Story: Family Feudalism
Disclaimer: I own nothing.
A/N: It's the end. A big thank you to everyone who read and reviewed, especially those of you who reviewed after every chapter- you know who you are. I will post a big long author note on my LJ. I don't know why this took me three weeks, but it actually fits for it to land here in mid-August as you will soon see.
Tristan walked from the master bedroom to the kitchen early in the morning. He pulled a box of cereal out of the pantry and milk from the fridge. He grabbed a bowl and spoon and took his breakfast to the table. It was a large informal table that sat between the kitchen island and the living room. The whole house was now fully furnished. The living room even had comfortable chairs. Rory didn't like his idea of a room wasted, only to be used for guests.
As he started to eat his cereal and read the paper, he glanced up when Rory walked out of the bedroom, still wearing the t-shirt and flannel shorts she woke up in. She made a beeline for the stairs and quickly went up to knock on a door. "Are you awake?" she asked.
"Yes, I set my alarm," a muffled girl's voice answered.
"Are you up?"
"I'm thinking about it."
"We don't want to be late," Rory said.
"We have lots of time."
"I want to get there early."
"I know, I've met you." After a pause, "I'm up."
"Good," Rory said before walking back down the stairs.
Tristan's eyes followed her as she went back to their bedroom. He finished off his bowl of cereal and continued to read the paper. Ten minutes later, a girl walked down the steps. Her brown hair fell past her shoulders, splaying over her blue sweater vest. She had a matching plaid skirt that had only gone through minor changes over the years.
"Morning," Tristan said.
"Morning," his daughter, Emma mumbled.
He stood and took his bowl over to the sink and rinsed it out as she took a pitcher of dark liquid out of the fridge. "Do you want some?" she asked, taking a clean glass from the dishwasher.
"No thank you."
"I could doctor it up if you don't want the straight coffee," she offered. "Like chocolate for an iced mocha."
She poured herself a cup and sighed as she emptied the pitcher.
"What?" he asked.
"That's the last of the cold brewed coffee. It's the official end of summer."
"I thought the first day of school made it official."
She shook her head at her cup sadly, then took a box of strawberry strudel out of the freezer. She retrieved the toaster from a lower cabinet and prepared her breakfast.
As he watched her, Tristan took a banana from a bowl on the counter and asked, "Can I interest you in something that won't stunt your growth?"
Emma looked over at him with eyes the same pale shade as his. "You cannot." When her strudel popped up, she put it on a plate and took it to the island. She opened a packet of icing and squeezed it onto her pastry. She glanced up to see Tristan watching. "What?" She pointed to the box. "This has fruit in it. So it's healthy."
He shook his head at her. He asked, "Are you ready for high school?"
"Are you going to tell people you're Japanese?" he asked knowingly.
She grinned. "No. I updated my backstory."
"But you like the blank looks people give you." And they would certainly be blank, he knew. No one at her new school had a sense of humor.
"I'm just changing it a little." She ate a bite of pastry.
"Let's hear it."
She took her time chewing before she took a sip of coffee and answered, "I'm going to say my dad was stationed in Japan and had a baby with a local. So then he had to marry her."
Tristan, with his peeled banana halfway to his mouth, stopped. He stared. "That's not true."
"It's not completely false."
"It's mostly false."
She rocked her head back and forth in consideration. "I wouldn't say mostly. I'm quite brilliant at math, you know. I mastered the art of addition and subtraction a long time ago. You got married in January."
"I know, I was there."
"Me too. My birthday is in June—of the same year."
"You were a preemie."
"By like one month, not three," Emma said with a roll of her eyes. "It's okay, you can tell me the truth. I know you had to marry Mom because of me. You were doing the responsible thing."
"You need to brush up on your family history if you think things would go down like that." He went on to take a bite of his banana.
"I know my family history. Don't you think Mom would want me to have a dad?"
"Probably," he admitted. "There's only one minor hole in your logic. She moved a very long way to imply I would be that person. And you were only a glimmer in my eye at the time."
They both went back to their breakfast. After a few minutes, Emma licked some icing from her lip and glanced over at Tristan again. "You look very handsome in your uniform today, Daddy."
He hadn't heard her call him that in years. "Thank you. But I thought you liked the summer whites better."
