A/N- The final chapter is here! Are you sad? I'm sad. This sucks. It's like the end of an era. My first really lengthy attempt at a Lit-fic is coming to an end. But never fear, this gives me more time to work on PM and Kismet! And eventually there will be a sequel! But I'm bad about getting around to sequels, so it could be awhile. I want to wrap up one or more of my current fics before I do that. Maybe plan on a sequel summer of 2011. Sounds like a long time from now, right?

I'd like to thank luvtheheaven for her general awesomeness, and for how much incredible support she gave me during the writing of this story, whether she knows it or not. If you guys haven't checked out the trailer she made for this story yet... well, you seriously need to! There's a link in my profile. Thanks, girl, you gave me the inspiration to keep this going right up to the end!

Also, for those of you who don't live Stateside and may or may not know: Now, I don't know how much all of you who aren't from the US of A know about American history, but I'm guessing about as much as I know about your countries' histories (meaning, not all that much). So the reason the 4th of July in Philly is a big deal is, basically, that's where the Declaration of Independence was signed on the 4th of July, 1776. Basically, where the whole idea of the United States started. Been in Philly for 04/07 myself, and it's really, really cool. Fireworks like you've never seen outside of Disneyworld and China...!

Jess isn't really paying attention to the road. Nor is he listening to the Velvet Underground song blasting from his stereo. He's driving on autopilot, thinking over the events of the last few days...

They had spent the better part of three days together while the diner was being fixed. He had spent most of each day helping Luke and the abominable TJ repair the front wall of the diner, and Rory had frequented Luke's as a result. Once, she had attempted to help them. One hammer-smashed thumb and a string of words Jess hadn't even realized Rory knew later, that plan had immediately been revised to something more along the lines of the three men continuing to work and Rory watching and keeping them entertained with her chatter. Once he had finished up the day's labor, Jess and Rory had spent their evenings together.

On the first night after they had officially rekindled their relationship, she had wheedled him into getting takeout from Al's and spent the evening in the apartment above the diner, talking for hours about music and literature and current events and how irritating it was when teenage girls wore microscopic shorts (the fact that he had agreed with her was apparently surprising). She had mocked him for registering green party, which led to a rather heated political debate ending in Rory's surrender (though both of them knew neither had managed to convince the other on any point).

The second evening, Jess had felt mischievous and suggested that they read in the gazebo, rather than the more isolated bridge, with the intent to get the town talking (more than they already were). As private a person as he was, he couldn't really help it. He wanted to brag a little, show off that he'd finally gotten the girl. Besides, he had long ago made it his mission to stir up as much commotion in Stars Hollow as possible, and it seemed like high time he continued toward that objective.

As a result, "reading" had quickly turned into "making out" which had, after some minutes, turned into Taylor marching up to them and interrupting the moment, claiming it was a disturbance of the peace and that if Jess had any common decency whatsoever, he would conduct "such matters" in a more private venue. Rory had had a very difficult time preventing herself from laughing out loud, turning scarlet trying to hold in her giggles until they had retreated to the bridge after all.

Last night, he had joined Luke, Lorelai and Rory for a traditional Gilmore-style movie night, complete with Red Vines, popcorn, and more pizza than they knew what to do with. Lorelai had apparently pulled out all the stops, with the odd lineup of The Breakfast Club, Stage Door, Rebel Without A Cause (at the start of which, the elder Gilmore shot him a significant look, which he studiously ignored) and The Adventures of Baron Munchausen.

The evening had concluded with a snoring Luke passed out in the armchair, completely ignorant of Lorelai sitting on his lap while the credits on the final movie rolled. Rory, meanwhile, was cuddled up in his arms, her head resting on his chest. Jess had dared to imagine that life couldn't possibly get better than this.

But of course, all good things have to come to an end. Jess' grip tightens on the steering wheel and he closes his eyes for a brief second, suppressing a sigh. This morning, the ringing of the phone followed by Matthew's shrill demands on when he was coming back to work brought him back to reality. Still... it was good while it lasted.

He's taking awhile to adjust to the idea that he actually gets to have what he's wanted for so long. But he can still taste the goodbye he exchanged with Rory this morning on his lips and, incredibly, he knows that it's real.

"I'll miss you," Rory said, hugging him tightly. Her words were muffled against his chest, but Jess heard her anyway.

"I'm gonna miss you, too," he told her, kissing the top of her head.

She sighed. "It shouldn't be this hard, should it? I mean, we've been out of contact for years before."

Jess shrugged. "It's different now, though."

Rory nodded. "I guess it is." She looked up at him, studying his face for a moment before kissing him softly.

"What are your plans this summer?" he asked, pulling back.

"I've got an internship at a Hartford paper for the rest of June," she said, "But that ends the second of July." Her lips twitched upward in a knowing smile. "Why? What were you thinking?"

"Well, you know, the Fourth of July in Philadelphia is really something else," Jess said, fighting hard not to grin. "And I know how you love to try new things..."

"Are you suggesting that I come and visit you?" Rory asked coyly.

"I think I was," Jess said. "You could come and stay for a few weeks with me- and, unfortunately, my dippy roommates, but they'll clear out if I glare at them long enough."

"I think that sounds like an excellent idea, Mr. Mariano," she told him, smiling.

Grin. Battle lost.

"Well then, I look forward to it, Miss Gilmore," he said.

Then her face fell. "July's a long way away," she said sadly.

"Just three weeks," he assured her. "Until then, I'll call you. Promise. And Chris' laptop has that weird video-conferencing thing on it, so if I can pry the thing away from him for more than ten seconds, maybe we can give that a try."

A small, wavering smile crossed Rory's face again. "That would be good," she said. "I like seeing you."

"Oh yeah?"

She shrugged, feigning dismissiveness. "Well, you're nice to look at," she said in an offhand tone.

Jess chuckled low in his throat and surrendered to the temptation to kiss her smirking mouth...

All in all, an extremely successful visit to the Hollow, he thinks wryly as he spies the exit for Philadelphia. Still, the goodbye was hard. Thinking back, he can't actually remember if he said the word or not. He's never been great at goodbyes, especially when it's her.

There were other words he wanted to say. They were on the tip of his tongue after their final goodbye kiss, words he's only said once before and meant anything by it. Three little words. Except he won't say that. Not yet. He knows her; she's not ready to hear that, not from him, not yet. No matter how long he's been carrying this explosive, impossible feeling around inside of him, she doesn't need to know that yet.

Besides, it would be nice to hear it back this time.

Of course, he thinks to himself with a small, happy smile flitting across his lips, in just three weeks she's going to be on her way to visit him. Perhaps sometime in the month she's planning on spending in Philadelphia, he'll find a good time to have that conversation...