Family Feudalism

Chapter 11

Through narrowed eyes, Emily watched Christopher console his mother as she licked her wounds in the living room. She was the last person in the house who had a right to be upset, Emily thought. Francine was the one who was out of line, putting on this masquerade. It was high time someone put her in her place.

“Feel better now?” Lorelai asked, pulling Emily to the bar. “Or did you want to strangle her?”
“I wish you would take this seriously. Francine tried to—”

“I know, I know. She tried to use Rory,” Lorelai said.

“You would throw a fit if I ever pulled something like that.”

“So true.” She paused for a moment and said, “And if you did, I guess you’d have to set Rory up with Jason Stiles. We’ve always shared shoes and clothes. It was only a matter of time before we got around to men.”

“Be more disturbing,” Luke said dryly, from his place next to her.

“That is not funny,” Emily said. “I wouldn’t use Rory like that.”

“Of course you wouldn’t,” Lorelai said. “You know how I like to make jokes.” She went on to add, “Even when Francine invited them to dinner she had to know it probably wasn’t going to work.”

Emily looked at Lorelai sharply. “Probably?”

“Definitely,” Lorelai said quickly. “And even if they didn’t already know each other, it probably still wouldn’t have worked.”

Probably?”

“Definitely.”

Emily shook her head as she looked around the house. She frowned. “Where is Rory?”

Lorelai scanned the area and shrugged. “I don’t know. I was preoccupied. If I was supposed to be baby-sitting both of you, I want a raise. My fees increase significantly when I have more than one charge.”

Emily tried to walk away, but Lorelai grabbed her arm. “Oh no, you’re staying right here with me. Drink this,” she said, passing Emily a tumbler.

“I just want to find Rory.”

“I’m sure she’s fine, wherever she is.” Lorelai looked toward the foyer. “There she is now.”

Rory looked around at the guests—the ones who remained after the confrontation—and headed for the bar when she saw Emily and Lorelai.

“Where were you?” Lorelai asked.

“Uh, nowhere. Just upstairs,” Rory answered, her eyes darting toward the living room. She held an open envelope at her side. “It looked like you had everything under control down here.”

Lorelai scoffed.

Emily frowned at her, noting her reddish face and neck. “What kind of fabric is your dress made of?”

Rory glanced down at her outfit. “I’m not sure, some sort of blend I think. Why?”
“You might be allergic to whatever it is. It looks like you’re getting a rash. Or maybe it’s your laundry detergent. Lorelai, you should try something else, and not a knock-off brand.”

“Our detergent is fine.”

Rory put a hand to her collarbone, not being able to see it. She felt along her jawline, as though she knew exactly where her skin was pink. Absentmindedly, she pulled her cell phone out of her pocket. She touched the screen, but nothing happened. “Oh yeah,” she muttered, turning it on.

“Your phone was off,” Lorelai stated.

“I know. That’s why I’m turning it back on.”

“You never turn your phone off.” Lorelai turned to Luke. “Have you ever seen her phone off?”

He shook his head no.

“Well, it got turned off,” Rory said. She checked the messages before putting it back in her pocket. She glanced around the party, biting her lip.

Emily felt a twinge of annoyance at her continued gawking. She looked like a giraffe, trying to reach that top leaf on the tree.

An older gentleman with white hair and glasses approached them. Perhaps he was the one who should really shoulder the blame in all this. He was the one retiring from the firm. He was the one who didn’t have a son to pass it on to. Francine wouldn’t have taken things into her own hands if it wasn’t for Straub’s brother.

He squinted at the young brunette in concentration. “Are you Rory?” he asked.

“Yes.”

“I’m your father’s uncle.”

“Oh, Abram, I’ve heard about you. Hi,” she said, extending a hand for him to shake.

“Hello,” he said. “I’ve heard a lot about you too.”

“Really?” she asked. “From Francine?”

Emily impatiently cast her eyes upward. She almost scoffed.

“No, the Dugray boy at the office.”

She narrowed her eyes at the old man.

But Rory perked up a little. “Tristan?” She smiled a little. Emily half expected her to twirl her hair around her finger like a schoolgirl.

