Disclaimer: Extract from The Lover belongs to Marguerite Duras.
Author's Note: Another year gone by although amazingly I'm updating. Moreover, I'm done. Finished. I want to thank all the readers who have managed to persevere and stay the course. I want to thank all the readers who are long gone, and I don't really blame them considering the time frame it took for me to write this. Also, I think this is it for me. I'm not writing another series like this again, for a number of reasons including lack of time. But I've enjoyed the crazy, insane ride. Finally, I want to thank B and Bug, because you'll always be the most fabulous of girls.
6. Revelations (and so it begins…)
"One day, I was already old, in the entrance of a public place a man came up to me. He introduced himself and said, "I've known you for years. Everyone says you were beautiful when you were young, but I want to tell you I think you're more beautiful now than then. Rather than your face as a young woman, I prefer your face as it is now. Ravaged."
-- extract from The Lover by Marguerite Duras
Winter came and went. All the snow had melted too soon and the earth – soft, yielding and consuming – had opened up to take Emily Gilmore. It was three days before spring but the flowers had bloomed early this year. Unfurling white petals on green reedy stems were cut to create extravagant sympathy wreaths that saturated the air with sweet, heady perfumes.
Dressed all in black, Rory was pale and beautiful in the bright light of spring. It was a blue sky day of sun and no clouds but Tristan could not see out to forever. Dirt thudded onto the lowered coffin and it was hard to imagine that the sleek mahogany and walnut contained the force and vibrancy that was once Rory's grandmother. The final darkness of earth covered Emily and then wreaths and flowers were propped against the headstone as if in a grandiose testament of a life lived.
Standing at the edges, black jacket billowing a little as a small breeze took up, Tristan took the time to see Rory. Really see her. She was like one of those lilies on a nearby wreath – cut at the root and slowly fading in the center. Her eyes were blank, framed by tears and lashes. Her lips were thin and hurting from the polite smile that she kept plastered on her face as she greeted Emily's last guests. Richard and Lorelai stood nearby her, but they were tired and drained – father and daughter huddled in a shaky lean without foundation. So the burden of Gilmore dignity and decorum was laid on the colorless curve of Rory's too tense shoulders.
Tristan longed to go over and envelope her in his arms; brush the wayward tendrils of hair off her face; to be the body she could lean on. But he had promised her, early this morning, that he would stay away.
"Don't…don't touch me," she had begged. "If you touch me, I will crumble. And I can't…I just can't break down. I need to be strong. Grandma would hate it if I made a scene."
So he stayed away and hated the distance between them. He hated this world, this society with its false sympathy, and the ladies with lacy handkerchiefs who dabbed at non-existent tears and were careful never to ruin their eye-makeup. And ten feet away, Tristan watched as Rory wilted, just a little more, every time another Hartford elite grabbed her arm and offered their condolences.
It hit Tristan then, as Rory lifted her head and glanced his way (but not seeing him, because her eyes were blank, blank, blank), that he loved her still. They were meant to be just friends. He thought they were just friends. Three years over, with the heat of Malaysia, grey moths, red sunsets, the last one and half months gone by, the cold of Emily's cancer, the desolation of the Independence Inn, ghost ships and demons, the memory of New York, the shattered glass of unfulfilled dreams, and he loved her still.
Eventually the crowd dissipated and it was just the two of them – Tristan and Rory, Rory and Tristan – standing in the graveyard with ten feet between them. Richard and Lorelai had bustled into the stretch of black limo a few minutes ago, sparing several concerned glances Rory's way, only to leave with the confidence that Tristan would be there to take care of her.
His heart should have warmed at the trust.
Instead he was terrified.
He knew he could break her, with a palm caress of cheek. Knew, too, that there was something murky, twisted and unabsolved seeded within him that would relish such an action. A festering never-quite forgotten old wound. God, he loved her...and he wanted to hurt her. Because pain, pain was the only certainty. The only way he could be sure that he could still make her feel something.
