Warning: This work has been rated 18+ for language and mature content.
A/n: A/n: content warning in the endnotes. Oh, and this chapter is kind of depressing and angsty again, though it still has its light moments.
Monday came too soon. After the first week at Chilton Jess felt like he needed a month to recuperate. Instead, he only got the weekend. At least things at home were better. Lorelai was being annoyingly attentive after his confession on Thursday night, but it was actually kind of nice. The voice that kept saying she was lying, that she didn't really love him, quieted down.
He arrived to English class ready to absorb information. Finally, he was caught up. Chilton would be a breeze for now on. Throughout the lecture, Paris, who sat in the seat directly in front of Jess, became increasingly annoying as she smugly answered all of Medina's questions, often before he even called on her. She needed to be taken down a peg.
Jess had done his studying for English during the past week. Sure he procrastinated a lot, but he also absorbed everything he read. He knew this material like the back of his hand now. In the past, Jess had always been the kid who rarely spoke in class, even when he knew his answers. Today, was different though. Today, he had a reason to speak up. Paris was his reason.
"Shakespeare redefined the sonnet in Elizabethan society," Mr. Medina said. "While they followed the basic structure of the English sonnet, which was…?"
"Fourteen lines and Iambic Pentameter," Paris said without looking up. She scribbled down notes as she spoke.
"Correct, Ms. Gellar. A typical English sonnet was be written to…?"
"An unobtainable female love interest or a Goddess, as she was often referred," Paris answered again.
"Correct, Ms. Gellar. But Shakespeare deviated from this norm and instead chose to write about…?"
Jess spoke up before Paris could, "A young man and a 'Dark Lady', written to be the opposite of a Goddess."
Paris turned around in her seat and glared at Jess.
"Correct, Mr. Gilmore!" Mr. Medina said. "Nice to see someone else joining in."
Jess smiled back at Paris and gave her a short wave until she finally turned back around. Damn, that felt good. Normally he hated speaking up in class, he hated the eyes of his classmates on him as he spoke, and while he was sure he knew the answers a part of him wondered if he was wrong and if the other students would laugh at him. But seeing the look on Paris's face when he upstaged her made it all worth it.
Class continued and Paris's reaction made Jess's confidence soar. He spent the rest of the class competing with her to answer questions first. Medina actually looked sort of proud of him as he did it, and Jess didn't even mind the look. He was sort of proud of himself too.
Finally, Medina got around to passing out last week's paper while he droned on about this week's test on Shakespeare. It would be twenty percent of this semester's grade.
Medina reached Jess's desk and placed his paper down. Jess lazily looked down at it, expecting a pretty good grade. School work had always come easily to Jess, even if it was a struggle to do the work. He had never gotten less than an 'A'. Sure, Chilton was harder, but he still expected he would do just as good here.
When he looked down staring back up at him was a big, red 'F'.
The room started to spin. What? It couldn't be. It had to be a mistake. He had never even gotten a 'B' before, how could this be an 'F'? He flipped through the pages, all covered in red ink. He was going to be sick. Everything he thought about himself was wrong.
Paris was turned around in her seat, staring down at his paper. She was back to looking smug. Louise and Madeline sat on either side of Paris.
"Hard paper," Paris said to her friends as they all stood up. Jess continued to stare at his paper. He couldn't move. His legs were jello.
"Killer," Louise responded.
"How'd you do?" Paris asked.
Louise glanced over at Jess's paper. Finally, he gained enough composure to grab it and turn the grade away, but it was too late. Not only had Paris seen it, but so had her goons. He picked up his backpack and shoved his failure inside. Jess looked back up to see Louise giving him a sympathetic smile. Pity was even worse than gloating. Jess stood up and put his backpack on, trying to get out of the classroom as quickly as he could, but his classmates were bottlenecked at the door.
"Madeline," Paris said, "how'd you do?"
"You know I got a 'B'," Madeline said.
"A 'B' isn't bad," Paris said.
Paris and the two girls followed Jess toward the door as he tried and failed to make his escape.
Paris went on when neither of her two friends responded. "Respectable even." She raised her voice and inched closer and closer to Jess's back. "An 'F', however, that would be cause for concern."
"Maybe," Louise said. "Course, grades aren't everything."
"What are you talking about?!" Paris said. Her attention was now focused solely on Louise, giving Jess a little room to breathe. "Grades are the only thing that matter. Why go to a school like Chilton if you're going to flunk out?"
Finally, Jess reached the doorway. Of course, the hallway was just as clogged.
"There's lots of things you don't need good grades for," Louise said. "Studying never helped me find a boyfriend. The length of my skirt, however…well, I guess you wouldn't know anything about that, would you?"
