Tristan snatched Rory's books from her hands. She shot him an annoyed glare.
"You'll get them back when you agree to go with me."
She turned her back on him and strode away, her back straight, her shoulders squared. "You're pathetic Tristan. Keep the books. I'm leaving." He shook his head and hurried after her.
"Come on, Rory," he said. She ignored him and kept walking. "Look, just come with me. What's the big deal?"
"The big deal?" Rory said. "Well, let's see. It could be that the fact that I'm not interested means nothing to you. It could be that you lied to Paris. It could be that you think you can *force* me to go with you. I'm like the U.S Government, I don't negotiate with terrorists."
"I'm hardly a terrorist," Tristan protested.
"Fine," Rory said. "You're not using terror, you're just tormenting me. You're a tormentorist."
"Not a real word," Tristan pointed out, keeping pace with her quick moving legs.
"Argh!" Rory said. She turned on Tristan, and leaned forward. "Get this through your head. I'm not going to date you. Not now, not *ever.* So give up and move on."
Tristan met her eyes, and she waited with her eyebrows raised. He clutched her books in one hand, raised beside his ear, then lowered the hand and stretched the books toward her. She held out her arms and he placed the books on them. Then he turned silently and walked away. With an exaggerated sigh, Rory turned again and hurried to catch the bus to Stars Hollow before it pulled away from the curb.
Rory dumped her books on her bed, and slung her backpack off her shoulder. She threw herself down on the mattress and lay for a moment staring at the ceiling with gritted teeth. Lane hadn't met her at the bus stop and for once she was glad. She couldn't stand to talk about Dean, or how much she missed him. And she was still too frustrated over the disaster of a day she'd had at Chilton to speak coherently. She had the feeling the moment she opened her mouth she was going to scream. In just one day all the carefully built friendships she'd cultivated had crumbled; Paris, Madeline and Louisa, even her tentative peace with Tristan. And damn Tristan anyway. This was all his fault. After a few minutes she gave up on lying back and grabbed her math book. With an angry jerk she flipped to that night's assignment, hoping to take her mind off her suddenly nonsocial social life.
The pages of the book fell open, and she reached uncomprehending for the ticket shoved against the book binding. God! What was Tristan's prob- Her eyes widened slightly as she pulled at the glossy paper with its big bold letters spelling PJ Harvey, and she realized she held two tickets in her hand. She stared at them, unsure of how she should react. Unsure of what it meant.
She knelt on her bed for a moment, then unzipped her backpack and pulled out her history notebook. She quickly flipped past pages of notes and found the section on the recent group project she'd done with Tristan, Paris and the others on creating an ideal society. They'd all exchanged phone numbers so they could figure out meeting times and exchange last minute information, and Tristan's number was there at the end of the list. She grabbed her phone off her desk and returned to the bed. She hesitated, her heart pounding, then she shook her head and dialed Lane's number.
"Kim Antiques," Mrs. Kim said abruptly.
"May I please speak with Lane?" Rory asked.
"Is this Rory?" Mrs. Kim said. "Lane is doing homework. She can't be distracted. You should know!"
"I won't keep her long," Rory said. "But it's really important."
"Fine," Mrs. Kim answered. "Five minutes. I'm timing you."
"Thanks," Rory said, but Mrs. Kim had already put down the phone with a thump. Rory heard her calling Lane in the background and then the phone was picked up again.
"Rory?" Lane said.
"Yeah," Rory answered. "Your mom's timing us so I'll make it fast. Tristan invited me to PJ Harvey, and I said no, and we got in a fight."
"You said no to PJ Harvey?" Lane asked.
"He was making it a date."
"Yeah, but PJ Harvey."
"Yeah, but dating Tristan," Rory said. "And anyway he was being a jerk and he told Paris I was going with him so now she hates me again and is going to force me to write newspaper articles on cafeteria food and it's a whole big deal. But that's not why I called. I found the tickets in my book."
"What do you mean?" Lane asked. "Like you found them because they accidentally got in there? Or he left them for you?"
"He stole my books," Rory said. "And I guess he put them in there. Both of them."
"So what's the big question?" Lane said.
"Well, what do I do?"
"How about, go to the concert!" Lane answered. "That was kind of a no brainer."
"Yeah, but then I'm taking gifts from him," Rory said. "It'll be like I owe him."
