Summary: Rory Gilmore's life was never been complicated. At least not until Toby Levy walked into her life. Charismatic and startlingly compelling, he and his ideals would change her life forever.
Rating: PG-13 for language and sexual innuendo. Nothing graphic.
Feedback: Greatly appreciated. I won't withhold writing for feedback, but it certainly makes it feel more worthwhile. I'd love to hear anything, a sentence you liked, a piece of the story, your general thoughts. Anything. Thank you to those who have kindly left gorgeous reviews. I adore them and treasure them. Please be generous and send more.
Author's Notes: The titles are all from e.e. cummings' poems. Everything from Yale is used fictionally, and may be inaccurate; I did my best with the research. I provided the cast list below so everyone could know what these new characters are supposed to look like. Also, some people have commented that Rory does want to go into journalism, but I'm writing this having thought that she was always strangly disinterested in politics for someone who wanted to specialize in that.
Disclaimer: I do not own any original characters. They belong to Amy Sherman-Palladino and the other creators of the Gilmore Girls universe. My plots and prose and unique characters are all mine, copywrited July of 2003, and not for use without my permission.
Adrien Brody as Toby
Keira Knightley as Margot
Iyari Limon as J.J.
Zhang Ziyi as Emma
Corey Sevier as Andy
Brittany Snow as Libby
Matt Czuchry as Diego
when the world is puddle-wonderful
Damn it! Rory knocked her head lightly against her door. It was only eleven on Tuesday morning and her day already sucked. She'd fallen asleep over her calculus problems the night before, woken with a neck ache and her work unfinished, spent all of breakfast listening to Margot being giggly about her weekend with Steven the wonder-schlong, then spilled orange juice on her new Banana Republic capris. Now she was running late for her 11:00 Chaucer class, and she'd just locked her copy of The Canterbury Tales in her room. Pissed and worn-out, she unlocked the door and rifled angrily through the mess of books on the floor beside her desk.
Just as she'd grabbed the book, discovering that she'd left it on the floor in a way that had bent the cover, the phone rang. She swore and reached up for the phone from her position on the floor. she demanded, feeling hostile towards the world.
Who's this? Distracted, she couldn't place the voice. She tried to balance the phone between her shoulder and ear while she stuffed the tattered book in her bag, but it kept slipping.
Rory sat back on her heels, fumbling for a better grip on the phone. Oh my god, Toby, hi!
Hi!...Is this a bad time?
She brushed hair from her face, feeling embarrassed, as if he could see her sitting in a disgruntled heap on the floor. I've got a minute. What's up?
He took a deep breath. Okay, I know you're probably busy and all—so feel free to refuse—but I was wondering if you had time to give me a hand today. See, the t-shirts and stuff are all printed, but we have to move them ourselves from the graphics department...and anyway, he coughed, clearing his throat, everyone else bailed on me and I really don't want to move it all by myself. Any chance you're free to help?
she checked her watch. It was 11:05. I've got class until one, can you wait until then?
Yes, absolutely! Thank you so much! She could hear him rifling through papers. You know where the graphics storage room is, right?
I guess so... Rory knew she'd have to get out her map from freshman year to find it.
He must have heard her uncertainty. Or I could meet you after your class.
She tried not to sound too relieved. That'd be great.
Okay, where should I meet you?
He chuckled, a gentle sound. Of course, I forgot you're an English major. Okay, great. I'll see you at one. He hung up.
Rory jumped to her feet, throwing aside her bag as she searched frantically through the clothes lying on her floor. After the orange juice incident at breakfast she'd changed into a ratty pair of pajama pants. She grabbed a skirt and studied it for a minute before discarding it. No one would get that dressed up for a Tuesday morning class, and besides, it would be ridiculous for moving boxes. She pulled on her favorite pair of jeans, worn but still stylish, and added a peasant-style tank top she'd recently bought on a shopping trip with Margot. Much better.
She was really going to be late for class now, but looking a little better would be worth it.
It was drizzling and grey when Rory finally emerged from her class. Keeping an eye out for Toby, she stood awkwardly in front of Linsly-Chittenden Hall, sure that everyone was staring at her. She hated waiting for people; she never knew what to do with her hands.
There you are. Toby had appeared at her shoulder, smiling. Okay, my truck's still at the dorm, but it's close by. You all right with walking in the rain?
