Warning: This work has been rated 16+ for language.
Summary of the previous chapter: Lorelai's troublemaker but genius of a son, Jess, has been accepted to the prestigious prep school, Chilton. She hopes it will straighten him out. Despite being estranged from them Lorelai went to her parents for the tuition money and struck up a deal to attend a weekly Friday Night Dinner with them.
Ring. Ring. Ring.
Lorelai groaned. The ringing phone had seeped into her dream, becoming the voice of her dream husband, Tom Cruise. Every time he opened his mouth to speak he rang instead. Finally Lorelai’s consciousness broke through to reality, and the dream disappeared, along with their dream home where she and Tom lived in a gingerbread house along with talking ferrets. It was a weird dream. Certainly not a metaphor for something else…at least she hoped it wasn’t.
Still laying on the bed Lorelai opened one eye. The ringing continued. She reached for the phone, unsure exactly where it was coming from other than somewhere of the vicinity of her floor. She leaned over the bed, feeling a touch of vertigo as she fought off her sleepiness, rifled through a pile of laundry, and made contact with the phone.
“Whoever this is you better be bleeding and have forgotten the number to 9-1-1,” Lorelai answered.
“Is that how you greet your phone?” Emily’s shrill voice asked.
Lorelai sat up straight at the sound of her mother’s voice. It was half instinct from all her years of being coached to be a debutante and half from pure shock of receiving a phone call from her mother at this ungodly hour.
“Mom? Why are you calling this early?”
“Early? It’s eight-ten.” Emily was nearly screaming.
Lorelai laughed. “Mom,” Lorelai said in her mother-soothing voice. It was the same voice she used when Sookie was freaking out over a menu. “It’s a quarter to six.”
“Quarter to six.” Lorelai picked up her fuzzy alarm clock that was in the shape of the cat. She gasped. “Oh my God, it’s eight-ten.”
“That’s what I said!”
Lorelai tried to hop off out bed but instead got her foot stuck in her sheets, and tripped onto the ground. “I don’t understand. I set my alarm for a quarter to six. It didn’t purr.”
“It’s fuzzy. It purrs.” Lorelai got off the floor and ran down the stairs, the phone still against her ear. She sprinted through the living, through the hallway, and into the kitchen.
“You were supposed to be here at eight, on the dot. Get Jess registered. Meet the headmaster. Now you’ve made Jess look like a delinquent. You’ve besmirched the Gilmore name.”
Lorelai stopped short outside Jess’s room. His loud snores echo into the kitchen. “What do you mean here?”
“You’re at Chilton?”
“Of course. Now, why aren’t you?”
Lorelai struggled to come up with one of her patented, trademarked snarky retort, perhaps because she knew she was at fault for this mishap. This was Jess’s first day of school and he was late. A better mother would have never let that happen. Emily would have ever let that happen.
“Clearly we’re running a little late,” Lorelai said at last. She entered Jess’s room. It was such a mess. Piles of t-shirts and books littered the floor. Lorelai poked her son. He didn’t even stir.
“A little late?” Emily screamed. “Your meeting was fifteen minutes ago and it takes a half hour to drive here. Are you even dressed?”
“Of coursed Mom. Headed out of the door right now. In fact, you’re holding us up.” Lorelai ripped the comforter and sheets off of Jess. He groaned and rolled over onto his stomach. How could he be such a heavy sleeper?
“Well, you’ll still be forty-five minutes late.”
“Gotta go Mom.”
“This is unacceptable.”
“Bye!” Lorelai hit the end button and tossed the phone into Jess’s dirty clothes pile. Then she grabbed Jess’s arm and dragged him off the bed, dropping him on the floor. He hit it with a thud.
Jess groaned and sat up, staring at Lorelai while he wiped the sleepiness out of his eyes. “Are you mental?”
“And that’s crazy time?”
“You were supposed to be at Chilton at eight.”
Jess rolled his eyes and picked himself off the floor before he plopped back on the bed. “I’ll just go tomorrow.”
Lorelai grabbed her son again, pulling him off the bed once more, but this time onto his feet. “Dress. Now!”
Jess glared at her but reluctantly walked over to his closest in silence.
Lorelai left the room and ran back into her own. She needed to get dressed too. She opened the closet, expecting to find all her nice clothes greeting her but was met with nothing—nothing of any substance, anyway. It was laundry-day, Lorelai remembered. All her nice clothes had been taken to the dry cleaners. She had planned to pick them up this morning but now it was too late. She had nothing to wear. She ripped through her closest, throwing what little clothes were left to the floor and screamed in frustration.
