen you write a word or turn a page in your book this entire time.”
Rory wanted to argue the point but already knew she couldn’t. The truth was, she couldn’t even recall what paper she had been writing to begin with. She had just become so distracted by thoughts of Saturday night and a certain guy she had met at Logan’s party. Of course, telling Paris all about it might not be the smartest move.
“It’s a guy, isn’t it?”
Rory’s eyes widened at the question given the truth of the matter, and she knew immediately she had given the game away.
“I knew it. You’ve been all moony since Logan’s party and I spent half my time trying to track you down that night, to no avail,” said Paris, shaking her head. “You weren’t with the birthday boy himself, I know that much, and you have too much self-respect to be running around with most of the guys we know. So, come on, let’s have it. How did you manage to find the one guy in the place that was a stranger? Please God, tell me you didn’t sleep with the help.”
“Paris, how do you know I slept with anybody?” asked Rory, blushing furiously.
“That’s how I can tell. You’ve gone every possible shade of red and whilst you’re not exactly a stranger to embarrassment over just about everything, it’s sex that really sets you glowing to the point where traffic wants to stop at your face.”
“Wow, thanks, Paris” said Rory, rolling her eyes. “That’s so flattering”
“I’m not trying to flatter you, though I’m guessing some guy did on Saturday night,” she said easily, pulling up a chair near to Rory’s own. “So, come on, who was he? If I’m going to keep up the self-imposed celibacy routine, I can at least live vicariously through you. One of those unwashed rockers in the band maybe? Not the blond because I saw Madeline and Louise getting ready to sink their claws into his willing flesh. The drummer was a girl and you’re not that experimental.”
“It wasn’t anyone from the band,” said Rory definitely. “Well, not really anyway. If you must know, Jess is the manager for the band, and I know what you’re going to say but he’s nothing like you think.”
“Hey, I don’t think anything,” said Paris, hands raised in mock surrender. “If you want to give your body over to a guy who hangs around a second-rate music group just to make himself feel cool-”
“That’s not what I did. That’s not what Jess does,” Rory tried to explain badly, getting tied up in knots as she so often did when Paris went off on one of her verbose rants. “It really wasn’t like that.”
Before she could explain further, her cell started ringing on the desk. Rory grabbed it up and found it was Emily calling. Right now, anyone was a welcome distraction from the conversation she had been having with Paris!
“Yes, Grandma. No, I didn’t forget. Well, yes, I suppose I should’ve gone before now, I just... Okay. No, I don’t have any more classes today, but I... Okay. Yes. Okay, Grandma.”
Paris was smiling way too much by the time Rory got off the phone.
“I have great respect for Emily Gilmore,” she said happily. “She may not talk quite as fast as you or Lorelai, but she knows how to get what she wants.”
Rory sighed. “You’re not kidding. Apparently, since I don’t have any more classes today, I’m not busy,” she said, casting a look at the piles of books and papers on her desk, “so, I need to go pick up my dress for the DAR’s Russian Tea event this weekend from Miss Seline’s.”
“Wow, doesn’t that sound like a laugh a minute?” Paris rolled her eyes. “Come on, Gilmore, look alive. If we go now, we’ll be in town right on time for dinner. I’ll buy you one of those greasy burgers that you seem to be able to eat without gaining a pound.”
“Have I not known you for over a decade? Yes, of course, there will be coffee. Now move before I change my mind.”
She was up and gone to get her own jacket and purse before Rory had a chance to really react. Paris may be a pain in the butt sometimes but she was also a really good friend when Rory needed one. She only hoped Paris didn’t ask her anymore about Jess on their way to Hartford and back. She had no idea where to begin in explaining what happened or what she felt about it, and of all people, she doubted that Paris would understand anyway.
It ought to have been simple enough. It had been at first. Zach was right about the girl at the desk in the hotel, she really was half in love with Brian, as weird as that seemed. When he and Jess went along to see her and ask for the name of the girl who had Room 204 on Saturday night, she was happy to hand it over, and then continue to flirt with Brian while Jess went on the hunt for Rory. Unfortunately, when Jess looked for the name of Hayden in the Hartford phone book, he came up with nothing.
The whole situation wasn’t a total bust. He knew now that Rory was short for Lorelai, which sort of seemed like something he should’ve known before they got intimate, but anyway.
He had figured she lived in Hartford but he supposed she could be further afield. Finding her would probably be a nightmare, unless he tracked down Huntzberger and asked him, but Jess wasn’t so sure he wanted to go down that road. It wasn’t as if he knew Logan or any of those rich guys at all, but the name was well-known. Mitchum Huntzberger was big in the world of publishing, newspapers to be precise. If Jess went telling tales about Rory near Logan’s family, he had no way to know if that would end badly for her. Crazy as it sounded after spending only one night her, Jess knew he wouldn’t want to harm Rory for the world. She was special, he knew that much, and not just because her family could afford the kind of jewellery he currently held in his hand.
With a sigh, Jess shoved the bracelet deep into the front pocket of his leather jacket and zipped it shut to keep it safe. There was very little point him wandering the streets of Hartford anymore, he may as well head back to the Hollow, but right now, home just didn’t appeal. Instead he decided to eat first. Living over a diner was all well and good, but sometimes a person just needed something different, even if it was the same type of food cooked elsewhere by someone else.
Turning the next corner, he was confronted by people coming the other way and dodged to the edge of the pavement to avoid running into them. The sound of laughter got his attention then and he glanced across the street to where two young women were stepping out of a high-end clothing store. One of them was shockingly familiar.
The name came out of his mouth before Jess had really thought it through and he immediately hated himself for being such a fool. Rory looked over, pushed what were undoubtedly designer sunglasses up on top of her head and stared at him. She wasn’t entirely smiling which didn’t bode well, but then that might have something to do with her friend running into her back and scowling.
Jess had no option now but to cross the street and talk to Rory. He really should give her the bracelet back like he planned anyway, but somehow, he wasn’t looking forward to this conversation as much as he might’ve been before. Somehow, she seemed different by the cold light of day, and he had a feeling maybe it was the company she was keeping right now that made the difference.
“Hi,” he greeted her as they met each other.
“Hi,” she replied. “Um, I didn’t... You’re the last person I thought I’d see here, now, or ever, actually,” she admitted, shifting awkwardly.
Jess glanced from Rory to the person hovering behind her. Whoever she was she was giving him some kind of death glare. Jess would’ve glared right back but he wasn’t here for her.
“I was actually looking for you,” he told Rory, unzipping the front pocket of his jacket. “After the other night, I found this. Pretty much had to be yours.”
Rory watched him with a frown on her face until finally he held his hand out to her and she saw the familiar bracelet in his palm. It was definitely hers, though honestly, she hadn’t missed it these past few days.
“Wow. Thank you,” she said, picking it out of his hand. “That’s so sweet of you to bring it back.”
“What were you doing? Just wandering the streets of Hartford in the hopes she came along?”
“Paris!” Rory immediately admonished her both with her tone and a look to match. “Jess did a nice thing. Although,” she said then, turning back to Jess, “how exactly did you plan on finding me?”
“Found out your name from the hotel,” he explained. “Then I looked up Hayden in the phone directory but you’re not listed.”
“Oh, I’m not a Hayden,” she explained, pushing her hair back off her face in some nervous gesture. “Or I guess I am, officially, but... well, I go by Gilmore.”
“Lorelai Gilmore,” said Jess with a look. “Guess I should’ve asked what Rory was short for too.”
“Right. Um, you didn’t have to travel far, did you?”
Jess shook his head. “Not far. I live in a little place called Stars Hollow.”
Paris sighed audibly and folded her arms across her chest, making it plain that she was so done with this conversation. Rory shifted awkwardly, glancing at her friend and then just barely at Jess.
“Um, well, thanks for this,” she told Jess, gesturing with her bracelet. “I appreciate it.”
“No problem,” he assured her, opening his mouth to say more but never getting the chance as Paris looped her arm through Rory’s own and all but dragged her away.
“And to think that I actually believed you had taste, Gilmore,” she said as they walked by Jess.
“I do,” Rory replied sharply. “God, I am so embarrassed.”
Jess bit his tongue and winced at the sound of those words. He didn’t exactly expect Rory to be all over him or anything, but he had thought they meant a little more to each other than that. Clearly, he was wrong. Jess turned and headed back the way he came, planning to get in the truck and drive home. He had completely lost his appetite and right now would be glad to be anywhere but here.
Rory felt guilty. It wasn’t a feeling she liked much but she, unlike many of her friends, was not a stranger to it. It seemed to be easy for people like Paris, Madeline and Louise, Logan, Colin and Finn to just do what they wanted and damn the consequences. Rory had never really been that way. She wished she were. It would make life a whole lot easier, but Rory was a rarity, as were her family. Though she was raised to be the Gilmore heir, a socialite, and a lady by her grandparents, her mom always kept her grounded, helped her be a more ‘normal’ and better person, and then there was Rory’s own general tendency to be overly honest and such without any real prompting whatsoever. All this was why she suspected she felt so bad about Jess.
It was so stupid. When they met at Logan’s party, she had been so attracted to him, not just his looks, though that was a part of it, but his personality, his knowledge, his sense of humour, everything. They had a great time talking and doing things that weren’t talking too. It hadn’t really occurred to Rory that she could or would see Jess again, but a part of her hoped it might happen. Then there he was, right in front of her, and she had treated him terribly.
Rory could try to blame Paris for what happened in Hartford a couple of days ago, but that wouldn’t really be fair. Sure, she was abrupt and kind of rude, which was Paris’ forte, but Rory had a brain and a mouth. She was able to tell Paris to stop or go away if she wanted to. She had stood up to her before, it was possible, but when it came to Jess, Rory was just so embarrassed.
It wasn’t because she had a one-night stand, as such. That had happened before, only once, but still. She told her girl friends about what happened with Logan and she wasn’t ashamed of it. It was a little embarrassing but, in the end, they talked about it and moved on, no muss, no fuss. This seemed different. Rory had been a snob and she knew it, acting like she was too good to talk to Jess in the street. She felt sick just thinking about it and apparently it showed.
“Rory, whatever’s the matter?” asked Emily in a low voice. “You’re not sick, are you? If you are, I think we’d better get you away from prying eyes. We don’t want the other ladies to start suspecting the food or something, not when your mother runs the inn.”
“I’m not sick, Grandma,” Rory promised. “I just... Actually, I think I have a headache coming on. Maybe I studied too hard this week.”
“Oh, you poor dear,” said Emily, patting her arm. “Well, I suppose you should go home and rest. It’s not as if anybody can blame you for working too hard, that is an admirable thing after all, but what a shame to waste your lovely dress,” she added with a sigh.
“I’m sure I can wear it again for some other event. Not the DAR, obviously,” she added quickly, “but something else, a family occasion maybe.”
“Perhaps,” Emily nodded, though she didn’t look entirely convinced. “I’ll call your grandfather, ask him to come pick you up.”
“Oh no, Grandma, I’m fine. I drove myself here and can drive myself back too.”
“But with your head feeling so bad, Rory, it’s not safe.”
“It’s not so bad,” she insisted. “It just feels like it could get worse and I’m sure I just need some fresh air or some rest or something.”
“Very well, if you’re sure,” Emily agreed. “You say goodbye to your mother before you leave so she doesn’t worry and we’ll see you at home for dinner.”
“Okay. Thanks, Grandma.” Rory smiled, getting up from her seat and excusing herself to the other ladies at the table.
It was no shock to Rory to realise that her mom was nowhere near the dining room where the DAR ladies were congregating. She had to come to these things, wherever they were, but her presence was required more particularly because this event was being held at the inn she ran. Of course, working for the place also allowed Lorelai the excuse to escape. Rory found her, as expected, in the kitchen with a large coffee in her hands.
“Hey, sweets. You okay?”
“I’m fine, but if Grandma asks, I didn’t look so good when you saw me,” said Rory in a low voice as she wandered over to her mom. “I actually do have a little headache so I used it as an excuse to escape.”
“Ooh, you’re getting more and more like me every day kid.” Lorelai grinned. “I couldn’t be prouder.”
Rory giggled. “I don’t like to lie to Grandma, but sometimes these things are too much. Besides, I was hoping to meet up with someone today...”
“Someone?” asked Lorelai, trying to meet her daughter’s eyes but Rory kept on ducking her head. “Rory, honey?”
“I want to go and see Jess,” she admitted shyly. “I know it’s crazy. Believe me, I am aware that I must be full-on nuts right now but I can’t help it. I just feel like I need to apologise for the other day. I mean, he went to all that trouble to return my bracelet, which he did not have to do, and I really wasn’t the nicest person. I feel bad.”
“I get that,” said Lorelai, nodding her head. “You always were the guilty type. I swear, you should’ve been Jewish... or Catholic... or whatever other religion is real big on guilt and confessions,” she considered. “Still, I have to ask, hon, is it only that making you want to see this guy again? I mean, he must be pretty special for you to have danced the horizonal rhumba that first night.”
“He was special. He is. I wish I could explain it, Mom, but I really can’t.”
“You don’t have to, sweets,” Lorelai assured her, a hand on her shoulder. “Sometimes people just take you by surprise and you don’t even know why. We’ve all read the books, seen the movies, and heard the songs. Love at first sight and all of that jazz. It’s not so common in real life, but it can happen.”
“Love might be a little strong,” said Rory, glancing away. “I just really like him.”
“Then go see him, kid,” said Lorelai definitely. “What do you have to lose?”
“Thanks, Mom.” Rory grinned, moving in to hug her tight. “You’re the best.”
The next moment she was practically running out of the door, leaving a smiling Lorelai in her wake.
“Oh, to be young and in love,” she said to herself with a sigh.
It had been a good long while since she felt that way about anyone. Lorelai had known before she ever married Christopher that they were doomed. He was great as a high school boyfriend but there was no way they could really last. They married because they had to, because Lorelai was pregnant and that was just what people were supposed to do. It had all fallen apart by the time Rory was five and Lorelai had taken her little girl and moved back in with her parents, the place they had remained ever since. Chris came around sometimes to see Rory but as far as Lorelai was concerned she wasn’t a part of his visits, not really. There was no guy in Lorelai’s life, not that way. Someday maybe she would find ‘the one’ but up to now it just hadn’t happened.
“Lorelai?” a familiar voice called from the next room.
“Coming, Mom!” she yelled back, drinking down the rest of her coffee in one hit. “It’s gonna be a long day.”
Rory felt stupidly nervous as she pulled her car up the kerb outside of Luke’s diner. She had no idea where in Stars Hollow to go looking for Jess, but she knew she was hungry and figured maybe an eatery was a good place to start. Besides, it was only a small town, so it was likely some friendly neighbour type would know where Jess lived and be willing to tell her. If she could just stop shaking, Rory would be fine, but now she was here she just felt so ridiculous, not knowing what she was going to say beyond ‘sorry’ or even if Jess would care to listen when she tried to apologise.
Stepping out of the car, she felt even more self-conscious in the dress she had worn specifically for the DAR Russian Tea. It seemed pointless to go home before coming here, 1) because it would take so long to go from Stars Hollow back to Hartford and then back again to Stars Hollow once again, and 2) because Grandpa would ask questions that she didn’t much want to answer right now.
Pulling her jacket around her body and fastening one button to keep it there, Rory hoped nobody paid too much mind to what she was wearing as she stepped into the diner at last, pushing her sunglasses to the top of her head.
The ringing of the bell over the door seemed to get the attention of every person in the place and Rory shifted awkwardly under their gaze. It wasn’t as if she was a stranger to being centre of attention. Between debutante balls and being crowned queen of Homecoming and Prom and all, she was well used to attention, but this was different. All these strangers who probably thought she came from another plant, at least they were looking at her as if they might think that.
Steeling herself, Rory marched forward to the counter, since she could already see there were no tables free. Pulling herself up onto a stool, she reached for a menu and began scanning the list of food on offer. She didn’t notice someone come to take her order until he spoke, then got a real shock when she glanced up and met his eyes.
“Hi,” she said, blinking at Jess.
“Hi,” he replied. “Er, what are you doing here?”
“I actually came to see you,” she admitted, dropping the menu down on the counter. “I had no idea you would be here exactly. I mean, you said you lived in Stars Hollow and I was in town, on the edge of town anyway, you know the Independence Inn? That’s where I was, so I figured I’d come see if you were around and then I got hungry, so that’s why I’m here,” she rattled out too fast.
Jess smirked at the speed with which she delivered all the information. That and the fact that she had come to find him at all. After meeting her again in Hartford a couple of days ago only to have her treat him like dirt, he really never thought he would see Rory again and had half-decided that he never wanted to. Now she was in front of him again, he could very easily be persuaded to change his mind.
“Mostly, I wanted to apologise,” she said then, taking away any more doubts Jess had about Rory in an instant. “The other day... I was just so shocked to see you there and Paris... well, I can’t blame her entirely. Like I said, you surprised me.”
“I didn’t mean to, at least, not like that,” Jess insisted. “I never thought I was just going to run into you the way I did.”
“I know, I get that,” Rory agreed. “I was just so thrown, plus trying to explain to Paris... she’s known me a long time and I’m not exactly the type to... to do what we did last weekend,” she said in a much lower voice, leaning closer to him over the counter. “Why do I get the feeling that every person in here is trying to hear what I’m saying?” she asked in virtually a whisper.
Jess put forearms down on the counter and leaned in closer to her too, speaking almost as quietly.
“Probably because you have good instincts,” he said, unable to keep from smiling. “This town is the nosiest place for miles. Good people, don’t get me wrong, but they do love other people’s business.”
Rory nodded that she understood, suddenly unable to speak as she became very aware of how close Jess was right now. Close enough to kiss, and last time this had happened it was exactly what they had done, and then some. The memory of it brought a warmth to her whole body and a redness to her cheeks, she was certain on that. How this guy could have such an effect on her, she had no idea, but he could and she didn’t hate it.
“So, you work here?” she asked, hoping to deflect a little attention.
“Sometimes.” Jess nodded. “My uncle owns the place, so I work some shifts here and more regularly at the book store down the street, all while trying to get my own writing career off the ground.”
“Yes, the book. You mentioned that,” she recalled with a grin.
“It’s not really a book unless it gets published,” Jess considered, looking past Rory at the chattering neighbours he knew too well.
Miss Patty and Babette were about to pounce and start asking awkward questions, he just knew it, and now so wasn’t the time. Rory thought she had been embarrassed by her friend the other day but Jess knew it would be equally as bad if not worse for him if the town gossips started making comments the way they often did.
“Any chance you want to get out of here?” he asked Rory hopefully. “Whatever you want to eat, we can take it with us, but if we stay here... well, we’re gonna have a big audience.”
Rory dared to glance behind her and then wished she hadn’t.
“Yeah, elsewhere would probably be good, but don’t you have to work?”
“Only for another... fifteen minutes,” he said, checking his watch, “if you can wait that long?”
“I can wait,” she agreed, nodding her head. “So long as I can have a coffee while I’m waiting.”
Jess turned quickly to grab the coffee pot, filling up an oversized cup and placing it in front of her on the counter.
“On the house,” he told her easily.
“Thanks.” Rory smiled widely then picked up the cup to take a sip.
The sound she made the moment the coffee entered her mouth was practically a moan, one that Jess had heard before, though there had been no coffee around that night.
“That is so good,” she enthused. “Seriously, I am practically a coffee connoisseur and this is the best I ever tasted.”
“I’ll tell Luke you said so.” Jess smiled. “So, if you decide what you want to eat, I’ll get Caesar to wrap it up to go and we’ll head out in ten minutes or so.”
“And go where?” asked Rory curiously. “Your place?”
“Technically, this is my place,” said Jess, looking somewhat embarrassed. “I live upstairs. Luke - the boss here - he’s my uncle. But I have somewhere we can go. I think you’ll like it.”
How he knew that, even Jess wasn’t sure. He barely knew Rory and she hardly seemed like she ought to be the type to appreciate anything Stars Hollow had to offer, and yet he was pretty sure this afternoon was going to go well. He hoped so anyway and when Rory smiled at him one more time, he really believed it.
“This is not how I expected to be spending today,” said Rory, covering her mouth with her hand when she realised how unladylike she was being right now, spitting crumbs as she spoke. “I’m sorry,” she mumbled, chewing and swallowing fast. “I’m not usually like this”
“You know you’ve got me wondering what the real Rory Gilmore is actually like,” said Jess, sat across from her on the bridge. Off her confused look, he explained. “I seem to remember you telling me before, ‘This isn’t like me. I don’t normally do this,’ and you already said it again at least three times in the last hour.”
Rory hadn’t realised she was repeating herself so much and felt embarrassed now Jess told her so. What she said was true, she really didn’t behave the way she had in Jess’ company both last Saturday night and today, but it probably seem odd to him that she would keep saying so.
“Clearly there’s something about you that makes me not be like myself,” she said, looking away.
“Or maybe this is exactly who you’re supposed to be and nobody else lets you be the real you,” Jess considered, popping another fry into his mouth.
“I hadn’t thought about it that way,” said Rory thoughtfully. “Maybe this is me, maybe not.”
“Maybe this conversation is getting a little too existential.”
“You started it, Jean-Paul.”
“No, I think you’ll find that was you, Little Miss ‘I’ve Never Done Anything Like This’,” Jess teased her. “For what it’s worth, whichever version of you is real, I’m pretty sure I like all of them.”
“Well, that’s good to know.” Rory smiled. “It’s so peaceful here. I never get his much quiet at home, not this kind of quiet anyway. My family does a good line in stony silence a little too often, but this? This is wonderful,” she said with a contented sigh, staring out across the lake.
“I come here when things are getting too much everywhere else” Jess said of the bridge they were sitting on and had been for a while now. “If me and Luke aren’t getting along or the band is fighting with each other, whatever. It’s a great place to escape to.”
“By yourself?” asked Rory curiously.
“Sometimes.” Jess nodded, smirking some because he had a feeling he knew what she was getting at. “Sometimes I bring a book along.”
Rory giggled at his answer, knowing as well as he did that wasn’t meant by her question.
“So, you don’t bring all your dates here?”
“I’m sorry, this is a date?” asked Jess, shaking his head and feigning innocence. “Wow, that escalated fast.”
“Not as fast as Saturday night,” Rory noted, looking everywhere but at him. “That one I’m standing by, I really don’t usually do that.”
“But you’ve done it before,” said Jess, pretty sure he was right. “It seemed like you knew what you were doing.”
“I knew.” Rory nodded, sure she was blushing bright red. “I just never did that with a guy I just met before. That part was new.”
“Huh,” said Jess, not willing to say anymore.
If Rory was waiting for him to tell her he never hopped into a bed with a woman he just met before either then she was in for disappointment. He wasn’t about to lie to her, that was for sure.
“Regrets?” he asked her instead.
She fixed him with a look. “Would I be here if I regretted anything?”
“Probably not,” Jess conceded, “but you just came here to apologise, right? Lunch wasn’t the plan.”
“Seeing you again was the plan,” she admitted, ducking her face behind her hair.
It was so weird how she could be so bashful in front of a guy that she so easily had sex with a little over a week ago. Of course, the alcohol had boosted her confidence then. She hadn’t been drunk or anything, and would never try to suggest that booze alone had led to her doing what she had done with Jess. There was no reason for her behaviour except for Jess himself and the way she felt just being around him.
“So, this is Stars Hollow,” she said, determined to get back to some kind of normal conversation before her face got so red it stayed that way permanently.
“This is it,” Jess nodded. “I guess you blue blood, society types never venture so far this way. If you’re not in Hartford, it’s off to Paris, Vienna, and Rome, right?” he teased her.
“We’re not so different to you,” said Rory pointedly, poking out her tongue for good measure. “As a matter of fact, my mom works in Stars Hollow. Well, on the edge of town. You know the Independence Inn?”
“Sure, I know it.”
“Well, my mom runs the place.”
“That’s cool. I didn’t think moms worked where you come from.”
“Again, with the making it sound like I come from a different planet or I’m of a different species or something.” Rory laughed. “It’s not flattering.”
“I just know what I know about rich people, that’s all.”
“And I know what I know about the managers of small-time rock bands, but not every stereotype is true,” she said, giving him a look.
If he was going to tease her, well, two could play that game.
“Managing Hep Alien isn’t a real job or anything.” Jess rolled his eyes. “I know what you’re thinking, working in a diner and a bookstore aren’t exactly career jobs either, but for now, it’s making me money, and that’s all I need.”
“I’m not judging,” Rory assured him. “Sometimes I think I’d be better off if I had to get a job and earn my money. It’s a little too easy to get crazy with cash when you know there’s always more.”
“Wow. That was a real Poor Little Rich Girl speech,” said Jess, smirking hard.
“It really was, wasn’t it?” Rory face-palmed, laughing at herself in the very next moment. “I’m sorry. Maybe we should change the subject. What have you been reading since I saw you last?”
“I’ve been revisiting old favourites. Blew through The Old Man and the Sea for maybe the hundredth time, now I’m back to Slaughterhouse-Five.”
“Ooh, Kurt Vonnegut is so good. You ever read Breakfast of Champions? It’s crazy, but I love it!”
Just like that they were back in the same place they had found themselves on Saturday night, deep in talk of books and what they loved best about them. It would lead into a bunch of pop culture references that would fling them into a discussion on movies and music too. It was a replay of their first conversation but completely different at the same time. Rory lost track of time talking and laughing and bickering with Jess, not caring at all how long she was sat there on the bridge, or how long they were walking around town later with him pointing out all the stores and telling her how crazy many of the owners were. Rory was wondering at the fact such a small town had quite so many stores dedicated to ceramic unicorns when she realised the lady in the latest one was locking up for the night.
“What time is it?” she asked Jess worried.
“Er, six thirty,” he told her as he checked his watch. “You wanna come back to the diner for dinner or-”
“I can’t, I’m sorry,” said Rory fast. “I mean, if you could walk me back to the diner that’d be great since my car is there, but I really have to go. I never meant to be here this long.”
“Right. You probably have fancy plans for tonight,” said Jess regretfully.
“Jess, I don’t have any plans tonight, and if I did I would love to cancel them to spend more time with you,” she promised him faithfully, her hand grasping his arm tightly. “It’s just... well, I told my grandmother I wasn’t feeling well when I snuck out of the DAR event today and when she gets home she’s going to expect to find me there.”
“Aren’t you in college?” Jess checked, knowing full well that Rory must be because she had been telling him about Yale not so long ago. “How come your grandmother has so much say about what you do?”
“She doesn’t,” Rory insisted. “Well, actually, she kind of does. It’s complicated, Jess, and I would explain but I really have to go.”
Jess wouldn’t beg her to stay because that would be pathetic, but it didn’t mean he wouldn’t like to. With Rory, he felt different, like the world made more sense, like everything was better. If anyone had asked Jess Mariano just over a week ago if he believed in love at first sight, he would’ve laughed in their face. Everything was different now, ever since he first laid eyes on Rory Gilmore.
“So, could you walk me back, please?” she urged him.
“Sure.” Jess nodded once.
Taking her hand in his own, he turned the next corner, surprising Rory with the fact the diner was right there. He heard her gasp at the realisation of how close they had been to a place she knew and allowed himself a smile.
“Stars Hollow is not a big town,” he told her. “Make three lefts, you end up back where you started pretty fast.”
“Thank you,” she said, turning to face him next to the driver’s side door of her car. “I had a really great time today, Jess.”
“Oh, yeah?” he said, smirking terribly. “I guess I did too.”
Rory smiled up at him, wondering if she would be a fool for initiating a kiss. In the end, she didn’t have to make the decision as Jess leaned in to put his lips on hers instead. They got lost in the moment just for a minute before Rory made herself pull away with a sigh.
“So,” said Jess as they parted, “back to the real world, Uptown Girl,” he said, opening her car door for her.
“Did you just make a Billy Joel reference?” she checked, evidently amused by the idea.
“Get in the car, you’re going to be late,” he told her, barely looking at her as he waited for her to do it then shut the door behind. “I guess I’ll see you around.”
“I hope so,” Rory agreed, starting up the engine and pulling away from the kerb.
Jess sighed as he watched her drive her way.
“Yeah,” he said to himself. “I hope so too.”
On the way back to Hartford, Rory’s mind was racing with ideas for excuses she could make to her grandparents over the whole DAR event debacle. If she went with the headache plan from before, she could say she decided to drive around and hope the fresh air helped her head, or even that she had to pull over on the way home because she felt ill. Maybe she could get away with hardly lying at all. It would be true to stay she stopped off in Stars Hollow to get some food or a drink in the hopes that would help her condition, then just lost track of time. There were books in her car, she could claim to have started reading in the diner or something, though that would probably be an odd activity for a person with a headache.
“Idiot!” Rory cursed herself, slamming her hands on the steering wheel as she drove along. “What was I even thinking?”
Letting out a sigh, Rory thought about the answer to that question for a while and then found a big smile was curving her lips. She knew exactly what she had been thinking. She wanted to see Jess and she certainly didn’t regret any time spent with him today.
There was every chance that Saturday night had just been about sex for him, though she didn’t want to believe it. He left fast enough after it was over, they both did. Now Rory knew for sure that it wasn’t true. Jess liked to spend time with her just as much as she enjoyed being in his company also. He was so easy to talk to and so easy to look at too. Rory felt like she could spend days, even weeks, with him and never get bored.
Reaching the house, Rory brought her mind back to her practised speech for when Grandma asked her where she had been and why. Unfortunately, she was already starting to forget what she was supposed to say. It was a real shock when she finally got into the house and found Emily and Richard grinning at her like fools.
“Hi,” said Rory warily. “I, er... I went for a drive,” she began, but her grandmother shook her head.
“Well, you can tell us all about that later,” she said definitely, steering Rory into the living room. “We have company.”
Rory was surprised to find the Huntzbergers assembled in the living room. There was Logan, his parents, Mitchum and Shira, and even his grandfather, Elias. Of course, Lorelai was there too and from the looks she was giving Rory, she wished she was anywhere else.
“You sure you’re feeling better now, honey?” she asked Rory pointedly, while Richard was pouring fresh drinks for all. “You still look a little pale. You want me to take you up to your room?”
“No, I’m fine, Mom,” Rory insisted, wondering why she was looking at her like that.
“I don’t think you look pale at all, Rory,” said Shira with her usual false smile. “Don’t you think Rory looks lovely, Logan?”
“She always does,” her son agreed, smiling at Rory then mouthing a ‘sorry’ when Shira wasn’t looking.
As yet, Rory wasn’t quite sure what he was apologising for.
After a few more minutes of small talk, it was almost a relief when Logan said he could use some air and asked Rory to go outside with him. She wondered why both her family and his seemed so eager for them to leave together, but Rory didn’t argue. She hoped that maybe Logan had some explanation for all this weird behaviour and might tell her about it once they were alone.
“I am so sorry to ambush you like this, Ace,” he told her, the moment they had got out onto the patio and closed the French doors behind them.
“It wasn’t exactly an ambush.” Rory laughed as they set off walking across the garden. “I mean, I was surprised to see you and your whole family here, but... Logan, what is going on?” she asked then, sure that something was but not really clear on what yet.
Whatever it was, it had him rattled, and her mom had been acting strangely too. Rory didn’t know what to think but she planned on finding out just exactly what was going on before too much longer.
“Logan, come on. Tell me what’s wrong,” she urged him when he was quiet too long.
Stopping the both of them half way across the lawn, Logan looked back the way they had come, then took Rory by the shoulders and positioned her between him and the house, her back to the building.
“Right now, my family and your family are watching us,” he explained. “Don’t turn around,” he urged her when she seemed ready to try, “just trust me, please.”
“You know I trust you,” she told him, wondering at the serious way in which he had asked her to do so. “Logan, for the third and final time, what is going on?”
Taking a deep breath, he seemed to be preparing to tell her something pretty serious, and Rory almost wished she hadn’t asked. She wished it twice as hard when Logan suddenly dropped to one knee in front of her, though she said not a word. The whole crazy situation seemed to have rendered her speechless, which was no mean feat where a Gilmore was concerned!
“Rory, I know this is crazy, believe me, I am more than aware, but this is the situation we’re in. I turned twenty-one and I thought it was going to open doors for me. I thought at the very least my trust funds would automatically be all mine, but they’re not. My dad has caveats and addendums that would cross the eyes of the best lawyer you could find, and the truth is, from what your grandparents have been saying, I think you and me might be in the same boat.”
“We’re in a boat now?” said Rory, feeling dazed. “Logan, could you please get up, you’re scaring me.”
“Sorry, Ace, but this is how it’s gotta be,” Logan told her, smiling through the pain as far as she could tell. “Archaic as it may be, I think the only way we’re going to get out of this is to go with what the family wants, at least for a while, and hey, you know I love you, right? Maybe not in the whole Romeo and Juliet, let’s grow old together, I Would Do Anything For Love kind of way, but still.”
“Logan...” Rory shook her head, but apparently, he wasn’t done yet.
“We can make this work, Rory, just for a while, just until things settle down. Your parents did it. Okay, I don’t know that it was their plan, but it worked out in the end. Our families are still watching, they’re probably starting to worry, and my knee is killing me,” he went on, grabbing onto Rory’s hand. “So, please, Lorelai Leigh Hayden-Gilmore, for reasons that I will fully explain later, would you get an old friend out of a jam and just say you’ll marry me, please?”
Rory looked down at Logan then dared to glance back at the French doors where everyone had their noses against the glass but were trying to pretend they weren’t spying. She didn’t really understand what was happening here, but she did seem to be making a habit lately of doing things she never did before.
“Hey, it’s my betrothed!” Logan laughed, toasting the girl at his door with the bottle in his hand.
He stopped looking quite so merry extremely fast when he realised she was not so happy herself. The folded arms, tapping foot, and face like thunder put Logan more in mind of Paris than Rory, but it was in fact the latter he was looking at now.
“I know that expression,” he said, pointing his finger a little too close to her nose. “It usually comes with a catchy line about me having some ‘splainin’ to do.”
“You’re not funny,” Rory told him, even as a hint of a smile broke through.
“Not even a little funny?” he tried, grinning like an idiot.
“Logan!” she complained, even as he got her to smile at last.
“Come on, Ace. Come inside, have a drink. You look as if you could use one.”
“What I could use is the explanation you promised me two days ago,” she told him, following him into the dorm. “Logan, I’m not-”
“Hey, Rory!” Colin called happily, staggering over to her from the armchair. “You look as enchanting as ever,” he assured her, reaching for her hand and making a big deal of kissing it.
“Rory, darling,” said Finn, equally exuberant and equally drunk it seemed as he rolled off the couch and landed at her feet. “You’re going to be the most beautiful bride, love.”
“Guys, could you please go somewhere... anywhere else,” she said, heaving a sigh. “I need to talk to Logan about this mess we’re in.”
“But-but I’m the best man,” Finn insisted, getting up onto wobbly legs.
“You’ve never been the best at anything,” Colin reminded him.
“Not true, sir! I’ll have you know just last week Molly Henderson told me I was the very best at f-”
“A hundred bucks for you to not finish that sentence!” Rory yelled into the melee, her hands covering her face.
“Two hundred if you guys leave now and don’t come back until tomorrow,” Logan threw in.
Rory had arrived here so worked up and ready for a fight, it was amazing to her that the sight of Colin and Finn drunkenly trying to leave still made her laugh, but they really were ridiculous. Usually, their antics were amusing, even hilarious, but right now, she didn’t want to be happy. She needed to stay mad at Logan until she had this whole mess figured out with him. She watched him close the door on his friends and then turn to her with a sigh.
“Sometimes I think corralling those two when they’re drunk must be what having kids is like.”
“Or dogs,” Rory considered.
“Nah.” Logan shook his head. “Dogs are usually housebroken.”
Rory smiled, she couldn’t help it. This really was the most ridiculous situation, but somehow, they had to figure it out. Walking back over to Logan, she took him by the wrist and led him to the couch where they both sat down with a bump that pushed their faces close together.
“Hey, Ace,” he said, grinning at her.
“Hey, yourself,” Rory replied, rolling her eyes. “This is what being engaged to me has driven you too, huh?” she checked, plucking the bottle from his hand.
“It’s not about you, Rory, I promise,” he told her faithfully. “It’s my life in general. Good old Mitchum and the lovely Shira.”
“Your parents have issues.”
“Like yours don’t.”
“Not so much since they got the divorce.” Rory shrugged, placing the bottle on a shelf far away from Logan’s reach. “So, assuming the larger part of your brain is still functioning, I’m still waiting for that explanation, Logan. Two days ago, you asked me to marry you, and for the sake of not causing a situation at the time, I agreed, but you promised me that you would explain what the hell was going on and so far, I’m in the dark. So, come on, lay it on me, what is happening?”
Logan heaved another sigh and dragged his hand down his face tiredly.
“When I turned twenty-one, I thought I was pretty much free and clear. My trust fund should’ve kicked in, I’d have a little more freedom. Finish out Yale, go out in the world and be whatever I wanted to be.”
“I know the plan, Logan. I’ve heard it a lot over the years,” Rory reminded him. “What changed?”
“What changed? What changed is that there are other conditions on my money. My dad doesn’t want me making my escape, Ace. He wants me here, he wants me under his thumb,” he explained, wavering back and forth still, pressing his thumb into the coffee table as he made his explanation. “There’s a clause in the paperwork. I have to be married, to one of our own kind, somebody upstanding and suitable, before I can touch a penny of my own money. Does that seem right to you?”
He lurched towards Rory across the couch and she leaned back a little. He really was drunk. Not as bad as she had ever seen him, but well on the way. Good job she came by when she did or she might still not have gotten this explanation. Not that she was liking it much now she did hear it.
“That is crazy,” she declared, shaking her head. “Logan, we don’t live in an Austen novel or a fairy tale. This can’t be legal.”
“And yet it is,” he said, sighing one more time. “You know Mitchum, he doesn’t do things by halves, and the Gilmores can be just as determined. Wouldn’t surprise me if your fortune was tied up just like mine. I mean, they did all make it very clear to me that you should be the one I picked for a fiancée,” he said with a look.
Rory stood up fast from the couch and started pacing. This did not make any sense. She felt like Alice in Wonderland right after she fell down the rabbit hole. This wasn’t her life. Sure, she had issues with her grandparents’ ways sometimes. They tended to think it was their way or not at all, and their way tended to be very old school, old money, and old world.
It was all Rory or Lorelai could do to keep Emily and Richard aware of the fact that neither of them were kids and that they were allowed to live their lives their way. There had been fights before over Rory’s parents getting divorced, over Lorelai working at the inn, over Rory wanting to be a journalist someday instead of marrying the first eligible bachelor that came along. Now she was starting to wonder if they hadn’t fought her too hard because this had always been the plan. No, that couldn’t be right, could it?”
“This is really crazy,” she declared, stopping pacing right in front of Logan and yelling more or less in his face, even though he wasn’t the one she was mad at. “They can’t make us get married, it’s insane.”
“Thanks,” said Logan, wincing at both her volume and her words. “It’s flattering really, how much you want to not be married to me.”
“Logan,” Rory groaned, dropping down to sit on the edge of the coffee table. “You don’t really want to marry me, do you? I mean, we’re too young, there’s too much we have to do. Besides, as much as I love you, we’re not together. We never were.”
“Come on, Ace. I know we were a little drunk but you didn’t forget our night, did you?” he asked, eyes meeting hers and the most annoying smirk on his lips.
“Of course not,” she assured him, “but that was years ago and it was never meant to be a serious thing. Logan, come on, be serious. We cannot get married.”
“Why not? I mean, really, Ace, give me a reason. It’s not such a big deal, we get married, we get access to all that’s ours, then if we want, we can get a divorce and everything’s cool.”
“You make it sound like you’re asking me to lend you fifty bucks or look after your dog for a weekend,” said Rory, eyes widening. “You’re talking about marriage, Logan. That’s a big deal.”
“That’s just what I’m saying, it doesn’t have to be if we don’t let it,” he insisted, apparently unaware of how ridiculous he sounded to Rory. “We’re not romantically involved with each other, but it’s not like there’s anybody else in our lives we have to disappoint by being together for a while, right?”
Rory couldn’t look at Logan then, and she certainly didn’t have words to answer him. It had been hard enough telling her mom that she slept with a veritable stranger a little over a week ago and then confessing the same to Paris. Explaining it to Logan was too much, especially when she had agreed to marry him just a few days before, the very same day that she had spent enjoying the company of one Jess Mariano so much.
“Ace? Am I missing something here?” asked Logan, his hand on her arm to get her attention back. “Rory, come on, talk to me.”
“I met somebody... at your party,” he said awkwardly.
“Somebody?” Logan echoed.
“A guy. He, er... he was with the band.”
The look on Logan’s face proved he was more than a little surprised by that. Rory couldn’t blame him for being so shocked. She had shocked herself with her own behaviour that night and even since then. It was Jess. He made her want to act crazy, though her conduct when it came to Logan hadn’t exactly been sane recently either.