Of course. I won't melt. Rory fell into step beside him, glad she had decided against the skirt. As it was, she was probably a little overdressed, but not noticeably so. Toby looked as casual as ever, wearing fraying shorts and a stained white t-shirt with a faded dove symbol on the front. There was a noticeable hole over his right shoulder blade.
What class did you have? he asked as they cut across the grass between Branford and Jonathan Edwards.
she answered. Canterbury Tales.
He cleared his throat, then recited, Whan that Aprille, with his shoures soote, the droghte of March hath perced to the roote, and bathed every veyne in swich licour, of which vertu engendred is the flour.
Rory was impressed. Her professor had recited the opening prologue in Middle English on the first day of class to impress them, but they had only been studying the modern English version. Where'd you learn to do that?
High school. He smiled at his shoes. I had this awesome teacher for senior English and he had us all memorize it.
Rory fell silent. She wasn't a big fan of small talk to begin with, but she especially hated it with guys she liked. She remembered with a touch of chagrined misery that original excruciating conversation with Dean Forrester, before he became her first boyfriend. This wasn't that bad, at least she wasn't babbling about bakeries. Yet. she tried for a mutual subject, where are the others?
Um, Andy and Libby had class, Emma's working—she's a tour guide—and Diego had rehearsal, I think. Either that or a study group. And J.J.'s exempt.
He scratched the back of his head, chuckling in a way that suggested subtext. She was up really late last night.
Rory wished she hadn't asked, and strained for a new subject. I didn't know that Diego did theater.
Yeah, he's big in the drama set. That's how he and Libby met.
They're pretty cute together. She hoped he'd take her bait, the mention of romance within the group. He merely nodded, and she pushed a little further. How long have they been a couple?
He snorted, startling her. A couple?! Libby and Diego?
Rory was embarrassed by his incredulous reaction; she'd clearly said something wrong. I mean, I thought, you know, they're always...together and— she broke off, confused.
he said, struggling not to laugh too hard, Diego's gay.
Rory ducked her head. I'm sorry, I didn't—
No, no, don't apologize! He held up his hands in protest. He'll think it's hysterical.
Oh, my god, don't tell him! she wailed, horrified. Toby grinned teasingly. At that moment, as mortified as she was, she thought he'd never looked more handsome. His face was lit with humor, dark eyes shining, and his normally disobedient hair was stuck to his face in damp strands, tamed by the rain. A raindrop hung on the tip of his long nose. Flustered, she tore her gaze from his and started walking faster; he jogged a little to keep up with her as they made a right on York Street.
I've always been terrible at telling when people are gay, Rory confessed, staring straight ahead. She needed to keep moving and fill the silence, or else she'd have no choice but to reach for his hand as they crossed the street, to lean up and kiss that raindrop off his nose. There was this guy in my town growing up who was fruitier than the produce he sold, but I never figured it out. My mom had to tell me.
Diego will be happy to give you some tips. He pointed. My truck's there, but I left the graphics key in my room.
She eyed the truck through the rain. It didn't appear to have windows. I'll come with you, if that's okay? As middle-school as it felt, she really wanted to see where Toby lived. She cleared her throat as he led her into the dorm complex for grad students. So Libby is...?
Straight. Her boyfriend's at Dartmouth, a real prep-school brat. We're all hoping she'll dump him. He pointed. This way, I'm in the tower.
He led her up to the third floor and into a comfortably messy living room. Books and newspapers were scattered across the worn couch, but the wooden coffee table was clean. It looked lived in and appealing. Rory desperately wanted to curl up in the worn valleys of that sofa with a mug of hot chocolate and a familiar book. And she wanted a man she loved beside her, listening to the soft lull of her voice as she read aloud.
Help yourself, Toby indicated the tiny kitchen and disappeared into a room to her right. I'm just going to go hunt for those keys.
Rory said, with no intention of getting herself something. She couldn't imagine poking around in his kitchen. She stood at the counter, running a hand across the worn surface. Unlike the cold severity of her grandparents' kitchen, or the unused eccentricity of her mother's, this one had an everyday loved feel. The feel of a kitchen where a couple might laugh and cook together, shoulders touching.
