In Spite of Us

In every girl's life, there's a boy she'll never forget and a summer where it all began.

- - -

The bus terminal in the north end of New Haven was little more than a room. Both sides were covered with black and red graffiti, spelling curse words and someone's repeated initials. The back was shrouded with overgrown shrubbery and a large oak tree that towered over the small room's seven foot height. The front of the room was dwarfed by a large window, an awning hanging over it which Rory assumed was once, a long time ago, white but was now grey with dirt and grime and smoke.

A short, plump woman stood on the other side of the window. A counter separated them from each other, along with a cash register and a board hanging down from the awning. It announced when the busses wee supposed to arrive that night.

'Supposed to' being the key words, Rory thought as she checked the time on her cell phone once again.

The bus was already twenty minutes late and Rory was growing weary of being out here by herself any longer. Her gaze drifted slowly around to the group of people hanging out beside the terminal room. There were five of them all together, three girls and two guys. They were the kind of people Rory instantly shied away from no matter how much she tried to convince herself they didn't intimidate her. It wasn't because of how they dressed, though Rory would never understand that particular fashion, it was their body language. The guys especially, they held themselves with an aura of danger hanging around them constantly. And while Rory would freely admit that a little danger was very appealing in a guy, she could never look them straight in the eyes.

A small sigh escaped her lips as she shifted her weight on her feet, once again thanking herself when at the last minute she'd kicked off her heels and chosen a pair of comfortable flats instead. Now as she stood there in the fading daylight she wished she'd decided last minute to bring Stephanie along with her.

The blonde had been suspicious of where she was going at first. Which Rory had been suspecting, as she rarely went somewhere she wouldn't tell the other girl of, and by herself no less. It had taken almost an hour to convince the girl not to pick up the phone and alert Jake of his sister's plans. And the only way she'd managed to stop her was letting the girl think she was going off to do something completely different.

- - -

They stood face to face, three feet of the boring beige carpet Yale put in every dorm room separating them. Stephanie's eyes were narrowed, her hand poised on the phone, while Rory was shaking her head.

"You don't have to call my brother," she tried to tell her friend. "I mean, I'm eighteen years old! I can go out on my own without my big brother there to protect me!"

Steph looked at her with one meticulous brow arched. "Really?"

"Yes!"

Her hand lifted off the phone and deposited onto her hip. "Okay fine, I won't call Jake if you tell me where you're going."

Rory could have screamed at that exact second. She couldn't believe Stephanie wouldn't let her leave the dorm. It wasn't like she was a kid anymore, she was a legal adult, she was in university and she could come and go whenever she pleased!

So what if every second Steph questioned her about her plans for the night she felt her stomach sink even more with the weight of her guilt. She shouldn't feel guilty! She had every right to go out and make plans for herself without informing her friends of them. But she knew Stephanie was just concerned and curious and inquisitive as hell…

"I'll tell you later," she promised, seeing the way Steph's stance relaxed slightly.

The blonde stared at her for a second, head cocked to the side. "Will you be out all night?"

Rory shook her head. "No," she stated right off the bat but then hesitated. "Maybe…I don't know…"

Steph scoffed and folded her arms over her chest. "Rory, you're a big girl and I trust you can make your own decisions," she told her, irking Rory slightly more at the motherly tone to her voice. "But promise me you'll be home tonight, okay? You're brother would kill me if he knew you'd been out all night and that I had no clue where you were…Not to mention what Finn would do!"

Rory averted her eyes, thinking about Finn's reaction to all this and knowing without doubt that he wouldn't take it well. After she'd gotten out of the hospital a week ago he'd been overprotective of her. He'd spent more than a few nights with her, under the radar of course, because Rory knew there would be hell to pay if her brother found out. He'd been getting her coffee whenever she asked, walking her to her classes and always seemed to be constant contact with her.

Not that she was complaining…

Having her wonderful, gorgeous and exotic boyfriend with her at all times was nothing short of perfect.

And it had been harder than she thought possible to send him away for the night. He'd been more than persuasive in trying to stay the night. His eyes had twinkled at her with a mischievous gleam in them, matching the wicked smile curving his lips. He'd tried to persuade her with his voice, telling her all the sinfully exciting things he wanted to do with her, he'd regaled her with the highly erotic dreams he'd had of them in the past. Rory had been almost hyperventilating by the time he'd finished, more than ready to fall into his embrace for the night and forget about the world around them.

But she hadn't. She smiled and laughed and kissed him. She'd sent him out to the pub to hang out with guys, claiming she felt bad that she'd been hogging him for the last week. He'd gone almost an hour ago and she'd been tied up with Stephanie ever since…

Stephanie who was currently looking at her with a large smirk on her lips and surprise shining right alongside a hint of pride in her pretty hazel eyes.

"What?" Rory asked, snapping herself away from the gnawing feeling of guilt.

Steph shrugged her shoulders and drifted over to the couch, falling back into the white cushions. "I just never thought you'd never turn into such a…well into someone so much like me."

"And by that you mean?"

"You're running off to have sex with the handsome Australian, aren't you!" she'd exclaimed, pointing a finger at her.

Rory opened her mouth to deny that but she remembered that Stephanie hadn't been home when she'd sent Finn away and so the blonde had no idea that he was spending the night at the pub. She wrestled with the idea of denying that statement when she caught sight of the time and realized she had to leave if she wanted to get there in enough time.

