Author: Iscah McKrae PM
"No, really, Jess…how come you never got married?" Chapter 27: "Candles glowed from each of the round dining tables, immaculately set with napkins in origami perfection and every fish fork and compote spoon lined up with military precision." NOT part of the "Pay the Piper" storyverse.Rated: Fiction T - English - Family/Romance - Rory G. & Jess M. - Chapters: 27 - Words: 57,444 - Reviews: 287 - Favs: 42 - Follows: 105 - Updated: 03-20-13 - Published: 08-12-11 - id: 7278864
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
A/N: Not long ago, I wrote an entire chapter, read it aloud to my husband, and as I finished, I told him, "I didn't like that nearly as well when I read it as while I was writing it." And, he responded, "Oh, good. 'Cause I didn't like it AT ALL." He went on to explain to me exactly why what was written was OOC for Jess, and he was absolutely right. So I scrapped the whole thing and started over. This is the result. I must say, I'm much more pleased with it this way. I hope you're pleased with it too.
On a side note, I recently wrote a one-shot entitled: "Waking From a Nightmare." Naturally, as most of my stories are, this one is about Jess. It goes back and explains a piece of his story that is key both in this storyverse and in the Pay the Piper storyverse. I've gotten very little feedback on it, though, and I'm really anxious to now what all of you would think about it. So, as a personal favor, if you wouldn't mind reading it as well and giving me your opinion, I would greatly appreciate it! Thank you!
After 'Up' and 'An Affair to Remember'…
Lorelai was in her pink, smiley-face and ice cream cone flannel pajamas and her Betty Boop slippers. Her hair hung in slightly mussed ringlets down her shoulders. She tiptoed down the stairs, cringing when they creaked beneath her step. The house was quiet and every sound seemed magnified hundredfold. She told herself that it didn't matter much if she woke Jess. He wouldn't care that she was getting a midnight snack…or a 3 a.m. snack. Whatever it was. He probably wouldn't even tell Luke. He might even join her. She still crinkled her nose and cursed her clumsiness when her elbow knocked against the banister loudly. Then again, part of that was because of the sensation of electric shock that jolted down her arm to her fingertips. The sound prompted an abrupt movement from the room below. But, she was surprised to see that it wasn't from a sleeping Jess. He was up. He was dressed. He was…
Lorelai felt a cold tightness in the pit of her stomach. The young man downstairs, her nephew, clean-cut and responsible and mature and reliable and… He stood there with his duffel bag on the couch, cinching it shut with a guilty look on his face. He was sneaking off in the middle of the night.
It wasn't that serious. Really, it wasn't. He never said how long he intended to stay. She'd only presumed he was going to stick around, be close at hand while Rory got settled into her new place, new routine, be right there just in case he was needed. He never said it. Not in so many words. So, why did Lorelai get the sudden, hair standing up on the back of her neck sensation, and the feeling that she was seeing him suddenly revert to the scared nearly-eighteen-year-old who had packed his bags and left for California without a word to anyone? Maybe it was because the look on his face said that he was scared, said that he was running away, said that he felt guilty about it, and guiltier for being caught, cringing at the thoughts that had to be running through her head, the parallels, the déjà vu.
She gave a deep, disappointed sigh. His eyes broke from hers, faltering, and his lungs filled with a returned sigh that seemed to get stuck inside of him, his head bowed just a touch, and he looked up. Lorelai knew in that moment why her daughter had never been able to stay mad at him for long. He looked like such a little boy. That look in his eyes. Penitent. Waiting.
"What are you doing, Jess?" It was a stupid question. There was no possible way that she could mistake the packed bag, the shoes on, the jacket. He bit his lips together.
"I gotta get back," he murmured, as if he knew this explanation didn't hold water. I mean, sure, he had his own life, his own home, his business to run, his writing to do…everything. But, barring some unfathomable emergency, there was no reason that any of these things were so pressing that they necessitated a pre-dawn flight from Stars Hollow.
"Jess…" The word was disbelief and sadness and a strange near sympathy that seemed completely displaced. Somewhere in the word was 'how could you?' and that killed him worse than anything else could have.
"I have to go, Lorelai." It was still soft, yielding, but this time his words, although apologetic, held a firmness, a 'this is simply the way things have to be.' She didn't answer with words. Her eyes respected his reasons, whatever they were. That only made it worse. "Don't ask me why."
"It's only Hartford." She nodded and sniffed quickly. "If she needs anything, I can be here in twenty minutes." She nodded again. "I'm going to leave her a note." Lorelai's head tilted at this one and her eyebrows raised in an I guess that's something kind of way. "I was gonna leave you one too."
"What's going on, Jess?" He stiffened, expression just south of annoyed. It was only then that she realized that she was essentially asking the exact question he'd just asked her not to. She couldn't help it, though.
"If I stick around, I'm not helping anything. I'm just making things more complicated." Her expression belied this, drawing back in a grimace, with a shake of the head.