“He told me it isn’t really your birthday.” Abram produced a wrapped package from a pocket inside his suit jacket. “But I still wanted to get you something, so he said I should get you a book.”

“Thank you,” Rory said, tearing away the paper. “It’s small enough to fit in a pocket, my favorite kind.” She slipped the purple envelope into the book.

“Yes, everyone knows she likes to read,” Emily said. She took the book from Rory. “I’ll put this with your other cards. Why don’t we see who’s in the den,” she said, taking Rory by the arm and steering her away.

Rory twisted around to speak to Christopher’s uncle as they went. “Thanks for the book.” She turned to glare at Emily. “Grandma, that was rude. He was nice.”

“Well it’s rude to hide from your guests. You should be circulating.”
“Everyone knows it isn’t my birthday,” Rory said. “And I don’t feel like talking to any of these people.”

Emily frowned. “What’s wrong with them?”

“Well—nothing, I just—I’m not interested in any of them.” Quickly, Rory added, “They’re perfectly nice. But I’m not going to see any of them after tonight.”

Emily was silent at first. “Maybe you’re not giving anyone a chance. You really can’t get to know someone in just a few minutes. It takes longer to make a connection. I’m sure you’d like at least one person here if you took the time to get to know them.” She steered Rory into one of the rooms and studied the people.

“Well, actually—”

Emily interrupted to introduce Rory to a couple men before leaving them to talk. She left the room, scanning the other guests. The men were starting to mix with the women. Emily hadn’t thought of that when she made her guest list. The house might as well be a session of speed dating. Why would they be interested in anyone other than Rory? She had so many wonderful attributes, certainly more than any of the young ladies here. And as always, she looked stunning in her little black dress.

When Emily returned to the front of the house, Lorelai was standing guard near the living room entrance, arms crossed.

“What are you doing?” Emily asked her.

“Keeping an eye on the situation,” Lorelai said sternly. “I don’t want you sneaking back in there to finish her off.”

Emily glanced in. Tristan was speaking with Christopher, who was still next to his mother. She said, “It’s no surprise he’d chose their side.”

“There are no sides.” Lorelai said. “And with all your Gilmore versus Hayden and by extension, Dugray, it’s like the Capulet’s and the Montague’s around here.”

“It is not,” Emily said quickly.

“I’m not saying we need to put Tristan and Rory on a suicide watch or anything.”

Emily looked back at the group of three. “Tristan was wearing a tie earlier,” she said musingly. “It was burgundy. What happened to it?”

“I wasn’t keeping track,” Lorelai said. She knit her brows and tilted her head for a moment, focusing on the blond man, and then she looked down the hall where Emily had just returned. She lifted her head suddenly and gasped. She muttered, “The torch has been passed.”

“What?”

Lorelai shook her head. “Nothing. Never mind,” she said, steering Emily away from the living room for a second time.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXX

Rory listened to the man in front of her talk about his getaway house in the Hamptons, when he paused, giving her a chance to speak up, “I’m sorry, I’m afraid you’re here under false pretenses. My grandmother really wants me to meet someone tonight.”

“Yeah, that’s what she said, because you travel so much, you don’t have time,” the man told Rory.

“She did?”

“Yeah, it was the first time we met.”

Rory frowned. “First time?”

He nodded. “Earlier.”

She stared at him for a moment. She’d met this one already. It was Tall, Dark, and Handsome—Brian Ryan, or something. Where were her journalistic instincts tonight? She didn’t forget faces. “Oh that’s right, I remember.” Slightly embarrassed, but not deterred, she went on, “I actually don’t need my grandmother’s help to find a romantic partner.”

“I see,” he said, looking around at the other guests. He gestured over to a brunette woman. “Do you know her?”

Rory looked where he indicated. “No, but we can go find out.” They both went over and she led the introduction. When they continued their conversation, Rory excused herself and walked back to the front of the house. Before she got very far though, her grandmother’s young blond friend approached her.

“Rory, hi,” she said. “I wanted to introduce myself.”

“Hello,” Rory said. “You’re Quinn, right?”

“Yes, I’m on a couple committees with Emily. I’ve heard so much about you.”

“Grandma likes to brag,” Rory said.

