It was cold. It had been a warm day, one that promised an early summer, but the night was freezing cold, guaranteeing that summer was not yet here. It was too cold to sit outside by a lake that had not yet felt the imminent warm days. And yet, that was exactly where Jess was that night, sitting on the cold, hard wood of the bridge.
He pulled his jacket tighter around him, trying to save at least a little body heat. He almost envied the warm red embers at the end of his cigarette, which he held in one shaking hand.
He didn't know how long he had been sitting there. He was too cold to move, by now, though he wouldn't have gone anywhere if he had been able to. There wasn't anywhere he could go.
"You can do anything you wanted, you can be anything you wanted." He wanted to be warm, but that didn't seem to be an option. He wanted to have somewhere to go, but there wasn't anything he could do about that either.
It was a bit of a joke, really, him being anything he wanted. She was right, in a way, and he knew it. She was sure he knew it, even though he wouldn't admit it.
He was smart. He could tell just by the sheer number of idiots out there that he must be smart; otherwise all of them wouldn't seem quite so dumb.
He could probably do just about anything. She was right when she said he could ace all his classes without a problem. So why didn't he?
It was a good question, one he didn't know the answer to. He had given her that old excuse, about not seeing the point. "I'm never going to college, why waste the time in high school?"
But that wasn't it. It was more that he didn't see how knowing the date of D-Day was going to help him at all. He didn't see how knowing the difference between communism and socialism was going to make his mom want him. He couldn't see how being able to find the limit of an equation was going to make his dad come back.
So Rory was right, when she said he could do anything, be anything he wanted. The problem was he didn't really know what he wanted.
Really, the things he wanted weren't things anyone could give, no matter what. He wanted his mother to care about him, to not be so flaky as to send him off to live somewhere else because she didn't want to deal. He wanted her to call him sometimes to see how he was doing, to ask to see him sometimes. He wanted her to find a boyfriend who was good to her, and to Jess, instead of the losers she always found.
Luke tried to give him the things he needed, and Jess was grateful. He knew Luke lied at Christmas when he said it was him who had suggested Jess stay in Stars Hollow. Jess was sure that wasn't the case, but he appreciated the effort. He also knew Luke wanted him to go to school because it would be a hell of a lot easier for him to have a good life if he did. Jess appreciated that, too.
He felt guilty, though. Luke, for all his good points, did cause that. When someone tries to give you everything, it's hard not to feel guilty when you don't know what to do with it.
Jess was stuck, and not just on this bridge. He didn't know of anything he wanted that he could actually have.
He could think of one other thing he wanted, though. He wanted a home. He wanted a place where he could go and feel safe. A place where he wouldn't be anxious over his mother's boyfriends, or nervously awaiting persecution from the town that wished to drive him away with torches and pitchforks. But there was nowhere like that for him to go.
Just like there hadn't been anywhere he could go when that small furry thing had run out into the street. Jess wondered why he had bothered to swerve. He didn't care about the stupid animal, not really. It wasn't high on his list of priorities, at any rate. Maybe Rory cared. She seemed like the type who would.
She probably cared more about the car her boyfriend made for her, the one that he had sent careening into the bench with the Doose's market sign. She probably cared more about her wrist, which she held close to her, even though she insisted she was fine.
Rory insisted an awful lot of things, Jess had noticed. An awful lot of things that were too true.
"You could do more." Yes, he certainly could. He could make a bigger impact than he had with his minor pranks. And he certainly had, by wrecking the car of Stars Hollow's princess and thus permanently branding himself as the town outcast.
He was pretty sure that wasn't what she meant. In fact, Jess was pretty sure that the only reason he had deflected that line of conversation and turned the questioning on Rory was that he knew how true that was, and the truth scared him.
He had some potential, he supposed. But it was hard to do much with it as a hoodlum kid who was raised by a single mother who would rather go out and get drunk with her newest loser boyfriend than help her kid with his homework or come get him when he was in a bad situation.
It wasn't fair of Rory to push that knowledge on him, not like that. It hurt, especially coming from her. Rory, who was going to Chilton and then to Harvard and would go on to live a perfectly comfortable life. She didn't understand what it was like growing up the way he had.
