Until five minutes ago, Rory Gilmore would have said that she had a perfect relationship with Paris. (The city, not the unstoppable event that is Paris Geller.) She likes the museums and she loves the food and she's been here often enough over the past five years, usually chasing down a story, that she knows the city well enough to take the Metro without having to consult a map and has a favorite crepe place on both the Left and the Right Bank. She's there just enough but not long enough to get overly attached. Perfect.
Now, however, her entire relationship with the city is called into question. Because on this sunny May day, in the middle of Shakespeare and Company, Paris has decided to give her Jess Mariano. Jess Mariano, talking about his new book. Jess Mariano, cross-legged and easy, with a paperback book sticking out of his back pocket. And Jess Mariano, still unfairly handsome.
She's planning to turn around and flee before he sees her. But his voice nearly catches in the middle of a sentence and she knows that he's seen her and when she looks up to meet his gaze from across the store, Rory can't look away.
It's funny, she thinks. Dean was her first. For a while, she thought that Logan might be her last. But it's Jess who she thinks about calling late at night. (Really, it's Jess who she thinks about.)
Rory’s seen him, of course, over the past few years but it’s always been with the security of other people there--Luke, her mom, even April once or twice. They send emails to each other sometimes but not with any kind of regularity. He’ll send her a book recommendation, she’ll complain about her latest editor, he’ll tell her about the most recent romantic entanglements of Truncheon’s resident poet, she’ll determinedly avoid any mention of her own romantic entanglements...Anyway. She feels a tiny thrill whenever she sees his name pop into her inbox. Which is a reasonable way to feel.
She stays, even if maybe she shouldn’t. She wants to hear his book, she tells herself, and hear his voice shape itself around the words. And every so often his eyes flick over to her, faintly surprised every time, like he expected her to vanish as soon as he looked away, and Rory stays firmly planted in the middle of Shakespeare and Company, drinking him in. He's stopped coating his hair in ten coats of gel, letting it curl more, and his shoulders are straight and he's comfortable in his own skin in a way he never was in Stars Hollow. Seeing grown-up Jess, whether she's twenty and sulking about her grandparents' house or twenty-one and flailing in the wake of a fight with Logan or twenty-seven and still, somehow a little adrift, always makes her feel like she wants to catch up with him.
“Rory,” he says carefully after the reading, weaving his way through the bookstore towards her. “You're in Paris.”
“Just finishing up the last few pieces of a story,” she says. “You're touring internationally now?”
“I'm here for a few months—writer's residency. And there's an artist Truncheon wants to do the cover of the next anthology so...the legendary Mariano charm gets called into action once again. Not that the legendary Mariano charm was particularly effective with a grumpy old Frenchman,” Jess adds, mouth twisting ruefully to one side. “He told me to get out at least three times before agreeing to do the cover.”
“I'm picturing a French version of Luke,” she confesses. “With a beret instead of a baseball cap.”
“No beret,” he says. “But he did have a longstanding feud with the owner of the gallery next door.”
Rory laughs and then they're just standing next to each other, smiling—and it's good. She feels the tight knots that tend to cluster around her neck start to relax and she's not thinking about her deadlines or the wedding announcement she saw five weeks ago in the New York Times or the way her mother slipped the news that she and Luke are thinking about trying to have a baby in the last paragraph of her most recent email. She remembers this from when she was a teenager, the way the world seemed to narrow down and focus on her and Jess until it was just the two of them.
“My flight doesn't leave until late tonight,” she finds herself offering.
“Do you want to get something to eat then?” he says. “Or a coffee?”
Jess says goodbye to the staffer running the event, scribbles his signature in a few more books, laughs when he sees her take her massive stack of purchases up to the register, swings the door open for her, and then they're off, walking along the Seine.
“So what's the story about?” he asks after a minute. They've adjusted their strides to match up with each other and she half expects him to drape an arm across her shoulder and pull her close, the way he used to whenever he caught up to her in the town square.
“French politics and women in them. A bit about French First Ladies too. It'll be good once I get my notes together.” She shrugs, picturing the half-typed word document on her laptop.
“And you like it?”
