Family Feudalism

Chapter 9

Tristan was in his office late one morning. A television in the corner of the room was on, tuned to a twenty-four hour news network. It’d been on all day, every day, for several days. He kept the volume at a low level, just in case Egypt came up. And when it did, he stopped working all together to watch. Rory was still there. He hadn’t heard anything from her since their shared plane ride.

It was dangerous in parts of the country due to the elections. Tristan didn’t know what he was expecting to see by keeping the news on all day. Would he catch a glimpse of Rory in a background shot? Probably not. He kept dreading the possible announcement of an injured journalist. Or worse. He wouldn’t rest easy until she was back in Connecticut—that much was clear at this point.

He was having trouble with the nights. He couldn’t sleep with the television on, but didn’t want to turn it off. And it was easy to give into the temptation of leaving it on, since his television was still in his room. So he’d get up and increase the volume while he worked on various parts of his house. He painted the second upstairs bedroom. He put new light bulbs in all the empty sockets. He wasn’t planning to put the trim in himself, but went for it. A construction crew was working on the basement, he was going to paint down there within the next couple days.

Rory had gone to cover stories several times over the last month. But anxiety hadn’t been a problem for him. Maybe being with her on the ride—which lasted several hours—made it more personal. They had a lot of alone time, and even got to see a few sights in Europe during a stop. They’d had lunch at a café, where they sat at an outdoor table on the sidewalk. She predictably wanted to stop for coffee afterward, and Tristan may have accidentally said something meant for his private thoughts.

He glanced up at his office television and back down to the work he was having difficulty focusing on. When a familiar figure passed by his door, he did a double take. “Mom?” he called out.

Cecilia took a step back and poked her head in. “Yes?” She focused on him and frowned. “You look awful.”

“You look too skinny.”

She smiled widely. “Thank you. Why are you biting your nails?”

“What?” He looked down at his hand. Apparently he’d taken to biting his thumb nail while watching the news without realizing. “Oh.” He rested his arm on his desk. “What are you doing here?”

“Your father thought it would be a good idea to take Abram to the club for lunch,” she said. “It might give him an idea of how enjoyable retirement will be.”

“Ah,” Tristan said returning to his work. He grabbed a book from a shelf behind him and flipped through its pages.

About ten minutes later, his mother returned with the law firm’s patriarch at her arm. She stopped at Tristan’s door. “Don’t forget you’re coming to that charity event next Tuesday evening for the children’s hospital.”

“Am I?” Abram asked.

Cecilia turned to him and patted his arm. “I was talking to Tristan actually.” She quickly added, “But you’re welcome to come if you’d like.”

“Did I know about this?” Tristan asked.

“I’m sure you did.”

He was about to mutter his argument, but checked the calendar on his wall to see she was right. He had known about the fundraiser. “Oh. All right, fine. I’ll see you there.”

“And be sure to bring a date, you have a chair to fill.”

He warily glanced at the television and back to his mother. “I don’t know if I’ll be able to find someone.”

“Nonsense, just ask Rory.” She turned to the old man. “Your niece.”

“He knows who she is,” Tristan said. “And she’s out of town.”

“Oh, well, find someone else then,” Cecilia said flippantly. “And I’ll see you tonight.”

“You will?”

“It’s Thursday,” she reminded him. “I now have an empty seat at the table.”

His head fell back with donning. The Passover Seder. He sighed. “Fine.”

As his mother started down the hall with the old man, Tristan told her, “Don’t keep him out too long, I wanted to talk to him this afternoon.”

“Yes of course,” she said with a wave.

He could hear Abram as they walked down the hall, “Your son is very interested in my family tree.”

Sure, interested, Tristan thought dryly. If he could find a relative of the Hayden’s—long lost or otherwise—maybe everyone could be happy. He was probably too optimistic though.

The administrative assistant walked in, smiling politely as she handed over his mail. Absently, Tristan sat the envelopes on his desk as he glanced from his work to the news.

“Your eleven o’clock appointment is here,” she said.

Tristan shuffled the papers around on his desk and turned off the television. “Send them in.”