Rory would say it didn't make a difference, that it was his decisions now that mattered. The decisions he made were bad ones.
Leaving after the ambulance came was probably one of them. No one would understand that one. He had done everything he could think of, though. He had helped her out of the car, ignoring the way his own body ached and protested. He had taken her cell phone and called an ambulance, ignoring her insistence that she was fine.
"Glad you think so," he said, as Rory said she was just fine once again. "Now someone with a medical degree can think so."
He gave her his jacket, because after all, it was awfully cold out, and then they sat on the curb until the ambulance came.
He answered the questions from the police as she got into the ambulance. A paramedic gave him back his coat.
"Aren't you coming?" she had asked. They were in this together, weren't they? If she had to go to the hospital, he should, too.
But he shook his head. He wouldn't, no, couldn't go. He hated hospitals, couldn't stand them.
Her worried face as the ambulance doors closed the last thing on his mind as he turned away and walked mindlessly away from the wreckage, the sound of crushing metal and screeching sirens overtaking his thoughts long after the lights of the ambulance had faded into the night.
He shouldn't have made her go on her own, he thought, but he couldn't go there. He couldn't go to the hospital and relive the times he had had to sit there in the halls, waiting to hear if his mother would be all right after her boyfriend beat her up.
It was so screwed up, the whole thing. He did everything he was able to, but it wasn't enough, and it never would be. And so he would be on the bus in the morning, back to New York where he would try to help his mother, but that wouldn't be enough either.
He lit another cigarette, his old one long extinguished. He took a long, shaky breath, and then held the cigarette in his hand, staring at it, thinking it was just one more bad decision.
Heavy footsteps fell on the end of the bridge, but Jess didn't look up. He was almost sure it was Luke, and if it wasn't…then it would be someone looking to hurt him, and maybe he deserved that.
The footsteps stopped next to him, and he looked at the familiar shoes. He couldn't bring himself to look up at his uncle.
"I made sure she was okay," he said slowly, deliberately, trying not to let his voice betray the fear he still felt from that one, heart-wrenching second he had looked over at Rory in the car, and her eyes were closed, the little shards of broken glass raining down from the window, from that moment before she opened her eyes when his heart stopped for a second because he thought hers had for good.
"I know you did," Luke said, not sounding angry, and the guilt hit Jess again, harder this time.
He didn't want to go back to New York, but he deserved it. He didn't deserve to stay here with Luke, because he didn't deserve the nice things Luke did, or the happiness he got from talking to Rory.
Luke sat down next to him as he took another drag from his cigarette. "You okay?"
Jess ignored the question because he didn't know how to answer it. "Can I go back to New York?"
"Is that what you want?" Another question he couldn't answer.
Jess shivered and pulled his knees up to his chest.
"Jess…Let's go back to the apartment to talk, okay?" Luke suggested gently. Jess ignored that, too.
"I think they would rather I went back," he said.
"Who?" It was a good question, but not one he wanted to answer. He didn't want to have to tell Luke that most everyone in Stars Hollow wished he would leave, and probably most people in the neighboring towns as well. The only people who didn't want him to go back were his mother and whatever boyfriend she had acquired since he left.
"Is it okay if I go?" he asked instead.
"I'm not going to stop you," Luke began. "If that's what you want to do, I won't stop you. But I will tell you, I think you'll miss this place."
"It's what I want," Jess said softly, though it was a lie, though he really wanted anything but to go back to New York.
Luke stood up. "Then I'll call your mom and let her know. You ready to go in?"
Jess shook his head. "Not yet."
"Don't be too long," Luke said, and he walked away, leaving Jess with his thoughts.
And oddly enough, all he could think was that he didn't want to leave, not yet. He didn't want to leave Luke and the diner, didn't want to leave the town, and mostly didn't want to leave Rory. But he would do it anyway. Because he always did that, did what seemed easier. It was easier to give up than to do what he wanted.
"You could do anything you wanted." But he wouldn't.