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"What do you mean you're not going to prom?" Paris demands.

Rory blinks in surprise but otherwise doesn't stop her brisk strides to her locker; she's more than eager to get out of Chilton and back home. "I'm going to the Stars Hollow prom – I just don't see the point in going to the Chilton one."

"But I'm going."

This time Rory slows down. "You are? With Jamie? Really?"

Paris rolls her eyes. "Don't act so surprised – and before you start assuming that I'm dragging Jamie from Princeton to this insipid high school tradition – he was the one that asked about it. I just assumed he'd want to stay at Princeton and get ahead by taking summer classes, but he wanted to take me, so. I said yes."

Rory smiles. "Aw, that's nice."

"Yeah, which means you have to be there – I hate everyone here and they're all scared to come within five feet of me, which, I'm proud of, don't get me wrong, but it's a problem when you need to take a million and one photos with dates and friends. It makes it awkward. Especially since you're my only real friend here."

Rory winces a little. "I don't know, Paris…"

"Please, do this for me. And if not for me, then for Jamie – he won't know anyone but me. But if you're here, that would make it better."

"Paris, there's no way Jess is going to agree to be my date," Rory counters. "I had to twist his arm just to take me to one dance – no amount of bribery will make him go to two."

"Oh come on, just bat those pretty, Bambi eyes of yours, promise him a little something-something and he'll be eating out of the palm of your hand just like the last one."

Rory glares at her and tries hard not to flush. "I'm not doing that!"

Paris stops suddenly, eyes narrowing in thought, which always means Bad News. At least the bandage is off her nose so it doesn’t look as ridiculous. "Don't tell me…you and James Dean still haven't done it?"

Now Rory feels her face become a million degrees hotter. "Don't announce it again!"

"Why not? I mean, he's totally into you, he's hot, and he's well read even though his opinions leave much to be desired," she lists, trailing off with a shrug.

"I'm not having this conversation with you again."

"Fine, be that way. It won't look good if the Vice President isn't at the prom, you know."

"Oh, come on, I'm already in college, what's the point now?"

"Is Jess the only thing preventing you from going? Because you can always go stag. That's a hip thing to do. Very feminist."

Rory scoffs. "I'm not going stag when I have a boyfriend."

"Then ask the little Beat-worshiper and get back to me if you want to be a good friend," Paris tells her before walking away.

Rory stutters, looking for a comeback, but Paris is out of sight and oh no, she's starting to develop a hole in the pit of her stomach.

"I'm too nice," she mutters to herself as she takes out her backpack and slams her locker shut.

**

Jess is sitting on the bus stop bench reading, unsurprisingly. Except when she gets off the bus and sees the front cover, she snorts. "Wow, never thought I'd see the day."

He rolls his eyes and looks up from the book. "It's killing me slowly."

"Hamlet isn't that –"

"Don't you dare finish that sentence with what I think you're going to say if you want me to wear proper shoes to prom."

Rory grimaces at the mention of prom.

His eyebrows rise. "Wow, it's like looking into a mirror – what's with that expression?"

"You're going to hate me," she says morosely.

His eyebrows furrow as he slips Hamlet into the back pocket of his jeans. "What's going on?"

"Walk with me," she says, taking his arm and looping it with hers.

"Want me to carry your backpack?"

"I don't think you can handle the weight of eight textbooks and four hardcovers."

He wordlessly takes her bag off her shoulders, his face not giving away its extreme weight as he slings it over one shoulder. She laces their hands together as she leads him to the bridge.

"Okay…what is this about?" he asks, dropping her backpack with a loud thud, sitting down with crossed legs.

She half expects it to break through the wood and into the lake. "Careful!"

"I doubt you'll lose sleep over your Calculus book getting damaged."

"No, but I have A Room of One's Own in there."

"Fair enough, sorry." Pause. "What happened?"

"Well…" Rory wrings her hands in front of her as she sits down across from him. Her eyes flit from his hair to his eyes to his mouth to his shoulder and the cycle begins again. "I was with Paris –"

"Well that's not a good start to this."

She groans. "And she started asking me about prom and I told her that I was going to the Stars Hollow one and then she started grilling me about not going to Chilton's prom and –"

"Oh, no, you didn't." Jess has a pained expression on his face.

"She really wants me to go since Jamie wanted to take her and…you know she doesn't have any other friends at that school…"

"Neither do you," he points out.

She shrugs helplessly. "I feel guilty."

"It's probably indigestion. I mix the two all the time – it'll pass."

"Jess." She sighs and hides her face in her hands. "I know you don't want to go – I guess if she really needs me I can go alone –"

"You're not going alone," he says, pinching the bridge of his nose. "That'll make me feel like a jerk."

"This is Paris' gift – six degrees of guilt – more theoretically sound than the Bacon version," Rory concludes as her hands drop to her sides. "So…what do you think?"

He clenches his jaw and glances up, then looks back at her, quiet. She runs her tongue over her bottom lip and his eyes follow it. She thinks about what Paris suggested and her face gets hot again.

(Twenty-two-point-eight-miles is fresh in her mind and she thinks about how it really makes her feel, realize what she really wants.)

"When is it?"

She blinks and shakes her head. "What?"

"Chilton prom – when is it?"

"Oh, it's, uh, May thirty-first. The Saturday before Stars Hollow's prom."

He nods. "Okay."

She stares at him for a few moments. "'Okay'?"

"Just tell me how much the tickets cost and –"

"They don't cost anything for me – student government privilege," Rory says, still confused that this is happening.

"I'm not doing anything pre-prom related," he states.

"Fine."

"I get to bring a book."

"Well, I wasn't going to let you share mine."

He almost smiles. "This is going to be a terrible idea."

"Oh, you betcha."

**

"So let me get this straight," her mom starts once she's temporarily stopped her snickering. "Paris guilt-tripped you into going to the Chilton prom and you managed to sucker Jess into going?" She shakes her head. "I'd say 'poor bastard,' but I'm enjoying this way too much."

Rory sighs. "Hey, what about me? I didn't want to go in the first place!"

"There's a sucker born every minute…" her mom singsongs.

"Stop it."

"And I'm referin' to the minute you were born…"

Rory takes the last slice of pizza and goes into her bedroom, leaving her mom to laugh to herself.

**

An hour or so later, there's a tapping on Rory's bedroom window.

She smiles when she looks up from her textbook. Once she's gotten out of bed and unlatched the window, she says, "Hey."

"Hey. Mind if I use your computer? Need to type up an essay," Jess says, cool as you please even though she knows he despises this situation with every fiber of his being.

"Yeah, no problem." She steps aside and allows him to climb in. "So, did you tell Luke?"

"I'm here, aren't I?"

He sounds a little annoyed, so she places her hands on either side of his face and kisses him softly. She feels his jaw unclench under her hands and his exhale on her cheek as he opens her mouth and deepens the kiss, pressing close and taking no prisoners.

After a minute, she takes a breath, dizzy and buzzing under her skin as she exhales, "Jess."

He hums as his lips move from her pulse point on her neck to that space by her ear she didn't know existed until Jess found it. She tries to hold back a whimper but doesn't quite succeed.

"Jess, my mom can come in here," she says, pained.

He exhales sharply and gives her one last kiss on the mouth before pulling back. His eyes are dark and her throat constricts.

"What, uh…your essay. What's it about?" she asks, hoping to lessen the tension.

It seems to do the trick since he scowls. "I had to pick one of three topics."

She cringes in sympathy. "That's the worst. What did you pick?"

"What do Hamlet's seven soliloquies reveal about his character?" he recites mockingly.

"And?"

"Basically wrote about what a whack-job he was."

She laughs under her breath. "Thank you," she says quietly, running her fingers through the hair by the nape of his neck. "I know how much you hate school and I really appreciate your doing this."

He swallows and looks down. "Whatever, no biggie."

Having his prom tickets be conditional, based on how he does academically for the rest of the year is frustrating. She finds guilt in his eyes that this couldn't be easy, the one thing she's really wanted from him.

But she loves that he's trying.

She kisses his cheek, figuring that's relatively safe territory before pulling away. "The computer is yours."

"You don't need it?"

"Nah, I'm just doing Calc and then reviewing Spanish for a test on Friday."

"Want to do my math homework while you're at it?"

She gives him a flat look.

"Oh, come on."

"If I can read your essay then I'll do half your problems."

"Not a chance."

"Then have fun with that!"

He scrunches his nose at her and sits down in front of the computer. He opens the spiraled notebook he had rolled up in his back pocket and starts typing out his essay.

She has no clue why he prefers writing his assignments out first – maybe so he can hide away wherever he likes to go so his street cred isn't ruined – but she likes when he comes to her room to do his homework on her computer.

She goes back to her assignment and for a while, they work in silence. The Björk CD in the player stops eventually and Jess takes advantage of it by searching through her collection, taking a good ten minutes.

"I do not have that many CDs to warrant this timely search," Rory points out, not looking up from her notes.

"Setting the tone is everything, Gilmore, don't you know anything?"

She snorts and shakes her head.

"Nick Drake?" he asks.

This time she looks up. "Really? That's mellow for you." She remembers Lane telling Rory so long ago about Dean loving Nick Drake, but she keeps that quiet.

He shrugs. "He was an underappreciated musician." He takes out the green case – Five Leaves Left – and sticks the CD in the player. "Should've held on for another year – he could've made the 27 Club."

She rolls her eyes and scoffs. "So stupid. It's tragic, not something to aspire to. I just imagine these musicians' families just wanting their kids alive, not giving a crap about how they could've changed the face of music if they stayed alive to write just one more album."

He looks thoughtful as his hand remains on the media player. But then he turns to look at her and gives him a smile she's never seen before – a sad one.

She stops breathing and her world stops moving as she waits for him to say something, but at that moment when his mouth parts and she grips her pen so hard that she thinks it might snap under the pressure, her bedroom door swings open to reveal her mom in pink pajama bottoms and a tank top that reads "Drama Queen" in sparkly letters. Rory kind of hates her right now.

"Hey, Rory, I'm hitting the hay – I always found that a weird saying. Like I just have a visual of a farmer smacking around some hay in a barn and –" Her mom then notices Jess standing by the CD player. "Jess," she greets more out of surprise than anything else.

"Jess was borrowing my computer," Rory offers calmly, not caring how it might seem.

Her mom's eyes narrow as she takes in the scene in front of her (Rory sitting cross-legged on her bed with her notes and textbooks spread in front of her, wearing sweatpants, and a t-shirt and Jess, his leather jacket draped over the back of her chair and all his clothes on and in tact). "Well, he's gonna have to beat it if he wants to live to see the sun rise again," she finally says with fake cheer.

"But," Rory starts, looking at Jess. "Are you almost done? Jess needs to finish this –"

"It's fine – I'll come by in the morning to finish it," he interrupts her, eyes fixed on her mom.

Finally he faces Rory, eyes softening as he says, "Goodnight."

"'Night, Jess."

She wants to kiss him but her mom has made a clear path for him to leave her room and get as far away from the house as possible.

Once they hear the front door shut, her focuses on Rory. "Rory…" she starts.

"He just came to type out an essay," Rory interrupts her. "Luke doesn't have a computer and he hates going to school and the library –"

Her mom snorts. "Of course he does."

Rory bristles in annoyance. "He's doing this for me so I can go to prom – he needs to ace all his assignments from now until finals and he can't miss a day –"

"Oh, boohoo he actually has to follow the law like every other minor so Luke doesn't get swarmed by DCF." She scoffs. "Unbelievable – you do realize that if he failed anything else and skipped anymore classes, the school would've called them, right?"

"Jess was keeping track just fine," Rory counters.

Her mom looks at her in horror before transforming into pity, shaking her head. "Oh, Rory…"

"Mom, school isn't for everyone, or have you forgotten that?" Rory retorts boldly.

"This is the same girl who was convincing Dean to think about going to a four-year college –" Her mom continues as if she never heard Rory.

“This isn’t about Dean since, in case you didn’t get the memo, he’s not my boyfriend anymore,” Rory snaps.

“Oh, don’t I know it,” Lorelai retorts. “If he were, this conversation wouldn’t be happening!”

"School kills Jess, Mom. It's not for him, it's never been for him and I don't know what he's going to do after graduating, but I know he's going to do good things – great things. I believe in him."

Her mom seems to have lost the fight in her as her shoulders drop and walks over to the foot of Rory's bed, plopping herself on it. "I just don't want you to compromise yourself –"

"I'm not," Rory states firmly. "Yeah, it…it scares me that it's that bad for him and helping him schedule absences goes against my natural instincts, but…" she trails off, not knowing how to finish that sentence.

(At least, not in a way that's going to freak her mom out. (She still hasn't told her twenty-two-point-eight-miles yet – it's still a secret she's keeping close.))

But her mom seems to understand with her face crumpling – it's so miniscule and quick that few would've caught it since her face smooths out in a blink of an eye. "When you call him, tell him to use his delinquent superpowers to be quiet in the morning."

Rory exhales a breath she didn't realize she was holding. "I will."

"G'night, babe, love you," her mom says, standing up and kissing the top of Rory's head.

"Love you too."

As soon as her mom shuts Rory's bedroom door, there's a tapping on Rory's window again.

Rory grins and rushes to the window to find Jess standing outside with his hands in his pockets. "Seven okay? I'll come bearing coffee," he says as she opens her window.

"Sounds good." She frowns. "I'm sorry –"

"It's okay. Really." He flashes her a quick smile. "'Night, Rory."

She sticks her head out of the window and kisses him properly, running her thumb over his cheekbone. "See you tomorrow," she says against his mouth.

He hums before pecking her mouth one more time and walking away, disappearing into the dark.

**

Jess not only brings two coffees over, but also half dozen doughnuts, which surprises and pleases her mom – a first.

"Is your essay due today?" Rory asks as she laces up her shoes.

"Yup."

She almost asks if he wants a second pair of eyes to glance over it, but smartly holds her tongue and instead says, "I have to work on the final edition of the Franklin today, so I'll see you after dinner with my grandparents?"

"Sounds good."

He stuffs his essay haphazardly in his history textbook that he was told to bring as part of his class participation grade ("What the fuck is a class participation grade? It's like they're trying to make school more of a soul-sucking experience than it already is," Jess had griped after his and Luke's first meeting with the principal). She hops to her feet after tying her second shoe and grins when Jess hands her yellow backpack to her.

"I wouldn't be surprised if you took off your bag one day and you'll be like the cover of Led Zep Four."

She rolls her eyes.

"I'm serious – throw on a bowler and strap a bundle of sticks to your back and you'll be a Zephead's tourist attraction."

"Bye, Jess."

He smirks. "Later." He pulls her by one of her backpack straps for a quick kiss. "You know," he starts after he pulls away, "if you lose your sense of equilibrium, you'll topple over."

"Luckily there isn't anyone around to disturb my equilibrium," she points out.

"Except me."

She laughs a little and rests her forehead against his. "Except you." She kisses him again, taking her time.

The tips of her fingers touch a new paperback in his pocket and she pulls it out – The Things They Carried.

"A re-read?" she assumes.

"Yeah." A simple, loaded answer.

But Rory is interrupted from unpacking it when her mom says, "Hurry, hurry – if you want a ride to the bus stop, you will come along, fruit of my loins!"

Jess looks pained. "Does she call you that often?"

"Just this one time is more than enough," she mutters, but steps away from him and towards her bedroom door.

She's about to offer him a ride to the high school – she's sure she can convince her mom without pulling too many of her teeth out – but Jess just escapes out the window, a weirdly kind gesture.

"He might be growing on me," her mom begrudgingly admits. "Like a fungus," she quickly adds.

Rory smiles until her bus arrives to take her to Hartford.

**

On her way to school, she thinks about The Things They Carried and that one line – if she were Jess, she would've remembered it in its entirety – that ends with they carried gravity.

That line always stuck with her, how it doesn't technically make sense, but there's something about it, like there's a weight to living and maybe for Jess, it was heavier than most – heavier than hers, at any rate.

When she gets off at her stop, she's already restless and wanting to go home.

**

Rory doesn't see Paris until right before English class when she's switching out notebooks from her locker.

"So…? Don't leave me hanging, Gilmore. What's it going to be?"

Rory sighs deeply. "Yes, yes, we're going."

Paris face bursts into a big smile. "You are? Good! Good. I took the liberty of getting your two tickets –"

"You need your student ID to claim prom tickets –"

Paris hands over the tickets. " – and Louise will be hosting pre-prom –"

"Wait, I didn't agree to pre-prom," Rory says, eyes widening because Jess will kill her. "There's no way that's happening."

Paris scoffs. "Come on. It's a few pictures, some cocktails, and it'll be over before you know it."

"Cocktails?"

"What, you think the Dynamic Dunces are going to prom sober?"

"But don't we get checked? For alcohol?"

Paris stares at her with a flat expression. "That why it's done before the dance. Are you sure you're my valedictorian competition?" She shakes her head. "Pre-prom starts at five and there are going to be limos to take us to the Wadsworth Mansion."

"Then what?"

"What?"

"I mean Jess and I have to drive back to Stars Hollow. How are we supposed to get back to his car? Are the limos getting us back, or…" she trails off expectantly.