"Not necessarily," Lane answered. "Because you said he just screwed up your whole life at Chilton again, right? So this really doesn't make it close to even. In fact, he owes you."
"Besides," Lane added. "It's PJ Harvey!"
"So, you want to go?"
"Nah," Lane said. "I'll pass." Rory could almost see her grin. "Of course I want to go!"
"Lane!" Mrs Kim yelled. "Phone time is over."
"I've gotta go," Lane said. 'I'll call you back after I ask my mom if I can come over."
Rory hung up and resumed contemplation of the tickets. It wasn't like Tristan to do something like this. Something...nice. He had to have some kind of trick up his sleeve. But on the other hand, it was PJ Harvey. She studied the tickets more closely. And great seats too, third row. They must have cost a fortune. He hadn't been lying about that. She wrinkled her nose at the sudden stab of guilt. Was it really fair of her to just take his expensive tickets and use them herself? She reminded herself of all the things he'd done to make her life miserable and tried to reassure herself that it was only fair that she finally get something good out the fact that Tristan wouldn't get out of her life.
The phone rang and she put the tickets back in her book before scooping it up.
"Hello?" she said.
"Bad news," Lane said with a sigh.
"Your mom said no?"
"How'd you guess?" Lane said sarcastically. "I didn't even get to the concert part. I just asked if I could come over, and she shut me down."
"Maybe I won't go either then," Rory said.
"Darn it, girl," Lane said. "What's it going to take to get you to enjoy yourself? You must go. When are you going to get another chance to see PJ Harvey? Take Lorelai."
"Yeah, I could do that," Rory said. "I'll have to check and see if she's busy tonight."
"I'm telling you," Lane said. "If you have to grab some bum off the street to go with you, do it. I need to at least be able to say I *know* someone who's seen PJ Harvey live if I can't go myself."
"Right, the fun by osmosis theory," Rory said.
"On which our friendship is based," Lane said. "Now, I gotta go before my mom corners me with a plate of bran muffins."
"I'll call you tomorrow," Rory said.
"And tell me all the concert details," Lane added.
"Right," Rory agreed.
She hung up and dialed the number for the Independence Inn.
"Independence Inn," Michel said snootily.
"Michel," she said. "I need to talk to my mom."
"Who is this?" he asked.
"You know who it is," Rory said, rolling her eyes.
"Yes, I do," he agreed. "But the giving of ones name is a common courtesy among civilized people."
"Then you shouldn't expect it from me," Rory said cheerfully.
"You are a horrible child," Michel said. "Just like your mother. It took us hours to clear out these tacky daisies."
"What?" She heard the phone transfer hands, and a distant exchange of insults.
"Hey, babe," her mother's voice said.
"Hey, sounds like Michel's in an extra bad mood," she answered. "Because of daisies?"
"Yeah," Lorelai answered. "It's kind of a long story involving Max and more yellow daisies than I knew existed in Connecticut. I think he must have had to ship them in from, well wherever daisies are the state flower."
"Uh, I feel like I'm missing something here," Rory said.
"Yeah, you are," Lorelai answered. "I'm withholding information until I figure out what any of this means."
"Well, I guess I can't be expected to know what you're talking about when you don't have any clue either," Rory teased. "Anyway, I've got two tickets for PJ Harvey tonight. Want to go?"
"Wow! PJ Harvey!"
"I know," Rory said.
"How did you score those?" Lorelai asked. "I thought the show was sold out."
"This is the weird part," Rory said. "Tristan gave them to me."
"Well, he has a thing for you, right? So, not that weird."
"He doesn't have a thing..." Rory started. "I'm not even getting into that again. So you want to go with me?"
"I'd love to, babe," Lorelai said. "I mean really. But I just called Max and told him I'd come over tonight."
"Part of the figuring out what this whole vague, unexplained situation means?" Rory said.
"Yeah," Lorelai answered. "I can cancel on him if you want. You know my motto: daughter first, all others must be this tall to enter. No wait...the daughter first part is right though."
Rory grinned. "It's okay, mom. You figure out your stuff. I'll find someone else to go with."
"Good," Lorelai answered. "Maybe you could go with Paris."
"Not really an option," Rory said, with a bitter snort. "I'll explain later."
"Okay, I'll wait up for you. We can have an all-night mother-daughter share-fest."
"So you'll be asleep on the couch when I get back?"
"K," Rory said. "See you then."
"Right on. Have a great time."
