Chasing Aphrodite

Chapter 1: She's Ba-ack!

Disclaimer: I do not own Gilmore Girls or anything associated with it, and, more importantly, I don't claim to own any of it. Some lines in this chapter were borrowed from "Those Lazy-Hazy-Crazy Days." I don't own those lines either, and I don't claim to own them.

A/N: It took a lot of soul-searching before I decided to write this, but here it is. I hope to God I can stick with it, and I hope to God you'll stick with me as I write it. Thanks to Ali, Elise, Leigh, and Marissa for the encouragement. This chapter is dedicated to Adriane because I was still undecided about writing this, and then I received her lovely, flame-y review of DB, and well, it made up my mind. So thanks for that. Enjoy, everyone! And review… Becka.

The cell phone vibrated against the bedside table, making only the slightest whirring sound as it shook. Her ears easily attuned to the noise by now, Rory instantly awoke. Throwing a quick glance at Paris in the other bed, she snatched up the phone and slid down from her bed to sit on the floor.

"Hello?" she quietly answered, careful not to disturb her roommate.

Hearing her voice, Jess smiled and settled back into the chair he'd chosen among the empty diner tables. "Hey."

She grinned and whispered, "One second." Then, holding the phone tightly in her hand, she stood and inched towards the exit. After one more glance at Paris, she slipped out into the hallway and soundlessly clicked the door shut behind her. Taking a seat on the hard linoleum, she raised the phone to her ear. "And here I thought Paris's threats finally had an impact on you," she smiled.

"Huh, you must be confusing me with your other boyfriend," he retorted. "This is Jess."

"Jess, Jess," she mused, feeling out the name. She snapped her fingers. "Right, Jess! Of course I remember you."

"Oh, sure. Forgotten already," he said, pretending to be hurt.

"Not true. I remember you now."

"So my widely-acknowledged disregard for authority must've just slipped your mind then?"

"Yep, that, and your boyish good looks," she teased.

"And yet you bring them up."

"Actually, I think you're coming back into focus," Rory matter-of-factly replied. "I'm picturing you as the love child of Michael Bolton and Liza Minnelli. Long, blonde, curly hair; wide-set dark eyes. Look in the mirror and tell me if I'm close."

"You are deeply disturbed, you know that?" he asked.

She smiled. "I'm slightly aware."

He nodded to himself and traced a fingertip over a crack in the wood of the table. "How was your day?"

"Very political," she replied. "Yours?"

"Taylor's planning something, and Luke's pretty much pissed off every second that the planning goes on."

"So, good then?" Rory grinned.

"Yeah, great," Jess sarcastically agreed.

They both fell silent, only the faint rise and fall of their breath venturing across the phone line.

"What time is it?" Rory asked after a long pause.

"About 1:15. Sorry. Couldn't sleep," he answered, hoping she wouldn't ask why.

Rory leaned her head back against the door. "You know I don't mind."

He paused, disappointed.

When Jess didn't reply, Rory felt an urgent need to fill the silence. "I come home tomorrow," she said dumbly.

"You do," Jess confirmed, his voice slightly tight. "3 o'clock."

"Yep, 3 o'clock," Rory agreed.

"Did you want me to pick you up?" he asked awkwardly.

"My mom's meeting me."

"Ah."

"She's all excited," Rory tried to explain. "She had a premonition she was going to run into Ted Striker."

Jess nodded. "Makes sense."

"To her, yes, it does," Rory agreed.

There was another long silence.

Jess sighed. "It's late. I should probably let you go."

"I have this breakfast thing tomorrow."

"Okay," he nodded. "So… I'll see you when I see you."

"Okay," Rory agreed.

"Night, Rory."

"Jess?" she said quickly.

"Yeah?"

"Why is this weird all of a sudden?"

"What?"

"Talking to you. I've talked to you almost every day this summer, and this conversation feels different."

He hesitated. "You've been gone six weeks, Rory."

Rory's heart dropped into her stomach. "Oh," she said mechanically, not sure what to think of what he'd said.

After another silence, she decided she really needed clarification. "What does that mean?"

"Nothing, I'm just tired," he sighed, realizing he was being ridiculous. "Forget I said anything."

"Jess…," she urged.

