She glanced at the piece of paper and then at the house, back at the piece of paper. She was delaying, putting off the inevitable. She wondered if Luke had called him, telling him she was coming. No one but Luke knew where she had gone, not even her mother. Luke seemed to understand and gave her the address without asking any questions. She shoved the piece of paper into her front pocket, glanced up and down the sidewalk, and finally walked to the door. Why had it seemed so logical to come here when her life was such a mess?
"Be brave, Rory," she muttered, as she opened the storm door and knocked. The doorbell escaped her notice until just that moment and she sighed heavily. "What a dork."
"May I help you?"
"Uh, hi," she said, tucking her hair behind her ear. She realized what she was doing and dropped her hand to her side. "I'm looking for Jess. Is he home?"
"No, he's at work."
"Oh," Rory said, defeated. The man standing in the door regarded her as intently as she did him. She assumed he was Jess' father and could see where he got his dark and broody good looks from. And he seemed stable, too, compared to Jess' mother. Of course, it was hard not to be more stable than Jess' mother. "When will he be back?"
"You're Rory, right?"
"Yes, I am."
"I recognize you from your picture."
"Oh," she said, feeling a little disappointed that he hadn't assumed it was her because of the way Jess talked about her. Did he have a new girlfriend? She shook her head. She did not come here for a boyfriend. She had Logan for that. She just wanted a friend, someone who knew what she was before. She wanted to know that girl was still in her somewhere.
"You can wait here if you want, or I can tell you where he works. It's not too far from here."
"When will he be back?"
"Well, I think he gets off in about an hour, but he doesn't always come right home. So, if you don't want to be sitting here for hours with me and my old lady, going to him would probably be the smartest move."
"Okay. Is it hard to find?"
"No, just a second, I'll take you there."
"Oh, you don't have to. I can walk."
"I need cigarettes anyway. I'll grab my keys and we'll go," he said, walking away from Rory to what appeared to be the kitchen. "Did you just get in?"
"Uh, yeah, you don't even want to know how long it took to get here by bus."
"I've made the trip a couple times myself, so I understand. I hope you brought a good book or two."
"I did." She always had books with her, bus ride or not.
He returned to the foyer area, dangling a set of keys. "Let's go see what my son is up to."
Rory smiled. "Where does he work?"
"He'll probably kill me for telling you let alone bringing you."
"What? It can't be that bad," she said, following him out to his car.
"It was the only thing he could find and let him go to school."
"He's going to school?"
"Yeah, I tried to push him to get his GED, but he wanted to go the official route. He graduates in a couple of weeks."
"That's great," she said. She couldn't help but feel a little hurt. Why did he have to come here and get all organized and together? Wasn't she worth doing that for? She still hadn't completely gotten over not being able to go to Stars Hollow High's prom.
"I'm proud of him. I think he expected to come out here and be able to get away with being a beach bum, but I wouldn't have it."
"I can't say I'm a pro at this father thing, but I know I don't want him to turn out the way I did. He's got potential, you know?"
"Yeah, I do."
"I guess you would. So, your year is done at Yale?"
"You planning on staying here long?"
"I don't know. I really didn't plan on anything. I only brought clothes for a few days. No one but Luke knows I'm here."
"Oh, hey, if your mom is worried maybe you should call her."
"I will, when I'm ready."
"All right. Jess has talked enough about you that I trust you'll know when you're ready." He pulled his car to the side of the road. "This is it. Do you have money for a cup of coffee?"
"Yeah, I do, thanks," she said, smiling brightly as she looked out the window at the Starbuck's sign. She wouldn't ever have imagined Jess working somewhere like this. She wondered if she ever really knew him.
"You bet, Rory. See you kids in a little while."
"Okay." She shut the car door and stood on the sidewalk for a minute. She'd never done anything this irrational in her life. Well, okay, she had just recently, but that was different. That was impulsive, she'd had plenty of time to think this through.
She saw him immediately. He was easy enough to spot because he was the best-looking guy there. He hadn't noticed her yet, so she took a minute to take him in. He looked good. His hair was shorter than she remembered, but maybe Starbuck's required that sort of thing. Otherwise, despite the uniform, he looked the same as she'd last seen him.
"Can I help you?"
"Uh, hi," she said, stepping up to the counter and placed her order. He still hadn't noticed her, evidently hearing her voice after months didn't jog his memory. "Uh, hey Jess."
His head shot up from what he was doing, recognition and surprise registered in his eyes. He didn't seem upset to see her so that was good. In fact, his wide smile said just the opposite. "Rory, hi. What are you doing here?"
"Oh you know me and coffee."
"Right. This is a long way from Stars Hollow."
"I didn't go home."
"And you came here?"
"I did something really stupid."
"I'll talk to you when you're shift is done."
"How did you find me?"
"Your dad. Well, Luke gave me the address and your dad brought me here. I took the bus."
"You took the bus from Connecticut?"
"I heard you had a Yale boyfriend."
"Luke mentioned it."
"Can we talk when you're done?"