Rory stood before him: tiny and frail and too much like the doll he had snatched from Amber Gordon, the day Amber declared in the school yard that she was going to marry Tristan DuGrey (when she was six and he was seven). He had grabbed the doll – made out of porcelain with colored glass for eyes and real human hair for the doll's pretty brown ringlets – and thrown it hard on the concrete ground. Then, carefully, deliberately, he had lifted his right leg before bringing the solid heel of his shoe down. The doll's face had been devastated. A shattered porcelain arm, pulled out of joint, had lain limply on the ground – the tiny fingers still reaching out. A glassy eye had popped out and rolled in circles along the concrete. Hints of green and blue glinted and streamed as the sun had hit the colored glass eye like it was a prism. Amber had stood in the school yard sobbing as the delighted squeals of their classmates rocking high and low on the nearby swings echoed through the air.
Seven years later and Tristan had repeated (or was it completed?) that trudge of destruction. Seven years later and Tristan had broken all that Amber Gordon had to give. On the grassy green of the school yard, he had pushed into her with the fumbling vigor of his fourteen years. His hands had gripped her shoulders until her pale skin darkened. Her face was marred by dirt and her carefully curled hair was mussed and splayed against the ground. And pretty doll-like Amber Gordon who had only dreamed of white dresses, lacy veils and a bouquet of white roses had screamed and screamed and screamed at every thrust. Later, she was sobbing again (in the school yard) as Tristan stood up, zipped up his pants, and coolly walked away from the not-so-secret corner behind the Chilton gardener's tool shed.
At six, his mother had declared Tristan just like his father. And maybe that was true. Because he had broken Amber, Kate, Jennifer, Gwendolyn, Iris and countless others like they were a long line of porcelain dolls on his mantel piece; like in a mimicry of his mother who was perpetually being destroyed by his father.
So staring at Rory, sunk in her black coat, with several chrysanthemum petals caught in her hair (little white petals that had been blown off the wreaths and swept up by a gusty wind), Tristan was terrified. The trust was too much. And Tristan did not dare touch Rory.
Instead he offered her a wan smile. She could barely smile back in return.
"We should go," he told her.
"Not yet," she whispered and walked over to the fresh grave.
Her hand stroked the grey marble headstone, fingers tracing the carvings that spelt out Emily's name. Then her fingers drifted down to the words: Born to Eternal Life.
"I miss her. I miss her so much," Rory sobbed.
She collapsed to her knees and there was the contrast of black coat and crushed white flowers against the green of grass and the grey of headstone. Tristan stepped closer, his hand reaching out. His fingers were almost caressing Rory's hunched shoulders and then he touched her. She didn't break at his touch – Rory was much stronger, more sturdy than any porcelain doll. So Tristan knelt down and wrapped his arms around her. They remained like that: two solid figures in black, clutching onto one another with the desperation of life.
Spring warmed into summer and Tristan saw Rory every day. At Rory's insistence, he took to sleeping over at her place. And it was like the period right after college when Rory had been virtually broke – living off the pittance of her first salary and saving up for a place of her own – and had ended up crashing at Tristan's apartment for over a year.
It was like the grinding wheels of a grandfather clock had been wound back and they were back in the center of their friendship again. There were picnics in a park during lunchtime, and constant telephone calls during the work day, and salsa dancing, and bar hopping, and the general laze of a Sunday afternoon in bed. They shared the same bed and he would wake up in the mornings with Rory curled under his arm. They fell into rituals like coffee, breakfast and the exchange of newspapers in the morning, or dinners on the couch flipping through channels with the tv remote. Tristan thought he might be happy.
Sometimes, though, he wondered if Rory was clinging onto the past, onto him, too tightly as she still tried to grapple with the loss of her grandmother. The specks of blue in her eyes were sometimes adrift. Sometimes she wrung her fingers, fidgeted with the placement of ornaments, and couldn't quite smile. Once Tristan thought he had caught her crying, but Rory had wiped her cheeks with the back of her hands and declared the room dusty.