A different door opened along the hall, out of Rory's line of vision. Tobes? Is that you? It was J.J. Rory jumped away from the counter guiltily, as if she'd been caught in the act of doing something suspicious or inappropriate. Coveting an acquaintance's kitchen. Or boyfriend.
J.J. walked into the kitchen, wearing nothing but a white towel. Her long, dark hair hung halfway down her back, dripping on the floor. She stopped dead when she saw Rory standing in the kitchen. Her hands went instinctively to the top of her towel, holding it in place. She half smiled and tilted her head like a bird, confused. Can I...help you?
He forgot his key, Rory managed to say, pointing to the door behind which Toby had disappeared.
J.J.'s face brightened. He is here! Toby! She wandered to the door, one hand still holding onto her towel, and pushed the door open. I was meaning to ask you, have you seen my black bra?
Rory gasped silently and turned away in a hurry. Toby's earlier remark—She was up really late last night— suddenly made a lot more sense. She was terrified of hearing anything else intimate, yet strained to listen, much as she used to half-cover her eyes at scary movies. There was a murmur of laughter, the sound of clothes being flung about, then a triumphant Ah ha! from J.J. She reemerged clutching the bra in question, and Rory dared a glance at her. Found it! J.J. announced, then aimed over her shoulder playfully, Clothing thief!
Am not. Toby walked out, jangling the missing keys. You ready, Rory?
Rory tried to play it cool, shrugged, kept her eyes on the floor. Sure. Let's go.
Outside, she paused to tie her sneaker while Toby started the engine, hoping the minute in the cool afternoon rain would give her time to clear her head. A wet strand of hair was sticking to the side of her face; as she stood she reached up to brush it from her eyes but stopped halfway, transfixed by Toby's truck. Every available surface on the back and sides was covered with wildly colorful bumper stickers: Peace is Patriotic. Racial Profiling: Guilty Until Proven Innocent. I'm Against the Death Penalty, Look What Happened to Jesus! I'm For the Separation of Church and Hate. Homophobia is a Social Disease. Invest in America: Buy a Congressman! Pro-Child, Pro-Choice. Treehugger.
Toby tapped the horn lightly and she jumped. You coming? He watched her curiously as she got in the car. What's up? he asked.
Nothing. Just reading your bumper stickers, she offered quietly.
Yeah, I know, they're a bit much. J.J. thinks I should take some of them off.
she turned to him, wide-eyed. I love them! I never realized that—that— she fumbled for the important idea that was dawning on her, but it seemed impossible to express, especially when he was smiling at her like she was crazy. She shook her head, dismissing what she was about to say as unbelievably foolish. Never mind.
He darted an assessing look at her, then returned his eyes to the road. She pulled a hair elastic from around her wrist, and, leaning away from the seat, swept her hair up into a messy bun in one smooth motion. She could feel the wisps of hair around her forehead and the back of her neck beginning to curl in the humidity. As they turned the corner and headed towards Green Hall, where the art courses were held, her mind returned to wondering why the bumper stickers had affected her so.
Rory never put anything on her car; her grandparents had bought it and she knew they wouldn't like decorative items. And her mother only had two things on the jeep: a Yale window decal and a silly bumper sticker that read What if the Hokey Pokey IS what it's all about? It wasn't necessarily the multitude of Toby's that surprised Rory, but the breadth of his passion for such a mixed variety of causes and ideals. Her concept of activism was very hazy, more an abstract idea than the solid fact of Toby's beliefs, plastered across the back of his truck in bright, ferocious colors. When she thought it through it made sense that he could feel the same passion for other causes as he felt for this one.
She just hadn't realized it was possible to care about so many things, all at once.
Toby grunted as he tossed the box into the back of his truck. That's the last one, right?
I think so. Rory felt bad that he'd done most of the heavy lifting, with her carrying the smaller stuff in his wake. She swore once again to herself that she'd get in better shape, build up muscle tone in her arms; she hated playing the weak female in situations like this.
Hop in, then.
She scrambled up into the truck and he reached his arm behind her, resting it on the back of her seat. She stiffened for a moment, then realized he was just turning around to back up out of the parking space. The truck rumbled as they sped out of the parking lot.
