Long (long, long, long) time no write. Apologies.
"We need to get you a watch."
"I have a watch."
"Do you know how to read it?"
"You're calling me in the middle of the night again."
She was in bed, her light out, her eyes closed, but not asleep when he called. In her head she was turning over the conversation she'd heard the night before, the sound of her mother's voice, the fatigue of it, the frustration, as she confronted Luke. She was trying to forget the way the front door slammed. How it shook the frame of her bed. How the metal creaked as she tried to settle back into it.
"Is it too late? I can call back tomorrow."
"No it's fine. I don't have class until 11." She sits up, turns the light back on. "I was thinking about skipping it anyway."
She laughs. She hasn't laughed all day. Hasn't said much of anything either. When she woke up her mother was quiet and withdrawn. They drank their coffee in silence. She thought about stopping at Luke's as she left town, thought about trying to fix things, to patch up what she could, but the sign on the door said "closed" when she drove past. Through the window she could see Luke hanging streamers, a frown embedded in his face.
"Are you back at school then?" he asks. She can hear him moving around, maybe in his living room. She can picture him running his hands over the books on his shelves, the possessive way he traces their spines. She thinks about his fingers, the skin of them, always a little rough, the bump along the side of his right middle finger: the product of a tight grip and a propensity for scribbling.
"Yes," she says. "I drove back this morning." She glances around her own room, takes in the dirty beige walls, the small space, cramped with her furniture, her books, her photos and knick-knacks and life. "I figured it was time I unpacked."
"Probably a good idea."
"I always feel better when I'm properly moved into a place." She scratches at her neck, twists her hair up into a knot. "Do you know I've moved about 7 times since high school?"
"That seems excessive."
"It feels excessive."
"I used to move a lot. Back when I was living in New York."
"I slept on a lot of couches, or spare mattresses in crowded studio apartments." On the phone he always sounds so close. His voice nestles into her ear, the scratch at the back of his throat, the upward turn of it when he says something wry or sarcastic. The sound of him trying not to smile. "It wasn't a great way to live."
"Look at you now, though." She's smiling. "A good job, a nice apartment. You seem to have it all sorted out."
"Does anyone have it all sorted out?"
On the table by her bed there's a paperback, an Entertainment Weekly, half a glass of water and small stack of paint samples. She picks them up and rifles through them, holds a couple against the wall and squints.
"I'm thinking about painting my room."
"Yeah? At your mom's?"
"No." She licks her lips. "The one here. At Paris and Doyle's apartment." She shrugs. "My apartment, I guess."
"Do you think you're going to stick around this time?"
She nods, then says: "Yes." There's an avocado green chip that looks welcoming in the warm, late-night lamp light. "Till my graduation, at least." She considers the color, thinks about the things that green means: renewal, awakening. "I'm thinking about green."
"Green is a nice color."
"You want to help me paint?"
Lorelai calls her on a Wednesday afternoon. She sounds tired and stressed. Rory doesn't ask about Luke this time. She is still worried she has made things worse.
They talk about the inn, about finals, about Michel's accidental consumption of 2 percent milk and Paris's MCAT preparations. She only pays attention to half the conversation, choosing instead to listen to the comforting sound of her mother's voice as she flicks through a dance review for the paper with her red pen. She revises a sentence, says "that's too bad," moves on to her American Lit notes.
Jess turns up right at ten on Saturday morning, two weeks later. She's in her room when he knocks and Paris beats her to the door. The click of each bolt echoes in the apartment.
"I know you," Paris says when she opens the door. "You're the high school boyfriend." She turns to Rory. "He's the high school boyfriend, right?"
Rory nods. "Jess, you remember Paris."
"And this is Doyle." Doyle is watching March of the Penguins again, for maybe the fifteenth time since she moved in, but the sound is turned down low so Paris can focus on studying. She has turned the table into a workstation, covered it in flashcards and surrounded it with whiteboards. There's a diagram of the male reproductive system front and center.
"Nice to meet you."
Doyle nods, but doesn't look up from his movie. Paris is already back to her flashcards, more concerned with the penis than with a surprise visitor.
"We're going to be in my room."
"Yeah yeah," Paris says. "Just keep it down."
Rory's furniture is all piled in the middle of the small room, draped with a large tarp. The floor is lined with an issue of the Wall-Street Journal. She's wearing a plain white t-shirt and a ratty pair of jeans and her hair is tied back from her face.
"Before we get started," she says, "I should warn you that I've never done this before."
"But I did google it, so I know the basic theory."
"The theory of painting a tiny bedroom?"
"Yes. I like to be prepared."
He laughs a little. A friendly mocking laugh. "And so what's the basic theory of room painting?"