Finding something nice was going to be impossible. She just needed to put something on, to put anything on. She focused on finding a shirt, pants, and shoes. The final ensemble consisted of a random t-shirt—a pick, tie-dyed one, a very old pair of cutoff shorts, fraying at the end, and brown ankle boots.
Once dressed Lorelai raced downstairs, hoping Jess would skip the hair gel. When she reached the living she realized how foolish she had been to think her son would ever skip his haircare routine. “Eight-twenty, Jess!” she called through the door while she put her hair in a ponytail. “Do your hair in the car!”
Jess exited the bathroom, dressed in his new Chilton uniform: a light blue collared shirt, khaki slacks, and a navy blue blazer. He had a striped blue tie draped around his neck.
“You need help tying that?” Lorelai asked once her own hair was up. Jess stared at her, not saying a word. She searched the desk by the foyer for her keys then looked back at Jess who was still staring. “What?”
“Didn’t know the rodeo was in town.”
“Alright, that’s it.” Lorelai walked over to the end table and opened its draw. She pulled out a picture. It was a behind shot of a naked baby: Jess. She flashed it into his face before hurrying toward the door with it safely guarded in her hands. “I’m bringing the baby pictures.” She headed for the door with every intention of following through with that threat if he didn’t pick up the pace.
“What? No!” Jess followed his mother as she led him outside with her taunts of personal betrayal and embarrassment. “I thought I burned those.”
“Not the negatives!”
A half-hour later the Gilmores pulled up to Chilton. Lorelai parked the Jeep in the temporary parking lot outside the main building. Everything about this high school campus screamed old money. This parking lot was paved with stone and had a fountain in the middle of it. The buildings, of which there were three, were all made of gray brick. Once parked neither the mother nor son could peel their eyes off the gargoyles attached to the roof.
Weeks ago when Jess and Lorelai visited Chilton for the first time the school seemed so much less intimating. They were last-minute add-ons to the last tour of the season. Spots were already filled, and everyone there was just trying to get onto the waiting list. Jess didn’t take the tour seriously. Even if some spot opened up for him he still wasn’t going to go to Chilton. There was no way Jess Gilmore was ever going to private school.
“Harvard’s a private school,” Lorelai told him during an argument at Luke’s the night before the tour.
“When Harvard starts instituting a uniform then it might be time for us to reconsider the plan,” Jess responded.
“This school could get you into Harvard.”
“I’m already top of the class at Stars Hollow High,” Jess said.
“You also got into a lot of trouble last year, Jess…I just think a school change might be a good idea. Can you please just consider it?”
Jess agreed, if only to stop his mother’s nagging. All the spots were filled anyway, so it wasn’t like he’d ever actually have to attend. At least that’s what he thought. The last few days proved how very wrong he was, and now he was sitting in the car outside of the most prestigious private school in Connecticut wearing a stupid uniform and a tie he was pretty sure was on wrong.
“I remember it being smaller,” Jess said, breaking the silence.
“Yeah,” Lorelai said. “And less…”
“Off with their heads,” Jess finished her sentence.
“Yeah.” Lorelai tilted her head, looking at something.
“What are you looking at?”
“I’m trying to see if they’re a hunchback in that bell tower.”
Jess unbuckled his seatbelt. “Am I right in assuming I’m going in alone while you go meet the Duke Brothers?”
Lorelai made a grab for her purse. “I still have the baby pictures.”
“I’ll start a car fire, just you try me.”
Lorelai cracked a smile and lowered her purse. “Get going. I don’t know who’s going to be more upset by you being late, the school or Emily.”
“What?” Jess asked. How was his grandma going to find out he was late?
“Oh yeah, Mom’s here. Have fun.” Lorelai plastered on a fake smile and waved goodbye to him.
Jess stayed seated in his seat and glared at her. “You were just going to send me in the lion’s den with no preparation? What the Hell is wrong with you?”
“No. I just told you. This is me telling you.”
“But only because it slipped out. You weren’t planning on telling me. We were in the car for thirty minutes and you neglected to mention that Grandma is here.”
“Well if I told you earlier you would have spent the last half hour freaking out about having to see her. See, I saved you third minutes of panicking. You’re welcome.” When Jess didn’t accept that response she added. “She had to prove that one of the Gilmore’s could show up on time.”
“This is so not cool of you.”
“Chill dude, I told you.”
“Whatever.” Jess got out of the car and slammed it as hard as he could. He took satisfaction in the way Lorelai flinched at the sound.
As Jess walked through campus he pulled out his registration form and looked around for any signs that could point in him in the right direction. There were no signs. There were no people either. It was probably well in first period. It would be so easy to ditch his first day, but he had made a promise to Lorelai. He had to give Chilton a real chance.
