A/N- Sorry for the long time between updates! I've officially had the most insane month since the last one. I've turned Sweetest 17 (as I've dubbed it), gotten my driver'slicense, gotten my car (AKA my red Mustang convertible, Sally), applied to college, gotten into the college I've wanted to go to since I was nine, gotten accepted into a program with one of my classes to go to Europe for 9 days this summer, gotten my report card, been praised for my report card, my kids came for the first time in preschool, wrote a brand new story, and I'm pretty sure I went shopping at some point in there.

A/N 2- Questions- I have no plans to have Medina screw up Luke and Lorelai, but I do plan on incorporating him someway, somehow... I would like to point out that I adore Jess and I love writing him into the KRP, so umm coughdon'tworrycough... IDK about the Ryan and his biological family thing, At least not soon, cuz it's kinda close to the Jess storyline, but I'll see if I can work something out... Seniors are twelfth grade. Juniors are eleventh grade. Sophomores are tenth. Freshmen are ninth... Uhh, I haven't given thought to Seth and a band. Could be a really funny storyline. Great idea. I'll see what I can do.

Dedicated to: Everyone who knew that the show was Avenue Q, which I'm going to see on Valentine's day with my Humanities teachers. To: SmartiePantz, my ever-reliable Chelsea (Sea4Shoes), and my BeeBee (who I miss since she left lunch for Nutrition for Sports. Dork. I 3 and E> you anyway.) I'm sorry if you were the person who submitted your answer in an email cuz I can't seem to find that email. To you, too!

New Challenge: (A sorta easy one, for me and my friends at least) What movie are Ava and Jess talking about the first time they meet at the park? ("The girl fights between and are not high on my list of shockers.") Same rules! Leave it in your review! Good luck!

Disclaimer: See nothing. Do nothing. Own nothing.

Operation: Operations

Rory blew on the pizza before biting into it, but it provided little refuge from the steam coming off of the cheese.

"Ow!" she cried, throwing her slice back onto her Finding Nemo paper plate. Ryan looked up from his own plate to watch her fan off her tongue,

"That's not gonna do anything."

"Weh, yuh dot heppig!" Seth coughed on his pizza, Lane nodded, and Ryan narrowed his eyes at her,


"Yuh dot heppig!" Rory exclaimed, her tongue still hanging out of her mouth.

"I'm sorry, I don't speak 'Impatient-with-pizza'."

"She said you're not helping," Lane explained, examining her own slice.

"Oh... How am I not helping?"

"Yuh adser. Ull ah cah do ite dow ith low oth by thung!" Ryan, confused, looked to Lane.

"Your answer didn't help. All she can do right now is blow off her tongue."

"Oh. Ok." All fell silent for a second, and in that brief second without jovial laughter, it was obvious, even to an outsider, that something was amiss within the Kelly Road Posse.

Instead of acknowledging it, Ryan flipped on the TV and tuned it to Curb Your Enthusiasm.

"Oh! I love this show!" Rory exclaimed, her speech slowly returning to normal.

They all watched with vague interest, mentioning,

"Larry's head is especially shiny this week, isn't it?"

"Whatever happened to the racist dog? They had it for one week and then it was gone."

"You know, this was the show that first really made me want to go see 'The Producers' on Broadway."

After a half hour, when the "Doo-doo-doo dodododo" of Curb's theme filled the room, Seth maneuvered himself gently from his position underneath Lane, who'd laid herself down on top of him as they watched TV. They were all quiet for a minute before Lane confessed,

"It's not the same without Jess, is it?" They all shook their heads and Rory wiped at the tears threatening to spill over. Ryan pulled her close and kissed her temple.

Since Jimmy had returned to town three weeks earlier, the Danes family had been walking on eggshells.

Jess had returned to calling Luke and Lorelai by their first names, calling them 'mom and dad' only on occasion, and only while muttering. He refused to open up and talk to anyone, much less Rory, who he sent passing fretful glances to. He'd become quieter on the bus, and even Emory, Ella, and Charlie had expressed their concerns.

"Look, Rory," Ella had said, "We're not really sure what exactly is going on with your family right now, and believe us, we're not prying. But Jess is..."

"He's not being Jess," Emory had finished.

Rory had thanked them, told them that the family was going through some issues, and that, if a plan were to be put in motion, she'd make sure to include them.

"Hey, Rory, don't cry," Seth said soothingly.

"I'm sorry, guys."

"Don't be sorry," Ryan admonished gently, "It's hard for all of us." They all knew that Rory had spent much of the past three weeks in her room, writing poetry to express her thoughts as she cried.

"It's unnecessarily hard." Ryan nodded,

"I know." They all fell silent for a moment until Seth suggested slowly,

"I think that it's time... to set a plan in motion." They all looked at him,

"Now?" Seth nodded,

"Jess will be going away to California in what? Two weeks? We need to do it before he goes away." They all looked tentatively at Rory; her emotions were the only thing that could hinder their plan of action,

"Seth's right. I'll get my notebook to start organizing."


Kirsten and Lorelai sat at a table at Kandy's, sipping at strawberry-banana smoothies.

