Disclaimer: Except for the old man making a short cameo near a trashcan, not mine

Disclaimer: Except for the old man making a short cameo near a trashcan, not mine.

Rating: Light M (oxymoron, I know). Unpretty words, sexual scenes with unpretty words.

Author's Note: So I've been going through this awful period of writer's block, where I start things based on a snippet of dialogue I hear in my head, and then I can't finish it. This piece was originally like that; it was never meant to be completed. But it kept going and rolling, so I'm going to post it. It's not happy . . . and yet, I wrote it because it's Jess. Character death. Probably one of my favorites, which is a weird word to put to it, but it's so different that I like it more.

Reviews - comments/critiques - appreciated.

Eli, the barrow boy of the old town,
Sells coal and marigolds and he cries out
All down the day.
Below the tamaracks he is crying,
"Corn cobs and candlewax for the buying!"
All down the day.

"Would I could afford to buy my love a fine robe
Made of gold and silk Arabian thread,
But she is dead and gone and lying in a pine grove
And I must push my barrow all the day,
And I must push my barrow all the day."

- Eli The Barrow Boy, The Decemberists

She would hate this, he thinks, turning over the package of chocolate Skittles in his hand. An anathema. Ruining two perfectly fine candies by mixing them. Maybe, he silently adds, bemused, she would say that is what happened to us.

Yes, maybe.

Except she's dead. And he is alone, and he forgets what state he's in.

He swats a gnat away from his head in the naked dirty light of a convenience store, pays for gas and a pack of Camels, and leaves.

- - - - - - - - - - -

Are you trying to make your life an epic? He asks himself silently at three in the morning, basking in the comforting terror of unknown highway, nothing but a black stream of asphalt pock-marked with white lines. His dying car, spitting and fuming, cuts through thick night. He is surrounded by dead sagebrush slowly clawing out of the ground.

Well, are you? Is this some fucking scheme for meaning and a plotline? Because you, of all people, you know you never had a goddamn plotline.

Then I can't be trying to make my life an epic, can I?

Besides, he argues. This is no epic. This is the life of a high school drop out without purpose and this is no epic.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

So what was it? Was it love? You know what it was. It was a role you played for a little while. And now it's done, final curtain.

If I could, I would have. I would have showed her many things. I would have walked around the gazebo with her for hours, days maybe, watching frost burn off and settle back and burn off again. What did she want me to give her? My first edition of Lolita, the one in French. I would have given it to her. She also would have liked to see me get into school again. I can still do that. I can. I'm not a damn amoeba. I still can.

No, you're not an amoeba. But she is dead and gone and lying in a field and you are condemned to be restless and you know it for good now.

He likes the feeling of the steering wheel under his hands, solid and real.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

He sleeps in a motel one night in Nevada. It doesn't cost too much.

"You want our best room?"

The thirty-something year old, with smooth nails and a scar on her cheekbone looks at him when she asks. She brushes frazzled colorless hair (maybe it's a shade he's colorblind too; he's never thought of that. Aren't a lot of guys colorblind? It could be fucking pink, for all he knows) out of her face, rubs her eye, and accidentally smears mascara along the bridge of her nose.

"You mean you actually have one with a roof and all four walls?" he answers dryly. It's filthy in here.

She glares at him, slides a key across the counter, and turns away to enter another room, where a television is blaring.

But he knows things. He has been forced to know things. That is why he is not very surprised (not surprised at all, sadly) when she unlocks his door with a spare key later that night and strips in front of him.

"You want this?" She asks bluntly, trailing a hand across her stomach.

He studies her coolly, serenely, in the dark. He takes the time to finish his cigarette. There is no hurry, honestly, since depravity will always considerately wait for you. Her nipples are upturned and she might be older than he thought at first, he muses as smoke rings drift hazily in the stale air.

"No," he answers honestly, but he gets up and fucks her anyway. Only once. It is much like he has reverted into past vices. He knows what to do to make her moan and gasp and scream because he has always known what to do with women and he adds another conquest to his flawless, untainted history in bed, and yet he is not there. The physicality does not distract his soul. He had forgotten he'd grown one of those since the last time he did this.

