Commas and Ampersands
It's the little things, really. (Lit)
A/N: This one's for you, avaleighfitzgerald. Because your love for these two made me fall in love with them all over again.
This is my first Gilmore Girls fic, so any feedback is greatly appreciated! (I'd beg, but Emily Gilmore would not approve)
Title comes from Mike Doughty's "I Hear the Bells."
Disclaimer: If I owned them, you can be sure I would have done a lot of things differently.
She loves words so much that they came out all in a jumble (at least after she gets to know someone and can trust them with her treasures); like a little kid stuffing her face full of as much candy as possible, she cannot get enough of them. Her first memory is of sitting on Mom's lap, warm and safe, while Mom talked and talked and talked—Rory doesn't remember the words, just the rise and fall of her voice, and it sounded like home.
Words are much too precious for him to use as freely as the Gilmores do; she knows that he's never understood how they could talk and talk, stringing words together in long chains that trip up anyone else but bind them together, and she never can explain it to him. The verbal thing comes and goes, he says, but love for words is as much a part of him as it is of her.
When she and Mom talk, bandying words back and forth (Luke likens them to a tennis match), Dean would watch them, chagrined. Jess catches most of what's going on—all the books, most of the movies, the current events, even the history. It's the really bad TV that trips him up (he isn't one to staying up till all hours of the night to catch reruns of "The Brady Bunch Variety Hour"), but that's all right. Nobody's perfect.
She waits patiently for each word as he doles them out like a miser. Most of them are everyday, monosyllables, but they're occasionally punctuated with words that mean something, rare words, words that gleam and are just exactly right (There is no such thing as an exact synonyms, he grumpily quotes Katherine Anne Porter one day and he doesn't understand why she can't stop smiling). But never for show or to impress her or anyone else: only when he's trying to make a point.
They meet in the middle, and it all works out.
Looking back, it seems inevitable, as though she knew from the first time he entered her room and trailed his eyes over her books with a sort of reverence that belied his caustic comment (she'll never be able to see a "Hooked on Phonics" commercial ever again without thinking of him) that they were meant to be together. She isn't the type to say things like that; she's much too practical to believe in love at first sight, and she knows that she was happy with Dean then. And she's never liked the idea of some soul mate created for you before time began, that there's just one person you could ever be with and you'll never be happy with anyone else and you don't have any choice in the matter. Rory believes in making her own choices.
But still, if she believes in destiny at all (and she isn't sure that she does), she would believe that the notes in the margins of a book, a kiss at a wedding, an afternoon on the bridge with a basket in between, an apple appearing from thin air, a record store in New York, and a sprinkler system were all conspiring against her and adding up to something like fate.
After the Winter Carnival, Clara develops a crush on Jess, and Rory is giddy over all the teasing she gets to do. She spends the walk to Luke's each morning and afternoon not bantering with Mom but thinking of new quips to make—things about his "crazy" hair and how he and Clara are a perfect couple since he almost never talks and she does nothing but.
He grumbles and snarks about her future in standup and she flits around him, chattering and laughing—this is way too much fun to pass up (she isn't her mother's daughter for nothing). The one that makes him maddest is the one about how he'll be related to Dean—all those holidays and family reunions. He growls, then kisses her to shut her up, and she can't complain or tease at all, because she can't catch her breath.
She likes the way he says her name, rolling the syllables around on his tongue. He knows the weight of every word, but when he says this one, she feels as though it has more weight or meaning than any other word in the world.
She has a lot of dreams, more than the average person. And she's smarter, perhaps, more talented than most. She doesn't like to draw attention to all that, but she knows it's true. But even so, she knows that she isn't the most meaningful thing in the world, not the most important person, not perfect or the center of the universe.
But when he says her name, she is.
Even though he moved from the big city, Dean fit in in Stars Hollow, sliding into its quirks and corners comfortably and without questions. He was her town, was security and familiarity and safety and everything, Mom says, a first boyfriend should be.
Jess is the whole world. He's adventure and books she never would have thought of reading and ways of looking at things that she couldn't have imagined. And maybe he's the bad boy, but he's going to be a good man, or maybe already is.
It's gorgeous spring weather where the sky is so blue it makes her ache and the smell of wet soil in the wind is enough to make her want to just walk and walk and walk to the ends of the earth. Mom turns off the heat, and in these few weeks of hovering-in-between, the windows are open to let in the sound of wind tossing leaves back and forth in the trees and the brush of the silky air.
Books start disappearing from her shelves, but she isn't worried. They're always returned soon—usually the next day, though how he can work and go to school and manage to read Housekeeping all in one day is beyond her—with notes scribbled in the margins, and she smiles.