“You met a guy who was with the band and, what?” asked Logan. “I mean, you’re the one in a million amongst us with more moral fire than most, so I know nothing too serious happened.”
Rory’s intense blush proved him wrong.
“Well, Lorelai Leigh, you’re just full of surprises today.”
“Logan, don’t,” she urged him, hearing laughter in his voice. “This is not a funny situation.”
“I really agree,” he told her, shaking his head, though his smile remained. “Geez, Ace, you’ve been my go-to girl for as long as I can remember, and I’ve been your go-to guy.”
“You have,” she admitted, nodding her head. “I didn’t really see that changing, but now, I think it might have to.”
It was strange to contemplate breaking up their longstanding arrangement. Ever since Rory and Tristan broke up, Logan had been the guy who escorted her to any event she had to attend, and she was happy to be on his arm when he needed her also. Rory didn’t date much and Logan didn’t date at all, not really, just seduced a string of willing girls and women who he grew bored of very soon afterwards. Rory and Logan were best friends more than anything else, almost in an open marriage of convenience, though Rory hadn’t really ever considered making that a real arrangement, not until now, as she realised it might be what she was on the way into. Logan had proposed after all, she had said yes, and he was talking as if they ought to go through with it, her playing her part and doing him a favour until the money stuff was figured out, then they would part, no muss, no fuss.
“Wow,” said Logan, running a hand down his face. “Well, damn, Ace, I did not see this coming. I’m sorry. I mean, if I had any idea you were in a serious relationship-”
“I’m not,” Rory insisted. “I mean, I like Jess a lot but... I don’t know, it’s kind of a crazy situation. There’s really nothing about any of this that’s not crazy right now.”
Logan got up from the couch with a sigh and retrieved the scotch bottle Rory took away from him before. He poured two healthy shots into a pair of glasses and handed one to Rory.
“Thanks,” she said, contemplating her glass for a moment before taking a long drink. “I’m sorry, Logan. I mean, I’m not saying I would’ve really wanted to go along with this crazy marriage plan anyway, but now-”
“It’s fine, Ace. I get it,” Logan assured her, sipping him own drink. “So, tell me about this Jess guy. He must be pretty special.”
“He’s... different. He reads a lot, very pop culture aware. Of course, he’s not at all hard to look at either.”
“Sounds like the Rory Gilmore trifecta,” said Logan, grinning. “And you really like him, huh?”
“Really do,” she admitted, nodding her head. “I just wish that didn’t mean my life was about to get even more complicated.”
“And you really like her, huh?”
“Really do,” Jess confessed, wondering why he was telling Lane so much about his fledgling relationship with Rory.
Of course, in reality, he knew exactly why he was telling her, because there really was no-one else that he could tell. Besides, Lane was practically his best friend in town and he trusted her more than anyone else he knew. The guys in the band were great, as was Luke, of course, but they were all guys and he wouldn’t know where to begin in explaining Rory to them.
Zach would be gross about it, as he already had been once. Brian would get all schmaltzy and weird. Dave might be okay, but Lane was still a better choice. Jess had just known her longer. As for Luke, well, as close as Jess and his uncle had gotten over the past three years or so, they really didn’t discuss each other’s romantic entanglements unless absolutely necessary. For now, at least, Jess didn’t find it necessary to mention Rory.
“I just think it’s so romantic,” said Lane, grinning wide as she continued to fill the salt shakers. “Like Romeo and Juliet or something.”
“Yeah, ‘cause that ended well,” Jess scoffed, stacking chairs onto the next table over.
“Well, okay, not Romeo and Juliet. More like... Pride and Prejudice. Yeah, except the girl is high society and the guy isn’t.”
“If you’re going to pick Austen, it’ll probably end up more like Persuasion.” Jess sighed, looking over at Lane in time to see her frown - she didn’t know that book. “The high society girl falls for the lower-class guy and is persuaded,” he said pointedly, “by her family not to let anything serious happen.”
“Oh.” Lane frowned harder. “Do they at least get the happily ever after in the end?”
“Yes, but that’s not the point,” Jess told her, finishing with the chairs and coming back over to the counter. “Rory’s family... well, from the little she’s told me, her mom is kind of cool, but her grandparents? They own her. They pretty much run her life. She’s twenty years old, but if they say jump, she doesn’t even bother to ask how high, she just goes for maximum altitude.”
“And you think if they knew about you they would tell her she shouldn’t see you anymore,” Lane realised aloud. “Well, Rory doesn’t have to listen to them, right? If she likes you enough-”
“She barely knows me,” Jess cut in. “People don’t cut their family ties for a guy they met less than two weeks ago.”
“Unless he’s Romeo Montague... and we already established that ended badly,” said Lane, shaking her head. “Still, it’s not impossible to think that Rory would go against her grandparents for you. I faced the wrath of Mrs Kim for the sake of Dave and the band.”
“That’s different.” Jess sighed, running a hand over his face. “Your whole life was pretty much a lie under the regime of Mrs Kim. You were not that person, Lane. Now you’re you and you’re happier.”
“Come on, Jess, you’re the one who told me how Rory keeps telling you she acts differently with you. Maybe that’s the real her and the person she is with her family is a lie too.”
Having now finished filling the shakers, Lane screwed the final lid on and went out back to put the oversized salt packet back in the store room. Alone in the empty diner, Jess leaned on the counter thinking over what his friend just said. Maybe Lane had a point. After all, he had suggested to Rory that her behaviour with him was maybe more the real her than what she usually did. She said herself that she kind of had to do what she was told at home, more for her grandparents than her mother. Not that it mattered who she was pandering to, if it meant she wouldn’t want to see Jess anymore. Of course, until they found out about him, they couldn’t really stop Rory from seeing him.
“So, now I’m somebody’s dirty little secret,” he muttered to himself. “Great.”
“What did you say?” asked Luke, suddenly appearing through the curtain from upstairs.
“Nothing.” Jess shook his head. “Just thinking out loud.”
“Right.” Luke nodded, watching Jess grab the broom and start on the diner floor.
His nephew had been acting strangely for more than a week now. Somehow, he didn’t quite believe it was ‘nothing.’ It definitely seemed like ‘something.’ In fact, Luke would lay good money that it was someone that was on Jess’ mind, but he wasn’t going to ask about it right now. Luke recalled wishing he had never delved into the whole situation when the last ‘girlfriend’ was hanging around, shuddering at the memory of a girl named Shane. He really would rather not know if he was going to have to deal with that kind of situation again any time soon!
“I’m so sorry, sweets. I wanted to warn you what was happening but there wasn’t time.” Lorelai sighed, pulling her legs up under her on the other side of the bed. “I never thought it would happen the way it did.”
“Seriously, Mom, it’s not your fault, and Logan and I are getting it figured out... at least, I think we are.”
“The frown doesn’t fill me with confidence,” said Lorelai, wincing at the expression on her daughter’s face.
“Yeah, well, Logan didn’t exactly fill me with confidence when he said it would all be fine.” Rory sighed too. “Anyway, new topic, please.”
“New topic?” Lorelai echoed, eyes wide with surprise. “You don’t think your potential impending marriage to a guy you don’t really want to be married to doesn’t require a little more discussion, because I’m telling you, babe, that kind of thing ends badly and I oughta know.”
Rory’s hand stilled over the bowl of popcorn between them, just for a moment, then she pressed forward like everything was normal. She didn’t think her mom had noticed at first but she should’ve known better.
“You know I didn’t mean anything bad about your dad,” said Lorelai fast. “I would never do that,” she insisted, putting her hand on Rory’s knee.
“I know.” Rory nodded her agreement. “Honestly, I do get it. When I was little, it was hard. No kid can make sense of Mommy and Daddy not loving each other enough to stay married, but I do get it now. Probably now more than ever actually. You love Dad kind of like I love Logan. It’s great but it’s not the big romance of your life.”
“Exactly,” Lorelai nodded once, clearly feeling relieved that her daughter understood so well. “And here I am still waiting for that big romance of my life,” she added with a sigh, taking a large handful of popcorn from the bowl for herself. “It’s so unfair.”
“Wow, how very teen angst of you.” Rory giggled.
“Blame my parents for still treating me like a kid half the time.” Lorelai rolled her eyes. “Sometimes I think I was an idiot for moving back in here after me and your dad called it quits. It was just supposed to be temporary. A lot of things were supposed to be temporary.”
“Aww, Mom,” Rory sympathised. “Life’s not so bad, is it?”
“No, of course not. I know I’m all about the first world problems, or whatever we’re supposed to call them these days, but sometimes... I don’t know, I just wonder what might’ve been, or what could be, if I was braver.”
“Mom, you went through with a pregnancy at sixteen. You faced up to the wrath of the disapproving society set twice, first when you had me and second when you and Dad got divorced. You have a great job and you’re... you’re my inspiration, Mom,” said Rory with a smile. “I think you’re amazing.”
“Thanks, babe.” Lorelai smiled back at her, tears in her eyes that she just couldn’t help. “Wow. The girls’ night, slumber party vibe just turned way too serious,” she said, swiping at her eyes with the back of her hand. “Subject change, something crazy and girly. Ooh, what happened with the mysterious Jess last weekend? I am so behind on my Rory gossip.”
“He’s not so mysterious,” Rory insisted, blushing even as she thought about him and the time they spend together recently. “He is kind of great though. Of course, I have no idea how I’m going to tell him that I’m engaged.”
“Does he really need to know?” asked Lorelai, shaking her head. “I mean, it’s just a swingin’ affair, right? Not serious. Besides, you just said yourself that you and Logan are figuring on an escape plan.”
“We are.” Rory nodded. “It’s just that, well, I don’t know what me and Jess are exactly. I know I like him, a lot.”
“And he must like you a lot because, hey, who wouldn’t?” Lorelai shrugged easily.
“I don’t know. It’s so weird. It’s like we hardly know each other and yet at the same time, I feel like I’ve known him forever. Which sounds way too romance novel to be real, I know, but I can’t help it. It’s how I feel.”
“Wow. I’d kill to feel like that about a guy, or to have a guy feel like that about me.”
“It’ll happen, Mom. You’re young yet. You could meet a guy.”
“Yeah, but what kind of guy? Emily and Richard’s society functions are always full of people I’ve known way too long and way too well. I mean, you remember how well the whole me and Digger Styles thing went, right?”
Rory made a face that proved beyond any reasonable doubt that she definitely did remember but wished she didn’t. It had to be tough on her mom. She worked hard, even though technically she didn’t have to, just to prove herself different to her parents, able to support her own life without living off the family funds. A lot of her old friends had walked away when she got pregnant so young and more still when she and Christopher got a divorce. Much like Rory, she had known too many of the guys in and around Hartford society for far too long to make them of any interest anymore.
“Hey, your guy doesn’t have an older brother for me, does he?”
“Nope, Jess is an only child, just like me,” Rory confirmed. “And before you ask, yes, his parents are apart, but no, his dad isn’t anywhere around here. He ran out on Jess and his mom when he was a baby.”
“Ooh, that sucks. You guys seem to have shared a lot.”
“Some, not a lot.” Rory shrugged. “Mostly we talk books and movies and music. It’s fun because we like a lot of the same stuff, but it’s almost more fun when we don’t,” she said, giggling like a kid.
“Sounds great, sweets. I’m happy for you, I honestly am. I’m also going to be living vicariously through you as much as possible, so be prepared to share the dirty details,” she said with a look.
“Eew!” Rory declared, laughing all the same. “Nothing really happened last weekend. I mean, he kissed me, but mostly we just talked and he gave me a tour of Stars Hollow. You know, it is such a cute town.”
“I do know.” Lorelai nodded. “I’ve been in once or twice, just to the pharmacy or the post office in an emergency when I’m at the inn, but it seems nice. Ooh, speaking of the inn, Mia called yesterday.”
“Aww, is she coming to visit soon?” Rory asked hopefully, around a mouthful of too much popcorn. “It feels like forever since we saw her.”
“She is, in fact.” Lorelai nodded. “You know, she was talking about maybe selling up a while back?”
“And you talked her around.”
“I did, but I’m a little worried that she might be thinking that way again. I know it’s stupid, it’s not like I need the job, technically, but I love it. I love my inn.”
“Well, you can convince Mia again, you did it before. I’m sure it’ll be fine.”
“I hope so.” Lorelai sighed. “Ugh, we’re getting depressive again. More stories about your new boyfriend!”
“The one I barely know or the one I’m supposed to marry?” Rory rolled her eyes.
“Hey, I like Logan but I’ve known him since he was a toddler, he’s not that interesting anymore.” said Lorelai with a look. “More tales of the new guy please.”
“I really don’t have anything else to tell you.” Rory laughed at her mother’s hopeful expression. “At least, not until I go see him again, and even then, I guess I should tell him about Logan and the whole engagement thing.”
Rory sighed and tucked into more popcorn. Eating wasn’t going to fix her problems but the buttery goodness was making her feel better for a while. She really did want to see Jess again and there was no way she could invite him to her house. Rory dreaded to think what her grandparents would say if they had any idea she was running around with a guy like Jess. They would probably both have some kind of joint seizure if they found out how that particular relationship began.
Rory recalled that first night with a smile and a blush in her cheeks that she knew was ridiculous. She was a grown woman, she could do whatever she wanted with whomever she wanted. What she really wanted was to see Jess again, and somehow, she was going to make that happen before too much longer. She had no idea how he would take the news about Logan, but she supposed she was going to have to tell him, come what may.
“Dude, I told you, that song just does not work in the set,” Zach insisted, shaking his head. “I’m not ragging on the White Stripes, it’s just not working with the rest of the songs.”
“But it’s my only lead vocal opportunity,” Brian complained.
“Guys, come on, we can figure this out,” said Dave, attempting to take charge. “If we just move a few things around, we can make it work.”
“I’m telling you, man, we just need to drop the song.”
The guys continued to bicker back and forth and around. Lane stayed out of it, knowing it was for the best. If she sided with Dave, Zach would say it was just because they were dating. If she sided with Brian that was just likely to inflame the strange crush he seemed to have developed on her somewhere along the line, and siding with Zach just seemed wrong somehow, because he was rarely right anyway. Usually, given enough time, the three of them figured things out between them without any help anyway, and when they couldn’t, Jess stepped in. Today, it seemed that Jess was barely even paying attention to the whole debacle.
“Jess, you okay?” asked Lane, coming to sit beside him on the couch.
“Huh?” he said, shaking his head and looking over at her. “Hey, Lane.”
“Hey, yourself,” she replied, smiling. “You okay?”
“Sure. Geez, what is wrong with them today?” he said then, suddenly noticing the noise Dave, Zach, and Brian were making with their bickering. “It’s like sitting in a hen house.”
“Zach wants to drop Fell in Love with a Girl from the new set and Brian’s taking it personally,” she explained. “But they’ll work it out. I’m more worried about you. It’s the new girlfriend, right?”
“She’s not my girlfriend,” said Jess definitely. “She’s just a woman that I met, that I like.”
“That you love,” said Lane with a look.
“Maybe.” Lane grinned. “Or maybe I’m right.”
Jess opened his mouth to argue the point, Lane was sure of it, but it never happened. They were both distracted by a crashing sound as Zach shoved Brian who fell into Dave, knocking one of Lane’s cymbals to the ground.
“Okay, that’s enough,” said Jess, jumping into the fray. “Guys, come on. This is crazy. That song is not worth all of this.”
“It’s my only lead vocal,” Brian repeated, like a grumpy kid, arms folded across his chest.
“Look, let’s not take it out, let’s just move it down the set to a better place,” Jess suggested. “It doesn’t work where it is, Zach is right on that, but there’s no reason to drop it completely.”
“Right,” Dave agreed. “How about if we take out Hollow Chain? I wrote it, I sing it, it’s my choice to drop it. Honestly, it was only ever really a placeholder anyway. Let Brian have his song in that spot and then we’ll look at it again later if we come up with a new original that we want to debut.”
“Best idea I’ve heard so far.” Jess nodded. “Any objections?” he asked, looking between Zach and Brian.
“I guess not.”
“I’m okay with it.”
“Cool,” Jess declared then. “So, you wanna get back to practise now, because that party this weekend is not going to play itself.”
Lane got up from the couch and came over to re-join the band, planting a kiss on Jess’ cheek as she headed for her drums.
“What was that for?” he asked, frowning some.
“You’re very good at diplomacy for a guy who tried so hard to be a rebel when he first came here,” she told him with a look.
“Whatever.” Jess rolled his eyes, though he was smiling all the same. “Just play already. I’m going outside to make a call.”
The moment he got outside of the door, Jess pulled out his cell phone and dialled from his contacts list. He had to be a fool but he really couldn’t get Rory out of his head. He wanted to see her again and the last time she was around they had finally thought to exchange numbers. Up to now, he hadn’t dared call her, not knowing what to say, He had written a dozen texts but never sent a single one, sure they all sounded dumb. Today, he didn’t care. He was calling and that was just that.
Putting the phone to his ear, he waited and waited. It rang once, twice, three times, and just when he was expecting to hear a voicemail message, Rory picked up.
“Hey, Rory. It’s Jess.”
“Jess, hi. I was just thinking about you.”
“Well, that’s nice to hear,” said Jess, wincing at his own words, sure he sounded like an idiot. “Er, I was just thinking, maybe you were free sometime now that it’s the weekend again. I didn’t want to bug you when you were busy with Yale-”
“I wouldn’t have been too busy for a call,” Rory insisted. “A visit might’ve been tricky, at least, until today.”
“Today?” Jess echoed. “You were planning on coming over?”
“Kind of,” she agreed, laughter in her voice. “Turn around,” she told him then.
Jess did as she said and got a real surprise as he saw her approaching along the sidewalk. He knew he was grinning like a fool, he just couldn’t seem to care at all.
“How’d you find me?” he asked, closing the phone and watching Rory do the same with hers as she walked over to him.
“I went to the diner and your uncle gave me directions to your band’s practice space,” she explained, smiling wide. “It was kind of cool meeting the famous Luke of Luke’s Diner. Of course, he wasn’t who I was really hoping to see.”
“Oh, yeah?” said Jess, smirking as he took a hold of her hand and pulled her closer.
“Yeah. I was actually hoping to see you,” she admitted, losing her train of thought a little as his lips neared her own. “A lot more of you,” she said without thinking and then thought of nothing at all that made any coherent sense as he kissed her. “Wow, that never gets old,” she admitted, practically breathless when they parted. “So, are you done with band practise or do you need to stay longer?”
“They can cope without me,” Jess assured her. “Did you wanna go somewhere, maybe the bridge?”
“We could,” Rory agreed, knowing that would be a good place to talk.
Unfortunately, now she was here, with Jess’ arms around her, still reeling from one really good kiss, she didn’t so much feel like talking anymore.
“Or maybe we could go somewhere else. You know, my room-mate has gone home for the weekend, so my dorm at Yale is standing empty,” she said, knowing she was blushing even as she suggested it, hating that she was but unable to help it.
“You serious?” Jess checked.
Rory nodded her head. “If you want to.”
“Sure,” Jess told her, kissing her softly. “Let’s go.”
“So, this is college life, huh? Maybe I shouldn’t have dropped out of education so fast,” Jess joked as he lay comfortably in Rory’s bed.
“Come on, you must’ve been in a dorm room before,” she said, propping herself up on her elbow beside him.
She was only fishing just a little bit. After all, she had no idea how many women had been in Jess’ life over the years. It was one thing they never had talked about actually.
“Why would I have been in a dorm room?” he asked, apparently momentarily confused, at least until he saw the look on her face. “Oh, okay. You’re thinking of some long list of conquests I must have all over New England. Huh.”
“You can’t tell me you don’t have a list like that. I mean, you’re the kind of guy that girls would go for,” she said, shrugging her shoulders, sure she was blushing even as she made the comment.
“Some girls,” he admitted, nodding his head.
Jess wasn’t going to say anymore as far as Rory could tell, which was just a little frustrating. She wasn’t sure why it mattered how many girls he had been with before her. If he admitted to ten or a hundred, she couldn’t imagine it changing anything, although it might just make it easier to explain about Logan somehow.
“You seriously want a run-down of everybody I ever slept with?” asked Jess, eyes widening at the prospect.
“Of course not.” Rory rolled her eyes. “I wasn’t... It doesn’t matter.”
She got up out of bed very fast, reaching for her underwear and a robe that would do for now. It was ridiculous really. She had already told herself she didn’t care who came before her in Jess’ life, not least because this thing between them wasn’t exactly serious. Unless it was. It was strange, but right now she wasn’t even sure that she knew.
Rory caught sight of herself in the mirror on the desk and frowned. It was the middle of the afternoon and here she was, barely dressed, having spent the last hour or more having sex with a guy she barely knew. On paper, that didn’t sound so good, and yet it was good. Very good.
Jess wasn’t really a stranger. Rory never felt so close to a guy in her whole life, like she had known him as long as that and longer. It made no sense. It made even less sense that when she knew him that well and trusted him that much already, it felt completely impossible to explain to him what was going on in her life right now.
“You want me to leave?” he asked somewhere behind her.
“No,” she said fast, turning around to find him still in her bed but about to make a move to get out. “Jess, I’m sorry.”
“For what?” he asked, shaking his head.
“You’re not mad at me?”
“Again I ask, for what?”
He really did look confused and Rory didn’t wonder at it. She was behaving like a real idiot today and it was about time she stopped. Moving back over to the bed, she sat down on the edge, her hand finding Jess’ own on top of the covers.
“You know how I told you the night we met that I never normally act that way?”
“Not just then, at the bridge too,” he reminded her.
“It’s so weird,” she said, smiling because she couldn’t help it. “I don’t know what it is about you that makes me act so crazy, but I like it. I like it a lot,” she admitted, meeting his eyes.
“Then what’s the problem? What am I supposed to be mad about?” he asked, moving closer and putting a hand to her cheek. “Is this the part where you tell me that even though you like it a lot, it’s gotta end?”
Rory had to think about the answer to that question before she gave it. Honestly, it might make more sense to say yes, to end this now before it went too far, but the larger part of Rory knew it was already too late. She was already too deep into this, even though it had been barely two weeks and just four brief meetings. Somehow, she knew from the first moment she stepped out into the dark to talk to Jess about Howl that there was just no going back.
Slowly, she shook her head.
“I don’t want this to end,” she promised him. “I don’t even know what this is exactly, but I definitely don’t want it to be over.”
His hand slid to the back of her neck then and pulled her close enough to kiss. Rory let the passion he evoked in her overtake her completely. It was so easy to get lost in all that Jess could make her feel. She wondered if she would ever fully understand how it happened, why he was so special, what it was that was between them that was like nothing she had ever known before.
“Rory,” he said softly near her ear, between planting sweet kisses on her skin.
“Mmhmm,” she murmured in reply, unable to come up with words for as long as he was touching her just like that.
“There were other girls... other women,” he told her truthfully, those words almost enough to break the spell, but not quite, he was too good for that, “but... it didn’t mean anything. I know it sounds like a cliché, but... none of them were like you.”
Jess pulled back to meet her eyes and Rory couldn’t doubt his words for a second. He meant it, he really did, she was sure of it. It wasn’t as if he had to say it to get somewhere. They already did that, the first night and today. If they kept heading in this direction it was going to happen again yet, and it would easily without him making any kind of confession. He really meant it.
Making herself take a breath, Rory swallowed hard.
“I know what you mean,” she admitted, nodding her head. “I only... Well, there were only two guys before you,” she confessed, breathing a little more evenly again by now. “Like I said, I’m not really the type to just... well, you know. Not that I’m judging you or anyone else who does, it’s everybody’s choice, and-”
She was silenced by a perfectly sweet kiss and was smiling giddily when it was over.
“The rambling is cute, but right now it’s slowing down the process,” Jess told her with a smirk of his own. “Rory, it doesn’t matter to me how many or when or why,” he assured her. “It shouldn’t matter to you either.”
“It doesn’t, not really,” she assured him. “It’s just... I think you should know-”
“I really don’t need to,” he promised, moving in to kiss her again.
Rory meant to protest. She meant to explain. She wasn’t trying to give Jess any kind of list as such and she really didn’t need to know about all the people he had been in this position with before. Honestly, she would rather not think about it, never mind hear about it. No, she had been trying to find a way to tell him about Logan. That did matter. Technically, she was still engaged to him, and there was a chance that might not be figured out quite as quickly as they would like.
Unfortunately, Jess was just a little too good at distracting her from what she meant to say. Not that Rory was complaining at all. In fact, she was soon encouraging his behaviour and throwing herself wholeheartedly into the moments that followed. She could always explain about Logan later and Jess would probably understand. Maybe it would all be sorted out so fast that it never had to be mentioned at all. Rory forgot to worry about it or even think at all as she and Jess lay down in her bed together again and whiled away the afternoon in the best possible way they could think of.
When Mia said she would be coming over to the inn one day next week to have a meeting, Lorelai started to worry. She knew it was likely that Mia would talk about selling the Independence again and the very idea of it made her want to burst into tears. It was so stupid. She could work at another inn or hotel, she had enough experience and everything, but somehow the Independence had come to feel like home over the last decade and more. The thought of having to leave or have someone else come in and make it over while she stood back and watched, Lorelai just couldn’t stand it.
There was a chance she could talk Mia out of selling, after all, she had managed to do it on a couple of occasions before, but as time went by, and Mia got older, it seemed cruel to make her keep a business she didn’t want, to have her money tied up in a place she didn’t need.
One thing was for sure, Lorelai was going to have everything in order for her meeting with Mia. All the books up to date, all the filing done. She had been in on a Saturday, specifically to ensure everything was straight in the office and finally, by mid-afternoon, she was done. She was also craving coffee and good food, neither of which she could get at the inn right now. Sookie was the best chef in the world, but when she got into the zone, it was best to stand well back unless you wanted to be injured. She had a huge dinner to cook for tonight, and so Lorelai decided to steer clear of the kitchen. Since she already knew Rory wasn’t at home and didn’t really want to spend too much time alone with the parents right now, Lorelai opted for an eatery in Stars Hollow.
Rory had spoken so highly of her visit there the other day, though of course, the new boyfriend was half the appeal for her. Lorelai frowned at that thought. She wasn’t so sure if Jess could be called Rory’s boyfriend exactly, though he was a boy and a friend, so she supposed it would have to do for now. She vaguely wondered what Miss Manners definition would be for the guy you were seeing other than your fiancé. What a mess that whole thing was.
“And while baby girl has two guys, momma has none,” she muttered to herself as she walked down the street.
“Did you say something, honey?” asked a voice.
Lorelai looked up to find a large woman grinning at her, a cigarette holder held in one hand and her other hand on her hip as if she were striking a pose from an old movie poster.
“Um, no. Sorry, just thinking out loud,” she said quickly. “Um, actually, maybe you could help me. I was looking for Luke’s Diner?”
“Right across the way, sweetheart,” said the lady, gesturing with her cigarette. “Just the other side of the square.”
“Right, thanks,” said Lorelai, turning to move quickly in that direction.
It would be as good a place as any to get something to eat and Rory had really raved about their coffee too. If it was as good as she said, and it ought to be, Lorelai thought she might just move in there and have done with it. After all, going home almost never appealed, especially since the whole Rory and Logan engagement debacle.
With a sigh, Lorelai pushed open the door to Luke’s and went inside. A bell jingled as she entered and glanced around to find no empty tables. The food in the diner had to be good, given how busy the place seemed. The only empty seats that wouldn’t require her to join already established couples or family groups seemed to be the counter, so that was where Lorelai headed. She sat herself down and reached for a menu, flipping through the laminated pages as she waited for service.
“What can I get you?” asked a voice a few moments later.
Without looking up, Lorelai began to answer.
“Well, I hear great things about your coffee, so let’s start with a large one of those, and then-”
She stopped abruptly when she finally glanced up from the menu and saw the guy stood in front of her. He was probably the Webster’s dictionary definition of burly, which definitely wasn’t a word that Lorelai went around using on the day-to-day, but seriously, it was all she had right now. Guys at her mom’s society functions were not built like that. She wished guys at her mom’s society functions were built like that.
Lorelai blinked hard and shook her head when she realised the vision in flannel was talking to her.
“And then?” she echoed.
“You got as far as coffee but then you started to look... vague,” he said uncertainly. “Are you gonna pass out or something?”
“No, I’m not,” she promised. “Um, coffee, please, and then... wow, one of these amazing sounding burgers with all the extras, plenty of fries, then I guess a slice of pie and some ice-cream for after... and by then, probably more coffee,” she ended with a smile.
“You’re kidding, right?”
“I’m sorry?” Lorelai shook her head. “You think I’m kidding about the coffee? Because I never kid about coffee.”
“Not the coffee, the whole order. I mean, it’s a joke, right? You’re gonna have me make all this food and then, what? Say you found a hair in it or a nail or whatever, try and get me closed down because, I don’t know, you just don’t have anything better to do today?”
Lorelai’s eyes were wide as they had ever been, she was certain of it. She really could not understand this guy’s attitude and wished it didn’t make him seem even hotter than he had been before. Of course, hot or not, she was not about to let him accuse her of anything she wasn’t doing.
“Hey, I don’t know if you forgot to take some medication this morning or if maybe you medicated too much, but I came in here because I need coffee and because I’m hungry,” she explained. “If you don’t want a customer, I can go someplace else, but this is a diner, right? You do serve the stuff on these pages?”
“Then if you bring me what I ordered and it tastes half as good as it sounds on the page, I promise you, I won’t even notice the hair or the nail or whatever you think I might find in there. I’ll be too busy eating, enjoying, and being eternally grateful for what God and Luke’s Diner had provided for me... especially the coffee,” she said with emphasis.
He looked sort of confused, which didn’t entirely bother Lorelai. She saw that look on a lot of faces in her life time and she was well used to it by now.
“You’re a little crazy,” he told her, even as he poured her a large mug of coffee and pushed it across the counter towards her.
“No, I’m Lorelai,” she told him smartly, taking a long drink from her mug.
Her eyes almost rolled back in her head from how good the coffee tasted. Rory really hadn’t exaggerated at all.
“Kudos to the chef,” she said breathily as she put the mug back down. “This Luke guy really knows what he’s doing with his coffee.”
“You think so?” the guy asked, smirking some.
“Oh, yeah. If there’s one thing I know, it’s coffee, and this, my friend, is Heaven in a mug. Fill her up, bubba, and keep on filling. I need this today.”
“Luke,” he told her shortly even as he did as she asked.
“I’m Luke,” he explained as they looked up at the same moment and met each other’s eyes. “This is my diner. My coffee too.”
“Then you are an angel, Luke,” she told him, smiling wide. “A coffee angel, which is the best kind.”
“You really are a little crazy,” he said, looking as amused as anything by the realisation.
“Nope, I’m a lot crazy,” she assured him. “Keeps life from getting boring. So, do I get my whole order or do you still think you’re on Candid Camera or something?”
“Sure, you get your order,” he assured her, staring enough that Lorelai might’ve blushed if she had been the type, but she wasn’t, that was really Rory’s department. “Uh, I’m sorry about before. I just... well, that’s a lot of food and you don’t exactly look like you would eat that way.”
“You’d be amazed,” Lorelai told him, without any farther explanation. “So, Luke of Luke’s Diner, if your food is as good as your coffee, I think I might just be coming here on some kind of regular basis.”
“You new in town?” he asked her then.
“Yes and no,” she explained. “I live in Hartford but I run an inn on the edge of town. You know the Independence?”
“Sure. The owner, Mia, she’s my god mother.”
“Wow. Small world.” Lorelai smiled widely, resisting the urge to now grill Luke on the possibility of Mia selling the inn.
“Anyway, I should go get your food,” he said, hiking a thumb back over his shoulder to the kitchen. “Be right back.”
Lorelai smiled as she watched him turn and head out back.
“Hate to see you go, love to watch you leave,” she said to herself. “Wow. Best diner ever,” she said softly.
Even if the food was awful, Lorelai had a feeling she wouldn’t be changing her mind on that at all, and when she took another sip of her coffee, she was absolutely certain.
“You got some ‘splainin’ to do, missy!”
Rory’s eyes were wide as she heard her mother’s words on the voicemail. There was no way that Lorelai could know that her darling daughter had spent her afternoon rolling around in bed with a guy, and quite honestly, she would prefer that she didn’t right now.
“You said the coffee at Luke’s was good, but in fact, it is amazing. Also, the guy serving it is also worthy of some attention, if you know what I mean. Well, we’ll catch up later at home, I guess. See you soon, hon.”
Rory listened to the rest of the message and then let out a sigh of relief. She wasn’t sure who served Lorelai her coffee at the diner, but she was glad to realise it couldn’t have been Jess who was still at Yale. He just slipped out to the bathroom and would be back any second, though Rory was well aware that they ought to say their goodbyes soon. If she wasn’t home for dinner, she would get questions from her grandparents, and right now she wouldn’t have good answers, plus any she gave were likely to be accompanied by some severe blushing. It wasn’t that she had anything to feel bad about, not really, though from Emily and Richard’s perspective she supposed she was cheating on Logan.
“Oh my God, this is a mess!” she said to herself, slamming her phone down on the nightstand and covering her face with her hands.
Rory didn’t know Jess had returned until he spoke.
“I’m gonna need a little explanation on that,” he said, not looking at all amused.
“Jess, I wasn’t... No, I didn’t mean this was a mess,” she assured him, gesturing between them. “It’s not. It’s amazing, and you’re amazing, honestly,” she promised, scrambling from the bed to get to him.
She wrapped her arms around his neck and pulled him into a good long kiss, the sheet that she had been wrapped in falling away as she did so. Jess couldn’t help but notice and think how easy it would be to just get back into bed with Rory and pick up where they left off. At the same time, he couldn’t help but wonder what had been going on while he was out of the room, why Rory had looked so upset just a few moments ago.
“Seriously, Rory,” he said, pulling back to look at her, one hand playing with her hair still. “What’s going on? Why is it all such a mess?”
“I just told you, it’s not you,” she repeated, looking away.
“Then what is it?” he asked, his fingers beneath her chin bringing her eyes back to meet his own. “Come on, maybe it’s something I can help with?”
There was something strange going on with her today. Jess wasn’t sure how he knew that after knowing her such a short time, but from the first night, it had been as if he had known Rory forever. He couldn’t read her so well yet, because in reality, they really hadn’t spent all that much time together, but he knew something was wrong today, somehow.
Earlier, when she was talking about how many people he had slept with before her, he really had thought that was the problem, that he had more experience than she did, that she really wasn’t the one-night stand type. Then he figured maybe she just wanted this to be over, but she insisted she didn’t, proving her feelings with words and actions both. Now Jess was wondering if there was something else, something Rory wanted to tell him but didn’t feel she could.
“It’s... it’s not,” she said eventually. “Not something you can help with, I mean.”
Rory met Jess’ eyes and her nerve went. She wanted to tell him, she really did, but there was just no way. If she tried to explain the situation with Logan, smart as he was, he probably wouldn’t get it. It was just too weird, too stupid, too crazy. A lie by omission was still a lie, Rory knew that, but if she could just hold off from telling Jess about Logan a little while longer, the whole engagement thing could be figured out and there would be nothing to tell anyway.
“You know, what? I’m just being silly,” she said then, sighing as she hugged him. “Honestly, it’s fine. Everything’s fine, or it will be. Nothing you need to worry about.”
Jess stared at her for a long moment without saying a word and Rory wondered if he really was going to let this go. It was such a relief when eventually he nodded his head.
“Okay,” he said. “If you’re sure everything’s really fine.”
“I’m sure,” she said definitely, nodding her head once more. “I get all wound up about stuff sometimes, but it’s really fine. I promise.”
Jess nodded that he understood then leaned in to kiss her.
“I should go,” he told her. “I saw a bus stop out front, right?”
“Oh, well, yeah, but I could drive you-”
“It’s fine,” he assured her. “You’re not exactly dressed for driving,” he pointed out, unable to keep his eyes on her face for a few moments, “and I can get the bus, no big deal.”
“Okay.” Rory smiled.
Jess took her face in his hands and kissed her softly one more time.
“I’ll call you later, okay?”
“Very okay,” she agreed, nodding her head as she watched Jess grab his jacket and back up towards the door.
With a quick wave he was gone and Rory heaved a huge sigh.
“I’m an idiot,” she muttered, knowing she really should have just bitten the bullet and told Jess the truth.
Still, it had been the most wonderful afternoon and a fight was no way to end it. Rory fell back against the mattress, pulling the sheet up over her head and giggling like a loon. Maybe she was an idiot and maybe things were going to get more complicated somewhere down the line, but right now, she felt really good, just replaying her afternoon with Jess over and over in her mind.
“So, somehow you spend a whole afternoon with Jess and at no point did you tell him about Logan, even though that was the entire point of you going to see him today?” Lorelai recapped.
“Yep, that sounds accurate,” Rory admitted, pushing her hair back behind her ear. “I don’t know how it happened exactly. We just got... distracted.”
“Distracted?” Lorelai echoed, staring hard at her daughter who was currently turning the colour of a tomato. “Oh, distracted. Safely distracted?”
“Very safely distracted,” Rory promised, nodding her head. “Could you do me a favour and just assume that the safe part is happening without asking? It will always be a part of the process, I promise you.”
“I know, hon, and it’s not that I don’t trust you,” Lorelai assured her, throwing an arm around her shoulders and giving her a squeeze as they moved down the driveway to the front door. “You’ve been the responsible adult out of the two of us since you were around about three, after all, but it’s so easy to get carried away. Believe me, I know. How’d you think you got here? We weren’t drunk, we weren’t stupid, and we were always, always careful, except for that one time when we weren’t. Which obviously I do not regret, because hey, I got you, but you have your whole life ahead of you, I just don’t want you to have all your big plans derailed by a baby.”
“I don’t want that either, not now,” Rory insisted. “Which is why the careful and the safe are high priorities. Wow, it’s amazing how you’re bringing me down from a major high right now. Just sapping the romance right out of my afternoon.”
“Then Momma’s work here is done,” said Lorelai with a smirk.
Rory rolled her eyes as they reached the door.
“Okay, no more talk about... this topic,” she said awkwardly.
“You mean, you, Jess, and your afternoon delight?”
“Eew!” Rory exclaimed, more about the look on Lorelai’s face than the words she was saying, though they were pretty disturbing also. “Can you please not?”
“Fine.” Lorelai sighed and rolled her eyes. “Prude.”
“Really? A minute ago, I was practically Laurie Foreman.”
“Well, you’re contrary. You can be both.” Lorelai shrugged. “Ooh, before we go in, the guy in the diner, you know, Luke of Luke’s?”
“Yeah, what were you talking about in that voicemail?” asked Rory, shaking her head. “You met Luke?”
“I met Luke.” Lorelai grinned. “I like Luke.”
“You do know he’s Jess’ uncle?”
“Oh. No, I didn’t, but that’s okay, right?”
Rory gave that one some thought and still wasn’t sure how to answer. She was seeing Jess and her mom liked Jess’ uncle. Even if that went somewhere, which she doubted it would, she didn’t suppose it really would matter. At least it wouldn’t be mother and daughter dating father and son, that would probably be too weird.
Before she could give any kind of answer, the front door opened, and Emily grinned at them. Her opening the door was odd, but the smile instead of the more oft-seen glare was even more of a shock.
“Hey, Mom,” Lorelai greeted her with an over-the-top grin of her own and a cheery wave to boot. “How’s it going?”
“Girls, girls, I’m so glad you’re both home!” said Emily happily. “Come on now, don’t loiter in the driveway. Richard and I have some wonderful news!”
“Does it involve a whole bunch of extra strong hooch?” asked Lorelai with a look. “You seem a little high on life, Mom.”
“Perhaps I am, Lorelai,” Emily told her, practically dragging her and Rory into the living room.
“Ah, the girls are home. Wonderful!” said Richard, just as enthusiastically. “We have excellent news to share with you.”
“So we heard,” said Rory, smiling because she just couldn’t help it - it was practically infectious. “What’s going on?” she asked, going over to sit by her grandfather and inspect the papers he had spread out on the coffee table.
“We’re making plans.” Emily grinned, sitting down on the other couch and encouraging Lorelai to join her. “I talked to Shira today and she and Mitchum have agreed that we will be arranging your engagement party. Obviously, as the family of the bride, we would also be paying for and arranging much of the wedding, but with the Huntzbergers having certain conditions and such that they would like to make on the main event, we were able to insist on free rein over the engagement party.”
“I’m sure Logan’s family would have been completely reasonable about the party and thrown quite the occasion themselves,” said Richard, “but your grandmother is just thrilled to get the chance to do this for you, Rory, and I’m hardly less excited myself, I must admit.”
Rory smiled politely and thanked her grandparents, knowing it would do no good to try to get out of the party. Still, when she looked at Lorelai with wide eyes she got the same back, and then a sympathetic look too.
Everybody was just taking this engagement between Rory and Logan so seriously, it was only Rory that wasn’t so invested in it. Even Logan himself seemed to think they may as well go ahead and make it happen. He had said he would help her find a fast way out when she explained about Jess and everything, but so far, nothing had really been said or done to change anything.
