Author's Note: This story takes place in Season One, in a what if scenario in which Jess arrived in Stars Hallow about six months earlier. I think if Jess had gotten there in time... he might have been willing to make some effort, and I want to see how much. (Also, if my writing style varies throughout the story, it's because I'm trying to find what I'm most comfortable with.)
Chapter One: Ease Suck Ray Seam Ann
"Feelin' pretty smart there, Lurch?"
"Smarter than you, apparently," Dean said, tucking away his B test as he received another smile and a short kiss from Rory. After his comment, she frowned at Dean and glanced back at him, but she left without a word.
Then Jess was in the bookstore, typing on its only computer because Luke didn't own one. He tapped out his final draft of an essay due tomorrow, though technically, since he hadn't written a rough draft, it was a first draft. He paid thirty cents to print the essay (ten cents a page), hid the essay from Luke when he returned to the diner and stuffed the papers into his backpack.
The next day, Jess turned in the essay to his English teacher. For his other academic teachers he had his completed homework out on his desk and his paperback in his back pocket, which he only read at lunch.
When the bell rang to dismiss the last class, Jess flapped his fingers in a wave at Dean, who shook his head slowly. Jess scowled and walked out.
"It was like he went just to bug me."
"Dean," Rory said, "I seriously doubt that Jess sat down and did his homework because he thought it would bug you."
"Why else would he suddenly be in school? He skipped the first two weeks of the semester to work at Wal Mart and then today he sat in class and paid attention. I think I might have even seen him taking some notes. That or he was writing on the desk, which is a lot more likely." He took a breath. "He's gonna keep showing up to bug me. And I'm not gonna drop out just because he's there either."
"Good to hear," Rory nodded firmly.
"I might have to switch out of a few classes, but I'm not gonna drop out because of him. That's probably just what he wants."
"Again, doubtful. Okay, so I've gotta go meet my mom at Luke's."
"And I guess I've got homework to do," Dean said.
"That you do."
Dean gave her a quick peck on the lips and left. Rory headed into the diner and dropped her book bag next to the nearest empty table. A moment later there was a mug in front of her being filled up with coffee.
"Ordering now or waitin' on your mom?" Luke asked.
"Waiting on my mom, but some fries would be good while I wait."
"Comin' right up."
As Luke was giving Caesar her order, Jess trudged down the stairs.
"Hey, your shift started forty minutes ago," Luke said, voice raised.
"What the hell were you doing for forty minutes? Actually, nevermind. I don't want to know. Just go wipe down the tabletops."
"Whatever you say, Uncle Luke."
Rory casually watched Jess. When he made it to the table next to hers, she smiled.
"So I hear you went to school today," she said, "and paid attention."
"It was early. I was tired. I thought it was the local bar," he explained with a shrug.
"Alcohol that early in the morning? Huh. And when you figured out it wasn't the bar?"
"I stole some kid's homework, crossed out his name and put mine on it. Figured I might as well make a ten-out-of-ten while I was there."
"And the paying attention?" Rory asked.
"Your source must have been on the other side of the room. My eyes were open, but I was snoring."
"Sleeping with your eyes open: an impressive talent."
"And necessary," Jess said while his mind warred between saying the rest of the phrase that had originally sprung to mind, whether she would read into what he said or not, and then he shut down his thoughts. If she asked he wouldn't answer, but he still drew in a silent breath in preparation.
"Oh. So you didn't learn that Andrew Johnson purchased Alaska in 1866?"
"Nope," he exhaled.
"Huh," Rory said, watching him with thinned eyes.
The bell rang and knocked against the door a couple times.
"Daughter!" her mother exclaimed, falling into the empty chair.
Jess moved on to the next table, sprayed it once with the cleaner and gave it a quick rub.
The Lorelai Gilmore's shouted their orders to Luke, who set down a basket of fries and poured Lorelai a mug of coffee. They munched on the fries and chatted while they munched. Rory related the story of Dean's rant, how he was uncomfortable with Jess being at school.
Lorelai turned to him. "You went to school and paid attention?"
"I slept," he said curtly.
