Thanks for all your kind words. This is the last chapter. Thanks to everyone who read, commented and spurred me on. I have more fic lined up – a oneshot which I'll post tomorrow, another story and a possible sequel to this so there's still a lot of writing to be done :)
It had arrived. It was the day of the open house, the day of the great re-opening of The Truncheon and the room was full to the brim. The space was small but it burst with books and brightness and there was a sense of hope to the air. Everyone they knew had come: Luke and Lorelai, April, Liz, T.J. and Doula, Chris and his girlfriend, Matthew, Lane and Paris and Doyle who had just got engaged. The last year had gone by so quickly Rory had barely had time to catch her breath. It seemed she had just moved in that Jess had been approved a building to open the Truncheon in, just a few blocks away, and life had swung into working all day and going over paperwork with Jess at night. It felt that there was always something more to do, something they had forgotten and ten things to add to the list and Rory was positive that they would never be able to open.
She was wrong. She had returned from work one day and Jess was standing in the kitchen with slanted smile on his face.
"What is it?" Rory had laughed, putting her work bag down. "What are you looking so pleased about?"
"Ready for what?"
"Ready for the Truncheon!" Jess had exclaimed, showing her a large sheet of paper. "I just signed the last form. I went to the bank earlier, talked with my advisor and we're ready. We're done. We're all set to open and we're going to open two weeks today."
The room seemed to topple in a way Rory was sure wasn't responsible from her shoes.
"Ready?" she echoed weakly. "Open?"
She knew the date they had pencilled in was less than a month away but it still seemed impossible. The entire thing still seemed a fantasy, a dream and she could only stare at Jess and say again,
"No, I just wanted to see the look on your face," Jess said seriously. Rory's disbelief turned to confusion and Jess burst out laughing.
"Of course we're ready! We're more ready than we've ever been!"
Reality hit. Rory let out a shriek and ran to him, falling into his arms.
"You don't have faith in me?" Jess teased, holding her up and Rory smiled.
"I have all the faith in you in the world," she said seriously. "I always knew you could do it, Jess. I always knew."
"I couldn't have done it without you," Jess said and Rory shook her head, still smiling.
"I know you could."
They looked into each other's eyes and then Jess suddenly swooped her up off the floor so her shoes fell off.
"Jess!" Rory shouted, laughing. "What are you doing?"
"Nothing," Jess said, kissing her. "I love you, is all."
"I love you too," Rory whispered. "You know I do."
They'd kissed again and made love where they stood.
The following fortnight had flown by. Everything was approved yet there was still so much to do, spreading the word to friends and family, sprucing the place up and ensuring nothing had been forgot. On the night before the grand opening Jess took Rory to see it first. She had been in the building hundreds of times, helping to set it up, but she hadn't seen it since the books had been moved in. Jess said he didn't want to see her until it was perfect. Rory had opened her mouth to argue but the sudden look of hope in his eye, making him suddenly seem as young as seventeen stopped her. She had smiled and agreed, deciding not to tease and the relief in Jess's face was palpable.
He'd insisted that she keep her eyes closed from the moment she got out of the car. Rory told Jess he was crazy but she obeyed, holding his hand unsteadily all along the pavement and up the set of steps. There they had halted and Jess had paused.
"Are you ready?"
"You're not peeking?"
"Yes, I promise," Rory said, giggling. "Can we go in now?"
Rory heard the jangle of keys, the turn of the lock and him push open the door. He led her inside and a wonderful smell of wood and book binding overtook her senses.
Rory opened her eyes and gasped. She hadn't seen the room for a month and it was in a very different state before. Boxes of books had littered the floor, the walls looked bare and sorrowful and there was an emptiness to the place. It had been transformed. Bookshelves lined the walls with a wonderfully miscellaneous collection, the walls were painted a deep, wine red and there was seats scattered all around for anyone who wished to read.
"So...?" Jess asked anxiously. "What do you think?"
She turned to him and started to smile.
"I think it's perfect."
"Seriously?" Jess asked, sounding unsure and Rory laughed.
"It's more than perfect."
Jess kissed her and then said,
"You know, it's impossible for humans to reach perfection."
"Yeah," Jess grinned. "Even though you try and prove that wrong."
"I do not!"
"Yes, you do."
"Maybe a little," Rory admitted, looking round. "But seriously Jess, this is perfect. As close to perfect as it can be, at least."
"You really mean that?" Jess asked, serious again and Rory's face softened to a smile.
"And...you think that I can do it?"