"They're supposed to take us to Madeline's post-prom party, but I won't be caught dead there. If you want, you can leave your car at my place and we'll go together and leave together. That is, unless you want to go to Madeline's –"

"Hah, hah, no thanks." Rory takes the tickets from Paris. "We're not going to at five. We'll be there a half hour before prom. Maybe."

"Fine, whatever," Paris says, not caring since she obviously got what she wanted. "Well, you should hurry up and get your things or you're going to be late for English."

Rory lets Paris lead the way as she drags her feet.

**

By the time Rory makes it to her grandparents' house, she's ready to change into pajamas and go to sleep, but judging by her grandma's barely-contained grin, she's in for a long night.

"So, Rory, as you know, a few of your peers' parents and grandparents are involved in making the bigger school events happen," she starts as she hands Rory a Coke. Even though Rory hasn't had alcohol beyond a sip of her mom's wine, she thinks the addition of vodka or rum (isn't a 'Rum and Coke' popular?) would be helpful.

"Yes, I know," Rory confirms, swirling her glass so the ice clink. She sneaks a glance at her mom, who's trying to communicate with her eyes: Danger, Danger!!!

"Including the senior prom."

Oh no.

"And while the funds are being kept track by the student government, there are adults supervising, like my friend Millie from the DAR, and she just told me over lunch today that you've finally picked up your tickets!"

"Technically, Paris took them," Rory mutters before smiling and nodding. "Yeah, it was a…last minute decision."

"Well, I'll say! Here we are, believing that you were just going to go to that public school senior prom –"

"I'm still going to that," Rory interrupts.

Unfortunately, this seems to excite her grandma even more. "So you're going to two! How wonderful – I bet all your friends are jealous. Most girls would dream to have the opportunity to go to two proms."

"Well, I don't know about Carrie's classmates," her mom jokes.

"Or what's left of them," Rory adds.

Her grandma rolls her eyes. "So," she says, deciding to ignore the pair of them. "Who are you taking to the Chilton prom?"

"…My boyfriend. Jess," Rory answers slowly, her brow furrowed in confusion. "Who else would I go to a dance with?"

Her grandma's eyebrow twitches (her mom whispers dun, dun, DUN under her breath). "Oh."

"Yeah. We're going. With Paris – you've met Paris, right? Her boyfriend, Jamie is taking her. He goes to Princeton."

"An exceptional school," her grandma allows. "So, who else would you like at the pre-prom?"

"Excuse me?"

"Well, since Lorelai is hosting the pre-prom for your local prom, I only think it's appropriate that Richard and I get to host for Chilton."

"Oh, uh, that's okay, Grandma, Louise is hosting it. Louise Grant. She's got everything all squared away."

"Well, I'm sure I can talk Matthew and Maureen out of it –"

"Really, Grandma, it's okay. If you want, though, you can…come to that? It doesn't matter – the pre-prom at home is the more important one and I'd rather have you there, so. It doesn't matter."

Her grandma's eyes soften and she gives her a smile. "Alright. I'll check my schedule."

When her grandma's back is turned to fix her own drink, her mom nods and gives Rory a thumbs-up. "Good job," she mouths.

Rory rolls her eyes but does two quick little bows in her seat.

**

"What about dresses?"

Rory pauses with her forkful of tiramisu a few inches from her open mouth.

"What about dresses, Mom?" her mom asks for her grandma.

"Well, do you have your dresses for your two proms?"

"Well, I just figured I'd wear the same one to both," Rory says.

Apparently that's the wrong thing to say since her grandma's eyes bug out of her head in horror. "You can't wear the same dress to back-to-back functions – that's inappropriate! Not to mention a social faux pas."

"Uh, yeah, she can – it's not like she's going to be seeing the same people at both functions," her mom reasons before pausing in her own horror. "Did I just participate in that crazy logic?" she mutters under her breath.

"Besides Jess, but he doesn't care, really," Rory adds.

"We'll be seeing you twice," her grandma says, distressed.

"Would it make you feel better if you got Rory a dress for her Chilton prom?"

Rory gapes at her mom. "Traitor."

Her mom grins evilly. "I'll wear the name Benedict with pride for this."

"Oh, yes, what a wonderful idea! I'm sure I can find you a perfect dress for Chilton – maybe after school sometime this week we can get you measured!"

"Measured?" Rory asks weakly.

Her mom is cackling with a mouthful of tiramisu.

"Yes, of course. For your dress."

Rory tries very hard not to fall forward and hit her head repeatedly against the table.

**

Her mom is still laughing halfway through the drive back to Stars Hollow.

"It's not funny! I can't believe you!" Rory huffs.

"Oh, yes it is. I'm going to enjoy the amount of tulle you'll have to inevitably suffer through. Maybe it'll swallow Jess up."

"Oh my God!"

**

The next week involves Rory trying to plan her mom's birthday, which is a part-time job, but by the time she and her mom come back from their last Friday Night Dinner, she doesn't feel much like celebrating. She stays for an hour and takes back a few slices of pizza with Jess in tow.

"No more Friday Night Dinners?" Jess repeats in surprise as he checks over Rory's shoulder at the computer. She's been busy writing her own Hamlet essay for the past hour. "That's the sixteenth line through the twentieth. Not seventeenth."

"But my copy –"

"You've got the wrong version, according to this dumbass syllabus." He taps his finger on the syllabus resting beside her.

She gasps. "What? Why was I never corrected?"

"Seems like Chilton doesn't care that much more than Stars Hollow. How does it feel?"

"…Kind of awful, to be honest."

"You'll get over it."

"You're done with Pre-Calc?" she inquires.

"Yes, Mom."

"Ugh, don't say that."

He smirks and falls back on her bed. "Pre-Calc is taking up valuable space in my brain, thanks for asking."

She smiles at him. "Good boy."

"Woof." Silence. "No Friday Night Dinners," he repeats.

She sighs. "Yeah. All my Fridays are wide open now."

"You're upset," he concludes.

She shrugs. "Yeah, I mean. I'm not a fan of how it came about, but…I liked seeing them once a week. They're my grandparents, I love them."

He nods, even though she knows he doesn't understand.

"So, Jess…"

"So, Rory…" He collapses onto her bed.

She turns to face him properly, knees jiggling up and down. She's been putting this off for already too long. "There are a few stipulations to the Chilton prom."

"You're kidding."

"Pre-prom?"

"No way."

"Just for a half hour!"

Jess sits up from her bed and glares at her.

She softens her gaze and sticks out her bottom lip.

"No," he says. "That's not going to convince me."

She looks over at her backpack where her four outside reading books are still stuffed.

"That's not gonna cut it either," he says when he follows her gaze.

She stops pouting and stands up, going over to him and placing her hands on his shoulders. She leans in and kisses him softly with a hint of tongue before pulling back. "Please?"

He squints at her. "I don't know…"

She straddles his lap and kisses him again, deeper and harder, running her fingers through his hair and rocking into his hips. His hands squeeze her hips and he groans against her mouth.

"You're on the right track, Gilmore," he breathes when she moves her mouth from his to his neck.

After a roll of her hips she gasps at the shot of pleasure through her core. The first time he managed to make her…sexually climax (she needs to get over it and call it like it is, she knows)…was an admittedly strange experience – almost a let down, to be honest, but once she's come to expect it, become more familiar with the process of sex –

She grips his hair when his fingers find her clit and she muffles her cry into his neck.

It doesn't take long for her to come (yes, she managed!), which is for the best since it's hard for her to remember that her mom can walk in, especially when she's melting into him and he's hard against her inner thigh.

She sneaks a peek at her bedroom door before slipping her hands from his shoulders, down his chest, to his belt, quickly undoing it.

"Rory –" he starts.

"Shut up," she says, almost surprising herself as she kisses him quiet.

She hasn't felt him before – not beyond layers of clothing. She's always felt a weird sort of nervousness about…it (it's a penis, Rory Gilmore, grow up), but now it's not scary at all, especially when she moves her hand and his arms around her keep her close, hands clutching for purpose on her back.

The angle is awkward after a while and she's cramping, but she's always been a determined individual, especially with seeing things through, so she kisses him in silent encouragement, triumphant when his body finally stiffens and his breath catches in his throat.

Semen is not what she expected it to feel like.

She takes her hand out from his boxers and inspects it.

Jess suddenly bursts out laughing, the sound muffled against her collarbone. It's rare to get him to laugh and it's a thrill, every time she manages.

"It's messy," she half-complains, wanting to wipe her hand.

"So sorry," he says, sounding far from it.

She pulls away to stick her tongue at him and slowly gets off him.

"Wet washcloth should do the trick," he tells her.

"What happened to chivalry?"

"Technically, I'm not supposed to be here."

"Semantics."

She sneaks out of her room and to the bathroom. Thankfully, her mom is still out at her party and will hopefully never know about this.

**

Rory goes to her grandparents' house after school and meets Selene – the family fashion consultant. She figures the least she can do in the wake of the fallout is to make her grandma happy.

Selene brings two racks of dresses that her grandma had picked out at some point and Rory is nearly strangled with measuring tape for a half hour.

"I don't know, Grandma…" Rory starts as she tries on the fifth dress – another ball gown. "This isn't really me."

"Oh, but you look like a proper princess," her grandma sighs from behind her as they stare at the floor-length mirror.

"I don't think Jess will be able to get within a foot near me."

"Not a bad perk either."

"Grandma."

Her grandma sighs again. "Alright, fine. Selene – less tulle I think will be best."

"I have just the thing," Selene says, combing through the gowns. "It'll make Audrey Hepburn weep in her grave."

It's not a color she would've picked herself: blue-green.

"Oh, the chiffon – it's wonderful," her grandma gushes as she feels the material of the long skirt.

"It is really pretty," Rory says and from there, her grandma forces her into it.

Rory has to admit, she thinks she looks really nice.

"I think we've found it!"

But Rory blocks Selene and her grandma talking and fingers the shoulder straps thoughtfully. It's stupid – she won't wear this dress again, it's not like she can wear to it to the Stars Hollow prom and it's going to be expensive without considering the alterations that her grandma will insist upon –

"Stop thinking, Rory, and just say 'thank you, Grandma,'" her grandma says to Rory with a giant smile on her face.

How can she say no to that? "Thank you, Grandma."

"Now, what about jewelry?"

Rory winces.

**

"Sooo?" her mom asks as soon as Rory plops into the chair across from her at Luke's.

"I am never trying on dresses again," Rory grumbles, reaching across the table to steal her mom's coffee.

"Tell Mommy details."

"Let me at least have a cup of coffee in me."

Right on cue, Jess comes by with a mug and what looks like a fresh pot of coffee. "Bless you," she says to him.

"I take it the fittings went swimmingly."

She glares at him while he smiles innocently.

"Get out of here and do your homework," she retorts.

He leans in for a surprising kiss on the crown of her head and goes off to the counter, unsurprisingly ignoring two people asking for refills.

When Rory focuses back on her mom, she notes the look on her face, a cross between horror and –

"He is growing on you," Rory says suddenly, not bothering to hide her amusement.

"You have to tell me how miserable you were at your dress fitting," her mom reminds her.

Rory pouts. "Cruel."

**

It's eight o'clock on Wednesday night and Rory hasn't spoken to Jess in almost two days. At first, Rory assumed he was busy making up work since some of his teachers were started to give him the opportunity to do so (she pinched his cheek and cooed about what a good student he was and he promptly told her to fuck off before kissing her thoroughly), but now she's sure something's wrong.

She calls the diner and is disappointed when Luke picks up.

"Luke's Diner, Luke speaking," he answers in his usual gruff tone.

"Hey, Luke, it's Rory – Jess there?"

"No – he's at the library, I think. Some…group project."

"Huh, he never mentioned that," she says, surprised.

"Well, whatever it is, it's making him into a less than pleasant person." Luke's voice betrays his barely veiled impatience and frustration; he's clearly down to his last nerve.

She grimaces. "Oh no."

"I'd say do something about it, but as your mom would say – "

"Dirty," Rory answers for him with a sigh, trying not to blush. "Well, when he comes in, tell him to call me."

"I'll try."

"Bye, Luke."

"See you tomorrow."

She hangs up and bites her bottom lip in worry.

(He doesn't call.)

**

She doesn't see him until Saturday morning, the day of Kyle's party. He's in a crabby mood: short with customers, ignoring refills; he's dangerous like he was when he first moved to Stars Hollow, like thunder and lightning contained in a jar, and she doesn't know how to react when he hasn't even glanced her way.

"Yikes, what's up with him?" her mom asks, eyes shifting between him and Rory.

Rory shakes her head. "I have no idea. I haven't talked to him in days."

"Don't you find that a little weird?"

"Yes," Rory retorts. "But do you really think it's productive to talk to that?"

Suddenly, Jess comes by and gives them their orders, brow furrowed in annoyance.

"I'll see you later, okay?" he says to her and then he's gone.

"Well…that was something," her mom says.

Rory focuses on eating her pancakes and doesn't say anything.

**

It comes to a head that night.

"Okay, what's wrong?" Rory finds Jess in an empty bedroom. She can feel the bass from under the floorboards and hear the muffled sound of Zach's voice through the walls. Between Jess' perpetual bad mood, Lane's own relationship meltdown with Dave and Young Chui, this party has been worse than she expected.

"Nothing."

"Bullshit."

He looks at her with naked surprise, which she doesn't blame him for since she doesn't think she's ever said that, at least not out of pure, unadulterated frustration.

"Did something happen at school?" she tries again.

"Like what?" he challenges.

"I don't know – with the work? Did you get a bad grade? Can you not take me to prom?"

"No."

It sounds like a lie, but –

"Was Luke right? Did you have a school project? What's up with that?"

He purses his mouth and doesn't explain.

She groans in frustration and is about to leave him to stir in his own angst and misery when it clicks. "Who's in this group with you?"

It takes him a few seconds. "Dean."

She inhales sharply. "Oh." She turns to the bedroom door, having already made up her mind. "I'm going to talk to him right now because there's no way that's going to be the thing that stops you –" she starts, striding out of the bedroom.

"Don't, Rory, come on," Jess says, quick on her heels and a hand reaching out to grab her wrist by the stairwell where, of course, Dean and Lindsay are standing.

"Hey, what's going on?" Dean demands, looking between them, eyes fixated on Jess' hand enclosed over her wrist.

"That's none of your –"

"Dean, can I talk to you for a minute?"

"Rory –"

A light bulb seems to go off in Dean's head. "Actually, you know what, I think I know what this is about. I'll talk to Jess in private," he says condescendingly. (It's funny how she now notices so many of Dean's not so stellar qualities she used to brush aside when she was dating him.)

"If you mention a bedroom I will punch you," Jess tells him and Dean holds his hands up in a placating manner.

"You wish."

They walk down the corridor and out of sight. Rory looks to Lindsay and they both nod, sneaking the rest of the way up the stairs and keeping out of sight.

"Look, if you're going to get a bad grade on that Oedipus project, it's not because of me," Dean says.

Jess raises a brow and doesn't say anything. He plays himself cool but she knows he's tense, judging by his white knuckles.

"I was honest on the evaluation. I hate your guts, but…you contributed to the project with decent things and you didn't skip group meetings and you didn't totally suck at the presenting. I'm not a liar, especially not a petty one."

Jess clenches his jaw and she knows he wants to say something, proof that Dean is petty, but he seems to swallow it back like a large, bitter pill. "Okay." Pause. "Can we go back to ignoring each other's existences now?"

"Sure," Dean says, like he's amusing him.

Lindsay and Rory quickly skip the stairs and lean casually against the bannister like they were there the whole time. Rory doesn’t look at her, but she thinks Lindsay might be glaring at her.

Jess walks down the stairs and takes her hand, lacing his fingers with hers and leads her down to the living room, out of the house, but Rory grips his hand tightly and stops walking when she catches Lane gagging by the bushes.

"Hold on," she says to him, rushing to Lane and pulling her hair back just in time for her to puke. "It's okay, Lane, you're okay," she says, patting Lane's back.

There's the distant sound of sirens – it's unfamiliar here, but when she checks back at Jess, he doesn't bat an eye. She guesses he wouldn't.

"I have to help her home," Rory tells him once she's sure Lane has vomited everything in her stomach.

"Here," he offers, taking one of Lane's arms and draping it over his shoulders while Rory does the same.

They walk down the dark street in silence.

"I assume you heard all that, Newman Noggs," he says once they pass the gazebo.

Rory gasps in offense. "I'm far from Newman Noggs."

"I don't know, I think you're a bit of a comic relief in my life."

She doesn't know how to interpret that as they stop in front of Lane's house.

"I'm okay – thanks Rory. Jay."

Rory grins, but Jess doesn't find it amusing. "Can you get in?"

"Yeah, I'll be fine," Lane sighs. She freezes. "The lights are out."

"Weird," Rory comments with a furrowed brow.

"Well…'night. I'll see you tomorrow if I don't get murdered," Lane says with a wave.

Rory waits until Lane disappears into the house. After two minutes of nothing, she deems it alright to leave. She turns to walk away, taking Jess' hand with her.

They end up heading to her house.

"So, you were worried about Dean screwing you over," she says as they slow down when her mailbox comes into view.

"I wouldn't have blamed him," Jess admits.

