Family Feudalism

Chapter 13

Rory was sitting in the dining room of the Dragonfly, reading a document on her laptop. She was having difficulty concentrating on the words though. Her eyes kept straying to the corner of the screen to check the time. It was Wednesday, so Tristan was supposed to be back from his trip. But she had no idea what time he was getting in.

She tapped her pen against the table for a little while, when an idea came to her. She saved the document on a jump drive and pulled it out of her laptop before walking over to the front desk. She smiled nicely. “Hi Michel.”

The Frenchman didn’t look up from the scheduling book as he drawled, “What do you want?”

“Can I print something from your computer?”

“It is for inn business.”

“I only need two sheets of paper. You won’t even know they’re gone.”

He looked up at her then. “Paper, post-its, pens, paper clips. Do you think I haven’t been keeping track of all the office supplies you’ve stolen over the years?”

She shook her head. “I’m sure it’s an itemized list with prices included.”

Michel opened a drawer. “I have it right here.”

Lorelai approached them, having just come down the stairs. “What’s going on?”

“I need to print something,” Rory told her.

“Go ahead,” Lorelai said, to Michel’s annoyance.

After Rory printed her document, she went back to the dining room to collect her things. She pulled a business card out of her wallet and checked the address before she went out to her car and headed to Hartford.

Within thirty minutes, she was parked on the street in front of a downtown brick building. It was the first time she’d ever been there, but this was what all the fuss was about. There was a sign with the name of the firm in the small front yard. The two story office building looked like it’d been there for a hundred years.

Rory grabbed her document from the passenger seat and got out of her car. She walked up the steps and through the front door. There was a secretary sitting behind a desk, and a few chairs made up a waiting room. She asked if Tristan was in his office.

“He is,” the woman behind the desk said. “You can go back, it’s the second door on the right.”

“Thanks,” Rory said, heading down the hallway. When she got to his open office, she peeked in to see him sitting at his desk, chin resting in the palm of his hand as he frowned over a piece of paper. She knocked on the frame of the door and he glanced up.

He stared at her for a couple seconds. “What are you doing here?”

She took a few steps into the office and held up her papers. “I have a contract with an editor—from a paper I’ve written for—a new editor, actually.” She continued to ramble, “I usually just sign and return them, pretty much trusting the editor. But I was reading through this today and thought it might not be a terrible idea to have a real lawyer read it.”

She took a few more steps in and sat in a chair in front of his desk. “You’re back. Hi.”

“Hi.”

“How was your trip?”

“Fine,” he answered.

“So can you read through this?” she asked, handing him the papers.

He silently reached over and laid the contract in front of him. He stared at it for a little while, but his eyes didn’t move left to right.

“You must be jet lagged,” she commented. “I usually have to sleep at least half the day when I get back home.”

“I had things to do,” he said without looking up.

Rory’s eyes roamed around the office. There was a half full bookshelf behind his desk. She could see a box on the floor with more books. He hadn’t been in the office for too long, maybe he wasn’t completely unpacked.

“So explain this again,” he said, tapping his pen on the papers.

“It’s a contract. Some editors want it in writing before I do a story. Others are okay with a verbal agreement.”

“And this is a new editor?”

“Yeah, but not a new paper. It happens sometimes,” she said. “I establish a relationship with editors of different papers. But they don’t stay there forever. So I have to go through the whole process. Sometimes the new editor isn’t interested in having a freelance writer on hand. So then I have to find a different paper to compensate.”

“Sounds exhausting.”

“It can be.”

Something out in the hall caught Tristan’s eye and his jaw clenched. Rory glanced over her shoulder and saw Mason with a man who looked older than her and Tristan. This wasn’t Mason’s office, so he probably wasn’t talking with a client. They were in the middle of a discussion as they moved down the hall.

Rory looked back at Tristan. His demeanor was darker than it already had been. “Is everything okay?” she asked.

He quickly looked back at her and down to the paper. “It’s fine.”

