Family Feudalism

Chapter 3

With her laptop on the table in front of her, Rory read through the hard copy of an article she’d edited that morning. She had a stack she was working on. The first article had to be entirely rewritten, as it was a mess before she got her hands on it. Her revised version was half the length of the original—though all the information was still included. She wanted to recommend the author dust off his copy of Strunge and White.

She finished retyping the article and e-mailed it back, then took a sip of Luke’s coffee as she flipped to the next piece. After she pulled the document up on her laptop, she clicked over to a window with the Internet. She checked a few news feeds to see what was happening in the world and picked up her phone to text an editor. She typed up a quick e-mail as well.

When she was finished sending the messages, she didn’t continue with revising the next article, instead she opened a new Internet window. She glanced around the diner to make sure no one was paying attention to her. Kirk was busy eating his grilled cheese sandwich and Luke was taking orders at a table across the room. Rory turned her attention back to her laptop and typed USN into her search engine.

It wasn’t the first time she’d Googled the initials since Friday night. She’d ignored her nagging curiosity over the weekend, and at first she’d successfully resisted. But by Monday she couldn’t stand it anymore. A day later her results weren’t any clearer than they’d been before she started. When the bell above the door tinkled, she didn’t look up from her search.

“Are you thinking of applying to the University of Southern Nevada?” her mother asked from behind her, peeking over her shoulder to see the computer screen.

Rory jumped and blushed as though she was caught with her hand in the cookie jar. “No. I was just . . . looking into something.”

“Schools?” Lorelai asked as she took a seat at the table.

“No. I don’t think so. I’m not sure,” Rory said, shaking her head. “I was just trying to figure out what USN might stand for.” She scrolled down the list of search results.

“Why do you want to know?”

Rory hesitated before answering, “Because I saw it somewhere. On something.”

“On what?”

“Uh, Tristan’s arm,” she admitted.

“Oh, he has a tattoo,” Lorelai said, tucking some of her windblown hair behind her ear.

“Yes.”

“Cool.” Lorelai looked at the list. “I can’t help but notice one of the search results came up more than once. Is he perhaps in the Navy?”

“I don’t know,” Rory said with a frown. “I can’t find a tattoo design that looks like his,” she said, clicking to another tab to show her mother.

“No anchor?”

“No.”

“How about a nice friendly skull?”

“No. It didn’t have chevrons or an eagle, either. His had leaves.”

“Leaves?”

“Leaves. Two on each side of a . . . I don’t know what was in the middle.”

“Maybe he just likes fall.”

“Then what does the USN stand for?”

“A girl’s initials?”

Rory raised a doubtful brow.

“Ursula?”

She shook her head. “I don’t think so.”

Lorelai shrugged and said, “Then you’re back at Navy.”

Rory bit her lip. She hoped that wasn’t true. Military service wasn’t generally considered a ‘free ride’, as she’d called his life. But that would explain why he unceremoniously threw her out of his house.

Lorelai looked around the diner for Luke and waved when she found him. “Can I get some coffee over here?”

“How much have you had today?” he asked from behind the counter. He gave an order to Caesar and picked up a couple plates.

“Only two cups,” she said, holding her fingers up in a piece sign to illustrate.

“And how many when you got to the inn?”

“One or two more cups,” she admitted. “I can’t recall the exact number.”

“You’re done for the day. It’s affecting your brain cells.” He sat the plates down at a table and moved to the next to take more lunch orders.

“Come on, I just want one teeny tiny cup of coffee,” Lorelai pleaded. “I have to get through the afternoon still.”

Luke glanced over as he scribbled on his pad of paper. “I bet if you went to an AA meeting you’d fit right in,” he said, putting his pencil behind his ear. “Your life revolves around your next cup of coffee, doesn’t it? When you’re going to get it, where it’s going to come from. That’s probably all you think about.”

“That is completely untrue. I don’t have to think about it, I always know exactly where my next cup is coming from.”

“You’re wrong today.”

“I can always go to Weston’s.”

“Be my guest,” Luke told her before turning his back to wipe down a table.

Lorelai sighed dramatically. In a low voice, she told Rory, “Pay attention to when he goes to the back. I’ll just slip behind the counter and help myself.”