She nods, pulling him to her side closer to loop their arms together.

"He's still a jerk," he grumbles.

She purses her mouth to keep from laughing for a second. "He was a little condescending."

"He was, right?"

She grins. "Well…this is good, right? I mean, you're still doing good. In school. So there's nothing to worry about?"

He sighs, his shoulders dropping whatever tension was still there and nods. "Yeah."

"Okay." She squeezes his hand. "Next time, you can tell me if you're…concerned."

He stops walking and places himself in front of her, squeezing her hand and reaching for her other one. "I don't give a shit about these grades, Rory. I'm just doing this to take you to prom. That's it."

She swallows and loosens his hold on one of her hands so she can use it to run a finger over the knuckles of the hand holding hers. "And after prom? That's it?" she asks softly.

He exhales through his nose softly. "I don't know."

She looks down at the ground and exhales. "You'll let me know, right?"

"Yeah."

She glances up and tries to smile. "I'll see you…later today?" she asks, checking her watch to confirm that it's past midnight.

"Movie?"

"Sounds good."

She leans in his kisses his mouth softly for a moment, resting her forehead against his. She thinks she wants to say it, but she's scared of how he'll react, so she lets him go and walks up the path to her front door.

**

"Hey, Grandma," Rory says when she finds her in the garden.

"Rory! How was school?" her grandma asks, a large smile on her face as she pauses in her gardening.

"Good – I got an A on my History test."

"Not a surprise, but congratulations all the same."

"Thank you. Uh…is my dress ready? You said it would be done by Thursday, and today's Thursday…" she trails off.

Her grandma places her tools down and frowns. "No, unfortunately – it came today, but the damn hem wasn't even, so I gave the fitter a piece of my mind and he took it back to fix it, so it should be done by Saturday, just in time for prom."

Rory is now familiar enough with her grandparents to know when they're being sneaky. She sighs. "You want pictures in this house."

"Well that's a smart idea!"

Rory tunes her grandma out and just nods, plastering a smile on her face.

"I have to go – I have a lot of work to do, but I'll see you Saturday," Rory says once her grandma has stopped gushing.

"See you then."

Rory immediately drops the smile as she turns to leave the house.

**

"I don't understand why they're doing this. They can take pictures at Louise's house. I don't care about this prom and they're just making the entire experience more painful," Rory rants while pacing in the apartment above the diner.

Jess is sitting on the couch with a pained expression on his face. "Maybe we can do a drive by – we'll drive by the house and we won't stop and you'll grab the dress from them."

"I think that will just end in disaster."

"I have faith."

She smiles a little. "I'm so sorry."

He shrugs. "What can you do?"

She narrows her eyes at him. "You're awfully calm about this."

"That's because my piece of shit car is going to stall on the highway and it'll be so unfortunate that we can't make it to prom."

She laughs a little, going over to the couch to plop down next to him. "That sounds like a great plan, to be honest."

He drapes his arm around her shoulders and pulls her close. "Buck up, little camper."

She thinks for a moment. "John Cusack?"

"Better Off Dead," he confirms.

"Now that's a good movie marathon – John Cusack. Starting with Sixteen Candles and ending with High Fidelity."

"What, Serendipity doesn't make the cut?" he jokes.

"That movie did make me really want ice cream," she allows. "And, okay, fine, Serendipity looks like a cute restaurant."

"The lines are disgusting and it's a tourist trap."

"There's the cynicism that's always appreciated."

"I know some better places."

"Do you now."

"Well, I did live there my entire life."

"You'll just have to take me."

The corner of his mouth quirks up. "I will."

She remembers twenty-two-point-eight miles and smiles into his shoulder.

**

It's past eleven o'clock at night when the house phone rings. It scares Rory out of her sleep. She forgot to put the phone back after her two hour phone call with Paris about last minute edits to the Franklin. She answers the phone. "H'lo?"

"Lorelai?"

Rory is a little more alert. "No, it's Rory – Luke?"

"Is he with you?"

"Who? Jess? What's going on?" Now she's completely awake.

"I just lost it, with everything that happened this week and now he's off and he hates me right now, so I'm the last person he'll want to see and thank God that piece of junk car wouldn't start –"

"I'm out the door," she tells him, heading back to her room to find shoes to slip on and a sweatshirt to pull over her head.

She has enough sense to take her cell phone with her before heading outside.

It's not hard to figure out where Jess would go if he couldn't drive anywhere, so she walks toward the bridge, the lamps that run along it revealing his dark figure. He's smoking.

He doesn't look her way when she slowly makes her way toward him, sitting cross-legged next to him. He takes a final drag off his cigarette and flicks the bud into the lake. Acknowledging her existence for the first time, he hands her something – a flask.

She stares at a few seconds before hesitantly taking it. She brings the flask to her mouth and takes a tentative sip, almost immediately wanting to spit it back out again. She coughs at the burn and all but shoves it back.

He doesn't crack a smile like she expected. This Jess is terrifying – wild hair and exhaling smoke through his nose and manic eyes. She opens her mouth to ask what's wrong, but she thinks that's the wrong thing to say, so she remains silent.

The time that passes is agonizing, but he just continues smoking, occasionally taking a swig from the flask. She's beginning to feel drowsy when he finally breaks the silence: "What do you think of 'Suffragette City'?"

She looks to him in confusion. "Uh…good song? Not my favorite off that album. Why?"

He tosses another cigarette butt into the lake and nods. "Mine's 'Five Years.'"

"Sad."

"'Starman' is your favorite, I'm guessing. Let all the children boogie."

"'Moonage Daydream,' actually."

There's a ghost of a smile on his face.

It's quiet again. She tries to consider the significance of "Suffragette City," but all she's stuck on is ohhh, Wham Bam Thank You Ma'am!

"Saw my dad today."

He says it so casually that she almost believes that it's not the most shocking thing she's ever heard. "Jess."

"He just decided to come back from his diaper run eighteen years too late, I guess."

"Jess."

"He only stayed for a cup of coffee and a Bowie song before he freaked out. I mean, how random is that? He just dropped the news, then said nothing, and bolted."

"Jess."

"He had Big Sur in his back pocket."

She bites her bottom lip hard.

"And Luke didn't even bother to warn me about it, so that just really adds to the whole experience."

Rory closes her eyes, now understanding. "Do you want to sleep at my house?" she asks quietly.

She tries to avoid looking at him so as to not seem like she's pressuring him (please just stay over, please), but she's far from perfect and her eyes jump to his face not even five seconds later, meeting his direct gaze. She can't tell if he's drunk or not – he's still hard to read – but she doesn't think he's meaning to give the desperation away.

"I won't be able to sleep anyway."

"You wouldn't have to."

There's a ghost of a smile on his face. "I know you didn't mean it the way it sounded."

She manages to laugh. "So?"

He sighs, sounding bone-weary and old. "Your mom would ask questions."

"I won't let her."

He shakes his head a little and doesn't say anything, bringing the flask to his mouth for a swig.

It has to be midnight soon and they both have school tomorrow (is he even going at this point?). She drums her fingers against the bridge in thought, biting her bottom lip.

"I can take care of myself. You have school tomorrow," he says, not unkindly.

"So do you."

He rubs his eyes with one hand. "Yeah."

She risks leaning into him and his bringing an arm around her eases the tightness in her chest. "What book do you have with you?"

"The Red Tent."

Rory pulls away from him to stare at him with disbelief. "What?"

He shrugs, unashamed (maybe it's partly the alcohol, although he never sounded ashamed announcing he read Jane Austen without force from school (or a girlfriend)). "Heard the prose was good. It is."

She smiles a little and rests into his side again. "Read it aloud – I haven't read that in years."

He shifts to grab the book from his back pocket and starts reading where he left out.

**

She doesn't make it back to her house until four in the morning. He half-leads her back to her house, kissing the corner of her mouth. She can taste smoke and vodka and she almost offers for him to borrow mouthwash or something, but she knows he won't go inside for anything.

She swallows around the lump in her throat watching him walk off and she doesn't fall back asleep until close to five. By the time her alarm goes off at 6:30, she wants to sleep the day (or possibly the week) away.

"Wow, what happened to you last night?" her mom asks when she comes down the stairs to find Rory slowly lacing up her shoes.

Rory sighs, looking down at her feet as she mumbles. "Jess and Luke had a huge fight."

She can hear her mom inhale sharply, take a few seconds to process, and then inquires, "About what?"

"Jess' dad."

"Oh," her mom says, surprised. "Isn't he totally out of the picture?"

Rory swallows. "He came back in the picture yesterday."

Her mom's eyes widen. "No."

"Luke knew and didn't warn Jess, so." Rory shrugs. "I'm getting coffee and a muffin from Weston's – when you go to Luke's, can you just tell him that Jess was fine from last night and he slept on the couch?"

"Did he sleep on the couch?" her mom demands more than asks.

"No, he wouldn't."

Her mom's expressions shifts to one of understanding. "Okay…wow. I mean…that must've been awful for him."

She thinks about his face when he said his dad was carrying Kerouac in his back pocket and her eyes fill with tears. "Yeah."

**

"Okay, I know you have a supernatural ability to look perfect no matter what, but this is pushing it – what's up? Did the AP Calc homework stump you?" Paris asks as they walk to the cafeteria for lunch.

"No."

"Was it AP Spanish? That last test was probably a doozy for a lot of people."

"It wasn't related to school – now, I'm starving – I hope they made those chocolate chip cookies that are so gross that they're almost good."
Paris' hand grips Rory's wrist. "Are you okay?" she asks, worry furrowing her brow. "I mean, we're friends, right? Friends tell each other things. So…tell me what's wrong."

Jess would be pissed – it's bad enough she told her mom, but Paris?
…Rory is tired and is a heartbeat away from crying or just collapsing onto the floor, which looks comfortable enough to sleep on.

"Jess' dad came back from his diaper run eighteen years too late," Rory says, borrowing from him.

Paris is one of the smartest people she knows, so she understands quickly. "Oh. Wow. That must've been…a shocker."

"Understatement."

"Is he okay?"

"I don't know."

"Well, I'm assuming you were up with him all night."

"Yeah, well, he was smoking and drinking and he read The Red Tent for most of it," Rory snaps.

Paris raises her eyebrows. "The Red Tent, really? What did he think?"

"Paris."

"Sorry." Pause. "So…does this mean you're not going to prom tomorrow?"

"Honestly, I don't know. I don't know what he's been doing since four in the morning and I don't know if he went to school, if he fixed his car and drove off, or hopped on a bus to find his dad I just don't know."

Rory takes a deep breath and blinks to ease her stinging eyes and Paris is looking downright empathetic. "Come on, Gilmore. Let's get some really gross cookies that won't do anything to your small frame because the universe hates me." She awkwardly wraps an arm around her, patting Rory's arm.

Rory laughs a little, rubbing an eye before a tear can escape and repeats the gesture.

**

When Rory gets off the bus, she goes to Luke's and grabs a seat at the bar. She needs decent coffee and she thinks now she knows how to talk with Luke.

Luke, however, is clearly at a loss since he fumbles with the mug, nearly dropping it before placing it in front of Rory and burns his hand on the coffee pot when it's ready.

"So, uh, missed you this morning," Luke manages to get out once Rory takes a small sip of her coffee to test the temperature.

"Yeah, I just…" she trails off, about to give a dumb excuse of needing breakfast on the go, but she just drops the sentence all together, figuring it to be unnecessary when they both know what's happening.

"I thought you'd wanna know that Jess went to school today."

Rory's eyes bug out of her head and she roughly puts her mug down, coffee sloshing precariously over the rim. "He did?" She's lightheaded from pure relief.

"I'm as surprised as you were. I called the office to see and he was in all his classes," Luke says, looking like he still can't believe it.

She exhales and shakes her head. "Wow. So…he hasn't been home yet? School's been out for over an hour."

"No. His car's at Gypsy's, which, I don't know how he managed to sneak that over there without me seeing him."

Rory looks behind her and she can make out the rear end of his car. "Do you know what's wrong with it?"

"Carburetor gave in."

"Sounds…bad?"

"Expensive, more likely."

"Last thing he needs," Rory mutters before she can stop herself.

Luke looks pained. "I was hoping he'd – Jimmy – would disappear again. I didn't want to bother Jess when he was doing so well, and…"

"You wanted to protect him, I know," Rory says for him, looking into her coffee.

"When you see him…can you just tell him…tell him…"

"He knows."

"Tell him he can hate me all he wants while sleeping under my roof."

It's the closest to 'tell him he can come home' as Luke's going to get.

She nods. "I will," she says as she yawns, bringing a hand to her mouth. "Can I get this to go? I think I'm going to head home and take a nap."

"Sure. It's on the house, by the way."

She stops reaching for her backpack for her wallet. "Thanks, Luke. I'll see you soon."

"Take care."

**

She takes her time walking home. Mostly because she's too tired to muster up the energy to walk at a faster pace, but she enjoys the warm weather and the smell of blooming flowers.

By the time she makes it home, she's running on caffeine fumes and is ready to pass out. Except when she opens the door to her bedroom, Jess is there, swaying a little from foot to foot. "Hey," he says.

She blinks in surprise. "Hey. Uh…what're you doing here?"

"Waiting for you. It was chilly outside."

"Yes, a freezing seventy-two degrees – don't want you to catch hypothermia." She holds back a yawn and notices that he's wearing a different shirt and pants from last night. "Luke told me he hasn't seen you since last night."

He shrugs. "He hasn't."

"But…you're wearing different clothes. And you showered!"

"Yeah, so?"

She whips her head to her doorway, seeing the bathroom door shut like it was this morning when she and her mom both left and then whips back to look at him. "What? How?"

"I snuck back into the apartment, showered, and changed."

"All without Luke seeing you."

"He's not a very astute guy – have you met him?"

She sighs. "Fair enough." She glances down at her bed and notices her pillow has an indent. "Did you fall asleep?" she asks quietly.

He doesn't answer her.

She sighs again, louder, and drops her backpack to the floor. "Well, I want to take a very long nap now, so if you want, you can get back in bed while I change out of these tights." She goes to the end of her bed for her pajamas and leaves him alone in her room and heads to the bathroom.

She sits on the toilet for a minute, head resting in her hands as she takes deep breaths. By the time she was in her last class, she was half-convinced he bought a one-way ticket to Anywhere, but he's here and he went to school and –

She gets up and quickly changes into her pajamas, leaving her school uniform on the floor to get to him quicker. He's sitting on the bed, his leather jacket draped over the back of her desk chair. She feels a little silly in her Mr. Peanut matching pajamas, which Jess clearly finds a little funny, but he finally toes off his shoes and twists his body so he's sitting properly on her bed, facing her.

"You went to school today," she says, shutting the door behind her and walking over to the other side of her bed. It'll be a tight fit, but she's happy for it.

She slips under the covers and he just rests back. She wants him to join her, but figures he's being smart and thinking ahead; in certain situations, he's much better than her.

"Free nourishment."

She turns to her side to face him. "I was afraid you'd be gone."

He clenches his jaw and stares directly up at her ceiling. "I thought about it."

"What stopped you?"

"I'm a day away from meeting the guy who is willingly Paris' boyfriend – how can I miss that?"

She reaches over to slap his chest. "Jess."

She can feel him laugh in his chest as he places his hand over hers. "He doesn't matter. You do."

She closes her eyes and leans her head forward a little to rest her chin on his shoulder, her forehead against his temple. "Jess."

He hums; he's falling asleep.

She shuts her eyes and promptly loses the courage to say what she wants to say.

**

She wakes up and it's dark outside and Jess is still here.

She sits up suddenly and Jess isn't far behind.

"What is it?" Jess questions, resting his head on her back for a few moments.

"It's past six and my mom is definitely home and she didn't drag you out of the house by your hair."

"Yeah, she came in."

She stares at him in horror. "What?"

"I heard her come in, but she just walked back out after a minute."

She likes how soft he looks now and doesn't want him to leave her bed. She cups his cheek and kisses him gently. "You can sneak out the window, if you want."

He smiles a crooked smile against her mouth. "Might as well just get the confrontation over with."

Rory walks out first because he doesn't deserve a killing blow right off the bat, but her mom is busy unloaded a ton of bags from Al's (it seems Al's gone back to Chinese after his disastrous attempt at Indian, which even Rory probably will avoid for a year at least). She finally looks up when Rory clears her throat.

"Real subtle, Gilmore," Jess mutters under his breath.

Her mom takes a breath before smiling. "Hey, uh, I got dinner, now that Al has finally become a safe haven again. I just ordered everything, as usual, just, more of everything, given…"

"Thanks, Mom," Rory sighs in relief.

Jess is stiff behind her.

"Jess," her mom directs to him and Rory squeezes his hand against her lower back to keep him. "I want Rory to feel safe at Luke's and you deserve the same courtesy here. If you need a place to crash, the front porch is always available."

"Mom," Rory reprimands, but she checks Jess' face and the corner of his mouth twitches in amusement.

"Must've taken you a lot to offer that."

"You have no idea."

She's almost dizzy with what's happening here – finally, after over a year, but she refuses to break the tentative truce by speaking. Instead, she smiles at her mom and brings her other hand behind her to hold his.