When it's over, he leaves and gets back into the car without sleeping. He doesn't know why. Her ghost, he supposes, was getting too close to catching up with him.

I did love you, he tells her. I wasn't making it up. I think you thought I was. God. I guess you didn't really know me at all.

I lied a lot to you; I could never lie about that.

She died near a sewer grate in New Haven. He went and stood by it a week after the accident. There was nothing monumental about it, the sewer grate. It looked like all the others, rusted and solid and almost invisible. A lot of people stared at him, wanting to know why the hell he was standing by a sewer grate.

He wrote in the margin of a parking ticket he got that day. He wrote: Well, I think I lost some pieces of myself here, down in that sewer grate, lying in the shit and garbage of the city, and I was trying to fish them back out.

He never went to the funeral.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

"Who the hell is this?" He asks at three o'clock in the morning, rubbing sleep from his eyes and combing fingers through his tangled dark hair. His head is pounding and he only just went to bed an hour ago.


He sits up a little straighter, all traces of sleep gone.


There's no answer. He swallows and reaches to flip his lamp on, but his hand freezes in midair, unwilling to disturb the darkness.

"Rory? Are you okay? Is everything okay?"

He hears her shakily exhale and imagines her sitting cross-legged on her couch at home, but he knows she is not at home. Not the one he remembers her in, anyway.

"I . . . um . . . how've you been?" She asks.

His fingers distractedly trace the surface of his nightstand, each rough, jagged edge and drawer knob.

"Uh . . . fine?"



"That's good."

"Yeah . . ."

The breathlessness in her voice that he recognizes like her fingerprint ("Hello? Hello? Jess, is that you? Jess? God, Jess, say something. I think I may have loved you, but I'll just have to get over that. I hope you're doing good, I want you to be good, I -") unnerves him. His muscles tense and his fingers clench handfuls of dark sheet.

"How's . . . Truncheon?"

"Truncheon's good . . ."

"You still like it?"



"I mean, I'm not going to break into song or anything anytime soon, but . . . it beats being a forklift specialist at Wal-Mart."

She laughs a little. It doesn't sound the same as her old laugh did.

"Rory? Why are you-?"

"I never understood why you left," she says suddenly, interrupting him.

He stares at the far wall for a moment, his grip tight around the receiver, and says nothing for several seconds. Then he reaches next to his bed for his pack of Camels, slips two out, slides one behind his ear, and perches the other in his mouth. He's holding his lighter to the slick white tip when he finally answers:

"Come on, Rory. Don't go into this."

"I thought that I hadn't been good enough for you, that I wasn't enough to keep you here, or I didn't have enough experience, or I couldn't be enough of what you needed. I thought I just wasn't . . . enough . . . I thought that . . . you just were . . . you were going to forget about me . . . that I was going to become the nameless girl you think about every now and then when you . . ."

But she can't finish. She's trying so valiantly to hold in her heaving sobs that she's rendered speechless. He can't breathe and his cigarette hangs, burning, from his lips, his lungs unable to take a drag off it.


"I never understood why. But . . . I do now. After Philadelphia, I do now."

His eyes harden. "Just leave it alone."

"I know why you left and why you tried to come back and why you couldn't because you wouldn't let yourself. I know why you came to my dorm and why you were too afraid to ask me a question I might say yes to so you asked me something you knew was impossible. And I'm sorry."


"I'm sorry I didn't know it then or understand the right way or tell you the truth. I'm sorry I was too afraid of you leaving . . . I was so afraid of you leaving . . . I'm sorry I was too afraid to tell you that I loved you, and I hated you for making me love you, and I tried to replace you so I wouldn't have to love you anymore."

His shaking hands bring the Camel down from his mouth and hold it suspended there, a sparkling orange comet hung in the heavens. He bites his lip like a staple, because he won't let all the exposed things, the mortal and vulnerable things, tumble from his mouth again.

