Title: Soak Up the Sun
Word count: 6467
Quote: "A lot of parents pack up their troubles and send them off to summer camp." — Raymond Duncan
Object: the Sun
Ickle Work: Chillax
AN: Thanks to K for the beta, as always, who was so thrilled to feel like she contributed. This fic wouldn't have seen the light of day if not for your willing eyes to read whatever I type. You are too kind.
Rory Gilmore was broke. It wasn't that she was running low on cash—she didn't have two dimes to rub together, period. She was jobless, out of school, and her meager savings were all but gone. Normally she would have anticipated her monetary needs and gotten a job during the school year, or lined up a summer job in her hometown. She'd been so busy with the paper and her unpaid internship at the Stamford paper—not to mention other things—that she'd simply never had the chance.
She had plenty of time to think now. She had to get a job—she had no choice in the matter. Literally. After she'd gotten out of jail, everyone in her life had their own ideas of what would get her through this tough time. Of course, she had yet to decide how she would get through it on her own.
She'd been shocked at her mother's response when she rejected her methods of fixing things. She hadn't been so thrilled at her grandparent's ideas, but she couldn't risk being completely out on the street. She hadn't spoken to Logan a lot since summer began—not at all since she'd had her court date. She couldn't exactly count on him to get her through this, which Lorelai would only use as ammunition to prove that she'd been right all along.
So, Rory lived in her grandparents' pool house, said Logan was doing fine when they asked, and awaited further sentencing. She was already doing community service, ordered by the court, but Richard and Emily mandated that she get a job to support herself if she wasn't going back to school come fall. She had originally thought that would buy her a month of free time, to sit by the pool and work on a tan while she read and pretended that she was fine, all the while working on feeling the same way.
She adjusted in her seat, hating her pantyhose as she realized how serious her grandparents had been. They hadn't waited for her to go out and find a 'suitable' job; they'd made a 'few' calls to see who was willing to take her off their hands. Starting this morning, she would be the secretary for an insurance lawyer, no doubt one of her grandfather's friends that owed him a favor.
The office door opened, and she looked up from her book, shoving it hastily in her purse as she stood up to greet her new boss.
She nodded and stuck out her hand, which he took after a moment of hesitation. "Yes, sir."
He hesitated again and cleared his throat. "Right, well, shall we go into my office for a moment?"
She nodded and followed the man into his very posh office. It was clear it'd been done by a designer, but not in such a way that a feminine presence had been shoved on him. It was all dark colors—mahogany and leather. She took a seat in the cushy leather chair across the desk from his, though she perched on the edge, not wanting to get too comfortable.
"Well, I don't know what you've been told of the position, but I can imagine that for a girl your age, you must have thought the prospect of coming to work for me would be a stifling one, especially during the summer."
"Why would you say that?" she inquired.
He smiled. "I have grandchildren your age, Miss Gilmore."
She returned the smile, though tightly. "I was just happy to find something on such short notice, honestly."
He nodded. "It's not a lot I'm expecting. Just someone to greet and screen my visitors, take messages, and bring coffee in the morning. We have internet on the computer, though I see you've brought a book. However you want to pass your time is fine. You aren't getting paid very much," he explained.
"I'll only need you about six weeks or so—my regular secretary is on medical leave."
She nodded again. "Anything else I should know?"
He smiled again. "Yes," he thought for a moment. "Please don't call me sir."
She noticed that even for an older man, he was charming, and she smiled easily. "Right."
"Mr. Dugrey will do."
"Yes, Mr. Dugrey," she tried it out, a hint of nostalgia nudging her. She knew she'd never met this man before, so she shook it off.
"Now, I'll show you how to work the phone and where the coffee maker is. Do you know how to make coffee?" he inquired.
She stood up, starting to feel like at least this job wouldn't be hard at any rate. "Yes, I can definitely make coffee."
Time was passing slowly. She'd been a secretary for four days, each panning out almost exactly the same as the one prior. She would sit in the air-conditioned office, taking messages as her boss went off for three-hour lunches or took an occasional meeting. She checked her email—none really to speak of other than from Paris, who was the only person in her life not afraid to tell her how stupid she was acting—read two books, and tried not to think about how her life was going nowhere. Even her job was a dead end. She was only filling space for a short time. Better than nothing, as the adage went, she supposed.