He looked at her anxiously and Rory took his body in her hands.
"I don't think that you can do it," she told him. "I know you can."
He started to smile but the anxiety was still there. Rory kissed it away.
"Big day tomorrow," he said, when she stopped.
Jess nodded but didn't say anything. He looked all around and Rory took his hand.
"Come on," she said gently. "Let's get some rest. How about some icecream?"
Rory laughed and nodded.
They had got icecream as promised, eaten a dinner of takeout, gone to bed early and got lots of rest but it felt as though neither had slept a wink. They had woken up at five and couldn't get back to sleep so had got up, made some coffee and talked away the hours before they opened at nine. For the first ten minutes no one came and Rory could see the tension in Jess's jaw. Then a couple had come in and then another, and another, and a family and another and by midday the place was packed. Luke and Lorelai came just after lunch and, when his uncle walked through the door, Jess smiled properly and the clouds of his worry were washed away.
"You made it," he said, hugging his uncle. Luke hugged him back and said,
"You knew I wouldn't miss it. Look at this place, Jess, it's incredible. It's even better than before."
"You think so?" Jess asked and Luke nodded.
"Absolutely. Would you check out this crowd – you're thriving already."
"I'm glad you came," Jess said seriously and Rory knew that he wouldn't have minded if no one else had come as long as his uncle had been there. Luke seemed to know too as he smiled, nodded and hugged him nephew again.
"Hey Mom!" Rory said, going to her mother who had been waiting patiently. "You came too!"
"Of course I came too, you think I'd miss this?" Lorelai demanded, hugging her daughter tightly. "It looks even better than I imagined."
"Really?" Rory asked and her mother grinned.
"Looks like your dream home."
Rory smiled and said,
"Maybe this'll sound creepy, but it's like the bookroom I always imagined in my head. The place just for me."
"It's how I pictured it too," Lorelai said. "For you. It looks like your place."
"It's Jess's," Rory said but he heard, linked his arm around her and said.
Rory felt a warm rush go through her. She looked up at him, could only smile and it was only Lorelai's cough and nervous words of,
"We've got some news," that made her look away.
"What is it?" Rory asked and then gasped. Her mother was holding out her hand where something silver was glinting.
Rory let out a shriek that made everyone look round and took her mother's hand in her own.
"But how...when...how...oh, Mom!"
"Last night," Lorelai said. "And it feels so right, Rory. We messed it up before but this time we won't mess it up. I won't let it get messed up."
"Don't I get a say in that?" Luke grinned. Rory laughed and hugged him too before asking,
"Well," Lorelai said. "It's a funny story."
"If funny is the right word," Luke cut in. Lorelai gave him a nudge.
"We were watching a Barbra Streisand movie," she said. "And Luke was talking the whole way through because he never learned the rules of Movie Night."
"The rules are stupid!"
"The rules are not stupid, now listen. He was talking and talking and I switched it off and said, you know Luke, I love you but on movie nights I want to kill you. Why can't you be like a husband in one of those old movies? And he looked at me and said, Do you want me to be your husband?"
Lorelai paused, beaming at Luke who was starting to blush.
"And I said, yes," she continued. "I wasn't even thinking but as I said it it didn't feel like I was joking. Then Luke looked at me, nodded and pulled out this ring."
"And he said, well good, because I've wanted you to be my wife for a long time now."
"I bought that ring the same day," Luke interrupted. "I just couldn't find the right moment and your mom, well, she kind of found it for me."
"Rory, why are you crying?" Lorelai asked in alarm as tears started streaming down her daughter's cheeks. "It's happy thing!"
"I know, I am happy, that's why I'm...you're getting married!"
"I'm getting married," Lorelai laughed, pulling her into a hug, sounding tearful herself. You're the first person I've told. Is this better than how you found out last time?"
"By a million!"
Mother and daughter burst into laughter and hugged again. Jess grinned and hugged Luke as well.
"Thanks Jess," Luke said, patting his back. "I want you to be my best man, you know."
"Seriously?" Jess asked, stepping away. "What about...?"
"Who?" Luke asked. "I don't have a brother and my dad's not here and you're family. You're also – you don't have to do it if you don't want to."
"Are you kidding?" Jess asked, a grin breaking out over his face. "Try and stop me."
They all laughed, Rory hugging Luke and Jess hugging Lorelai before breaking away as April came in. Luke and Lorelai went to talk to her and give her the news. Jess and Rory went to greet newcomers at the door.
