Story: Family Feudalism
Disclaimer: I don't own anything.
Acknowledgements: Thank you to Anybody Anywhere for being my super intelligent test audience; and thank you to TL22 for giving/gathering information I needed during story preparation.
A/N: This is not part of the mystery series. It's completely separate.
On an early spring evening, Tristan Dugray was sitting in the living room of an old family friend. Well, not quite friend, but everyone pretended to be, so it really amounted to the same thing. His hostess had been pestering him ever since he got back to the States. She wanted to introduce him to her granddaughter. He had a good idea why, so he wondered if the girl was comfortable with her grandmother pawning her off on him.
"She's perfect for you," she had told him. "If you would just come to dinner to meet her, you'll see." Tristan found that unlikely, considering the woman didn't know anything about him.
Still, she'd been persistent. "My granddaughter went to Yale, you'll love her. Everyone does."
The Yale part did surprise him. He would have assumed Smith or Vassar. He still believed 'perfect' was subjective, but he agreed to dinner anyway. If nothing else, so he'd be left alone. He doubted the evening would be as successful as the matchmaker hoped.
From the chair next to the couch, she commented, "The weather has been unseasonably warm lately."
"Has it?" he asked after he'd taken a sip of his drink and winced at the taste of the hard liquor.
"Oh, that's right," she said with an apologetic smile. "You haven't been in Connecticut in a while, have you?"
He shook his head. "No."
They sat in silence for a few minutes before she stood and said, "Excuse me, but I need to go check something in the kitchen."
Tristan nodded in acknowledgment. When he was alone, his eyes wandered around the room. Another couch was across from him with a coffee table in between, and there was a fireplace along the wall adjacent from where he was sitting. Photos lined the mantel, and he could make out a dark haired man with a blond girl next to him. Tristan hoped the pictures were outdated, because the girl looked entirely too young to be set up with a grown man. Either that or her grandmother was really desperate to marry them off.
And that was the goal—unattainable as it was.
Under normal circumstances, this would be about finding an acceptable man for her granddaughter. But this was a tactical move. She couldn't stop change, it was inevitable. This was her last ditch effort to hold on in whatever way she could. It wasn't Tristan's fault his family would come out on top. His return to Connecticut wasn't the last nail in the coffin per se. He was just the linchpin.
His thoughts were briefly interrupted when the doorbell chimed. He saw the maid walk by to let the last of the evening's guests in—the granddaughter.
Even though he'd never met her, Tristan already knew he wouldn't be interested in this girl. For one thing, he already knew what she would be like. These girls were essentially the same. To date one was to date them all. He hadn't minded when he was younger, it just meant short relationships. Many short relationships. But he'd grown out of it. He was more selective now—or picky, as his parents would complain. He didn't want to waste his time with more, he just wanted one that was better.
He hadn't been on many set ups over the years, but he knew they were pointless endeavors. Tonight wouldn't be any different.
Rory Gilmore glanced down at her dress to smooth the skirt as she walked into the living room of her grandmother's house. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw a man sitting on one of the couches. Thank goodness.
"Hey, when did you get a Mercedes?" she asked.
"A few years ago," the man answered.
She stopped short and her head whipped up in surprise. In a panic, her heart started to pound. Oh God, she walked into the wrong house, she thought, mortified beyond belief. She hadn't written down directions before she came, she could have sworn this was the right house. Her predicament became more embarrassing when she recognized the blond man on the couch.
"Tristan?" she said tentatively.
"Rory." His eyes told her she was out of place, and he asked, "You're Straub Hayden's granddaughter?"
"Technically." Maybe she was in the right house after all. She glanced at the mantel and saw her father and half-sister smiling back at her. Yes, she was in the right house. But this still didn't make sense. She took a slow step into the room and looked around. "You're not my dad."
Tristan shook his head. "Nope." His eyes followed her as she crossed the room toward the second couch.
"What are you doing here?"
"I was invited to dinner."