She was starting to even doubt that was true as she waited out the last hour of her first Thursday afternoon. She wasn't sure she would be able to stand another minute of boredom. It wasn't that her boss wasn't nice. He was a busy man, a powerful man, and it wasn't his fault that her life wasn't quite what she'd expected.
She got back online, wishing she had a television in the office. The pool house wasn't wired for cable yet, and so if she wanted to watch television she had to go into the main house and watch with her grandmother. This also came along with a whole host of imposing questions that she didn't want to answer about her boyfriend and their future. She supposed it was better to dwindle away hour after hour behind the desk in the relief of the air conditioning and settling for soaking up the summer rays through the large bay window on the other side of the reception area than be subjected to Emily Gilmore for hours on end.
She didn't even look up when she heard the elevator doors open. She assumed it was just her boss coming back by to pick up his briefcase or a phone number off of his computerized address book. She gathered the list of messages she'd taken in a neat pile to hand off to him as she continued to scroll down on the email she'd just received from Paris, the latest in a series of articles she'd scrounged up on the instance of college drop outs and the particularly harsh outcome that seemed to befall those that drop out of Ivy League institutions.
Rory looked up to see a much younger and more casual person that what she'd grown accustomed to seeing in this office. She herself looked like an Emily doll—clothes her grandmother had deemed office appropriate had appeared in her closet, along with a year's supply of pantyhose, which were the bane of her very small existence.
"Can I help you?" she straightened up and slipped her feet back into her shoes. She wasn't sure why, other than the fact she suddenly felt naked without them on, even though he couldn't see her feet.
"I was wondering if Mr. Dugrey was in," he used the edge of her desk to sit on, rather than the numerous chairs on the other side of the room. She got the sinking suspicion that she knew him from somewhere, and started to feel her defenses going up. Seeing an old acquaintance would mean catching up on what they've been up to, and she really didn't want to chat about what she was doing now and why to anyone.
"He's out of the office, but if you'd like to leave a message," she offered in a professional manner.
The visitor smiled. A very familiar smile. She couldn't shake it, but she couldn't quite place it, either. "Are you new?"
She nodded. "First week. I'm sorry, was he expecting you?" she cringed.
He chuckled softly. "No, it's just… you look familiar."
She shrugged. At least it wasn't just her. He looked to be about her age, which meant she could know him from just about anywhere. Before she became a felon and a college drop out, she used to meet a lot of people. In the past year, she had met more new people than she'd known her entire life, between making what she thought were important contacts at the paper and the social world that Logan had dragged her in and out of, depending on if he'd felt like being social or private. She scratched the back of her calf with the toe of the other shoe as she let herself miss the private moments for just a breath of time.
"Are you from Hartford?" he inquired.
"Sort of," she frowned. It was the truth. She had been born here, and it was her current place of residence; just not what she'd call home.
"O-kay," he gave her an appraising look, as if trying to figure out what to make of her answer. She noticed that his blue eyes were lit up as his mind worked.
"Are you sure you don't need to leave a message for Mr. Dugrey? He doesn't normally come back in if he's already gone at this point."
"I'll just swing by the house," he waved the offer off, but then at her look of sheer confusion, he continued. "I'm his grandson."
"Oh, right," she nodded.
"He mentioned me?"
"Um, sort of. In passing."
"It wasn't a glowing recommendation?" he guessed quizzically.
"It wasn't anything. Just a comment about how you wouldn't want to spend your time here."
Another smile. "Can you blame me?"
"It's not that bad," she lied. If it hadn't been for him, she might have started responding to the voices in her head, so it was hard to pretend to be completely put out by this intrusion.
"So, you like sitting in a stuffy office all summer long, when you could be outside having fun?"
"It's not a matter of what I like to do," she gave a half shrug. "This is a very nice job."
He rolled his eyes. "This is a very boring job."
"Then why are you here?"
"To get the keys to our beach house."
She looked down. "Oh."
"Though if I'm guaranteed to run into you if I come by more, I might be more inclined to spend more of my summer in a stuffy office building."
