Author: Angeleyez PM
Future. Complete. Jess. Rory. A New York City rooftop. Tomorrow, the rest of her life begins.Rated: Fiction T - English - Words: 5,493 - Reviews: 48 - Favs: 43 - Follows: 2 - Published: 01-25-04 - Status: Complete - id: 1702305
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Title: Secondhand Smoke
Disclaimer: It's not mine. I'm simply borrowing. Sharing is caring.
Summary: Future. Complete. Jess. Rory. A New York City rooftop. Tomorrow, the rest of her life begins.
A/N: Thanks to Mai because she's so damn sweet. Thanks so very much to Lia for reading all of this and being honest and wonderful. This is a one parter, by the way. Feedback would be much appreciated.
Every time she moves, the nearby light stationed on the brick wall catches the piece of glitter on the bridge of her nose, and it sparkles. So do her arms, and sometimes her neck, and he thinks that she must have wiped her eyes earlier because they sparkle too. Her shirt is a deep shade of black, and printed across the front in loose silver glitter is Bachelorette. It's a gift from Lorelai and Lane, forced upon her at the start of the evening, so she could wear it out. This way, all fun and games would not be mistakenly bestowed upon someone else. These are her final days before the rest of her life begins, and she is going to enjoy them.
Tonight's party is over now though; it's nearly three AM, but she's wide awake, slurring her words slightly, as she speaks to him. He misses much of what she is saying, because she keeps moving and shimmering, and he wants to reach out and wipe the dusting away. His hands remain glued to his sides though, and he snaps himself back to attention. She's explaining all about her adventures before it gets too blurry in her mind. Perhaps this way, tomorrow, he'll be able to reiterate it back to her. Judging from the amount of alcohol she has consumed — as told to him by Lane — she won't be able to remember it herself.
"There were strippers," she giggles, and he smirks in response. He has never heard her giggle so much in one night. "I cannot believe there were strippers. I specifically said no strippers."
"Lane and Lorelai intervene?" He asks.
"Wanted me to have a superfantasticsexywonderfulous time," she explains, gesturing with her hands. "Their word, not mine."
"Figured. Cop or fireman?"
"Law school graduate. Cap, gown, and ruler."
"Ruler?" He raises an eyebrow. "Were you a bad girl?"
She aims for his shoulder but ends up hitting his lower arm. He notices that her hand sparkles too. "Quiet! I don't need this from you."
"Did he tickle you with his tassel?"
"Stop! There was no tickling or… tasseling."
"That's not a word."
"It is if I say it is."
"Fine. Tasseling. What does it mean?"
"Look!" She jabs her pointer finger in the air, dangerously close to his head. "It's a flying change of subject."
He reaches out and lays his hand over hers in an attempt to prevent her from causing him bodily harm. He quickly leads her down until her palm presses against his leg. When he pulls away, she doesn't, but he chooses not to comment.
"Subtle," he remarks.
"I thought so."
She's done now, no longer in the mood to relate her experiences with him. Fatigue begins to set in, and she moves closer to him in a hope he'll support her frame. He decides not to speak, and instead listens to the noises that still hang thick in the air. The two of them are outside, perched on the roof of a New York City apartment building. They both lean back against the wall separating them from safety and empty air, and his hand lingers on the ledge directly behind her back. He is unsure of her balance.
Out of the corner of his eye, he skims the streets below, and sees people everywhere, milling about. Groups walk together, their voices and drunken laughter lost in the sounds surrounding them. There are couples too, out on dates that they aren't ready to let end. They walk hand in hand, and steal a kiss whenever they think prying eyes aren't looking. A few scattered souls wander alone, pensive smiles on their faces. Jess wonders if they're happy with their apparent loneliness. He remembers that he still needs to walk home by himself. He's going to have to get used to the feeling.
(This is called regret.)