“Mostly.” Rory hesitates, bites her lower lip. She says that her job is great whenever people ask her about it. And it is. Just now always. “I'd like to be a staff writer at a big publication by now but freelancing's good too—I have a few regular things lined up and I get to do a little bit of everything. I even tried travel writing for a while, which was kind of disastrous. Did you know that you're not supposed to spend an entire paragraph of a hotel review analyzing the books they've placed for decoration on the shelves? Although I would argue that I was serving a very important purpose for guests who wanted to read something other than Capote and Faulkner.”
She stops abruptly, suddenly aware that she's rambling. Jess has a smile tucked into one corner of his mouth.
“Things don't always turn out the way you expect,” she says lamely. “I'm historically not very good at dealing with that.”
“People expect a lot of you too. I keep on thinking there's going to be a formal portrait of you every time I go back to Stars Hollow.” Jess frowns as he says the name.
“You've been back?”
“A few times. Mostly to see Luke and bring Doula books for when she's older. The last time I was there, I read Madeline with her and she made me do the whole thing in a French accent,” Jess says.
“Liz seems like she's doing well,” Rory ventures. It's hard to connect the cheerfully ditzy Liz she's met with the stories Jess sometimes lets slip about his childhood but there's always been something in Jess' voice that made her believe it, something much more fragile than he'd ever let on.
“Yeah, she's good. Seems pretty stable. Half of what TJ says seems to be nonsense but he makes her happy so...”Jess shrugs. “It's weird seeing her so functional, you know? Not drunk, not strung-out, not yelling, not barely able to keep it together. I didn't think I'd ever see it. We're okay. Not great but okay.”
“And your dad?” They're skipping over all the casual automatic pleasantries, she recognizes dimly, the small talk about jobs and apartments and the weather. But she doesn't want to talk about these things with Jess. (She thinks she might die inside a little, in fact, if they cycle through the regular litany of questions, swapping facts like he never woke her up inside twice over.)
“We talk. It's something,” Jess says. “Some weeks we get along better than others but I've been told that's normal.”
“I'm so glad. That things are good.” She means it. Happiness looks good on him, smoothing down his sharp edges a little and easing out the tension that seemed to be permanently ingrained in his jaw when she first met him. It's why she used to love seeing his smile so much, when it transformed his face completely.
“Tell me all about your book,” she adds. “I want to hear about every single draft and angry email exchange with your editor.”
“What makes you think I had any angry email exchanges with my editor? Maybe I've gone soft and agreeable in my old age.” Jess raises one eyebrow at her and when she laughs, he laughs too and the afternoon light is streaming across them both and Rory wants to tilt her head back and soak in the sun and the sound of his laugh until they sink down into her bones. He tells her about his book, about the first draft that he covered with notes until he couldn't read it and the second draft that his editor peppered with post-its and the third draft that he finally let Chris and Matthew look at, and Rory realizes that, out of everywhere she knows, Jess may be the one who gets it. He knows the exact feeling of dread that inhabits the feeling of her stomach when she's faced with a blinking cursor and a deadline. He's intimately familiar with the concept of intensely disagreeing with someone over a choice of adjective. He just gets it and when he steers her down a side street to stop by a boulangerie for flaky croissants that get all over the front of her shirt, she finds herself opening her mouth and admitting something to him she's not sure she's ever admitted to herself.
“I think I want to write a book,” she says. “I don't know about what but I think I do.”
“I'd read it. You'd have to sign a copy for me, of course,” Jess says. “I already know what the inscription would be.”
He grins at her and Rory feels her stomach flip.
“But you really think I could do it?” It's funny. Everyone in her life seems to think she can do anything she wants—her mom, her grandparents, Luke, Lane, the people she half-knows from Yale who she makes forced conversation with at alumni events—but at twenty-seven, sharing a shoebox New York City apartment, behind on her deadlines and her credit card bill, grimacing her way through mediocre dates with men she swiped right on, she's not always so sure.