Some books have more notes than others—Dubliners has nearly as many notes in the margins as the text of the story itself, while her Complete Poems and Selected Letters of John Keats has only a scattered few, as though Keats has said (almost) everything that needs to be said.
The first time she thinks that maybe she loves him (love is an awfully big word, one of the few she's hesitant to apply too freely) is when her copy of On the Road reappears mysteriously on her pillow, and there's not a single note in it. She pores over every single page, flipping through slowly, sure she's missing something. Finally, she notes something scrawled in the corner of the last flyleaf: Really, what could I say?
Other than that one time with the 22.8 miles (a moment she relives again and again, though she would never admit it), he never talks about the future. She tells him about Harvard (then Yale), about working at a newspaper someday, about being a foreign correspondent. She tells him about all the places she wants to visit and the people she wants to meet. She even admits that one day—a long time from now—she wants what Mom calls the total package—the husband, the kids, the house (but probably not the minivan, because she can't imagine any child of hers that would want to play soccer).
He never talks about the future at all. He barely likes to plan for next weekend, much less talk about ten years from now. She isn't sure whether it's fear or apathy or just that he doesn't know what he wants to do with his life, but no matter how she pushes him, she can't get him to even hint at anything he might be thinking of.
To appease her, he tells her long lists of books he's planning on reading someday, and it does—for a little while. But that isn't enough. She tells him that he could do or be anything he wants to be or do. He says, "Thanks, Mom," but she knows his mom never told him that. No one did. Sometimes she wonders if he realizes how smart and talented he is—other people certainly don't. But she knows that if he would just try, just invest in something other than her and reading every book ever written and annoying Taylor—he would be unstoppable.
She doesn't lie to herself; it bothers her that he doesn't dream, doesn't have any sort of ambition. She appreciates that he seems to believe that she can do whatever she wants, but she wants them to be equal in this: to push and encourage and support each other.
She knows that Mom still doesn't like him. Yes, he was rude to her the first time they met, but she would have thought that of anyone Mom would understand the need to protect yourself through words. But criticizing Luke isn't the best way to get on Mom's good side, and when Mom finally tells her exactly what Jess said, Rory realizes that Jess's words must have seemed designed to alienate himself from Mom from the first.
She hates that he and Mom don't get along, because they have so much in common. But he is caustic and sometimes even cruel to everyone else. And she doesn't understand why, because with her he's so…well, sweet isn't the right word, but even though she spends more time than she probably should mulling over it, rejecting this word and that, it's as close as she can get.
She asks him why on a regular basis, but she never gets a real answer.
He and Mom tolerate each other for her sake, but both of them are completely exasperated with each other most of the time, and she sees the distrusting glances they throw at each other. And it's hard, dividing up her time between the two of them and trying not to neglect Lane at the same time. This is the first time that she's had someone important in her life that Mom doesn't like as much as she, Rory, does. Once she tells Mom that the fact that she likes him should be enough for her—after all, shouldn't her own mother just want her to be happy (though she knows that Mom does want her to be happy and always will)?
Mom's beginning to understand how important he is to her, so she smiles and gives him a tense hello when she sees him. And Jess curbs most of his more sarcastic comments in front of Mom now. She can tell they're both trying not to bait each other, trying not to square off, trying to find things to respect in each other.
It's not enough, but it's a start.
Most of the time she's convinced that the scowling, brooding young man thing is all an act, that he's softer than he lets on, that he cares more than he could possibly say (or at least more than his pride will let him admit to). Other times, though, she becomes truly exasperated when the whole day has been nothing but cynical comments.
Jess, she erupts finally, and she gets the feeling he's hiding a grin, Why don't you just make me a list of all the things you think are lame and then you'll never have to tell them to me again.
He smiles that half smile that used to infuriate her (and if she's honest, sometimes still does, even if she loves it more often than not, despite its cliché) and she stomps off to meet the bus.
When she checks the mail on the way into the house that afternoon, on top of the new issues of her Books and Culture and Mom's InStyle, all the bills that will make them hold their breaths but will somehow get paid, and a profusion of junk mail, there's an unsealed envelope.
She sits down on the porch steps and opens it, unfolding five pages of ragged-edged notebook paper.
Lame Things the top of the first page is labeled, and she can't help but laugh out loud:
1. Taylor Doose.
Number two is town meetings. Number seventeen is Ayn Rand. Number twenty-six reads, Professional snowmen builders.
Four pages of paper are covered on one side. It's college ruled paper, thirty-two lines to a page, four pages, so that's one hundred and twenty-eight things he thinks are lame. She isn't surprised. She rolls her eyes and laughs again as she sees what's crammed into the bottom margin of the fourth page:
And that's just offhand.
