Trory. Multichapter. Rory is older and perhaps wiser and considering marriage. She seeks out advice of a legal nature in preparation to make her final decision.
Rory sat at the coffee shop nearest Natalie's office, nursing her coffee and fighting a headache as she spoke tersely with her father, who had returned her phone call at his earliest convenience.
"Kiddo, I don't get it. If your sister heard these numbers, she'd shriek high enough to pierce the sound barrier and call all her equally shriek-y friends and plan a shopping spree."
"Please don't call me kiddo, I'm twenty-seven years, not months. And it's not that I'm ungrateful, really, I just don't think it makes any sense."
"Sorry, Rory, but you're my daughter, my first-born at that. Who else am I going to leave my money to? I can't spend it all myself, even with Gigi's help."
"I don't know… give it to Mom."
"I've tried, numerous times. I've even tried slipping her large bills when I pay her my half of the bill when we have lunch—which she always insists we split—enough to cover the bill and a new cashmere coat or two. She won't let me. I know you two have residual hard feelings about me not being able to provide for you before, but I can't go back in time. I get the fact that you don't want to be handed a bunch of money to make your life easier—you want to struggle and earn your own way. I respect that. But as someone who got handed a ton of money later in life—it makes middle age very comfortable. It takes far more money to be comfortable, the older you get. Your hair gets thinner and your muscles shrink and your knees pop for no reason. Distractions are welcome."
Rory made a fist, squeezing her hand hard out of frustration before splaying her fingers wide. "This isn't about me having hard feelings. Really, Dad, we've moved past that. We have a relationship built on who we are now, and who I am now is a journalist with a boyfriend who wants to marry her and thinks I'm hiding the fact that I have a ton of money coming to me. Just give it to charity or put it in a trust for Gigi's kids."
"You're getting married?" Chris asked, genuinely sounding taken aback and proud. "That's great."
"No, I mean, we might. Greg hasn't proposed, but he plans to and we're working on a pre-nup. His lawyer did some digging and I called Grandma and Grandpa already to tell them not to leave me a dime."
Chris chuckled. "How did that work out for ya?"
Rory slumped miserably in her seat. "It didn't. Grandma gave me a lecture about how she's a grown woman who can do well with her money what she wishes, and with Grandpa's money as well. She started saying that if she wanted to buy an island she could."
"Did she?" Chris asked, still amused by the relayed conversation.
"Not yet. I heard Grandpa specifically forbid her in the background and she said she had to go."
He laughed. "Good old Richard and Emily."
"So, we're in agreement? You'll leave the money intended for me to your favorite charity?"
"I have charities covered. I know you say you don't want it now, but things change. If it makes you feel any better, I don't plan to die for at least another forty years, and maybe by then they'll have cured this whole death thing."
"Yeah. That's great and all but it doesn't really help me out with my current situation."
"I'd say just don't get divorced, but you see that advice never panned out for me personally. I'm hoping that third time's the charm. Just, you know, not right away. Maybe after Gigi's out on her own and I'm alone and need someone around so I'm not just talking to myself."
"And on that cheery note, I'm gonna go," Rory said, disconnecting from her last source of hope on the matter of clearing up her inheritances as it pertained to her prenuptial agreement.
She put her phone on the table, then her folded arms, before pressing her forehead down on her arms and willing the world away. So much had happened in the last week. Greg had bought a house in Greenwich. She'd turned in a very well-received article and gotten an assignment to travel to Spain out of the deal to work on a much higher-profile job. She found out she was the named recipient of a crap-ton of money upon the demise of those she loved most in the world. And yet, she still wasn't engaged or any closer to knowing if she were fit to become so.
She lifted her head when a plate slid onto the table. Her eyes focused first on the giant cinnamon roll in direct view, and then she lifted her head up to see Tristan Dugrey standing next to the seat across from her.
"May I?" he asked, gesturing to the empty chair.
"Why not? It's not like my day was going so well before anyhow."
He narrowed his gaze at her to appraise her properly. "You should eat. Clearly your blood sugar is at a low point. You're lashing out at nice men bearing sweet rolls."
"My blood sugar isn't my problem," she said as he sat down.
"And what is your problem? Because I know it's not me. I brought you pastry and I'm easy on the eyes. This is a new suit."