He took a deep breath. "It's just—" he began but trailed off.

"Just what?" Rory pushed, hoping she didn't sound as desperate as she felt.

Picking up on the slight rise in her voice, he decided to just say it. "Nothing's changed, right? With you?"

Rory hesitated, confused. "Uh, well, my hair's a little longer. I'm not as tan as I'd like to be after a whole summer but…"

He smiled. "That's not what I meant."

"Oh," Rory paused. "What did you mean?"

He steeled himself. "If you changed your mind, you can tell me."

"Changed my mi—," Rory began, still confused. Then, suddenly understanding, she cut herself off and said loudly, "No! I haven—have you?"

"Are you kidding me?" Jess asked, relief flooding over him.

"Well, why would you think I had?"

"I just…" he began. Just what? Thought you came to your senses? Thought time away cleared your head? He let out a long breath. "…wasn't sure."

"Well, be sure, mister," Rory lightly reprimanded, trying to put him at ease. "As of tomorrow, you're stuck with me."

"Oh, great," Jess teased.

Rory smiled. "We need a better plan."

"We had a plan?"

"Exactly the problem. How about—?" she began.

"The bridge at 5?" Jess offered. "Will that give you enough time with your mom?"

"Exactly enough."

"Okay."

"Okay," Rory agreed.

"I'll see you tomorrow, Rory."

"Night, Jess," she replied. A moment later, he clicked off.

-

Rory had just entered the room again and shut the door behind her when her phone vibrated in her hand, startling her. In her surprise, she dropped the phone, and it clattered onto the floor. Immediately, her eyes shot to Paris. She watched nervously as Paris rolled around and sighed but then settled back into place, apparently still sleeping.

The phone shook again, skittering across the floor. With a deep frown, Rory grabbed it and hurried back out the door.

"Hello?" she answered.

"Who were you talking to at 1 in the morning?"

"Mom?" Rory asked.

"I've been trying to call for the last five minutes, and your line was busy. Are you working for a 900 service?"

"It was Jess," Rory explained.

"A-ha! I always suspected he was the type to go for something like that," Lorelai teased. "Let me hear your sultry, phone sex operator voice."

"Call me crazy," Rory replied, looking up and down the empty hall before taking a seat again. "But I have a feeling you didn't call in the middle of the night to hear my sultry voice."

"Now that's where you're mistaken," Lorelai retorted.

"Mom…" Rory warned.

"I had a bad dream."

"Keep talking," Rory prodded.

"Okay, well, I was locked in the dark tower room of a castle, and I looked kind of like Snow White. I had this long, luxurious, black hair, and I was wearing a fancy dress. It was all very medieval. However, unlike Snow White, instead of ruby red lips, my mouth was a zipper."

Rory started giggling.

"Don't laugh!" Lorelai ordered. "I cannot believe you're laughing."

"Sorry," Rory apologized. "What happened next?"

"Well, apparently, I had been cursed with this zipper mouth, and only a prince could undo the spell, so, in the dream, all of these handsome men were brought to the room, but they were all too scared of my zipper mouth to kiss me and break the spell." Hearing her daughter suppress another giggle, Lorelai glared at her across the phone lines but continued. "But then, the door opened, and Luke walked in."

"Was he wearing tights?" Rory asked.

"No, he was wearing jeans, a flannel shirt, and a baseball cap."
"Of course," Rory accepted.

"Tights would've pushed the dream from bad to nightmarish."

Rory smiled. "Continue, please."

"So, Luke walks across the room, and, without any hesitation, he kisses me, and my zipper lips are replaced with ruby red lips."

"And?"

"And then he and I started making out, and then I woke up," Lorelai finished quickly.

"Okay, please tell me you don't need me to analyze this dream," Rory teased.

"I need a little reassurance."

"You need to talk to Luke," Rory stated.

"I don't need to talk to Luke," Lorelai disagreed. "I need you to tell me that I'm insane, so I can go on with my life."

"You're insane."

"Thank you."

"And you need to talk to Luke."

"I don't need to talk to Luke."

"Mom, all summer you've been having increasingly bizarre dreams that all end in you making out with Luke. You need to talk to Luke."

"Why?" Lorelai asked stubbornly.