"Rory, you should go to bed."

"I did love you. I loved you when you came back, when I was with Dean, when I was with Logan. I loved you the whole time."

He buries his head in his hands.

"But I didn't know if you loved me back. How could I know that, Jess? How did you expect me to know?"

His voice is very dry when he answers, "I did tell you once."

Her monumental attempts to hold back her tears fail, and she begins to cry. Every muscle in his body seems to break down, and he can barely keep his grasp on the telephone. We could have been, he thinks, but could have been equates to never were and there is no reason to speak.

- - - - - - - -

The mile signs pass but he doesn't notice. His speedometer shoves its way past seventy, eighty, ninety. There are no other people on the road. There are no other people in the world. Are there? It doesn't matter, really.

What matters is that he continues to run. The East Coast gets hazier and hazier and smaller and smaller behind him, a dirty fingerprint smudge in his rearview mirror. Why did he leave? Why? He used to know. F. Scott Fitzgerald said it once. What was it?

"After Gatsby's death the East was haunted for me like that, distorted beyond my eye's power of correction."

Yes. It's kind of pathetic that a whole strip of the country could be ruined for him in the absence of one person.

In fact, he thinks blandly as he surges forward and is unable to stay still, maybe the whole country was ruined. The whole in the sum of its parts.

Kind of like a cancer.

- - - - - - -

Her boyfriend, that blonde asshole from the bar, is engaged to a young Californian socialite, he finds out from a discarded paper in Santa Monica. He checks the date up in fine print near the letterhead; it's only been a month since she was buried.

See? He silently demands of her, figuratively shaking his fist at the sky. See? I told you. I told you he was a fucking moron. He couldn't love you because he couldn't understand you. There are - were - too many pieces of you for him to understand. Just like with Frankenstein when we were younger and maybe wiser. They could never understand you, so they could never love you.

Me? Yes, I did. I understood you, dammit. There was nothing you could hide from me. There was no piece of you, pure or stained, that I didn't revere because it made up you. Maybe we were the same at some base level. Or maybe we weren't. But I understood you. It was easy, so easy, so simple, to cross the forged connection between us and sit in silent admiration of everything that was you.

And that's why I can't forgive you. Think of it as one last final salute, a token of my undying respect; I can't forgive you.

See? Your obituary might have been a blemish on his life, but it destroyed mine. You inconvenienced him but you crucified me. How could you not see that, dammit? How the fuck could you not see that?

I can't forgive you. Heathcliff? Maybe. Or maybe I'm just the loser asshole who could never be good enough and I still can't forgive you.

"Hey, what are you doin', enjoyin' the scenery of the garbage can?" Some old guy behind him impatiently demands. He tosses the paper back in the trash and turns around.


"Kid, if you're here to see the scenery, that would be the ocean, right over there."

He scoffs. "Who hasn't seen one of those before?"

The man peers closer at him over the rims of his glasses, his mustache quivering. "Who hasn't seen a trashcan before?"

He doesn't answer.

"Hey, kid. Are you in trouble? Are you drunk? Kid?"


He's not. He leaves and sleeps in his car for the night, not close enough to the beach to hear the waves, not close enough to the interstate to hear the cars, not close enough to anything to even be remotely sure that he's still alive. But unfortunately, he is, and unfortunately, he doesn't have air-conditioning.

- - - - - - - - -

Come on, Kerouac, what are you looking for? Your own Desolation Peak? There are no epiphanies here.

- - - - - - - - -

Sometimes, not very often, he used to wait for her outside of Chilton, because he knew those halls of hallowed education were like a hellhole for her. In the mornings, when she'd be ranting about her plans for that day over a cup of steaming coffee, he would listen carefully (although pretending not to) and, if it sounded bad enough, show up in the afternoon so she'd be able skip the bus, one more agonizing annoyance on her list of many.