"C'mon, Lorelai. I haven't seen you relax in three weeks."

"I've relaxed!" Lorelai protested. Behind them, a motorbike roared by and Lorelai jumped.

"Is that why you just hit the ceiling from a moped riding by?"

"I did not!"

"Yes you did! Lorelai, you're completely on edge," she said as soothingly as possible.

"I just... it's been kinda difficult for us lately. My baby.. he..."

"I know," Kirsten assured, "But honey, if you're all miserable at home, he's not gonna want to come home. He's not gonna want to have the whole family be miserable because of him."

"The whole family's not miserable."

"Your husband stubbed his toe the other day and let out a string of curses that would put Pulp Fiction to shame."

"I'm getting too old for this shit," Lorelai grinned. They both fell into a comfortable silence until Kirsten looked her best friend in the eye,

"Hey, how about we have an adults' night?"


"An adults' night. You, me, Sandy, and Luke go out to a nice restaurant to eat. Let the kids stay home and have a teenager night. Just get away from everything for one evening." Lorelai looked at her cup, then back at her best friend,

"I'll talk to Luke about it."


Jess sat on the swing at the playground, kicking at the dirt below his feet, watching as four children, two boys and two girls, played happily together. He listened in on the eight-year-olds' gleeful, thoughtful conversation.

"No, Lexi. The red block's bigger. It goes on the bottom."

"But Noah, then it's not in color order." The little boy, Noah, furrowed his brow,

"You're right... hmm... what should we do?"

"I don't know. I mean, it'll fall over if we fix it, but it looks wrong if we do."

"We could just knock it over and do something else," another little boy suggested.

"No, Ben!" Another little girl smacked at him,

"What is wrong with you!" Ben looked at the little girl, rubbing at the bruise forming on his arm,

"Ow! Charlie!"


"Charlotte Anne Griffin, you..."

Jess tore himself away from the kids' conversation when he heard a tiny cough from behind him.

He turned around to find another eight-year-old, her hair curly, blonde, shoulder-length, and pulled into a tight pony-tail through a Yankee's baseball cap. Her green tank top and cargo knee-length shorts matched her flip-flops, which she tapped impatiently on the floor.

"Excuse me, Scruffy. You're sitting in my swing." Jess glanced at her,

"Public playground, kid."

"I always sit at that swing when I come here."

"I've been here for six years."

"I've been here every day for the past seven months." Jess sighed and stood up, moving to the next swing over.


"No problem," Jess was about to continue kicking at the ground, but the little girl watched him intently. Sensing the eyes on him, Jess became aggravated, "What?"

"You're old," the girl stated plainly.


"You're old."

"I'm sixteen."

"To be at the playground, Amelia Bedelia." Jess looked her in the eye,

"Who determines what age is too old for a playground?" The little girl waved her hand across his face,

"Look around you. Everyone here's twelve or younger."


"You're like Cady Heron- a big kid acting like a little kid. What, were you homeschooled in Africa until now?"

"You've seen that movie?"

"Please. I've seen The Exorcist. The girl fights between the Plastics and Janice are not high on my list of shockers... though that was a funny movie," Jess rolled his eyes, "Why are you here?"

"On this planet?"

"On this swingset." Jess shrugged,

"I needed a place to think."

"You've been here a lot lately. You've been thinking a lot."

"Who are you, Dr. Phil?" Jess bit.

"No. Just thought I could maybe help you," the little girl recoiled. Jess sighed,

"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to snap at you. I'm just... going through some stuff right now."

"It's ok."

"I'm Jess, by the way."

"Avery Grace," she held out her hand to shake his.

"Avery Grace, huh? That's your first name?" Avery Grace shrugged,

"First and middle. But it's what everybody calls me."

"You like it?"

"It's alright."

"You have a nickname?"

"No. No one's ever given me one."

"Why not?"

"You're getting off topic."

"With reason."

"You know, I'm a good ear." Jess looked away before beginning warily,

"What's your family like?"

"Mine? Not the Brady Bunch."

"Meaning?" Avery Grace squinted up at the sun,

"My mom left when I was three. She ran off with an Italian businessman named Rodolfo."

"You hear from her?"

"Three times a year. My birthday, Christmas, and the beginning of the school year..." She fell silent for a moment, and Jess was about to tell her that it was ok if she didn't want to continue, but she forged on, "My dad hired a nanny. Then another. Then another. None of them stuck around long." Jess thought of Lorelai and her nannies from childhood,

"How come?"

"We move around too much. They couldn't deal with it."


"And my dad... he tries. Honest to G-d, he tries, but no one ever said that just because you try it has to turn out your way... He doesn't know what to do with me a lot of the time. At this point, he's just looking to keep food in the fridge and clothes on our backs. Emotional contact isn't his thing."


"Wise beyond my years? I know. I've been told. It's just, when you move around as much as I do, you don't get to make friends that last long, and after a while, you just kinda give up. So books became my best friend. And movies. They were portable and there when I needed them."

"I know where you're coming from. I've been reading a lot lately."


"I... You know Luke's Diner?" Avery Grace nodded,


"Well, my da... uncle owns it. When I was ten, he took me in. And things went really well, until a... complication arose..." He conveniently forgot to mention the adoption which, to his knowledge, was still happening, though put on pause.