**

That night when Jess sneaks into her bedroom at two in the morning, she goes down on him for the first time. It's a weird and kind of uncomfortable experience, really – one would think talking so much would give her jaw invincible strength, but that isn't the case at all. Even so, the discomfort is worth it because he stays in her bed and sleeps – she makes sure he does. As she lays in the dark, she wonders if now was the time to do this, but she’s still exhausted and despite wanting to overanalyze everything, she falls asleep.

(It's going to be hard going back to sleeping alone.)

**

When she wakes up at ten in the morning, Jess is long gone, but it's okay – she has a plan.

She makes a quick pot of coffee and writes her mom a note about taking the car. After she changes into jeans and a sweatshirt, she grabs the keys and heads to Hartford.

It's too easy to knock on the door and greet the newest maid cheerfully and most importantly – nicely.

"Hello! I'm Richard and Emily's granddaughter, Rory. I'm supposed to pick up my prom dress?"

"Oh, uh, yes, of course! I saw your grandmother put it in the closet, can you wait a moment?"

"Yes, thank you."

A few seconds later, Rory has her prom dress and five minutes after that, she's coasting down I-84, blasting the radio with a smile on her face.

**

She sees Jess walking with his tux in a bag thrown over his back. She rolls down the window and calls out, "Jess!" while slowing down the car.

He cranes his head and smiles at her. "Hey." He gestures towards his bag. "Got my tux."

She lifts up her own bag. "Got my dress."

He grins a little wider. "Snuck it out?"

"Like a bandit."

He walks toward her and rests an arm against her open window. "Doing homework until prom?"

"Yeah, I have a lot to do," she sighs, lying back in her seat, eyes drifting ahead at Luke's. She pauses. "Wait, were you heading to Luke's?"

He drops his smile. "We've struck a truce."

"It was done out of love," she says, taking a risk.

She forces herself to meet his sharp gaze. She grips the wheel with one hand and wants to pull him into the car with the other.

"You think?" he questions, voice weirdly flat.

"I'm sure he went about explaining himself in the most roundabout way possible," she answers, nervous. "He's not very good with verbal communication."

He nods in agreement and doesn't say anything else.

"Uh, I guess you'll pick me up at six?"

"Yeah." He steps back from the car. "No pictures?"

"All photographs taken at my house will be for Stars Hollow prom only, I promise."

"Good – later."

"Later."

She watches him walk down the sidewalk and into Luke's before she puts the car back in drive and heads home.

**

"Your grandmother just called me," her mom says in lieu of a greeting.

"Did she?" Rory asks, careful to keep her eyes wide and her tone innocent.

"Yes, apparently, my 'rude daughter' came to the house unannounced and stole her dress."

"Stole?" Rory snorts. "She said with her own words that it was my dress. I just procured it earlier than she wanted because we'll have no time to stop by her house before meeting Paris at her house."

Her mom's face breaks into a slow smile "So you tricked the maid and stole the dress."

Rory rolls her eyes. "Yes."

"Did you ever know that you're my hero?"

"Oh, God. I'm getting homework done while eating the rest of the Poptarts."

"'Cause you are the wind beneath my wings!"

"Are you sure you want to run an Inn and not star in the next Broadway flop?"

**

Rory is eating leftover Chinese food, using a blanket as a makeshift bib, when she hears Jess honking Luke's horn.

"Okay, I'm off!" Rory calls out, draping the blanket over a nearby chair and smoothing out her dress as she stands.

She grabs her bag, which fits a pair of flats in case the pain of her heels becomes too much and her pocketbook copy of Jane Eyre.

"Be home by one – if anything happens, just call me," her mom tells her before smiling. "You look beautiful."

"Thanks, Mom."

"Have fun, be safe – make sure your boytoy doesn't set fire to anything."

"I make no promises on the last one."

Rory steps out of the house and grins, seeing Jess lean against the side of Luke's truck looking cool.

"I think I like the tux," she says, lifting up her skirt as she descends the front porch.

Jess shrugs and adjusts his cuffs. "The shoes are the worst."

"Well, well, don't you clean up nicely," her mom says, her head sticking out from the door.

He crosses his arms over his chest and narrows his eyes at her.

"Oh, Rory! You look gorgeous!" Babette yells from her front porch. "And Jess, woo-wee –"

"Alright, we're outta here," Jess says, getting into the truck and starting it.

Rory rushes to the passenger seat before Babette can make her way over to them.

**

They arrive at Paris' house five minutes earlier than planned because Jess sped out of Stars Hollow in record time. Jess is shifting uncomfortably as he parks the truck in front of her admittedly impressive house.

"What, is being early giving you hives?" Rory jokes.

He gives her what can only be described as a grumpy pout, but she knows if she points that out, he'll deny it for the rest of his life.

She loops her arm with his and leads him up to the front door, ringing the doorbell, which is answered by Paris' Portuguese nanny.

"Ah! Paris! Os seus convidados estão aqui!"

"Obrigado!" She can hear Paris yelling, "é o limo aqui ainda?"

"Ainda não!"

"Idiotas! Eu disse a eles para vir dez minutos mais cedo!"

"Hi, Paris!" Rory calls out. Paris' nanny steps aside and lets them in and Rory has to give Jess a pointed tug to get him to move.

Once they're inside, Paris is rushing down the stairs, carrying the hem of her pretty coral dress up to her hip so she won't trip.

"I need help," Paris says, looking manic with only one eye done with eyeliner and the other eye is smudged.

"Okay, okay, uh…"

Paris focuses on Jess, who seems ready to bolt. "Jamie is in the stupidly named 'family room' watching TV if you want to wait there. Don't steal anything."

"Paris," Rory reprimands.

"It'll be nothing you'll miss, promise," Jess says before sauntering away, pulling out his book – Bukowski.

"He definitely brought that to piss me off," Paris mutters, grabbing for Rory's wrist. "Now you need to apply my eyeliner or I'm going to stab myself with the pencil. Also I hate you, you look amazing."

"So do you," Rory says, following her up.

"And I swear, if that limo driver isn't in the driveway by the time you're finished, I'm going to give that car service a piece of my mind."

"Of course you will."

**

It takes a minute to fix Paris' eye and thankfully, the limo driver has made it to her house.

"At least I didn't have to verbally castrate anyone," Paris says as she and Rory walk over to where Jess and Jamie are and, to Rory's surprise, Jess' book is closed between his hands and he's talking with Jamie.

"The night is still young," Jess points out.

Paris looks like she's about to fight, but Jamie adds, "He has a point, dear."

"The limo's here, we should go."

Jamie walks over to Paris and wraps an arm around her waist and she loses most of the tension in her shoulders as they leave the house. Rory glances at Jess and smiles.

"Surprisingly level-headed for having slept with her," he murmurs low in her ear.

She pulls back and slaps him in the chest. "Gross."

"I could've been way worse," he says at a normal tone.

"I don't want to know!"

He grins at her and once they're outside, Jess reaches into his backseat and pulls out his bag of clothes to change into and tosses it in the limo.

"Remember, you're picking us up at eleven o'clock sharp in front of the Wadsworth Mansion – do you need to write this down? Do you have eidetic memory? Are you the real life version of Will Hunting? Am I going to see your life adapted to the silver screen with some cookie-cutter actor fishing for an Oscar playing you?"

"Oh my God, she needs a drink," Jess says, shaking his head.

"I think he's got it, don't you?" Jamie says nicely enough, but there's a glint in his eye that can give Paris' maniacal glare a run for its money.

"I think I'm going to need the drink to make it through somewhat sane," Jess corrects himself and Rory just rolls her eyes.

"Alright, chop, chop! Let's go!" Paris demands, sitting in the seat directly behind the driver.

"We might need to tip him," Rory concludes and Jess nods.

**

They arrive at Louise's pre-prom party while it's in full swing. Louise, a consummate host, hugs Rory and Paris and compliments their dresses before eyeing their respective dates.

Jamie smiles politely and Jess just raises an eyebrow.

"Let's take photos – just us with Madeline. We just have to find her date, Blake. He's probably in the basement with the other guys."

Rory catches Jess and Jamie sharing a look before Jamie offers, "Jess and I can find him – just give us a description and we'll get him."

Rory narrows her eyes at Jess, who's shrugging his shoulders with that 'I'm so innocent' look that is pure bull. But Louise is trying to describe Blake, but getting stuck after 'perfect blond hair and a gorgeous smile and nice muscles.'

"Just yell 'Madeline's escort' and I'm sure you'll find him," Rory interrupts her, trailing off when she spots her grandparents a few yards away. "Jess, go, now, I found my grandparents."

"You don't want backup?" he asks and she's touched by the gesture.

"Let me talk them down to a reasonable level of calm before throwing you into the mix. Besides, you're making a new friend."

"Ugh."

He disappears in the crowd with Jamie and Paris asks, "Why would your grandparents be angry with you?"

Her grandma spots her and gets her grandpa's attention.

"Because I took this dress from their house this morning and they expected me to come by their house later today."

Paris laughs. "Have fun with that. I'm going to stare at the food on the tables since I won't be able to eat anything in this dress without ripping it."

Once Paris is gone, her grandparents pounce.

"Rory," her grandma greets coldly.

"Hello, Rory, you look beautiful," her grandpa says in a much warmer tone.

"Thank you, Grandpa. Look, Grandma, I'm sorry –"

"You should be – I told you to pick up the dress before going to Paris' when we were both home –"

"You're going to have pictures now! You'll have them next week, for the prom I actually care about," Rory counters, crossing her arms in defiance. "I just wanted to get dressed at home, have my mom help with my makeup, and eat leftover Chinese food."

Her grandma gapes. "You ate in that dress?"

"I used a blanket as a bib!"

Her grandma pinches the bridge of her nose as her grandpa laughs under his breath. "And where's your date? Did that hooligan stand you up?"

"Jess is off with Paris' boyfriend to find someone for pictures that you want to take."

"Don't take that tone with me, young lady!"

"Now, Emily, you don't want to cause a scene," Richard says.

"You know what, I'm going to find them to prevent a scene," Rory says and walks away, weaving between groups of her peers, trying to find a set of stairs leading to the basement, but it takes her close to ten minutes, having to make nice to some parents of student government peers. Eventually, she follows a crowd of boys who sneak up through a door that Rory originally assumed to be a closet.

"Hey, is Paris downstairs?" she asks some guy who was in her chemistry class two years ago. Through her first walk around, she didn't find Paris by any of the tables carrying refreshments or food (and Rory would know since she managed to steal a few mushroom tarts).

"Yeah, get her out, would you? She's killing it – it's embarrassing."

Rory shakes her head in surprise and just goes downstairs, the steps beneath her vibrating more and more the further she descends.

There's a bar in the far corner, stocked with bottles of alcohol and there are a group of girls throwing back shots, laughing loudly. The biggest crowd is at the other end of the basement – a group of guys cheering on.

She makes her way over to them and is more than surprised to find Paris and Jess paired on one end of the table facing Duncan and Bowman. Judging by the number of cups on either end, Paris and Jess are winning by a landslide.

"I can't believe this shit – fucking Paris Geller? And who's that guy with her?" a guy from her Spanish class turns to his friend, his beer sloshing in his glass.

"I dunno, but he's been drinking like a pro –"

"Hah! Suck it, morons!" Paris yells after she tosses a ball into one of the last two cups.

Duncan punches Bowman in the arm. "You're going to let this bitch beat us?"

Jamie, on the other side of Paris, looks ready to rip Duncan's head off, but Paris retorts, "Throw sexist insults at me all you want, you're still losing!"

"Just toss the ball, Potsie," Jess drawls with a roll of his eyes.

"What?"

Jess gives him a flat stare. "Just go."

Duncan takes a minute rolling the ball between his palms and Paris and Jess share a look.

"Isn't Chilton supposed to be a smart school?" Jess questions.

"Oh, Jess, money erases the need for such a thing," Jamie answers.

"Clearly," Jess snorts. He finally notices Rory and he gives her a lopsided smirk. "Hey."

"Hey…beer pong?"

"Apparently Connecticut calls it beirut. Fucking weirdos."

"I'm not getting any younger!" Paris singsongs.

Finally, Duncan tosses the ball and manages to get it in the middle cup. He screams in victory and he and Bowman slap high fives. Jess takes a shot for the team.

"Please beat them," Rory tells them, glaring at Duncan and Bowman as she remembers Tristan. She wonders how he's doing in military school. "I hate these jerks."

"Oh, we plan on it," Paris says, but Jess is giving her a quizzical look. "Can you hurry up!"

"Shut up – God, I can't wait to graduate so I can never see your annoying, ugly face again," Bowman complains.

"Insult her one more time and I'll break your teeth," Jess says like he's commenting on the weather.

Jamie raises his eyebrows at him and Bowman clearly doesn't think Jess is being serious until he really looks at him, his face falling. Everyone sort of quiets at the realization and Rory swallows, still a little unused to this side of Jess, but at least she's not flinching.

Paris gives Jess a small, rare smile, which makes Rory smile too.

Bowman finally tosses the ball, hitting the rim of the cup, but ultimately missing. There's a chorus of "ooohs" and Jess catches the ball before it hits the ground. Everyone waits with baited breath and Jess shakes his head with amusement, casually throwing the ball with a flick of his wrist, the ball following an arc, landing perfectly in the last standing up.

There's an instant uproar of cheers and Jamie brings Paris in for a kiss. Jess finds Rory and grins, shrugging his shoulders.

"Yeah, yeah, you think you're so cool," Rory calls over the cheering.

"I know I am."

Rory laughs and forces her way through to be near him, feel the heat from his hand through her dress on her hip. She scrunches her nose. "How much have you drunk?"

"Definitely enough to not be able to drive tonight. Had to make up for Paris not drinking."

She grimaces. "I can't drive Luke's truck!"

"I'll coach you through it. It'll be fine, relax." He kisses her mouth and the taste of alcohol is strong, but she kind of likes this, the way he is right now – warm and at ease and maybe even a little happy.

She hates that she has to pull away and say, "We need to go back upstairs."

He sighs. "There's no way they can take me out in a mansion full of people, right?"

"I'll put myself in front of them – there's no way Grandma would risk ruining the dress," she says as she leads him through the crowd. "Paris, Jamie! Get Madeline's Blake and meet us upstairs for photos."

"Already got the dolt!"

"Hey!"

"So, do you like Jamie?" Rory inquires while walking up the stairs.

"Yeah, he's okay for a WASP."

She turns to smile at him. "Look at you, making friends."

"Not really a friend."

"Sure he is."

"I won't see him again after tonight," he points out when they reach the ground floor.

"I'm sure he'll invite you to visit Princeton."

"I'd rather chew on glass than go to Jersey," he says. "If you went to Princeton, I don't know what I was going to do."

Her heart stops for a moment at the indirect reference to twenty-two-point-eight-miles, but her grandma steps in front of them with a cold smile. "There you are. We were worried."

"Sorry, it was crazy downstairs," Rory says, choosing to forgo mentions of beer pong, or beirut, or whatever it's called – she probably doesn't know what that is and will assume she's making a joke about the country.

Her grandma's attention shifts to Jess, eyes starting at his hair and moving down to his shoes. "Well. Thank goodness for those rental places – you could almost pass for a gentleman."

(Did Grandma watch Titanic? Rory wonders.)

"Rory likes the crazy hair," Jess answers with a shrug.

She bites her bottom lip, blushing and trying not to smile.

"Glad you could avoid a black eye," her grandma adds.

"Luke told me I looked like Petey the Dog – I figured that wasn't worth repeating."

Rory is about to say something to stop the tension, but her grandpa is coming through the crowd holding a glass of scotch. "Oh, good, you found Rory," he says, grinning at her.

"Hey, Grandpa, this is Jess, my boyfriend. Jess, this is my grandpa, Richard," she introduces, stomach twisted into knots.

She watches Jess clench his jaw for a moment before holding out his hand. "Nice to meet you."

Her grandpa gazes at Jess, undoubtedly considering the horrible things her grandma must've told him and his mouth is in a firm, neutral expression as he shakes Jess' hand. "Good to put a face to the name."

"Likewise."

She squeezes his arm in warning. "So! Pictures! Let's do that!"

"Oi, Emma and Bukowski! Let's go!" Paris says over the crowd.

Jess barks out a laugh. "Apt nickname."

Rory thinks about it for a moment and blushes a deep scarlet. "That's not true!"

"I still want answers," Paris directs at Jess.

"Why don't you crack open Ham on Rye and figure it out yourself, genius?" Jess retorts.

Rory sneaks a glance at her grandma, who looks confused, but her grandpa is starting to put the pieces together, a light bulb going off in his head –

"Jess reads?" her grandpa asks Rory.

"He can read?" her grandma says snidely.

Rory ignores her grandma and says, "He's read more books than anyone I've ever known."

"More than you? I can't imagine so!"

"Definitely more than me."

It's something they're still processing as they organize themselves for the photo: Madeline and Blake at one end, Louise and her date with Paris and Jamie in the middle, and Rory and Jess on the other end.

"Do you think I should ask your grandma how to read some of those books on the shelves or will that be too much?" Jess murmurs in her ear.

"Don't you dare – they're still dealing with this new information."
He brings his hands to her hips. "You sure you don't want a drink before we leave? It makes things a lot more tolerable."

