Family Feudalism

Chapter 6

Late Saturday morning, Tristan was in Lorelai Gilmore’s living room, waiting for Rory to finish getting ready. He was sitting on the couch, wondering what Emily Gilmore thought of the monkey lamp on the table next to him. Then he thought about what his own mother would think—probably something similar to the older lady.

Rory came out from her room carrying a pair of shoes. She was casually dressed in jeans and a short sleeve shirt. She had on just the right amount of mascara to compliment her bright blue eyes. She was one of those girls who knew less makeup was more. She stopped at the bottom of the stairs. “Mom,” she called, “Did you find them?”

“Yup,” Lorelai answered, making her way down the steps and holding out a pair of socks. She handed them out for her daughter.

Rory took a seat on the opposite end of the couch and crossed her ankle over her knee.

“What are you doing?” Tristan asked.

She glanced over at him to answer, “Putting on socks.”

“I see. They’re red. Why are you wearing red socks?”

She frowned and started on her shoes. “Because we’re going to a Red Sox game. What else should I wear?”

“We’re going to a Red Sox game, we don’t actually care about the Red Sox.”

He spoke at an unfortunate time, as Luke walked in with a travel mug and sat it on the lamp table next to Rory. “We care about the Red Sox.”

“No we don’t,” Tristan argued. To Rory, “Take the socks off.”

“Keep them on,” Luke said. “The Red Sox are one of the best teams in the MLB.”

“I don’t even know what that stands for,” Rory said.

Luke asked Tristan, “Why do you think their games are always sold out?”

“Because Fenway Park has low seating capacity. Having fans doesn’t make something good.”

“Don’t listen to him,” Luke said, turning to the girls. “I thought he was okay—”

“For a lawyer,” Lorelai said.

“But I was wrong.”

Lorelai muttered to Rory, “Do we need to get the Bop It out?”

“No,” Rory answered as she stood up. “We’re leaving.” She signaled for Tristan to do the same.

Lorelai picked up the travel mug and followed them to the door. “Now, no funny business,” she warned. “Much like Santa, Emily Gilmore is watching. Make sure there’s always an arm’s length between you at all times.”

Tristan glanced at Rory questioningly, but she shook her head as she put on her jacket. She took the mug from Lorelai before they went out the door. On their way down the porch steps, she asked, “Whose car are we taking?”

“Mine.”

“That was fast, you didn’t even consider mine,” she said. Defensively, she added, “My car is great, I never have to buy gas.”

Tristan glanced over at the silver Volt and back to her. “I don’t want to end up stranded on the side of the road when the battery dies sixty miles from Boston.”

“It switches over to gas when the battery runs out.”

“Which is exactly why we aren’t taking it. You just said you never buy gas. You probably don’t remember when the last time was.”

Rory opened her mouth to protest, but stopped to frown. Apparently he’d made a point, as she headed to his Mercedes without further argument.

While driving through Stars Hollow, Tristan said, “I have a confession to make. I’ve been going to bed every night praying for the off-chance you get arrested. Knowing you’ll call me to get you out of trouble really makes my day.”

“Don’t get your hopes up,” she said. In what Tristan felt was a non-sequitur, she said, “Since we have a couple hours before we get to Boston, you can tell me about your lost year.”

“What lost year?” he asked. “I don’t have one.”

“Yes you do,” she insisted. “There’s eight years between high school and when you left the country. There’s one unaccounted for.”

“Maybe I needed an extra year in college. It could be I’m just dumb, did you ever think of that?” When she didn’t say anything, he smiled and said, “You didn’t, did you? You think I’m smart.”

“I never thought you were dumb,” she said. “And don’t worry, I’m not judging you if you needed some time off. Lots of people do it.” She paused before slowly adding, “In fact, I took a semester off.”

He glanced over, amused. “No shit?”

“Hey,” she said, pointing a finger at him. “Mom told me what that means.”

“What?”

“You think my story is far-fetched.”

“It is, but I’m listening.”

“This is a true story,” she said. “I quit Yale for a while.”

He looked at her out of the corner of his eye and arched a brow. “Did you need to find yourself?”

She shook her head. “I thought I needed to find something else to do with my life, which entailed leaving school to find whatever that was.” She exhaled heavily. “So, you can tell me what you did, I promise not to judge.”