"What kind of complication?"

"My birth father showed up."


"And Luke didn't tell me about it, but they said he was going to and... I don't know who to believe, and I've hurt everyone, and this whole situation is lose/lose."

"I think you need to talk to Luke about it. Before you both get more hurt." Jess looked at her incredulously,

"Luke's not much of a talker. Not about stuff like that. When my sister fell asleep with her boyfriend at the dance studio, he wouldn't talk to her for two days."

"Your sister? From the same birth father?"

"Oh, no," Jess blushed, "My cousin, I mean." Avery Grace eyed him with interest,

"Do you have any brothers and sisters from the birth father?" Jess shook his head,

"No. Not that I know of, anyway." They were both quiet before Avery Grace contributed,

"I still think you need to talk to Luke, but if you can't I'll be around to talk to." Jess grinned,

"Thanks." They were both startled by a heavy Brooklyn accent calling over the throngs of children,

"Avery Grace! Avery Grace, it's time to go now!" Avery Grace stood up,

"That's my nanny."

"I figured. You're the only Avery Grace at this playground. I'm pretty sure, at least."

"It's been nice talking to you."

"You too."

"See you around."

"Yeah. I'll see you later, Ava."

"Ava?" The little girl's eyes suddenly shone with excitement, "A nickname?" Jess grinned,

"Yeah. I thought we could try it out. If you want to, that is."

"Oh, I do. Thanks, Jess! See you later!"

"Bye, Ava."


Rory sat on her bed, her house phone up to her ear,

"Yeah, so we'll get Emory to call him... No, Ryan... No, Ella's gonna come back here with the food... Right..." Rory looked up at the knock on the door. She quickly closed her notebook and called out, "Come in!" Poking his head in first, Luke coughed nervously,

"Who are you on the phone with?"


"Ok," he stepped into her room and sat down on the toy chest at the foot of her bed.

"What's up?"

"Rory, Saturday night, Sandy and I are taking Kirsten and your mom out to dinner. Kind of a 'forget everything and relax for one night' dinner."

"And you need me to babysit?" Luke shook his head,

"No, no... well, yes, but that's not what I wanted to talk to you about... Look, when we're out... your mom and I don't want you to just be sitting in your room alone the whole night." Definitely not what I was planning, "Invite some friends over. Have a Kelly Road Posse thing. I don't want this whole... incident," Luke said, stuttering over the words, "to control your life. I know you're upset, but we need to continue with life as normal. Ok?"

"Ok, daddy."

"I mean, what happened the other night... it's ok, it just... it shouldn't become habit." Rory glanced down, away from her father's caring, yet incriminating eyes.

The other night Rory had done something she hadn't done since she was seven and was convinced that Jack the Ripper was hiding in her closet.

The clock shone 2:17 am on the night table next to the eldest Danes' bed. They slept peacefully; Hannah and Josh had been sleeping through the night for a while and they took advantage of the somewhat-new development. Luke had his arm wrapped protectively around Lorelai, who frowned in her sleep.

The door creaked open and the small figure of a girl tiptoed in, over to her mother's side of the bed.

"Mom?" No answer. "Mom?" Lorelai's figure stirred,


"Mommy..." Rory choked out.

"Rory? Rory, what's wrong, angel?" Luke, too, had begun to stir,

"Hey, princess. What's the matter?"

"I just... I can't sleep..."

"Why? What's... oh..."

"Yeah," she clutched her robe tighter to herself, "I'm sorry. I didn't want to wake you up, but I just needed to talk to you."

"It's ok, angel. Come sit," Lorelai patted the spot she'd made between herself and her husband and Rory climbed in between her parents.

"I just... can't stop thinking about it," Rory coughed out as she began to sob.

"It's ok, baby. C'mere," Lorelai cradled her eldest daughter in her arms and rocked her like she had when she'd been a baby. Luke rubbed her back and kissed her head through her hair,

"You wanna sleep in here with us tonight, princess?" Rory nodded,

"Is that ok with you guys?"

"Of course. Go to sleep. We'll have time to discuss this in the morning."

"Ok." Lorelai leaned over and kissed Rory's temple,

"Goodnight, sweets. It'll be better in the morning," Rory nodded and leaned over to Luke as Lorelai laid down,

"Daddy," she whispered, "I'm sorry."

"For what, baby?"

"For making this... for making this harder on you. I know you already have so much to deal with about the adoption and everything but... I just... I'm not coping well with it... I'm sorry to be another burden on you..."

"Hey," scolded Luke softly, "If this is difficult on you, it's difficult on me."

"But you already..."

"Hey," he lifted her chin up so she looked him in the eye, "You're my kid and I love you more than anything in this world, and if something is hurting you, it's hurting me. You never need to be afraid to tell me something because you're afraid of how it'll affect me. My only concern is you." Rory began sobbing,

"I love you daddy."

"I love you too, princess. We'll get through this," he squeezed her tightly and kissed her forehead, "Go to sleep."

Rory looked up into her father's concerned blue eyes and nodded,

"I know. I understand. No more moping."