But the pain was subsiding. And they were there for each other. Tristan liked heading into the bathroom during the mornings and nights to find Rory already there brushing her teeth. She would hand him his toothbrush with a fresh squeeze of toothpaste already squirted onto the bristles. They would brush in silence, sometimes elbows and hips jostling one another. There was comfort in the accidental bump of bodies in this twice daily norm. He would hand her a red plastic cup filled with water and wait for Rory to rinse and spit before taking his turn.
Living with Rory was much more preferable than existing in the hallowed halls of the DuGrey mansion. The sometimes frantic but always soothing domesticity of Rory's home made Tristan wish and believe. It was the stirring of the forever dream when Tristan had only known nightmares for three years (and all of his childhood).
Now, Tristan thought of possibility as he and Rory fell into the rhythm of washing and drying. It was late evening with the soft beams of the streetlights filtering through the white lace of the kitchen curtains. The pile of dirty dishes in the sink slowly subsided with the squeak of towel and glass, the splash of water, the clang of forks and spoons and knives. In the background, the low monotones of the radio announcer could be heard.
His fingers slid against Rory's when he took a dripping plate off her hands. He threw her a smile and she flicked soapy water at him in response. A bubble floated upwards, drifting to the tip of Tristan's nose where it landed with a 'pop'. Rory sniggered and Tristan scowled.
"You think that's funny, do you?" he growled.
"Yes, absolutely hilarious," she giggled.
"We'll see about that," he proclaimed. With a devious twinkle in his eye and a wicked grin on his face, he gathered the tea towel long in his hands and prepared for retaliation.
Rory eyed him cautiously, easing away, with her foamy hands thrust out in a block. Her actions were futile. Tristan angled his hands and the tea towel snapped through the air hitting Rory on the bottom.
"That's it, DuGrey," she threatened. "This means war. And just as fair warning: the Gilmores fight dirty."
The next few minutes were squeals and shouts as water and towels went flying. Chairs, books and lamps were knocked over as the fight escalated out of the kitchen and into the living room. Rory skittered in front of the couch in an attempt to use it as some kind of fortress. Cushions were flung in the air hitting Tristan with a solid thump on the arm, head, chest but they didn't deter him. Steadily he progressed closer before leaping and tackling Rory. They landed on the couch, a tangle of limbs and soggy clothes.
"So much for 'Gilmores fight dirty'," Tristan taunted. "I do believe I've just won the war."
"Not quite," Rory murmured and suddenly Tristan was acutely aware of her body pressed against his.
He could feel the softness of curves, the warmth of flesh contrasting the chill of their wet clothes, the heave of chests as they breathed. And they were breathing rapid and shallow. With the slithering swiftness of a snake, Rory launched up and struck – a kiss square on his mouth.
Tristan tumbled back with the memory of Rory's lips. Their positions were reserved now. Tristan sprawled on his back, on the couch, and Rory on top of him.
"Rory?" he had to ask; his mouth still burning from the sear of her kiss.
She looked straight at him. Her blue eyes bore into his with promise, dreams and possibility. Deliberately she pressed her forefinger against the cross of his mouth, forbidding questions. Her hands skidded up his chest, dragging the waterlogged cotton of his shirt up and over his head.
Rory took all the initiative and Tristan let her. She scattered kisses over his torso, traced swirls along his abdomen, and his nails gripped into the yarn of the couch at each of her actions. His breath hitched as her tongue lingered over the concaves of his collarbone. He watched with too much want in his eyes as she undid the buttons of her top, letting the material fall down her shoulders and onto the carpet.
She undressed them both until they were bare and naked before one another. The overhead glare of lights shone down on Rory and she was a radiant sheen of Tristan's present.
"I want this. I want you," she told him.
