Author's Note: It's summer! Just a very long drabbleish thing. Takes place in Season Two, before the car accident. Some parts are a little hard to understand because we are in a drunken mind . . . but I'll give it away!
Rating: Pretty clean PG-13.
Disclaimer: Not mine.
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"But you won't talk, won't look, won't think of me.
I'm the epitome of public enemy.
Why you wanna go and do me like that?
Come down on the street and dance with me.
I'm a lot like you so please, hello, I'm here, I'm waiting.
I think I'd be good for you and you'd be good for me."
Song: El Scorcho
It's not like she wants to go. She doesn't. There isn't a molecule of desire in her body. Being in a room with fogged out Madonnas and their accompanying Hugh Hefners sounds about as much fun as the Lawrence Welk show before color TV hit it big.
She tries to explain this with precise deference to Paris the day before Louise's next wild rave. Of course, that's about as successful as using a teddy bear to diplomatically negotiate with Mussolini.
"You have to go."
"But . . ."
Her fork idly picks through cafeteria macaroni and cheese, her ankles crossed self-consciously beneath the table.
"But Friday nights are our movie nights. Mom will kill me. We were going to have a Martin Scorsese marathon, and eat those disgusting bagel hot dogs, and paint our nails . . . and Dean was going to come over . . ."
Paris crosses her arms severely. She looks very Russian. Idly, Rory thinks she should be wearing a fur-trimmed cape and carrying a saber.
"If you want to have a Terms of Endearment moment save it for a weekend when my entire advancement in the school hierarchy isn't in the balance. You can hold hands with Farmer John any day of the week. I need you."
Her eyes snap up, offended, a spot that has felt very raw and sore lately again nudged. "We do more than hold hands."
There is an overly-dramatic eye roll. "You can take a tumble in the hay for all I care. Just not tomorrow night."
One last glimmering strand of salvation.
"I don't think Mom will let me go to a party of Louise's anyway," she says casually, sipping from a chocolate milk like she has every day since kindergarten. "Not after the Bangles concert."
Paris shrugs. "Say you're spending the night over at my house. You can call her after the party and tell her you decided to come home."
She feels the weight of peer pressure neatly squeezing all the air from her lungs. She is the swimmer grasping desperately at a water-logged tree branch.
"You want me to lie to my mom?"
Paris shakes her head. "Alright, cut the act, Alice. This is about getting elected next year. This is about networking." A malicious glint waxes in her hazel eyes and Rory grimaces. "Remember what the headmaster said? This is about becoming social. About getting into Harvard."
Rory squirms and she's done for.
- - - - - - - -
Of course, her mom thinks it's weird. Of course she tries to talk her out of it. But when Rory does lie, it's the sabotage done by a Cabbage Patch doll and no one sees it coming. She talks about this massive English project they were assigned that they won't have time to do on Saturday evening, Mom, because Paris is celebrating a special Jewish holiday, and Sunday she's staying with her dad, who's still living with their former maid up in Cape Cod.
And since Rory is the perfect child, truthful in every and all ways, Lorelai helps her fold up her pajamas (take the Betty Boop ones, really freak Paris out) and sneak a few Pop-tarts into her duffel (God only knows what they feed kids there; maybe battery acid). When her mom isn't looking, she slips a sleeveless black dress she wore to Mr. Lanahan's funeral next to her jeans. That's about as sexy as she's ever gotten, and it was for a dead guy laid out with his lawn chair.
Dean shows up in her front yard right as she's backing out. Confusion mires his face in the waning lamplight. She lets the Jeep idle as she gets out and approaches him.
"Running somewhere?" He asks, only half-joking.
She looks at the ground and holds her hands behind her back.
"I have to cancel tonight. English project. Sorry."
She can feel his annoyance even before he scoffs. "What? An English project? Rory, I took tonight off of work to be with you. I bought more raw cookie dough than any human being could actually eat –" he looks at her and quickly amends – "should actually eat, and I rented three movies on the way over here."
She looks up at him standing there, angry, tall, wearing a Chicago Bulls sweatshirt and tattered Nikes. She wonders what they have in common.
"I know, and you're great for doing that, but I really have to go."
"Can't you do it tomorrow?"
She swallows and twists her fingers together. "Dean . . ."
He falls silent. The plastic bag hangs limply, pathetically, from his hand. "Fine."
She thinks he's about to move closer to her and kiss her before he leaves, so she turns and runs to the Jeep. She berates herself and wonders why in God's name she did that as she backs out.
He didn't say goodbye.
- - - - - - - - -
"You look like Mother Teresa."
Her mouth widens, deeply offended.
"What's up with the sweater over your dress? I mean, I'm not asking you to go Coyote Ugly here but a little less Nancy Reagan would be nice."
"What's wrong with the sweater?"
"Nothing, if you're auditioning for a role in a PBS documentary."
She's about to cut in with how Jackie wore sweaters and, after all, is still remembered as one of the most fashion-conscientious creatures in the history of cotton synthetics, but Paris is Paris and she rips off the offending garment before Rory even has the opportunity to plan a masterful defense.
"Now I'll be cold," she complains. "I never signed up to contract pneumonia for Harvard."
"It's seventy degrees out, Bambi. Stop looking at me like I just shot your mother and hauled her away in an F-150. You'll be fine."
She sighs in defeat and moves to find her black flats from the bag that is flung on Paris' bed, which is – non-surprisingly – cloaked in a standard, utility-style slate grey coverlet. There is not an ounce of comfort in this room. Maybe she hides teddy bears under the floorboards and only gets them out in the security of night.
"Goddammit, why don't I own a halfway decent shade of eye shadow? I've got Madonna purple or I-Dream-of-Jeanie green, and I swiped those off Nanny."
Rory offers her a palate of neutrals she keeps in her purse, but not before rolling her eyes.
- - - - - - - -
"Well well well, look at this. Did you get lost, Snow White?"
She shifts uncomfortably in her shoes, her fingers knotted around the strap of a denim purse that she inherited from Lorelai when she was about nine and hasn't used since Kristen Greenwood's bowling party in seventh grade. The relief she just felt at entering an open door party, where no irritating hostess was waiting to jump down your throat the moment you knocked unsuspectingly (Emily much?), meets its tiny demise near the punch bowl.
"Yeah," she answers, pretending to be particularly fascinated with a floral arrangement on the serving table. "Grumpy gave me directions. Should have known better."
(Conversations are still possible out here, but already she can feel the thudding pulse through her feet that comes from a room at the other end of the hall. She knows what's in that room. Cotton candy hip-hop and nail-grating rap from hell.)
An eye roll. "Not in Kansas anymore, are we, Dorothy?"
She shrugs delicately. "Can't say, I've never really been to Kansas."
Louise snorts. "Just try not to get into too much trouble," she says, filling up a plastic cup with the punch and taking a swig. "No one's here to watch over you this time."
Rory doesn't know exactly what that's supposed to mean, so she goes with the sarcastic jibe, learned from the master of such things. "You're right. I left my leash and collar in the car. Darn it."
"Whatever." Rory thinks Louise's dress could barely be described by the term; it's more like a few strands of yacht sail tacked together in a precarious balance that always threatens to dismember (like the economy). Rory would feel immense pity for any serial killer stumbling around the street in that dress. She'd probably give up her lunch money to finance a garment that at least provides for the basic human necessities of insulation.