"There's my girl," he leaned forward and kissed her on the forehead, "I'll be feeding your sister if you need me."

"Ok." Luke stood up slowly, grinning slightly at her as he walked out the door.

"Who was that?" asked Ryan from the other end.

"My dad."

"Another 'Luke and Rory discuss life' talk?"

"No. This was a 'Luke instructs his daughter not to be a spinster' talk."

"Ah, one of those."

"Yeah. He said that he, my mom, and your parents are going out for dinner on Saturday and that he and mom are worried about my hermit-ness as of late."


"Yup. Apparently, they have no idea what we have planned. Which is for the best, I guess. We don't want them knowing and slipping up. Mom can't keep a secret."

"I know. Remember the surprise party for your dad?"

"Oh yeah. She told him that if he didn't give her coffee, he wasn't going to be invited to his own surprise party."

"I guess my mom doesn't know either, because then she would've told Lorelai about it."

"It's better that way."


"Ok, so Emory's gonna call him and..."


"Fancy seeing you here."

"Hey, Ava." Ava shook her head,

"I'm still not used to not being called 'Avery Grace'."

"Probably because you're not called it all the time... My sis... cous... Hannah, she's almost nine months old. All her life, we've all called her Hannie, Banana, H..."

"This is the third time we've seen each other here and I'm still not used to it."

"Give it time."

"I'd like to meet Hannah," she added quietly

"Yeah? Cuz she tends to have a lot of unidentified fluids flowing out of her at any given moment..." Ava shook her head again,

"I love babies. I have a baby cousin."

"How old?"

"Two, I think. Her name is Kristen. Last time I saw her, she was seven months old."

"Why haven't you seen her since then?"

"My dad, Rick, he's not close with his sister," she quietly.

"Oh..." They were both silent before Ava asked,

"So, what's bothering you today?"

"Blunt much?"

"I'm the Lucy to your Charlie. The doctor is in. Spill."

"Same old... I told you about my friends?"

"No... well, just their names and who they were dating." Jess sighed,

"Well, I moved here when I was ten..."

"That much I knew."

"Ok, and here, pre-made, was this group of best friends. Rory, my si... cous..."

"Just like Hannah."

"Yeah. She had these friends, there was Lane, and Seth and Ryan- they're brothers. You might know them. Their parents own Kandy's." Ava shook her head,

"Don't know them. But sometimes, I'll sneak away and tell my dad that I'm going for a walk and go there. There's this really nice lady there. She's pretty and she has blonde hair and she let me try everything. She said I remind her of 'a younger member of the JRD' or something." Jess grinned,

"The KRP?"

"I think so."

"That's, um, that's us. The KRP. Kelly Road Posse. Seth came up with the name when we were kids. Before I moved here."

"Oh, wow. She thought I reminded her of you guys?" The grin disappeared,

"I guess so."

"So... why are you making that face if you're thinking about your friends?"

"Because... you ever have a feeling that you're an add-on, and that if something happened, you'd be the odd man out? With your friends, I mean?" Ava shrugged,

"I don't really have friends."

"Not even here?"

"The lion, the witch, and the wardrobe are my friends. Even here."

"Not here," Jess said immediately, "You have me, don't you?" Ella grinned,

"Seriously? I'm not just an annoying kid?"

"Nope. In fact, you're the only person I can talk to lately." They were both silent for a moment, kicking at the ground. Jess looked up as Ava suddenly asked,


"Why? My friends are... they're Rory's friends. They're all taking Rory's side."

"Did they tell you that?"

"What? No."

"You've talked to them about it?"

"Not really, no."

"Then how do you know that?"

"I just..." Jess stammered.

"Uh-huh. That's what I thought."

"Look, Ava, stop with this holier-than-thou crap. You don't know everything," he said, his voice rising. Ava stayed calm,

"No. But I know how to get to you."

"Well, why don't you use your psycho-babble bullshit on someone else? I don't need your help!"

"I think you do."

"I think you're the one that needs someone's help. You're eight! Why don't you go play with those kids over there?" He yelled.

"Who? Charlotte, Ben, Lexi, and Noah?" She asked quietly.

"Yeah. Why don't you go bother them!"

"Because... because they don't want me there. They're already a group. I can't break into that... I just... I haven't tried, but I know." Jess watched as the little girl stood up and bustled to grab her stuff.

"What? Ava, what are you..."

"Bye, Jess." He watched as she scrambled away.

"Ava! Av..." He hung his head as she disappeared past the playground. Can't get close to anyone without hurting them, can I?


Lorelai applied blush in the double mirror upstairs in her bathroom. As she closed her eyes, she felt a pair of strong arms wrap around her waist.

"Hey," She greeted quietly, leaning into Luke's chest.

"Hey there. You look beautiful." Lorelai grinned sadly,

"Well, you know. When I'm not with the twins, I take the opportunity not to wear baby-food-proof clothing."

"Yeah? You mean you don't wanna wear your Bangles tour t-shirt out to dinner?"

"Want to is a whole different thing entirely than can."

"You sure you want to do this?" He asked as she turned around to face him.