Tristan's hands rested on the curve of her hips as Rory straddled him. He continued to wait for her – letting her make the choice.
Rory chose...and moved.
She pushed down and he could feel her – trembling but certain – as the walls crashed in. Their mouths met with a stumble of things to come.
He kissed her now; and his vision was hazy with the shift of Rory's choice. He could see her – a slow blur of motion – as she rocked against him. Her hair fell to one side and it was longer than Tristan had ever remembered. His fingers got caught in the brown strands as he held her in the kiss.
The radio announcer was a muted hum in the background and Tristan and Rory moved discordantly to the drone of the announcer's voice. They were erratic and fumbling in their eagerness; like years compressed in this one moment of bodies thrusting towards merger.
It ended quickly, in the hoarse cries of the other's name. And started again; with the next version of the steady pound of Tristan in Rory. On the couch. On the coffee table. Against the wall. In bed.
The mattress squeaked and the springs buoyed then compressed as Rory wrapped her legs around him and Tristan surged deeper into her. Her fingers left marks on his back, nails digging into him. In return, his teeth grazed her shoulder and she moaned and arched at his bite. She was supple and slick and when his nose nuzzled her skin, he could smell the mingle of sweat, sex and rosewater.
When he glanced at her, Tristan was unprepared for the wrench of blue eyes, glazed with desire but also candid and open. It was like the void of layers between them had been peeled away during Rory's earlier striptease. He held her wrists down to the cream of bed sheets and entered her again and again and again, with the measured friction of all that she had to give and all that he was willing to accept.
Love, desire, want, anger, pain, need, dreams, nightmares spilled out, coating their bodies. Tristan held Rory in his arms, both of them quivering, shivering, shuddering. They breathed the air of the other in raspy gasps and tried to still the tremors.
After the free fall, her body was soft and pliable against his caressing touch. He remained within her, enjoying the sensation of Rory so intricately wrapped around him. Their movements grew languid and his eyelids grew heavy. She placed a curled hand over the top of his chest – to the left, where the heart was. He closed his eyes and dreamed that Rory said: "I love you, Tristan. I've always loved you."
3 a.m. and the shrill of a familiar polyphonic tune woke Tristan up. He pulled out and away from the enticing tangle of Rory and shuffled through the dark in search for his cell phone. He found it in the living phone.
"I love you, Tristan. My baby with my blues."
"Mother, where are you?" he asked with a gripping fear creeping over him.
"At home. Love you, my little boy. Goodbye."
Tristan startled at the barely lucid sing-song of his mother's voice. The fear firmly in place and he scrambled for his clothes before dashing out to his car. The engine revved too slowly for Tristan's liking as rubber tires squealed off to Hartford.
The mansion was eerie in its darkness when Tristan arrived. He hurried through rooms –too many rooms, too many closed doors, too many empty spaces – in search of his mother. It looked like the help had been dismissed; and it seemed like it was just the mansion and Tristan and no sign of Evelyn DuGrey.
Finally Tristan entered his father's bedroom – it had been twenty years since his parents had slept in the same room. He found his mother there: prostrate on the bed, pallid skin, blonde hair strewn over the pillow. She looked like Elaine – out of Arthurian legend and floating in a sea of silk sheets in the glorious beauty of death.
He walked over to her, pressed his palm against her forehead, and she was cold and clammy to touch. He tried to shake her awake, but she remained listless to his touch. "Mom? Mommy?" the little boy in Tristan cried,
"She's not dead," the low command of a barely familiar voice spoke. "She's just sleeping off three sleeping pills."
Tristan turned and saw William DuGrey standing in the shadowy glow of the bathroom, leaning against the wooden arch of the doorway.
"Father," Tristan greeted. "What the hell did you do to her?"
"Nothing. She took those pills on her own accord, Tristan."
"Bullshit. You might not have been there spoon-feeding her those pills but this is your fault nonetheless. There's a direct causal link between my mother's current state and you. This is all your fault," Tristan accused.