"I thought this was a 'family' dinner," she said with air quotes, sitting down and focusing on him. "Are we related?" she asked as she took her cell phone out of the folds of her skirt and started typing with her thumbs.
"I highly doubt it," he answered. "You could say I'm the Mr. Collins to your Eliza Bennett though."
She vaguely frowned down at her phone, not understanding. "What?" She knit her brows down at her phone, where she read a response. "He isn't coming? Why wouldn't he be coming?" She wondered if she got the day wrong.
She finished typing another message and stuck the phone in a pocket of her skirt before she looked around. "I feel like we're waiting for Mr. Body to arrive. Where's Francine?"
Tristan answered, "She went to check something in the kitchen. Either that or she didn't want to make small talk with me."
"I'd assume the latter," she quipped. She'd beg off if the alternate option was to sit in a room with Tristan Dugray. She watched him as he ignored her comment and took a drink. He was wearing a black suit with a white shirt and maroon tie. His blond hair was short and well groomed, his eyes the same smoky blue they'd been when he was younger. She glanced over at the drink cart and briefly wondered if she should serve herself.
"You should have just told me your grandparents were the Hayden's," he said. "It would have saved you a lot of trouble in high school."
Confused and a little offended, Rory asked, "What's that supposed to mean?"
"Part of your appeal was you were from the wrong side of the tracks."
She sat up straighter. "I'm a Gilmore. That isn't the wrong side of the tracks." She glared, daring him to argue.
"What's the name of the town where you grew up?"
"Stars Hollow," she answered without hesitation.
"Yeah, that's the wrong side of the tracks," he said with an annoying smirk. "Call it youthful rebellion on my part."
She rolled her eyes, unimpressed. "The marvels of the teenaged boy's mind," she drawled, shaking her head. "You sure know what makes a girl worth pursuing."
Just then, they heard footsteps on the wood floor growing closer. A moment later, Francine Hayden entered the room. She was wearing a navy skirt that went just past her knees with a white blouse. She glanced from Tristan to Rory. "Oh, you're here. Tristan, I'd like you to meet my—granddaughter," she said with a slight grimace, "Rory—"
"Gilmore," Tristan finished for her with a nod.
"We already know each other," Rory said, choosing to ignore the woman's near inability to claim her.
"We were acquainted," Tristan said resolutely. He kept his eyes on Francine, rather than Rory as he corrected her.
Rory explained further, "We were classmates at Chilton—it's not far from here."
Francine's smile wavered, but she recovered. "Of course." It sounded to Rory that the information was new to the woman.
In a determined voice, she asked, "When is Dad getting here? He is coming, isn't he? This is a family dinner, after all."
"He actually couldn't make it," Francine answered. She headed for a vacant chair, but stopped when the phone rang. "Excuse me a moment," she said. She walked out of the room and stopped at a table just outside the entrance to answer the phone.
Rory's attention returned to Tristan. "Why would she invite you to a family dinner?"
"Because it isn't a family dinner," he answered, brows furrowed as though she should know.
"Then what is it?"
"Isn't it obvious?"
"No," she said impatiently.
"Your grandmother is setting you up," he said. "With me."
That couldn't be right. "Why?"
"You really don't know?"
"If I did, would I be asking?"
Tristan hesitated a second before he shrugged nonchalantly. "The usual reasons. You're thirty and available. Maybe she's ready for great-grandchildren."
That was a laughable idea. She snorted and shook her head. "I know the normal reasons for set ups. But there is nothing normal about this. Francine could care less about my relationship status." Rory tilted her head toward the entrance as she said it. "And I see no reason she'd care whether or not I ever have kids."
With a perplexed expression, he asked, "Are you two in the middle of a fight or something?"
"More like a lifelong estrangement."
They could hear Francine having a slightly heated exchange with the caller out in the hallway. She explained, "They're old school friends. I thought she would like to see him since he's back in Hartford."
