Title: Sorry For The Inconvenience
Summary: Lit, one-shot. The past has a funny way of helping you make future decisions.
AN: Had this half written, months ago, before Jess came on for season six, so no spoilers, no real basis in the show's reality currently. Just my mind, at play. Enjoy!
He stood in the rear of the kitchen, his back warmed against the oven doors, as the chef read off the specials, allowable substitutions, and the specifics about the known diners for the evening. He never really listened to the spiel past the actual dishes—with the high price clientele that came into the restaurant on the Upper West Side, there were no substitutions the kitchen wouldn't make, thus ensuring his good tips. As for what celebrities or power VIPs that would be in the building this evening, well, he could give a flying fuck. People were people, and spending time among any guaranteed his annoyance. He didn't take this job to brush elbows with the rich and famous or because he believed that food was art.
He took the job because food was fuel, he couldn't afford much on his own, and here he was at least guaranteed one a day. Not to mention the food service industry was what he could list on a resume as past experience and his memory was good enough that he didn't need to write anything down, ever. These were the only two requirements that restaurant owners looked for, really.
Well, that and his boss seemed to love his unaffected attitude. He kept going on and on, during his interview, about how hard it was to find someone who wouldn't swoon over the movie stars or try to slip scripts to directors. When Jess had tapped his foot and asked if they were done, the manager had smirked, slapped his back, and told him to come back that night at seven to try this out.
Evidently that meant he got the job.
He really couldn't complain too much, as annoying as it was to remember all the soy-based, non-wheat, hold all oil substitutions, these people, if nothing else, tipped well. His pockets were increasingly full, more food was occupying his small fridge at home, and he was actually able to buy a frame to hold his mattress.
He looked up as his boss waved him over, ready for the more specific instructions that got doled out, depending on the section they received. His boss handed him a sheet to look over, with names of reservations to be seated in his area. He pointed out one table, along the window, the 'romantic overlook' table in the upper balcony. It was labeled
'Huntzberger,' and his boss rambled off the special requests that had been called ahead with the reservations. It was the usual, nothing creepy or out of the ordinary, and Jess grunted his acknowledgement in order to be turned free to work.
T minus seven hours and he was free to leave, a few hundred bucks richer.
"Excuse me, waiter, waiter!"
His new name. He turned back toward the beckoning woman and raised an eyebrow. He didn't say much, save for the rehearsed monologue of what the chef's specialties were this evening. He found the patrons didn't want him to speak; they just wanted to make sure he could hear, that he was paying attention.
"Another White Russian? Thanks," she purred, clinking her long, manicured nails against the soon-to-be-empty glass currently occupying the space in her hand. He nodded, noted that this one should probably be light on the vodka, heavy on the cream, or else her date was going to be dragging her out of here by her teased hair. Or he'd be cleaning up the vomit trail from the table to the door. His boss really had a thing about people getting ill in the restaurant. It was just easier to monitor this way.
"Steve, White Russian, light on the Russian," he barked, grabbing his entrees as he unloaded empty dishes. It was a harried environment, but it was preferable to sitting around with too much time to think. He had plenty of time to do that on his off hours. Work had to good for something other than money.
"Mariano, half hour!" his boss shouted back across the kitchen from him as he wheeled around with his loaded tray, ready to drop off before making the rounds yet again. He rolled his eyes and pushed through the doors to the dining room.
He found some solace in the shuffle of plates, the clinking of ice against empty glasses, the simple crossing of silverware across plates to signify the satiation of his customers. The adage of speaking when spoken to wasn't just encouraged here, it was mandatory. The less he had to interact, the bigger his tips, so he kept his mouth shut, even when he saw things that he was morally opposed to. Men telling women to watch what they ate, lest they gain one horrifying ounce. Women not even looking at the check, signifying their feelings that the men somehow owed them the price of their imported lettuce and designer champagne. Discussions of which boarding schools would be more advantageous for their own travels, not for their kids' education. These things were not his business. Not for him to impose his opinion on, no matter how much his stomach turned. At least his mother had outright not given a rat's ass. Flat out neglect had left him to learn how to fend for himself, unlike the rich kids' parents, who paid to have them taken care of in their absence, leaving them helpless and unable to make it on their own in this world.