“He hates when you do that,” Rory said without looking away from her screen. When her phone buzzed again, and she picked it up.

“Spousal privilege, he needs to recognize.” Lorelai glanced at Rory’s phone. “Are you jetting off?”

“Maybe,” she answered as she typed a response. She sat the phone down and looked back at her computer screen, taking a turn to sigh. “All military enlistments do last eight years. So if Tristan went to college first and just got back, the timeline does fit.”

“Oh, you’re still on that?” Lorelai said as she turned back toward the laptop. “You said he went to military school. So everything checks out.”

“Until you remember it’s Tristan, then it doesn’t make sense anymore,” Rory said. She shook her head. “Then again, he was working in Bahrain and there is a Navy base there. Maybe you’re right. Maybe he was in the Navy.”

Lorelai gasped theatrically. “Oh my God, I know who he is. The princess and the marine!”

Rory tore her eyes away from her computer to look at her mother. “What?”

“Yeah,” Lorelai said with an eager nod. “I saw the TV movie. Zach Morris was a marine in Bahrain and he fell in love with a princess at the mall, so they snuck out of the country and got married. Then they were on Oprah. And if you’re wondering, neither the princess nor the marine jumped on her couch.”

Rory didn’t say anything as she absorbed her mother’s rant. “First off, I’m pretty sure Zach Morris has a real name. Second, if we think Tristan might be in the Navy, then he probably isn’t also a marine.”

Lorelai’s shoulders dropped in disappointment. “Oh, I guess that’s true.” She sighed. “You know, you could have just asked him about it if you were so interested—”

“I wasn’t,” Rory interrupted.

“—That’s how you usually get information. Not that this investigation isn’t fun and all.”

“I didn’t want him to think I was checking him out,” Rory said as she closed her Internet search to return to her work.

“Were you?”

“I caught a glimpse of his physique,” she answered evasively. “He was right in front of me.”

“And?”

Rory shrugged with careful indifference. “He’s okay looking, I guess. If you’re into the tall dirty blond types.”

Lorelai chuckled lightly. “Dirty.” She turned her attention to the diner patron a couple tables away. “Hey Kirk, what are you drinking over there?”

Kirk picked up his cup on instinct. “Coffee.”

“Are you going to finish it?”

“Don’t bother the customers,” Luke said from behind her. She jumped in surprise as he put down a plate with a cheeseburger and French fries in front of her. “And stay away from the counter,” he said before he walked away.

Lorelai looked over to Rory as she picked up her burger. “He must have ears like a bat.”

XXXXXXXXXXXXXX

A few hours later, Emily was sitting out on her back patio with a group of women. They were sipping tea and finalizing details of their upcoming fundraiser for the Hartford Historical Society.

“Emily will be in charge of the wait staff,” Nora Henderson said from the other side of the circle. “No one can stagger hors d’oeuvres as well as her.”

“Yes of course,” Emily agreed. She made a note on a clipboard she was holding before looking over to their youngest member, a pretty blond woman wearing a light pink dress that complimented her fair skin tone. “Quinn, have you confirmed the string quintet? We need them to play through the entire cocktail hour. Last time, the harpist got up and walked out when there were ten whole minutes left. Can you imagine? It was so embarrassing.”

“Yes, I spoke with a member of the ensemble, ma’am,” Quinn answered. “I also gave them our playlist, and instructions to not stray from it.”

“Very good,” Emily said approvingly, checking an item on her list.

“That reminds me,” Beatrice Atwater said from beside Emily. “You wanted to know about Cecilia Dugray’s son didn’t you?”

“That’s right,” Emily said, though not eagerly. She was careful not to let her smile slip. “Tristan.”

“I have it on good authority he just returned to Hartford. He’s been abroad for four years,” Beatrice explained. “He’s Rory’s age, were you hoping to introduce the two of them since he’s back in town?”

“Oh, they would look lovely together,” Nora jumped in. “I believe Tristan went to Chilton. That’s where Rory went, isn’t it? ”

“Yes, she did,” Emily said, ignoring how much she was suddenly annoyed with her friend. “She was valedictorian of her class. But I couldn’t possibly introduce them,” she lamented. “Rory doesn’t care for him in the least.”