Rory glanced at her companion. "I don't think she knew we went to school together until five minutes ago. Why could she possibly want to set us up?"
Tristan didn't get to answer before Francine rejoined them. "Your father is able to make it after all," she told Rory as she went to her seat. "He'll be here as soon as he can."
The three of them sat in relative silence for a few minutes.
"The weather's been unusually warm," Rory commented, fishing for a safe conversation.
"Has it?" Tristan asked. "It's been a long time since I've been in Hartford this time of year."
Rory wanted to ask a follow up question, but refrained from doing so.
Francine asked her, "How is Emily doing?"
"Fine," Rory answered. After a few more minutes of awkward silence, she turned to Tristan. She was about to ask him where he'd been, but didn't get the chance when the doorbell rang. Francine excused herself and got up to greet her son in the foyer.
As soon as they were alone again, Rory quickly told Tristan, "Don't help her."
"Help her do what?" he asked.
"Set us up. If she knew anything about either of us, she'd know this will never work. Do not make it easy for her."
"Fine, let's make it hard," he said with a shrug.
She scowled. "Don't be lewd."
"I wasn't. Your mind jumped there pretty quickly though. Sex starved these days, Mary?"
"Don't call me that," she said, ignoring his question.
"How do you plan to make this . . . difficult for her?" he asked.
"We both know how these things go. They're torture sessions."
"For you? Or because of you?"
She went on, "Let her lead the conversation like she's supposed to. There must be something about you she think's I'd appreciate, which goes to show how little she knows."
His eyes narrowed slightly. "Are all the books good?"
Rory, not catching his meaning, knit her brows. "What?"
"Are the books good after you've judged them by their covers?"
She rolled her eyes and stood. "Trust me. I know enough, which helps to figure out the rest."
He sat his drink down on a lamp table and stood as well. "You don't know anything. And you only remember what you want."
She took a few steps to the end of the coffee table and stopped. "I remember a little boy crying by a piano."
Tristan stepped over to face her. "You were the one to cry."
She gave him a quick once over—his good looks were far from faded. Her heart sped up slightly as she tilted her head up to meet his eye. "Hardly a surprise."
He nodded sarcastically. "Afraid of all those strong feelings you had for me? I understand your need to run away, I'm a real heartbreaker."
"Maybe to the bimbos willing to date you," she retorted. "Blame your family tree. It's probably not your fault you can only get girls who'll settle for being your status symbol."
"Your tongue is still sharp. That's never going to land you a man. Is that what's making you so bitter?"
Before she could respond, they were interrupted by her father. His hair was as dark brown as his mothers, though wavy. And he barely looked a day over forty.
"Hey, kiddo," Christopher said, beaming at Rory.
"Hi, Dad," she said, turning to greet him with a quick smile.
He looked to the blond. "Who's your friend?"
She looked around the room as though there wasn't anyone else there. "Oh, you must mean Tristan."
She could feel his eyes on her as he stared her down.
"Hi, Christopher Hayden, nice to meet you."
Tristan turned his attention to the older man to shake the hand offered. "Tristan Dugray. It's nice to meet you too, sir."
"She's trying to set us up," Rory hissed to her father.
"Who?" Christopher asked.
"Me and him." She jerked her head in Tristan's direction.
"I have a name," he said dryly.
"Are you sure?" Christopher asked doubtfully.
"That's what he thinks."
"I still have a name."
"Do you want me to get you out of it?" Christopher asked.
"It's fine, I've survived set ups before." She glanced at Tristan and back to her father. "And I can handle him."
Francine paused at the door. "Dinner is ready, if everyone wants to move to the dining room."
Rory and Christopher followed his mother to a long table with eight chairs. They sat down across from Tristan, while Francine took her place at the head.
As the maid brought out their salads, Christopher took it upon himself to get the ball rolling. "Gigi just took a big math test a couple days ago. She's worried about how she did."
"I'm sure she did fine," Rory said. "Did she study?"