“Enticing as that sounds, there’s nothing to tell,” Tristan said as they passed a sign informing them of the eighty miles yet to go. “Sorry to disappoint.”

XXXXXXXXXXXXXX

A couple hours later, Tristan and Rory were in Fenway Park. They found their seats, and from what Rory could tell, they were good, if proximity to the field meant anything.

“So what do you know about baseball?” Tristan asked as they sat down.

Rory looked around the carefully manicured lawn of the field and then to Tristan. “It involves a ball.”

“That covers a lot of sports.” He pointed to the field and traced a counterclockwise diamond in the air. “Those are bases. The players hit the ball with the bat, and then run around the bases.”

“Ah, baseball. I get it now,” Rory said. “Is that all?”

“No. But it’s a good enough start.”

Rory looked around at all the other people in the stadium. There were parents with their children and groups of friends, all wearing navy and red shirts. Some kids wore large leather mitts over their hands. A vendor walked up the steps, shouting out the food he was selling. Rory waved to get his attention and bought one of everything.

When Tristan looked at her like she was mildly crazy she said, “What? I told you I like sports food. Popcorn?”

He helped himself to some and looked around the stadium, commenting, “It’s probably better you came today. My dad wouldn’t have liked these seats anyway.”

She furrowed her brows as she ate some peanuts. “These seats are great. I can tell, and I don’t even know anything about baseball. We’re right by that base,” she said, pointing to the nearest one.

“Home base,” Tristan agreed with a nod. He tilted his head closer to her. “They score when they get to that one.”

“So it’s the most important base,” she concluded. Then, “Oh, I get it now.”

“Get what?” he asked, eating more of the popcorn.

“The metaphor people use for foreplay.”

Tristan stared at her for a second. “Yup, that’s where it comes from.”

Getting back on topic, Rory said, “Where would your dad rather sit?”

He pointed up to a section of windows higher up. “In an air conditioned luxury box, where all the bigwigs can rub elbows.” He shook his head as he added, “Dad loves everything about Boston, which is probably why he stuck around another three years. He loves starting stories with, ‘in Boston’—that’s how they teach you to say it, you know.”

“Do they?” she asked, assuming she knew who ‘they’ were and wondering if Tristan was taught to use the phrase too.

“Mm-hmm,” he answered unhelpfully.

She tried again, “You don’t care about Boston though?”

Tristan barely lifted a shoulder. “It’s fine. I’m more of a Yankees man, myself—they’re in New York,” he said, missing her meaning. “Some of my friends went to West Point. When they could make it down to the city, we’d go to games.” He smiled a little. “But they wouldn’t like these seats either.”

“Why not?”

“It’s better to heckle the other fans and their players from the bleachers,” he said, pointing to the seats behind one of the bases.

They were interrupted when the announcer introduced the vocalist who was singing the Star Spangled Banner. As the anthem was sung, Rory watched Tristan out the corner of her eye. He stood straight and tall with his hand over his heart. He was turning out to be a puzzle she couldn’t put together. The pieces wouldn’t fit.

When the song was finished, she asked, “Don’t you have to salute?”

He shook his head as they sat down. “Not when I’m in civilian clothes.”

“Oh.”

As the players took their places on the field, she asked, “So you have military school friends who went to West Point?”

“Mm-hmm, and a few who went to Annapolis,” he answered. “You know how Chilton feeds into the Ivy Leagues?”

“Yeah.”

“The military academy I went to was a feeder school too. Not everyone was there to be punished for their sins,” he explained. “Some were from families with military traditions.”

“Oh wow,” Rory said. “I guess it was a breeze in comparison for you to suck it up and become a lawyer.”

Tristan looked over at her to stiffly ask, “Suck it up?”

“Well, yeah. Next to someone who’s putting their life in danger for their country makes any other family obligation look pretty pedestrian.”

He didn’t say anything for a long minute. “You’re doing it again.”

“Doing what?”

“Using someone else’s life to assume things about mine,” he said. He went on before she could protest, “I didn’t go to law school out of any obligation. I went because I wanted to.”

“That isn’t what I meant.”

“Isn’t it though? But I see what you’re saying, and you’re right. I’d be a real jerk to complain if I was forced to go.”