Jess turned around briefly and saw Paris's face go beet red. She growled and then stormed past Jess and through the clogged hallway. The other students parted like the Red Sea as she stomped by them. No one wanted to get in the way of an angry Paris Geller.
Louise gave Jess a wink and he turned back around. What the Hell had just happened? Why had Louise defended him? Everything in his world was turning upside down.
Jess ducked into the first bathroom he saw and went straight to the sink, splashing water on his face.
The bathroom door opened and Jess's heartbeat quickened. Why couldn't people just leave him alone?
"Gilmore!" someone said cheerily. Jess looked over to see Tristan standing by the door, smiling. What did this idiot want?
Jess turned around to confront the other boy. Yelling at morons always made him feel better. He knew Tristan wanted to be his friend for some reason. That reason Jess could not figure out. Jess, on the other hand, wanted to strangle the stupid moron.
"Was that fight between Paris and Louise over you?"
"Oh, come on man. You're breaking my heart. I'm just trying to be friendly"
Jess tried to leave through the bathroom door but Tristan wouldn't move.
"You going to Duncan's party?"
Why did Tristan insist on talking to him? "I don't 'party'," Jess said.
"I don't think they're going to force you to do the hustle. Just come. Have a drink. Talk to girls. Louise will be there!" Tristan put his arm around Jess's shoulder. Jess didn't like that. Way too familiar of a gesture.
Tristan handed a flyer to Jess and then walked into a stall.
Jess looked at the flyer.
Saturday Night. Party at Duncan's. 8 PM-?
It was about the lamest thing he had ever seen. He crumbled it up and threw it in a trashcan then dashed out of the bathroom.
Lorelai watched like a proud mother hen as Rory adjusted to the Independence Inn. Lorelai would arrive at work each day after breakfast at Luke's to find Rory finishing up her own in the kitchen with Sookie. Then Rory would start her assignments. She was a fast and disciplined worker, just like Lorelai was. Rory would be rising up through the ranks fast. Maybe one day she would take over Lorelai's position. Or maybe Lorelai would bring her along once she and Sookie finally opened that inn of their own that they always talked about. Either way, Rory was fitting in perfectly and making an impression.
Lorelai felt a twinge of pride regarding the girl, especially considering the fact that Jess seemed to be floundering again. After finally achieving peace with Jess on Saturday he returned home on Monday in as foul a mood as ever. He refused to talk any more about what was bothering him and instead yelled at her. Lorelai wasn't sure if it had more to do with his confession from Thursday night, about how he feels unloved and unwanted, or if it was something else. Luke couldn't get anything out of him either.
Jess was scaring her. This wasn't normal teenage mood swings. Something was wrong and it started right around the time he began Chilton. Was sending him there the wrong decision?
While Lorelai considered her options about what to do with Jess she spent time with Rory. On Tuesday afternoon Rory and Lorelai sat in the kitchen eating sandwiches. Lorelai had been cutting back on her usual daily lunches at Luke's or Westons, and instead having them in the kitchen with her girls. She wanted to spend as much time with Rory as she could. Lorelai, Rory and Sookie were making quite the threesome.
Occasionally Rory would bring a journal with her and write in it. Today was one of those days. The silence was fine with Lorelai, she herself was in a bit of a mood that afternoon. She and Jess had gotten into another huge argument last night, her mother had already left three voice mails about Jess this morning, and she was pretty sure her underwear didn't dry completely in the dryer, which just felt icky.
It wasn't clear what Rory wrote in that journal, whether it was diary entries or some sort of radical manifesto, but the notebook was the only thing of Rory's that the girl seemed to have from home. Lorelai had filed that information away. Whatever reason caused Rory to run away only gave her time to grab one item.
Sookie ran back and forth between the counter where Rory and Lorelai sat and the stove. She ran the kitchen so well. She was in one spot stirring the soup and tasting it, then without a moment's notice, she'd be dashing across the kitchen, weaving through her helpers, and on the other side, wildly picking up a knife and slicing vegetables. While it was pretty obvious why there were so many bandages on her hand the greatness of the food that this madness created spoke for itself.
One of the sous chefs was stirring the soup pot. Sookie looked up. She shouted at the ceiling. "It needs more pepper!" She ran back toward the stove and pushed the chef out of the way. He stumbled into another worker. Sookie took a box of black pepper and added a teaspoon then stirred before walking away. The sous chef resumed his work.
Sookie made her way over to Rory and Lorelai.
"You want to try the soup?" she asked.
"Oh no, this is plenty," Rory held up her sandwich. There was only a small bite left. Rory had devoured the rest of the sandwich in one minute flat. Those weren't signs of a well-fed girl.