“Yeah, I think you could. I'd take a look at it, if you wanted me to when you have something to look at.” He used to read some of her articles in high school, peering over her shoulder with one arm around her waist, nodding along with some of her edits and reaching over to erase others, occasionally dropping his lips to press a kiss to the spot on her neck that no one else has ever been able to find. He was a good editor, she remembers, sharp but careful with her words in a way that he usually wasn't with his own.
“You promise?” she asks. It sounds so young when she says it. Jess nods and says yes anyway.
“I'll write it if I know you're going to read it,” she explains, color staining her cheeks, and she stares resolutely ahead at the river. They're nearly out of the tourist areas now as they pass stands selling vintage magazines and cream-colored buildings with black iron flourishes and she can see the shapes of the more modern buildings that lurk on the city's edges ahead of them. (She hasn't seen a store selling Eiffel Tower keychains in nearly five minutes.)
“So you'll write it.”
She'll write it.
They take a cab over to the Coulee Verte when Rory asks where they're going and Jess says the first place that comes into his mind. It stretches all the way from the Bois de Vincennes to the Bastille but they start somewhere around the Viaduct des Arts, Jess loping up the stairs and her following behind. There's green everywhere and trees arching over their heads and Rory doesn't think she's ever been here before.
“I stay in the center, mostly,” she explains when Jess looks at her with disbelief. “I'm usually only here for a few days at most and I have interviews to do and deadlines to meet and I—I don't go on vacation, you know?”
She doesn't. If she goes anywhere that isn't for work, she goes home to eat Chinese food and watch old movies with her mom and have coffee at Luke's and catch up with Lane and make the rounds of Stars Hollow. The last time she went on anything that could be called a vacation was when she went to the Caribbean with Paris, where she read Anna Karenina and Paris studied for her med school exams for three days straight. (She really does think she got something new out of Anna Karenina that time.)
“Maybe you're overdue, then,” Jess says. “It doesn't have to be a vacation. Just something that you don't do for anyone else. I just walk up and down here, you know? And I read a lot of Pynchon on that bench.”
“But I've done so much for myself,” she says quietly. It's something she's been thinking a lot lately. Rory's always had the knack of getting what she wants and sometimes she ignores what other people want in the process of getting it. People give things up for her and she accepts it as her due and she—she's been trying not to do that as much lately. She doesn't know how good she is at it yet.
“True.” He just shrugs and she loves how he doesn't try to argue with her. “But you were always under a lot of pressure too. People expected everything from you.”
“That's the one good thing about everyone thinking you're going to end up a deadbeat by eighteen.” he adds in a minute. “Nowhere to go but up.”
“I didn't,” she tells him. “I always expected that you would do something really great.”
Jess looks at her with pure unguarded affection and the back of his hand brushes against hers and Rory momentarily forgets how to breathe.
“Well then,” he says. “We need to take you on vacation. But I'm not standing in line at the Louvre.”
They're sitting by the Canal St. Martin when she thinks about kissing him. It's not for the first time that day, if she's honest with herself. She thought about it for a brief fleeting minute on that bench in the Coulee Verte when she sat closer to him than she had to and the late afternoon light slanted across them both. It's not for the first time this month either. She thought about kissing Jess after a dismal date that ended with her ducking the man's mouth outside a Japanese restaurant in Brooklyn, remembered the way that she could barely breathe when he kissed her. And maybe it's not for the first time this year either. Maybe she thought about it in the early hours of the morning, twisting and turning in her sheets in the faint neon glow of New York City light. Maybe she thinks about it more than she should.
“You want coffee, right?” Jess says. She thinks about kissing him some more.
“Always. Do you think they'd put it in a to-go cup?”
Jess winces and clutches his chest. “You're a heathen.”
“A heathen in need of sustenance. Lead me to coffee and pastry, please.” She tilts her chin up and tries to look imperious. “Maybe some real food too. I could eat.”
“You can always eat.”
He ends up taking her to Holybelly and she has coffee and pancakes and half of Jess' eggs and then a slice of pie after.
“My mom would love this,” she says around a mouthful of pie and then hesitates. Her mom and Jess aren't engaged in open hostilities anymore but she's honestly not sure if they're in a temporary cease-fire or if they've made peace for good.
