CHAPTER 12

Rory peaked at her reflection on the mirror one more time before sweeping her hair back in loose rings. After her long talk with Paris the night before, she decided she wasn't going to be a victim anymore. She was taking swift measures to let everyone know that she doesn't need a man next to her to be happy.

It had been two and a half weeks since the rendezvous. She tried to appear unaffected with what happened between her and Tristin but she knew she wasn't fooling anyone. She suffered from a broken heart as she watched Marty bloom like someone truly in love.

She stared at him as he talked about his plans of getting into Oxford or Cambridge to be with Kaylee. He didn't care about the expenses that would leave him a pauper until the day he died. He was a man in love.

"So, I guess it's time for us to make that pact, huh?" Marty teased.

"Which one?" Rory turned to him quizzically.

"The one that if we find ourselves thirty and alone, we have to look up each other and just marry each other," he stated. "That way, we can live in the same house, not worry about blind dates set by our parents and we get to throw empty beer cans at the kids playing on our lawn."

"Do I get to wear an afghan shawl?" Rory pictured herself humorously.

"Did you make it?" he asked.

"Have you ever seen me with a crochet hook and thread?" Rory laughed, mocking him with the rhetorical question.

"Okay, so you have your mom's shawl but yeah, if you want to wear it," he chuckled.

It was one of the better laughs Rory had in days. Indeed, should she make another promise that could eventually blow up in her face?

"Sure," she said hesitantly. "What's the worst thing that could happen? I mean, you're going to be married to Kaylee with two and a half kids speaking with cute English accents."

"You're too funny," Marty said in jest, bumping her on the shoulder with his.

They both stared at their books, silence occupying the room once more.

"You'll never be alone, you know," Marty said in hushed tones.

"Rory flashed him a sad smile, "You wouldn't either."

Tristin became a taboo subject after the first time Marty brought him up the night she found out that he walked out on her and what could've been between them. It's not from Marty's lack of trying. It was from self-pitying.

"Rory, you are going to be late for the opening if you keep on primping!" Paris bellowed from behind the door.

"I'm coming!" Rory yelled back the response. She took a deep breath and made her grand appearance.

"What do you think?" she asked her one-man audience.

Paris was speechless. Paris wasn't the type that gushed but she did. "You look—stunning!"

"Why, thank you!" Rory took the compliment, twirling right in front of her roommate.

Rory decided to wear a dark red number, form fitting and very feminine. The soft, gauzy fabric just barely touched her knees, making the cloth whisper while she walked. The engine red strappy sandals and painted toes made her feel like a siren.

"Are you sure you're going to an art opening and not a hot date?" Paris teased.

"Yes, mom," she teased her roommate once more. "Last I checked, you were supposed to be there, too."

Paris delayed with her response. "I will be. I just have to take care of some things downtown before heading to the gallery. Besides," she segued, "Tanh wants to explain a certain piece to you that I've seen it already."

"How come you got to take a peak and I didn't?" Rory whined.

"Because you've been studying too hard," Paris reminded her. She took Rory's black coat draped on the chair and handed it to her best friend. "Here. I'll see you tonight."

Rory wrinkled her eyebrows. "Okay, see you tonight!" She left the apartment with Paris letting out a sigh of relief.

It didn't take her long to get to the Architectural Building where the exhibit was taking place. However, she hesitated in taking her first step into the grand hall. Thankfully, someone was around to make her welcome.

"Rory, over here! I want to introduce you to some friends of mine," Alex, Tanh's former flame invited her over.

Rory smiled and casually walked over the group and joined in the small talk.

oooo0-----0ooooo-------

Tristin didn't know what he was doing in the hall. He should've listened to instinct and bolted but he was rooted on the spot. After all, he promised Paris.

Paris. How is it that she is always involved when things happen between him and Rory?

"You cannot just leave Rory like that," she chided him several nights ago. Leave it to Paris. She drove all the way to Rhode Island just to give him a piece of her mind.

"I didn't-," he got cut off.