He remembers the first time he did this. It was in October, after a career planning conference (what the hell, he could never understand the point of those) and a particularly lethal student government event, or maybe a newspaper meeting, whatever. The leaves were red. He was staring at them because there weren't a lot of leaves in New York, at least not that he recalled; he kind of liked them. Yes, he had to leave school early to get there in time for her last bell, but he thinks he skipped that day anyway.

There were a lot of jackass-looking-kids, the typical sluts with hiked plaid skirts and way too much eyeliner and devilish grins sent in his direction, more jock-type jerks, squealing BMWs and Mercedes and even a goddamn Camaro. He watched them while leaning against his car's hood, bemused at their idiocy and hoping Rory's education was worth the Breakfast-Club-esque routines she had to endure. And then she came out.

Her skirt was not hiked. She was not laughing obnoxiously. She was not stumbling around with her math homework or climbing into a '77 Corvette with the star of the lacrosse team. No, her hair was pushed from her eyes by a headband, her jacket was perfectly buttoned, her backpack was snug against her body, her shoes were neatly tied, innocence, innocence, innocence, like a little girl, so innocent there was a pain in his chest.

And then her eyes lit up when she saw him, hewn crystal burning across the sidewalk.


He inclined his head when she raced to him.


"Sounds about right."

"You're here!"

"Huh. As opposed to there."

"You came to get me," she said with more than a little self satisfaction, as her hurrying feet made a sudden stop mere inches from his body. He tried to defend the scrap of honor he wanted to maintain.

"I was in town."

"In Hartford?"

"Of course. Taylor banned me from Doose's market and Luke was in desperate need of onion salt."

"Onion salt."

"One of the most underplayed shortages in the country."

"Maybe," she said coyly, intertwining her fingers with his and leaning closer, closer, closer as her hair flashed in the sunlight, "maybe I can use my powerful status in the media market to push an article into The Franklin that would shed some spotlight on this stifled disaster."

"The world would be forever in your debt," he muttered against her lips.

"It would be quite a way to start a journalistic career."

"What says 'ambition' more than onion salt?"

He watched her eyelids drift shut and the pulse in her throat flutter, and he cupped her face in his hands and kissed her, right there on the flagstone drive, the boy who did not belong, in a concert T-shirt and faded denim jacket and shitty car, and she shivered and kissed him back and tangled her hands in his hair and it was all okay.

"You came," she said again when they broke apart.

He groaned. "Get in the damn car."

She laughed and kissed him again.

He thinks of it now, staring at the empty seat she carefully inhabited, cross-legged, that day. He remembers the ride back, with shared secret glances and banter and kisses at the stoplights.

He turns away and climbs out to smoke near a bench. The stars are heavy and oppressive, smothering him.

- - - - - - - - - -

Somehow he ends up in Venice Beach. The waves are the same, the blondes from a bottle, and himself clad in black. Funny, he thinks. Very funny. It's all the same again. The ghosts were never really beaten, were they? And I wrote a book. I did. I wrote one. Started on a second. But it's all the same, bastard. You walked your mother down the aisle and started Truncheon and settled your debt with Luke and and and and it's all nothing, shells of nothing bruising your hands.


What did you expect? He asks the girl with mournful blue eyes that he sees in his rearview mirror. Me to be canonized? I didn't change. I've always been the same.

I can't forgive you.

- - - - - - - - -

Jimmy the hot dog man. What is it? The sins of the fathers shall be on the children, something like that; he heard it in St. Joseph's cathedral when he was eight, drunk on incense and red stained class and cold stone floor. The sins of the fathers shall be on the children . . . visited on the children? It's fucking unfair. A reason why he'll never have kids. The Bible is goodness and mercy and justice, right? No. That would be death, probably.


Jimmy the hot dog man, he muses as he stands on the boardwalk, tactfully hidden behind a sunglasses display (for one must never be seen; to be seen is to surrender, apprentice). He can see his father as he scribbles something on a clipboard, twists his cap around so it sits sideways on his square head, and shouts something over his shoulder to a bulky boy manning the grill.

God, the apple better fall far from the tree.