Fine. Everything was fine. He seemed to be reading this time. “I guess you do all kinds of stuff on your own. You’re your own editor and legal department.”

“And accounting and marketing,” she added. “I do it all.”

“You don’t need anyone,” he muttered. “You do everything yourself.”

Rory’s brows moved closer together. “Yeah, but the payoff is good. I have the freedom to do whatever I want whenever I want. I can do anything.”

“And you probably won’t even regret it for another . . .” He glanced up at her. “Ten years. But you can get a cat.”

“Regret what?”

“Not taking the time to have a life.” He turned his attention back to her contract.

“I have a life.”

He scoffed. “No, you have a job. You’ve confused the two.”

“I have not,” she protested.

“I don’t know when you got so cynical, but at some point you got it in your head you could only have one.”

“I did not.” Pointedly, she said, “And I like what I do.”

“Which part? The living in hotels and on planes? Or the part where you don’t have anyone to go home to?” He went on, “Oh, I’m sorry, you go home to your mother.”

“At least I chose what to do with my life on my own. You’re only here because you’re an extension of your dad,” she sneered.

“I am not.”

“That’s true,” she said sarcastically. “When Cat’s in the Cradle comes on the radio, do you break into a cold sweat? Or do you just run away?”

He glared at her.

“Do you even like what you do? My guess is you’re only in Straub’s office because you’re Daddy’s whipping boy.”

He picked the contract up and roughly handed it back. “This is fine. You don’t need me to read it. You don’t need me for anything.”

“You’re right, I don’t,” Rory said, snatching the papers and standing up. She left the office without looking back.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXX

The next day, Rory was in the diner, clicking the end of her pen as she tried to concentrate on an article she was editing. She kept replaying the previous afternoon in her mind. She thought Tristan would have at least been happy to see her. He didn’t crack a smile the entire time she was in his office.

And he was wrong, she had a life. She did lots of things besides work. She still read. And she lived in Stars Hollow. There were always activities to participate in. She didn’t make them all, but there were so many. No one could go to every single one, except Taylor. It didn’t make her a bad person just because she missed things now and then.

Rory took a deep breath and messaged her temples. She closed her eyes for a moment and then got back to work. She rearranged some sentences, changed some words and reread the whole thing when she was finished. It was worse than it was before her changes. She shook her head and tried again. She couldn’t stop thinking about what she’d said. She thought Tristan tried too hard with his parents, but she hadn’t meant to throw it in his face like that.

Maybe he really did like international law. It sounded exciting enough. He got to travel, what was there not to like? The hotels and long flights, apparently. Maybe he was just tired from his trip, she reasoned. She was never cheerful after a long flight. Jet lag was the worse. She had to get straight to work when she landed in other countries, and it was awful. Without several hours sleep, she was miserable.

Rory sighed. She’d been mean and didn’t know how to make up for it. If he wanted to work with his dad to have some semblance of a relationship with him, it was his choice, not hers. She shouldn’t judge him for it, even if she disagreed. But then she remembered he didn’t work with Mason, not yet. There was one person in their way.

She didn’t feel comfortable going to ask a great uncle she’d only met once to retire. Unless she thanked him for the book and subtly implied how retirement would give Abram more time to read. So there was a viable segue. Then she thought of Francine. She had leverage with the woman.

Rory gathered her things and left the diner, walking back home to her car. She drove to Hartford, and found the correct house. She got out and glanced up at it. This was where everything began, and it was where she was going to end it—or end something. A lot more came out of that night than she ever would have imagined.

She walked through the gate and went to the front door, ringing the bell. When the maid answered, Rory asked to speak with Francine. She was led through the house to the den, where her father’s mother was sitting in a leather armchair, reading a book. She looked up when Rory entered.

“Hello,” Francine said, awkwardly closing her book.

“I need to talk to you,” Rory said. Her eyes shifted left to right, and found a chair to sit in. They looked at each other for a few seconds before Rory said, “You shouldn’t have involved me in your problem.”

