By Stew Pid

Rating: Should be okay.

Disclaimer: I only own the Stew Pid stuff.

A/N: I know I have other fic commitments and I should be focusing on those, but I was going through writer's block, you see. So I did my little writer's block remedy where I settle down, listen to my favorite music and just allow my brain to relax and marinate, so to speak. And so, I was listening to Simon and Garfunkel, and the song The Dangling Conversation just started this thing within me, and in the famous words of the great fic writer melia, "the story took over and I had to write it." What can I say, "two roads diverged in a wood and I…" I dallied in the wrong one before I realized, whoa, come back, but, if you wish, you can join me for a bit on my dally. Hope you like it.

The Dangling Conversation

Sitting at the table by the window, she stirred her coffee, steering her spoon along the edge of the cup and through the stray bubbles made iridescent in the sunlight. In the bathroom down the hall, the toilet flushed. He's up, she thought, forgetting the smile that used to come to her lips at the fact. She picked up one of the several newspapers piled on the table. With the sonata of running water as background music, she perused the international section of one newspaper, the local section of another, the editorials of a third.

A drop of water that landed on and smeared her paper alerted her to his immediacy.

"Hey," his raspy voice confirmed her deduction.

She turned her head and looked above her shoulder.

"Good morning," she smiled.

"What are you reading?" before she could answer, he focused closer in and scoffed, "What are you reading Mr. Chatterbox for?"

"I think Waugh would nevertheless approve. You should read McCaffrey on the Three Gorges. Funny stuff."

"I don't give a damn about the Three Gorges any more."

"They've reduced you to stale puns. What is the world coming to?"

He grabbed one of the books on the shelf behind Rory and escorted it to the other side of the table. Before he could sit, Rory tapped her coffee mug indicating a request for a refill. He nodded and ambled to the kitchen for the coffee pot, stopping on the way to pick up a pack of cigarettes left on the counter. After refilling her coffee, he sat down with the book. Taking a cigarette between his lips, he searched through the cluttered table for a lighter. Rory, on seeing it, took it and slid it across to him. He nodded his thanks and lit his cigarette. There was a time when she cared about this hazardous habit of his, and there was a time when he cared enough not to smoke in front of her. But both those times ended and she no longer remembered which ended first. She took a sip of her coffee. After all, we all have our habits. She tried to stifle the cough that inevitably came with the first waft of smoke in her throat. Some more invasive than others.

They read in silence. After finishing with the last of the newspapers, Rory looked up, startled a little by the sight of Jess at the other end of the table. She had forgotten he was there.

"What are you reading?" she finally asked, mildly curious about the cover of the book.

"Bukowski's last poetry book," he said through another drag of his cigarette.

She nodded and swept the table with her eyes for a magazine. Instead she caught sight of an envelope—the invitation to Lane's wedding.

"I forgot this has to go out today. You sure you don't want to go?"

"Yup."

"Well, you know I have to."

"I know."

She studied the invitation carefully, the pair of doves, the linking rings, the bells—all the conventional symbols ever used to describe the occasion fit snugly on one card.

"You know," she began, "I have to say your conviction to this disbelief in marriage is admirable."

He looked at her appraisingly. He could never tell anymore when she was being earnest or sarcastic or just playfully invidious. He supposed she had been with him too long.

"It's a stupid convention," he affirmed, in a tone appropriate for whatever motive she intended.

"It's all stupid conventions, isn't it?"

Again he was unable to decipher her tone. He made no attempt to reply, but casually returned to his book.

"Isn't it?" she repeated, almost to herself. He took another drag of his cigarette and put down his book.

"What?"

"All these rules we live by, roles we play by. They're all conventions. I mean, man has been around for millions of years. And maybe we're just repeating the same story over and over again. After a while, the books are all the same. Take your Bukowski. Not much different from Frost some generations before him. World-weary, bitter, disdainful, chauvinistic men who wrote what they knew, and wrote it well, and at the end of it, loved their wives."

"In Bukowski's case, you mean all of them?" he joked. He found her rant amusing.

"At least the last," she was serious.

"She ruined him," so was he.

"It's just the same story over and over again," Rory continued her train of thought, not seeming to have heard him.

"I guess," Jess sighed, putting out his cigarette. His hand lapsed near the ashtray and only centimeters from Rory's. In recollections there were moments when these interstices between their flesh were lively synapses of electrical magnetism.

"I should get ready for work," Rory snapped from her reverie.

"It is 8 o'clock already," Jess agreed.

