Story: Change of Scenery
Disclaimer: I own no rights to anything Gilmore Girls related. I just write for my own amusement.
Description: Set in Season One, up to P.S. I Lo…. Rory goes to her grandparents to escape all the drama that has gone on in her small town life of late. But she isn't so quick to return as she was in the show. A spin on if Rory had more of a season 6 sized emotional meltdown in Season 1. Trory.
Rory watched the bus doors open as it idled at the scheduled stop, a block away from Chilton Preparatory Academy. No one got off, as the only person that took the number five bus from Stars Hollow in order to arrive at Chilton was her, and her commute had been by her own saddle shoe-covered feet that morning. She'd left the Gilmore residence, just a few blocks away from her school, early after sampling barely more than a piece of toast from the breakfast buffet her grandmother had requested the cook to provide for her. She hadn't wanted to discuss any specific details of what had led her to seek sanctuary from her home, and a sit-down at the dining table with the formidable Emily Gilmore would have left her no way around offering a meatier explanation as to why she'd chosen to sleep under their roof after showing up unannounced on their doorstep the previous evening. Instead she'd fabricated an early meeting for a fictional group project with the true intent to read in the library before first period.
She had three extra works of fiction to choose from in her overstuffed backpack, but rather than reading in the comfort and quiet of the school library, she'd found herself under an old oak tree, watching her bus come and go—a manifestation of the fact that she wasn't where she was supposed to be. She'd committed an act of ultimate defiance, in her choice of places to take asylum—making her less of a refugee and more of a traitor.
The bus disappeared around the corner, running its schedule regardless of her absence. She wondered how many days it would take for the driver to give up on her and begin to only slow down instead of making a full stop. She wondered if the people in her life would also denote her absence with barely a pause to their normal routines. It was a crazy thought, she chastised herself inwardly. She couldn't hide out in Hartford forever, and she was the only person likely to take such notice of the changes to her routine during her search for solitude. She was lucky her mother hadn't stormed the castle the night before. She hoped it at least drove her a little crazy, showing her that Rory had been serious when she'd said she didn't want to discuss her mood or her ex-boyfriend or anything at all. The first bell rang, signaling the start of another school day. She pushed herself away from the bark and made her way into the main building.
She opened her locker, easily tuning out all the inane conversations around her. The things that occupied the average teenage mind were at best fleeting and usually exhaustively frivolous. There were no shortage of personal tragedies in the halls around her on a daily basis—someone was having a bad hair day or woke up with some sort of blemish, someone else just got dumped or hadn't been asked to some party. No one paid her much attention, but still she busied herself with the task of switching out her books and folders and making sure she had at least this one faction of her life under control.
"Damn," she swore at the realization she'd left a book behind in Stars Hollow in her hurry to escape, the word uttered so softly under her breath that with the intermittent clatter of slamming lockers and bursts of girlish laughs throughout the halls, no one should have heard her. Of course, being part attack dog, Paris Geller—her arch nemesis—heard everything from her locker, too near to Rory's for either girl's appreciation.
"Problem, Gilmore? Let me guess, your small town is short of hay bales for the corn maze and taffy pull?"
"Why are you interested, Paris? Are you in need of spare sticks to shove up your butt?" Rory asked, her acerbic response to Paris' hayseed jokes even harsher than most mornings. Granted, she had missed out on her usual cup of coffee. Emily Gilmore didn't think such a young girl needed so much caffeine so early in the morning. Rory had taken note that Emily had spouted this belief while drinking her second cup of coffee, which made the denial harder to take. Paris was never short of an unkind word or thought for Rory, so she felt slightly less guilty for offering up her own brand of jaded barbs at her as opposed to all the awful things she'd said of late to her best friend, Lane Kim, and her mother. It seemed when she wasn't at a loss for a proper response of late, as she'd been on her last date with her ex-boyfriend, Dean, she was in the business of biting people's heads off. Yeah, she was a real treat. It was no wonder Lorelai hadn't come to get her last night; her mother was probably relieved at the time apart the previous night had offered.