Waves break on the shore, the same hideous song that they have been singing for millennia. Jess was going to saunter over and drop a line, say a few words, make his peace, get some free food.

He no longer has the desire.

("Why are you out here, Jess?" "Oh, you know, she died and I am nothing again.")

With a slight bowing of his head, he scuffs the toe of his shoe against a wooden slat and turns around to leave. He thinks he sees Lily a few stalls down, looking at homemade jewelry, but he can't be sure and he doesn't stop to find out.

Interesting. He has discovered that California reminds him more of the splitting, aching of that summer without her than it does of the actual summer itself.

- - - - - - - - -

Jimmy's not his father really, anyway. He knows who is.

- - - - - - - - -

"Je-ess?" She asks, a hiss, a question as she lies on Luke's couch, silhouetted by iron grey spring light and his jacket beneath her.

He looks at her, at the leather sticking to the back of her legs, her lips red and parted and panting, her hair splayed over his arm, and then pushes aside the strap of her tanktop to place open-mouthed kisses along her collarbone.


Her back arches against him and he can feel her shaking.

"N-nothing," she answers breathily, pulling his head up to kiss her again.

Nothing, nothing, nothing, nothing -

- - - - - - - - -

We both go down together, my love.

- - - - - - - - -



"Yes, that would be the name before the 'Mariano' part."

"It's Luke."

"As evidenced by the somewhat awkward silence."


"What do you want, Luke? I'm working."

"Well . . ."

A wave of unwilling worry. "Is it Liz?"

"No, no, she's fine."

"That's a first."



"Luke . . . listen . . . as much as I like the no-words-manly-bonding thing . . . what the hell is it? I've got two guys here we're trying to sign a contract with. Maybe. I personally don't think they can tell their thumb from their ass, but-"


"Re-crossing familiar territory, here."

"Jess, listen to me."

The first breaking, hissing undulation of fear. He does not speak.

"It's Rory."

His throat closes, his hand tightens painfully around the receiver, he fumbles madly for a cigarette in his pocket.

"She . . . God . . . she . . . shit . . . she was in an accident a few days ago."

The cigarette shakily lights. He takes one drag, finds there is no room in his lungs, and tosses it, still burning, onto the floor. Rory, he thinks, fuck. Rory, Rory, Rory, Rory, Blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy . . .

"She, uh . . . she's not . . . she's not okay, Jess."

Still nothing, as he cautiously feels his way around Luke's voice.

"She . . . she died on the scene. Massive head trauma. She was . . . walking . . . at night . . . She's dead. Rory died, Jess, she died, she's dead."

He doesn't realize he's not breathing until the receiver hits the floor and he retches, but he can't vomit. He sinks so far down he thinks he'll hit mortar.

World spins around boy. Boy crumbles.

I love you. I think I may have loved you. Come with me.

I can't.

- - - - - - - - -

It didn't make sense anymore after that. All his pseudo accomplishments, the little stars on his forehead, the sticker of approval on his hand, had no purpose. It was an offering to her, a shaky offering of his worth and a promise of their inevitable future (you-me-together and they both knew it); now it is just rusted metal corroding like his car.

But he's crossed the country, he has no money, and there's nowhere to go but back or death. The last option tastes of martyrdom and he is not that pure. Was she? He's not sure; he doesn't care, he needed her anyway.

Time to rejoin the real world, he thinks. The real world. Kerouac said something about that. About how it doesn't exist. Maybe it doesn't but you've never had enough fucking faith to find anything else.

He eats ice cream in San Francisco and he thinks of her a little. This is pathetic, he understands. Rory, you were wrong. No one thought you were but you were, and here I am and that's that.

He feels like silently bowing to the thousand million ghosts of his past that surround him on the boardwalk at night, but he simply buys another pack of Camels, fills up his tank with more gas, and guns east.

- - - - - - -

This is not some trip to find himself. This is not a healing process.

This is Jess Mariano losing the cloak and being who he has always been.

A nomad.

- - - - - - - -

Montana, Washington, Idaho, Iowa. Nameless states, identity-less states.

