Author's Note: Alright everyone, last little addition to this teensy trio. Thanks for all the strong reviews and sticking with me through this arguably pointless meandering three-shot. We see many complicated facets of Jess in this chapter, I now see as I reread it. Hmm. Hopefully they all came out alright? In any case, enjoy!
Disclaimer: Not mine. Most of it, anyway.
As a general rule, he avoids eating foods he doesn't know the name of. And even some he does. Living in Brooklyn and working in a diner has taught him much; namely, the hamburger meat looks a whole lot different in the fridge than it does on a plate. Unless you know where it comes from, its contents could be anything from rubber scraps to leftovers scraped off the floor of slaughterhouses (Slaughterhouse Five?). Combined with the fact that he can't even pronounce the name of this damn meal, it makes him not very hungry.
"What is this, exactly?" He asks lowly, poking with his fork at a mound of minced something.
"It says on the menu," Rory answers. He notices she, too, is being extremely cautious.
"Yeah, well, my wealth of French knowledge is momentarily failing me. Care to assist?"
When she remains silent, he leans confidentially closer to her.
"You read The Jungle, right?"
Immediately her eyebrows furrow and her grip on the fork grows lax. "Oh, gross!"
"This could be anything from rat's excrement to sliced up Jurgis."
"Why do you have to reference something like-"
"Now, Jess, what year are you in?"
He has felt the Gilmore patriarch watching him for some time, so he's not surprised by the abrupt question. He rolls his fork between his fingers and almost risks stuffing his face with the possibly poisoned food just so he won't have to converse.
"Ah," Richard comments, civilly now, but with a dim light of suspicion well and alive in his eyes. "Same as Rory."
"Last time I heard."
"And you come from New York," Claude interjects from across the satin tablecloth. His hair is all slicked back except for one wild lick that sticks out perpendicular to his eye. Kind of like the portrayal of Dr. Jekyll in that thirties movie.
"It's tattooed on my forearm," he mumbles (haven't they already covered this topic before?).
"Do you plan to return there to attend college?"
God damn. Why don't they just lose the suits and show their true Spanish Inquisition uniforms?
He notices Rory is suddenly very still beside him and anger makes the veins in his hands pop.
"Mom? What in God's name is this food?"
"I believe the edible sort, Lorelai."
"Haven't decided," he answers coolly, hiding his clenched fists. Piano music tinkers softly in the background and finally, finally, the speaker of the evening is taking a few last sips of water before beginning.
Emily fixes dangerously live eyes on him, her posture relaxed and calm. "Why? Holding out for something good, like garbage collector?"
He meets her stare head on. "Well, I know better than to aim too high."
"That's clever. Wouldn't want to outrun your initiative."
He mentally adds, 'Someday, I'm hoping to even marry for money and sit on my ass all day doing nothing, but one step at a time.' In actuality, he says unflinchingly, "I thought so."
Their exchange is over so fast that no one is able to comment. Even Lorelai is silent. Rory is speechless. Richard is clueless. Jess is just tired of it.
In a brave attempt to diffuse a ticking time bomb, Floyd leans casually forward on the table and continues for all the world as if he has not been interrupted (and maybe in his egomaniac tiny mind he hasn't), "Ah, well, there's still plenty of time for all that. I think the most popular male major is 'undecided.' Isn't that right, Jason?"
His son clears his throat and nods after taking a thick swallow of wine. "Sounds well thought out."
"But the best men eventually come to a point in their lives where they have the ability to make a decision that labels them as great, which I'm sure will happen for you."
"Beautifully said, Floyd," Claude comments.
God. He half expects to hear Chariots of Fire soaring through the background.
"Isn't that right, Jason?" Floyd repeats, turning expectantly.
This time, Jason squares his shoulders and says brightly, "I haven't done the actual research, Dad, but I think you just want me to agree with absolutely no opinion of my own whatsoever."
Jess looks down at his food, amused. He can see Rory doing the same thing. Even without a visual, he feels the disgusted look fired across the table. Lorelai snorts.
"Well, Richard, Emily," Claude suddenly shoots, also guzzling his wine. Wine is a waste of money, really. It won't kick you as high as a twelve pack and it costs more than Liz's monthly rental. It's like a tax on stupidity. "The food is delicious. Not quite French, I'm afraid . . . more of some hybrid, but delicious nonetheless."
"Why, thank you, Claude. I worked very hard to prepare it," Richard attempts to joke.
"Ah, yes, and you still look as dashing as always!"
"And Rory," Floyd asks as soon as he's finished flaying his son with his glare, "Now that I've talked to your friend here about college, I'm curious :what are your plans?"