"I don't need to be hanging around, looking like a lousy, rotten vulture!" The words weren't spoken loudly or sharply, but his eyes squinted and his voice had a tinge of a gravelly sneer. Lorelai's eyes widened.
"A vul-" She stopped, catching his meaning and closed her eyes, her mouth hardening and twitching just a little as she shifted her feet, drawing them as close together as her slippers would allow, arms folding across her torso. "You really think that's what people are gonna think?" Jess exhaled a small smile that wasn't a smile and rested his eyes on the couch for a moment, biting the edge of his lip.
"Pretty sure that's what Rory already thinks…which is my fault. I stuck my foot in my mouth, said something I didn't mean to, she invoked Freud, and voila! Instant jerk." There was only a drop of bitterness in the account, which anyone who knew Jess Mariano would realize was reserved for himself alone.
"You mean all of this is because of a simple misunderstanding? I'm sure all you'd have to do is-" Jess cut her off precipitously.
"If Rory can misunderstand-" he bit his lips together and threw his hands up. "This is Stars Hollow, Lorelai! All it takes is one person adding two and two together and coming up with five, for half the town to think that we were sleeping together and that's the reason Rory's marriage is falling apart. And from there, the argument starts over whether or not Logan was really mistreating her, and if he was, whether she was partly to blame. I will not do that to her!" He pressed his lips together. "That would destroy her right now!"
Lorelai's eyes filled with understanding and concern, resting behind Jess, off somewhere in space. She sighed quickly. "Does Rory know why you're leaving? Does the note explain all that?"
"I…don't live here. I never said I was staying in town beyond a couple of days. I'm not gonna drop off the face of the earth! I'll be in touch. If I explained, that would complicate things." Why did what he was saying have to make sense?
"But, why are you leaving in the middle of the night? Couldn't you at least stick around and say goodbye to Luke and the kids?" she asked, knowing Luke would be disappointed to find him gone. Jess' pained expression explained more than his words though. It made sense. If he stayed till morning, he was afraid he'd lose his nerve, afraid he'd talk himself out of leaving. He didn't want to go. "Never mind, I'll…I'll say goodbye to them for you," she volunteered, and she could see that he was surprised and a little touched that he didn't have to explain.
"Could you maybe not mention…what time…" he paused, not wanting to ask her to lie, but not wanting everyone else to get the same impression she had.
"You just got up a little early, wanted to get a jump on the day," she shrugged, smiling at him. Her explanation put a grateful half-smile on his face.
"Thanks," he breathed, chin dipping forward a bit in a mannerism Lorelai had long noticed he shared with his uncle. Her smile softened and she stepped forward to hug him goodbye. He returned the hug, glad for the understanding she showed him.
He stepped back, shouldering his bag with a sigh. "I'll see you soon." She nodded, and he turned to go, but when he reached the door, he paused with his hand on the doorknob, halting without turning around. "Lorelai…" He stood there another five seconds before half turning to her again. "You'll call me if…" His eyes closed and he slowly turned away from the door. "She might start flipping out…soon. You'd call me, right?" Lorelai was speechless for a moment.
"What?" What was he saying? Why would he predict this? Rory, he meant Rory, and he was saying…what was he saying?
"Grieving…it can get messy sometimes. She might not call. She probably won't. No matter what, I wanna be there. I need to be there. You'd call me, right?" he was asking for reassurance, but at the moment he'd just given Lorelai a need for the same.
"How do you know what she might do, Jess? Where are you getting this?" she asked urgently, drawing back from him without meaning to on a conscious level. She wanted to believe this was over. She knew it wasn't, but he tore her out of the comforting cocoon of denial.
His jaw tightened and his lips with it, something in his eyes growing hard. His voice came out compressed and small, sounding like fragments of iron. "It's not the first time I've seen something like this." There was a warning in his eyes not to inquire after the details. He swallowed the iron and his eyes took on a faraway haze, but Lorelai needed him here and now.
"You said she'd flip out-" Her voice recalled him to the present with jarring suddenness.
"Might," he corrected.
"Still…" She looked at him with an unspoken question. He inhaled and exhaled deeply.
"I don't know that much. I just…I've seen it, and…" He shook his head rapidly. "…it might just be a matter of being kinda jumpy, or crying a lot…but it can be worse sometimes. I'm not…I'm not trying to scare you or tell you that any of it is going to happen-I just…" He took a short, painful sigh. "I need to know if it does. I need to know she's okay, or if she's not. I don't want to get a call and find out something else has happened to her, when I could've…" His voice got more broken as he continued and finally trailed off altogether. His face, his voice, his words betrayed the war that was going on inside of him, wanting so badly to stay where he could keep an eye on her, knowing it would be better for her if he left. "Please, promise me-"
"I'll tell you absolutely anything that happens, Jess," she assured him. He gasped something between a laugh and a sob.
"I'm sorry," he told her, as if his concern was some sort of a burden for her. Lorelai's hand reached forward almost involuntarily, covering his.