"The khaki looks good too." She took another bite.
"What do you want?"
She grinned and took her time before she asked, "Are you going to put a pool in?"
"I'm still thinking about it."
"We don't want all those swim lessons to go to waste."
"Those were for your safety," Tristan said. "If you're ever on a boat that capsizes, you'll be able to swim yourself to shore."
"Well I'm going to get a swimming scholarship when I go to college, so the joke's on you."
"Yup," he said dryly. "You showed me. But doesn't that mean you're in the pool enough?"
"This would be for leisure," she assured him. Then she tried again, "We told Great Grandma we might put in a pool. She might leave if we don't."
"I don't think the promise of a pool was what clinched it for her."
Relentless, she continued, "What about these Chilton kids? When I make friends with them, they might want to go for a swim when they come over."
"If you need a pool to impress them, you don't want them as your friends," he countered, though she wasn't completely without a point.
Emma huffed dramatically and went back to her strudel.
He finished off his banana before carefully asking, "You know how you're really good at making new friends?"
"Mm-hmm," she answered, lowering her gaze back down at her half eaten breakfast. "It's my special skill." She picked up her coffee and took another sip before she looked back at Tristan.
"And that's great. But these Chilton kids," he said, "they don't have that skill. They've been in Hartford all their lives—it's all they know. And they aren't very good at meeting new classmates."
"So they won't like me?"
"No, they'll like you," he said quickly. "I mean, eventually. Once they get to know you."
Rory appeared once again, this time dressed in a brown knee length skirt and tan blouse. She checked out Emma's breakfast and said, "Ooh, can you make me one of those?"
Their daughter glanced over at Tristan with a smirk. "Sure." She slid off the bar stool and returned to the toaster. As she pulled out another pastry and icing packet, she said, "Dad's trying to scare me. The kids at Chilton won't like me."
Tristan shot Rory an apathetic look.
"They aren't worldly," Emma said. "And they don't like new people."
"Oh . . . well," Rory said, brows now knitting together as she frowned.
"So it's true," the young brunette stated, seeming to get consent from her mother's lack of an argument.
"No, it'll be okay," Rory said. "You're starting on the first day—and you're a freshman, like all your classmates. So you'll be fine," she insisted. "You should also be thankful I'm not wearing cutoff jeans and cowboy boots today."
Emma's eyes lit up. "Is that what Grandma wore on your first day?"
"And that was before she almost married a teacher," Tristan added.
Emma looked from her father to her mother. "I already have that problem."
"Problem?" Rory went to the coffee maker and took the twelve cup pot to the sink. "Aren't you excited? This is the first time we get to go to the same school."
"Sure," Emma said. "It's every girl's dream to start high school with her mom."
"I bet it was for this girl," Tristan said, pointing at his wife.
"Did you not hear the part about cutoff jeans?" Rory asked. "I couldn't make that up."
"You aren't assigning your classes homework today, are you?" Emma asked with a pained expression.
"What are you worried about? You aren't even in my class."
"But other kids will be. And it'll get around that I'm the girl with the mom who assigned homework on the first day."
"It's only a little reading," Rory said, mildly defensive. She looked from her husband to their daughter and changed the subject, "You guys are so lucky, you never have to decide what to wear in the morning. I'm going to feel so weird at Chilton without my uniform."
"I'd feel really weird if you did wear one," Emma said. Then she asked, "Why do you still have one—in the back of your closet?"
Rory glanced at Tristan, and he looked away, leaving her hanging to answer. "Oh, uh—just—no reason."
"Why don't you go up and see if Charlie's awake," Tristan suggested.
"Do I have to make him breakfast too?"
Tristan glanced over at the second strudel that just popped up in the toaster and back to Emma. "No. I'll get it." He took another bowl from the cabinet and poured more cereal as she headed up the stairs.
"Why would you tell her the Chilton kids won't like her?" Rory asked.
Tristan got the milk from the fridge. "Because it's in the realm of possibility. I'm drawing from your experience."
"And you were one of the mean Chilton kids."
"Hey, I was very nice to you on your first day. . . Mary."
She took the milk from him to pour a little in her cup of coffee. "Is that the kind of nice you're hoping your daughter encounters today?"