XXXXXXXXXXXXX

A couple days later, Emily walked through the doors of the Dragonfly Inn. She was early for her DAR meeting, so she had time to visit with her daughter. She approached the service desk, where Lorelai was on the phone.

“I haven’t heard from her in a few days. Sometimes she’s in places where there isn’t service,” Lorelai said. “I’m sure she’s okay though.” When she noticed Emily, she smiled and turned around, as though no one would be able to hear her.

“I promise to have her call you when she gets back. All right, bye,” Lorelai said before hanging up and turning back around. “Oh hi, Mom. The rest of your sewing circle is already in the dining room.”

“I have a few minutes,” Emily said. “Who were you on the phone with just now?”

“That’s confidential.”

“It didn’t sound like business. It was personal. Who was the she you mentioned?”

“Rory,” Lorelai admitted, picking up a clipboard and pretending to be engrossed with whatever was written on it.

“Is she all right?” Emily asked quickly. She’d been keeping her eye on the news for days, as she always did when Rory was covering a dangerous world event.

“She’s fine.”

“You said you haven’t heard from her in few days, you have no idea.”

“I think she’s fine. She’s probably fine,” Lorelai said, setting the clipboard back down.

“Who wanted to know?” Emily asked again.

Lorelai was quiet for a moment, as though deciding whether or not she should answer. Finally, she said, “Tristan.”
“How does he know where she is?”

“He gave her a ride.”

Emily frowned. “How did he give her a ride? She went to Egypt.”
“He was on his way to Europe for business and saw Rory in the airport,” Lorelai said quickly. “She couldn’t get a flight so he offered a ride. On his private jet.”

Emily stared for several seconds. “Private jet? Who needs something so extravagant?”
Lorelai didn’t say anything to that. She just raised a brow, nonplussed.

“That must have been thousands of miles out of his way,” Emily continued.

“That explains why they had to stop to refuel. That’s when she called. They were having lunch while they waited.”

Lunch in a foreign country? With Tristan? “What could he possibly be thinking?” Emily stewed for a moment. “He’s in love with her, isn’t he?”

Now Lorelai looked disbelieving. “That’s the first conclusion you jump to? They’re friends. Friends give each other rides.”

“In cars, Lorelai. When they’re going to the same place or same direction. Not in private jets to different continents. Are you really that naïve?” she demanded. It was reminiscent of Luke swooping to Lorelai’s aid at the drop of a hat. “Was this the first time he’s called?”

“Yes,” Lorelai said. Then she added, “For the day.”

“Has he been harassing you all week?”

“I wouldn’t call it harassing. He’s just a little worried,” she reasoned. “He wants to know she’s all right.”

“She isn’t his concern,” Emily said evenly.

This was absurd. First a baseball game and now carpooling across the Atlantic by jet. Emily knew her granddaughter. Rory would give anyone a chance, it was her nature. Some of her innocence still remained, even as an adult. It was the only logical explanation. It was no problem, Emily told herself, and not for the first time. Rory just didn’t have other options available. But that would soon change. She wouldn’t have to settle for whoever was around—which was obviously what she was doing.

Emily had a week. It would have to be enough time.

If only Tristan would agree to dinner. Quinn was a much more suitable match for him, in every possible way. Simply getting them in a room together would prove that. But since he was being obstinate, this party was a God-send. He wouldn’t be able to avoid Emily this time. He’d be out of the picture in no time. Francine would have to find some other solution to losing her family’s legacy. It wasn’t Rory’s problem.

Emily thought back to her list. Biddy Charleston had a grandson just a little older than Rory. And Beatrice Atwater’s two nephews were very successful, and they’d gone to Princeton. It wasn’t Yale, but it would do. What Emily really needed to find was a journalist. Someone Rory could talk to for hours. They could share stories about being on the road. Once again she thought of Rory’s perfect match. She quickly shook it off, it wouldn’t do to dwell.

“Emily, there you are,” Quinn said from the entrance of the dining room. “Are you ready to start?”

Emily turned to the young blond woman. “Yes, I’ll be right there.” She made a mental note to call Tristan again this afternoon. It wouldn’t hurt anything to try once more before the party.

