19 - A Fragile Thing

Lorelai glanced longingly at the coffee maker, wondering if she had enough energy to stay awake long enough for a pot to brew. What she wouldn't give for a good, strong cup of java...

However, the sound of Rory tossing and turning in her bed drew her attention away from the coffee. Glancing at the closed door, Lorelai couldn't help but sigh.

As difficult as tonight had been for her, Lorelai knew that it had been worse for Rory. That much had been obvious by the girl's behavior at the mansion. Lorelai had never seen her daughter look so totally broken as when she'd fallen to the ground while begging forgiveness.

In that moment, every ounce of Lorelai's anger had vanished. All that mattered was Rory's pain. So for once she'd followed her mother's advice and joined the girl on the cold concrete, every argument of the past two months forgiven.

She had no idea how long the three of them had sat on the porch like that, sobbing and holding one another as if the end of the world was upon them. It wasn't until Richard came outside and ordered Emily to get into the house before she caught pneumonia that the three women separated, and the younger pair got into their cars and headed home.

Upon arrival, Lorelai had sent Rory to bed, insisting the two of them could have their talk tomorrow. But now, hearing another frustrated flop from the other side of the bedroom door, Lorelai determined that her daughter was in need of some verbal comfort before her body would allow itself the release of sleep.

With that decided, she pushed the door open and walked in.

* * * * *

"Okay, you can have apple or cherry - take your pick." Luke announced to the dining room as he emerged from the back of his diner, a pie in each hand.

Getting no response from the sullen teen, Luke carefully cut a slice of each and slid the plate across the counter to him. "I'll take that as both."

More silence engulfed the room as Luke prepared the same for himself at walked around to claim a seat for himself beside his overly-talkative nephew. Of course, Luke thought as he glanced down at the plate in front of him, he had no real intention of eating the unhealthy heaping on his plate; but still, it would have been pretty silly to insist Jess have dessert with him without taking some pie for himself.

"So, are you going to tell me what happened at the Gilmores before I showed up?" Luke broke the ice; he was never really very good at segways.

With no indication that he'd heard his uncle's inquiry, Jess grabbed his fork and began devouring the plate in front of him. Sighing, Luke decided to try again.

"It's just that you've never willingly got into my truck in your life, yet when I pulled up tonight, I didn't even have time to get out before you were in the passenger seat telling me to take you home." Luke looked again at his nephew who had given up eating his dessert and was now repeatedly stabbing the cherries with his fork. Feeling slightly irritated that he'd just wasted the better part of two pies, Luke tilted his head down to eye level with Jess' slouched frame. "Hey, are you even listening to me?"

That earned him an annoyed eyeroll from the teen, and Luke smiled to himself. At least they were making progress.

Switching gears, he stood up and boldly announced, "In any case, I don't think you'll be seeing one of the Gilmores in this diner anytime soon." With that, he picked up both unfinished plates and moved through the swinging doors, smiling to himself at his own cleverness. Just wait... 3...2...1...

"And why is that?"

The grumbled question came from through the order window where Jess had finally lifted his head up off the countertop.

Walking back to the window, Luke asked innocently, "Why is what?"

Shooting the man a glare that would make Satan shiver, Jess responded, "Fine, don't tell me. I'm going to bed."

Hurrying through the other door, Luke blocked Jess' path to the stairwell. "I accidentally told Lorelai that I already knew about you and Rory. She told me to go to hell and stormed out. Now you tell me whether or not I should expect to see Rory in here." Luke fixed Jess with a glare of his own before narrowing his eyes and adding, "I think I deserve to be in the loop."

That did the trick.

With another roll of the eyes, Jess dropped his shoulders and announced, "Not unless she's coming to see you." Meeting his uncle's eyes, Jess added, "Can I go to bed now?"

Shifting again to stop the boy's attempts to move past him, Luke responded, "As soon as you tell me exactly what happened at the Gilmores before I got there."

Letting out an annoyed breath of air, Jess casually shrugged his shoulders and announced, "Nothing much. Rory and I had another fight; she started to apologize; then Lorelai showed up and she decided that following Lorelai's rules might be in her best interest. End of story."

Now that Jess had shared, Luke kind of wished he was still in the dark. At least he wouldn't have to hear the hurt radiating from the normally stoic teen's voice. Luke cleared his own throat and awkwardly patted Jess' shoulder. "I...uh...I'm sorry."

"Nothing to be sorry about." Jess frowned and fixed his gaze somewhere above Luke's head, his lower lip trembling slightly as he spoke, "I used to have a girlfriend; now I don't. No big deal." With that, Jess pushed his way past Luke and practically ran up the stairs.

And this time, Luke let him go.

* * * * *

"I swear I never meant for things to get this out of hand." Rory was apologizing yet again to her mother, who sat beside her in bed, their limbs wrapped together as they talked.

"Shhh... I think we've already established that you're sorry sweetie. But the thing is that I should be apologizing too. I never meant for you to need to sneak around behind my back. I honestly didn't know you felt that strongly about Jess."

"I didn't!" Rory exploded, only to be met with a disbelieving glance from her mother. Sighing, Rory elaborated, "Or I don't... I don't know. Things were just happening so fast, and I didn't know what to do."

"I understand..." Now it was Lorelai's turn to sigh; she'd always tried so hard to encourage Rory to be open about her feelings. The last thing she'd wanted was to try to rule Rory like her mother had tried to rule her. She knew how lonely that felt, and how that loneliness only led to more rebellion.

"But I swear that Jess and I are finished. I won't see him anymore." Rory interrupted the silence again, firm in her declaration.

Sighing again, Lorelai squeezed her daughter tightly, "Rory, I don't want you to break up with him because of me. I was wrong to put restrictions like that on your relationships. I should trust your judgment; I mean, if you like Jess, then there must be something that I've missed."

"No!" Rory exploded with more force than necessary. Shaking her head adamantly, she continued, "You were right. He is all wrong for me. He's moody and isolated and... and he just isn't cut out to be a boyfriend."

"But if you like him..."

"I don't. Not anymore. Mom, I thought he loved me..." Rory trailed off, tears pooling in her eyes as the words poured out of her, "but you should have seen how he looked at me tonight. he was so angry and so... it was like he hated me! He wouldn't even get in my car!" Now the tears were streaming down her cheeks as she continued her choppy narrative, "And then he went back and told Grandma how bad of a girlfriend I am, and... and... he said we were through, and... and he left!"

"Shhh baby, it's all right." Lorelai continued rubbing her daughter's back while the girl sobbed into her chest.

Rory paused, struggling for breath as she finally finished, "You were right about him all along. I just wish I had listened."

And though Lorelai knew she should be happy to hear that; knowing her daughter had finally seen the light where Jess Mariano was concerned should have her up on her tip-toes dancing Flight of the Butterfly.

But somehow hearing those words after tonight only made her feel worse.