"Because the two of you almost kissed," Rory rationalized. "And now both of you have spent the last two months pretending like it didn't happen and refusing to talk about it."

"Which has been working just fine. He gives me coffee. I smile and say something witty. It works for us."

"Fine, then you'll keep having the dreams."

"I can't keep having these dreams. I almost woke Gus up this time."

There was a pause, and then Rory said hesitantly, "Almost woke Gus up?"

"Umm…" Lorelai hedged.

"As in, you almost called him and woke him up?" Rory asked.

"Not exactly."

"Mom! When did this happen?"

"A couple of weeks ago…"

"And you didn't tell me?"

"Well, he sort of tripped and landed in my bed, and he liked it, so he just kept tripping and… landing."

"I can't believe this," Rory muttered, shaking her head.

"What?"

"What about Luke?" Rory asked.

"What does Luke have to do with this?"

"You've been dreaming about making out with Luke all summer," Rory reminded her, frustrated.

"And I'm trying to fix that."

"Well, the only way to fix that is to talk to Luke," Rory stated stubbornly.

There was a long silence, and then a sigh. "Fine," Lorelai conceded.

"You promise?"

"I promise."

"Thank you."

"You're welcome," Lorelai responded. "So I still get airport duty, right?"

"Of course."

"Okay, I'll see you on Friday."

Rory smiled. "I'll see you on Friday. And Mom?"

"Yeah?"

"The dream didn't seem that bad."

"Insanity is hereditary, you know."

"I'm just saying…"

"G'night, Rory."

Rory grinned. "Night, Mom."

-

The next morning, Lorelai stood outside the diner door, staring in but not moving. A few times, she reached her hand out towards the handle but never actually made physical contact with it before jerking her hand away.

She was making attempt number 4 when a voice behind her caused her to yank her hand back.

"Problem?"

She whirled around to face the voice's owner. "Jess."

He smirked. "You do realize you've been standing here for about 5 minutes, right?"

"Rory's not allowed to date stalkers, you know."

He held up the bag in his hand. "We ran out of tomatoes. Just doin' my job."

"Well, don't let me stop you," she said irritably, moving aside.

He gave her a curious look. "Is something wrong?"

Forcing a smile, she shook her head. "Nope." When he didn't seem to buy it, she added, "I'm not very nice before I get my morning coffee."

He nodded and moved past her to the door. "I remember."

Pulling it open, he stepped to the side and waited for her to walk in.

"What?" she asked, looking at him.

"C'mon, I'll get you your coffee."

Hesitating, she glanced into the diner and saw Luke behind the counter.

"Are you sure you're okay?" Jess asked again.

She looked back at him and nodded. "Yeah, but… shoot! I just remembered I left my iron on."

"Okay," Jess accepted, slightly baffled.

"Can I get a rain check on that coffee?"

"Sure, whatever," he shrugged.

She nodded and quickly walked away.

Jess stared after her and then headed into the diner.

-

"So, anyway, the restaurant was actually fairly decent," Paris relayed. "And that wanton hussy of a waitress eventually got hers. Bolognese sauce does stain, doesn't it?"

"Was she wearing white?" Rory asked.

"Yes."

"It'll stain," Rory promised.

Paris grinned. "That's too bad."

"So you had a good time?"

"It was all right," Paris shrugged.

Rory smiled, knowing that in Paris terms that pretty much equated to a great time. "I'm glad."

"He said he'd call me," Paris said hopefully.

"That's a good sign."

Paris frowned. "But don't they always say that?"

"Not alw—" Rory began.

"And then they don't call," Paris interrupted. "He isn't going to call. He probably had a miserable time. He's probably calling the waitress as we speak to recommend a good dry cleaner."

"He'll call you," Rory assured her.

Paris narrowed her eyes. "How do you know?"

"I just know," she smiled, glancing out the window as they landed.

Paris considered the statement for a moment and then looked down at her hands. "So can I call you if he calls?" she asked hesitantly.

Rory looked at her and grinned. "You better."

-

As Rory exited the gate, she heard her mother's voice call out to her. "Hey Gilmore!"

Grinning, she looked in her direction. "Mom!"