They start by washing the walls. They tape the moulding. They prime the walls. They spatter themselves with primer. They order lunch. They eat. They paint the first coat. They spatter themselves with green paint. They joke and they laugh. They finish the first coat and lie back on the crinkling, trampled newspaper as it dries.
"What does this say about us?" she wonders aloud. "Literally watching paint dry."
She has a streak of green running across her right cheek and he has one across his forehead. She thinks about reaching over to run her thumb over it. Thinks about the intimacy of such an action and decides not to. She thinks about her tendency to overthink. Thinks that maybe this is something she should learn: that she doesn't need to plan her every action, to schedule her emotions. Then she remembers the jail cell she landed in the last time she chose carelessness over carefulness.
And then: "Is this your name?"
"Oh." He's found the article, the profile on Mitchum that ran earlier in the week. It's spread open right at the tip of his nose. "Yes."
"You were name-checked in The Wall-Street Journal?"
"What's so bad about that? Who's Mitchum Huntzberger?"
She groans. "The man who would take credit for getting me to where I am today. Also known as Logan's father."
"Sounds like an ass."
"And he's taking all the credit why?"
She shrugs. "The cold-hard facts are in his favor. He did give me an internship and I am now editor of the Yale Daily News." She scratches at a bit of primer peeling along her neck. "But if anything I'm here in spite of him." She turns to look him in the eye. "He told me I didn't have what it takes."
"He told me I wouldn't make it as a writer and then I stole a yacht and dropped out of college and joined the DAR." She smiles at him. "And then you came along and knocked some sense into me."
"It was a favor I needed to return." He shifts a little and his arm rests against hers on the floor. His skin feels hot and dry and familiar. "And for the record, you're absolutely going to make it."
"Definitely. Today the Yale Daily News, tomorrow the world."
"The whole world?"
"Good thing I've got a friend to help me paint it."
After the second coat they go out in search of dinner. They find a diner near Old Campus and she treats him to a cheeseburger and a milkshake, "to say thank you."
"It was fun," he says. There's still a little green in his hair. He looks just a little like the badass he tried so hard to be in high school. "I like spending time with you."
"I like spending time with you, too."
They have worked up quite an appetite and eat in silence, for the most part. When at last they have finished their burgers, downed their shakes, slaughtered their fries, Jess says: "So I heard from my mom yesterday."
"Yeah?" Rory smiles. "I like your mom. She's…colorful."
"Right," he says. "That's the word for it."
"Does she call you a lot?"
"Once a week or so." He shrugs. "A lot more than she used to."
"What'd she say?"
He sighs and sits back. "She's pregnant…apparently."
He nods. "And she's going to 'do it right this time.'" He shakes his head. "You know, 'no binge-drinking.'"
She smiles. "You're gonna be a big brother!"
"Big brother Jess. Aww."
"I guess this means I'm going to be spending more time in Stars Hollow." He taps his fingers against the edge of the table. A gesture she remembers from high school. "The kid's going to need someone sane in its life."
"I was brought up by Stars Hollow and I came out just fine."
"You didn't have TJ for a dad."
"No." She stretches out her hand to cover his, calms the tap of his fingers. "I'm happy about anything that brings you here more often."
She pays the bill and drags him out onto the street where a late spring breeze has picked up. "Want a tour of Old Campus?" she asks. "Should be pretty quiet. Everyone's hunkered down with their books."
"Why aren't you?"
"I like to give myself breaks when I'm studying. Let myself absorb. Otherwise the information won't stick. Besides, I've only got one left."
They meander along walkways that make her feel eighteen again. They feel pregnant with the academia that thrilled her in those early days at Yale; they remind her of that excitement. "I had a class in that room," she says, pointing, "my sophomore year. And one over there in my freshman year." They pass Durfee. "And that was my freshman dorm."
She turns to look at him, stops on the path. "Oh right." She nods. "I forgot that you came here."
"Not one of my finest moments."
"Not one of mine, either."
She reaches out and takes his hand, doesn't even really think about it until she's done it. And they start walking again.
He crashes on their couch and when she wakes up in the morning he's eating cereal with Paris and Doyle. They're fighting about Dave Eggers over the milk.
"He's a pretentious douche-bag."
"But he embraces it."
"That doesn't make him not a pretentious douche-bag."
"But it makes him a tolerable pretentious douche-bag."
She yawns and reaches for a bowl. "I'm siding with Jess," she says.
"Of course you are."
"No Paris, not of course. I just agree that Eggers makes up for being so full of himself by acknowledging that he's a bit full of himself. I mean, he titled his memoir A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius."
"Besides, pretentiousness has nothing to do with writing talent. No one constructs a sentence like Dave Eggers constructs a sentence."
It's a nice feeling, literary discussion over breakfast. She glances at Jess as she takes her first sip of coffee. She's so happy to see him here, in her home, at the table with her friends first thing in the morning. It feels warm and domestic and right.