Louise pops a candied cherry in her mouth. "Oh, yummy. You'll have to excuse me. I see something better in the corner."
She stalks off to some mathematically challenged but physically endowed offensive player of the lacrosse team. Rory continues to stand there awkwardly, rocking back and forth on the balls of her feet. She pours herself a glass of punch. It's really red.
- - - - - - - - -
"Oooh, Rory, I didn't even know you were here!"
After half an hour she's finally summoned the courage to take a big step: she's moved five feet to her left, towards the bowl of crumbly salty pretzels that are being used more as soggy ice cubes for beers, apparently, instead of actual nourishment. She wrinkles her nose in disgust at the concoction Madeline holds in her hands.
"Hey! Have you seen this deejay yet? Totally hot. Like Usher kind of hot, and we all know what that means," she gurgles, remarkably resembling a pickled version of Kelly Osborne as she sweats in the dim light.
"Are you okay?" Rory asks, grinning despite herself.
"Oh, I'm fine. I'm so glad you came! All of Chilton, together at last."
"Well, I bet this isn't all of Chilton exac –"
"Come on, Rory, you have to take down your hair! It's more fun that way!" Madeline reaches behind her and, despite her attempt at ducking, strips her ponytail of its elastic band.
"O-kay, I guess head banging will be easier now . . ."
"Oh, all kinds of banging are easier now," Madeline giggles. She hiccups. "You look thirsty. Have some more punch."
It is beginning to feel a little warm in here.
- - - - - - -
Two hours later, she's stepped it up to actually wandering around the refreshment area in big, arcing circles. Her knees feel like jelly; it must be from standing for too long. And wow, the ceilings are pretty. They're so detailed. The embossings alone probably cost more than the tourist venture Taylor purchased last month, the one with umbrellaed hats to protect the unaware Guerros from . . . . from bird droppings, and . . . well, they probably cost more than Taylor himself on a –
She snaps her head to her left, and the smooth face of a senior comes quickly in and out of balance like a really whacked M. Night Shyamalan film, or when Hans Solo crams it up to hyperspeed in Star Wars. Maybe the lights are a little weirder than she had noticed at first.
"Oh, hi . . ." she trails off, craning her neck to try and see the lights better.
"You're Lorelai, right?" He asks. His eyes look purple for some reason, but she can tell his hair is blonde. It's really short and it makes his head look like a fuzzy peach. And she hates peaches.
"No." She abandons her search for the lights and instead stares deep into her punch for the candied cherry she'd dropped there. "Well, yes." She giggles when she finds it. "But that's my mom's . . . I mean, you can just call me Rory."
"Okay." He grins. His arm slides slowly forward so he can touch the tip of her elbow and it feels like an electric shock, but not a pleasant one. "Rory. You're a junior, aren't you?"
She begins to feel little warning bells clanging dimly in her head, buried deep in the folds of the candied cherry. "Umm . . ." She tries to delay for time by turning and serving herself more punch.
"Hey, Rory, baby, don't you think you've had enough?"
She bristles with indignation. "My name is Rory," she corrects, irritated by the necklace nestled against his half-bare chest that is throwing rude spears of reflected neon at her eyes. "Not Rory-baby."
He laughs and catches her hand. She feels the gold of his graduation ring pressing into her knuckle. "Honey, they really dosed that shit up. You'd better take a break from it and come with me."
At first, the words don't register really well. She knocks his hand off of her and moves to hold onto the edge of the table. Her hair falls in front of her eyes and she blows it away, but it drifts back again.
"Whaddya mean, dosed up?"
"Hell, sugar, I don't know what all they put in there. Let's go."
She pulls back obstinately. "No, no thank you," she tells him as politely as she can, slipping from the space between the table and his offensively smelling body. You'd think kids with trust funds that could sink the Titanic without the iceberg could invest in some cologne . . . iceberg, ice cube? "No thanks. I have to go to the . . . bathroom . . ."
She must look bad because he just laughs again and doesn't question her. She wants to rip his necklace off. "Okay, Rory, but I'll be looking for you later."
He backs away to a group of very similar looking boys that are waiting for him. They all look alike. She wonders if they're quintuplets. But . . . no . . . what? Never drink the Founder's Day Punch. Are all punches a façade? Even Hawaiian?
Oh, the floor seems to be rolling under her in . . . miniature earthquakes. Not good.
But she doesn't leave without the candied cherry. Okay, she can leave now.
Blow the hair out of the face, blow the hair out of the . . .
Stupid music. Crap music. She hates this music.
"Oh, Louise, have you . . . where is that Paris?" She asks. "You have lipstick on your teeth, by the way," she mentions. She giggles again. "And your eyebrow."
Louise bursts out laughing, though. The lipstick isn't supposed to be funny to her.
"How much of that punch did you have, Mary? You look pretty wasted."
"Where's . . . Paris?"
"I don't know. What do I look like, June Cleaver?"
"I think I am ready to leave," she announces like a proclamation, minus the bugler.
"Well, I don't know where Paris is. Why don't you call your Prince Charming to come rescue you?"
This idea makes her feel quite alarmed all of the sudden, the comforting effects of the punch wearing off. She shakes her head and clenches her hands, backing up a little. Dean . . . seeing her all on punch . . . ditching him for Harvard punch . . . "No," she tells Louise, blocking herself with her arms. "No, no, no. No."
Louise's fine eyebrows rise. It looks like they get lost in her hairline. "Well, fine, don't. Just go back and enjoy the party now that you're sloshed. This is where the fun begins."
And then Rory is alone again in the throbbing center of crap music.
But Rory is quite convinced this is not where the fun begins. She doesn't think fun resides anywhere near here. There is the promise of a headache coming and the floor is still rolling beneath her feet and there is no Paris and there's the guy with the necklace still watching her and she'd just like to go home, please, yes and thank you, home to her yellow-not-slate-grey bed, with teddy bears in plain sight.
No Lorelai. No Dean.
Ugh. The candied cherries are beginning to taste rotten in her mouth.
No . . . no . . . No to Luke, but . . .
There has to be a phone around here somewhere. A device for communicating with the outside world. Usually elongated, slim, cord or no cord? Not feeling picky. She fumbles her way through the hall. The door looks promising. There's probably something behind it.
Oh, it's a kitchen. It's an abandoned, empty kitchen. Poor kitchen.
But there it is! Salvation! It's white and older than she thought it'd be, with a cord. True to her word, like any good person, she doesn't care.
For a moment it confuses her. The numbers seem bigger than usual. Oh well.
It rings three times as she winds and unwinds her pinkie in the cord.
"What." Sandpapery, irritated.
"Rory?" She hears rustling. She imagines him sitting up with tousled hair in bed, probably with a book snapped open on his lap, and it makes her grin. "What the hell are you doing? It's three in the morning."
"Oh, is it really?" She asks, a true trace of wonder in her voice. Wow. So her watch must be wrong. But oh wait, it seems to say three, too. Oh. In agreement.
"Are you okay?"
"A little dizzy," she admits. "And I'm getting sick of the candied cherries. They aren't what they're billed to be."
There's something different about his voice when he speaks again, but she can't pinpoint it.
"Rory, where are you?"
"Oh, some house or another. Really big. I can see their pool out the kitchen window."
"Are you drunk?"
She crinkles her nose in distaste at his choice of blunt adjective. "Let's not get hasty, mister."
