Family Feudalism

Chapter 5

Standing in her grandmother’s foyer, Rory handed the box of her news stories to the maid, asking for it to be returned to the study. She was informed the lady of the house was on the back patio, so she made her way to the back doors. Rory spotted Emily sitting on the concrete terrace with a shovel in hand. She was wearing a visor to keep the morning sun off her face as she dug in the soil.

“Hi Grandma,” Rory said as she approached the flower bed.

Emily looked up in surprise. “Rory, I didn’t know you were dropping by.”

Rory took a seat on the cool concrete across from her grandmother. “I just got back from an assignment yesterday and I thought I’d come for a visit. I hope you don’t mind.”

“Of course not. And I could use your opinion,” Emily said, picking up a few packets of flower seeds for Rory to see. “Which do you think I should plant? I can’t decide.”

“Oh, uh, tulips?” Rory said, having no horticulture knowledge to speak of. She thought yellow would be a bright addition to the flower bed.

“Tulips it is, excellent choice,” Emily said, setting the packet on the dirt. She sat a watering can next to it and took her gloves off. “I’m glad you came by, I wanted to apologize for Friday night.”

“Why?”

“I know you loathe Tristan and didn’t want to see him again, but I just wanted to make sure we’re all on good terms. Friday was the only night they could all make it. I hated that it interfered with our time.”

“Oh, it wasn’t a problem. Tristan wasn’t too awful,” Rory said. “And his parents weren’t bad.”

“I heard Mason doesn’t do much pro bono work. He clocks his minimum required hours and then he’s back to billing clients,” Emily said. “He’s only concerned with the bottom line. And did you know Tristan was so unmanageable as a boy his parents had to ship him off to reform school?”

“I know. He missed the play.”

“What?”

Rory explained, “We were supposed to be in a play together—for school—but he got sent away that night. Paris had to fill in.”

“And a good thing too. He probably wouldn’t have been prepared. He was too busy being the delinquent he is.”

Rory didn’t say anything. Present day, calling Tristan a delinquent seemed a step too far. Emily’s forehead was lined in agitation as she continued, “You’d think he just got out of prison, the way he was staring at you all evening. You should exercise caution around him, men like him only want one thing.”

Rory was sure Emily was mistaken—about Tristan’s staring at her, at least. The advice was valid. Rory almost smiled when she considered asking her grandmother to explain what that one thing was. But not wanting another visit from a member of the clergy, she thought better of it.

Emily had picked the shovel back up and was stabbing at the soil as she dug a hole. “Of course you won’t have to worry about that. This is all finished now.”

Rory saw an opportunity and grabbed it. “Unless Francine invites him to that party she wants to throw me,” she said. “That is, if no one tells her she’s wrong about when my birthday is.”

Emily’s shovel stopped. “I hadn’t thought of that.”

“So maybe someone should tell her to call it off.”

She looked to Rory and shook her head. “No, she deserves whatever embarrassment she gets.”

“But Dad won’t let her look bad in front of a crowd of people. He’ll probably tell her the truth and she’ll put a stop to it.”

“I’ll take care of him,” Emily said. Then she added, “And don’t worry about Tristan either. I’ll take care of him, too.”

Rory wondered if her grandmother was going to hire a hit man. Emily was starting to sound like she belonged in a mob movie.

Emily continued, “I’m sure he’s easily distracted.”

“Apparently by shiny objects,” Rory said. She checked her watch. “I should get going. I have work to do.”

Emily gave her a hug, saying, “Come by any time you like.”

When Rory reached the door, Emily asked, “What play was it, that Tristan missed?”

Rory turned to answer, “Romeo and Juliet. We were the title characters.” Emily’s face went blank for a second, but she nodded and went back to her flower bed.

As Rory walked out the front of the house, her cell phone buzzed from her pocket. “Hello?” she answered, opening her car door and getting in.

“Taylor is suing me,” her mother said incredulously.

“What? Why?”

“He ate lunch at the Dragonfly Monday and got food poisoning. He said he’s going to sue the pants off me.” Lorelai added, “I really like my pants.”

“Sookie’s food gave him food poisoning?” Rory asked. Then, “Wait, can he sue you for food poisoning?”

“I don’t know, but that’s what he said he’s doing. So I guess he can,” Lorelai said, frustrated. “Sookie feels horrible. She’s throwing out perfectly good food from the kitchen, afraid she’ll make someone else sick. And she won’t serve lunch.”