"You're right," William said.
The admission stunned Tristan. And then he noticed that his father's face was lined with worry. Could his father actually care?
"This is all my fault. I should have never have let things get this bad. I loved her once, you know. She was my everything but somewhere along the line it all turned to dust. And I hate her so much, now. It hurts to look at her, to see the woman she has become. And to know that it is all my fault."
"Why don't you walk away?" he had to ask. "Why do you continue to stay and hurt one another. Nowadays divorce isn't that completely scandalous."
His father rubbed his temples. The shine of the bathroom light illuminated the grey of his father's hair. "Because I still love her. And I'm not strong enough to live without her."
Maybe it was the unexpected candor of his father. Maybe it was the intimacy of the moment – father and son distanced in the room but speaking as Evelyn DuGrey lay in a motionless sleep on the bed. Maybe it was the night and shadows and the emptiness of the DuGrey mansion that compelled Tristan to speak.
"I slept with Rory," he blurted out.
His father moved away from the doorway, stepping closer and closer until all distance was bridged. He placed a hand on Tristan's shoulder and stared gravely into his son's eyes. "The Gilmore girl?" he asked.
"Didn't Emily just pass away?"
William's hand was firm and gripping against Tristan's shoulder. "Tristan, I know you've always been infatuated with that girl but taking advantage of the situation like that…"
"I didn't," he protested. "It wasn't like that. And it's not an infatuation. I love her."
"I love your mother, too," his father pointed out. "We're DuGrey men, though. We have a history of hurting the ones we love the most. We're charmed with the ability to get any woman we want and cursed with the inability to keep them happy. I'm not completely oblivious of your life, Tristan. I've seen you and this girl together and do you really want it to end like this?"
William pointed to the pale frailty of Evelyn DuGrey and Tristan's heart clenched. He wanted to scream to his father that he and Rory were different. That he, Tristan DuGrey, was nothing like William DuGrey. But the words did not come. And all he could remember was the day of Madeline's funeral: waking up naked and alone and with no sign of Rory.
"You're stronger than me. Always have been," his father continued. "And there is one thing I've always meant to tell you: I'm proud of you. In the end, you've always done the right thing, son."
Tristan nodded, accepting his father's praise. William clasped Tristan on the shoulder one more time before walking over to Evelyn and placing a gentle kiss on her forehead. He then walked out of his bedroom, leaving Tristan to stare at the dark outline of his father's departing back.
Turning his attention to his sleeping mother and Tristan felt the weight of his father's words. And Tristan was acutely aware of the indentations across his back – the nail digging imprint of a too precious moment with Rory.
Autumn was falling leaves as everything died. It gave way to the bareness of winter and the brown twisted spindle of frost covered trees. Back in New York, and it was like Tristan had never left.
Tristan tried not to think of the circle of events as he stood alone on the balcony of his penthouse apartment, swirling brandy, and watching snow fall from the sky like ash. In the distance he could see the brightness of Times Square, almost too bright. Times Square was filled with neon reds, blues, greens and yellows. It hummed with electricity that powered an artificially created day. Times Square was so bright, so light that he could almost forget the darkness. Almost. He could smell the stench of the city too; a mixture of industry, metal, grime and decay that wrapped around him in wisps of white pollution, leaving him feeling dirty and used. He could hear the screams of a couple on the street way down below; and it seemed that history repeated itself, always.
It was a Sunday morning. Early morning. So early in the morning that the dawn had yet to arrive and the sky was still streaked black and grey. There were no stars and moon. There was only the monochrome of life painting the horizon. Tristan sipped his brandy and, in an undershirt and boxer shorts, he did not feel the cold.
He had left his balcony door slightly ajar and there was the constant rustle of curtains fluttering. With his ears so acutely attuned to sound, he wasn't surprised to hear the soft pad of shoes against carpet that stopped at the archway of the balcony door.