It was really starting to dawn on Rory now that maybe he did expect her to marry him, or at least be engaged for the long haul, to ensure his future and maybe her’s too. It made her head spin to think about it, and the great warm glow she had been holding onto since her afternoon with Jess had now completely and utterly worn off.
“This is getting really, really out of hand,” said Lorelai, staring down at the papers her parents had given her and Rory to go over regarding the engagement party.
“You’re telling me,” Rory herself declared, pacing up and down her bedroom floor. “I can’t really marry, Logan. I just can’t. Even if Jess wasn’t a factor, which he is, I couldn’t marry someone just because everybody thinks I should. That can’t work.”
“Preaching to the choir, babe.” Lorelai sighed, giving her daughter a look.
Rory sighed and sat down heavily next to her mom on the bed, narrowly avoiding the papers.
“At least you loved Dad,” she reminded Lorelai. “You were in that kind of relationship once. Me and Logan... I do love him, you know I do. He’s practically my best friend, but this is insane!” she declared, picking up the nearest list and shoving it into her mom’s face.
“Sweetie, we’ll figure it out,” Lorelai assured her. “I don’t know how exactly,” she confessed, “but we will. Honestly, I think the best thing for you to do is talk to Logan again. I know you said you tried before and he said he would try to work something out, but what happened after that?”
“Nothing, obviously,” said Rory frustratedly waving the papers some more. “Clearly his family still think we’re getting married, Grandma and Grandpa too. I haven’t really seen him much at Yale. I’ve been busy, either with actual studying or...”
“Or the new boyfriend,” said Lorelai when Rory didn’t get there. “The boyfriend who doesn’t know about the fiancé. Well, I guess it’s something that the fiancé knows about the boyfriend?” she said, trying to find the positive in all of this.
Rory sighed again. “He knows, and yet he’s doing nothing about it.”
“Well, honey, you know, you don’t have to wait for the guy to break it off. You could do that,” Lorelai pointed out. “If you just told Emily and Richard that you don’t want to marry Logan-”
“Are you kidding?” asked Rory, wide eyed as she leapt back to her feet. “Seriously, are you? Because I know you make jokes at the most inappropriate times, but seriously, Mom, I can’t believe you think that’s a choice.”
“Well, it is,” she insisted. “I know they wouldn’t be thrilled but you’re not exactly loving the fact you’re engaged to a guy you don’t want to marry. Your happiness matters most to me here, babe. As much as I do love my parents, I’m not letting you screw up your life just to keep them for being disappointed not to have a Huntzberger for a grandson-in-law.”
“It’s not just them.” Rory shook her head. “It’s Logan too. Like I said, he’s my best friend and I really don’t want to screw things up for him if I don’t have to.”
“Well, honey, that cuts both ways. If Logan really is your best friend, shouldn’t it matter to him that he’s putting you in this impossible position?”
“It probably wouldn’t feel quite so impossible if not for Jess,” Rory admitted, blowing loose hairs off her forehead. “I mean, it wouldn’t be ideal but... I could probably have dealt, I guess.”
Lorelai was unconvinced, though she tried not to show it. The idea of her baby girl getting married for a business deal did not thrill her at all, but at twenty years old, Rory was pretty much grown and able to make her own decisions. It only bothered Lorelai that none of this really had been Rory’s decision, she just kind of got fast-shuffled into everything.
“I need to talk to Logan again, and soon too,” Rory said suddenly. “He’s probably going to be caught up with Finn’s birthday bash plans, but then I really need to get in on that too. The last thing I want is anybody deciding to hire Hep Alien again.”
“That’s the band Jess manages?” Lorelai guessed.
“Exactly.” Rory nodded. “Can you imagine that? Logan and Jess and me and everyone?” She shuddered at the very idea.
“Ugh, nasty,” Lorelai agreed, shaking her head. “We cannot have that.”
“Definitely not. So, job one, talk to Logan about ending this craziness before it goes any further,” she declared, clapping her hands together. “No time like the present, right?”
“Ace! Come on in, we could actually use your input on this.”
Rory allowed herself to be ushered into the dorm by Logan, then reacted with surprised when she saw Colin, Finn, and Robert all sat around the coffee table.
“Oh, hey, guys.” she greeted them awkwardly. “What’s going on?”
“Plans for my birthday bonanza, darling,” said Finn with an oversized grin. “Tell me, how would you feel about jumping out of a cake?”
“Not all that great,” said Rory with amusement in her voice. “You really need that for your birthday?”
“Probably not,” Finn considered. “But birthdays aren’t for what I need, they’re for what I want,” he told her with a wink, grabbing her hand and pulling her into his lap. “Rory, love, do you really have to marry this reprobate? I’d be so much better for you.”
“Is that so?” asked Logan, smirking hard. “Exactly how do you figure that out, Finn?”
“I’m much better looking than you, Logan,” his friend told him easily. “Better sense of humour, better dancer, and I would treat dearest Rory like a princess,” he said, staring fondly at her.
“I’m sure you would, Finn, but I’m still not going to marry you,” she insisted, patting his cheek and standing up out of his lap. “In fact, I kind of need to talk to you on that subject also,” she said to Logan with a look she hoped would lead to him taking the hint - it didn’t.
“C’mon, Ace, plenty of time to talk about married life later. Right now, there’s a party to arrange,” he told her retaking his seat and clapping his hands together. “Where are we on music?”
“The band you had at your bash were good,” said Finn thoughtfully.
“Yes, and the drummer was hot,” Colin added. “Women should really drum more, it works for them.”
“Probably only if they’re hot to begin with,” said Robert, mulling it over.
“Guys, you don’t want Hep Alien again,” Rory insisted. “I’m pretty sure I heard someone say that what they played at Logan’s was all the songs they knew. I mean, that’s fine if you only hire them once a year or whatever, but twice in a couple of months? People will get bored.”
She gabbled out her words so fast, Rory was sure nobody who didn’t know her would even have been able to keep up. As it was, these guys knew her well, particularly Logan. Between her half-assed excuses and the look she was casting his way, he at least ought to be in no doubt that hiring Hep Alien for Finn’s party was a complete no-go.
“Well, maybe you have a point, Ace,” said Logan, nodding his head. “I’m sure we can find something better. In the meantime, gentlemen, if you could give me and my fiancée some time alone, it’d be appreciated.”
Rory got more than a little angry about the way he said it, insinuating that the last thing she and Logan would be doing once the guys were gone is talking. The weirdest part of this was that he seemed to be pitching it to their friends as if the engagement were real. He had said that it was just easier that way, especially when you had friends like Finn and Colin who were so often drunk out of their heads and could say anything to anyone. If they wanted this marriage to look legit, they had to act as if it were for real, which wasn’t hard most of the time. Of course, that didn’t mean Rory had to be happy about it at all.
“Poor guy.” Logan sighed as he closed the door on his friends at last. “You know his parents are away so much, he’ll be lucky if they even acknowledge he had a birthday? That’s just wrong, but it’s what we’re here for, huh, Ace?”
“Logan, stop it!” she snapped when he reached a hand to her cheek. “Stop acting like we’re really engaged and that this situation is normal. It’s not!”
It was a long time since Rory had really been mad at Logan. They bickered sometimes, but never anything serious. Now he looked as if she had just slapped him in the face and Rory didn’t wonder at it. She knew she was being harsh, but she had good reasons for that.
“Rory, come on...” he tried to placate her, realising immediately she met his eyes that it wasn’t going to be that easy.
Holding his hands up in mock surrender, he moved to sink down into the couch, encouraging Rory with a careful hand gesture to speak her piece.
With her arms crossed firmly over her chest, she looked down on Logan with a none too friendly look and launched right into it.
“Jerk!” she declared loudly. “Ass, arrogant, inconsiderate, mindless, frat-boy, low-life, butt-faced miscreant!”
“Butt-faced miscreant?” Logan echoed, not sure whether to be truly insulted or just entirely amused.
“How could you do this to me, Logan? How? You show up at my house, you ask me to marry you and promise me that if I just say yes, you’ll explain it all and everything will be fine. Then you disappear, you don’t explain, you don’t do anything except act like we’re engaged and everything is perfectly normal.
“I even told you what was going on with me. I told you about Jess and my whole situation, I asked you if we could please just figure this thing out, call it off, do something, anything to make this whole thing not so crazy, and what did you do? Nothing. You did nothing. You just sit there, drinking and laughing and having the best time, while my grandparents start planning an engagement party, and presumably your parents start panning a whole freakin’ wedding!”
“Ace, please. Calm down,” he urged her, reaching for her as she passed by him in her manic pacing that had been going on throughout her speech.
“Calm down?” she echoed, seemingly determined to evade him and do anything but be calm. “Logan, we’re engaged!” she reminded him, overly loud and slow just in case he wasn’t getting it. “I don’t want to be engaged to you. I’m sorry, but I just really don’t.”
“Because of this other guy,” said Logan, nodding his head.
“Jess, his name is Jess,” she reminded him, “and yes, he is a big part of this, but not the only reason I’m mad at you. I told you we needed to figure this out and you said you would.”
“And yet!” she exploded one more time. “You’re not doing anything, Logan. You’re acting like you actually want this to happen.”
“Well, maybe I do,” he admitted, shrugging his shoulders, watching Rory’s eyes grow wider. “C’mon, Rory, I told you how it would work, I told you I’m screwed unless I marry a girl my parents approve of, and you could be too!” he reminded her, getting up right in front of her. “We need each other right now, we need to do this. Ace, come on, it’s been you and me for as long as I can remember. We can do this, it’s no big deal.”
“No, Logan,” she pushed his hands away the moment he reached for her and took a step back so he couldn’t try again. “We can’t do this and it is a big deal,” she insisted.
“Would it be so big if you didn’t feel like going slumming recently?” he asked then, his tone making Rory react much like he had earlier, as if she just got a slap in the face.
“Don’t you dare,” she warned him, pointing an angry finger. “It is not like that. Jess is a great guy. Just because he doesn’t have the money we do, that does not make him less than us. That’s a disgusting attitude, Logan, and I won’t take that from you!”
Rory barely noticed the tears forming in her eyes until one escaped down her cheek. This whole situation had just got her so frustrated and he was making her so mad. The last thing she wanted to do was make things tougher for her best friend, but she also did not want to screw up with Jess either. It was a horrible mess and Logan just wasn’t helping right now.
He heaved a sigh.
“I’m sorry,” he told her then, running a hand over his face. “I just thought this was the simplest way. I never thought... Well, you’ve got to admit, you and this guy, I could not have seen that coming.”
Rory let out a gurgle of laughter.
“I didn’t even see this coming,” she admitted, “but that’s no excuse, Logan. I told you, weeks ago now, and you said we’d figure it out.”
“I know,” he said, shaking his head. “I guess I was just hoping I wouldn’t have to. That maybe you’d change your mind or... I don’t know.”
Before anymore could be said or done, a ringing started up in Rory’s pocket. Reaching for her cell, she pulled it out and found Jess’ name on the screen. With a quick glance at Logan, she turned her back to him and accepted the call.
“Hey, Jess,” she greeted him by name.
It hurt Logan just a little to realise she did that on purpose, trying to ensure he didn’t say anything and screw this up for her. As if he would do anything to purposefully hurt Rory. He didn’t have it in him to do that. She really had been his best friend for longer than he cared to remember, which was why it had seemed like the perfect plan to play at engaged or even married for a while to get access to their trust funds and all. If only Rory had never met this Jess guy, things might have worked out perfectly.
“Okay,” he heard her say into the phone. “I will. I’ll talk to you soon. Bye.”
After she hung up and turned back around to face him, Logan knew that was Rory’s resolve face he was seeing. She was done playing games or being put off, there was no getting out of it.
“Rory, we will figure this out,” he assured her, daring to put his hands to her shoulders and relieved when she let him this time. “I promise you, just as soon as Finn’s party is out of the way, we’ll find a way out of this whole thing.”
“After Finn’s party,” she echoed, “but before this insane engagement party that my grandparents are planning?”
“That is the plan.” Logan nodded. “Okay?”
Rory looked wary for just a second before she nodded too. “Okay,” she agreed, wanting to trust him and hoping, rather than believing, that she still could.
“Come on, Gilmore, lighten up!” Louise urged her.
“It is a party after all,” said Madeline, the two of them making a big deal of dancing around her. “Plus, you are engaged to the most gorgeous guy here,” she said, grinning wide.
Rory forced herself to smile back. After all, they had a point. Technically, she was engaged to Logan and she probably should look happy about it since they were still trying to sell it as a real relationship. It wasn’t so hard. A lot of people tended to think of them as a couple anyway and had for a long time, though everyone was well aware that Logan had a large number of notches on his bedpost that bothered Rory not at all. She supposed from the outside looking in it just kind of looked like they had some sort of open relationship. Rory wasn’t sure she was any happier about that than she was about the fake engagement and all that went with it, but at least it wouldn’t be for much longer.
Perhaps the worst part was knowing she couldn’t talk to anyone about Jess, or even consider for a moment that she might bring him to the party. Not that she really thought he would fit in at a birthday bash for Finn. It was hardly a Jess type event. Rory wasn’t sure she could picture any kind of party where her boyfriend would feel comfortable. He had told her more than once that he liked it better when it was just the two of them alone, and quite honestly, she had to agree she had the best time then too.
Of course, it wasn’t all about sex, that was something that Rory had to explain to Paris just the other day. She was the only person, aside from Lorelai, who knew anything about Jess at all. Rory had ended up telling her dorm-mate and friend just about everything because it was just too complicated not to. As much as she drove her crazy sometimes, there was no doubt in Rory’s mind that she could trust Paris implicitly, even with something as huge as a fake engagement and a secret boyfriend.
“So, you’re not sleeping with him?” she had asked, confused by Rory’s vehemence that the relationship was not based purely on carnal knowledge.
“Yes, of course, I am,” Rory had said, perhaps a little too fast. “I mean, I told you, it happened the first night we met, and yes, there have been other times, but that’s not all there is to it,” she tried in vain to explain. “We connected that first night, before anything happened. We just talked and... and I’ve never felt like this about another person, Paris. Never.”
“So, the obvious decision was to get engaged to Huntzberger,” her friend had said, rolling her eyes.
Rory certainly couldn’t argue with the fact she was in a really stupid situation, but she had to trust that Logan meant what he said when he told her would fix everything after tonight. This party was for Finn and he really did deserve the celebration. Looking at him, dancing like John Travolta in Pulp Fiction, Rory couldn’t help but smile.
“Rory, you beautiful creature,” he said when he caught her watching, grabbing her hand and spinning her closer. “Dance with me, sweetheart, and make my birthday wishes come true.”
She was laughing as she allowed him to move her around the floor. Maybe she could at least manage to have a little fun tonight before all the drama doubtless began again.
“When you’re done with that, I could use a hand down here!” Luke bellowed up the stairs to Jess, still muttering when he returned to the diner proper.
He stopped abruptly when he realised he had company.
“Staffing issues?” asked Lorelai with a smile that was infectious.
“Worse, family issues,” said Luke, rolling his eyes. “But nothing I can’t handle. Coffee?” he offered immediately, reaching for the pot.
“You learn fast.” Lorelai nodded happily. “After today, it is a mucho coffee day. Biggest cup you’ve got, in fact, if you have an IV that might work even better,” she declared, indicating her wrist ready for the connection.
“So, the other day was not a one-off,” said Luke, considering her carefully. “You really are like this all of the time?”
“Really am,” Lorelai agreed, sipping her coffee, a look of bliss coming over her face as she did so. “That scare you?”
“No.” Luke smiled, unable to help it. “Besides, I know it’s not an all-day, every-day situation. You run the inn for Mia, you do an amazing job at it, so she says. However crazy you might seem, you’re a hell of a business woman.”
“Ah, you’ve been doing your research.”
“Not really.” Luke shook his head, not even looking at her as he wiped down the counter for something else to do. “Mia came visiting the other day. She talks to me about things, and when I mentioned that I met you, she seemed really eager to share stories.”
“Stories?” Lorelai checked, just a little wary of what Luke might now know about her. “Good stories?”
“Mostly,” said Luke with a hint of a smirk about him. “You hungry?”
As happened the last time she came by, Lorelai ordered more food than a regular person should ever be able to eat and Luke served it to her with a look of concern on his face. He didn’t doubt this time that she would get through it, he just worried for the state of her internal organs if she did that kind of thing too often.
“Mmm, I would kill to eat like this every day,” she said, almost as if she read his mind.
“If you ate like this every day, it would probably kill you,” he pointed out, leaning on the counter close by.
“Weird thing for a diner owner to say, by the way,” Lorelai noted, taking another big bite from her burger and clearly enjoying it a lot. “Mmm, so good,” she declared the moment her mouth was empty again. “At home, it’s all souffles and tajines and fricassees. I swear if I tried to get my mom to eat a burger she would have a nervous breakdown. I mean, that kind of food is nice enough, don’t get me wrong, but sometimes I just want grease, and sugar, and all the stuff that’s so bad it’s good, you know what I mean?”
The way she said it made Luke think of a couple of things that really weren’t food related. He didn’t know Lorelai well enough yet to know if that was what she intended, though the sounds she made when she ate her food, the way her eyes practically rolled all the way up when she drank her coffee, none of it was helping.
“More please?” she requested, waving her cup his way.
“They don’t have coffee at your house either?” he asked, clearing his throat twice before he could even manage that question.
“No, actually, that might be one thing me and my mom have in common, scary as that thought is,” Lorelai considered, smiling happily as Luke topped up her cup. “Thanks. There’s not much we see eye-to-eye on but she is a caffeine girl, just like me, and Rory too, actually. That’s my daughter,” she explained. “Anyway, me and my girl are like two peas in a pod, but Emily is a whole other ballgame. Sometimes I almost wish that Mia was my mom.”
“I know what you mean.” Luke nodded. “My mom passed when I was a kid and obviously, nobody could replace her, but Mia was always there. She just... cares.”
“That she does.” Lorelai nodded, smiling widely. “You know she’s thinking of selling the inn?”
“She mentioned it,” said Luke, glancing away. “She also mentioned that you didn’t want her to.”
“That is true, or it was. After our meeting the other day, she kind of offered me a deal,” Lorelai explained. “She really, really wants to sell and I feel bad even trying to stop her just for me. Mia totally got that, and so, get this, she offers me the chance to buy it from her, and at a knockdown price too!”
“Wow.” Luke blinked at that. “She never mentioned that.”
“Well, it’s not that we couldn’t afford it, you know, we the Gilmores, but if I was going to do this, I’d really want it to be my thing, which would mean blowing pretty much everything I personally have on the business. Sorry, you don’t want to hear all of this,” she said then, practically laughing at herself and waving the whole situation away with the hand not shovelling food into her mouth. “I’d be spilling my guts to Rory instead, but she has way too much going on herself lately, and tonight, she’s partying like it’s 1999 so-”
Lorelai looked up fast and blinked at the guy who had appeared behind the counter when she wasn’t looking.
“Huh, and they say pay no attention to the man behind the curtain,” she quipped, noting that was where he had come from.
“Lorelai, this is my nephew, Jess,” Luke introduced.
Lorelai swallowed very hard.
“Oh, right. You’re Jess,” she said, nodding too quickly. “Yeah, I get it.”
“You get it?” asked Luke, clearly confused.
She floundered when she realised that she really couldn’t explain that comment right now. It seemed wrong to tell a guy you liked that you could see why his nephew might be considered attractive. Besides, Lorelai wasn’t so sure that Luke knew about Rory and Jess, or if he was supposed to.
“I get it,” she repeated. “You and Jess, uncle and nephew, I see it, the family resemblance,” she said, waving her hand back and forth between them. “It’s very nice to meet you,” she told Jess then, smiling too much, hoping that he understood she was not about to say anything about what she knew if he didn’t want her to.
“Nice to meet you,” he told her, nodding his head. “I need to check in with the band,” he said to Luke then, heading for the door.
The next moment he was gone, the door clanging in his wake. Lorelai winced at the sound then turned back to her food.
“That kid,” Luke muttered. “Coming up for twenty-one years old this summer and still he acts like a grumpy teenager on a pretty regular basis. I don’t know what to do with him, and lately, he’s gone all weird and secretive about something. I just hope it’s nothing too bad.”
“I’m sure it’s not,” said Lorelai, smiling as best she could, then hiding the look in a mouthful of fries because it just seemed safer.
As Luke wandered away to deal with other patrons, Lorelai pulled out her cell and shot off a text message to Rory.
‘Just met the boyfriend. Hope the party is worth leaving him alone on a Friday night. He doesn’t seem too happy to be without you.’
It was all of a minute before the reply came in.
‘Trust me, I’d rather be with him than here :(’
“This whole thing really needs figuring out,” Lorelai muttered to herself. “I just wish I knew how.”
“Less than two weeks to go to the big party now,” said Emily, grinning widely at the breakfast table. “Are you excited, Rory?”
“Sure,” her granddaughter told her, forcing a smile onto her own lips.
Thankfully, Emily didn’t seem to notice, and then the maid took her attention, getting into a conversation about dinner arrangements.
Rory looked across the table at Lorelai and they shared a look. Logan still hadn’t come up with a way for this engagement to end and both of them to come out of it unscathed, and Rory was getting impatient. Of course, she couldn’t say any of this in front of Emily. She was only grateful that Richard was on one of his business trips for a few days, which cut down the amount of avoidance she had to do if she wanted to talk to her mom about the problem.
“Hey, sweets?” said Lorelai, taking one last sip from her coffee cup. “You wanna be a doll and come upstairs, help me pick out something business-like for my meeting today?”
“Sure, I can do that.” Rory smiled, getting up fast as her mom did the same.
“Well, surely you can pick out your own clothes, Lorelai,” said Emily, paying attention at just the wrong moment as far as the girls were concerned. “You’ve been dressing yourself for years now and Rory has hardly eaten a thing.”
“That’s okay, Grandma, I’m not all that hungry,” Rory insisted as they headed for the door.
Lorelai winced, knowing there was no way they were getting away now.
“Not hungry?” Emily echoed. “I’m sure I’ve never known a time when either of you girls were not hungry, unless you were sick. Rory, are you sick?” she asked, leaping up and putting a hand to her granddaughter’s forehead. “You don’t feel too warm.”
“I’m not sick, Grandma, I’m just not hungry right now. I probably will be later, it’s really no big deal,” she said fast, practically running for the stairs.
Lorelai watched her fly by and then moved to follow. She almost knew she wasn’t going to get far before her mother stopped her again.
“Do you think it’s just nerves about the engagement party?” asked Emily thoughtfully. “I would rather that than... well, I know a girl likes to look her best for her man, but I would hate to think Rory was getting one of those awful eating disorders that you read about in the magazines.”
“I swear, Mom, if I thought it was anything serious, I would deal with it, but Rory is fine,” she promised her. “You’re probably right with the nerves thing.”
With that she turned and hurried up the stairs behind Rory, glad that she hadn’t really needed to lie to her mom any more than usual. After all, it was the engagement party that was bothering Rory more than anything else, just maybe not in the way that Emily would ever suspect.
“Oh my God, I’m not sure how much longer I can keep this up!” Rory gasped, appearing around the corner of the landing and making Lorelai physically jump with surprise.
“Okay, Jack in the Box, a little warning next time,” she told her in a harsh whisper, practically pushing her into the bedroom. “This whole thing has gone way too far, by the way. I have a good mind to go tell Logan Huntzberger what an ass he is.”
“Mom, no,” Rory told her definitely. “I’m not mad at Logan. Well, not really. He’s in a bad situation.”
“Yeah, and he’s trying to get out of it by putting you in a bad situation. That’s not okay, babe.”
“I know that,” Rory insisted, sitting down on the edge of the bed with a thump. “I just wish I knew how to fix it without making everything more complicated.”
“It could get real uncomplicated if you guys just told the truth,” said Lorelai with a look, before throwing open the doors to her closet. “Now, I know it seemed like I was using the whole ‘picking an outfit’ thing as a cover, and I kind of was, but help mommy out because this meeting today really is kind of a big deal.”
“Mom, it’s just Mia,” said Rory, rolling her eyes.
“Yes, it’s just Mia, but this is the meeting where we get serious in the talking about my buying the inn,” she said in a low voice, even though there was nobody but Rory to hear her, at least not on this floor of the house.
“I still can’t believe it.” Rory grinned. “You, owning the inn. It’s so cool!”
“It might be cool, if I can afford it,” Lorelai considered.
“You know, if you just told Grandma and Grandpa-”
“No,” said Lorelai, shaking her head definitely. “Come on, Rory, you know how it is with me and them. It’s one thing for me to live here and to let them buy stuff for you, you’re their granddaughter, it is what it is, but I have to have some... well, independence, but that pun was totally not intentional,” she said, smiling anyway. “If I do this, I want it to be mine, for me, and I know that probably sounds really selfish and wrong-”
“It doesn’t,” Rory assured her, getting up from the bed and joining her in front of the closet. “I get it, Mom, I really do. I mean, I’m not exactly telling Grandma and Grandpa about Jess.”
“Well, no offence, but I kinda don’t think they’d want a share in your boy toy,” said Lorelai, grinning as she put an arm around Rory’s shoulders and kissed the top of her head. “You seen much of him lately?”
“Not much,” she said sadly, even as she moved forward and began rifling through her mom’s clothes. “I dropped by the diner last Sunday, but he was working so we didn’t get much time together. He called me after that, a couple of times, but we never seem to be free at the same time lately,” she said with a sigh.
“Plus, there’s that whole pesky part where he’s a big ass secret that nobody but us knows about,” said Lorelai, taking the clothes Rory handed to her and giving them due consideration.
“Not just us,” said Rory pulling out another outfit just in case. “Paris knows. She’s not exactly impressed, but she knows.”
“Well, if it helps, honey, I’ve seen the guy and I’m impressed,” she said with a look.
“Yes, you told me, and it’s still a little disturbing,” Rory noted, though it was tough not to smile about it all the same.
“Come on, we can both think Johnny Depp is attractive but we can’t both think Jess is attractive?”
“That’s a little different.”
“I’m not sleeping with Johnny Depp.”
“Me either, but hey, maybe someday.”
“Mom!” Rory gasped with shock, though she wasn’t sure why.
At this point, nothing Lorelai said should really surprise her, especially about guys she liked.
“Of course, if we’re thinking a little more realistic and a little closer to home, it was nice seeing Luke again last Saturday.” Lorelai smiled, the grin only growing wider with the next outfit Rory handed to her. “Oh yeah, this is the one.”
“The clothes or Luke?” asked Rory with some amusement.
“The clothes,” her mom insisted. “Come on, I said I like Luke, not that I want to marry Luke. I barely know him yet. What kind of woman do you think I am?”
Rory looked away at that remark and Lorelai winced.
“Oh, sorry, hon. I didn’t mean-”
“It’s fine,” her daughter insisted, waving away her concern as she returned to sitting on the bed while Lorelai got changed. “I mean, I’m not usually that person either, but Jess is just... I don’t even know how to explain it. He’s just different. Paris says it’s because he’s ‘forbidden fruit’,” she air-quoted and rolled her eyes for good measure too. “Logan just gets this look on his face when I mention Jess, and he’s made a couple of comments about his lack of social status.”
“Money ain’t everything, babe,” Lorelai reminded her, pulling her T-shirt off over her head and replacing it with a smarter more business-like option. “If you like Jess then you like him. If he has barely a dollar to his name or a million bucks in the bank, it shouldn’t matter.”
“It doesn’t matter to me,” said Rory with a dreamy sort of smile on her face. “We just connected, you know? We don’t like all the same things, I don’t mean it that way. In fact, it’s actually more fun when we don’t agree,” she said, blushing and not really knowing why. “He makes me feel so many things, it’s almost overwhelming, but in the best way. Plus, I feel like I can talk to him about anything.”
“Anything except the fact you’re engaged to a friend in need?” said Lorelai with a look as she fastened her jacket and presented herself to Rory for inspection.
“How can I tell him that?” she said, looking her mom over. “You look great.”
“Thanks, babe.” Lorelai smiled. “But you know, you’re going to have to tell Jess something. If you like him as much as you say, I know you won’t want to hurt him. Even if you and Logan do find a decent way out of this engagement, if Jess ever heard that it had happened and you kept it from him...” she said, shaking her head.
“I know, and you’re right,” Rory agreed. “I just never know where to start, and then when I think I do, he’ll say something nice or he’ll kiss me and I just forget everything else.”
“Ah, young love,” Lorelai sighed. “You got it bad, kid.”
“I think so.” Rory nodded. “Good luck with your meeting.”
“Good luck telling your boyfriend about your fiancé,” she countered, pulling her baby girl into a big hug.
“Thanks, I think I’m gonna need it.”
“This is getting a little out of hand, don’t you think?” asked Paris, thrusting a piece of card into Rory’s face the moment she entered the dorm. “I mean, come on, a joke is a joke, but don’t you think it’s going just a bit too far now?”
Rory managed to prise the card from her friend’s hand and get the door closed at the same time, somehow. It was then she saw that she was actually holding an invitation, to her own engagement party.
“Oh my God!” she gasped. “I didn’t know Grandma had sent these out,” she said sadly, moving to sit down on the couch before her legs gave way of their own accord. “When did you get this?”
“Just today,” Paris told her. “You didn’t know they were sent out?”
Rory shook her head. “I guess I can only be grateful it’s for the engagement party and not the wedding.”
“Well, if you don’t get your ass in gear and set Huntzberger straight, this whole thing is only headed in one direction,” said Paris with a look. “You’re a fool to yourself, Gilmore.”
“Thank you, Paris. Like I hadn’t figured that out already,” she said, rolling her eyes and handing the invitation back to her friend.
“Well, I guess I’ll leave you to wallow in your own stupidity. I have that pointless meeting with my advisor this afternoon.”
Rory nodded and smiled as she watched Paris leave. She knew she had that meeting before she ever said it. It was part of the reason she back at Yale today, even though she didn’t have a class until first thing in the morning. The truth was, she needed a place where she could be alone with Jess, and the dorm had become the perfect location, mostly when Paris was guaranteed not to be around.
Stars Hollow was great but everywhere they went, somebody seemed to be watching, listening, or both, and there was certainly no way Rory could invite Jess to her house, so Yale it was.
A knock on the door had her leaping up from the couch in a second, smiling widely.
“Hey,” he greeted her with a kiss the moment she opened the door.
“Hey,” she replied in kind, pulling him inside and closing the door behind him. “You’re timely.”
“I haven’t seen you for more than a week” he reminded her. “Wasting a second seemed pretty dumb.”
“Yeah, I’m sorry about the not seeing me” she assured him, leading him to her room. “Things have been kind of all over the place lately.”
“Tell me about it,” he agreed, smiling way more than he usually would. “I mean, yeah, the diner’s been busy and the band have been making me crazy, but... well, actually, there was another reason I was kind of looking forward to the next time I got to see you.”
“Okay,” said Rory, a little confused by the cryptic way he was talking, and by the fact that he hadn’t sat down yet. “You’re okay, right?”
“Very okay,” Jess promised. “It’s actually kind of amazing news. You know the novel that I wrote?”
“Yes, you told me about it. The untitled, highly secretive manuscript that I’m not allowed to see,” she said, smirking some.
“Yeah, well,” he said, glancing away and running a hand back through his hair. “You’ll see it soon enough, a lot of people will, actually. See, I sent it off to a bunch of people and these crazy guys at this little publishing house in Philly have decided it’s actually worth printing.”
“Oh my God, Jess! That’s incredible. I’m... I’m so happy for you!”
Rory was up off the bed in a second, throwing her arms around him and practically bouncing up and down with joy. Her reaction didn’t seem to disappoint Jess at all as he held her tight, lifting her off the ground and spinning her around a couple of times for good measure.
“This is a very big deal,” said Rory, grinning yet as Jess set her back on her feet.
“It’s a semi big deal,” he corrected. “It’s a tiny publishing house and even if we agree a contract and everything it’ll be limited run. I’m not about to be rich or famous or anything, but hey, my manuscript will be a book and some people will read it. That’s not nothing.”
“That is definitely a long way from nothing,” Rory agreed. “It’s really something. Something fantastic. I am so proud of you, Jess,” she said definitely, pulling him closer again and laying her lips on his.
That was how it usually started, one good kiss that led to more. Rory tried to remember that she had invited Jess over for a real reason today, that they needed to talk, really seriously talk about her situation with Logan and what it meant. Her mom was right, Rory knew she was. Even if the engagement thing got figured out without Jess ever knowing about it, he could find out one day by accident and then he would be mad about the secrecy, anybody would be.
“Jess,” she said breathlessly. “I, er... I wanted to talk to you.”
“Can we talk after?” he asked, fingers working their way down the fasteners on her shirt as his lips found that spot on her neck that made Rory go weak.
“After’s good,” she managed to say before her mind went blank in the best way.
So much for talking... again.
“And so, I decided that I just need to do this. Rory, honey, Mommy’s definitely going to buy an inn!”
“Mom, that’s so great!”
They were holding onto each other and jumping up and down like crazy people, right there in the living room, only stopping when the maid walked by, giving them a strange look. Thankfully, this latest one, named Benthe, spoke very little English and therefore, probably hadn’t a clue what had Lorelai and Rory so excited. That meant she couldn’t tell Richard or Emily when they got home, and that was a good thing too.
“I know it seems insane but I really, really want this now. I didn’t know how much until I seriously thought about it, but I can do this, Rory. I can do it well.”
“I know that you can,” Rory agreed, nodding her head. “I mean, you’ve been running the Independence for years now, you already have a great staff and everything, this just means you’ll be able to make any changes you want, and you’ll be getting all the profits too.”
“And all the stress, I guess,” Lorelai considered, “but I’m pretty sure I can handle it. Plus, you know, Luke said if I needed any help with the business stuff that I don’t know yet, he’s more than happy to help,” she said, grinning wide.
“You’ve been spending more time at the diner,” said Rory with a look.
“Just a couple of lunches, a dinner, a few drop ins for coffee,” she said thoughtfully. “Yeah, I guess I have been there kind of a lot, but the food is good, and the coffee is better.”
“And you really like Luke.”
“I really like Luke,” she confirmed, smiling yet. “Guess that whole attractive-to-Gilmore-girls thing just runs in their family, huh?”
“I guess so.” Rory smiled right back at her, and yet the expression looked a little forced as far as Lorelai could tell.
“Rory, honey, are things with you and Jess not so good?” she checked, sitting down on the couch and pulling her daughter down beside her. “Oh, did he not take it well when you told him about Logan? I mean, I can understand why but...”
She trailed off when she noticed Rory glancing away and practically hiding behind her hair. That could be because she felt sad about the situation with Jess, but somehow, Lorelai just knew that wasn’t it. Not sadness, more guilt.
“Oh, Rory, no!” she said, pulling her daughter back around to face her. “You still didn’t tell him?”
“Not so much,” she admitted, “but he was all full of his good news that it just never came up” she added fast. “You know I told you he wrote a book? Well, it’s getting published! At least, it probably is, he has to go meet with the guys at the publishing house in Philly, and sign a contract and everything, but it’s still pretty exciting. He’s so happy, Mom, and I’m so happy for him,” she enthused.
“Well, yeah. That’s great,” Lorelai agreed. “When’s the trip to Philadelphia?”
“Next week? Huh. You think he’ll be back in time for your engagement party?” asked Lorelai with a look.
“Probably not.” Rory squirmed. “And yes, I am happy about that too,” she admitted guiltily.
“You’re playing with fire, kid,” her mother warned as she got up from the couch.
“You’re in this too,” Rory reminded her, following her from the room.
“How do you figure?”
“You know about me and Jess and you haven’t even told Luke.”
Lorelai made a face as she considered that for a moment.
“That’s true,” she was forced to admit. “Damn. So, you told Jess nothing at all about what’s going on with you?”
“I told him we were throwing a party next week.” Rory shrugged, as they went upstairs one behind the other. “I just didn’t tell him for what.”
“This was after you knew he wouldn’t be able to come?”
“Oh, yeah.” Rory nodded as they headed up the stairs. “He was so excited about his book and then I got excited about his book and...”
“And you got all kinds of excited together?” Lorelai guessed, rolling her eyes. “Geez, you guys are like bunnies. Not that I can blame you. I mean, it’s a long time since I got the chance to be excited with anyone.”
“Mom!” Rory gasped in shock.
“What? I’m just saying!”
“Jess, that’s incredible!” Lane enthused, throwing her arms around him and hugging him tight. “You’re going to be a real published author.”
“Probably going to be,” he reminded her. “I might go to this meeting and find out the publishing guys are a bunch of idiots that I would never trust with my manuscript.”
“Well, yeah, but I don’t think that’ll happen,” said Lane as she stepped back from their hug. “I mean, if you submitted to them, you must’ve thought they seemed cool,”
“I think by the time I got to them, I was probably just feeling desperate,” he said, smirking hard. “They’ll probably be fine and it is pretty cool to think there’ll be a book out in the world with my name on it.”
“I can imagine that feeling.” Lane sighed. “One day I want to see Hep Alien’s first album on the shelves. It’ll be amazing.”
“It could happen,” Jess assured her as they arrived at the practice space and he opened the door. “Or maybe not,” he amended when he saw the guys from the band and the positions they were in.
Zach had Brian in a headlock, while Dave fought to pull them apart. When they realised they had company, they stopped wrassling around so much, but nobody seemed very keen to let go of the others.
“Great,” said Lane sharply. “I’m in a band with The Three Stooges.”
“You dating Curly or Mo?” asked Jess with a smirk.
“Not funny,” she told him, stepping into the fray and parting the guys as quickly as possible. “Dave, what is going on?”
When Brian and Zach both tried to explain, she silenced them with a look that Mrs Kim would’ve been proud of. Jess shuddered just watching it happen. Lane was getting a little too good at that already.
“I asked Dave,” she told them, looking back to her boyfriend.
“There was just a minor misunderstanding,” he told her gently. “Over a... relationship,”
“Mine,” said Brian, raising his hand, presumably hoping that if he did so he wouldn’t get into trouble for speaking when not exactly spoken to.
“You’re in a relationship?” asked Lane, frowning hard.
“Don’t look so shocked,” Brian complained, moving to sit on the couch with his arms folded across his chest.
“Dude, this is too insane for words!” Zach declared before storming out.
Jess ran a hand over his face and squeezed past Dave explaining everything to Lane, to join Brian on the couch.
“The girl from the hotel?” he guessed.
“Mandy.” Brian sighed, a goofy smile coming over his face. “She’s great.”
“Okay. So, what’s Zach’s problem?”
“Mandy asked me to bring a friend along on our date last night, for her sister,” he explained. “So, I took Zach. He wasn’t exactly... gentlemanly, so Ruth, that’s Mandy’s sister, got kinda mad at him and then Mandy got mad at me.”
“And somehow today Zach is mad at you?”
“No, I was mad at Zach!” Brian insisted. “He’s just a lot stronger than me,” he admitted, rolling his shoulder that clearly still hurt.
“This is why we don’t mix business and pleasure,” said Jess, shaking his head.
“But Lane and Dave are dating and they’re both in the band,” Brian pointed out. “That should be worse. All I did was meet someone because of a gig. You and Zach do that all the time.”
Jess knew he couldn’t argue with that one, especially not now. Before, he could have explained that he, like Zach, only hooked up with girls from gigs, he never intended to have a serious relationship with one, as Brian clearly was trying to do with Mandy. Things were different since he met Rory, not that he could exactly say they were in a serious relationship. It felt pretty serious from his end and he did believe she had feelings for him, but there were times he couldn’t help but feel a little sordid, a little dirty. After all, as far as Jess could tell, nobody in Rory’s life even knew he existed, except maybe her mom and possibly her dorm-mate at Yale, but that was all.
“I’m going to talk to Zach,” Lane declared then. “You guys promise not to attack each other while I’m gone?”
“Yes, ma’am,” all three intoned, laughing when they realised what they’d done.
Lane rolled her eyes and hurried to find Zach.
“I love Lane, you know I do,” said Dave, joining the other two on the couch, “but sometimes I wonder if life wouldn’t just be easier without women.”
“Man, we’d be so bored,” said Jess, smirking some as he looked at Dave.
“Well, maybe,” he considered, smiling back, “but we’d all be a lot more sane.”
“Amen to that,” Brian declared. “Oh, actually, I almost forgot, there was a girl hanging around looking for you earlier, Jess. You know, before Zach tried to kill me.”
“Oh yeah?” he asked, trying to sound nonchalant, knowing he hadn’t quite managed it when Dave grinned at him.
“Not Rory,” he assured him. “It was that girl you used to be close with a while back. What was her name? Er, Shane,” he said, snapping his fingers when the name suddenly came to mind.
“Shane is back in town?” Jess checked, a little stunned to hear it. “Huh.”
“You are heading right back into butt-faced miscreant territory, Logan!”