He pulled a book out of his back pocket and dropped into a chair behind the counter, frowning behind the pages. So he went to school. It wasn't really that big of a deal. Yes, he had skipped the majority of the first two weeks back from winter break to work at Wal Mart; had he known how quickly and effortlessly he could get the homework done, he might have picked up his absentee work, done it over the weekend and turned it in on Monday. He could go to school, work part time, probably even finish his homework on a break at work; if not, he could do it while he ate breakfast in the morning. Something in his mind was telling him that he didn't really mind learning, that it was the method that was boring, that it was probably a fluke and he would hate it tomorrow because it wasn't a routine of mindlessness yet. Still, he convinced himself that if Luke saw him attending school he might cut back some of his hours. It was all very logical. And he could give school another chance tomorrow because he wasn't scheduled to work.
The Gilmores' meals came; their conversation continued, but he tuned them out to concentrate on his book.
The next time he looked up was when the bell rang and a customer came in. Caesar was on break; Luke was in the kitchen. Jess reluctantly stood and stuffed his book away. He pulled out his pad and scribbled down the customer's order. Rory and Lorelai got up as he walked by.
Jess slowed his pace and leaned in towards Rory. "Seward. 1867," he said.
"What?" she asked, turning around.
He walked backwards, pointing at her with his order pad. "Seward purchased Alaska in 1867. Johnson was just the crackpot president who took over for Lincoln."
Rory grinned. "I guess you should sleep in class more often." And then she left.
For that smile, he found himself considering his attendance at school as more than a plan constructed out of boredom – as a serious reality. He pictured himself in it, imagined the scenarios, and found that, although it could be torture, he could live with that. Or he could skip and go to work. He could live with that too.
For the next month, Jess attended school regularly, did homework regularly – albeit secretly – and did a couple extra credit assignments where necessary. D's and F's had morphed into straight A's by the time report cards came out.
Dean's discomfort continued to motivate him to attend and, although he wouldn't say that he enjoyed it, Jess tolerated school.
Stars Hallow High held its extracurricular fair at the beginning of the fourth nine weeks in the gym. Jess visited the empty tables, ignoring the teacher or student assistant who sat behind the table and tried to tell him about the subject. It was redundant. The information they had printed on stacks of flyers, which Jess pretended to be engrossed in until said teacher or student assistant shut up, was the same as what they tried to tell him. They patronized him. He spun the paper back onto the table, purposely off the stack, and moved on.
"You sure you can read that?" a voice asked behind him.
Jess straightened and glared at the paper. "Offering to help? Because I'm having a little trouble with 'epicene.'" He turned and looked at Dean. "Nevermind. Just found the definition."
Jess brushed by him, but stopped when he saw the unmanned table across from him. He turned back to Dean.
"Hey, doesn't Rory go to Chilton?"
"Why?" Dean demanded.
"No reason," he shrugged, slipped a form off the stack and began filling it out.
Dean came over, asking loudly, "What are you doing?"
"Crazy thing you do with a pen. What's that called again?"
"That's a Chilton application."
"You need a 4.0 GPA to get into that school."
"3.65," Jess corrected, head down, still writing.
"You do not have a 3.65."
As ridiculous as it was to keep saying any number with a decimal point in it Jess kept doing it because Dean's lips were getting tighter and tighter, and lighter and lighter, until they disappeared. "You're right. I've got a 4.0."
"From your freshman year too? And hey, maybe they'll check your middle school grades. Those good enough too? Any referrals? Suspensions? I'm sure Chilton'll love your colorful record."
Jess watched him flounder for hope, for assurance that Jess could not get into Chilton. He smirked.
"I've got to go get some teacher recommendations."
"Yeah, good luck on that," Dean muttered insincerely.
As he left, he heard someone take one of the Chilton forms from the pile – rather angrily – and start writing – rather angrily with that, too. Jess cocked his head to side and sighed amusedly.
The bookstore was uncharacteristically noisy. Jess glowered at Jackson and Andrew over the bookshelves, sourly wondering what Jackson was even doing in the bookstore. "Rory's dad" popped up in their conversation, and Jess' gaze halted. He stooped, idly running his fingers along book spines, his gaze on the shelf and his ears listening for more.
