Tristin reached out still half asleep to the empty space on his bed, expecting Rory to be asleep right next to him. When all he grasped was air, he fully awoke and sat up. The bedside clock flashed half-past eleven. He thought the clock was broken. He hadn't slept past six since graduating from college.
"Rory?" he called out.
He quickly grabbed a pair of boxer-briefs from a drawer and the closest pair of jogging pants he could find.
"Rory?" he called out again. Still his inquiry was answered with silence.
Tristin's heart sank. He didn't know what to expect after he asked Rory to share his bed. But waking up alone two nights in a row is starting to put a dent on his ego.
He half-hoped that she would somehow reciprocate the sudden inclination he felt toward her since she willingly shared his bed the night before. But part of him also wished that her departure were a sign of stopping the madness of their companionship that had been borne out of false pretenses and maligned loyalties. She had kept her part of the bargain. Now if only he could keep his.
Panic hit him when he realized that there was no coffee aroma wafting through the air. He quickly walked to her room only to find a kept bed. He double-timed down the steps as his eyes made a quick sweep of the quiet house. He reached for his phone at the charging station to call her when he heard the jangling of the keys from the garage.
"Good morning, sleepyhead," Rory greeted with a smile.
Tristin said a silent prayer and tried to play it cool after his earlier panic attack. "Mornin'. You're an early riser today."
"Sorry. I meant to leave a note to let you know that I had an early meeting with Jackie," she said. "But I brought home breakfast... to be more precise, brunch."
Tristin grinned and took the Starbucks paper cup from her hand. "Double shot mocha?"
"Extra hot, just the way you like it," Rory replied smugly.
He took a sip and moaned as the liquid went down his throat. "Hmmm, keep this going and I just might hire you to replace Amy."
"Ha-ha, you can't afford me," she chuckled. "Oh, wait... ."
Tristin laughed. "Touché."
Rory walked toward the cupboard and took out plates to lay out the pastries she bought. "But keep talking like that and I might actually take you up on that job offer."
"Is that why you were out at an early meeting?" he asked before taking a bite off of his scone.
"Yeah," Rory replied as she replicated his actions. "Thanks to my disappearing act yesterday, I inadvertently missed out on the latest round on Femme Fatale's fate. Apparently, Jackie and the board couldn't come to terms in regard to the magazine's future. The board wants to sell the magazine. Jackie wants to keep the publication going for as long as we can."
"What's the problem? Advertising? Subscription?" Tristin asked.
"Everything," Rory confessed, letting out a sigh. "Subscription and advertisement, however, are the least of our concerns. If nothing else, our non-subscription circulations have increased steadily in the last year. We've cut back on staffing and have tried increasing revenue by featuring certain kinds of articles and advertisements we didn't used to feature. But apparently, the belt-cinching we've been doing hasn't been enough and the board wants us to sell."
"Did you guys suggest any options?" he queried.
"Jackie offered going from monthly to quarterly. She suggested going online only, and even at that, I don't think we'd really be that profitable. Media content would be lost amongst the Vogues and the Maxims of corporate media," Rory continued on. "Sadly, Rodale and Conde Nast are offering rather lucrative offers to buy out the magazine. Jackie is afraid that the buyout would mean burying the magazine between Sunset and Women's Health. Besides, the magazine is more than just health tips and fashion. It's about women's issues and global awareness," Rory argued.
Tristin smiled as he took another swig of his drink.
"What?" Rory asked, blushing.
"Nothing," he said, the lazy grin still on his face. "I think this is the most passionate I've see you in a while outside of the bedroom."
"Oh stop," Rory replied as she felt the blush creep to her ears and neck. Aware of her sudden state of self-consciousness, she left the table and busied herself at the kitchen's island. "I do believe in human plight."
Tristin stood up and followed her. "You know you don't have to convince your husband, Rory."
He reached around to tug on her arm and have her face him. He pinned her against the cool marble as he leaned toward her. "You're so selfless. Despite the continuous torture of the Chilton crowd, you found your own voice within the student government, rejected the cliques like the Puffs... ."
"The Puffs?" Rory asked, her heart skipping a beat as she felt his warm breath against her neck.