Is it perfectly good though?” Rory asked as she pulled out of the driveway.

“Now you’re on his side?”

“No, I’m just saying—has anyone else gotten sick?”

“Not that I know of. Oh no, if he really goes through with this, I’m going to need a lawyer. And I’ll have to ask Mom to recommend one. There go my weekends! She’ll lock me in for Sunday brunch. Or worse, Saturday night sleep overs,” she said. “Then again, if she lets me pitch a tent in the living room it might be worth it.”

Rory sighed. “I think you’re overlooking the obvious.”

“I know, she’d never allow a tent in her house.”

“No. Your weekends are fine. Sit tight.” Rory hung up and scrolled down her list of contacts as she kept an eye on the road. She shook her head slightly as she pressed send, not wanting to picture the look on Tristan’s face when her name popped up on his phone.

“Hello?” he answered, sounding both curios and amused.

“Tristan, I have a question.” She added, “A legal question.”

“Then I’ll have an answer.”

Rory clicked on her blinker as she changed lanes. “Can someone sue an establishment over food poisoning?”

“Yes, but they have to prove the restaurant food is what made them sick. It’s frivolous, but can be done. Why?”

“It’s my mom. She runs an inn—well she doesn’t just run it, she owns it—but anyway, someone ate there the other day and wants to sue her for getting sick. Her chef is freaking out right now. She needs a lawyer to check things out. Do you know of one who could help her?”

“I know lots of lawyers. What’s the address of her inn? I’ll make sure it gets taken care of.”

XXXXXXXXXXXXXX

About an hour later, Tristan walked through the entrance of the Dragonfly Inn. He was met with a staircase straight ahead and a dining room to his right, although access was cut off by a row of chairs. He spotted Lorelai standing behind the front desk and walked over. She was busy listening to a man talk about the horses as she handed him fresh towels. After a couple was handed their room keys, Tristan was next.

Lorelai made a note in a large book before glancing up. She did a double take when she saw it was him. “Tristan?” She gasped and said, “You’re a lawyer!”

“That’s probably the happiest anyone will ever sound when saying that. So someone wants to sue you?”

“Yes, it’s our town selectmen slash evil overlord. He said the chicken Marsalis made him sick. He gave me all the gory details too, but I’ll spare you. When he started talking about things coming out of both ends, I tuned him out,” she explained quickly.

Just then, two arguing people rounded the corner and came over to the desk. One was a plump woman wearing an apron and her hair braided in pigtails. She was trying to yank away a bowl from a simpering Frenchman in a suit.

“Lorelai,” the man pouted, “Sookie is trying to throw away my oatmeal. Tell her it is fine.”

“If it was in that kitchen, it goes!” the woman, Sookie, said as she pointed a thumb over her shoulder.

“Oatmeal will not give anyone food poisoning.”

“I’m not taking any chances, give me the bowl.” She tried to wrestle it away, but Lorelai separated them, like a mother playing referee to her children.

“Sookie, I’m sure the oatmeal is fine. And if for some unlikely reason it isn’t, I’m sure Michel won’t sue. Now, everything is being taken care of.”

Michel made a face at Sookie and took his breakfast back. Lorelai returned her attention to Tristan and formally introduced him to the other two.

At the word lawyer, Michel said, “It was all her.” He pointed a finger at Sookie. “It’s her fault we are getting sued.”

Sookie launched into a rant, “I always cook my chicken all the way through. I mean, I don’t always use a meat thermometer, but it’s chicken, if there’s no pink it’s done. It’s pretty much a no brainer. And I used good Marsalis wine and fresh cream—”

“Sookie, calm down,” Lorelai tried.

But the chef continued, “The Gardeners and the Andersons had the same thing for lunch that day and they’ve been fine, haven’t they?” She looked at Lorelai with large eyes, pleading for agreement.

“You’re right, there haven’t been any other complaints.”

The Frenchman piped up, “Perhaps it your husband’s vegetables. They probably came covered in bacteria.”

“The mushrooms are fine—better than fine,” she fired back, pointing a finger at Michel. “Leave Jackson’s vegetables out of this.”

Lorelai sighed and muttered to Tristan, “Welcome to my life.”

While the other two continued to bicker, he said, “If I could just have a list of the people who ate here the past couple days, I can get this cleared up.”