"Did you fail a test?" Paris asked, in a low enough tone to be conspiratorial, almost as if they might ever be considered friends—if not for her tone, which spoke of pure delight at the thought of Rory's downfall. Paris would love nothing more than for Rory to fail out of school, which had been the main reason that had driven Rory to persevere when she first got to Chilton and found herself drowning in an effort to catch up to her new classmates. Now that Rory had found her footing, Paris saw only an extra body that was ruining the curve at the upper end of the grading scale. There was the other matter, of Rory having convinced one Tristan Dugrey to ask Paris on a date—which she'd done out of the goodness of her own heart given Paris' obvious crush on the school's resident boy toy, which had failed in such a way that Paris had probably fashioned a voo-doo doll in Rory's likeness and taken sick pleasure in jamming it full of pins on a nightly basis. With Paris, Rory had found that she was damned if she did and damned if she didn't. She was in no mood to give Paris any boosts to her self-esteem that morning.
"Don't you have anything else on your to-do list for the day, Paris? Like kicking puppies maybe, or taking candy from babies?"
"Hello, ladies," Louise Grant said as she sashayed up to the two bickering girls, but she stopped short as she sensed the tense air between them. "Did someone break a nail?"
"For your next birthday, maybe you should skip the nose job and have your Daddy buy you some priorities," Paris suggested harshly.
"I have priorities. That's why I'm getting the nose job," Louise sneered.
Rory rolled her eyes. "Louise, do you have a copy of the assigned book for Medina's class?"
Louise nodded, plucking it off the top of her small stack of class supplies with her perfectly manicured hand. "Sure."
"Do you mind if I borrow it?"
"You don't have your assigned reading done?" Paris asked, aghast at the notion.
"Paris, no one finished reading that thing. It's boring," Louise informed her.
"I've read it five times," Paris retorted.
"Of course you have," Louise said sadly, before fixing her fashion-focused eyes on Rory. "I'm surprised you haven't finished it yet. Oh, or did you get back together with that fine, tall drink of water boyfriend of yours?"
Paris eyed Rory warily. It was clear she wanted to know the answer as well. Rory stiffened at the mention of Dean. The only way he'd want to date her again was if she could offer up the three words he wanted to hear in return from her. She handed the book back. "Never mind. I have to go."
"Okay, that was weird," Louise said as Rory skittered down the hall.
"Yes, it was," Paris said as she took off at a speed-walker's pace after Rory, who was halfway to Max Medina's classroom. "Did you get back together with Dean?"
Rory glanced over her shoulder. "Why would you even remotely care?"
Paris scoffed. "I don't. It's just you're being weird. Weirder than normal, I mean," Paris buffered the comment with just slight, as was her trademark.
"I think Madeline and Louise are starting to rub off on you. Pretty soon you'll be reading best sellers and wearing glitter nail polish," Rory warned.
"You didn't ride the bus," Paris blurted out, ignoring Rory's last comment.
Rory spun on one heel to face Paris. "Excuse me?"
"You ride the bus in from your Mystic Pizza-esque town, right? Or have you mastered teleportation?"
"It's my science fair project," Rory evaded, her sense of humor as dark as the rest of her mood. "Sometimes I end up at Chuck E. Cheese, but most of the time I get it right."
"But today you walked. I saw you, coming from the opposite direction of the bus stop."
"Are you stalking me now?" Rory asked with narrowed eyes, beyond irritated to still be discussing the matter, with Paris of all people.
"Like I have nothing better to do than follow you around?" Paris asked, incredulous at the thought. "I couldn't care less what you do."
"Then act like it. We are not friends, Paris; you've made that abundantly and pain-stakingly clear."
Paris stiffened. "I have better things to do."
Rory gestured for the other girl to go away with a wave of her hand. "Then go do them."
Paris flounced off around her, into the same room that Rory needed to enter. Rory took a deep breath in and out before turning around and coming face-to-face with her Lit teacher.
His face was etched with concern. "Hello, Miss Gilmore."
He knew. She knew he knew, just by the sight of him. His warm brown eyes showed sign of sleeplessness, and his desire to speak as more than her teacher radiated off of him. It made her a little sick to her stomach, to think of him comforting her mother last night when she realized that Rory wasn't coming home for the night. Lorelai probably let him spend the night, though, to keep her company in the suddenly empty house. Frustration at all the things her mother had kept from her, the ways she'd tried to protect her from further pain sprang up in her throat. She expected full disclosure from Rory when she was keeping her fair share of secrets.
"I'm going to be late."
He stepped back. "Come on in."
She walked past him, careful to keep her gaze just ahead and mostly on her desk. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Paris in deep conversation with her two lackeys, both of whom had no qualms about openly staring at Rory while they spoke about her in hushed tones. She took her seat, two rows over from the other girls, and hoped for the next hour to go by quickly. She'd had trouble concentrating, lost in thoughts of just how badly she'd let down the few people she was supposed to care about more than anything else in the world. Snippets of her last conversations with her mother and best friend kept playing through her mind. All she had to do was close her eyes to see the hurt and betrayal on Dean's face as they sat in the car he was making for her. He'd made her a car. And she'd crushed his heart.