"How did you get in?" Tristan asked although he didn't turn to greet his visitor.
"I have my ways. Gilmores fight dirty, remember?" Rory said. "And this isn't a fight I'm willing to lose."
"There's no fight to lose," he told her, eyes concentrating on the random drop of snowflakes. "I've bowed out. Game over. The end."
"That's not up to you to decide," she informed him; her voice raised. "You can't just walk away."
"Why? Because you own the copyright? After all, walking away is what you do. Only this time I beat you to it."
"I wasn't going to walk away. I love you."
Her words killed him. Tristan clenched the glass of brandy so tightly; as if he could squeeze out all the blood of his hand, of his heart, of his love, in that very action.
"No, you don't," he told her.
She took a step forward. He could hear it, the click of her heels as she stepped onto the balcony. "Yes, I do. Didn't you hear me? I told you I loved you that night we slept together, for the second time. That I've always loved you."
"You don't mean that. This is just about your grandmother's death. Our having sex meant nothing. Just like after Madeline's funeral."
"That's not true. It meant everything. It means everything. Both times. I've been scared, Tristan, but I'm not scared anymore. If my grandmother's death taught me anything, it's that I've got to hold on to dear life to the people I care about. Because you never know when you could lose them. And I don't want to lose you, Tristan. It's not our time – it'll never be. I love you. I've always loved you. And I know you love me too."
Tristan took a sharp intake of breath, desperately denying her words, before letting go. The glass slipped out of his hands and smashed against the tiles of the balcony floor. Broken, shattered glass and the amber pool of spilled brandy. Without looking, Tristan knew that Rory had flinched and taken a step back. And he was glad. Cruel indifference would see him through this repeat of a past he was trying to leave.
"You didn't have to do that," she said and sounded wounded.
He wondered if she could comprehend his own festering wounds. He was still cut, in the back, with the dent of her nails and the imprint of her across his skin.
"I wasn't thirsty, anymore."
"That's no reason to throw away a good thing."
Tristan spun around and stared at Rory. His eyes penetrated hers. With a twisted line for a mouth he asked, "Were we ever a good thing? I think we spent more time hurting one another, inflicting as much pain as possible for no fucking reason at all. So, I wouldn't call us a good thing."
"You're wrong," she informed him. "We weren't a good thing. We were the best thing that has ever happened to me. You are the best thing that has ever happened to me."
He scoffed. But staring at her, as the blaze of dawn crept over the city's sky, Tristan thought Rory was still the most painfully beautiful thing in his life. The paleness of her skin was highlighted by the warmth of reds, oranges and pinks. She was the contours of lightness in the darkness of this Sunday morning. It was almost enough for Tristan to reach out and touch her. But he did not.
"I can't be the best thing that has ever happened to you. I can't be that person, Rory. I'm not genetically disposed for it."
"That's not true. I know what you're scared of. I know what happened with your mother and your father. I spoke with both of them, in my frantic search to find you. And they're different. We're different. I won't let you break me. I can't be broken. All you have to do is believe. And I'll be here to catch us if we fall."
Rory stretched out her arm and offered him her hand.
The sun rose out from the dip of the horizon basking Rory in a golden glow. The morning haze lifted. The stench of the city dissipated, swept away by the morning street cleaners. The air was fragrant with the old from the remains of yesterday, and the new from the aroma of food vendors, diners and restaurants preparing for their early-bird crowd. Tristan and Rory remained on the balcony, frozen in this hour, as the ash of snow coated them with flecks of white.
He thought of destiny, of blood, of dreams, of doing the right thing. The city's skyscrapers seemed to tower over him with the shadow of decision. Rory's hand was still outstretched and it looked pink and warm despite the cold of winter. He thought of years gone by, of Sunday morning, of destruction and falling, of this one hour, and he trembled.
But when Tristan wrapped his hand around Rory's, her fingers were small and sturdy.