The form said he needed to meet with the Headmaster in the Ambroise building. As Jess stood in the campus courtyard debating which building to enter he finally saw another student. It was a blond boy wearing a matching uniform. He seemed to be wandering out of choice instead of confusion. Since he was the only soul around Jess had no choice but to ask him for help. There was a smug smirk on this guy’s face as Jess approached.
“Do you know where the Ambroise Building is?” Jess asked the boy.
The boy stared Jess up and down. “You new?” He hadn’t answered the question.
“Yeah. I need to see the Headmaster. Ambroise building?”
“You know, I think I heard Paris complaining about the new students they’re letting in.”
Jess sighed. He was so not in the mood for small talk. He just wanted to know where to go so he could get this day over with already. “Ambroise building?” he repeated.
“Do you know why they’ve let so many of you in? Is your mom sleeping with Headmaster Charleston?”
“Oh, touchy subject. Note to self, does not like Yo’ Momma Jokes.”
“One building back, on the left. Go down the stairs and turn left. Office is at the end of the hall.” Jess turned back in that direction. “I’m Tristan,” the boy shouted out after him. Jess didn’t offer his name.
Jess found the building easily enough now that he had directions. He entered the office where a receptionist sat behind a desk. In the waiting section sat Emily, her lips pursed.
“There you are.” Emily sneered. She stood up in one swift motion. “Tell Hanlin my grandson has arrived,” she told the receptionist, then turned back to Jess. “What is wrong with you? This is your first day at this institution. Don’t you know how important it is to make a good first impression?” Her eyes wandered around the room. “Where’s your mother?”
“She had to go.” Jess put his hands in his pockets and looked at the wall. What right did Emily have to lecture him? She wasn’t his mother. Just his grandmother. Until recently when she blackmailed them into the Friday Night Dinners he saw her maybe twice a year. This woman barely knew him. She had no right to lecture him.
The back door of the room opened, revealing an office. A short, balding man with a white beard appeared, clearly Headmaster Charleston. “Emily, I’m glad to see you’re still here.” His smile was clearly fake.
Emily turned around and her demeanor completely changed. “Hanlin! Oh, this is my grandson. He is terribly sorry about his tardiness. There…was an emergency. That’s why his mother can’t be here. But it’s okay, I can fill in for her, get her all the notes she’ll need.”
Jess was beckoned inside and he and Emily sat in the two seats in front of Charleston’s desks. Emily was a master charmer it seemed.
“Hanlin, did you know Jess has a 4.0 grade average?”
“You don’t think they included that in the transcript, Grandma?”
Emily glared at Jess. It was a good thing looks can’t kill. She turned back to Charleston, instantly smiling again. It was kind of freaky how easily she could slip in and out of moods like that.
“He has a healthy sense of humor. Gets that from his mother. But he is a very special boy. You take good care of him.”
“We’ll do our best, Emily.” Emily then segued into goodbyes, leaving Jess was left alone with the headmaster.
Charleston looked over Jess’s transcript. “You’re obviously a bright boy, Mr. Gilmore.”
Jess shrugged. He knew he was smart. He didn’t need some pompous, self-righteous ass to reaffirm that.
“Good grades. But some social issues. You get in trouble a lot.”
“Gosh golly gee, don’t tell me those permanent records are real.”
Charleston lifted his head up from the transcript and studied Jess for a long moment before shuffling through the papers again. Jess’s cheeks turned bright red and he looked down at his shoes. Mouthing off to his old principal was so easy, but for some reason snarking at Headmaster Charleston made him feel ashamed.
“You were suspended for pulling a fire alarm?” Charleston asked.
“It was a hot day,” Jess said. Jess pulled a quarter out of his pocket and flipped it through his fingers, trying to feign disinterest. He couldn’t let Charleston see him squirm. “Thought everyone might like a break to go outside.”
“You think your antics are amusing, do you?”
Charleston reached over the desk and pulled the quarter out of Jess’s hands.
“Chilton is a serious school for serious academia. We do not tolerate misbehavior nor pranks nor disobedience. Your grades and aptitude may have outshone your transgressions and gotten you placed at the top of the waiting list, but don’t think for a moment that guarantees your invulnerability. Richard and Emily are old friends of mine, but that will be of no benefit to you. I don’t play favorites or give out favors based on nepotism. And based on your behavior in this meeting it’s clear I’m going to need to keep a close eye on you. You’re on very thin ice young man, do you understand? Now, do you have anything to say for yourself?”
Jess knew what the logical thing to say was. He should apologize and ask forgiveness for his attitude. Things would be so much easier if he just played along with accepted social conventions and didn’t give everyone a hard time for no reason. Apologizing was the correct answer. Instead he said, “Can I get my quarter back?”