The next people in were Liz, T.J.. and Doula. T.J. exclaimed at the selection of snacks and went to sample some chips and Doula instantly fastened herself to her brother's leg.
"Hey, sweetie!" Liz exclaimed, enveloping her son in her arms. "Would you look at this place?"
"You like it?" Jess asked and Liz cried,
"Are you kidding? It's better than the place I saw on that dirty movie."
Jess nodded, his mouth moving but refusing to laugh. Liz grinned and said,
"No, it looks good. And you look good, kid."
"Thanks Liz," Jess said, smiling properly. "Means a lot."
She indicated her head and patted his cheek.
"My son's made a success of his life," she said. "You think I'd miss that?"
Jess nodded but he didn't say anything. He didn't have to. Mother and son observed each other in silence and then Liz smiled.
"Well," she said. "I'm going to go check up on my husband."
She walked away and left Jess with Doula who was still gripping onto him tightly.
"Hey, kid," he said, looking down on her. "Have you grown?"
"I've grown a foot," Doula said proudly. Jess laughed out loud.
"A foot, huh?"
"Two feet!" Doula said proudly. "Maybe even five!"
"I knew you looked taller," Jess said seriously. "You look smarter, too."
"Way smarter," Jess said, reaching down and swooping her up. "Wow! You're so smart and so tall that I can't pick you up. I bet you'll be picking me up instead!"
"Quit it!" Doula exclaimed, shrieking with laughter and he put her down, kissing her cheek.
"Come on," he said, taking her hand. "Let's go find you a book."
Lane came after that, alone.
"Zach is on kid duty," she said, beaming. "Which means I get an entire day in New York!"
"Really?" grinned Rory, going and sitting down with her on one of the sofas. "What will you do with all this freedom? Hit the record store yet?"
"Are you kidding? I had to come here first. The place looks great, Rory."
"Really?" Rory asked, echoing Jess's words. "You're not just saying that?"
"Come on, Rory, it looks amazing. If we'd come here when you were sixteen you'd want to live here."
"I still do," Rory admitted and blushed when Lane pointed out,
"Now you can. Rory, you've done such a good job."
"It was Jess, not me."
"Take some credit! I know you helped a little."
"Just a little," Rory insisted. "It was Jess's thing. It is his thing."
She looked over to where he was sitting. He was curled up with Doula on a chair in the corner, a novel open between them and helping her sound out some long words.
"Either way, it looks great," Lane said. She smiled and her eyes misted, suddenly. "I'm so happy for you, Rory."
"You look so happy," her friend said. "You've got this place and you've got Jess and it just...it looks so right, you know?"
"Yeah," Rory said softly. "I know."
"Remember when we were kids?" Lane asked. "And how sometimes we'd get scared and freak about getting older in case we weren't okay? Look at us. We're okay."
"I think we are," Rory agreed, feeling an urge to cry herself. "I know we are."
"We're grown up," Lane laughed. "We made it."
"Not too grown up I hope," Rory teased. "Even if you're a mom I hope you'll always be a kid with me."
"Oh, you know it!"
Paris came by next. She walked around silently, her expression inscrutable and Rory bit her lip, half amused and half-terrified.
"So?" she asked nervously. "What do you think?"
"It's good," Paris said, relieving her with a smile. "It's not bad at all."
"Thank you," Rory said, wondering if she should be concerned about the breath she'd been holding whilst waiting. "I'm glad you like it."
"He's not bad," Paris said quietly as Jess walked past. "I knew it ever since the fast food night."
"Oh, come on Rory," Paris said, making her feel naïve. "Don't you know what I'm talking about?"
The rest of the day passed perfectly. It was exhaustingly busy, there was always someone asking questions but suddenly there was a loud cheer of asking Jess for a speech. He looked embarrassed, shook his head but Matthew shoved a glass of wine into his hand and in the end he laughed and relented.
"I don't know why you all want a speech from me," he said, sounding embarrassed. "All of you who know me know I'm a man of few words, often sarcastic words at that."
He grinned at Luke and Lorelai as everyone laughed. He waited for them to finish and then fell serious.
"I know I should say something though. I want to thank you for coming – all of you – because you're shaping the place. The books are here for someone to read, all of you, any of you. Book aren't just words on the page, they're lives and they can change them. I know."
He broke off, embarrassed, but everyone smiled encouragingly.