They ran towards each other, and Rory dropped her carry-on and pulled her mother into a hug. They were so excited that they fell to the ground in a heap. "Ow! Ow!"

"Ah!" Rory exclaimed.

"Ow!" Lorelai agreed.

Laughing, they stood up and brushed themselves off. "Luckily, there are video cameras everywhere that caught that very graceful moment on tape," Lorelai joked.

"I am so glad to see you!" Rory exclaimed, hugging her mother again.

"No, I'm glad to see you."

"I'm never leaving home again," Rory vowed as she tightened her grip.

"Oh, that's my emotionally stunted girl," Lorelai teased, pulling away. "Hey, I got you gifts."

"What? I'm the one who left town. I'm supposed to get you gifts."

"Oh, but I got here early, and there was nothing to do except feed gummy bears to the bomb-sniffing dogs, which, apparently, the United States government frowns upon."

"You got in trouble with the government while you were waiting for me?" Rory asked.

"Just a little."

"How much is a little?"

"Learn Russian. Okay, here you go," Lorelai said, pulling a shirt out of a bag and handing it to Rory

"Wow! A Hartford, Connecticut sweatshirt," Rory commented.

"Nice, huh?"

Rory looked through the rest of the bags. "Hartford, Connecticut notebook. Hartford, Connecticut pencil set. A Hartford, Connecticut shot glass."

"And beer mug," Lorelai added.

"Hartford baguette, Hartford bear, Hartford sunglasses."

"You like?" Lorelai asked.

Rory looked up and smiled. "I love."

"All right," Lorelai nodded. "Let's go. We'll get your bags, then we'll hit the road, and I can't wait to hear all about Washington. And, by the way, I got you out of dinner with the Gilmores tonight. I thought you and Jess might want some time."

Rory looked at her mom gratefully, knowing how much it was taking for her to overcome her dislike for Jess. "Thanks."

"You're welcome. How much time do I get?"

"I'm supposed to meet him at 5."

"Then talk fast, missy. How was Washington?"

"That isn't going to work, you know," Rory warned her as they walked through the airport.

"What?" Lorelai asked.

"Did you talk to Luke?"

"He hasn't been available," Lorelai lied.

Rory narrowed her eyes. "He hasn't?"

"Avoiding Taylor and the festival is keeping him very busy."

"But you're going to talk to him?"

"I promised, didn't I?"

"You did," Rory agreed.

"Well, I keep my promises."

"What about two years ago when you promised you would never eat another juicy pear Jelly Belly again?" Rory asked, giving her a doubtful look.

Lorelai's mouth fell open. "You try to stay away from those things! They've perfected mind control, I swear. They talk to me in my sleep."

Rory smirked. "Ok, what about my pony? Where's my pony?" she asked, looking around the terminal.

"What pony?"

"The pony you promised me on my sixth birthday. You crossed your heart."

"Okay, I said someday. And someday, you and I will have a pony."

"Sure," Rory guffawed.

"Promises take time," Lorelai explained. "Otherwise, they wouldn't be worth making, which is why you'll have to be patient with me with this Luke thing."

"Fine," Rory frowned.

"I will talk to him," Lorelai vowed.

"Okay."

"And we will get our pony!"

"I'm sure we will," Rory agreed.

"Now, stop harassing Mommy and tell me about Washington," she pried.

"Paris had a date!" Rory exclaimed, suddenly remembering.

"Ooh, details!" Lorelai begged, wrapping her arm around her daughter's shoulders as they walked.

-

"Taylor outdid himself this time," Rory announced as they walked through the festival-decked streets a couple hours later.

"Notice the banner," Lorelai pointed out. "He's very proud."

"As he should be," Rory agreed. "I missed this."

"It missed you," Lorelai smiled.

Rory glanced at her watch.

"I take it my time's up?" Lorelai asked.

"You'll get the rest of the details tonight, I promise."

"It's a plan."

They paused in front of Luke's, and Rory looked in. The diner was empty, as everyone was enjoying the festival's offerings.

"Luke doesn't look busy," Rory stated, turning to her mother.

Lorelai glanced in the window and sighed. "You aren't letting me out of this one, are you?"

"Nope," Rory shook her head.

"I get you out of Friday night dinner, and this is the thanks I get."