Emily left the Headmaster’s office. Anger boiled in the pit of her stomach, making her want to scream into the Heavens, but she kept a smile plastered on her face until she was in the car. She couldn’t let the people at Jess’s new school see her upset. She had to make a good impression here. One of the Gilmores had to, after all, and it seemed it would be Jess or Lorelai.
Oh, the nerve of those two. That attitude of Jess’s, and Lorelai didn’t even bother to show up. Jess would be lectured later on the proper behavior of a gentleman since clearly Lorelai never taught him, but Lorelai needed a prompt tongue lashing right now.
Emily reached her car, entered and slammed the door behind her. She didn’t mean to slam it; it just happened. She threw her purse on the passenger seat and it landed harder than expected, spilling open. They had her waiting over an hour. They wasted her time, Hanlin’s time, and the entire school’s time. Why go to a school like Chilton if you weren’t going to take it seriously?
Emily took a deep breath and lowered the visor so she could look in its mirror. There was a vein popping out of her neck. She really needed to calm down. No, she really needed to yell at Lorelai.
Emily reached for her purse and pulled out her cell phone. Richard’s company had supplied him with one a few years ago and he found it so convenient that he bought her one too. And it was convenient. It meant she could get in touch with her daughter from anywhere. She found Lorelai’s contact information and dialed.
“Uh...hello?” Lorelai asked.
“Where the Hell are you?” Emily barked.
“Did Jess not show up?”
“Of course he showed up. You didn’t.”
There was a groan from Lorelai’s line. “Mom, it was Jess’s meeting, not mine.”
“Family was supposed to be there,” Emily said. Why was this such a hard concept for Lorelai to understand? Good family standing was key to good social standing. If Jess wanted to success anywhere then he would need his mother’s support and his grandparent’s influences.
“Well you were there. What’s the big deal?”
“The big deal is the reputation you’re cultivating. You’re making yourself look like a disinterested parent.” When her daughter didn’t respond she yelled, “Lorelai!”
“Mom, I’m driving. I was making a turn.” She sighed. “Look, I couldn’t make it. I’ll make the next one, kay?”
“No, not ‘kay’. You’re destroying your son’s academic future.”
“Pretty sure by getting him into Chilton I’ve jump started it.”
Lorelai could be so naive. How she and Jess survived all these years without Emily’s influence and guiding hand she would never know, but it stopped now. She was finally apart of their lives again and she wasn’t going to let Lorelai’s stubbornness ruin Jess’s life anymore. “Chilton’s just the first step,” Emily explained. “You have to develop a relationship with the staff. You need recommendations from them.”
“Jess can get recommendations on his own.”
“Really? Have you spoken to the boy? He makes you want to slap him.”
“Hey, that’s my son,” Lorelai scolded. “You don’t ever talk about him like that.”
“Well you raised him to have no manners,” Emily said. “That’s what happens when you give children free rein and no boundaries.”
“You think suffocating him like you did with me would be better? We both know how that turned out. All my life you made me feel trapped and insecure. I swore to never do to him what you did to me.”
There was a pregnant pause, the most ironic kind of pause given the topic of conversation.
“Look, can we stop this before one of us says something we regret?” Lorelai asked.
Emily sniffed and rubbed her eyes. She struggled to stop the cracking in her voice. “I fear that’s already gone too far.”
Emily hung up the phone and tossed it on the passenger seat. It bounced off and onto the floor. She didn’t want to cry, but hearing Lorelai talk to her like that broke her heart. Why did Lorelai hate her?
Jess arrived at his first class, which was actually his second scheduled class for the day. That’s what happens when you show up to school over an hour later. As he entered he noticed three girls, two blondes and a brunette, sitting in a cluster staring at him. One of the blondes was glaring, while the other two girls smiled.
“Can I help you?” the teacher asked.
Jess handed the teacher his hall pass. The teacher accepted and read it. “Ah, class, we have a new student joining us today. Mr. Gilmore, would you like to tell us something about yourself?”
“No.” Jess walked over to an empty seat and sat down. It was closer to the front than he felt comfortable with, and right next to those staring girls, but a new school meant a new environment. He imagined all the kids at this prep school were nerds and wouldn’t judge him for sitting up front like a teacher’s pet anyway.
The teacher went back to the history lesson and Jess caught himself drifting off. He could barely pay attention. Back at Stars Hollow High he never paid attention during class because he absorbed the information so quickly from just reading the textbooks. There they just went over the same boring shit he had already studied days before. Here, though, he was already struggling because he had no frame of reference. He wasn’t up to date on these lessons. For the first time in his life he felt confused and his brain wanted to shut down. He found himself doodling in his notebook instead of taking notes.