"I've got a lot of people to thank," Jess continued. "The first person I want to thank is my uncle Luke, who hates it when I call him that. Luke's been there since I was a kid, since he got a phonecall asking him to take a seventeen-year-old boy who was in trouble and needed a place to go and he took me in, no questions asked. He was there for me, no matter what I did or how badly I screwed up – which I did – and I know that if he hadn't been there for me, hadn't been my uncle, this place wouldn't be here and I wouldn't be talking to you at all. Thank you, Luke."
Luke nodded, smiled and looked away. Rory saw him surreptitiously brush his eye and her mother hold his hand tight.
"I've also got to thank my mother," Jess said, making Liz look up in surprise. "Liz, I'm glad you're my mom. You'll be the first to say you screwed up but I'm the first to say you made it better. I know we have our share of problems but I'm not sorry for any of it. I love you, I like having you for a mother even when we can't see eye to eye and I wouldn't want anyone else. You've given me the best sister in the world and made me a brother and I hope you stay the way you are forever. Thank you, Liz."
Liz wasn't hiding her tears. They flowed freely down her cheeks and Jess looked a little emotional himself.
"But the one person I really want to thank," he said. "Is the person standing next to me. Rory Gilmore."
Rory heard gentle laughter and felt a small flush touch her cheeks as Jess turned to look at her.
"We used to date, a long time ago," he said. "Most of you know that and most of you remember that it ended badly, some more than others."
Lorelai blushed and looked down but Jess was grinning.
"And for a long time I thought it was done between us," he said, sounding serious again. "It was ten years, after all, and we were only eighteen. We stopped seeing each other and made our own way as adults and I remembered Rory as someone I missed from my past."
He paused but didn't look away. Rory kept his gaze, the embarrassment oddly gone.
"But life can be like a novel," Jess continued. "And she came back. We parted again and I thought it was over, again, but she came back. We came back. We found each other again and maybe my mother has it right about fate after all."
Everyone broke into laughter but Jess didn't smirk.
"And it would never be enough to say I'm happy she did," he said seriously. "Because I never stopped loving her. Rory, you talk a lot about how I helped you. You recall the time you screwed up, left school and I got you back but I couldn't have done it without you. I couldn't have done any of it without you. You look uncertain but I'm telling the truth, you sat beside me in your car, told me I could do more and you sowed the seed of hope. I wanted to be someone more than the punk everyone called me. I know I left, I know you didn't see me do it but I always thought of you. When I couldn't write, I thought of you, what you would tell me and it spurred me on. I'm standing here because of you and I never want to leave your side again. Rory Gilmore, you're more than just the woman I love, my friend and my partner. I will never stop loving you. You helped save me. Thank you, Rory. Thank you."
There was a moment's silence and then everyone broke into a roar of applause as Jess and Rory kissed. Rory wiped at a sudden tear, laughing shakily and whispered, "I love you too." Jess nodded, kissed her cheek and waited for the applause to die down.
"Wait," he said. "There's someone else I need to thank and that's my sister, Doula!"
Everyone cheered and laughed and Doula turned a bright red, running to hug her brother as he said some fond words. Everyone came to thank and congratulate them and Liz was still crying as she hugged her son.
"Oh Jesse, that was beautiful," she said tearfully. "Where'd you get that from?"
"Not me," T.J. remarked and everyone frowned in confusion but didn't point out the obvious. Liz turned back to Jess and said,
"So you agree with me then? About the universe?"
"Well," Jess grinned. "You were right about Luke and Lorelai at least. Go talk to them, they have some news."
Liz walked over and they heard a sudden shriek of,
"I knew it, the universe knew it! This is more crazy than when I smoked five pounds of pot!"
Eventually, it was time for everyone to leave. They had given everyone one last hug, Lane promising to come by the next day to show her vinyl, Paris agreeing to let Rory say a few words at her wedding ('even if you did screw me over at graduation') and Lorelai promising to show her dress designs next week.
"You know you'll love them," she said. "I have great taste!"
"I'll love them even more if you let me design," Rory teased but she hugged her mother tightly. "Congratulations, Mom."
"Thanks, kid," Lorelai said. "I'm so happy you're...this is so much better than last time. I'm glad we didn't get married then because now it feels even better."
"It does, doesn't it?" Rory agreed, feeling tearful again. "Drive safe, Mom."
"Oh, you're such a mom!"
Finally the last person had gone. Rory looked around the room, wondering where to clean first when suddenly the door opened. She turned in annoyance, too exhausted to talk and then stopped in surprise.
"Hello," Emily said stiffly. "Are we too late?"
She and Richard were standing awkwardly in front of her and made sounds of surprise as Rory hugged them.
"No," Rory beamed. "What are you doing here?"