Because really. Who, other than potato consumers, gives a damn about Idaho?

A pine field. Hartford, Connecticut. She would rather have been buried in Stars Hollow, he knows, but her grandmother must have manipulated the grief-stricken Lorelai and taken advantage of the numbness. It disgusts him.

He has no flowers. It would have been considerate to bring some, but he has never been considerate and he's not going to reward her death by starting now.

First, he looks at her neighbor. Someone named Esther Raumbaugh, 88 years old. Died in 2002.


It is hot and sticky, foreboding of summer rain. His Converse sink into the spongy ground. A marble angel under an oak tree watches him austerely, trying to force him to pray, but there will be no praying here. He licks his lips and stares at its cracked wing.

Finally, he turns to the newest monument in the cemetery.

Lorelai Gilmore.

She would have preferred Rory. She was Rory. Lorelai is someone else.

Date of birth, date of death, beloved daughter, granddaughter, friend -

He notices they left out doomed soulmate, tragic lover, whatever shitty Romeo and Juliet line that could have been applied to their circumstances. But that's his fault. He's the one who ran in the first place. And he can't be sorry for that, or for the scattered late night phone calls over the next few years, or the one time she called and said she wanted him to make love to her.

He couldn't have made love to her. It would have had to be fucking. They carried far too much baggage.

(That's not true, but he's always deluded himself to ease some of the load. He does have a lot to carry, after all).

There are flowers. Some lacy purple thing, and a few waxy white things, and big orange things.

Sunflowers, dammit, he interjects indignantly. Her favorite flower is a sunflower.

Her mother knows that but hasn't brought any.

"I showed up," he mumbles under his breath. He wasn't originally going to talk. He's not the kind of guy to talk to a rock. But there's no one to hear him except himself, and it is now that he finally realizes just how damn much he misses her, just her, her and her knee stockings and her patent leather shoes, her messy ponytails, the shape of her nose. "It took me awhile. Try to contain your shock."

He scuffs his shoe against the emerald grass.

"I fucked up. I shouldn't have let you leave in Philly. I could tell. You could tell. You were never good at lying. I was, though. I am."

Clouds are rolling in from the west. He wants to tell her how he loved her, loves her, will always love her, by no choice of his or hers so there can be no blame, and how it seems like hate but he guesses it isn't, how he knows now he will never be good enough, never, ever, couldn't be good enough. How he's sorry for the blonde jackass, how he should have protected her from him, how he should have demanded that she stay. How he'd imagined their apartment, with books overflowing from shelves into cutlery drawers, and his T-shirts mixed with hers, and him bending over a glowing laptop, tapping away at his next novel, when she came back from work at The Times or The New Yorker, radiating, kicking off her shoes and straddling him and pushing him back in his chair and him backing her into the bedroom, making her moan and cry and scream and whisper I love you, Jess, and the cold Chinese take-out they'd consume post-sex, him studying her like a Mona Lisa or an ancient Basque relief.

But he is Jess Mariano; his words are said on paper, and he can't speak.

God, she would have hated this place. "What about that angel, huh?" He asks lightly, rubbing his hands together. "He looks like he's constipated. You feeling any comfort from him? He needs some comfort, some damn ex-lax, if you ask me. He's all broken. Time got to him. Did you ever read Look Homeward, Angel? All he wanted to do was carve stone angels like that. And they just break. Thomas Wolfe would have liked that."

He has never talked that much all at once in his life. He hates that she has that effect on him even in death.

"If I could have one thing, one fucking thing, I would like to just hold you," he says solemnly, beating his fist on his leg.

Heathcliff and Catherine? Not quite.

He turns and ambles back down the hill, to his idling car. He never cries.

- - - - - - - - - - -

Noon that day, the sky splits. Rain shakes the ground, pelts, assaults the pavement in sheets. Lightning forks like a tree across the horizon, thunder rumbles through his blood and interferes with the beating of his heart. He continues to drive casually, one hand on the wheel.