“Sure,” she said, flipping a page of her scheduling book.

When the list was complete, Tristan went back out to his car and drove into town. His first stop was the plaintiff’s house. He walked through the gate of a white picket fence and along the sidewalk. The yard had grass that would make any home owner’s association happy. Tristan rang the bell and introduced himself to the greenish man with a white beard.

“Lawyer?” the man said in disbelief. “Lorelai got a lawyer?”

“She has a right to one since you’re suing her,” Tristan reminded him.

“Yes, well . . . all right,” Taylor Doose said, grudgingly opening the door.

They walked through the living room—which was full of carefully arranged nick-knacks—to the spotless kitchen. Tristan asked what the man had eaten for the past few days, which turned out to be a tedious task. Mr. Doose was excruciatingly detailed about everything he’d ingested, but insisted it was the inn’s chicken to make him sick.

“Have you reported your food poisoning to the health department?” Tristan asked.

“Er, well, no,” Mr. Doose said, hemming and hawing.

“You know you’ll be paying a lawyer more than what you’ll receive in damages, if you do win, right? It probably won’t be worth it.”

“Young man, I’ve lost two days’ of work from being ill. I have two businesses that had to operate without my supervision. Who knows what condition they’ll be in when I return,” he said.

“All right, I’ll get back to you,” Tristan said before leaving the house.

His next stop was a local diner. It was easy to find after Mr. Doose’s deploring description of the hardware store. Feeling over dressed in his suit, Tristan left his jacket in the car and loosened his tie. He went into the restaurant and took a place at the counter. He recognized the owner, as he’d been described by his attire and fit the profile to a tee. He even looked surly as he impatiently listened to a man a couple bar stools away from Tristan talk about honey.

The man was skinny and had several red spots on his arms, as though he was recovering from chicken pox. “I call it Honey by Kirk, because honey, you deserve it,” he told the man behind the counter—Luke. He held up a plastic bear with his homemade label on the front. A few more bottles were sitting on the counter.

“Those bees ate you alive,” Luke said, arms crossed over his chest.

“We just had a small misunderstanding,” the other man, Kirk said. “I wanted their honey and they didn’t want me to have it.”

“I don’t want your honey, Kirk,” Luke said as he took two plates from the kitchen and delivered them to a nearby table.

Kirk turned on his stool as Luke moved around the room. “You’re making a big mistake. My honey is going to be in high demand soon, and I’m letting you in on the ground floor. Just think of all the things you could use it for. Coffee, tea, drizzled over pancakes.”

“I know what honey is used for,” Luke said after he’d written down an order on his pad. “I don’t need yours.”

Tristan gave the plastic honey bears a sidelong glance and reached over to take a closer look. He peeled back the label and asked Kirk, “Does Sleeping Bear Farms know you’re selling their honey as your own?”

Kirk looked over in surprise. “Who are you?”

“Just a lawyer.”

Kirk grabbed the honey from him and scooped up the three others on the counter, tossing them all in a black bag at his side. “What honey? There’s no honey here.”

Noticing Tristan for the first time, Luke stepped over and asked, “You got him to put that away?”

“Yeah.”

“What can I get you?”

“Actually, do you know Taylor Doose? He says he had lunch here yesterday,” Tristan explained. “He got food poisoning and is suing the local inn.”

“He’s suing Lorelai?” Luke asked. He put his hands at his hips, looking hostile. “And you’re his lawyer? I’m not the one who made him sick, but I wouldn’t feel guilty if I did.”

Kirk leaned in toward Tristan to say, “Luke hates lawyers. Well, except that one time he married one.”

“Kirk!”

“Sorry,” Kirk said. He continued, “But he’s very happily married to Lorelai now.”

Tristan looked at Luke, perplexed. “You’re Rory’s step-father?”

“You know Rory?” Luke asked.

“We’re . . . friends. She’s the one who called me.” He stuck his hand out to introduce himself.

“You must be that guy,” Luke said, apparently recognizing the name. “And if you’re not with Taylor, then you’re against him,” he said with interest. He had a glimmer in his eye not unlike Emily Gilmore’s when she’d announced Francine’s party plans. “Whatever you want, it’s on the house.”

“Thanks. But first, I need the names of people who’ve eaten here—to make sure Mr. Doose really got sick at the inn and not somewhere else.”