"Your mother said there was an open house," Emily said, looking around. "And we weren't going to trouble you, but –"
"It's no trouble," Rory said, still in disbelief. "I'm glad you came."
Jess suddenly reached out and shook their hands.
"May I get you a drink?"
"Wine is fine," Emily said. "For both of us."
Jess nodded, poured them two glasses and carried them back over. Richard looked around and asked him,
"Did you do all this yourself?"
"With Rory's help."
"He's being modest, Grandpa," Rory said. "It was all Jess."
"Hey, I couldn't have got through the paperwork without you."
"Jess, this is all you," Rory said gently. "You made it happen."
Jess smiled and fell silent. Richard finished drinking his wine and said,
"I read your book the other day and I must say, I thought it was very well done."
"Did you?" Jess asked. "Thank you, Sir."
"A little more...edgy than I'm used to," Richard said and Rory bit back a giggle at the use of the word. "But I enjoyed it all the more."
"Thank you, sir."
"Very impressive," Richard nodded. "Very impressive."
There was a short silence and Rory said hastily,
"Grandma, would you like to sit down?"
"Oh – no, thank you," Emily said awkwardly. "We must get back. We just wanted to congratulate you."
"I'm glad you did," Rory said. Her grandmother and grandfather hugged her, started towards the door and stopped as Rory called,
"Grandma? I'll see you for Friday Night Dinner, if that's okay."
The start of a smile began on Emily's face and her eyes shone.
"Yes," she said. "I'll see you then. Don't be late."
"I wouldn't dare, Grandma," Rory grinned. Her grandmother looked like she might laugh but she simply nodded, turned to her Richard and said,
"But Rory –"
"You heard what she said, we'll see her Friday."
"Do you not want to see her Friday?"
"Oh Emily, this ridiculous fight was all you, I was the one insisting –"
"Come on Richard," Emily said in a dangerous voice, pushing him through the door and turning to give her granddaughter one last smile. Then they were gone.
Rory and Jess stood alone in the room, laughing. They laughed for what felt like a long time before Rory finally sighed and looked at the mess.
"We'd better get to work."
"Slow down," Jess said, taking her hands in his. "Forget the mess. Let's take a minute. Let's let it be."
Rory was going to make a joke but she suddenly felt serious.
"Alright," she said. "Let's let it be."
She let Jess lead her over to two chairs in the far corner, away from the rest of the room. It felt different and oddly private and Rory felt a sudden sense of anticipation.
They sat down opposite each other, a chair each and knees brushing, observing each other.
"So," Jess said.
"We made it," Jess said and Rory nodded and shook her head.
"You made it."
"We made it because of each other," Jess said quietly. "I'll always remember that."
"Did you think I'd forgotten?"
Jess answered by pulling her forwards and into a kiss. It was deep and heavy and Rory had to try not to fall onto him, a thought which was not entirely unpleasant.
They finished kissing and Rory looked into his eyes. A memory flashed, against her will and she looked away in shame.
"Rory," Jess said knowingly. "Don't think about that."
"How can I not think about that?" Rory asked. "This, here, now, it's just like...I'm sorry. It's taken me back."
"Rory, let it be," Jess said gently, taking her hands. "The whole thing – let it be."
"How can I let it be?" Rory asked. "When it's in who I am?"
"It is," Jess agreed. "Just like the angry guy I was. We should remember it but not let it haunt who we are. It's not who we are. We aren't the mistakes we made."
Rory looked at him silently and he let out a small laugh.
"And to think I cracked a joke at Luke from getting stuff from a Bette Midler movie."
Rory didn't laugh though. She leaned forward and kissed him again. This time she didn't sit back in her chair.
"You know," she said in a low voice, leaning close to him. "If I'd been told ten years ago we'd be here I don't know what I'd believe."
"I wouldn't believe I'd be anywhere close," Jess said. "I wouldn't believe I'd make it further than Walmart."
"I wouldn't believe I'd quit school."
"Now look at us."
Rory looked at him. His eyes were like her mirror.
"It is what it is, you me," he said, echoing his words from before. They sounded different now.
"That's right," Rory whispered. "We are who we are."
"You're not leaving this time?" Jess murmured but the question wasn't serious. Rory took his face in her hands and said,
"You know the answer, Jess."
He nodded, kissed her again and said,
"I love you."
"I love you too."
He started to kiss her and Rory closed her eyes. It all felt like a strange dream, the time apart and the others and they had made their way back. Nothing existed but the here and now. It is what it is. They had found each other. They had found home.