"Well, look at it this way, if you need an out from the conversation with Luke, the dinner is an easy excuse."

"Trading one uncomfortable situation for another? Fabulous."

Rory leaned over and gave her mother a kiss on the cheek. "Good luck."

"I'll see you later," Lorelai moped.

Rory smiled and headed towards the bridge.

-

Taking a deep breath, Lorelai walked up the steps and entered the diner. Luke looked up as she entered and gave her a curt nod. She smiled and approached the counter.

"Coffee?"

"You expect me to turn that offer down?" she joked.

He gave her a small smile and filled up a mug.

Sitting down, she immediately lifted the cup and took a long sip. Luke went back to checking the receipts.

A silence fell over the diner. Then, abruptly, Lorelai spoke, her voice loud amid the quiet. "Hey Luke?"

"Yeah?" he asked, not looking up.

"We should probably talk about it."

He glanced up. "Talk about what?"

"The moment?"

"You've lost me," he frowned.

"Outside my house, the night Jess came back, we never talked about it."

Luke looked back down at the slips of paper in front of him. "Ah."

"It just—," Lorelai began. "It felt like… something."

"It was nothing," Luke stated, still not looking up.

She turned her eyes to her coffee mug. "That's funny because, to me, it kinda felt like –"

"Like what?" Luke asked casually.

"Like you wanted to kiss me," Lorelai finished.

Luke froze.

"Were you – I mean, did you – want to –"

"No," Luke interrupted.

"Oh," Lorelai said flatly.

He looked at her then and swore he saw disappointment flicker in her eyes.

"But did – I mean," he floundered.

She shook her head. "I'm seeing Gus."

"Yeah," he nodded. "I remember that."

"So… good. Then, that's settled."

"It is," he agreed.

"Okay. Thanks for the coffee then."

"You're welcome," Luke said awkwardly.

Lorelai stood and walked towards the door. Then, stopping, she turned back around. "I forgot to pay."

"No, it's okay," he waved her off.

"I insist," she stated, walking towards the till. Standing in front of him, she pulled a few bills out and held them towards him.

Slowly, he reached out to take them. As he did, his fingers brushed hers, and they both felt a shock of electricity. Her eyes shot up and held his. After a long moment, he opened the till and placed the money inside.

"Thanks."

"You're welcome," Lorelai replied. "I'll see you later."

He nodded, and she headed for the door. Once she was outside, she paused on the front stoop. Wait, was that a moment?she wondered, confused all over again.

-

Turning a corner, Rory immediately saw him. He was sitting in the middle of the bridge, his legs dangling over the side and his eyes trained on the water. She smiled, despite the sudden nervousness that washed over her. When her shoes hit the planks of the bridge, he glanced over at her and smiled back in a way she'd never seen before. In a way she immediately loved.

"Hey," she said softly, approaching him.

He stood up and turned to face her. "Hey."

She smiled shyly.

"So, you're back?" he stated.

"I'm back," she nodded.

His eyes traced over her face. "You're right. Your hair is longer," he mused, reaching out to brush a strand behind her ear.

Instinctively, she reached up as well, and her hand grazed against his. Gliding his fingers across hers, he wound their hands together and drew her a step closer to him.

"How was your flight?" he asked.

"Good," she said simply.

He nodded and took a step forward.

She grinned and gave him a serious perusal. "You don't look much like Michael and Liza's love child after all."

"No?" he asked, lightly tracing his thumb across the palm of her hand.

"Nope, much better."

"Huh."

"Guess I just needed to be reminded," she decided.

He nodded. "Seems so."

She peered up at him. "There's something else I can't quite remember."

"Yeah? What?"

"This," she stated, pulling him forward the remaining distance and joining his lips to hers. He wrapped his free arm around her waist and deepened the kiss.

Pulling away slightly, she brushed his lips with a smile and then looked up into his eyes. "See, that's not quite how I remembered it either."

He hesitated. "It isn't?"

She shook her head. "No cigarettes."

He smirked. "I could start up again."

"You better not," she warned.

"I could be persuaded."

She smiled and leaned her forehead against his. "I could persuade," she stated.

With a slow grin, he drifted his fingers up to rest on her cheek and leisurely claimed her lips again.