Rory rolled down her window a little. It was just misting now, not wet enough to be considered rain, but damp, brushing her face. She blinked, then looked at Toby, studying him. Studying the hooked curve of his nose, his bony shoulders, the lock of hair that kept falling in his eyes. The way he kept pushing it away.
She could almost see herself saying, Pull over, leaning over the gear shift and kissing him. Right then and there. As she thought about it she could almost feel the damp cloth of his t-shirt beneath her fingers, as she stroked his back, wrapping herself against him. She shut her eyes, trying to forget the tantalizing image. These fantasies were getting more elaborate in her mind, more passionate, and that was dangerous.
Where are we going now? she asked. Conversation seemed to work for distracting her, at least for a little while.
Well, first we're dropping off the stuff, he pulled over, parking the truck near the building that housed the meetings. And then I'm taking you out for coffee, which I promise not to spill on you this time. He smiled, and got out of the truck. She jumped out and followed him around the back.
You don't have to do that!
It's the least I can do. I insist! You took all this time to help me!
She really wanted to go, to spend more time in his presence, but she didn't want to let on how much she liked him either. That would be embarrassing. Well, if you're going to insist...
I am. He winked and handed her a box of fliers, then gave her a playful push towards the building. Now get going!
It was the work of a few minutes to carry the boxes and signs into the Voice of Liberty room, then they set off towards the coffee shop where'd they'd had their first conversation, feeling the contentment of an pesky task well done. Suddenly feeling more comfortable with Toby, as if they'd bonded over heavy-lifting, Rory stuck her sneakers up on the dashboard and sang along to London Calling on the radio. She told herself that she was imagining things when she thought she saw him looking her way and smiling to himself.
The coffee shop was completely full, so they got their coffee to go and wandered across the green, chatting. Rory wondered if strangers walking past thought she was Toby's girlfriend. She hoped she looked like the type of girl who would be his girlfriend, but maybe her clothes were too preppy.
Have you had any luck getting people to come on Thursday?
At the meeting on Sunday it had been discussed that numbers made a difference in the success of a protest. Each person in the Voice of Liberty was supposed to recruit as many people as possible. Very often, it had been explained, there were plenty of people who never bothered to be a part of Voice of Liberty, but who held strong enough views on the subject that they would join in this time. Rory had planned to ask a couple of girls on her floor who she knew to be very liberal. She'd forgotten, and it seemed embarrassing to admit this to Toby, who was living and breathing this protest at the moment.
There's a couple of girls on my floor who might come, she half-lied. They might come, after all.
He tossed his cup into a trash can.
How many do we have now?
Um, there's forty-five of us in Voice of Liberty, but five aren't coming, most people are bringing at least two or three friends. Emma's bringing a few kids from her advisory. Diego's got the entire drama club coming, as well as the gay co-op. And Libby, he shook his head admiringly, she's rounded up over fifty people.
Rory was impressed. She wasn't sure if she was even on friendly terms with fifty people.
Yeah, there's a reason we call her the public relations department.
Rory laughed, remembering Libby's performance on the phone with the clinic.
And some more people will probably join us once we're out there. People will do anything if you give them a t-shirt and a sign and something to yell.
She nodded. Mob mentality.
Well, that, and J.J. can be very persuasive. He scratched the back of his neck, grinning wryly. Or intimidating. Whatever you want to call it.
Rory wished he hadn't brought the subject back to J.J. again. She drained the last of her coffee, her confidence shrinking. Clearly, Toby thought the world of J.J. And who wouldn't? She was dynamic and self-possessed and could browbeat whole crowds into joining her cause, apparently. She probably could have lifted the heaviest of those boxes by herself. And she had a better figure.
She dragged herself out of her self-pitying downward spiral just in time to spot Margot walking past. She called out before thinking it through. Margot looked up. She started to smile, spotted Toby, and her pleasant look faded. But she did walk in their direction, hands buried in the pockets of her designer black jeans.
Hey, how's it going? Margot's voice was more muted than usual. She wouldn't look Rory in the eye, squinting at Toby's ratty t-shirt instead.
Great. Toby, this is my friend, Margot van Haas. Margot, this is Toby Levy.
Hey, how's it going? Toby shook Margot's hand. She removed it rather stiffly, and looked as though she wanted to wipe it on her pants. She gave Toby an almost nonexistent smile and turned to Rory, her body language subtly dismissing him.
You heading back to the dorm? she asked. Toby looked a little nonplussed.
Rory looked at him.
Go with your friend. Toby nodded at Margot, then returned the warmth of his smile to Rory. Thank you so much for your help and...I will see you on Thursday. He winked and walked away, whistling.
Margot grabbed Rory's arm and started walking her towards the dorm. Okay, what was that?
Rory wrenched her arm free, startled by Margot's attitude. God, could you be a little less polite?!
Margot looked offended. I wasn't rude.
Well, you weren't friendly.
Margot bit her lip. Rory, do you know who that man is?
Uh, yeah, Rory said, confused, I just introduced you.
No, I mean, haven't you heard of Tobias Levy before?
Rory looked up at Margot, concerned by the seriousness of her friend's expression.
Margot rolled her eyes, clearly exasperated by Rory's obliviousness. Rory, Tobias Levy is the biggest... she searched for a word, the biggest radical on campus! He was arrested twice last year alone! Once for disturbing the peace and once for handcuffing himself to a radiator outside a dining hall!
Why would he handcuff himself to a radiator?
That's not the point, Rory! Margot sounded exasperated. The point is, do you really want to be associated with someone like him?! I mean, god, he's got a criminal record!
Rory felt a resurgence of her annoyance from the previous week. She wasn't a little child. Margot was actually four months younger than she was. So what? Maybe I want to be associated with him!
Margot stopped looking annoyed and started looking alarmed. You're not...involved with him, are you?
Rory said quickly, embarrassed. Was she that obvious, or was Margot's mind just always on sex? No, he's got a girlfriend.
Oh, well, thank goodness for small favors.
I guess so, Rory replied listlessly. She hoped that she had convinced Margot that she wasn't in love with Toby, that she wouldn't be arrested, that her stainless reputation would remain intact.
At least for the time-being.
The cold reflective windows of the April Café provided a perfect mirror, echoing the jade green treetops that lined the Hartford street. Rory paused before reaching the door, studying how she looked. She'd scheduled the haircut and subsequent lunch with her grandmother weeks before, but the decision to take off ten inches of hair instead of the usual two had been spur-of-the-moment.
She was still amazed by how light her head felt, the soft feathery brush of hair against her cheek and neck. She'd gone for a subtly layered bob that fell between her neck and shoulders; it was the shortest haircut she'd had since she was five. It was different, certainly, but it made her look older and she was pretty sure she liked it.
Feeling more confident, Rory walked inside the cafe. A khaki skirt and black t-shirt had seemed like good choices when she left her dorm, but the air-conditioning was going full blast and she could feel herself growing chilled almost immediately.
A discreet looking host appeared, smiling blandly. How many?
I'm meeting someone, actually. Rory hoisted her purse up on her shoulder. My grandmother...?
Of course, she's seated right over there. He pointed to a table on the right, where her grandmother sat, sipping her drink.
Thank you. Rory crossed the café, hoping there wasn't an air vent directly over the table. Hi, Grandma.
Her grandmother stood, kissed her cheek, then stopped and reared back. Your hair!
Rory brushed at it self-consciously. Yeah...do you like it?
Her grandmother beamed on cue. I love it! You look so mature!
Of course! Her grandmother gestured to the table. Have a seat.
Have you ordered already?
I was waiting for you!
Oh, okay. Rory smiled and turned her attention to her order. She could tell immediately the caliber of the café by the lack of prices on the simply printed menu.
Are you ready to order? A trim blonde waitress had materialized beside their table. She wore a white button down shirt and black dress pants, her blonde hair pulled back into a tidy bun.
Yes, I'll have the caesar salad, and... her grandmother searched for her order, the tortellini with the white sauce. She handed the menu to the waitress without looking at her.
And for the young lady?
I'll just have the cream of chicken soup. Rory smiled shyly at the waitress. The young woman hadn't written anything down, memorizing everything instead.
Would you like something else to drink, or would you like to stick with water?
Rory glanced at her grandmother.
Get the lemonade, she advised.
I'll get a lemonade, thanks.
The waitress swept off to place their order, and Rory settled the cream colored napkin in her lap. This is a nice place, Grandma.
Yes, isn't it? It's so hard to find a nice restaurant where the service is still good. I went to the club with your grandfather last week for dinner and our waiter was appallingly unprofessional. He barely even spoke English!
