You look so good it hurts sometimes. – John Mayer

Three

She doesn't know what's running through her mind when she sees him at Sookie's wedding, standing there all unsure of himself, shrugging his shoulders to punctuate every response. She doesn't know why her heart is racing or why her palms are sweaty or why he suddenly looks different. There's just something about him; suddenly he looks older, or at least she's more aware of how old he looks. He looks mature. He looks like he'd be a sturdy shoulder to lean on and soft arms to slip into. He looks worthy of doing something important, and suddenly she has forgotten all about Dean and Washington and her mother and her father and the wedding altogether.

She doesn't care about any of that anymore. All she cares about is running into his arms and finally, finally, finally knowing what it feels to have his lips on hers and his rough hands on her smooth face. But then suddenly his tongue has slithered its way into her mouth and as their kiss deepens, suddenly everything hits her like a train. Dean, Dean, he's still your boyfriend, your sweet, caring boyfriend. And God, this is Sookie's wedding – Jess isn't even invited! And oh, hell, Jess is back in your life… For how long this time? When will he be shipped off to New York again? And oh, his lips feel like heaven on yours and why haven't you done this before?

"Oh, God," she whispers out loud, spinning around slightly.

"Rory…"

Oh God, oh God, oh God. "Don't say a word!" she whispers desperately.

He nods. "Okay."

She hears the music starting, and notices people starting to get to their seats. "I have to go…" she mutters, beginning to run off.

Wait, wait, don't leave him, God, he looks so beautiful… And he's back. He's back. "Oh! And welcome back!" she shouts over her shoulder, running back to her mother and the rest of the wedding party.

And for the rest of the night she can't think of anything but Jess and the way his lips felt on hers and how she hopes one day they could be together with no distractions and see how far they could get without stopping.

"Rory?"

Rory practically jumps out of her skin from her spot on her bedroom floor, and she quickly shoves her lists under her bed, suddenly embarrassed by them. "In here!" she calls out, twiddling her thumbs as her mother comes in her room.

She lightly drops the bags on Rory's floor and smiles. "I've got your books, food and candy, office supplies, and the special edition of The Godfather, because seeing it a thousand times in our lifetime just isn't enough."

Rory smiles half-heartedly, suddenly feeling like a loser. There's an awkward silence, and Lorelai takes a deep breath. "So... How about we get to the movie? Drown ourselves in some candy?"

She nods and follows her mother into the living room, telling herself to enjoy the movie and forget about Jess.

Twenty minutes into the movie, Lorelai pauses it and turns to her daughter.

"Okay, come on," she says, tapping her fingers on Rory's leg, "Rant. Or talk. Or… cry. I don't know, do something."

Rory shrugs. "I don't need to do any of that. Really, I'm good."

Silence. A beat skips, and then, "You know, you never really wallowed."

"What?"

Lorelai clears her throat. "You never wallowed about Jess after he left. I know you always hated wallowing but you were able to do it after Dean and… well… you just never really accepted it, did you?"

"I accepted it. I just didn't have to wallow to get there."

"Why's that?"

Rory twists her fingers. "The whole relationship was filled with wallowing, wasn't it?"

Lorelai doesn't know what to say and sits there gaping like a fish out of water. While she's proud of her daughter for discovering something she's known all along, there's also pain that comes with this realization.

"I think I'm going to go to Lane's. Do you mind if we finish the video later?" Rory asks, grabbing her coat without waiting for an answer. She's out the door before Lorelai can even say goodbye.

Within those five seconds, Lorelai has pictured twenty different ways to kill Jess Mariano using only dental floss and one of her boots.

"So he's back, huh?" Lane says as soon as the door is opened and Rory is invited in.

"Oh, God," Rory moans as she turns on her heels and walks away from the house.