“New recruit?” Lorelai asked sardonically.

Emily turned back to her daughter. “It’s an honor to be a Daughter of the American Revolution, Lorelai. And you’re eligible,” she said. “It wouldn’t kill you to join.”

“I’d rather not take that chance,” Lorelai said as the phone rang. Quickly, she picked it up and gave Emily an insincere smile of apology as she greeted the caller.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXX

On the following Monday, Rory was in a state of limbo, between sleep and awake. She mumbled something at the feeling of being nudged on the shoulder. “Rory,” she heard through a fog. She turned and buried the side of her face into her pillow.

“Wake up,” her mother said, rocking her shoulder again and bouncing on the bed a little.

Rory groaned in protest and sighed. She opened her eyes, only enough to see through slits. “What?”

“Were you dreaming?”

“I don’t know. Why?”

“You were smiling like it was a good dream. Maybe even dirty.” She paused. “In which case, maybe I should leave.”

“I wasn’t having a dirty dream.” Being asleep wasn’t necessary.

“I you say so,” Lorelai said. “Now that you’re up, would you please call your gentleman friend? He’s been calling me all week to find out if you’re all right.”

Slowly, Rory asked, “Tristan’s been calling you?”

“So he’s the gentleman who comes to mind. Interesting.” Lorelai handed over a cup of coffee she’d sat on the desk. “And yes, he has.”

Rory took a grateful sip. At the smell and taste of the hot liquid, an image flashed through her mind. And it wasn’t rated for general audiences. After eating lunch during a fuel stop, she and Tristan had strolled into a coffee shop. Not because he wanted to partake in the delicious caffeinated beverage, but because Rory insisted she needed some. At the strong aroma of the coffee beans, Tristan had made an odd comment.

“This is probably what you taste like.”

It was innocent enough, and not without merit. It was really just a logical conclusion, considering her heavy coffee intake. But she kept—unconsciously—thinking about what it would be like if he did take a taste. Of her.

“So tell me about the jet,” Lorelai said.

Rory shrugged. “It was a small plane. There were chairs and tables and a couple couches. That’s it.” She added, “It’s just for business.”

“Grandma was very happy to hear he helped you get to where you were going.”

“I’ll bet.”

“Speaking of your grandmother—”

“Oh boy.”

“Yes, that’s exactly what you should be thinking.” Lorelai reached over to the desk to pick up a rectangle of card stock. She handed it over so Rory read the elaborate calligraphy of the party invitation.

“So this is happening,” she said flatly.

“Full steam ahead. And since Francine couldn’t get your input while you were out of town, Christopher has been helping her. Except here’s the thing. He didn’t have all the answers,” Lorelai said. “So he’s been calling me. It should be a swell party. The cake will have a layer for every flavor. They wanted to cover their bases.”

“That actually doesn’t sound bad.”

“Mm-hmm. And did you get to the best part?” She pointed to the bottom of the invitation.

“That’s Grandma’s address,” Rory deadpanned. “Why is Francine’s party at Grandma’s?”

“She high jacked it,” Lorelai said, amused. “When she added her guests, there wasn’t going to be enough room at Francine’s house for everyone. So Emily, being the classy broad she is, offered her house.”

“How many guests did she invite?” Rory asked incredulously. She didn’t even have many friends in the area.

“Well, that’s actually tied into the good news.”

“I’m not sure we have the same idea of good news, but I’ll humor you.”

“She’s shifted focus off embarrassing Francine about getting your birthday wrong.”

“Oh,” Rory said. “That is good. But where did she shift focus to?”

Lorelai smiled. “To beating Francine.”

Rory blinked. “Physically?”

“No,” Lorelai said with a laugh. “In the ‘Find Rory a Husband’ contest.”

“You were kidding about that,” Rory said with a groan. “Grandma knows you were kidding, doesn’t she?”

“I really can’t vouch for that one way or another. She definitely feels threatened.”

“About what?” Rory asked. “There’s nothing to be threatened about. I told her not to worry.”

“Yes, but you’ve given her the idea Francine is winning.”

