Chasing Aphrodite

Chapter 5: Mi Dispiace, Lo Siento, I'm Sorry

Lorelai poured herself a cup of coffee and glanced at her daughter's closed bedroom door. Last night had been a disaster, and as much as she wanted to blame it all on her mother, Lorelai knew that 99 percent of the fault was her own. Rory had been home from DC for only three days, and already they were fighting. And then there was Gus…

She sighed and took a long sip of her coffee as she walked over to the kitchen table. Setting the mug on its surface, she sat down and picked up the cordless phone. With a deep frown, she dialed the number and fixed her eyes on the piece of paper she'd set on the table earlier.

"This is Gus," he answered after two rings. He sounded a little rushed but not upset. That was a good sign.

"Mi dispiace," Lorelai said without any preamble.

Gus smiled on the other end of the line. "Lorelai," he said warmly.

"Je suis désolé," she answered back, mangling the language more than a little.

He shut the door to his office and sat down at his desk. "You don't have t-."

"Es tut mir leid," she interrupted.

He rested his chin on his free hand, his smile growing wider. "Multilingual? You're just full of surprises."

"Zhen bao qian," she read off the paper.

He cringed a little and chuckled. "That was downright awful."

"Lo siento."

"Estás perdonada, mujer loca," he easily replied.

"Hey!" she protested.

"What?" he asked with a laugh.

"Livin' la vida loca? 'Loca' means 'crazy'! Who you callin' crazy?"

"Loca pero encantadora," he clarified.

"What does that mean?"

"It means I find you to be incredibly charming."

Lorelai grinned. "I am so sorry about last night."

"I gathered that," he teased. "How's Rory?"

"Doing her best impersonation of a closed bedroom door," she sighed.

Gus frowned. "I'm sorry."

"No, I'm sorry. I don't even know how to begin to explain my mother's behavior."

"You aren't responsible for her actions. There's nothing to explain."

"I feel like I should try."

"Then come over to my place tonight," he offered. "I'll make you dinner. We'll talk. We'll straighten all of this out."

Lorelai glanced at Rory's closed door again. They were supposed to hang out tonight, but now… "Okay," she replied. "That sounds nice."

"All right," Gus agreed, his voice light. As he spoke, there was a knock on his office door. "Lorelai, I have to get back to work. But I'll see you tonight."

She smiled. "I'll see you tonight."

After he hung up, she turned off her own receiver and leaned forward to rest her head on the table.

It wasn't more than a few seconds before she heard Rory's door click open. She heard Rory walk into the kitchen and move past her towards the coffeepot, but she didn't lift her head. A moment later, she felt Rory approach and then heard the sweet sound of fresh coffee being poured into her mug. She lifted her head and looked at her daughter. Rory gave her a small smile and sat down on the other chair.

Lorelai studied her daughter's face; she saw sadness but not anger. She reached out and squeezed Rory's hand. "I'm loca. Lo siento," she said quietly. "Lo, lo, lo siento," she added, emphasizing each word.

Rory grinned despite herself. "Estás perdonada."


Jess waited a little longer than usual, letting the smoke burn deeply before releasing it into the morning air. The cigarette was down to a useless stub now. He sighed and dropped it onto the ground, putting it out with his shoe. But he still didn't move, choosing instead to lean against the side of the diner and look up and down the alley. That morning wasn't the first time he'd wondered why he'd ever come back to this town, and he had a feeling it wouldn't be the last.

"Jess!" Luke bellowed out the door.

Jess rolled his eyes and headed towards the entrance. "What?" he asked defiantly.

"Your break's over. Get back in here."

Jess's lips pressed together into a straight line, but, for a reason completely foreign to him, he proceeded past his uncle and back into the diner.

Luke gave a small, victorious nod and followed him in, both of them moving behind the counter. As Jess walked over to help a customer at the register, the smell hit Luke. His eyes narrowed, and he jerked his head to his nephew, half-expecting to see little cartoon cigarette fumes rising off from him and morphing into a skull and crossbones above his head.