And suddenly, his voice is so deep, so familiar, so not-here that she takes a deep breath and she whispers, "Jess, the floor is rolling and there's the guy with the necklace and the music is slapping my feet and I'm scared."
"What guy with the necklace?"
She leans her elbows on the cold granite counter, her body swaying back and forth. "I dunno."
"Okay. It's okay. You're fine. Where did you say you were? The kitchen?"
"Yes," she sighs, blowing her hair away from her face again. "There aren't any lights on. I don't think these people like the kitchen very much."
His tone is softer now, soothing, calming. It reminds her chocolate and coffee ice cream. "Kitchens suck. Go back out to the party for me. Wait with the biggest group of girls you can find, okay? I'm going to come get you, but I need you to tell me where you are."
"Oh, I'm at Louise's house. It's . . . um . . . big, Hartford house . . . near Grandpa's . . . take a right on . . . on Washington, with all the stupid BMWs parked out front." She waves an annoyed hand.
"Okay. I'm coming. Remember to go to the biggest group."
"I'll be there in fifteen minutes."
"It takes half an hour," she corrects him disapprovingly.
"Luke's truck is old."
"Fifteen goddamn minutes, Rory."
She bites her lip. The floor continues to roll. "Hurry, Jess."
- - - - - - - -
Oh, the biggest group of girls would be the ones dancing. Ugh. She so doesn't feel like dancing. How can you dance to this anyway? It's one big mesh of electronically-induced voices and things. Things like ick. Yuck.
But a promise is a promise is a promise. Yes it is.
The center seems like the best place to be. Safest. No one can see you in the center. Just like the chewy center at the middle of a tootsie pop. Right.
But there's a wall of bodies in the way, which proves to be quite annoying. After fighting against it for several minutes, she eventually gives up and is regulated to standing on the edge, being smacked in the face by the curls of a girl in her Spanish class as she convulses in what is supposed to be some kind of dancing. Or maybe an exorcism. Or something.
Whoa. The lights are even more insane here. She feels the inside of her head slowly peeling apart in layers.
"Hi again, Rory baby." The words are screamed in her ear and she can't quite tell from where. From up? From down? From –
God, she hates that necklace.
"How was your bathroom break?"
Ouch. She was just speared by the curly-haired girl's hip. "What?"
"Your bathroom break." He has lots of blackheads on the wings of his nose. She is confused so she just ignores him. Her throat burns with thirst.
"C'mon, let's go somewhere quieter."
Quieter sounds nice. Quieter sounds real nice. The bass alone is threatening to finish her off.
But . . . something about the edge to his words . . . biggest group of girls you can find . . . Remember . . . He'll be here any second, and she really shouldn't disappoint her savior, not now, probably, Jess is not fun when he gets in his grumpy mood . . . his damn all the world mood . . .
"No thank you," she tells him again, trying to focus on the embossed ceilings. These ones have stars.
"Aw, c'mon, baby."
"Well, c'mon, Rory. It's too noisy in here!"
Yes, I am quite aware of that particular . . . issue, but really . . .
"No, no, no thank you."
"Yes. C'mon. You had your bathroom break, now come on."
He touches her elbow again and this time he holds it.
He begins to haul her away, and this time the floor doesn't just roll, it heaves like the Bering Strait. She's about to vomit the candied cherries, but necklace-guy doesn't hear her at all. Not at all.
"No, no, no!"
They're off the dance floor and he's about to cart her up the stairs. Her fingers wrap around the banister in protest.
Different voice, deep, sinful, chocolate and coffee ice cream. Bitter coffee but still coffee. Oh, she likes coffee. Her fingers immediately relax even though he hasn't made it across the room to her yet. It takes him five seconds, three seconds? Not fifteen minutes, to do so, enough time for her to be hauled up two steps.
"Let go of her."
"Go find your own chick, man."
He looks a little scary in the red light; his hair is tangled and she smells smoke on his breath. "Get the hell off her," he says.
"Alright, man, alright. Cool it."
There's a shove that leaves necklace-man reeling, slamming into the wall and nearly knocking off a picture frame. She wants to reprimand Jess but she doesn't. Instead, she begins to shakily work down the stairs toward him because she wants to touch him – patience is the discipline here, soldier – and nearly falls.
His eyes immediately soften a little bit into the bronze she is used to. "Whoa. This isn't a slip-'n-slide."
He moves to support most of her body weight and she doesn't fight it. The nagging feeling she has had in the pit of her stomach since she lied to her mom hours ago is gone, and the threatening headache dances away. Her legs tangle together but it doesn't matter; he's basically carrying her. He knows what to do. That's nice.
Silently, he guides her out of the room and down the hallway. She notices girls stopping to stare at him in a way that reminds her of the necklace guy. It makes her angry for some reason. Quite angry. Ugh. She tries to wave her hands at them in a universal go away.
"C'mon, Rory, no need to pull a windmill on me," he mutters into her ear. Ah. The heat of his breath sends different miniature earthquakes through her, from the crown of her head down her spine this time. Ah. Pleasant ones. Really craggy ones. "I'm getting you out of here."
Out. He's not staring at any of the other girls dressed in yacht sails. Just her. He's above everyone else, she thinks, has seen this before, is not impressed. Just her.
"That sounds quite, quite nice," she tries to say, stumbling past the pretzel Titanic ice cubes and elusive candied cherries and punch. Demon punch. She glares at it.
"Did you bring anything?"
"Did you bring anything? A bag? Money? Your phone, your keys . . ."
She doesn't hear herself answer but she must because he turns away to go get something. Away. She pleads and he tells her to stop, he'll be right back. And he twines the denim strap around her wrist like a thick bracelet.
"Did you think I was going to carry your damn purse for you?" He asks.
Oh. No. What? "No," she sighs. "Yes. Would you if it were red?"
He shakes his head, but not to say no. To say, "Jesus," which he mutters under his breath.
"Almost there," he says. His hands are firm but gentle on her waist. Anchoring and buoying. What is up with all the boat-related mental dialogue she does not know.
She trips on the leg of a couch. "Ow . . ." Her brow furrows. "My . . . head . . ."
He sighs. She thinks he does. He's not surprised. Hmm. Was he expecting that couch leg to reach out for her like that? Hmm. But she doesn't trip forward very far. Thank you Jess. Anchor and buoy.
"Careful. There's a little step here . . ." He lifts her up over some kind of lip, not a gloss-painted one but a wooden one in front of the door, and then the cool air rushes at her in iron train formation. Ouch. Good ouch.
"Ahh," she exhales. Freshness.
Oh so good. Lemon freshness. Pine-Sol? Sun in espanol. Spanish project due Thursday. Crap.
So good. Motionless for a moment. He lets her stand there and drink in the Pine-Sol.
"Look . . . see the stars? The little Greek men frozen since . . . since . . ."
There is a rather interesting expression on his face. Sad and amused and angry all wrapped together. He has a skilled face to hold so much. Strong face. His grey shirt underneath the jacket is soft. Like fleecy rain clouds. Too much, too much, an excess –
Her fingers clutch furiously to his shirt. He sighs again and it makes his chest rise and fall. His chest is solid. With as good a definition as Webster could have given it. Warm, maybe. Ah, that would be nice, his heartbeat –
"Rory." She can't detect the tone with which he says her name. He works her fingers loose.
"No . . ." Her word is slurred. She doesn't get to touch fleecy rain clouds very often and he should be just a bit more considerate –
Cold, cold on her back. Oh, metal. This is not Luke's truck. Not at all. Little car. Ugly car. Her nose wrinkles and the pop of an opening door echoes in her ears that feel pierced through to her skull.
