A/N: What to say? Except sorry, many times over, for the delay in posting a new chapter. And thank you, for continuing to wait, and ask for updates, and read, and re-read. If you think this a "filler" chapter, perhaps you're right. Giving you (and I) a chance to refresh the memory of this fic (go back to the beginning, now), and catch up again with Rory and Logan in earnest.
Anne did not wish for more of such looks and speeches. His cold politeness, his ceremonious grace, were worse than anything. Chapter VIII
Rory hardly ever slept in an airplane.
This he knew of her, from a 6-hour sojourn to London they once took (and from an intricately imagined 3-month sojourn to Asia that never was). For there was nothing quite like the infinite blackness or whiteness of open sky to serve as the backdrop of the latest novel she happened to be savoring in her strategically positioned window seat. Cloud formations and ruminations inspired her to construct and deconstruct her various lists ("To Do Today", "To Do Next Week", "Books to Read in the Next Six Months", and "Movies Watched in the Last Six Months (note: 3.5 stars and above)"). Every nasal, inaudibly muttered announcement over the speakers (really, does anyone care how high they were above sea level?) compelled her to reach for her Frommer's in yet another thumb-through of the already colorfully highlighted pages.
Yet now, she slept. Or did she? Logan's severely taxed peripheral vision could not quite tell, and Louisa and David and the stretch of an aisle between them did not help in his efforts to catch the blue of her eye. He shifted in his seat in abject frustration.
Perhaps you should stop with the drinks, baby, Louisa had admonished irritatedly, handing his still-full glass to the flight attendant after his third trip to the lavatory in an hour. His intermittent passage across the aisle (periodically disrupting the ongoing conversations among their party) was his juvenile attempt to check on Rory, a chance to perhaps let drop casually over her headrest that there were some classic Woody Allens programmed in her video monitor. But it was only ever her hair, fallen halfway across her face as she leaned heavily against the window, that he saw.
Not once since her tardy, harried arrival on the Huntzberger's private tarmac—arms heavy with bags packed with needless skiing armory that she could have rented from the resort they would be ensconced in, stammering needless apologies about the rudeness of New York cab drivers and her usually unimpeachable promptness—not once had she looked at him.
He, on the other hand, had permitted himself a lingering look on her cheeks and nose flushed pink in the cold or in embarrassment, as David kissed her hair and assured her that she was only five minutes late (in fact, she was 15 minutes late). As she gamely bent to brush cheeks with Louisa, he permitted himself the small observation that she seemed to have lost weight in the two weeks since he last saw her, her chin looking more pointed than usual, and her gracefully hunched frame swallowed under a burgundy coat. He permitted himself a small measure of anticipation at their turn to greet each other, yet was rewarded with a decidedly neutral "Oh hey, Logan," and a glance thrown somewhere in the direction of the sky above him.
So this is how it is to be.
"Hey, Rory," he had said cooly in return.
She then turned to exchange more pleasantries with Amber and Hans, pumping their hands enthusiastically. Not one inch above ground, and already Logan wished he were back in his office and she in hers, where a "hey" spoken in hushed tones over the telephone meant much more than it did here and now.
"Hey, you," he had murmured over the phone the weekend before.
The small words belied the heavy days of forethought and inexplicable agony that led him to call the Times office on a Sunday morning. Rory being Rory—indeed, gratefully, there she was.
"Hey!" she had responded breathlessly, after a brief moment of silence. "Log—is this Logan?" in a doubtful whisper.
"Yes it's me," he had whispered back conspiratorially. "And I agree, we must stop meeting like this."
"Hmm…our Sunday phone conversations are really throwing me off my routine. It is the odd, unexpected blip in my otherwise extremely jam-packed weekend."
"Oh yeah? And were you about to rush off somewhere?"
"Oh, just brunch with Carrie, Miranda, and Samantha," she had joked breezily. "And then actually, uh, I was about to go for my run at the park."
She had said this with some shyness. It was a late development in her that Logan did not know. This revelation was met with a pause so lengthy that Rory had wondered whether the line had been cut.
"Sorry. I think I lost you for a minute there; I thought I heard you say that you were going to run."
"Shut up. I am going to run."
"Okay, whoever you are, let me try this one more time. May I please speak to Rory Gilmore? I believe you would find her at work on her desk even today, a Sunday. You might recognize her from the scent of coffee emanating from her carrel, if not her pores. Oh and by the way, she doesn't run, unless it is to be 10 minutes early for a staff meeting."