It does not escape Jess how Richard is beaming at his granddaughter, for all the world as if he is living vicariously through her once again. It takes him much mental focus to keep from demanding everyone back off and let her be.
"I . . . um . . ." She glances hesitantly at him, but he refuses to manipulate her like everyone else in her life does so he stares at his plate. "I've applied to three schools so far."
"Three kickass schools," Lorelai adds helpfully. Floyd ignores her.
"Yes. Just . . . just waiting to hear back, actually."
"From which ones?"
"I . . . well . . ." (He vaguely wonders if this is a quality she has learned from him, this inability to talk about her hopes and dreams and maybes. He hopes not.) "Harvard, Yale, and Princeton."
Richard seriously looks like he's about to produce a damn rocket pack and orbit Earth. (It's gonna be a long, long time 'til touchdown . . . rocket man . . .)
His business associate shares his orgasmic pleasure. "What tremendous schools! I know your grandfather is a Yale man, but what about his granddaughter? What is your first choice?"
Fingers pulling at her napkin, she says quietly, "Well . . . I've always wanted to go to Harvard . . ."
And he whispers, so lowly he doesn't know if she can hear, "You will."
She does. Her eyes snap to him and search his face.
He wants to kiss her.
"Harvard! Why, Harvard is an excellent option! I myself went to Harvard. I would be happy to put in a good word for such an outstanding young lady."
Jason shakes his head. "She's too old for you, Dad."
"Ladies and gentlemen, we are pleased to have as our speaker at our thirty-second annual Amity Dinner the distinguished . . ."
Her hand reaches for his under the table, even though she has turned away. He strokes the inside of her palm with his thumb.
Some bald little hack with glasses (like Truman, he thinks idly) waits nervously as he is introduced and downs a few more chugs of water. Maybe it's vodka. Seeing the poor guy's pale face, he almost hopes it is. Lorelai sighs dramatically and raises her eyebrows at her daughter before turning with renewed concentration to her martini.
"What did they say this man is?" Richard whispers indignantly to his wife, loosening his bow tie. "The head of some non-profit Web bonanza? He probably sells T-shirts and canine toys. They usually have more dignified guests at these things."
"Well," Emily returns weightily, "I guess they've decided to let anyone in. It's an exercise to practice what they preach. Philanthropy."
She looks straight at him. No one else notices. He bristles with eighteen years of suffering but he does not speak (the true martyr never speaks).
Well, actually, Rory might have noticed.
Very calmly, almost delicately, she folds her napkin into a triangle and places it parallel to her plate. Without looking at anyone or making even the faintest sound, she gently pushes her chair backward and stands. She doesn't pause as she fluidly pushes it back in, turns on her heel, and walks collectedly away.
"Rory," her grandmother hisses, gripping the arms of her chair. "Rory. There is a speaker up there. This is unbelievably rude. Rory!"
Lorelai doesn't call after her daughter. She watches her with full eyes that are soft and sorry on the edges.
Bidding a silent, profanity-filled goodbye to the nameless regurgitation on his plate, he stands up, too, and follows her, weaving through tables watching them with rabid curiosity. He doesn't push his chair in. They can stick it up their collective suburban ass.
She bypasses the bar and escapes to a lounge near where the restrooms are. He walks in to find her sitting on the edge of a couch.
"I'm sorry," she says, without looking at him.
He says nothing and leans against the doorframe, his hands deep in his pockets.
"I couldn't let her keep talking like that. I couldn't stand it."
He counts the freckles on her nose.
"There are so many things about you that she doesn't know, that she-"
"Hey," he interrupts suddenly, standing a little straighter. "Let's leave."
Her monologue ends with an abrupt inhale as she looks at him with disbelief. "What?"
The speaker continues to drone on and on, without point or purpose, murdering the reason for words. Heavy, burnt orange curtains enshroud symmetrical windows, where darkness glitters and beckons to him like darkness always does.
He repeats, "Let's leave."
"We . . . I can't just . . . my grandpa . . . someone's talking, and . . . we can't . . ."
"Of course we can."
His eyes are intent on her face. She looks at him with tongues of adventure flickering up through her blood, suffering the beginning of the little seizure and slight lapse in judgment her mother warned about.
"Leave? Just like that?"
"Who's going to stop us?"
The way her arms straighten and she almost stands tells him no one. Then, suddenly, her shoulders droop and she begins to nervously jiggle her foot. "I can't. I left my bag in the check-in room, and to go get it I'd have to walk all the way back through-"
Ah. And this was what he had foreseen oh so many unspeakable hours ago; props for premature foresight. With an exaggerated flourish, he produces the narrow satchel from his back pocket, which she looks at uncomprehendingly.