He was fine on his own. Resigned to it, even. There'd only been one person ever to breech into the realm of possibility when it came to seeing someone at his side, years from now, never tiring of the constant presence of another. But even that, he didn't need. He'd shown that he could make it on his own.
"Mariano, five minutes! Limo's out back!"
He never got the draw of being so important that you had to sneak in through the back door. The back entrance of the restaurant meant coming through the kitchen in this instance, a place that only increased the chance of getting something that would stain spilled onto the designer clothing these people wore; as if they were allergic to cotton T-shirts and plain denim. He put down the rest of his orders and grabbed the bottle of champagne that was nestled in a small bucket of ice along with the sunflowers that had been delivered from the florist, precut and arranged beautifully in a small, tasteful vase.
Sunflowers. He had to pause to smile. Normally, it was roses, the standard, or exotic purple flowers flown in from islands, names of which he would never learn, or lilies. Flowers most girls loved, adored, prayed for. He'd only ever known one girl that liked the sunflower to the exclusion of all others. Not that he'd ever given her any. Shaking his head, wondering what made him think of her so much tonight, he took the steps up to the balcony two at a time, hurrying to make it look preset effortlessly in time for their arrival. As if the table was always set that way, just for them, every evening.
She would leave his memory once his mind was once again overridden with the sounds of the restaurant, back to his job. Now was not the time to dwell. A blonde man approached him, nodding at the table and offering him a wide smile.
"Perfect, just perfect," he approved to Jess. He shook his hand, slipping him his gratitude between their palms. "Could we do something about the music, though? She's gonna fall asleep if the classical keeps going," he laughed.
This guy couldn't be more than a year older than himself. He reeked of money—his suit was tailored, his hair professionally cut, his nails probably manicured. There was no telling the dollar amount that he'd dropped at nothing, ten seconds preparation on his part.
"Preferences?" Jess asked, almost grateful for the break of symphonic monotony. Who says classical music is the most romantic? Not him. He could almost feel himself getting behind this guy. Not hating his monochromatic tie/shirt combo for just a moment.
"How much trouble you gonna get in if I say 80s music?" the blonde cringed.
"Serious?" Jess asked, holding in as much of his amazement as he could.
"Serious," the other man let out a breath.
"I'll see what I can do," he promised. "Can I bring drinks after I accommodate the musical request?"
"The champagne will do for now, thanks," the blonde took his seat at the table, evidently to await the woman that loved sunflowers and New Wave. He walked down the stairs, on the lookout for his boss, needing to break into the main stereo system. Seeing no one with keys in sight, he sighed, picked up a lobster fork, and allowed himself in to right the 'wrong.'
He was already loaded down with the next round of desserts, before his boss stopped him.
"You know anything about the musical selection? I'm getting complaints," he barked.
"Huntzberger's request. And since I got the idea that he could buy and sell not only this restaurant, but everyone in it, I figured you wouldn't mind," Jess shrugged.
"So, you got into my office?"
Jess raised his eyes to meet the other man's, who in his mid-thirties still managed to look three times Jess's age, instead of not even twice.
"I so don't wanna know how," he shook his head, pointing for Jess to go deliver the succulent pastries, that would only be half touched out of principle.
It was customary to give clients, especially high-paying clients, enough time alone while still appearing to fulfill each and every desire they might have. Jess had this down to about ten minute segments. The first ten minutes to swoon over the setting, the second to decided upon their selection, the third for refills or corrections. This went on and on, depending on the number of courses, but it gave him just enough go time to get around to each table, seeming to serve only them.