"Someone needs to be able to drive," she points out sadly.

He hums and doesn't say anything until a photographer comes along. "Really? They're not even taking the photo?"

"I think you need another drink before we go."

Rory's pretty sure the first photo has Jess actually smiling a result of her comment – she's making sure to get a copy.

**

The six of them are in a limo together along with a member of the Puffs and her date. Rory spends the time explaining the Puffs to Jess while the girl in question looks horrified at the 'sacred secret' being revealed to an outsider.

"You probably dodged a bullet with that one," he says, taking his flask back from Jamie, who just threw back a shot.

"You're not going to be let in with that on your person!" Rory says as the limo slows to a stop in front of the Wadsworth Mansion.

"Yeah I will – it's not going to be like JFK."

"Have you ever been to JFK?"

"I've heard some pesky rumors of TSA's wandering hands."

She rolls her eyes. "Would it be better –?"

"No, not your purse. Are you sure you're in the running for valedictorian?"

"We find out Monday – get ready, Gilmore," Paris says, removing her face from Jamie's.

Rory doesn't bother responding since everything she considers will just be followed with 'but valedictorian is The Best," so she refrains and let's Jess help her out of the limo.

(He's right – they don't check his person and they scour through her bag, which makes Jess crack up for a minute.)

**

Rory goes to the punch table and downs a glass until she realizes the aftertaste is a bit funny. She fills up another glass and goes to Jess, holding it out for him.

He takes it without a word and takes a large drink, grimacing when licks a remnant drop from his mouth. "Jungle juice."

"What?"

"Very expensive jungle juice, but jungle juice nonetheless." He hands the glass off to Jamie. "Consensus?"

Jamie takes a sip and nods. "Man, I missed high society's sad attempt to be lowbrow."

Rory takes the glass back and stares into its very, very bright, very, very red abyss. "How much alcohol is in this?"

She looks up in time to see Jess and Jamie share a look. "Enough that you won't be capable of driving," Jamie says.

She sighs heavily. "Can't cry over spilt milk." She takes a drink, recognizing the heat that settles in her stomach must be part of the alcohol consumption experience.

"Of course Rory Gilmore getting drunk has to be an accident," Paris says, throwing her hands up in defeat. "I'll have to go get drunk on purpose now." She stalks off to the punch table.

"How is this allowed? There are adults!" Rory hisses.

Jess looks around, lingering at each individual adult with a glass of punch. Jamie answers with, "Money."

She hands the glass back to Jess. "When we finish this together can we dance?"

He stares at her for a minute, exaggerating an expression of contemplation. "Two songs, max."

His mouth is on the rim of the glass and she lightly holds the bottom of it up. "Keep drinking, mister. I want three."

**

There's a buzzing under her skin and in her head and she's laughing at Jess' snarky comments for longer than normal. She also doesn't feel so awkward dancing – it helps that Jess tends to have an arm around her, keeping her steady and moves limited to (mostly) non-embarrassing.

The song changes and Jess says by Rory's ear, "I'm gonna smoke."

She pulls back with a disapproving expression.

"I have to smoke when I drink," he says, at least having the decency to sound apologetic.

"Fine, go," she says.

He kisses her temple.

"He's hot, Rory. I'm impressed," Louise says, still grinding on her date – Will, she finally learned his name.

"Thank you…I think." She whips her head, surprised to find Jess still standing by her, eyeing Louise with amusement (he has way more patience for the human race while intoxicated).

"Not as tall as the other one, though," Louise continues, not caring or maybe too drunk to notice that Jess is still within hearing distance.

"It's an inverse correlation – height and intelligence," Jess pipes in.

Rory elbows him. "Go smoke your cigarette!"

"I'm going, I'm going."

"Nice term, by the way, did you actually pay attention in school for that one?"

"Don't ruin my rep as the degenerate here," he mock-reprimands her before finally leaving the dance floor.

"I like that Jess fellow," Jamie says, obviously trying not to slur his words. "He's so cool."

"He defended me," Paris says very loudly. "Like…he defended me – nobody defends me."

"Do you wanna swap dates?" Rory jokes – something she'd never do while sober, she's surprised in a distant way at her words – looking back at Jess, who seems to be in an argument with the adult standing by the doors leading outside.

"No," Paris half-yells, pulling Jamie closer. "I love Jamie."

"I don't know, maybe we should switch," Jamie teases.

"Whose side are you on?"

"I'll be back," Rory says, distracted as Jess doesn't seem to get past this woman and knowing him, he'll probably mouth off and get kicked out, but halfway across the room, Max Medina comes out of nowhere and talks to the woman, finally letting Jess go outside.

The woman stomps off to the punch table and Max takes her place, catching sight of Rory immediately. Rory smiles, appreciating the alcohol eliminating any nerves she might've had.

"Hey, Rory," Max says, sticking his hands into the pockets of his dress pants.

"Hi, Max."

He smiles. "You look very pretty."

Rory blushes and looks down at herself. "Thank you."

"Admittedly, I'm surprised you're here."

"Paris," Rory answers.

"Ah. Makes sense." Max nods to the doors. "I see that's the new boyfriend?"

"Yes, new boyfriend. He goes to Stars Hollow – he's Luke's uncle. Nephew, I mean." She tries not to laugh but fails.

Max grins knowingly. "I see you've found the punch."

"I've been told it's called jungle juice. And to be fair, it was an accident."

He laughs a little. "It's okay. Are you having fun?"

"Surprisingly so – did you get stuck with babysitting us?"

"Unfortunately a PTA member got a horrible case of the stomach flu, but it might only be geographically-based since I heard some parents complaining that she's in Florida."

"It definitely is."

He sighs. "So. How are you?"

"I'm good. Really. I'm going to Yale."

"You are? That's amazing, Rory. You're going to do really well," he congratulates her and she's hit with a sharp pang of sadness that takes her by surprise.

"Thank you. Let's hope," she tries to joke.

To her relief, Jess comes inside, brow furrowing for a moment in surprise at seeing her. "Hey," he says. She spots a mint in his mouth.

"Where did you get that?" She points at his mouth.

"That chick's house. She had a bowl of mints by the door." He reaches into his pocket and pulls out a handful. "Want one? Or five?"

She takes three. "You've been holding out on me, jerk." She then remembers Max and says, "Uh, Max, this is Jess, Jess this is Max…"

"I'm Lorelai's ex-fiancé and Rory's former English teacher," Max supplies, holding out his hand.

"Ah," Jess says, recovering from the surprise well and shaking his hand. "I'm the new boyfriend that likes to jack cars and rob old ladies."

Rory rolls her eyes.

"I'll make sure to lock my valuables when I get home," Max says, the corner of his mouth twitching.

"He was one of my favorite teachers," Rory says to Jess.

"Don't go To Sir, With Love on me."

"Nobody can touch Sidney Poitier, I'm with you there," Max says.
Jess almost smiles and Rory considers that a win. "It was nice seeing you – I hope you're doing well," Rory says to Max.

"Good seeing you too – good luck with everything. And have fun tonight."

Jess wraps an arm around her waist and gently leads her away. "Sorry."

She blinks. "What?"

He shrugs. "Must've sucked when the engagement fell through."

"It wasn't meant to be."

"Doesn't make it suck any less."

She stops walking, watching her peers dance and grind and laugh in drunken stupors to a Top 40 track and she opens a mint from its plastic wrapping and stuffs it in her mouth. "Do you want to find a comfortable space on the floor and read until this is done?"

"You don't need to ask that."

When they exit the hall, parents and other adults occupy the few available seats, so they pick a spot on the floor a good distance away. They read side by side, sharing a last cup of punch until he ends up with his head on her lap.

"Oh, God, this is too cute for me."

Rory whips her head up, disoriented. "Is prom over?"

Paris rolls her eyes. "Yes. I can't believe you ditched us after an hour."

"It was an hour and a half," Jess says, not moving from his position. "I felt every minute of it."

"Well, it's time to go," Paris snaps.

"What's wrong with you?" Rory asks, lifting Jess' head off her lap and getting to her feet, stumbling once she's up, lightheaded; it's an effect of alcohol that's strange and yet a little welcoming.

"I'll tell you what's wrong: I'm starving and the food served was god awful."

Jess and Jamie share a look. "They'll soon experience eating post-drinking," Jamie says.

Jess looks at Rory. "I think Rory might beat her long-standing record for most food consumed in one seating."

Huh, now that Jess mentions it, she is pretty hungry – she could go for a burger, oh, that sounds perfect

"We should get food," Rory declares.

Jess laughs and drapes his arm around her shoulders. "We'll get you food before you start gnawing on limo upholstery."

As soon as they're outside, Paris is on the lookout, head swiveling like an owl, with eyes like a hawk. "Where is this lowlife –"

Jess points to their left, a few limos down they spot their limo driver holding up a sign that says 'Geller Party.' "Nice touch, Bonaparte."

"You're singing my praises, Mariano. Get in, we're having a Gilmore special."

Rory beams. "Where are we going?"

"Only the most holy of places that's always open twenty-four hours a day!" Jamie exclaims, opening the door for them.

"Where's that?" Paris asks.

"McDonald's," Jess and Rory answer simultaneously.

**

Jess is quick to change out of his tux and shoes and Rory is really jealous of him.

He tosses an extra t-shirt in her face. "Put that on and stop with the Don Corleone expression."

"'Some day, and that day may never come, I will call upon you to do a service for me,'" Rory rasps, pulling on the shirt. She scowls at the horrible Metallica shirt and he sniggers. "Soon you'll sleep with the fishes!" she tells him.

There's a camera flash and Rory turns in surprise.

"What?" Paris demands, lowering it.

Rory wraps an arm around Jess' neck and pulls him in, Jess squawking in protest as she smiles widely for the next photo.

**

Halfway through her third burger (those burgers are tiny), she says, "I need to call my mom – we're stuck here."

"Give me your phone – I'll call Luke," Jess says, holding out his hand while dipping his fry in a very large amount of salt and pepper dip that he and Paris are hoarding.

"Why?" Rory asks, surprised.

"Because he owes me and will therefore handle it," he says flatly. "Your mom will immediately know you're a little drunk and flip out."

She sighs and yields her phone. He dials Luke's and puts the phone between his ear and his shoulder as he opens another pepper packet.

She hears Luke: "Hullo?" He definitely fell asleep by the phone.

"Hey, Luke, how's that arm chair doing for your back?" Jess greets. Jamie gets up to buy another large fries and Jess tells him to get extra barbeque sauce.

"Alright, what's wrong, you sound too amiable."

"Big word there, Uncle Luke. Did you go through Rory's dictionary that she left?"

"I still want that back!" Rory says.

"I have no use for that thing, it's a doorstop," Jess tells her.

"Did you destroy my truck?"

"The truck's fine," Jess grits.

"Then what is it?"

"We're unable to drive the truck," Jess says, catching the flying container of barbeque sauce aimed for his head.

"And why is that?" Luke sounds like he's growling.

"Because we've consumed alcohol."

Silence.

Jess takes the phone and puts it a good foot away from him and continues eating.

"WHAT KIND OF SCHOOL FUNCTION IS THIS, SERVING ALCOHOL TO MINORS!" Luke's voice suddenly booms on the other line.

Rory's eyes widen – she's heard him yell at Taylor plenty of times, but this is scary, even for him.

"Might want to blame the parents for that – they were drinking just as much if not more than the rest of us," Jess says.

"That doesn't help!" Rory hisses.

Jess pulls the phone away again just in time for Luke to go on a rampage about the lack of responsibility and the illegality of the venue and how money is put towards the wrong things – the usual shtick for Luke Danes.

Finally, when Luke seems to have gotten all his rage out, he asks in a normal tone, "Are you two okay?"

Jess blinks in surprise and her throat closes and her eyes sting. "Yeah. We're eating."

"I'll book a doctor's appointment for you guys."

"Hah, hah, hilarious," Jess says, rolling his eyes.

"I can be in Hartford in a half hour," Luke says.

"Luke, it's way past your bedtime and you have a shipment coming in – we'll just stay at Paris' no biggie." He pops a fry in his mouth. "If you want, I can put her on the phone and she can give you details –"

"That…won't be necessary. Ugh, geez, am I gonna have to tell Lorelai?"

Jess smirks. "Yep."

Luke groans again. "Can't really fault you for being responsible."

"Oh, Lucas, you say the nicest things."

"Alright, I'll do that and then I'm going to bed. Get back early I'm going to need you for the late morning shift."

"Fine." Jess hangs up and slides the phone back to her. "All taken care of."

Rory picks up her phone and switches it off. Jess shakes his head and smiles, reaching over for her ridiculously large soda and taking a long drink. She rips it out of his hands and says, "Jerk."

"'Be my friend…Godfather.'" He takes her free hand and kisses it.

"I think collectively we've quoted half of The Godfather," Jamie points out. "I don't know what this says about prom."

"It's not a good night if you can't make a decent amount of Godfather references," Rory says.

"Blood is a big expense," Paris adds.

Jess snorts and takes a bite out of his second burger. "Now the night is done."

**

After arrive back to Paris' house and Jamie tipping the limo driver substantially for his sufferings, Paris starts yelling about needing a shower since she apparently contracted a numerous amount of diseases from sitting in a Hartford McDonald's and Rory is understanding the grossness – her grandma would probably faint at the knowledge of her being in her prom dress while sitting in McDonald's eating four burgers and two-and-a-half large fries.

"Nanny will get you towels and toothbrushes – I like to have a healthy stock of toothbrushes since apparently, the American Dental Association says every three months, but I just change it every month to be on the safe side," Paris babbles as she leads them up the stairs. She points to one of the long hall. "That's my room there." She points in the opposite direction. "You can be in that guest room. It gets a good blast of the morning sun, so it'll wake you up early."

"Thanks, Paris," Rory says, trying not to laugh.

"I can give you a spare change of clothes too. They'll probably hang off you since you're like a fairy, but it'll do for the short term."

"I think some sort of pants will be appreciated."

"I also have makeup remover in my bathroom."

"That will be the most appreciated," Rory sighs and she walks with Paris into her bathroom.

Paris shuts the door behind them quickly and says, "I'm thinking about having sex with Jamie again," she blurts as she hands Rory a makeup remover wipe.

Rory grimaces, taking the offered wipe. "Oh, uh, well. That's for saying that while we're going to be only so far away."

"Oh, grow up. The rooms are soundproof and we're too far away."

Rory feels vaguely ill. "Not helping."

Paris scoffs. "So? I mean, we hit that rough patch with my not getting into Harvard and while we've overcome it, we haven't had sex since that day. So…I don't know."

"Do what feels right?" Rory suggests while cleaning her face as quickly as possible.

"Yeah, okay Judy Blume, you're really helpful," Paris snaps.

"Look, Paris, you don't have to do anything! I mean, sex on prom night? Kind of been done. Such a cliché."

"I mean it's a cliché for a reason, right? People like to do it on prom night! It's like a natural aphrodisiac, like oysters."

"Ugh, gross."

"You're of absolute no use to me."

"Paris, do what you want to do or not. I just don't want to hear anything during the night, okay?"

"Fine. Same goes for you too!"

Rory snorts. "That's not going to happen."

"Of course, have to remain pure through graduation too."

"Hey!"

"Thanks, you know, for going to prom. I had fun," Paris says and takes the wind right of Rory's sails.

"So did I," Rory admits.

Paris smiles, starting to remove her makeup. "He really likes you."

"Well, I should hope so," Rory jokes.

"Don't play dumb, it doesn't become you."

Rory sighs and tosses her wipe into the garbage. "I really like him too."

Paris side-eyes her.

Rory swallows. "I haven't told him," she reveals, voice rough and she has to clear her throat.

"I can tell – it's pathetic."

Rory glares at her. "Okay, bye."

Paris smiles at her. "Hold on, let me get you some sweatpants." She goes into her drawers, taking out a grey pair. "Goodnight, Rory," she says, handing them to her.

**

By the time Rory comes back to the room she's sharing with Jess, he's brushing his teeth in the adjoined bathroom, the mirror foggy from his recent shower.

She laughs and runs a hand through his damp hair, lying flat and curling.

"Don't, it's awful," he says around his toothbrush.

"I think it's cute."

He glares at her and spits into the sink. "Want the shower?"

She wasn't planning on showering, but she agrees anyway, figuring they can be on even ground with undone hair.

"Thank you," she says quietly once he settles back into his pillow, book opened to the latest dog-eared page.

He glances at her, giving her a rare smile. "You're welcome."

"You had fun though, right? I did."

"Maybe."

"You did."

"You're pushing it."

She grins. "I appreciate it anyway."

He smiles and goes back to his book. She watches him for a minute, growing antsy as the seconds pass, the silence, which she's usually comfortable with, is loud to her ears (or maybe that's just the ringing?) and she wants to say something

"Jess," she says, her voice sounding desperate to her ears.

He closes his book slightly and glances at her with a furrowed brow – his subtle way of expressing concern.

She can't think of what else to say, the words sticking in her throat and wow, she doesn't know how Dean managed to say it so easily, how it took her so long afterwards to say it back (and was that really just done out of desperation to keep him from walking away? She doesn't know, she thinks about it sometimes), and how Jess will react – are they cut from the same cloth in that regard too?