Rory turned back to the game and crossed her arms. She regretted her word choice. She just hadn’t met many people who wanted to follow the plan their parents had for them. She assumed Tristan’s life was decided for him, considering his profession was the same as his father’s. She had more experience with people who didn’t like the preordained plans.

She studied Tristan out the corner of her eye. He had on jeans and a short sleeve t-shirt. His blond hair had grown a little since that first night at Francine’s. He was resting his cheek on his fist, eyes on the field with his jaw set in irritation. She told herself not to care, she shouldn’t worry if he was mad at her. But she did.

Tentatively, she asked, “So is that why you joined the JAG Corps, because of your friends who are serving in the military?”

Tristan turned back to her slowly. He considered her a moment, then, “Maybe, in a roundabout way. But it’s not as altruistic as you make it sound.”

Relieved by his willingness to answer, she nodded to signal she was listening. She was in reporter mode—it wasn’t like she was interested in the baseball game.

“One of the guys from North Carolina got accused of breaking the Honor Code when he was up at West Point. He was a couple years younger than me, so I didn’t know him very well. But someone told him I was going to law school, so he called me. He was worried about his hearing.”

“There was a hearing? At school?” Rory asked. “What did he do?”

Tristan answered, “He was accused of stealing. They don’t have a prosecution or defense, so I was really only there for moral support. But there was a real JAG officer presiding over the hearing. So I talked to him afterward to ask about what he does.”

“And that’s how you got interested?”

He nodded. “I thought the experience would be good for my career.”

“Was your friend found guilty?” Rory asked.

Tristan looked at her, brows furrowed. “I don’t think so, but I don’t remember. That wasn’t really the point of the story.”

“Oh, right, I know.” She crossed her arms over her body again, remembering her past run in with the law. “What would have happened if he was found guilty?”

“Depends,” Tristan said. He reached for more popcorn, which Rory took to be a good sign. “They could have made him repeat a year. Or they might have kicked him out.”

“What if he didn’t steal at school though, would he have still had a hearing?”

“Nah,” Tristan said dryly. “You only have to be ethical at school, you can do whatever you want out in the real world.” He laughed a little. “What’s the point if you don’t apply it to the rest of your life?”

Rory nodded hesitantly. “Right. That makes sense.” She bit her lip and pretended to watch the game. Without taking her eyes away from the field, she said, “So they take that Honor Code pretty seriously then, huh?”

“Yeah. We had a similar one in North Carolina. We couldn’t . . .” He trailed off and his smile slipped. “Um—lie.”

Rory saw his troubled expression. “Is that all?”

He glanced back over and shook his head as he hastily went on, “Uh, no. You can’t lie, cheat, or steal. Or tolerate anyone who does.” He fell quiet again, eyes returning to the game.

Maybe he was guilty over recently stealing that box from Emily, Rory reasoned. He hadn’t hurt anyone though, and the box was back where it belonged, so she kept talking to take his mind off it, “I hope you didn’t keep pulling pranks when you got there.”

He turned back to her. “No, I was pretty busy doing time for other minor infractions that first year.”

“What do you mean?”

“I was good at being on time for class, but I had a hard time keeping my room neat and clean. It took a long time to get the hang of it.”

Rory frowned for a moment, but then smiled slowly. “You were used to the maid cleaning your room, weren’t you?” Her smile grew wider.

He tilted his head and grinned sheepishly. “I might have been.”

“How much trouble did you get into for that?” she asked.

“I wasn’t a Century Man, but they probably thought I was trying to be.” When he saw her perplexed expression, he added, “That’s anyone who racks up a hundred hours walking.”

“Walking?”

“One of the punishments was to walk.”

“That doesn’t sound so bad,” she reasoned.

“For hours at a time,” Tristan said. “If you didn’t stay in line, you could spend your whole weekend walking in the courtyard.”
“That would really cut into study time.”

“Just how I loved to spend my weekends,” Tristan deadpanned. “Good thing I didn’t get into academic trouble. I guess I have Chilton to thank for that.”

“Failure is a part of life,” Rory said.

“But not a part of Chilton,” he finished with a grin. “That’s one of Charleston’s best speeches.”

XXXXXXXXXXXXXX

Emily was seated on a couch in the den—the room hardly ever got used. She checked the television schedule and pressed the power button on the remote. She turned to one of the several channels dedicated to sports—why there were so many, she had no idea. She found the channel she was looking for and stared in horror. There they were, for the entire world to see. Rory was sitting next to Tristan a few rows back, behind the player holding a bat.