"Just for that, Logan Huntzberger, I am going to run."
"Ha! So you don't."
"I do, I swear! I've just been feeling ambivalent about it today. Right before you called."
"You've been feeling ambivalent about any form of physical exertion for the last, oh, 29 years, Rory."
"If you had any sympathetic nerve in your body which is, naturally, in peak form and in the pink of health from decades of exclusive gym memberships, you would remember that I had just come from the flu and therefore not in any condition to run nor be poked fun at in this way."
"Is 'in peak form and in the pink of health' an extremely roundabout way of saying that you think I have a hot body?" he had teased.
"Uh-huh. Same ass as always."
"I think that impressive comeback is testimony of your fitness, Ror. I do remember you were sick, though, and that's the reason I called," he had explained then with seriousness. "How are you?"
"Oh. Well, I'm better now."
So much better, in fact, that she had a wide smile pasted on her face, the kind that would not be made less exuberant no matter how hard she reined in her facial muscles. "Thanks for asking. And yes, much credit goes to the humble, jet-puffed marshmallow. Dr. Sanjay Gupta has yet to be apprised of its healing properties."
"You must email him your written manuscript of the clinical trial, then," he had laughed, feeling genuinely lighter that she was better. "Or post it in the Times. I get full credit, naturally."
"I don't see why, since I introduced you to the wonders of the marshmallow. You were such a deprived child," Rory clucked.
"Yes, you did. And…thanks for that," he had said in an odd moment of sentimentality. She did open up his life to marshmallows, and other things besides.
"Oh. Well." She had felt flustered, and cleared her throat. "Marshmallows are great!"
"That they are. So…I'm glad you're better now, Rory."
There. The sole mission of his call had been fulfilled. But so tantalizing had been their banter, her small revelation about her current life (though he still hardly believed that she ran) that his determination to end the call at this point began to lose steam. What else has she been doing in the last week? In the last 7 years? Baking cookies from scratch? Taking up extreme sports? The last question brought to mind his other, more ulterior motive for calling.
"Better enough to go skiing next weekend, then?"
Logan thought he could hear the distant stirrings of her computer, perhaps a vacuum cleaner, as Rory had remained quiet on the line.
"You don't have to ski, of course, if you don't want to," he had amended, striving to sound casual. "But you might have to as proof that you had been running. You do have to show off your new levels of physical fitness to me, or your journalistic credibility is lost."
Goad her, yes, and she will go.
"I already told you, Logan. I'm not going."
"Why?" he had asked, after a pause.
The question, so plaintive, startled them both. He neither planned nor expected to sound so vulnerable; she neither planned nor expected to offer up her painstakingly detailed pro-con list to his scrutiny. (The cons won out, of course).
"Well…uh…because. Because it seems…weird?"
How she had hated her lack of eloquence. Because it would be too much for my heart to take, Logan, would have been more to the point. I would see your arm around her shoulder, be witness to you kissing her. I might shatter.
There was also the more minor point of needing to break up with David, a task which her sympathetic heart had delayed, and which a weekend spent sharing a cup of hot cocoa or huddling under warm blankets would not aid.
"Weird, huh," Logan had parroted.
What Logan thought was weird was that he seemed suddenly short of breath. As he heaved in some air, he sensed a long dormant undercurrent of black, seething emotion expanding from his gut to his throat. You are up-set, he recalled his second-grade summer camp counselor telling him in carefully enunciated syllables, after he inexplicably punched Colin McCrae's nose during the culminating family jamboree which his parents yet again neglected to attend.
Do you know how many nights without sleep I have had, how many miles I have run? You drift back into my life after seven years, when I'm about to be married in two weeks, and now all I can see is you. And now you tell me I cannotsee you!
"But there's nothing to feel weird about, Rory," he had argued crisply. "I thought I made that clear with the package I sent you. New start. You're with David now, and I'm marrying Louisa in a few weeks. There's no need to think about our past at all. It was nothing, it was so long ago. So go with us, okay? And you should go, for David. He's been talking about nothing else to me and Louisa the past weeks. Do it for him, Rory. Don't overthink this situation, like you do everything else. I suppose it is…unusual, but don't make it out to be weirder than it should be."
Rory's heart was Colin McCrae's nose. He needed to break something, to crystallize the growing, intangible desperation with a series of untruths, greatest of which was that It was nothing, when it was, and—if his sleepless nights revealed any insight at all—remains to be, Everything.