"Yes, you did. The girl was crying all weekend!" Paris lied. Rory hadn't opened up to her about the night she and Tristin shared. Paris knew that the intimate encounter was one Rory would share with her when the time was right. And from her actions that Friday, things were awry. Her roommate moped a large portion of the weekend after coming back from her mother's but the fib seemed to illicit the response she was going for at that moment.

He did feel guilty. "It wasn't my intention."

"Why did you leave?" Paris asked solemnly.

Tristin hesitated before responding. "I don't know."

"That's a load of crap and you know it," she spat out. "She loves you. She always had and I think you at least owe her an explanation."

"She was in love with Marty and I was the rebound," Tristin fought back. "Besides, she could've called if she really wanted to talk."

"You are a nitwit if you think she's going to call. Girls don't call boys," Paris reminded him.

He snorted while he paced like a caged animal.

"She doesn't sleep around, Tristin," Paris raised her voice, for once thankful that they were having the argument in the confines of his room. "She hasn't since Logan and that's almost two years!"

"Not even Marty?" Tristin snarled.

"Especially Marty," Paris calmly responded. "I heard about what happened between you and Summer and she's not like that."

Tristin was left speechless. Paris stood up and put her coat back on. "I really don't know what happened between the two of you but you owe it to yourself to talk to her."

She pulls out a postcard from her coat pocket. "Here. Be there."

He studied the card. It was Tanh's invite to the exhibition.

"It's been a long time since I've last seen you and her happy. Don't be miserable because you let your damned pride get in the way," Paris whispered before walking out the door.

He dragged himself around the vast room staring at various pieces of art presented. Sculptures, sketches and paintings surrounded him but be wasn't interested.

Then he stumbled onto Tanh's work.

He was rather impressed with the abstract artworks he had put on display. Reds clashed with the blues. Greens melded with yellows. Anger and beauty and stillness shouted from the canvas despite its chaotic appearance.

Tristin smirked and moved on.

He chuckled when he saw a charcoal sketch of himself; rather surprised at the subtle effect of highlights and shadows he had cast over the contours of his body. He admired how he did a partial sketch of his naked form and yet chose several angles and moods of his face as a border around his work.

Finally, he reached his camera work. Some of the photos were comparable to the Ansel Adams of the photographic world but none could compete with the digital arts media he made.

The piece rendered him speechless.

oooo0--------0oooo----------------

Rory was engrossed in conversation when a hand nestled at the small of her back. She froze knowing the feel so intimately.

"Ace, so nice to see a friendly face in a place like this," Logan's husky voice made her shiver.

"Logan," she greeted, plastering a smile on her face, "Fancy meeting you here."

"Yeah. Had to cover this thing so that dad can see I got a byline before leaving this hell hole," he admitted. The hand on her back wandered to her side and cupped her waist lovingly, redirecting her away from the crowd after he made excuses for them to leave the group.

"What if I wanted to stay?" Rory asked heatedly as she matched his unhurried strides.

"I know when you're bored, Rory," he smiled affectionately. "Remember, we dated a few moons ago."

He found her a seat next to the open bar serving champagne and sangria for drinks.

"So where's your bodyguard?" Logan eyed the room filling up with professors, students and casual art collectors.

"I don't know what you mean," Rory evaded his question as she took a sip of her beverage.

"Tall, blonde, goes by the name of Tristin DuGrey?" he asked, polishing off his drink.

"I know you didn't come here just to catch up with someone who tried to rearrange your face," Rory mocked, egging him with the embarrassing brawl that took place weeks ago.

"I give it to him," he said, rubbing his jaw. "He delivers a mean sucker punch."

"I'll pass on the compliments," Rory responded smugly.

"So he is around," Logan said in victory.

"Why are you so intent on finding out whether he's here or not?" Rory pestered him.

Logan set his glass over the flat surface. "Because I want you back."

Rory choked on her drink. "Run that by me again?"

"You heard me, Rory," he threatened darkly. "I want you back."

Rory felt goose bumps travel up and down her bare arms after Logan's confessions. Years ago, she might have said yes. But after the degradation and humiliation of not being good enough, she realized that she had to run away from him. Fast.

"I am not a toy that you discard and then take back the moment you see another kid play with it, Huntzberger."