"Umm... yes. Yes, I am. I need to... We need to get back to life as normal. We've been walking on eggshells and... I just... I need to be happy again, ok? Even if it's just for one night," she wiped at tears threatening to flow over.

"Yeah, yeah. Of course, I'm sorry," he quickly apologized, holding her close. She'd lost weight, he'd noted. And she was crying all the time. So was Rory. Even if Jess was only going away for the summer, they couldn't come to grips with the concept that their family was different now; there was still obvious doubt in their mind that Jess would come home when the summer was over.

Conversations with Jess had become sporadic at best and only included discussion about dinner, schoolwork, and where he was going on weekends and afterschool. There was no discussion with Jess of what they'd done with their friends, what they'd seen on TV, or any good books that any of them were reading.

Luke made a conscious effort to keep the house abuzz in conversation, but only Rory reciprocated, and even that was with a forced normalcy that abruptly ended when Jess entered or exited the room.

"Alright," he said, kissing her quickly, "We're going in fifteen."

"Hey," she said quietly.


"I love you."

"I love you too."


Jess sat at the corner table of the diner, nursing his slice of pie. He couldn't help thinking of the look of utter shock and hurt on Ava's face when he'd told her to leave him alone and go bother the kids her own age; he hadn't meant to say those things, but they'd come out seemingly on their own.

He felt bad; she was the only one who understood him anymore, the only one he could talk to, and he'd upset her. Worse yet, she was an eight-year-old little girl, and he'd upset her.

He remembered when Rory and he had been eight. He was visiting Luke, Lorelai, and Rory for Christmas, and he and Liz were staying in Rory's room, while she stayed in her parents' room with them. One day, he and Rory had been playing together in the den, and she decided that she wanted to watch a movie. She picked up The Little Mermaid and put it into the VCR. Jess laughed through the movie, commenting on and mocking it, as well as making fun of Rory for liking it. Rory had gotten extremely offended and stalked off to her bedroom, slamming the door and not coming out for an hour, despite her family's best efforts.

He didn't hear the bell ring over the diner door and ignored the small footsteps coming toward him.

"Hey," came Ava's tiny voice. He looked up,

"Ava," he breathed, "Look, if you're here to tell me off, you have every right. Go ahead." She shook her head,

"I'm not here to tell you off. You were right. I need friends my own age." Jess silenced his phone as it began to rang. Emory.

"I'm sorry, though. I was out of line. You depended on me as a friend and I let you down."

"It, uh... it wouldn't be the first time a friend has let me down... You at least apologized and stayed and still want to be my friend."

"Well, I want to make it up to you." She grinned shyly,


"Well, how about I get you dinner and dessert?" He looked down at his pie and missed the familiar car driving by. Ella.


"Yeah. I'll even cook it for you. I just... I have to run upstairs and get my apron."

"Can I come up with you?" Jess nodded and the two of them ran upstairs. As they reached the office, Ava stopped,

"Oh, you know what? I forgot my purse downstairs. I'll be right back." Jess disappeared into the office and Ava turned around, but before she could descend the stairs, she saw a blonde head bobbing up towards her.

"What are you doing up here?" she asked the teenage boy, who looked about the same age as Jess. The boy straightened his Kandy's t-shirt,

"I could ask you the same question."

"I'm here with Jess. I'm a friend of his." The blonde boy grinned,

"Are you? Well, then we have something in common. Where is he?" Ava skeptically pointed to the office door. He smiled appreciatively at her, "Thanks." She watched as the blonde boy entered the office, and followed him slowly. "Jess?" he called out.


"Hey! Where've you been?" Jess appeared from behind the wall, clutching an apron,


"You didn't pick up your phone."

"What? You didn't call me."

"Emory did."

"How do you know that?"

"Rory. She called me. She said that Emory's at your house and she needs the Spanish homework, but Rory doesn't know where it is. You need to go home and get it for Em."

"Em? Nobody calls Emory 'Em' except me, Charlie, and Ella..."

"Her closest friends?"

"Well, yeah."

What Jess didn't know was that, over the past three weeks, due to shared concerns over Jess himself, Emory, Charlie, Ella, Rory, Seth, Ryan, and Lane had become increasingly close.

"Um, yeah. I just... there's a girl from school named Emily that I know. 'Em' just kinda slipped."

"Alright, well, Ave, you wanna come with us?" He asked the little girl, standing quietly by the door. Ava shrugged,

"Sure. Just let me get my purse."


"Steaks, medium rare, for everyone, please," Sandy ordered as the man took their menus.

"So," started Kirsten, "What's new with you guys? We haven't been able to see much of each other lately."

"Umm... nothing."

"Oh, c'mon, there's gotta be something to tell us. What about the twins?" Lorelai grinned,

"Josh's new thing is standing. All he wants to do anymore is stand with you supporting him. He gets upset if he can't for too long."

"And his twin sister only wants to talk. She's not at the words yet, but she's getting close," Luke smiled.

"I remember when we watched them last week, she kept going 'babababa.' She's getting close."