“I know. I know, Rory, and I’m sorry, I really am, but this is just taking a little longer than I thought,” he apologised fast, reaching for her when she tried to storm away into her bedroom. “Come on, you know you can trust me, and I will figure this out, I swear, I just need a little more time.”
“The party is less than a week away, you said it would be fixed by then,” she reminded him, pulling her wrist from his grasp. “You practically promised.”
“This is not an easy situation, Ace,” he reminded her, pacing around her dorm. “Since we can’t do this the easy way, the only other option is the hard way. Right now, I have a team of lawyers, all of which I had to hand pick and verify I could trust not to let slip to my father what was going on. They are currently picking through the clauses and addendums on my trust funds to see if they can’t find a loophole that gets us out of this. It’s just a long process, and I’m sorry about that,” he told Rory, arriving in front of her again and gently laying his hands on her shoulders. “Tell me you understand? Please?”
She sighed, all the fight going out of her in second. It always did when he looked at her that way and actually remembered to say please.
“I understand,” she admitted, “but Logan, this is getting ridiculous. You said it’d be done before the party.”
“I know, I did, and I hate that I was wrong about that,” he told her, hands sliding up to her face and pulling her closer. “You are so good to me, Ace. You are always there for me when I’m in a jam and I know I do not deserve you being this great for me, but you always are. You know I appreciate that, right?”
“You better,” she said, more defeatedly grumpy than really mad at him anymore.
“You’re one in a million Rory Gilmore,” he promised, planting a kiss on her forehead. “We just get through this party, smile for the cameras, put on a good show, and then I swear we’ll get it all figured out.”
“Before the wedding would be helpful,” said Rory, smirking just a little because she couldn’t help it.
“Nobody’s even talking about setting a date yet, it’ll be fine,” he said, backing up towards the door now their discussion seemed to be over. “And hey, we’re getting a free party out of it, what more could we want?”
Rory rolled her eyes at how impossible he was.
“Goodbye, Logan” she said, ushering him the last few steps out of her door. “Some of us have studying to do, whether we’re engaged or not.”
When he was finally gone, Rory closed the door behind him, turned her back against it, and took a deep breath. Maybe she could still get this whole thing figured out before Jess realised what had happened. He would be off to Philly in a couple of days, missing her engagement party completely, and by the time he got back, Logan’s lawyers could easily have figured out the trust fund issue and then there would be nothing to tell. The whole engagement could be a funny story that she eventually told him, one day, if she really had to.
It made Rory smile to realise she was thinking so long-term about her relationship with Jess. She wondered if he felt the same way. Maybe it was better not to ask him until after she got rid of her current fiancé!
“Why am I doing this?” Rory asked her reflection, smoothing her dress and checking her hair at the same time.
It was so stupid. Not just asking herself for an answer that she didn’t have, but actually going through with this whole charade where she pretended to want to marry Logan. She never should have allowed it to get this far, Rory knew that long before her mother reminded her again this morning, but this was where they were and it was a little late now to cancel. Half the guests had already arrived, if the noise downstairs was anything to go by. The Gilmore-Huntzberger engagement party was a go and Rory was just going to have to deal with that, trusting that after the event, Logan would quickly hit upon a way out of this whole thing.
“You should trust him,” she told herself. “You agreed to marry him after all.”
At that, Rory rolled her eyes. She did trust Logan in a lot of ways, but to call off this engagement? Not so much. She was probably going to have to do that herself in the end, no matter how many problems it caused. Rory hated confrontation but the way things were going, she had very few choices left. One thing was for sure, she was not getting as far as setting a date, never mind walking down the aisle. This whole thing had to end after tonight, one way or another. She couldn’t even think ‘before it goes too far’ because even Rory was well-aware that that had already happened
There was a moment when she genuinely considered just walking down those stairs and announcing to the whole party that the entire thing was a sham.
“Easy enough,” said Rory to her reflection, striking a pose and lifting her chin. “I am not marrying Logan Huntzberger,” she tried. “Guess what, folks? This whole thing is a fake - we’re not getting married.”
Rory frowned and shook her head, visibly deflating as she gave up. She was never going to do something like that, embarrassing Logan and her grandparents and her mom, not to mention herself. Now was so not the time for that kind of announcement. If she just let Logan figure things out with the lawyers, they could break things off quietly later, that was the plan.
“Stick to the plan, it’ll be fine,” she said to herself, nodding her head. “It’ll be fine,” she repeated, turning towards the door.
It would be easier, Rory realised, if she really believed what she was saying, but the sick feeling in her stomach just wouldn’t go away. She knew this was wrong. She may as well be cheating on Jess, and was sure she couldn’t feel worse right now if she actually were. Unfortunately, there was no easy way out of this right now, so she would just have to push forward and hope it all worked out later.
Lane was almost done cleaning up when she was startled by the sound of someone trying to get in the locked front door of the diner. She opened her mouth to yell when suddenly the door actually came open and she turned to see her friend letting himself in.
“Jess!” she gasped, hand over her chest. “What are you doing here?”
“I live here,” he reminded her with a smirk, as he strolled by and hefted his bags onto the counter.
“But you’re supposed to be in Philadelphia,” she noted, following him and sitting down on the nearest stool to where he stood. “Oh no, did you miss your meeting? Is your book not getting published?”
“Lane, breathe,” he urged her, pulling himself up onto the next seat. “I got to my meeting. I sat down with the guys at Truncheon, we talked, we got along, and the book is getting published,” he told her, smiling widely.
“Jess, that’s so great!” Lane grinned at him.
“I really agree,” he replied, reaching for the leftover pie a little further down the counter.
He proffered it at Lane and she didn’t need asking twice, moving to fetch plates and utensils, plus a couple of sodas too. It wasn’t the first time she had stayed late with her friend eating whatever was available and talking about things. Jess had got her through a couple of rough patches with Dave and she had helped him out when he was getting into trouble in school back in the day. Nothing had ever happened between them, Lane never expected it to. They were as much brother and sister as anything else, which was the only reason Mrs Kim had ever allowed them to be friends in the first place.
“So, tell me everything,” she insisted as she sat down on the next stool over from Jess and they both dug into the pie.
“There’s not all that much to tell that’s really interesting,” Jess considered. “The guys I met were called Matthew and Chris, seemed to be our age, maybe a couple of years older. They started the press about eighteen months ago, they’ve had a few other people come and go, but they kind of run things. Anyway, they put out a few books a month, plus a zine. They have open houses too, poets, artists. It’s a cool vibe there.”
“And they like your book?”
“They like my story and they’d like to publish it as a book,” said Jess smirking a little at her crazy enthusiasm. “God knows why.”
“Yes, he does,” said Lane solemnly. “And I do too. It’s because you’re a really great writer.”
“You haven’t even read the manuscript, Lane.”
“No, but I’ve read other things you wrote. Short stories, papers for school, all kinds of things. Plus, with all the reading you do, you should be good at writing. You have all the words and everything.”
“I don’t think it always works that way, but thanks,” he said smiling fondly at the girl who had somehow always been the sister he never knew he needed, though he struggled to figure out how it had happened even now.
“I can’t believe this. I know a guy that’s about to be a published author.” Lane grinned. “That’s very cool.”
“It won’t be so impressive when you’re at the top of the charts, a big-time rock star,” he told her, rolling his eyes. “Then small-time author will look pretty lame.”
“Never,” said Lane, shaking her head definitely. “You will always be impressive, Jess. You’ve come so far, you’re achieving so much. I’ll bet Rory was pretty impressed too.”
“If Mrs Kim realised that you even know that look exists...” said Jess seeing how she was staring at him with a very significant expression on her face.
“I don’t live with her anymore, I can look how I want,” she said definitely, before looking around out of the windows just in case. “Anyway, was she impressed? Rory, I mean. Did she go crazy fangirl on you when you told her?”
“Maybe,” Jess admitted, smirking as he reached for another forkful of pie. “I am not talking about this with you,” he told Lane definitely when she still looked eager for details.
“Well, you’re no fun,” she said, poking out her tongue. “I guess you’re going over to see her tonight, right?”
“Not tonight.” Jess shook his head. “She has some society party or whatever. I don’t know.”
“So, what?” Lane countered, her hand on his arm to get his attention back when he tried to turn away. “Jess, Rory seems like a great girl, I can’t believe you would be with her if she wasn’t, but...”
“Well, she hasn’t exactly introduced you to her family, her friends.”
“It’s not that easy, Lane,” Jess told her what he was sure she already knew.
Lane wasn’t buying, of course. “It should be that easy,” she said definitely. “Jess, if Rory cares about you half as much as I know you care about her, she should want you at this party, right? She should want to walk around that room with you, telling everyone how great her new boyfriend is, because you are, Jess, and if Rory doesn’t think so-”
“She does,” he said too fast.
“Then she would probably love it if you showed up at her party, right?”
It was a challenge as much as anything else. Encouragement, sure, but definitely a challenge. Jess didn’t want to admit that Lane had a point, but it was tough not to at least think it.
Rory hadn’t exactly met everyone in Jess’ life either, but that was her choice more than his. He tried to introduce her to the band a couple of times, but she made excuses. Luke didn’t know about their relationship, only because Jess knew he would ask to meet Rory and probably give him the same ‘Is she ashamed of you?’ speech that Lane was trying now. Jess only met Lorelai by accident and even she pretended not to know who he was, even though Rory had told her everything, Jess was sure.
“I don’t know,” he said after a while, squirming in his seat, though he tried not to. “I’m pretty sure guys don’t show up at society parties dressed like this,” he said, gesturing to his jeans and boots.
“So, put on a suit. I know you have one, you wear it when we play weddings,” she reminded him. “Just get a shower, put on the suit, fix your hair, and go. You know where she lives now, right?”
“She never actually told me.” Jess shook her head. “I tried to find out once but that was before I knew her real full name.”
“So, now we can find the address and you can go over and surprise her.” Lane shrugged, already getting up to grab her phone and call information. “I mean, why wouldn’t she be happy to see you?”
Jess had no good answer to that one.
“Guess I’m going to a party,” he said more to himself than Lane. “Great.”
“Could you at least smile a little, Ace?” Logan whispered, his arm around her waist as he leaned in closer. “People are going to think you’re not happy to be here.”
“Well, I’m not thrilled,” she said through gritted teeth and an overly-big false smile. “This was not the plan, Logan. It was not supposed to go this far and just because I agreed to keep up this stupid charade a while longer, I never promised to be happy about it.”
She pulled away from him then, pushing through the throng of people surrounding them until she literally ran into Paris. If Rory looked pissed to be there, her friend looked doubly so.
“You’re beyond a joke, you know that, right?”
“Yes, Paris, I am aware,” Rory assured her, grabbing a drink from the nearest tray that passed by and downing the whole thing very fast. “I swear, it was not supposed to be like this.”
“Yeah, well, you could take control, end all of this right now,” her friend reminded her. “It’s 2005, Gilmore, we don’t have to do what the men tell us, you know?”
“Paris, please!” Rory complained, switching her empty glass for another drink when the next server came by. “I really do not need this right now,” she said firmly, downing another shot.
“I just keep wondering about the boyfriend,” said Paris in a low voice. “Can you imagine him here? In the leather jacket and combat boots. You think your grandparents are going to struggle handling a broken engagement from a Huntzberger, try bringing that Beat-loving freak here and see how far it gets you.”
“Paris, you cannot talk about Jess like that!” said Rory, realising too late quite how loudly her words had been spoken.
“Who’s Jess?” asked Madeline, over-hearing as many people must have done.
“Oh, well...” Rory began, floundering for words to say when suddenly she was saved by the bell, or at least the person tapping on a glass with a spoon.
All attention went to Logan who was now part-way up the staircase, holding court in the way only he could. Rory put a hand over her eyes a moment, wishing this whole situation away. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the kind of nightmare she could wake up from, something made very clear to her when Logan thanked everyone for coming to the party and then urged Rory to come join him where all the guests could see.
It was nauseatingly embarrassing. It would have been bad enough, Rory thought, if it were real, but the fact it was entirely fake just made it that much worse. Her grandparents were smiling proudly, her friends all grinning at her like fools, as Logan speechified about how much he adored her. Rory hated it. She couldn’t even look to her mom for support. Lorelai had claimed a migraine an hour before and hidden away in her room, unable to bear the charade any longer. She told Rory she could end it all if she wanted to, but Rory couldn’t do it, not today, not like this.
“And so, it seemed clear to me that I just had to snap up this wonderful woman before some other jerk came along and stole her away,” said Logan, causing a ripple of polite laughter through the crowd. “The best decision I ever made was proposing to Rory Gilmore,” he continued, “and now that the resizing is done, I can finally make our engagement that little bit more official.”
Rory’s eyes went wide when she realised what Logan was about to do. After kissing the knuckles of her hand held in his, he suddenly let go, stepping down to the hallway and dropping to one knee.
“Logan...” she began, shaking her head, but he would not let it go.
“I know we already did this part,” he said, loud enough for everyone to hear, “but for everyone who missed it, I figured we could do the action replay. Lorelai Leigh Hayden-Gilmore, I love you. Will you marry me?”
“Logan, I...” she started to say, knowing now was as good a chance as any to say something, anything to put an end to this madness.
Looking at him wasn’t helping her think, so she glanced up, past the crowd, her eyes landing on the open front door. Rory blinked hard, completely bowled over by the sight that met her eyes. Jess, dressed in a suit and looking as handsome as she had ever seen him, just walked in. He met her eyes and smiled at first, until he realised what was going on. The look that came over his face then, confusion and pain and a hundred other awful things, made Rory wish the ground would just open up and swallow her whole.
“Come on, Rory,” Logan prompted from his place still on one knee.
She glanced down and then up again, in time to see Jess heading straight back out the door, and only one word came to mind to say.
“No. I’m sorry, Logan, but no!” Rory repeated, squeezing by him as she flew down the stairs and ran out the door just as fast as she could.
Of course, everybody else started talking at once, asking each other what was going on, looking to Logan for an explanation, but he had none to give.
“Excuse me, folks,” he said quickly, chasing after Rory.
She was already outside, running down the driveway in the dark, rushing after Jess who was striding towards the gates. Rory caught his sleeve before he quite got away.
“Jess, please don’t go.”
“Are you kidding me?” he asked, spinning to face her with an expression like thunder. “Seriously, is this some kind of joke that only makes sense if you come from the fancy high society world? Because I gotta tell you, Rory, I don’t think I get it.”
He was so mad. Of course she couldn’t blame him but Rory wished she could explain herself. She had practised it a million times, how to tell Jess about Logan and the whole fake engagement, but she never expected this, never planned for a scenario where he found out this way. It was too awful to contemplate, but now, she had no choice.
“It’s really not what it looks like,” she promised, a death grip on his arm by now because she was so afraid he might walk away and never come back if she let go at all.
“Really?” he checked. “So, this guy didn’t just say he loved you and ask you to marry him?” he said, gesturing up the driveway to Logan who was finally catching up to them.
“No. Well, yes, but...” Rory floundered. “I need to explain."
“You think so?”
“Jess, please, I know how this seems."
“It seems like you’ve been making an idiot out of me,” he told her, shaking his head. “I can’t believe I didn’t see it coming.”
“Hey,” said Logan as he finally reached them. “I’m going to go ahead and guess that this is the famous Jess,” he said with a smile that Jess himself was really not buying.
“Huh. He knows about me,” he said, a burst of humourless laughter escaping his lips. “This gets better all the time. Who the hell are you anyway?”
“Logan Huntzberger,” he said, holding out a hand to shake.
Jess looked at that hand with just as much incredulity as existed in him and Logan quickly realised his mistake.
“Look, man, this is just-”
“I’m pretty sure I don’t wanna hear whatever you’re gonna say to me, man,” Jess told him sharply. “In fact, I don’t wanna hear anything you have to say right now either,” he told Rory with a cold look, pulling his arm free from her grasp and turning to leave.
“Jess, please!” she yelled after him, tears flowing freely down her face now as she ran after him, high heels and party dress not helping her to move as quickly as she’d like. “You have to let me explain.”
“Is that what I have to do, Rory?” he checked, turning back at the gate. “You know what? I actually think I have a pretty good idea of what’s happening here without any help from you. You’re with him, and you were using me for... I don’t know, one last hurrah before you get married?”
“It was not like that. It was never meant to be this way,” she told him desperately, crying so hard it was tough to get the words out at all. “I met you before Logan ever asked me to marry him, and it’s not real. Me and Logan, it’s just, it’s an arrangement. It’s not what you think.”
Jess’ eyes were wide at her explanation. He wasn’t sure he fully understood what she meant, but even if it was how it sounded, if she didn’t love Logan, if she had met Jess first, it didn’t make it any better. She had still been telling lies, keeping secrets, and playing him for a fool. It hurt. It hurt so much he really couldn’t stand to be there another second.
“You know, what, Rory? Right now, I don’t care,” he told her, moving quickly to his car and getting into the driver’s seat before she had a chance to try to make him change his mind about leaving again.
Even as she smacked her hand against the glass, trying to get his attention, Jess put the car into drive and pulled away from the kerb. He couldn’t handle this, he just couldn’t, and so he left, as fast as he could, leaving a crying Rory in his wake.
“How did this happen?!” she cried frustratedly, stamping her foot against the ground.
Logan hovered behind her then moved in to put an arm around her shoulders.
“I’m sorry, Ace.”
“No, Logan!” she yelled, shaking him off. “Do not tell me you’re sorry. Don’t act like you care because you don’t.”
“Rory, come on.”
“Come on, what? This is not a joke, Logan, this is my life. What did you think you were doing? This is crazy!”
She was so angry and so upset, flinging her arms around in wild gestures as she fought to know what to do for the best. Of course, Rory was putting all the blame on Logan in this, and that didn’t sit well with him.
“It might be crazy, but you were in this too, Rory,” he reminded her, not caring how wide her eyes got when she looked at him then. “I didn’t make you say yes when I asked you to marry me, I didn’t force you into anything, you agreed.”
“Because I had to.”
“No, you didn’t. I wanted you to, sure, but you could’ve said no. I didn’t even know about this other guy when I asked, and you didn’t exactly tell me right away. You could even have told him about our arrangements if you wanted to, but you didn’t. That’s on you, Rory. You’re a grown woman with a brain in your head and a mouth I know you know how to use. So, don’t you blame me, don’t you dare blame me!”
She turned from Logan’s ranting towards her mom’s voice as Lorelai came running over. Behind her, Emily and Richard were approaching too, along with Mitchum and Shira, while various guests came out to see what was going on too.
“Sweetie, what happened?” asked Lorelai, reaching for her daughter.
“Jess was here,” she explained.
“Jess? How did he know about this?”
“He didn’t, I don’t think. I don’t know!” she said frustratedly, running her hand over her face and back through her hair. “This is a disaster. I... I have to go after him.”
“Rory, honey, you can’t drive like this,” her mother insisted, looking back towards the crowd of incoming people who were bound to want explanations. “Um, I could drive but I don’t have keys out here.”
She knew Rory wouldn’t have her keys either, so they were kind of screwed, unless...
“Hey, Huntzberger?” she said, getting his attention. “You wanna maybe make up for the mess you helped make here?”
He looked like he might argue at first, but between the pain evident on Rory’s face and the evil eye that Lorelai was giving him, he must have figured he didn’t have much of a choice. As it was, the whole plan was probably blown to hell, his parents and Rory’s grandparents would want an explanation, and it looked like he was going to be left to give it one way or another. With a sigh, he reached into his pocket for his keys and then tossed them into Lorelai’s hands.
“You’re not all bad, kid,” she told him, grabbing Rory’s hand and rushing for the car.
The Gilmore girls were way outside of Hartford before either of them dared to speak again.
“I’m sorry,” said Rory sadly, sniffling yet.
“Hey, don’t apologise to me, babe. Save it for the boyfriend,” Lorelai advised. “I mean, I hate to say I told you so-”
“But you told me so.” Rory nodded. “I know. I can’t believe this happened. I just kept thinking if I waited long enough, Logan would figure something out, we’d break off the engagement and Jess wouldn’t ever have to know. It seemed simple enough.”
“Stuff like this never is, sweets.” Lorelai sighed. “I mean, come on, there are so many ways Jess could’ve found out. If Emily put an announcement in the paper. If Jess ever happened to see you and Logan together somewhere. After tonight, you were going to have a big ass diamond ring you’d have to hide from him, what if you forgot to take it off one day when you guys met for a rendezvous?”
“I know, I’ve been so stupid,” said Rory, her hand to her forehead that ached terribly. “I can’t believe how stupid, and now Jess is hurt. I don’t know if he’ll listen even if we find him.”
“We’ll find him,” Lorelai said confidently. “I can’t guarantee he’ll listen to you, but hopefully, when he calms down some, he will.”
“But will he understand?” she said desperately. “I just keep thinking if it were me, if Jess was engaged to some other girl and I just found out, could I forgive him?”
Lorelai wasn’t sure what she could say to that. The chances were good that Rory couldn’t forgive Jess if the situation were reversed, and frankly, Lorelai wasn’t so sure she would ever forgive Jess either. That didn’t mean she didn’t hope that Jess could forgive Rory, because hey, love in all its forms just made you a hypocrite sometimes.
When they finally reached Stars Hollow, somewhat faster than they probably should have done, especially in the dark, Lorelai headed straight for the diner. Of course, it was all closed up, but after some significant banging on the door and calling for attention, Lorelai sure did get some. One very sleep-rumpled and aggravated Luke appeared with a baseball bat in one hand, clearly ready for trouble. When he saw who was making the commotion, he looked more surprised than anything else.
“Hey. We need to talk to Jess. Well, she does anyway,” she explained, pushing her way inside and bringing Rory with her. “He’s here, right?”
“No, he’s in Philadelphia,” said Luke, shaking his head. “What is going on?” he asked, frowning hard, understandably confused by this whole situation.
“If he didn’t come back here, there’s only one other place he would go to think,” said Rory suddenly. “Wait here for me, I’ll be back,” she added quickly, before running out into the dark.
“Rory, I don’t... and she’s gone.” Lorelai sighed, pulling down a chair and sitting down heavily. “This night, I swear to God, it is right up there in my Top 5 worst ever!” she declared, pulling the clips from her hair and lining them up on the table.
It was as if she had forgotten Luke was there, or maybe just that she forgot he had no idea what was going on. Pulling down another chair, he sat down opposite her, resting his elbows on his knees.
“Okay. I’m gonna need an explanation for whatever the hell all this is,” he said, meeting Lorelai’s eyes. “First of all, who was the girl who just ran out of here? I mean, she looks vaguely familiar but... Second, why does she seem to think Jess is home already?”
“Is there a third before I start answering one and two?” Lorelai checked, smiling slightly, because if she didn’t find the humour in this soon she was going to lose it big time.
Luke shook his head. “Not yet, except... well, you look beautiful, by the way.”
“Thank you.” Lorelai smiled. “Okay, so from the top...”
Jess felt like such an idiot. Getting into whatever the hell this thing was between him and Rory, it had seemed a little crazy from the get-go. She wasn’t the one-night stand type, he knew that, and yet when they fell into bed together, he hadn’t cared if it meant a relationship, because for the first time in forever, he wanted that. He really liked her, and not just the way she looked or how she could make him feel, but everything about her. How smart she was, how funny, how quick, how incredibly well-read. They never seemed to run out of things to talk about, and he wasn’t going to deny that the sex was pretty fantastic too.
Still, there was always a niggling feeling of doubt about the whole set-up. She barely mentioned her family or friends, and there was never any question that she was keeping Jess a secret from almost everyone. Lorelai knew, and Rory’s room-mate, Paris, but that was all. Jess knew it was hypocritical, he hadn’t told Luke about her either, but Lane and the guys in the band knew, even if they never met her.
Now it made so much more sense. Jess wasn’t just a dirty secret for Rory because he wasn’t from her world or her class or however she wanted to describe it. It was because she was using him. He was the affair, the piece on the side, her last chance for a good time before she settled down like a good little wife with a guy of her own status and rank. It made Jess feel sick to his stomach, even more than the cigarettes that he had all but given up lately, but man, did he ever need them now?
“I thought I’d find you here.”
His eyes closed at the sound of her voice. Maybe it should have occurred to him that she would find him eventually, though Jess had wondered if she would bother to try in the circumstances. He supposed it ought to mean something that she had, but he really wasn’t so sure anymore.
“Go home, Rory,” he told her, eyes open again but trained on the water of the lake that sparkled in the moonlight. “Go back to your fiancé.”
“He’s not my fiancé,” she insisted, coming closer, crouching down on the rough boards of the bridge next to where Jess was sat, feet dangling close to the water. “Not really, not in the way you think.”
“You don’t wanna know what I think right now,” he told her coldly, taking another drag from his cigarette and blowing the smoke away from her. “You made a real fool out of me, Rory.”
“I didn’t mean to,” she told him desperately. “Jess, I... when I met you at that party-”
“Logan’s party,” he recalled, shaking his head.
“Yes, Logan’s party, but that’s not important. I met you and... and something happened to me that night, something changed. I never knew I could feel this way about a person. We had just met and... and...”
“And what, Rory?” he asked, rounding on her in a second. “What, are you going to give me the whole ‘I never do this’ speech again? I’m tired of that. Right now, the last thing I want to hear is how you’re a different person when you’re with me, because apparently, there was a lot more truth in that than I ever could’ve guessed.”
“Jess, please,” she tried, but he wouldn’t hear her.
“You used me, Rory,” he told her straight, meeting her eyes with a glare that broke her heart. “You used me for a good time and then you went running back to play princess in the castle with your rich, handsome fiancé. Well, maybe some guys would be okay with that, but not me, Rory. You picked the wrong guy to pull your tricks on.”
With that he got up, throwing his cigarette butt into the lake, and turning to stride away. Rory called for him to stop, but he didn’t, he couldn’t. Until she really understood how she had hurt him, they had nothing to talk about, and even then, Jess wasn’t so sure he could ever look at her the same way again.
“I’ve never been so embarrassed in all my life, Lorelai,” said Emily sharply. “That girl made a mockery of us all. I hope she’s thoroughly ashamed of herself.”
“Mom, this is not all on Rory!” Lorelai reminded her, slamming her butter knife against her plate. “Logan Huntzberger had a hand in this too, you know?”
“Logan asked her to marry him, a perfectly reasonable request, and Rory said yes,” Emily reminded her daughter. “She could have said no if she didn’t intend to go through with it, if she had some other young man in her sights, but she said yes, and that means something.”
“It means she felt trapped,” said Lorelai crossly. “It means she was trying to be a good friend, and sure, I know she could’ve handled it better, but Rory is hurting right now, more than anybody else in this situation, and I’m not okay with that, even if some of it is her own fault.”
With that, she got up from the breakfast table and stomped off towards the stairs. Emily called for her to come back at once, but Lorelai didn’t care. She headed on up to Rory’s room, tapping on the door and letting herself inside. It was no surprise to find her daughter still in bed, her face hidden by the pillows and blankets. Lorelai was pretty sure all Rory had done was cry, and maybe sleep a little, since this whole mess imploded last night. She only wished she could make it better somehow, but what could she do?
“Oh, sweets.” Lorelai sighed, sitting down on the edge of the bed and putting a comforting hand on Rory’s back. “I know this all sucks right now, but we’ll figure it out, somehow.”
“How?” asked Rory, voice muffled by the pillows until she finally forced herself to sit up and face her mom. “I screwed up everything, absolutely everything. I hurt Jess so much and he is so mad at me, I don’t know how I’m ever going to fix that, plus Grandma and Grandpa must be furious, not to mention Logan’s parents. I even feel a little bad for him.”
“Oh, no. No way, honey, we are not feeling bad for Logan Huntzberger in all of this. He started this whole thing.”
“I didn’t have to go along with it.” Rory shook her head sadly.
“Well, no, that is true, but he knew you would, because you’re a good person and all you ever want to do is help out a friend in need. He played you, Rory. He played on your need to be a good person and a great friend. That’s not okay.”
“He didn’t make me lie to Jess.” She sniffled, dragging the back of her hand across her face. “I should’ve told him. You said I should and you were right, but it was so hard. I just kept thinking it’d be over soon and he’d never need to know. Now he won’t even let me begin to explain,” she cried.
“He will,” Lorelai promised, pulling her into a hug. “Jess just needs time, that’s all. He’ll calm down and then, if he’s half the guy you say he is, he’ll at least be reasonable enough to hear you out. I’m sure when you explain, he’ll understand.”
“Would you?” asked Rory, pulling her head up from Lorelai’s shoulder. “If you were him, would you understand?”
Lorelai so wanted to plead the fifth on that one, because the truth was, she wasn’t so sure she would understand. She tried to imagine any boyfriend she ever had suddenly explaining that he was engaged to some girl he knew, and expecting her to be okay with it. Lorelai winced, knowing she never would be, especially if she had been in the dark for weeks before the truth finally came out.
“Mom?” Rory prompted.
Lorelai shook her head. “I don’t know, honey,” she admitted at last. “It’s tough to say how you would react in a weird situation like this. All I know is that you care a lot about Jess, and from what you told me, he seemed to care a lot about you. If that’s still true, there’s always a chance that something is salvageable out of this mess.”
“I really hope so.” Rory sighed, looking and feeling less than confident.
She couldn’t help but wonder what Jess was doing now, if he was thinking of her at all. If he was, chances were it was nothing good, and right now, Rory couldn’t blame him.
“How’re you doin’, kid?” Luke asked Jess when his nephew finally came down to the diner.
If his face was anything to go by the answer would be ‘not good.’ Chances were good he hadn’t slept at all and Luke knew the feeling. By the time they both hit the hay last night it was pretty late, then Luke got up earlier than usual to go to the suppliers. He left Jess in bed in the hopes the guy might get some sleep at last, but it probably hadn’t happened.
“I’ll live,” said Jess, rubbing at his eyes. “Sorry if I kept you awake last night with the tossing and turning,” he said, sitting down heavily on a stool by the counter as Luke continued to ready the diner for opening.
“You’re fine,” his uncle assured him. “I’m not sure I’d’ve slept any better if you were still. Hell of a night last night.”
Jess laughed though there was no humour in it.
“I’m really not good at picking women.”
“Who the hell is?” Luke shrugged. “C’mon, like any relationship ever runs smooth. Somebody always screws up. Sometimes the woman, sometimes the man, but it happens all too often. Life is not a fairy-tale. You want coffee?”
“Yes. Actually, no,” Jess changed his mind, shaking his head. “Tea would be good.”
“Tea, sure,” Luke agreed, going through to the kitchen to put on the kettle.
Either drink had caffeine, which was what they both probably needed this morning, and though coffee was the obvious choice, it had occurred to Luke too late how that beverage might remind Jess of Rory. Those Gilmore girls sure did know how to shake things up, but for as much as Rory had hurt Jess, Luke couldn’t help but lament the fact he probably wasn’t going to see much of Lorelai anymore either.
“I should’ve seen this coming,” Jess was saying when Luke returned to him with the tea. “I mean girls like that don’t date guys like me, it doesn’t happen. It wasn’t like it was going anywhere anyway.”
“Hey, it could’ve gone somewhere,” Luke told him definitely. “You are not beneath her, okay? Just because her family has money-”
“It’s not just the money.” Jess shook his head. “It’s the whole set-up. They’re blue bloods, Luke, they stick to their own kind for friends, for dating, for the future.”
“Sounds like a fast track to inbreeding,” said Luke, making a face.
Jess smirked a little but it was hard to find humour in anything right now. There seemed to be a gaping wound where his heart should be and he hadn’t a clue how to fix it. Talking to Rory seemed like a plan but the very thought of it made him feel nauseous.
The whole time she was with him, she was seeing Logan. She said that wasn’t quite accurate, that the engagement was phony and they weren’t really together, but Jess didn’t know that for sure. He wanted to believe her, but even if he did, Rory still didn’t come off well. Who faked an engagement, maybe even a marriage, and lied to everyone they knew about it?
“Lorelai knew the truth, right?” he checked.
“So she said.”
“She said the engagement wasn’t for real?”
Luke sighed and leaned on the counter.
“She said that this guy Logan whatever, he has to be married to get his inheritance or something, so he asked Rory to play Little Mrs for him. Apparently, he didn’t know about you when he popped the question.”
“No, but Rory knew about me,” said Jess with a look. “She still said yes.”
“I wish I knew what to say, buddy,” his uncle told him, shaking his head. “It just sounds like a soap opera to me. I guess now I know why you didn’t even tell me you were seeing anybody.”
“That was not the reason,” Jess said definitely. “C’mon, Luke, I didn’t even know about all this then. The reason I didn’t tell you is because... well, because you’d want to know about her and meet her and everything, and I knew that wasn’t gonna happen. She wouldn’t let it happen. I’m an idiot.”
“You’re not an idiot,” said Luke firmly. “Hey, you listen to me, if anyone is stupid in this situation it’s the guy that asked someone to marry him just so he could get richer, or the girl who said yes when she knew what she was risking with a much better man,” he said, holding Jess’ gaze. “You’re hurt, Jess, and I get that, but you are not the idiot in all this.”
Jess smiled a little and drank some more of his tea. He was still staring into his cup when he spoke again.
“So, this means things with you and Lorelai are over too?”
“There is no thing with me and Lorelai,” said Luke, standing up and turning his back on Jess way too fast.
“Right, nothing going on there,” he said, smirking terribly. “C’mon, Luke, you like her. It’s okay if you do, I mean, sure, she knew all this crap was going on, but it wasn’t up to her to tell me, that was on Rory.”
“She could’ve told me,” Luke considered as he made a big deal of tidying things that didn’t entirely need tidying.
“Please, you didn’t even know I was with Rory or who the hell Rory was,” Jess reminded him. “Of course, I’m wondering now if I really knew who Rory was.”
He wished he could stop thinking about it. Jess’ mind needed a break from the merry-go-round of painful thoughts and unanswered questions, but unfortunately, there was no off switch for that kind of thing.
“How soon can we open this place?” he asked then. “I need to be doing something so my head doesn’t explode.”
“You can refill the salt shakers and the ketchups if you want,” Luke told him, gesturing over his shoulder. “And if that doesn’t help, you know where the mop is, because there’s no way I’m cleaning up when your brain ends up all over the floor.”
Luke looked at Jess then wearing a half a smile and was glad to see his nephew return the expression. Heartbreak was never easy, but he’d get through it, given time. There really wasn’t any other choice in the matter.
“Hi, Luke. It’s Lorelai.”
Luke almost dropped the phone when he heard her voice, quickly looking over to where Jess was chatting to Miss Patty and Babette. It was nice to see him smiling for a while, even if Luke was pretty sure it wouldn’t last.
“Yeah, hi,” he said, shaking the fog from his mind. “Um, now maybe isn’t the best time.”
“I’m sorry, I don’t want to make things difficult, I was just hoping we could talk about this whole mess with the kids.”
“Sure, yeah.” Luke nodded pointlessly since of course she couldn’t see. “Look, hold on a sec, okay?”
On the other end of the line, Lorelai waited patiently, even as the line seemed to go dead for a minute or two. Just when she was about to give up and hang up, Luke asked if she was still there.
“I’m here,” she confirmed. “Did you just throw everyone out your diner? The background noise just hit zero.”
“I patched the call through to the upstairs phone,” he explained. “Jess is working in the diner, and I didn’t want... Well, you know?”
“I know,” Lorelai assured him. “I am so sorry, Luke. I really didn’t want to make things awkward for you. It’s just... I don’t know, I feel like I should apologise, again.”
“You really don’t have to,” he promised. “Lorelai, whatever happens between Rory and Jess, it’s not our fault. I mean, I’m not gonna lie to you, your daughter is not my favourite person right now because Jess is really upset about this, but we’re still... you know, friends, right?”
“I hope so,” said Lorelai, with a smile Luke swore he could hear.
It made him smile too, as dumb as that might seem.
“So, I’m guessing she’s pretty upset too, right? Rory, I mean.”
“She really is. I know a large part of it is her own fault, and believe me, I was the one who told her she was being foolish, first agreeing to the engagement and then keeping it from Jess, but... she was doing what Rory always does, trying to keep all possible people happy.”
“Yeah, I guess I can understand that.” Luke sighed. “I just wish Jess hadn’t been hurt into the bargain.”
“Me too,” Lorelai agreed. “Rory three, if it helps. I really hope Jess let’s her explain and apologise some more. I know she wants to.”
“That’s why you called? To get me to get Jess to talk to Rory?”
“No, no. That wasn’t... Well, I admit, I figured mentioning it couldn’t hurt, but seriously, Luke, I mostly called because... because like you said, we’re friends, right? I really don’t wanna lose a friend over this.”
Luke smiled another dopey smile and didn’t even care.
“You haven’t,” he promised her. “And you know you’re welcome in the diner anytime. Coffee’s always waiting for you.”
“Good to know,” said Lorelai with what seemed to be a sigh of relief.
At least their friendship was one thing that hadn’t been destroyed in the explosion last night. If only Rory and Jess’ relationship could be so easily mended.
So, this fic is now going on hold ‘til 2019. I do this every year as I have a lot of other stuff to do in December, including Christmas-related fics and of course plenty of RL things too. Please rest assured, this story will be back in the new year, and hey, I know Rory & Jess are broken up right now, but at least I didn't leave you on a big cliffhanger or anything, right? :)
Since Jess wouldn’t take her calls and Rory was in no fit state to go and face him in person, the weekend passed without her really getting a chance to make amends. Yale needed her attention when Monday rolled around and as much as she would have liked to avoid it, Rory knew she couldn’t. Her romantic life may be lying in tatters, but she had to preserve her education. There would be a lot of people disappointed her, including herself, if she allowed that to be ruined. Of course, most people, like her grandparents and her mom and Paris and Logan, were already pretty pissed at her, as they all told her, one after another, until Rory actually felt worse. She hadn’t thought that was possible, to be honest.
At least back at Yale, she had enough work to do that she couldn’t think too much about what an idiot she had been. She also managed not to run into Logan for the first four days of the week, which was a real blessing. From what her mom had told her, Rory was sure the engagement was officially off now. Mitchum and Shira had no doubt realised the truth and Logan was probably not in their good graces either. Frankly, Rory couldn’t care much, and when she finally did run into her so-called ex-fiancé and his friends on Thursday night, she was ready to tell him so too.
“Rory!” Finn exclaimed. “Darling, you don’t know how happy you made us all last weekend when you said no to this charlatan and his dodgy proposal.”
“She’s not running away with you, Finn,” Colin reminded him. “She ran after the mystery guy, remember?”
“What does he have that I don’t?” his friend asked.
Rory barely heard them, she was too busy glaring at Logan.
“Sorry, guys, I’m not in the mood,” she told them, moving to get by.
Logan stepped into her path on purpose.
“Ace, please,” he urged her. “Just hear me out.”
“Why? Why should I listen to you, Logan?” she asked him too loudly. “You didn’t listen to me when I asked you, on multiple occasions, to get us out of that stupid engagement! You just let it happen until the inevitable ending came, until I made a fool of myself and ended it in the worst possible way. Now everybody is pissed at us, everybody, and even though I know some of it is my fault, no matter what you say I choose to mostly be mad at you!”
She shoved by him then, giving him no chance for retort as she went straight to her dorm room, fumbling to get the key into the lock.
“Rory!” Logan called, turning around to go after her. “Please, I just want to tell you how sorry I am,” he told her, hurrying to catch her before she truly escaped.
Colin and Finn were at least bright enough to know they belonged nowhere near whatever conversation came next and wandered off in the other direction, unnoticed.
“Ace, you have to know how bad I feel about screwing things up for you,” Logan told her. “You know that was never the plan,” he said, trying and failing to catch her gaze as she looked everywhere but at him. “Rory, come on,” he tried again, pulling on her arm until she faced him at last. “Do you believe that I never intended for things to get so out of hand?”
“I guess so,” she admitted with a sigh as she met his eyes.
“And do you also believe that I would never, ever hurt you on purpose?”
“So, then you do believe that I am truly sorry for my part in what happened last weekend?”
Rory huffed another sigh.
“Yes,” she admitted, pulling her arm free from his grasp and looking away. “I guess I’m sorry too, not for the fact it’s all over now,” she confirmed, glancing back at him, “but for the way it happened. That wasn’t a plan either. I just... It just happened,” she said, eyes dipping to the ground.
Logan nodded that he understood, leaning on the wall by her door.
“What about the boyfriend?” he asked carefully.
Rory turned and put her back against the wall next to Logan.
“Want me to talk to him?” he asked, jostling her shoulder with his own.
“Seriously?” Rory asked him, eyes wide.
Logan smiled with amusement at how underwhelmed she was by that idea, but at least he had tried.
“Have you talked to him?”
“Not since that night,” Rory admitted, shaking her head. “He asked me to leave him alone, so I did, and now... even though I want to see him, to try and make things right, I’m still not so sure he wants to see me. I tried calling, but he won’t answer. I thought maybe I could drive over to the Hollow when I’m done with classes tomorrow.”
“Sounds like a plan.” Logan nodded.