Rory hung up the phone. She picked up the tickets again. She could just not go. But then how would she explain to her mom or Lane that she'd been too chicken or lazy to go see one of her favorite singers. She sighed. She could ask Dean. She shook her head. Scratch that. She still had no idea what he wanted or whether he had any feelings for her other than annoyance that she was stalking him and freaking out his poor little sister. She picked up the notebook and read Tristan's number. She dialed the number, trying to console herself with the thought that at least she wouldn't have to feel guilty for using the tickets herself.
"DuGray residence," a cultured female voice said.
"Hi," Rory answered. "Can I talk to Tristan? It's Rory. Rory Gilmore. But you probably didn't need to know that. Because my name wouldn't really mean anything to you since we've never met, and...I'm going to be quiet now."
"Tristan will be just a moment," the woman said. Rory tapped her fingernails against the back of phone, and took a deep nervous breath.
"Rory," Tristan said.
"Yeah, hi," she answered. "I think I scared your mom."
"Don't worry about it," he answered. "So why are you calling? Last thing I remember, you never wanted to see me again."
"I got the tickets," she said.
"Okay..." he said, waiting for more information.
"So thanks I guess."
"Well, that was resounding gratitude," he said sarcastically.
"And I'm calling to see if you want to go.... I mean as friends," she quickly added.
"I gave them both to you so you could go without me," Tristan said.
"Yeah, well I tried that," Rory said. "But in case you've forgotten I have no friends at Chilton thanks to you. And everybody's busy or not allowed out of the house over here."
"So, you need a ride, and I'm your only hope?" he said. She tried to guess whether he was amused or annoyed.
"Sort of," Rory said.
"Fine," Tristan said. "I'll be at your house in half an hour."
"Do you even know where it is?"
"Yeah, I've got the address."
"Fine." He hung up. Rory shook her head at the phone, and wondered just how bad this night was going to be.
About thirty-five minutes later, there was a knock on the door. Rory smoothed her hair, then reprimanded herself for it. It wasn't like she was out to impress him. She hurried down the stairs, tickets in hand, and grabbed her jacket off the hook by the door. Then she opened the door to Tristan waiting on the porch with his hands in the pockets of his faded jeans.
"Let's go," she said, closing the door behind her.
"What, no tour?" Tristan said, arching his eyebrow with a smirk.
"We only give those on weekends." Rory waited by the passenger's side of his red sports car.
"It's unlocked," he said, and slid in on his side. She opened the door and slid in after him. She pulled a CD from the pocket of her jacket.
"PJ Harvey," she said, holding it up.
"You want to listen to it right before the concert?"
"At least then you'll know who you're going to see," she said.
He shrugged. "And what if I hate her. Then I'll be stuck listening to both the CD and the concert."
"Who buys concert tickets for bands they've never even heard?"
"Me," Tristan said, making a sudden turn. Rory tried to keep from gasping as he hit the accelerator.
"You do realize we're not late," she said.
"You're going really fast."
"No," she said, trying to contain her annoyance.
"Not my fault that you're only used to the oh-so-slow pace of the bus," he said, shrugging her off. But she noticed that he did slow down. She smiled a little.
"What?" he said, catching the smile.
"No, really. Do you want me to put in the CD or not?"
"Your call," he said. "I guess if it makes me ears bleed we don't have to listen to the whole thing." She smiled again, and popped the CD in the player.
"You're going to hate it," she said, grinning.
"Maybe I'll surprise you."
Rory watched the streetlights whip past the window. Tristan snuck a glance at the side of her head, bobbing slightly with the music. He tore his eyes away and returned them determinedly to the road.
"It's not that bad," he said to break the silence between them.
She turned her head to look at him. "You don't have to say that."
"What do you mean?"
"I don't care if you like her or not," she said.
"Well, I appreciate the concern," Tristan said, his eyebrows contracting in slight annoyance.
"I just mean, you don't have to pretend you like it."
"Don't worry," he said. "I won't." He paused, then finished. "And just so you know, I wasn't pretending anything."
"Well, it wasn't exactly huge praise," she said.
"Sorry I'm not gushing and spouting poetry after hearing three songs," Tristan snapped.
"I didn't-" Rory sighed, then stopped. "Just forget it."
"You're the one who-" Tristan stopped and shook his head. "Let's talk about something else then. School?"
"God, no," Rory said. "I don't even want to think about that."