"She's trying," Lorelai smiled sadly, "She'll be just like her big sister and bro..." she looked down, "She'll be a literature girl..." Sandy quickly changed the subject,

"And, uh, that Joshy will be a real athlete." Luke forced a grin,

"Yeah. Maybe he'll play softball." Sandy laughed,

"He'll be better than Seth." They all leaned in to console Lorelai as she began to sob,

"I'm sorry... it's just... it's hard. Everything reminds me of the way it used to be. Jess was gonna teach Josh to play softball. Jess was gonna help teach Hannah how to read. Jess was gonna be adopted by the end of this summer."

"Oh, sweetie, it'll all go back to normal," Kirsten said soothingly.

"I know," she breathed, "At least, I hope it will..."

"It will," assured Sandy. They consoled her and Luke pulled her into him.

"Ok, I'm done making a scene in a public place. We wouldn't let our kids get away with it; why should we?" Sandy grinned,

"That's not entirely true. There was that time at that burger place with the really rude waiters when the kids were ten." Lorelai grinned,

"You'd think that waiter never had someone scream at him that they want 'the bottom half of the cow, with it quacking and the bun bleeding'."


Jess, Ryan, and Ava stomped up the front steps and Jess pulled out his keys, unlocking the front door. Both Jess and Ava were taken aback at the appearance of the den.

There were paper streamers hanging everywhere, balloons positioned in corners, and a food spread "King Henry the eighth would be jealous of"(according to Emory) arranged on the table.

"Surprise!" yelled the kids standing around the table.

"What's... what's all this?" Jess asked happily.

"Why, Jess Mariano, this is your life!" Seth and Ryan said together.

"Six years and it's still creepy."

"Come sit, come sit," Rory ushered Jess into an armchair across from the TV. Emory brought him a slice of pizza,

"Eat." Jess took the slice and Powerpuff Girls plate.

"You were in on this?"

"We thought we could help," offered Ella, handing him a cup of soda.

"Where are the..." Lane and Rory coughed,

"Twins are here." Hannah grunted and leaned out of Rory's arms towards Jess.

"Hey, beautiful," Jess smiled at the baby as he pulled her onto his lap. Lane shifted Joshua, who had reached out to Ryan, and she cleared her throat,

"Jess? Who's your friend?"

"Oh!" Jess jumped up, clutching the baby tightly, "Guys, this is Avery Grace."

"Avery Grace?"

"Well, Jess calls me Ava," she offered in a tiny voice, "You can call me Ava if you want."

"Alright," Rory said, "Well, Ava, welcome to our house. You should meet everyone. That's Ryan and Seth..."

"They're brothers," everyone looked at her. She explained, "Jess has told me about you guys."

"Oh. Ok... Do you need..."

"Well, actually, can I try?"

"Go ahead." Ava walked up to the Cohen brothers,

"Seth. Ryan," She walked to Lane, "You're Lane. You're Seth's girlfriend," Lane nodded and smiled, "You're... Rory. You and Ryan are boyfriend and girlfriend," Ryan and Rory nodded, dumbfounded, "Hannah. Joshua. Charlie," She stopped at Ella and Emory standing side-by-side. They each wore a t-shirt and jeans, with their hair down, "Now, one of you is Ella and the other is Emory."

"You said it right," Charlie said, his mouth agape, "Most kids your age call her Emily."

"Why would I? It's not her name," she stared at the two girls, taking in their appearance. After a moment, she said decidedly, "You're Emory. You're Ella," as she pointed at the correct girl upon saying her name.

"You're good," nodded Emory as Charlie put his arm around her.

"I try."

"So, um... Jess, don't think we just bought you pizza for no reason." Rory said, stepping up and sitting Jess back on the armchair.

"Really? I thought it was 'buy Jess pizza for no reason day'."

"Once a year, baby. That happens once a year," Ella smiled patronizingly at him. Jess sniggered,

"Ok, so why did you guys buy me pizza, then?"

"Well," Seth said in his best announcer voice, "because, Jess Mariano, this is your life!"

"This is my what?"

"Your life. Lord, you're slow," Emory rolled her eyes, grinning at Ava's amused giggle.

"What did you..."

"Slow and impatient," Lane played with the DVD player.

"Well, if you'd wait for us to explain!" Rory said in mock-frustration, "Sit back, relax, and watch the video of you, cut together by our very own Charlie Daniels."

"And his lovely girlfriend," called Emory.

"And Emory," Ryan nodded.

"Now, Jess Mariano, this is your life!" Jess turned his attention to the TV, where Emory had put in a DVD labeled "Jess."

"On October 28, 1987, the Danes and Mariano families welcomed baby Jess into the world," the video, in Rory's voice, read, "He was a cute little boy, smart and mischievous. He was always into something, whether it was his mother's purse or his uncle's dishwasher at the diner." Pictures of baby Jess with Luke, Liz, and Miss Patty flashed by, "When he was two, his uncle got engage to a crazy woman named Lorelai. From the engagement, Jess got an instant companion- Lorelai's daughter, Rory."