“And not just her. The other ladies in the DAR love to hear about you.”

Rory smiled in an ‘ah shucks’ sort of way.

“Anyway,” Quinn continued, “Emily is so nice, I was glad to come over for dinner this week to meet Tristan.”

Slowly, Rory asked, “So you like him then?”

“Oh of course,” Quinn said with an annoyingly cheerful smile. “He’s practically perfect.”

“I don’t know about that,” Rory said on reflex.

“His job sounds so exciting—getting to see the world.”

“He probably sees the inside of board rooms and hotels more than the sights,” Rory said. “Traveling for work isn’t as glamorous as it sounds.” She frowned slightly, unsure if he liked it at all, with his apparent ‘home by six’ rule. His previous job might have suited his disposition better.

“Anyway, Emily is arranging for us to come to dinner again next week.”

Rory’s stomach tightened. “You and Tristan?”

“Yes,” Quinn said with a nod. “I hope he can make it. His mother wants to have me over for dinner with their family, too.”

“She does?” Rory asked, feeling the stab of something unpleasant. She wondered if Quinn had Tristan’s phone number. If not, he may not get invited, considering Cecilia’s faulty communication with her son. Not that Rory was going to be the one to pass his number along.

“Mm-hmm,” Quinn said, smiling nicely. “She’s wonderful. Her work with the arts is legendary. She’s going to sponsor me for the symphony committee. It’s such an honor.”

“Oh, well, congratulations,” Rory said. “That’s really nice of her.”

Quinn asked, “You and Tristan went to high school together, didn’t you?”

“Yes,” Rory answered. “At Chilton. But just for a while. I started during sophomore year. Then his dad pulled him out of school when we were juniors.”

That part of the story didn’t seem to interest Quinn too much, because she slowly asked, “Did you two ever date? I’m sorry, I’m being nosy.”

“It’s okay. And no, we definitely didn’t date.”

“Really?” Quinn asked, looking doubtful.

“Really.”

“What was he like back then?”

“Uh,” Rory said with a frown. “He was . . .” She stopped. She wasn’t sure how to respond. Grasping at the only thing she knew for sure, she said, “He was really popular, especially with the girls.”

“Now that I can believe.”

“He was smart—is smart—but didn’t always use that to his advantage in the classroom,” Rory said. “And he was very stubborn. Or, uh, persistent. He kept asking this one girl out even though she always told him no.”

“Why wouldn’t she go out with him?” Quinn asked. “He’s so nice.”

“Well he didn’t used to be,” Rory said defensively. “He just wanted to prove he could date her. He tried to fight m—her—boyfriend once. Who does that?”

“A jealous person?”

Rory continued, on a roll, “He always called her Mary. And,” she said, remembering his offenses, “he lied and told people they were going to a—.”

She stopped. It was a concert. But he didn’t just say they were going. He had tickets. He’d planned on her going with him. What had he done with the tickets when she didn’t go?

“To a what?” Quinn asked.

Rory was jerked back to the present. “Um, a concert. He had tickets. Why did he buy tickets?” she said in frustration. “He didn’t even know of the band.”

“Maybe the girl did,” Quinn said.

Rory looked at the young woman. “Maybe so,” she agreed. But how did Tristan know? She had no idea.

“It sounds like he had a crush.”

It was starting to sound that way, Rory thought.

Just then, Cecilia came over. “Hi Rory, how are you tonight?”

Rory sighed and tried to clear her mind of the cobwebs. “Fine, you?”
“Good. It’s a lovely party. Are you having a nice birthday?”

Rory blinked. “Um, it’s not really my birthday. Remember when you were here for dinner, Tristan said it was in October—and he was right.”

Cecilia pointed a finger. “That’s right. Well, it’s still a lovely party.”

“Yeah,” Rory agreed. “If you don’t count the argument earlier.”

“I heard about it,” Cecilia said. She turned to Quinn. “Just think, we were sitting there before it all happened.” Changing the subject, she asked the young blond woman, “I was wondering if you’d like to go to the ballet with me. They’re doing The Rite of Spring next month. I think you’d like it.”

Rory felt the twinge again.

“I would love to go,” Quinn said with a smile.