Rory deposited the half filled glass on the table and left him standing, mumbling an excuse. She didn't know where she was headed but she was getting there in record speed.

"Rory, wait!" she heard Logan call out.

Fresh tears sprang from the corner of her eyes. Damn it! This is not what I expected!

It was like her feet knew where to take her. All of a sudden, she felt like she was surrounded by strength. Her eyes looked up at the canvases around her and found herself staring at Tristin's profile.

There he stood, strong and arrogant. The jaunting chin gave away his antagonism. His eyes gave away his pain. Her fingers itched to touch the length of his thigh to the muscle of his well-sculpted buttocks, if only to remind her of the last time they shared together.

She had to tear her gaze away from the parchment. She had to forget Tristin. Her eyes focused on the photos. Roads, cars, feet. To the untrained eye, they were random. To Rory, she knew it meant a destination.

Rory was drawn to the digital media piece entitled Loneliness. From afar, the word end formed; a third of the 'e' looked like it got hacked off at its crook. The last two letters floated precariously in an angle like someone used an old typewriter and didn't know how to center the paper right.

But when she got closer, the typewriter face was filled with black and white photos of her when she used to pose for Tanh when they first met. Close up shots of her eyes and fingers, her lips and ears peppered the white canvas. Intertwined with those snap shots were photos of Tristin; laughing, gazing. Parts of him also littered the white sheet. But what struck Rory the most were shots of them together. She doesn't remember them being taken but she remembered how alive she felt then.

That snowstorm brought something else than a day of hanging out. It taught her how to live.

They laughed, they spoke. She was vulnerable and wasn't afraid to admit it. He stroked her hair while she rested on his midsection. She remembered how she wanted to kiss him so badly. She was disappointed with herself for over thinking rather than doing it.

How poetic of Tanh to use the word and yet use the visuals of something that was ironically opposite of what it meant. Loneliness.

"Rory, I was talking to you," Logan chided her like a child.

She spun around to look at him. "Funny, I thought it was a one way conversation!"

Logan grunted in frustration until he realized where they stood. Pictures of Tristin made him see red.

"He can't give you what I can," he boasted.

"Is that so?" Rory asked in hushed angry tones. "Are you referring to the cutting words saying, 'I'm not good enough?' 'I'm not smart enough?'"

"You're taking my words out of context," he coughed up an excuse.

"Well, tell me then what you mean," Rory challenged him. The fire in her eyes seared through him.

"This!" he grumbled.

His hand cradled the back of her head while his arm snaked around her waist to crush her body against his. The kiss was bold and aggressive. There was no kindness to the branding he tried to enforce on her. Her arms tried to push him away from her when she heard the timber of a voice she had wanted to hear for so long.

"Excuse me," Tristin responded before walking away in fury.

"Logan, let me go!" Rory was less polite this time.

"Rory, you can't tell me that the kiss didn't mean a thing to you," Logan queried.

Rory took a step back away from him and fluffed her hair away from her face. A smile broke on her face before she trotted off. "It did. I hope you get your story tonight!"

In moments, Rory broke her own rule and started running.

oooo0-----0ooooo--------------

Idiot! Tristin muttered to himself.

He rushed to the coatroom and gathered his belongings without looking back. A rush of confusion swept over him as he saw her once more. Thrice he tried approaching her, not knowing what to say. She flitted from group to group, smiling and laughing like it was her own party.

He saw the misery in her eyes despite the broad smile. He wanted to change all that and make things right.

Until Logan came around.

Tristin watched from the shadows as Logan led her away. The touches, the whispers. There was an air of conceit and possession that made Rory uncomfortable. That was when she got up and rushed towards Tanh's display.

It didn't take Logan long to catch up with her, whirl her around and kiss her. That irritated him more than ever.

"Tristin, wait!" he heard her call out after him. The clicks of her heels echoed in the empty hallway.

Her plea fell on deaf ears.

He tossed his coat in the car carelessly before driving away. The tires screeched as he peeled out of the parking lot. He is done with this place.

oooo0-------0oooo---------------

Rory was done playing games. After the stupid stunt Logan pulled, Rory knew what she had to do.