"Luke?" There's more to the question, something about "truck" and "where?" but it's gone, so long. He understands anyway.
"It's Taylor's car," he tells her. His hand brushes her thigh as he helps tuck her safely like a present into the passenger seat and she forgets to breathe. Not good. Start again. Start. Ack. He's reaching across her to unite the two separated ends of the seatbelt. His smell is thicker than the punch and more sinful and better. It affects her more heavily. Heaviest. Close eyes.
He shuts the door and oh, there you are again oxygen, hello. Party bleeds back into brain. Stupid BMWs, she thinks. They are surrounded by a forest of BMWs.
Change annoyingly separated in compartments. Quarters. What state? Kentucky?
"No one, I believe, cares about Kentucky," she explains to him. He does not reunite his own seatbelt. "Except for perhaps the . . . chicken, in oil with no trans fat."
He chuckles under his breath. "Don't tempt me to record this to play to you later."
She watches the lines of his hands as he moves the gear stick. Nice hands. Beautiful. Her body is quaking again.
"What later?" She asks. "We're going to play later?"
He smirks. "Go to sleep, Rory. You're tired."
Oh, he is right. He seems to be well acquainted with the throbbing in her head. They must know each other. How else could he prophesize it? Unless he is a prophet of sleepiness. It's rolling around in her head like a cotton ball. One side to the next. Eyes have weights tied on them. She was this tired never. Never was this tired. Not even the one time with no sleep and all the hot dogs and cotton candy. Kentucky watches her.
"The car is weird," she whines.
"Yeah," he says as if she's missed something quite obvious. "I told you it's Taylor's. We're lucky he doesn't have his mother's dead body in the trunk."
Her brow furrows. "That would be bad. He could be Norman Bates, you know. With a cardigan."
The crooked grin she wants to touch. "It's okay. We've got a half hour until we get to Stars Hollow. You can sleep."
"Half an hour," he corrects.
Don't tell me twice, shame on me. Her eyelids won't open and his scent is spreading ranks in the car to take away the weird mothball smell and it's delicious and his hair is wild and dark. He is wild and dark. But also home.
She can feel the intensity of his eyes burning her. Shift away a little. Too much.
"Rory," he says lowly, strained, but the sound of his voice mixes with the silk of the pavement or rain or whatever and she can't be sure she heard right.
- - - - - - - - -
Nuh uh. No. Think jawbreaker. She tries to wind herself into a tighter ball, her arms clasped like death around her knees. What a weird angle for her neck to be at. Odd. Tighter, tighter. Can't get much tighter. Dirty.
She sighs, but insistent hands continued to pull at her elbow, slowly unwrapping her despite her protests, like a present he mailed to himself.
"No, thank you," she tells the hands politely. "I would like to just sleep, please." Ugh. That unpleasant mothball scent again. She wrinkles her nose.
"You want to set up camp in Taylor's car? Should I go get the marshmallows?"
Her face feels all tingly. Stupid punch. She rubs her cheek with the palm of her hand. Bethlehem? No room in the inn? Hmm?
"Tired, go away now, bye."
"Wow. You're more incapacitated than Stephen Hawkings."
She can't really absorb the cultural references at the moment. When her eyes flutter open, she sees evil Kentucky quarter glaring at her and her eyelids immediately sink closed again. Sink. Into quicksand. Dull, throbbing pain. Just sleep ouch.
"Not that I don't delight in the chance to make Taylor mad, but they'll be hell to pay if he finds you here in the morning."
She waves her hand carelessly. "Grandma and Grandpa can pay him." Taylor and Emily Gilmore in the same room . . . arguing over tea cozies and . . . six inch candles . . .
"Rory," he says. Serious voice. Oh. She tries to put on a serious face to match. Dick Cheney. Bah humbug.
"Rory. You don't want your mom to see you like this."
She pauses, unsure of exactly what the sentiment means. The air raises pinpricks on her neck. It is easier to get a camel through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich man to enter heaven . . . Her mom. Her mom. Lorelai. Paris' house, Betty Boop pajamas . . .
Oh, her head.
She reaches out a hand that's shaking. And she knows he can fix her. Things just aren't exactly lining up right. Something is off balance. Off line. Four-dimensional? But she reaches blindly into darkness and in just a minute . . . yes . . . he holds her up. She knew he would and it is vindication. Yes.
Cold pavement. Ouch. Rocks separating her toes . . . separation anxiety.
"My . . . my shoe . . ."
He ducks for a moment and reappears with her shoe. The patron saint of footwear. She feels his lithe hand on her foot, lifting it up, and suddenly no more cold pavement.
"Thank you," she tells him, and she leans forward into his jacket. That smell. It scares her and excites her all at once. Fire racing everywhere.
Her forehead creases because he doesn't let her stay there for long. "We have to go a block to the diner. I'll help you."
"That's far," she complains.
"Hey, I could have made you walk from Hartford."
"No, that would not have been very nice." Emphatic head shaking and suddenly her brain is lobbing from side to side in her skull in a pool of evil candied cherry punch. Like smacking bongos. Ugh. Slosh slosh slosh dizzy. Head shaking bad idea.
"Oh yeah, because I'm the definition of nice. I think that's what the next goddamn town meeting is about."
She blinks multiple times to see him easier. Something is still screening him from her. God? Wait, no. Silly hair. Stupid hair. Brush aside, okay, good work.
"You are nice," she says. Something is beating on her bongo-playing brain with insistence, something she has to tell him. So frustrating. It comes in little wisps and she tries to hold them in her teeth. "You are nice . . . . to me. I don't care about . . . about them." She waves a limp hand and tries to indicate the whole universe, including Taylor and her grandma and the President and George Foreman and the Dali Lama and the International Space Station and all she can see is the little scar on his lip.
He studies her for a moment so solemnly she gets the taste on her tongue she gets when she's in church and she feels startlingly sober and he is beautiful. And she knows. She knows he is as temporary as mist in the wind. A vapor. Because he is too beautiful for this town. But then he takes a deep breath that makes her shudder and his shoulders straighten and he begins to move forward, one arm linked around her waist.
"Yes, you do," is all he answers.
She commits emphatic head shaking again and she knows her brain will begin to do somersaults now and she doesn't care. "No I don't," she swears. "I do not I do not I do not."
He remains silent. Then: "Walk, Rory."
She exhales an irritated stream of air. How can someone so smart be so stupid? But she doesn't know. She is melting into the sidewalk as a puddle of creamsicle and it's not even summer.
"Frozen Greeks," she mutters, seeing the stars ride on her back.
Trip, stumble, trip, stumble, lurch. She never falls. She feels like Peter Pan tied to a harness. He is her harness. Her free hand could trail along the wall because that would be easier but she wants to hold onto him and she would like to not have to let go.
When the sidewalk starts to roll again, she doesn't know what to do. She tries to tell him about it. She sounds panicked.
"It's okay," he tells her again.
She would like to ask him why, then, everything turns black, but alas, she cannot. From three doors down (stupid band) she feels him lift her and her head lolls and she tries to open her eyes.
"Xena, stop fighting me."
Excuse me? She has never even swung on a branch, let alone –
"Rory. I'm not going to drop you."
"If you kick me one more time, I'll reconsider."