With all that going on in her head, it made it hard to focus on things like classroom discussions and responding to her name when she was called on. By the end of class, Mr. Medina called her name loudly as her fellow classmates began filtering out. She'd gathered her belongings at the sound of the bell and felt a sense of dread come over her as she stopped at his desk.
"Are you okay?" he asked, once they were the only two left in the classroom.
"Why wouldn't I be?" she asked flatly.
"Rory, your mother is worried sick. She had everyone she knew looking for you yesterday. She sat in the kitchen staring into your empty room until I made her go to bed last night."
She was right; he'd stayed over. Maybe that was why her mother, who despite everything else in their lives, had always been there for Rory and taught her that they would work everything out together—good or bad—had failed to show up to get her after Emily called let Lorelai know Rory was safe at their home. It had been Emily's one stipulation—Rory was welcome to stay under their roof for as long as she liked, as long as her mother knew she was safe.
"I'm fine. Can I go now?"
He crossed his arms and sighed. "You were very distracted today. Did you get the assignment?"
She nodded, clutching her notebook to her chest. "Yes."
"You didn't bring your book."
She shrugged. "I've read it before, and I turned in my assignment. Am I in trouble?"
He backed off then. "No. I know I'm your teacher, and I shouldn't interfere with your personal life," he began.
"Then don't," she said simply as she left his classroom. She knew he'd pass on her behavior to her mother, yet another strike against her and her turn of attitude in Lorelai's eyes.
The rest of the day was far easier to bear—she was used to Paris and her underlings discussing all her many faults all while shooting her disapproving glances, and none of her other teachers were currently having overnights with her mother. No one knew that she'd spent the night in Hartford, though Mr. Medina had made it sound like all of Stars Hollow had been searching for her for a portion of the evening, and news had probably spread all over town that Rory's recent behavioral shift had come to some kind of breaking point. Everyone in town was so concerned about upsetting her, trying to protect her from the way they assumed Dean had hurt her—refusing him service and showing her preferential treatment, when in reality it was her that had done the hurting. He should hate her, for turning everyone against him, let alone the way she'd treated him. She should be the pariah, and it seemed she'd finally succeeded in becoming just that. It was relieving, in a bizarre way.
When the final bell rang, she shut her locker. She needed to go to the library to get a temporary copy of the assigned book for Medina's class. She'd left her copy on the nightstand next to her bed in Stars Hollow. She wasn't sure how long she'd take haven at her grandparents, but the thought of a couple of days away from all the things she left behind eased her mind.
She walked out through the parking lot to the street. Most of the kids with cars were gone, leaving the lot nearly empty. She'd purposely taken her time inside to miss her bus as it paused to collect her, had she been waiting—another sign of her noted absence. She knew she could go home, but she'd yet to make sense of what exactly she was feeling—there was too much pain and hurt and frustration knocking around inside her. All she really knew was that she needed a change. She didn't want to be angry, she didn't want to be incapable of feeling love, and she didn't want anyone to protect her from the realities of life.
A familiar figure stepped out from the far end of the lot, falling into step with her on the sidewalk. Tristan Dugrey had made the better part of her first few months at the school as uncomfortable as possible—with his overt come-ons and his ability to inspire Paris' psychotic wrath, all aimed at her when she had enough trouble just trying to adjust to the rigid and demanding standards that Chilton called for. He'd been less and less on her radar for the last couple of weeks, ever since he'd taken Paris out on their first and final date per her suggestion. Today, in fact, she realized she'd not seen him at all. She drew away from him in surprise, as she'd assumed he'd been out from school after his seat had gone unfilled each of the three classes they shared throughout the day.
"What are you doing?" she asked, possibly a bit harsher than she intended to sound, but with Tristan it seemed safer to discourage him at every given opportunity. The only time she'd let her guard down near him, he'd kissed her. She watched him as he continued to walk alongside her, thinking again that he'd kissed her. On a piano bench. She'd never realized he played the piano before that night. She'd overheard any number of girls discussing just how good he was with his hands, but none of them had ever mentioned a piano being involved. She'd painted him into a very narrow light, one that didn't involve the almost shy way he'd brushed his lips across hers or the soft melody that she'd heard coming from the piano as she approached him that night.