Rory shifts next to him, yawning, and he is about to suggest that they head inside. She has to be exhausted from her bachelorette party, and he is rather tired himself. He spent the night at a party of his own — strippers and alcohol there too. He headed over here immediately after to see Rory, and Lane and Lorelai begrudgingly allowed him to steal her away to the roof. They insisted she needed the sleep, but she had jumped at the sight of him, happy to tell him everything.
She always told him about her life, what was going on. Had done so for the longest time. Ever since her senior year of college, now that he thought about it. One day he picked up the phone and called her long distance, his fingers dialing the familiar number, moving faster than his thought process could. Every action has a consequence, his mind reminded him. You left, she hates you. Cause and effect: he'll call, she'll hang up.
When he gets the answering machine, he leaves a message. Short and fleeting: an awkward hello, a garbled explanation for his sudden resurfacing, and his phone number trailing his words. This is the clearest part of the message; it is the only thing he is certain of. Two and a half weeks later, she calls him back. He's on his way to work, literally one foot out the door, but impulse makes him turn back. It's a good thing too; he doesn't own an answering machine. He picks up the phone. She skips over a greeting in favor of demanding his reasons for phoning her, and he answers honestly: he has absolutely no idea. He asks how she's doing, and she hesitantly responds, and somehow, he never makes it to work.
"I love it here at night," she says softly, eyelids half closed. She's lived in the city since her graduation from Yale, and absolutely adores it. He's been there almost a year. It was a sudden decision to move back East. He wasn't sure where, so he asked her what she thought. She thought New York.
"I think I chose here because of you," she continues. Her tongue is loose, wordings slipping easily out of her mouth. He wonders what it is about alcohol that makes people tell the truth; say things they never would if they were sober. He's not sure how to respond to this, so he waits for her to continue.
"You and your bad boy tough act from the city. Made me curious. Like when I came up here to see you in high school. Remember?" She asks.
"Of course, I remember. That was the day I officially knew I had corrupted you," he jokes. "Cutting school, taking a bus here… Shame on you," he wags his finger, and she grabs it, pushing it away.
"You were happy I came. You had a crush on me."
"I did not."
"You obviously did. You moved back for me."
"Don't think so highly of yourself."
"You did," she insists.
"Fine, fine, think whatever you want. But I'll have you know that I really enjoyed all those festivals Taylor threw. Peanut Butter Lover's Day? Best. Festival. Ever."
She laughs out loud, and almost chokes, as she pitches forward before throwing herself back next to him. "Okay, deny it now. But we dated, buddy," she pokes him in the chest, "So you did have a crush on me."
"To be fair, I think you may have liked me too."
"Not at all," she says.
"Not even a little?" He asks, feigning hurt.
She holds her pointer finger and thumb very close together. "Small, tiny bit."
"Liar," he smirks. He's starting to grow uncomfortable, however. Throughout their friendship (post his disappearance), they have never rehashed their failed relationship. If they do this now, she may say something, confess what she really thought of him, and how he made her feel… how much he hurt her.
"I don't lie!"
"No. I'm like George Washington. 'I cannot tell a lie, I cut down that cherry tree'," she recites.
"Alright then, George, you really didn't like me at all. Our history together is nothing but a lie. I'm hurting right now, just so you know."
"Of course I liked you," she admits. "But sometimes you were so frustrating. You made it really hard to love you."
For a second, the world stops spinning as he replays what she has said over and over in his mind. Does she mean it, or is she simply trying to get a rise out of him? Years earlier, she told him over the phone that she thought she loved him… there was a chance, a small thread of almost that he unknowingly snapped with his hasty departure. Now here she is, leaning against him, telling him that she did. He wants her to elaborate; take it back or confirm, doesn't matter which. He needs more than this open ended remark. She remains stubbornly silent, however, and allows her words to dissipate, turning into vapors that flow through the air. As soon as she's not looking, he'll breathe them in.
"Ian," she says suddenly, already forgetting about her earlier statement. Does she not understand the gravity of what she has said, or is Jess simply reading too much into it? He's being ridiculous, looking for hidden meanings where there are none. She loved him years ago, and he screwed it up. He's lucky to be her friend right now.