They stood in silence for a moment or two, him looking as sad as he felt, her ever more so. With a sigh, Logan threw an arm around Rory’s shoulders and squeezed her closer, planting a kiss on her temple. Then he turned and walked away. There was nothing else he could really do right now.
“I don’t know if he’s going to listen to me, but the least I can do is try, right?” said Rory, stuffing things into her bag, checking she had all she needed before she left Yale for the weekend.
“They do say actions speak louder than words,” Paris considered. “Guys usually aren’t so into talking anyway, and I for one know that your relationship had a more than active physical side.”
“What I have with Jess is more than sex!” Rory told her crossly.
“Did I say something to the contrary?” her friend challenged her. “No, I simply noted that carnal activity played a major part of your interactions, even your very first meeting. I guess it can’t be much of a stretch for Jess to think he was merely a sex toy for your pleasure and amusement.”
Rory opened her mouth to argue with that then closed it again fast. There was some truth in what Paris said, though she hated to realise it. A lot of her time spent with Jess had been in bed. Not that they constantly had sex, they talked too, had some really deep conversations actually, but they never went on a real date, she never met his friends or family and he never met hers, not beyond Paris, and that had been mostly accidental.
Shaking her head free of all those thoughts, Rory closed up her bag and pulled it onto her shoulder.
“Well,” said Paris standing up from the couch and closing the book in her hand. “Good luck, Gilmore. I think you’re going to need it,” she said, patting Rory on the shoulder and she walked by her to her bedroom.
“Thanks,” she replied, rolling her eyes before she finally setting off.
An uneventful drive to Stars Hollow brought Rory to the diner inside of a half hour and she pulled up to the kerb, putting the car in park. She realised her hands were shaking as she took the key from the ignition and checked herself in the rear-view mirror. She really, really hoped that Jess would give her a chance to apologise and explain this time. She hoped, but she wasn’t quite sure she believed it.
Taking a deep breath, she got out of the car and headed into the diner, spotting Luke but not Jess. Striding forward, she arrived at the counter just as Luke looked up.
“Hi,” she said, with a small and pointless wave. “Um, I was looking for Jess.”
“Rory, right?” he checked, having only ever seen her briefly before.
“Right,” she confirmed, nodding her head. “Is Jess here?”
“No, actually, he’s not,” Luke explained. “The band have a gig tonight, so he’s over there figuring out whatever bands have to figure out before gigs.”
Rory nodded, hoped she said thank you, and then headed off quickly towards the practice space she had found Jess at once before. She was amazed that she remembered the way but seemed to walk on autopilot all the way there. Across the street from the place, she had to stop and wait as a couple of cars went by. Sure that the road was now clear, she moved to step forward but never actually did so.
Jess was outside of the converted garage where Hep Alien practiced for their gigs. He was by the fence, talking to a blonde who Rory had never seen before. She was standing on the pavement, leaning over the fence in a low-cut shirt that was clearly deigned to give Jess a great view of everything. It was so obvious, Rory was sure Jess wasn’t impressed. He didn’t look like he wanted whatever she was offering, at least not at first. Rory realised maybe she had been indulging in wishful thinking when suddenly Jess’ hand was behind the blonde’s head, pulling her close until they were sharing a fiery kiss.
Rory tried to swallow the lump in her throat but it wouldn’t shift. She felt thoroughly sick as she turned around and ran just as fast as she could back to her car.
“Wow,” said Shane as Jess finally released her. “So much for ‘not gonna happen’, huh?” she said, eyes glittering with fun.
“I changed my mind, so sue me.” Jess shrugged.
His eyes flitted past Shane to the other side of the street, just in time to see Rory running away. It was no more than she deserved after the way she treated him. Maybe Jess didn’t have all that much interest in Shane anymore, but it wasn’t as if she was looking for a relationship, she wasn’t the type. Shane liked a good time, and right now, Jess could use a good time.
“So,” said the blonde, fingers playing with the edge of Jess’ jacket, “you wanna go someplace?”
He thought about it, pretty seriously actually, but somehow, the offer didn’t really appeal like it should, like it had once upon a time.
“I can’t right now,” he told her, hiking a thumb back over his shoulder, “but the guys have a gig tonight. You should come.”
“To some lame ass birthday party or whatever?” Shane snorted, clearly unimpressed.
“It’s where I’ll be.” Jess shrugged.
Taking a pen from his pocket, he got a hold of Shane’s arm, pushing up her sleeve. He pulled the cap off the pen with his teeth and then wrote down the venue name and address on her skin. She laughed as she watched him, the two of them ending up nose to nose when he was done with the task.
“Maybe I’ll see you there,” she told him. “Since you asked so nice,” she said, leaning in to kiss Jess the moment the pen cap was out of the way.
She turned to walk away then and Jess watched her go, wondering if he was an idiot for getting mixed up with Shane again, or if he were a bigger fool for turning down what she was offering just a few minutes before. He didn’t really want her, he wanted Rory, but allowing her back into his life in any form was asking for way more trouble than he could ever get into with Shane.
Shaking his head, Jess turned back towards the building and went inside, trying to forget both women for as long as he could, even if it seemed impossible right now.
“I really don’t think I’m in the mood for a party,” said Rory for what had to be the eighth time, though clearly, no-one was listening.
“What happened to you, Gilmore?” asked Louise, rolling her eyes. “You used to be fun.”
“Not as much fun as us,” Madeline noted, as she went through every dress in Rory’s closet, “but still fun.”
“I am fun,” she noted, taking the book Louise just picked up right out of her hands - it was one that Jess had given her. “I just don’t really feel like partying, that’s all.”
“First rule of getting over a man,” said Louise, grinning too much. “Get under a better one.”
“Oh yeah,” Madeline agreed. “And that shouldn’t be too tough in this,” she added, pulling out the dress she had selected and showing it to the other two.
“I’ve never worn that,” Rory shook her head. “I’m pretty sure I was on medication when I bought it... or possibly I got it to shut one of you up.”
“Sounds right.” Louise nodded. “But tonight, you’ll wear it, we’ll party, and I promise you’ll forget all about your drama with Logan and Jack.”
“Jess,” Rory corrected her. “And maybe I don’t wanna forget about him.”
“I’m pretty sure you’re going to have to,” Madeline advised, bringing the dress over and forcing it into Rory’s hands. “When the boyfriend finds out about the other boyfriend, he doesn’t usually stick around.”
“Unless he’s into that kind of thing,” said Louise with a filthy look. “I’ll bet Logan could be convinced.”
“If I put on the dress would you please stop talking?” Rory begged, though there was a picture in her head that was a lot more appealing than it should be for a minute there, at least until she shook it out.
The girls agreed to stop talking about Rory’s ex, and her ex-fiancé too, if she complied to their demands. She wasn’t exactly impressed with the idea of partying, but if she didn’t go, what else was she going to do?
Rory already knew the answer would be mope and cry and think too much about Jess kissing some slutty blonde in Stars Hollow. She needed a distraction and when Louise and Madeline showed up offering just that, she had let them in mostly on her mom’s insistence. Lorelai seemed to agree that it would be better for Rory to be with her friends at least, whether they stayed in or went out. She needed company and to think about anything at all that wasn’t the guys in her life.
In the bathroom, Rory put on the too short dress, wondering already how she was going to move at all without showing the world her underwear. The thought ran absently through her mind that she never usually did this kind of thing and she winced. The times she had said that to Jess, that she acted so differently with him than any other person. It seemed like a good thing to her, but now he just saw it as more proof that she had used him, acting out with him before running home to her real life.
“Stop thinking about it, just stop,” she muttered to herself, returning to the bedroom and finding only Madeline there now, sitting at the vanity and studying the make-up she had found so far. “Where’s Louise?”
“Right here,” said the girl in question, appearing with a bottle of rum in her hand. “Your grandfather’s not going to miss this, right?” she said, unscrewing the lid.
“I guess not.” Rory shook her head. “Pretty sure he only has it for guests.”
“Well, we’re guests,” said Madeline, holding out her hand for the bottle after Louise had taken a swig.
“Guests that are going to make sure you have a good time tonight,” Louise insisted, looking Rory over. “Okay, we have work to do first,” she added, grabbing Rory by the hand and dragging her over to the vanity.
She shooed Madeline off the stool and sat Rory there instead, picking up a brush and starting on her hair with it, almost dragging it out at the roots from how hard she was pulling. Rory didn’t even bother to try and argue. Maybe it really would do her good to have a bit of a makeover and go out and enjoy herself. She never saw Madeline or Louise sobbing over a guy, they always bounced back from every set back, and they did it with a smile and a shake of their hips. Maybe Rory could do that too. She started believing it a little more easily when Madeline passed her the rum bottle and encouraged her to swallow a large shot. Well, it wasn’t as if Rory could feel any worse than she already did.
“You came,” said Jess, turning to see that it was Shane who had been tapping him on the shoulder. “Wow,” he added when he saw what she was wearing, or rather what she wasn’t wearing.
The dress left very little to the imagination and there was no denying that Shane wore it well. It had been a couple of years since Jess had seen her and hot as she had been then, she had since filled out a little more in all the right places. Besides, what she was wearing wasn’t so important, since he knew she was here with plans to take it off before too long.
“You’re getting luckier than you thought, Mariano,” she said, dangling a key card from her hand right in front of his face. “Turns out one of the maids here is a girl I used to know. She cut me a deal on a room. So long as we clear out before shift change at 5am, we’re free to do whatever we want,” she said with a very significant look.
Shane didn’t really do subtle. It was what Jess used to like best about her when they were seventeen and both looking to get what they wanted, no muss, no fuss. He didn’t think he had changed much over the past three years. Strange then that suddenly Shane’s advances weren’t quite as appealing as they used to be.
“You’re not backing out on me, are you?” she asked him then.
Jess shook his head to clear the haze settling into his mind as much as to agree with her. He would be an idiot to turn down an offer like that, especially when there was nothing and no-one to stop him.
“Uh, I have to talk to the guys and announce the second set in a while, but after...”
“After you come find me,” said Shane, leaning in to plant a kiss on his lips. “Room 120.”
“Room 120,” Jess echoed, nodding his head as she turned and walked away.
With a sigh, he ran a hand back through his hair, wondering what he was really getting himself into. A slap on his back made Jess jolt forward and he glanced back to see Zach had appeared beside him.
“Dude, she is even more smokin’ now than before.”
“Yeah, I guess so,” Jess agreed “You guys ready for the second half?”
“Five more minutes.” Zach rolled his eyes. “Lane is in the bathroom again. Chick stuff, I guess.”
“Right.” Jess nodded. “The amp holding up okay?”
“Sure, man, it’s cool, although Brian wanted to talk to you about-”
“You have got to be kidding me.”
Jess was barely hearing Zach anyway so he was hardly aware of the fact he had interrupted him at all. Zach was about to complain when he suddenly followed Jess’ eyeline and realised what had his attention.
“Woah, that’s Rory, right?” he said, staring at her with wide eyes. “On the subject of smokin’, dude, breaking up with you really works for her.”
Jess could hardly believe his eyes. It was definitely Rory though she looked different to how she ever had before. The dress she wore was a little too similar in size and shape to Shane’s, and she was wearing more makeup than usual, her hair falling in curls around her shoulders. She was flanked by two girls that Jess didn’t really recognise, no doubt the very same who had decided Rory needed a makeover and a good party to help her through her break up. Though they hadn’t known about Jess before, he had to assume they did now. Everybody who had been at that engagement party must know.
Just when Jess started to realise maybe he shouldn’t just stand there staring, Rory looked over and their eyes met. She looked as shocked by his presence as he had been by hers, but there wasn’t time for either of them to consider it too much.
“Jess, come on!” Lane urged him, pulling on his arm. “Second set, let’s go.”
She clearly hadn’t spotted Rory. From behind him, Jess could understand why, and he didn’t have the strength or the time to explain. He allowed the momentum of Lane pulling on him to carry him up to the stage, then fought to clear his head enough to announce Hep Alien’s return.
The moment he was done, Jess leapt down from the stage, standing back to survey the scene and try to get his bearings. Upstairs, there was Shane, eagerly waiting for him to join her. Downstairs, there was Rory, dressed to kill and no doubt out to find some fresh meat. Jess winced at the very thought and wished he had never allowed his mind to go there. God, he only hoped Huntzberger wasn’t hanging around somewhere too.
Not that he should care. Jess knew he was a fool to care about anything that Rory or Logan were doing anymore, but he couldn’t help it. He turned to walk towards the door that would take him to the stairs and up to where Shane was waiting, but barely got a few paces before he stopped. It was no good, until he talked to Rory, it was never going to be over. He had to find a way to get through that conversation and end things properly before he could move on. It seemed he wasn’t the only one with that idea as Jess turned back and found Rory right behind him.
“Hi,” she said warily.
“Hi,” he echoed back, hardly able to keep his eyes on her face given how she was dressed.
“It wasn’t my idea,” she said, shifting uncomfortably.
“Coming to this party or wearing that dress?” asked Jess curiously.
“Both.” Rory swallowed hard. “I didn’t know Hep Alien were here, or that you were here. I’m not even sure if Madeline and Louise did it on purpose. They said they didn’t but... well, you never know with those two.”
Jess nodded in understanding but said nothing else. Though he had decided they needed to talk, he had an idea it wasn’t going to come easy. He looked at Rory and everything from a week ago, what he had seen, what he heard, what he had felt, all hit him like three tidal waves, one after the other. He felt sea sick.
“Jess, I know you’re hurting and I know that’s my fault,” said Rory then, “but please, just let me explain. I don’t know if it’ll help either of us, but I just know that I really, really need for you to hear me out. Please?”
After a few moments, he slowly nodded his head.
“Okay. Let’s talk,” he agreed, glancing at the door which would take them outside.
Rory didn’t hesitate in following him as he headed that way. It was dark out on the patio but not too cold except for when a breeze blew through. Rory hugged herself as she sat down at one end of the nearest bench. Jess hesitated before sitting as far away as possible from her on the other end of the same seat.
“So,” he said, glancing at her. “You wanted to explain.”
“I did. I do,” Rory confirmed, taking a deep breath before she began. “So, I guess I should start by saying I’m sorry. I handled this whole thing so wrong and if I could do it over, I swear I would make it all way less complicated, but unfortunately, there is no going back.”
She paused a moment there, getting herself back on track before she pushed forward. Jess said nothing. He told her he would hear her out and he would, without interruption, though somehow, he couldn’t imagine that whatever he heard was really going to make any difference. Like Rory said, they couldn’t go back and change what had happened. There was no easy fix here.
“You know, everything I told you about Logan when we first met was absolutely true. He was never my boyfriend, we never... well, actually, if I’m being entirely honest, we did sleep together once, but it wasn’t a relationship. It didn’t mean anything, it was just... well, it was a mistake really, it never should’ve happened, and it was a long time ago, Jess. Me and Logan, it was one time when we still in school. It never happened again and I’ve never wanted it to.”
She was staring at him then and Jess spared her glance, wanting to believe her, hoping that was honesty in her eyes and her voice, though he wasn’t sure if he could tell the difference anymore. It wasn’t as if they had known each other long, and though Jess had been so sure for a while that he had got to know Rory as well as he needed to in that time, he was now just as certain he had been wrong.
“Logan is kind of my best friend in a lot of ways,” she continued then. “We’ve known each other since we were kids, babies, I guess. My family knows his family. We’ve always been close, so he thought when he needed someone, he could turn to me. That’s kind of the way it’s always been. Like I said, we were never together, but people accepted the idea of us as a couple because... well, neither of us has really had a serious relationship in a while, so when there were events we would be each other’s plus one.”
“You know, for people who never dated, it’s starting to sound like you’ve dated a lot,” said Jess bitterly. “You’ve been out with him more than you went out with me. You do realise that we never actually dated, Rory? We had sex, we hung out. I mean, seriously, what’s different between what you have with Logan and what you had with me?”
“Everything,” she insisted, shifting closer to him along the bench. “Jess, it’s two completely different things!”
“How, Rory?” he asked her desperately. “You’re supposed to be explaining this to me and I’m not getting any further forward than before. You were with Logan and you were with me. He was your fiancé and I was your... affair, I guess.”
“No,” she insisted. “Please, I was just getting to the complicated part. The engagement part.”
She reached for Jess’ hand but he moved it out of her way and turned so he was staring out into the hotel garden’s rather than at her. Rory swallowed hard and tried not to let the tears start coming until she finally got through her explanation. This was her one shot and she had to get it all out while she had the chance.
“It was a couple of weeks after I met you,” she began again. “I got home from that day in Stars Hollow when you showed me around and we had lunch on the bridge and everything. I was in such a great mood, you had made me so happy. Then when I got home, Logan was there, with his parents, and suddenly he’s asking me to say I’ll marry him, that he’ll explain later but for now, could I please just say yes. So, I did.
“I know it sounds crazy. It is crazy, but Logan was just asking me to do him a favour, as a friend. His money is all tied up in trust funds and even though he turned twenty-one, he still isn’t free to do what he wants with it until he’s married.”
“You expect me to believe this?” asked Jess with an incredulous snort.
“Yes, because it’s the truth,” said Rory definitely, meeting his eyes the moment he gave her a chance to. “Jess, I never lied to you,” she swore to him. “I kept one very big secret from you, which I never should have done, but I never lied.”
“What’s the difference?”
“The difference is that when I said I cared about you, it was true. When... when we made love, it was real. You have to believe that, please.”
Her hand was at his cheek, trying to keep him with her, hoping to make him believe all that she said. Jess didn’t want to. It would be so much easier to write all of this off as experience and move on, but he couldn’t. Rory had tears in her eyes, her lip wobbling as she fought the urge to cry and Jess knew exactly how she felt.
He had paid attention to every word she said, especially the part about making love. Sure, they never said the words, but it was more than just physical between them, there was something real there, something special. He had known it from the first moment he saw her, he just wished it hadn’t all gotten so complicated.
“It’s not just about the engagement,” he forced out. “Maybe that was all a set-up, maybe you two never were going to get married.”
“We weren’t,” Rory promised him.
“But you still kept it from me, and you kept me from everybody else,” he told her, moving out of her reach again. “Besides your mom, who else did you tell about me?”
“Well, Paris knew.”
“Paris knew by accident, because we ran into each other in the street,” Jess reminded her.
“Logan knew too,” she admitted then. “I told him the engagement had to be called off, not just because I didn’t want to marry him anyway, but because I was with you. I only wanted to be with you,” she told him definitely.
“But nobody else knew I existed,” he said, shaking his head as he turned to her. “Don’t you get it, Rory? You made me some dirty little secret. If I hadn’t shown up at that party a week ago, that’s what I’d still be, and for all I know, you’d’ve set a date to get married by now.”
“No, you wouldn’t. I wouldn’t. Jess, please,” she tried to reach for him again but he got up and walked a few paces away, pushing a hand back through his hair.
Rory was running out of things to say, of explanations and excuses and apologies, but she knew she had to find better words, another way to make Jess understand. There was one obvious declaration to make and it wouldn’t exactly be a lie if she spoke the words, she just hadn’t expected the moment they came out to be quite like this.
“You want the truth, Jess?” she said behind him, tears streaming down her face unchecked. “The real truth is that... is that I love you,” she admitted at last. “I don’t know how it happened, I can’t explain it, but it’s the truth. I love you and I was terrified of you walking away from me if I told you about Logan or if you met my family or my friends. I just wanted it to be you and me, something I had some control over so it didn’t get ruined, because... because I never felt like this about anyone before.”
He could hear her crying and it broke his heart into even more pieces than before. Jess closed his eyes and tried to block out the sound, tried to think straight about all of this. He did believe what Rory said, that she and Logan weren’t really together, and even that she loved him. He loved her too, he knew it, but the words wouldn’t come right now, not like this. She didn’t deserve them and he couldn’t say them. He couldn’t say anything for quite a while, and then eventually, he heard Rory speak again.
“The blonde that I saw you with yesterday.”
“Shane,” he confirmed still facing away from her. “Her name is Shane.”
“Is she...? Are you...?”
“She’s upstairs,” he admitted, turning around very suddenly. “She’s waiting for me to go up there.”
Rory nodded and looked away. “Wow.”
“You don’t have a right to be hurt by that, Rory. You just don’t,” Jess told her sharply.
“It doesn’t matter if I have the right, Jess!” she yelled back, getting to her feet. “You think just because I screwed up, you’re the only one hurting. I just told you I love you, that’s the truth, whether you believe it or not, and I know that you have every right to go up there and be with Shane or whoever else you want to be with, but... but don’t expect me to not be hurt by that, because it kills me just to think about it.”
She turned as if to walk away but Jess caught her arm and pulled her back. Rory looked startled as she faced him, his fingers gripping her wrist yet as their eyes met, hers still leaking tears, his more than a little troubled. After a minute that felt like forever, he spoke.
“I’m not going up there,” he said softly. “I probably wasn’t going to anyway, but now...” he trailed off, shaking his head. “For what it’s worth, I believe you and... and as much as I wish I didn’t right now, I do love you,” he admitted, swallowing hard, “but it doesn’t fix anything, Rory. It doesn’t change that you kept things from me and kept me from everybody else. It doesn’t change anything,” he said, letting go of her arm at last.
Before she could open her mouth to say anymore, he was walking away from her, back into the hall where the music blared and party goers had a good time. Rory knew she wasn’t going back in there, wasn’t going to enjoy anything tonight or for a good long while. Jess loved her and that ought to be all she wanted, but he hadn’t forgiven her yet. There was still a long way to go.
Lorelai was pretty sure she had never felt so self-conscious about walking into an eatery as she did right now, stepping over the threshold of Luke’s diner. It was a couple of weeks since Rory last saw Jess and longer since Lorelai had dared to go further into Stars Hollow than the inn for any reason. Last she talked to Luke it was by phone to check he wasn’t mad at her by proxy, and to suggest to him maybe he could encourage his nephew to hear Rory out.
At last, the young ex-couple had their much-needed talk, but all that had proven was that, as much as they loved each other, Jess just couldn’t get past what Rory had done. Two weeks later and as far as Lorelai could make out there had been no progress made. Rory seemed determined to throw herself into her studies at Yale and let Jess have the time and space he needed to get over what had happened. Lorelai couldn’t fault her logic, but it put her in an awkward position, more awkward than maybe her daughter could ever realise.
Luke Danes was the nicest guy Lorelai had met in a really long time. He was age appropriate, good looking, genuinely kind and decent, and she liked him a lot. They were friends and he supplied her with the best coffee she had ever tasted. It was kind of a match made in heaven, except for the part where his nephew got his heart broken by her daughter. Hence the awkward.
“I come in peace!” she called from the door the moment Luke looked up at her from behind the counter.
The smile that broke out across his face when he spoke her name made something give way inside of her. Some of it was relief that he was pleased to see her, but the rest was something else entirely.
“Hi,” she said, coming over to sit on a stool. “I, er... well, I know we agreed that we were still cool after the whole Rory-and-Jess drama, but honestly? I was a little worried about coming in here.”
“That’s crazy,” Luke assured her. “I’m glad you came in. It’s been too quiet around here. Plus, I seem to have a lot of left-over coffee lately,” he told her with a smile, reaching for the pot and a large cup to fill for her.
“I have to admit that as much as I missed your company, I also missed this, a lot,” Lorelai declared, taking a long drink. “Wow. It really is as good as I remember.”
“You really didn’t have to wait so long to come back for more,” Luke assured her. “What happened with Jess and Rory is not your fault, any more than it’s mine.”
“Yeah, I know, but it’s all awkward and weird.” Lorelai winced. “I really wish it wasn’t but since I never did get that magic wand I was always writing on my list for Santa as a kid, I guess we’ll just have to wait and hope that they can fix it somehow.”
“Well, something needs to change and soon,” said Luke, leaning his arms on the counter and lowering his voice. “Jess has been like a bear with a sore head for two weeks now and I can’t get much out of him about what happened. All he’ll say is Rory explained and apologised but apparently, that didn’t fix anything.”
“He’s having a tough time forgiving her.” Lorelai nodded in understanding. “The way Rory tells it, he feels like she was kind of keeping him away from her real life, like she was ashamed of him or something? I’m positive that was not how she meant for it to seem, Rory is not that girl, but at the same time, I guess I can see why Jess feels that way,” she said, sighing heavily. “Big mess.”
“Real big,” Luke agreed. “Maybe I should’ve wished for a magic wand too.”
“I can’t imagine you as a fairy godmother,” Lorelai quipped.
“Yes, because that’s exactly how I hoped you were picturing me,” Luke dead-panned. “Not that I think you do picture me, at all, in any way,” he began to back-pedal when he saw the look on her face. “I didn’t mean-, and I’m going to stop talking now.”
“Luke,” said Lorelai, her hand on his arm when he tried to get away. “I... I could use some more coffee.”
“Coming right up,” he said, nodding his head as he turned to grab the pot and pour some more java into her cup.
He wandered out amongst the other customers then to see who else needed a refill and Lorelai cursed herself for being so stupid. As much as she wanted the coffee top-up, it wasn’t at all what she was meant to say. Not that she had really planned the words that came after the arm touching and the ‘Luke’ but she wanted it to be something worth saying. She wanted Luke to know that she did picture him. That she pictured the two of them sometimes, on a date somewhere nice. That was what she meant to say and yet the words just hadn’t been there when his eyes met hers.
“Why can I always think of the perfect thing to say five minutes after I need it?” she asked herself crossly.
“I think they call that Murphy’s Law,” said Jess as he appeared from the back.
“Right.” Lorelai nodded. “Pretty sure I’ve heard that before. How are you, Jess? Or is that a stupid question?”
“It’s a valid question,” he considered, “but I don’t think I can give you a decent answer that you’d want to hear.”
Lorelai nodded in understanding and decided not to say anymore. This was what she had been afraid of when she came in, or a part of it anyway. First of all, she didn’t want Luke to be mad at her, but she was mostly sure he wouldn’t be. The other problem was how Jess might react to her presence. She half-expected him to yell obscenities at her at any given moment and, quite honestly, she wasn’t sure she could blame him if he did.
“Look, Jess, I just wanna say, well, for my part of what happened, I am so sorry,” she said fast. “It’s really none of my business, I am aware of that, and I did tell Rory she was being foolish keeping the whole Logan thing from you, but at the end of the day, she’s a grown up, and so are you, and I just-”
“Lorelai, it’s fine,” Jess cut in, sure she was going to turn purple if he didn’t stop her talking so she could breathe soon. “Well, I mean, it’s not fine. Nothing about that situation is fine, but I’m not blaming you.”
“Oh. Well, okay then,” she said, glancing down into her coffee cup. “Thanks.”
“No problem,” Jess assured her. “You just here for the coffee or can I get you something to eat?”
“Maybe a doughnut, please?” she said, tilting her head towards the stand.
Jess removed the lid and Lorelai grabbed the one with pink icing, setting it on the plate that Jess duly put in front of her.
“Anything else? I know from experience that you Gilmore girls don’t usually stop at one of anything.”
Lorelai opened her mouth to answer that, but Jess winced at his own words and cut in again before she could.
“I actually was talking about food. That was not a dig at Rory, I swear.”
“I believe you,” Lorelai assured him. “Let’s face it, if it had been, I couldn’t exactly blame you.”
“No, but it’d be a pretty tasteless joke to make to her mother.”
There was silence for a moment as Lorelai chewed thoughtfully on a bite of doughnut and Jess wiped down the already spotless counter just for something to do.
“So, how’s she doing?” he asked eventually, still looking down.
“She’s busy with Yale,” Lorelai told him. “Trying to keep herself distracted so she doesn’t wonder how you’re doing, I think.”
Jess nodded and continued to move the cloth around pointlessly. He wasn’t even sure why he was asking after Rory, except for the fact that he thought about nothing but her a not small part of the time. She was there behind his eyes when he slept, and dancing around in his brain all day long as he worked, read books, dealt with edits on his manuscript, and hung out with the band. No matter what he did, he couldn’t shake her. Everything reminded Jess of Rory, all of the time. He wanted to see her, but he knew it made him a fool. He needed her, but he so wished he didn’t.
“Can I tell her I saw you?” asked Lorelai carefully. “I mean, she would never ask, it wouldn’t even occur to her that I might come here, I don’t think, though if I mention I was in town signing off the papers for the inn sale-”
“You actually bought the inn?” asked Jess, finally coming out of a Rory-induced haze for a moment.
“It’s official, as of today.” Lorelai nodded. “Proprietor of the Independence Inn, Lorelai Victoria Gilmore.”
“Thanks,” she said, grinning a moment before the happy expression faded. “It’s a little anticlimactic with the way things are at home. My parents won’t necessarily be too impressed, which is to be expected with Emily and Richard, but they’re going to be even more underwhelmed when they find out both of us were keeping secrets, not just Rory,” she explained, sighing heavily. “The person I most want to celebrate with is still officially the eighth dwarf, Mopey,” she said, smirking slightly. “Not that I’m saying that’s your fault, because obviously, I get why you can’t just let all this go. I was just thinking maybe I could say that I saw you today and that you didn’t hate her so much anymore, or something.”
“I never hated Rory,” Jess told her definitely. “I wanted to. It would be a hell of a lot easier if I could, but I can’t.”
Lorelai nodded, drank some more of her coffee, and wished that Luke would come back to talk to her instead. She didn’t mind talking with Jess, he was a nice guy from what she could tell, but this could not be any more awkward if it tried. Just when Luke looked like he might be returning to the counter, he dropped off the coffee pot and headed out back into the kitchen, yelling at Caesar for something or other. Lorelai sighed.
“If you want to tell her something, tell her I said hi,” said Jess at last. “Tell her... tell her I hope she’s doing okay.”
“I would love to tell her that.” Lorelai smiled. “Thanks.”
Jess nodded before having to move away and take another customer’s order.
“What do you want, Kirk?” he asked, not exactly eager for the banal conversation that would doubtless follow, but it seemed he had very little choice in the matter.
“How much do you want for your car?”
“Geez, not this again.” Jess rolled his eyes. “Kirk, my car is not for sale.”
“It has a busted windshield and a piece of cardboard where the windshield should be.”
“I know this, Kirk. I put the cardboard there.”
“So, you want to sell the car.”
“No, I don’t.”
“Then why does it have cardboard in the windshield?”
“Because the windshield got broken, and if you ask me how or why or any other dumb questions, I’m going to break another window, and you’re going to be the thing I throw to do it.”
Kirk hopped down from his stool at the sound of those words and backed up a couple of steps.
“In the past two weeks, your hostility has definitely risen back to the levels of when you first moved here,” he said fast before practically running out of the door.
Lorelai watched the whole scene unfold with some curiosity and probably more amusement than she really should. When Kirk was gone and Jess had stopped glaring like he wanted to kill someone, she dared to ask what was going on.
“What happened to your car?” she said carefully. “I mean, I get that the windshield got busted out, but Stars Hollow never seems like much of a vandalism place.”
“Depends on who you piss off.” Jess sighed. “There’s this girl I used to know, she came back to town and... well, she wanted to pick up where we left off. I thought about it, I mean, this was right after everything with Rory and-”
“And then you changed your mind and ex-girlfriend took out the pain of rejection on your beloved wheels?”
“Yup.” Jess nodded. “I’m starting to think my life would run a lot smoother without women in it.”
“On behalf of my gender, and mostly my daughter, I think that’d be a real shame,” said Lorelai with a smile.
“Yeah, probably,” Jess agreed, managing a small smile himself before he moved away again.
Luke returned at last and found Lorelai smiling.
“You okay?” he checked. “You look a little... loopy.”
“That is just happiness, my friend,” she told him, still grinning, “and actually, a good helping of old-fashioned hope too.”
Luke didn’t really know what she was talking about, but it was always great to see her smile.
“Hey, babe. Talk about your perfect timing.” Lorelai smiled widely as she and Rory met in the driveway of the house. “I was going to call you soon, find out if you were coming home this weekend.”
She moved to hug her daughter and Rory hugged back, so much so that when Lorelai tried to let go, she found she couldn’t.
“Sweets? You okay there?”
Rory finally released her mom and backed up a step, wiping her face with her sleeve.
“I’m sorry,” she said, sniffling a little. “It’s been a long week.”
“And you miss Jess still,” said Lorelai knowingly. “Well, I have a little news on that front. I swung by the diner yesterday and I talked to Jess, and he said to tell you he said hi and he hoped you were doing okay.”
“He said that?” Rory checked, eyes widening with wonder.
“Pretty sure those were the exact words.” Lorelai nodded. “He also said he never hated you, that he couldn’t. I mean, it was no confession of true love and I can’t say he’s looking to get back together or anything, but it’s hopeful, right?”
“It’s hopeful,” Rory agreed, smiling even as tears still seemed to be building in her eyes. “I keep on thinking maybe I could call him or go see him, but every time, I tell myself that’s the wrong thing. I mean, he walked away, I should wait for him to do something, right? But then I think maybe he’s expecting me to, and it all goes around and around in my head until I’m dizzy,” she admitted, hands going to her temples as the usual Jess-induced headache began again.
“Aww, honey,” Lorelai sympathised, putting an arm around Rory’s shoulders and walking her up to the door. “I know it’s all a big old mess, but you’ll get through it, I know you will. Maybe this weekend take a drive over to Stars Hollow, just casually drop into the diner and see if Jess is around. You know, casually. I’ll even come along if it would help.”
“Maybe.” Rory nodded. “Thanks, mom.”
“Hey, it’s what I’m here for.” Lorelai smiled. “Also, I have some pretty awesome news to share tonight, something that might even make your grandparents proud, though I wouldn’t go holding your breath or anything because hey, this is me versus Richard and Emily that we’re talking about here,” she noted, rolling her eyes as they headed into the house.
No sooner were they through the door than Lorelai realised the night was not going to go as planned. So much for worrying that her parents wouldn’t take her buying the inn news so well, now she wasn’t even going to get the chance to make the announcement. It seemed they had company.
“Lorelai, Rory,” said Emily, standing up fast.
“Hey, Mom, Dad.” Lorelai raised one hand in a quick wave. “Mr and Mrs Huntzberger,” she added flatly.
Next to her, Rory didn’t say a word, just stared at Logan’s parents a moment and then made a great study of the carpet.
“Now Rory, my dear, don’t look so worried,” her grandfather advised her. “Come and sit down, talk with Mitchum and Shira. They really don’t blame you at all for what happened, you know?”
“Of course, not,” said Mitchum, smiling by the time Rory dared to glance up again. “I was just telling your grandparents, the last thing we want is for this silly misunderstanding to come between our families.”
“Exactly,” Richard agreed, rising from his chair. “Now, Lorelai, Rory, take a seat and I’ll fix some more drinks,” he insisted, doing just that.
The Gilmore girls shared a look and then sank down beside each other on the couch with Emily. Mitchum was still smiling at them, Shira was having to force herself to make a similar expression. Lorelai struggled to figure out if she was pissed about this whole situation or just fighting the pull of the Botox. Either way, it was a relief to Lorelai to have a drink put in her hand and she thanked her dad for it, taking a good long sip.
“So, you guys aren’t mad at Rory for what happened?” she checked, taking a hold of her daughter’s hand just in case things did turn ugly.
“Absolutely not,” Mitchum assured them both.
“Young people do the silliest things,” said Shira, still with the fake smile. “It really shouldn’t come between two families that have been as close as ours for so many years.”
“I’ll drink to that,” said Emily, primly sipping her martini as Shira did the same.
“Logan isn’t such a bad kid.” Mitchum sighed. “He’s been foolish on this occasion and I actually think I should apologise to you, Rory, for his getting you mixed up in his plans.”
“It’s fine,” Rory insisted. “I could’ve said no, I chose to go along with it, and I’m sorry that I did.”
“Well, as my grandmother used to say, ‘Least said, soonest mended’,” Mitchum smiled.
If six people in a room had ever been more awkward, Lorelai would like to meet them so she could be really impressed by their particular situation. As it was, Emily had hardly spoken to Rory since the disaster of an engagement party and yet was suddenly pretending to play nice in front of company. Lorelai was bursting to tell her own family the big news about the inn but refused to do it while the Huntzbergers were there. Rory looked as if she wanted the ground to open up and swallow her the whole entire time and Shira seemed to want to be anywhere but there also.
It was really only Richard and Mitchum that seemed at all comfortable in their situation, and they carried the conversation, mostly talking about business and golf until finally Shira suggested they go and leave ‘these good people’ in peace. That particular phrase caused a snort of laughter that Lorelai struggled to hide in her martini glass.
“Well, that was just awful,” said Emily when the other couple were gone.
“Didn’t seem so bad to me, Mom.” Lorelai shrugged. “They’re cool about the whole situation. No harm, no foul.”
“Nobody is ‘cool’ about this situation, Lorelai,” her mother told her sternly. “Logan and Rory tried to make a mockery of marriage.”
“Emily,” said Richard in a warning tone. “Please don’t start again. Both Logan and Rory are well aware that their choice was a foolish one and they’re sorry. Now the Huntzbergers are being adults about it, I’m sure we can be too, no matter how disappointed we may yet feel,” he said, glancing at Rory.
Though she still didn’t look thrilled about it, Emily did let it go. Rory sighed with relief and then hoped it hadn’t been loud enough for anyone else to hear.
“So, now it’s just us, I have news,” said Lorelai, grinning for more than one reason. “Now, this may come as a shock to you guys, but for the last few weeks, I have been having pretty serious business-type talks with Mia about the Independence Inn. As you know, I have been working there a very long time, practically running the place in Mia’s absence, and she seems to think I’ve been doing a really great job. However, she was looking to sell the business. So, long story incredibly short... I bought the inn.”
There was silence for a few moments, Lorelai swore she could hear crickets, and then suddenly Richard spoke.
“You bought an inn?” he checked, expression frankly unreadable.
“I did,” Lorelai confirmed. “And before you ask, Dad, yes, I did all the proper checks, went through the processes, had several valuations, got a lawyer to look over the contracts, everything was done properly. I used my business degree to its fullest, and then with the money I earned through working and what I had from that investment you made for me, I could afford to buy the inn. So, I did. Business owner, right here,” she said, gesturing at herself with both pointer fingers.
“Well,” said Emily at last, “I suppose congratulations are in order.”
Lorelai suspected sarcasm for a moment or two before she realised her mother was actually, genuinely smiling at her. Then Richard was fetching champagne and Emily was running after the maid, instructing her on the appropriate glasses to bring through. Lorelai looked to Rory who was staring into her soda.
“So, they’re proud of me, actually celebrating something I’ve done,” she said in apparent confusion, “and they’re kinda pissed at you for a bad boyfriending decision. Did we just pull a Freaky Friday or what?”
“I don’t know if this is such a good idea,” said Rory, hovering on the doorstep of Luke’s Diner. “What if he gets mad when he sees me?”
“Rory, honey, Jess is not going to be mad when he sees you,” she insisted. “Come on, last night, you were so ready for this.”
“Last night, I had three glasses of champagne,” Rory reminded her. “You know how I get with champagne. Skydiving would’ve seemed like a good idea if you’d asked me.”
“Well, I think facing Jess is a lot safer than jumping from a plane,” said Lorelai, moving to open the door and physically pushing Rory through it.
Jess was not immediately in sight when the Gilmore girls entered and Rory wasn’t sure if she was relieved or disappointed as she and her mom found a table and sat down. After a moment or two, it was a young Asian woman who came over to take their order.
“What can I get you?”
“Oh, um, two coffees to start please,” said Lorelai, “and then... um, well, we’ll get back to you on the rest, but definitely coffee for now.”
The waitress stared at Lorelai then looked at Rory for a second, then she started grinning.
“Oh my God, are you Rory and Lorelai?” she asked them, wide-eyed with wonder apparently.
“That would be us.” Lorelai nodded slowly. “I’m sorry, I don’t-”
“Lane Kim,” she introduced herself. “I work here, obviously, and I’m in Hep Alien, you know, the band, with Jess. Well, Jess manages the band.”
“Right, gotcha,” said Lorelai, pointing her finger at Lane. “So, Lane, any chance of coffee?”
“Absolutely,” Lane agreed, rushing off to fulfil their order.
“You think she’s going to tell Jess we’re here?” said Rory in a whisper.
“Wouldn’t it be good if she did?” Lorelai whispered back. “Come on, honey, what else are we here for?”
“Well, duh.” Her mother rolled her eyes. “But still, you gotta admit, that’s not all that you’re craving from this place.”
“Two coffees,” said a voice that was distinctly not Lane.
Rory looked up to see Jess and wasn’t sure whether to laugh or cry.
“Hi,” she said shakily.
“Hi,” he replied, smiling a little.
Lorelai looked between the two of them and fast felt like a third wheel. She tried to get up without making too much noise but the chair scraped horribly against the tile and she winced.
“Okay, not stealthy,” she admitted, “but trying to be subtle. I’m going up to the counter to... read the special’s board,” she said lamely, hurrying away. “Talk amongst yourselves,” she advised.