“You know, it was quite a controversial piece when Stravinsky wrote it. People were horrified.”

“Yes, it was ahead of its time,” Quinn agreed, as the two women drifted away while they conversed.

Rory frowned as she watched them go. Quinn would probably never mention cartoon characters about a serious piece of classical music. She was too cultured to say something like that. But then Rory remembered the piano Tristan didn’t plan to tune and his fondness for annoying his mother. He probably would have liked her comment. She imagined him smiling at the story and wishing he’d have been there. She made a mental note to tell him about it.

Lorelai swooped in and hooked Rory’s arm in hers. “Hey, what’s wrong?”

“Nothing, why?”

“You don’t look very happy.” Lorelai glimpsed the two women walking away. “It looks like Cecilia found a new friend.”

“Yeah.” In a slightly flat voice, Rory said, “They’re going to the ballet. The Rite of Spring was quite controversial for its time, you know.”

“I didn’t, actually. You’re like Woody when Buzz Lightyear was the new toy in town.”

“I am not.” Rory looked at her mother in distaste. “Why would you say that?”

“Because you’re jealous.”

“No I’m not. And I don’t like being compared to a toy.”

“I wasn’t being literal. It was a metaphor,” Lorelai said. “You literary types are supposed to like figurative language.”

“It was a simile,” Rory corrected. “And toys are things. People are not.”

“I know. That’s why it’s figurative. You’re jealous because Tristan’s mom replaced you. Like when a kid gets a new toy and forgets about the old one. You were last month’s it-girl, but now you’re not.”

“You can’t just replace a person,” Rory protested.

“Cecilia did.”

Rory shook her head. “Whatever. Even if she did, why would I be jealous? I didn’t want to go to the opera or the ballet anyway.”

“It’s always nice to be liked though,” Lorelai said. “On the bright side, Tristan hasn’t talked to the blond all night.” She went on, “Have you noticed how rugged he’s looking tonight? In fact, if his face rubbed up against someone else’s, then she’d probably come back downstairs with burned skin.”

Rory quickly put a hand to her neck.

“Ah-ha, I knew it,” Lorelai said.

“You don’t know anything.”

“I know Tristan was wearing a tie earlier and now it’s gone.”

Rory tensed. “It is?”

“Mm-hmm, Mom pays attention to details.”

“Shoot,” Rory muttered, trying to imagine the floor next to her bed.

“When I said you might get to pass out flowers tonight, that isn’t what I meant,” Lorelai said.

“Will you be quiet?” Rory said, looking around as they strolled into the living room. Her father was with Francine.

“Hey, it’s your party. You can do whatever you want,” Lorelai said. Then she had to add, “Or whoever.”

Rory focused back on her mother. “Shouldn’t you be upset? There’s a party going on and I went upstairs and . . . had a tryst.”

“So you’re shortening his name now?” Lorelai asked. She waved a hand flippantly. “I’m really in no place to get upset over an intimate encounter upstairs—especially in this house. In fact,” she continued, “you get bonus points since he’s the one Emily despises.”

Rory grimaced and looked around. “Where is Grandma?”

“She went upstairs. She needed something from her room. Maybe she wanted more comfortable shoes. Or a noose for Francine.”

“I wonder if I can sneak up there.”

“Again?” Lorelai asked. “Jeez, someone had a good time.”

“For his tie,” Rory said through gritted teeth.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXX

Tristan was outside by himself, sitting in one of the patio chairs. It was a pleasant, cool evening. He was surrounded by the breeze that had blown in the window of Rory’s room earlier. He could see inside the house, where Lorelai had just walked into the living room with Rory. She was glancing around distractedly. She was looking for someone. Maybe him.

He did it. She was right where he wanted her. She was even bitter over that stupid set up of Emily’s. When he’d ask her out in a couple days, she was going to say yes. And considering it was Rory, she might even prefer to stay in, at his house—by invitation for once. He liked that idea better.

He was going to get what he wanted this time. Things were going to work out.

One of the house doors opened, but not a living room door. It was off in the darkness. Emily loomed in the distance, coming closer. She walked over and stopped when she reached him. She held something out in her hand. “I think this belongs to you,” she said, an edge to her tone.