Tristan put his hands at his waist and tried to remember the specifics of that first encounter with his wife. "This isn't about me. And we were different."
"Because I didn't know you were someone's daughter."
Rory scoffed lightly. "Didn't cross your mind?"
"Requesting to be sent back here was the right thing to do, right?" he asked, his concern growing.
"Chilton is a good school," she reasoned.
"There are lots of good schools in the world."
"But we want the kids to feel like they have a hometown. We've been telling them this is home, so we had to follow up by—you know—living here."
"Right," Tristan agreed. "So they'll be fine." He put his hands in his pockets and leaned back against the counter. "Are you ready for your first day at Chilton?"
"I think so," she answered, taking a bite of her strudel. "It's not so scary after you conquer it."
"Don't get intimidated by the parents of your AP students."
"I won't," she said. "You're full of all kinds of pep talks today."
"Just watching out for my girls," he said. "You're really excited about today, aren't you?"
She shot him a cheeky smile. "Yes." She lifted herself on her toes to give him a quick kiss before picking up her coffee.
He licked strawberry filling and icing off his bottom lip. She took a sip and turned to go back to the bedroom to continue getting ready. Tristan watched her until he heard footsteps coming down the stairs. He looked over to see Emma behind a dark haired boy, paused a few steps away from the first floor.
"Don't do it, you'll hurt yourself," she told him.
The little boy jumped, skipping over the last four steps. He landed hard on his feet, taking a step on impact and falling to his knee. He got up quickly and looked bashfully from Tristan to Emma.
She made her way down the last steps. "Did it hurt?" she asked dryly.
The boy shook his head before proceeding to the kitchen island.
"I told him not to jump," Emma told Tristan.
"I heard," he said, putting the bowl of cereal in front of his son and reaching for the milk. He shook his head at Emma. "Kids."
She sat down next to her brother to finish the last of her coffee.
Charlie picked up his spoon, but before he ate any cereal, he asked, "Can Grandma come live with us?"
"Yeah," Emma chimed in. "She wants the extra room downstairs."
"No," Tristan said.
"You don't even know which grandma we're talking about," Emma protested.
"I bet I do," he said. "One grandmother around here is enough. And the extra room is going to be a writing room for your mom."
"She has too many books in there. You should build her a studio in the backyard," Emma suggested. "Then she'll have more privacy."
"Who's going to build it?"
"I'll help," Charlie offered, apparently on board with the idea.
"A pool and a writing studio," Tristan said. "That's quite a to-do list."
Charlie picked up his bowl and started to slide off his stool. "Can I eat breakfast with Great Grandma?"
"We can go ask her," Tristan said, leading the boy to the garage door.
Emily opened her day planner and checked her agenda for the day. A couple of her friends were coming over for a canasta game later that morning, and she had an appointment to get her hair done in the afternoon. Her maid would be arriving within the hour to prepare lunch and tidy up.
She walked out of her bedroom and was immediately in the living room. She never would have guessed she'd enjoy living in such a small space. And judging by her great-grandchildren's pleading when they'd invited her to live there, they must have had their doubts, as well.
"Please, Grandma," Charlie had said, after his parents announced where they were moving next. His eyes had grown wide and he pressed his hands together as though in prayer.
Emma had looked around the large Gilmore mansion timidly. "It's really small, but we might get a pool." She'd glanced at her father with that omission.
Emily had looked at Rory, for confirmation this was what they all wanted, for her to live so close to them—practically with them.
Rory had tilted her head a bit and asked, "Did I ever thank you and Grandpa for letting me live in your pool house, back in college? Because, I'm thankful, really. For everything."
Another look to the children, and Emily had accepted. She couldn't tell them no. The idea of being merely yards away was an offer she couldn't pass up. She still maintained her own house. She couldn't part with the home she'd shared with Richard for so long.
She had to have the guest house decorated by a professional when she moved in earlier in the summer, though that hadn't been a problem. And she insisted on framing her photos herself, along with deciding where they would hang on the walls. She took a seat on the couch. She had piles of pictures lying all over the coffee table. Many of them had gone with her to her meetings and functions over the years, so she could show them off to her friends before they were framed.