But she catches her breath at the fifth page. Things That Aren't Lame:
5. The Clash
She wants to make him laugh. More than almost anything in the world, she loves it when he actually laughs. It's rare, though, and she understands why. She gets the whole Daddy-abandoned-me thing; she's been there. But she had Mom to more than make up for it, a relationship so deep she doesn't know any other that can quite compare.
Rory has heard stories about Liz, knows from Luke that she's a nice person, but that she doesn't have a responsible or steady bone in her body. She's erratic, and there's no way she could have offered Jess any kind of constancy. In a life like that, no wonder Jess holds on so tightly to his books. No wonder he rarely laughs.
It's a role reversal. Dean constantly tried to make her laugh, like it was some sort of game he was going to win. She loved that, but not as much as she loves those rare occasions when she'll say or do something and Jess will actually laugh out loud. The only problem is that most of the time, when she's trying to make him laugh, he doesn't, and when he does laugh, she was being totally serious.
This month, she's working her way through Faulkner, even though the school librarian says that he's "too much" for high schoolers and (pushing her glasses further up the bridge of her nose and sniffing), she doesn't know why they even have his complete works in the Chilton library.
She finishes up Sanctuary during lunch, shedding more than a few tears for Temple and even for Lee and Ruby (everyone in the lunchroom is more than used to Rory Gilmore sitting with a tome on the table in front of her, headphones in her ears, her lunch forgotten beside her, tears sliding down her cheeks) before she closes the book.
The rest of the day is torture—she's bursting to talk about it with Jess, but instead she has to listen to her teachers rambling about things like Byron or the French Revolution (things she'd usually be interested in, but not today). Her teachers don't understand why she does not raise her hand once, and Paris makes a snide remark about her fidgeting. She gets almost nothing done on The Franklin, and that means more abuse from Paris, but for once she doesn't care.
On the bus home, the man sitting next to her clears her throat six times before she notices that she's tapping her foot against the pole, creating a nervous rhythm. After that, she just drums her fingers on her bare knees.
She races into Luke's and barely greets him as he jerks a thumb towards the stairs. She clatters up them and when she throws the door open, Jess is sprawled out on the couch with Kundera in his hand, his eyebrows arched at her.
She lets her backpack slide off her shoulder, wrestling her book out of the outer pocket.
Listen, she demands, and he swings his feet around to rest on the floor.
"In the pavilion a band in the horizon blue of the army played Massenet and Scriabin, and Berlioz like a thin coating of tortured Tschaikovsky on a slice of stale bread, while the twilight dissolved in wet gleams from the branches on the pavilion and the somber toadstools of umbrellas"—did you ever in your life think you would read a sentence like that?—"Rich and resonant the brasses crashed and died in the thick green twilight, rolling over them in rich sad waves…." She sucks in a ragged breath, feeling her cheeks flush with excitement. And that's his selling out book!
One minute, he's staring at her like she's crazy, the next he's laughing harder than she's ever seen him. He leans his head back against the top of the couch and lets the book fall from his hand and she can't drag her eyes away from him (he's beautiful).
But this is not the reaction she was looking for. She leans over and begins slapping his upper arms, telling him to shut up. Still laughing, he grabs her hands, between gasps reassuring her that it is beautiful prose and that he's laughing because she's so cute and that he thinks it's hot that she's that passionate about something like that.
All the fight goes out of her at that and her cheeks begin to burn. She collapses onto the couch beside him, letting him wrap his arms around her and tuck her head under his chin. She's still pouting a little, but a smile keeps trying to break through her petulance. How could she really be angry when his fingers are tangled in her hair and he laughed?
With his free hand he takes the book from her. Can I borrow this? he asks, and maybe he doesn't understand why she catches him off guard with a sudden, furious kiss, but he certainly doesn't complain.
The best times are the simplest: leaning towards each other over the counter, teasing and being teased by Luke. Sprawling out on the couch with a bowl of white cheddar popcorn, talking about books for hours. Him catching her as she walks down the street and pulling her into a doorway for a kiss. Playing pranks on Taylor and getting winked at by Miss Patty. Sitting in the back row of the theater in Hartford and mocking the chick flicks and pointing out the impossibilities of the action pictures. Watching him roll his eyes through town meetings and the feel of his arm around her waist as they cross the square.
Debating the relative merits of authors and then thrilling to discover the ones they agree about completely. Holding the phone to her ear till it starts to ache because they're talking about ideas late into the night and she's surprising herself, stumbling her way—prompted by him—into really figuring out what she believes. Those rare moments when he laughs and the even rarer ones when he lets her catch a glimpse of his life before Stars Hollow. The moments when he reveals the softness he hides and she teases and it all ends with a kiss and contentment.
She wants it to last forever.
She's scared to death that it won't.
When she finds out that he is gone, she isn't surprised.
(She misses him so much that she can't breathe).