The phone rang at precisely twelve thirty in the AM. Luke exhaled deeply, rubbed his eyes open and went to answer it.
"Hello Marge… no it's alright, please don't apologize, Marge… I will take care of him. No, no, no problem. Alright, you go back to bed now, yeah…"
He hung up the phone and sighed, then went downstairs to the diner area where he switched on the lights and put a pot of coffee on to wait.
There was a knock on the door exactly seven minutes later. Luke quickly got up to answer it, expecting one twenty-year old and finding another one altogether.
He frowned, not believing his eyes.
Jess Mariano stood at his uncle's doorstep and smirked. "I want to say 'surprise' but you look like you were expecting me. Or… someone I guess."
And then casually he walked in with his sack of stuff flung over one shoulder, looking around the old place nostalgically.
Luke was still in sort of shock. "Wh-what are you doing here?"
"I'm taking a two-week break from work, Dillon thinks I'm burning my freaking candle at both ends so he kicked me out. And I figured, might as well pay you a visit. Is that cool?"
Jess turned to face Luke once again and the two men took the time to look at one another. They'd both aged, and to Luke, it seemed Jess had more than Luke.
He looked more… settled, calmer, maturer than he had been two years ago when he left Star's Hollow in a huff, leaving in his wake memories of a lot of harshly spoken (but not completely meant) words. The kid had had his heart broken and chosen to go back to his rebellious ways in protest, far from here. Luke couldn't say he blamed him. Rory seemed to have had that effect on more than a couple of boys he knew.
Luke suddenly realized how much he'd missed the kid. He opened his arms and engulfed Jess in a quick hug, clapping his back a couple of times before letting him go. When they parted, the men smiled at each other like they hadn't in a long, long time.
"It's good to see you, Jess. I'm glad you came."
"But you were expecting someone else…"
Luke remembered then. "Oh, yeah, um…"
Jess raised a hand in placation and started to walk up the stairs to the apartment and his old bedroom.
"No need to sweat. You're a big boy now, Uncle Luke, you can have whoever you want over. Is my room still mine or did you rent it out or something?"
With a parting smirk he started walking up the stairs and Luke quickly followed. "Not rented it out, no…"
"Sorry for barging in on you like this, figured you wouldn't mind if I took you up on your offer after all."
Jess pushed open the door to his room and entered, Luke still following him scratching his head, wondering how to break it to his nephew that his room wasn't… exactly just his room anymore. Even though he'd promised Jess he would always have a place in his house. In fact, those had been his parting words to Jess on the phone the last time they spoke, just two months ago.
Jess flicked on a light and gazed first up at the walls. Still the same old, small but cozy little room with his lone poster of Zeppelin on one side, and his books stacked up in two neat columns almost all the way up to the ceiling by the north wall.
Jess smiled and lowered his eyes, and that's when he frowned.
"Dude, what did you do to my bed?"
Luke pasted his best cheerio smile on his face and spread out his arms. "Don't you like it? I upgraded it! Kids grow so fast at your age, you know, I figured…"
"That I'd turn into a Sasquatch when I returned?"
Jess gave him his patented 'not buying it' look. Luke sighed and scratched his head.
"Fine, I have to tell you something. And you're probably not going to like this but hear me out. Do you remember that Forester kid? Dean?"
Jess scowled almost menacingly. "Do you really think there's a chance in hell I'd forget that jerk?"
"Yeah, I was afraid of that. Well, there isn't any other way to say it so I'll just say it. He crashes in here once in a while."
The rucksack slid off Jess' shoulder and hit the carpet with a loud thud.
"Look, it's complicated. I…"
Someone thumped at their front door, three times and very, very loud. Jess turned towards the intruding sound.
"It's him, isn't it? You were expecting that big dump of grocery store garbage this time of the night? What, are you doing him now?"
Of course. Luke had forgotten how vicious Jess could be with words. His caustic tongue and endless repertoire of sarcasm and insults were the reasons uncle and nephew never could get along very well for too long. It just happened to be one of those relationships that was best served apart. Like, from a really, really long distance.
Luke exhaled, gave Jess his best (or worst) death glare and chose not to honor him with a response. To his credit, and surprisingly so, Jess did immediately look sorry for what he said, but his irritation hadn't abated. Someone thumped the door again, methodically, three times and very, very loud again.
"Look, we'll talk about this later. Just don't cause any trouble right now, okay?"
Before Jess could react, Luke was already on his way down, leaving the youngster steaming and bursting with unanswered questions up in his room. Downstairs, Luke opened the door in the middle of the third set of three very, very loud thumps and found the other twenty-year old boy with his head, as always, lowered to the ground and his hand raised into a fist looking for a door to punch.
"Come on in, Dean."
The boy didn't look like he heard him at all and continued to stare down at his feet. Bare feet. In the cold.
Luke sighed and waited for the said feet to start moving after another verbal prodding. Dean stepped in quietly and like a robot, started to walk straight across the diner and up the stairs… into the second bedroom. Jess' bedroom. Where Jess still was.
Luke followed silently, skipping ahead only once to remove a stray chair from out of Dean's way and falling back again.
Lord be merciful.
He was not looking forward to Jess' reaction to all of this.