“That’s such a shame,” Beatrice said, disappointed. “She should scoop him up before someone else does. And they would be perfect together.”

Emily felt her stomach tighten. That was without a doubt the most ridiculous thing she’d ever heard. It was ludicrous on several levels. In her opinion, there was only one man who’d ever be perfect for Rory, and she let him get away a long time ago. Lorelai’s motherly ‘advice’ no doubt played into that decision, Emily had always been sure of it. As far as she was concerned, no other man would ever be good enough for her granddaughter. Certainly not this despicable Tristan Dugray.

Staying composed, she asked, “What does he do?”

“He’s a lawyer—like all the Dugray men, of course. But he actually works at the Hayden’s firm.”

“Who are the Hayden’s?” Quinn asked.

“Straub and Francine, dear,” Nora answered kindly. She turned her attention back to Emily to ask, “Isn’t Rory a Hayden?”

“Those are Christopher’s parents, yes,” Emily answered. Rory was a Gilmore.

“I can’t remember,” Beatrice said, “did Christopher ever work for Straub?”

“No,” Emily answered, her gaze hardening. Evenly, she added, “He never did.”

“Just think,” Nora said excitedly, “With your families so closely tied now, Tristan and Rory could make it official.”

All the blood drained from Emily’s face as her mind raced. “Excuse me,” she said, standing and setting her clipboard on her chair before walking inside her house.

She grabbed the phone from the table as she continued to Richard’s study. She dialed Rory’s number and waited impatiently for her to pick up. As she listened to the ringing, her eyes swept around the room—which remained the same as it had when Richard had been living. She looked from the beautiful portrait of Rory to a box on the desk and her heart swelled with pride for her granddaughter. At the same time, she felt contempt for Francine.

When Emily heard the voicemail kick in, she left a message. “Rory, it’s your grandmother, and I just heard. Don’t worry, Francine will not get away with this,” Emily seethed. “She might have thought she could use you, but she was wrong. I will not let her. She has no right. You don’t have to go near that Dugray heathen ever again. I just wanted you to know I will take care of it, so stay calm and—”

She was cut off by the beep. “Oh shoot.” Emily sighed in displeasure. She walked out of the study and sat the phone back down. They’d been having a perfectly lovely time, she couldn’t fathom why Beatrice brought up that insolent boy in the first place. She took a deep breath to compose herself and headed outside to the group of women, ready to get back to the fundraiser details.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXX

Tristan was sitting at a barstool in his kitchen that evening, looking through strips of paint samples. He was facing the opening of the living room, trying to decide which color he should paint the walls. He held up one of the colors and tried to imagine what the whole room would look like. When he heard a knock at the front door, he tossed the paint samples on the counter and got up.

He opened the door to find Rory Gilmore. He was simultaneously happy and annoyed to see her. “You again.”

“I just listened to a message from Emily Gilmore, who is in some sort of frenzy. She went on a tangent about how Francine won’t get away with this, and how I don’t have to go near that heathen anymore,” Rory said. “FYI, you’re the heathen.”

“I always wanted a cool nickname.”

“Francine wasn’t actually up to something, was she?”

He hesitated for a second, which Rory noticed. She put her hands at her hips and pointedly asked, “Can I come in?”

“If you behave yourself,” he said meaningfully, stepping aside. Admittedly, throwing her out probably wasn’t the best course of action if he ever hoped to get her to go to dinner with him. But he knew some people needed boundaries. He’d been happy to give her some.

“Is there some reason Francine wanted to set us up that you haven’t told me?” she asked from the open space in front of the stairs, where Tristan took a seat. “And don’t give me any of that old families stuff.”

“Fine,” he complied. “A month ago I came back to the States and started working at a respected Hartford law firm.”

“Okay,” Rory said very slowly. Her eyes narrowed, making her appear confused. He thought he saw her eyes quickly dart to his arm. “Uh, good for you.”

“Thanks. Here’s the good part. It’s Straub’s old firm.”

“Okay,” she said again.

Tristan continued. “My dad has wanted to merge his firm—the one my grandpa used to run—with the Hayden’s firm forever. But Straub was never interested.”