A few photo albums also lay open as well. She picked one up and flipped through the pages. She didn't have to check the album label to know it said Spain. She'd visited twice each of the three years Tristan and Rory had lived there. Six of the pictures were dedicated to Emma's first day of Kindergarten. Emily continued to turn the pages, pausing briefly at the pictures from Christmas that year. She and Lorelai had made the trip together. Even Mason and Cecilia had managed to find time in their schedules to fit in a visit during the holidays.
Emily was about to turn the page when there was a knock at her door. She put the album down and went to open the door that led out to the garage. Tristan and Charlie stood in front of her.
"Morning," Tristan greeted. "Feel like company?"
Charlie looked up at her, bowl of cereal in hand, and asked, "Can I eat breakfast with you?"
"Of course," she said with a smile as she moved to let him into her kitchen.
There was a round dining table where Charlie sat his bowl. He climbed up onto a chair as his father put a glass of milk in front of him. "Don't take too long," Tristan warned. "You still have to get ready." He nodded at Emily then before turning to go back to the main house.
Emily sat down next to the boy and asked, "Are you excited to start second grade today?"
Charlie nodded. "Mm-hmm."
"And doesn't Emma look nice in her Chilton uniform?" She had modeled her plaid skirt and vest the night before. She was the spitting image of Rory at that age.
He nodded his agreement. When he finished chewing his cereal he said, "When I get big like Em, I want to go to military school."
Emily frowned. "You mean you want to go to school on base again, like when you lived in England?"
"No," he said with a shake of his head. "I want to go to military school, like my dad did," he said with a level of confidence.
Emily was pretty sure he didn't know what it meant.
"Where's Germany?" he asked, stumbling a bit over the consonants.
"It's in Europe," she answered.
"I hope we live there next."
"Well, your dad serves in the Navy, so you would only go somewhere by the ocean."
"Oh," the boy said with a frown. "Germany isn't by the ocean?"
He seemed to think about it for a moment, and then went back to his cereal.
"Do you like living in different places?"
He nodded as he chewed.
It was enough indication to Emily that he took after his mother. She knew if Richard had ever gotten to meet his great-grandson, he would proudly proclaim the boy was a Gilmore.
"I was looking at some pictures before you came over," Emily said, standing to retrieve an album from the coffee table. She opened it in the middle and turned a few more pages until she found what she was looking for. She took it back to the kitchen table and pointed at the picture of Lorelai holding a baby. "Do you know who that is?"
Charlie took a drink of his milk and looked at the picture out the corner of his eye. He put the glass down and said, "Grandma."
"Yes, and who is she holding?"
"That's you," she said, remembering the boy's long awaited arrival. Rory had been anxious for months, hoping everything would go right, and for no one to change their mind at the last minute. Everyone had breathed a sigh of relief when they brought him home. Lorelai had said if Tristan and Rory added to their brood, she would start referring to them as one word, as though they were celebrities who collected children. Emily hoped her daughter was joking.
They heard a scratching sound then, and they both looked at the door that led outside. Emily commented, "I wonder who that is." She got up and opened door to find a brown and white beagle pawing at the door.
"Fred!" Charlie said, sitting up tall to try to see out the door.
Emily knew the beagle was an outside dog, but as the great-grandmother, she didn't have to follow the rules. She opened the door and let the dog inside—a moment wouldn't hurt. Having finished his breakfast, Charlie sidled off the chair and knelt down to pet his dog.
Emily sat back down at the table. "Does Fred like living here?" she asked.
Charlie nodded. "Yeah."
"He doesn't miss the old house in England?"
"Just a little," he admitted. "But he likes it here too. He likes to live by you."
Emily smiled. "I like it too. We should probably let him back outside though, you need to get ready for school."
In the master bathroom, Rory stood in front of a sink, looking at the mirror to apply mascara as Emma brushed her teeth next to her at the second sink. When finished, she asked, "Can I wear some mascara?"
Rory handed over the makeup. "Just a little."
Emma carefully swiped some of the mascara on her eyelashes while Rory continued with her powder.
The younger brunette checked out her reflection and put the small plastic container back in her mother's makeup bag. She perched herself on the edge of the counter. "Do I have to babysit Saturday night?"