"Wait! Rory, wait!" Lane calls, following her. "What's wrong? I figured you'd want to…"

"To what – talk about it? I'm over it, Lane! I don't know why everyone thinks I still harbor some sort of unrequited love for him. And actually, I find it kind of insulting that everyone just… just assumes that I'm some fragile little being that can't handle seeing her ex-boyfriend again. I've had ex-boyfriends before! Well, one. But Dean, Dean was a big ex-boyfriend; our relationship lasted longer than my relationship with Jess." She's rambling, she knows it, and she tells herself to shut the hell up because she's acting like a crazy person.

Lane looks concerned, and smiles sadly. "Do you want to come in?"

"God, I can't believe how weak I am, why does it hurt so bad to see him? I haven't even talked to him, or really looked at him for too long, though looking at him at all is too long and… pass the jelly bellies, I'm begging you."

Lane nods and hands over the bowl filled with red jelly bellies – the ultimate comfort food, Lane says solemnly, even though Rory knows the only reason Lane gives her this candy is because it's the only candy her bandmates haven't eaten and/or slobbered all over.

"I just… I wish he'd leave. And he'd stay. But far away from me. Does that make sense?"

"Um, well," Lane says slowly. "Not really."

"I didn't expect it to." She's quiet, and after a minute, she chooses her words carefully. "I wish he'd stay when I want him and leave when I'm done with him, instead of the other way around." Another pause. "I wish I could figure out why I wasn't good enough for him."

"Oh, Rory, no," Lane replies as she puts her arm around her friend. "If anything, he thought he wasn't good enough for you."

"How do you know?"

Lane smiles. "Because I'm your best friend, and best friends know these things. And as your best friend, I also know you really, really need some alcohol. Am I right?"

Rory considers this for a moment. She's not a big fan of alcohol, but the times she has been under the influence, she couldn't think of anything – anything at all. She was in a daze, and though the side-affects of this slight coma-like state ranged from her spilling her life story to random passers-by to nausea, she really, really wants to think of nothing. She wants to feel nothing.

She nods. "Yeah, alcohol is good."

Later, she calls Lorelai and tells her she's staying over Lane's. Her mother knows she's walking on eggshells, so she quickly agrees to appease her. Zach and Brian complain about having their place taken over by Rory, Lane, and the copious amounts of alcohol in their systems, but Lane threatens them with death and daggers and jelly bellies and they decide to stay at Brian's house.

Late into the night, they drink and laugh and giggle and lay in Lane's bed, semi-conscious as their drinking catches up with them.

"I wish I didn't love him so much, Lane. I wish I could have thicker skin."

"What does skin have to do with this?"

"What was I saying again?"

"Hess."

Rory falters. "The gasoline?"

"What?" Lane asks, confused.

"You said 'Hess.'"

Lane laughs.

"What?"

"I… don't know."

A few seconds pass and suddenly Rory is up, stumbling through Lane's room, pulling on one of Lane's skirts over the pair of pajamas she's borrowed.

"What are you doing?"

Rory giggles and reaches out for a pair of shoes and ends up face-planting on Lane's floor in the process.

"Rory?"

"God, where are all your shoes, I can't… Ooh, I like these boots. And these sneakers. I can't decide which I like more."

Lane falls out of bed to observe Rory. "What are you doing exactly?"

"I'm going to get dressed, and then I am going to figure out where the door is, and then I'm going to tell Jess exactly what I think of him."

"…Which is?"

"Which is what?"

"What?"

"I don't know." She slips a sneaker on one foot and a boot on the other, then stands up. "Okay, and the door is … that-a way. And I'm on my way!"

Lane thinks this is a bad idea. Lane thinks she should get up and tell Rory exactly how bad this idea of hers is. Lane thinks she is so comfortable right now, and in five minutes, then she'll get up.

Rory trips through Star's Hollow in search of Jess. It's midnight; there aren't many places he could be. The bookstore is closed. She goes by his car and finds it's empty. Briefly she wonders whether Luke would let Jess stay in his apartment, after all the shit he pulled. But maybe it's worth a shot.