Tristan took what was offered. It was his tie. He hadn’t realized he’d forgotten it. “Thanks, I must have lost it.”

With a stare, she said, “Yes, in one of the upstairs bedrooms.”

He didn’t respond. Instead, he pulled newspaper clippings from his pocket and held them out. “These are yours.”

She took the articles and knit her brows as she looked down to see what they were. “These are Rory’s, where did you get them?”

“The study. I borrowed the whole box the first time I was here,” he said.

“You had no business in there. Why would you take that?” Emily asked.

He shrugged lightly. “I hadn’t seen her in a while. I wanted to read about where she’d been.” Knowing Emily wouldn’t be able to dispute, he added, “She’s very talented. She’s always been smart.”

Ignoring this, Emily said, “How dare you take what isn’t yours? Stay away from Rory. She can have anyone she wants.”

He smirked little. “Oh, I know.”

She shot him a withering glare before turning toward the house, but Tristan wasn’t finished. “Which part do you hate more?”

“What?” she asked, eyes flashing back to him.

“Which part is worse—that it was Francine’s idea, or that I’m not Huntzberger?”

She stared at him again, not responding.

He continued, “I’ve been having trouble figuring something out, maybe you can help. Do you know why that guy dated other girls when he had Rory? I just don’t understand it.”
“What are you talking about?”

“Huntzberger,” Tristan said evenly, keeping his gaze steady. “He liked to date a lot of girls at the same time. Rory was just one of them.”

“That isn’t true,” Emily said. “They were together for two years. He wanted her to go to California with him as his wife.”

“Sure,” Tristan said. “But in the beginning, why do you think Mr. Wonderful saw Rory and the others?” Tristan knew he wasn’t helping himself, but he continued anyway, “I mean, when she started at Chilton, it took me a few months, but I wanted her to be my girlfriend. And I was just some idiot sixteen year old.”

A few seconds ticked by, then, “You don’t know what you’re talking about.”

He shrugged. “Okay.”

The living room door opened and Quinn stepped out. “Emily, there you are,” she said. She peeked around the older woman. “And Tristan too. I was getting ready to leave. I just wanted to make sure we were still on for dinner for this week.”

Tristan didn’t miss Quinn’s glance at him when she said it. Did Emily think he was coming over again? “Actually—”

“Yes. Tristan will be there,” Emily interrupted. “He was just telling me how much he’s looking forward to it.” She turned back to him then. “What night is best for you?”

He was cornered. That was fine, he’d do the same to her. “My schedule’s pretty full next week. The only night I could possibly make it is Friday.”

She narrowed her eyes at him slightly. Not to be outdone, she said, “Friday sounds perfect.”

They stared at each other for a moment longer before Emily turned to Quinn and headed back into the house.

Tristan muttered, “Richard liked me.”

He heard the door open a couple minutes later and his grandfather approached. “There you are,” Janlen said. “I wondered where you’d disappeared to.”

“Just here,” Tristan said. He unrolled his tie and started putting it back on.

Janlen furrowed his brows as he sat down at the patio table. “Why did you take that off?”

“I didn’t,” Tristan answered, fastening the tie as his neck.

“I don’t want to know anymore, do I?”

“Nope.”

XXXXXXXXXXXXXX

A little while later, Rory was standing near the patio doors. She could see out the windows, but stayed out of view to the two men sitting at the outdoor furniture. Tristan was with his grandfather, so Rory didn’t want to interrupt them. She didn’t know how long they’d been out there, but she could see Tristan say something every once in a while, and then Janlen would point up to the sky.

When Christopher came over and touched her shoulder, she jumped a little in surprise.

“Sorry,” he said. “It’s getting kind of late. I’m going to take Mom home.”

“Oh, all right,” Rory said. “Tell her thanks for the party.”

Christopher frowned. “Really? Even with the scene? She might have had it coming.”

“No, really, it was a nice party,” Rory insisted. Many of the guests had left by this point.

“If you say so,” her father said. “Still, I’m sorry for everything.” His tone indicated the apology was for more than just the party.

“It’s going to be okay,” she said. “Tell Gigi bye for me.”