"Night and day."
"She's such a bright girl," Francine said with a smile.
"Yes she is," Christopher agreed.
Then she remembered she had a guest and added, "Gigi is Christopher's other daughter."
Tristan addressed Rory, "Your sister."
Christopher asked, "So Tristan, what is it you do?"
Rory looked up sharply and said, "Don't answer that."
He looked perplexed at her demand, but then seemed amused.
Christopher looked confused as well and leaned over to whisper to Rory, "What are you doing?"
"Making her work for it," she whispered back. In her regular voice, she continued, "I mean, I'm sure Francine would like to tell us, since Tristan is her guest."
The woman elusively answered, "Oh, well, he just returned from Bahrain a few weeks ago."
Rory looked at Tristan with brows raised in—God help her—interest. "Bahrain?"
He nodded his consensus, but continued eating his salad without elaborating.
"Really, doing what?" Christopher asked.
Rory kicked him under the table to remind him who to direct his question toward. Tristan glanced at Rory for permission. She shook her head and looked at Francine, actually hoping for the answer this time.
When Francine noticed that all eyes were on her, she didn't answer immediately. She seemed to be mulling it over as she chewed her salad. Rory figured she didn't know, but Tristan appeared openly confused that Francine wasn't answering. Did she actually know? Rory wasn't sure anymore.
"Working," Tristan said, facing Christopher and Rory again. "I was working."
Rory wondered what 'work' it was. And then felt annoyed for wondering. She chalked it up to instinct.
"You went to Bahrain a few years ago, didn't you?" Christopher asked her.
She gave a quick nod. "To cover Arab Spring."
"That happened before I got there," Tristan said.
"Christopher's always telling me all the places where Rory is traveling," Francine said eagerly, as though she was proud of herself for remembering something about her disaffected granddaughter. "She's a reporter."
"Correspondent," Rory corrected without thinking.
"Is there a difference?" Tristan asked.
She looked him in the eye to answer, "Yes." Then she returned to her plate.
Francine added, "You're both quite worldly, when you think about it."
"Did you hear that, Dad," Rory muttered under the pretense of wiping her mouth with her napkin. "Tristan and I have something in common, clearly we belong together. The trademark of a set up."
Christopher leaned toward her to whisper, "Don't worry, I've got your back." Speaking to everyone in the dining room again, he said, "Tell me, Rory, how's Logan doing?"
Her eyes widened in surprise at his choice of diversion. "What?"
"Logan?" Francine asked.
From the other side of the table, Tristan observed the other three silently, no doubt trying to comprehend the unusual family dynamic.
Christopher nodded and continued, "Yeah, Logan Huntzberger. I'm sure you've heard of him." He glanced from his mother to Tristan.
"The last name sounds vaguely familiar," Tristan said. "So maybe I should know."
"I'd say so, the Huntzberger's are very influential," Christopher said. "Logan is in line to run the family's newspaper empire."
"Dad," Rory said in dismay, shaking her head down at her plate.
"Oh I know he went to work for another company, but I'm sure his dad won't let someone else run the family business."
"Of course his father has a right to keep things in the family," Francine said quickly, causing heads to turn her direction. She hastened to add, "But every case is different, we shouldn't assume anything."
Rory looked at the woman as though she was crazy. What was she rambling about?
Tristan turned his attention back to Rory like a lion who just found a mouse to play with. "Don't be shy," he said with a grin. "Tell us all about Mr. Wonderful."
"He's a great guy," Christopher answered for her with a nod, which just made Tristan smile wider. "I couldn't ask for better for my daughter."
"I hadn't realized you were seeing him again," Francine said with a slight cringe.
"I'm sure there're lots of things you don't realize about me," Rory murmured.
Christopher shot her a look as an unspoken plea for patience towards his mother. Then he proceeded to dig the hole deeper. "They're pretty serious. It's no secret Logan bought a ring."