“You two could go on the road,” Jess says with a crooked grin. “Watch the Amazing Gilmores consume their weight in Chinese food while they talk like they're in a 1930's screwball comedy.”
“Watch it or you're not getting any of my pie,” she says. He reaches over and deftly forks a piece anyway.
“Luke seems really happy. With Lorelei,” Jess admits. She wonders what it's like for him to come back to the house that she used to live in when he goes to visit Luke: the living room that he always seemed uncomfortable in, the porch where her mom scolded him, the window that he used to sneak in to her bedroom once or twice, easing it up so slowly to avoid getting caught.
“They're thinking about trying to have a baby,” she blurts out. “I don't know how I feel about it.”
Jess just looks at her and then she finds herself talking about it, the words tumbling out of her like she's been keeping them locked away for months. (One week, three days, and four and a half hours to be exact, since her mom first mentioned it to her in that email.) Because she wants it to be uncomplicated. She wants to be happy and excited and buying avocado print onesies and those board books that claim to be versions of classic literature for her future half-brother or sister. But it was just her and her mom for so long and she can't shake the feeling sometimes that her mom views this as her chance to get it right. She's jealous, she thinks ruefully. Jealous of the fact that this baby would get to grow up with cheesy staged family photos and dinners that don't consist of takeout, with Luke's steady presence instead of her dad's dropping in and out,with all the things that she doesn't quite know how to miss.
“I hate being jealous,” she tells Jess and scowls into her coffee. “I thought I was supposed to be better at this by now.”
She thought she was supposed to be better at everything by now.
She sighs and pokes at the last remaining bit of crust with her fork. Jess slides his hand across the table and twists his fingers through hers, his voice low and soft. Rory can barely hear what he says over the sound of her heart roaring in her ears.
They talk about the books they've read and the concerts they've gone to and Rory's favorite used bookstore in Brooklyn and Jess' favorite record store in Philadelphia. She promises to show him where the owner stashes all the Beat poets and he promises to spend hours flipping through records with her and she thinks that maybe they'll keep their promises. Maybe they can exist outside of this soap bubble of a moment, outside of the Parisian streets and the warm evening light.
“It's late,” Jess says reluctantly. “When does your plane leave?”
“Not for hours,” she says. She can always rebook it for tomorrow. Call her editor and explain that an opportunity for a new interview came up and scrounge up another interview from one of her journalist friends who owes her a favor.
“And there isn't anything else you want to do in Paris? Macarons you have to buy?” He tries to make a joke of it but she can tell that he expects her to leave. This is what happens with them, after all. He leaves and then she leaves and then he leaves again and then she walks away and they keep on just missing each other.
“I'm right where I want to be. Although now that you mention macarons...” She grins mischievously at him and Jess groans but lets her tug him in the direction of a Pierre Herme store she thought she spotted a few blocks over.
She buys eight exquisite macarons in a perfectly beribboned box for her mom and four for her and Jess to share.
“Open your mouth,” she instructs him. “The chocolate and passion fruit macaron is a religious experience.”
The expression on his face when he tastes it is priceless.
They go to a tiny cafe paneled in dark wood and order a carafe of the cheapest red wine on the menu and sit at a table that's so small their knees knock together beneath it. Rory has to keep herself from leaning in and getting caught up in him, keeping one hand curled around the wood of her chair, physically holding herself back. Because she wants him so, so badly. She wants his words scrawled in the margins of her books and whispered against her skin and his hands wrapped around a mug of morning coffee and wrapped around her waist and his mouth on hers and the look he gets when he's really concentrating on something and she wants him to turn that look on her. She's not sure how she got here (or maybe she's been here all along, in steadfast denial) but she is very sure of it now that she's arrived.
“What happened, Jess?” she asks. “With us.”
He shrugs. “We were teenagers. I was kind of a dick. Your ex-boyfriend was a total dick.”
It's unfortunately true.
“But we didn't—I loved you,” she says. She has maybe had too much wine.
“You loved me?” Jess looks like someone's hit him over the head with a brick and then told him that he's the long-lost heir to a small Central European country.