She blushed; there was no helping it. He was flirting with her, but she reminded herself that she had a boyfriend. At least, if she ever spoke to Logan again, she was pretty sure she still had a boyfriend. "I'd hate to keep you from your very important summer plans."
He laughed. "Are you always this serious?"
She definitely knew him, and he was more than a passing acquaintance. She was beginning to wonder if he had the same hunch, or if he knew exactly who she was and was just enjoying the act of teasing her.
"I'm not here to have fun," she took the messages and straightened them for the second time, just wanting something more official to do. If only the phone would ring, or a real client would come in—anything to force her attention off of him.
"Would you like to have fun?" he offered.
"Well, I do know the boss. I could call him, tell him you're leaving early, and we could go get some dinner, maybe head out to the beach. Enjoy the summer," he offered.
"If you're worried about getting paid for a full day, I can see that you're fully compensated."
"Did you just offer to pay me to go on a date with you?" she balked.
He opened his mouth to come back with a fast retort, but thought better of it. "That wasn't my intent, no," he said sheepishly.
"Good," she looked back at her computer screen. She could see out of her periphery that he hadn't budged off her desk. Her very impersonalized desk. Not even a fake plant to give it fake personality. She sighed.
"So, was that a no?" he pressed.
"I told you, I can't."
"Because you've got plans?"
"Yes," she gritted her teeth. Staying at work and doing nothing for another hour, suffering through a dinner with her grandparents, and staring at her phone wondering if Logan might call were plans, if not good ones.
"And if I were to come back tomorrow and try this again you would…?" he led.
"Look," she turned toward him. "You don't even know my name."
"Tristan Dugrey," he offered his hand, opting to correct this oversight.
"Rory Gilmore," she took his hand, but instead of shaking it, he paused; holding her hand in his for a moment as they both made the full realization as to why the other seemed so familiar. "Do I get that back?"
"I'm sorry, I just," he blinked. "How have you been?"
"Busy," she sighed. Next came the catch-up talk. The one she was desperate to avoid.
"Care to elaborate?"
"Look, as boring as it may seem to you, I do have actual work to do," she said tersely. She should have placed him as he swaggered in. He'd been cocky in high school. Sure of himself and sure that rules and laws didn't apply to him. In fact, when last she'd seen him, he'd gotten himself into so much trouble he'd been sent off to military school in lieu of some kind of juvenile detention center.
"I can see that," he licked his bottom lip. "Didn't you have a thing for coffee?"
He wasn't going anywhere. "I have a boyfriend," she blurted out.
He gave her a quizzical look. "So, does that mean you don't drink coffee?"
"I do drink coffee," she corrected. "But I'm not going out with you."
He smiled. "Déjà vu," he said, finally getting up off her desk. "You want me to take those?" he pointed to the stack of messages for her boss.
"No," she gave him a stern look. "There's nothing urgent in there. I'd hate to disrupt your very important day filled with summer fun to make you into a delivery boy."
"Well, then, it was nice to see you again, Rory."
She looked up at him. "Yeah, you too."
He just gave another soft chuckle and turned to hit the button to signal the elevator. He didn't say anything, and she told herself not to look, but just as he turned to face her from inside the elevator, she gave in and looked up. He gave her a little wave before the doors closed, and she went back to the silence of the empty office and was more than a little sorry that she'd turned down his offer to get out and enjoy the weather.
After a seven-course meal her grandmother had arranged in order to suss any information about her non-existent plans out of her, followed by a particularly depressing night of calling Logan's cell phone only to get his voicemail, she woke up early and searched through her own clothes that she'd stayed up late unpacking. She felt like being in her own clothes; to feel like herself for once. She would spend the next two days in various uniforms as she performed more of her community service hours, and she was tired of feeling like this alternate universe version of herself. She may not have her mother or her boyfriend or her coveted future, but she still had her own fashion sense and a job to call her own. She skipped breakfast in the main house and left for work.
The day dragged on in much the same manner as the ones before. She delivered messages and coffee, took a memo from Mr. Dugrey, noticing that he'd passed on his eyes and smile to his grandson. She found herself smiling during even the most perfunctory of tasks, despite the fact that nothing in her life had changed. She was still living in a sort of limbo; sure she wasn't the same person she used to be and uncertain as to whom she wanted to become.
