The street was dark and quiet. Rory sat at a table near the counter — surrounded by books, and pens, and color-coded charts. Empty dishes were strewn among the mess with only the faintest remains of the pie Luke had pressed on her before retiring upstairs for the night. A depleted cup sat by her elbow, and across the room Jess was filling the coffee filter dangerously full.
"You sure you want water in this?" he asked. "I could just mix it into a paste and give you a spoon — probably faster."
"Ew." Rory scrunched up her face. A moment later the expression lifted to one of excited revelation. "Ooh, maybe if you made a sandwich with cookies..."
Jess made repulsed sound and continued prepping the coffee. "Trying to leave a good looking corpse behind?"
"Oh, sure, Philip Morris."
Jess moved sleekly around the counter and leaned across Rory to retrieve her mug. His chest brushed up against her shoulder; his hair almost grazed the tip of her nose. Rory's breath caught and pulled tight in her chest. As he moved away she felt her lungs unspool inside her.
He spoke as he walked: "A caffeine-induced heart attack will take you out before I get lung cancer."
"Cheery." She accepted the mug he handed back to her — now teeteringly full — and lifted it toward him in a toast, before taking a large, deliberate gulp.
Jess shook his head in response, and sat back down across from her.
"So, Mister, where's my essay on the Baird?"
"I was making coffee for you!"
"Jess! We've been here for three hours. Two of those the diner has been closed and one even Luke's been upstairs for. I took away all recreational books, a pack of gum, and the pen that has Snoopy floating around in it — you had no distractions!"
"Trying out for the Stopwatch Gang? I hear they still need a third now Reid's back inside."
"Be serious," she pleaded.
"No, thank you."
"Fine. I'll go."
Jess leaned back in his chair, nonchalantly, until the front two legs popped off the floor. He let them smack back down and scooped up Rory's backpack, from under the table, just as she reached for it. "What'd'you want to know?"
"Give me my back pack."
Their faces were close together. Jess pulled the bag away, holding it behind the back of the chair he was currently occupying. "Seriously, Rory, what do you want to know? So, I didn't write it down — ask me something. Pop quiz — those are all the rage, right?"
Rory's face was pinched in frustration as she demanded: "What year did he die?"
Jess didn't flinch as he answered: "1616."
"Name a comedy."
"As You Like It."
"Quote from that play?"
"'Men have died from time to time, and worms have eaten them, but not for love.'"
Rory's expression tightened. "Character the quote is attributed to?"
"How many plays in the first folio?"
Her voice was exasperated: "How do you know all this?"
He shrugged. "Read it somewhere."
She blew out a frustrated breath, throwing her hands in the air. "You make me so mad!"
"Can you even hear how smart you are? You have a freakin' photographic memory or something, Jess. It must take actual effort for you to be doing so badly!"
"So I memorized some stuff, it's not like —"
"You don't need me! You're wasting your time; you're wasting my time!"
"You help me focus," he admitted.
"It seems pointless, y'know? And the combined teaching ability in that building — about the same as a bag of rocks. I know I'm not going to college; they know I'm not going to college, somewhere in that thick skull of his Luke knows I'm not going to college. So why bother?"
"Because you can."
"That's it. I know you're gonna kick my ass if I don't do this stuff. No one else will. Who gives a damn if I graduate or not, right?"
"My nagging is your Ritalin?"
He shrugged. "Something like that."
"And I give a damn."
"I can see that."
"So you'll make an effort?" she asked, sliding back into her seat.
"Hey, I'm not about to don tights, but I can probably quote the rest of that play for you."
"Okay. So, math."
Jess leaned his forearms on the table between them. "Don't need math, I already know how to make correct change."
"The SAT is half math," Rory pointed out.
"The SAT is for people going to college."
Rory swatted his arms away from the papers spread out in front of them. She laid a number two pencil neatly next to him, and pulled a worksheet of equations from the organized chaos piled on the table. "The SAT is for people who have the option of going to college — and half of it is math, so I hope you like integers."
He rolled his eyes, sighed heavily, and started to complete the worksheet; he pressed much too hard on the paper with the pencil lead, she could see the whole thing bend in his hand. He snuck a glance up through his lashes and caught her watching him.
"What?" He quirked his eyebrows in question.
She shook her head a little, flustered. "Nothing. I — I didn't say anything. Back to work!"
"Uh huh." He turned back to his work, continuing to violently answer the questions.
Rory cracked open a book, trying very hard not to stare at Jess while he was quiet and focused. He was flying through the equations; she had a feeling there wouldn't be many mistakes for her to correct. The adrenalin from her previous outburst simmered low inside her. It made Rory feel too alert. The book she had opened wasn't for school — she knew she could never focus on something academic — but the printed words made her eyes itch, as though they were restless.
The low graphite scratch of Jess' pencil on college-ruled paper and her own breath were all Rory could hear. The rhythm seemed staccato and out of time, too fast.
Her heart jumped as something hit the table.
Jess was eight-tenths done with the list of math problems. He had lightly tossed his pencil into the center of the table, leaning back in his chair. "Break time."
Rory frowned at him. "Generally you have to do something for an extended period of time before you can call stopping 'a break'."
"You're almost done, just finish this page."
"No can do."
"I thought mom's attention span was bad. Fine, take a break. Oh, and some more coffee, please."
Jess glanced at his watch. "When are you planning on sleeping, next week? It's twelve-thirty and you've had four cups an hour."
He waved the mostly-empty coffee cup in front of her face. "You're now seventy percent coffee."
"No, what time is it?"
"Twelve-thirty," he repeated
"Oh God, I've got to get home!" Rory began throwing books, and charts, and pens into her backpack.
Jess piled some of the papers on the table to make them easier for Rory to grab. "Right."
She panicked: "I'm so late. Where's my pager. Have you seen my pager?"
He inclined his head, palms up. "Nope."
"Where is it?" She scrabbled through her backpack, unable to find anything in the mass of papers.
Jess leaned against the counter. "You wanna call your mom? We got a phone right there."
Rory looked up. Jess' face was shadowed in the dim lighting, but she could swear he looked disappointed. She pulled the zipper round on her bag and hoisted it over one shoulder. "No, no, I should just get back."
"You need me to walk you?"
"It's Stars Hollow — you're responsible for one hundred percent of our criminal activity in the last year."
"'Kay." He nodded, keeping his head down. "Well, thanks Teach."
She stopped at the door, her panic momentarily forgotten; a smile flickered on the lips. "Goodnight, Jess."
She ran up the street, and Jess locked the door. He turned back to survey the chaos still left on their table, shook his head, and walked upstairs.