He made it up to the Huntzberger party, ten minutes on the dot after departing his would-be peer, to find that a woman had indeed joined him at some point in the time apart. Her hair was twisted up into decorative knots on the back of her head, jeweled clips holding them in place rather delicately. Her arms rested on the arms of her dining chair, her hands twirling one of the sunflowers nervously. For a moment her arm twisted so that her bracelet caught the light of one of the dimmed lights, nearly blinding him with the glare of brilliantly cut diamonds.
But not as blinded as he was when she focused her even more brilliant blue eyes on him, as he stepped up to offer the specials. He saw her breath catch in her chest, not even making it to her throat. Her date, the blonde he'd decided not to hate on principle until now, paid no heed, waiting for him to offer them salmon, swordfish, steak, or some other sauced-up carnivorous entrée.
He wasn't sure what he was waiting for; recognition, a pleased smile, an outcry of distress. Some reaction, save for the near hiccup, was for sure. Instead, her eyes dropped quickly before bouncing back up to her date, smiling back at him as he winked her way. He held his hands in tight fists behind his back, wishing he didn't have such a good memory. Not only could he use the pen and paper to grip in his hands at the moment, but maybe he wouldn't remember a time when she had looked at him through those thick lashes, blushing when he got the same knowing look in his eyes.
He found his voice, if nothing out of a desire to flee the table, for a sweet reprieve of ten minutes. Every hopeful and caring bone in his body ached as he watched her slip back out of her seat, away from the table, him, the champagne, and head toward the ladies room. He just wished it ached more.
He made for the stairs, put in their orders, and took his first break of the night. He normally went out back to smoke, but he didn't trust his stomach suddenly. He made for the bathrooms, halting against the wall between the dining room and the bathrooms as he saw her form ahead of him, her back disappearing into the ladies room.
Grabbing an out of order sign from the back, he brushed past his boss again, promising to take care of it, and put the sign in place over the front of the woman emblazoned on the door before walking into the opposite sex's lounge of a bathroom.
Sorry for the inconvenience, it read.He was glad for its unique ability to grant him time, time alone, time with her. He'd not sought her out, but seeing her here now, unraveling his normally steel nerves, affecting his impervious attitude—he'd not been able to stop himself.
She came out of the stall, still adjusting her skirt, unaware of his presence. He leaned back against the marble sinks, awaiting her gaze to fall on him, this time unable to ignore him. But first she would have to see him. She was caught up in her own reflection, something he'd never seen her do before. One hand went up to feel the security of her glamorous hair clips. Once satisfied that all was in place, she moved the hand that sought out any imperfection to the line of her lips, the corners of her eyes.
"You look beautiful," he said, finally pushing off the back sink he'd used as an armrest.
She jumped back, her hand now clutching her chest. Or rather, the necklace that lay over her heart, the only thing covering the skin left open by the slinky, shimmery dress she'd chosen to please her escort this evening. It looked like something her mother would wear, and he wondered from whose closet she'd chosen it this afternoon.
"You scared me!" she chastised.
"I didn't mean to," he shrugged.
"What are you doing in here?" her voice going for entitlement, but managing only a squeaking confusion.
"I came in to fix a faulty valve," he smirked.
"You need to work on your evasion techniques. I can see right through them."
He nodded knowingly. "You always could."
She stepped up to the sinks again, this time turning the water on full blast before obtaining a bead of pink soap in her palms. "If I tell your boss about this, you'd get fired."
"You wouldn't do that," he kept her gaze, through the mirror. In mythology, even reflections caused the hero to turn to stone. Good thing he was no hero.
The water had turned off, and he handed her a towel. She took it without feeling the pressure of his hands against hers. He couldn't help but wonder if she did it on purpose.
"I'd tip you, but I left my purse at the table."
She was playing it cool, icy in fact, to the best of her ability. He let his gaze fall to her bare shoulder, the silvery thin spaghetti strap slicing through a sea of milky white skin dotted by constellations of freckles. They were patterns he knew better than the ones that lit up the sky every night. God, he loved her skin.