As soon as the customer left, Luke approached.

"Were you smoking?" he asked gruffly.

Jess didn't respond.

"You said you needed to get some fresh air."

Jess nodded. "There was some of that too."

Luke threw his towel onto the counter and turned fully to his nephew. "I thought you quit."

"And then I started again," Jess answered in his best smartass voice.

"Go upstairs!" Luke ordered.

Jess looked at him in disbelief. "You're sending me to my room?"

"I'm sending you to change. You smell."

"Please tell me you find that statement as hypocritical as I do?" Jess asked.

"Go. Change. Jess." Luke said through clenched teeth.

"Yes, sir," Jess saluted. If Luke didn't want him to work, he had no problem with that. Without another word, he pushed past Luke and headed upstairs to the apartment.

"And use some mouthwash too!" Luke yelled after him. Once he was gone, Luke frowned in confusion, wondering what the hell had happened. He hadn't seen Jess like this in months.


"And then he just walked away?" Lane asked, her eyes wide.

Rory sighed. "And then he just walked away."

"Wow," Lane said quietly; she was at a loss. Wearing matching frowns, they both sat in silence for a few long moments.

Rory sighed and moved to lie on her back on Lane's bed. "I don't know what to do."

Mimicking her friend's movements, Lane lay down as well, and they both stared at the ceiling.

"I want to talk to him… I need to talk to him, but I don't know what to say," Rory said quietly. "I don't even know if he'd listen."

Lane peered over at her friend. "Does it really bother you?"

Rory met her eyes. "What?"

"Not knowing about his past."

"No," Rory said without hesitation. "I wish he cou-," she began but quickly cut herself off. "But whatever it is, it doesn't matter."

Lane nodded, thinking it over. "I mean, it's not like he killed someone. He'd be in jail for that." She paused. "What do you think he did?" she asked curiously.

"Lane," Rory warned.

"Sorry. You're right. It doesn't matter. What matters is fixing this."

Rory felt a small pit form in her stomach. "I really hurt him."

Lane rolled over onto her stomach and gave her friend a serious look. "He'll listen," she said firmly. "He wants to be with you, so he'll listen."

"But he doesn't think I want to be with him."

"But you do, so you just have to make him believe it."

Rory exhaled. "Yeah."

Lane patted Rory's leg. "You'll figure it out," she reassured her. "Is it really eleven?" she asked suddenly.

Rory looked down at her watch. "Almost."

"Crap! I have Bible study," Lane exclaimed, jumping up from the bed. She ran into the bathroom to pull her hair back.

Rory trailed after her and watched solemnly as Lane tried to make herself look more pious. As Lane opened the cabinet, however, Rory spotted something, and her face brightened a little. "Can I borrow that?" she asked, pointing at a bottle.

Lane glanced at it. "Sure," she said hesitantly as she handed it over.

As Lane went back to getting ready, Rory smiled and looked down at the bottle. It was a start, she told herself.


As Rory walked by the diner window, she hurriedly looked inside, searching for him. He was nowhere in sight. She reached the entrance and, allowing herself just one deep breath, pulled the door open and stepped inside.

Luke glanced up and smiled. "He's upstairs."

Rory quickly realized that Luke must not know anything about what happened. Not that it came as a huge surprise to her; Jess wasn't exactly the forthcoming type. She didn't want to make Luke suspicious, so she thanked him and headed towards the stairs.

Luke moved in their direction as well and stopped her before she could go up. "Can I talk to you for a second?" he asked.

Rory's heart dropped into her stomach, and she silently nodded.

"Have you noticed anything off with Jess?"

She suddenly found it difficult to swallow, and when she spoke, it was like her tongue was five times thicker than normal. "Uh, no," she said hesitantly. "I mean, I don't think so."

Luke nodded. "Okay. Just checking. Go on up."

Rory hesitated. "Um, Luke?"

"Yeah?" he said, turning back to her.

"Have you noticed something?"

Luke waved her off. "Nah."