"Walking you somewhere. Where are we going?" he asked, not one to be deterred by details like a destination or an invitation.
"Biker bar," she responded glibly, not changing her speed. She was sure he could outrun her, given the sheer difference in their heights, and if she walked any slower, they'd be standing still. The faster she got home from school, the sooner Emily's questions would start. She could only put off her tenacious grandmother for so long, if she planned on staying in Hartford for any length of time.
"You're going the wrong way, then," he said, indicating over his shoulder. "You don't your way around Hartford well, do you? I could give you instructions, or a ride, if you need," he offered.
"I'm good, thanks," she muttered, without bothering to look his way. She didn't need to see him to know he was still keeping pace next to her. His presence was the sort that was obvious without confirmation—a fact in which he no doubt took pride.
"Don't you normally take a bus?" he inquired, ever curious it seemed when it came to her. She didn't see why everyone had so many questions for her lately. She didn't have any good answers, that much was for sure. Sometimes she just wished people would let her be unsure.
She gritted her teeth. "So?"
"So, isn't Stars Hollow a long walk from here? And again, the other direction?"
She turned to him, unable to take any more, stopping altogether as she hit her boiling point. "Why do you care? Did I show up at your car, demanding to know why you weren't in class all day?"
He smiled down at her, giving her a pass for her ire. "You missed me?"
She rolled her eyes and turned to start walking again at a faster clip. "I'm tired of talking. If you insist on walking with me, can we please just not talk?"
She was flooded with respite as she felt him fall into step once again with her, this time with no questions, just the steady sound of his footsteps and a gentle breeze rustling the trees over their heads. She could feel his eyes on her, the likes of which stood out against the regulation blue blazer he sported. Everyone else had peppered her with questions without regard to her insolence, but no one else had just done as she'd asked and dropped their curiosity at her behavior.
She had no doubt that he'd recognize her destination once they got close enough. He'd been there on at least one occasion that she knew of—the night of the birthday party her grandmother had thrown for her against her wishes the previous fall. They passed the remaining blocks quietly, making their way under the brilliant pastels of the leaves that were filling out in the warming spring air. Her grandparents' neighborhood was full of established, beautifully maintained greenery and rows of complementary trees lined the wide sidewalks that seemed unending in front of a series of gated-off estates.
"Visiting your grandparents?" he asked finally as she came to stop in front of the Gilmore's gates. It was the easiest question she'd been asked in recent memory.
"Yeah," she nodded easily as she stared through the gates. She made no move to step onto the property.
"Sometimes a change of scenery is nice, isn't it?" he asked. Something in his voice hinted that he understood, just what it was she hadn't been able to vocalize to anyone else. He made it seem so simple, whereas it felt anything but to her.
She looked up at him. "Yeah, it really is."
He nodded and shoved his hands into his pockets. He hadn't carried anything with him, not even a backpack. She could feel the added weight on her shoulders, the padded straps digging into her muscles. Even still, she was in no hurry to rid herself of it.
"Where were you today?" she asked, relieved to not be discussing her situation further.
He cocked his head slightly, though his pensive expression didn't change. "Doctor's appointment."
"Oh. Well, thanks for walking me home," she said, though it struck her that this wasn't her home, not really, and it wouldn't be no longer how long she stayed. None of her things were in that house. Emily had set up a room for her, filled with items that she was sure some sixteen-year-old girl would love. But not one object in that house belonged to her—nothing that she had chosen or treasured. Everything of importance to her was all back in Stars Hollow, waiting for her to come to her senses and return to the even-tempered, good-natured girl that everyone loved.
She lifted her chin at the sound of her name. He rarely used her name, often choosing his own moniker for her. When he said it then, the sound of the two syllables on his tongue was as if he were trying it out with some amount of uncertainty, as if he were unsure that she'd respond to it.
He considered his words. "It was nice not talking with you."
She smiled at the odd compliment. "Yeah. It was."
He gave her the briefest nod. "See you at school."
She stood there, against the decorative iron gates, watching as he retreated down the street, and finally turning the corner back toward school. If she was lucky, Emily would be busy with some function that evening and would barely have time to ask her how her day was and suggest, merely out of obligation, that she was free to call her mother if she felt up to it. After a few moments of peace, she was calmer than she'd been in days, and she felt up to the evasion if not the whole ugly truth. Maybe with a couple more days away from all the people she'd disappointed, she could go home and start to make amends on her own terms.