Rory had been shocked into chilly submission by his lengthy, audacious spiel. He had rightly presumed the source of her awkward and tender feelings: that what they once had might disturb their present, delicate arrangement; that what they once had was worth preserving from Monroes who might sully the memory. But she had presumed that he might understand and perhaps feel the same way. That he was so cavalier cowed her to humiliated silence.
"Fine, Logan. I'll go skiing," she had finally said. "Don't worry, there should be nothing, no weirdness at all."
Not granting him the chance to wound her further, Rory had placed the phone back on its cradle, before bending her head to her arms and pondering how they had gone from marshmallows to this.
Thus, at the advent of this weekend that was much hoped for (to Logan), and much feared (to Rory), oh, hey was all there was between them.
That, and her constantly averted eyes.
The snow was so fine and pristine it reflected the sky above it. Rory stared at it incomprehensibly at first, wondering at the blue snow. Nearby, the slopes seemed playful and gentle; further away, the peaks turned craggy and imposing in their height. Pressing her palm against the cold window glass, Rory thought she had never seen anything so beautifully stark. Everything appeared to resonate with her desolate heart.
Behind her was the murmur of voices as Logan and David checked into the hotel and as Louisa, Amber, and Hans spoke to the concierge about their planned activities for the next three days. Three days. How would she survive them? Even from a distance, Logan's voice surfaced, broke apart from the rest in a crescendo, and crashed clean over her in a frighteningly familiar wave. She can follow his voice wherever it drifted. What time do the fresh tracks open?, he was asking. (In the airplane, can I have another glass of water?) He sounded tired. Or not. He could be feeling invigorated and excited over this trip. She could no longer claim to know any better, especially when she had studiously avoided looking at his face.
It will be like this, then. She can do her best to be not weird,as instructed. But she would still hear his voice and breathe in the same thin air as he. This is how it would be, her blue-and-white beautiful, desolate, three days of hell.
"So, how do you like it?" David approached behind her.
Rory smiled wanly as she turned to face him. "Gorgeous. Well, as long as I ignore that head hanging on the wall," she said, glancing up at the doe-eyed face of a deer, "everything is perfect. In fact, this sofa is just begging me to curl up and read in her." She flopped down in the overstuffed, richly upholstered couch beside her and took in a better view of her surroundings.
At her feet were thick oriental rugs patterned in interesting curlicues that matched the gold flecks on the walls. There was a cheery fire below an ornate gilded mirror; the massive antique grandfather clock in the corner was flanked by similarly old bohemian lamps that evoked homey comforts in old-world, rich surroundings. The clincher, of course, was the stunning view of the Aspen mountains before her. She made a mental note to take lots of pictures for Ian (and for Lorelai, a foresworn photograph of Hugh Grant should he happen to be on holiday in this part of the world). Rory tried very hard not to think about what it cost to spend a night here. She was riddled with enough guilt for even allowing David to hold her hand.
"Only you would think of staying in and reading when there's 50 feet of snow outside," David grinned, sitting beside her.
"Yep, that's me." She curled her legs beneath her. "Born without an ounce of an adventurous spirit. Karma, I guess. The only reason I exist is because my mother was way too adventurous. She'd love to ski, too; she loves snow." Her voice could not mask its wistful tone. Oh Mom, save me!
"Hey, is everything alright?" David asked, turning his body to face her.
"Hot cocoa with marshmallows would be good, now that you ask. Do you think they would have such a concoction in this ramshackle establishment?"
"Rory," he shook his head, unconvinced. "You were quiet through most of the flight."
"I was sleeping."
She wasn't. She had simply closed her eyelids to spare herself the social obligation of conversing with her five companions, and (from the corner of her eye) the sight of Louisa's hand on Logan's jean-clad thigh. Masochist, she had berated herself, as she prayed for the sleep that never befell her, her ears alert to every shuffle and crumple of the newspaper in his hand, his every laugh and utterance grating over her already hypersensitive bones.
David continued to stare at her with his characteristic intensity that she supposed many a woman would think romantic, rather than discomfiting, as she did. His frank brown eyes bore holes in her head.
"There's so much I still don't know about you," he said suddenly, surprising her.
He started to reach for her hand, watching as Rory predictably folded her arms across her chest. She gave a small laugh, her fingers scratching at her turtleneck self-consciously.
"Like what about? There aren't many skeletons in my closet…oh, except I had a thing for Ricky Martin way back when he still sported a band across his forehead and was 5 feet tall. But you don't need to know that." As always, she chattered when she was nervous.