"Okay," Rory said in a small voice.

"Well, actually," he continued. "Did you know he's smoking again?"

Rory's heart sped up. "He's smoking again?"

"I knew I shouldn't have said anything," Luke sighed. "Forget it. It's probably nothing. I bet he's waiting for you," he finished, gesturing towards the stairs. Without another word, he headed back to the register.

Rory paused a moment, knowing that Jess was certainly not waiting for her. 'He'd started smoking again?'

After a couple more seconds, Luke glanced over at her, wondering why she hadn't moved. She jerked back into action, gave him a quick smile, and started up the stairs.

Reaching the door, she knocked softly.

Inside the room, Jess looked at the door and sighed. He knew exactly who it was. The tentative knock all but gave her away. After changing his clothes and rinsing out his mouth, he'd grabbed a book and settled onto his bed to read. To hell with Luke! He certainly wasn't going to voluntarily go back down and work in the diner. Now, he was seriously wishing he had. At least then he could've seen her coming and found some sort of way out before she saw him. He turned his attention back to his book.

Rory knocked again and slowly pushed the door open. "Jess," she called out softly. When he didn't respond, she went the rest of the way through the door, spotting him on the bed. She shut the door behind her but didn't walk further in. He hadn't looked up when she'd called his name. He hadn't even moved.

They both stayed in those exact positions for at least three minutes. Jess read, turning the page every once in a while, and Rory stood near the door and watched him, waiting for him to acknowledge her. Any acknowledgment would've been fine.

He didn't.

"Jess," she said again, her voice just a whisper.

He still didn't react. She might as well have been a ghost and he, as usual, a non-believer. She looked down at the bottle in her hands and took a few tentative steps into the room. "It seems stupid now," she said aloud but mostly to herself. "But I brought you this."

He didn't look up.

"It's baby oil. It helps remove temporary tattoos. I figured," she sighed. "It was the least I could do."

He scoffed.

It was a small sound, mostly under his breath, but she heard it. It was something. She knew he was listening.

"I know you don't want to talk to me. That's … obvious," she said, gesturing at him. "But… I'm sorry. I'm so, so sorry. I don't know what I was thinking when I asked you to come to the dinner with me. It was … really dumb."

Jess shook his head. She still didn't fucking get it.

"But I wanted you to be there," she continued. "I wanted you to be there because I like being with you and because I wanted you to meet my family because, for better or worse, they're a part of who I am. And you're a part of who I am. And I was tired of keeping those two parts separate, especially for no reason."

He didn't respond, but he also hadn't turned the page in a while.

She took a deep breath and kept talking. "I don't care about what happened in New York. I mean, I do care. Of course I care. Because it happened to you, and whatever it is, I want to be a part of it or helping you through it or whatever you need. But if you don't want to talk about it or tell me, that's okay. I get it. But don't ever think that I'm ashamed to be with you. I don't know how you could think that." She sighed, really feeling at this point like she was talking to herself. She fixed her eyes on him. "You are so great, and I know that's a lame word. It doesn't even capture it. Because you are so many things. Things I know now, things I'll know someday, I hope, and things I may never know, and all of them are amazing." She trailed off, letting her eyes fall away from his face to stare at the floor. "If anything, you should be ashamed to be with me."

Finally, finally, he looked at her. She felt the moment he did, and she looked up quickly, her eyes meeting his. "I'm so sorry," she repeated. "I'm sorry I made you go to that dinner with my grandparents. I should have known they'd act like that. And I'm sorry for making you wear that tattoo. That was so stupid. I'm sorry for not saying all of this last night. I'm sorry for not defending you. I'm just – I'm just sorry," she finished. "For all of it." She watched him, heart pounding, waiting.

He looked at her for a long time, and then slowly, he nodded. "Okay."

She hesitated, her breath catching, not knowing what he meant. Did it mean he forgave her but wanted her to go? Did it mean he forgave her but wanted her to stay? She had no idea.

She waited another excruciating moment. He didn't say anything else. He didn't move.

