The bookstore was not what Rory was used to. This was no warehouse sized, fluorescently lit mega-chain with overstuffed armchairs artfully scattered among the stacks for patrons to sink into while they drank their over-priced, bookstore coffee. This was a hole-in-the-wall, dimly lit, barely any room to walk between the stacks, "no food or drink allowed" enforced by the sullen cashier, bookstore.
Rory found it oddly charming, though it had a strange smell.
Beggars can't be choosers, she thought to herself as she wandered toward the back of the store to loose herself in the stacks.
It wasn't easy to find time to be alone on the campaign trail. Although Rory found the excitement of her job and camaraderie of her peers exhilarating, sometimes she needed some time to herself; time to regroup. The other reporters relaxed in their own ways – going to the mall, dinning in exotic restaurants; Rory haunted bookstores.
She found that the more time she spent away from Stars Hollow, the more she needed to reconnect with old friends she found on forgotten shelves in bookstores that time forgot.
Rory absently ran her fingers along the spines of the books on the shelf in front of her. Then she squinted as she tried to make out titles in the dim light. What language is that? Rory automatically looked up for a sign identifying what section of the store she was in, but there wasn't one.
Looking around with more focus, Rory sought out the "Classics" section hoping to find something familiar – Little Women, Moby Dick, Good Omens…anything. With a sinking heart and a tiny tendril of unease, Rory decided that maybe this wasn't the store for her when she did spot something familiar. Or rather, someone.
The bell above the door announced the entrance of another patron. When Rory turned to look at the new customer, her heart leapt up into her throat and her blood started racing. Fumbling, she grabbed the nearest book and held it up in front of her face hoping to hide herself while attempting to catch a glimpse of the newcomer. Dean! Dean Forester?! He was the last person Rory expected to see. Here she was, out in the middle of Middle America, and in walks Dean "I won't even go far enough away from Stars Hollow to go college" Forester.
Immediately Rory regretted the meanness of her thoughts. It wasn't Dean's fault that he thought the best he could do was to end up in construction after divorcing that Lindsay and moving back in with his parents.
Mean again…Rory rolled her eyes at herself, and then looked at the book in front of her face. The weirdly drawn symbols didn't make any sense.
When did I revert back to hiding like a kid seventh grade? I feel like I'm in the cereal aisle at Doose's Market! This is ridiculous!
Rory took a deep breath and started moving. She had every right to be there. Dean had walked into her bookstore. He should be the one who felt out of place, not her. Rory found it difficult to step forward and make herself seen, but she did it. More than a year away from home had given her gumption she didn't know she possessed.
Composing her face into a mask of neutral civility with a hint of surprise, (certainly not an expression of "Oh my God what are you doing here?!") Rory approached the check out counter where Dean hovered, leaning over, apparently waiting for service; the sullen cashier had disappeared. Dean glanced her way and with a distracted half-smile dismissed her.
Rory stopped her forward motion, nonplussed and a little angry. Dismissed? Disregarded? Who the hell did he think he was anyway?
With growing irritation, Rory stalked forward until she was standing by Dean's left side. "Dean. Hey." she stated forcefully.
Dean straightened up and moved into her space; his motion took Rory's breath away; sometimes she forgot how tall he was. He actually looked over her head before he looked down to acknowledge her presence.
He shook his head a little like he was trying to figure out who was talking to him. A confused smile crossed his face and warmed his eyes.
Rory crossed her arms over the book she was holding and tried again. "Dean…hey."
He actually turned around like he thought she might be talking to someone behind him. He looked back and down at her and Rory started to get the feeling something was seriously amiss. "Sam." he said.
Rory blinked. The HELL?
"Sam?" she repeated.
He looked like he thought she needed more of an explanation. "Dean. He's my brother."
"Dean. He's your brother."
"You don't have a brother."
"You have a sister."
"Clara. Your sister."
"Dean. My brother."
The rapid-fire exchange of information didn't really clear anything up, but it did end with the two of them standing face to face and actually looking at each other. Rory could feel a heated blush rising up from her neck and onto her cheeks – this wasn't Dean. She could see on his face when he saw that she knew she'd mistaken him for someone else. It made her face burn hotter.
Rory blinked and looked away, confidence gone, once more feeling like an awkward teen and suddenly very aware of the stranger's size. But the man…Sam…stepped in to fill the uncomfortable silence. He smiled at her and it changed his whole face. He chuckled as he held out his hand. "Hi. I'm Sam."
Rory looked up at him with a nod as she shifted the book she was holding to her left arm and accepted his handshake. She found her hand engulfed in his grip. "Rory. Fancy meeting you here, Sam." She emphasized his name as she gave his hand a final squeeze and let it go.
"What's that book you've got, Rory?" Sam tilted his head and squinted at the cover, much the same way she had earlier.
"Oh, you know…just some light reading." Rory held out the book before her with both hands. Even in the stronger light closer to the door, she still couldn't make out the symbols on the book's cover. "Hieroglyphs. It's so much easier to keep abreast on ancient Egypt since they started writing on paper instead of obelisks."
"Oh yes," Sam agreed, "staying abreast of the convoluted political wrangling of those ancient Egyptians is so important in this day and age." That smile peeked out again and damn if those dimples weren't just as devastating as Dean's.
The jangling of the bell above the door announced another customer. "Rory! I knew I'd find you here!"
Rory was a little disappointed to see Helen, one of her colleagues, breeze through the door. Helen was kind of a force of nature and if she'd been seeking Rory she must have an agenda.
"You wouldn't believe it, but we found a more than adequate Indian restaurant outside of town. Jay and Roger went ahead to grab a table and I told them I'd look for the oldest, dankest, smelliest bookstore to find you." She paused for a breath. "And here you are! Let's go, I'm starving!"
"Oh, uh…okay." Rory found it difficult to switch gears and move at the speed of Helen. She made a half-turn, intending to return the strange book to the shelf where she'd picked it up, but Helen had cut off her avenue of escape.
"No way, honey. I can't let you go back there – it'll be a half an hour before I see daylight again!" Rory suppressed a sigh, Helen was just never going to let her live down the "bookstore incident" in Iowa.
Rory turned toward the counter; Sam was there with his hands outstretched to take the book. "I'll put it back. I've got to talk to the owner anyway."
Rory was discomfited but handed the book over. In spite of Helen's sing-song that they "head toward the door" while insistently poking Rory in the small of her back, Rory paused. She took one last look at Sam, seeing all the things now that she would never confuse with her Dean. There was an air of loss and sadness about him that he carried like a weight. But he also had a deep sense of purpose and he gave off an aura of wanting to help.
This time it was Rory who held out her hand. "Nice to meet you, Sam." And on impulse she added, "Take care of your Dean."
Sam accepted her handshake with a smile that was much sadder than the ones he's shared earlier. "Thanks, Rory. You take care too."
Rory let Hurricane Helen guide her to the door, but she turned before stepping out. It made her glad to see that Sam had turned to watch her go. With a smile and a wave, Rory was out on the sidewalk pulled along in Helen's wake. She listened with half an ear as Helen swooned over some man in a leather jacket leaning on his car parked out in front of the store.
How weird to meet someone who looks exactly like Dean Forester way out here. I suppose stranger things have happened. Can't wait to call Mom and tell her all about it…