“It’s not a contest.” Hastily, she added, “And Francine isn’t winning anything. We’re . . . friends.”

“Hey,” Lorelai said cheerfully. “A little more practice and people are going to believe it when you say that.”

Rory wanted to bury her head in her pillow again. But she had her coffee in her hand so she couldn’t without making a mess. Instead she took a sip. ‘That’s probably what you taste like’. He could have at least smirked when he said it. Then she’d have an idea if he was serious or not. She scratched that thought. She was less and less sure his lewd remarks were jokes.

Shaking her said, Rory said, “Friends get along. We argued for twenty minutes about the cultural aspects of women wearing burkas.”

“Was he for or against?”

“For,” Rory answered. “Until we stopped arguing. Then he said he didn’t agree with anything he said. He was just debating for sport.”

“Lawyers.”

“Weirdoes.” They’d made it through all the comments he’d left her over the course of the ride.

Lorelai commented, “You never blogged about Southeast Asia.”

Rory frowned. “I didn’t?”

“No. I recommended it to some guests at the inn—you know, a shameless plug. You never know when someone from the Huffington Post might be in earshot, looking for a good blog post for the homepage. Anyway, you haven’t updated in a couple weeks.”

“Oh,” she said. Tristan had asked about it when they were painting the upstairs bedroom. She wondered how she’d forgotten to write about it afterward, since it was fresh in her mind. “I owe him.”

“Who?”

“Tristan.”

“Oh, we’re back on him. That was a short break.”

“He saved me airfare,” Rory said. “He’s probably going to make me paint another room in his house.”

“How is it looking? Still dilapidated?”

“No, it’s getting better,” Rory answered. “And he got some furniture from Mrs. Kim. A dining room table—almost out from Steve and Kwan, they were doing homework. But he bought a different one. And a—.”

A headboard for a bed, Rory thought to herself. She hadn’t picked it out or anything. But she didn’t not have a say in it. She just pointed out pros and cons for the two he was considering.

“A what?” Lorelai asked.

Rory answered, “Uh, chairs. Chairs to go with the table.”

XXXXXXXXXXXXXX

That evening, Rory stood in front of Tristan’s front door. It was just after six, so she knew he’d be home from work. She knocked and waited a minute. When the door swung open, she inhaled in surprise. He was a sight for sore eyes, and the corners of her mouth felt an uncontrollable need to turn up slightly. He looked different though. His eyes were dark, and he apparently hadn’t shaved in a few days. There was something else, but she couldn’t put her finger on it.

A few extra seconds passed them by as they stared at each other. Hastily, she cleared her throat and said, “Hi. I just got back. Well not just. I slept most of the day, I got in late last night.”

Tristan’s eyes had been tense when he opened the door, but they were softening now, as though relaxing. He blinked a couple times. “Hi.”

A couple more seconds ticked away. “Hi,” she said again.

He awkwardly opened the door wider, as though finally remembering etiquette. Rory stepped in and looked around. Like its owner, the house looked different than last she’d seen. Lights had fixtures. The dining area had a table.

She followed him to the kitchen and they took their familiar places. She noted new tile covering the wall in the space between the counter and the upper cabinets. “It’s starting to look like a house,” she commented.

He nodded. “Yeah, I got some stuff done . . . while you were away.”

“I didn’t have service,” she said quickly. “Cell phone service. So I might have missed a call or two. If you called.”

“Oh. I did once or twice,” he said. “To make sure you were okay.”

“I was.”
“Good.”

“So,” she led, “I guess I owe you for the plane ride. Are there more rooms that need painting?”

He thought about it for a moment. “The upstairs rooms are finished. The living room is done, and I worked on the basement over the weekend. I’ve done as much with it as I’m going to do, for now at least.”

“I haven’t seen the basement.”

“It’s downstairs.”

“I gathered.”

He slowly asked, “Do you want to see it?”

“Sure,” she said, standing.