"That's my bag."
"That's your bag."
All at once she crosses the room and stands next to him in disbelief. He watches the small designs on her black dress ebb and flow with the movement of her legs. "That's my bag! How did you get this? I gave it to the . . . and he . . . How did you get this?"
He shrugs casually. Her eyes dance and she whispers that she doesn't care. She just doesn't care.
Me either, he agrees.
The bartender is the last one to see them as they slip out a back exit, near the kitchens. He looks smug and vindicated (he knew he had to watch that kid, he knew it was trouble in the making, and he was right). Jess gives him a nod of acknowledgement before placing his hand on the small of Rory's back and guiding her into the night (always guiding her into the night).
The door snaps shut soundlessly behind them ("And the virtue of progress," the Truman clone is saying, "of dare I say it, moral capitalism, is its foundation in the Gospel of Wealth . . .").
They say nothing for awhile. She loops her fingers with his.
The same valet that observed them so familiarly before is still standing idly by the front door, bored, trying to juggle four sets of keys at once. One stabs his finger as it falls through the air and he curses impressively, letting them all clatter at his feet.
Jess leaves Rory standing at an illuminated flowering tree (damn bee magnet) and walks casually over to him. The valet stops sucking his finger to look at him with defiance, curiosity, recognition. His hand-eye coordination obviously isn't stellar, but that's not the point.
"Smoke?" Jess asks him tonelessly, flipping open his pack of Camels from his pocket with a simple flick of his wrist.
The valet judges him for a moment. Finally, he says, "Sure."
They leave him silently standing there in the heavily perfumed darkness, etching it with silver pirouettes. If Rory doesn't understand, she doesn't ask for an explanation, and Jess is grateful.
They're almost to the car when she finally speaks. She stops in the parking lot, her hair sticking to her neck and face from a silent breeze (relief brushing across his eyelashes).
"I'm sorry. I am. I'm so sorry."
He nods, licks his lips, and inquires, "Indian tonight?"
Her eyes flutter up to meet his. "You don't like Indian."
"I think you even hate Indian."
Frustrated but smiling, she demands, "Why can't you ever just follow a predictable pattern?"
He shrugs, and for the hell of it, opens her door for her.
- - - - - - - - -
They are safely ten miles away from that hall built out of the blocks of hell and glued together by the mire of Hades (he's feeling rather partial to imagery at the moment), hidden in some tiny Hartford hole in the wall: Rajev's, Rakesh's? Something like that. He watches her order curried chicken and another thing he's never heard of before that starts with an "m." The smell is killing him slowly, molecule by molecule, but he focuses on her collarbones, her blessed collarbones. Beside him sits a greasy sack from a drive thru burger joint.
Hey, he's not the pope or anything.
As she plows through rice and he twirls French fries in his fingers, they talk about the true meaning of The Power and the Glory, how the priest longs for no responsibility and maybe that is why the idea of God and a driving fate appeals to him. He thinks so, she thinks he's insane, but he makes her laugh so hard she almost spits up her soda. They bump knees under the table and brush elbows when he reaches for a napkin.
When she excuses herself to the restroom, he tells a nearby waiter that it's her birthday. He is good at lying and he even adds how they tried to go to a movie with her favorite actor, someone with real talent, Morgan Freeman, but it was sold out so they just stood in the parking lot instead, and is that any way to celebrate a monumental eighteenth birthday? Cultivating such pity pays off when the waiter appears with a massive almost-cheesecake (why they always have synthetic cheesecakes in these places, he'll never quite understand), accompanied by a fantastic number of his co-workers that seem to have suddenly grown and multiplied and undulated in the past five minutes until they exceed the whole population of Connecticut.
Not that that's saying much.
She looks at him, confused, when she returns. "What's going on?"
He just smirks.
"Happy birthday!" The waiter cries with an accent and a smeared smock. He and his colleagues proceed to sing the whole damn song in his native language (Hindi?) as he sticks a lit sparkler atop the mounds of frozen cool whip.
"Jess, what did you do?"
"Hey, you didn't want more complementary fried banana, did you? And slinging hash for Luke doesn't exactly pay for fringe benefits."
As the sparkler continues to spit and sputter silver flame, the resistance in her face drains. She giggles before closing her eyes to make a wish.
Without saying a word and without understanding exactly why, he leans across the table and kisses her. Her eyelids flutter in surprise with an explosion, such a violent explosion as the sparkler retreats to a throbbing ember and is forgotten.
(In the end, they are all that remains.)