It was too bright in the apartment. That was his first thought, before he even opened his eyes the light was burning red through his closed lids. He opened them slowly and quickly closed them again as the bright white light of the Connecticut winter morning shot through his brain. Jess groaned and groped for the alarm clock, clumsily turning it off. He felt truly awful. His head ached fiercely, his sinuses were completely blocked up, his throat felt rough and sore, and every other muscle in his body screamed in protest as he sat up.
"Fuck," he muttered, swinging his legs over the side of the bed. "What did I drink last night?" Slowly, it dawned on him that he hadn't had anything to drink the night before, or the night before that, or any night since he moved to Stars Hollow. Hard to find folks around here interested in corrupting a minor.
Jess rubbed the sleep out of his eyes and ran his fingers through his messy black hair. If it wasn't a hangover, then he must be getting sick, but he didn't even want to think about that possibility. He got up and headed for the bathroom, stripping off his thermal top and plaid pants as he went.
Jess stood in the shower letting the hot water soothe his aching muscles and breathing in the steam. He felt dizzy and weak and wanted to crawl back into bed and not come out again. Unfortunately, living with someone who cared about him made his hasty retreat back to bed more difficult to accomplish. He could tell Luke that he felt too sick to go to school, but that would mean one of two things: either Luke would send him to bed, fuss over him all day, and make him go to a doctor or he would assume Jess was faking and send him to school anyway. Since he felt the second option was more likely, Jess decided that dragging himself to school was the best course of action.
After dressing and giving his hair a halfhearted attempt at styling, Jess headed down the stairs. In the diner, Luke was putting steaming cups of coffee in front of two beautiful brunette girls at the counter.
"Jess, you overslept. I could have used you down here this morning," Luke said gruffly.
"You could have woken me up if you needed me so bad, besides, it's Thursday. I don't do Thursday mornings. I gotta get to school." Jess headed for the door.
"Hi Jess," Rory said quietly.
He stopped for a moment, "Hey," he said. "I gotta go. See you later." He stood there for a few seconds, looking at her, before continuing out the door.
"Must you go so soon? We were having such a lovely chat, you were just telling me how nice it was to see me this morning," Lorelai chimed in.
"At least have some toast or something before you go," said Luke.
" 'm not hungry," Jess mumbled, slamming the door behind him. He was sure Lorelai had some choice quips to make about his friendly demeanor and polite conversation, but she could shove it. She didn't know him and he didn't care. All he cared about was getting to first period so he could catch a nap during social studies.
Inside the school it seemed unbearably warm and stuffy, and his head was spinning. He wanted to put his head down on the desk, but that would make it too obvious he was sleeping, so he leaned on one arm and waited for a sleep inducing lecture to begin. He made it through the first half of the day pretty easily, no quizzes or tests, two boring lectures and as an extra bonus, they watched a movie in biology so he got to catch a real nap. At lunch he sneaked off to the library for some uninterrupted napping, but when the bell rang to signal the end of lunch, he got up feeling worse than before. His head was still pounding, he was so dizzy he had to steady himself on the table to get up, his stomach was lurching dangerously, and he felt shaky and sweaty. He swallowed back the nausea, ran a hand through his thick hair and collected his things.
The librarian, possibly the only person in the whole school who liked him, shot him a sympathetic look. "You okay hon?" she asked.
"Fine," Jess said as he headed off to English, the one subject he didn't totally hate. He slid into a seat at the back of the class and tried to keep his head down, hoping the teacher wouldn't call on him. Mrs. Edwards, the teacher, was passing out copies of the book they were reading next, The Plague by Albert Camus. "Fitting," Jess thought as he accepted his copy. He had read it several times already, so he figured he was safe to zone out. He leaned forward with his head in his hands, trying to breathe slowly and keep from puking on the book he'd just been handed.
Suddenly, he was aware of someone standing right in front of his desk. "Jess Mariano, can you hear me?" Mrs. Edwards asked, looking down at him.
"Yeah, sorry, what was the question?" Jess sat up, a little panicked to suddenly have all eyes on him.
"Sorry to interrupt your nap, but I asked you to tell us a little about existentialism, since I'm sure you read last night's assignment."
He hadn't, but he figured he knew enough about the topic to fake it. "Exist—," his voice came out thick and raspy. He cleared his throat and continued, "Existentialism is a 20th century modernist philosophy that basically says that we can't know anything except that we exist. Different philosophers in the movement had different ideas about what that meant though, like Camus thought it meant you were supposed to help people and make their existence better, while Sartre thought that since your existence was all you could know, you should just look out for yourself." He swallowed back another wave of nausea, hoping that was pretty close to what had been in the reading assignment.