The staircase served as a divider between the kitchen and small dining room. One could circle around the stairs and end up back in the kitchen without running into a dead end. Alongside the ascending staircase was a set leading to the basement. Across the way was the first floor bathroom. Rory followed him down, the temperature cooling with each step. The basement walls were eggshell white. There was a large room with a couple windows and a set of double doors leading out to a patio. By the looks of it, Rory guessed he’d eventually have the patio redone.

The floor was finished with large white tiles. “This will be cold on bare feet,” she commented.

“I’ll get a big rug. This is where the television and comfortable furniture will go,” he said, indicating the empty room.

“A second living room?”

“Mm-hmm, what are those called? Great room?”

“Or family room.”

“Yeah.”

She went over to look out the windows to the back yard. She saw more of the brick building to the left and frowned. “Is that part of your house over there?” When she tore her eyes away from the window, she quietly gasped in surprise. Tristan was standing right behind her, close enough to feel the warmth of his body.

“Yeah,” he said. “It’s the guest house.”

“How do you get to it?”

“From outside. Or through the garage,” he answered. “It’s actually connected to the main house.”

She put her hands at her hips. “You had a whole other house hidden away.”

“I’m a real man of mystery.”

Rory carefully stepped away from him to look at the rest of the basement. “What’s going on in there?” She pointed a small room in the corner, it was almost tucked under the stairs. It had new cream colored carpet and the double doors were comprised of windows. She went closer get a better look. “Ooh, you know what you could put in here?” she asked with a smile, turning back to him. “A library.”

Tristan walked over and shook his head. “Or, a few couches.” He pointed at the wall opposite him as well as the one adjacent, which had two levels, like a theater. “A big screen television here by the door,” he said, pointing to the corner, then to the other. “And a mini bar in that corner. The room is soundproof.”

Rory wrinkled her nose. “My idea is better.” She pointed along the walls. “You could put shelves up all around. Just think of all the books that would fit in here.”

He gave her a sidelong glance. “I think you’re confused about who’s going to live here.”

“I am not. It’ll be you and—I don’t know . . . anyone else you let live here. Someday. If you plan to live with other people. Small people even, if you want those. One day.”

He looked at her for a few seconds. “It that’s your way of saying wife and kids, your comfort level with the topic is extraordinary.” He turned around and pointed to a door. “There’s another room.”

“Bedroom?”

“That’s what I assume it is, there’s a head attached.”

“Isn’t that a bathroom right next to it?” she asked, indicating another door next to the bedroom.

“Yeah.” He frowned. “Wait, how did you know I meant bathroom?”

“When you live with a crazy person, you pick some stuff up.”

This didn’t explain much, so Tristan’s brows furrowed in addition to his frown.

She asked, “How many bathrooms does the place have?”

“Five. Unless you count the guest house, then six.”

Rory did some counting. “And four bedrooms.”
“Five with the guesthouse.”

“You have your work cut out for you.”

“Do I?”

“Well, yeah—if you want to fill the house in a—a traditional way,” she said awkwardly.

Tristan started for the stairs. “When I bought the house, I didn’t sign a clause specifying how I have to fill the rooms,” he said dryly. “I can do whatever I want with them.”
“Right,” she said, following him. “Of course you can. I wasn’t implying anything.”

“Sure.”

“You could turn one into a home office.”

“That’s an oxymoron,” he said, approaching the top of the stairs. “I think I’ve made my philosophy on that pretty clear.” When they reached the first floor he asked, “Do you want to see the guest house?”
“Yes.”

She followed him through a short hallway, passing a laundry room before they went through the garage door. Along with his black Mercedes, there was a piano.

“Where’s that going to go?” she asked.

“Living room,” he answered. “I got it from an estate sale Saturday. You know, because I needed stuff with character.” He slid the covering back to display the keys. “It’ll annoy my mom.”
“How?”

“It’s only an upright.”

“It’s still a piano, it’ll play.” She reasoned, “We have an upright and no one plays it.”

“I noticed,” he said. “I haven’t decided if I’m going to have it tuned or not. I’m leaning toward not.”
“Why?”

“Picture it, it’s Christmas, and my parents are here—I know that’s unrealistic, but stick with me—when someone suggests we sing Jingle Bells. So, I’ll come over, and . . .”