“Yeah, she’s very subtle,” said Jess when she was gone.
“The subtlest,” Rory agreed, looking down into her coffee. “You want to sit?” she asked Jess, never even glancing up, even when he answered her.
“I’m probably due a break.”
Jess sat down in Lorelai’s abandoned seat and still Rory didn’t look anywhere but into her cup. There was a long uncomfortable silence which he was about to break by saying maybe this was a bad idea when suddenly Rory spoke.
“I’m sorry, Jess. I don’t think I could be more sorry if I tried and... and I miss you so much. I know you’re probably still mad at me-”
“I’m not,” he cut in, finally getting her attention. “I was before, and I tried to stay that way, but I couldn’t. I’m not denying you screwed up, Rory, because you did, big time, but... I miss you too,” he admitted, smiling slightly.
Rory hardly dared to smile back or speak or anything. She didn’t want to lose this moment, this perfect moment when Jess might actually be telling her he understood and forgave her and wanted her back. She knew she needed to say something, she just wished she knew what.
“So, does this mean...?”
“It means I think maybe we should go out sometime, somewhere where people can see us, maybe even somewhere where we might purposefully run into people that know at least one of us,” he told her, smile turning into a smirk that she had also missed too much.
“That sounds really, really good,” said Rory, more softly than she meant to. “Um, a bunch of people I know at Yale are having this party on Friday night, a big crazy blow out to get everyone pumped up before they head out for Spring Break. You wanna go with me?”
“Sounds... awful,” said Jess, making a face, “but I’ll go” he added quickly, just as Rory started to worry. “If you’re gonna be there, it’ll be worth it.”
“Okay.” Rory nodded. “I can come by to drive you-”
“I’ll drive myself over. Not like I don’t know the way,” he said, smiling as he got up from the seat. “I should go, let your mom have her seat back, but I guess I’ll see you Friday at your dorm?”
“Around eight,” she agreed, nodding her head as he walked away.
When Lorelai returned to the table she was almost blinded by the force of Rory’s grin.
“So, that went well, huh?”
“So well!” Rory agreed happily. “Thank you so much for making me come here,” she said, leaning over to hug her mom.
“You’re welcome, sweetie,” she said, laughing at how ridiculous that sounded, but also just because she was thrilled for her baby girl. “Hey, you’re not the only one having a real good day,” she said as Rory pulled away and sat back down in her seat. “While I was up there, I got talking to Luke. I was thanking him, again, for his advice and stuff when I was figuring out buying the inn, and then, out of nowhere, I kinda asked him out to dinner.”
“You asked Luke out on a date?” asked Rory with wide eyes.
“Kinda, yeah,” Lorelai agreed. “And the best part is, he actually said yes! So, Friday night is date night.”
“For me too.” Rory laughed. “Jess and me are going to a party, a public event where everyone will see us together,” she said proudly.
“Damn, it is a good day for the Gilmore girls,” Lorelai declared, clinking her coffee mug against Rory’s own.
They both happily drank to that.
Rory wasn’t sure she had ever been so excited about a Friday night, especially one where she wasn’t going home from college. This weekend, she was staying at Yale, she was going to a party, and the best part was that Jess would be there.
“So,” said Paris, appearing in the doorway of Rory’s bedroom, “tonight’s the night. You’re bringing the actual boyfriend to the party?”
“That’s the plan.” Rory grinned at her in the mirror as she finished off her make-up. “I don’t know why I was so afraid of this before. I don’t think I even realised that I was afraid until it was too late. There is no reason why Jess can’t fit right in with my friends, right?”
When Paris didn’t answer, Rory turned to look at her and found her gone. Frowning, she got up from her seat and hurried out into the next room.
“Come on, Rory, you’re not this naïve.” Her friend rolled her eyes. “The girls at Yale are going to think Jess is just dreamy, the guys might even think he’s cool, and that’s great, but this isn’t the big step you’re pretending it is and you know it,” she said, arms folded over her chest. “Yale is the middle ground, the safety net. There’s not so much judgement here. Sure, you have to be smart to get in, but you don’t necessarily have to have the status that your family and mine are known for.”
“Are we talking about class again?” Rory sighed. “Paris, nobody cares about that anymore.”
“Nobody here maybe” Paris agreed, “but can you really imagine taking Mariano home to meet Richard and Emily?”
Rory opened her mouth to say yes, she absolutely could imagine that, and then she actually did start imagining it and wished she hadn’t. Grandma still wasn’t really okay with the idea that Rory wasn’t going to marry Logan and that she had shamed the family name by pretending and lying. Grandpa was a little more understanding, but he did have a habit of suggesting that someone ‘just as good as Logan’ will come along one day and be perfect for Rory.
The older generation did tend to have their own ideas about what was best for their children and grandchildren, and Rory knew that blue blood families like the Gilmores, the Gellers, and the Huntzbergers had certain ideas about what a suitable match was. One thing Rory knew for sure was that Jess would not be their idea of suitable at all.
“Look, we just got back to a good place,” she told Paris eventually. “I’m not even sure we’re officially back together yet, but if and when that happens, and I really hope it does, then at some point, I will introduce Jess to my grandparents and I’m sure they will like him.”
Paris stared at her for a long moment with eyes so wide it was almost comical.
“Yeah, you’re deluding yourself,” she said eventually, “but hey, if that’s what you need to do for now, go for it, Gilmore.”
She turned back towards her own room then and Rory meant to call after her, telling her she was wrong. Unfortunately, it was impossible. Sometimes Rory hated that Paris was right so much, especially about things like this, but there was just no denying that she definitely had a point. Emily and Richard were unlikely to ever see Jess as a suitable boyfriend for Rory, but that didn’t mean Rory herself saw him that way. She loved him, she was so sure of that. There was no way she could have suffered his loss so badly if she didn’t. After everything, she wasn’t prepared to give him up a second time, not for anyone or anything, and if that meant facing the further wrath of her grandparents, well, then, that was something she would just have to do. The way things were going with her mom and Luke lately, Rory doubted she would be alone.
Checking her watch, Rory hurried back to her room then. It was close to eight o’clock, Jess could be arriving any minute and she wanted to be ready. Double checking her hair and make-up, she decided she looked good enough. Just in time, as a knock on the door sent her running out to meet Jess, since she didn’t want Paris to get there first. Rory opened the door and felt her breath catch at the sight of him.
“Hi,” she forced out, blinking hard as she looked him over.
It wasn’t as if he had dressed up at all, he looked perfectly normal, but normal for Jess was pretty damn good, Rory knew. She had just gotten out of the habit of seeing him, she supposed, and was happy to bask in the fact that he was back in her life now, gorgeous as ever, and equally as charming too.
“Hey,” he said, smiling at her. “You look amazing.”
“Two minds, one thought,” she said absently. “Um, come in,” she said, moving aside so that he could, just as Paris appeared from her room.
“So, the rebel returns,” she said with a look.
“Nice to see you again, Paris.” Jess nodded.
“Hey, don’t get me wrong, I’m glad you’re here,” she said definitely. “Any more of emo-style Gilmore and I was going to crack. Anyway, I guess I’ll see you two at the party, if I can stand to be there long enough for you to even get there.” She rolled her eyes. “Honestly, keeping up appearances socially is just painful sometimes,” she muttered as she squeezed between Rory and Jess and finally left.
“Are all your friends as charming as her?” he asked with a smirk.
“No, Paris is definitely in a league of her own.” Rory smiled. “Um, so we should go?”
“We probably should,” Jess agreed, and yet neither of them moved yet.
It was so strange, neither of them seemed to be sure exactly what they were waiting for, and yet, there they stood, one each to the left and right of the door, not opening it, not even suggesting they ought to try. They were looking everywhere but at each other, and then suddenly their eyes met, their arms went around each other, and they were kissing like their lives depended on it. It was a while before they bothered to come up for air and yet both were smiling all the same.
“Okay,” Rory breathed. “God, I missed that,” she admitted shakily.
“Well, at least we know that part still works,” said Jess, tucking her hair back behind her ear.
Rory nodded her agreement, revelling in the feeling of being so close to him again, almost wishing she could be closer and yet afraid to suggest it. After all, Jess came here to go to a party with her, a gathering that would probably prove to be kind of lame, and yet, there was a purpose to their going. If they stayed there in the dorm together, there was no denying they would have a good time, but they wouldn’t be moving forward. Their relationship would be back to what it had been before, an illicit liaison, a string of sexual encounters that hardly anybody knew about but them. Rory didn’t want that anymore, at least, not just that. She wanted this relationship to mean something, to be real.
“Come on,” she said, taking a hold of Jess’ hand and encouraging him towards the door. “There’s time for that later,” she insisted. “We have a party to go to. I want to show the world, or at least Yale, how great my boyfriend is,” she said, smiling at him.
“Sounds good.” Jess nodded, grinning right back at her. “Let’s go.”
“Hey, you’re here,” said Lorelai, leaping up from her seat as Luke appeared.
“Yeah, sorry if I’m late,” he said, looking awkward as he checked his watch.
“Oh, you’re not. I was early. Way early,” she explained. “It’s weird, I never... well, I never actually asked a guy out before. I mean, I’ve been on dates, obviously, but it was a while ago and the guy asked me, picked me up, that whole thing-”
“Oh, well, maybe I should’ve-”
“No, no. I wasn’t... I mean, I’m just saying this is a little weird for me.”
“Honestly? It’s a little weird for me too,” Luke admitted, the both of them seemingly having a competition to see who could look more awkward in that moment. “Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad you asked and I’m happy to be here, it’s just...”
“Weird,” Lorelai supplied, laughing nervously. “Well, now we’re both here, how about we sit and try to act normal?”
“I will if you will.” Luke nodded, waiting for Lorelai to sit down again before joining her.
His gentlemanly manners were not lost on her, in fact, they made her smile. Lorelai couldn’t help but think of her parents, how one day they might meet Luke, maybe, hopefully, and if they did, for all the things about him they might find to pick on, they would have to admit he was a gentleman with impeccable manners, at least.
“What?” he asked, catching her staring and smiling oddly at him. “Should I be wearing a tie?”
“No, no. No, that’s not... You look great,” Lorelai assured him.
“Oh, thanks,” Luke replied, shifting awkwardly. “You also look great... and I should’ve said that when I came in.”
“It’s fine.” Lorelai waved away his concern with her hand. “It’s crazy really, I don’t know why this feels so strange. I mean, we have conversations in the diner all the time and now, in a different eatery, it suddenly feels weird.”
“I don’t know why that is.” Luke shook his head. “I mean, it’s not that I don’t want to be here. I mean, I appreciated the invitation, not that you needed to, I don’t know, pay me back or anything. I was just being a friend.”
“A friend, right.” Lorelai nodded. “Well, that’s what this is, a friendly meal, with a friend. I mean, yeah, it’s a thank you, kind of, for all the help with the inn, business stuff, all of that, but mostly just friends eating together.”
Silence reigned after they made their agreement on being just friends and Lorelai tried to supress the sigh that wanted to escape. She was such an idiot. She did not want to be just friends with Luke. Not that what they had so far wasn’t great, but more would be even better. Now he was going to think she wasn’t interested in that at all.
On the other side of the table, Luke was similarly kicking himself. Lorelai was great and he could not have been more thrilled when she asked him out to dinner, even if he had been kind of surprised and felt a little silly that he hadn’t made the first move. Now she was suggesting that this wasn’t a move at all, but just a dinner between friends. Maybe if he had just said something about them potentially being more than that, she would have been okay with it. Now, Luke supposed, he would never know.
“So, this is what it’s like to party at Yale,” said Jess, sipping his warm beer and surveying the scene.
“This is it.” Rory nodded. “Impressed?”
“Bowled over,” he dead-panned, making her laugh.
“I never promised it would be an exciting affair.”
“Very true. It is nice to meet your friends though,” Jess admitted, raising a hand when a girl waved at him from the area designated as the dancefloor.
“Lucy’s great.” Rory smiled. “Marty too. I’m not all that close with anybody else here, to be honest. A lot of my friends don’t actually go to Yale, except for... um, well...”
“Logan?” said Jess, trying and failing at keeping his voice even.
“Yes, Logan,” Rory agreed, “and some others, who are also friends with him. Jess, I’m sorry, I-”
“Hey, don’t worry about it,” he said, waving away her concern with his free hand. “It’s not like I expected you to never mention the guy. You’ve known him a long time, right?”
“I have.” Rory nodded. “And as much as you probably don’t want to hear this right now, I feel like I should say it anyway. You know, Logan really isn’t a bad guy. He got in a fix and he asked me for a favour. I know it was really, really dumb. I think even he realises the stupidity inherent in the plan now, so I was thinking if you’ve found a way to forgive me, maybe you can forgive him too?” she said hopefully, squirming terribly as she continued. “I just don’t want to feel like I can’t mention him or that there’s going to be some major problem if you guys ever run into each other. You want to be a part of my world and I want that too, but Logan is there. I don’t want to have to choose between being with you and keeping a good friend.”
It all came out in such a rush, Jess was sure if he hadn’t long since adjusted to the speed at which the Gilmore girls talked, he never would’ve caught everything Rory just said. As it was, he almost wished he hadn’t heard it all so he didn’t have to give in and tell her it was okay. He really would prefer if he never had to hear about, see, or even think about Logan Huntzberger ever again, but that wasn’t going to happen. Asking Rory to choose between Logan and himself really would be unfair, Jess supposed, even if the larger part of him wished it wasn’t.
“Jess, please understand,” she urged him, when he didn’t answer for too long. “You know you mean a lot to me, and I’m not saying that Logan means more, because he doesn’t, but he has been a good friend to me for so many years, and we have a lot of other friends in common. It would be so hard to cut him out of my life-”
“I’m not asking you to do that,” said Jess fast. “Rory, I’m not,” he promised her, his hand on her arm.
“That’s good. Thank you.”
“You don’t have to thank me for saying you can keep your friend. Geez, what kind of guy would I be if I tried to do that to you?”
“Not the great guy that I know you are.” Rory smiled, leaning in to kiss his lips. “I just don’t want to make things tough on you next time we go to a party and he’s there.”
Jess smiled at the fact Rory was so easily talking about some future date of theirs, as if there was absolutely no question that it wouldn’t happen. That meant more to him than she probably realised.
“C’mere,” he said, pulling her to him and kissing her firmly. “I can handle being in the same room with Huntzberger,” he assured her when they parted, foreheads still touching. “Though I’ll admit, I’m kinda glad that he’s not here tonight.”
“Me too actually,” Rory told him, smiling.
“You know those girls?” he asked them, looking past her shoulder.
Rory turned to see who he was talking about and frowned some. “Um, no, I don’t, actually,” she realised. “Why?”
“No reason.” Jess shook his head. “I just thought they were staring because they knew you, but apparently not,” he noted, smirking a little into his beer.
“Nope, they’re staring at my really hot boyfriend and getting jealous,” said Rory proudly, pulling on his free hand until he was on his feet. “Come on, let’s dance really close and make them turn even more shades of green.”
Jess laughed at the idea but went with it anyway, because honestly, why the hell not?
“So,” said Lorelai as she and Luke stepped out of the restaurant into the cold night air.
“So,” he echoed back, shifting awkwardly a couple of feet away from her on the pavement.
They had managed to strike up some pretty decent conversation over dinner, despite the rocky start, but all in all, neither one could say the evening had gone entirely as they had hoped. Now came the part where they went their separate ways and Lorelai couldn’t help the wave of disappointment that was crashing around inside of her.
She thought she was being brave when she asked Luke out to dinner like this, and kind of hoped she could pass the bravery baton onto him when it came to moving forward another step. Clearly, she was wrong, unless of course he just didn’t like her as much as she thought.
“You okay?” he asked, letting her know her frustration and disappointment was showing on her face.
“Um, no... or yes,” she said awkwardly. “I was just thinking, maybe I shouldn’t have suggested this whole going out to dinner thing. I mean, you probably had better things to do than spend the evening with me anyway, you know, diner stuff or... or personal stuff, because obviously your whole life isn’t the diner, I didn’t mean that. What I meant was, it was probably kind of selfish of me to just assume that dinner with me would be a treat for you. Makes me seem a little fat-headed when you think about it, and clearly, you would rather be elsewhere, so-”
“Lorelai?” he said, catching her attention and finally making her stop talking.
“Could you just hold still for a second?”
Before she could ask why or even think about what was about to happen next, Lorelai felt Luke’s hand slide behind her head and then he was kissing her and it didn’t matter that she couldn’t breathe or that they were out on the street where anyone could see them. Her arms slid around Luke as his own pulled her closer and what seemed to be the perfect kiss went on and on and on...
Jess woke up to unfamiliar surroundings and a warm body curled up against his own. It didn’t take him long to recall that this was Rory’s bed in her dorm at Yale, and that last night’s reunion date had gone really, really well. Okay, so they hadn’t exactly hung out with all of her friends, Jess still hadn’t met any of Rory’s family beyond her mom, and to be perfectly honest, the party they attended was just this side of lame, but that was okay.
Things had changed, nothing earth-shattering exactly but still, it was there. Jess actually felt like they were together now, that he was really with Rory, that she was his girlfriend and this all meant something. Maybe guys weren’t supposed to care about stuff like that. Jess knew plenty that were perfectly happy just so long as they were getting laid and actually found the relationship stuff a real hassle. That just wasn’t him, and it had been disappointing to think that Rory could be that way at all. Now he knew he was wrong about that. Sure, she screwed up in the whole Huntzberger situation, but everybody made mistakes, especially in the pursuit of helping out people they cared about. Rory had more than explained and definitely apologised. Jess couldn’t doubt her sincerity, or her enthusiasm in having him back in her life.
Last night really had been amazing, Jess recalled, with a smile that wouldn’t shift, as he leaned over to place gentle kisses on Rory’s lips until she woke.
“Hmm.” She smiled as she finally opened her eyes to see him lying there beside her. “That’s a nice way to wake up,” she said, arms reaching to pull him closer for a real kiss that she was now fully awake to really enjoy. “Good morning.”
“Good morning,” Jess replied, pushing her hair from her face. “So, I think we can call last night a success.”
“I concur.” Rory grinned.
“I actually meant the party.”
“Ah, yes, but the after-party was also highly successful. At least, I thought so.”
“Far be it for me to argue with an intelligent, articulate woman,” Jess told her solemnly.
“I’m not sure I was being all that articulate last night.”
“Well, those were exceptional circumstances,” he said, smirking terribly.
“I would like to say you’re being a little too proud of yourself there, mister, but honestly, it was all kind of exceptional,” she agreed, kissing him one more time. “You know it was pretty great having you with me at that party too. I liked you and me being an us, you know?”
“I know.” Jess nodded.
Rory opened her mouth to say something else but then changed her mind. There was another apology and an excuse on the tip of her tongue, but she knew Jess neither wanted nor needed those things. She still felt bad about keeping him cut out of her life the way she had, even if it hadn’t really been deliberate. How she was ever going to introduce him to her grandparents or even make a situation work that involved both Jess and Logan she had no idea, but at least Rory wanted to try, she really, truly did. That ought to mean something.
“You’re doing it again,” said Jess, looking vaguely amused, though Rory had no idea why. “You get this look on your face when you feel guilty and awkward,” he explained. “For the millionth time, Ror, it’s okay. You’re sorry for how things were before, I get it, it’s done. New chapter, turn the page, let it go.”
“I’m trying to,” she promised him with a sigh. “I just wish life didn’t always have to be so complicated.”
“If everything was happiness and rainbows all the time, it’d be really, really dull,” Jess reminded her. “Some of the best novels and movies in history had some pretty complicated plot twists and awful things happening before the happy ending. That’s why people love them.”
“What about your book?” she asked them, pressing her body up closer against his own. “What exactly happens in that story?” she continued, pressing kisses to his neck and chest.
Jess wanted to call her on it, using her feminine wiles, to coin an old phrase, in order to find out the plot of the tale that would yet be a published book. She had been trying to get details out of him for a while, both before the break in their relationship and last night on their reunion date, even in this very bed, though he had managed to distract her off the topic before. Now it seemed she was trying to use his own tactics against him. He meant to tell her that her plan would never work, but quite honestly, his defences were beginning to crumble. Rory might have got her own way after all, if she hadn’t suddenly leapt away from him as if burned.
“Oh, wow. Did you know it was eight thirty already?” she asked, clearly having spotted the clock on the nightstand out of the corner of her eye. “I have a meeting with my advisor at nine!” she yelled, throwing the covers aside and jumping out of bed.
Jess was too busy recovering from almost being seduced, as well as enjoying the view of a very naked Rory running around the room, reality didn’t really sink in with him for a minute or two. Only when his girlfriend went running from her room, partially dressed, to yell at Paris for not waking her sooner, did Jess really take note of the time.
“Eight thirty?” he checked, turning towards the clock, before cursing colourfully and leaping out of the bed, much as Rory had done. “Aww, geez.”
Jess was supposed to open up the diner... an hour ago!
Luke woke up wondering why he couldn’t feel his left arm at all and why his bed seemed to have shrunk. It didn’t take him long to recall that it was Lorelai’s company he had so enjoyed last night, in more ways than one, and that the whole dinner date situation had turned out really, really well. Okay, so they hadn’t exactly started out strong, failing to even make conversation work until the main course arrived, but that was okay, because they got their in the end.
Things had certainly changed now. So much for just being friends. It was what Luke had intended when he and Lorelai met, at least he thought that was what he intended. There was certainly no denying she was beautiful and funny and sweet and a whole bundle of other things that Luke could never ascribe a name to that were uniquely Lorelai and wonderfully attractive to him. Still, he hadn’t really given dating much thought, much less dating a woman like her.
When she asked him out to dinner, he really had assumed she was just being kind, thanking him for the help he gave her with buying the inn, not that he’d done that much exactly. Luke hoped it meant more, he just hadn’t really believed it until it was suddenly made very clear to him.
Last night really had been amazing, he recalled, with a smile that wouldn’t shift, as he watched Lorelai sleep on. He reached out to gently move her hair from her face, let his fingers trail down her arm as he curled up behind her. His eyes had barely closed again when she began to stir.
“Hmm.” She sort of sighed as she woke, turning over in the bed and looking momentarily startled to find herself not alone, then a welcome smile spread across her lips. “Good morning.”
“Morning,” Luke replied, feeling a little less self-conscious now he saw she was clearly just as uncertain. “So, last night was... good.”
“Last night was great,” Lorelai amended for him. “At least, I have no complaints.”
“Or great,” Luke amended.
“Yeah, let’s go with great.” Lorelai grinned, moving closer to kiss his lips. “Honestly? I did not see things going this way quite so fast,” she admitted, eyes dipping to their clearly naked bodies beneath the sheets, “but absolutely no regrets right here.”
“None here either,” Luke promised her, meaning every word. “You know, I haven’t exactly dated a whole lot since... well, long before Jess moved in,” he realised. “I don’t know, I guess there was just never anyone that I looked at that way, until you.”
“Well, I’m willing to admit there have been dates in my recent past, but not the kind that end up like this,” she explained, wondering why at her age and in her current state of being she was actually blushing, but certain she was doing so anyway. “I mean, after my divorce, all my focus was on Rory and then later, my work and everything. I don’t know, I guess I’m like you, there was never a person that I felt that strongly about... until now.”
Their eyes met again and their lips followed. There was no denying whatever was between them was incredibly special. It seemed amazing that they had discovered something so rare, and right after her daughter and his nephew had done the same. Not that Luke and Lorelai were especially thinking about the young people in their lives right now. They only had time for each other as they rolled around in bed like teenagers.
“Hmm, this is great,” said Lorelai, reluctantly pulling away. “I’m sorry, but as unromantic as I know it is, I really, really have to use your bathroom,” she admitted. “Also, in complete honesty mode, my caffeine is running super-low. Is there coffee?”
“For you, there is always coffee,” Luke promised, smiling fondly at her as he planted one more kiss on her lips. “You go to the bathroom, I’ll throw on some pants and go get you some coffee,” he said, moving to do just that.
It was only as they were both in motion, Lorelai almost to the bathroom door wearing nothing but a sheet and Luke half way into his jeans when a thought hit him.
“Do you hear anything?” he asked, frowning some.
“It’s past nine. Jess was supposed to open up the diner, but I don’t hear anything.”
A burst of laughter escaped Lorelai’s lips startling Luke just a little.
“Well, honey, think about it,” she said with a look. “Last night, Jess and Rory, back together at last? I’m guessing he got... you know, way-laid.”
With that she disappeared into the bathroom, even as Luke’s face screwed up at the very idea of his nephew having sex, especially with Lorelai’s daughter. Not that he had a problem with it as such, he just never needed to have the imagery in his head is all.
Of course, as he got up to head downstairs and his eyes landed on the bed that he and Lorelai spent last night in, the smile was back. She was like no other woman he had ever met, and if he didn’t know any better, Luke would say he was in love with her already.
Shaking his head and wondering what the hell was happening to him, Luke pulled on a shirt for good measure and headed downstairs. He got a surprise when he found that Jess actually was there, but it seemed he had just barely arrived.
“I’m sorry,” he said fast, the moment his uncle came into view. “I know I’m late. Something came up... or maybe I’m gonna pick a different way of phrasing that,” he said, realising how overly accurate it might actually be.
“Please, don’t explain anymore,” said Luke, waving a hand to make him stop.
The two of them set about working together like the well-oiled machine they were, pulling down chairs, firing up the coffee machine, and trying to ignore the line of customers outside waiting to get in for their usual breakfast and snacks.
“So, good night last night?” asked Jess, one eyebrow raised as he noted not just Luke’s hastily buttoned shirt, bare feet, and crazy grin, but noises that sounded distinctly like someone moving around upstairs too.
“Yes, thank you,” he answered overly politely. “You?”
“Yeah,” Jess replied, smirking too much. “Pretty good.”
“That’s good.” Luke nodded once.
Nobody said anymore and they didn’t need to, the smiles said it all.
“I’m not denying that I am thrilled that what happened happened. Me and Luke it’s just... Babe, I don’t want to freak you out, but I do not have words for how that man makes me feel, and before you think I’m being dirty, so not. Not that that wasn’t great, but he’s just so kind and sweet and gentlemanly and... and it’s like he really cares, you know?”
“I know,” Rory assured her, unable to keep from smiling just as wide as her face would allow. “I get it exactly, Mom, because that’s kind of what it’s like for me with Jess. I knew I wanted to be with him and I could not have been happier when we got back together, but I was nervous, a little, after everything that went wrong before. Now, it’s all perfect again. Last night was so good, and I don’t want to gross you out either, but every part of our date was perfect. Well, except maybe for the oversleeping.”
“Yes, copy that. Oversleeping bad,” Lorelai agreed wholeheartedly. “I am just so glad the diner has a back door I could sneak out of because otherwise that would’ve been so embarrassing, having to walk by all those people in last night’s clothes!”
“Well, this is what comes of sleeping with the guy on the first date.”
“You’re lucky I know that’s a fake judgey tone.”
Rory giggled a little at that. “Mom, how could I possibly judge you?” she checked, propping the phone between her shoulder and chin so she had two free hands to tidy her room some more. “Jess and I were not even on a date when we first... well, when we got together,” she said diplomatically. “But how could I possibly regret it? He is so great.”
“We’re a pair of real lucky chicks, hon, I know that,” Lorelai told her definitely. “So, it’s spring break and you’re still at Yale because...?”
“Because I had a meeting with my advisor this morning, and then Paris needed me for newspaper stuff, and I really just have not had time to pack up my stuff before I head home.”
“I still cannot believe you’re spending spring break here.” Lorelai laughed. “You’re twenty years old, beautiful and smart, with the world at your feet, and spring break is going to be spent primarily with your mom and your grandparents. Sweets, did I teach you nothing about having fun while you’re young?”
“Um, I don’t want to go back to the judgey tone, fake or otherwise, but Mom, your wild fun days led to teenage pregnancy and dropping out of school, and now you live with your parents... again.”
“Fair point,” Lorelai conceded. “But I’m not saying you should go all-out Girls Gone Wild, especially not when you just got the boyfriend back, but you could have fun. A few days in Florida, a little sun, a little partying?”
“Yes, because that went so well last year,” Rory recalled, “or did you forget that I was just about the only one out of all of us on that trip that did not get arrested?”
“Yeah, maybe it is better that you spend your break in Hartford.”
“Actually, I plan to spend quite a lot of my break in Stars Hollow,” Rory admitted. “Now that Jess and I are back together, we have a lot of time to make up for. I just want to be with him all the time.”
“Ah, young and in love.” Lorelai sighed. “Not that I don’t totally get it, hon. I may not be quite so young as you but Luke and me, it’s pretty serious, and pretty gosh darn good too.”
“I’m really happy for you, Mom.” Rory smiled wider. “But tell me this, if I’m going to be home in a couple of hours, and the only thing holding me up from the packing is this conversation, why are we having it? Wouldn’t it make way more sense for me to pack, come home, and then we talk about boys?”
“See, this is the reason Yale just snapped you up!” Lorelai told her, immediately laughing at her own joke. “Pack fast but drive safe, babe.”
“I’ll be there soon,” Rory promised before they ended their call.
“So, you and Lorelai. Pretty serious, huh?” said Jess, taking the dish out of Luke’s hand and drying it on the towel. “I mean, I don’t think I’ve known you have a woman stay over since I’ve been here.”
“That’s because I haven’t,” his uncle told him easily. “Not that it’s any of your business, of course. I mean, I don’t owe you an explanation about my love life.”
“Geez, I’m not asking for details,” said Jess, hands held up in mock surrender for a moment before Luke handed him the next dish. “I just... I don’t know, I guess I just wanted to say I’m happy for you. You know, if you’re happy.”
Luke smiled a little but recovered back to his usual more neutral expression pretty fast.
“Yeah, well,” he said, concentrating more than was necessary on the cups he was now washing in the sink. “I’m pretty happy for you too. You and Rory, I mean. You know I’m really glad you guys figured that whole mess out.”
“Me too,” Jess agreed, making as big a deal of drying the cups as Luke had made of washing them. “She’ll be around a lot. Rory, I mean, the next week or so. It’s spring break and she wants to hang out, so... she’ll be around.”
“You think I’d have a problem with that?” asked Luke, frowning a little, especially since they just covered the fact that he was happy Jess was back together with Rory.
“I’m just thinking maybe we could switch some shifts around so I’m free when she’s free.” Jess shrugged. “I know I skip out here and there for the band, but mostly I work whenever you need me. I’m way more flexible than any of the other wait staff, and-”
“Jess,” Luke cut in fast. “You can have the time off, you don’t have to convince me about how hard you work. I know,” he told him definitely. “Come on, I just told you how happy I am for you and Rory, obviously you want to spend time together when she’s not busy studying for Yale, so take some time off. I’ll get cover, it’s fine.”
Jess smiled at that. “You know, you have this reputation for being a real ornery jerk in this town, and I know you love that, but they don’t know you, Uncle Luke,” he said, patting him on the shoulder.
“Shut your hole before I change my mind and make you work every shift, every day, all through spring break,” said Luke, trying to look his grumpiest self and yet failing terribly as a smile broke through.
“Yes, sir,” Jess intoned even as he watched Luke walk away, still trying to fake being mad.
He really did have the best uncle around, even if he didn’t admit it much.
“You do know that when your grandparents find out about the guys we’re dating, they’re going to lose their minds.”
It was the first thing Lorelai said to Rory when she came in the front door, startling her more than a bit, not least because she had expected a maid at the door rather than her mom.
“And hello to you too,” she said, blinking hard. “What happened to Mary-Anne?”
“You really need an answer to that question?” Loreal rolled her eyes as she helped Rory drag her bags over the threshold. “After Emily’s uber-rant about the peanuts?”
“Ah, the peanuts.” Rory nodded. “Poor Mary-Anne, she almost made it a whole month. If only she had known the proper nut etiquette.”
“If only,” Lorelai agreed as they headed upstairs with a couple of bags each. “So, exactly how many of these are laundry?”
“Two and a half out of four,” Rory told her. “Go back to what you were saying about Luke and Jess.”
“Ah yes, the wonderful guys in our lives that are so not going to get Gilmore approval.” Lorelai sighed heavily. “I got to thinking about it when Emily came banging on my door, first to tell me about Mary-Anne and then to talk about you. It started out normal, all ‘Won’t it be lovely to have Rory home for spring break?’ and then she started digging in on the subject of your love life post-Huntzberger engagement debacle.”
“Oh God.” Rory groaned as she shuffled into her bedroom with Lorelai on her heels. “Please tell me she’s not hoping me and Logan change our minds.”
“Oh, I’m pretty sure she would love for that to happen, but in the absence of you becoming the wife of the Huntzberger heir, I think she at least hopes to set you up with some other eligible bachelor of good breeding and great fortune.”
She put on an upper crust voice when she said it that might have made Rory laugh at any other time. Unfortunately, it wasn’t happening today because the subject wasn’t in the least bit funny. As if it hadn’t been hard enough having her grandparents find out her engagement to Logan was all fake, Rory dreaded what would happen when they found out about Jess. As amazing as he was, he really wasn’t the kind of guy Emily and Richard would have picked for her. One look at her mom and Rory was reminded that Luke really wasn’t the guy they would want for Lorelai either.
“They’re going to hate them, aren’t they?”
“Hate’s a strong word,” said Lorelai, though her expression betrayed her - she was not half so hopeful as she was trying to be. “I don’t know, babe,” she admitted, coming to sit beside her on the end of the bed. “I mean, we’ve got us two decent, good looking, hardworking guys who treat us like we deserve to be treated. For most parents, or grandparents, that would be enough, but we’re talking about Richard and Emily here. That’s a whole other ballgame.”
“Plus, they’re going to see Jess as the reason why I don’t want to marry Logan, no matter how hard I try to explain.” Rory sighed. “Especially Grandma.”
“Can’t argue with that,” Lorelai admitted. “I don’t think it’s going to help any that Luke is his uncle either. Ugh, we have good taste in guys, I know we do, so why do your grandparents have to be so picky”
“I don’t know. Why do your parents have to be so picky?” Rory countered, her head dropping onto her mom’s shoulder.
“Beats me, kid,” she replied, wrapping an arm around her back and kissing the top of her head. “You think there’s any chance we’re worrying over nothing? I mean, anything is possible, right? There is a teeny tiny chance that one day we tell Emily and Richard that we’re dating these real nice guys who just happen to not be blue blood, rich dude types and they’ll smile and say, ‘Hey, who cares about the money and the status as long as you love them.’ Could happen, right?”
She turned to look at Rory, already sure of what she was going to see in her expression and they both knew it. Lorelai sighed, again.
“It’s not going to happen,” Rory confirmed. “I wish it could, but I kinda don’t see it.”
“Okay, then can we please just keep our new relationships secret from them for just a little while longer?” her mom asked desperately. “I know I was the one telling you to be honest with Jess about Logan, and the not being honest did kind of blow up in your face, and everyone else’s too, but this is different. This is self-preservation of the highest order! This is ensuring that nobody’s head explodes, at least for a little while. That’s a good thing, right?”
Rory mulled it over for a second and then nodded her head.
“For spring break at least, we don’t tell Grandma and Grandpa about the guys,” she agreed, holding out her hand for Lorelai to shake. “We will keep each other’s secret as well as our own... unless either one of us is directly asked if we’re seeing someone. I will not actively lie to my grandparents... any more.”
“Like I would either,” said Lorelai, faking shock and disbelief at the suggestion. “Well, maybe I would, but I won’t this time,” she promised, shaking on the deal.
“You know, I think about my friends, my fellow students, all out there in Florida or wherever, drinking and partying. Those guys have it all wrong. They just have no idea how to really have fun,” said Rory, sighing happily with her head pillowed on Jess’ chest.
“What do they have that we don’t?” her boyfriend asked, eyes closed to against the beating sun as they lay together relaxing on the bridge over the lake. “The sun, the water, food and drink.”
“They have sand,” Rory considered, “but honestly, I’ve never really been a fan. I mean, Anakin wasn’t wrong, it really does get everywhere.”
“If you’re going to quote Star Wars, could you please at least stick to the classics,” Jess complained. “I still haven’t recovered from Jar Jar Binks.”
“Pretty sure nobody has yet,” Rory sympathised. “The picnic was a nice idea. You’re way better at making food than I am.”
“Yes, but you’re way better at eating it than I am,” he teased her, earning himself a smack in the chest for his trouble. “Come on, tell me I’m wrong?” he challenged her, opening one eye to see her expression.
“You know I can’t.” Rory rolled her eyes. “I love my gift too, even though you shouldn’t have,” she told him, leaning up to kiss his lips.
“You’re welcome... again,” he said, smiling at her. “But it’s not a big deal. I told you, Andrew lets me have a pretty decent discount since I work there, and it’s not exactly a brand-new best seller or anything.”
“No, but you remembered that I wanted to read it and you got it for me. It’s the thought that counts.”
“Duly noted.” Jess nodded once, closing his eyes again.
Rory moved enough to reach for her book and started flipping the pages. She still thought it was very sweet that Jess got it for her, even if he wanted to say it wasn’t a big deal. She wished she could think of something to buy for him in return, but boys were always so tough to shop for. Besides, it bothered her that she might go overboard in her spending and make him feel awkward. Although, that might just be because Paris had warned her about it the other day.
“If you like the book so much, what’s the frown for?” asked Jess.
She hadn’t even realised he had his eyes open again, or that he was now sitting up beside her, looking confused by her expression.
“Nothing.” Rory shook her head. “I was just thinking... any progress with getting your book published yet?”
“The guys at Truncheon tell me I’m next on the editing pile.” Jess smiled. “Of course, they might decide when they read it all again that they made a huge mistake in offering to publish it at all.”
“I don’t believe that for a second,” Rory countered immediately. “And when they finally do publish it, I want to know, so I can be the first person to buy a copy,” she said, smiling widely.
Jess didn’t know how to thank her for her support in words, so he kissed her instead.
“Mmm, shouldn’t we be moving soon?” said Rory, pulling away before they got a little too caught up in the moment. “What time are your friends expecting us?”
“They’re not exactly,” Jess told her, checking his watch. “They just have practice and I said we’d probably drop by. You want to meet them, right? Is that what the frown is for, because if you don’t-”
“I do,” said Rory, grabbing his hand and holding on tight. “I do want to meet your friends, the band... your friends who are in the band,” she amended, rolling her eyes at how dumb she knew she sounded. “I guess I’m just a little nervous. I mean, they know what happened, right? About Logan and everything.”
“They know.” Jess nodded. “But they’re cool. I explained everything. Lane is... well, she’s kind of protective sometimes, I guess.”
“Like a sister?”
“Like a mom.” Jess rolled his eyes. “She just likes to look out for me. I kind of kept her sane when she had problems with her mom and I think she lives to repay the favour now. She’s great though, you’ll like her.”
“She seemed nice, in the five seconds I spent with her that one time at the diner.” Rory smiled. “And one of the guys in the band is her boyfriend, right?”
“Dave, yes. He’s the one with the brains. Zach and Brian are great with the music, but they can be a little...”
“A little?” Rory prompted nervously.
“Intense and weird?” Jess tried, immediately regretting the choice of words when his girlfriend made a face. “Not in a bad way or anything. Brian has some hypochondria issues, although the asthma is real. Zach sometimes acts like he’s Jagger and Bowie combined.”
“By dancing in the street?” Rory joked.
“Wouldn’t that be something to see?” Jess rolled his eyes. “He just likes to think he’s a star already, and also, God’s gift to all womankind.”
“I’ll try to control myself,” Rory deadpanned.
“I’d appreciate that,” Jess countered, leaning in to kiss her again. “So, you ready to go?”
“I’m as ready as I’ll ever be.”
They set off for the band’s practice space, hand in hand and smiling like the young and in love couple that they were. Rory had completely forgotten any worries she had been having long before they ever got within earshot of Hep Alien’s musical stylings. They were mid-song when Jess and Rory walked in and they did sound pretty good. Not that Rory expected anything else. She had already attended two parties that they had seriously rocked. When they were done playing, Rory applauded, then felt a little silly doing so all by herself.
“What? They were amazing,” she told Jess when he stared at her.
He only smiled in response and started introducing her around. As expected, Lane was a little stand offish at first but relaxed after a while, and she and Rory really seemed to get along well. Zach didn’t cross any lines given Rory was dating Jess, but he walked right up to the line and took a good look over it, that was for sure. Dave was polite and nice to her, while Brian wouldn’t come closer than a few feet away, claiming he didn’t want Rory to catch what he had. She didn’t dare ask what that was.
“Well, they’re all nice people,” said Rory when they left after hearing Hep Alien practice a few more songs. “And they didn’t treat me like a leper so that was cool.”
Jess opened his mouth to ask why they would but changed his mind when he remembered. Rory had been worried that his friends would still be mad at her for what happened with Logan, and that wasn’t really a subject that Jess wanted to get into again. The fact was, Lane, Dave, Zach, and Brian had no real reason not to like Rory and they proved it this afternoon, that was all that mattered.