Christopher nodded and gave her a hug before turning to go. When Rory turned back, she was met by Janlen walking through the patio doors. “Rory, hi,” he said with a smile.

“Hi.” She smiled back.

“I hope I wasn’t preventing you from going outside, if that’s what you wanted to do,” he said, nodding at Tristan, who stayed in his patio chair.

“Oh, no. I’m sure you had something important to talk about. I know he likes to talk business with you guys.”

“Us guys?”

“You and his dad—uh, your son.”

“I was actually just pointing out some constellations to him. He can never find any more than the Big Dipper and Orion’s Belt. I always have to remind him of everything else.”

“That’s hard to believe,” Rory said.

“And why is that?”

Rory looked up at him, he was about the same height as Tristan. “He knows all kinds of random facts about opera and the symphony. If you like astronomy, I’m surprised he doesn’t know about it, too.”

“Ah,” Janlen said, with something like approval in his voice. “You’ve noticed that.” He considered her a second, then he said, “It’s not necessary for him to educate himself before having a conversation with me. I’ll listen to what he’s interested in.”

“That’s good,” she said. “I’m sure you do a lot of arguing though—for the fun of it.”

“A fair amount, yes.”

After a moment of thought, she said, “He should have asked you to go to that baseball game. You seem friendlier than—.” Rory stopped, remembering for a second time she was talking about Janlen’s son.

“Mason,” he finished for her.

“Well, yeah,” she said slowly. “Sorry. He just seems a little . . . one track minded.”

“That he is.”

“And you’re easier to talk to.”

“That may be true,” Janlen said thoughtfully. “But Tristan knows he doesn’t have to do the things I like if he wants to spend time with me. He doesn’t have to—what’s the word I’m looking for?”

“Butter you up?” Rory tried. “Bribe you?”

“Why don’t we call it compromise?”

“I guess that sounds better.”

“He can come and talk to me any time,” Janlen said. “But Mason and Cecilia are still his parents, even with their flaws.” He added, “And an easier relationship doesn’t make it the preferred one.”

Rory glanced out the window at Tristan. It sounded like an awful thing for a person to get accustomed to. And unless she was wrong, his motives for choosing his profession were disconcerting. She crossed her arms and frowned. Thinking out loud, she said, “He’s not much of a singer. Maybe he cut his losses and chose what he’d be better at.”

“The law?”

“Yes.”

He arched a brow. “You’re clever.”

“I’ve just been paying attention.”

“It’s clever to pay attention,” Janlen said. “He might not sing well, but he is an excellent tap dancer.”

Rory looked up at the man, perplexed.

“In the courtroom.”

“Oh.” Everyone was allegorical tonight. She laughed softly at the image of Tristan doing an actual tap dance. “Please tell me Cecilia put him in dance class when he was little. That would make my life.”

“I will not,” Janlen said firmly. “That would be quite embarrassing for him if anyone knew.”

She giggled a little more as she pictured a young Tristan in a leotard, not caring if Janlen was joking. He took a white envelope out of his pocket and handed it over.

“You didn’t have to give me anything,” she said. “You know it’s not my birthday.”

“Yes, but I couldn’t show up at a party without a gift.”

“Well, thank you,” she said with a smile.

Janlen was about to step away, but stopped. “I know this was all a mess, but . . .” He trailed off as he glanced outside and then back to Rory. “I hope to see more of you.”

“Me too,” she said without thinking.

After he’d left her, Rory looked out at Tristan again. Maybe the pieces of the puzzle weren’t fitting together because she’d been working toward the wrong picture. Her preconceived judgments weren’t adding up. Maybe there always had been more to him than what he let the general public see. And perhaps she was inaccurate when she’d said he was more bad than good.

Before Rory could continue this line of thinking or step outside, her cell phone alerted her of a new message. She already checked flights earlier, she didn’t have much time. “Shoot,” she said, glaring down at her phone before glancing out the window one more time.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXX

Outside, Tristan was still sitting at the patio table. He liked the solitude compared to mingling with guests. He knew Rory had been watching him a few minutes earlier. She wasn’t out of sight as she stood by the door. He’d seen her check her phone and move further into the house.