He was right on both counts, but the only thing she was willing to admit to wanting a sample of was the roll. "My problem is that my father does what he whatever he wants and I'm descended from of people who argue about whether or not to buy an island."
He snorted. "That's insane. Of course you should buy an island."
She cocked her head. "No, not me, specifically. Just… never mind."
He pointed to her left hand. "Still no ring, huh?"
"That is not why I'm upset."
He nodded with a patronizing grimace. "Sure it's not."
"Not all women are dying to get married. If it weren't hanging over my head like a pall, I wouldn't be giving it any thought. Just like I wouldn't be thinking about how much money my relatives were going to leave me when they died if I wasn't dealing with this pre-nup."
"Are we talking about your father again?"
She nodded by way of answering. "And my grandparents."
"And you're upset that they want to leave you money and possibly an island?"
"I don't expect you to understand why I'm upset. Having money is second-nature to you."
"Having money doesn't make people bad, no matter what you've chosen to believe," he informed her, with just enough hurt in his voice for her to realize he thought she was generally disgusted by him.
"I know that. Really, I am grateful for them even thinking of me at all, let alone leaving me money. The thing is, it never occurred to me that I had people that planned to leave me much money. I've thought of it as theirs, not mine someday. It's not a motivating factor in my life—I don't do what I do for money. Trust me, when I first started out, I was earning glorified pocket money, and I earn not much more than that now. I love my job. But now Greg probably thinks I was hiding the inheritances, like I'm not ready to share my entire life with him. But believe me, I'd rather have my grandparents and father, annoying as they can be, around for another forty years than benefit from them dying next month."
He smiled. "I believe that. All of that."
"That's because you've seen me do idiotic things, in spades. Greg will have a harder time believing that I had no idea that my own father and my grandparents were leaving me giant sums of money in their wills."
He shrugged. "You'd be surprised how many people have no idea they're included in wills."
She took another piece of roll. "You don't need to make me feel better. It's sweet, but I won't blame you for letting me revel in my absurdity. I deserve it."
He ignored her. "I know a woman who got called in to hear the reading of a will, of which she was the sole beneficiary. She had no idea she was this man's granddaughter, and he had six other grandchildren, all of whom where his legitimate grandchildren. She was illegitimate, born from his oldest son to someone who had worked at their estate and left their employ to go home to raise her baby. He got tired of all his grandchildren's infighting and attempts to weasel the others out of his will, so he rewrote the will to include only this woman, who had no idea she was related to him."
"I bet she was happy."
"She would have been happier if all the rest of the family hadn't shown up to contest the contents, in a loud and vicious manner."
"Two of the grandkids got arrested for assault—they were assaulting each other over an incident with a woman that occurred a decade prior, and a third got arrested for biting one of the arresting officers."
Rory recoiled. "That's awful."
"That's what money can do to some people. You know, she ended up buying a small house and giving the rest to her mother. Money only highlights people's true natures."
"I know, but Greg is going to take this the wrong way. He's going to assume I was planning to hide the assets, in case we get a divorce."
Tristan didn't look convinced. "Surely he knows you better than that."
Rory sniffled slightly. "What makes you say that?"
He used his knuckle to tap the back of her hand. "Because I know you better than that."
She caught his eye and forgot to breathe. "Thanks."
He nodded. "I take it you had another meeting with Natalie?"
"I have one in half an hour. Did you just come from there?"
"We had lunch."
"You guys are still pretty good friends, huh?" she asked, finally asking the question that had piqued her interest from the beginning of her association with Natalie.
"We meet up regularly to talk about Asher. We go over his schedule, see if we need to make adjustments, that kind of thing. Makes it easier to stay on the same page."
Rory was relieved, but her relief bothered her. His relationship with his ex-wife had no bearing on her feelings. It was nice for them, to get along for the sake of their child, and that was all. "She said you're a great dad."
He smiled in a humble way, though it was clear he'd heard the sentiment before. "Yeah, well, I do my best."
"No offense, but it wasn't exactly the description I might have expected of you."
He looked up in curiosity. "And why is that?"
She hesitated briefly as she felt the scrutiny of his waiting eyes on her. "It's just, in high school your reputation was that of a total ladies man."
"It might seem odd, but being a good dad has been a woman-magnet," he conceded.
"Oh, eww, Tristan," she scolded.
"Not that it's my motivation, but it's a fact. I've gotten more numbers at the park with Asher than in any bar in Manhattan."