"I didn't try to get Paris mad at you on purpose, you know."
"Whatever you say."
"I mean it. I didn't know she'd-"
They sat for a moment without speaking. Rory shifted uncomfortably, then exploded into the silence. "You know she's in love with you, right?"
"I thought you didn't want to talk about-"
"Just answer the question."
"I wouldn't say *in love.* She has a crush on me. Guess what? A lot of people do."
"Could you be more arrogant?" Rory said. "And, she *would* say in love, so what the heck did you think was going to happen when you told her I was going on a date with you?"
"I didn't think anything was going to happen."
"Then you're stupider than I thought," Rory said. "And it was a lie anyway. So why did you say it?"
"I don't know," Tristan shrugged. "I didn't think it was a lie. I thought you were going to say yes eventually." He sneered, then said. "And look, here we are."
Rory stared at him, her eyes blazing. "You're unbelievable."
"Look," he said loudly. "I'm sorry I ruined your life, okay?" He continued more quietly. "If you want me to try to fix it I will. I'll talk to Paris or whatever."
"And tell her what?" Rory groaned. "Now, I *am* going with you, after I told her I wasn't, that's all she's going to care about."
"Well, I'm trying to help," he said. "So either tell me how, or get off my back."
"If I knew how to fix it, it wouldn't be a problem," she said. "And please for the love of God, don't help me. Your help I can do without."
"Find a neutral topic of conversation then."
"Have you always been this big a jerk?"
"I said *neutral.* Is that what you call neutral?"
"No," Rory said. She stared fixedly out the window. "I can't even talk to you."
"Well then, it's going to be a long night," Tristan said.
"Could you at least *try* to be civil?"
"This was a mistake."
"Probably, yeah," Tristan agreed, looking in the rearview mirror as he made a left hand turn. "But it's a little late for that, so can we please make the best of it?"
Rory sighed. "Yeah."
"So conversation topic?"
"Okay," she said sullenly. "What's your favorite book?"
He laughed. "Why am I not surprised?"
"You think of a topic then!"
"No, this is fine. Let's see. I just read _Lolita_."
"Because you thought the movie was sexy?" Rory said snidely.
Tristan laughed, and Rory shot him a glare. "Sure, why not. The book was better though. I thought it was pretty funny how the people who made the movie completely missed the point."
"That it was all in the guy's head?"
"Totally," Tristan said. "I love it how he was just a really sick, dirty old man."
"What about other stuff by Nabakov?" Rory asked. "Have you read _Pale Fire_?"
"No," Tristan said. "But I think I've heard of it. That's the one that's set up like a critical edition of a poem?"
"Yeah," Rory said. "It starts out a little slow. But it's really wild and different. And it gets pretty funny."
"I'll have to check it out then."
Rory snuck a look at Tristan, and cocked her head, studying his profile as he concentrated on the road. It was odd to see him this way, as someone who was listening to her, someone who was taking her seriously. Maybe she could talk to him without it turning into a fight. Maybe they had more in common than she'd realized. Her brow wrinkled as she considered it. He turned his head toward her, and she quickly looked away.
"If we're talking funny," he said. "Have you read _Barchester Towers_? It really surprised me. I'd never even heard of Trollope."
"I haven't read that one yet," she said. "I read _The Warden_ but then I went on a George Eliot kick for a while and kind of got off the Victorian track after that."
"Barchester is much funnier," he said. "A lot of the same characters. A longer book, but it moves faster, and I think it's an easier read."
"I'll add it to my list then," she said. "But I've got three other books to get through first."
"So you should be done with it by the end of the weekend," he said, grinning.
"Yeah," she played along with the teasing. "That sounds about right."
"What about music?" he asked. "What do you listen to besides PJ Harvey?"
Tristan followed the directions of the guys in fluorescent orange vests as they waved the cars into the grass parking lot outside the amphitheater. "No way," he said. "How can you like Monster Magnet more than Metallica? They only had one hit. And they're a total rip-off of Metallica to begin with."
"Yeah, but they don't take themselves so seriously. If you're playing heavy metal, you have to do it with a sense of humor. And Space Lord is a great song."
"But it doesn't make any sense," Tristan said. "What is that song even about?"
"This guy from space who comes down to earth and, and," Rory floundered. "And wants his mother."
Tristan laughed and parked the car on the lawn. "That's not exactly meaningful," he said, turning to look at Rory as she undid her seatbelt.
"Music doesn't always have to mean something," she said.
"Spoken like a true teenybopper," he snorted.
"Hey, I'm not saying I like the Backstreet Boys or Britney Spears or anything," she said. "But don't you ever listen to music just for fun. Like Love Shack, or I'm Too Sexy. How can you not love those songs?"
"You're right," he said. "I'm Too Sexy is the greatest song in the world."
She laughed and shook her head. "You play that when you're getting dressed don't you? Everyday." She laughed again. 'You shake your little tush on the cat walk."
"You're picturing that right now, aren't you?" he said.
"I was trying not to."
"Give in to the temptation," he said with a smirk. "You know you want me."
She rolled her eyes at him. "You know you're delusional." She opened the car door and climbed out. Tristan quickly followed. She handed him one of the tickets over the top of the car. Their hands brushed lightly, and she had to stop herself from jerking away. That would be a perfect way to put them right back in enemy-ville. He looked at her hand, still resting slightly against his, and swallowed, his heart beating a little too hard. Then he gently pulled the ticket and his hand away.
They headed toward the amphitheater, and a sudden clap of thunder split the sky. Rory and Tristan exchanged a look.
"You didn't happen to bring a raincoat did you?" she asked.
"The storm probably won't even hit," he said. "It sounds like it's miles away."
She nodded. "You're probably right." She had barely said the words when the first raindrop landed on the head. They exchanged another look, and then it began to pour, sheets of water cascading from the sky, soaking through their clothes in seconds.
"Run!" Tristan yelled. Rory shrieked, holding up one hand over her head. He grabbed her other hand and pulled, leading her around a rapidly forming puddle of mud. They dodged through the cars parked in the grass lot, heading for the covered entrance to the amphitheater. Around them, some people ducked back in their cars, while others joined the mad dash to the concert venue.
When they reached the crowded overhang in front of the gates that led inside, they were wet to the skin. Rory felt like she'd been thrown in a pool with all her clothes on. Water dripped from her hair, her shirt, her jeans. She looked at Tristan, his hair flattened and dripping, his shirt clinging to his chest. She smiled, then tried hard to swallow a giggle, then began to laugh helplessly. He looked at his dripping clothes, then at her in disbelief, then suddenly started to laugh as well. He shook his head and water flew from his hair, spraying droplets, and he laughed harder. Soon they were bent over double, gasping for breath.
"Stay or go?" he said once they'd calmed down a little. Rory was still battling fits of giggles.
"It's your call," she said. "You have less of a reason to be here." He stared at the wet strands of hair that clung to her face, the wide smile she kept trying to control along with the giggles, and the bright blue of her eyes meeting his, seeing him for what felt like the first time.
"Let's stay," he said with a grin. "What's a little water?" Lightening split the sky and a clap of thunder crashed against their ears. "And electricity?" he said, grinning even wider.
She laughed. "Are you sure?"
He nodded. "Completely."
"Then we'll stay," she said. They pulled out their soaked tickets and headed for the turnstiles. "The good thing is, there's no way we can get any wetter."
"They're selling raincoats," Tristan said. "I'll buy us a couple." Rory looked at the mob of people outside the booth.
"But look at the line."
"But look at the rain."
She shrugged. "It's your time, you can waste it if you want."
"Thanks for the permission," he said with a snort.
They joined the slow moving line, and she squeezed some of the water out of the bottom of her shirt, grinning at the puddle she was creating. Finally they reached the front of the line, and Tristan asked for two of the cheap plastic ponchos. He paid for the wildly overpriced raingear and handed one to Rory. They quickly slipped them on, and broke into laughter again at the spectacle of the two of them wearing glorified trashbags over their heads.
"I'll pay you back," she said.
"Don't worry about it."
"But you already paid for the tickets."
"Don't worry about that either."
"Just let me pay."
"Look, it's not a big thing," he said. "I have the money."
"That's not the point."
"Well, maybe it should be. It's just practical for the person with the money to pay."
"I can afford to buy a raincoat, you know," Rory said, beginning to feel angry.
"I know that," Tristan said. "But like you said...it's my daddy's money. And he's got plenty more."
"That's not-" Rory started.
"Look," Tristan said. "I get it. You don't want this to be a date. And if I'm paying for everything it looks like a date." He shook his head. "I'm not stupid," he said. "I know it's not a date. You've said so a million times. I *get* it."
"I wasn't trying-" Rory started. "Okay, maybe I was. But you have to admit, I do have some cause. I mean, you haven't exactly been low-pressure about me going out with you."
"True," he admitted. "And I can't say that I won't keep trying to get you to go out with me. But this right here," he motioned toward the area between them, "is not a date. I understand that, okay?"
Rory nodded. "Okay."
"Okay," Tristan said. "Let's go find our seats."
After about fifteen minutes in the pouring rain, Rory gave up on her hood. The sound of the rain pounding against the plastic was drowning out the music. She slipped the plastic off her head, and let the rain fall against her head cold and hard. Tristan turned to her with a smile, wanting to point out the drunk guy who stood next to them, trying to light his cigarette with a water-logged lighter. Her attention was on the stage; she didn't even seem to notice the water splashing against her face. He pushed his own hood back absently, and blinked against the fall of drops on his eyelashes and head. She was moving slightly, bobbing on her toes. She was beautiful.
She turned away from the stage for just a moment, her excited smile wide and open. "Isn't she incredible!" she yelled. He nodded, and she turned back to the stage. The view from where they stood on top of their hard plastic seats was great. She closed her eyes and let the rain pelt her while the music surrounded her. Not thinking anymore, just feeling. When she looked at Tristan again he had his mouth open, catching raindrops on his tongue. She laughed and copied the motion.
It had stopped raining about a half hour before the concert ended. Their clothes were still soaked, cold, wet, clammy and intensely uncomfortable. But neither of them minded too much. They talked about the best moments of the concert as they returned to the car, almost skipping in their excitement, saying to each other, did you see... did you notice... I can't believe... Wasn't it incredible when... until they were almost out of breath.
Back in the car, Tristan turned on the heat, and they both sat shivering despite the hot air.
"There's a seatwarmer," Tristan said. "Just flip the switch there. The black one with the red design on it."
"Let's face it," she said, flipping the switch. "We're not going to be warm until we change our clothes."
"Well, it's going to be awhile before we get back, so try not to get pneumonia."
"I'll try, but no promises."
"Oh wait," he said. "There's a Wendy's."
"You have a craving for fries?"
"No, but some coffee would be nice."
"I can't argue with you there."
"It's a miracle."
"One more of those and I get to be a saint. I had my first miracle two weeks ago when I turned down a second piece of cheesecake."
"I'm just not sure that's what they meant when they wrote out the job description for sainthood."
"The standards are much lower now," Rory said. "It's because of el nino." He gave her an amused look. "What?" she said. "Everything can be traced back to el nino."
Tristan pulled into the drive-through and ordered two coffees. Rory cradled her cup in her hands, taking careful sips as he returned them to the highway.
"Thanks," she said.
He shrugged. "I was serious about that pneumonia thing. Coffee's good for fighting off lung diseases. I did a scientific study on it." He chuckled.
"Not just for that," she said. He glanced away from the road to give her a questioning look. "I mean for the concert and everything."
He shrugged again, uncomfortably. "It's no big deal."
"It kind of is," she said, looking intently at the Styrofoam cup in her hands. "I was really rude to you when you invited me, and then earlier today. And you still came with me, in the rain and everything. You didn't have to do that."
"So you were rude," he said. "And I was pushy, and took your yes for granted, and got you in Paris' bad column. So I deserved it. And it's not like I had anything else planned for tonight."
"I'm just saying thank you," she said.
"Well, then you're welcome." She nodded once at that.
"I actually had fun. It could have been a disaster, but it really wasn't."
Tristan nodded. "We didn't hit any icebergs or anything."
"Although we did almost drown." Rory grinned.
"It would have been okay," Tristan said. "I was a lifeguard one summer at camp. I know CPR."
Rory laughed. "Why can't we get along like this all the time?" she asked, half-joking. "What is it about Chilton that causes hostility? Is it asbestos or lead paint or something?"
Tristan just shook his head.
They rode in silence for a while, warming themselves with the coffee. Then Rory spoke softly. "Tristan?"
"Yeah," he said.
"Can I ask you a personal question?"
"Boxers," he replied. She looked at him with her eyebrows raised. He turned from the road to give her a little smirk. She let out a chuckle.
"Not that question."
"Go ahead," he said.
"You don't have to answer if it's too weird."
"Rory, you don't have to put a disclaimer on it, just ask the question."
"Why?" she said. "Why do you keep asking me out?"