"But then Jess moved away to New York City," came Lane's voice, "and he and Rory only got to see each other on holidays," Pictures of little Jess and Rory glashed by- them being read to by Luke, little Rory's eyelids drooping, Rory and Jess dancing together, Rory and Jess watching cartoons in their pajamas on a Saturday morning. They were accompanied by stray shots of Jess, looking lonely, in the apartment in New York City, standing solemnly in front of his apartment complex, sadly reading a book on the overstuffed sofa in his old living room.

"When Jess was ten, he was sent to live with his Uncle Luke and Aunt Lorelai. He met the Cohens' and wasn't too fond of the Cohen brothers at first."

"I love 'The Big Lebowski'," Jess grinned.

"Shut up and watch your life flash before your eyes."

"He called them 'slime' and hurt their feelings," Seth's voice announced sadly.

"Seth, how many times do I have to tell you not to cry over that?"


"But he quickly got over that as he, Seth, and Ryan joined together to kick Dean's ass." They all laughed when they heard Kirsten's voice,

"Seth, don't say ass!"

"I think I can hear you rolling your eyes at mom," Ryan, shifting Joshua, said to Seth.

"He became increasingly close with Rory, Seth, Ryan, and Lane, and a new incarnation of the Kelly Road Posse was born." The professional portrait of Seth, Jess, Ryan, and Rory, along with candids of the kids in their Grease, Willy Wonka, and Wizard of Oz costumes before, during, and after their shows, Lane always popping in, wearing her "crew" shirt.

"When Jess was fourteen, his aunt got pregnant. Though nervous at first, when the twins were born, Jess fell instantly in love," Jess squeezed Hannah gently and she laid her head back on his chest as a montage of Jess with the twins and other assorted people flew by.

"This past September, Jess was accepted into prestigious Chilton Academy. While the uniform is kinda dorky, Jess has been doing extremely well in the new situation." Photos of Jess, Ryan, Rory, and Seth in their Chilton uniforms, in separate photos looking solemn, then overacting being intellectual, then smiling, and then acting ridiculous. Emory nudged Charlie in the side,

"Remember when we did that, baby?"

"Did what?"

"Went to a photo booth in our Chilton uniforms and bastardized them in such a way that Headmaster Charleston would expel us on the spot if he saw it?" Charlie rolled his eyes and ignored her, putting his arm around her shoulder. Rory excused herself and ducked into the kitchen as the tv kept rolling,

"Recently, Jess encountered some controversy. While the present may difficult, his closest friends know that Jess knows that they'll always be there to support him- no matter what happens."

The movie ended with two shots- one of him with Rory, Ryan, Seth, and Lane, collapsing on top of each other and obviously screaming with laughter, and the other of Jess and Charlie sitting in the middle of Ella's couch, Ella and Emory on either side of the couch, their feet up and resting on the boys' laps.

Jess smiled, feeling relieved and shooting a wink at Ava, and stood up, pulling Hannah closer to him.

"Thanks, guys. This... really, this was great."

"Did you like the acting? Cuz I thought Ryan was a little dry," Seth winced as Ryan punched him in the arm, "Ow! I'm telling dad!"

"Dad's not here."

"He will be."

"What are you, eight?"

"Hey!" Ava protested.

"Yo! Itchy, Scratchy! Can I take this with me?" Jess interrupted.

"The DVD? Yeah. Where are you going?"

"When I go to California. Can I take it with me this summer?"

They all turned at the clatter of a plate on the floor and watched as Rory ran out of the room, tears rolling down her cheeks.

"Rory..." Ryan called, handing Joshua to Emory and then quickly running after his girlfriend. Jess looked down,

"I just..."

"We know," comforted Ella, wrapping her arms around him.


"Hey, Jess," Ava greeted quickly as she stepped onto the front porch.

"I, uh... I should really..."

"Yeah, it's late. Your dad's probably worried about you."

"Ok... well, uh... Jess..."


"You need to talk to them."

"They know what's going on."

"Not them. Your family."


"To explain."

"To explain what?" She stared at him and rolled her eyes,

"Explain, Jess. Don't act stupid."


"You're lucky, Jess. You have great friends, a great family from what I've seen. I hope I have that one day." Jess grinned,

"You will. You're off to a good start."

"Yes. I am. But I can't look up to you if you're not being you." Jess stared her down,

"You're a smart kid, Avery Grace."

"Ava," she corrected. Jess grinned,

"You really should get going."

"Yeah," a pregnant pause hung in the air, "Jess?"

"Yeah, Ave?" Ava leaned forward and quickly hugged Jess around the shoulders,

"You're a good big brother. Hannah and Josh are lucky to have you."


"Rory?" Jess approached quietly, stepping on to the back porch.

"I'll go," Ryan said, scrambling to his feet.

"No," Rory protested weakly, "Don't."

"I'll be right inside. You two... you need your space." Rory nodded and tilted her head up to quickly kiss Ryan for strength.

"Thanks, man," Jess said appreciatively.

"Don't mention it." Ryan disappeared into the house and Rory looked away,

"It's getting late. Ava should probably go home."

"She, uh... she went home already."

They were both silent for a moment until Jess spoke up,

"You know why I have to do this, right?"

"Jess, don't..."

"You do know why, right?"

"I don't want to..."

