'Act as if what you do makes a difference. It does.'
William James

Chapter 1: Prologue

Apr 25, 2009

Truncheon, Philadelphia

'Hey.' Rory greeted and smiled broadly, trying to avoid the initial awkwardness.

Jess ran a hand through his hair and stopped at the threshold, holding on to the doorknob.

He didn't smile back. Of course he wouldn't smile back, what did you expect?

'Sorry for waking you,' she started apologetically, 'I wanted to make sure, ehm...'

She realized how weird this visit must seem. It was the first time they met after the infamous Truncheon incident.

'I wanted to make sure I caught you home,' she explained. 'So I'm kinda early. Very early,' she added after taking another timid look at him.

She tried to read his shifts of expression, but they mainly showed surprise, followed by a quick unreadable glitter and then... was - was that annoyance? Given the early hour, it was bound to be.

Of course it's annoyance, did you think he would be anticipating this?

Jess closed his eyes and rubbed his forehead with his thumb and forefinger in attempt to concentrate and connect the dots that had possibly led her to his doorstep.

Ah, but of course, she was on a mission.

'Save poor self-destructive Jess, huh?' he muttered almost inaudibly.

'Eh?'

'Lorelai shouldn't have told you,' he sighed and stepped aside so she could walk in.

'I'm also happy to see you... I guess,' Rory mumbled as she entered.

'Want something to drink?' he asked, heading for the fridge.

She took a look around. The room was messy. A couple of bags, packed boxes.A large suitcase by the sofa. Rory felt awkward. It all felt awkward, out of place. She felt an urge to start unpacking. He didn't have to leave, right? He could be writing his book sitting on this sofa, he didn't have to go half the world away. She felt a strong urge to empty those bags, take the baggage out, throw that large suitcase out of the window. She shook that urge off.

'When are you leaving?' she asked instead.

She was desperately trying to play it cool. Hey, Jess. Long time no see. Oh, and by the way, when are you leaving? As if she were asking him when he was going to pick up laundry. However, she suspected her voice trembled a little too much to pull the intended coolness off.

Why do I feel like I'm running out of time? Was it really so important that I came and talked to him before he left? It doesn't concern me where he decides to go. Not anymore. I haven't been there for him for the last couple of years, so what difference does it make if I am now? But today I 'm here. Today, I wanna be here for you, will you let me?

Jess closed the fridge and gave her a long look while holding a soda in each hand. He reminded her of the bartender in a western, fixing his eyes on a newcomer so he could read them right away, using nothing but the power of his interminable scowl.

He could've asked her if she was in a cheating emergency again, she seemed to find him extremely helpful on such occasions. He could've asked her if she was finally gonna apologize, it had been almost an year after all. He could've simply asked her to get the hell out of here, stop messing with him. He did none.

Rory folded her arms before her chest self-consciously and waited, using the opportunity to make observations of her own.

Did he look a little different? His hair was cut somewhat shorter than he used to keep it. He also seemed to have put on a kilo or so and his eyes lacked their previous fascination with her but apart from that he was still Jess.

Stubborn, grown-up, was-my-first-love, hurt-me-hurt-him, missed-him… oh, shut up, Gilmore… Jess.

'Tomorrow, late in the evening,' he answered at last and put the two bottles on the kitchen island.

'Were you going to tell me?' she asked quietly, tucking a strand behind her ear, her eyes focusing on her shoe tips.

The question had been fighting its way out from the second she learned that he was going. (Oh, by the way, grasshopper, we're delaying the wedding again. Jess is going to Pakistan on research for his new book and Luke is deadset on having him as the best man, so...)

She didn't want her question to sound like she was calling him to account for not telling her. After all, it was kind of his habit to leave without a word to anyone. But this time he was going to leave without a word to her only and she kind of felt she deserved it.

'I...' he made a pause and she read his expression this time. He had thought about it, if not else.

'I was going to write to you. Later.' He pronounced the words slowly, almost carefully, so she didn't get him wrong. He would tell her when he was already there.

'It's not as if I'm joining the army or something,' he shrugged a shoulder and drank from his soda, 'I'm just going on a...' he waved the hand that was holding the soda, '... field trip. And I'm planning on coming back in a couple of months, all body parts hopefully in place and everything, I promise.'

She watched him as he tried to joke about it and it made her feel a little nauseous.