She goes absolutely limp in his arms, her muscles not responding to her anymore anyway. Elvis has left the building. And he took his sparkly suit with him.
When she hears the bells above the door, she protests feebly, her lips moving without sound.
"Don't worry. He left a couple of hours ago to pick up a shipment of something." He shakes his head, and she's annoyed because she knows he's thinking about some earlier conversation she can't hear. She feels left out. "Hopefully some goddamn balls, but probably toothpicks or green olives."
Stairs. Could be a challenge. He sighs and begins the trek without releasing her.
The next second her head is being welcomed by a nice striped pillow kind of like the outfit Clyde must have worn before he broke out of prison (small town life?) and her shoes are off and she is warm and safe and everything will be fine she's pretty sure although her knee itches.
Hard, tiny pills. And water. She is pretty thirsty, kind of like she could dump the Pacific Ocean down her throat. Although that is salt water and you must never drink it (thank you Coleridge) no matter how thirsty you get; make a distiller with your poncho.
Like a little girl, she accepts the offering. Then she falls back again. Retreat.
His smell is more potent and concentrated here. She sniffs deeply.
He is sitting on the floor by her, just an arm (world) away. He looks like something out of a book. He is shadows and jacket and his eyes are unreadable, ensnared, black. He is in a halo of lightning, maybe. She's enraptured and she reaches out for him but he says "No, Rory," without any hint of sarcasm, just strain again, and he tells her to go to sleep.
She frowns. He's not her mother.
"Can't tell me what to do," she singsongs, trying to stick her tongue out.
His eyes flash.
And she is not, no, just not quite sure what happens but it has to do with the tempest in his eyes and the scar on his lip and the rivers of veins in his beautiful hands and the tangled hair and the buoy and the terror of his temporariness and some air of mystery (destiny?) she has always kind of sensed about him. Her inhibitions have gone in the candied punch to drown. There is nothing but raw instinct that is rougher than the rocky road (not ice cream) was and she obeys and the only thing that makes perfect sense is to kiss him, him the Olympian god of night and glorious, groaning continent, of blue cigarette smoke pirouetting in darkness.
Her hands lace behind his neck. He doesn't move at first, doesn't stop her, thank you, there is no escape from this. She falls messily off of the embracing pillow and she lands in his lap and it is better, all angles, all shadows. Her hair falls around them.
She lifts herself up a little on her knees and the caged aggression she has always felt radiating from him is her own now, she has co-signed for it, she pulls him with her and her hands ache for any part of his skin.
When he kisses her back, one of the lightning strikes drives white and searing straight into the center of her being.
She loses all position and he is the tyrant and he rises to claim her and he pushes her spinal column hard against the bed and exerts despotic control over her mouth, slanting, surprising, twisting, leaving her gasping. She is caught in the sound and the fury. She can't breathe. He tastes like ash and mouthwash and frustration and maybe rain and she would like to tell her chemistry teacher that supernatural phenomena outside of the world of kinetics exist. That you can't graph on paper or treat with natural logarithms. She wants him to touch her everywhere and it is better than the half-defined fever dreams that have lingered on the edges of her mind for months. It is what she could never have expected, no, not at all.
It's blessed consummation.
The initial wave of desperation passes and he pulls her down to him, gentler now. He teaches her what kissing really means. She is an equal and he gives to her, gives, gives in ways she has never seen before, moves his lips to her neck.
When he pulls away she pursues him, unwilling to be separated from her lungs, blood, newly found religion. The darkness that burns. But he says again, "Rory," and this time he commands, "Stop."
A physical pain lodges in her ribs and the only medicine she can think of is to press her body against his.
Ow. The pain gouges deeper but he must know because he is careful when he bodily picks her up, deposits her on the bed, and backs away into the laced fiber of night. She is left with her hands pressed to her side.
Not where she wants her hands to be. She searches for some way to tell him, to explain all these new discoveries that are sailing from the port of her ribcage, these things she is letting herself feel at last. But all the words she could say do not make sense and refuse to string together and she gasps for air that is not there.
Cling to me as though you were frightened, she wants to demand, the poem hazy and dripping gold on the different turns of her brain, soft with Spanish flowers. But she can't speak.
He does not flinch and his eyes are black. She recognizes something in his face that scares her.
"Are you . . . Are you mad at me?" She asks. Her voice cracks (like he does sometimes).
His figure is very tense in the corner. He looks cut from black marble, appearing awfully close to a bust of some ancient Roman god in her grandpa's study. She is literally starving for him and probably wasting away before his eyes.
"Yes," he answers curtly.
She bites her lip. On accident most probably because she's not into self-mutilation except one time when she cut her hair in preschool. It doesn't bleed, though, and the pillow comfortingly encircles her head again but she does not accept it anymore. He continues to stand there without moving, watching her coldly, part of another beautiful universe hanging in ice beneath glass. She observes him in silence now as the world, instead of rolling, is suddenly very still.
The burns of electricity sing all over her body as sleep comes in gentle, icy currents. She thinks he commands them.
- - - - - - -
Ugh. Bad taste in mouth. Her mom probably bought that gross off-brand toothpaste again because they have Carebears on the front of the tube, with the bears' colors messed up in some marketing miscommunication. She's not willing to sacrifice the health of her teeth for confused Carebears. She guesses she'll have to do the shopping next and get ever reliable Crest.
Saturday, so no school. That's nice. Hopefully the headache will be cured by coffee. She stretches luxuriously like a cat, sticking her arms above the covers, and is surprised to feel chilly air against her bare skin, a stark contrast to the long sleeved flannel she typically sleeps in. Simultaneously, she registers a sinuous scent that makes her stomach muscles clench, that reminds her of rich, black earth in the forest, and wonders who smokes here.
Wait. She knows that smell.
Her eyelids flutter open immediately in shock, only to be greeted by dim sunlight slanting up through half-closed blinds that aren't hers. Stacks of books spill over a dresser in the corner, trailing onto the nightstand and meeting with an equally powerful wave of CDs. They clash in the middle, where Wolfe and the Dead Kennedys intertwine together.
She's in a dress. A short black dress. She's in Jess Mariano's bed wearing a short black dress and bare feet.
"Oh my God."
She sits up instantaneously, not helping the headache. Something about Harvard networking . . . candied cherries . . . music from hell and a coffee and chocolate voice . . . a mothball-smelling car . . . a pillow that liked to hug her . . . dark, dangerous eyes and skin and . . . poetry, all the singing poetry –
"Oh my God!"
"Morning, Molly Ringwald."
She starts violently, her muscles wrenching. He leans against the wall, watching her in worn jeans and an Elvis Costello shirt, his voice mocking but his eyes careful, pensive.
He has messed morning hair and he is going to extreme lengths to remain removed, his arms folded over his chest, his whole body tilted away. He's never done that before.
Vague, wispy, ethereal recollections tell her why. Oh. My. God.
Her mouth hangs open, mortified.
(She still thinks he is beautiful.)
"How's your head?" He inquires innocently.
She can't find words to speak at first. All her efforts to make any kind of noise are in vain, like she has cotton stuffed down her throat. Finally, with monumental labor, she manages to squeak, "Hello."
The corner of his mouth twists up a little, but he doesn't laugh like he might have under normal circumstances. He has the guarded stance she would expect of a boy who grew up in Brooklyn, his whole form balanced precariously, prepared for anything, while his dark eyes study her like she is a volatile package, an unpredictable anathema. Something palpable, something insurmountable, stands in the clear air between them. And she hates it. "The shower's open."