“So, where are we headed now?” he asked instead, his arm around Rory’s shoulders as they walked aimlessly down the street.
“Hmm, good question,” she said, clearly considering her answer carefully.
They both knew the only real problem with spring break in Stars Hollow was that they had nowhere private to go. Sticking to public places was not always conducive to exactly how they wanted to behave around each other, but the only other option was Jess’ place and Rory had issues with that.
“We could go back to the apartment,” he suggested anyway. “I know you’re weird about Luke being downstairs in the diner and everything, but we’re not kids, Rory. I promise he is not going to bust in on us doing anything.”
“Why would it matter to me if he walked in when we were... reading?” she said innocently, though the look in her eyes when he glanced at her was anything but.
“Huh,” said Jess, smirking at her joke and then kissing her firmly on the lips. “All you had in mind was reading?”
“Well, you bought me such a great book, what else would I wanna do?” she asked as they stopped on the corner facing each other.
“C’mere and I’ll tell you.”
Rory didn’t protest at all as Jess pulled her closer, his arms wrapping right around her as he laid kisses on her face and neck. If she had been thinking about it much, it might’ve occurred to Rory that despite worrying about Luke catching her and Jess in flagrante, it wasn’t bothering her now to be out in the street getting up and close and personal with her man where just about anyone could see her. Jess had a way of clearing her mind that nobody else had ever achieved, though reality sure did come rushing back fast when they were interrupted.
“Geez, doll, you can get arrested for less than that around here.”
Jess pulled away from Rory and even had the good grace to blush a little bit when he realised they’d been caught.
“Babette, always nice to see you,” he said, nodding once. “How’s Maury?”
“He’s just peachy, sugar,” she assured him with a wink. “I’d ask how you are but I’m guessin’ pretty good, huh?”
“Can’t complain,” Jess assured her. “Rory, this is Babette Dell. Babette, Rory Gilmore,” he introduced as the two shook hands.
“You know, you’re just about as pretty as everybody’s been sayin’. Look at those eyes!” she said, taking Rory’s chin in her hand without a moment’s pause. “Those are really something, and I can tell you’re a nice girl. Jess, you done yourself proud, kid,” she told him happily.
“Thanks,” he said shortly, clearly uncomfortable with all of this, which should have helped Rory feel less embarrassed, but in all honesty, it didn’t much.
Thankfully, Babette left them alone a minute later, hustling over to the market for veggies and cat food, or so she said. Rory covered her burning cheeks and let out a long breath.
“Oh my God, that was... I don’t even have a word for what that was,” she admitted as he moved her hands away from her face at last. “Worst time ever for someone to meet me.”
“What’s the problem? She likes you.” Jess shrugged, smirking terribly as Rory continued to squirm.
“You can pull all the James Dean crap that you want, Jess, but you were embarrassed too,” she said firmly. “God, people will think we can’t even control ourselves.”
“Maybe I can’t,” said Jess, his arms sliding around her again. “Personally, I blame you. Is it my fault you’re irresistable?”
Rory wasn’t sure what she was supposed to say to a compliment like that, except for pay it back. After all, it was true. She had as much trouble resisting Jess’ charms as he had in resisting her apparently.
“Maybe we could hang out in the apartment for a while after all,” she suggested, looking across the street at the diner. “I mean, Luke will be okay with it, right? He has to understand the whole needing to be alone thing.”
“We’ll put a sock on the doorknob, it’s a well-known sign, he’ll get it.”
“Jess!” she said, swatting him across the chest as they wandered across the street to the diner.
“I’ll talk to Luke,” he promised. “He’ll be cool.”
In truth, Luke wasn’t exactly what could be described as cool about the situation, which Rory supposed she could understand. It was probably weird for him to know his nephew might be having sex in the apartment upstairs while he served customers their burgers and fries downstairs. Of course, it was no less weird for Rory when she actually got up to the apartment and was making out with Jess on his bed, suddenly contemplating just exactly where she was.
“Jess?” she said, staring over his shoulder at what could only be Luke’s bed.
“What?” he asked distractedly, lips against her skin and fingers working on some real pain-in-the-ass buttons at the same time.
“Um, my mom was here,” she said awkwardly.
Jess pulled away and saw the very weird look on Rory’s face then. “Huh?”
“My mom, she was here,” Rory repeated. “With Luke.”
“I know that.” Jess nodded.
“Well, they were here, together. Like, together, together” she said pointedly. “Right there,” she said, gesturing to the other bed.
Jess followed her gaze then sat down heavily on the bed beside her.
“Mood officially killed.”
“Sorry,” said Rory, knowing she felt as disappointed as he did. “It’s just... weird.”
“I guess so,” Jess agreed. “You want a soda?”
“Yes, please.” Rory nodded, reaching for her jacket slung over the chair when she realised her phone was buzzing.
She thought she heard it before but had been so distracted by first Jess and then unsavoury thoughts about her mom and Luke that she hadn’t paid too much attention. Now that she looked, she found she had several messages from her friends.
“Wow, they’re really having a good time,” she said out loud without really thinking it through.
“Your friends in Florida?” asked Jess as he re-joined her on the bed, handing over a can that Rory gratefully received.
“Yeah, it seems like they’re really enjoying all the sun, sea, sand, and surf.”
“You wish you were there?” Jess checked.
Rory shook her head. “Nope, not even a little bit,” she promised, kissing his cheek. “I do miss having them around, I guess, but they’ll be back soon. Besides, if I was there, I’d be missing you instead, and that would be way worse.”
After drinking as much soda as she wanted for now, Rory put the can down on the nightstand and took Jess’ from him to put it with hers. Then she moved in closer and encouraged him to resume their previous activities.
“You know,” she said between kisses that grew forever more feverish, “if I close my eyes, I can probably ignore the other side of the room.”
“You sure?” Jess checked, really hoping she was serious because it might just be too painful to have to stop twice like that.
“Very sure,” Rory promised, lying down and pulling him on top of her.
No, she wasn’t sorry she chose to spend spring break in Stars Hollow, not at all.
Spring break was almost over but Rory couldn’t really complain. She had spent most of the week with Jess in Stars Hollow and had absolutely no regrets about not hitting Florida with her friends. She had hung out at the diner apartment with her boyfriend, and in the diner itself with Luke too. Her mom had even come with her a couple of times to see her own boyfriend when she wasn’t snowed under at the inn. Rory and Jess spent some more time with Hep Alien and found she had plenty to talk to Lane about, which was pretty cool too. What she hadn’t done in all this time was let her grandparents know where she was going each day.
“So, they think you’re where exactly?” asked Jess curiously.
“Um, specifically today? Hanging out with a girl-friend,” she said, squirming a little on the bench next to him. “It wasn’t a complete lie. I did see Lane today.”
“For around ten minutes.” Jess smirked. “Where else have you told them you’ve been? Come on, I’m intrigued.”
Rory sighed. “The library, shopping, running non-specific errands, helping out Mom at the inn,” she listed off on her fingers. “Well, parts of it are true... kind of.”
“Kind of.” Jess nodded his agreement.
“You know this isn’t about you, right?” she told him then. “I mean, not you specifically. I really never talked to my grandparents about anybody that I dated or anything. They’re a little... intense and kind of judgemental about that stuff.”
“I get it,” her boyfriend assured her. “I’m not offended.”
“Okay, good, because it is not you.”
“Rory, I get it. It’s not me. Let’s be fair about this, I didn’t exactly tell Luke about you until I had to,” Jess admitted then. “And that wasn’t about you either. It was just... I don’t know, I guess I don’t feel the need to report back on everything.”
“Exactly,” Rory agreed. “Also, after the whole Logan thing, the dating topic of conversation is best avoided at home in general right now.”
“Rory, stop,” Jess urged her. “You don’t have to keep making excuses to me. Tell your grandparents whatever you want, I don’t care.”
He really did look and sound as if he meant it, so Rory decided she could probably afford to let it go. It wasn’t as if Jess was really a secret in her life anymore. Her mom knew all about him, Paris too, and though the rest of her friends hadn’t physically met him, they were aware he existed. The grandparents were just a whole other story.
“So, since this is your last day hanging out here before Yale is back in session,” said Jess then, shifting closer, “I was thinking-”
Before he could get any further, a yell went up across the square and Rory turned to see who could possibly be bellowing her name like that in the middle of Stars Hollow.
“Oh my God!” she gasped in shock when she realised what was happening.
Jess looked kind of surpised too. “Is that-?”
“Logan? Yes, it is,” Rory confirmed, hardly able to believe it herself as the limousine continued to head their way down the street with the Huntzberger heir visible through the sunroof. “And not just him apparently,” she realised, as another person appeared next to Logan and a third hung out of the back window.
Jess’ eyes were pretty wide when Rory looked his way then, meaning to tell him the other people he could see were Madeline and Finn, but now she was more worried about how her boyfriend was going to react to most of her friends descending on his town this way. Actually, she wasn’t even sure how she was going to react to it herself but knew she ought to figure it out fast as the limo pulled around in front of them and parked up.
“What are you doing?” she asked, looking up helplessly at Logan.
“Hey there, Ace,” he said, grinning wide, “Ace’s boyfriend,” he added, nodding once to Jess. “We figured that maybe you guys had enough quiet alone time, you might appreciate a little company, the chance to cut loose and party a little.”
“C’mon, Gilmore,” Finn encouraged her. “The gang’s not the same without you.”
“Guys.” Rory shook her head. “I appreciate the offer, but I’m kinda busy right now,” she said with a pointed look, the hand that gripped Jess’ own rising to show them the evidence of their connection.
“If you really wanna go...” her boyfriend told her.
“Hey, I think we have a misunderstanding here,” said Logan then. “This is strictly an invitation for two,” he insisted. “Come on, what do you say, Ace? Give us a chance to get to know the new man in your life. You’re not allergic to fun, are you, Jess?” he said, glancing between the two.
Rory looked to Jess and tried to read his expression. The smile didn’t exactly look forced, and yet, she could hardly imagine that he really wanted to hang out with Logan, of all people. On the other hand, he had said he wanted to get to know her friends, and this was most of them all at once.
“If you’re okay with it?”
“Sure.” Jess nodded. “Why not?”
Hand in hand, they rose from the bench and approached the car. Logan seemed pleased by the decision and the whooping and calling from inside the car when the door finally opened proved everyone else was equally happy.
Rory slipped inside the limo with Jess following behind her. They were greeted by Madeline, Louise, Finn, and Colin, plus Logan as he dropped back down through the sunroof and introduced them to Marie, a new friend, as he put it.
Jess did seem a little apprehensive at first and Rory had a death-grip on his hand as they sat in the back of the car with all her friends staring at them. After all, these were the people who knew Rory best and had known her the longest too. They could say anything about her. Perhaps the worse thought was what they might say about Jess.
“Well, I have to admit,” said Louise, looking him over, “I can see the attraction.”
“I thought you were supposed to be all bookish and nerdy?” said Madeline, frowning some.
“Really?” said Jess, smirking as he looked to his girlfriend beside him.
Rory squirmed. “I never said nerdy,” she promised.
“To be honest, she didn’t say much at all.” Logan shook his head. “And since we certainly don’t want to be the Spanish Inquisition here, I only have one question for you, Jess. Are you ready to party?”
Honestly, Jess was looking across the limo at Logan trying to figure out if he was being played. If he had to guess, he would say that Logan was at least half way drunk and more than a little full of himself, but as far as Jess could tell, he was also serious. There were no tricks here, as far as he could tell, no sarcasm, no undercurrent of anything. It seemed as if he and Rory really were being invited to go have a good time with her friends. For her sake, if not his own, Jess knew he couldn’t object to that.
“Sure,” he said eventually, nodding his head. “Where are we headed?”
“The question is, mate,” said Finn, reaching for a beer bottle and tossing it into Jess’ hands, “where aren’t we headed?”
It had been a while since The Life and Death Brigade had one of their wilder weekends, and while this last day of spring break was not an official LDB event, it felt more than a little like that to Rory. There had been paintballing, dancing, prank pulling, and drinking, plus a whole lot more. It had actually been fun, and Jess had kept up with the rest admirably well. It was such a releif to see him fitting into that part of her world as much as she had fit into his these past few days in Stars Hollow. It was a complete change of pace, but strangely, it had worked.
The sun had set by the time the limo returned to the Hollow to drop Jess off outside the diner. Rory got out of the car with him and closed the door behind her so they could say goodnight in peace.
“That was... surreal,” said Jess, glancing back at the car. “Your friends are really something.”
“They can be a little overly much,” Rory admitted, “but they’re not bad people.”
“I get that.” Jess nodded in agreement. “I actually did not expect to be that accepted. I should probably apologise for that, right? Pre-judging your people.”
“My people?” Rory laughed lightly. “You make us sound like an alien race.”
“The high life is pretty alien to me, but today was actually fun. Not quite what I had planned for us, but-”
“Oh, you had plans” said Rory, suddenly looking concerned. “Alone time, romantic plans?”
“Kind of.” Jess nodded. “But it’s fine, Ror, honestly. Today was good.”
He was smiling like he meant it and Rory couldn’t possible accuse him of a lie. If Jess didn’t get along with her friends he would say so, but all evidence suggested that they all got along surprisingly well. The girls thought he was just dreamy and the guys thought he was cool too. Jess was quick to accept a challenge but never stupid enough to fall for their pranks and dumb jokes. Basically, he really fit in well with Rory’s friends, which was as much of a surprise to Jess himself as it was to Rory.
“So, you’re headed back to Yale this weekend?” he checked, studying her hands held in his own.
“I am.” Rory nodded. “But I’ll call you as soon as I know what free time I have.”
“Sounds good.” Jess smiled, pushing her hair back off her face and leaning in closer.
Their lips met in a sweet kiss that went on until the calls from the car grew loud enough to be noticeable. Rory turned around fast to see that Colin had the window half open now and Logan was whistling too.
“I’m sorry about my friends,” she said as if to Jess and yet loud enough for them to hear. “Apparently, they’re all twelve years old!”
Jess glanced into the limo for a second, meeting the challenge head on, before he pulled Rory back around to face him and kissed her again with all the passion she deserved. It got a reaction from her friends, but then it was supposed to. More importantly, it left his girlfriend giddy.
“You’re as bad as they are,” she said breathlessly, pressing her forehead against his own a moment, “but I don’t mind,” she admitted.
They parted then, Rory getting back into the car and waving goodbye to Jess before the tinted window was duly closed. With a sigh, Rory leaned back in her plush leather seat, a huge smile on her face.
“You have fun today, Ace?” asked Logan with a look.
“Actually, I did,” she told him easily. “Thank you, guys, for being so nice to Jess.”
“Why would we not be nice to Jess?” Colin shrugged. “He’s cool.”
He could have no idea quite how happy it made Rory to hear him say that. It wasn’t as if she needed their approval of her boyfriend, or Jess’ approval of her friends, but it sure did make life easier if they all got along.
By the time they arrived at the Gilmore house, it was well and truly dark out, Rory was more than a little tipsy, and she had to admit when asked that she really had enjoyed the day. Thanking Logan and then everybody else for a great time, Rory staggered a little getting out of the limo then took a moment to wave goodbye as the driver pulled away at last.
Heading up the driveway to the house, there was no removing the grin from Rory’s lips. She couldn’t wait to get inside and tell her mom what a really great day she had and how nice it was to have all her friends and her boyfriend getting along so well. Unfortunately, as she reached the front door and lifted her key to the lock to let herself in, she realised maybe now wasn’t a great time for a smile and a happy story. Frowning by now at what appeared to be raised voices, Rory slowly eased open the door, immediately wincing when she heard her grandma yelling, followed by her mom.
“Lorelai, I cannot believe you are this naive!”
“I don’t see it as naive, Mom! I’m dating a really nice guy and so is Rory. Why is that so wrong?”
Rory walked into the scene and immediately wished she hadn’t as all eyes turned to her. Clearly, somehow, the truth about her dating Jess and her mom seeing Luke had come out and, as expected, Emily wasn’t happy about it at all.
“You have plenty to answer for too, young lady!”
“Grandma.” Rory sighed, her hand going to her forehead. “I know you think it’s a problem for me to date someone from a family you’ve never heard of but-”
“There are no buts, Rory,” her grandmother cut in, even as Rory glanced at Lorelai and saw her mouth ‘I’m sorry.’ “This is absurd, the two of you running around with people like that!”
“Like that?” Lorelai echoed immediately. “Mom, you don’t even know them!”
Just as Emily opened her mouth to yell some more and Rory opened hers to make a defence, they were both stopped in their tracks by Richard, who had been silent up to now.
“You’re quite right, Lorelai,” he said, rising from his seat. “We absolutely do not know these men at all, and so, I think we only have one option open to us,” he continued, a self-satisfied grin coming over Emily’s face, until her husband made his judgement. “Lorelai, Rory, you will invite both Luke and Jess to dinner, this Friday evening.”
“Richard, you’re not serious!” Emily exploded, while Lorelai and Rory shared a look of equal parts amazement and horror.
“I am perfectly serious,” Richard insisted, “and I am adamant in my decision. Any objections?” he asked, barely waiting a beat before he went on. “Good, then it’s settled. Friday night, seven o’clock, dinner for six,” he said with a smile, exiting the room before anyone had a chance to say another word.
Luke attempted to tie his tie for a third time and got frustrated when it failed to work.
“Stupid thing!” he complained, throwing it aside. “Why the hell did we agree to this in the first place?”
“Because Rory and Lorelai asked us?” said Jess from his spot across the room, fixing his hair in the mirror. “C’mon, Luke, you really think you could say no to Lorelai? I know I couldn’t say no to Rory, not after everything.”
“Everything?” Luke echoed.
Jess finished up with his hair and turned to face his uncle. “When me and Rory broke up, only some of it was about the whole engagement thing,” he reminded Luke. “A lot of the problem was her keeping me out of her real life. Now she wants me to meet her family. If I say no...”
“Then you’re making a mockery of your reason for being mad at her before.” Luke sighed. “Point taken. I guess it’s not such a terrible thing that Lorelai wants me to meet her parents. It’s just... it’s a long time since I met parents, you know?”
“Not exactly something I’ve done before either.” Jess rolled his eyes, watching Luke retrieve his tie and give it another try. “Why are you even bothering with that thing anyway? You never wear a tie.”
“I wear a tie.”
“When did you ever wear a tie?”
“My Uncle Louie’s funeral.”
“Three years ago, and before that, when was the last time?”
There was a long thoughtful pause before Luke answered that question. “My father’s funeral.” He looked at the tie and then tossed it back in the chair. “You’re right.”
“Usually, yes,” Jess answered smartly. “I know they’re probably going to look down their noses at us, Luke, but do you really care that much? Geez, it’s Lorelai you’re dating, not her parents.”
“You think Rory will be happy if her grandparents hate you?”
“I think Rory loves me for me,” he said confidently. “In fact, I know she does. Whatever anybody else thinks, doesn’t matter.”
Luke watched Jess walk by him to the bathroom then took a look at himself in the mirror. Love. He hadn’t really considered that word much, not this way, not in the context of what he and Lorelai had. He cared about her a lot, he had to or he wouldn’t have agreed to this family dinner thing, but love? Maybe it had just been too long since he had needed to consider something like that. It certainly did nothing for his nerves to think about it now.
“How bad can it be?”
That was what Jess had said when he and Luke were stood on the doorstep of the Gilmore Mansion, his uncle leaning forward to ring the bell. The truth was, it could be really bad, something Luke had almost expected, and honestly, the Gilmore elders had not disappointed him on that score.
To be absolutely fair, Richard wasn’t all that bad. He hadn’t said much since they arrived, save for offering them a drink, but he didn’t seem half so severe as his wife. Emily had clearly decided, long before ever meeting Luke and Jess, that they were pond scum, or possibly even lower. It was in every look she cast their way and every word she said, though she put on airs and graces, behaving as if she were being perfectly charming, even as she cut them down to size, piece by piece.
“I have to admit, I’ve never actually been in a diner of that kind, but from what Lorelai tells me it sounds very... well, rustic,” she said, smiling at Luke.
“Rustic,” Lorelai echoed softly, shaking her head.
She knew very well what that meant and it was nothing complimentary.
“Nonsense, Emily,” Richard chimed in then. “I took you to a diner once. It was the very same one that I used to frequent when I was in college. Marvellous place, every dish as full as grease and sugar and salt as a young man could ever want. I do hope you’re not one of these health-conscious places, Luke, that only serves food fit for rabbits,” he said, casting an unimpressed eye over his fork full of green beans.
“Uh, we have a varied menu, sir,” Luke told him awkwardly.
“And all of it is delicious,” Rory threw in. “Plus, the staff are great,” she added, smiling across the table at Jess.
“We aim to please,” he said, glancing up at her before working on picking his way through his dinner some more.
“Oh, you also work in this establishment?” said Emily, arching an eyebrow. “I thought Rory said you were a writer.”
“He is,” Rory insisted. “His book is due to be published any time now, but he also helps out at Luke’s and works at a bookstore, and he manages a band too.”
“How very industrious,” Richard noted. “Certainly, you must never have time to be bored.”
“No, sir,” Jess agreed.
“You know, Emily,” Richard said then, looking down the table at his wife, “I had no idea I was of such high rank as to be addressed as ‘sir’ by any visiting guests. Have you been overstating my position again?”
“Of course not, Richard.”
“Dad, I think Luke and Jess are both just trying to be polite in a stranger’s house,” Lorelai insisted, hating how embarrassing this whole thing was becoming.
“But this is as much yours and Rory’s house as it is mine and your mother’s,” her father insisted. “That being the case, this is not a stranger’s house at all, since Luke and Jess clearly know the two of you very well.”
Rory bit her lip and kept her head down, sure she was blushing, especially when she felt Jess’ eyes on her. If her grandfather knew quite how well Rory and Jess knew each other, or indeed how intimately acquainted Lorelai and Luke were, he would probably lose his mind.
“Now, please,” said Richard then, addressing the guys, “I am quite happy to have you call us Richard and Emily,” he insisted, even as his wife’s fork clattered onto her plate and a look like thunder descended over her whole face.
“Yes, of course,” she said anyway. “We’re all... friends here,” she said awkwardly.
“Great.” Luke smiled, but his heart wasn’t in it and everyone knew it.
“Oh, by the way, Rory, a packet arrived for you today from Mitchum Huntzberger,” her grandmother told her then. “I believe it’s all the information you’ll need for your internship.”
“That starts Monday, right?” Jess checked.
“Yup, two weeks working for a real live newspaper.” Rory grinned. “I can’t wait.”
“The Stamford Eagle-Gazette will be lucky to have you, babe” Lorelai insisted.
“Well, apparently the editor thinks so, though personally I wonder if he isn’t a little biased.”
“This is Logan’s dad, right?”
“It is.” Rory nodded at Jess. “I told him he doesn’t owe me any favours, but he insisted I was just the best candidate.”
“And I am quite certain that is true,” said Richard definitely. “Mitchum may have certain opinions on sports and politics that I can’t condone, but he does know his newspapers. If he says you are the best, Rory, rest assured that you most certainly are.”
“The Huntzbergers are an excellent family.” Emily sighed. “I do think it’s a shame that things couldn’t have worked out with the two of you, Rory.”
“Grandma!” she gasped, eyes flitting back and forth between Emily and Jess. “Logan and I were never... Can we please not?” she urged her.
“I am allowed to express an opinion, aren’t I?” Emily argued, smiling too much as she sipped her wine. “And Logan is a fine young man.”
“Fine enough to double-talk a nice girl into a fake engagement,” Luke grumbled, clearly forgetting where he was for a moment.
He looked up to find everybody else at the table staring at him.
“This is good chicken,” he said then, swallowing hard. “Compliments to the chef.”
“We’ll be sure to pass that on.” Richard smiled amiably. “Of course, it will mean more coming from a fellow chef, I suppose.”
“Oh, I’m not a chef.” Luke shook his head. “Lorelai’s friend, Sookie, at the inn, she is a chef. I just... well, I’m...”
“But you assisted Lorelai with her arrangements at the inn,” said Emily the moment he started to flounder.
“Not as a chef, Mom, as a business owner,” Lorelai told her fast. “Luke has his own business and I was buying my own business, so he helped.”
“Of course, I understand that, Lorelai,” he mother told her sharply. “Though why you went bothering Luke went your father and I have so many friends and acquaintances that are that much more qualified, I’m sure I don’t know.”
Luke’s face went a few different shades of red at that comment and Jess leaned closer to his uncle.
“Breathe through the anger,” he advised.
“What do you think I’m trying to do?” Luke muttered, shoving a big bite of his food into his mouth so he couldn’t say anything else that he shouldn’t.
He missed Rory and Lorelai sharing an awkward look. This dinner was going just about as horribly as they thought it might, and now they were just marking time until the whole thing was over.
“So, that was... intense,” Jess told Rory as they stood in the driveway to say goodnight. “Also, your grandmother really, really likes Logan Huntzberger.”
“I’m so sorry.” Rory winced because she knew how horribly true that was. “I had a feeling she wasn’t exactly going to be friendly, but she was even worse than I could’ve imagined. You don’t want to run screaming from me now, do you?”
“From you? Never,” Jess promised her, pulling her closer. “From your grandmother? Yes.”
She laughed at that, at least until his lips covered hers and he kissed her like his life depended on it. It sure did make up for a lot of the pain they had suffered at dinner tonight.
“I wish you didn’t have to leave,” said Rory as they parted, her fingers still tangled in his hair.
“I’m pretty sure your grandma’s head would explode if you told her you wanted me to stay.” Jess smirked terribly. “So, actually...”
“That’s not funny,” Rory told him, though she could hardly keep from smiling at the joke. “At least Grandpa seemed to like you. He was impressed with your work ethic and that you’re getting a book published.”
“You know, for your sake, I’m glad at least one of your grandparents thinks I might, on some vague level, be good enough for you,” Jess told her, “but honestly, as long as you still love me, I can live without their approval.”
“You know I love you,” Rory promised faithfully, kissing his lips. “Always.”
“Well, that works out well,” he assured her, “because I love you too.”
They were soon caught up in the moment again, completely unaware that her mother and his uncle were similarly employed on the other side of the foliage.
“They made me feel like I was sixteen again, in the worst way,” Lorelai grumbled from the circle of Luke’s arms, “but the upside is that now we’re alone and you’re making me feel sixteen again in the best ways,” she told him with a grin as they shared another kiss.
“You do know that they really don’t like me, right?” Luke checked as they parted.
“Meh, they don’t like anybody,” Lorelai told him, waving away his concern. “Even the people they’re supposed to like by society’s rules, they pretty much just play pretend. It doesn’t really bother you, does it? I mean, I understand if they put you off seeing me, they are pretty judgey and...”
Her words were cut off when Luke’s lips were suddenly on hers again. It was the very best way to be interrupted as far as Lorelai could tell.
“Lorelai,” he said when they parted, foreheads still pressed together. “We may feel like teenagers when we’re together, but we’re not. I am a grown man and I can handle whatever your parents want to throw at me. It is not going to change how I feel about you, okay?”
“Okay,” she agreed, smiling wide. “Well, I should get back in there before they send out the hounds,” she joked. “Goodnight, Diner Man.”
“Goodnight, Crazy Lady,” he replied in kind, stealing one more kiss before he finally turned to go.
“Jess?” he called to his nephew as he unlocked the truck.
“Right here,” Jess replied, appearing from around the corner with Rory.
He lifted her hand that he was still holding to kiss it before finally letting her go. The Gilmore girls stood side by side at the door with their arms around each other’s shoulders, waving until the truck was gone from their sight, taking their boyfriends with it.
“So.” Lorelai sighed heavily. “That was...”
“Awful, painful, awkward beyond belief?”
“Wow, Yale has taught you all the good words.”
Rory sighed too. “They’re never really going to accept them, are they?”
“Probably not,” Lorelai told her, kissing her temple, “but that’s okay. We can date whoever we want to date. Hell, one day we might even get crazy and move out of this house so having boys over won’t mean running the Emily and Richard assault course every single time.”
Lorelai went inside then, expecting Rory to follow but she lingered just moment, looking up at the house. It had been home for almost as long as she could remember and the idea of not being there was too strange, but maybe her mom had a point about moving out. It was going to have to happen sooner or later. Maybe sooner would be better for everybody in the long run.
“I don’t know, I just feel like this whole being a grown-up person thing is so much easier than I ever imagined,” said Rory happily. “I mean, I feel like I’m completely on top of my work here at the paper, things are going great with Yale, I have the best boyfriend-”
“Okay, I’m gonna have to stop you right there,” Lorelai cut in from the other end of the call. “I have the best boyfriend.”
Rory sighed. “Can’t we agree that we have the two best boyfriends and leave it at that?”
“Hmm, yeah, I guess so.”
“Okay, good. So, I have one of the best boyfriends in the world-”
“And we are in a real, adult, honest, good relationship. Things are just really great right now.”
“I am with you there, honey,” Lorelai told her, smiling so much that her daughter could practically hear the expression. “I got me an inn, I got me a man, and of course, the most amazing daughter in the whole world of ever.”
“Well, I don’t like to toot my own horn, but like I say, things are pretty good with me right now.”
“And yet, there’s a sigh in there somewhere,” said Lorelai thoughtfully. “Rory, honey, are you sure everything is a-okay?”
“It’s nothing much,” Rory insisted, shifting further back into the corner of the staff room at the Stamford Eagle Gazette and lowering her tone. “It’s just... something Jess said the other night, it got me thinking... about living arrangements.”
“Living arrangements?” Lorelai echoed. “You mean, for Yale?”
“Um, not so much. More in general, like, maybe me thinking about moving out of the house?”
There was silence on the other end of the line for so long that Rory actually thought she might have lost the connection.
“Still here, sweets,” Lorelai assured her. “Uh, just kind of confused. No, not confused, because I totally understand what you’re saying, it’s just that it was not at all what I was expecting you to say. I’m not even sure why because, hey, look at you, you’re twenty years old, closing in fast on twenty-one, you have money at your disposal and that independent spirit that I guess I taught you a little too well.”
“It’s not like I’m trying to run away from you, Mom,” Rory insisted. “It’s not about running away at all, actually. I mean, would my love life be easier if I lived other than with my grandparents and my mom? Probably, but that’s one tiny part of the reason.”
“Uh-huh, yeah. I get that,” Lorelai agreed, nodding her head, even though Rory couldn’t see her. “I mean, come on, I was elsewhere long before I was your age. Married with a baby too.”
“Trust me, I am not planning on doing those parts of the whole growing up and moving on thing yet,” Rory said definitely, realising maybe she said it a little too loud when a couple of fellow staff members stared at her. “Um, it’s just the moving out idea,” she said in a lower register, “and it’s not definite. I’m literally just thinking about it... a lot.”
“Okay.” Lorelai sighed. “Well, like I said, I understand, I do, and I think we should talk about this later, probably not at home. Hey, how about dinner at the diner tonight?”
“Yes, that sounds so good!” Rory said happily.
The moment she got off the phone to her mom, she considered calling Jess to ask if he would be around tonight, then she realised her break was almost over and hustled back to her desk. Chances were good he would either be working or just be home anyway, at least, she hoped so. She had so much to tell him about her internship - it was going so well.
“I’m sorry it’s taken longer than you wanted, Zach. I’ve been a little busy,” Jess said through gritted teeth.
“Dude, hanging out with your girlfriend is not busy,” his friend told him pointedly.
“Maybe getting busy,” said Brian with a snort of laughter.
“Guys, really?” Lane checked, rolling her eyes.
“Jess, honestly, we understand,” Dave assured him then. “We all have to hold down our jobs, plus you have your book deal going through, right?”
“It’s in the works.” Jess nodded, trying not to smile even when he was tempted.
After all, right now, he would prefer to be mad, mostly at Zach. They got along much of the time, but there were occasions when he just got on Jess’ nerves, mostly when he thought he was in charge. If anyone was the leader of the band it was Dave, and Jess was the manager, so where Zach got off thinking he was the special one, no-one could be sure. They all suspected he believed a little too much of his own press, namely the girls who tended to be all over him during and after gigs.
“I got most of the dates finalised. The travelling is going to be an ass sometimes, but it is what it is. I mean, you guys wanted to do this, and to make it worthwhile, it pretty much has to be this way.”
“How about transportation?” asked Lane, staring down at the list of places and dates. “I mean, Luke has been great about helping us out on the local stuff, but I can’t imagine he’s going to lend us his truck for the whole entire summer.”
“It’s not the whole summer,” Jess corrected her, “but you’re probably right.”
“Besides, it’s not like our usual gigs where we take a car and Jess brings the equipment in the truck,” Dave pointed out. “Everything is going to need to be in one vehicle or the gas prices alone are going to kill us. We need a tour bus.”
“And they don’t come cheap, but trust me, I’m working on it,” Jess told them. “It might not be the classiest, roomiest thing you ever travelled it, but I’m in the middle of a deal for something that could work.”
The band all started talking amongst themselves then, bickering over the order of the locations and the driving of the bus and such. Jess sat back in his chair and just let it happen. They were kind of giving him a headache. Truth be told, the whole tour thing was getting to him, and yet he knew he had to go through with it.
When they first came up with the idea of a tour, and Jess honestly couldn’t remember who had first voiced the thought, it had seemed like a great plan. Getting away for the summer, seeing different places, meeting new people. Jess was completely up for that. Of course, this whole plan had begun before he ever met Rory. It was so weird how a person’s life could change so dramatically inside of six months or even less. Jess wasn’t a single guy hoping to get out into the world (or at least outside of Connecticut), to meet women and party like it was 1999. He had a girlfriend, who he loved like he never knew he could love anybody. The idea of leaving her behind for the whole summer did not thrill Jess at all. It was probably why he had avoided telling Rory about the tour so far, because he had a feeling se would be pretty disappointed when he did.
A part of him had sort of been hoping it wouldn’t work out, that his friends in Hep Alien might even change their minds for whatever reason, but it hadn’t happened. Jess couldn’t bring himself to refuse to organise the tour or to go on it. These were his friends, pretty much the only ones he had in Stars Hollow, and he couldn’t let them down. They never really let him down, especially Dave and Lane.
“Hey,” she said suddenly, catching his attention. “You okay?”
“Yeah, sure.” Jess nodded, forcing a smile. “Just got a lot on my mind,” he said, gesturing vaguely towards the papers on the table and the band surrounding it.
“It’s not just the tour,” she said knowingly, leaning in closer so the other guys wouldn’t hear - thought it seemed unlikely anyway over their bickering. “Is it Rory?”
“Yes and no,” he admitted. “I haven’t told her about this yet. She keeps mentioning how excited she is about her summer break, getting to spend more time with me and everything.” He shook his head. “I hate to disappoint her.”
“Well, maybe you don’t have to,” Lane considered. “You really think I want to be the only woman on whatever cramped, smelly bus you get for us?” she checked.
Jess stared at her a moment and then he smiled.
“Wow, for someone who was just considering this whole moving out thing, you’ve really made some pretty solid plans,” said Lorelai, leafing through the pages of apartments that Rory had handed her across the diner table.
“Not solid plans,” her daughter insisted. “Very shaky plans actually. I just dropped by the realtor’s office on the way home and asked about apartments in New Haven, that’s all. I figure I’ll probably need somewhere for Yale anyway, on-campus housing isn’t guaranteed, but if I just put all my stuff there it can be my place, you know?”
“I do know, sweets.” Lorelai smiled, handing back the papers. “I more than get it. I mean, I’ll miss you so much, but I do get it.”
“It’s not like you’ll never see me.” Rory rolled her eyes, checking the guys weren’t looking as she shoved her papers back into her bag. “I’ll visit you and Grandma and Grandpa, plus we’ll see each other here too. Let’s face it, we probably see more of each other in Stars Hollow than in Hartford lately anyway,” she said with a shrug.
“And we’re keeping the whole moving out thing from Jess and Luke because...?”
“Because it’s not a thing yet,” said Rory, just a little defensively. “If I decide I’m really actually doing it, of course I’ll tell Jess, and Luke can know too, obviously. It won’t be a secret, but right now it’s a maybe. I don’t want to tell them and then change my mind or something.”
“You mean you don’t wanna get Jess all excited about the prospect of all that potential alone time and then take it away from him,” said Lorelai with a look that made Rory blush beet red, just as Luke came over with their food.
“Two burgers with everything, extra cheese, fries, onion rings, and pickles,” he said, putting down the plates and thankfully not noticing the colour of Rory’s face. “How you two can eat like that and not die, I have no idea.”
“It’s not as if we eat like this all the time,” Lorelai reminded him. “You think Emily has ever even been within ten feet of a burger? An onion ring? Any kind of food that tastes like freedom and joy?”
“The food at home is great, but nothing compares to your menu, Luke,” Rory told him seriously. “You’re a hero of the people, my friend” she said, picking up her burger and taking a big bite.
“I’ve been called worse.” Luke rolled his eyes, smiling in spite of himself. “We still good for Saturday?” he asked Lorelai then.
“More than good,” she promised, grinning wide before she took a similarly huge bite of her burger. “Delicious,” she said around a mouthful.
Luke turned and walked away then, the girls both laughing in his wake, or as much as they could with their mouths full of burger.
“He must really love you if he still finds you attractive when you do that,” said Rory in a low voice, right after she swallowed her food.
“Hey, no L word in the diner,” Lorelai hissed. “We haven’t gotten that far yet and I do not want to freak Luke out.”
“I don’t think he’d freak out.” Rory shook her head, glancing over to the counter where Luke was checking receipts. “He came to dinner at our house and he still likes you. I’m pretty sure he’s un-freak-out-able.”
“If you’re talking about me, it depends what you’re about to tell me,” said Jess, as he stepped up to their table to add more coffee to their cups.
“Oh, no, I wasn’t. Talking about you, I mean, and I don’t have anything specific to tell you,” she admitted. “Except that my internship is going well and everything.”
“That’s cool.” Jess smiled. “Uh, you think you’ll have some time after dinner?”
“Sure.” Rory nodded happily. “I’ll tell you all about the newspaper biz if you want.”
“Sounds good,” Jess leaned down to kiss her lips then went back to serving customers.
Lorelai was smiling when Rory looked at her again. “What?”
“Now that’s love,” her mother told her definitely. “Seriously, babe, it’s so obvious how happy you guys make each other, and it makes me so happy to see that.”
“Me too.” Rory grinned. “It’s going really well, which I admit makes me just a little nervous. I mean, school going well, internship going well, relationship going well. I’m kind of waiting for something to go bad”
“No, don’t think like that,” Lorelai urged her. “Things can just go well, you know? It is okay for that to happen. You know, I could say the same. I have the inn, I have Luke, and obviously, I have you with all the good stuff going on too, but I’m not sitting here freaking out that something is going to go wrong. Hey, let’s face it, you want the downside to our happy lives, I’m pretty sure it’s your grandparents.”
“Mom, they’re not that bad,” Rory told her with a look.
“I didn’t mean they were bad,” Lorelai insisted. “I just meant, well, Emily at least was not exactly nice to the guys at dinner the other night, though I’ll give Richard his due, he really seems to like Jess.”
“He does, doesn’t he?” Rory smiled some more. “I’m sure he likes Luke too.”
“Meh, not so much,” Lorelai admitted, “but I never really needed their approval anyway. Hey, maybe if you move out, I will too. Money’s a little less than available right now since I sunk almost all of it into the inn, but if we keep turning a profit like we are, I could raise enough before too long.”
“You’d move out too? And leave Grandma and Grandpa alone?” asked Rory, her eyes widening.
“They wouldn’t be alone, kid, they have each other,” Lorelai reminded her. “Besides, don’t you think a person should maybe leave home when they’re over thirty and their own kid already flew the nest?”
“Guess I can’t argue with that,” Rory considered, though it did feel very strange just to think about how much life could be about to change again.
It took a couple of days before Rory had organised her thoughts enough to share her potential moving out plans with her boyfriend. She dropped by the diner early that morning and Jess brought her up to the apartment when she said she had something kind of big to discuss with him. Now, a half hour later, he seemed a little dazed by the news.
“Wow, you put a lot of thought into this,” he said, leafing through the pages she had handed to him.
“The Pro-Con list is a time-honoured tradition in the Gilmore household” she explained with a serious look. “My mom and me have been using this method to make all our major life decisions for as long as I can remember.”
“It’s... thorough.” Jess nodded, casting his eyes down the next page and all it’s many bullet points. “Also, the result seems pretty clear. Way more pros than cons.”
“Hence my telling you about this now.” Rory nodded. “I didn’t want to until I was sure I was really going to go ahead and get a place, but now I know for sure that I am, that definitely seemed like something a boyfriend should know about.”
Jess smiled at the term, he couldn’t help it. Though he and Rory had been serious about each other for a good long while now, he still got a kick out of hearing himself referred to as her boyfriend. Maybe it was because he had never actually been anyone’s significant other like that before, or maybe it was just how happy Rory seemed to be when she said it. Either way it was cool.