"You never wore anything this revealing when we were together."
"I never did a lot of things when we were together," she sighed. "I was seventeen, Jess."
"So was I," his gaze locked up on her eyes, his tone defensive.
"I know," she said softly. That was the Rory he knew, the one that could scrounge up sympathy for even those she despised. He didn't want her sympathy.
"You look amazing."
She studied him for a moment, and he knew if she wanted to she could look past the wall that he'd constructed for the general public. After all, it was her that he hid behind.
"Aren't you going to ask about him?"
"What's to ask about? He's rich, and he's proposing," he shrugged, taking the towel from her hands before she pulled it to shreds. This time his fingertips grazed her knuckles, the touch being enough to loosen her grip on the soft material.
"He's…," she stammered, blinking at him as if she was trying to stop the information from registering with her.
"You didn't know?" he inquired. "You think that we normally sport your favorite flowers and your favorite music? Or are you just used to coming in through the back kitchen to remember what real life is like?"
"I'm not with him for his money," she defended, squaring her shoulders in defiance. He knew he should take it as a move of strength, but all he wanted to do was run his fingers underneath each strap, one at a time, feeling the skin with the pads of his fingers before pressing his lips over the soft expanse.
"That doesn't mean he's not using his money to get you."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"It means that everything he does for you is based in money."
"At least he does things for me," she cut as far into him as she knew to go. Lucky for him, he knew how far she could get before he reached the point of no return. He breached the line of familiarity, his hand finally going to her left shoulder. He grazed his palm over the juncture of her arm, feeling how chilled she was under the heat of his skin.
"A smart man would," he breathed.
"Jess," she whispered his name with half-closed eyes. He didn't want her defenses gone, just softened. He didn't want her to leave, not yet.
"You want to go back to your perfect evening?"
Her eyes opened. He couldn't tell if it was pain, confusion, or curiosity in her eyes. But still she held his gaze, so he would not look away.
"What is perfection?" she mused.
"'Perfection is attained by slow degrees; it requires the hand of time,'" he quoted.
"Voltaire," she nodded. "It's been a long time since I was quoted to from Voltaire."
"Seems a shame," he smirked. "Always admire those who've lived in exile. That's where true enlightenment comes from, you know," he advised.
She shared his knowing smile, for a moment living back in the days where they traded quotes and quips and snippets from great novelists like a form of currency that would never go bad. A time where there was always tomorrow to get up enough courage to use their own words in place of someone else's to say what they were really feeling.
"You never answered my question," he remarked.
"I realize that," she said, looking at his hand that lingered against her skin.
"Do you love him?" he asked without meaning to.
"What?" she was as taken aback and uncomfortable at this line of questioning, but he refused to take his eyes off of her. He wanted her to feel the weight that he'd been carrying around in the pit of his stomach since he realized the gravity of the scene he'd been paid to set out so purposefully.
"If you love him, then you should cut the guy some slack. No matter the fact that I was the one to be paid to do all the work, he actually did lift a finger to put in a phone call to arrange it. Unless he has a secretary, then all bets are off."
He struck a nerve with her, and her retort came with impending force. "I don't have to defend him to you," she hesitated after her burst of loyalty. The way she threaded her bottom lip through her teeth and failed to give any details whatsoever shouted that there were things he needed defending for. Jess perused the general list of how men fucked up—neglect, screwing around, violence, dirty laundry on the floor—but he knew not to ask particulars. She'd never betray a confidence. He'd always known that his secrets, those precious few he'd shared with her, were safe. Now it was another man reaping the benefits of her devotion.
At his prolonged silence, she continued. "I don't have to stand here and let you have any say in my life."
"I haven't held you against your will—the door isn't locked."