She holds the soles of her feet in her hands, biting her lip. He is the only inhabitant of this whole town who would see Lorelai Leigh Gilmore, town princess, rise out of a roaring hangover and not blink. She wants to thank him, tell him how glad she is that he was here, but cannot find the words.
Reality sinks in like a cloistering nun's habit. Here she is in Luke's apartment, absolutely reeking of alcohol like some demented Dantian air freshener.
Oh God. Luke. Her heart drops out of some cavity in her chest. She looks past Jess towards the bathroom with trepidation, trying to smooth her hair.
"Luke got back at six, but he's working the morning rush."
She nods, continuing to look worried.
"I won't let him up here."
Some of the shame constricting her heart eases a little then, because he is promising to protect her and he means it, and she licks her dry lips. She trusts him far too much, deeply and unquestionably. She needs to say something to him, anything, but without even turning he's suddenly gone. She hears the click of a door that tells her he left the apartment.
The careful distance he was maintaining between them the whole time makes her sick.
When she stands, the floor doesn't rise up to smack her in the face, so she assumes she's fairly sober now. First drunk experience. Something to check off of her list.
She takes a moment to notice the smell of the leather jacket thrown over a desk chair, the open notebook filled with paragraphs of his neat, curved writing. Although the desperation to read it is powerful, the intense respect of his privacy, of the unmapped soul within him, is more so. A bottle of cologne is half open. Everything is purposefully disordered and stamped with his fingerprints.
It's a little after eight. Her mom won't be expecting her to call until at least ten, so she has, if nothing else, some time. The bathroom door is open and when she flicks on the light she finds a pair of sweatpants and a black Grateful Dead T-shirt folded for her on the sink. For some reason, it makes her bottom lip tremble and she has to swipe at the corner of her eye. It seems like he's cushioned her fall from grace with sweatpants and a T-shirt. It seems like it's everything.
Her bare feet are cold against the linoleum as she lets her dress fall like the wounded, silky petals of a wilted flower, leaving her clean and naked in the handcut mirror over the sink. At first, she simply stares at herself. The jutting lines of her bones, the scar from a fall off of her bike when she was five. Everything is the same and nothing ever will be again.
For some reason she cannot explain, she wants to leave the door unlocked. But she doesn't.
A towel is thrown over the shower curtain for her; she clutches it with her fingers and turns on the water to the hottest it will possibly go, letting it beat at her toe, her instep, her ankle, her calf; each small part of her body she chooses to surrender until she is standing under the thick stream, steam clouding around her like fragrance. And then, only then, when the hot water begins to untangle some of the knots in her back, the images she has been suppressing since the moment she awoke confront her.
She hates Paris.
She's scared to death and she hates Paris.
The montage hits her like a ferociously colored nightmare now. That stupid senior with the necklace and the ring. Who stood by her when she was fishing for her cherry. Who dragged her up two stairs . . .
She begins to scrub her body harder and harder when she realizes what he was going to do with her. The nausea comes back.
What was she thinking? She can't even bear to tell her mom about this. She just gave and gave and gave until she was stumbling around Louise's private Playboy Mansion. Ugh. She can't imagine what could've happened if Jess hadn't –
She moans and rests her head against the slick tile.
Okay, she kissed him.
She attacked him.
Alright. So she attacked him. Next.
He kissed her back and she felt like she was dying, or had never lived. Her body involuntarily shivers. She always knew that one touch in the wrong place – or the right place – would be enough to send the boundaries of their relationship cascading to the floor. The physical attraction he inflicted upon her was enough to maim. She'd always tried to believe it was a misconception. Apparently it wasn't.
So he kissed her back and she felt like she was dying and she has a Dean. Dean, who showed up with cookie dough and three movies on a night he took off from work. On a night she deserted him.
She closes her eyes against the sting of running soap. The same soap he uses. The scent makes every molecule of her body shiver.
- - - - - - -
She feels really awkward in his clothes with towel-dried hair. As if this whole situation couldn't get any weirder. She even has to roll the sweatpants a few times to ensure they'll stay up. It's like she's Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman, except without the quick wit or shamelessness. And it sucks.
Shyly, half hoping that he won't have come back and half demanding that he has, she eases open the door. The cool air of the apartment collides with the steam from the bathroom and her teeth chatter at about the same time her heart stops, give or take a few milliseconds.
He's setting a cup of coffee next to a plate of chocolate chip pancakes and a couple of Tylenol. He has a dish towel thrown over his shoulder.
She can't breathe.
His eyes flicker up to her, carefully combing her body, making her feel as exposed as if she were back in his bed. She's never felt that before.
She nods helplessly.
"Luke's pretty sadistic. He turned down the hot water valve so that it only lasts fifteen minutes."
"It was fine."
There's silence. She tries to walk closer, her legs shaky in a way that has nothing to do with the alcohol.
"You cooked me breakfast," she half accuses, half pleads.
He doesn't look at her. "It was just the union of leftovers from downstairs and a microwave."
Her fingers dance on the edge of a chair and she drinks him in thirstily. "Oh."
"It was no big deal," he mutters defensively, more to himself. "Anybody could punch in a couple of numbers."
Her laugh is bubbly and nervous. "I think you're seriously overestimating the motor capabilities of Kirk."
He doesn't answer for a moment, his face hard. "You don't have to eat it."
"No, no, no!" She exclaims hastily, throwing herself in her seat. "No, I'm hungry. More than hungry. Starving. Dangerously ravenous. If I didn't get something right this –"
He hands her a fork, and she catches the amusement in his eyes. "Shut up."
Blushing, she pops the Tylenol and does as he orders. She wants to say something, anything, but conversation is ridiculously stunted. He feels no need to break the silence, apparently. He just sits across from her with one hand spread on the table, his fingers long and separate, and the intensity with which he watches her makes it very hard to swallow.
"So they spiked the punch, huh?"
She nearly chokes. "What?"
"Last night. The punch was spiked?"
Her ankles cross beneath the table, and she can smell him from the collar of his T-shirt that rests on her neck. "Why?"
This time, a ghost of his traditional smirk does crack his face. "I was hoping your rebellion against authority and autocracy would at least be on purpose."
"Sorry. They sabotaged me. It looked like Hi-C."
He shakes his head and she turns back to her plate. The pancakes make her think of home. Not any specific home, but just the word, blurred on the edges.
"You shouldn't be freaked out, you know." His voice is smooth, deep, husky, a wild yea-calling to some primitive instinct deeply buried in her body. Something animalistic raises its head beneath her skin, and she blushes. He pauses, and she watches the flash of a clean silver fork as he twirls it in his hand. "If you can't remember anything. It happens. You were pretty trashed."
He's sprawled nonchalantly in the chair, but he's watching her.
If you can't remember.
It's okay if you can't remember.
It's okay if you don't want to remember.
Her eyes close momentarily and her fingers clench as she considers accepting the lifeline he's casting out to her, near the raft where she is stranded in a sea of uncharted territory.
Beautiful hands and wild hair and lightning eyes. An otherworldly dance.
Alternative universes are silenced. She can't even begin to imagine what her mother would say.
"Yeah, okay," she murmurs.
The charged particles in the air between them threaten to explode. He finally releases her from the net of his eyes and takes a book out of his back pocket.
She wants to cry.
- - - - - -
"Um, so you don't need any help?"