The bell rang sooner than expected and Jess realized all he had written down were a few names and vague dates in addition to his drawings of stick figures being eaten by sharks. No concrete information. Jess packed up his things and headed for the door but the teacher stopped him and called him over. The teacher had a thick three inch binder in his hand, then went on to explained the test policy and handed Jess the binder. It apparently covered an overview of last week’s notes. Just last week’s, and only an overview. The teacher suggested a more in-depth version from another student. What had Jess gotten into?
Carrying the oversized binder Jess left the classroom. A short blonde girl, the one who had been glaring at him earlier, was waiting for him. He nearly ran into her. Despite her tiny stature she was still intimidating. Jess attempted to look intimidating back, but wearing khaki’s didn’t do much for the effect. He didn’t know how the tiny girl pulled it off.
The two other girls from class stood on the other side of the hallway, waiting. The blonde one wore too much makeup and her skirt was shorter than every other girl in the hallway. The brunette and had a dopey looking smile on her face.
“I’m Paris,” the tiny, intimidating girl said.
The name sounded familiar. Tristan had said it earlier.
“Not too big on the personal space, I see,” Jess said.
“I know who you are, too. Jess Gilmore, from Stars Hollow.”
“Don’t go spreading that around. I’ve got a rep to build. Stars Hollow doesn’t exactly scream badass.”
“Neither do khakis, nimrod. If you’re looking to make your bones maybe don’t go to the number one preparatory school in the country. This is a school for future Senators, not thugs.”
“Chilton is only number one in Connecticut and only according to some rankings. Apparently there’s one in Bridgeport that tends to out rank Chilton depending on the publication.”
Paris stared at him blankly then asked, “Why are you even here?”
Jess shrugged. He wasn’t quite sure of the answer.
“Look, I’m top of the class and intend to be valedictorian.”
“Don’t tell me they’ve got you taking collections for your own congratulations card.”
“Just stay out of my way, farmboy, and try not to mess up the curve too much.” Paris looked him up and down one last time, shaking her head. “You know you’ll never catch up. You’ll never beat me. This school is my domain. And don’t you ever forget that.”
Paris stormed off. The entire interaction was just so over the top that Jess could hardly believe what had just happened. This tiny little blonde girl seemed like a villain straight out of a teen girl movie.
Paris two friends began to follow, but then the blonde one stopped and turned back to Jess. She bit down on a pen, showing him her pout, overly glossed lips, then said, “Aw, I think she likes you.”
What was this idiot going to do, give him a lecture about how he didn’t moisture and that’s why he’d never be the cutest boy in school?
Before he could get away from her the girl opened up his blazer. He was too stuned to move. She pulled out his cell phone from the breast pocket and opened it. Was she stealing his phone? Why would a rich girl want a cheap hand-me-down Nokia that was already three years old?
She typed something in it. Jess was too bewildered to ask what she was doing. She handed the phone back.
The phone was left on contacts. There was a new one added, Louise.
The girl, Louise, reached forward and stroked his cheek with her index finger. “One of these nights you’ll get cold and lonely.” She made a phone motion with his hands, sticking out her thumb and pinky finger. She brought the hand up to her ear. Call me, she mouthed.
Louise walked away.
Things at Chilton just got very interesting.
After Jess was dropped off Lorelai was finally able to pick up her outfit from the dry cleaner, the one with the flippy skirt—not that it mattered anymore. Emily was right, she and Jess had made a terrible first impression to the school. She only hoped it wouldn’t have a last effect on Jess’s education.
The argument over Jess didn’t end with that one phone call on her way back home either. Emily was starting to meddle into their lives, calling her about buying Jess all sorts of Chilton brand clothing. Lorelai finally agreed to a coat but stopped Emily short of buying Jess a parking spot that he didn’t need since Jess didn’t even have a full license yet, never mind a car.
Basically, this whole day meant she was in desperate need of Luke’s coffee. After coming in super late to work she also took off early. Ah, the perks of being the boss. She had planned a half day at work today anyway so she could be back in Hartford by three to pick up Jess at the end of class.
“Excuse me?” a teenage girl said as Lorelai walked past Doose’s Market. Lorelai didn’t recognize her. She had long brunette hair was and dressed sweatpants and a hoodie. She wasn’t carrying anything except a small, black notebook. She definitely wasn’t one of Jess very few friends. Maybe she was in town for the upcoming festival. Star Hollow really knew how to pull the tourists in.
“Do you need directions?” Lorelai asked.
“Yeah!” the girl said with pep and excitement. “I’m looking for a place—I’m sorry, I don’t know the name. It’s a diner.”
“Luke’s?” Lorelai asked.
“Yes! That’s it! ” The girl smiled wide and her eyes caught a reflection off the sun, making them shine an impossible blue.