"Well," he hedged. "What of other boys—men—post-Ricky Martin? You haven't told me about them."
"Oh, I told you about Dean, and Jess," she said with nonchalance. "And Ben. And that's that. Really, the pickings have been quite slim, especially when one seems to hold a preference for monosyllabic names."
"If I recall correctly, Dean and Jess were in high school, and Ben a couple of years ago. Don't tell me you didn't have a—a serious relationship in college." He cocked his head, as if sizing her up. "You seem the type who would have a serious boyfriend in college," he decided.
"David," she began, looking askance at the other members of their group who were now walking to the front door, presumably to check on their cabins. She caught Logan's eye (quite by accident, caught off-guard as she was). She turned back to David and placed her hand carefully on his knee.
"Why are we even talking about this? What brought this on? I'm not sure this is the right time or place to tell you about my…er, love life. It would depress you too much, when we're supposed to be on holiday," she said lightly. No lie there, for indeed her love was inappropriate as well as depressing.
"Depressing? Oh I'm sure you broke a lot of hearts in your day, Rory. I'm sure you were the co-ed in Yale. If I knew you then, I would…in fact, I heard that…" he stopped abruptly, coughing.
"What? What did you hear? From whom?" She hoped he would not decipher the rising panic in her voice.
"My mother—well, you know how those women talk. And she heard that…" He turned away from Rory now, folding his elbows on his knees and rubbing the smattering of golden stubble on his jaw as if to contemplate his next move.
Rory sat very still, frozen from the chill spreading through her limbs.
David finally blew out a huge sigh and reached behind Rory's neck, drawing her face close to kiss her mouth. His lips tasted of airplane coffee. She did not like it. "I'm just going to wait until you trust me enough to tell me yourself," he murmured against her nose. "Or...or I'm just going to force your shenanigans out of Logan," he added with a wicked grin.
Rory's eyes flew open in genuine alarm. "Wha…?" she gurgled.
"Gee, calm down Rory. Seems he was never sober enough to recall much about you. Much less who you went out with."
"He was hardly ever in our newsroom," Rory agreed emphatically, momentarily pacified, albeit slightly insulted by the suggestion that she couldn't have been anyone remarkable enough for Logan to remain sober for.
David stood up and stretched his long frame, offering his hand to Rory. "Shall we go check on our room? We can take a nap there, or…" his eyes lingered on the mouth he had just kissed. As he continued to stare at her, a slow flush crept up her face.
"I—I was planning to take a few pictures for Ian, actually. I might forget later on, and it's so pretty out now. Can you give me a few minutes?"
"Sure, Rory. Take your time."
He had become used to her withdrawal, the solitary moments she took that seemed essential for her to collect herself, prior to giving more of herself to him in conversation, in bed. She was hardly ever spontaneous. He had always attributed it to her natural shyness, and found it endearing, in fact, a refreshing change from the cloying aggessiveness of the women in his circle who were mostly enamored by his last name. Today, though, he found himself feeling on edge, impatient, at her reticence. As he walked the short distance out to their cabin, David wondered how much more to Rory there was, in actuality. Was she truly shy, or was she keeping something from him? Holding herself back on purpose? Was she being evasive, by design to draw him in, to allure, to trap—
He stopped walking and shook his head abruptly, freeing it from the very words his mother had used to describe a Rory Gilmore he did not know nor believed existed. He liked Rory very much, enough to consider ending his lengthy, perpetually eligible bachelorhood for her. But having been burned many times before, he likewise valued the judgements of his mother who watched out for his interests with greater objectivity than his romantic head was known to have. You're so easily blinded by love, or what you think is love, Louisa had often told him when he had his heart trampled on yet again.
He looked behind him to where he left Rory, and saw her through the glass windows not alone, but with Logan. They did not seem to be speaking, though, but merely standing together to look out to the imposing vista, their arms similarly crossed over their chests.
(And Logan—whom she had dated, once—how much did he know about her?)
David wished it weren't so—it was contrary to his uncomplicated, straightforward character—but this weekend is a test. A test of Rory's nature; of the extent to which she can trust him and he, her.
At least, it seemed to him that Logan was trying to draw her into their group. She was so hesitant to join their trip; so hesitant to expand their twosome to include his family and friends. Perhaps Logan could make her closer to Louisa and, by extension, closer to him as well. He made a mental note to later thank Logan for these gestures.