Emily could hardly believe Rory had agreed to go to a baseball game with him. Hadn’t she spoken poorly of him? He’d made her life at Chilton so difficult—everyone there should have been happy to have her. Who in their right mind would willingly spend time with the man? Emily had tried to talk her out of it the previous night during dinner.

“I can’t cancel,” Rory had insisted. She had defended herself with some story about Mason not being able to go to Boston. She’d added, “We’re just friends, Grandma.”

Emily had turned to her own daughter in displeasure. She’d heard that line before. Lorelai had pointed at Rory and accused her of a ‘curse’. One could only guess what that was about. It wasn’t Rory’s fault if Tristan’s father didn’t want to spend time with him. Briefly, Emily thought of the arm twisting involved in getting Lorelai to commit to anything beyond Friday night dinners.

She shook her head of her mental cobwebs quickly. She glanced at the television screen and tried to think if Rory had ever spent time with the young men she’d introduced her to. Rory certainly hadn’t brought any of them around after their initial meeting. And there had been some good ones too. Nora Henderson’s nephew, for one, was a highly regarded, successful analysis at a consulting firm.

“Boring,” Lorelai had called him. And Rory hadn’t called him at all, though Emily had encouraged it. He’d be taking over his uncle’s business one day, so he would easily be able to provide a good life for Rory.

Then there was the financial advisor a month ago. He was well mannered and handsome enough, although even Emily had to admit he had little in common with Rory. They simply couldn’t carry a conversation without assistance. Emily sometimes wondered if her granddaughter even wanted to share her life with someone.

Granted, none of the men she’d found could hold a candle to Logan Huntzberger. A man like him only came around once in a lifetime. He was truly the one that got away, in every sense. But even still, every man Emily had found for Rory was easily better than the cretin who’d made her life miserable. Rory was special, and she deserved someone who was her equal. Tristan Dugray was just a lawyer, there wasn’t anything remarkable about him.

Emily would just have to try harder, she thought resolutely. If Francine insisted on inviting Tristan to her ridiculous party, Emily would invite some guests of her own. Her mind worked quickly as she jotted down a few names on a pad of paper. She’d easily keep Rory too busy to be concerned with Tristan.

She turned her attention to the television screen, where Rory wasn’t watching the game at all—why would she go if she wasn’t going to watch? Instead, she was talking to Tristan, who wasn’t paying attention to the game either.

This was all Francine’s fault. If it hadn’t been for her, Rory wouldn’t be sitting at a baseball game in Boston with that man. He probably tricked Rory into going. There was no other explanation. No problem, this would be remedied. Emily picked up the cordless phone and dialed a number she’d written on the pad of paper.

After a few rings, a young female voice answered, “Hello?”

“Quinn, this is Emily Gilmore.”

“Oh hi, Emily,” Quinn said, friendly tone.

“I was wondering if you’d be interested in meeting someone. I think you’re absolutely perfect for him.”

XXXXXXXXXXXXXX

Rory was watching the game and wondering what the appeal of baseball—or any sport, for that matter—was. She was genuinely trying to understand what all the excitement was about, but she had to admit, she saw the merits of baseball theater. The game definitely needed something to liven it up. It looked slightly more physically demanding than golf.

While watching a player at bat take an exceedingly long time to hit the ball, her mind wandered back over the information Tristan had shared. She asked, “You said your friends came down to the city. Does that mean you were already in New York?”

“Yes.”

She considered this a moment. “Did you go to Columbia?”

“Yup.”

She nodded curtly to herself in triumph. At least she got one thing right—and without offending him. Something in her brain clicked and her eyes grew wide. She grabbed Tristan’s arm and said, “Oh my God. You studied international affairs. At Columbia.”

“I know. I thought it might be a good idea since I was going to be an international lawyer. They have the best program. Seemed practical.” He glanced down at her hand that was still on his forearm, but didn’t complain or comment on it. He leaned in a little closer to add, “That’s what took an extra year. You can’t get a bachelor’s degree by itself for that program.”

She barely had time to ponder that, as she was still concerned with her first realization. “James Rubin teaches international affairs at Columbia.”