She took a short break in the afternoon, after Mr. Dugrey left for a meeting in Manhattan, and came back to find an iced latte and a small bag from Starbucks sitting on her desk. Looking around, she didn't see anything else out of the ordinary going on in the office, and peeked into the bag. Inside there was a large sugar cookie, frosted to look like a sun. A smiling sun, nonetheless. She noticed a Post-it stuck to her desk underneath the bag that read, 'If Muhammad won't come to the beach….'
She smiled and sat back down at her desk, opening up her email and sorting through a few spam messages as she nibbled on her cookie. She was almost done with her coffee when the elevator doors opened and Tristan once again appeared. He looked like he'd just come from the beach; sporting swim trunks instead of pants, a tank top covering his chest, and sunglasses on top of his head amid his styled blonde locks.
"You missed him again."
"No, I didn't," he resumed his perch on her desk.
"I beg to differ."
He smiled. "I'm sure you do. But there's vital information you don't have."
She hated that she was so easily pulled in by his conversation. Granted, it was the first easy conversation she'd had in weeks. She'd nearly forgotten what it felt like to be flirted with. "And that is?"
"I'm not here to see my grandfather."
She shifted in her seat and cleared her throat. "So, why are you here?"
He looked at the crumpled bag in her waste bin. "I just came by to see if you enjoyed your little taste of summer."
"You really didn't have to do that."
She met his gaze, which seemed almost challenge-like. She had no idea what to say to him. They weren't friends; they weren't anything really other than two people that had gone to school together once upon a time. She had no idea why he seemed so intent on catching up with her, especially after she'd been so forthright about having a boyfriend. Not that it had been enough of a deterrent in the past, she seemed to remember.
"So, you're going to the beach?" she inferred after the world's longest silence. Why did the phones never ring when he was in the office?
He smiled again. "It's Friday, my grandfather is gone, and it's perfectly acceptable for you to skip out early."
She wished it was that easy. This summer wasn't supposed to be carefree and enjoyable for her. She had too much soul searching to do. While Tristan was being nothing but nice, she just couldn't go with him.
"I promised I'd get a couple of memos typed. I really should stay here."
He sighed. "Can't blame a guy for trying, can you?"
"Well, you did bring me coffee. Thank you, by the way."
He tilted his head. "Any time. See you, Rory."
"See you," she murmured in more of a mimic than anything else as he left the office in much the same manner as he'd arrived. One moment he was there, the next he was gone.
The next week passed fairly quickly and without incident. Emily was busy with some DAR event she was planning and therefore too harried to needle Rory about her life. She went yet another week without talking to her mother, as well as another week without a call back from her supposed boyfriend. She told herself that he was probably just off in Europe with his friends, not even realizing the weeks without contact were bleeding into each other. Logan had a weird sense of time, and probably didn't even realize he was leaving her in the lurch. It didn't make her feel any better, however, and she found herself almost wishing for another blonde man to stop by the office, even if she was bound to reject his attention.
In fact, she found herself in the office the next Friday, just after wishing her boss a good weekend and promising not to stay late to type up extra memos for him that she found herself being downright startled by the email alert she received. She didn't recognize the email address, but the subject line made her heart lurch.
She instantly opened the email and scanned over the contents. She realized she literally hadn't taken a breath since she began reading and blinked hard, wondering if she was even living her own life anymore. This clearly wasn't her life, if she was reading of her mother's engagement in an email from her fiancé. Luke had just gotten a cell phone—it was unfathomable to her that he not only had email, but that he had to be the one to tell her this news. He 'felt she should know,' as he'd put it. While she appreciated that Luke was reaching out to her in this way, part of her burned with pain that it hadn't been her mother to do so.
"Am I interrupting something?"
She looked up, completely flustered as she tried to shut down the email and pull herself together enough to greet the newcomer. She saw the familiar form in front of her and breathed easily, to her surprise. "Oh, it's just you."
"You see, that inviting charm of yours just keeps me coming back," he teased good-naturedly.
"No, I just," she was still working at getting her breath to stabilize.
"Expecting someone else?"
"Not expecting anyone, actually."