"Dad, no," she whispered harshly. She hadn't believed the night could get more uncomfortable.
"It sounds like the two of you were made for each other," Tristan commented.
Rory looked at him, disbelieving. "How? You don't even know him."
"I connected a couple dots."
Her face warmed angrily. He only had two dots available. "Unconnect them," she said, her tone steely, her eyes foreboding.
He remained composed, but his eyes shined with restrained glee. After a staring contest that lasted a few seconds, he relented by raising his glass and saying, "Congratulations on the engagement. I'll be sure to keep an eye out for the announcement." She occupied herself by taking a drink of water as Tristan turned his attention back to Christopher. "I guess it was pretty easy for you to give Huntzberger her hand."
Rory glanced at her father in time to see his eyes cloud for a second.
"Uh, no, actually," he said. "He asked Rory's mom—which he should have, she's the one who raised her."
Jumping to the defense of her son, Francine said, "Chris was so young. He had things he wanted to do when Lorelai decided to have Rory."
"Mom," Christopher said with a groan.
Rory was silent, but her eyes flashed to Francine furiously. She clenched her jaw tightly to hold back a retort. She wasn't sixteen years old, no one could ask her to go to the next room while the adults argued about ancient history. But she could leave of her own accord. She sat her napkin down on her plate and stood.
"I'm going home now." She turned to Christopher. "I'll talk to you later," she said before exiting the dining room.
She walked through the house, hoping her father wouldn't try to stop her. She retrieved her jacket and purse from the coat rack and let herself out. When she heard the door close a second time, she didn't turn around or slow down.
"Weirdest set up I've ever been on," Tristan said from behind her. "The role reversal was an interesting twist for me—not that you can appreciate it, ironically. You made me look rude in front of your dad though."
"What does it matter?" she asked, spinning around to face him and blocking his path. "You'll never see him again."
"Never say never. Some people don't recover from a bad first impression."
"Don't worry about it. After tonight, you won't cross his mind ever again."
In a half a second, she thought she saw his eyes narrow. "That's because he'll be too busy dreaming about Huntzberger, I could never compete," he said sarcastically. "Just a head's up though, it seemed like he's more excited about your upcoming nuptials than you—but maybe I was reading the situation wrong. Hey, do you need someone to draw up a pre—"
"Will you stop?" she interrupted. "We aren't even—." She stopped herself. It wasn't Tristan's business.
She shook her head, physically and mentally. It didn't matter, she wasn't going to see him again either. "Nothing. Never mind." She continued down the sidewalk and through the gate. When she got to her silver Volt, she pulled out her keys, but hesitated. She sighed at her guilty conscience. "Hey, Tristan."
He stopped too and looked at her from his own car, which was parked in front of her. "What?"
"Sorry . . . about all that. You didn't know what you walked into."
He regarded her for a second before he responded, "To be fair, you still don't know."
Momentarily confused, she continued, "I don't usually make set ups that challenging."
"How many of those have led to lifelong companionship?"
"None," she answered without having to think about it.
"So what's the difference?"
"I guess there isn't," she admitted. Before she let him leave, she had to ask, "What were you doing in Bahrain?"
She thought she saw him smile ever so slightly before answering, "I was working."
"My job." He opened his door and just barely glanced back at her. "Good night, Rory. It was nice to see you again—sort of."
Later, Rory pulled into the driveway and parked next to Luke's green truck. She headed to the house and let herself in. "Mom?" she called.
"Kitchen," Lorelai answered.
Rory walked the short distance to the room and found her mother examining items from the refrigerator, which was hanging open. There was a pot of coffee on the counter, Rory picked it up and gave it a sniff. "Is this still good?"
"Yeah, Luke made it before he went to bed," Lorelai answered. "So how was dinner with the Hayden's?" She glanced at the digital clock on the microwave. "You're back early."
Rory poured herself a cup of coffee and sat down at the table with a sigh. "It was possibly the weirdest night of my life."