It didn't ease her mind. "That's disturbing."
"I'm not arguing."
"And you go out with these women?" she pushed.
"I didn't say that. It's not as easy as you might think, for a single dad to date. I can't just let Asher see me with other women. There's a fair amount of discretion involved."
That surprised her, without any disgust. "You haven't introduced him to anyone at all?"
He shook his head. "Not a one. It's one of the things we agreed on, when we split, that we wouldn't introduce him to anyone we weren't serious about."
"That's very mature."
He cocked his head and smirked at her. "Did it hurt to say that to me?"
She clamped down the smile on her lips, but she wasn't very successful. "A little bit."
He turned a hand up in the air haphazardly, in lieu of asking what she could do. "For what it's worth, I'm sure Greg will understand about the whole inheritance thing."
"Thanks," she said glumly.
"Is something else the matter?"
She shook her head. "No. It's stupid. More stupid than the inheritance thing."
"No, really, you've been nice enough. I know you don't want to hear my problems, especially about my relationship. But I appreciate the offer."
"I'm not that nice. Talk," he ordered.
"It's just, my apartment. Greg bought that house in Greenwich, and Natalie suggested I go ahead and move in with him, before he proposes, as sort of a trial run, you know, since I'm not completely … sure yet. Which means I have to end my lease, and I know it's just an apartment, but it's my apartment. It's near work and it was supposed to be my Sex and the City Manhattan apartment, you know? I mean, not really because it's a tenth of the size of any of the apartments on that show, and it's too small to bring anyone to, but still. I hate to give it up, five flights up and all."
"Even Carrie gave up her apartment for Mr. Big."
She raised an eyebrow. "You watched Sex and the City?"
"Natalie loves that show. It was hard to avoid completely with as often as she re-watched the DVDs."
She laughed. "Mr. Big didn't ask Carrie to move to Connecticut. And she kept the apartment when she went to Paris with the Russian."
"You lost me," he admitted. "But you might be able to sublet, if you really don't want to get rid of it right away."
"No, I can't. I'm already subletting, but that just makes it easier to get out of, I figure."
He frowned. "You should have your lease looked over before you do anything."
"Looked over?" she asked.
"Yes. I'm assuming you had a lawyer look it over before you signed it, but just to make sure you avoid a penalty, it can't hurt to have it looked at again for your own protection."
"I didn't have a lawyer look at it before I signed it. It was an available, affordable place in Manhattan near work. And two blocks from the subway," she added, as if that made her point.
"Please tell me you're kidding," he said in a pained voice. "You're dating a guy in real estate, I'm sure he'd back me up on this, you need to have this looked at before you take action."
"Greg doesn't tell me what to do," she said. "I know you're a lawyer and you were married to one, but not everyone's first thought at every juncture of their life is 'oh, I should involve a lawyer.'"
"It's a contract, Rory. Something you signed, I'm guessing without even reading at all."
"I read it. Mostly," she added, putting a dent in her indignant tone. "Did I mention it was near the subway?"
He rolled his eyes. "Just get a copy of it and give me a call. I'll go over it for you."
"I have a lawyer."
He stared at her in disbelief. "Natalie specializes in family law."
"So? You said yourself she's a great lawyer."
"So, you need someone who specializes in contract law."
"I don't have a roster of law school buddies. The law is the law, right?"
"Are you incapable of just saying, 'Sure, Tristan, that sounds great. Thanks for offering'?'" he asked, leaning his elbows on the table as he glared at her.
"I just don't see what the big deal is. It's a just a lease."
"It might not even be a legal sublet. You could be living there illegally, and if that's the case, you will most definitely need a specialized lawyer."
"I can see where you think I'm some stupid woman who isn't wholly on top of everything in her life, what with my misadventures in French and the current foggy state of my relationship, and the fact that I didn't know I was going to inherit a small fortune, but I am capable of basics, like securing my own shelter."
"I'm not arguing with you about this."
"Good," she said, glad to have ended the conversation.
"I'm looking at the lease, whether you like it or not."
"I'm putting my foot down."
"Well, pick it back up. If it's that big a deal, I'll call Paris and have her give me her top recommendation for, what did you say? A contract lawyer?"
"She'll tell you to call me," he shot back smugly.
She crossed her arms and sat back. "I can't pay you."
"We can work something out."