His face is distant. "Nope."
She curls her fingers. "So . . . thanks."
Her lip is torn from where she is biting it. "I . . . I mean . . . I didn't mean to . . ."
Nothing. Her throat sticks.
"So . . . I'll see you around?"
He shrugs. "I pour the coffee."
"Go out the back. He won't see you."
He's still watching her silently as she leaves. Her mouth puckers in an attempt to tell him something that has no words.
- - - - - - - - -
The bus to Hartford that morning is almost completely empty. Some strange guy in the corner is nodding his head to an imaginary beat; he doesn't have any headphones on and there isn't any music playing over the speakers. She's never seen him before. Probably got on the wrong line.
She has her black dress under her arm, and her hair is still somewhat damp on her back. She's glad this isn't Tommy, the usual bus driver. She's glad this woman with the bleached blonde spikes of hair and smears of blue eyeshadow has no idea who she is. She wants invisibility so badly it's a physical ache.
The woman gives her a one-over that makes her feel slightly nauseous. More so, anyway. She has every appearance of a socialite tramp returning from slumming in the dumps, and she wants to argue. Even in her head, her arguments fall flat with half truths. "It's one twenty-five for Hartford."
She rummages in the purse that's slung over her shoulder, but there is nothing except a wheat penny and a bicentennial quarter she must have decided to save ten years ago.
Her eyes widen like a deer frozen in the headlights.
"Hey, hey, little girl," the strange man says. He has a handkerchief tied around his head and a tattoo of a bear claw on his cheek. "Hey, don't worry. I'll cover you."
And that's just what he does.
- - - - - - - - -
The woman who answers Paris' door is terrifying. Absolutely terrifying. She is small and squat and has rollers in her hair (purple ones) and is wearing lipstick that's so red she looks like she just finished pulling a Dracula in the backyard. All of this would be bad enough, but coupled with the fact that Rory's nerves are already as thoroughly shot as Abraham Lincoln's – not to mention that this woman is screaming at her in a language which sounds like every foreign tongue combined – it is somehow enough to facilitate a coma.
Seriously. She can't even blink.
"Um . . . I just . . . I left my . . ."
More screeching from the figure in hideous green yoga pants. Ugh. Is it even possible to do yoga with rollers in your hair anyway? Doesn't that mess with the all-relaxing brain waves or something?
The Jeep – her salvation – is in the driveway. She points pathetically, her hand dangling, trying to summon enough presence of mind to find an escape route and cursing herself for every time she skipped the old James Bond movies in favor of a Brat Pack marathon. Sixteen Candles doesn't teach you how to hotwire cars.
"¿Es usted la persona que envió mi hogar de París bebido anoche? ¿Es usted la persona que hizo que ella tiene una reacción alérgica a los pretzeles que – Está usted el asshole que la dio –"
"¿La niñera, quién es? No el muchacho de la piscina otra vez . . . él es como Colin Ferrell en los esteroides."
She has never been quite as happy with Paris as she is now, when Paris stomps down the stone stairs and into the foyer, her face smeared with acne cream and her towel wrapped around her hair at such a severe angle it looks like she's trying to pick up signals from the Hubble telescope.
"A menos que sea Ted Bundy, el muchacho de piscina, o, Dios prohíbe, ese consejero estúpido de la dirección, intenta no a suena como una vaca de muerte."
Paris plants her hands on her hips and peers around the formidable figure of her nanny. Rory's eyes are wide in a silent S.O.S.
"Ah, look who followed the bread crumbs at last," she says.
Nanny, satisfied that Paris is not about to get jumped in the foyer, spares Rory one last death glare before turning on her heel and disappearing down a hallway.
Paris rakes her gaze over the sweatpants, the Deadhead T-shirt, the dress folded in her arms, her damp hair. "What happened to you last night, Gilmore?"
Now that she is no longer in fear of her life, some of the buried anger is again bubbling to the surface. Righteous anger. Yes. She advances one step into the house, her hands clenched.
"What happened to me? What happened to you?"
"What do you mean?"
"Paris. Come on."
"I came home after I went to a party. Trite, I know, but –"
"You left me there! With the sour punch, and the awful music, and the guy with the ring . . . you stranded me after you made me go! Now I don't expect us to be like Thelma and Louise or anything, but you could have at least made sure I –"
"Apparently someone was a little more like Thelma and Louise then I'd expected."
The austere expression on Paris' face fades for a moment, almost like a mirage in the desert. "Alright, Gilmore, cut out the puppy act. I looked for you before I left but I couldn't find you."
"I'm sure you looked very hard."
"Hey, I glanced."
She has to breathe deeply to remain calm.
"When did you leave?"
She shrugs. "Half hour after we came? Forty-five minutes?"
Rory groans in frustration. "Why did you even go?"
Paris stares at her like she's some kind of three-headed creature. "Do you think I want to attend these bimbo fests? I could watch MTV and skip the vomit-crusted Beamers if I was looking for some Nicole-Ritchie-esque type high."
She fights the urge to stamp her foot like a three-year-old. It's seriously like talking to Ozzy Osbourne, here. "Then why did you –"
"I told you," Paris says lowly, secretively, the tendons in her neck stretched with the effort. "My mother. Her mother. Hell, even her mother. They all climbed high in the social scaffolding that is Chilton. I have to go." She straightens up a little. "They notice me there, and then everyone gets so sloshed they don't even know their own names, let alone who leaves. I flee the scene as soon as I can. And you weren't around."
Rory glowers at her for a moment, stock still. The sun warms her back. She feels very tired.
"You know what? Fine, whatever," she says. "Just give me my stuff so I can go home."
She tries to push past Paris and make it to the stairs, but of course, she has about the strength and coordination of the ugly duckling that never quite grew up.
"Whoa, whoa, hold it, Gilmore. How'd you get . . . wherever it was you got to?"
She seizes up, her headache now coming dully back, and mutters, "Someone came and got me."
Her eyes snap up instinctively, trying to protect herself against insinuations that are not there. "No."
Paris groans. "You didn't call your mom, did you, Marsha Brady?" She demands, like it is only slightly preferable to a nuclear holocaust. Rory frowns.
"No! God! No, okay? Now just move so I can get my stuff!"
She hates how the understanding snaps into Paris' eyes in one fluid second, a thousand-watt lightbulb erupting across an empty stadium. She hates the smug look that floods Paris' face, making her raise her brows and half-smile. She hates the twisting of guilt and desire and need in her stomach, the confusion that has come to a climax after months of avoidance.
She wishes she was brave enough but she is not and she almost turns and leaves rather than face that again.
"It was Kerouac, wasn't it?"
"Let me in, Paris."
"He came and got you."
"Paris, I swear to God –"
"He came and got you at like two in the morning?"
She remains silent.
There is a long pause. She can hear cars and leaves dancing and a vacuum running.
"Listen, Gilmore, I'm not exactly a hopeless romantic," Paris says, "but this is ridiculous. You want what you want and that's all there is to it. You found out something about yourself. It's not a sin."
Her throat tightens for a moment. She thinks of him this morning, of breakfast, of the wildly unsteady beating of her heart. And she thinks she has changed even though she didn't ask for it, and she doesn't think there is anything she can do to stop it. Or anything she wants to do to stop it.
It's not a sin.
It is not a sin.
Just two puzzle pieces fitting together, just what is supposed to be. Expectations be damned.
"Can I have my things, please?"