A large woman wearing a wrap asked from a table near the front window asked, “Why would Taylor do that to Lorelai?”

“Because it’s Wednesday and he doesn’t have anything better to do,” Luke said grimly, shaking his head. He started to rattle off a list of people, and Kirk and the woman, Patty—who introduced herself and sat rather close to Tristan—chimed in too, as they apparently ate there every day. When they were finished, Tristan wondered if any Stars Hollow citizen hadn’t patronized the diner. He was beginning to think Rory was pulling some sort of joke on him.

“How can I reach all these people?” he asked.

“You can’t call them from here,” Kirk informed him. “Luke is a stickler about his no cell phone rule. No one’s exempt, even Lorelai. But I think she reaps other benefits from marrying him, like his coffee. It’s widely speculated as the reason she married him in the first place. He tries to refuse serving it to her, but he always gives in. I suspect it has something to do with the sex.”

Kirk,” Luke said from behind the counter.

Patty smiled cunningly at Tristan and nearly purred as she said, “I know everyone on the list, it would be my pleasure to help you hunt them down.”

Apprehensive of this prospect, Tristan glanced over at Luke, who inclined his head to say, “If I knew of a better way, I’d tell you.”

Tristan looked back to Patty with a heavy sigh.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXX

Rory was sitting in front of her laptop at the diner later that afternoon, near a window where she could work without the distraction of the other customers. However, this idea wasn’t proving to be effective at the moment. Babette had come in a few minutes earlier, gleefully announcing, ‘Taylor and Eastside Tilly, seeing each other on the down low’!

Rory looked over to see her neighbor catch her breath as the people around her turned to listen. Babette continued, “Taylor tried to sue Lorelai for food poisoning, but she quick got herself a lawyer—and let me tell you he was gorgeous—he and Patty went around town and figured out what made Taylor sick. It was turkey from his own store! Tilly didn’t cook it all the way. They were the only two people in town who were sick!” Babette had to stop to breathe again.

Rory wondered who Tristan sent over as she picked up her phone to dial her mother.

“Dragonfly Inn,” Lorelai answered on the first ring.

“Hey, it’s me.”

“Oh, hey. Did you hear the latest scuttlebutt?”

“The what?”

“Scuttlebutt. It means gossip, it’s a—”

“Let me guess,” Rory said, “a nautical term?”

“Aye, did you learn some?”

“No.”

“You mean nay.”

“I meant what I said. How long are these terms going to be a part of your vocabulary?”

“It’s going to segue right into Talk Like a Pirate Day,” Lorelai answered.

“Which is when?”

“September.”

Rory cast her eyes upward. “Great. Anyway, I just heard. Taylor and Eastside Tilly.”

“Yeah, his own stock boys were the ones to rat him out. He only stocks turkey during Thanksgiving, but he’s been ordering it special for Tilly. Tristan cleared it all up and Taylor dropped the whole thing.”

“You mean Tristan sent someone over, right?”

“No, he came himself,” Lorelai said. “He just left about an hour ago. He didn’t charge anything either.”

“He didn’t?”

“No, he said not to worry about it. I don’t know about you, but I think he earns a few points for that. He might be at ten percent good,” Lorelai said.

“Maybe,” Rory admitted.

“More if you count how much entertainment the town is getting out of this. I heard Taylor is locked up at home, blinds pulled.”

“Just because he and Tilly eat together doesn’t mean they’re having an affair.”

“Then why is he in hiding?”

“You’re right. That must be the only answer,” Rory said dryly.

Without warning, Lorelai changed the subject, “So, the linen delivery wasn’t completely right today, so I made a note on the invoice of the discrepancies and faxed it to the company. Then Sookie was thinking about making a Greek salad for dinner tonight, but I wasn’t sure, so she ran by some other options.”

“Does this story include an antidote?”

“No, I was thinking you might like to jump in.”

“About inn business?”

“Yeah. I mean aye,” Lorelai said. “I was wondering if it would be weird if that’s all we ever talked about.”

“It would. Why were you wondering?”

“Well, earlier today when Tristan was here, he had to take a call from his dad. And it was all, ‘I object’ and ‘order in the court’.”

“Really?” Rory said skeptically.

“No, but it was lawyer stuff. And he kept calling his dad sir.”

“That’s respectful,” she reasoned.