"Sure," he glanced at the clock and walked to the back out of view. He returned a few minutes later. "I'm done."
"Your dad said you had like an hour left."
"So I asked them if I could go early. It's not every day I get visitors from the other coast."
"No," he said, draping his arm around her shoulders as she took hold of the cup of coffee from the counter. "Let's walk. Or is my dad waiting?"
"Nope, he said something about cigarettes and seeing us later."
"Okay then." He looked at her as they headed toward the door. "Can I kiss you?"
"What? Why wouldn't you be able to kiss me?"
"I don't know. You tell me. If you're serious about this other guy."
Since when had that stopped him? He'd done everything he could to break her and Dean up. "I don't know what I'm doing."
"Ah," he said, pushing the door open for her. Once on the sidewalk he kissed her. It wasn't a deep kiss, a friendly peck more than anything. It made her smile, though.
"So, tell Jess all about it."
And she did. She told him everything. It was so cathartic, better than confession. And the best thing was, she knew Jess wouldn't condemn or judge her. He listened without interruption as she spilled her guts about the past year.
"So, you're violating probation right now?"
"Well, not exactly, I haven't been sentenced. I suppose in a way I have, because no one knows where I am. But Luke does, I think if it got that serious he'd call."
"Wow, now there's a switch. My ex-girlfriend is a criminal."
"I have to admit, you're the last person I ever expected to say that about."
"So, what did you come here for?"
"I just need to get my mind straight. I don't know what I'm doing. I just," she shrugged. "I'm not talking to my mom right now, living with my grandparents. I just needed someone to talk to."
"What about your boyfriend? This Logan guy?"
"I don't think he'd understand and I think he's overseas."
"Right, of course."
"You're not second choice, Jess. You were the first one I thought of when I needed to talk to someone. You knew me before Yale and I guess I needed that, need to find that person again."
"So, you're going to stay here for a few days and go back?"
"Yes. I'm not running away. I just needed some Rory time. My grandparents can be a bit overbearing."
"Yeah, I remember that about them."
"I suppose you would."
"Rory, I have to say it. After lecturing me and Dean. Are you sure dropping Yale is what you should be doing?"
"It's not forever."
"No, I'm sure you think that now."
"I know it. I just need to figure out what I'm supposed to be doing. Maybe I'm not supposed to be a journalist."
"I've read your stuff, Rory. I think that guy's dad was just being hard on you. Whatever the reason, I don't think he was fair or right."
She stopped walking then and looked at him. He wasn't one to throw compliments or pretty words around casually. So she believed he meant what he said. "You don't?"
"No, it doesn't sound like he really gave you much of a shot, not in a way that would really show whether you were any good or not. And who is he anyway? One guy. How many writers have we both read who didn't sell right away?"
She tucked some hair behind her hair. "You're right."
"You still do that." He tapped her chin with a fingertip, touching her jaw with the pads of his fingers.
"Tuck your hair like that when you're nervous."
"Yeah, I've been doing it as long as I can remember. Probably longer."
"I make you nervous?"
"No, just the whole situation. I never thought I'd be in such a predicament."
"I can't argue with you there."
"I don't know what to do, Jess."
"Well, far be it from me to make a suggestion, but you came to me so it would seem you want me to. I guess I will. Go back, Rory. I'm glad you came and you can stay for a day or two if you want. You're not a runner, though, Rory, and if I let you stay here I'd be enabling you. If I thought you'd be happy here that'd be different. The Rory I know wouldn't run from her problems. The Rory I know wouldn't go without talking this through with her mom."
Her eyes began to tear and she looked away. "I don't know where I'd be happy."
"Do you love him?"
"Yeah, I think so anyway. He's so confusing, which doesn't help me to decide."
He leaned forward and kissed her. This one was better than the first one. The first one was more like a brother would kiss his sister. This was definitely different. His lips parted at the same time hers did. He stepped closer and her tongue met his. She'd forgotten how well he kissed. How she could forget something like that was beyond her.
He broke the kiss, resting his forehead against hers. "I'm not helping, am I?"
"I'd like to say I'm sorry, but despite the fact I left you I don't want to make it easy for you to run back to him. Connecticut maybe, not to him, though."
He kissed her again, rubbing his cheek against hers. "Shh. I know this isn't going anywhere. Things have changed. We've changed. We're not those people anymore. I've got a life here and I like it. Your life is out East, Rory. You'd never be happy here and I wouldn't ask you to try."
"I guess I was hoping." She gave him a small pout.
"What? That'd you'd see me and your problems would be solved." He slid a hand to the back of her head, smoothing her hair with it.
"Have I ever made things that easy for you?"
"No." She laughed then. It did seem ridiculous, he'd done nothing but cause upheaval and confusion in her life. She wouldn't trade her time with him, though. It made her realize that people weren't always what they seem. Jess had made her see that.
"There you go." He kissed her again. She wondered if he realized they were still standing on the street. "Rory, I wish I could give you the answers, but I'm afraid they have to come from you. It's the only way you'll know it's right." He tapped her chest lightly with a fingertip. "You'll feel it here."