“Oh, it’s only a block away,” Lorelai said. “I’m headed there right now, why don’t you follow me?”
The girl nodded and followed in step with Lorelai.
“So what’s your name?” Lorelai asked. She was always friendly, it was why she rose in the hospitality business so easily and quickly.
The girl bit her lip and hesitated before answering. Lorelai took note of that. “Rory,” the girl finally said. Lorelai wondered if this girl had just made that up on the spot. It was beginning to become clear that this girl wasn’t an ordinary festival goer, not if she had some reason to lie about her identity.
Lorelai told the girl her own name. They crossed the street next to the market, walked past the flower shop and then arrived at the diner. “Here we are!”
“Oh that was close,” Rory said. “I guess I should have kept looking instead of bothering you.”
“No bother. And hey, you see the hardware store sign over the door?” Lorelai pointed to the old sign right outside the diner that read William’s Hardware. “Probably never would have found it on your own without my help. Not unless you also wanted to buy a hammer.”
Rory’s brow wrinkled but she followed Lorelai inside. “Why is there a hardware store sign?” she asked
“Well this used to be a hardware store,” Lorelai explained. “The owner, Luke, converted his dad’s old hardware store into a diner but kept the sign. Sentimentality, I guess.” She sat down at the counter. When Rory didn’t follow her, but instead just stood by the door staring at the diner in bewilderment, she beckoned the girl over.
Rory blinked a couple times but then finally sat down next to her.
Lorelai grabbed a menu and handed it to Rory. “Everything’s great.”
The girl reached through her pockets and pulled out a single, crumpled dollar bill. She tried to hide this from view of Lorelai but failed. This poor thing had next to no money.
“I just want coffee,” Rory said, the pep gone from her voice. She crumbled the dollar back into her hand, hiding it from view, and glued her eyes to the counter.
Lorelai, on the other hand, couldn’t take her eyes off the girl. Maybe it was maternal instinct or maybe something about this girl reminded her of herself at the same age. Fifteen years ago she showed up at the Independence Inn with no money either, except she had also had a baby to care for. She got lucky, really lucky and the inn owner, Mia, took pity on her and Jess and gave them a place to stay and her job. Maybe it was time to pay it forward.
Luke came over to the counter. “What are you doing here?” he asked.
Rory visibly tensed up. She looked up and her eyes finally peeled away from the counter and stared at him. Luke didn’t seem to notice the effect he had on this girl. He didn’t seem to notice the slight shakes her hand hands that she tried to hide under the counter.
What could have caused such a reaction? Nothing good. This girl was scared of Luke even though he hadn’t said one word to her. The terrible reasons of why a random man could cause a girl to be so thoroughly scared filled Lorelai’s mind.
Lorelai tried to act casually, hoping it would calm down the girl beside her before she could gather unwanted attention from the gossip-starved town. “See, now, that’s why you were voted Mr. Personality of the New Millennium. Where’s your crown?”
“I just mean you usually don’t come in at this time,” Luke said.
“Well, I have to pick Jess up from school.”
Luke poured Lorelai some coffee then turned to Rory. “Coffee?”
“Um…” Rory crinkled the single dollar bill in her hand. “Sure.”
“Anything to eat?”
Rory bit her lip and crinkled the dollar again. She shook her head.
Coffee was exactly ninety-nine cents, never mind tip. This poor girl couldn’t afford to eat.
“Are you sure?” Lorelai asked.
“I’m not hungry.” Rory didn’t sound convincing at all.
Lorelai rhythmically tapped her fingers on the counter. “Get her some French toast. Do you like French toast?”
“Don’t worry sweetie, new customers eat for free.” Lorelai turned to Luke and half-whispered, “Right Luke?”
Luke looked back and forth between the two as he tried to decipher what was going on. Lorelai nodded and smiled. Finally he agreed.
Rory crinkled the dollar one last time then put it back in her pocket. Maybe she knew what they were doing but she didn’t call them out on it. Sometimes hunger trumped pride. “Okay…but could I get pancakes instead?”
Luke wrote it on his pad.
“With M&Ms—if it’s not too much trouble, that is.” Rory blinked those blue eyes that seemed impossible to say no to. She looked way too sweet to be living on the streets. How did she end up this way, all alone in Stars Hollow?
Luke looked between the two again while Lorelai nodded and smiled again. Apparently he realized he couldn’t say no to this girl either.
“No problem at all.”
“And whipped cream!” Lorelai shouted.
“Is this your meal or hers?” Luke asked.
“Oh, that sounds good,” Lorelai said. Her stomach suddenly growled like it had a mind of itself own. She hadn’t come here for food, but all this talk pancakes and candy made her feel famished. “Make me the same thing, but use chocolate chips instead. And hot fudge!”