She looked down at his hand again. She visibly stiffened underneath him at knowing that despite it was his decision to come in after her, it was now in her hands how long to stay in this limbo. He knew she was wondering how long she'd been gone, how he would propose, what she would say in response….
For once, they shared the same concerns.
"How long have you worked here?"
"Long enough," he shrugged at her stay of execution, before slipping his hand off of her in a slow slide.
"You see a lot of proposals here?" her blue eyes looking up at him, sparkling like the shimmery surface of a deep pool of water that has the ability to blind him once submerged in the darkest depths. She knew he'd take the bait, luring him with her innocuous line of questioning.
"My fair share."
"I never imagined what it would be like."
He knew what she meant; he was never left wondering when it came to her. She'd never been given a reason to daydream about the glories of marriage. Her fantasies revolved around making it on her own, making a name (her maiden) for herself, carving out a place in the world that would make the shame of her initial inception worth it.
Sometimes when he looked at her, he had to wonder if she felt worthless what chance the rest of the world had.
"There tends to be a lot of shrieking, crying," he nodded. "You know, girlie hysterics."
She raised a tentative eyebrow, causing him to chuckle. "Maybe you can channel Lorelai or something."
Her face paled at the mention. "I don't think that's such a good idea."
"Lorelai's keeping her streak of thinking no one is good enough for her little girl?" he asked, unable to hide his distaste for her mother.
"You never gave her any reason to like you," she said as a smile played over her lips.
"Hey, I tried," he scratched his chin, a bubble of laughter escaping his throat.
"Making eye contact and taking a Diet Coke isn't trying."
"Says you," he made an attempt to garner her pity. "So, this guy should be thanking me. Nothing could be worse than me in her eyes, right?"
Again she diverted her gaze. He knew if he wanted to dive into heftier topics, his window of opportunity was narrow.
"Why did you pretend not to recognize me?"
She frowned but met his eyes. "I didn't."
He rolled his eyes. "I saw you realize it was me, just like I saw you swallow it back down again. Like you were ashamed to know the wait staff."
She took at breath in, as if revving up for her retort, but at the last minute she let it out. "You wouldn't understand."
She stepped away from the sink, and for a moment he thought she had garnered her courage as well as her words. When she turned before she got near the door, making her first long stride as she began to pace through the ornate and sparkling clean lounge, he let out the breath he didn't realize he'd held within him. The bathroom was more spacious and better decorated than most homes he'd been in. He suspected the arm chairs would provide him with a more restful sleep than his current mattress did at home.
At her second go around, he stepped up to her, holding her arm. "Rory."
"I was afraid it wasn't really you."
"What?" he kept hold of her arm, her characteristically thin limb completely encircled by his hand. She felt the same to him, as if her body molded specifically to fit his, and he found himself focusing on their point of juncture. He never failed to find fascination at how such a simple act could produce such great results. The fact that he didn't deserve this chance meeting couldn't stop him from extracting all the pain and pleasure he could manage out of it.
"You're going to think I'm crazy," she shook her head. When his eyes insisted she continue regardless, she sighed. "I've seen you before."
She shook her head again, this time with purpose. "No. I've never been here before. The last time, it was in Maine."
"I've never lived in Maine."
"I know," she smiled sadly.
"I don't understand."
"The guy didn't even really look like you, at least up close. He was a bartender at the bar—I slipped away from the table, despite Logan's insistence that there was no reason for me to get my own drink," a tinge of bitterness slipped through her nostalgic tone.
Suffocation, he thought. So much for loyalty. "So, you saw my doppelganger in Maine."
"In New Haven, at a bookstore."
"I get around," he joked.
"At a party on the beach in Fort Lauderdale on Spring Break."
"Rory," he grew concerned at the dryness of her voice.
"It's like my brain isn't wired right. I superimpose your imagine on unsuspecting men, and I'm tired of it. So when I saw you tonight, even when I heard your voice," she shook her head.
