It was after dark when he knocked on her bedroom window, startling her. She was embarrassed; she had been lying on her side on the cool hardwood floor. Somehow it seemed safer down there; the world wasn't spinning quite so quickly. She had her knees drawn up to her chest, and she was staring at the dust bunnies beneath her bed. She never got around to cleaning under there. Usually she was a very tidy person. To Rory, the dust bunnies were just more evidence of her moral decline.
She picked herself up, unconsciously smoothing her rumpled uniform. She stared out the window a moment, then opened the sash. "Go away!" she whispered.
"Rory," he whispered back.
"You have to go now!" she told him. "If Dean sees you here, he'll kill you."
He laughed. "Who cares?"
"Please," she begged. "It's just too hard."
"Are you afraid of him?" he asked seriously.
"No!" she said. She wasn't. She was afraid of hurting him. Of hurting him more.
"Are you sure?" he asked.
She felt like she wanted to cry, because he didn't understand. She had cried so much today. She literally couldn't cry any more. "Go away," she said.
"Rory." He held out his hand. "Come away with me now. Let's get out of here."
She was stunned. Leave her mother? Leave Stars Hollow? Her home, her friends? Leave school and everything she'd worked for? Leave and go where? She looked over her shoulder. In the living room, her mother and grandmother were screaming at each other.
She reached out, and grabbed his hand. What am I doing? she thought.
His hand was bigger than hers, square and strong and callused. She threw
her leg over the window sill.
"Are you thinking you made a mistake?" he asked a while later, his hands at ten and two on the wheel. They had been driving south in the dark, steadily eating up the highway.
"Whose car is this?" she asked. The question had been on her mind for some time.
He smiled, a typical Jess smile. "I borrowed it."
"Oh," she said, troubled. "Does the person you borrowed it from know you took it?"
In response he only shrugged.
Rory hugged herself, suddenly cold.
"What?" he said.
She shook her head. Then she said: "I was just wishing I had a change of clothes." It was the first thing that popped into her head. "This uniform is so stupid."
He looked her up and down. "I like it."
"Oh," she said again, this time in a very small voice. She didn't really
understand, but she had just realized that she was alone on the road with
a boy, for real. It didn't matter that he was a boy she had always liked.
Were they together now? What was he going to expect from her? He was more
experienced than she was, and maybe kind of rough around the edges. But
that was what had attracted her to him in the first place, wasn't it? She
turned her head and looked out the window.
"We need money," he said, pulling into a gas station. It had started to pour, and the rain drummed on the roof of the car. The sound was happy and cozy, but Rory was nervous and anxious.
"What are you going to do?" she asked, imagining terrible things. She looked over at the gas station attendant. He was just a boy, not much older than the two of them.
"After I fill up, that's almost the end of my cash. There's this guy I know. If I do something for him, he'll pay me to do it."
"Do what?" she said suspiciously.
"Does it matter?" he asked. He opened his door. "It'll be quick."
"Wait!" she said. "What will I do?"
He frowned. "You wait in the car. No matter what." He leaned over and kissed her softly, barely touching her with his tongue. It was their first kiss since Sookie's wedding. His hand skated lightly across her breast, and she stiffened. "Do you have any money?" he asked.
"No," she said. She didn't even have a change of underwear.
"Don't worry so much all the time," he said. "Our lives are different now."
He pulled up his collar and ran to the payphone.
Of course she told her mother about the kiss. In the end, she told her mother everything. But her mother had told Sookie, and that really wasn't fair. Rory had spent the entire summer with Paris in Washington, and she hadn't told her. She hadn't even told Lane, and Lane was her very best friend. Then Sookie told Jackson. That was to be expected, Rory supposed, after all, they were married. But Sookie was clumsy, it was what she was known for(besides her cooking).
Sookie told Jackson while they were shopping for frozen pizza at Doose's Market. They were trying to be discreet; usually she made her own pizza. Sookie thought they were alone--they were at the back near the freezers--but Taylor was lurking just around the corner. Taylor was a busybody, of course he listened. Like always, Taylor got it wrong. He thought Sookie was telling her new husband that Rory and Dean had broken up.
Taylor was infuriated. His face got red and he made a noise. He thought Jess was a bad seed; an innocent like Rory was exactly the sort of girl he'd choose to prey upon. Now Dean would mope around for months; a lovesick stock boy affected the entire market. The next morning, when Dean stopped by on the way to school to pick up his paycheck, Taylor offered his condolences.