She walks to the diner and finds the lights are on. Upon closer inspection, she sees Jess at one of the tables, feet up on the tabletop, a book in his hands. She laughs bitterly; Jess' one constant, the one thing she always knew she could rely on, was that whenever she found him, wherever she found him, he'd have a book in his hand. How nice of him not to ruin routine.

Before she can tell herself what she's doing is stupid, she knocks on the door. He looks up, startled, and takes his time getting up to unlock it. She can tell he's wondering if she's really here on his doorstep; he can tell there's something wrong. Something is wrong other than the fact that he's here and he shouldn't be and the fact that she's pissed about it.

He opens the door silently. She stands there, aloof, trying to figure out what to say. She had so many great ideas and now she just wants to run again.

"You didn't get any taller," she says randomly. She wasn't planning on mentioning his height, but she says it matter-of-factly and pretends it's what she wanted to say all along.

"You did," he replies simply.

She crosses her arms. "You didn't get any verboser than before, either."

"More verbose, you mean," he says, correcting her.

"Right, and what'd I say?"

He raises an eyebrow, starting to tell that there's something going on with her. "Verboser."

"Oh. Right, I knew that. I'm Rory Gilmore, I use proper grammar," she says with a pathetic, obscure little laugh.

"I figured Yale would teach you better than that," he replies dryly.

"Oh, yes, a Yale girl, that's me."

"So."

"So."

He clears his throat. "Your shoes don't match."

"I know. It's all the style in Paris and London and… other fashion-like places and… I like following trends." She says, suddenly wishing she had some more alcohol. Her head is pounding and she knows the only way to battle such an ache would be to down another glass – or bottle.

"I noticed." He watches as she sways slightly, eyes fluttering and limbs loose and flying all over. She's going to fall, and he steps forward in preparation. He lightly puts out his hands, silently asking her to hold on to them, to him, but she scoffs at the offer with a cold "don't touch me!"

Seconds later she's in his arms anyway, unconscious.

Oh, hell, Mariano, you've really outdone yourself this time, he thinks, because really, if Star's Hollow hated him before they'll surely hate him now. He falters for a moment, reveling in the feeling of Rory in his arms again, but realizes he doesn't get quite as much enjoyment from the experience under these circumstances. He wonders what he should do – carry her back home? But why would she be home with her mother, drinking? (Because that has to be why she's passed out – he's been in situations like hers before, and the only thing that could make Rory use a word like 'verboser' would have to be alcohol.)

Maybe he could drag her to Lane's? But she still lived at home, didn't she? And Mama Kim would probably have a heart attack and disown Lane for having alcoholic friends.

Maybe he could bring her upstairs and put her in his old bed. And maybe he could tap dance and skip afterwards.

God, she'll probably wake up and think he drugged and raped her or something. That's exactly what he needs. He wonders if maybe he could just leave her in the middle of the street and let people assume what they may. Take himself out of the picture, become an innocent bystander.

But one look down at that beautiful, flawless, innocent face of hers and he's carrying her up to Luke's apartment and taking off her mismatched shoes and putting her under the covers. He steps back and looks at his handiwork – she looks angelic underneath his black sheets, her short, choppy brown hair clinging to her face and her right arm curved upwards on his pillow. She looks like she belongs there, in his bed, under his sheets. He wishes he could wake up to this sight every morning.

He wishes he could get into bed with her and convince her, when she wakes up, that the past year or so was all a dream. He never left to go to California and be with his dead-beat father, and he never lied to her, and everything was perfect. It was all a dream. He wishes she'd believe him and settle back into bed with him.

He lays himself down on the ottoman and wishes he could believe it himself.

Author's Note: Thanks for the comments on last chapter. I hope to get some more with this one. I hope you guys liked the Rory/Jess interaction, no matter how small it was. I assume you realize there will be some more awkwardness next chapter!