"Because I want you to say yes." His hands tightened on the steering wheel, and his jaw jumped nervously.
"Yeah, but...it's a game, right?" she said, turning in her seat to look at him. "I mean it's a bet or a challenge or something?"
He sat in silence for a long moment, and she tried to think of a way to back them out of the awkward place they were heading. Then he finally spoke just one word, "no."
"I just like you," he interrupted. "That's all."
She sat thoughtfully, picking at the top of her cup with her fingernails. "You have a funny way of showing it."
"I'm not used to rejection," he said. "It doesn't bring out my best."
He wrinkled his brow at her in confusion. "Sorry for what?"
"I don't know," she said. He nodded suddenly, his brow smoothing as though he suddenly understood. "No," she said, "I didn't mean it like that."
"It's okay," he said.
"I just-" she started. "I mean, there's Dean. And--"
"I understand," he interrupted. "You don't have to explain anything to me."
"I shouldn't have said anything."
"It would have happened sooner or later," he said.
"Yeah, but it would have been later."
"Well, now it's over with."
"And we can still be friends?" She made it a question. "If we're friends now that is."
He hesitated a moment. "I want to be your friend," he said. "But," he shrugged. "I have problems with not getting what I want. And I don't know if I'll be able to just..." he trailed off. "It's not that easy. I mean, we can try."
"Okay," she said. "That's good enough for me."
"But don't ever come to me with guy troubles cause I will slam the door in your face," he said.
"Right," she said, pretending to take a note on her palm. "I'll mark that down."
"And we're not going to, you know, hang out everyday and gossip or call each other everynight or any of that."
"Of course," she said. "I won't try to paint your toenails either."
"And I *may* accidentally call you Mary once or twice."
She rolled her eyes. "What is this," she said, "the Geneva Peace Accords?"
"It's just as historic," Tristan said in mock seriousness. "The infamous PJ Harvey Treaty of 2001. You should really try remember everything about this important moment for posterity."
Rory snorted. "Remind me to call Winston Churchill later."
"Um," Tristan said. "Okay, but he's dead."
"That doesn't mean we can't stay in touch."
"Touching dead people is not cool, no matter what the peer pressure is telling you. That is what we call a bad touch."
"Gross," Rory said. "Now I'm going to forced to get you back by describing this one time I watched them do a double bypass to this guy's heart on that hospital channel."
"Oh wait," Tristan said, "I think I saw that one. Was the guy bald with a really funny looking red nose?"
"No, that must have been a different guy. This one 's nose was normal, but he had no lips whatsoever."
When they reached her house, Tristan pulled into the driveway, and turned off the engine. He rested his hands on his legs, and looked over at Rory. She met his eyes, and the moment stretched awkwardly between them.
"I guess I'll see you at school," she said.
"Yes, you will."
"And I guess I'll have to talk to you, since you're now my only friend at Chilton."
"And I guess I'll have to answer you because it's my fault you have no friends."
"So that's settled." He nodded. "So, goodnight."
She opened the door, and he watched her climb out of the car. She turned to shut the door, then popped her head back inside instead. "Thanks again," she said.
"You don't have to keep thanking me."
"I know," she said, and ducked back out of the car. She shut the door, and walked across the porch, fiddling with her keys. She waved once as she slipped inside, and he waited a moment, just staring at the door. He fingered the ticket stub in his pocket, then brought it out, peering at it in the dim glow of the porch light. All the writing had disappeared, and the paper was half disintegrated from the water. He touched it lightly, reverently, then he tucked it in the back of his sunvisor. He started the car, and headed home, realizing when he was halfway there that she'd forgotten her PJ Harvey CD. For some reason, he was glad.
Rory snuck past her mom, who was asleep on the couch, and into her room. She peeled off her wet clothes and took a quick, but very hot shower, then changed into the lovely warmth of her flannel pajamas. She wrestled with turning her jeans right-side in, the wet material heavy in her hands. A soggy ticket stub fell from her pocket onto the floor, and she picked it up. She draped her wet clothes over her chair, and tucked the ticket stub into the side of her mirror. She grinned at her reflection, still excited that she'd seen PJ Harvey, still shocked she and Tristan had come to some sort of understanding. Then she hurried to the kitchen, sliding in socked feet, where she snagged a cup of coffee for her mom and headed back out to the living room to wake Lorelai and spill all the juicy details of her night out.