"I take that to mean the old man has vacated his office?"
She nodded, pursing her lips as she noted he was actually dressed up, more for a social event than a day off goofing off at the beach. "I'm sure you can reach him on his cell."
"Actually," he cringed playfully. "What would it take for you to pretend that you didn't see me?"
She frowned. "Meaning?"
"I need to get into his office and retrieve something."
"Beach house keys?"
His grin was wholly mischievous. "Something like that."
She glanced back at the office. "Well," she hedged.
"I promise you won't get in trouble."
She didn't get the feeling that he was up to no good—she'd known him well enough in the past that she could tell from looking in his eyes. There was no self-depravity or ill-will in them. It wasn't that she trusted him, she hardly knew him well enough to say that, but suddenly as she saw the reality of her life that she was suddenly faced with she also saw him as a way to get away from it, even if just for an afternoon.
"Ask me out again."
The look on his face was comical. She had clearly taken him off-guard, and she knew that he actually had come to get something out of the office, not to talk to her. Part of her was disappointed, but it was too late to turn back now.
"Are you serious?"
She nodded, not wanting to say anything else, for no other reason so as to be able to play it off as a joke if he refused.
"Rory, I, uh," he glanced down at his clothes and thought for a moment. "I have to be somewhere in a few hours, it's one of the reasons I'm here. I'm free tomorrow," he offered.
Tomorrow would be Saturday, and she would be picking up trash along some state road north of Hartford she'd never been on before. "I have plans tomorrow. It's okay; it probably wasn't a good idea anyhow."
He hesitated again, apparently not wanting her to completely change her mind. "I do have a couple of hours. I know of this little coffee shop on the beach near our beach house, if you really want to," he offered.
She nodded, and he continued with a smile. "Okay, well, let me slip into the office while you get your things?"
She nodded enthusiastically and didn't think about anything other than getting away until after they were far outside city limits.
She finished her first coffee and wiggled her toes into the sand, almost burying them. It was cool against her skin, which felt good in the heat. They were both overdressed for the beach, but it was nice to smell the fresh ocean air and soak up the atmosphere.
"Can I ask you a question?" he asked, still working on his first cup.
"Sure," she answered, praying it was of the superficial variety.
"What made you change your mind?"
"I just felt like the summer was passing me by. I spend all my time indoors, at work, not really taking any time to relax."
"You don't get more relaxed than the beach," he agreed.
"It's probably more relaxing in beach wear," she smiled.
"I'm sorry we don't have more time, are you sure you don't want to try this again tomorrow?"
She looked down at her empty cup. "I really can't."
"Maybe some other time, then?" he shrugged off her refusal.
"I'd like that. So, what are you up to tonight?"
He sat back and pulled an envelope out of his jacket pocket. "My grandparents' fiftieth wedding anniversary," he slid the envelope in front of her, and she gingerly pulled out an old photograph of a couple on their wedding day.
"Wow—is that him?"
Tristan nodded. "He keeps it in a frame on his desk. I'm stopping by to get an enlargement made for the hall at the country club."
"That's lovely," she commented. "They look so young and in love."
"He said he knew he wanted to marry her before he ever spoke to her."
"Do you believe him?" she looked up at him, despite the glaring rays of the sun behind his head.
"Have you ever tried to argue with my grandfather?" he smirked.
She laughed. "He's very determined," she acknowledged. "But do you believe in that? Love at first sight?"
He shrugged. "I believe in attraction at first sight."
She looked back out over the surf and the sun that seemed so determined to hang up higher in the summer sky as long as possible before sinking down below the horizon. There were still a couple of good hours of sunlight, long enough for them both to drive back to Hartford to their separate lives. She thought of how lucky he was, to be going to such a happy celebration. She wondered if her mother was planning an engagement party, and imagining all the hoopla that her hometown would be hosting in their honor. She felt tears well up at the thought of being left out.
Another week passed, and she'd grown used to her routine, if nothing else. She'd found herself wondering how the anniversary party had gone, but she felt a little odd bringing the subject of Tristan up to her boss, even if they were related. It was nearly five o'clock on the following Friday when Mr. Dugrey came out of his office and stopped at her desk, whistling a tune that reminded her of something her grandfather would listen to in his library.