Skepticism covered Lorelai's face a she looked up from two cartoons of Chinese food. "That can't be true. You've been to hundreds of Friday night dinners at the Gilmore house of horrors. Surely one of them tops tonight."
Rory blew on her coffee before taking a sip. She shook her head. "No. Tonight was weird in completely random ways. I don't even know where to start."
"How about the beginning," Lorelai suggested, tossing a tub of sour cream in the trash.
"Okay, Dad wasn't even invited."
"Why not? Francine is his mom."
"I know. It was so weird. Because without him, it was just me and Francine and—get this—Tristan."
"Dugray. From Chilton—well, he left before we graduated."
Lorelai thought that over. "To sing on Broadway?'
Rory shot her a confused look. "What? No, to go to military school."
"Oh, well that's probably a lot like Broadway, but without the singing. So why was he there?"
"Military school? Because he got himself into trouble."
"No, why was he at dinner tonight?"
"To be set up."
"With who? Francine? I didn't know she liked them so young. But to each her own."
"No, he was there to be set up with me."
Lorelai's head shot out of the refrigerator to frown at her daughter. "Francine wanted to set you up?"
Rory nodded. "Apparently."
"And with a guy from Chilton?"
"She wasn't even aware of that connection. But why would she want to set me up in the first place? She's never taken an interest in me before. And why with Tristan of all people? She couldn't have gotten it more wrong."
"To be fair, Mom is wrong all the time, too."
"Yeah, but it's different with her."
Rory rocked her head back and forth a little and sat her mug down. "There's usually some tiny sliver of potential in the guys Grandma picks out. There's always a chance I might like them. But this was very clear cut. Francine found the one I know I don't."
"What makes you so sure?"
Rory shrugged. "Because I do. I already know him. And I know I don't like ninety-seven percent of him."
"Uh-oh," Lorelai said, throwing away the last of the expired food and closing the refrigerator. She took a seat next to her daughter.
"What?" Rory said, picking her cup back up.
"That leaves three percent."
"So? That's a very tiny percentage."
"But you're Rory. You're the one who focuses on the three percent."
"What are you talking about?"
"You're cursed with the ability to see what others don't—good in people. Even the mostly bad ones."
"Don't worry. Tristan keeps the good hidden—I'm pretty sure he's only let it show on accident. He keeps it on lockdown."
Lorelai shook her head. "But you've seen it."
"Only briefly. I was at the right place at the right time. I guess it'd be the wrong place and time from his point of view."
"I don't know, he sounds like a real fixer upper. I know you can't resist guys like that."
"What? I don't fix people."
"Please, you dated Jess," Lorelai deadpanned.
"So, a girl like you only dates a guy like Jess because she thinks she can be the one to fix him."
"That is not why I dated him. I liked him the way he was."
Lorelai raised a disbelieving brow.
"I didn't fix him," Rory insisted.
"He can function in society now."
"That's because he grew up, not because of anything I said or did."
"Remember," Lorelai continued, covering Rory's hand with her own, "with great power comes great responsibility."
Rory snatched her hand away to put it back around her coffee cup.
Lorelai thought everything over a little more. "Maybe you should give him a chance."
"No," Lorelai said, rolling her eyes. "Tristan."
"It might give Mom an aneurysm."
"Why? She's been dying for me to settle down with someone like him for years. Success would make her happy."
Lorelai looked at Rory a bit patronizingly. "Aw, you're so naïve. It's cute."
Not knowing what her mother was talking about, Rory shook her head and got up to rinse her empty coffee cup. "Is there anything in the refrigerator worth eating? I left before the salad course was finished."
"There's some pizza in there that's good for a few more days," Lorelai answered as she stood up to leave the kitchen. "Do you know how long you'll be home?"
"No. I'm here until further notice. I have some editing I'll be working on."
"Okay. Drop by the inn for lunch tomorrow if you feel like getting out of the house."
"Will do. Good night, Mom."