"What are you talking about?" Dean had asked, thinking Taylor was more off his rocker than usual.
Even then, Taylor didn't understand his mistake. He went ahead and made things worse. "It's for the best, son," he told Dean. "If she's going to kiss other boys behind your back, you need to forget her."
"Which boys?" Dean said dangerously.
Rory had been in chemistry, sitting beside Paris and listening to Madeline complain about her new haircut, when she saw Dean stalk past the classroom. His profile was briefly framed in the door window, then he continued past. The bottom dropped out of her stomach. That was the moment she knew the jig was up. She was trapped; she couldn't run out of class, and even if she did, she'd only meet him in the hall. Rory was a very smart girl, but she couldn't see a way to contain this situation. She knew that whatever Dean had to say to her, she deserved it; she had betrayed him. If only he didn't have to say it now, not at Chilton, in front of all these bored, rotten, rich kids. They would never let go of it. They would find the whole situation terribly amusing.
The door banged open. "Rory!" said Dean, and for a second she really was afraid, even though it was only Dean, and he'd never given her a reason to be scared of him. He was so tall, he couldn't stand in the doorway, he had to come into the room.
"Dean!" said Rory, jumping to her feet. Then she had nothing else to say. There was nothing to be said.
"What the hell is he doing here?" said Paris, looking outraged. Anything that interrupted class upset Paris. Across the isle, Madeline made a contented little noise, like a cat's purr, and settled back for some entertainment.
"How could you?" Dean demanded, his voice breaking. "With him?"
An awed murmur spread across the classroom, and Rory blushed. Dean was making sound like she and Jess had shared more than a kiss. Stupidly, she thought: I guess nobody's going to call me 'Mary,' now.
"Get out of here this instant!" barked Mrs. Werner-Smith, the chemistry teacher. She had been paralyzed by Dean's amazing entrance; now, she pulled herself together. She picked up her phone. "Security!" she said.
"Dean," said Rory. "I'm so sorry." She managed to propel herself forward, toward him. Every instinct was telling her to run away, out of his reach. She still didn't know what he was going to do. He lunged suddenly, and grabbed her upper arm. She gasped, more out of humiliation than pain. She couldn't believe she had gotten herself into this mess. "Dean!" she cried out shrilly, as he dragged her into the hallway.
"I need security right now!" shrieked Mrs. Werner-Smith.
"Are you people just going to sit here?" Paris demanded of her classmates, but they ignored her. They could see the hallway well enough to follow the action; the only thing that would have gotten them off their asses would have been an obstructed view. Paris ran into the hall in time to see Dean shaking Rory. Rory was pressed against the lockers. She was crying, now. To Paris, she looked pathetic.
"I was in love with you!" Paris heard Dean yell, but she still wasn't sure if he was dangerous, or just heartbroken. Paris had always had the impression that Dean was a big, dumb dolt who was crazy-mad-in-love with Rory; she'd never thought of him as menacing. She was just making up her mind to err on the side of caution and swipe his knee, when security made the decision for her. Someone hauled on the back of her blazer, pulling her out of the way. Then they were on him. They took him down with their batons.
"Don't hurt him!" Rory screamed, horrified. "It's not his fault!"
"I was in love with you!" Dean screamed, as they dragged him away. "I would have done anything for you!"
"Oh God, Dean!" Rory cried. Her knees gave way, and she slid down to sit with her back against the lockers.
"Get up," said Paris rudely. "I'll take you to the bathroom."
"Paris?" said Rory, tears running down her face.
Paris was irritated to see that Rory was even prettier when she cried. "Come on!" she said. "Let's get you away from the Peanut Gallery. I'm sure someone has already called your mother."
"My mother," Rory moaned. "She's gonna love this."
Jess got back in the car and turned on the heater. He was all wet. He started the engine, and backed up beside the pumps, his arm flung casually over the back of her seat. Rory could smell him; he smelled musty, of damp denim. She was relieved he was just getting gas, that he wasn't robbing the station. "Did you reach your friend?" she asked.
"My friend," he repeated, with a faint laugh. "Yeah."
"Do you have a job?" she asked. She was feeling stupider by the second.
"Sure," he said. "Hang on a minute." He got out of the car again, to fill the tank.
Rory folded her hands in her lap. It's not too late, she was thinking. I can still go home, if I go right away. She looked across the lot, to the payphone. It was illuminated by a tiny light.