Logan surreptitiously observed their two heads bent close together in what seemed like a serious conversation. Perhaps, sensing that someone had been staring at her, she turned her head abruptly and—at long last—caught his eye for an infinitesmal second. But then turning away, she put her hand on David's knee. The small gesture felled him.
And then, David kisses her.
From the soupy maelstrom of mixed, undecipherable feelings that he had been drowning in for weeks, one realization emerged in sparkling clarity: he hated David Monroe. Unreasonably, perhaps, for David was the kind of person who is so unremarkable as to fail to inspire any strong emotion, much less hate. But there it was. (It was unfortunate, really, how he can spend his life despising men he hardly knew—the bartender who concocted kick-ass margaritas came to mind—all because they had touched her, laughed with her, at the times in her life she did not belong to him. How lucky the nameless, faceless men in the last 7 years for their continued anonymity. He cannot hate those he didn't know with as much heat as he now did David Monroe.)
Seeking to end the protracted restlessness he had been feeling since the oh heys exchanged at the tarmac, Logan threw caution to the wind and resolutely approached Rory when David left her alone. Louisa was occupied with her friends, but then again, he cared little what anyone might think at this point. (He had not seen her in weeks, whereas David kissed her.) Rory continued to stare out the window, a slim silver camera fished out of her pocket hanging precariously from her listless fingers.
"Ansel Adams. You haven't lost the penchant for photographs, I see."
Rory gave him a sidelong glance, then turned again to look out at the landscape.
"You're mad at me," he said.
"No." She brought her camera up to her face and said, "I'm going to take some pictures now. Do you mind?"
"I know a spot with a more spectacular view. There's a balcony out; we're on a cliff, see." He took her elbow, intending to usher her out the back door, but she shrugged away from his touch.
"Stop what?" Mimicking her, he crossed his arms over his chest, stung as he was over her rejection of his touch.
"Don't make this, this…weirder than it should be, right?"
"You are mad at me. For a week now?"
"No, you were absolutely right to convince me. And here I am, enjoying the view."
She refused to move her eyes from a random faraway peak in front of her. Her throat felt dry and tight, not unlike when she was ill. First, the ordeal on the airplane. Next, David's interrogation. Now, Logan's hand at her elbow. She felt inclined to bury her hot face in the 50 feet of snow and suffocate to death, Coen brothers style.
"Why would what I said make you angry?" Logan plowed on. "You said yourself weeks ago that it doesn't matter anymore—that it's not even worth telling David and Louisa about. Or—don't tell me—is this because I didn't believe you ran around Central Park?"
"For the nth time, Logan. I'm. Not. Angry! Now why don't you run on back to Louisa. Go ski down a mountain or something. It seems she might fall apart without your arm to cling to," she muttered under her breath.
"Oh, that's rich. You won't even look at me!" he hissed, prompting her to look at him finally. "So why don't you go to your cabin with David, as he looks to be wanting to do more with you than just kiss!"
They stared at each other for endless seconds, the grandfather clock behind them ticking loudly, as would a timed bomb. As they contemplated each other's eyes at length—the first time in 7 years—she noticed how his brown was curiously flecked with greenish gold in the snow light, and tried to recall whether she had ever before seen this kaleidoscope. Whereas he observed the faint traces of lines and shadows surrounding her lush lashes, and wondered at how they gave her eyes a deeper hue, turning them more hauntingly grave. The bomb did not explode, but petered out to a sigh.
She broke the stand-off, looking down a fraction to his chest, to the fuzz of his green cashmere sweater. With some shock, she recognized it as an article of clothing from their time together.
"I'm sorry. This is weird," he surrendered, rubbing his eyes that felt strained from their unblinking exchange.
"Told you so."
"But you know—"
"What?" Still gazing at his sweater, she vaguely remembered having worn it herself during particularly cold nights in their apartment. It must be so soft now, a warm relic against his skin, after a thousand washings and wearings.
"Nothing. I'll leave you to take your pictures."
He left her there, afraid that if he stayed longer, there would be more impulsive words and hands, his fingers lingering not just at her elbow, but lifting to touch the shadows under her eyes.
She saw him not far off. He saw her too; yet he looked grave, and seemed irresolute, and only by very slow degrees came at last near enough to speak to her. She felt that something must be the matter. The change was indubitable. The difference between the present air and what it had been in the octagon room was strikingly great.—Why was it?...
»Is not this song worth staying for?" said Anne, suddenly struck by an idea which made her yet more anxious to be encouraging.
"No!" he replied, impressively, "there is nothing worth my staying for;" and he was gone directly.