Rory stepped closer to watch as he played the introduction with a chord. It was all out of tune and she cringed.

Tristan grinned. “Imagine my mom’s face.”

Rory did, and smiled slowly back at him. “She’s going to hate that.”

He nodded. “I know. I think it’ll be worth it.”

He pulled the covering over the keys and turned his head to lock eyes with Rory. He tiled his head closer to her. Without thinking, she lifted her chin, but he stopped.

With a half-smile playing at the corner of his lips, he said, “Just kidding.” He turned to continue through the three car garage to a door at the corner.

She watched him with narrowed eyes as her heart beat much faster than it needed to. She willed it to slow down before she followed him.

The guest house had a small kitchen with room for a table next to it. Rory wandered into a modest sized living room and peeked into a doorway to the bedroom. Tristan was studying the cabinets when she returned to the kitchen.

“It’s like a pool house,” she commented.

“If I had a pool, yes.”

“I lived in a pool house once. For a few months,” she said. “At Grandma’s.”

“Ah.”

“I didn’t have anywhere else to go.”

“I see.”

“I didn’t stay.”

“All right.” Then, “Is that the whole story?”

“Pretty much. You already know the rest.”
“You should start thinking about who’s going to play you in the movie,” he said. “Because Hollywood is definitely going to come knocking.”

She shot him a look.

He glanced around the empty living room. “It doesn’t need too much work. Just new paint. Everything else is fine.” He added, “I don’t even know if I’m going to do anything with this.”

“You could use if for guests,” Rory deadpanned.

“Maybe,” he said with a shrug. “I’m not in a hurry with it.”

“So that’s the whole house,” she said. “No secret passageways or hidden rooms?”

“Nope. This is it.” He held the door open for her and turned off the light. They went back through the garage to the main house.

When they were in the kitchen again, she asked, “What still needs to be done?”

“Mostly little things here and there. And then put stuff in to make it look like someone lives here,” he answered. “Oh wait. There is one room left. I haven’t done anything with my room.”

“The master bedroom.”

“That’s my room.”

“Do you know what color it’s going to be?”

Tristan picked up the paint samples from the counter and flipped through it. He pointed to a pale blue and handed it over. Her first thought was how the color very nearly matched his eyes. She gave her head a quick mental and physical shake.

“You don’t think it’ll work?” he asked.

She looked up. “Oh, no. It should be fine. I think.”

“You can go look if you want.”

Her eyes flashed to his.

“You’ve been in there before. It’s just a room.”

“Right. I know,” she said hastily, turning to go take a look. She was an adult. She could handle being in a bedroom. It was just a room, like any other. She walked in and held the paint sample up, like she’d done with the living room when picking a color. She also imagined the room occupied with the real bed. It actually wasn’t too hard to do.

“Well?”

She jumped slightly and looked over at the door. Tristan was leaning against the frame, hands in his pockets and watching her. He looked pretty good doing it.

“It’ll work,” she said. “Do you have the paint? I’m ready whenever you are.” She quickly added, “To paint.”

“I got that.” His brow just barely arched. “What else would you be talking about?”

“Nothing.” She went on, “I’m free now.”

“Tonight isn’t good for me. I have a thing to go to. A dinner.”

“Oh.” That’s what it was, she thought. He looked different because he was still wearing his dress slacks and tie—in his house. He was out of place. It was akin to Rory and her mother wearing their Friday night dinner clothes in their own kitchen.

“At Emily’s, actually,” he added.

She frowned. “Grandma’s? Why?”

“She called over the weekend. She still wants me to meet that girl. It worked out to go tonight.”

“That’s handling her? Impressive,” she said sardonically. “How about tomorrow night then? I could bring pizza. For dinner.”

He shook his head. “I have a thing tomorrow too.”

“You have a lot of things all of a sudden.”

“It’s a charity event for the children’s hospital,” he said, strolling into the room. “My mom has a table, and she has to fill all the chairs.” He took a seat on the futon and picked a shoe up from the floor. It was shoved slightly under the piece of furniture.

“I know how those things work,” Rory said.