He's closed his book properly and turns to face her as best he can while sitting in bed. He doesn't say anything, but he saves her from saying anything by kissing her, mouth soft and dare she say gentle.

He's about to pull away, but there's a surge of need, deep in her chest that takes control of her limbs as she grabs hold of his shoulder with one hand and using the other to card through his hair, gripping tightly as she kisses him harder, mouth open and he's quick to adapt, pushing her back into the mattress while his hands find the edge of his ugly Metallica shirt. She sits up long enough for him to take it off and he stops kissing her, breath ragged by her collarbone.

"What do you want?" he asks, hands on her bare waist, fingers so close and maybe it's the lust seeping through her brain, taking away her ability to think through consequences, much like alcohol, but it's easier, so much easier –

"I love you."

He stops breathing, stops moving, but she can feel his heart pounding in his chest, the only sign of life.

She swallows and waits, trying to not say anything, but she's a rambler, a proper Gilmore, so she adds, "I just. Wanted to say it. I mean. You don't have to. It's not – I won't – I'm not –"

"Rory."

She's never heard him sound so strained before. She returns the favor and prevents him from saying anything by kissing him, and kissing him, and his mouth moves from her mouth to her jaw to her neck, down, down –

She gasps and loses herself.

**

Rory rests her arm over his, which rests across her stomach. She's tapping her fingers against his bicep – tricep? – and her breathing has slowed, almost at the same pace at Jess'.

"You okay?" he asks somewhere by her ear.

"Yeah," she answers automatically and she thinks it's honest. Sure, she feels a little weird, just the stretching of muscles that she didn't know existed before tonight, but otherwise she's really content. "I'm good. Happy. Content."

"Need a thesaurus to continue?" he jokes.

She would hit him, but she's too tired to move. "Hilarious."

She can hear him laugh under his breath. "Are you okay?" she asks, but winces afterward, knowing it's a probably a stupid question since of course he's okay – he's a guy and that – sex it's sex, she's had it – always feels good for a guy, right? Unless his penis were to break or something –

"What the hell are you thinking about right now?" he asks, barely controlling his laughter. "Your face."

She grimaces, but she's beginning to laugh. "Broken pensises?"

Jess bursts out laughing, hiding his face into her shoulder and the pillow under their heads.

"Shut up!" she laughs.

"I think it's 'penii,' by the way," he points out.

"Like I'm going to trust your judgment when it comes to technicalities."

"Whatever."

They're quiet for a while and it's nice. In the back of her mind, there’s a speck of doubt, unsure if what just happened was okay. She shuts her eyes and tries to banish the thought - so what if he didn’t say it back? She loves him and she was ready. Besides -

"I love you."

She opens her eyes and her heart seizes in her chest. It takes her a moment to turn her head to look at her properly and she meets his steady gaze, but her hand that was resting lightly on her hip is now holding on tightly.

She smiles. Eventually, he smiles back.

**

"Hey, Ror?"

"Mmm?" Rory hums around her toothbrush in the morning.

"Are you gonna…tell you mom about…?"

She takes her toothbrush out of her mouth and spits in the sink. "Yeah."

"Well, at least you don't sound excited about it, that's something."

Rory sighs. "She's my best friend, Jess."

"Okay, just send up a flare when you do so I have enough time to get the hell out of Dodge," Jess says, throwing his thumb back in the general direction of where Luke's truck is parked in the driveway.

"I doubt it'll come to that. I'll just…keep her away from the diner. For a while."

He snorts, looking back down at his sneakers that he's lacing up. "That'll work."

"Well, it's going to have to because I don't regret it and she's going to have to deal with it, regardless."

He glances up and smiles.

"Even if it was a cliché," she says, the thought suddenly coming to her from the night before and now she can't get it out of her head. "Having my first time on prom night? Jess! Why didn't we think of this?"

"There wasn't any thinking beyond protection, really," he says with a shrug. "It doesn't matter, Rory – we technically had sex the morning after prom night – it was past midnight, if that really makes you feel better about it."

Rory groans. "Okay, fine."

He glances at the bed. "Well…" he trails off.

She snorts. "Give me a few days for that?"

He rolls his eyes and pulls her towards him. "There are so many other things besides that. Come on, Gilmore, you're smart."

She's in his arms, trapped between his legs and kisses him – maybe they can be a little late for breakfast…

**

Breakfast consists of Portuguese Linguica Quiche, which is delicious – apparently it's Paris' favorite dish that her nanny makes.

"It's good," Jess says in the earshot of her nanny, who smiles with pride before leaving for the kitchen. Rory smiles at him and leaves her hand on his thigh. He continues eating and uses his free hand to rest on top of hers, eventually lacing their fingers together.

Paris looks at her from across the table and gives an exaggerated wink. Rory raises her eyebrows and tries to smile.

"Heading back to the toxic waste dump today?" Jess asks Jamie.

Jamie rolls his eyes, but smiles. "Yeah, unfortunately, but then I'll be heading to Martha's Vineyard for the summer next week. You guys are more than welcome to come."

"Jess Mariano at a beach? That I'd pay to see," Rory says.

"Are you sure he'd be able to handle it?" Paris asks in fake concern.

"You guys are so darn cute," Jess quips with a roll of his eyes.

"Have you ever even been to a beach?" Paris counters.

"Have you ever heard of Coney Island?"

Paris shudders. "That crack-infested hole?"

Jess scoffs. "As long as you stay away from the projects, you may just make it out alive if you don't open your mouth."

Rory sighs and drinks her coffee (which is heavenly) and let's Paris and Jess argue. She shares an eye roll with Jamie and they share the Sunday Book Review.

**

They drive back to Stars Hollow listening to a Hartford classic rock station, managing to hear a few good ones that keeps her in a happy mood, despite the growing nerves she has about going home.

"I would say I'd be there in spirit, but the idea of that conversation makes me want to stick a fork in my eye."

"I appreciate the blatant lack of support."

"Ouch."

But Rory really gets nervous when they pass the Welcome to Stars Hollow! sign and through the town center and finally to her house.

He doesn't turn off the ignition, which is probably the safest option – quicker getaway. "You actually look pale – you don't have to tell her. You can keep something to yourself."

"I wish I could, but she'll know right away."

"What, she's got a sensor for your virginity?"

"She just might." Rory sighs. "She's going to be upset."

"Don't let her ruin it," he says, mouth set into a line. "You don't have second thoughts, right?"

"No, I love you, I don't," she says at once, so easily. She blushes and wrings her hands in her lap.

He brings a hand to the back of her neck and leans in, kissing her forehead. "It'll be okay."

"Yeah, right." But she smiles regardless. "I'll see you later?"

"Sure, if you can manage to escape."

"I'm confident you can manage a Mission Impossible."

"My skills are legendary."

"The very best."

His hand moves to her cheek and he strokes it with his thumb for a moment before dropping his hand back to the gearshift. "I'll see you later."

"Okay." She kisses his cheek and gets out of the truck, grabbing her neatly folded dress on the way out.

She forces herself to keep her breathing even, especially when she hears Jess drive away behind her. She pauses at the door for a moment before opening it and stepping through, heading towards her bedroom until she spots her mom standing by the table.

"Oh, hi," Rory says, bringing a hand to her pounding heart. "You scared me."

"Yeah, I was about to go outside – saw you pull in. Took you a while to get out."

"Yeah, we were planning on when to see each other during the week," Rory lies, figuring that's the best thing to do with the current expression on her mom's face: barely contained fury. "Around our homework and stuff."

"Well that's nice, that's very nice."

The awkwardness is overwhelming.

"I'm sorry –" Rory starts.

"You know, the last thing I want to hear is that my daughter and her boyfriend were too drunk to drive home. Since when do you drink?" her mom interrupts angrily.

"I don't! I mean – it was an accident! I had the punch, which had alcohol in it and I didn't realize –"

"Well, what about Jess? He took a beer out of my fridge, he seems pretty damn comfortable with alcohol and he shouldn't have been drinking at all, being the one driving."

Rory still can't believe her mom won't let that go. "I'm sorry, okay, it won't happen again, it was – I mean, it's okay! I don't have a hangover – I had fun! I actually had fun at the prom," she insists. "I didn't think I would, especially with what happened with Jess and his dad and can you blame him? Sure, maybe we could've planned it better, but I think he deserved some fun after being ambushed by his absent dad."

"Oh, God, you're defending him," her mom mutters, turning away. "I should've just picked you up, but no, I was too comfy in my pig slippers and delirious with exhaustion and wine –"

"I can't take this anymore, Mom! Trust me more than you distrust him! Or is that so hard since I'm not capable of making my own choices?"

"You know I don't think that, but –"

"But? But? What, Mom? But what?"

Her mom sighs, bringing her hands to her eyes. "I can't have this conversation right now, I barely slept last night –"

"Fine, I guess we'll just push it back to a later date and you can blow up on me yet again."

"I'm really worried about you, Rory – can't you understand that?"

"What is there to be worried about? I'm going to Yale in the fall, I'm in the running for valedictorian, I'm happy with Jess, I'm so happy – we're in a good place."

Her mom stares at her Rory, eyes narrowing and Rory is so grateful that Jess didn't accidentally mark her anywhere obvious, but it's like she could tell by the way his horrible Metallica shirt hangs off her frame or maybe it's something else that sweet, innocent Rory would never be able to pick up.

Rory bites her bottom lip. "I'm sorry I didn't talk to you about it first. I know I promised I would, but I swear, I didn't know that this was going to happen and I'm sorry you had to find out like this. But it felt right. I'm okay – we were safe – those Trojan man jokes were absorbed throughout my youth. We – I told him that I loved him and we – he said it back. I'm happy."

"Oh, Rory," her mom trails off, crossing her arms over her chest while shaking her head with a look of disappointment and sadness and anger. "You were drinking."

"I was sober by that point."

"I don't believe this."

"Why not? I told you I was thinking about it – and I know you're not dumb, we've been doing things other than that lately, we talked about it."

"And what about the other stuff, Rory? You said it yourself; you're graduating in a little less than two weeks. You'll be leaving for Europe for almost three months. Then Yale. You have a plan – what's he doing?"

Her chest freezes. "I, uh, we didn't," she shakes her head. "We didn't talk about it yet."

"You didn't talk about it? Rory…"

She shifts uncomfortably, curling a little into herself with her arms still crossed.

"You, of all people – the girl who thinks everything through, the list-maker – you didn't bother to discuss those things before losing your virginity to him?"

Rory hates that expression more than anything in the world right now – losing virginity – she didn't lose anything. "I love him and he loves me, we were both ready – isn't that enough?"

"Yeah? When did he tell you that – before or after you jumped into bed with him? Or maybe while it was happening?"

She clenches her jaw and tries hard not to cry – it's not like that – she doesn't get it, doesn't understand Jess, that he couldn't find the words yet, but she knows he felt it, for a while now –

She turns and walks away.

"Rory, what are you going to do now? Huh? Is there a plan?"

"I don't want to talk about it anymore."

"I just want what's best for you, that's all!"

"I don't want to talk about it!"

"I just don't want you to get hurt, Rory! What if he drops out, what if he runs away to find his dad? What if you don't see him after you leave? Now you're too deep in it."

Rory brings a hand to her mouth to stop her sobs and before she goes through the front door, she says, "Why did you have to ruin this for me?" with a cracked voice, still holding that damn prom dress in her arms, probably wrinkled beyond hope of fixing.

She takes out her cell phone from her silk purse that was stained a little by fry grease. She hates that Jess won't get a cell phone, wishing she could just call him, but she dials the number for the apartment, maybe –

Voicemail.

Rory closes her eyes and shakes her head, hanging up. She starts walking toward the bridge once she feels her mom's eyes on her back, figuring she can't go home and she's still wearing this Metallica shirt that she really hates now.

**

She doesn't know how long she sits on the bridge, alternating between reading and sleeping in the sun, but eventually, she hears quiet creaking. She doesn't open her eyes.

"You know, I told you to send up a flare to warn me."

She exhales a laugh through her nose.

"Your mom can admittedly be a little scary when angry. Thought she was going to rip Luke's head off through the phone, but he's surprisingly good at holding his own. They've come to a stand still."

"And where were you?"

"I had actually pulled a Mission Impossible and scaled the back wall."

She opens her eyes and sits up. "Are you serious?"

"There are some decently-placed window sills and protruding bricks," he explains as he walks towards her, taking a seat cross-legged in front of her. "I take it the telling didn't go too well."

"I can't think of anything remotely comparable to how bad it was."

He nods and looks down, picking at the faded hem of his jeans. "Sorry."

"Don't be sorry – she should be sorry."

He nods at her shirt. "Want to trade?"

She eyes the blessedly plain black shirt he has layered over a long-sleeved shirt and exclaims, "Yes. God, I hate this shirt, I want to burn it."

"I don't know, I mean it has some good memories now."

She rolls her eyes and reaches out her hand. "Shut up and give me that shirt."

She takes off the Metallica shirt and puts on the plain one as quickly as possible, face on fire and he's laughing under his breath, tossing the Metallica shirt onto his shoulder and pushing up the sleeves of the one he's wear to his elbows.

"So, what now?" he asks.

"I'm hungry," Rory pouts.

He reaches behind him and hands her a Luke's Diner bag that has grease leaking from the bottom that she surprisingly missed.

"I love you," she gushes, pulling out the juicy, delicious cheeseburger and digging in.

"Love you too."

She stops chewing and he has his eyebrow raised, a half-smile on his face. She pushes the bag towards him. "You can have one fry."

"Oh, gee, thanks."

**

Rory and her mom are sitting across from each other at the kitchen table in silence.

"I'm sorry," her mom says, voice even. "I…overreacted."

Rory snorts.

"Fine, a lot. I overreacted a lot."

"Okay. I should've told you myself about drinking. It just happened and I was having such a good time that I didn't want it to end, as lame and cheesy as it sounds."

Her mom smiles. "I get that. I mean, you wouldn't be my daughter otherwise."

"It won't be a regular thing."

"I hope it won't be." Her mom takes a deep breath. "So. You had sex with Jess." To her credit, she only makes a grimace at the end.

"Yes."

"And you used protection?"

"Yes."

"And he was…?"

Here Rory blushes a little, unable to think of the right word for it – sure, he was a gentleman, but he was assuredly not at the same time, if that makes any sort of sense. Regardless, she's not willing to discuss this with her mom.

"Okay, uh, I guess that answers that question…he, uh, told you he loves you?"

Rory smiles. "Yeah, he did."

"But you said it first."

"Yeah."

Her mom nods and looks down at her lap. "That didn't happen with Dean."

"I wasn't ready to say it to Dean. Eventually I was, I think but. This felt right. I wanted to say it and, sure, I was a little disappointed he didn't say it right back, who wouldn't be, you're putting yourself out there to be judged and, I don't know. I guess I didn't appreciate the gravity of the situation until it was happening. But, it's not like I didn't know and he – I know him. I can't really explain it to you, but," Rory shrugs, smiling. "It's good – we're good."

"You do have to talk to him about post-high school, though."

Rory nods. "I know, it's just…easier not to. I just want him to get through high school first before figuring out the next step."

Her mom nods. "Okay."

"So, can we order in? I'm starving and I need to do a lot of work before classes tomorrow."

Her mom loses the tension in her shoulders and nods. "Yes, okay, let's do that."

Frankly, Rory is just happy for this conversation to be over – at the end of the day, she's not letting her mom dictate everything in her life. She may not approve of Jess and probably thinks he was a terrible person to have their first time with, but it's Rory's judgment that matters in the end.

It's nice to be able to rely a little bit more on herself.

**

"So?" Paris asks almost as soon as Rory makes it to her locker before first period.

"So…what?"

"I can definitely conclude that sex is much better the second time around. And the third."

"Ugh, Paris. Too much information."

"Well?"

"What? We have class in two minutes."

"What about you and Jess? Come on, you had a nice king-sized bed to yourself, it was basically a free room at the Ritz."

Rory glares at Paris. "Nothing happened."

This is apparently the wrong answer since Paris starts smirking. "Oh, you definitely did – did you have sex?"

Rory holder her books tighter against her chest and refuses to look at Paris.

"You did! Finally, not as pure as the driven snow anymore."

Rory gives up and smirks a little. "No longer Mary."

Paris gapes at her and Rory shakes her head. Tristan would probably get a kick out of the situation, for sure.

**

"Rory, I have a dire emergency," Lane pops out of nowhere as soon as Rory gets off the bus.

"What dire emergency?"

Lane just takes her by the wrist and rushes them to her house. "My prom dress," Lane hisses as she leads her up the stairs, luckily bypassing Mamma Kim.

"Why, what's wrong with it?" Rory asks warily, already having a feeling, judging on Mamma Kim's taste.

"Oh, I'll show you. I need you to button, zipper, and pin me up in it first."

"All three?"

"All three."

**

It takes Rory close to fifteen minutes to help Lane into her prom dress, which looks to be the color of old lingerie and so poofy that Dave won't be able to get within two feet of her without being pushed back by the skirt.

And sleeves – long sleeves that stop right past her wrists.