“Well, he’s dead now. Your dad can have it.”

Tristan smiled a little. “It’s just that easy, huh?”

“Isn’t it?”

He shrugged. “It could be. But there’s just one thing holding things up. You have an uncle.”

“I do?”

“Well, your dad does. Straub’s brother—Abram—he still works at the firm, but he’s close to retirement. He’s really only a figurehead at this point. After Straub died my dad wanted to buy the firm, but Francine talked Abram out of it. She can’t make the old guy work forever though. And I work there now, so we’re just waiting him out. Then I’ll move up to senior partner,” Tristan explained.

Rory put her hands on her hips and was silent for a moment. Then, “Law firms . . . that makes you a lawyer.”

“So you’re an investigative journalist,” he said sarcastically.

Again, she didn’t say anything for a moment, and definitely glanced at his arm. “Are you in the Navy or not?” she asked, exasperated. It was like the question burst out against her will.

“Technically.”

“How can you technically be in the Navy?”

“How is Straub Hayden technically your grandfather?” he countered.

“Fine, you got me. I am, there’s no technically. Does that mean your answer is yes?”

He nodded. “I’m in the Judge Advocate General’s Corps.”

She blinked. “Oh.”

“That’s the official way of saying military lawyer.”

Again, “Oh.”

He waited to find out if she had any follow up questions, but she remained silent. He thought it odd for a journalist—who’d clearly done a bit of research—to stay so quiet, but didn’t say any more about it. He went on, “Anyway, it won’t be too long now. I’ll move up and the whole thing will be a done deal.”

“You’re kind of young, aren’t you? You don’t have that much experience.”

“It’s a small firm. And I’ve done more than the average junior associate.”

“So, what,” Rory said, “you and your dad are like a big company that buys smaller ones and fires people to save money?”

“No one will lose their job. The office will stay in downtown Hartford, it’ll still specialize in international law, but under the umbrella of my dad’s firm.” He shrugged. “It’s not personal, it’s business.”

“Thanks for the lame platitude.”

“It’s still true. Dad’s been salivating over this for years. I don’t think he’s been poisoning Abram, but I wouldn’t put it past him,” Tristan said. “I’ll keep an eye out.”

“Why does he want it so bad?”

Tristan shrugged again. “Why does anyone want anything? More clients with deep pockets.”

“So, what’s the big deal? I mean, now I get why Francine knows you. But where do I come in?”

“The Dugray’s are moving in and Hayden’s will be out,” he said, slowly spelling it out for her. This couldn’t be that difficult. “Francine’s trying to hold on to what—for the time being—is still theirs. She’s hoping you’ll take one for the team.”

“Take one for the team? I’m barely even on her team.” Rory started to pace back and forth.

“Right, only technically. She knows she can’t stop it anymore. Now we can all call that set up what it was—an act of desperation.”

“I can’t believe she would do that.” Rory stopped abruptly. “Wait a minute, you knew what she was doing the whole time but didn’t tell me?”

“And be the bearer of what is clearly good news for you? In the interest of my personal safety, I kept it to myself.”

“I’d have to marry you to keep the business in the family.”

He raised a brow slightly and tilted his head. “Good job, you’ve finally boarded the correct train of thought.”

Incredulous, Rory exclaimed, “She wants us to get married?”

“Calm down,” he tried.

“I will not calm down! The first time in thirty years she reaches out and it’s to use me like a—like a—”

“Pawn. I know.” She continued to pace, so Tristan leaned back against the stairs to watch. She was dressed down tonight, in jeans and a long sleeve green shirt that looked soft to the touch. She looked better than she had as a teenager. The curves of her body were more pronounced. Her face was less cherubic, and her cheekbones more defined. She was muttering to herself and shaking her head angrily. Her silky brown hair was pulled back into a ponytail, though her long bangs were starting to escape.

“You know, if it makes you feel any better, I’m my dad’s pawn in this.”

She stopped in front of him and pointed a finger. “You said you don’t work for him. You lied.”

“No I didn’t. I work for your family, not mine. That’s kind of the point.”

“But you will work for him, once this merger goes down.”

“I guess you could say I’ll be a vassal to his lordship,” he reasoned.