"How was his party?" She asks, curious.
"And I think he drank half of his body weight in alcohol."
"Oh, perfect. Two nights before the wedding, and you guys give him alcohol poisoning."
"I never joined the chanting of 'chug, chug, chug!'"
"So you say," she teases. "You guys had strippers too, didn't you?"
Why did she have to ask? He hadn't even wanted to attend in the first place; he never really connected with Ian. More that he never actually tried. He hadn't expected him and Rory to last so long. Truth is he didn't want them too. Yet here they were, two days before, two days, and she wants to hear if her fiancée has been ogling plastic women prettier than her.
"Wouldn't be a party without them."
"Ian didn't…um, you know…"
"There was no tasseling," he assures her.
"What does that even mean?"
"He kissed one," Jess says quietly, kicking himself on the inside. He hadn't meant to say it, and now the words are out there, jagged and harsh, and he hopes to God this won't make her cry. He hurries to fix this, "But he was drunk. I mean really, hopelessly, 'I sure hope we don't need to rush him to the hospital' drunk. And all the guys were cheering him on…" Guilt overwhelms him, a foreign feeling, and he begins the mantra of 'Idiot, Idiot' in his head.
"Oh," she says. "Yeah, okay." She shakes her head as if she understands. It is the second to last night before her life begins, and Ian's ends. Isn't that how guys see it? "Was she prettier than me?"
"Are you lying to make me feel better?"
"Hey, she was much sluttier too, so it all balances out."
He's still struggling to lessen the blow, when she stands up. This must be it, he figures; she's going to bed now to dream of her fiancée and a faceless figure, tangled and intimate. For a moment, Jess really hates himself, but then she's standing between his legs, her mouth covering his, and he's wondering why he didn't tell her sooner.
The kiss is dizzy, and long, and unexpected. Her lips hold the bitter taste of alcohol, but he drinks it in. Her fingertips skim his face, his jaw line, before they make their way to his neck. They dance circles across his skin, while his hands linger on her lower back. She leans further against him, and if she presses any harder, she'll send him over the edge. Then he'll be free falling, head over heels, and maybe he'll take her with him.
She breaks the kiss but doesn't move away, and he lets his hands slip to her hips in an attempt to prevent a sudden escape. Her head tilts down, and her hair covers her face, and he can't tell if she's blushing, or smiling, or even crying. He wants her to meet his eye, and kiss him again, because he can't do it himself. She's drunk and engaged, and if he tried to kiss her right now, she'd never forgive him despite her making the first move.
Finally, she looks up, and he is surprised to see indifference on her face.
"Sorry," she mutters. "I just… now me and him are even. I am fully prepared to get married."
Her logic is off tonight, but it's not a surprise. He nods, eyes staring at her lips, memorizing this moment, so he can forget it. Every detail locked in his mind, so that he can cleanse his memory of it; fully and completely, so there isn't a trace left. She's not thinking correctly, he reminds himself. Better to pretend it didn't happen, just like she never brought up their past. It's way too late for this to mean something. It's too late for him to analyze whether or not he wants it to mean something.
(He's pretty sure he does.)
He searches her face for a hint of regret. When he can't find any, he slowly stands, ready to end the night before something else happens, and he'll do something that he won't be sorry for in the morning. She's the one who can break if he isn't careful. She's the one who has everything to lose, and only him to gain.
"Yeah, it's fine," he brushes it off as if it's nothing. Nothing at all. "Exactly how drunk are you?" He asks, needing to lighten his mood in some way.
She grins. "One tequila, two tequila, three tequila…"
"Floor," they say in unison.
He nods, "Alright, alright, time to get you to bed, so you can sleep this off."
She takes a few steps back, and he stands up straight. They both begin to walk for the door to the building. She grabs his arm to steady herself, and without thinking, he shakes it off. He doesn't want to touch her now; it's as if he's not quite ready to. But the hurt shows plainly on her face, so he slips his arm over her shoulders, and pulls her close. She smiles.