"You want to barter? I have no skills, unless you need to hire a journalist. I can't cook, I hate cleaning, and I only do laundry when I'm out of underwear."
The edge of his mouth upturned. "Good to know."
"Stop thinking about my underwear," she demanded.
"You brought it up."
"I was wrong before. You're not mature at all."
"Look, if you want to move to Greenwich and play house with this guy, you need to get out of your lease. I'm offering to make this easier for you. Trust me, Greg will see it as you being proactive, which will make him feel better about any misunderstanding about wanting to share your assets with him."
Try as she might, she was unable to come off the defensive. "Why did you say assets like that?"
"Like what?" he asked innocently, but she saw some sort of glint to his eyes.
"Fine. Should I call your office and make an appointment?"
"Appointments are for billable hours. Come by tonight around eight. Bring Chinese food. And your lease, of course."
"Think of it as the first installment. I like pork. And egg rolls," he said as he tossed a business card at her with his office information.
"Isn't this some sort of conflict of interest?"
"I don't know, it just seems… conflicting."
"That sounds like a personal problem. If you want, you can bring Greg with you," he offered.
"No, I mean, with Natalie."
"Natalie doesn't care what I do or whom I do it with personally or professionally. And if anything, this will just make her job easier."
She bit her lip. "Okay. I guess. We're developing quite a habit of trading food for favors."
"You said you couldn't afford to pay. Which is ironic, since you'll be rolling in it one day, apparently."
"I can offer to pay you in roughly ten to thirty years, based on average life expectancies. Do you take IOUs?" she asked playfully.
"I prefer prepayment. Hence dinner."
"Fair enough. It really won't take long, it's just a simple form that my landlord got online. What, what is that look for?"
"I'm just often struck at how smart women do stupid things."
"And you never do stupid things?" she baited, knowing the opposite was true.
"I didn't say that. But I own up to them, I don't defend their veracity."
"You're the one that insists on helping me."
"And you still maintain you don't need help, even though I found you in here moping over your coffee."
"I wasn't moping."
"Yes, you were."
"I was recovering."
"From what, the walk over?"
"No, from talking to my father. I realize you've never spoken to my parents, but they're both high energy and separately they're manageable, just barely. Together, I need fluids afterward."
"That explains a lot, actually," he informed her.
"I'm always worn out after seeing you. Clearly it's a genetic ability you have," he said as if it weren't an insult. "Shouldn't you get to Natalie's office?"
She checked her watch. "Oh, shoot. Thanks for reminding me."
She started to gather her things to leave, but he remained seated. "I'm here to help, apparently."
She paused and looked down at him. He did look good in his new suit, but he was oddly relaxed in posture for his outfit. His tie was just a little loosened around his neck, like he'd tugged on it once just a little too hard. "Thanks. I really do appreciate it, all the help you've given me."
"It's just, I tend to do things on my own."
"You've made that clear. You're almost as stubborn as I am."
She could only smile before she left him alone at their table.
"Do you want me to talk to him?"
"I don't need my mommy to talk for me. I already talked to him, anyway."
Lorelai snorted. "Please. I can talk that man into anything. Once, I got him to wear a skirt, a wig, and Pretty In Pink lipstick to sing a melody of Cyndi Lauper songs for the school talent show."
"That is not a mental image I ever needed to have of my father. Or of anyone really. Besides, he's trying to be nice. I get that."
"Except he and the Magnificent Ambersons are making you look bad to the guy that's thinking about proposing to you."
"Greg will understand, I think. His lawyer might not, but Natalie said lawyers aren't paid to think the best of people."
"Which is why I loathe dealing with them. They're a bunch of soulless bureaucrats."
"Tristan said I need another kind of lawyer, to look over my lease."
"Gah! More lawyers?"
"Just Tristan. He's making me bring him my lease before I try to get out of it."
"He's making you? Is that a new technique for bringing in clients, force?"
"I'm not really a client. I'm paying him in egg rolls and moo shu pork."
"Tristan has been very helpful lately. First with drinks and French, now with dinner and helping you with your lease. Have there been any other helpful late-night activities?"
"No, and there won't be. If he wasn't so relentlessly annoying about what an idiot I was for not knowing what I was signing in the first place, I wouldn't be meeting him tonight."
"You didn't read your lease?"
"It was affordable and close to work! Who asks questions?"