"A cousin was involved in the allegedly failed pledging," he said, still smiling. "I wonder if you would have turned Stepford if you had fully integrated into the Chilton brouhaha."
"Was that your idea of an ideal mate?" Rory fished.
Tristin reached out for a strand of her hair, twisting it around his fingers. "Not really, but I could be persuaded. Can you tell a Stepford to dress tawdry?"
"You don't have to be Stepford. You just have to be Jersey Shore material," Rory chuckled.
"Gross, tainted, and loud. That's one GTL I don't need," he muttered, still seemingly fascinated with her tendrils. "You, on the other hand… ."
"Aren't Jersey?" Rory said with finality.
"Definitely not," Tristin said, straightening himself and extending his arms towards her. "It's either I've wised up or I've just gone soft."
"It's the mystique," she teased, giving him a quick wink as she distanced herself from him.
"Maybe," he said. "As your mother has pointed out, I am, at this point, only able to recite a litany of all things Rory Gilmore. As for what makes her tick… ."
"Isn't really much of a mystery, unfortunately," Rory replied. The playful mood ended. "I left Hartford, went to college, and became part of Femme."
"You must have made enemies, garnered a few admirers, broken several hearts," he said, leaning against the counter, crossing his arms across his chest.
"I made one hippo ballerina say ghastly things about me," she recounted. "And I met Jackie after a much-failed attempt at getting into print journalism."
"And the rest?" he asked.
"That would take at least two beers and the absence of all forms of entertainment to dredge up those memories," she half-joked.
Tristin was about to counter her statement when his mobile rang. He held up a finger to pause their conversation as he took the call. She saw a wrinkle form on his forehead. An exasperated sigh followed the disgruntled look. He muted his phone before saying to her, "I have to take this call."
"Alright," she said, but he was long gone when she muttered her answer.
His sudden inquiry left her wondering. Why would he want to know things that she, herself, preferred to forget? She was entitled to her privacy, wasn't she? Coward—she chided herself. He wasn't asking for specifics. Maybe he was just wondering if there was a semblance of the girl he once knew in high school.
She blushed at the memory. All of a sudden, the memory of that stupid Chilton dance made her feel like a naïve girl once more. Recollecting the fight between him and Dean was her first experience in the complexities of a relationship. She wondered if she actually never left that stage, suggesting that she was as emotionally stunted as she felt.
Obviously, her relationship with Jess was a non-issue. She didn't know to what extent Jess has afforded Tristin to know him, but the relative camaraderie between them several nights ago was enough for her to refrain from panicking.
Would things really be that different if she and Jess gave in to a what-could-have-been moment when she and Logan were having relationship issues?
What about Logan indeed?
The emotional sting she learned to ignore started pricking her again. Logan was her Achilles Heel. She thought that he was THE one after all the false starts and stops. God, just the thought of Logan just made her hurt all over again.
Confusion, anger, and sadness all rolled into one as her emotions swelled. She would like to blame stress from work and her newly formed reunion with her mother as the culprits for her mental state, but she knew better than that. She was no innocent bystander in her failed relationships. In fact, if it weren't for her inability to choose or rock the boat, she would probably be in a real and established relationship that did not rely on deception and sex.
And she damned well knew that the sex could sometimes come in secondary to a man who actually understood and accepted her for what she was.
She knew she had to come clean about her inability to get involved other than the make-believe world she and Tristin had conveniently formed.
Rory went back to the table to finish drinking her coffee and was putting away the leftover pastries when Tristin returned.
"Sorry about that," he sighed.
"S'all right," she said, tidying up. "Everything okay?"
"No, not really," he muttered, sitting down right in front of his tepid drink. He ran his finger on top of the plastic lid. "How are your skills in playing socialite-cum-tour guide?"
Rory sighed and rolled her eyes mockingly. "Do I have an opt out option in my contract?"
"'Fraid not," he said, scrunching his face.
"Can't get any worse than being married to you," Rory replied, trying to subdue some of her insecurities by teasing him.
"Ha-ha," he mockingly laughed.
"So how did I win the 'socialite-cum-tour guide' gig? You know this is going to cost you," she added, pointing a finger at him.