"I'm sleeping all day tomorrow. That's it. Just sleep and coffee and more sleep. Then the day after that… wow. The day after that. Tomorrow. It's after midnight, so technically it's not two days, it's tomorrow."
"Tomorrow," he echoes.
"And you'll be there, right?"
"Front row center," he assures her because it's what she needs to hear. For the past few days, he's wondered if maybe he can make up something work related to get him out of this. He's never liked weddings much.
"Don't make funny faces. I can't crack up during the vows."
He opens the door, and they descend the stairs. "Yeah, we'll see. There's still the chance that I'll burst into flames on entry."
"I keep forgetting you're a direct descendent of the devil. Well, the reception isn't at the church. No leaving early, by the way. You have to dance with me."
"I don't dance," he mutters. They emerge on the top floor and head down the hall.
He reaches over to press the button for the elevator, but she swats his hand away. She presses it herself, and shoots him a triumphant smile. "You do with me."
The doors open in front of them, and they both step on. As it closes, a burst of claustrophobia overwhelms him, and he sucks in a breath.
Ever since she showed him the ring, there has been one thought ever present in his mind: he doesn't want her to get married.
Before it was only the fact that he didn't want to lose her to another man; she wouldn't need him anymore. He valued their friendship like nothing else, and he did his best to keep it safe and untarnished. Now he wasn't so sure that that was the only reason. Maybe before when they were just Rory and Jess, great friends with similar interests, the fact that something more could happen comforted him. A security blanket of possibility. Once she says 'I do', however, that's it. He's locked into position of best friend that she sees when she's not busy with married life. He doesn't like this at all. He's so selfish when it comes to her. He doesn't like to share.
The elevator stops, and they both get off, and he feels as if he's left his stomach behind. It's a perpetual sinking feeling mixed with panic that this is it. It's tomorrow, and he can't do anything about it… he's lost his chance.
(This is called the end.)
He walks her to Lane's apartment, where she and Lorelai both wait. He wonders if they're relieved that Rory's ending up with someone that's not him. They have always kept a careful eye on him as if to say: We know how destructive you can be; it's not going to happen again.
He can't help but think that it's true, and maybe it's better this way, and maybe he just needs to get Rory in there and out of his sight, so he can go out and drink and drink until he can't remember his own name, let alone the rooftop scene. It's an excellent plan, and tomorrow, once he wakes up and his head is on straight, he'll realize that he's being ridiculous.
They reach the apartment door, and Rory knocks. Lorelai answers and ushers her daughter to bed before she can even say goodnight to Jess. He doesn't exactly notice because he's already dreaming of a tall glass of beer filled with the promise of short-term memory. He's happy for Rory. Maybe if he drinks enough, he'll really believe that.
"Night, Jess," Lorelai says politely. "We'll see you soon."
He mock salutes as if his one duty tonight was to return Rory safely to them. Lorelai smiles, amused, but then her eyes catch the glitter that lines his jaw, a trail leading to his lips. They sparkle in the light as he turns, but then he is gone, heading for the elevator. Her stomach knots and she wishes for the millionth time that he never entered Rory's life.
His hand lands on the door, and he pulls; one foot in front of the other, inhale, exhale, and then he's inside. A warm blast of air envelops him, and the sudden change in temperature makes his head spin. He closes his eyes for a second, trying his best to clear his dizzy mind. It seems too crowded, there's constant noise, and he can't tell if there are coherent thoughts up there anymore. Already he wishes that today is over, and he's home, lying in bed next to a girl, any girl, nameless and beautiful, who will be gone before the sun rises. But tonight seems a thousand light years away.
He collects himself, and moves forward, ready to find an usher to guide him to his seat. Religious statues stare as he passes, and he hears them whisper to one another that he does not belong there. Jess silently agrees with them, almost apologetically. Ceremonies aren't that long though, he reminds himself. It's the reception that never ends. He checks his watch: fifteen minutes and counting. As he walks toward the door, he holds his breath, and ticks the seconds off in his head.