She sighed. "Remember when it was just the three of us?"
"I do," Rory said. "We gave you baths in the kitchen sink and dressed you in onesies."
"I can't actually remember that far back."
"That's too bad, you were adorable." Rory continued, "Don't you remember when we brought Charlie home? You told everyone who would listen he was your little brother, and how he was ours now."
"Yeah," Emma admitted. She was quiet for a moment before she shyly asked, "What if his real family wants him back one day?"
"We're his real family," Rory answered without a thought.
"No, like his real mom and dad."
"And everybody agreed before Charlie was born that your dad and I would be his parents."
"So they can't have him back then?" Emma asked. "They didn't want him, so they can't have him, even if they change their mind . . . right?"
"It isn't that they didn't want him," Rory argued. "It's that they thought he would be better off with a different family. It was because they cared. Either way, we are Charlie's family," she said firmly. "There's more to family than bloodlines and last names."
"What if we aren't enough for him when he gets older?" Emma asked.
It sounded like she'd been watching Flirting With Disaster, Rory thought grimly. "If he decides he wants to meet his—other—family one day, then we'll support him." She went on, "But he'll still be part of our family. And you will always be his big sister. Okay?"
"Okay," her daughter said. But she still didn't change the subject. "If Grandma Lorelai gave you away, since she was so young, would you have wanted to find her?"
"I don't know," Rory answered.
"I bet you would have, she's fun," Emma said confidently.
"But I wouldn't have known that without meeting her."
"You used to be a journalist though. You would probably want to investigate and find out the truth."
Another unknown, Rory thought. There was no way of knowing if she'd have had the same career goals if she was raised by someone else. She was the person she was in large part because of Lorelai Gilmore. She would have a whole different life if it hadn't been for her mother. Rory made a lifetime of choices with her mother's guidance and influence.
She glanced over her daughter, happy with the decisions she'd made up until that point. She looked back down to her makeup bag. "Hey, where's that pink lip gloss I like?"
"The one that makes your lips all shiny?"
"That's mine. So it's in my room."
"Can I borrow it?"
Emma dug around in the bag until she found what she was looking for. She handed over a tube of lipstick. "This one will look better with your outfit."
"Oh, thanks," Rory said as she took the lid off and faced the mirror to put it on.
"Can we watch movies after dinner when Grandma Lorelai comes over Friday night?"
"If she wants to," Rory said, knowing her mother would gladly extend the evening.
Emma checked the time on her watch and hopped off the counter. "I need to go get my stuff," she said as she picked up her toothbrush and left the room.
Rory gave herself a last look in the mirror before putting her makeup bag in a drawer. She left the bathroom and went to the walk in closet for brown heels. Tristan joined her, and he switched the light on.
She looked down at the shoes in her hand. "Well these are black in the light," she said, trading them for the correct color. "Is Charlie dressed and ready?"
"Yup," Tristan answered as he put his own shoes on. "He told Emily he wants to go to military school."
Rory frowned at him. "Does he know what that means?"
He shook his head. "I don't think so."
She took comfort in the fact that their son didn't have a reason to make misguided statements to get Tristan's attention. The boy just looked up to his father.
Tristan peered at something at the back of the closet mournfully. "You can't wear that anymore. It would be way too weird. And wrong."
Rory held onto his arm to keep steady as she put her heels on. She glanced to the place he indicated. Her old blue pleated skirt hung innocently next to a blazer. "You could wear yours."
"These aren't doing it for you anymore?" he asked, pointing to his organized Navy uniforms on his side of the closet.
"They are." She smiled a little. "But anyone who doesn't do the assigned reading tonight will end up in detention."
He raised a brow in interest. "I'm definitely skipping the assignment then."
She headed out of the closet and he followed, switching off the light. They went to the kitchen, where Emma was helping Charlie check his new school items in his backpack. When finished, she went to the cabinet to fill two travel mugs with coffee. Both kids picked up the lunches sat on the island. He gestured for Charlie to join him at the refrigerator as he opened it.
"Oh yeah," the boy said, pulling out a bouquet of assorted flowers. He walked over to Rory, handing her the bouquet.