“Don’t you have to pick up Jess? I thought you just came here for coffee?”
Lorelai shrugged. “You got me hungry. Besides, Jess was an hour late to school today. Him waiting an extra ten minutes won’t kill him.”
Luke wrote the order on the notepad and walked away. Lorelai turned to Rory, smiling and giggling. It seemed that during the banter Rory’s fear of Luke dissipated.
“I love how my eating habits disgusting him. I mean, you own a diner, get used to tasty food. Sometimes I just order the strangest food combination I can think of to see what shade of green he’ll turn. It’s always delicious though.”
“So you do smile,” Lorelai said. “I scared I was dealing with another sullen teenager.”
“My son,” Lorelai explained. “Typical teenage angst stuff. Good kid, though.”
Luke came out with two plates of pancakes, one topped with whipped cream, another with fudge. He served them to the girls.
“You barely seem old enough to have a teenager.”
Ah, this conversation. It always seemed to come up when Jess’s age was mentioned. “I barely am,” Lorelai admitted. “Had him at sixteen.” She didn’t ask the girl how old she was and she silently said a prayer that she wasn’t running away for the same reasons. Just because this girl didn’t currently have a baby in her arms didn’t mean that would be true in a few months.
Lorelai took a bite of the pancakes. Her eyes nearly rolled back in her head from clear in enjoyment. “Mmh! How does he do it? How can someone who hates food so much make it so good?”
Rory had the fork in her hand but she wasn’t eating. She stared at Lorelai, unblinking. It was a bit unnerving. “I’m sorry. I should have realized,” Rory said. “My mom had me young, so I get that. I shouldn’t have said anything.”
Lorelai held another piece of pancake in midair. Fudge dripped down from it. “No, no. I’m used to it. Besides, you were much sweeter than most people. Now eat. It’s really good, I promise. ”
Rory nodded and took her first bite. She finally closed her eyes and moaned, an even more ecstatic reaction than Lorelai’s. How long had it been since she last ate?
“Definitely.” Rory started shoveling it in her mouth.
“Good,” Lorelai said. Rory took a few more bites than Lorelai asked, “…so why you’re here?”
“Excuse me?” Rory asked with her mouth still full of food.
“Sweetie, I ran away from home when I was about your age. I can recognize the signs.”
Rory stopped eating mid-bite, leaving her mouth left wide and open.
“It’s okay,” Lorelai said. “I understand. I can even empathize. I had my reasons to run away. And my life turned out okay. More than okay. I have a great life now. But I had people who helped me. I wouldn’t have made it on my own here without a little help. So let me repay the favor and help you.”
Rory dropped the fork. She jumped off the stool and made a dash for the door.
Shoot, she spooked the poor girl. Rory had only had a few bites too. Lorelai wanted to run after her but she was gone so quick and there was no way Lorelai would be able to keep up with her in heels.
Luke returned to the counter. “You scare her off by trying to give your pancakes their own voices again, didn’t you?”
“Shut up and get me a refill.” Lorelai’s phone rang for the umpteenth time today. She was going to be more than 10 minutes later to pick up Jess.
It was last period when Jess finally found his locker, and when he tried to unlocked it, it wouldn’t open. He tugged and tugged and it only unstuck after he gave it a big jerk. He lost his balance and went stumbling backward, just as Paris was walking down the hallway, carrying a large sculpture. The sculpture was knocked out of her hands and broke in half as it hit the ground. Paris growled at him, she literally growled, and picked the sculpture up, throwing it in the trash. She stormed off into a classroom while shouting for Jess to get away from her. Great, he pissed off the class psycho.
Jess looked at his class schedule and noticed that the room she had just entered was his next class. There was no way he was going in there.
He continued down the hall instead. Being the new kid met he could always use the “I got lost excuse” for being late for class, so there was no risk of getting in trouble for bunking.
At the end of the hallway there was a bathroom and he entered to find Tristan standing by the window, blowing cigarette smoke outside. When Tristan noticed Jess he tried to quickly put the cigarette out.
“Where’d all this smoke come from?” Tristan waved his hands through the air and threw the cigarette out the window.
Jess ignored the smoke. He opened Tristan’s blazer and found the pack and lighter in the breast pocket. Jess stole a cigarette and lit it before returning the pack to the pocket. Jess took a long drag and blew it in Tristan’s face.
“So we cool?” Tristan asked.
“I won’t tell if you won’t.”
“You look like you’re having a rough first day?”
“I destroyed that crazy blonde chick’s diorama,” Jess said.
“That’s the one.”
Silence hung in the air as Jess took another drag.