"Don't." She smiled at him sadly. "Don't be sorry. We'll make sure she's okay. Together. We'll do it together, all right?" Her voice was broken, but hopeful. He sighed with relief, leaning back against the door.
"Okay. Thank you… Thank you." Downward along his mouth and chin his hand wiped in a wearied "v" shape, as if it could wipe the strain from his face as he drew another deep breath and then rubbed at the space between his eyebrows. Lorelai could almost see him willing himself to go…and to stay…and to go.
"It's okay, Jess." Her hand reached forward to his shoulder, strengthening him with her touch, her fingertips smooth against the soft leather. "It's okay. Just go. It'll be fine." Jess nodded, turning determinedly toward the door again, speaking to her without turning back.
"Thank you, Lorelai… Bye." And, he opened the door, leaving quickly and closing it behind him. Lorelai allowed herself to go limp, with her head against the coolness of the cream colored paint of the door, next to the frosted glass. A faint smile crossed her weary lips. It was such a silly thing. But she wished he didn't have to go, if only because she really would rather have sat with him at the counter insulting one another over milk and cookies.
It was almost dawn. He knew he would have to hurry. It wouldn't do any good if somebody saw him. In fact, it would defeat his entire purpose in leaving. Fingers fumbled for the key above the door. Footsteps silent on the stair, up and down. Almost at the door when he had the eerie familiar feeling of a pair of eyes upon him. Here in the empty diner. Eyes.
"How long have you been in love with her?" Even in the shadows, how had he missed her sitting there?
"Drop it," he told Honor coldly.
"Why?" Her tone wasn't exactly cozy either.
"She is still…your brother's…wife," he said slowly and distinctly, turning slowly to face her in the strange half-light.
"I'm very well aware of the fact." Her voice betrayed nothing. He was sick through. This was exactly what he was trying to avoid.
"So am I." His words were hard as stone. There couldn't be any question on this fact.
"Good to know." She paused. "That still doesn't answer my question." I said, drop it. I meant, drop it. Now, drop it!
"Quite true," he replied levelly.
"Well?" She sounded so cavalier. He knew it was an act, but she passed the question off as if she were mildly amused.
"None of your business." No wasted words.
"So, you are in love with her." She inferred like a stealthy cat pouncing upon a mouse.
"None of your business." No admissions.
"If that's the way you want it." Deceptively mild. Not malicious, though. He was fairly certain. Protective, but not malicious.
Jess raised his eyebrows and gave a half-nod that said clearer than words, Um…yeah! It was certainly 'the way he wanted it.'
"Well then," she said melodically, her gaze taking in his traveling clothes and over-the-shoulder duffel bag, "It's been a pleasure, Jess Mariano." Jess nodded shallowly and then looked at her sidelong.
"Likewise." He meant it. He was nearly sure he meant it. As long as she did.
He shifted the weight of his duffel more firmly onto his shoulder, scratched the bridge of his nose for a moment with his other hand, and then tipped her a farewell nod. The door jingled open and shut.
Honor mounted the stairs. He hadn't entered the apartment, so what was he doing there on the landing? She flipped her phone open and used it as a flashlight. It didn't take long to locate the slip of paper stuck in the door. Tapered fingers snatched it and she hurried with feline quietness down the stairs, into the storage room where she could turn on a light. The paper crinkled as she fumbled to open it quickly, her eagerness only slowing her down. She was only doing this in Rory's best interest, she told herself. She wasn't naturally a snoop. There were just some things that required a certain level of investigation in order to…
She scanned the paper's contents. It relieved her to see that it actually was neither addressed nor signed, so technically, she wasn't doing anything illegal. Not exactly. The note could have just as easily have been for her…if she hadn't seen it delivered. She dismissed the moral complexity of the issue as a nonessential.
It contained very few words, just as the man himself. It read as follows:
"Temporary" was crossed out and replaced with the word: "Incidental"
Gilmore = blue eyes, coffee addiction, million words per second, infectious smile/laugh, telepathic powers, generous heart, mind-boggling metabolism, fierce independence/determination.
Huntzberger = What it says on the marriage license.
After this, she could see indentations in the paper where he'd written, "Mariano = " and erased it, after which the paper had been scrubbed by ten thousand erasures until it was nearly worn through. Below that it had said " = hurting you" but before it the paper hadn't been written on at all…as if he could find no correlation to this thought whatsoever. In the end, all of this had been erased, and written a tiny space below it, where the paper was unmarred, were just two words.
Honor heaved a slow, steady breath, releasing the worry that had been wracking her for a good portion of the evening, holding the small, white scrap of paper to her chest. She swallowed and allowed herself to smile.
"Yes, Mr. Mariano," she whispered to empty room, "It has indeed been a pleasure."
She crept quietly upstairs, slipped into the apartment, carefully replaced the note in the doorjamb, and eased herself onto the sheets and blankets assembled for her on the couch.
A/N: Pretty reviews, please? What do you make of it all? What did you like? What did you notice? What did you dislike? See all of you soon with the next chapter. :-)