At the seriousness in her tone, Tristan said, “Yeah, so?”

The crowd around them booed about something, but the game was far from her mind. “So? He advised Hilary Clinton and Madeleine Albright. And, he’s married to Christiane Amanpour.”

“Again I ask, so?”

Rory looked at him as though it didn’t need further explanation, but humored him. “I love Hilary Clinton. She’s one of my heroes. And Christiane Amanpour has always been my idol—I wanted to be just like her when I grew up.”

“Oh,” Tristan said. Then he grinned and added, “Don’t worry, students were only invited over to their house for wine and cheese a couple times.”

Rory stared at him silently, eyes still wide in disbelief. “Could you give some hint as to whether or not you’re joking?”

“Which would offend you less?” he asked, clearly amused by her star-struck reaction.

She shook her head and realized she still had his arm. She let it go and tried to watch the game some more. It was really no use though, she had no idea what was going on and didn’t care. But she couldn’t deny the electricity among the fans—not including Tristan, who looked marginally more interested than her.

Rory blurted out, “I met her once.”

“Who?”

“Christiane Amanpour.”

“You’re still on that?” he asked, glancing back to her. “That was ten minutes ago.”

“She stayed at the Dragonfly once,” Rory continued, remembering the day from many years ago. “I was wearing my pajamas.”

Tristan laughed a little and smirked. “And what did those entail?”

She narrowed her eyes slightly. “Nothing exciting.”

He let a second tick by. The corner of his mouth twitched. “Sorry, I got distracted after you said ‘nothing’.”

“Anyway,” she said pointedly. “She gave me her business card—she doesn’t usually give it out. It’s in my wallet.”

“Have you ever used it?”

With a frown, Rory asked, “What for?”

“To contact her—to get ahead, you know, in your career. What else would you use it for?”

“I just keep it safe and take it out to look at every once in a while.”

“So it’s more of a souvenir,” he concluded, smiling.

“Basically.” Then she added, “I met Madeleine Albright in a dream once.”

He snorted. “Score.” He shook his head and laughed lightly. “You’re so weird.”

Rory turned her attention back to the game again, where all the bases were occupied. The player up at bat hit the ball out into the stands and the crowd cheered around them. Rory watched the fans jump to their feet—everyone except her and Tristan.

When the crowd had calmed down some, she leaned in toward Tristan to comment, “I take it something good happened.”

He nodded and inclined his head closer to hers. “They just made four runs. So they got four points.”

“And it only took him three tries.” She sighed. “How long does this go on?”

“For nine innings.”

“What are they on now?”

“The top of the third.”

“Is there a bottom?”

“Yes, after this team gets three outs. Right now they have one. Both teams play infield and outfield every inning.”

“And they do this nine times?”

“Yeah. Unless they’re tied at the end, then they keep going.”

“Mom was right,” Rory said with a groan. When she felt her cell phone buzz, she took it out of her pocket.

“Do you ever go anywhere without that on your person?” Tristan asked.

“No,” she said as she checked the screen. “Hmm, I’ve seen this number before.” She held it up for him to see.

“Mom.”

“Hello?” she answered. “I know, I’m sorry I couldn’t make it. A story took me out of the country last weekend . . . Oh, Saturday? I actually have a kid’s birthday party that day, sorry . . . Okay, I will. Bye.” She hung up and put the phone back in her pocket. She exhaled heavily and looked at Tristan pointedly. “Are you sure you didn’t give her my number?”

“Positive. I kept it for myself.”

“Is she in the DAR?”

“She’d be insulted you felt the need to ask.”

“Maybe that’s where she found my contact information. I’m in the directory.”

“The DAR, really?”

“I had to do something when I dropped out of school,” she said. “They had an office job open.”

“Convenient,” he commented. “So what did Miss Celia want this time?”

“She asked me to go to the ballet with her.”

“A kid’s party was a good excuse. Very inventive.”

“I didn’t make that up. My friend, Lane, has twin boys. They’re turning nine.”

“You have a friend with nine year olds?”

“Yeah,” Rory said. “This time every year I have to think about what a boy would like.”

“I have experience being a boy,” he said. “Do you want to get out of here? I know the area. I can help you find something.”

“What about the game?”

“You care about it less than me. And I don’t care at all,” he said, standing up.