Just get out of the car, she told herself. Walk to the phone, and call her. She'll be here in a flash.
But she couldn't seem to get moving, and by the time she had almost made up her mind to do it--to leave Jess--he was back.
"All right," he said. "We have to get a move on."
"Jess," she said.
"What?" he asked irritably. He was bothered because he was wet, but Rory didn't know that; she thought he was irritated with her. What if he decided to dump her? Suddenly the prospect of waiting for her mother in the rain, all alone in the middle of the night, wasn't all that appealing. I can still call her later, she thought.
"Never mind," she said to Jess.
She stayed in the bathroom for a long time. She sat on the floor. To her credit, Paris missed chemistry and kept her company. Paris even sat on the floor with her. She let Rory put her head on her lap and sob her guts out. "There, there," said Paris, unconvincingly. "For Pete's sake!"
Paris wouldn't miss their next class though, they had a test. "If you miss it, you'll fail," she told Rory unhelpfully. "You'll never catch up."
"I don't care," Rory sobbed, although normally she would have cared very much. She worked hard to keep her head above water at Chilton.
"Your boyfriend coming by to beat you up is not the sort of thing they take into consideration," Paris said. Paris sucked at comforting.
"He didn't beat me up!" Rory insisted.
"News flash, Gloria Steinem," Paris said, getting to her feet. "Banging you into a locker is beating you up."
"I deserved it," Rory said. "I kissed another guy."
"Oh, shut up," Paris said, "you're confused." She pulled up her knee socks. "Are you coming?"
Rory sniffed, and Paris made a face.
"I can't go back out there," Rory said. "I can't face all those jerks."
"But that's just it," Paris said. "They are jerks. Why do you care what they think?"
Rory was too upset to answer, and it was too hard to explain, anyway; it was all just flashes and feelings. It was like everyone had seen her naked. She felt dangerously out of control. She felt weak and silly. She wasn't supposed to be roadkill on the highway of her own life story.
Paris sighed. "I'll get them to tell Lorelai you're hiding in here," she said.
"I'm not hiding!" Rory insisted, but of course she was.
She woke up when he stopped a second time. "Where are we?" she asked, feeling dazed.
"I thought you were sleeping," he said, in a quiet voice.
"You were going to leave me!" she said. She was still half asleep.
He raised his eyebrows. "Why would you think that?"
She looked down at her hands. The truth of the matter was that she had been thinking of leaving him.
"Rory," he said carefully. "I want you with me. I came to get you, remember?"
"I won't leave you," he promised. "Not ever."
"Okay," she said, not sure if she could really believe that. What if another blonde caught his eye? Did he like blondes better? Or was it just that he liked fast girls, girls who knew more, girls who did more, girls who went farther than she was willing to go?
He put his hand on her cheek, and she leaned into it, because she was scared. She wanted him to touch her, but she only wanted him to touch her as much as she wanted to be touched. Did he get that? She put her hand on his wrist, and felt something slow and dangerous turn over inside her. Her heart was suddenly very heavy in her chest, and she opened her mouth, letting out a hard breath. He slid his hand around the back of her neck, and pulled her to him.
This kiss was the real deal. She felt it everywhere; it made her shiver. He was closer now. He was putting his hands on her, and she liked it. If it had stopped there, it would have been okay, but he was snaking his hand down her thigh, scrabbling under her skirt. She squirmed. She wasn't ready for that. She brought her knees together quickly. She put a hand on his chest, her elbow locked, to hold him back. If he wasn't willing to stop, she wasn't sure what she was going to be able to do about it. She turned her head away. Her other hand flew out and connected with the foggy passengers' window, hurting her knuckles. "Ow!" she said. She felt for the door handle, but she couldn't find it, and then she found it, but she couldn't get the door open; it was locked. She twisted, trying to reach the lock, panicking now, and breathing hard.
"Hey," he said. "I didn't mean to scare you." She was mashed against the door, shuddering and waiting to see what was going to happen next.
Jess slid back over to his own seat, groaning. He let out a deep breath, then ran his hands through his hair. "Arrgh," he said. He looked at her. "Rory, I'm not going to force you. It's just-"
He broke off, and opened his own door. He got out of the car, slamming the door behind him. He stood with his back to the window, his arms crossed over his chest. Rory could see the puffs of his breath.
He opened the door, and got back in the car, sitting sort of sideways,
with his back partially to her. "I only stopped to get coffee," he said.
He didn't look at her. "Can you drive for a while? I need to get some sleep."