"Well, if he saves you from jail, he might expect more than egg rolls."
"He's not interested in me like that. He's got a kid, and he thinks I'm a moron."
"Hey, people with kids still date. And he doesn't think you're a moron."
"He should. I should have known Grandma and Grandpa were leaving me money. They donated a building and named it after me at Yale. Have you talked to Grandma this week? She was kidding about buying an island, right?"
"She's looking at time-share options. Dad threatened to hire someone to put her shoe collection on 'the eBay' if she bought one."
"I hate it when they fight, but it is always humorous."
"That it is," Lorelai agreed.
"Anyway, Tristan had a point. If I'm serious about wanting to break my lease, I should know what the situation is. And I can't afford to pay rent and help Greg with the mortgage, and it's illegal to sublet since I'm already a sublet."
"So you're really moving to Greenwich? Not that I'm not thrilled to have you a little closer, but I'm not sure it's a more desirable location, reality-wise."
"It's a really nice house."
"I'm sure it is. They've outlawed falling down shacks and cars more than five years old in Greenwich."
"My only concern is that it's going to add to my commute, and I need to be available to hop on a plane at a moment's notice."
"Well, you have a little notice this time. You don't leave for Spain for a couple of days, right? I want to have a fiesta before you go."
"You might have to settle for a siesta. I'd personally kill for one. After dinner with Tristan, I have about four hours of notes to read, so I'll be ready for my meeting with my editor before I make my final arrangements for Spain."
"Where does Greg factor in?"
"We're having a quick lunch tomorrow. He's so busy lately, he won't even be able to drop me at the airport."
"Sounds like he's going to have to get you to move in, to see you at all."
"It's not that bad. We're just busy right now. Things will slow down, eventually. Maybe around Thanksgiving."
"Which you are spending with me, right? I can't bear a Gilmore holiday without you around. It devolves very quickly from how well you're doing to the fact I'm not married and live alone. There are suggestions of adopting cats and how to find roommates that won't rob and murder me."
"I need you. Greg will just have to cope."
"I'll pass on the message. My food's ready, I need to go."
"Okay, okay. But if Tristan offers to help you with anything involving the removal of your underwear, I expect a phone call and full details."
"Mom! He's not going anywhere near my underwear. He's essentially helping me move in with Greg."
"I'm sure he's quite the Boy Scout. Eat an egg roll for me!" Lorelai added before they hung up.
Rory paid for the bags of food, doing her best to wipe her mind clear of any unforeseen possibilities the night held. They'd have dinner, he'd mock her for having signed her lease, and they'd part ways into the never-ending traffic of Manhattan.
She could resist the sexual tension that tended to occur between them, because she was involved with Greg. Greg trusted her, even when he didn't know where she was. She wondered if she should give him a call and just tell him, so it wouldn't feel like something she was hiding from him. She had no reason to hide Tristan from Greg—not that she felt any desire to push them together for any reason, either.
By the time she found Tristan's office, she handed him the bags the moment he opened his office door and blurted out what was on her mind. "Greg doesn't know I'm here."
He put the bags on his desk, not showing any signs of alarm at her proclamation. "Do you want to call him?"
She shook her head and sat down in the chair on the opposite side of his at his desk. "No. He's working. I just thought I should mention it."
"It's not a problem for me, but he's not my boyfriend," he said as he began unpacking the bags. "I assume the noodles are for you," he said, holding the open carton of chicken lo mein out to her after he stuck chopsticks into the carton.
"Thanks. Do you have one?"
His head snapped up from the bags to survey her. "A boyfriend?"
"Well, I mean, a girlfriend. Someone you're seeing."
He put a carton on his desk and folded his hands on his lap. "Why?"
She shrugged. "Just making conversation. You were talking about how it's not easy to date with a kid."
"No, I said I had to be discreet. I date."
"Oh," she said.
"This is somehow disappointing to you?"
"No, it's just, good for you."
She was stabbing her noodles with her chopsticks and pointedly not looking at him and the way he was sitting with his leg crossed over his knee. "I'm not seeing anyone at the moment."
She looked up tentatively. "Okay."
"I don't do set-ups if that's what this is about."
She put a hand to her chest. "No, no, honestly, I wasn't thinking of setting you up with anyone. I don't even know any single women, except Natalie, whom you've already dated, and well, my Mom, who would probably go out with you, but she's a little old for you. Unless you like older women," she rambled.
"Did you just suggest I should go out with your mom?" he asked, understandably horrified.
"No. God no. Never," she said, delving into her bag for a distraction. "I brought the lease, I should just let you look at it."
"I think that's better than talking at the moment," he said, accepting the single sheet of paper as she offered it out between them.
She shoved a mouthful of noodles in to keep her from being able to form words. She was mortified, on a number of levels, and wanted only to take her ridicule and free legal advice and escape.
"Do you want the good news or the bad news?"
"Good news, first," she said after she swallowed.
"You should have no problem giving them almost no notice. They crossed out thirty days, here, and I think that's a ten written in. It's hard to tell, without having a handwriting analysis done, which would probably disclose a very disturbing personality."
"Is that the bad news?" she asked flippantly.
"No, the bad news is that you signed something that had 'EZ Lease' printed on the top."
She snatched the lease from him and shoved it back in her purse. "I knew both of those facts already. What did I buy you dinner for?"
"The fact that that document won't stand up in court, so it doesn't matter if you just disappear overnight. They probably won't notice, which is a problem only if you're abducted or killed."
"I have neighbors. Mr. Keener down the hall has dogs, and I pass him in the hall every morning when he takes them out for a walk."
"You know your neighbors? This is Manhattan."
"That's really no excuse not to be friendly."
"Must be a small town thing," he scoffed.
"What's wrong with being nice to people?"
"Nothing at all. But some of the millions of people in the city are lunatics. You can't treat them equally."
"Please, I'm from Stars Hollow. It's full of lunatics. But those lunatics bring Bundt cake and soup over when you're sick and sit with you when you have a death in the family."
"All I remember about Stars Hollow is the lady at the dance studio we rented, she asked me if I had a light for her cigarette, and she pinched my butt when I offered her one."
"That's Miss Patty. She's mostly harmless. Unless you're a male."
He appeared unsettled at the description. "Well, you'll know your neighbors in Greenwich, though I'm not sure you'll want to."
"I'll barely be there anyhow. I'll probably spend longer hours at work, to miss heavy commuting times. And I'm being sent on more foreign assignments. I go to Spain in a few days."
"To cover the fallout of the Prime Minister's scandal?" he asked.
"You've heard about it?"
He nodded. "My family has a place in Barcelona. Our landscaper's niece works at the embassy, so I've heard a few things, off the record."
"Can I get her number? It might be interesting, to interview her, for another perspective. She might have something I'm not going to get from any of his aids."
"I'll get it for you," he agreed.
"I'm afraid I'm out of food to offer," she joked. "And I think we can rule out pleasant conversation."
"You're not yelling at me, much, and you're not asking as many questions as my kid, so it's not as unpleasant as you might think. My bar, as a lawyer and a father of a small child, is kind of low at the moment."
"Well, you might not have a girlfriend, but surely you have other guys to hang out with, to get to talk to adults outside of work," she suggested.
He shook his head. "Nah. You go into this kind of communication hole when you have kids, especially when you're the first of your friends to do the whole marriage and kid thing. I mean, I still see some of them sometimes, but everyone's got work, and now most of them are in relationships, starting to have kids themselves. You'll see."
"When you have kids," he clarified. "Don't you want kids?"
Her mouth dropped open. "Oh, um, maybe? I guess?"
"Are you asking me?" he turned it back to her.
"No, I mean, I guess I've always figured I'd have them someday. Sort of like when I thought I'd get married. Someday. Far in the future, after my career had taken off and started to take shape."
"Well, hasn't it? You're a journalist, working for a major publication, being sent around the world. What else did you hope to accomplish before figuring out the rest of it?"
She hadn't considered that her position in life had changed so much. "Nothing, I guess. I'm still young, though, there isn't a rush. Not that there's anything wrong with people my age having kids. I know I'm plenty old enough. Do you want more kids?"
He shrugged. "I don't know. It was easier, five years ago, to stay up all night. I could get up with Asher, soothe him for hours, get an hour of sleep on the couch after he finally passed out, and put in a full day's work. Now if he's sick and I'm up half the night, I have to take a day off to recover. That's if he doesn't give me whatever he picked up at school."
"I really hadn't thought of that."
"It's not so bad," he said. "I mean, the lack of sleep is brutal at first. I went to military school, so I was kind of prepared for the complete breaking down of my old ways and having my limits pushed. But having a kid is way more rewarding than having to scrub a bathroom with a toothbrush while a guy with a crew-cut screams at you."
She considered that. "I would hope so."
"It's sort of like creating a mirror image of yourself. You make this little person that does and says all the same stuff you do—whether you realize it or not—good and bad."
"That's what my mom always said," she said with a soft smile.
"It's worth the million questions an hour he asks and the psychotic kid shows with the overly repetitive songs, and the temporary loss of a social life. But honestly, until I made junior partner, I didn't have a social life anyway. Hell, I'm still at the office at all hours, even tonight, when Nat has Asher."
"Yes, but it's not a billable hour," she reminded him. "And you are having dinner with an adult that you do not work with. I'll do my best not to yell at you. Anymore," she added with a smile.
"I appreciate that," he said, picking up a carton of steamed vegetables. "Want some?"
Her nose wrinkled reflexively. "Ugh, no. Way too healthy."
"Why'd you get it if you don't like it?" he asked.
"I don't know, I figured you might want something that wasn't covered in sauce. You just look like you probably eat healthy or work out."
"You've been checking me out?" he asked, with a fair amount of glee.
"What? No. It's just, you have a certain stature, and that's of a relatively healthy person. And healthy people often eat vegetables."
"It's not a crime to check me out, you know. People do it all the time," he assured her.
"I think you're confusing me with one of those sad park mothers," she informed him briskly. "I'm otherwise involved."
"Haven't you ever heard the phrase, 'you can look but don't touch'?"
"Only people who want to touch use that phrase," she said.
"It doesn't make you a bad person to notice other people."
"I wasn't checking you out, okay? I bought vegetables, not an order for an inquisition," she exclaimed.
"Is this because Greg doesn't know you're here?"
"You said that didn't matter."
"To me? It doesn't. It might to him. I know if I had a girlfriend that I just bought a house for, I might care that she was in some guy's office eating dinner with him and buying him vegetables because he has a nice body."
"I did not order for your nice body! I ordered a variety of things."
He chuckled as he speared a steamed piece of broccoli. "You'd probably appreciate a change of topic right about now, huh?"
"Very much so," she agreed, attempting to check her mood to a more stable, easy-going point. It seemed a mounting task.
"Why aren't you sure about this Greg guy?"
"I'm not unsure about him. He is what every other woman in the city is looking for. He's got a great job, he treats me well, and he lets me have the last piece of pizza. He opens doors and doesn't complain when I stay up late reading with a light on."
"So what doesn't he do?"
She looked up, startled by his question. "I… it's my issue, not his."
"Maybe if you talk about it, you can move past it. Crazier things have happened."
"You said you didn't want to hear about my relationship stuff. This is the epitome of relationship stuff."
"Consider it a one-night only deal. I'll be the priest, you confess your sins, and we'll never speak of it again. You can go to Spain absolved or whatever."
"Or whatever," she said with a sigh. "Do you remember my first boyfriend, when we were in high school?"
He frowned. "Refresh my memory."
"Dean? You two had a very West Side Story moment at the winter formal?"
"Dean was your first boyfriend? Geez, that explains so much," he muttered.
"Why do you keep saying that? Do I do a lot of things that don't make sense to you?" she asked.
"Nearly everything you do, in fact," he said. "But go on. What about Dean?"
"He was a great boyfriend. He never forgot our plans, he was nice to my mother, and he cared about if I was too hot or too cold, and always got me home by curfew."
"He sounds swell," Tristan said with an eye roll.
"He was. He was the textbook definition of a nice guy. And do you know what I did to him?"
Tristan eyed her with interest. "Is this about to get dirty?"
"No! When I was dating Dean, I kissed someone else, someone that I was incredibly attracted to, but also someone who argued with me all the time, who was rude to everyone and didn't care what anyone thought of him, be it adults or other kids."
"Sounds like a rebel," he offered.
"He was. He smoked and called his mother by her first name, and I've never met anyone my mother hated more based on sheer lack of respect."
"Is this your way of telling me you have a bad boy complex? This doesn't make you unique. How do you think I scored so many dates in high school?"
"I didn't like him only because he was a bad boy, if you must use that phrase. What he and I had… it was intensely physical. We weren't heading to the same path in life, at all. Not that we didn't have anything in common, we did, but honestly it wouldn't have mattered much if we hadn't. It was the same with Logan, in college."