Tristin's car was halfway gone when she got into her Prius. She was not going to let him go this time around.

She didn't know how fast she was going but she was rather surprised that she kept up with Tristin. She was just moments behind him when she saw him get out of his car and walk into his fraternity house.

"Tristin, wait!" she called out once more. He still pretended that he didn't hear her.

Rory was too ticked off to care about the cold breeze accompanying the descent of the evening March sun.

She ran up the steps that led to the main door. There was no way she was turning back now.

"Tristin Anthony DuGrey, I didn't drive all the way here for you to turn your back on me," she called out to him as he ascended the steps to the second story of the building.

Oohs erupted around the house and Tristin was frozen in his spot.

"Why did you follow me?" Tristin asked. His voice was cold and distant.

"Because I know a good thing when it happens and you left me," Rory confessed as hot tears burned her eyes. "I wasn't going to let you do that to me again."

"What about Logan?" he whirled around to face her.

"What about him?" Rory asked.

"You were kissing him!" he accused.

"He kissed me. He wanted me back and I said no," she acknowledged as she closed the gap between them. "I hoped you were going to be there because I wanted to clear the air between us and I was scared and ..."

Tristin got lost in her rambling, watching the emotions flash across her face. He met her halfway and stole her breath in one kiss.

He could hear their onlookers cheer them on from the banisters and the common rooms as he planted his hands on the sides of her face. He felt her delicate fingers caress his heated torso from under his coat. Her lips branded him. His faint cologne drove her wild.

Tristin broke the kiss and hurried her up the stairwell to his room despite the groans of disappointment that marked the end of the show.

Tristin resumed his spot on her lips when he closed the door and pinned her against it.

"Tell me you didn't come here to torture me," he whispered. "Tell me," he kissed, accentuating the meaning, "that I'm not your rebound guy."

"I wanted to tell you," she kissed back as she unbuttoned his shirt, "that I think I loved you the moment you shared the bed with me when we got snowed in."

He crushed her in his arms and swirled her around the room. She shrieked as he dropped her on her back on his bed.

"So why did you still go on that date with Marty?" he asked. His hand started caressing her stocking-clad legs. "Just the idea drove me batty!"

"Because he asked and I already said yes," she stated. She was silently going mad with him playing with the clips on her garter belt. "I bet you would be upset if your date turned you down on the last minute and she was your best friend."

"No one turns DuGrey down," he growled, peppering her face with tiny kisses.

She giggled at his statement, letting him slide on the account that they were both delirious. In slow, agonizing seconds, they helped each other out of their clothing. Her expensive red dress was a heap on the floor while his Kenneth Cole suit laid crumpled next to it.

"So, I was thinking," Rory mumbled long enough before Tristin sequestered her lips once more. "I'm still trying to decipher what you told me during the storm."

"What? De marche à côté de vous est plus belle que toutes mes rêves?" he grunted when she pulled away.

"Yes," she admitted. "Something about walking?"

"Walking beside you is lovelier than any dream," Tristin translated, kissing her knuckles.

"Aw, that's so sweet!" Rory swooned.

"Well, the quote was supposed to be "Waking up beside you" but that would've meant you would've slept with Marty and I didn't want him doing that with you," he admitted.

Rory took the pillow and bashed it against him. "You're too funny."

"And I am possessive," he growled.

Rory took his kisses in stride as she played dangerously with the hem of his boxers.

"Do you think waking up next to me is better than any dream?" Rory asked.

"God, yes," he moaned as Rory teased him. He really didn't like leaving her the night they slept together even when he broke in cold sweat.

"I can show you a thing or two that is better than that," she insinuated as she straddled him.

"Then you better stop telling me, woman," he alluded.

That she did.

END

Thanks to all who waited this long for the ending. Work got in the way and it's only now I was able to get this ending typed up and proofread.

Lioness, I tried emailing you but all my messages came back. I hope the answer suffices.

Gilmoregurl, email me your addy and I'll explain the Tristan/Dristan comment.

See you all in the next tale!

M