Title: Fire Alarms
Genre: Introspection/General/Almost Fluff
Spoilers: None as of now.
Summary: The time goes by fast as the words spill across the pages, in a tangled web of want and hurt of two teenagers in a town too small for the epic tale they unfold between them. FutureLiterati
A/N: Number one of Terra's requests, written at her and Amy's urging:
"Jess writes another book... dedication? Storyline? Author biography?"
All italics are part of the book
Thanks goes out to Terra for giving me the idea, Mariah for betaing and for all the help Amy, Terra, starlitediner, deira 2006 and madreflections for all the encouraging comments.
Two words, meaning nothing much to her as she nudges the grey covered book from the shelf. Titles like that always grab her attention, and although Rory has always been warned to never judge a book by its cover, she can't help it. In a sea of brightly colored paperbacks and scholarly tomes, the simple grey with only a title stands out. It's odd that there's no mention of the author anywhere on the cover, but then again, with all the pretension around these days she's not so surprised.
The only reason she's in this tiny bookstore near the bus station is because she's on her way back to Stars Hollow for Christmas and she forgot to unpack a book from the boxes in her new apartment. It'll be only the second time in eight years that she's going alone. It feels strange not to have a hand to hold, or an ear to giggle secrets in on the long journey home to her mother, but in a way, the freedom's headiness is something Rory's been waiting for. Michael had gotten increasingly frustrated during these visits, when he found out she and Jess dated. Regardless of both parties reassuring him that it was long back in high school, there's always been tension. Not least because Jess had voiced his concern that Michael wasn't good enough for her when they'd started dating.
Her last visit had been full of sighs and tears as she'd come straight from discovering her marriage was over. She'd spent three days holed up in her old room with Lane and her godchildren, eating Twinkies and watching trashy summer movies. That Jess had found her on the porch steps sobbing when she arrived wasn't a great memory either. Those days everything felt like a sharp edge, waiting to split her mind or her heart open a little further. Now, the edge is blunt, but Rory feels like there's whetstone waiting around the corner.
Flipping the cover open, she brushes past the pages of copyright and publishing dates, and the first title page to get to the dedication. It's a habit of hers that Michael always found irritating, but she can't help it. She's always felt that you can get an impression of the author by who they dedicate to, and what they say. Absently she rubs the empty space on her left hand, forgetting that the diamond is no longer there, not since she found him with Claire.
"For every atom belonging to me as good as belongs to you.
- Song of Myself (I) Walt Whitman
Because I never told you and you deserved to know."
Rory smiles, knowing the book is dedicated to someone the author once loved, or perhaps, still did. She remembers feeling like that, so long ago, when life was full of books and bridges. Sighing, she misses the days when she could debate the merits of writers with a boy who understood all she said and didn't say. Rory doesn't let herself think about him all that often, except at family dinners like tonight, when the Danes and Gilmore clans (because neither Lorelai changed her name) are reunited. Right now, she's still a little raw and vulnerable, and thoughts of what could've been only antagonize the sores further.
Nodding her head, she makes her way over to the counter, placing it down and handing over a $20 bill. Refusing a bag - because she still has time to save the planet - she heads back to the station, awaiting her long haul bus to Connecticut.
Once she sits down, she's almost asleep. It's been a long day of making final arrangements for mail deliveries and bookcases, but she doesn't have the luxury. Shaking herself awake, she takes a sip from her to go cup, which has sadly gotten cold, and opens the little grey novel.
The time goes by fast as the words spill across the pages, in a tangled web of want and hurt of two teenagers in a town too small for the epic tale they unfold between them. Phrases strike chords within her and she creates smiles and tears in equal measure as the pages keep turning. The story of the broken boy with a gamine girl reminds her of herself once upon a time and it's strange to think that she's old enough to say that.
Flattening out the last page, she eats the words into her fingertips, hungry for each nuance of meaning and life that this book has been marinated in.
"You never forget how it feels to watch yourself crawl away bloody from a teenage train wreck of a relationship. The wounds you douse with salt at the mention of her name and the success (and husband) attached to it, reminding you that you loved her once, more than anyone ever did. That no-one with their small town eyes could have ever understood that, and for once, you're glad. It means there's no pity when you visit old friends, no thoughtless wincing on your behalf when she's discussed, no whispers of your desperation to love her again.
Thing is, you were never told that love burned you inside and out, branding you and leaving you changed irrevocably and unwillingly against your better judgment. It's supposed to be easy and light and understanding, or at least that's what the books told you. The books you trusted with your ideals and innocence, which turned out to merely be works of complete fantasy; because you've almost burnt yourself out with want and love for someone you were never good for.
No-one ever told you that hearts were flammable."
The authorial voice suddenly feels familiar and there's a tingle in the filing cabinet where she keeps her past loves. The rust on his lock flakes away and suddenly words and phrases come back to her. Though the book doesn't say it, she knows it's Jess. She just hopes it's not her. Frantically flicking back to the copyright page, she scans it until she sees it accompanied by a small circle and 'c': Jess Mariano, 2016. A year ago. He wrote it a year ago and he never said a word.