Rory got up from her chair, and taking the invitation, fetched her purse. She pulled out the book she had been reading to save the invitation in. Opening to the book-marked page, she took one last look at the card. She imagined it reading "Lorelai Leigh "Rory" Gilmore and…" Who? Not Jess. It would never be with Jess. And certainly, she knew the argument well. She had read Woolf's Three Guineas, new all the statistics on failed marriages. She had read about unhappy marriages in Tolstoy and Flaubert. She knew all the stories, read all the books. Perhaps it was just a stupid convention. But any more so than this? She also read enough to know the conventional story of love, faded, fated, but not dead. Maybe they both had read too much. She sighed and closed the book on the invitation.

He heard her sigh. It was a familiar sound. He wondered if she might have sighed many times during the average day. Those occasional expulsions of excess carbon dioxide, with a little bit of the soul, he too was quite prone to. He was done reading. He picked up the card that served for his bookmark. It was a postcard his father sent shortly after he left California, reading "You're always welcome here." He left for her. Left the wild air infected by the feral, teeming ocean, left the beach of endless possibilities, the wide gulf of freedom, to come back to her. Because she loved him. Or might have. And he realized he might have loved her. And at the time that seemed an enticing possibility. He did love her. "World-weary, bitter, disdainful, chauvinistic men who wrote what they knew, and wrote it well, and at the end of it loved their wives." Her words ran through his head. She ruined him. He sighed, inserted the postcard in the seam, and closed the book.

Later that night, Rory nestled in the couch watching the television shows she and her mother so loved. Lorelai watched them with Luke now. Smiling at this visual, she sent a mental telegram to Luke, 'patience.' Jess came in through the door, visibly aggravated.

"What happened to you?"

" 'Couldn't buy any cigarettes."

"Oh, the horror," she deadpanned.

"I gave two quarters to this persistent bum, just to get him off my back. Ended up exactly two quarters short for my cigarettes. What was that, Tocqueville, about self-interest properly understood?"

She noted wearily at that point that they had become the type of people who pride themselves in saying Tocqueville instead of De Tocqueville.

"I believe that Tocquevillian self-interest was the getting him off your back part."

"Tocquevillian?"

"Shakespearean," she shrugged.

"File that under Gilmorean vocabulary?"

"Gilmoran, thank you very much."

She returned physically to the TV, but in her mind, she heard Frost. It's when I'm weary of considerations, And life is too much like a pathless wood…

I'd like to get away from earth awhile, Jess quoted to himself, putting his bookmark at the back of the finished book. He set the book down on the couch next to Rory's, and noticed the envelope jutting out of hers.

"Wasn't this supposed to go out today?" he took it and fanned it into Rory's view.

"Ugh," Rory groaned, "I forgot."

"Why don't you just call her?"

"She's going to want to talk and I'm watching this," she sounded like a petulant child. Jess had to smile.

"You want me to call for you?" he managed to recover to semi-annoyance for this question.

"She wouldn't keep you on that long," she pleaded.

He sighed, running his hand through his hair, his signal of concession. Rory smiled happily and returned to the television.

"Hello…Yeah, Lane, it's Jess. Rory's working late. She forgot to reply to the invitation, but you should already know she's coming…Me?…Um, yeah, I guess I'll go…Yeah, so that's two…Okay…Yup."

He laid the phone on the receiver. Rory, having overheard, was at a loss for words. She couldn't make immediate eye contact, but instead fumbled for something to fidget with. She grabbed the Bukowski. The postcard slipped onto her lap, and she inspected it. He had kept it all this time, she realized. But he had stood. She looked up at him.

"You're going?" she didn't expect to say something so stupid. But looking down at the postcard, the question seemed a two-edged sword. He merely shrugged.

"What about it being a stupid convention?"

"It's all stupid conventions, isn't it?"

She smiled. He rolled his eyes.

It's the same story over and over again, she thought. It always comes back to him.

She ruined me, he thought. Maybe. But being ruined isn't so bad.

There was no rush of the old passion rejuvenated, no new sparks of electricity in the five foot synapse of living room floor that lay between them. But it was the dawning of a new understanding that love was the oldest tale in the book, and if it is, indeed, as they say, all stupid convention, why not the conventional happy ending? It was the same story over and over again, and now they were on the same page.

In their thoughts, they both returned to Frost.

Earth's the right place for love: I don't know where it's likely to go better.

A/N: Italicized and bold quotes are from Robert Frost's poem, "Birches."