“It looks as if there’s quite a few decent choices,” she said then, showing him the paperwork from the realtor. “We only need one bedroom so...”
“We?” Jess echoed, one eyebrow raised as he peered at her over the papers.
“Oh, well, me,” Rory corrected herself. “I only need one bedroom, but obviously, if you came over at all, we would still only need one,” she clarified.
“Uh-huh,” Jess nodded, putting his eyes back on the pictures and descriptions of various apartments available in New Haven.
For a minute there he had wondered if Rory was about to ask him to move in with her, and honestly, it was just mildly disappointing to realise that she wasn’t. It was insane, they were so not in a place where they wanted to live together. Besides, Jess really wasn’t sure he could afford to pay half the rent on the kind of place Rory was looking at. There was no way in hell he would be willing to live off her and her trust fund or whatever.
“Is your mom cool with the whole moving out thing?” he asked instead, deciding at least a minor subject change was in order.
“She is,” Rory confirmed. “I mean, she says she’s going to miss having me around the house so much, but honestly, between Yale and here, I’m almost never home anymore anyway.”
Jess nodded that he understood, tossing the pages back onto the table. He knew that now Rory had made this confession of sorts that he ought to make one too. The Hep Alien tour was mostly finalised, the bus purchased, everything in motion, and still he hadn’t told Rory his summer plans. It seemed like now was the perfect opportunity, and yet, he kind of didn’t want to do it.
“Jess?” she said, turning on the couch to better face him. “Do you not like the idea of me living in New Haven? Is it because you worry about me living alone with no laundry room and no real ability to cook? Because I thought of that-”
“It’s not about New Haven, Ror,” he assured her, picking up her hand in both of his own. “I think it’s cool that you wanna get your own place, and before you ask, no, I don’t expect you to automatically ask me to move in with you, that’s not what this is about either. It’s actually nothing to do with the whole new apartment thing at all.”
“Okay.” Rory nodded. “Then could you explain the whole extreme serious-face you have going on there, because it’s bothering me more than a little now.”
Jess smirked at the phrasing, still looking at her hand held in his own.
“You know, the band is doing pretty well lately. They’re kind of building a fan-base and they don’t wanna lose momentum on that. I know this stuff is supposed to be for fun and that we all have real jobs and everything, but Hep Alien have a dream, they really do wanna make it big someday. I don’t know for sure if they’re good enough, but I have to help them give it their best shot. They’re my friends, you know?”
“I know,” Rory agreed as he looked up at last and met her eyes. “You don’t think I like your friends? Because I do, Jess. I think they’re great, especially Lane.”
“And they like you too,” Jess promised her, “that’s not what this is about. The thing is, last year, before I even met you, we were talking about a tour. They asked me to try to arrange something for this summer, and so, I did.”
She was trying not to look sad as the pieces all clicked into place in her head. Jess could literally see Rory’s struggle to keep on smiling even as the wave of disappointment crashed over her, and he loved her for trying so hard. Still, they both knew this wasn’t what she wanted to hear, any more than it was really what he wanted to say.
“It’s not for the whole summer,” he explained. “We’d have to leave about a week after you get done with school and then we’d be gone a couple of months.”
“So, most of the summer,” Rory noted, seeming to realise too late quite how that had come out. “Um, which is great, for the band, and for you, I guess,” she back-pedalled, fighting for a smile that wouldn’t stick any more.
“It is not great for me,” Jess assured her. “Rory, you know I was looking forward to spending more time with you this summer, and if I could get out of all this, I would, but the fact is, the band needs this tour. Okay, they’re counting on me, and I don’t wanna screw this up. I know, technically, they could probably go do this without me now I made all the arrangements, but-”
“But you’re their manager,” Rory said, shaking her head. “Of course, you have to go, Jess. They need you.”
“I guess,” he agreed, “but actually, they kind of want you too. At least, Lane suggested that it might be nice not to be the only woman on the bus.”
“Me?” Rory looked a little stunned at the very idea. “Oh, I... Lane wants me to go?”
“So she tells me.” Jess nodded. “I am obviously not against the idea either, but yeah, she suggested it first. Now, I know being crammed on a bus with a bunch of people you barely know probably isn’t your idea of a good time, and it is not how you intended to spend your summer.”
“It’s really not,” she agreed, squirming a little. “Jess, it’s not that I don’t want to be with you, you know I do, but me? On tour with the band?”
She wasn’t impressed with the idea, he could see it a mile away, and Jess suddenly felt very stupid for ever suggesting it. Sometimes it was easy to forget that Rory came from a whole other world, where nobody would ever lower themselves to the kind of conditions he and the band would be enduring over the summer.
“I’m an idiot,” he said, almost literally face-palming. “You’re really not the ride-the-bus type at all, and this would never be your idea of a good time.”
It came out rather more bitter than he intended as his hands slipped away from Rory’s own and he got up, going over to the fridge to retrieve a drink. He wasn’t really thirsty, it was just somewhere to go and something to do so he didn’t have to stay on the couch with Rory. He wasn’t sure how this was going to turn into a fight, but it had all the hallmarks of a rocky start.
“Jess, you’re making me sound like a real snob right now,” she called behind him. “I don’t like that.”
“Yeah, well, it is what it is,” he threw over his shoulder, popping the top off a bottle and taking a long drink. “It’s weird because riding in limos, drinking champagne, and pulling childish pranks with the blue bloods isn’t exactly my scene either, but I remember doing it to make you happy.”
“You said you had a good time,” said Rory, as she approached him. “Did you lie?”
Jess took in a deep breath and let it out slowly trying not to lose it.
“No, I didn’t lie,” he said fairly calmly as he turned to look at her hovering behind him. “Your friends were... they were not what I expected, and yeah, that day actually wasn’t the worst of my life, but you should’ve seen the look on your face when I suggested you coming on this tour, Rory.”
She opened her mouth to deny it, but honestly, Rory already knew she couldn’t do it. She probably had made a face, because she was completely underwhelmed with the idea. If she had to explain it, Rory wasn’t really sure she could. After all, Jess was offering her the chance to be with him after she just found out that she probably couldn’t. She got along with his friends in the band, and Lane would be there so she wouldn’t be the only girl. Seeing different places, experiencing new things, it wasn’t so different to what the Life and Death Brigade got up to, so honestly, Rory couldn’t think why she was so fast to turn up her nose, unless she really was being snobbish after all.
“I’m sorry,” she said eventually, twisting her fingers together in front of her. “Jess, I am. I didn’t mean to... to make it seem like I was being that way. I like your friends,” she reminded him, “and I love you” she added, stepping in front of him and making sure he understood. “You know I do.”
“I know,” he agreed, nodding his head.
“You just caught me off guard is all,” she explained, putting her hands at his shoulders and then moving in closer, her arms going around his neck. “But I will think about it, the tour thing. I don’t know, it might even be fun.”
Jess smiled at her making such an effort. “C’mere,” he said then, free hand bringing her in closer until their lips met.
Maybe he was being irrational, getting so mad at her for not wanting to be trapped on a bus with Hep Alien for two months. Jess wasn’t sure how he was going to handle it himself yet, but it was cool that Rory would even consider wanting to come along. Honestly, two months without her would be two months too long, so he really hoped she changed her mind.
“Hmm, as much as I would love to stay here and continue with this,” she said as she pulled away a little, “I really have to go. My internship,” she reminded him. “I have a meeting with the big boss himself this afternoon.”
“I guess you should be there so he can tell you how awesome you are.” Jess smiled, pushing her hair back off her face. “I’ll see you later?”
“I’ll call you when I’m done and we’ll do something,” she agreed, nodding her head.
They shared one final kiss before Rory packed up her things and left for work. Jess sighed as he watched her go, feeling like it would be a really long day waiting to see her again.
“This is a really good end to a really good day,” said Lorelai happily as she walked down the street with Luke’s arm around her shoulders. “A cool movie, a nice dinner, and a late-night stroll with the greatest guy in the world,” she said, looking up at her boyfriend with adoration in her eyes. “Yup, all good.”
“You are really easily pleased,” Luke told her, kissing her temple.
“Huh, that is not a popular theory,” she told him definitely, her head on his shoulder as they walked along. “Ask anyone - my mom, my dad, Rory, Sookie, Michel - I am a high maintenance kinda gal. Everything has to be my way or the highway, Mister.”
“Oh, is that so?” Luke checked with an amused smile as they reached Lorelai’s car parked outside of the diner.
“Yeah, that’s so,” she told him, grinning as they faced each other. “It’s lucky you’re so perfect, Luke Danes, or I wouldn’t even be giving you the time of day.”
“Well, perfect for me,” she assured him, reaching her arms up around his neck. “This is the part where you tell me that I’m perfect for you too.”
“I was getting to that,” he promised, hands at her waist pulling her a little closer. “Lorelai Gilmore, you are the craziest, most coffee-obsessed, chattiest woman I have ever met,” he told her, watching her eyes goes a little wide at the string of not-really-compliments, “but,” he continued, before she could protest, “you are also the kindest, funniest, most beautiful woman I have ever met. So, yes, you are perfect for me.”
“Good answer,” she told him, moving in for a kiss that he happily reciprocated.
They were so lost in their moment of goodnight that it took a while for Lorelai to realise her purse was ringing. In fact, it was Luke that ended up alerting her to the fact since it was also vibrating against his arm.
“Sorry,” she said, removing herself from his embrace in order to fish for her cell. “I thought I turned it off, especially since we were at the movies, but I guess not. Unknown number?” she said as she read the screen then accepted the call anyway. “Hello? Jess?”
“Jess?” Luke echoed, moving in closer to hear what was being said.
“I’m sorry, you’re where? No, no, no, there’s no way Rory was arrested, that’s crazy! Okay, we’ll be right there.”
“Rory was arrested?” asked Luke the moment she ended the call. “Your Rory?”
“Yes, my Rory,” said Lorelai fast. “I need to go, to the police station in Stamford, apparently. My God, I cannot believe this! Are you getting in?” she asked Luke sharply.
“Yeah, okay,” he agreed, reaching for the passenger door before he changed his mind. “Um, are you sure you wanna drive?” he checked with Lorelai who was physically shaking all over. “Because I can-”
“Yeah, that’s a good idea,” she agreed, tossing her keys to him as they switched sides.
Luke would rather they just took his truck but he didn’t really want to make Lorelai any more upset than she already was right now, so he just got into the driver’s side of her car and started it up.
“Did Jess say why-”
“Something happened at the Stamford Gazette, the paper where Rory is interning,” said Lorelai, shaking her head. “He didn’t know details, but he said something about her assaulting someone? There’s no way, Luke.”
“I know,” he agreed, putting a hand on her shoulder and trying to get her to look at him. “Hey, it’ll be okay,” he promised her, before putting the car into gear and setting off just as fast as he dare towards Stamford.
“So much for a great end to a great day.”
It looked like a Gilmore family gathering in the waiting area of Stamford Police Station by the time Rory was released, except for the fact that nobody present looked at all happy to be there. Lorelai was pretty pissed that her parents had shown up, and wasted no time in asking them outright how they even knew to come. After all, there was no way in hell Jess would’ve called them.
“The authorities called the house, of course,” said Emily acidly. “Honestly, I can’t imagine what Rory was thinking. I’m sure certain sources have been a bad influence on her. Probably spending so much time in that Hollow place-”
“There’s nothing wrong with Stars Hollow,” said Jess sharply.
“Jess, don’t,” Luke advised in a low voice. “It is not worth it.”
Lorelai would usually have waded in, trying to keep some kind of peace, but honestly, her mind was too distracted with what was happening to her baby girl. Arrested. Rory had been arrested, for an assault? It just made no sense at all. Rory could get mad about things and lose it sometimes, anybody could do that, but to be violent, to actually put her hands on someone? It just wasn’t her.
“This is preposterous,” Richard grumbled then. “All this waiting around, as if we were common criminals ourselves. I think it appalling that they brought Rory here in the first place. As if she would even be capable of an assault. Absolutely preposterous!” he repeated, arms folded across his chest.
Before anyone could offer any further opinions, a door opened and an officer led Rory out, reuniting her with her purse and other personal items before she finally faced the crowd waiting for her.
“Rory, sweetheart,” Lorelai went straight to her and wrapped her up in a big hug.
“I’m okay,” she assured her mother, hugging back just as tight. “I am, I just... I wanna go home,” she said shakily as they parted.
The six of them all headed outside, glad to escape the confines of the police station, but Jess at least wasn’t prepared to just have Rory driven away back to her house before he found out what really happened.
“I know you probably don’t wanna talk about it...” he said, moving alongside her as the whole crowd headed for the parking lot.
“It was a misunderstanding.” Rory shook her head. “I was gesturing and the coffee cup... flew.” She mimed the action, looking as if she was recalling the scene in her head and yet wishing she could forget.
“They had you arrested for that?” Lorelai checked, eyes wider than wide.
“That’s ridiculous,” Luke cut in. “There’s nothing violent or threatening about your behaviour, they can’t call it assault.”
Rory looked away from them all then, eyes mostly on the ground as she shifted her feet.
“Rory?” Richard said, trying to meet her gaze but she wouldn’t look up for anything. “I don’t believe it. I simply will not believe you guilty of some sort of violent outburst,” he said definitely.
“Well, believe it, Grandpa, because it’s true!” Rory told him, tears streaming down her cheeks as she finally looked up at him and then around the entire circle of people who cared for her. “I did it. I got mad and I said awful things and... and okay, maybe I didn’t mean to throw the cup, or maybe I did, I don’t know anymore. I just... I don’t know!”
Her hands covered her face as she collapsed into tears. Jess reached for her, pulling her to him and letting her sob into his shoulder. Luke put an arm around Lorelai who looked like she would be the next to crumble at any second.
“We can’t stand here all night,” Emily complained, holding her purse tighter as a couple of less-than-friendly looking guys walked by them. “Let’s just get home, please.”
“Girls, come along,” Richard said gently as he could. “Get into the car, Emily and I will take you home. Thank you, Luke, Jess, for your assistance, but we will take it from here.”
“Um, but I was in my car,” said Lorelai, sniffing hard.
“You can’t drive like this, Lorelai,” Luke advised her. “I’ll take your car back to Stars Hollow and then bring it over to your house in the morning, okay?”
“Thanks. You’re the best,” she told him, kissing his cheek before shuffling off to get into her parents’ vehicle.
Emily went with her, glaring daggers at Jess on the way. Richard waited for Rory who seemed in no hurry to leave her boyfriend at all.
“You really wanna go home?” Jess asked her softly. “Because you don’t have to. You’re a grown woman, Ror,” he reminded her, in case she forgot.
“I want to go,” she said shakily, picking her head up off his shoulder at last. “I’m sorry, Jess, but I do.”
“It’s okay,” he promised, taking her tear-stained face in his hands. “You go, get some sleep, but if you need me at all, you call me, okay? I can come right over, any time.”
Rory nodded that she understood, glad of the kiss he gave her and the hug that came after, then they finally parted, going to their separate cars.
It seemed Jess wouldn’t found out exactly what happened until at least tomorrow, but honestly, he didn’t care. All he cared about was Rory and knowing she was okay. Something really bad must have happened at that newspaper office today for her to act the way she did, for the result to be all of them gathered at a police station after dark, and when Jess found out who was really responsible, they were seriously going to pay.
“You assaulted Mitchum Huntzberger and you can’t even tell us why?!”
“It’s not how you’re making it sound, Grandma!”
“Mom, will you please just let her explain”
“How do you explain something like that?”
“Emily, please. Give the poor girl a chance.”
It seemed that in all the madness it was Richard who had decided to be the voice of reason. Maybe it would’ve been better if they had followed his first piece of advice and gone straight to bed when they got home, leaving all discussion on the matter of Rory’s arrest for the morning. Unfortunately, just as soon as Emily realised that would give Rory and Lorelai a chance to talk things over before she got to the truth, plans had changed. The yelling had begun and it didn’t seem like stopping any time soon, at least until Richard took charge.
“Now, Rory,” he said calmly. “I understand that you’re upset and that today has been quite the ordeal for you-”
“For her?” Emily balked but a severe look from her husband soon silenced her.
“But we need to understand just exactly what happened if we are to help you.”
“He’s right, sweets,” Lorelai told her, reaching to take her daughter’s hand and hold it tight. “From the top, slow and clear, just let us know what happened.”
Rory took a deep breath, swallowed hard, and began again.
“I had a meeting with Mitchum Huntzberger, about my future in journalism. Everything had been going so well at the paper, all the staff were so friendly and encouraging. I did everything they asked me to, I participated in meetings, it was great to feel like I was a real part of the paper. I kind of thought it’d just be making coffee and distributing mail, and there was a lot of that stuff, but they really let me get involved. It was so good.
“So, we had our meeting, and Mitchum agreed that I’d done everything asked of me and things were going so well. I started talking to him about my future, how I planned to be a journalist, a reporter like Christianne Amanpour, maybe. Then... then he started laughing.”
“Laughing?” Lorelai echoed, her face hardening in a second.
“I couldn’t figure out what the joke was. I kept thinking I missed something. Mitchum said... he said it was a pipedream. He said there was no way I had what it took to be that kind of person, even that kind of writer. There was a lot of other stuff but I don’t remember the exact words, I just know that he pretty much told me it was ridiculous if I really believed I could walk in the footsteps of someone like Amanpour.”
“That man needs to be taught a lesson,” Richard said crossly. “He should look to his own children and deal with them before he goes around insulting any member of my family!”
“Dad, I’m with you on that,” Lorelai told him, “but please, let her finish,” she urged him. “Rory, go on, what happened after that?”
“I honestly don’t know,” she said, shaking her head and dislodging further tears. “I... I got mad, I guess. I know I got up and that I was yelling at him for talking down to me that way, for making me feel like I was less than I knew I was. There’s no way I would be doing so well at Yale, on the paper there, all of that, if I was no good. I told him my writing was worth something. His own son had told me so, and I know that Logan knows good writing. Mitchum said something about Logan paying compliments where it suited him. He said something about the engagement thing and... and then that was I being overemotional, which was another problem with women in the workplace.”
“Asshole,” Lorelai muttered before Rory went on.
“I just got so mad at him and I was yelling, right in his face, about how wrong he was about everything. The coffee cup was still in my hand and... and then it wasn’t. I wasn’t even sure if it hit him at all, but then someone yelled for security and I was being dragged out of the office.”
She collapsed back into tears then and Lorelai wrapped her arms around her, pulling her close to comfort her as she cried. It was a real unholy mess and very little of it could really be called Rory’s fault at all.
“I am gonna go see that Mitchum Huntzberger, and when I’m done with him-”
“Lorelai, really,” Emily snapped at her. “Don’t be so ridiculous. You’ll do no harm to Mitchum. We will deal with this situation like adults. I’m sure if your father talks to Mitchum, apologises for the misunderstanding-”
“Apologises? To him?!” Lorelai exploded. “Are you frickin’ kidding me, Mom? He told Rory she couldn’t be a journalist. He made her feel about two inches tall, and then he had her arrested for an accident! He is an arrogant, sexist, stupid-”
“Lorelai, that is enough!” Richard snapped at her. “I understand you’re upset but you are not helping this situation.”
“Yeah, well, find me someone who is right now,” Lorelai shot back at him.
“I don’t want any of this!” Rory cried, tearing herself from her mother’s arms and bolting for the stairs.
She didn’t stop until she was in the sanctuary of her own room with the door locked behind her. She hated this, all of it. She hated the awful things that Mitchum had said to her and the horrible things she had yelled back. She hated that her mom and grandparents were angry and fighting because of her. She hated that everything just seemed to be crumbling all around her and she couldn’t see a way out.
A light came on in her head as her eyes landed on the phone. Immediately, she reached for it, dialling the number she knew so well. He picked up on the first ring.
“Jess, it’s Rory,” she told him shakily. “You said if I needed you, I should call.”
Jess was pretty sure he had been over the speed limit almost the entire way to Hartford to pick Rory up from her house, but on the way back to Stars Hollow he took a little more care. Not that it was easy to concentrate with her sat beside him, all pale, shaky, and crying. He had little explanation for why she had called for him to come get her and frankly didn’t feel like he needed it. The grandparents wouldn’t have reacted well to the arrest, he was sure on that, and after Rory duly explained what really happened at the Stamford Eagle Gazette earlier in the day, he was left wondering how in the hell her own family couldn’t be on her side.
“I don’t know.” Rory shrugged. “It’s just different for them, I guess. The Gilmores and the Huntzbergers have always been friends, allies, whatever. It goes back generations.”
“I don’t care,” Jess snapped. “If it’s between them or you, you win. Come on, Rory, they’re your own family.”
“I know,” she said, sniffling some. “I’m sorry, Jess, but I really don’t wanna talk about it anymore,” she told him, slumping down in the passenger seat with her head against the window.
“Okay,” he agreed, reaching for the radio and flipping it on.
They drove home to the sounds of classic rock and no more words were spoken.
When they reached the diner, Jess grabbed Rory’s bag from the back seat and then walked her up to the apartment where Luke greeted them awkwardly.
“I’m sorry you’ve had such a crappy day, Rory,” he told her. “If there’s anything I can do-”
“You’re doing it right now,” she assured him. “Letting me stay here.”
“No problem,” Luke promised her, before returning to his bed.
It felt strange to both Rory and Jess as they got changed and climbed into Jess’ bed together, with Luke all of a few yards away across the room. Still, it was better than where Rory had come from. She knew she couldn’t stay in that house, not tonight, not after everything. She needed peace and space. She needed Jess.
“Thank you for coming to get me,” she whispered in the dark, feeling safe in the circle of his arms.
“You’re more than welcome,” he assured her, kissing the top of her head. “Get some sleep now,” he advised, his own eyes already closed.
In spite of everything, Rory knew that right there with Jess was probably the one place she would be able to rest easy. Things had to look better in the morning.
It was after nine when Jess came down into the diner to find the place fairly busy and Luke trying to cope alone. His nephew immediately apologised and dived into the fray, though Luke barely seemed concerned about the orders or customers.
“She okay?” he checked, tilting his head towards the curtain and clearly talking about Rory.
“I left her to sleep some more,” Jess explained. “That whole thing at the paper yesterday, it was not her fault. That Mitchum Huntzberger is a real piece of work.”
“This is the father of the guy she was engaged to?” Luke checked, before seeing the look on Jess’ face. “Sorry, fake engaged to,” he amended.
“That’s him.” Jess nodded then. “He told Rory she couldn’t be a journalist. He insulted her work, he actually laughed in her face. I wanna kill him.”
“Get in line, Rocky.”
Jess and Luke both turned at the same time to see Lorelai stood by the counter, eyes looking tired and yet somehow flashing angrily all the same.
“I swear to God, if he hadn’t come by this morning and apologised, I was headed to his place and he would not have been walking so well when I was done.”
“You’d’ve had back-up, trust me,” Jess promised her. “I’d like to teach that douchebag what assault really means.”
“Down, boy,” Luke advised, before putting his attention back on his girlfriend. “You said Huntzberger apologised?”
“Yeah. So, it turns out that even Mitchum didn’t take what happened as an assault,” Lorelai explained. “The security guys called the cops because they thought the boss was in danger, and it was another member of staff who threw the word ‘assault’ around. Rory was arrested on the street outside, they never even talked to Mitchum about it. According to him, he had no idea what happened until later when the police called and told him. Anyway, the charges have been dropped, he fixed all of that. Now I just wanna see my baby girl.”
“Of course.” Luke nodded. “She’s right upstairs.”
“She was still sleeping when I came down a few minutes ago,” Jess advised.
“Okay. Thanks, guys.” Lorelai smiled at the both of them. “I really mean that.”
She headed straight up the stairs to the apartment then hesitated before carefully opening the door and stepping inside. Rory was sitting up in bed, stretching her arms over her head.
“Hey there, Sleeping Beauty.” Lorelai smiled.
“Mom,” said Rory, reaching for her mother who came right over, sitting on the bed to give her a big hug.
“I come bearing good news, sweetheart,” she said, squeezing Rory tight. “Turns out for all that Mitchum was an ass to you yesterday, he’s not all bad. He did not know anything about the cops and the arresting and the assault charge,” she explained, pulling back to look at her daughter. “He fixed everything with the police. You’re not in any trouble, okay? I promise, it’s all over.”
“Thank God!” Rory heaved a sigh of relief, more tears coming along with it.
Lorelai gave her a handful of tissue from her purse and Rory got it all out of her system.
“Are Grandma and Grandpa still mad?” she checked then.
“They’re... Emily and Richard,” said Lorelai, shrugging her shoulders. “They love the heck out of you, kid, and they hate that you left the way you did last night, but they’re still your grandparents and my parents, which means they were a little too grovelly for my taste when Huntzberger came by.” Lorelai rolled her eyes. “So, I had other news for you too. Well, not news, more of an idea I wanted to run by you. I’ve been thinking about it a lot and now, after the way things went down yesterday, I’m more sure than ever that it could be the right move for us.”
“Okay,” said Rory, frowning some as she wondered what on earth her mom was getting at.
“So, I was just thinking,” Lorelai continued, “and you can say no, obviously, but instead of you getting an apartment in New Haven, I was thinking maybe you and me could get us a house... in Stars Hollow.”
“A house? Here?”
“A small house, just big enough for the two of us. Like I said, you can absolutely say no. I get it if you don’t wanna live with your mom anymore, I know I don’t,” she sympathised, “but I was thinking, it seems like a great idea. I need to get out of Hartford, you need to get out of Hartford. I work in Stars Hollow, we both spend almost all of our free time here.”
“That’s true.” Rory nodded, even as her brain felt like it was spinning inside of her skull. She had to admit she didn’t hate the idea that her mom had come up with, if they could achieve it.
“I mean, finance wise, half a house here can’t be so much different to a whole apartment in New Haven, right? And last I checked, your college fund was holding up okay.”
“It’s fine. I’m pretty sure you and Dad and Grandma and Grandpa went a little overboard when you were saving it up for me anyway.”
“Okay, so you’re fine for Yale, all the money you have is your own and I’m not actually doing so bad, even after buying the inn,” Lorelai explained, smiling a little more all the time. “I really think we could do this, Rory. You know, if we wanted to.”
It was a heck of a decision to have to make, especially when she was just this side of asleep and all messed up over yesterday still. Of course, Rory knew her mom wasn’t looking for an answer right in that moment. There should probably be a pro con list sometime, to go with the other one Rory had been making in her head these past twenty-four hours regarding Hep Alien’s tour that she had been invited to join in on.
It seemed as if the world was waiting for Rory Gilmore to grow up and start making some real big choices about her life. Scary as that was, a part of her was almost certain she was ready for the challenge, at last.
As much as she would have loved to stay in Stars Hollow with Jess, Rory knew it wasn’t practical. She couldn’t face going home either, at least not for a while, but a quick phone call to Paris secured her a bed and that was where Rory went, with no real idea of how long she was staying. It was where Logan found her, two days later, when he came to apologise.b
“I want you to know,” he said as soon as he saw her, “that I gave the old man a piece of my mind, and I’m happy to report, he choked on it. How you holdin’ up, Ace?”
“I’ve been better,” she said, trying for a brave smile that didn’t entirely come out right.
When Logan reached to hug her, Rory was happy to let him. Okay, so his father was an ass, but Logan had been pretty much her best friend for as long as she could remember. Engagement debacle aside, they had always got along, always had each other’s backs.
“I wish I could say I can’t believe he said all that crap to you, but I actually can,” Logan told her as they parted and walked through the hallway together. “He can tell me my writing is not up to snuff, I know my own shortcomings, but you are the best there is, Rory. I swear, the man is having a mid-life crisis or something.”
“I’m not upset about what he said anymore, Logan,” Rory assured him.
She led him through to the living room where they sat down on the couch together. Rory pulled her legs up under her body and leaned her head on her hand facing him.
“At first, I was just heart-broken. ‘The great Mitchum Huntzberger said I can’t be a journalist, my life must be over,’” she said over-dramatically. “It took me a little while to realise quite how dumb that was.”
“Of course it’s dumb, Ace,” Logan told her definitely. “You were born to be a journalist. You and Paris practically ran the paper at Chilton, right?”
“We did,” she agreed, nodding her head.
“And now the Yale Daily News, plus you were submitting articles to that online place, that guy loves your work.”
“All true.” Rory smiled. “This is the list I’ve been making in my own head for two days now. So many people think I’m good enough, not just me, not just my mom and my boyfriend and whoever else. People who know, people who matter, all my teachers, professors, educated men and women. So, one man - I’m sorry, Logan - but one stupid, sexist, bigoted man thinks I can’t make it. Well, what the heck does he know?”
The grin on Logan’s face was a mile wide at the sound of those words.
“Lorelai Leigh Gilmore-Hayden, I have never lived my life with regrets, but something tells me that one day, I’m going to be an old man on my death bed with just one thing on my mind - I’m gonna regret not making that proposal stick.”
“Logan.” Rory rolled her eyes at him even as she blushed bright red. “You’re an idiot.”
“Can’t argue with that, Ace,” he said easily, “but hey, we can all agree that the best man won, right? You know, Jess, he’s a good guy from what I’ve seen of him, though from what I heard from Emily, he didn’t quite get the Gilmore seal of approval at home.”
“Does anyone?” she said with a sigh. “Well, except for you.”
“I pride myself on being a tough act to follow, but they’ll come around on the Jess thing. They love you too much not to.”
“Maybe, but honestly, I’m not sure it matters much anymore,” Rory told him easily. “You wanna hear the plans I’ve been making since the Stamford Gazette blow out?” she asked, rising to go over to the drinks cabinet and getting Logan and herself the usual.
“What kinds of plans, Ace?” her friend asked curiously, watching her slowly smile.
“Pretty big plans,” she told him, handing over his drink and waiting for him to clink his glass against her own. “Cheers,” she said and they both drank.
“You still haven’t told me where we’re going,” Luke complained half-heartedly as Lorelai practically dragged him down the street by the hand. “Come on, I have to get back to the diner soon.”
“We’re almost there, whiner baby,” Lorelai teased him, urging him to move faster. “It’s a great surprise, I promise, you’re going to love it!”
Luke sighed but quit complaining. He could not imagine where she was taking him or why. Not that he could ever refuse to follow Lorelai wherever she wanted to lead him. Truthfully, he was pretty sure he couldn’t say no to any request she ever made and didn’t want to try. He was still kind of confused by the magical mystery tour though, and was about to ask one more time for an explanation when, finally, Lorelai stopped walking, so abruptly in fact that he almost slammed into her.
“Now, look,” she said, raising her whole right arm to point, her left hand still tightly grasping Luke’s own.
“A house,” he said, looking it over
“A beautiful house,” said Lorelai pointedly. “Please note the stylish ‘For Sale’ board motif on the front lawn.”
Luke’s eyes widened just a little as he glanced from the house itself to Lorelai’s smiling face and back again. She told him that Rory was seriously considering of moving out of their home in Hartford and that that she was doing some thinking on that subject also, but at no point had she confirmed any plans. At no point had she told him she was thinking of moving to where he lived.
“You wanna buy this house?” he checked.
“If Rory likes it.” Lorelai nodded. “Technically we would both be buying the house, me and Rory, halfsies, you know? At first, she was thinking of getting an apartment, probably in New Haven, but then after the whole explosion at home, I started thinking seriously about moving out too. Stars Hollow is where we want to be most of the time. You know, I work here, I come here to see you, and Rory has Jess. It just makes sense.”
“Uh-huh.” Luke nodded his head, though he looked kind of thrown still. “I’m just... I wasn’t expecting you to move here.”
“Oh. Oh, you don’t... You’d rather not have me this close?” said Lorelai, shaking her head, smile fading faster than fast. “I never thought about that, I just assumed... Well, you know what they say, ‘Never assume, it makes an ass of-”
Before she could get the rest of the old saying out, Luke had pulled her into his arms, his lips covering hers as he kissed her breathless. By the time they parted, Lorelai was entirely dizzy and very glad that Luke was holding her up.
“Lorelai,” he said, pushing her hair back from her face. “I love that you want to move to this crazy, crack-pot town. I can’t think of anything better than having you so close.”
“You sure?” said Lorelai, smile now returning. “’Cause I’m not sure I’m feeling the happiness, the need, the adoration,” she said teasingly. “I could use a little more convincing that you’re really so thrilled about all this.”
She got her wish as Luke happily kissed her one more time, right there in front of the house that Lorelai one day hoped to make a home for her and Rory.
“You sure this is how you wanna do this?” said Jess as he pulled his car onto the driveway at the Gilmore house in Hartford.
“So sure.” Rory nodded definitely, though Jess noted she hopped out of the car very fast, presumably before she had a chance to change her mind.
“We’re about to be real unpopular. Me more than you.”
“Do you care?” she asked him as they met on their way to the front door, her hand catching a hold of his own.
“Nope,” Jess assured her, kissing her lips.
Of course, all their confidence wavered just a little as Rory let them into the house. There was no denying this moment was a very big deal and it could go pretty badly yet. It was a relief at least to find that Lorelai had got back before them and was ready for their entrance. She must have rushed to the closet by the stairs when she heard them coming, dragging out Rory’s bag and bringing it straight to her.
“Mom, you’re the best.”
“We aim to please, sweets,” she said, smiling widely. “You guys all set?”
“Yep, just the goodbyes to go,” her daughter told her with a look.
“Hey, we’re with you, kid.”
“One hundred percent,” Jess assured her. “I’m not going anywhere, not without you.”
“He’s a keeper,” said Lorelai definitely.
“Yes, he is,” Rory replied, turning to look at Jess and never feeling more certain about what she was doing in her whole life when he smiled at her.
“Rory?” a voice called then as Emily appeared from the other direction. “What’s going on here?” she asked, finding the three gathered near the door.
“Hi, Grandma. Uh, is Grandpa here?”
“In his study,” she confirmed, nodding her head even as she surveyed the scene around her. “You’d like me to fetch him, I presume?”
Rory felt her heart hammering in her chest as Emily went to find Richard. It was ridiculous, she should never be this nervous about telling her grandparents her plans, and yet. She felt Jess’ hand slide around hers again and found her smile. She could absolutely do this, she really could.
“Rory, my dear,” said her grandfather as he appeared with Emily a step behind. “It’s so wonderful to have you back.”
“I’m not so sure she is back, Richard,” his wife told him, gesturing to the large bag by their granddaughter’s feet.
“I’m actually not,” Rory confirmed. “Um, okay, so things got a little crazy the other day. The whole thing at the Stamford Gazette was just way out of hand and then here...” Rory stopped and shook her head before going on. “It made me think about a lot of things, about myself as a person, about my life.”
She glanced from her grandparents staring eyes then to see her mom giving her an encouraging look. It was what Rory needed to be able to go on.
“I’ve come to some pretty serious decisions in the last few days and, weirdly, I have Mitchum Huntzberger to thank for that.”
“I did say that I was sure he meant to be constructive in any criticism he gave you, Rory,” Emily reminded her. “He’s a very successful man, he must know what he’s talking about.”
“And he did apologise for any offence caused,” Richard noted.
“Yes, he did,” Rory agreed, gritting her teeth even as she admitted it, “but that’s not really the point. You know he said a lot of things that hurt me at the time. He insulted my writing, and he tried to put me down for being a woman, and for being naive and inexperienced, all things I could counter in my head later, that I knew were just crap. But one thing he said really hit home. I realised it stung me so badly and made me so mad because it was true. He told me I didn’t have what it takes to follow through on my goals, to make a choice and really go for what I wanted, no matter what.
“At first, I though it wasn’t true. I told myself how I was in the Life and Death Brigade and I’ve done lots of daring things, but honestly? None of that really matters. It’s fun and it’s dangerous and exciting, but it doesn’t change my life, so it doesn’t count, not in the real world.
“Then I realised that any time I want to do anything real, it only happens if it’s what someone else wants too. I have given up everything to please other people. I wanted to go to Harvard but I ended up at Yale, because it’s what you wanted, because it’s what my friends wanted. Logan wanted to get engaged and I let it happen. I let it go on happening, until it almost cost me the man I actually love,” she said, feeling Jess’ hand tighten around her own and loving that he was there. “All the time, I just let go of what I want because it’s easier not to fight. Well, I’m sorry,” she told her grandparents sincerely, “but I’m not going to do that anymore.”
“Rory, you know we only ever want what’s best for you,” Richard told her solemnly.
“I’m not blaming you, Grandpa,” she promised him, “not either of you,” she confirmed, eyes shifting to Emily next. “This is nobody’s fault but mine, and now I have to be the one to fix it. From now on, I do what I want to do with my life.”
“Which begins with a vacation,” Emily guessed, “with this boyfriend of yours,” she added, giving Jess a less-than-impressed look.
He shot her a winning smile in return until she gave in and turned away.
“Um, it’s not exactly a vacation,” Rory tried to explain. “I’m actually going on tour with the band that Jess manages.”
That certainly got Emily’s attention back in an instant. “You’re not serious!”
“Rory, please, reconsider,” Richard urged her. “The dangers, the unhygienic surroundings, the kinds of people-”
“Mom, Dad, she’ll be fine,” Lorelai cut in fast. “She’ll be with Jess, and I’ve met the guys in the band, they’re good people - one is even female, if that helps you - and they’re all going to have a great time. Hell, if I didn’t have so many responsibilities, I’d wanna go too.”
Emily and Richard shared a look, clearly trying to figure out how they could argue this, before realising in the same moment that they couldn’t at all.
“How long will you be gone?” Emily asked instead.
Rory felt one of the knots in her stomach release at the realisation that this part of conversation at least wasn’t actually going to turn into a fight. She never wanted that.
“The tour is just for a few weeks,” she explained, “and hopefully, by the time we get back, Mom will have finalised all the arrangements for the house in Stars Hollow.”
“The house?” Richard echoed, turning to his daughter for explanation. “What house?”
“Rory and me, we put in an offer,” Lorelai told him, pulling a folded piece of paper from her back pocket and handing it over.
Richard unfolded it and held it where Emily could also see, the pair of them staring in awe at the realtor’s information sheet, complete with picture.
“You’re leaving us,” said Emily, a crack her voice that it pleased neither Gilmore girl to hear. “Both of you. Are we so awful?”
“No, not at all, Grandma,” Rory promised her. “I love you so much, both of you. We both love you,” she said definitely, as Lorelai nodded her head in agreement. “It’s just... neither one of us is a kid anymore and I think, even though you don’t mean to, you’re going to see us that way and treat us that way for as long as we live here. Especially me,” she said, glancing between them, daring them to deny it if they could.
Richard sighed. “She has a point, Emily,” he admitted, handing the paper back to Lorelai.
“It’s not like we’re going far away,” Lorelai assured her parents. “A half hour drive, that’s all. You guys can come see us and we’ll come see you, and hey, we’ll actually have more to talk about because we won’t be in each other’s pockets all week long.”
Emily nodded as if she agreed, but it was clear she wasn’t overly impressed. Richard cleared his throat and looked away too as silence reigned a while longer, only to be very suddenly broken by the buzzing of Jess’ cell in his pocket.
“Sorry,” he muttered, pulling it out to check the screen - it was Dave, asking how much longer they would be.
“We need to go?” Rory asked him.
Jess nodded his head, wondering how easy this exit was going to be after everything.
“Okay.” Rory stepped forward and reached for Richard then. “Bye, Grandpa. I’ll see you soon.”
“Goodbye, Rory,” he replied, hugging her tightly. “Now, you must take the utmost care on this tour and... well, make sure you have some fun too,” he said, smiling as they parted.
“I will,” she promised, moving on to Emily. “Bye, Grandma.”
“Goodbye, Rory,” she said, taking her turn at the biggest of hugs. “Have a safe trip.”
“Rock out extra hard for me, okay, babe?” Lorelai threw in as she finally got her own hug goodbye.
“You know I will,” Rory promised, turning to find that Jess had already picked up her bag for her. “Okay, time to go.”
There was an audible sigh of relief from both Rory and Jess as they stepped out onto the driveway at last, the door closing behind them with a thud. He put her bag into the car and then closed down the trunk, turning to find her staring up at the house yet.
“You okay?” he checked, stepping up beside her.
Rory turned to him with a smile playing at her lips, surprising him as she reached for the hem of her top and pulled it off over her head. Underneath, she wore a black T-shirt with day-glo pink lettering across her chest that declared ‘I’m with the band.’ Before Jess could even react to that, she threw herself into his arms and kissed him long and hard on the lips.
“Now, I’m just fine,” she said definitely as they parted.
“You know I love you, right?” said Jess, just marvelling at the wonder that was Rory Gilmore.
“You may have mentioned it,” she said, giggling happily. “Works out pretty well, because I love you too, so much.”
“That does work out well,” Jess agreed, stealing one more kiss. “Come on, groupie,” he said, tugging on her T-shirt. “Let’s go.”
“I’m with you, man,” she told him as they both moved to get into the car to leave.
Where life would take them or how things would work out, neither Jess nor Rory had a clue, but it seemed like it was going to be a lot of fun finding out, together.