"Thank you for making the arrangements for the luncheon next week," he smiled.
"Oh, I was happy to do it."
"I feel bad—giving you so little to do. I hate to waste your time, not to mention your talent."
"Not at all," she assured him.
"Well," he sighed. "I expect my grandson will be making his appearance soon."
She looked at him, wide-eyed. "Excuse me?"
He smiled. "He doesn't come to see me, you know."
She tried to hide her smile. "We just went to Chilton together. We've been catching up on old times."
"Yes, Richard mentioned that. And you went on to Yale?"
She nodded. "I did."
"Excellent school. Well, I'll leave you now. I'll see you Monday?"
"Of course. Have a good weekend."
"Say hello to my grandson for me," he simply shook his head and left her to close down the office for the evening. Barely ten minutes had passed before she was joined by another member of the Dugrey family, this time he was dressed solely in beach attire.
"I assumed that you meant what you said," he began and tossed his duffel bag onto the floor next to her desk. "Are you wearing a bikini under your office attire?"
"That is not an appropriate question, to ask a lady what she's wearing under her clothes."
His eyes lit up. "Good thing I've never worried about being appropriate."
She rolled her eyes. "I may have a suit in a bag in my car. What did you have in mind?"
"I still have the keys to my family's beach house. There are still a few hours to soak up some sun and sand."
She smiled. "I'll meet you there."
"Can I tell you something?" she asked as they collapsed down onto their towels after going for a dip in the water. The sun was burning a hot orange, with pink clouds working to overtake it in the late evening sky.
"You're actually having fun?" he postulated.
"Well, yes, but that wasn't it," she laid her head down and closed her eyes. "The reason I couldn't see you last Saturday—or any Saturday for that matter," she swallowed. "I have community service."
She could feel his eyes on her, but he didn't say anything. "I commandeered," she paused, realizing it was Logan's words, not hers that she was using, "stole a boat. I got caught, and ended up in jail. I have to perform millions of hours of community service, and I had this huge fight with my mom. I'm living in my grandparents' pool house, and that's how I ended up working for your grandfather."
"This is in no way a judgment," he began, "but I find it very hard to believe that you, Rory Gilmore, stole anything, let alone a boat."
"I was having a really bad night," she said with some level of relief. She hadn't been able to explain her actions before. Somehow she felt he would actually listen.
"I've had those."
She turned to look at him. "Yeah?"
He smiled. "Yeah."
"I just felt like, this summer--it wasn't my own. I feel like my mother has disowned me or sent me away, and I'm just doing what everyone else thinks I should do."
"I definitely know that feeling. A lot of parents pack up their troubles and send them off to summer camp, which was my parents' reaction to most things. It was summer camp until I turned sixteen, then I really kicked it into high gear. The next stop was military school."
She nodded, remembering the latter move.
"Between you and me, I would have rather done community service."
"It's not so bad," she admitted. "It's just everything else. I kind of lost my way, and it's hard to find my way back."
"You'll pull through. If nothing else, this summer can be your time to cool off, chillax," he smiled. "Take me for instance. I'm just killing time this summer, happy to hang out at the beach until I have to head back to Princeton. Next summer I know I'll have to get an internship like I did last year, but this year I just needed to take time off and," he thought for a moment.
"Chillax?" she mocked him.
"It's a word. I saw it on a t-shirt," he laughed.
"Well, if you saw it on a t-shirt," she rolled her eyes in jest.
"So, when do you go back to Harvard?"
"Oh, I don't."
"Well, I ended up at Yale. Didn't your grandfather tell you?"
He shook his head. "Even if he had, I wouldn't have believed him. You were so bent on Harvard."
She shrugged. "Things change. Like school, I started out at Yale, and now, who knows?"
"Who knows?" he frowned as he repeated her words in disbelief.
"It wasn't the right place for me. I'm going to take time off, work, and figure out what I want to do."
"I thought you wanted to be a reporter."
"I did," she frowned.
"I had this internship. Apparently I wouldn't have made a very good reporter."
"I'm sorry, but that's crazy. I've read your pieces. I know it was just a high school paper, but they weren't on a high school level."