"A client was supposed to fly into Philly to finish some paperwork, but there's a storm brewing that would prevent his flight from landing there in the next three hours. The flight is getting diverted to LaGuardia as we speak and we need this contract," he stated.
"And my role in this is?" she queried.
"You have to play the dutiful role of the newlywed wife and pretend to be interested in the client," he directed. "Not that you don't play the part really well as of recent."
"Hmm," Rory replied to pursed lips. "I'm not used to having sycophants. Go on."
"I will be eternally grateful," he said, pleading.
"Let me check my schedule… ," she replied, reaching for her smartphone.
"Rory!" Tristin whined despite knowing that Rory was yanking his chain.
"Okay, okay, for you, I will," she said, a smile forming on her lips.
"Thank you," he gushed, standing up to give her a kiss on the forehead. "You know what? You're Superwoman. No, better yet. Wonder Woman. You don't get hampered by a cape."
"You just want to dress me in a bustier and go-go boots," Rory heckled.
"Now that's an image I won't pass up. Will you?" he said, half teasing.
"You best give me an invisible jet plane to seal the deal," Rory countered.
"Let me find a contractor willing to bid on the project," he said. And just like that, he walked toward her and planted a wet kiss on her cheek.
Two and a half hours later, Rory was trying to catch up to Tristin's long strides.
"So who's so important that this client has to be diverted here? The Sultan of Brunei? The prince of Monaco?" Rory asked as they walked through La Guardia airport.
"Honestly, I don't know him personally," Tristin replied as he shoved his hand through his hair. "I was faxed the profile of the client and told to 'handle the situation.'"
"Love the air quotes," Rory snorted. "So you're not even curious to find out who your mystery client is?"
"That's a loaded question," he muttered. He stared at the folder in his left hand. "I don't usually handle the smaller accounts but this client is part of a pilot project we're trying out and this hiccup is really making a mess of things. I don't want the program to fail, but as far as the script is concerned, I don't know what business line to feed him."
"Well why didn't you ask one of the Philadelphia people to drive over or take the train to New York to handle the account?" Rory asked.
"I have a suspicion that Lott wants this project to fail so he can say that this new approach to the business isn't worth supporting," Tristin replied, grimacing. "I would like to see that man eat some crow. All I know are the basics. He's looking to be part owner of a jet system program we're starting. Depending on how much he wants to put in as a retainer, several other businesses can buy into the jet like a time-share program. We rent them out on a schedule; they pay the service. Right now, we're doing a Europe-US route. He plans on flying in and out frequently from Scotland where he just inherited a scotch distillery. As for a Philadelphia crew being assembled to handle the account, Adrian is driving to New York as we speak to make sure there are no other setbacks."
"The timeshare system is rather intriguing. I wish I had that kind of inheritance," Rory said. "It's also good that Adrian will be around. I don't think I left a good impression the last time I saw him."
"Based on circumstances, I think he'd understand," Tristin said.
Rory let out an audible sigh. "So back to your client. Do we know if he is single? Married? Bringing in someone with him on this trip?"
"I didn't get that much information on the phone," Tristin reddened. "I'm not making this easy on you, am I?"
"I guess you should consider yourself lucky that you're married to a reporter. I am not as easily intimidated by lack of information," she said.
"Oh trust me, I do consider myself fortunate in more ways than one at this point," he sighed, frustration getting the best of him.
"So, let me see the file. Or is that a matter of security?" Rory asked for the folder as they reached the lounge area reserved for private flights. Rory was pleasantly surprised at the more luxurious accommodations afforded to the privileged frequent private fliers.
"Guess not," he sighed, handing her the file as they sat. A receptionist took their drink request and excused herself quickly.
Rory raised her eyes when she glanced at the profile in front of her. "Well, this is going to be a cakewalk."
Tristin looked at her in surprise. "It is?"
A smile spread on her lips. "It is. As long as you have an open account at Rick's Cabaret and easy access to bars downtown, you're golden."
"Can't be that easy," he said, taking the folder from her.
"Au contraire," she said. "Colin McCrae, son to William McCrae and Alice Davenport. Socialites, old money, you know the deal. Deferred his first year in college, lost another year between sophomore and junior year in an attempt to sail around the world. Well known for certain endeavors including, but not limited to, importing a milkmaid from Holland, holding conversations with words without the letter 'e', and trying to pass legislation on allowing interspecies marriage."