“And unnaturally formal for a parent. I hope it doesn’t rub off on you, I don’t want you to start calling me ma’am,” Lorelai said. “And I’d be depressed if we didn’t have anything other than work to talk about.”

“It’s different for Tristan and his dad. They’re both lawyers. I’m sure they talk about other things.”

“You’re right, he also talked about his socks. They’re red.”

Rory smiled at Luke in thanks as he refilled her coffee cup, saying, “They talked about his red socks?”

Luke looked at her, confused. “The Red Sox? Is that Lorelai?”

“Yeah,” Rory answered as she took a sip.

“And she’s talking about the Red Sox?” he asked, starting to get worked up. “Tell her I’m not taking her to a game. She gives all the players goofy names and dialogue. And it goes on for the entire game.”

“What are you talking about?” Rory asked.

“Baseball.”

“Oh,” Lorelai said, dragging the word out in understanding. Then she protested, “Hey, baseball theater could really take off if people like him would just give it a chance. And have you been to a baseball game? All they do is stand around, for hours.” She added, “But I guess Tristan doesn’t mind the monotony. He sounded a little disappointed when he said, ‘I understand sir’. Seriously, do not start talking to me like that.”

“I won’t,” Rory promised before they both had to get back to work.

She put the phone down and drummed her fingers on the table. She glanced around the diner, which was all abuzz about Taylor and Tilly. She thought it prudent to thank Tristan for his help, so she picked her phone back up and dialed his number. After a few rings though, he didn’t answer. Not wanting to leave a message, she hung up and made a mental note to try again later.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXX

Rory stood in front of Tristan’s front door later that evening with a dish in hand. He was leaning back against the frame casually. “Do you just want a key? It’ll save you some time.”

She explained, “I called earlier, but you never picked up.”

“I was busy,” he said as he tossed a dish towel over his shoulder. He stepped aside to let her in.

She could hear sizzling coming from the kitchen. “Are you making dinner?”

“What do you do at dinner time?” he asked, heading to the kitchen.

Rory followed him. “Order out,” she said as she took a seat at the island and sat the covered dish in front of her. She noticed a couple tickets laying a foot away on the countertop.

“You mean your mom never makes you dinner?” he asked with a smirk.

“She doesn’t cook. But Luke does.”

“You told me you live with a friend.”

“I do.”

“You live with your mother,” he deadpanned.

Rory innocently argued, “We’re best friends, actually.”

“You’re thirty and you live with your mom,” he repeated, as though he was having trouble grappling with it. “That’s the saddest thing I’ve ever heard. I have extra rooms if you want to rent one.”

She ignored the offer. “It just worked out that way when I started reporting freelance. It isn’t practical for me to have my own place when I’m never there,” she said. “Mom doesn’t mind me living there.” She looked around the open area surrounding the kitchen to defensively add, “Your house is falling apart. You’re going to have to hurry up and find a trophy wife to balance things out.”

“At least it’s my house,” Tristan quipped. He went to the stove and picked up a wooden spoon.

“What are you making?”

“Chicken Marsalis. Snooki was going on about how she made it and it sounded good, so I thought I’d try.”

Rory stared at him for a few seconds with a blank face before she snorted and started to laugh.

“What?”

“Who was making chicken Marsalis?”

“Snooki—you know, your mom’s chef at the inn.”

Rory smiled and laughed some more. With her shoulders still shaking, she said, “You mean Sookie.”

“Oh. I was close. Give me a break, I think I met everyone in your crazy town today.”

“Some call it charming.”

“Those people are crazy too.”

“Speaking of Sookie, she made you macaroni and cheese with her famous jalapeño cream sauce—that’s why it’s green—as a thank you,” Rory said, pulling away a corner of the aluminum foil from the dish.

“Small town folks sure are hospitable,” Tristan said with a southern twang, but his tone sounded more playful than mocking.

“I heard you had a big day today.”

He stirred whatever was in the skillet on the stove. “I don’t think I’ve ever been sexually harassed so many times in one day.”

Amused, Rory said, “That’s Miss Patty for you. She and Babette are having a field day.”

“There’s nothing like small town scandal to get everyone excited.”

Rory mused, “I wonder if Taylor just wanted something.”

Tristan turned to her, nonplussed. “He wanted to sue your mom. Remember, that’s why you called me this morning—to save the day.”

“Uh-huh,” she said. “But he might have just wanted something. And probably from Luke.”