"Oh, Lane," Rory sighs, shaking her head. "This is bad."

"You think?" Lane hisses, voice pitched.

"Okay, let's not panic yet."

"I'm panicking! Prom is Saturday!"

"Have you…talked to your mom about the dress?"

"She's letting me go to prom – I wasn't even thinking about the dress!" Lane whines.

"Fair enough." Rory shrugs her shoulders. "I can get my mom over here? See what she can do?"

Lane looks at Rory like she's her Lord and Savior – it's a good thing Mamma Kim is out of sight because even Rory can recognize the blasphemy.

**

"Oh boy," Rory's mom says on an exhale. "This is…"

"Just fix it!" Lane demands desperately.

"Okay, okay, well…I can get rid of the…uh. Excess material."

Lane is now in tears.

"Okay, I'm going to leave Mom to her own devices." Rory pats Lane on the back. "I'll be at home studying."

Her mom narrows her eyes in disbelief and Rory glares at her before leaving.

**

The thing is, Rory did plan on studying at least until dinner – she's a little behind thanks to the weekend and she still needs to do her best to still be in the race for valedictorian, but an hour before her mom and Rory usually go to Luke's, she's interrupted from her studying by a light tap on her window.

She smiles brightly. "Hey!" She unlatches the window and lets Jess in.

"Hey," he says, climbing through the window. "Your mom home?"

"Yeah, she's fixing Lane's prom dress in the living room."

He cocks his head to the side.

"You don't know want to know."

"Gotcha."

"You don't need to help through the dinner rush?" she asks him.

He pulls out his notebook from his back pocket and shakes it. "Three makeup essays."

"Makeup essays?"

"Apparently my '180 degree change' has inspired my teachers to let me makeup old assignments," he grumbles.

She takes a deep breath and places her hands on his shoulders. "Thank you," she says seriously.

He places his hands on top of hers. "You're welcome," he responds, mocking her serious tone. He kisses her on the forehead and pulls back. "You using your computer?"

"I don't need to," she lies with an easy smile.

He sits down at her desk and says, "You wanna tell your mom I'm here?"

Rory automatically rolls her eyes and he laughs in surprise.

She opens her door and her mom is still focused on Lane's dress, which has lost a bit of the inner tulle of the skirt, so now it's resting against the mannequin. "An improvement, definitely."

Her mom turns around and sighs. "You don't want to know the amount of arm power was necessary to rip it out. I just wish I could dye this black or something to fit Lane's soul. Oh, by the way, I saw a dress in town that would look great on you."

"Thanks, Mom. Uh, just so you know, Jess is in here – he has a bunch of essays he needs to do."

Rory watches her mom taking a few calming breaths before nodding, a strained smile on her face. "Okay. Dinner in a half hour? I'll need more fuel."

"Yes, definitely."

Rory keeps the door half open since her mom would never ask.

Jess eyes the door and shakes his head, but goes back to working.

**

She brings Jess back some French toast and fries after eating out with her mom and the way he kisses her in thanks makes her want a repeat of Saturday – no, Sunday morning.

"Jess, come on," she chastises, but loses track when his tongue moves behind her teeth and his hand drifts down…

She pulls back, but keeps a tight grip on his shirt-clad waist. "Can you wait until she's on a different floor?"

"Fine, fine."

"Eat your food before the syrup coagulates."

"I love it when you talk sexy."

She slaps him in the chest.

**

It's close to midnight when they're both done with their work, her mom staying up just to watch Jess leave the house. But eventually at one, Jess is back in her room, picking up where they left off.

She can definitely get used to it – the freedom that comes with not having to check herself when he's kissing her, both of them falling back onto her mattress as he slips off her shirt. She'd known objectively that sex would be amazing – just from her mom and the books and movies, but it's something else to experience the single-minded attention on her body, which she's only been comfortable dressing with preferably comfy things and washing in a meticulous manner and feeding with anything delicious.

She bites her lip suddenly, but still whimpers when his fingers slip inside her.

"You are loud," Jess whispers with a laugh, kissing her neck at that spot that he knows is her weakness.

"You're a jerk," she grumbles, but her breath catches in her throat when his thumb moves on her clit.

"What? You were saying?"

"You sound way too innocent, given the current situation."

"What?" he questions, moving his fingers.

She rolls her hips in response. "You suck," she whines.

"I could…"

She brings her hands to his face and pulls him in for a kiss. While the idea is tempting – he is good, very good – she likes him here and close. Besides, his mouth is good at keeping hers busy so she won't cry out when she comes around his fingers.

It's easier the second time around, his sliding into her and she's only a little uncomfortable in the beginning, but when he starts moving and she rolls her hips in response, she can finally see why people do stupid stuff for it. In fact, she's so close to actually coming, but he still has to bring her over the edge with his hand after he comes.

"You good?" he asks after he pulls out, taking care to dispose the condom with plenty of tissues to keep it hidden in her waste basket. How thoughtful.

"Yeah, really good," she says, running her tongue over her swollen lip, which she's bitten too many times to keep herself from making noise.

He curls her hair back behind her ear and smiles.

She takes his hand and asks, "What are we going to do after prom?"

He's still pliant beside her, playing with her hand in his. "You're graduating. I'm going."

She smiles even though he's deliberately being obtuse. "You know what I mean," she responds gently.

He shrugs, but tenses a little. "Thinking of graduating."

"Really?" she blurts.

He rolls his eyes. "Might as well just get the fucking degree at this point."

Well, that covers the week after she leaves for Europe, but…

"I'm going to Europe until August," she reminds him.

"I know."

"And then Yale."

"I'm aware."

"So…?"

Where are you going to be? Will you wait for me? Can I ask that of you?

"I don't know yet," he admits, interrupting her train of thought. "I'm thinking maybe…I might go to California."

"…Obligatory Kerouac reference goes here. Why?"

"Jimmy lives there. So I've heard."

She squeezes his hand. "You want to see him? Really?"

"I'm curious."

She nods. "Okay."

"I need to get out of here anyway."

"I know."

"I'll come back. Not here, obviously, but. I'll be around."

She exhales in relief.

"We're not breaking up…right?" he starts to phrase it as a statement, but there's still a sliver of question.

"Right," she states firmly. "We'll work it out."

She thinks she believes it.

**

She tries on the dress her mom found and she likes it – likes how cheap it is in comparison to her Chilton dress and likes how it's a bold shade of red. She feels a bit more daring these days.

"More effective than a scarlet 'A.'"

"Please get that awful movie out of your head," Rory complains as they split the price of the dress.

"Never, that movie is in the top five most mockable films list!"

Rory shakes her head. "That bathtub scene is still scarred into my visual cortex."

"Ay, govnah!"

"Please, make it stop!"

**

The week goes by pretty quickly – Rory prepares for finals and it's almost sad that this will be the last time she'll study with Paris.

"You have honky tonk prom tomorrow, right?" Paris asks when they leave school at five.

Rory rolls her eyes. "Yes."

"Have fun. Say hi to Sundance Kid for me."

"Does that make me Etta Place or Butch Cassidy?"

"Butch Cassidy, obviously – Sundance loved him more."

Rory smiles.

**

On the day of prom, her mom and her grandma are arguing on the phone. Her grandma is ready to send in a team of people to do Rory's hair and makeup.

"Mom, I'll be the one doing her hair and makeup," her mom insists as Rory continues to stuff her face with cereal.

"Well we're making sure she doesn't eat in her prom dress! No matter how cheap it is!"

Rory gets up, puts her bowl in the sink, and sneaks out of the house to see how Lane's doing; she doesn't need to be home if her mom and grandma suddenly remember that they're not supposed to be on speaking terms.

**

Jess arrives at the house with his tux mostly on – his jacket is draped over his arm and he's wearing Vans instead of dress shoes.

"I know Stars Hollow is more casual than Chilton, but come on," Rory says, rolling her eyes.

"It's in the school gym, which smells. Dried sweat on the floors," Jess responds, walking inside. "Besides, I won't be alone."

"Yes you will – Dave will be on his best behavior for Mrs. Kim. Dress shoes all the way."

Jess sighs. "Still don't care. I went to Chilton prom, I can get away with this."

She pulls him close enough to kiss and instead whispers, "I think it was worth it in the end, don't you?"

"Touché." He smirks before kissing her.

"Alright, alright, break it up," her mom yells from the living room. "Stalin will be here any minute and she already hates you."

"Well, I think Grandpa has warmed up to him," Rory says, taking Jess' hand and leading him into the family room.

"Really?" her mom inquires in disbelief.

"Rory assumes that because he overheard me understand a literary reference, he's well on his way to adding me to the will."

"Well, as long as you don't want the gargoyles in the backyard, you're more than welcome to join in on the post-it claiming."

"What?"

"We'll get you manly blue. My mom uses pink, I use yellow."

Jess shakes his head. "I'm not touching this. Where are we taking these photos and can we get them over with?"

The doorbell rings.

"Guard your loins!" her mom exclaims.

Rory rolls her eyes and leaves them to answer the door. Surprisingly, it's Luke holding Jess' dress shoes.

"Hey, Luke."

"Hey, Rory. You look…nice," he compliments her in his typical, awkward way.

"Thank you." She gestures toward the shoes. "Should I take them?"

"Yeah, he should be wearing them if he plans to be let in to Mrs. Kim's house."

"I think that might've been part of the plan to not be allowed in." She takes them. "Do you…want to stay? Come along?"

"Nah…he'd hate it if I were there for all that nonsense."

"Distinct possibility." Pause. "You want to, don't you."

"You have no idea."

She silently steps aside, hands the shoes back to him and waits.

"Oh geez!" she hears Jess say and she grins.

**

It's a good thing Luke brought over the shoes because Mrs. Kim carefully inspected Jess with laser precision before being allowed inside for photos.

"Not a word," Jess hisses through his teeth, sticking a finger inside his collar.

"I bet I'm looking pretty good in comparison," Rory's mom says by his ear and Luke is sniggering behind them while her grandma is already arguing with Mrs. Kim about an antique clock by the front door.

"I'm considering on consuming wood polish."

Rory pushes Jess in.

**

Once Jess starts talking to Dave and Emily has placed an order for an antique clock, it becomes much smoother sailing as they take a million pictures, much to Jess' discomfort.

"You owe me so much," he says through gritted teeth. It's a painful smile.

"I know," she says through her own fake smile. "I swiped some more wood polish. We could share."

"Aw, thanks, dear."

"No problem, darling."

"Switch!" Mrs. Kim demands.

Rory and Jess dutifully leave and now it's Lane and Dave's turn, given that Mrs. Kim doesn't want pictures of Rory in her red dress and Jess in any photographs at all.

"What are the chances of the punch bowl being spiked?"

"I'd say very high," Rory answers.

"And you two will consume none of it," Luke orders.

"Oh, come on, Luke. We could walk home."

"Absolutely not."

"He's getting the bulging vein in the forehead," Rory points out.

"That happens every time we have a discussion for longer than ten words," Jess says.

"Hey, Lorelai," Luke starts to call out before Jess says, "Fine. Sobriety it is."

Luke looks very smug and Jess' grumpy pout has Rory trying to hold back giggles until it's time to finally leave.

**

"Wow, this music sucks," Dave laments as they sit at a table with a stolen bowl of pretzels.

"What, you don't love the lyrical genius of R. Kelly?" Jess inquires with mocking concern.

"I think I'd rather have Avril Lavigne start whining."

"Hey, don't mock Avril Lavigne – she's inspiring a future generation of true punk fans. Sure, she's mostly pop, but I’m sure some of her diehard fans will see the light," Lane argues.

"I didn't peg you for a naïve optimist – that's Rory's shtick," Jess points out.

Rory glares at him. "Do I need to tell them about how you got 'Rock Your Body' stuck in your head the other day?"

"You just did." He glares back. "And to be fair, he has potential to move on from his embarrassing boyband roots," he comments.

"I'm going to hold off on the mocking for…three years," Dave says. "That's about enough time for him to settle on a sound that doesn't make me want to stab myself in the ears."

"So says the guy who has 3 Doors Down's newest album," Lane scoffs. "At least Justin Timberlake has a good falsetto."

"God, we're so judgmental," Rory says with a shake of her head.

"I know – isn't it wonderful," Lane sighs.

"Do you think we can convince this DJ to play something palatable?" Dave asks, leaning in like they're going to plan a conspiracy.

"If you think about pulling out that Third Eye Blind CD you've been carrying around, it's going to end up in the trash."

Dave gapes in offense. "They're great."

Jess dismissively waves his hand.

"Oh come on, 'Semi-Charmed Life' is fun," Rory says, nudging Jess.

"Too bad it was played half to death in the late '90s."

"Kind of like half of Green Day's discography – another California band – and yet you like them fine."

"I liked their earlier stuff. They got too commercial with Warning."

"You love 'Misery' though."

"A fluke on an otherwise boring album."

"He's got a point," Lane says. "Nimrod was their only decent attempt at branching out, even if it did release the most annoying song on the planet that will undoubtedly be played at our graduation."

"Yours, not mine," Rory grins.

"Guess I'll be dodging a bullet there," Jess murmurs under his breath, popping a pretzel into his mouth.

Rory stares at him through the corner of her eye, not knowing what that means.

"I want to dance!" Lane announces, getting to her feet and grabbing Dave's hand. "Come on!"

Rory throws Lane a grateful look as they head to the dance floor, leaving Rory and Jess alone. She's about to open her mouth to say something, but Jess gets up too and holds out his hand. "You wanna dance?"

She sighs at his evasiveness and he clenches his jaw. She backs down though and takes his hand. "Okay."

The song ends and flows into the next one. Rory brings her arms around his neck.

"Oasis," she notes after a few seconds.

"One of the best album closures," Jess says.

"Thought you were a Blur fan."

"Oasis deserved some of the hype."

"Even 'Wonderwall'?"

"An unfortunate case of a half-decent love song being blown out of proportion."

She smiles and steps closer, resting her chin on his shoulder.

Someday you will find me, caught beneath the landslide/In a champagne supernova in the sky…

Her throat closes and chest tightens with a strange sense of nostalgia she doesn't know the root of. She finds the only working clock in the gym and holds him tighter.

"Hey, what's up?" he asks quietly, bringing a hand from her waist to the back of her neck, rubbing comfortingly.

"I'm leaving this week," she answers softly.

"I know."

"It sucks."

"For me," he adds.

"And for me," she retorts. "Yeah, I've been looking forward to this for years, just as long as Harvard, but…I didn't account for you. I'm going to miss you so much," her voice cracks and she hates herself.

"Hey." He pulls back to face her, pressing their foreheads together. "It'll be fine," he states, weirdly firm, leaving no room for discussion and it's comforting – he never talks like that ever.

"I thought 'I must insist on being a pessimist' was your life motto."

"Like I'd adopt a Green Day lyric as my life motto."

She kisses him on the cheek fondly. "It'll be fine," she repeats and he smiles.

**

"Come with me to the bathroom," Lane demands, dragging Rory out of the gym before she can say anything to Jess.

"Okay! You can stop dragging me!" Rory says once they're halfway down the hall.

"Sorry, sorry! Okay, so, spill." Lane says with a barely contained grin.

"Spill what?"

"We haven't talked all week! You need to give me the scoop – you and Jess were pretty cozy on the dance floor?"

"I'm surprised you noticed – you and Dave were pretty darling."

"Stop distracting me! Tell me!"

Rory shakes her head and feels her face heat up, but she says in a low voice, "I slept with Jess."

"You what?"

"I slept with Jess – twice, actually. Once after Chilton prom and once in my bed."

"Oh my God!"

"I know – I'll have to tell you about the fight I had with my mom when I told her about the first time. She doesn't know about the second time, thank God."

"Lorelai knows? And Jess is still alive?"

"Yes, I'll tell you about it later, I promise. Do you really have to go to the bathroom?"

"Yeah, I do, sorry, I just have to ask you." Lane takes Rory hands and grips them tightly. "How was it?"

Rory exhales. "It was…" She laughs a little. "Scary, at first, but…it was good. It's been really good."

"Really good?" Lane reiterates, nearly vibrating with excitement.

"There is a reason why musicians have been obsessed with the subject of love and sex."

Lane gasps. "Love?"

"Oh…yeah." Rory starts grinning and she'll admit that it's definitely dopey. "I told him I love him and…he said it back, so –"

"That's amazing, oh my God!"

"Yeah…I guess it is."

"Okay, I actually have to go now! Stay here – I still have questions!" Lane disappears into the bathroom, leaving Rory to rest against the lockers, trying to cover her laughter with her hand.

**

After accidentally catching Dean's and Lindsay's gazes too many times, Rory asks Jess if he wants to bail.

"I know a place."

Rory finds Lane and hugs her goodbye. "Enjoy it," she tells her. Sometimes Rory is incredibly sad for Lane, who can't live her life the way she wants, so for Lane's sake, Rory hopes the night lasts forever.

They head toward the bridge but weirdly enough, a couple is already there, coupling. Rory has never seen Jess so affronted in her life and she laughs all the way back to the gazebo.

The lighting is better at the gazebo for reading anyway.

**

Luke comes by an hour later with hot chocolates.

"How was prom?" he asks awkwardly.

"Fine," they both answer at the same time.