Tristin raised an eyebrow in surprise. "Wow, I'm impressed. Did you do an interview with this guy or something?"
"No," she stated. "Just the perk of being a Bulldog."
Tristin was about to remark when the sudden clanking of a door and a booming voice interrupted the conversation.
"My God. You're a sight for sore eyes," a voice down the corridor echoed.
Rory and Tristin looked toward the silhouetted figure. Tristin stood hesitantly while Rory beamed the stranger a smile.
"I hope not. Glasses would mar your good looks," Rory replied in jest as she recognized the voice and the lazy posture on the tall man.
"Then give this Bitzer a hug. It's been a while," the Australian requested brashly.
Without hesitation, Rory ran toward him and allowed herself to be twirled in in the air like a little girl.
"I would've brought you something if I knew we'd be seeing you," he replied after planting a kiss on her cheek.
"I think seeing you in a kilt is enough of a surprise, not to mention the impromptu meeting," Rory said as she glanced at the tall man's legs. "So tell me, when did you get to explore your Scottish's roots?"
"Oh there's always been a Scot in me when I can find a willing lass. And if not, the drink has kept me warm as well," he said with a wink.
Tristin appeared next to Rory, securing a possessive arm around her waist. "Oh, my manners. I do apologize. Finn, I would like you to meet my husband, Tristin DuGrey. Tristin, this is Finn."
"Enchanted to meet you, mate. Congratulations on the nuptials. Rory is a fine catch, if I may say so myself," Finn cut off Rory's introductions with a hearty handshake forced onto Tristin's hand.
"She is truly special," Tristin mumbled in surprise.
"I trust my special brand of poison suited you well as a wedding gift? You should have told me that you were going to 'jump the broom' or whatever people call marriage nowadays," Finn said, tapping Rory on the nose like a puppy being potty trained.
Rory and Tristin looked at each other in surprise. "Yes… yes, the vodka was very smooth. I think we polished the bottle off rather quickly."
"Ah, the only way to imbibe," Finn replied, cupping Tristin on the shoulder. Looking at Rory, he said, "I like this one."
"I will deny anything my friend has solemnly vowed," another voice chimed in. "Thank you for meeting us, Mr. DuGrey. I was made aware of the sudden change of plans," Colin was focused in making his introductions to Tristin when he suddenly caught sight of Rory.
"Rory?" he said in surprise.
"Tristin, it is my pleasure to introduce you to your client, Colin McCrae," Rory interceded, trying to make the introductions quick and without much pomp and circumstance.
The gentlemen shook hands and exchanged greetings.
"I do apologize for the sudden change in plans. I hope your flight was comfortable," Tristin said.
"Definitely comfortable," Colin replied, still apprehensively looking at Rory. "I was rather surprised, however, that we would be entertained by none other than the president of Velocity. Such a pleasure."
"I would be lying if I said that these were normal circumstances," Tristin responded honestly. "However, since we cannot control the weather, we would like to welcome you and hope we can make the proper arrangements necessary for a smooth transaction."
"I hope we are not putting you off," Colin quickly replied as he looked at Rory and Tristin.
"No, we just had to make a few adjustments," Rory said.
Colin finally broke into a crooked grin. "I'm sorry. I am just surprised to see you, Rory. How have you been?"
"Fine," Rory replied hurriedly. Her recollection of their last encounter made the situation rather awkward. Colin was trying to give her a subtle heads-up about Logan's extracurricular activities in Europe when she decided to stay stateside. When she didn't heed his warning and came to London unannounced, she blamed Logan and his circle of friends for not being upfront with her and the state of her relationship.
"Well, if you have all your belongings taken care of, we can direct you to… ."
Rory's words trailed as she saw another person round the corner before the tarmac door secured itself shut. Rory's back straightened, and she suddenly felt parched. Like an animal being hunted, she became still—so still she almost forgot to breathe.
"Baby, you okay?" Tristin asked.
A beat passed. "I guess it's too late to cash in on the beers," she muttered shakily.
Tired eyes looked her way. A smile that didn't quite reach his eyes broke.
Rory was not quite ready when he finally greeted her.