“She put me down for two,” he said, putting his shoe on. “I have to take a guest.”

“Oh.” Rory imagined her calendar, trying to recall if she had anything on the following evening.

He went on, “That’s why I have to go to Emily’s tonight. I need someone to take along.”

“You’re taking Grandma?”

He rolled his eyes impatiently. “No. That girl she wants me to meet—Quinn something or other.”

Rory’s stomach dropped. “Oh. So you’re seeing her then?”

“No. Just meeting.” He added, “I didn’t have a choice.”

Rory crossed her arms. “There are always choices.”

“Like who? Do you know of someone?” His question was met with silence. “Don’t name them all at once, I want to write them down.”

Slowly, she said, “I’m sure you could think of someone.”
“I just need someone who will definitely fill the seat.” To get his point across, he added, “Without canceling.”

“Any warm body that can fill a chair?” Falling short of a joking tone, she said, “You have really high standards.”

“Semantics, Rory, pay attention.”

Something flopped inside her when he said her name.

“I said will, not can.” Pointedly, he said, “I had a thrilling time at the Seder last week.”

Rory’s eyes widened. “Passover—I forgot. Is your mom mad?”

“She’s fine. I filled your place.”

“Oh. Thanks.”

“You had something more important to do.” He reached under the bed for his second shoe. He dragged it along the floor, bringing a few newspaper clippings with it, they were fastened together by a paper clip. He slid his foot into the shoe and picked up the articles. He bent over to check under the bed and picked up a couple more strays. “Looks like some didn’t get back to Emily,” he said as he stood.

“I’ll make sure she gets them,” Rory said, holding her hand out.

Tristan jerked his hand away. He thumbed through them, skimming for the topic. His expression darkened. “You went to Syria?”

“Yeah, a few years ago.”

“What the hell were you doing there?” he said as lines formed on his forehead. He glared at her.

She returned his sour expression. “I was covering the uprising. It was part of the Arab Spring—the same reason I went to Bahrain before that.”

“That was violent,” Tristan said. “People died.”

“I know—thousands. That’s why I was there. Their army was killing civilians. It was massive abuse of human rights.”

“I’m not talking about Syrians. I’m talking about you,” he said. “Journalists died over there—foreign journalists. You could have died.”

Her eyes narrowed, bewildered, and she took a step closer. “I’m standing right here. I’m fine.”

“Yeah, because you got lucky that time. How did you even get into the country?”

“Through Turkey, like other reporters. I stayed close to the boarder most of the time.”

He looked up and rubbed his forehead before focusing back at her. “Is getting a story the only thing you care about?”

“A government was killing its own people. The rest of the world can’t just be ignorant when atrocities are happening. Someone has to find out what’s going on.”

“Fine, let someone else do it. Do you really need the adrenaline rush so bad you have to put the people who love you through hell for days at a time?”

She faltered for a second. “What people?”

He took a beat longer than needed. “How about Lorelai for one?” he asked. “And Emily. I don’t know how they ever sleep at night.”

“This is what I wanted to do my whole life,” she said, pointing to the articles. “They always knew that.”

“Oh, so they’re used to the idea you might never come home,” he said sarcastically, spreading his arms out. “Hey, let’s go ask Emily what day she woke up and was used to Richard being gone. Maybe she marked the day down. She had to know he wasn’t going to live forever, so she must have been ready.”

“What is wrong with you?” Rory asked, hands digging into her hips.

“I’m just thinking about the people who wait for you to come home—something you apparently don’t do.”

She reached for the articles, “Give me those. I’ll take them back.”

At her touch, he moved his hand away quickly. “I’m going there tonight.” He snatched his suit jacket up from the futon.

“Grandma doesn’t know you took them.”

“You don’t need to cover for me,” he said. “I told you I can handle her.”

She scoffed. “I’ll believe that when I see it.”

“I needed a sure thing for a stupid function. Get over it,” he said, staring her down. “I have to go.”

“I’ll let myself out.” She glared right back.

He started for the door and she took a few seconds to calm down before tossing the paint samples on the bed. She took a deep breath and headed out of the room, and then house.

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