Steeling herself, she nodded and set the baby oil on a nearby table. "Okay," she repeated, turning towards the door.

Seeing that she was going to go, he leapt up, book still in hand. "Rory?"

She turned and looked at him, watching as he took a few quick steps towards her.

He stopped, a few breaths away from her, a smirk playing on his lips. She looked at him in confusion. "Are you done?" he asked gently.

She scrunched her eyebrows. "What?"

"It's just," he said, taking another step towards her. "I want to kiss you, but I didn't want you to think I was just trying to make you forget so it'd just go aw-"

Before he could finish, Rory stepped forward and kissed him. It wasn't urgent or panicked. It was gentle, chaste. He didn't push it further than that, and when she pulled away, he studied her eyes.

She gave him a shy smile. "Any chance that'll make you forget and make it all go away?"

He reached past her to set his book on the table, then he trailed his fingers up her arm. "Probably not," he replied, shaking his head. When his hand reached her shoulder, he moved it quickly up to rest on her cheek. "But this might," he finished, stepping forward and joining their lips together again.


Biting her lip, Lorelai rang Gus's doorbell and waited. Seconds later, he opened the door and flashed a brilliant smile.

"You look gorgeous," he observed, looking her up and down.

She smiled and stepped through the door. He immediately wrapped an arm around her waist and gave her a long kiss.

As they pulled apart, she purred. "Mmm… nice."

He smiled and helped her remove her coat. As he hung it in the hall closet, she sniffed the air. "I have no idea what it is, but that smells incredible."

With a wide grin, he snuck up behind her and pulled her close, nuzzling his face into her neck. "Speaking of which…" he began.

"I thought we were going to talk," she reminded him.

He turned her around and kissed her again. "Mmm… we are. But first, we're going to enjoy dinner. Come on." Taking her hand, he led her into the dining room where he'd created the most romantic table setting she'd ever seen – lit candles and roses. Everything arranged gorgeously.

"Wow," she said under her breath.

He smiled and pulled out a chair for her. Then, placing a quick kiss on her neck, he went into the kitchen to retrieve dinner.


Rory nuzzled further into Jess's side, her eyes trailing across the page of the book he held in front of them. They read at the exact same pace. It was kind of uncanny. He turned to the last page, and when they'd finished, he closed the book and set it on his lap.

"I like that book," Rory observed, entwining her fingers with Jess's and lifting his arm up and down distractedly.

He smiled a little but remained silent. After a moment, she pushed his sleeve up, looking at the tattoo.

"It really is ugly," she agreed.

He smirked. "Glad you've seen the light."

Unexpectedly, she moved away from him and got off the bed, retrieving the baby oil and a couple of tissues. She moved to sit down on her knees on the bed beside him and grabbed his arm. Pushing up his sleeve, she set his arm in her lap. "I promise this'll work," she assured him, pouring a little bit of oil onto a tissue. A second later, she began rubbing it against his arm. Immediately, the Shakespeare tattoo began to dissolve. She met his eyes and smiled. "Told you."

"I never said otherwise," he retorted.

She turned back to the tattoo and continued brushing it away. She didn't want to see his face when she asked him her next question, but she also knew she had to ask it.

"We're okay, right?" she asked hesitantly.

He watched her clean off the rest of the tattoo, knowing she didn't want to look up.

"Rory," he said calmly. When she kept on, he teased, "Rorrrrry."

She glanced up at him.

"It was a fight," he said simply. "It's over. We're okay."

Looking at him, she knew that, for him, it was that simple. He wasn't going to hold onto it.

"We'll figure all of that stuff out," he added.

Rory smiled and finished with the tattoo. Then, putting the baby oil back on the table, she moved back to lie beside him. They laid there for a bit, side-by-side, silently thinking. Jess glanced over at her, noticing the way her hair spread across his pillow. Moving to his side, he leaned in and kissed her. She smiled and kissed him back.


Gus handed Lorelai a glass of wine and sat down beside her on the couch.