"Thanks, but apparently just being able to write doesn't mean you're cut out for the real world. I had an internship with the biggest guy in the newspaper world, and he told me I didn't have it," her eyes welled up as she explained the occurrence for the second time. Apparently it didn't get easier with time.
"Who is this guy?" he asked.
"Mitchum Huntzberger. My boyfriend's father. Or, I guess I should say ex-boyfriend. I don't even know anymore, because he doesn't answer my phone calls, and he seems to think getting arrested is no big deal. Apparently it happens to him all the time, and his lawyer is so used to getting him out of scrapes that he didn't even so much as pay a fine."
"This guy sounds like a winner."
"It's probably good," she wiped tears away with her gritty, sand-covered arm. "It's better to know now rather than later, right?"
"Rory," he shook his head. "You have to go back to school. You can't let some guy tell you to give up your dreams."
"He's not just some guy."
"He is just some guy," he impressed upon her. "Anyone who can't see how amazing and passionate you are is blind in some way. Forget about this guy and his dad, and figure out what you want to do."
She was quiet, realizing that she'd just unloaded all her problems onto his shoulders. It was only slightly less inappropriate than had he been a complete total stranger. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to unload all this on you. We're supposed to be having fun."
He smiled and put an arm around her. She felt comforted by him and didn't pull away. She leaned her head into his tanned chest and took a deep breath. "Feel better?"
She nodded against him. "I do."
"So, what is it you want to do?"
She closed her eyes. "I want to make up with my mother, tell her I know what I did was stupid. I want to go back to the Stamford Gazette and see if I have what it takes without the looming threat of Mitchum Huntzberger hanging over me, and I really, really want to move out of my grandparents' pool house before my grandmother forces me to join the DAR," she groaned.
"Sounds like it's pretty clear."
"Yeah," she started to feel like it might not be so insurmountable after all. "But could we just sit here for a while more? Watch the sun set or get some coffee?"
"That depends," he said with what she could have sworn was seriousness. She pulled back enough to look at him.
He gave a half shrug. "What about this possible ex-boyfriend?"
She smiled as she pulled her finger through the sand, and turned to squint up at him. "I'm not sure."
"Why is that?"
"A couple of weeks ago, everything seemed so insurmountable; everything was such a big deal. But sitting here, now," she took a deep breath of the evening summer air. "Nothing seems that bad."
"It's the beach," he leaned in her ear.
She looked up at him and smiled. "I don't think it's just the beach," she whispered.
He looked like he wanted to kiss her, but he held back just far enough that she could feel his breath on her skin but not his lips against hers. "'Cause I'm glad to see you again, but at this point I really don't want to get involved if you're not available."
She looked into his azure eyes and suddenly didn't care if Logan never called her again. He could walk up to them on the beach, asking her what the hell she thought she was doing, and at least for this once, she'd have an honest answer that she knew in her gut involved being true to what she wanted.
He leaned in automatically, pausing after he'd only gotten a few centimeters closer. "Rory."
"Damnit, Tristan, kiss me!" she closed her eyes and waited, hoping against hope he wouldn't just leave her hanging and make a total fool out of her. With every second, her heart pounded harder with anticipation of his lips against hers and the fear that it wouldn't happen at all.
And right there, on the beach, she felt his hands slip up from the nape of her neck into her hairline. His fingertips pressed into her scalp just slightly. He must have just licked his lips, because as his lips touched hers she felt the soft, moist pressure that made something deep within her reverberate, like he'd struck a tuning fork. She opened her mouth, wanting more instantly and let his tongue meet hers. After an indulgent minute of this non-verbal sparring, he leaned his forehead to hers and pulled his lips away.
"Unless you tell me otherwise, I'm going to take a kiss like that to mean that you're not only available, but pretty damn interested," he put her on the spot.
She leaned in and kissed him again, quick and firm. She didn't want to think about what would happen after they left this beach, or what the fall would bring. She wanted to sit in the summer sun and the fresh air and kiss him until she couldn't remember anything else.
"You were right," she looked up into his eyes after she pulled away, appreciating the look of awe that covered his face.
"You are interested?"
She gave a soft chuckle. "I just needed to enjoy the summer."
And to that end, she returned the kiss that he commenced in giving her.