She looked surprised. "Very good Jess," she said. "Now, why don't you go to the nurse's office and let Mrs. Oliver have a look at you?"
"I don't….I'm fine," Jess muttered.
"That wasn't a request. Dean, why don't you walk with Jess to the nurse's office and make sure he gets there okay. Come straight back to class afterward, Mr. Forrester."
"No problem, Mrs. Edwards," Dean said as he got up and followed Jess out of the room.
I should have just gone to the office the first time she said it, then I wouldn't have to have this fucking bag boy escorting me, Jess thought darkly. He tried to walk quickly, but Dean caught up. Damn his freakishly long legs.
"Hey, you okay man?" Dean asked.
"Fine," Jess spat the word out between gritted teeth.
"You look like you're gonna puke."
"That's a distinct possibility, so you might want to back off a little." Jess found this whole episode to be deeply humiliating and suddenly wished he was back in New York where he could have just stayed in his own bed all day and no one would even have noticed that he skipped school, especially not Liz.
"Hey man, I was just trying to be nice. You don't have to bite my head off."
Jess didn't respond. They were almost to the nurse's office, and he was ready to be rid of bag boy. Dean reached the door first and knocked. Mrs. Oliver, a middle aged woman in scrubs and a sweater with short graying hair opened the door.
"Dean Forrester, what brings you here?" she asked.
"Mrs. Edwards asked me to walk Jess Mariano here from English class." Dean gestured vaguely in Jess' direction.
"Well that was very nice of you Dean. Say hi to your mom for me! Come on in Jess."
Jess brushed past Dean through the doorway of the nurse's office and stood there, hands in his pockets, looking around. It looked like a doctor's office, and he had never been very fond of doctor's offices.
"Hop up on the table, Mr. Mariano. Let's have a look at you, Mrs. Oliver said, gesturing toward the tall cot in the middle of the room.
He took a seat on the end, and she began checking his ears, eyes, nose and throat with a light. She felt the glands in his neck, and was listening to his chest with her stethoscope when he suddenly realized how bad he really felt. "I think I'm going to be sick," he said in a rush.
To her credit, Mrs. Oliver had great reflexes and handed him a plastic basin from a nearby table before he started vomiting. He hadn't eaten anything all day, but he'd had a soda around lunchtime hoping that it would settle his stomach. After a few minutes, he put the basin back on the table and wiped his mouth on the sleeve of his jacket. He couldn't believe that had just happened. He just wanted to go home and hide for a week.
"Feel better now?" Asked Mrs. Oliver.
"No." Jess slumped forward, arms wrapped around his stomach.
"Okay, well just one more thing and then you can go home." Mrs. Oliver gently put the tip of the digital thermometer in Jess' ear and waited a few seconds for it to register. "Alright," she said, "I'll just go call your uncle and have him pick you up."
"Can't I just walk home? I mean I can see it from the school."
"Nope, sorry, school policy. If you're too sick to be at school, then your parent or guardian has to come pick you up so you don't pass out in the street on your way home and we don't get sued."
"I won't sue you, I promise, we're not a very litigious family."
"Sorry, I gotta call your uncle. I'm sure he won't mind." Mrs. Oliver picked up the school directory on her desk and dialed Luke's number. "Hello, Mr. Danes? This is Mrs. Oliver at Stars Hollow High. We need you to come pick Jess up."
There was a pause.
"What? Nothing, he hasn't done anything."
"Sir, I'm the school nurse. I'm calling because Jess was sent to my office by one of his teachers because he was feeling ill. He is running a fever of 102 degrees and throwing up. Will you please come take him home?"
Another pause, longer this time, Luke was probably frantically apologizing.
"It's alright Mr. Danes, we'll see you soon." Mrs. Oliver hung up the phone. She looked at Jess, "You get in trouble a lot, sugar?"
"Guess so." Jess said.
"You can lie down on the table there, sugar. I'm sure your uncle will be here soon." Mrs. Oliver picked up the basin from the table and went into the adjoining room where he heard water running.
Her suggestion that he lie down was more and more tempting by the second, especially since the temperature in the room seemed to have dropped about twenty degrees suddenly and he couldn't stop shivering, but he remained seated at the end of the table.