“I loved you.” She tests the words out on her tongue again. They sound right. “I know that we both screwed up but when it was good, it was so good. Remember? Like we were the only people in the world that really understood each other. And the way you used to listen to me and look at--”
Jess kisses her. It's not like how she remembers it. It's better. His mouth slots perfectly against hers and her hands fist in his hair and there's just the hint of teeth and tongue, enough to make her breathless, and she feels it in every inch of her body. No one has ever kissed her quite like Jess does, in that way that makes every other piece of the world drop away, and in that moment, she could do without the rest of the world for a little while.
He pulls back and looks at her. There's a new carefulness in his gaze, like he's expecting the worst before she says it. “Was that—was that right?” he asks her. “Should I have done that?”
“Yes,” she breathes. Her blood is fizzing and she feels reckless and she desperately wants to kiss him again. “Is your—can we...”
“My apartment's a few stops away on the Metro,” Jess says. He looks like he can't quite believe he's saying it. “But Rory—I don't want to have the kind of night that we never talk about again. I can't do that.”
“I don't want that either.” One thing is very clear, Rory thinks. If she chooses him this time, it'll be for good. It won't be easy but it will be for good.
“I think,” she says. “I think I want to try. At this. I can't promise that it'll always be perfect or that we won't argue or that I won't make mistakes but I want to try so badly. With you—with us.”
“You said no to me before,” he says and when he looks down at the table, she knows that he's remembering that awful night in her Yale dorm and the slightly less awful night at his poetry reading and all the times he's reached for her and she's turned away.“Why now?”
“Because I feel like maybe this time I'm ready for it. I've never felt about anyone else the way that I feel about you,” she admits. “It's...it's enormous. And a little terrifying. But I think that I'm okay with being scared.”
“I'm fucking terrified.” Jess laughs shakily and drags one hand across his face. “I keep on thinking that I'm going to wake up any minute now and realize that I dreamed you.”
“I'm real,” she promises. “I'm here. For as long as you'll have me, I'm here. And we have a chance, Jess, and it feels like this might be the right one and I—we have to try.”
“I don't think that it might be the right one,” he says. “I think it is already.”
Then they're kissing again, crowding into each other's space and she has two hands buried in the fabric of his shirt pulling him closer and people are definitely looking at them now and she doesn't care again. Jess leaves a few euros on the table and tugs her up (or she pulls him up, they're melting into each other now and she can't bear to let go of him) and they're running down the street together towards the Metro and sliding through the gates and all tangled up together on a bench as they wait for the train to come.
“How long are you planning on letting yourself be had?” Jess asks and quirks an eyebrows at her. Rory flushes all the way from the roots of her hair to the soles of her heeled boots.
“A long, long time,” she tells him. The rest of their lives, she thinks wildly.
They kiss all the way up the steps to his fourth-floor apartment, pressed against each other in darkened stairwells, and they spend another five minutes kissing against the door to his apartment before he finally fumbles for the key for his apartment and swings the door open. She has her hands under his shirt and is systematically undoing the buttons and he has one arm holding her up so she can wrap her legs around his waist and the other hand going in a very intriguing direction up her thigh but when she sees his apartment, she has to hop down and give it her proper attention.
Because Jess has so many books. There's ones she wants to read and ones she remembers them reading together and ones she's never even heard of, stacked two-deep on his bookshelf and piled on the floor and in a teetering stack on his nightstand. She has to spin around in a slow circle to take it all in.
“Well, aren't we hooked on phonics?” Jess says.
And she's sixteen and she's twenty-seven and they're in Stars Hollow and they're in Paris and she's meeting his eyes for the first time and for the thousandth and it's Jess and somehow it's always been him and it's always going to be him and perhaps for the first time in the history of Rory Gilmore and Jess Mariano, she thinks that they understand each other completely.
Jess walks over to his turntable to put on a record—something low and soulful—and begins to make his way towards her, slow and deliberate. Like they have all the time in this world. Like this night is the first of many more.
“I thought you had a plane to catch,” he says, teasing, as she tilts her face up towards him.
“Jess,” she says, quiet like she's about to tell him a secret, and her eyes are bright and mischievous and full of everything she feels for him. “I missed my plane hours ago.”