It looks more familiar in the rain than it would have looked in the sun.

12:15. Parking to conveniently block Taylor in, he twists his key and his groaning, dying car, which has carried him across the continent and back twice, now, finally has earned its rest, like Robert E. Lee's war horse.

He sits there for a moment. He has never been good with emotions and now there are so many he has a vaguely disinterested fear that he's about to explode.

When he kicks open the door into the driving storm, the emotions fuse with water, bonding like hydrogen, and its almost like consummation. He stands there for a long time, his jean jacket that he wears despite the heat soaking, his hair plastered to his skin, rain cascading down his bowed head.

She would have liked it.

Finally, dripping, he swallows and enters Luke's Diner.

It is quieter, it is sadder. It is not the same. But that's okay. Neither is he.

His uncle looks up from behind the counter and blinks a few times and maybe there is a tear there, but probably not.


He feels the town's eyes on him; they know, they recognize him as Rory's, always Rory's, they can see the lostness that has always plagued him again scarring his body. He was (is?) Rory's greatest weakness, her only weakness, her only, despite the others he was her only, and they understand this. They understand his right to her because he is broken in a way they can't be.

Vindication becomes pointless after so long, though, and he really doesn't give a fuck.

"Jess," Luke says again. "Jess. Jess." He walks around the room and clasps his nephew in an embrace.

"God. You came back."

"I don't know," he answers honestly. "I don't know if I'm back." Because he doesn't think he is.

Luke lets go of him and searches his face for a moment before clearing his throat. "You're wet."


"Are you hungry?"


"How's Philly?"

"Can't tell you."

The customers have turned back to their prior engagements, but that does not make speaking any easier.

"I need . . . where's Lorelai?"

Luke's eyes cloud over, dark, bottomless. He fidgets with a button on his shirt.

"She's upstairs."

Nodding once, silently, since that is all he needs to hear, he tears through the curtain with entitlement. He has as much a claim here as anybody and for the first time he is not afraid to admit it. The stairs are the same. He sees a ghost of her and him pressed against the wall, her gasps breathy, like a kitten.

"I can't . . . God . . . oh my God . . . how do you do that?"


"Jess . . . Jess . . . What are you doing?! God."

"I'm trying to show you."

It's filthier than it's ever been, even when he was here. Dust coats his hand from touching the railing, so he neglects it and runs up the steps two at a time. Before he opens the door, he hesitates, only for a brief second.

Darkness spills out into the hall to meet him. He kicks aside a pile of laundry that stands in his way, feeling like a man diving into the depths of a pit to rescue his compatriot, buried alive in rubble. But he knows better; he is not cut out to be a savior and she is not his compatriot.

Once his eyes adjust he sees her immediately, her form bent over in an armchair, her head lolling against the side. He wonders if she's really sleeping. He has a sickening flashback of his own mother in a kitchen chair, drunk, bruised by her whore of the moment, track marks up and down her arms.


She seems to be coming out of a comatose state. "Go away. I'm still tired. Go back down to the diner."


"I don't have to be at the Inn until later."

Finally, she sees him, really sees him. Her eyes widen and her breathing stops. She sits up a little straighter.


He says nothing; he should have planned a little further ahead, now it is just him, himself.

All at once, she kicks off her blanket and stands up and is in a fury. He isn't surprised and he takes it well.

"Where the hell have you been?" Tears pour down her face, across her prickly eyelashes that look already coated, lying on her neck. "You ungrateful son of a bitch. Dean was there, Logan was there, but the one person she truly loved, the person she would have died for, you weren't there. I was looking and looking and -"

"She wouldn't have expected me to be there," he interrupts quietly, his eyes intently studying her face, selfishly, trying to drink in any part of Rory he sees, but Rory is dead.

She stops yelling, but the tears continue. "No," she murmurs. "I guess you're right."

"You hated me, anyway."

"Well," she says, looking at the floor. "It wasn't about me."

"I loved her."

"I know that."

"I never meant to hurt her."

"I know that."