“Then why would he sue your mom?”

“Because it’s Taylor. And the best way to get Luke to do something is to go through Mom. I guess you don’t know everyone’s hidden motives, now do you?”

Mildly amused by her assessment, he said, “I guess not this time.” He leaned up against the counter. “So Mr. Doose goes through your mom to get to your step-dad?”

“It’s not unheard of.”

“Did she really marry him for his coffee?”

Rory flashed him a smile. “I don’t think so. But I wouldn’t go so far as to factor it out completely.”

“You never mentioned you had a step-dad. He wasn’t at Emily’s Friday night.”

“He comes sometimes. Luke is great, but he isn’t exactly who Grandma envisioned for Mom.”

Tristan added a spice to a small saucer on the back burner and covered it with a lid. “You mean Emily Gilmore doesn’t think highly of the blue collar type? I’d never guessed that sort of thing from her,” he said. “So she tolerates him.”

“Basically. She has strong opinions about what’s best for others.”

“Did she envision someone in particular for your mom?” he asked as he brought a cutting board and knife over to island. He took mushrooms out of the refrigerator and started chopping.

Rory sighed. “Don’t play dumb.”

“Christopher Hayden?”

“Yup. But they tried once and it didn’t work out.”

“You said your parents didn’t get married though,” Tristan reminded her, pausing his chopping to glance up at her.

“They didn’t when they were sixteen. It was later, when I was in college. But they rushed into it on a whim.”

“Sorry it didn’t work out. You probably thought about them getting together when you were a kid.”

“Yeah.” Rory stared across the room and added, “But as you would say, the going got tough, so . . .” she trailed off. She shook her head and came out of her trance.

“He’s still your dad though. You only get one.” He transferred the chopped up mushrooms to the saucepan on the stove.

“That’s true,” Rory agreed, her eyes darting to the discarded tickets on the counter. “So, as you could probably tell from Friday night, Mom and I are both romantic disappointments to Grandma. Neither of us is with who she’d like to see us married to. And considering the two men, I’m sure you have a wise crack ready. Hurry up and get it over with.”

Tristan gave her a pensive look and shrugged. “Stay the course,” he said, turning back to the stove.

“Meaning?”

“Meaning,” he said as he turned the chicken in the skillet, “you’ve followed her road map pretty well so far. Keep going and you’re sure to find someone Emily can grudgingly tolerate. Does she keep a list? Maybe you should start at the top.”

Rory didn’t respond. She cleared her throat and changed the subject. “I wanted to come by to thank you for helping Mom today. You didn’t have to go to Stars Hollow yourself. I thought you’d just pass the information along to someone else.”

“It wasn’t a problem.”

“Still, it wasn’t exactly international law.”

“Not even close. But it wasn’t bad. I haven’t gotten to investigate anything in a while.”

“Did you have to when you were a military lawyer?”

Tristan nodded his head. “Yeah. JAG officers are assigned cases for the prosecution and the defense. So as you might imagine, there aren’t as many resources for the guy going up against the United States government.”

“I see,” Rory said with a single nod. “Why didn’t you charge Mom for your services?”

“Consider it a free consultation.”

“You did a lot more than consult.”

Tristan didn’t say anything for a few seconds. “Lorelai doesn’t owe me anything, she wasn’t the one to call in the favor.”

Rory frowned. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“That she isn’t the one who owes me.”

Rory didn’t like where this was going. “So what, I do?”

He grinned. “There you go. I thought you were punking me when I spent the morning with that dance instructor. She told me the whole town history. I met your neighbor’s cats,” he said. “But I know just how you can pay me back.” He grabbed something from the cabinet and tossed it over to her. It was paint samples. “I can’t decide on a color for the living room. You pick one.”

“That’s it?” she said in disbelief. “I just have to choose a color?”

“Mm-hmm. Well, that and then you have to come paint my living room.”

“What?” she said incredulously. “You want me to do physical labor for you?” He smirked and her eyes grew wide. “Don’t say it.”

“Say what?”

“Whatever vulgar remark you were thinking.”

He put a hand to his heart and innocently asked, “Me, vulgar? I don’t know why you’d even suggest that.”

“You did that on purpose,” she said. “You weren’t just doing a nice thing. You went yourself so you could make me work for you.”