“I’m sorry,” Francine said quickly. “I had no idea you knew Tristan from school and didn’t like him.”

Rory frowned. “You’re sorry we weren’t strangers?”

“No. I’m sorry for trying to set you up.”

Rory crossed her arms. “It was really selfish of you. You never treated me like a member of your family, and then you just used me when it worked out for you.”

“I’m sorry,” Francine said again, like she was a broken record.

“Let’s not pretend that party was an attempt to get to know me.”

“I’m sorry about that too.”

“Just—stop saying sorry—the party was fine,” she said. “Do you really want to make it up to me?”

“Yes,” Francine said.

“Then let it go.”

“What?”

“The firm. Let it go. It’s just an office building. And I’m sure Straub worked hard to make it a good business, but Tristan will too.”

Francine raised a brow slightly. “Tristan?”

“Yes. I don’t have high hopes for you and me,” Rory said. “But I think Tristan and Mason only have a business relationship.” She paused. “So I want you to ask your brother-in-law to retire. Then Tristan can move up and they can merge the firms. It’ll be a bonding experience for them.”

Francine blinked. “Abram decided to retire at the end of the month. He just announced it,” she said. “But the merger is being taken care of.”

Rory asked, “What do you mean?”

“They just hired a new associate from Mason’s firm. He’ll be the new partner. Tristan won’t be able to do anything as a junior associate.”

Rory didn’t say anything for a moment and then shook her head. “That’s not right. Tristan is supposed to move up. He’s the link between the two firms. It’s why he worked there in the first place. His dad needed him there. It’s why you tried to set me up with him.”

Francine shrugged a little. “I just know they hired someone this week, out of the blue. And Mason is moving forward with his plans with the new associate.”

“No, it’s supposed to be Tristan,” Rory said firmly. “Why would Mason do that?” she asked. And how would Francine know? Rory stood. “I have to go.” When she was at the door, she stopped. “If you really want to tell someone you’re sorry, apologize to Grandma.” Hastily, she added, “And stop blaming Mom for everything.”

Francine nodded once as Rory left the room.

She walked back through the house and out the front door. Her arms were crossed and a mean frown covered her face. No wonder Tristan had been in a mood yesterday. But it didn’t make sense. What was the point of him working at Straub’s firm if someone else was going to swoop in at the last minute? Why did it have to happen now, rather than in a month? Tristan said they were just waiting Abram out. Why the sudden urgency?

Rory considered asking Tristan, but she figured she’d only get vague answers about how it was just business. There was obviously one person who knew why the plans changed. Rory got back in her car and looked up Mason’s law firm.

She made the drive in less than fifteen minutes. She went in and asked to speak with Mason, and was told he was busy. So she sat on a big comfortable couch in the waiting area. There were magazines on a large coffee table, but she wasn’t interested in reading any of them. It was a half hour before she was allowed to go to Mason’s office. She walked down a long hallway and turned a corner to continue. She passed a number of offices, each had a desk with a busy attorney sitting behind it. Some were on the phone and others were talking directly to clients.

By the time Rory reached the office she was looking for, she was in a back corner of the building. She knocked on the closed door and was admitted entrance. Mason was writing on a yellow legal pad. He looked up at her as she sat in one of the chairs in front of him. “Ms. Gilmore, how can I help you? Not more legal trouble, I hope?”

“No,” she said, almost scowling. Skipping pleasantries, she asked, “Why did you betray Tristan?”

He frowned and put his pen down. “What did I do to betray him?”

“You had him work at Straub’s firm thinking he’d be the one to do that merger with you, and then you sent someone else to do it,” she said. “Why would you do that to your own son?”
He laced his fingers together and laid his hands on his desk. “There’s an upcoming vacancy. I did what had to be done.”

Nonplussed, Rory asked, “You really wanted it so bad you couldn’t wait a month? Francine said Abram is retiring. It’s only a few weeks.”

Mason stared at her for a moment. “You don’t know all the details.”

“Yes I do,” Rory said. “Do you know how lucky you are to have Tristan as your son?”

“How so?” he asked with furrowed brows.

“You don’t have to fight him on all this,” she said. “He does it because you want him to.”

“Why would he fight me on working in Straub’s office?” Mason asked. “It was his idea.”

“It was?” she asked, not really needing confirmation. She could picture it.
Mason nodded. “I talked about merging the firms and he offered to work there. I didn’t force him to do anything. Do you know what happens when you put a person in a cage?”

She shrugged as her answer.

“They want out,” Mason said. “They only think about how to escape. Has Tristan conned you into thinking he’s different?”
Indignantly, she said, “He is. I know this stuff is just business for you, but it’s personal for him.”

“The two of you have talked about it at great length?”

“Not exactly,” she said. “But lawyer stuff seems to be the only thing he can talk to you about.” She added, “He probably wants to take over for you one day—if you leave your company to him.”

“Who else would I leave things to?” he asked rhetorically. Musingly, he said, “You’re a journalist. You observe others, correct?”
“Yes,” she said slowly.

“I observe people too, and learn from them—my clients, for example. They’re foolish, especially with their children.”

“I’ve already heard this story. It’s why you took Tristan to military school.”

“I didn’t take him anywhere,” Mason said. “I put him on a plane to North Carolina, and I had to come home from Fiji to do it.”

“Fiji?” she asked, her shoulders drooping. “You were in Fiji?”

“It was a business trip. I’m a busy man.”

“Too busy to be a father to your son?” she asked. “Maybe those pranks were just a cry for help. Maybe he wanted you to be at home more.”

“No, it was because he thought he was above the law. I was glad to teach him otherwise.” Dryly, Mason went on, “I suppose you’d like to suggest how he thought it could be a bonding opportunity to stand in front of a judge together. Whatever the excuse, it backfired on him.”

Rory stared at him in disbelief.

After a moment, he asked with a frown, “Now I’m curious. What did your father do when you borrowed that yacht?”
She was silent at first. She crossed her arms and admitted, “He wasn’t there.”

“Ah, that’s right. When you think about it, that’s the reason you and I know each other at all. Christopher Hayden wasn’t around. And yet you’ve come here to condemn me about what a horrible father you think I am.”

Weakly, she muttered, “You’re just . . . harsh.”

Mason titled his chair back. “If Tristan is so willing to do everything I say, then why didn’t he ask you to dinner? I told him he should after he met you, but he said no. How do you explain that?”

“I don’t know why you’d care,” Rory said. “It’s not about me. You’ll get what you want, even if Francine isn’t happy about it.”

“Good point, and true. But that still doesn’t answer the question.”

“Fine, Tristan already knew me and didn’t want to date me.” Hastily, she added, “At the time.”

Mason narrowed his eyes slightly. “What gave you that idea?”

“He said so.”

“Did he?”
“Yes.”

He smirked, not completely unlike Tristan. “Interesting.” He seemed to think about it for a moment, then said, “See? He doesn’t do anything he doesn’t want to do. I haven’t damaged him as much as you’d like to think.”

“But he might only be a lawyer because of you,” she blurted out. “Don’t you care whether or not he likes his job?”

“Why wouldn’t he?” Mason asked. “He’ll stand up and make an argument on reflex, without even agreeing with what he’s saying. What else should he do with that skill?”

Mason was winning, and she’d walked in so determined.

“Are we finished here?” he asked.

No. She still didn’t have any answers. But she stood and took a few steps away from his desk anyway. Before he could get back to work—and he was already picking up his phone—Rory turned. “You got lucky. Tristan is good at arguing, but it doesn’t mean he likes corporate law. It isn’t the only kind out there.”

Mason’s eyes flashed to hers and he edgily said, “That is certainly true.”

“He shouldn’t have to do something he doesn’t like just to connect with you. It shouldn’t be that hard.”
He didn’t say anything as he dialed his phone. He glanced back up at her and to the door, dismissing her.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXX

Later that evening, Tristan was at home, taking a shower. As the hot water ran down his body, he thought about how quickly everything turned upside down. The things he thought were going his way were not. He wasn’t going to get the girl after all. And he’d been so close. Rory came to his house after dinner Friday night. She talked to her irrational grandmother because of him.

He’d missed her call while searching his office. He’d found the envelope he was looking for, it’d been postmarked two weeks prior. His fate had been dealt and he could have known about it a lot sooner. Instead, he had five days left to get used to it. ‘This officially makes you a hypocrite,’ Rory had said in her message. That was an understatement. He spent so much time worrying about her leaving at a moment’s notice, he didn’t think he’d be the one to get called away. And it would be a lot longer than a week or so.

He’d been deluding himself the past few months. He had a plan. He had every intention of resigning from the JAG Corps after his commission was up. He let himself believe he was going to coast the remaining four years on inactive duty. And he was going to stay home, in Hartford until then. But he got his reality check.

He’d only been lying to himself anyway, thinking he could make it work. He knew Rory’s career would get to him. He even went ahead with the argument he knew he’d start one day. It was how all the scenarios ended, and he’d thought of several. He could picture himself sitting in a restaurant, looking across the table at an empty chair. Or he’d be here at his house, waiting for a phone call. Her priorities in life were clear, and he couldn’t rearrange hers to match his. The universe knew he wasn’t going to make it work, so it was saving him the heartache.

No, he thought. The universe just hated him.

‘This officially makes you a hypocrite.’ It sure did. He was in the midst of that pity party he’d said he wasn’t going to throw. He shook his head a little and finally took the shampoo down to wash his hair. When he was finished, he rubbed his face in his hands and let the water run another minute before turning it off. He stepped out of the shower and dried off.

In his bedroom, he put on a pair of gym shorts and heard knocking when he picked up his t-shirt. He walked around the bed as he put the shirt on. He opened the front door, surprised to find Rory with a dark bottle in one hand. She was supposed to be mad at him. Pointedly, he reached around and pressed the glowing door bell. They could both hear it ring throughout the house.

“I saw it,” she said. “I chose not to ring it.” After a pause, she said, “I’m sorry.”

“For what?”

“For what I said—yesterday . . . in your office. I didn’t mean it.”

“It’s okay.”

“No it isn’t, I was mean.”

“I wasn’t exactly nice. You really can’t be held responsible for anything you said.” He opened the door wider and she stepped in.

“You were tired and upset,” she said as she followed him into the kitchen, which smelled like pizza.

“Upset about what?”

When they faced each other again, she said, “I heard about what happened—with your dad and the new guy at the office.”

“Oh.” That. “No big deal.”

“Still,” she said sympathetically. “I thought it was going to be you.”

Things changed, he thought. He should tell her why. There wasn’t a real reason to feel sorry for him. “Everyone is expendable.”

She knit her brows in disapproval of that conclusion, and then held up the dark bottle. “I brought wine. It’s blackberry, so it’ll be like Kool Aid.”

“Are you celebrating something?” he asked dryly.

“No, I’m cheering you up. I’m going to get you drunk and then take advantage of you.”

For the first time all week, he smiled a little. “I don’t need to be drunk for that.” He went to the oven and opened it, peeking in at the pizza. He grabbed a pot holder and took it out, setting it on the island in front of Rory.

Shoulders sagging, she said, “You don’t get delivery out here in the sticks, do you?”

He stared at her for a second. “Someone from Stars Hollow cannot call this the sticks. I have a Hartford zip code. And I am close enough to get delivery, I just chose not to.”

She put a hand to her heart and exhaled dramatically. “Thank goodness.”

There was an opening. Tell her it didn’t matter. No one was going to have food delivered here for a while. Say it, he told himself, just get it over with. Maybe she’ll still stay. Apparently afraid to find out if that was true, he kept quiet. Instead, he took down plates and glasses. Outside, grey clouds had formed. A steady rain started to fall. It wasn’t even a full blown thunderstorm to reflect his mood, just a slow and steady rain.

Rory poured them each some of the wine while Tristan cut the pizza. When finished, he pointed the pizza cutter at her. “You only get half.”

“Fine,” she said, handing him his glass. They both put a couple slices on their plates.

“I had the firm hire a fifth cousin once removed from your dad—twice removed for you,” he said. “So Francine doesn’t need you anymore. Your dad actually helped track him down.”

“He did?”

“Yeah. Guilty people will do anything,” he said. “The kid is going to work as a paralegal, but I don’t know how interested in law he is.”

“So I might not be in the clear,” she said.

He paused to chew before he said, “Maybe not. I know you like to date family members. You could pull an Eleanor Roosevelt. Do you want me to introduce you?”

Rory’s mouth formed a grim line. “No thanks.” She eyed him and added, “I didn’t think I needed to resort to relatives.”

He raised his glass slightly. “To not being . . . used anymore,” he said, his words falling flat. He didn’t miss her slight frown.

She ate some pizza and looked around the kitchen. “Who knew a first date with you wouldn’t be in a fancy restaurant.”

Only date, he silently corrected as he ate—the pizza was starting to lose its taste.

“Actually, maybe I did know,” she said.

“I don’t invite just anyone over,” he said. “Only people I really like.”

She chewed thoughtfully and narrowed her eyes a little. “So no clients?”

“Nope,” he said, quicker than he’d intended. “They just—they don’t need to come to my house,” he said lamely.

She nodded. “Makes sense to me.” When she still had one slice of pizza to claim, she pushed her empty plate away and finished off her glass of wine. “I want to see the basement.”

“It’s downstairs.”

“Still? I never would have guessed,” she said dryly, getting up and heading for the staircase.

Tristan followed, though he stopped halfway down the stairs and had a seat as Rory looked around. The previously empty space had a large rug and a couch facing the television that used to be in his bedroom. There were a couple of chairs on each side of the couch as well.

Rory turned back and walked toward the small room next to the stairs. She glowered and crossed her arms, probably because of the three black leather couches and large flat screen television. As she started up the stairs, she said, “I still think books would look better in that room.”

“And I still disagree,” he said, standing to follow.

“So I guess that’s everything except your bedroom.”

“No. It’s finished too.”

She stopped. “I was supposed to paint it.”

“I did it last week.” And he’d kept the television off.

“Oh.” A silent beat passed. “Can I see it?”

“You know the way,” Tristan said, going to the island to clear their plates.

He should go tell her what was going to happen and send her home, he thought. It was the right thing to do. Nothing could be done to change the situation. He glanced out the window above the sink. He couldn’t turn her out while it was raining. Chivalrous, he thought dryly. That’s what he was.

He walked to the front door and locked the deadbolt, then turned to his left to the master bedroom. He stopped at the door and leaned against the frame. He watched Rory check out the blue walls. She didn’t turn the lamp on, and only a gloomy light came through the windows.

“The rest of the furniture almost matches the bed,” he commented, tilting his head toward a chest of drawers.

“I like it,” she said, stopping next to the bed on the side near the door. “It’s a big improvement over the futon.”

He walked into the room, stopping a foot in front of her.

She took a step closer and pressed her hands against his. “So next weekend,” she started. A flash of lightening lit up the sky outside, and she quietly gasped and looked out the window.

Tristan kept his eyes on her face and laced his fingers with hers. “Mm-hmm.”
She turned back to him and started talking faster, “Right, there’s this thing in town—it’s an annual thing—where the women make picnic lunches, and guys bid on the baskets. Then, the basket maker has lunch with the guy who bought it.”

“And you’re going to write an article about it as a feminist issue?” he asked.

She smiled a little. “No.”

“You want me to threaten Doose with a discrimination suit?”
She laughed lightly. “No.”

Someone else would eat that lunch with her, but he couldn’t help but ask, “What, exactly, do you fill your basket with?”

Seemingly pleased that he could take a hint, she said, “Whatever’s in the refrigerator.”

He thought for a second. “The cake is probably gone.”

She scoffed. “Almost two weeks later? Definitely.”

“Good, that would make a terrible lunch.” It didn’t matter, he reminded himself.

She tightened her grip on his hands. “Oh yeah? What do you think makes a good lunch?” She didn’t wait for an answer. “You know what? I can just ask Luke.” She moved a little closer and went on, “Just don’t try to be a hero. Dad wrote a big check once, and everyone stopped knitting.”

Tristan furrowed his brows. “You lost me.” They were just about pressed up against each other.

She shook her head, like she was getting confused herself. “Sorry, that was a different event. We have so many. I wasn’t even at that one,” she said. “So what do you think?”

That he probably only had tonight and she was talking too much. He titled his head down and she parted her lips right before they met his. He pulled her shirt up over her head and kissed her again, lifting her thighs so he could take her to his bed.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXX

Rory woke up the next morning in a semi-aroused state. She was on her side and Tristan was kissing along her collarbone. She sighed a little and moved closer to him, wrapping her left leg around him. She loved the way his kisses felt and loved the way his hands roamed over her body and loved—him? That would be something to ponder when her head was less foggy.

She would have told him not to stop, except it seemed like he was never going to. She eased back, pulling him over her so he could settle in where she wanted him. She wrapped her other leg around him as he pushed into her. He muttered her name into her neck as they worked together until they reached their peak.

After they’d caught their breath and she’d loosened her grip of his arms, Tristan rolled to his back, taking her with him so she was draped over half his body and her legs intertwined with his. He apparently took cuddling very seriously, as he hadn’t let her go all night, instead keeping a firm hold on her. She didn’t fall back asleep, even though she was exhausted and the bed was comfortable. Not that it got used for much sleeping that night. She angled her feet up, pointing her toes as far up as they could, stretching the calves of her legs.

The sun wasn’t quite up yet, but it was going to be a nice day. The rain had stopped. Everything had seemed so finished yesterday, but the gloom was gone today. Maybe everyone could start with a clean slate now. She snuggled in closer to Tristan, her arm resting on his chest, his around her waist.

At one point during the night, she had traced the tattoo on his arm and asked what it meant.

In the moon light, she could see his eyes shift to the ceiling. “The oak leaves symbolize a corps. There’re two, like the scales of justice.”

He hadn’t been very talkative beyond that. She thought she had heard him whisper ‘I’m sorry’ a couple times, but she must have dreamt that.

Rory sighed and thought about all the editing work she hadn’t accomplished in the past two days. It would have been nice if she could stay here longer. She put her hand on his arm. He was resistant, but she freed herself and crawled out from under the blanket. She looked around the floor for her clothes, locating it on Tristan’s side. She had to turn her shirt right side out before putting it on. She slipped on her shoes last and returned to the side of the bed.

She bent over to give Tristan a long kiss before lifting her head to look at him. He had a hold on her arm like he was going to pull her back into the bed. She said, “I have two days’ worth of editing to catch up on. And you have to get ready for work.” His grip loosened to trail down her arm as she stood. She stopped when she reached the door to tell him good bye, but he spoke before she could.

“I’m leaving.”

“No, it’s your house,” Rory said. “So I’m the one who has to go.”

He shook his head slightly. “I have to leave for Japan next Tuesday.”

Slowly, she asked, “For work?”

“To work. To live,” he said.

Details. Answers. She didn’t get them yesterday, and she didn’t want them now. Maybe she was jumping to the wrong conclusion. “What?”

He finally looked over. “U.S. Fleet Activities Yokosuka,” he said, leaving nothing to mistake.

She felt heavier, or wilted inside. She frowned and knit her brows, crossing her arms over her body. She was unable to conjure up any words. She stood dumfounded for a few seconds before blinking rapidly and numbly turning to go.

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