The back door opened, and he looked over to see Lorelai walking toward him with a plate in hand. When she got to him, she handed it out to him. “Did you get some?” Hastily, she added, “Cake. Did you get cake?”

“No,” he said, taking the plate. “Thanks.”

“You found your tie,” she said.

“Emily did, actually.”

“Oh,” Lorelai said. “Awkward.”

Tristan wondered how much she knew. “She left, didn’t she?”

Lorelai sat in the chair his grandfather had occupied a few minutes ago. “Yeah, she had to go. An editor had a story for her to cover. But she wanted to come out here though. And she asked me to tell you good night.”

He nodded once. “Did she have any cake?”

“No.”

“That sounds about right.”

“I think I get to take the leftovers home. At least, that’s my plan.” A couple seconds ticked by before she changed the subject. “So, I don’t know how much of the fireworks you heard earlier,” she said. “You got pulled into the fray a little.”

“I did hear that part,” he said.

“I just wanted to let you know, it’s nothing against you personally. If it hadn’t been for that dinner at Francine’s, Mom would love you. She would be encouraging, even.”

He knew it was true, but Emily was getting tiresome.

“Things should blow over though. They just get bitter about the past sometimes,” she said. “Chris and I didn’t follow their master plans, so everyone had a conniption fit. And as you heard, they haven’t forgotten.”

The explanation fit some of Rory’s misconceptions about him, Tristan thought. Plans. Everyone had plans arranged by someone else. For some reason, his eyes strayed to the small house not too far away. He heard himself ask, “Why did Rory move into the pool house?”

“What?” Lorelai asked, looking in the same direction he had a moment before.

“Why did Rory live here?”

Lorelai looked confused. “When she left school?”

He nodded. “Didn’t you stop talking to her too?”

She crossed her arms and frowned. “It was just—she was supposed to be at school. You knew her when she was younger, she loved school. It’s where she belonged.”

“Sure,” Tristan said, a small smile tugging at the corner of his mouth. “She wasn’t following the plan?”

“That was not my plan,” Lorelai said defensively. “It was our plan—her plan.”

“Got it,” he said. But he was still on the end of Lorelai’s glare.

“I did not have a conniption fit. And I wish I would have handled things differently,” she said. A bit irritated, she commented, “Aren’t we all-knowing?”

“Sorry. It’s a gift.”

“I gathered.” She stared at him evenly. It wasn’t as hostile as Emily had been, it was almost thoughtful. “But you’re right. I guess the apples just won’t roll away from the darn trees.”

With the look she was giving him, he wasn’t completely sure who she was talking about.

Lorelai stood and somewhat stiffly said, “Thanks again for the concert tickets.”

“You’re welcome.” Before she got to the door, he stopped her. “Lorelai.”

“What?” she said, turning back.

“Where did she go this time?”

“Tunisia.”

He didn’t even want to know the details. When Lorelai headed toward the door again, he asked, “Does it get easier . . . the sitting around waiting for her to get back?”

Lorelai paused for a moment. “Not really,” she said. “You just kind of get used to it.”

He nodded once and didn’t stop her again on her way inside. So much for his symbolic gesture, he thought.

He wondered how long she’d be gone this time. A few days? A week? Longer? And how soon would it take before she left again? He was confident she’d say yes if he asked her to dinner, and took pleasure in the fact. But he wasn’t at all sure she’d still be in the country when date night rolled around.

Of course, she’d reschedule and apologize. But how many times would it happen before he’d resent her for it? Her phone had buzzed when they were upstairs. He’d dug it out of her pocket and scowled at it as though he was personally offended by it. He’d turned it off before tossing it on the floor so she couldn’t reach it.

Tristan gave his head a mental shake and stood up, restless. He glanced down at Emily’s flower bed. Some of her bulbs were starting to shoot out of the soil, but a leafy vine nearby was crawling closer.

He was being cynical. Rory’s frequent traveling wouldn’t be a problem if he didn’t let it. So he wouldn’t let it, he resolved. He traveled too, after all. And she was who he wanted, so he’d have to make it work. He didn’t have a choice. Otherwise he’d be that jerk who couldn’t handle her job.

He’d get over it. It would be fine.

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