Okay, Rory, you wanted to come. You came, now what?

Truth be said, she hadn't expected him to act any differently than he did. Of course he wouldn't change his mind, especially on such an important decision, just because she told him to... The other way around, she had had great use of his words one year ago, when he reminded her to hold on to herself and do her thing, no matter what.

'You really want to do this, Jess?' she asked incredulously. It sounded downright stupid asking him such a question given the circumstances, but she wanted to put it simple. How could they grow apart for years but when it came to questions of greater importance feel the need to step in and be heard?

Jess raised an eyebrow but restrained a smile as he studied her more closely. He pondered over the answer, not only because he wanted it to be correctly interpreted, but also because he had asked himself the same question millions of times before he bought the plane ticket and started packing.

His interest in terrorism originated from anger, in one way or another. And anger was always an untrustworthy adviser. To make things even worse, his anger was nevertheless related to her. The infamous open house incident had been some break-point. Sooner or later he had to part with that illusion of riding off into the sunset with his high-school sweetheart. She had come and altered their relationship, pretty irreversibly. Something got broken that night and he had to change his point of view or else he would just stay stuck in that moment, indulging in anger and self-pity.

The thing was, he had pretty much lived with the idea that when he fixed himself, when he achieved something in life, he would be able to fix them and make it work. Somehow.

Anyway, it turned out things didn't work his way and at first that pissed him. Like a lot. And then another thought came by, strongly assisted by Matt and Chris – it didn't actually have to be the end of him. The end of Rory and Jess didn't have to be the end of Jess, after all. He had started something good. Something worthy. He had published a book, that was a start. He had met two guys, geeky enough to work with him and together they had started Truncheon. When a dream burns, you can put the ashes in the built of another (or at least that was what Matt had said one evening, inspired by a certain quantity of wine). That same night Jess, encouraged by the same (plus some extra whiskey) had thought this was the best piece of advice Matt had given him. Ever.

It turned out that eventually, Matt might have been right.

So, Jess started searching for something bigger than the first book. Bigger than disappointment. Bigger than the girl he fell in love as a teenager and who grew up into the woman who managed to effectively break... Whatever. Something that would make a difference and count if he did right.

Maybe, of all people, he didn't tell her about his plans because he feared she might somehow be able to change his mind and stop him from detaching himself from her.

No... Rory? Still? It's ancient history.

Perhaps you never really got over the one person who made you believe in a better version of yourself.

There were moments when he hated this ridiculous dependency he had on her, this close to obsession addiction that made him want her around just because with her life tasted better.

Whatever.

'I want this to count,' he said at last, shrugged a shoulder and drank from his soda suddenly feeling his throat dry.

Rory nodded thoughtfully and approached the kitchen island. She took her bottle and drank, too, taking a look around.

'You didn't take much, did you?', she asked, addressing his luggage.

'Books, mostly,' he said, a little surprised she had somehow changed topic. It was his thing to do, escaping uncomfortable conversations, not hers.

'Can I ask you a favor?' she asked then.

'Am I gonna regret it ever since?', he smirked, using the opportunity to lighten the mood. 'Wait, stupid question, do I keep my right of a death wish at least? You're playing The Clash on my funeral.'

'Come with me to 'Legally Blonde the Musical', they're playing it tonight.'

He was rendered speechless for a couple of seconds, then burst into sincere laughter.

'You want me to come see The Blonde with you, that's your favor?' he inquired, rubbing his temples, trying not to burst into laughter again.

'Yup,' she confirmed simply.

Jess looked at her quizzically, as if he expected this to be some sort of bait, but she simply looked back. Blue. Sinking and drowning into this blue abyss had always been quick. Quick and easy.

Piece of cake.

'Okay, then,' he shrugged, trying to look casual. 'I'll come see the blonde with you.'

He got it now. That was her way to say she accepted his decision and would respect it.

I'm sorry I doubted you. It's okay, I would've doubted me, too.

She believed him when he said this whole project was so important to him. In some way, it touched a part of him he thought he had long buried.

Because you didn't say goodbye.

Oh. Bye, Rory.

Bye, Jess.

Late next evening Jess got on a plane to Islamabad. Back then, he never imagined it would be no sooner than two years later that he would get on that same plane, only this time, on his way back.


Mood song – 'Sometimes you can't make it on your own', U2

Reviews would be highly appreciated :)