"Is this the one that proposed?"
She nodded. "We were so different, in what we wanted out of life. But again, it didn't matter. I kept going back to him, because he'd get this look in his eyes, then we'd kiss, and before I knew it…," she said with a hard swallow.
Tristan shifted noticeably. "Yeah, I've been there a few times myself. So where does this leave Greg?"
"It's not that things with him aren't… adequate. It's always good. But there's good, then there's… you know."
He scratched at his eyebrow with his thumb and cleared his throat. "Yeah. I know."
"It's not a reason not to marry him. It would just be nice to find someone that wanted the same things I do, and that still provided that kind of chemistry that I couldn't deny."
"So why are you going through all this pre-nup business?"
"Because I can't keep holding out for something that probably isn't going to happen. I have to grow up and accept that every relationship has limitations. Greg and I have a lot in common. I thought we wanted the same kind of life."
"But you're not sure now."
She shook her head. "It makes me feel so shallow. Who else complains about a giant house in a well-to-do area?"
"As someone who grew up in such a house, I can tell you it's not all it's cracked up to be. If it's not where you want to be, any place can feel like a prison."
"I've tried to talk to him about finding a place in Manhattan. But he's a numbers guy and keeps telling me about crime rates and schools and how we're just going to want to be there in ten years anyway statistically, and how the market is starting to come back and the interest rates," she explained trailing off in much the same way her mind wandered when Greg had been talking about it all originally.
"Put you to sleep a little bit, did it?"
"It's not like I don't care about real estate. But it's like law. No offense, but it's not exactly what people read about for pleasure."
"None taken. I don't read law journals in my off time."
"What do you read?"
He shrugged. "All kinds of things. You want like my top-ten list?"
"A few notable favorites at least," she encouraged.
"Joyce, Fitzgerald, Wilde, and of course, Hemingway."
She groaned in pain. "What is it with guys and Hemingway?"
He drew back at her indignation. "Don't blame me because you don't understand the male psyche. He was brilliant at taking life from his point of view and making it art."
"I certainly hope all men don't view life like Hemingway," she scoffed.
"He liked a good fight, he needed perhaps more than his fair share of praise, but he wasn't just an observer. He lived life and shared all of it."
"I've tried and tried to get through his books, I just never have been able to force my way through."
"Who makes your top list?"
"There's so many," she said, her brain starting to flood with any number of books that had been her favorite at one time or another.
"Please don't just say Jane Austen. Or worse, Candace Bushnell," he groaned.
She laughed. "I'm far more enamored with Tolstoy, myself."
"Long, sad, Russian novels. This is what you read for fun?" he teased.
"I can't remember the last night I had just for fun, especially the kind that wasn't planned. Everything's so busy now, with work and now appointments, and scheduled dinners and events."
"You should rectify that," he suggested. "Immediately."
"What about you? Didn't you say you had no social life and should be out instead of working when you don't have Asher? Need I remind you we're in your office?"
He stood up. "Get your jacket."
She frowned and remained seated. "Why?"
"We're going to have fun," he said as he quickly bussed the remainder of their dinner.
She looked around, as if there might be hidden cameras. She wasn't sure what television show might be on that involved such types of pranks, but surely there was some incarnation of Punk'd on MTV or some other station that had lost its original purpose for programming. "What kind of fun?"
"The spontaneous kind. The kind that doesn't involve work or real life. It's just you and me and the city. The city is fun. I haven't taken advantage of it in years, but there's a million things out there just waiting to amuse us."
He opened the door, holding it for her. "Yes."
She stood up and grabbed her jacket as he suggested. She walked haltingly to him and paused. "Do you have any idea where we're off to?"
He shook his head. "Something will jump out at us."
"Like a mugger?"
"Where's your sense of adventure?"
"I can't believe I'm agreeing to this."
He looked down at her. They were in his doorway, not quite pressed together but close enough for him to fill her frame of view. "Think of it as paying your respects to the city. You can't leave it without remembering what a good time it offered. It's like getting married without having a stag party."
"Those things are stupid," she decreed.
He shook his head. "It's a rite of passage. They might be cliché, but they're important."
She bit her lip. "I hate that you make sense."
He smiled at her. "I get that a lot, actually."
She gave a sigh of defeat. "Look out fun, here we come."