"You are going to make me fat," she said simply. "More dinners like that, and I'll be in the Guinness Book of World Records."

He smiled and brushed a quick kiss across her lips. "I've seen how you eat. I think your metabolism will hold out just fine."

She narrowed her eyes at him. "You just want to be famous," she accused. "Dating the fattest woman in the world."

"Or that," he nodded.

"You're giving in that easily?" she asked. "You're supposed to keep telling me how I'm going to be the most beautiful woman in the world forever and ever."

"Mmm…" he replied, taking a sip of his wine. "Truest thing you've said all night."

"That's better," she grinned.

He set his glass on the coffee table and turned to look at her. "I'm afraid it's time for that talk."

Lorelai instantly tensed a little. "Fun and games portion of the evening. Okay," she nodded. "Should you go or should I?"

"I'll go," Gus said firmly. "I have just one question, and all I ask is that you answer me honestly."

"I can do that," Lorelai agreed.

"Are you in love with another man?" he asked bluntly, searching her eyes.

She shook her head. "No." It was the truth, she told herself. She wasn't in love with Luke. That was ridiculous. She liked Luke, of course, but… love?

Gus's voice interrupted her reverie. "I was hoping you'd say that," he smiled widely. "There's been something I've wanted to tell you. For weeks now, actually."

Lorelai gave him a suspicious look, a look that grew only more suspicious as he moved to sit on the coffee table so they were face to face.

"I was trying to think of how to say it," he went on. "And this morning, on the phone, you gave me the perfect way."

"I did?" Lorelai asked, puzzled.

"Wo ai ni."

Lorelai looked at him like he was crazy.

"That's Chinese," Gus supplied.

"Je t'aime," he continued softly. "French. T'amo. Italian. Te quiero. Spanish. Ich liebe dich. German." Then, after a short pause, he finished. "I love you."

Lorelai was silent, stunned, unable to move.

Gus hesitated. "That was English," he whispered.

"I – I know," Lorelai replied. "Wow."

"Yeah, wow!" Gus smiled. "I haven't felt this wa-"

"I have to go," Lorelai said abruptly, moving to stand up. She brushed past his legs and went to get her coat.

"Lorelai?" Gus said quickly, standing up to follow her.

"I jus-" she began.

"You don't have to say it back. Not yet."

She patted him awkwardly on the chest. "That's – that's good to know. Thank you. I just – I have something I have to do."

"Right now?"

"I'm sorry," Lorelai apologized, heading out the door.

In stunned silence, Gus watched her go.


Pulling into her driveway, Lorelai turned off the jeep's ignition, staring up at her house. The whole way home, she'd been trying to figure out where on earth the panic had come from – the sheer panic that had accompanied Gus's very sweet, very romantic, and very ill-timed confession. Men had told her they loved her before. Christopher. Max. Why was this time different?

Her mother's face flashed in front of her eyes, and Lorelai jerked back slightly in shock. Emily's voice echoed:

"That isn't what upset you. You're upset because you just realized that, for once, despite all of your best efforts, your mother figured out something before you did."

Lorelai shook the image and voice out of head and turned the car back on. Like hell, she thought, backing out of the driveway.

Minutes later, she pulled up to the curb and leapt out of the jeep, leaving the keys in the ignition. She stormed through the door, nearly knocking into him as he headed from the counter to lock it.

"Lorelai?" he asked, thrown by the unfamiliar look on her face.

She stopped in front of him. "I just," she began. "I just need to check something."

He started to open his mouth to respond when he felt her hands on his face and her lips over his. It took him a second to register exactly what was happening, but as soon as he did, he wrapped his arm around her waist and pulled her tightly against him, deepening the kiss.

He was acutely aware of the way she felt. The way she smelled. The way she tasted. And the way her lips suddenly pulled away, leaving only empty air.

She looked bewildered. She looked, well, insane, he observed.

"Uh… whoa… okay," she mumbled. "So not what I expected."

He stared at her, not sure what that meant… and he didn't get a chance to ask because, a second later, she was gone.