Rory felt a little uncomfortable listening to her grandmother talk. She'd heard speeches like this before, but never had she thought deeply on the implications. Her grandmother's complaints had always seemed understandable, but for the first time she thought to wonder about the other side of the story. Those waiters were probably doing their best to make a living in a new country, and it was hardly their fault that they didn't speak English. The places her grandparents frequented probably found it cheaper to hire foreigners instead of a WASP-y wait staff. The realization was new to Rory, and she was proud to have thought of it.
Your lemonade. A delicate wineglass was set in front of her, the rim crusted with sugar as a martini glass would be edged in salt.
Isn't it elegant? her grandmother asked, looking pleased.
Rory took an appreciative sip. It was the most perfect lemonade she'd ever tasted.
Her grandmother smiled reminiscently. When your mother was a little girl we had this maid who used to make lemonade like that in the summertime. Of course, she also used to steal the silverware, so I had to let her go.
The matter-of-fact comment soured the lemonade in Rory's mouth. Her pride in her new open-minded thinking melted away as her uncomfortable feeling returned, stronger than before. She wondered what Toby would think if he saw her sitting in this ritzy café, talking of hired help with her grandmother. Self-awareness came like a slap in the face
It was disconcerting, looking at the lifestyle she'd always taken for granted through Toby's eyes. Her foolish good times with her mother seemed very trivial in comparison to a life of political activism. And her grandparents. Oh god, what would he think of her grandparents? Rory was suddenly deeply ashamed of her upbringing, her background. As unpretentious as her childhood had been, there was always that safety net of familial wealth, waiting to catch her. As it was, that money had sent her to high school and college, had helped her mother buy her inn, had spoiled her with elegant dresses and a car and fancy restaurants just like this one.
From this new perspective it was easy for her to see how her grandparents' weath was actually entitled extravagance to most average people. It was bad enough that their recreational travel often cost more than some families' yearly income. But the way her grandmother turned up her nose at foreign waiters and fired and abused struggling maids on a regular basis was pure social injustice.
You're being very quiet. Is something wrong?
I'm just tired. In truth, Rory was shocked by her own train of thought. It was as if she'd always had the factual knowledge, but the emotional and sociological impact was just registering with her for the first time.
How are your classes?
I miss that, her grandmother sighed. I just loved my days as a college girl. It was quite a big thing at the time, she confided mischievously, not going to a women's college. Just think! If I'd gone to Bryn Mawr like my mother wanted I'd never have met your grandfather!
What's your schedule for tomorrow?
Rory fiddled with the napkin in her lap. She knew not to admit that she was cutting classes all day for the protest. I have Chaucer in the late morning, a study group for Human Societies during lunch, and Calculus at four.
Her grandmother seemed prepared to interrogate her further, so Rory was relieved when the waitress arrived again, bearing their plates on her arms. She dug into her soup, but it didn't taste as good as she'd imagined that it would. Her serene lunch with her grandmother was irrevocably tainted by these new realizations that clustered in the corners of her mind, reminding her that there were probably some immigrant workers sweating in the kitchens to wash the dishes, underpaid and overworked.
This is so exciting, seeing you twice in one month! If only your mother could have come.
Well, the inn keeps her pretty busy these days.
Yes, so I gather.
Rory reached for the sleek glass pepper mill and focused on her soup. After her first month at college her mother had pleaded to reduce the Friday night dinners from weekly to monthly, claiming that the inn took up too much of her time. It had actually been a cover for Rory, who had found the weekly commute exhausting but had felt unable to renege on her bargain. Unfortunately, her mother and the new inn had taken the brunt of her grandmother's disappointed resentment.
Do you know what your plans are for the summer?
Rory wondered how her grandmother managed to look completely poised and clean even while eating messy salad and pasta. Um, I'm not sure yet. Mom mentioned something about a road trip down south.
Her grandmother sniffed. I would have thought that that boyfriend of hers would have tamed Lorelai's irresponsible wanderlust.
Rory smiled. I think Mom's actually trying to teach Luke to be more relaxed.
Poor man. Anyway, if you're not gone all summer, your grandfather and I were hoping you might come join us on Martha's Vineyard for a week or two. It's beautiful in August, as long as you avoid the tourists.