"I promise it's me," he let his hands glide down her arms, only to find the soft curve of her hips. He barely allowed himself to relish in the ability to dig his fingers into her flesh—knowing the harder he held on, the worse it would be to let go in a breath's time, and he tore his gaze up to her eyes. Blue-rimmed black. He was lost in her deep end.
She raised a tentative hand up to his cheek. The flats of her nails skimmed him first, hard and polished, her hand turned in a slow circle, the contrast of her soft fingertips coming back over the same surface. He'd shaved just before work, leaving not even a five o'clock shadow to buffer the touch.
"He says he loves me," she swallowed.
"Hence the marriage proposal," he whispered.
"You said you loved me once."
"I never bought sunflowers. Or a ring."
The sudden lack of oxygen made him long for the cigarette he'd skipped in favor of a bathroom break. Suddenly both were equally likely to cause his early demise.
"You never needed to."
He could see the tears springing to life in her eyes. A single escapee jumped the chasm of her eyelid, rolling unencumbered down her cheek. He pressed his lips to the side of her mouth, clearing it away. He licked the salt off his lips as he pulled back.
"If it's any consolation, I always knew I should have."
Her eyes flickered to the door. Their time no longer existed. The draw of the unknown was pulling her away, just as it had pulled him away so many years ago. He owed her the simple grace of letting her off the hook.
"You should get back out there. The guy's probably nervous as all hell."
"Why should he be?" she gazed at him in wonder.
"You're terrifying," he whispered again, wholly solemn.
"You were never afraid of me," her hand now rested on his cheek.
He wasn't supposed to care about or interact with the clientele. She wasn't supposed to be among the patrons. To have stopped this interlude from happening, they would have had to employ a crystal ball and sheer willpower. He had neither—he wondered if she did.
"This isn't about me," was his only response.
Her index finger brushed the bottom corner of his mouth before she removed it gently from him. He wasn't the one she was supposed to touch. He wasn't the one that was asking for her hand, her body, her life. He couldn't even afford the dress that she wore tonight, let alone the ring that no doubt was securely tucked within the suit jacket of the man in the upper balcony.
Her steps were small, her gait awkward as she attempted to move backwards in such high heels. He knew all about long last looks and had always avoided them. They tended to linger, into the night, permeating dreams and hallucinations into the next day.
He wondered where she'd see him next, if he'd really be there. If she'd regret the decision she was in the process of making this very moment. The only thing he was sure of was that someone else was going to have to cover the upper balcony tonight. His tips would be lower, but at least his sanity might survive with the resuscitation of a cigarette. He might as well go for broke.
"It would have been private," he managed to find his voice; surprised it wasn't lost in his thoughts.
She didn't move—one foot back behind the other at an odd angle, supported only by the tip of one heel; her hand resting on the doorknob.
"Nothing fancy, and God knows probably not planned. Just some moment, when I'd look at you, and found you so beautiful I couldn't speak," he could feel the lump in the back of his throat. He could picture her lying next to him in bed, the sheet draped just so over her body, revealing enough skin to stir arousal but not enough to be considered erotic. Her hair splayed out over his bicep as her head turned back to look at him….
"Sounds perfect," she said simply, breaking his heart.
When he opened his eyes, she was gone. Once the sign was secured back in the janitorial closet and his boss convinced that he needed to switch sections to keep an eye on the barely held together valve in the ladies room, ten minutes had passed. He saw another waiter coming back down the spiral staircase with a tray carrying the remains of what he'd set up—the sunflower-filled vase, two partially empty flutes of champagne; one rimmed on one side with the color of her lips.
The Police's Message In A Bottle was cut off mid-lyric, in favor of the soft crescendo of a symphony. The sound of empty plates falling against the metal counter, the feel of hot plates being slid onto his tray, all the mundane sensations that filled his world on a nightly basis surrounded him again in her absence.
He walked out onto the city streets that night with less cash than he'd anticipated in his pocket, but with a long-last look that no money could buy.