“Okay,” Rory said as she stood, happy at the prospect of leaving the game.

“Just one rule,” Tristan said, turning slightly as he led her up the steps. “You have to turn your phone off.”

“What if someone needs to get a hold of me?” she protested.

“They’ll leave a message.”

XXXXXXXXXXXXXX

“Today was actually fun,” Rory said later that evening, after they’d arrived back at Stars Hollow. “Even though we left the game.”

“Leaving the game was the reason we had any fun,” Tristan said. He’d helped Rory carry her purchases inside the house and they were standing on the porch. He leaned against the railing and shoved his hands in his pockets, not feeling the need or desire to rush off.

And Rory was apparently okay with it, as she asked, “What was it like to live on a military base?”

“Like living in a small town,” he answered.

“Like Stars Hollow?”

He glanced from the gnomes in the next yard back to Rory. “No. I said small town. This is the land of the loony.”

“Hey!”

“Oh sorry, I forgot the word is charming,” he said dryly. One of the lawn ornaments caught his attention. “Are you Jewish?”

“No. Why?”

“There’s a chuppah in your yard,” he said, nodding at it.

Rory looked over at the carefully carved canopy. “Luke made it for Mom as a wedding gift,” she explained. “Not their wedding. It was supposed to be for her and Max.” After a pause, she added, “Oh, hey, you know Max—Mr. Medina.”

“Right,” Tristan said with a single nod, vaguely remembering a rumor at school. “What happened with that?”

“Nothing,” Rory answered. “Mom didn’t go through with it. We went on a road trip instead. Actually, we drove to Boston and went on an unofficial tour of Harvard.”

“You Gilmore women sure know how to have a good time.”

She smiled wistfully. “We do.”

Tristan looked back at the chuppah. Luke had built it such a long time ago. “Was he in love with your mom?”

“Yeah, he sent a thousand yellow daisies to the inn—not the Dragonfly, the Independence Inn. It’s where I grew up. But it burned down, and that’s when Mom and Sookie opened the Dragonfly,” she rambled.

“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Tristan said. “Luke sent a bunch of daisies to an inn?”

“No. Max did, as a proposal.”

“I was asking about Luke,” Tristan clarified. “Was he in love with your mom when he built that chuppah?”

“He liked her for a long time,” Rory answered.

“Then why didn’t he just ask her out?”

“Either she was with someone else or he was. Intermittently she and Dad would have a thing.” Rory shrugged. “It just took them a while.”

Years, he thought dryly. It took Luke years. Tristan never took that long to get what he wanted. At least, not usually. He glanced over at Rory—the one notable time he’d failed. Chilton should have kicked him out long before Mason did the job. Tristan looked at the chuppah again. No wonder the town selectman went through Lorelai to get what he wanted from Luke.

“Do you want something to drink?” Rory asked. “I think we have some tea in the fridge.”

“Sure,” he said, watching her walk into the house.

Luke might have taken years to work up the nerve to finally get the girl, but it was doubtful he’d ever been deliberately deceptive. Lorelai probably never hated Luke though, so his uphill climb wasn’t as steep as Tristan’s. He reasoned his case was different—he was between a rock and a hard place. The possibility of her falling prey to his mind game was his only option.

It wasn’t much of a loophole though, and it didn’t make him feel any better. He was as good as lying. He ran a hand through his hair and looked out over the yard—he needed to start walking. Instead, he sighed heavily as he went over to the porch swing and sat down in the middle, stretching his arms out on the back rest. He rubbed the bridge of his nose. He was supposed to be smarter now. Or at least less of a jerk.

Rory walked back out of the house with two glasses and handed him one. He thanked her and scooted over to make room on the swing. She sat down and took her cell phone out of her pocket, turning it on. “Oh my,” she said, frowning down at the screen.

“What? Did the president call?” Tristan asked.

“I have six messages from Grandma,” she said, pressing the phone to her ear. After a few minutes, she tilted her head, perplexed. “She knows we left the game. She offered to call with an excuse so you’d have to bring me home.”

“You know, I’m starting to get the feeling she doesn’t like me very much.”

“I may have, uh, told her some things,” Rory admitted as she deleted the voicemails.

Terrific, Tristan thought sardonically. As though there weren’t enough ridiculous reasons for him to fall short in Emily Gilmore’s eyes.