The door opened; Jess kept staring and listening.
"Hey, hey Christopher! Jackson Melville," he introduced.
"Hello," Chris said.
Jess looked up as any indifferent customer would, just to see the commotion uncommonly found in the bookstore. And, since they were talking rather loudly, he accidentally overheard their conversation.
"Boy I gotta tell you," Jackson went on, "did they get your description wrong."
"Oh yeah, much more George Clooney than Brad Pitt," Jackson nodded. "Hey Andrew?"
"Don't you think he's much more George Clooney than Brad Pitt?"
"I'm going with the Billy Crudup comparison myself," Andrew said.
"Really?" Jackson asked.
"I don't see it. Well maybe from the side. Hey do you mind?"
Before Christopher could answer, Jackson had him turned to the side to look at his profile, then again to the other side.
"What? Uh, no, not at all," Chris said, forcing a chuckle.
"Well there's a little Crudup in there. Huh, well it's nice to meet you, whoever you look like," Jackson said.
"Nice to meet you," Chris said, veering Rory down the nearest aisle. "Okay, I'm kidnapping you and getting you out of here."
"They all mean well," she said.
Jess found the book he came for and fingered it out of the row. He glanced at Rory nonchalantly, nodded at her nonchalantly.
"Hey, Jess." Rory smiled and pulled her dad over by the hand. "Dad, this is Jess. He's from New York and tries to pretend like he hates it here."
Yes, that was the impression he wanted everyone to perceive, but, when Rory vocalized it, he found himself suddenlyunsatisfied with the impression he gave her.
"Hello, Steve Randle," Chris said.
Conscious of Rory as he spoke, and suddenly wanting to change her perception of him, he made an effort to be congenial. "Did you read The Outsiders or watch the movie?"
"Both. It was more of a movie reference, though. To the actor. You've got a Tom Cruise profile goin' on there."
"And apparently you've got a George Clooney/Brad Pitt/Billy Crudup thing goin' on. Personally, I've gotta go with Wayne Rogers."
"Trusty 'Trapper' John?"
"Must be the hair," Chris said.
"The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, huh?" Rory asked, peering at the book in Jess' hands. "Looks like a school assignment."
"What? You mean Taylor hasn't had this book banned in case it offends someone? Has he even read Huck Finn?"
"Bring it up at the next town meeting," Rory suggested.
"Yeah, I'll get right on that."
"Nice meeting you, Steve," Chris waved.
"Trapper," he nodded.
"Okay, so I hear you like books," Chris said, leading them away.
"Why yes I do," Rory nodded to her dad.
Jess continued to browse, periodically glancing toward the checkout register. When they said "Compact Oxford English Dictionary" he had been expecting the-tiniest-book-ever-published version of compact, not the Kabbalah version of compact. A mental frown formed when he saw Chris' credit card rejected and Rory's disappointment.
They left, and Jess went to the counter and paid for his books (he had also picked up copies of Mark Twain's other novels, for leisure reading). As he exited, he spotted Rory and her dad heading over to Luke's.
The application he had left in the principal's office to attend Chilton was no longer a ploy to irritate Dean, but suddenly a real application. No. It was a joke. An elaborate joke.
He took Huck Finn out of the bag and flipped to Chapter I:
You don't know about me without you have read a book by the name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer; but that ain't no matter. That book was made by Mr. Mark Twain, and he told the truth, mainly. There was things which he stretched, but mainly he told the truth. That is nothing. I never seen anybody but lied one time or another…The Adventures of Tom Sawyer
It wasn't an elaborate joke. It was real. And his trying was real too.
Author's Note -I really wanted it to be in this chapter, but it was getting too long, so... Next chapter: Jess hears back from Chilton. Also, some script was borrowed from the episode "Chris Returns," and I'll probably keep borrowing script from the episodes following.
Note 2/12/05 – I just reread this chapter and decided it needed a little editing. Nothing major was changed, just the wording of a few sentences and some clarifications on who spoke in the bookstore.