Mom and Luke are invited too?
If they want to come.
Well, I'd love to. Rory smiled, feeling a little bit better. Sure, her grandparents were wealthy, but they were incredibly generous as well. No cost was too much if it would help her or her mother. They participated in numerous charities, and they were dedicated to making life lovely and enjoyable for the ones they loved. And her grandfather worked very hard, first at his old job, and then building his brand new business. So what if they enjoyed a little luxury?
The rationality of the thought comforted her through the rest of lunch, where she finished off the meal by splitting a slice of chocolate raspberry torte with her grandmother, and all the way back to campus. It was only once she was sitting in her room, trying to finish another chapter of reading for the Chaucer class she wouldn't attend the next day, that the uneasy feeling of privileged guilt returned.
At six the next morning Rory entered the Voice of Liberty room, wearing her most comfortable shoes and carrying two trays of coffee. She set the coffee down on a t-shirt box nearby, and brushed self-consciously at her shorter hair. It was too short for real braids now, so she'd settled for stubby pigtails.
Hey, Rory. J.J. breezed past, her long black hair knotted up under a red cowboy bandana. You can grab a t-shirt if you want; we're starting pretty soon, hopefully.
Rory looked down at the box and remembered the coffee. Oh, here, this is for you.
J.J. turned, her eyes darting coldly to the cup in Rory's hand. she asked doubtfully.
Rory knew instantly that she'd done something wrong, but she wasn't sure what. Do you not like Starbucks? she asked, feeling badly. I know some people think it's too strong but I didn't think to ask—
It's not how it tastes, J.J. said.
What's the problem then? Rory asked, genuinely confused.
The problem? The problem is that Starbucks —J.J. said the name like a curse— is a ridiculously overpriced, self-aggrandizing corporation that makes its money with the over-privileged psuedo-intellectual—
Just say thank you, J.J.! Toby had appeared behind J.J. and placed his hands restrainingly on her shoulders. Take a deep breath and stop ripping into Rory. She was trying to be nice.
J.J. looked down, then smiled sheepishly and wiped a strand of hair from her face. Sorry Rory, nothing personal.
Good girl. Toby squeezed her shoulders and smiled at Rory. Is one of these for me?
If you want it, Rory said, now terribly self-conscious of her mistake.
I'd love it, thank you. He grabbed two from the tray, and handed one to J.J. When she opened her mouth to protest he cut her off. You were just complaining that you needed coffee, so don't give me this reverse-snobbery bullshit.
J.J. took the cup meekly. Thank you, Rory.
Oh, it wasn't a problem. Rory really wanted to slide through the floor. Toby gave her a chin-up smile and wink, then wandered off to check something with Libby by the door. Rory felt a tiny bit better.
I'm really sorry, J.J. said again, going to work opening the box. I'm just tired, and stressed about today. I didn't mean to take it out on you.
It's no big deal. Rory moved the trays to a different box and helped J.J. rip open the one with which she was struggling. She tried to make a joke to ease the slight tension that still lingered. I'll definitely think twice about getting Starbucks again, though.
Good. I can die happy. J.J. grinned wryly. Rory remembered what Toby had said about her being pushy but harmless. What size are you?
Medium, I guess. J.J. offered Rory one of the t-shirts and grabbed one for herself as well. It had been decided at the Sunday meeting that a less offensive slogan was in order, so the t-shirt now read Make the future brighter starting tomorrow morning: support the Morning After Pill. Rory pulled off her sweatshirt jacket and yanked the t-shirt on over her tank-top.
Within the next few minutes the room was bustling with people getting their t-shirts, claiming signs, and receiving instructions. Rory, in charge of distributing shirts, saw her friend Judith across the room and waved. Toby seemed to be everywhere at once, answering questions, giving directions, joking one minute, dead serious the next. In no time at all, an hour had passed, and he was calling for attention. It took an earsplitting whistle from J.J. to shut everyone up.
Okay, I'm pretty sure we're all here, Toby announced. So if everyone could finish up what they're doing and start moving outside, that would be great. Once everyone's ready, we'll march over to the clinic together. The room disintegrated into noise once more, and Toby wended his way towards Rory.
Might I have a t-shirt?