“Why are you talking like that?”

“Like what?”

“Like we’re in the sixteenth century.”

“Aren’t we? You were the one to bring up grand bowing. I’m just following your lead. And let’s not forget Francine tried to arrange a marriage. Our families enjoy living in a feudal society.”

Rory shook her head. “It’s just a stupid law firm. I don’t care, you can have it. Francine can just get over it. I don’t owe her—or Straub—anything.”

“People get sensitive about their legacies,” Tristan told her. “They want to keep things in the family. You heard what your dad said about the newspaper king. And hey, what happened to The Times when Adolf Ochs died?”

“It went to his son-in-law,” Rory answered. “But his daughter was already married to the guy. Adolf didn’t hand it over and then force them to marry.”

“You do realize no one is going to stuff you in a white dress and drag you down the aisle, right? I haven’t gone tuxedo shopping.”

“Little comfort,” she said. “I’m sure you were thrilled when I turned out to be Francine’s granddaughter.”

He was something all right.

“This isn’t happening, Tristan. We aren’t doing anything together. Ever.”

“Who told you I wanted to?” he asked.

She paused and, to his confusion, looked offended.

His brows furrowed as he asked, “Did you assume I would? You think very highly of yourself, don’t you?”

Hastily, she started, “No—but—”

“But what?” he asked, keen to know her explanation.

Flustered, she tried to go on, “It’s just—you used to ask me—and she handed me over to you on a silver platter.”

He didn’t respond immediately, but stared at her, which made her blush. He knew what the rest of her sentence was—he used ask her out. A lot. He’d looked like an idiot in front of everyone when she continuously told him no. Instead of deterring him, her persistence only fueled his desires. She apparently never figured that out though. Rejection did funny things to the mind, he mused. It was an odd, though effective, motivator.

Huh.

With his eyes still on her, the corner of his mouth lifted in a half smile. It must have made her uncomfortable, because she averted her gaze.

“You were new, I was bored,” he said, maybe somewhat harshly. “If it makes you feel any better, I got distracted by shiny objects too.” That earned him a scowl. He briefly wondered how many times he could get her to do that.

“I didn’t assume anything,” she said, trying for conviction but failing.

“Good. Because my dad wants me to take you out to dinner, but I already told him it isn’t going to happen.”

She narrowed her eyes, obviously skeptical. “You did?”

“Yup. And to be honest, I had no interest in Francine Hayden’s granddaughter before I even walked into her house.”

She frowned, and again, he thought she looked mildly insulted. “How could you know that without knowing the person?”

Something he always wondered about her. “The same way you knew you weren’t interested in me when you found out it was a set up.”

“That’s completely different.”

“It isn’t.” He looked at her thoughtfully. “I guess guys are still falling at your feet, hoping for the chance to be with you.”

Her brows scrunched up in protest. “They’ve never done that.”

“Uh-huh,” he said doubtfully. “I heard Huntzberger slept with every female that moved on the East Coast, congratulations on beaching that whale. I just hope he didn’t give you any venereal diseases.” He waited a second, and wasn’t disappointed by her glare. He was two for two.

“He did not fall at my feet. For your information, he didn’t even want to be my boyfriend when we started dating,” she said triumphantly.

Tristan didn’t know how to process that declaration. It wouldn’t compute in his head, so he moved on. “Your daddy issues are fascinating. Someone should study you.”

Once again, she looked incredulous. “What? I don’t have daddy issues.”

But he was nodding, agreeing with his statement. “From my point of view, you do.”

“Why?”

He held up a finger to count. “For one thing, your mother raised you.”

“So? That doesn’t mean anything.”

“If you grew up without your dad around, you have issues. It’s basically a rule,” he said. “And then you went to college to date a guy just like him.”

“No I—didn’t,” she said hesitantly. Her eyes grew concerned and she crossed her arms over her body.

“Did Huntzberger do a good job filling the void left by your dad?” Tristan asked with a smirk. Unfortunately, she didn’t shoot him a dirty look this time.

“They aren’t the same,” she said, though meekly. “You don’t even know them.”

“You’ve given me a pretty good idea,” he said. “When the going got tough, they got going.” He’d let her mull that one over on her own. “Do you want some coffee?”