"I hate when you do that," Luke mutters. "Curfew is in an hour."

"We know," Jess says, rolling his eyes.

"Just checking. G'night, Rory."

"'Night, Luke."

''Night, Uncle Luke."

Luke scowls at Jess, who smiles as innocently as he can manage before muttering under his breath and walking back to the diner.

"I've been thinking about bringing back the April Fool's joke," Jess says.

"You mean when you were acting incredibly peppy and scared all the customers away? Even my mom was impressed with that one."

"I'll give you fair warning to prepare."

"Yeah, next time we're filming it."

"Make sure to zoom in on Luke's bulging veins in his neck."

"But of course."

He walks her home and they make out by the front door until her mom yells from the other side, "You're pushing it!"

**

On Sunday, Rory wakes up at five in the morning, anxious with a million things to do – two more finals to study for, packing for Europe, trying not to think about leaving – but is distracted with Jess knocking on her window.

She smiles at him sleepily and slowly gets out of bed, unlatching the window. "Hey," she says, her voice rough from disuse.

"Wanna go for a drive?"

"Yeah," she answers without a thought. "Let me just change."

She leaves a note for her mom and brings her Calculus textbook with her, but she probably won't open it. The air is already warm, but she leans into his side as they make their way to Luke's truck.

Jess has Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young playing in the truck. "I found it in the backseat," he explains as they get onto the highway heading south.

Helpless, helpless, helpless…

She ejects the tape and it's silent for a while until Jess pulls out Steely Dan.

Rory bursts out laughing. "Wow."

"I know."

Rory knows that Lane only cares for "Dirty Work" and another random track from Steely Dan, but she's always had a guilty pleasure for "Reelin' in the Years" – it's a nice upbeat song.

She's surprised when he starts mouthing along to "Midnight Cruiser," but doesn't comment on it. He's getting on I-95 North and she stares at the Long Island Sound.

"Do you know how to swim?" she asks him as they drive over a bridge.

"I wouldn't drown if I was thrown into water."

"Who taught you how to swim?"

He shoots her a confused look. "I figured it out – it's not hard to doggy-paddle."

"Oh." She almost wants to cry.

He reaches over to take her hand resting on her thigh and doesn't say anything.

**

They finally get off the highway when the sun is rising and she's never been to Niantic. She smiles when she realizes where he's taking her.

The Book Barn doesn't open until nine, so they get breakfast and walk on the boardwalk.

It takes them hours just to sift through the main Book Barn, filling the backseat with books and Rory might pass out.

"This is the best place ever," Rory whispers, getting into the passenger seat to head to another branch.

"Yeah, I went for the first time last summer."

She's about to yell at him for not bringing her with him when he knew she'd love it, but then she remembers where she was last summer. She swallows and looks down at her hands.

He starts the car and backs out, having moved on from the conversation, but Rory is still stuck on it.

**

Four hours, a dozen more books, and two lobster rolls later, they're back on the road, with the radio on this time.

"Thank you."

He glances at her briefly. "For what?"

She smiles and reaches over, taking his free hand to hold in her lap. After a minute, she says, "You do realize that you've forgone any sort of quality time before graduation, right?"

"Okay, sure."

"I'm serious – I have too much to do, and now that I'm officially valedictorian –"

He laughs in surprise. "You're what?"

"Yeah – I got the news on Friday."

He shakes his head with a smile on his face. "Congratulations."

"Thanks."

"At least I won't be totally bored throughout your graduation."

She grins. "You'll have to wear a suit, you know."

"Not wearing a tie."

"Whatever."

She knows Luke will wrangle him into one.

**

It goes by too fast – isn't that always the case?

Her head is spinning from her deal with her grandparents to her mom finally getting a step closer to her dreams to having to speak to the entire class plus faculty plus family. Besides, Paris is kind of right, she feels like she doesn't know half of these people, but in the end, does it really matter?

She doesn't have time to really think about it in depth because she's on stage, reading her speech and the end is so easy, thanking her grandparents and her mom that she stops being nervous.

Her entire section stands up and cheers and even Jess, beautiful, anti-enthusiasm Jess manages to stand up and clap for her.

**

"How was my speech?" Rory asks when she finds everyone in the courtyard.

"It made everyone cry, including stone cold Luke," her mom says with pride.

"Luke, you old softy."

"I will never live this down," Luke grumbles.

"Nope," Jess answers with a smirk.

"Not with me in your life," she says, nodding at Jess.

"I gotta go, I gotta get back to the diner."

Rory looks to Jess briefly before smiling at Luke. "Thanks for coming, Luke."

"Oh, sure. The building's amazing. So are you."

"Thanks. Uh…can…"

Luke looks at Rory reaching out to grab Jess' hand – it's automatic at this point – and he says, "I'll give you a few minutes."

"Thanks!" Rory takes his hand and they're off.

**

Rory hugs Paris and to be honest, she didn't expect to feel so sad.

"Hey," Paris says while pulling away, getting Jess' attention.

"Hey," he responds, pocketing his book.

"It's been…nice. I might actually miss you a little."

"Only a little though," he points out with amusement.

"Barely." But Paris smiles. "Take care."

"You too. I'm sure in a few years I'll see your face on some newly issued coins."

"Hopefully I won't see you on News at 10," she retorts.

"Okay, we better go!" Rory interrupts them. "Bye, Paris."

"Bye." Paris waves at both of them and leaves with her nanny.

**

"So," he starts, looking around the hallway. "Nice digs."

She smiles and looks down. "Yeah."

"I have a gift. Two gifts, actually." He pulls out a thin box from his back pocket and hands it to her.

She stares at it in shock for a few seconds. "You didn't have to get me anything – you already bought a trunk-full of books for me on Sunday!"

"Yeah, that was a collective twenty bucks. Come on." He shakes the box.

She takes it and wonders what kind of jewelry he'd pick out for her – is it a bracelet? No, Jess would never after what happened. A necklace? What about –

"Would you stop guessing and just open the damn thing?"

She finally does open it and she shouldn't be surprised that it's not a clichéd gift. She carefully takes out the metal bookmark to fully admire it. He knows her so well – that she hates bookmarks with stupid charms hanging off the end so this one is simple, a blue stone (nice subtle link to Yale, Mariano) at the top that will definitely not break or fall off. She rubs her thumb over the engraved R.G. "It's beautiful," she sniffs.

(This is better and more meaningful than any kind of ring, or necklace, or any other piece of jewelry. Reading is important to her, will always be important to her and he knows and appreciates that better than anyone.)

"Oh, geez, don't cry now," Jess says, pained, hands awkwardly stuffed in his pockets.

She smiles and stops a tear from falling before she ruins her makeup. She steps closer to him until their noses are touching. "I love it. Thank you." She kisses him softly for a moment. "What's gift number two?"

He takes a hand out of his pocket and hands her a scrap of paper.

"Is this a backup bookmark?" she jokes, taking the paper from him.

"Not exactly."

She flips it over and stares.

Finally, after a minute, she looks up at him. "This is an e-mail address."

"Yes it is."

"You made an e-mail account."

"Yes I did."

"You made an e-mail account."

"Are you okay?"

"You made an –"

"Well, yeah, I mean…how else were we going to keep in touch?" Jess says defensively and to her glee, he starts to turn pink.

"Well…uh…" she trails off, now turning pink with embarrassment herself. She's sort of figured that they wouldn't speak, at least not until she got back. She was wrapping her head around the fact of not seeing or hearing from him for over two months. But even then, she wasn't sure how that would work if he weren't going to stay in Stars Hollow – he'd have to call her…right?

"I figured that since I wasn't sure when I'd come around…this would work. Long term."

"So…you're really going to California. When?"

"Day after the last day of school."

"What?" she blurts in surprise.

"I can be a masochist for a week to get the damn degree. Besides, Luke offered to buy a plane ticket as my graduation gift. How could I refuse. Although he made an awful analogy about letting me fly on my own and I nearly rejected it out of principle."

"You could always just take the money and run," she jokes, trying not to cry again.

"Ooh, take the money and run," they both mutter at the same time before laughing on their breath.

"I should go – help Luke with the diner," Jess says.

"I'll see you later, right?"

He leans in and kisses her – she still can't figure out how he can put her at ease and still make her heart race at the same time.

"Rory!"

"I'll see you later," he confirms.

**

Driving away from Chilton for the last time is a little sad, but once they leave the gated entrance behind, Rory is content to look ahead.

Especially since there's supposed to be a party at her house and she hopes Sookie made those mini pizza tarts she made a few years ago and refused to again because it wasn't up to her standards.

**

She keeps checking her watch, wondering when he's going to show up.

"Hey, you think you can tone down your excitement, I think it's a little too over the top, what you're doing," her mom says when she plots down next to her on the couch.

"Sorry," Rory mutters, embarrassed. "It's just –"

"I know," her mom interrupts, at least looking a little sympathetic. "He'll probably be over when Babette manages to go – he would like to avoid that confrontation."

"He does have a strong sense of self-preservation."

"All right, gals, we're headin' home," Babette says from behind them, patting them on the shoulders. "Call us as soon as you get back, okay?"

"We will, we promise," her mom says.

Babette kisses them on their cheeks and lets herself out. Not even two minutes later, the door knocks.

"Is that -?" her mom starts, but Rory is already at the door.

"Great timing," Rory says after she opens the door, revealing Jess.

"My estimating was on point tonight – I only had to skulk in the shadows for two minutes."

"Wow, you are getting good."

"It's a survival skill at this point."

"Yeah, Babette does seem to be very fond of you."

"Let's not talk about it. So, ready to go?"

"Uh…yeah…hold on."

Rory leaves Jess at the door to find her mom starting to clean up the living room.

"Go," her mom says, "I'll clean up. Be back by two."

"Two?"

Her mom stops cleaning up and tries to smile at her. "It is your last night with him."

"Thanks," Rory says, not looking at her mom because she doesn't want her to see her cry.

"Go, have fun. Be safe – I heard that clunker outside a few minutes ago, but who knows how much life it has left."

"I'll take my phone with me."

"Good girl."

**

"Aw, she's back in action," Rory says, petting the hood.

"Yeah, Gypsy just finished today. Want to get out of here?"

"But I'm going to be away for months," Rory says with a pout.

"Yeah, but driving around the town takes maybe five minutes. We have four hours."

"Five."

"Five?"

"Five."

He brings a hand to his heart. "I'm touched. I think I'm beginning to feel the love."

"I think you're mistaking love for refraining to murder."

"There is a thin line between love and hate."

"This is getting into gross territory – let's do a ride around town and then we can go."

"Okay."

She's about to get into the car, but he gently tugs on the material of her dress until she steps closer to him.

"Hi," he says.

She presses her forehead to his. "Hi."

**

She'll miss this – driving around aimlessly, listening to new albums. He has A Rush of Blood to the Head and she still thinks his definition of 'alternative' is too broad, his definition of 'rock' and 'pop' too narrow.

Where do we go nobody knows?

She smiles and rests back, closing her eyes.

"So what's with the Al Gore-approved car out front?" Jess asks after ten minutes.

Rory grins and opens her eyes. "My own baby. A graduation gift from my grandparents."

"Aw."

"It has great gas mileage, so it'll be good for driving to Hartford and Stars Hollow on a weekly basis."

"We should've broken the car in."

"Nah, and deny Amber her first ride post-resurrection?"

"Can you stop calling the car that?"

"Nope."

He rolls his eyes and shakes his head.

"Hey, where are we going?"

"Old Saybrook. There's a burger place that has five dollar burgers with a choice of seven different cheeses, wings, hot dogs, and milkshakes. If we book it, we can hit it before it closes."

"You know me too well." She leans in to kiss him on the cheek.

"I don't know how you can eat – I saw Babette leave with two trays of food."

"You're questioning my stomach still?"

"Depends – did you save any of the food?"

She reaches into her pocket and takes out four pizza tarts.

He reaches over and takes one. "You know me too well," he says, biting into it. "Damn, this is good."

"She'll never make it again."

"Bummer. Can I steal a second?"

"Only because you're loved."

"That I am."

**

"These are great," Rory says as she chews her second burger. "Good choice. How do you find these places?"

"I drive around."

"When?"

"At night, mostly."

She reaches out and softly runs a thumb over the dark circles under his eyes. He turns his face into her palm and kisses it. Her eyes sting and she's suddenly not so hungry anymore.

"I have something for you," she says, putting her burger down and taking on the folded envelope from her dress pocket. "Here."

"What is this?" He places his milkshake on the hood of the car and inspects the envelope. "Why did you seal it?" he asks with a laugh. "You even put a stamp on it." He stops smiling when he notices the return address. "What is this?" he repeats, more serious.

"This is the letter I should've sent," she says quietly.

He opens it and she watches his eyes dart across the page, grateful that it'll only take him a minute. He looks up and his gaze is intense. "Why?"

"Why?"

"Why."

She shrugs, picking up his milkshake and taking a sip. The black and white milkshake is pretty exceptional. "I thought I owed it to you."

He shakes his head, glancing over the letter again before putting it away.

"If I sent something like that…would you have waited?" she asks, tentative.

He smirks. "I probably would've bailed to DC to get out of working at the diner – it sucked during the summer."

She laughs a little. "That would've been fun." She gives his milkshake back, staring down at her hands. "I wish you could drop over to Europe for a day."

She looks up and he's staring out at the black Long Island Sound. Soon he'll be staring out at the Pacific Ocean. She rests her cheek on his shoulder and neither of them speaks.

**

He sneaks into her room too quickly after her mom goes to sleep, but Rory can't be bothered because she needs him close, closer, tooclose

**

She wakes up to Jess putting on his shoes. She sits up and wraps her arms around his waist from behind, dozing against him.

"School starts in twenty minutes," he explains in a whisper.

She nods and holds him tighter. She wants him to skip, but she can't ask that of him; he'll be on the next bus out of Stars Hollow otherwise.

"You'll e-mail me?" she asks into his back.

She can feel him tense, take a breath, and exhale. "Yeah."

"Promise?"

His hand falls on top of hers. "I'll try."

She swallows and nods; it's honest.

"I don't know what I'm doing after next week, Ror," he admits, his voice still too quiet. "This…doing school, proms, everything – it was for you. And Luke. I need…" he trails off. She straightens up to place a kiss on the back of his neck. "I need to figure things out. For me."

It's strange – how he's on the precipice of total self-destruction, but hasn't had the luxury of self-growth. He still won't delve too deeply into his past – she's not sure if he'll ever tell her about what his mom did to him – but she knows he didn't walk away from it unscathed – maybe worse than she thinks.

"I know," she says. "But I'm here for you. You have me. Don't forget that, okay?"

He wants to argue it – she knows his arguments and they're valid, but she loves him. She's going to try.

"I'll try too," she says, confident for once that it's the right thing to say.

He turns to face her and he's smiling something soft and lovely, eyes bright. "Have a drink for me at the Hemingway Bar."

She grins. "I'll find a way to make that happen."

He kisses her slow and perfect; she memorizes it as best she can – his mouth, his light stubble against the palms of her hands, his hand on the back of her neck, thumb against her jaw.

"Take care of yourself, Jess," she tells him, placing a hand over his heart.

"Yeah, you too."

She leans in and rests her cheek over where her hand was. "I love you."

He exhales and wraps his arms around her. "Love you too."

They stay like that for five more minutes.

**

There is last minute packing that keeps her occupied – especially when her mom starts having a panic attack when she can't fit her straightener in her suitcase, but all is well when Rory can stick it in her carry-on next to her Irish and UK writers (James Joyce, W. B. Yeats, Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte, Charles Dickens).

(She thinks her copy of A Tale of Two Cities has been marked, but she's afraid to check.)

The van arrives at two and before she knows it, she's staring at I-84 whizzing by, feeling all the miles distancing her from him.

It hurts, but she tries to keep it far away because they have to go through security, during which her mom flirts too much with TSA, find terrible airport food to consume, and organize all the paperwork that her mom haphazardly threw in her carry on.

"Trust me, you're going to be singing me praises come tomorrow," Rory says when she finally finds the hostel paperwork for London. "We're not going to be functioning."

"Speak for yourself – I plan on taking this," her mom reveals what Rory assumes is a sleeping pill.

"You can't – we’re transferring in Canada, hold off on that, Judy Garland."

It's easy until they're thousands of feet in the air and the cabin is quiet and dark. She's turned to face the window, tears streaming down her face as she tries to muffle her cries in her sleeve.

**

She smiles when the sun rises and they touch down at Heathrow Airport.

**

"I'm passing out!" her mom whines after they get their keys to the room and are climbing up the stairs.

"I just want to shower," Rory lies, dumping her bag on the floor of their room. It's delightfully terrible. "Get the smell of airplane off – I'll be back in fifteen."

"Whatever – don't care – g'night!"

Rory bypasses the bathroom and heads straight down to the bottom floor to the main desk again. "Excuse me, how does using the internet work here?"

"Just follow the directions – use your credit card, it's a pound a minute."

Rory charges for seven minutes and waits for her e-mail to load, figuring she'll send a quick e-mail to her grandpa's secretary, letting her grandparents know that they've landed safely. Maybe one to Lane, and –

Her mailbox loads and there's one new message. She smiles.