“Yes,” he said dryly, “I had a diabolical plan from the beginning to trap you here. Because as you know, my world revolves around you and ways to get you in my house.” He paused and pointedly added, “Oh wait, I haven’t needed a diabolical plan to accomplish that yet. I have no reason to start now.”

“Can’t I just pay you? I’ll write you a check.”

“I don’t want your money.”

“I can’t pick out paint for your living room.”

“Why not?”

“Because you’re the one who has to live with it, not me.”

“Interior designers help with this sort of thing all the time.”

“Then get an interior designer. I’m a journalist, I’m not qualified for this.”

“Just pick a color. It’ll be fine.”

She exhaled heavily and eyed him warily as she glanced from the paint samples to the living room. “You probably want it to go with your furniture. Do you know what you’re putting in there?”

“A couple couches. The kind no one sits on unless guests come.”

“You aren’t going to use that room when no one is around?”

“Not really. It’s mostly for looks. If my parents come to visit, I’ll entertain them in there.”

“Don’t you mean when they visit?”

He shrugged. “We’ll see.”

She held up the samples and flipped through them. She stopped and pointed to one. “How about this?”

“Light brown? Sure.”

“No, it’s called Maple Sugar. Write it down so you don’t forget.”

“Yes ma’am,” he said as he opened a drawer for a pencil and pad of paper. His response wasn’t formal, but it still reminded her of what her mother overheard earlier.

Rory got up to set the paint samples back where he’d picked it up and returned to her bar stool. She glanced at the tickets again and couldn’t help herself from asking, “Big weekend plans?”

Having finished writing the name of the paint down, Tristan glanced over. “No, why?”

She waved the tickets at him so he could see. “What about the Red Sox?”

“I’m not going to that. I don’t even like the Sox.”

“Then why get tickets?”

“I thought my dad might want to go to a game,” he explained. “But he’s busy this weekend.”

“Oh, sorry.”

“For what?” he asked as he pulled a plate down from a cabinet.

“That he can’t make it,” she said.

He shook his head indifferently. “My fault. I should have asked if he could go before I got the tickets.” Staring at her, he evenly added, “It’s not like this is the first time I’ve extended an olive branch to have it thrown back in my face.”

His hardened eyes made her uncomfortable, and for some reason guilty. After she averted her gaze, she went on, “Why don’t you go with someone else? A friend.”

“My friends are scattered all over.”

“What about your mom?”

“Ha,” he barked with a smile. “You’re funny.”

“Well what are you going to do with the tickets?”

Tristan stepped over to the island and took the tickets from her. “This is what we do. We do not throw a fit or tear or crumble up the tickets.” He opened a black trash compactor between the lower cabinets. “Because that won’t change anything. We just throw them away and move on.”

“Wait,” she said quickly.

He stopped. “What?”

“First off, are you seeing anyone about this ‘we’ thing? Because I think you should get it checked out—just to see how many people you have in there. Second, I’m sure you don’t have to let perfectly good tickets go to waste.”

“Why do you care?”

“Because you paid for them and—.” And she felt bad for him getting turned down by his own dad. She understood the feeling, but didn’t think that would be the right thing to say. Searching her mind for the right reason, she blurted, “I’ll go.”

“What?”

What? She did not think that one through. But it was too late to take it back now. “Yeah, it’s this weekend? I’ll go.”

“You want to go to a baseball game in Boston?” he asked doubtfully. “With me?”

Her shoulders dropped. “Boston?”

“It’s the Boston Red Sox,” he said flatly. “They play in Boston.”

“And why wouldn’t they? That makes sense.” She went on, “And yes, I want to go to a baseball game with you. It’s been ages since I’ve been to one. I happen to love sports food.”

He stood still without saying anything for a few seconds, probably thinking how crazy she was. But a moment later he straightened and closed the trash compactor. “Fine, we’ll go.” He put the tickets back on the counter.

She was relieved that he didn’t continue to question her.

He went back to the cabinet to take down another plate and slid it over to her. He brought the skillet of chicken and the sauce over as well. “Does this look like Sookie’s?”

Rory leaned over to get a better view. “Not really. But Sookie is a rare talent. Not everyone can do what she does.”

He grabbed a couple forks from a drawer and handed her one. “Try it.”

“You try it. Are you a good cook?”

“Good enough to survive,” Tristan said. “If you try the chicken I’ll share the macaroni.”

Not one to turn down food, Rory said, “Deal.”


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