She knelt down to accept them with a big smile and a kiss on his cheek. "Thank you. I'll put them on my desk at school," she said, as it was where she always put her first day of school bouquet Tristan traditionally gave her. There was also a small, oddly shaped package covered in wrapping paper. She didn't have to open it to know it was a new set of her favorite ink pens.
Her bag was sitting at the end of the table, so she stuck the package of pens inside before pulling out two stapled sheets of paper. She had to grab a pair of reading glasses from the bag and put them on so she see what she'd typed on her English Literature syllabus. She flipped to the second page to double check one of her points.
Emma, sitting at the island, addressed Tristan, "You know how your legalman in England had a son, but I couldn't date him?"
Tristan looked to her sharply. "What?"
Rory looked up too, and slowly took her reading glasses back off.
With everyone's full attention, Emma continued, "Since you outranked his dad, we wouldn't have been able to date."
"You couldn't date him because you were thirteen," Tristan said, incredulous.
"It also wasn't allowed."
Rory said, "You never even talked to him, did you?"
Emma shook her head. "No, he was a grade ahead of me. We might have liked each other though, if we got to know each other."
"Is it possible you romanticized it in your head?"
"I don't think so."
Rory glanced at Tristan, who was still staring in disbelief, and then back to their young, teenage daughter. "Uh, did you have a point?"
Emma nodded at her mother. "Yes. If the headmaster at Chilton has a son, are we not allowed to date since you're a teacher there?"
Rory started, "The headmaster doesn't have a—"
"Yup, same rule," Tristan interrupted quickly. "It would be very inappropriate." Then he asked, "If some guy offers you something like notes or a book—or anything—what will you do?"
"Say thank you?"
"Wrong. Say no and walk away."
"But he sounds nice, and no one else will like me."
"He's up to no good. And you won't need to borrow his stuff anyway. You'll have your own notes because you're going to school to learn. Always ask yourself what your mother would do. And then do it."
Rory muttered, "That sounds a little tricky." She put her syllabus away and threw her bag over her shoulder. "Grandma wants to take our picture before we go. Why don't you go tell her we're ready?" She picked up her flowers.
The two kids complied, leaving Tristan and Rory alone. He watched to make sure the kids were out the door before turning back to her abruptly. "Keep an eye on her—at school." He quickly added, "No, watch the boys. Watch her and the boys."
"But when will I work?" she asked, amused.
"Is it too late to consider all-girls school?" he asked. "Preferably Catholic—with nuns."
"I think it is a little late, yes."
He pointed toward the garage door. "I know for a fact those skirts used to be longer."
"Yeah, we voted to move the hemline up."
"Who is 'we'?"
"The student counsel, senior year."
"Why would you vote in favor of that?"
Dryly, Rory answered, "I wasn't thinking of how it would affect you one day."
"It'll be okay. Come on, let's go."
Before she got past him, Tristan stopped her. He picked up a few envelops from the counter and handed them to her. "Forget something?"
She looked down and her smile faltered slightly. Each envelope had postage and a clearly printed address. "Oh, right." They were query letters, all ready to be mailed. She wrinkled her nose and looked back up at Tristan. "I haven't heard back from the other five publishers yet. Maybe I should give them more time."
"Or maybe they aren't interested," he said.
Her shoulders dropped.
"But that's okay. One or all of those will want to buy what you wrote and you'll go to the highest bidder."
"I don't think I've given self-publishing enough consideration. I don't have to go the traditional route. It worked out for Mark Twain and John Steinbeck."
"Sure, and you can go back to being your own accountant, marketing department, editor, distributer," he said, ticking off a list on his fingers. "All by yourself."
She had lesson plans to update, papers to grade, and two children who were not done being raised. Not to mention all the long bike rides Tristan had taken them on to give Rory quiet time to write. "Stupid pro con lists. I shouldn't leave those lying around." She continued to protest, "This is my fourth try. I already have three manuscripts sitting on the shelf. Maybe this is a sign I should throw in the towel."
"That sounds like a good message to send the kids," Tristan said. "If at first you don't succeed, give up."
She sighed heavily and snatched the envelopes away. "Fine." They finally continued out of the kitchen, but before Rory joined her grandmother and children for the picture she stopped Tristan. "Hey, just think, today might be the day Emma meets her husband."
"You are not funny."