"I'll always love her."

"I know that."

There's nothing else to say, no other justification he can give except for the barest of who he is. He crosses the room and opens the blinds. He deserves this, he accepts it. But her mother does not. Her mother never knew the side of her that he did, the one that lied to him just to hurt him and cried when she thought he wasn't looking. Her mother never broke her like he did. So he opens the blinds. Grey pours in, but it is better than the darkness.

"You're getting the floor all wet."

"Yeah," he answers, casually. "I'm going to go now."

"That's it?" She asks in disbelief. "That's it, Holden Caulfield?"

"She would have expected it," he says again.

This time all she does is nod.

"She knew I couldn't stay here. And now there's really no reason for me to."

"Your mother . . ."

"There's really no reason for me too," he says, firmly. He thinks he might go back to New York and look up some friends. Maybe he'll write again, try to escape this choking and asphyxiation. That's how it has always been; she is stil the burn that makes his fingers tighten around the pen and form words.

"Will you go back to Philadelphia?"

He shakes his head, because that chapter of his life was just as associated with her as this one is.

"Will you come back and visit Luke sometime? He misses you."


And because she can't understand him like her daughter did, that is not enough for her.


"I can't."

She lowers her eyes, realizing she has brushed against some fenced off part of his heart that no one (except one) has ever touched, and her access is forbidden. "Did you go to the cemetery?"

He's backing up toward the door now. His work here is done; there are no words of wisdom he can dispense, nothing he can fix when he himself is broken. Yes, he thinks he'll go to New York. Start writing again. Maybe someday he'll publish, but it will be different, it will be as a memorial to her instead of an offering to her.

Jesus. He would like to be able to do something without thinking about her.

"Yeah. Bring some damn sunflowers next time."

He barely sees her ghost of a grin before tripping down the steps. There is a fork in the road, either through the curtain or sneaking out the back. Silence, rain pounding on the roof, silverware clinking. Not silence.

Fated to take the road less traveled, he guesses. There is nothing as convenient as fate, as thinking he has no option so he must. It takes all the decision out of him. He doesn't believe in fate but it will do for now.

He takes a pen out of his pocket and fumbles until he finds an empty cigarette carton. He tears the tab off with his teeth, scribbles on it, and slips through the storage room. No one hears the catching of his engine over the rain, except for Taylor, who is pounding on the glass of his soda shoppe and turning red in the face ("Hoodlum! Hoodlum! I can have your license to visit Stars Hollow revoked -! If you put so much as one scratch on my car I'll summon the Stars Hollow Tourist Board, the Stars Hollow Detention Board, the Stars Hollow Deportation Board, and The Stars Hollow Retiree Committee! You see what your smirk of urban decay will do against that!").

First, he smokes. Then he leaves in the rain, vanishing as he has come.

Well, what do you think? He silently asks her. Did it resemble an apology to you?

- - - - - - - - - - -

Luke wipes his hands on his apron and nervously takes off his cap, running his fingers through his hair before putting it back on. He doesn't know what to say to his nephew; he has never lost a piece of himself like that, in a sewer grate, but he is a man, and he will go upstairs and sit in the silent absence of his daughter.

He has started thinking that way now, since she died. Even at the funeral, when Christopher was there holding Lorelai and rocking her back and forth, Luke kind of felt like she was his daughter.

It's selfish. Who gives a crap.

Scared of what Jess will have done to Lorelai but knowing it had to be done, he pushes aside the curtain.

He pauses.

A small scrap of some kind of paper lies directly in his path, on the third stair. He picks it up.

My number's still the same -

No signature. It doesn't need one. Cocky, arrogant bastard knows it doesn't need one. He smiles, despite himself, but when his apartment door opens his grin vanishes and he looks tentatively upward.


"I'm going to go buy some sunflowers. I'll be back in an hour. And I love you."

- - - - - - - - - - - -



"It's a beautiful day outside."


"Hadn't you noticed?"

"Not really."

"Well, come on, I'll show you."

He kisses her.