She rushes back to the dedication and reads it again in its newfound meaning.
The quote is in present tense.
The bus ride from Hartford to Stars Hollow is slower than she remembers it being, though the anticipation is probably confusing her concept of speed, as when one place a magnet near a compass, pulling the needle uncertainly to an artificial north. Her skin is literally tingling from her discovery and she's spent the last half hour going through the book, attributing times and events, changing them back to their original state as when they happened fourteen years ago.
As she walks to the house she grew up in, she pauses when she sees that his car's in the driveway. He's had to drive from Hartford airport having been on the West Coast for a couple of TV interviews, none of which she managed to catch as her television got broken in the move. All at once, she's nervous and concerned and unable to form sentences; especially because suddenly it appears that Michael may have had a point all these years. And if there's one thing that Rory Gilmore hates, it's being speechless and wrong.
She paces, tapping the book against her skirt as she walks past Babette's gnomes over and over. She paces for fifteen minutes solidly, ignoring the increasing dizziness in an attempt to write a script in which she can confront Jess about everything. Blood is rushing to her head, so she only hears a vague rolling sound as a car rolls up and April calls out to her. She just keeps pacing and pacing, not ready to go anywhere until she has her lines all figured out.
A light tapping on her shoulder stops the whirling dervish she's become and the words that were settling into her tongue suddenly run scared as she comes face to face with Jess.
"Are you alright?" he asks gently, "April said you've been out here doing that for the past five minutes. What's going on Rory? You don't pace."
Her eyes just get wider and her tongue follows suit, choking her screenplay of this moment with fear. Jess steps a little closer and she feels her heart drop to the floor and roll away toward the gnomes, like a kid running out of a burning house. "Rory?"
Her silence is scaring him but he knows better than to push. He's spent the past fourteen years not pushing and he knows her inside out. When she's ready she'll tal--
"You didn't tell me."
"I didn't tell you what?"
"You swore you'd tell me and you didn't. I just stumbled across this and I'm not sure what you mean. I mean, I know what you mean, but it's Walt Whitman and it's beautiful and I loved it and you didn't write your name on it and I'm in it and I don't want to be remembered like that and it's beautiful, probably your best, but I love everything you write so I guess I'm being repetitive and slightly redundant and God, Jess, you never told me!"
He's still confused, because he never quite got the hang of deciphering a Gilmore's ramble as he always cut them off with a kiss (which considering her recent divorce would be more than inappropriate). Nevertheless alarm bells start ringing at all the things he never told her and he doesn't know where to start. The hand that tapped her shoulder is grasping her elbow, and it's taking all he's got to not recoil from the heat burning his arteries.
"Slow down, Rory what're you talking about? What didn't I tell you?"
She looks down and her voice has retreated inside her chest, making it small and whispered,
"That your heart is flammable."
The quiet lying between the two of them is awkward because he knows she read the book she was never supposed to read; and she knows that she was never meant to read it.
"You always tell me when you've written something new."
He gulps, knowing his explanation won't be sufficient and he's feeling seventeen on a bridge again, except this time the book they're discussing is his own and the bridge feels like it'll give way any second. "If I told you, you'd read it. And then you'd know. And you were married."
"Did you really think I'd never find it?"
"I hoped. After the first five months, I figured for once a dream had come true. That or Michael was censoring your reading material."
She snorts because it's so close to the truth and the awkward disappears. She casts a smile down to the ground and feels lighter than ever before. His hand is still on her arm, as if he anticipates awakening her from another trance. "I loved it."
"You wrote us so well, but so well that it almost wasn't us. And your prose…well you know I'm a sucker for it every time."
He chuckles and he finds the courage to look her in the eyes. He sees the questions held in her soft gaze so he clears his throat and looks away. She notices his uncertainty and finds she doesn't mirror it. For the first time in a long while, Rory feels she's ahead of the game, certain in what she wants from him. It's strange though; before today she'd spent eight years denying their past and all of a sudden it's there on paper all beautiful and rough edged (unfinished?) The question bubbles in his throat until it gargles to the surface, against his will.
"The um…the de-"
She cuts him off sharply, knowing he can't ask her. Jess still has his pride, and she won't be the one to break it a second time. "Yeah."
Scuffing his toe in the dirt, he knows the word has to be said, but he almost doesn't want it to. Once it's said, his world will change, like it did the first fire drill of their relationship and who's to say for the better. Being the one sure, she needs him to ask it, so she knows that she's not alone in a reconsideration of where they stand. Seconds pass in tedious slides of sounds and grass and gnomes as she waits for him this time, like he has waited for the past fourteen years.
Rory almost doesn't hear the word because she swallows it so quickly, rushing her mouth against his for the first time in eleven years. He tastes the same. This time the seconds are torturously fast and it's over too soon. She's gasping and he's off balance and they're working in symbiosis. She lifts her head to look at him and this time he swoops in, stealing the smile from her face as it diffuses into his own. And as they stand on her neighbor's front lawn, grasping at each other for all they've got and falling head first into each other, they're where they've always needed to be, regardless of fire alarms and Christmas and ex-husbands. Their smiles are heard as they begin again: