Family Feudalism

Chapter 14

“Everyone has their seats filled except Beatrice Atwater,” Emily said. “She insisted she could fill three tables on her own.”

It was such a nice day, Emily decided they should have drinks and appetizers out on the patio before dinner. Rory had followed her mother through the house a little while earlier, with barely a word of greeting or a smile. She was sitting on the other side of the table, with her chin in her hand as she gazed out into the distance, her drink untouched.

Emily continued her story, “I don’t know what she was trying to prove, everyone else claimed two. If she was trying to show off, she failed.”

“That bitch.”

“Lorelai,” Emily scolded.

“What? I assumed that was the response you were going for.”

Emily shook her head. “Anyway, a few of us had to come up with more guests. So.” She looked at her daughter pointedly.

So,” Lorelai said, leaning on the word.

“I need you and Rory to come to the benefit.”
“I’m busy that night,” Lorelai said, taking a sip of her martini.

“I haven’t mentioned what night it is.”

“What night is it?”
“This Thursday.”

Lorelai clicked her tongue. “See? I have plans.”

“Doing what?”

“I have to go to a—a thing.”

“A thing?” Emily asked, nonplussed. “It sounds important.”

“It is—it’s a town thing. Everyone will be there, so I can’t miss it,” Lorelai said. “If I do, the whole town will be talking about it—”

“The thing.”

“Yes, but I’ll be out of the loop. I just can’t do that to my town, they depend on me.”

Warily, Emily turned. “What about you Rory? Do you have an important thing you have to attend?”

Her granddaughter didn’t respond, nor did she give any other indication she’d heard.

“Rory,” Lorelai said, louder.

Rory looked over, startled. “What?”

“Can you come this Thursday evening?” Emily asked.

“Come where?” Rory asked slowly. “Here?”

Emily remained patient as she said, “No, to a fundraising event. There will be a dinner.”

“When is it?”
“Thursday,” Lorelai said, annunciating the information that had already been given. “She has two seats to fill.” She glanced at Emily with a half-smile, then looked back at her daughter. “Since I can’t make it, you should bring a date. If you can think of someone.”

Rory stared at her for a second. Her brows moved closer together before she looked over to Emily and shook her head. “I can’t make it. Sorry.” She crossed her arms and turned away again to stare at the flower bed.

Emily and Lorelai frowned at her for a moment, then Emily went on, “The banquet hall is supposed to be full. The staff there doesn’t like to rent out the space when it’s half empty.”

“Don’t be a pessimist,” Lorelai said. “The glass is half full. And it’s only a few seats at one table, no one will notice.”

Emily frowned in disapproval. Lorelai just didn’t understand how these things worked.
Rory turned back to them abruptly. “Grandma, what happened to the tulips you planted here?” she asked, pointing to a place in the dirt.

Emily craned her neck to see the empty patch. “Oh. I had to pull the bulbs out.”

“Why?” Rory asked. “Were they dying? Didn’t you water them?”

“Of course I did. But there was a vine nearby that got a little out of control. When I trimmed it back the tulips had to go with it.”

“So you just ripped them out?” Rory asked, distressed. “Did you even give them a chance?”

“Yes. Don’t worry,” Emily said reassuringly. “I’ll plant something else there. Lilies, they’ll look even better.”

“I don’t want lilies. You asked what I wanted and I said tulips,” Rory protested. “Did you think you could just stick something else in, like I wouldn’t know the difference?”

Sardonically, Lorelai asked, “Would you?”

Emily was taken aback.

Ignoring her mother, Rory continued, “Don’t you care what I want? Why did you bother asking if you were just going to do whatever you wanted?” She got up and walked to the house.

The other two women watched her go, puzzled by the outburst. Emily turned to Lorelai to ask, “What’s wrong with her?”

Lorelai frowned at the house as she answered, “I have no idea.”

“Is she jet lagged? Did she just get it?”
“No. She’s been home all week, just editing, I think,” Lorelai said. “We didn’t get a chance to talk much before we came over tonight. I only had time to change when I got home and then we left.” After a pause, Lorelai said musingly, “Wait a minute. She rode with me.”
“You were coming from the same place.”

“Yeah, but last week she wanted to drive separate.”

“You didn’t come last week.”

“I know, but Rory was planning to come, and she was going to drive separate so she could—uh—”

Emily narrowed her eyes. “So she could what?” she asked, as though she didn’t know the answer.

Evasively, Lorelai stood up and said, “Uh, race home. I’ll go talk to her.”
Emily took a sip of her drink and looked over at the flower bed. It was just tulips, for goodness sake. She stood and went to the house, listening for voices when she was inside.

“Marco,” she heard Lorelai say on her way up the front set of stairs.

Emily went to the drink cart to freshen her martini when the maid came to tell her dinner was ready. Emily headed up the stairs walked down the long hall. She stopped when she reached Rory’s room, where Lorelai had already found her. A sliver of lamp light escaped from the crack where the door wasn’t all the way shut.

Lorelai was rambling about flowers. “A few weeks ago at the inn, the wrong flowers were delivered for a wedding and the bride had a fit. It was like I singled handedly destroyed her wedding by signing for the wrong flowers,” she explained. “So I can understand how you’d be upset over tulips if that’s what you had your heart set on.”

Peeking through the crack, Emily could just make out Lorelai as she took a seat on the bed, where Rory was huddled up against the pillows.

“What’s going on?” Lorelai asked gently.

“Nothing,” Rory muttered.

“You just suddenly took a personal interest in the flora around here?”
Rory didn’t respond.

“I noticed you didn’t come home last night,” Lorelai said. “And tonight you didn’t want to drive separate. Does one have anything to do with the other?”

Again, there was a long pause.

Lorelai finally stopped beating around the bush and asked, “You don’t want to go over to Tristan’s house after dinner tonight?”

Tonelessly, Rory said, “He has to go.”

“Go where?”

“The other side of the world.” A few seconds ticked by. “The Navy called him back. He has to go be a military lawyer again in Japan.”
“Oh, I’m so sorry.”

Emily felt like a weight was lifted. At long last, this was over. Rory could move on and find someone else. Francine wouldn’t get what she wanted after all. They could put this behind them. And Rory was strong, she would easily get over this.

After Lorelai made a few inquiries about Tristan’s departure, Emily knocked on the door. “Sorry to interrupt,” she said, “but dinner is ready when if you’d like to come down.”

Rory sat up straighter and turned her back to Emily to wipe at her cheeks.

“We’ll be right down,” Lorelai said, her hand on Rory’s arm.

Emily headed back downstairs, leaving the girls to follow. She went to the dining room and had a seat at the end of the table. A couple minutes later, the girls joined her. Rory’s face was a little blotchy.

When their food was served, she said, “You can plant anything you want Grandma. Sorry for the freak out.”

“That’s quite all right,” Emily said. Rory would be fine, she thought, they just needed to distract her tonight. Things would be back to normal soon. “What have you been up to lately? You haven’t posted anything on your blog in a while.”

“I’ve just been editing,” Rory answered, still somber. “There’s a new editor at one of the papers I write for. I’m supposed to do a story about the Gaza strip for her, but I’d have to leave tomorrow.” She lightly tapped her fork on her plate. “I don’t know if I’m going to do it, though. It’s so soon, and I don’t know when I’d get back.”

Emily felt another weight lift. Tonight was turning into a wonderful evening. “That’s probably a good idea, it’s so dangerous over there,” she said.

Rory looked up at her, eyes concerned. “What do you mean?”

Lorelai chimed in, “She means the Middle East isn’t known for being peaceful.”
Emily ate a Brussels sprout and added, “There’s always so much violence going on there. I just like to know you’re safe. Some of those places you go.” She shook her head and said, “I breathe easier when you get back home.”

Rory looked upset again. “You can’t breathe when I’m away?”

“I wouldn’t say it quite like that,” Emily said, now wishing she’d picked a different topic. “You’re careful when you travel, aren’t you?”
“Yes,” Rory said. “I mean, I try.” She frowned down at her plate unhappily.

“So there’s nothing to worry about.” Emily turned to her daughter and quickly changed the subject, “Lorelai, tell me, how are things at the inn?”

“Great, Sookie invented a new dessert this week.”

“That sounds delicious,” Emily said, seizing the safer topic with gusto. “What does she put in it?”

XXXXXXXXXXXXXX

On Sunday morning, Tristan walked through the back door of his parents’ house. He made his way down the hall and stopped at his father’s study, knocking first.

“Come in,” Mason said from inside.

Tristan went in, glancing around at the room. Bookshelves lined the back wall, and Mason’s large imposing desk loomed in a corner. This was his favorite room of the house. At least, that’s the conclusion Tristan came to a long time age. Mason got home from work every night and came straight in here until the maid let him know dinner was ready. Tristan was less fond of the study.

“You wanted to see me,” he said as he sat in the chair facing the older man. It was the same chair he’d been assigned whenever he’d get into trouble when he was younger. The chair used to dwarf him, making him feel small in front of the desk, where his father would solemnly sit. It wasn’t as daunting now.

“Yes,” Mason said. “I need to talk to you before you go Tuesday.”

Tristan rested his cheek against his fist. “About what?”

“The future. After you resign from the Navy you’re going to go work at Donald Feingold’s firm.”

Tristan didn’t say anything at first. “What? Why?” To a lesser extent, he also wanted to ask who.

“I want to merge his firm.”

Tristan blinked. “Since when?”

“I was looking into it recently,” Mason answered.

Tristan lifted a hand in protest as he asked, “Are you just going to take over all the smaller firms in Hartford until you have a monopoly?”

“No. I just want to add one more. Donald’s firm specializes in patents. So whenever you get back, you’re going to work there.”

“Oh am I?”

“Yes.”

“I can’t work at a patent office,” Tristan said flatly.

“Why not?”

“I don’t know a whole lot about patent law, for one.”

“You’ll learn.”

“I didn’t study international affairs for five years to practice patent law,” Tristan argued. “And you don’t need me to do anything.” He was the one to say he’d work at Straub’s firm. The whole thing was a big deal to Mason. He was supposed to depend on Tristan, not a random associate around here.

Mason paused a second as he looked at Tristan. “Are you upset about something?”

“Getting upset never changes anything.” Tristan averted his gaze for a second, then looked back. “Just get somebody else to be your whipping boy.”

“No,” Mason said. “You’re going to do it. So make sure you turn in your resignation on time.”

Tristan’s brows furrowed slightly. “The Navy doesn’t have to accept it.”

“Then you’ll make a call to Washington and make it happen.”

Tristan shook his head a little. “I don’t want to work at a different firm when I get back. I’d rather stay where I am.”

“I don’t need you there anymore,” his father said without hesitation.

Tristan almost flinched.

“You were only there for a few months,” Mason continued. “You didn’t get attached because of its family association, did you?”

Tristan was silent for a moment. He hadn’t heard from Rory. He needed to tell her good bye at some point, since neither had said it before she left his house. He tried to remember what that contract had said. Was there a specific story she was supposed to cover? He’d been too distracted when he read it. He had no idea if she was still in the country.

He gave his head a mental shake and evasively answered his father, “I don’t want to be that guy who goes into firms before you swallow them up. They’ll think I’m casing the place for you.”

“I don’t think you have to worry about that. This might not happen for four years. That’s a significant amount of time,” Mason said. “Everyone will have forgotten about all this. They’ll have moved on.”

Tristan clenched his jaw. It’ll be like nothing happened. “You finally got Straub’s firm, why do you even want another one? Do really need more clients?”

Mason didn’t answer immediately. When he did, he said, “I’ve heard rumors. Not all the associates like their current situation. They might happier working for someone else.” Contemplatively, he added, “If it’s true, then I should get the results I expect if I say the right thing.”

Tristan stared at his father and deadpanned, “What the hell are you talking about?” The old man must have cracked, he thought. He muttered, “Why don’t you just move into your office, it can finally be your official residence.”

Mason opened his mouth, but closed it. Not deterred by Tristan’s objections, he said, “I want to get moving on this as soon as you get back. So make sure you resign on time so you can get right to work.”

Tristan wasn’t a small child—or stupid—he didn’t need Mason to repeat himself so many times. “Who said I was definitely going to resign?”

“You came to me and said working as a judge advocate for eight years would give you good career experience,” Mason said. “I agreed, understanding you would quit when that time was up. It sounded reasonable.”

Four more years, Tristan thought for the hundredth time. It could be four years before he came back. Everyone will have moved on. “I might want to renegotiate in four years.”

“We don’t have to wait that long, we’ll do it right now,” Mason said evenly. “You’re resigning.” He watched Tristan for a moment as he considered his next words. “You like what you do here, so you’re going to keep doing it in a different office.”

Tristan recoiled and said, “I do not like it.” And continuing no longer seemed worth it. “I will resign—from this job,” he said, getting up from the chair before his father could try another argument.

Mason, however, did not. Instead, he sat back in his chair and said, “Put it in writing.”

XXXXXXXXXXXXXX

The next evening, Rory was in her room, propped against the pillows on her bed reading a book. Staring at an open book was more like it. She had to go back to reread the page she was on four times before she was able to move on. She kept glancing over at the clock anxiously. The seconds were ticking their way closer to Tuesday and she couldn’t stop them.

She tore her eyes away from the clock and back to her book. She finally read an entire page without multiple attempts when her phone buzzed on the bed next to her. She sat her book on her lap so she could check the caller ID. Her heart sped up. “Hello?”

“Hey,” Tristan said. There was a pause, and Rory wondered if it was her turn to say something, but he went on, “Are you at home? I wasn’t sure if you were somewhere on an assignment.”

“No,” she said. “I could have, but I didn’t. I just didn’t feel like going this time.”

“Oh, well, I wanted to tell you good bye before I leave. We didn’t really—Friday.”

“Sorry,” she said. Her palms were getting a little sweaty. “I didn’t know what to say.”

Another pause. “Have you thought of anything?”

A lump formed in her throat. She swallowed hard and tried to control her voice to say, “No.”

“I wish I didn’t have to go,” he said. Before Rory could form the words ‘then don’t’ or ‘me too’, he continued, “But I knew it could happen.”

“Right,” she said. “We both knew.” She didn’t know how much she’d hate it though. Afraid he’d get to the good bye, she asked, “Is someone taking you to the airport tomorrow?”
“Grandpa,” Tristan answered.

“Good.”

“I’m at his house now. He had my parents over for dinner. Dad wanted to know what I’d be doing in the offices in Japan.”

“That makes sense, he loves work stuff.”

“His work,” Tristan corrected. “He asked about mine.”

“Really? That’s good.” Rory’s spirits lifted slightly.

“Uh . . . yeah, I guess. It was weird, I didn’t think he’d talk to me considering I—he and I,” Tristan stammered. More firmly, he said, “I don’t know what’s up with him lately. I think he’s going through something.”

Rory hoped so. She didn’t think Mason had cared about anything she’d said. Perhaps she’d gotten through to him after all.

She kicked herself for not having anything worthwhile to say. She wondered if Tristan would call her when he was living in Japan. Or if she’d ever be nearby for a story—stories took her everywhere. But maybe he wouldn’t be interested in that. They’d still be living on different sides of the world. There was long distance, and there was long distance.

Rory played with the edge of the bedspread as a silent minute stretched between them. Her heart was beating too hard.

Finally, Tristan said, “It’s getting late. I should let you go. I have an early flight—four in the morning.”

“Oh, yeah, okay,” she said. “Thanks for calling.”

There was one last pause, then, “Bye Rory.”

The lump returned and she quickly forced it down. “Bye.”

She sat the phone next to her and she swiped at the corner of her eye before she picked her book back up. She returned to the page she was on and tried to continue, but couldn’t. Whatever closure saying good bye was supposed to bring, made her feel worse. She went back to glancing at her clock every few minutes as though she was a kid staying up to watch the New Year’s ball drop, but without the enthusiasm.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXX

Tristan was at the airport with his grandfather early the next morning. Janlen accompanied him as far as he could, before Tristan stopped to face him. They shook hands and said their final good byes before he continued through the airport, going through security and then finding his gate. He sat his carryon in the seat next to him—he was planning on changing during a layover, before he got to the base.

He sat down and watched the other passengers go by. There were business people walking briskly to their flights, families heading out on vacation. As for the less obvious travelers, he was left wondering if they were coming or going. Was Hartford their home or was it a place they visited?

It’d turned into nothing but a visit for Tristan.

He checked his watch and saw he still had enough time before his flight to contemplate how screwed up his life got in a matter of days. He wished he could blame someone, but the target only fell on him. He was the master of his fate no matter how he looked at it.

As he watched the people passing by, a familiar face hurried through the crowd. His heart lurched with joy and depression simultaneously—similar to what it did when he first saw her at Francine’s a couple months ago. Tristan stood, which caught Rory’s attention. She made her way over, looking frazzled.

“What are you doing here?” he asked her, looking down at a ticket in her hand.

“I couldn’t sleep at all. You’re just—you’re leaving. And—,” she said, showing him what she had in her hand, “I had to buy a ticket and take off my shoes to get this far. But a phone good bye isn’t a proper good bye and . . .” She trailed off, looking helpless. After a silent beat, she asked, “Do you know how long you’ll be gone?”

He shook his head. “No. It could be four years.” Or longer, but he couldn’t bring himself to say that part out loud. Why did she have to come here in the first place? One good bye was hard enough.

“Years?” she asked, shoulders dropping. “So, it’s just—that’s it?” She was blinking quickly, holding back tears.

“It is if I don’t want to risk a court-martial,” he said. “I’m not romantic enough for that.”

Her brows knit as she continued to struggle with reality.

In a half-hearted effort to cheer her up, he said, “It’s midnight Cinderella. Time to go back to your real life—the one where I don’t exist. You’ll be fine, you did it before.”

It didn’t work, she still looked miserable. She actually liked him enough to be upset over this. Maybe it would be easier on her if she knew they never would have worked, Tristan thought. She obviously didn’t realize he couldn’t handle what she did for a living. She’d remained more optimistic than him, so she might not believe him if he tried to tell her. He checked his watch. The plane would be boarding soon, so that ruled out any lengthy explanations.

She’d taken his leaving better when they were younger. And why wouldn’t she, he mused, she could barely tolerate him. His departure was good news back then. This would be so much easier if she hated him again. She was going to move on, he knew, better sooner than later. He’d managed to get her to like him, how could he undo it?

He blurted, “I lied.”

“What?”

“I lied,” he said again. ”After dinner that night at Francine’s.”

“Lied about what?” she asked, slow frown overtaking her features. People continued to shuffle through the airport, but neither of them paid attention to anything going on around them.

“I said I wasn’t interested, but I was.”

“Interested in what?”

“You. I mean, I really wasn’t interested in Francine’s granddaughter, but that changed when she walked into the room,” he said. “I wanted you to like me this time, so I had to lie and pretend I didn’t care.”

Rory shifted to her other foot and crossed her arms, the plane ticket tucked at her side. “You had to lie?”

Good, Tristan thought, it was working. He answered, “Yes.”

“Being honest just wasn’t an option?”

“It might have been if you were anyone else,” he said. “Or if I was anyone else.”

“So it’s my fault you had to lie?” she asked incredulously, a glare setting in. An announcement was made, informing everyone the flight was boarding. People around them started getting up and forming a line.

“You wouldn’t have given me the time of day if I hadn’t,” Tristan said.

“You don’t know that,” she said, clearly deluding herself into believing she’d ever been open-minded about him.

He scoffed. “Yes I do. It’s happened before. I thought, maybe if I was the one who wasn’t interested, it would bother you.” He inclined his head slightly. “And it did.”

“So you conned me?”

“It was some harmless reverse psychology,” he said. Then he couldn’t stop himself from adding, “But then I felt guilty so I stopped.”

“Congratulations,” Rory said sardonically, not caring about his defense and not concerned with the line he needed to join. “I guess manipulating me was worth it. You got what you wanted just in the nick of time.”

Tristan stared at her for a moment and he crossed his arms. “What do you think I wanted?” He too, ignored the other passengers and the second announcement. “Don’t answer that. I can figure it out.”

She definitely wasn’t sad anymore, so it was a perfectly good place to stop.

“You think I got what I wanted?” he asked rhetorically. “If you somehow forgot, I have a house. Even if you can’t spit the words out, you know who I plan to ‘let live there’. And now it doesn’t even matter that the only girl who’s been in it—the only one I want in it at this point—doesn’t have a life, because I have to go to Japan for the foreseeable future.”

The line to board the plane was down to the last few people. He grabbed his carryon from the chair and turned to give her a dirty look as he sarcastically said, “If that’s what I wanted, then I guess I can leave happy.”

They scowled at each other one last time before stalking away, going their separate ways.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXX

In her bedroom, Rory sat at her desk, typing on her laptop. When she heard a knock at the door, she said, “Come in.” She didn’t turn away from her screen or stop what she was doing as her mother walked into the room and took a seat on the bed.

“Hey,” Lorelai said. “I saw your door was shut and a light was shining out from under it, so I knew you were home.”

“I got in today,” Rory said, still focusing on her screen.

“We haven’t talked in forever,” her mother said.

“I’ve been busy.” Her fingers continued to click-clack over the keyboard.

“Yes, for two weeks straight. Busy editing, busy blogging, busy writing, busy riding the train. Rinse, lather, repeat.”

“It’s called work. It’s what I do.” Rory finally took a break from typing, but didn’t remove her eyes from the screen as scrolled down the page.

After a pause, Lorelai slowly asked, “Do you want to talk about anything?”

“Like what?”

“Anything. I’m open to all subjects.”

“If you want to talk, then talk,” Rory said.

“Okay, let’s see,” Lorelai said, looking around a bit. “Oh, so last weekend, during the basket sale—”

Rory glowered as her mother continued.

“—Kirk bid for Eastside Tilly’s basket. And everyone was wondering why, because she’s already taken. But Taylor just let Kirk go ahead and buy his girlfriend’s basket.”

Rory muttered, “Maybe because they aren’t a couple.”

“That’s exactly what we started to think, but after all the baskets were sold, Taylor wanted to go on the picnic with Tilly—it was their arrangement, but Kirk wouldn’t hand over the basket. So Taylor chased Kirk around town. Of course, after all the running, most of the food fell from the basket.”

“Great story,” Rory said flatly. “I guess they’re a couple after all. Mystery solved.”

“I was actually going to say Taylor and Kirk might be the real couple,” Lorelai said.

Rory mumbled, “So everyone has someone to go home to. Got it.”

Neither of them said anything for a couple minutes. Rory hoped her mother would take a hint and go on with her business. But Lorelai slowly asked, “Do you think now would be a good time to address the abrupt departure of your militant lover?”

Rory turned then to glare at her mother. “What? He isn’t—you don’t know what militant means, do you?”

“It’s an adjective to describe a person in the military.”

“No,” Rory retorted.

“Are you sure?”

“Yes. I have several dictionaries lying around here. You’re welcome to borrow one.”

“I’ll keep that in mind,” Lorelai said unconvincingly. “So are you ready to talk about it?”

“Tristan was here and now he isn’t. That’s all there is to say about it,” Rory said, turning back to her laptop. However, her concentration did not come with her.

“Don’t you think you should slow down for like, five minutes and wallow?”

“No,” Rory said. “Wallowing is for breakups. A breakup happens at the end of a relationship. I was not in a relationship.”

“You were on the verge of one though—”

“No I wasn’t.”

“—you got emotionally invested.”

“I’m busy working,” Rory said. “Even if there was something to get over—and there isn’t—working does the job. I don’t have time to think about it.” And if she didn’t let herself think of him, maybe the recurring dream she’d been having would stop.

“That’s called bottling it up, and it’s not what you do,” Lorelai said. “You talk things out eventually. Or at least blog.” She crossed her arms and furrowed her brows. “You were sad two weeks ago. When did it turn into a bad mood?”

Rory didn’t respond as she noisily hit backspace key a few times. Lorelai didn’t move from the bed, waiting for an answer. Finally, Rory turned and explained how she’d gone to the airport to see Tristan before he left. Without mentioning his final words, she ended with, “And it’s my fault he tricked me—had to trick me.”

There was a silent beat. Lorelai asked, “Was that the only lie?”

Rory gave her mother an exasperated look. “He deliberately manipulated me. You hate manipulators.”

“I do, but—”

“There is no but!”

“Well, what about when you like someone, and you play hard to get at first—you’re interested, but you pretend not to be. Is that lying?”

“Yes,” Rory said. “I can’t believe you’re taking his side.”

“I’m not,” Lorelai assured her. “I haven’t forgotten how he wronged me.”

Rory narrowed her eyes. “Wronged you?”

“He compared me to Emily. That’s a serious offense.” Rory continued to glare as Lorelai slowly said, “Can I ask a question?”

Rory turned back to her laptop again. “If you must.”

“You have to answer honestly.”

“Were you even listening to what I just said?”

“Okay, okay, I just wanted to make sure,” Lorelai said. “If Tristan asked you to, say, dinner and a movie—you know, a date—after you saw him at Francine’s, what would your answer have been?”

“He didn’t ask, so we’ll never know.”

“We kind of know,” Lorelai argued. “You came straight home and said he was bad news. You didn’t want anything to do with him. Don’t you remember?”

Rory stared at her. “You think I had to be tricked,” she said, shaking her head. “I can’t believe this.”

“I’m just reminding you of what you said when you saw him. If I’d never met him, I’d have thought he was the James Spader to your Molly Ringwald.”

“That’s accurate.”

Lorelai made a sound indicating her disagreement. The she asked musingly, “Why did he bother confessing at the last minute anyway?”
“Because he’s an ass, and always has been. I guess he wanted to brag,” Rory said, again pushing the rest of his last minute speech to the edge of her thoughts. “So I’m not about to cry over him.”

“Fine, if that’s what you want,” Lorelai said, obviously not happy about it.

“It’s what I want.” Rory pretended to keep working and wished she had more privacy. She could only do so much to escape her mother’s questions when they lived under the same roof.

“What have you been writing about?” Lorelai asked, finally changing the subject.

“Just domestic politics. I’ve only been to Washington D.C.” Rory hadn’t left the country in a few weeks. When the opportunity came up, she’d passed. She picked up a pen and tapped it on the desk. When she stopped, she turned to ask, “Do you have trouble breathing when I’m away? Or is it just Grandma?”

“You’re doing what you always wanted to do, so I’m happy if you are.”

“You completely avoided the question. I’m not happy if you’re back here worrying all the time,” Rory said. “Do you hate it?”

“I don’t hate it. How can I hate something when you’ve worked so hard for it?”

“Because it isn’t always safe,” Rory said. “And you’re my mom, so you probably don’t want anything bad to happen to me.”

“I am kind of obligated to love you,” Lorelai said wryly.

Rory flinched at her mother’s word choice.

“It’s really okay though.”

“But what’s my long term plan?” Rory asked, looking around. “Live in my childhood bedroom forever so I can sow my wild oats, all the while leaving you and Grandma sitting on edge, hoping I come back alive? I can’t keep doing that to you.”

“Hey, it’s okay,” Lorelai said again, like it was her defense mechanism. “You can stay as long as you like.”

Rory looked at her wide eyed. “Why? I’m an adult. I should have adult things, like my own place to live.” She added, “I can’t stay in Neverland forever.”

“Does that make me Tinkerbell?” Lorelai mused. Getting serious again, she asked, “So what are you going to do?”
Rory rested her elbows on her desk and rubbed her face. “I don’t know. Maybe I should get a job, one where I don’t have to do everything myself.”

“Whatever you want to do, I support you,” Lorelai said as she stood up.

Rory looked at her warily. “Really? Or are you just saying that?”

“I mean it. I want you to be happy, and if what you’re doing now doesn’t make you happy anymore, I want you to find something else,” Lorelai said, opening the door.

“Thanks,” Rory said. She turned back to her computer and rested her face against her palm. The world was her oyster, as it always had been. The thought neither scared nor excited her.

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