Then someone hisses his name.
He turns, and there's Rory. Her head is peeking through a half open door, and she waves her hand in a 'come here' gesture. He abruptly changes direction without thinking it entirely through, and enters the room. Once he shuts the door, Rory spreads her arms out and does an awkward curtsy, the white gauze of her dress crinkling with the movement.
"How do I look?"
"When you bend down, you look like a white cupcake," he says.
"Yes, but a pretty cupcake?"
His smirk is his answer. Immediately she smiles and pulls him into a hug, drowning him in a sea of blinding fabric. He buries his face in the crook of her neck to keep the veil from scratching his face raw, and she laughs.
"So you're here!" She exclaims, taking a couple of steps back, the grin never leaving her face. She's practically glowing.
"Why wouldn't I be?"
"I don't know," she shrugs, "It's just strange. I didn't see you at all yesterday. You weren't answering your phone."
"On a Saturday?"
"Busy, busy," he says.
"Are you sure you weren't avoiding me because I kissed you?"
Her question halts the flow of blood in his veins, and his heartbeat becomes irregular. The noise in his head finally stops, leaving him with only one conscious thought: She wasn't supposed to remember.
"I didn't mean to make things weird. I wasn't really thinking right. And I'm sorry."
"I hadn't kissed you in years."
He's not really here. He's inside the main room, sitting in a pew. He can feel the wood beneath him, hard and uncomfortable, but real. This isn't real. It can't be. The more he stands there silently, however, the more the tension grows. It wraps around him, cutting off his air supply, forcing him to accept the fact that he is here in this room with her. She's really standing there, eyes pleading, face expectant, telling him all of this. What the hell is she doing?
"It was nice," she says softly.
He wants to tell her that it's too little, too late. But it's not too little, it's too much, too god damn much. He stares at her intently, and realizes she's three words from spilling it all. But any confession she makes now won't matter, because she's late, four days late in fact, because maybe, last Wednesday night, when the two of them sat on her couch watching Sixteen Candles, and eating cookie dough ice cream directly from the carton, maybe if she had said something then, like: 'I missed you' or 'I love you' or 'I'm really glad you're here', he would have believed her, and said something back, something meaningful, and then they wouldn't be here right now. Then this wouldn't be real.
"At first, it didn't really hit me, but then when I woke up and was actually thinking clearly… and then my mom, she made this comment about the two of us, and…" She trails off as if he can fill in the rest.
Oh. He can.
With the mention of Rory's mother, it all falls into place. The night before, when she kissed him, she brushed it off as if it was nothing. It was nothing. Wait. Present tense: Is. It is nothing. The words had been carelessly tumbling from her lips that night, and if she had really felt something, she would have told him. This is bullshit, all of it. It has to be. A seed of doubt was planted in her head. Maybe it was Lorelai, maybe it was the omen of Lane's own marriage currently on the rocks, or maybe Rory took a look around, and noticed the unhappiness surrounding her. Took a look at the statistics, the current divorce rate…? She's nervous, terrified, and the doubt is too much for her. She's looking for a way out.
Lucky him. He's it.
"Rory…" He begins.
"I made a mistake. But I'm not sure which is the mistake."
He does his best to ignore the gnawing pain in the pit of his stomach. This girl is like a parasite, so far imbedded in his system, and spreading her poison. How could she do this to him? This is the last chance that he lost the night before — it's reincarnated in the form of her uncertainty. But he knows that none of this is true. He's seen her with Ian, and he knows that all this is fear. If she says she loves him right now, it's nothing. Nothing at all. Just like the kiss, he reminds himself. She has a false story going on in her head. Now, he gets to make up the ending.
"Did you move to New York because I was here?" She asks. As if this is the deciding factor, as if this all depends on how he feels.