Rory handed one over and pretended not to watch while he stripped off his shirt and changed. He was very skinny, and she found herself strangely affected by the visibility of his ribs and collarbone, but muscles were visible along the hard lines of his chest and arms.
J.J. appeared as he was struggling to pull the new t-shirt over his head. She reached out a hand to tickle him, but he apparently anticipated it and swatted her hand away. Andy's going to grab a box of t-shirts to bring with us, but otherwise everyone's ready, she told him. It was true; the room was emptying out.
Let's go, Rory, he said, clapping his hands, we're shipping out.
Outside, Rory was shocked to see how many people had amassed on the lawn, most wearing rust-red t-shirts and many carrying signs. Toby's appearance must have been some unspoken signal, because everyone started walking toward the clinic when he emerged. Unlike the grim progress Rory had imagined, people were chatting amongst themselves quite cheerfully, having fun. She was a little overwhelmed among hordes of complete strangers. It seemed easiest to stay near Toby and J.J.
So, J.J., Toby said teasingly as they walked, as if the idea had just occured to him, are you pumped?
Her voice was a warning. Rory watched curiously as Toby winked and pressed on, playing to Rory as an audience.
Maybe you want to make up a group cheer for us?
Shut up! J.J. wailed, hitting him on the shoulder.
What do you think, Rory? he asked, ignoring her.
Rory wasn't quite sure what to make of this flirtatious teasing. I don't know.
Toby faked a look of surprise. What, you mean J.J. never told you how she was a cheerleader for eight years?!
I hate you! J.J. cried, jumping onto Toby's back and playfully wrapping her arm around his neck.
It's a weird image, I'll admit, he said calmly to Rory, pretending not to notice J.J. half strangling him. But when you think about it, can't you just see her with pom-pons, kicking her leg and yelling Go team!'? He made a strangled sound that was half laughter, half J.J. choking him.
I started in high school when I didn't know any better! J.J. explained hurriedly to Rory, as if desperate to defend her image. And I got a scholarship here if I continued to cheer, so I did! But I'm really a dancer— she released one arm from Toby's neck to start playfully hitting his head — not some over-sexed, short-skirted slut! Not that cheerleaders are that way, she added quickly, dropping off Toby's back. He kept walking casually as if she'd never been there in the first place. They're real athletes.
Keep telling yourself that, Toby said, an impish grin playing at the corner of his mouth.
I hate you, J.J. said matter-of-factly. He smiled, wrapped an arm around her shoulders, and she leaned into him.
Even though they'd been addressing their comments to her, the mock-spat had left Rory feeling completely alone. She'd always envied the ease of girls like J.J., who could give as good as they got when it came to teasing and still manage to emerge seeming cute and lovable. Thinking that Toby and J.J. looked as though they should be left alone, arms around each other's waists and talking quietly, Rory dropped back a little. She wished being part of the Voice of Liberty wasn't such a roller-coaster for her emotions. It seemed every thrill was followed with a disappointment that made her feel as though she'd left her stomach behind.
They reached the clinic soon after, and the energy in the group changed subtly. There was a ripple of adrenaline-fed excitement among the crowd, as t-shirts were straightened and signs raised upright. A low, purposeful buzz of conversation filled the air, fed by the tension of anticipation. Rory wrapped her arms around herself, it was chilly, and moved a little closer to a group of young women nearby.
The wait seemed to go on forever, but it was only a few minutes later that one of the clinic's receptionists unlocked the door. She had clearly been briefed on the group and was pointedly ignoring them, but that didn't stop the crowd. Rory had the curious sensation of being in a wave crashing on the shore as the group moved forward purposefully, their shouts swelling in a war cry of mingled voices. People shook their signs and yelled, eyes fixed on the clinic's modest door with a single-mindedness of intent.
The grey skies opened overhead, releasing a cold sprinkling of raindrops on the morning. Rory normally would have balked at getting wet, but when no one around her reacted she pushed aside the wet and cold and concentrated on the task at hand. A strange feeling was swelling inside her, making her overly aware of the blood pounding in the narrow points of her body, her neck and wrists. She felt very aware of the soggy ground beneath her feet and how firmly attached to it she was, of the warm solid presence of her own body. The dull throbbing of her own heartbeat in her ears muted the noise and meant that it was quite awhile before she realized that she was shouting too, her voice one with the crowd.