Rory interrupted his thoughts, saying, “Your mom texted me.”

He snatched the phone away, brows furrowed. “I didn’t know she even knew how. She’s never texted me before.”

Rory pulled the phone back to read the message. “She wants me to come to dinner sometime this week. I’m supposed to pick the night that works best.” She glanced at Tristan to ask, “She won’t give up until I agree to something, will she?”

Tristan took a sip of tea. “We Dugray’s are persistent. We don’t like to take no for an answer.”

“I remember,” Rory muttered vaguely as she typed a response. When she was finished, she looked back over at him. “Does she want you to quit?”

“Quit what?”

“The Navy. Does your mom want you to get out of your commission?”

Tristan nodded. “She’s misguided to think I can at all before my eight year obligation is up.”

Rory was quiet for a moment, then asked, “Is she worried you’ll get called back?”

“Mm-hmm.”

“She’s right though, you could.”

“I know,” he said. “But I did sign on the line.”

“True,” Rory said.

He could feel her eyes linger on him for a few seconds. He glanced over, but got distracted by her bangs—yet again. She was sitting so close, all he had to do was reach out. In a stunning lack of self-control, he didn’t stop himself this time. He brushed the stray hair behind her ear slowly. When he realized what he’d done, his eyes snapped to hers—which were watching him. An idea flashed through his brain, there was an easy way to end his charade.

Oddly, Rory inched forward just slightly, as though she was thinking along a similar line.

“There you are,” Lorelai said.

Tristan and Rory both looked over quickly to see Lorelai approaching the house. Some tea spilled out of Rory’s glass when she jumped. She sprang up from the swing and propped a leg up in a semi-sitting position on the porch railing.

“Who won the game?” Lorelai asked pointedly.

“I don’t know, we left.”

“I know. Mom has been calling to tell me all afternoon,” Lorelai said, walking up the steps.

“We went shopping,” Rory said. “I picked up some birthday gifts.”

“Oh?” Lorelai said, full of interest.

“For Steve and Kwan.”

“Oh,” she said again, flat this time.

“How did Grandma know we left?”

Lorelai answered, “Apparently she could see you.”

“I thought you were joking about that.”

Tristan spoke up, “Our seats.” Both women looked to him. “We were sitting behind home base. We were on TV.”

“Grandma was watching baseball?”

“I know,” Lorelai said. “It makes as much sense as you going to a baseball game. Emily was all atwitter. She was worried people would get the wrong impression. It looked like you were on a date.”

Tristan and Rory both said, “It wasn’t.” He took a sip of tea and saw Rory cross her arms out the corner of his eye.

She quickly changed the subject, “How was the town meeting?”

“Complete chaos,” Lorelai answered. “Everyone was nagging Taylor, wanting his advice about romance. He kept trying to get back to the agenda, but no one was interested. Luke is going to regret missing it.”

“Taylor and Eastside Tilly only ate together,” Rory said. “Maybe they’re friends. Everyone is just jumping to whatever conclusion they want.” She didn’t look at Tristan as she said it, instead keeping her eyes trained on her mother.

“But why keep it a secret then?”

“Maybe because it isn’t anyone else’s business,” Rory suggested.

Lorelai looked from Rory to Tristan and back. She grinned mischievously and nodded knowingly. “Message received. I’ll just sneak inside and leave you two alone.”

Rory blushed as she rolled her eyes and shook her head slightly.

Tristan stood and walked over to her. “I should go. I’m supposed to meet my dad and some clients at the club for an early tee time tomorrow.”

“The fun never ends for you,” she commented as she took the empty glass he handed her. “What day do you want me to come over?”

“For what?”

“To paint.”

Tristan shook his head. “Don’t worry about it.” Maybe he could think of a less deceptive plan if she wasn’t around to distract him.

“No, I owe a debt. Will Wednesday night work for you?”

He hastily said, “Sure, sounds good. I leave the office by six.”

“All right, I’ll see you then,” she said, taking her phone out again to mark her calendar. She stuck it in her pocket when she was finished and looked back up at him.

Though they’d both said otherwise, it felt to Tristan like it was the end of a date. He wished it was, he was a big fan of the end of dates. He glanced quickly from her lips to her eyes. “Uh, see you then,” he said before turning toward his car, escaping before he made any more unintentional moves.


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