"Answer the question." Rory sighed,

"To... let your fath... your biological fa... to let Jimmy get to know you..."



"No. I'm not doing this for him."


"I need to do this for me"

"Why? You have a family. You're doing great without him!"

"I need to know him," Jess said quietly, "Not for a father. I know I already have one. Luke's the closest thing to a father I've ever had."

"Luke... Dad is your father."

"Emotionally, yes. But I need to know Jimmy. I need to see what he's like... what I'll be like."

"Jess, you won't..."

"Personality traits are inherited, Rory. I need to know what to look out for. Other than the whole 'running away when your baby is a week old' thing. That one I'm already veering away from."

"But mom and dad..."

"Have shaped me to be who I am now, but what about after? What if he's an asshole and I start acting like a jerk to everyone? Or what if he's a pushover? I need to stop it before it starts."

"You already have a personality, Jess. Knowing or not knowing Jimmy isn't gonna change that." Jess shrugged,

"Either way. I also have a few things I need to get off my chest to him."

"A few choice words?" Rory giggled.

"You could say that," Jess grinned.


"Yeah, Ror?"

"Just don't have too much fun without us." He pulled her into his arms,

"I don't think I could."


Luke warmed a bottle for Joshua before he went to bed, bustling around the kitchen and knocking gently on Rory's bedroom door,

"Don't stay up too much later, kid. Ok?"

"Ok, daddy," Rory waved from her computer, not looking up, "Good night." Luke got a glance at the chatroom she was in before stepping away.

TheBrains: He said he was going to do it tonight.

TheOrchestrator: Rory, he didn't just say that to make you feel better?

TheIdeaMan: Yeah, Ror- Lane might be right.

TheOrchestrator: Thanks, Sethie.

TheIdeaMan: NP, Lanie.

TheOrganizer: Ok, ignoring the Cleavers, you're sure you don't need me to come over tonight? For support?

TheBrains: I'm fine, Ryan. Really. I'll call you if anything happens.

"Luke?" Luke turned quickly at the sound of Jess' voice.

"Hey," he said as nonchalantly as he could manage, "What's up?"

"I need to talk to you."

Luke nodded nervously, shoving his hands into the pockets of his sweatpants,

"Sure... Should I, uh..."

"If you wanna sit, sure." Luke pulled out two chairs from the kitchen table, motioning for Jess to take the one across from him.


"You know what I wanna talk about," Jess said shakily.

"Go ahead."

"Look, I... I never meant for it to be like this. I never meant to make everyone upset and angry like this."

"I know."

"But, I just need you to know... I'm not doing this to hurt anyone."

"I know."

"I need to get to know Jimmy for me."

"I know."

"You know?"

"Yeah. Look, Jess, I know Jimmy. I know who he is and where he comes from and what his shortcomings are and that whole deal. But you don't. And you need to know to figure out who you really are."

"How did you..."

"I went through it. Your grandma died when I was so young that I didn't really get to know her. When I got to be fourteen or fifteen, I started questioning who she was and who I was and how I was like her. We didn't have the opportunity to let me stay with her, so instead we looked at old pictures and I talked to people about her. You did the same thing, just took the more direct approach."

"So... you're not mad?"

"Mad? Nah. Upset and disappointed? Sure. I thought we'd go full steam ahead with the adoption come summer. I wanted it done before your junior year of high school. But that's life. I just... you can't shut everyone out."


"These past few weeks. You've stopped talking to Rory for talking to Rory's sake. You've avoided doing errands with Lorelai and me. You've changed your whole attitude towards the family. I need you to know that you're always going to be a part of the family."

"I know."

"So act it. You're leaving in three weeks, Jess. I'm not mad. Just a bit upset that Lorelai cries all the time because she thinks you don't know that she loves you."

"I know she does..."

"Just... don't be so aloof."

"I thought you all wouldn't want to be with me after the whole... incident."

"Jess, there is nothing you could do that could make Lorelai and me want nothing to do with you."

"Ok," he drawled, not quite sure where to go, "I guess I didn't have to explain to you after all."

"Most of the time, Lorelai and I see what's going on. You usually don't have to."

"Ok... well, I'm gonna go to bed."

"Ok. Goodnight." Jess waved behind him as he stepped out towards his bedroom,

"Night, dad."

Luke grinned to himself and sauntered to the entryway, peeking his head around the corner.

"You can come out now." Lorelai skipped out from behind the wall,


"He's telling us what's going on..."

"Better than before."

"Granted, he's still going to California."

"But he's not so shy about his feelings anymore."

"That's always good." Luke pulled Lorelai into his chest and squeezed her,

"You hungry?"


"The babies asleep?"

"Sleeping like teenagers."

"Which reminds me..." he let go of his wife and opened the door to his eldest daughter's room. He found her scrambling back to her bed, collapsing onto her pillows with her eyes snapping closed.

"How much have you heard?"

"What?" she feigned sleep, "Heard what?"

"Rory, there's a reason you're a writer and not an actress."

"I heard all of it... including the snack part," Rory raised her eyebrows suggestively. Luke sighed,

"Sure, the one who isn't eating twenty-two of the twenty-four hours a day is going to California."