"Stephanie, really," she started, throwing her purse over her shoulder. "My personal life is not something to be discussed so openly…"

Steph laughed and licked her lips. "Oh yes, of course, so sorry," she apologized although she looked anything but sorry.

Rory shook her head and rolled her eyes before slipping out into the hall and letting a deep sigh escape her lips.

Now if she could only survive the rest of the night without her guilt eating her alive…

- - -

Rory sighed again, wondering why she'd decided not to tell anyone in the first place. She hadn't even thought about it, just decided almost subconsciously that she wouldn't tell them. She knew Jake wouldn't understand, he'd never liked Jess to begin with. And she was sure the others would feel the same way.

But Jess was her best friend, always had been. They'd been through too much together to let themselves drift apart now.

After having that dream of them together while she'd been in the hospital, Rory had known she needed to call him and talk to him. It had been luck that he'd been in New York visiting his mother and had been able to get a bus to New Haven within the week.

Suddenly, as if her thoughts had magically transported him there, Rory heard the squealing tires of a bus as it pulled into the terminal. She shifted once again, eyes darting from the driver of the bus, to each individual window, anxious to see Jess again. It might have only been two months sine she'd last seen him, but it felt like years.

A woman stepped off the bus first, a grey trench coat synched around her waist and reading a paper. She didn't seem to notice anything as she walked past Rory and the group of teenagers standing a few feet away.

Secondly, a young man stepped off and Rory rose onto her tiptoes to see if it was Jess. But the man's head was a mess of blonde strands, each sticking up at different angles. Rory relaxed again, a small smile stretching onto her face as one of the girls she'd noticed before ran forward to meet the blonde. She threw her arms around his neck and welcomed him with a kiss, and Rory instantly thought of her own boyfriend and how much she really did miss him already.

But her thoughts couldn't rest on Finn for long as she noticed an unruly head of black hair coming over the hood of the bus. Rory smiled wide and stepped forward again, waiting for Jess to cross the path of the bus and see her.

He looked different than when they'd said goodbye at the beginning of the summer. He looked more mature, something that Rory could almost not believe herself, but it was true. Instead of his normal leather jacket and tight jeans, Jess was wearing a black blazer with a patch stitched into the shoulder and a pair of comfortable black pants. She couldn't help but laugh when she caught sight of his Bush bashing t-shirt though, some things about Jess would just never change.

She almost couldn't control herself as Jess finally stopped a foot away from her, a small smile playing at his lips. The boy almost never smiled, that was something she remembered easily. Rory felt a bubble of warmth and familiarity in her stomach as she looked at boy –the man– in front of her.

"Well," he started and brought his hand up to squeeze the back of his neck, "Rory Hayden. I thought you'd forgotten about me."

Rory laughed and leaned forward, throwing her arms around Jess. She hugged him tight to her body, relishing in the feeling of having him close by, like he'd been for so long. She rubbed her face into his neck, smelling that scent of cigarettes and books that had always clung to him and she sighed. She felt like she was holding a part of herself, a part of her childhood.

Rory leaned away from him and pushed his shoulder. "Like you'd ever let me," she teased, smirking.

Jess nodded and dipped his head down to look into her eyes for a moment. Rory saw his chocolate brown eyes fill with concern as his fingers came up to brush across the small band-aid that was pressed on her forehead.

"What did I tell you about walking into doors?" he asked lightly.

Rory tsked and pushed his hand away from her head, smoothing her own fingers over the Princess band-aid. "To refrain from doing so unless you have a video camera handy."

"Touché," Jess said, nodding. "What happened?"

Rory frowned and shrugged. "My head got up close and personal with the edge of a picture frame and I fainted and spent the night in the hospital."

His eyes widened and flicked from the band-aid to her eyes. "Huh."

Rory smiled at his reaction, that one word calming her down more than anything. She could always count on Jess not to make a big deal out of things; she could always count on him period.

"Hey," she said and ruffled his hair, much to his great displeasure, "thanks for coming, Jess."

He glared at her, one hand sinking into the mass of brown on top of his head. "Yeah, sure."

Rory smiled and grabbed his hand, pulling him forward with her, walking to where she'd parked her car. She noticed they were the only ones left now and that the woman and the group of teenagers had gone already. A shiver ran down her spine and she walked a tad faster to her car, dragging Jess along after her.

"I see you haven't gotten any less demanding," he teased, pretending to have to strain to keep up with her.

Rory lifted an eyebrow at his comment but turned around and threw him her keys. "You drive," she stated, feeling relaxed and yet strangely hyper at the same time. She decided that wasn't a great combination to operate a vehicle with.

Jess caught the keys easily and laughed. "Is that such a good idea?" he asked.

Rory felt a memory tug at her mind, of her and Jess driving around at night and him crashing her car into a small park bench, a curb, a mailbox…

She laughed. "Just keep your eyes on the road," she told him.

"Yes, ma'am!"

They piled into the car, Rory reaching instantly for the radio and turning towards a station they would both like. She relaxed into her seat and watched as Jess backed the car out of the small parking lot and onto the road. She smiled, feeling at ease with him next to her, like it should be.

- - -