"Is that how you felt when you left me?"
"No. I thought my heart would never heal, but I had to do it. I had to know if my father was the reason I was the way I am."
"He doesn't seem so bad."
"No, he's not a bad guy. We get along for the most part. He's a little pushy at times, but I guess that's what dad's are supposed to do."
"I wouldn't really know."
He smiled widely and they began walking again. "Me neither."
"Speaking of dads, yours says you're finishing school."
"He did, huh? That was supposed to be something between him and me."
"Well, evidently he thought I was important enough to tell. I'm proud of you."
"Thanks. I am, too. And if I haven't said it before, I'm sorry about prom."
"It's okay," she shrugged. "I just wanted one last night to see my friends. And Lane."
"I know, and I was a jerk."
"Yeah, you were."
"You don't have to agree so easily."
"Well, you admitted you were."
"How long do you think you're going to stay?"
"I don't know. A day or two. I'll probably call my grandma and see if I can fly back."
"I still can't believe Rory Gilmore took a bus across the country."
"It was kind of nice. The scenery and I got to think a lot."
"Did it help?"
"Not as much as seeing you did."
He drew her closer as they walked. "I'll always be here for you, Rory, but I just don't think our lives are meant to be connected. Not like we tried to be before. Not right now anyway. I hate to say it but this guy sounds like he's more your speed. Someone your grandparents would approve of."
"Well, I'm not sure that's saying much."
"He belongs in that life, Rory. I don't."
"You might be right, but I don't want to. I'd only drag you down."
"I'm not sure I can sink much lower."
"It was one time. You'll probably get a slap on the wrist, your grandparents will pay to have your record expunged and you'll be fine. If you were with me, though, sooner or later I'd stand in the way of you getting a job or a promotion."
"You don't know that."
"I do, because I can't be what you want me to be. I can't make myself fit into that world. I won't, and that's where our problem was. I wanted to, but I realized it just wasn't me. I can't change who I am."
"I never asked you to."
"Yeah, you did. Not directly, but you wanted me to be someone I'm not."
She thought about that. She supposed she had. She had with Dean, too. It hadn't occurred to her until recently that not everyone put such a priority in education and college like she did.
"I love you, Rory, that hasn't changed. I'd love for you to stay here, but I can't let you until you resolve what you need to back home."
"No, hear me out. You have to finish school. Or at least decide for yourself you don't want to go. I can't afford to send you to school and I doubt your grandparents would pay for you to go to college while you're living with me."
"No, that would be pretty out of the question."
"And I couldn't settle for less than that. All of you."
"You can stay for a few days, collect your thoughts, take in some sun, drink all the Starbuck's you want, but then you have to go back. If you come back, I want it to be because you're coming back to me."
"You lay a lot on a girl after just telling her she expected you to change."
"I've laid it on the line, told you how I feel, that this is who you'd be getting. If you go and come back then I'll know it's because you want me."
"I don't know what I want."
"I realize that, but let me just say that you're not the Rory Gilmore I knew and fell in love with. The Rory Gilmore I know would never let someone stand in her way of accomplishing her dream. You've talked of nothing but Harvard since I've known you. You were born to go to college. Look at me, the life I'm living. I'm living with a guy who works as a hot dog vendor. Is that the future you want? The father of your kids?"
"No," she admitted begrudgingly because she knew she couldn't have anything but the truth between them. Not after he'd confessed so much. "I think I loved you."
"You never gave me the chance to really find out. You kept so much from me. Maybe that was my fault. I expected too much from you. I expected you to be Dean and you weren't."
"I guess neither of us was prepared."
They had made it back to his house now. Rory recognized it. His dad's car was on the driveway. "Are you sure you're okay with my staying here?"
"Positive. Are you going to go back?"
"I have to for my court date and stuff."
"Well, just remember what I said. You're welcome back here, but if you come back I'm not going to be a gentleman and talk you into going back to another guy."
"Why are you this time?"
"I know what I want, Rory. I know how I feel, I realize until now I didn't express myself very well and I've just laid a lot on you. You need to figure out what you want and if it's me you know where to find me."
"And if I want him?"
"I can't say I'll be happy or even understand. He sounds like a jerk if you ask me, but I'd probably think that about anybody so I'm not sure that's a valid opinion."
"Will we talk? Or go back to nothing?"
"I don't know. I really don't. It wouldn't be easy talking to you knowing you're with someone else. I'd never hang up on you or anything."
"That's good to know. Something smells good."
"Dad must have splurged and bought some burgers to go with the chicken he was planning on grilling tonight."
"Do you think there will be enough for me?"
"You can count on it."
She leaned in and kissed him. She loved him, but he was right. She needed to go back and make decisions based on facts not her heart. It would be tempting and very easy to take his proclamation of love and use it as an excuse to stay here. Eventually, though, she wouldn't be happy. Her mother meant too much to her, even if they weren't talking right now. School and the paper meant a lot, too.
"Why do I get the feeling that was good bye?"
"I think maybe it was," she whispered, tears forming in her eyes as she realized what she'd just said.