“She’s rough around the edges,” Tristan said, “but you just have to learn how to handle her. Flirt with her and she’ll do anything for you, including your homework. Actually makes life easier.”
Jess took another long drag. He noticed Tristan wasn’t smoking anymore. Just standing there talking. Was he trying to bond or something?
“Look, thanks for the cigarette, but I’m not trying to start the Breakfast Club the Next Generation.”
“I don’t think they were exactly trying to strike up a friendship in that movie either,” Tristan said.
“Get the message. Leave me alone.”
Tristan straightened out his blazer and checked his hair in the mirror. “You know, this place probably wouldn’t be so rough on you if you didn’t act like such an ass.” Apparently satisfied with his looks Tristan turned on his heel and left, leaving Jess all alone to contemplate how he ever got stuck in a place like Chilton.
After the mysterious runaway left Lorelai got a call from Babette saying some men were stalking her house. It turned out that they had been hired by her mother to install DSL. Lorelai quickly shushed them away and chastised her mother for once again trying to get needlessly involved in herself in buying Jess some useless thing. Maybe it was a good sign that Emily was trying to get involved in Jess’s life. Maybe it meant she wasn’t holding a grudge over this morning’s phone call. However, it still didn’t excuse the intrusion. She went to her parents for tuition money because it was her only option. She wasn’t going to take anything else from them for them to hold over her head.
She really needed to leave to pick up Jess now. She was late enough as it was. Lorelai started her Jeep again and sped through town, but when she passed the town square she noticed Rory sitting on the gazebo, reading a book she didn’t seem to have earlier. There really wasn’t any time to stop and talk to this girl, not if she wanted to prevent Jess from getting pissed about being forgotten, but guilt at how things were left with Rory was gnawing at her. She’d take another hit with her relationship with Jess if it meant she could help this girl.
Lorelai parked the Jeep on the side of the road and walked over. Rory didn’t look up or acknowledge Lorelai in any way. She didn’t seem to notice Lorelai at all.
“What’cha reading?” Lorelai asked. She sat down next to Rory.
Rory was startled and fumbled with the book. She almost dropped it on the ground. “Oh—uh—I’m going to return it.”
Lorelai looked at the spine of the book. Property of Stars Hollow Library.
“Library books are supposed to be borrowed.”
Rory frowned. “I don’t have a library card,” she confessed. “At least not at this library.”
“How’d you get it out without the alarms going off?”
“When I was seven my mom lost her purse. My library card was in it. She was too busy to come to the library to get me a new one, at least for a few weeks, so I…kind of figured out how to demagnetize books on my own—of course I never kept them longer than the allotted time period and always returned them.” Rory’s face had turned bright red and her voice was getting squeaky.
“Wow,” Lorelai said in amazement. “You’ve figured out a foolproof way to shoplift and all you do is participate in out of system libraries.”
“This isn’t like shoplifting.”
“Of course it’s not.” Lorelai laughed. “I’m just impressed with your responsibility. Most kids who knew how to do that wouldn’t be so mature. Heck, I’m not sure if I’d be so mature.”
“Businesses take the cost of loss when you steal.”
Lorelai smiled. This was a good kid. Whatever caused her to wind up on the street was not something she deserved. She deserved help. “I know…where are you staying?”
Rory clammed up again. She gripped her book tightly and her eyes darted around the surrounding area. “Around.” A simple, one-word answer. Lorelai was used to those, having Jess as a son, but she was hoping she could get more out of this girl.
Lorelai couldn’t let Rory bolt again. She had to be careful. She pulled a business card out of her purse. “Well if your plans fall through, if you need a place to stay, come by the Independence Inn.”
“I don’t really think an inn is in my price range.”
Lorelai smiled. “No, no, of course not. See, when I moved here, oh fifteen years ago, I showed up at the Independence Inn. I had nowhere else to go. A had a little baby and no money and I needed help. The owner, Mia, she could have turned me away. But she let me and my son stay in the potting shed. It doesn’t sound like much but it was our home for ten years. It’s beautiful. And yours if you want it. I worked as a maid at first and then I worked my way up into running the place.”
Rory ran her fingers over the card. She slid her thumb over the word manager. “Maybe.”
“Okay. Well, I’ll be around town if you ever need help or someone to talk to or whatever. I have to go pick my son up from school but I’ll be back in about an hour. I’ll…be at Luke’s around dinner time, okay?”
Rory nodded. She put the business card in her pocket and gripped her book again. Clearly she was waiting for Lorelai to leave so she could read. Lorelai didn’t dally any longer. She left the gazebo, and Rory, and went back to her car, desperately hoping that the girl would take her up on the offer and let her help. She feared what would happen to this girl if she didn’t show up at Luke’s tonight.