Paris shrugs. "Yeah. I'll get them. Hold on a minute."
- - - - -
She parks messily, at an angle against the curb, half sticking out in the street. She's wearing her black flats and they've cut into her feet over the last hour but she grits her teeth and throws open her door, almost hitting a kid on his bicycle as he executes a wobbly weave down the road. Watch out, explosives contained in highly fragile package.
This is abandoning inhibitions.
This is turning all the walls and fortresses and fears off (or maybe they never really existed?)
This is sheer stupidity, like a kamikaze pilot.
But she doesn't have time to think about that now because if she takes time to think at all she might never be this brave again and she will be forced to be stifled always. This is her last stand, her Thermopylae, if you will. She is no Spartan but she'll take a chance since it is all she can do. She apologizes profusely to the little boy and jumps out, slamming her door shut, nearly falling as she bounds up the curb.
It's the Saturday lunch rush hour, but the door is closed because Luke finally caved and bought air conditioning three years ago and someone must have forced him (at gunpoint) to turn it on today. Her mom is probably waiting for her at home so they can go to Luke's together and it doesn't matter. Her phone rang three times on the way here and she didn't answer and it doesn't matter.
The bells clang as she launches herself into the packed dining room, with Tom's working crew crammed at three tables in the corner and Babette and Maury in the center and Kirk eyeing warily from a barstool like a potential epileptic at a rock concert, but she smiles a weak, water-downed smile at him and Luke stops pouring Mrs. Lanahan's coffee to ask her:
"What is it? Is something wrong? Where's your mom?"
She shakes her head and the tension in his face eases, like one wave passing smoothly over the surface of a swimming pool, but when she doesn't say anything else he seems confused. He finishes pouring the coffee as she waits a moment, until conversations resume at other tables.
Hey, she's not a museum exhibition, here.
"Where's Jess?" She blurts out finally, the pressure building beneath her skin to something unbearable. People turn to look at her anyway. Screw it.
The smooth face changes again, this time deepening to ominous bewilderment. Almost like she's just asked where the Valium and whiskey are, or a razor blade, or rat poison, or an AK-47. "He's working in the storage room."
Her knees start to tremble. "Um . . . Can I . . .?"
He recognizes the shirt she's wearing and shifts uneasily, but he can't say no. "Yeah, sure."
Normally, she would thank him, but all normality has flown south for maybe a long time so she slips past the counter, through the curtain, her heart thudding a million miles an hour as her blood moves sluggishly through her veins. She can't walk a straight line, colors are blurring together. She feels like she might throw up.
Her toes are clinging to the edge of a cliff.
The door is propped slightly open, enough to see movement flicker from one side to the other. Fear is banging on every centimeter of her body, begging to get in, making her faint, but she fights it off and knocks on the slightly open door like an idiot.
"Don't bother waiting for the butler to let you in," he growls. "He took the day off."
She pushes ever so slightly on the door and it swings open and she doesn't feel as sick anymore. Because he's the same, with untamable hair and quick hands. And being here almost makes sense. His face shifts from its canvas of removal to disbelief and back again. He doesn't move in her direction at all, caution still making him rigid.
She nods. He's holding a jar of pickles.
"Hi," she squeaks.
He waits, but she says nothing, so he slides the jar into place. She is grateful that he turns back to the box he is unloading, not looking at her when he says casually, "If you're here for a fix, we have a few cans of ground coffee I can give you to snort. But don't tell Luke."
It would be easy, so easy, to slide into the banter that has been coddling her for months, to the ebb and flow of a relationship she can't pin or describe. It is another escape offered to her, another opiate. But she is through with sleeping. She is tired of it and she wants the singe of electricity and the knowledge that she is alive and she wants to word this, all of this, but all she can say is everything embodied in his name.
He doesn't answer right away, and her gratitude over his calmness dissipates. She wishes desperately that he would turn to her. She wants to see his gold-flecked eyes and feel the certainty of unpredictability bottoming in her stomach. He has to know why she's here, has to care, has to at least show a crack in his exterior. She's seen one before.
But he refuses.
"Where's darling Dean today?" He asks breezily, studying the stockpile and scribbling a quick note on a nearby pad with a pencil that he replaces behind his ear. "Terrorizing the locals? Stomping through Tokyo?"
It is a pain directly to her ribcage but she brushes past it. "I don't know," she answers quickly, too quickly, and he senses it. He smirks at her discomfort. Despite everything, she almost hates him.
"So . . . are you back for more aspirin?"
"In desperate need of borrowing some garlic powder?"
Her fingers knot in his shirt that billows around her breasts. "N - no."
He licks his lips and straightens smoothly, his body one lean connected surface, facing her in a single movement, and she is terrified by the exasperation she has never seen before, the frustration that burns beneath the olive of his skin. The caged aggression to a new level. He is raw, pent up force from the underground of a life she can't touch, and she backs up involuntarily.
"Then what the hell do you want, Rory?"
"Last time I checked, I don't have a collar and a leash waiting for you."
It is the first time he has referred to this thing that boils and bubbles between them, and the almost-resentment that colors his words makes her flinch as if he raised a hand to her. She chokes on her words.
"I don't come, sit, stay, or roll over," he says, his voice low and dark, the rolling clouds of a storm. "I'm not wagging my tail waiting."
"Jess, I –"
"If you think that I'm going to take a page out of Gone with the Wind, you're deluded."
He raises his fine eyebrows.
"I know," she repeats quietly, unable to say anything else for a moment. He looks at her skeptically.
"Okay, Rory, you know. That's the first step. Go find the other eleven."
This is Tennyson's Charge of the Light Brigade, she thinks, and it is too late to turn around now. Here come the bayonets.
"I don't want . . . I just . . ."
"I can't do this anymore," she finally says, words flowing from her as carelessly and dangerously as spewing lava, searing and burying her. "I can't . . ." She nervously bites her lip, slips her foot out of her shoe. "I can't want . . . I can't lie anymore. I'm . . . I want to be with you."
There. She said it.
His face does not slip back to its look of blank removal this time.
She can't breathe. She feels like she's on an autopsy table.
He turns to study a box of paper napkins, his hands clenched, and a question hangs in the air, heavy, saturated.
"I want to," she tells him again.
He presses his lips together.
"No matter what you say, I'm breaking up with Dean. Today. I can't do this anymore. I just can't. I thought I could but I can't. You win. I can't ignore this. Everything is different now and nothing has the same definition anymore and you changed . . ." She trails off, unsure of what she means.
He still remains silent. But he knows.
"I remember last night. I know I said I didn't but I was lying. I do. Of course I do."
Mere milliseconds before she fades away with the tremendous weight of her admission, he turns to her again. She waits without breathing.
And without saying anything, because the spoken word is not his medium of choice, he begins to close in on her. She feels the nerves in her body stretch and still, paralyzed into place, half terrified he is about to leave, but instead his fingers find her own and they tangle together. She begins to breathe again, erratically, painfully, hypnotized.
"Okay," he tells her. "Okay."
One of his hands cradles her jaw. It is a new sensation, his tapered fingers resting behind the shell of her ear, the heel of his hand under her chin. Her body is pliant water.
She sees the scar on his lip. Anticipation is eating her alive, and every inch of her is on fire.
He closes the gap between them; his lips gently meet hers.
Suddenly, nothing else matters.
They are just a boy and a girl kissing in a storeroom.
And it is good.