She nodded silently, still looking anxious.

He stood and led her into the kitchen, where she sat on the same stool she’d sat the previous Friday as he got her coffee ready. This time, he knew to take two cups down from the cabinet. He turned back to see her staring at the cabinet. Her eyes were the same bright blue, and while they were shrewder now, they still looked worried.

He cleared his throat. “So tell me,” he started, “what’s the difference between a reporter and a correspondent?”

Rory looked at him, visibly relieved by the change of topic and answered, “A reporter just regurgitates the facts. But a correspondent goes on location to provide their unique perspective about the story.”

“I see. So that’s what you do.”

“Yes.”

“How long have you been at it?”

“Since my first job ended in two thousand eight.”

“You’ve been a foreign correspondent for eight years? It didn’t take you long to work up to that position,” he commented.

“Says Mr. I’ll Make Senior Partner in No Time.”

He put a fresh cup of coffee in front of her. “Touché.” Her long bangs fell to the side of her face as she looked down at the cup. To prevent his hand from reaching out to brush them behind her ear, he crossed his arms and leaned back against the counter.

“Thanks,” she said as she took a sip. “But you’re right. It would usually take longer. If I went to work for a daily paper, I’d probably be a general city reporter for years. And no one was hiring back then anyway. I knew what I wanted to do, so I just went for it on my own.”

“Meaning?”

“Freelance.”

“Ah.”

“Plus,” she said with a half-smile, “I didn’t have to awkwardly explain my criminal record to any employers.”

Tristan snorted. “Sure.” He thought about it for a couple seconds. “So your life is constantly in a state of survival mode—never knowing where your next story will come from?”

“Some would call that freedom,” she said sardonically. “I do some editing too. It helps to fill the gaps. All my expenses go to travel, and I get to choose whatever story I want, which means lots of variety.”

“All your expenses? Do you live in a cardboard box?”

“No, I live with—.” She paused. “A friend.”

He nodded. “Where might someone find your articles?”

“Smaller news outlets. They don’t have foreign bureaus and can’t afford to send reporters to other countries. This way, I can sell them a story that’s more in-depth than what they’d get from the AP.”

“I guess that rules out bigger papers though.”

She shrugged. “Yeah, usually. But people who don’t read the New York Times still want to know what’s going on in the world. And I want to tell them.”

“Win-win,” he said, noting her lack of concern for the status a prestigious paper would give her.

“Exactly,” she agreed. Her phone buzzed from a pocket and she took it out to read a text. “Speaking of covering whatever story I want.” She sent a response and laid the phone on the island.

Tristan grabbed it quickly.

“Hey!” She reached out.

He held the phone up. “I just want to see what book you’re reading. Or is it books?”

“That’s not a book, it’s a phone.”

“Thanks, Nancy. Unlike our relatives, you and I live in the twenty-first century, where books are electronic.” He clicked on the appropriate app and scrolled through the many books, scanning the titles. “Not all your expenses go toward travel, I see.”

After a few seconds, she said, “Give me my phone.”

“Hold on, hold on,” he muttered. He was no longer viewing her books though. He was typing in a ten digit number and saving it under his name. He dialed the number and let it ring once before he hung up and handed the phone back. “Here you go. Impressive collection. You didn’t disappoint.”

She frowned at that as the phone vibrated again. She read the new message. “I have to go.”

“For a story?”

She stood and nodded at him. “Yeah, in Uganda.”

“Just like that?”

“I told you. I can go anywhere anytime.” She glanced at the coffee maker. “Oh, sorry, I don’t have time for that second cup.”

“Don’t worry about it,” he said with practiced detachment. He followed her to the door and opened it, stepping out onto the porch and looking at her. “So . . . be careful,” he said lamely.

She nodded. “I will, bye,” she said with a wave as she went down the sidewalk to her car.

Tristan watched her drive off, having no idea when—or if—she’d pop up again.


Continue Reading Next Chapter

About Us

Inkitt is the world’s first reader-powered publisher, providing a platform to discover hidden talents and turn them into globally successful authors. Write captivating stories, read enchanting novels, and we’ll publish the books our readers love most on our sister app, GALATEA and other formats.