"No," he says. No, no, no. The anger — at her, at himself, at Ian for just being there when he couldn't be — is building up inside of him. He wants to set her straight, make her change her mind and realize she's being ridiculous. He wants to rid her of her doubt completely, but at the same time, leave their friendship intact. But the anger and her attitude is going to make this impossible.
"I didn't come here for you. This isn't like it was in high school."
"I know it's different! I'm different, you're different! You've changed so much since…"
"Oh geez, don't flatter yourself that you're the one who changed me! You're just another girl, Rory."
Her face falls. This isn't how it's supposed to be. She's been around him for years. She's the one who was supposed to make a difference! She was supposed to mean something.
"Don't say it like that," she says. "I'm more than that."
"No," he repeats himself. "You're not." He's sure that this is the greatest lie he has ever told.
"Fine," she spits out. "I'm just someone who took up your time until you found someone better."
See how nicely she fills in the blanks?
"Can you leave now? I need to finish getting ready." Her voice cracks, and in that one instant, he has never hated himself more. Maybe there was some kind of truth in what she confessed. Maybe she really was in love with him. Maybe Ian was the mistake. He wants to stay, grab her hand, and pull her out the side entrance. They'd sneak away, just him and her, but then he's turning around, ignoring the doubt.
Each word that escaped his mouth caused a hairline fracture, slow and creeping. It was a subtle break, so that he didn't notice, not until now, when he begins to walk out of the room, and he hears the pieces crunch beneath his heels. Something snaps inside him, falls away, and he's sure he'll never see it again. It's left behind, here with her, and she won't even realize it.
The door closes quietly behind him, too anti-climatic for his mood. He heads for the exit, and slams through it, hitting the outside air too fast. It's like breathing in ice. The air freezes in his chest, making the rise and fall much more difficult.
As a cure, he pulls out a cigarette, and mourns his decision to be a fucking martyr.
He told her exactly what she needed to hear to walk down that aisle without a second thought. The only evidence of her previous uncertainty is the tears that are slowly rolling down her face. They are for him, the last bit she needs to get out, and then he's officially gone; her system cleansed of him. Later, Ian will kiss them away, the saline too sweet in his mouth, and Rory will smile.
Ian's sweet himself, one of those good guys that girls like Rory can never find until they go through guys like Jess. Jess with his sad eyes and pretty mouth, and a body cloaked in cigarette smoke that gives him that mysterious air. Girls think if they say the right thing, kiss him enough, love him enough, he'll break down. They'll be the one to change him, discover why he is the way he is. Even though the rational part of them is warning that they'll be worse off after they've dated him.
Maybe Rory fancied herself with similar thoughts when they first got together, but then he showed her, didn't he? He disappeared one day, just like that, and maybe this is her revenge. She makes him think there's something between them, so she can suddenly disappear too. He hates this ending that he's made up for himself, but he knows that this is the way it has to be.
But she's just another girl, right? It's his new mantra that she doesn't matter, she's just another anonymous face among many. She was close though. Oh so close to something, reaching what all those other girls think is just within their grasp but never really is. He hates that she was close, but he mostly hates himself because no matter what, Rory's face will always resurface with a name attached.
He lights the cigarette, and inhales as much smoke as he can. He holds his breath, letting it burn inside him, until he chokes and the gray mist escapes his nose and mouth. He's no good for her. She was always around him inhaling that secondhand smoke, and one day, it would have killed her.
So, this is how it goes. Rory off with her own life and he's left behind. All he gets are snapshot frames in his mind of what used to be back in high school. Memories so old, and so tattered because he spent years trying to make them go away, that they're way too blurry now to relive in his head. He has to content himself with a secret rooftop moment that she won't think about two weeks from now. He gets to keep a dizzy kiss with a bitter taste, and the pinprick remembrances of her clumsy fingers tracing the side of his face.
He drops the cigarette and stubs it out with his toe. Seconds later, another one is hanging out of his mouth as his fingers fumble for the lighter. He spends the next ten minutes finishing the rest of the pack, and somehow, he never makes it back inside the church.