"Salvador! Get a bowl for Rory," Sookie commanded.
Normally Lorelai tried to protect people from Sookie's overfeeding, but this girl needed a more pushy touch. She was already skin and bones. Lorelai feared what would happen if she didn't eat.
Salvador placed a bowl filled to the brim with soup in front of Rory. He handed her a spoon then returned to his cutting board.
Sookie smiled. She motioned a spoon-feeding gesture.
Rory didn't argue. It was tomato soup with green garnishes that decorated the top. She dipped her spoon into the soup and took a taste.
Sookie bit her lip as she waited in anticipation for Rory's response. "So?"
"So what?" Rory asked.
"How is it?"
"Really good." Rory took another spoonful as if to prove the point.
"There's nothing wrong with it?" Sookie asked.
"If there was one thing you could come up with to fix it, what would it be."
"Sookie," Lorelai said, "she said it was good." She was used to Sookie's constant need for praise and could handle the job of propping up Sookie's self-esteem, but Rory was just a child. A very hungry child who just wanted to eat her lunch in peace. "Stop badgering her and give her some more."
"Come on, Rory, don't be shy," Sookie said. She leaned over the counter and inched her face closer to Rory. Sookie never could take directions very well. She was going to keep prying until she achieved the satisfaction she wanted from their praise. "Tell me the truth. What's wrong with it? Tell me!"
Rory sighed. "I guess, if I had to choose something, maybe a little less salt."
Lorelai's stomach dropped. Uh-oh. Rory failed the test. She was supposed to keep insisting that the soup was great, not play into Sookie's madness.
Sookie's eyes bugged out. "Less salt?" Her voice was very quiet. "Less salt." Sookie turned to her kitchen staff. She yelled. "You heard that? Less salt! Throw it all out."
"But Ms. Sookie," Salvador said. "Lunch is about to start."
"No, no, no! You heard Rory! Too much salt!" Sookie stormed over to the other side of the kitchen. She picked the pot off the stove, the flame still lit, which Salvador promptly shut off, and waddled it over to the sink.
"Sookie what are you doing?" Lorelai shouted.
"Soup's no good!" Sookie lifted the pot up above the sink to pour it down the drain. Lorelai rushed across the room and grabbed the pot. They tug-of-warred it until Lorelai got the upper-hand and slammed it down on the counter, splashing some of the messy, red contents onto the counter and floor while doing so. At least most of it was saved.
"Sookie, lunch is about to start," Lorelai repeated Salvador's words.
"The soup's no good!" Sookie screamed and flailed with her hands.
Lorelai put her hands on Sookie's shoulders. She smiled and her voice became soothing. "Mind if I try?"
Sookie waved her hands in the air and walked away. "Do what you want." She walked over to the counter beside Rory and leaned against it, moping.
Lorelai picked up a bowl and ladled the soup into it. Salvador handed her a spoon. Lorelai took a taste. Her eyes lit up. "Sookie! This is delicious."
"Bah!" Sookie said.
"No, it really is."
Sookie pushed away from the counter and stood straighter. Her forehead crinkled. "It's not too salty?"
"Just briney enough."
"But Rory said."
Lorelai shot a glance at Rory who became flustered. "Uh…" was all that came out.
"Rory didn't mean that," Lorelai said.
"Yeah," Rory said.
"Then why'd she say it?" Sookie asked.
"I don't know," Lorelai said. "Maybe she likes making you run around the kitchen like a chicken with its head chopped off."
"Hey!" Sookie and Rory said in unison.
"Rory's sorry. Now go take a break. Salvador will serve the soup."
Sookie didn't argue and left the kitchen. Lorelai walked over to Rory. The girl blushed and avoided eye contact. "Why did you tell Sookie her soup was too salty?"
"I'm really sorry," Rory said, her bottom lip trembling. She looked up and her already too bright blue eyes were moist. It was so different than the apologies Lorelai usually received from Jess. She wasn't just sorry she got caught doing something wrong, she was genuinely upset that her actions hurt Sookie. Rory's words clearly weren't an act of malice. They were an honest mistake. "She kept asking me what was wrong with it. I had to say something."
Lorelai squeezed Rory's shoulder. "She was fishing for compliments."
Rory frowned as a line appeared between her brows. "But I already told her it was great."
"She was looking for even more praise. With Sookie you have to sing her greatness from the rooftops. And that still won't be enough for her."
Rory nodded. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to upset her. I was trying to make her happy, I swear."
"She'll be fine." Lorelai's eyes darted over to the stove. "Salvador is just going to have to keep his watch over the soup for the rest of the night. This won't be the last time she tries to throw it out."
Standing by the stove Salvador nodded.
Rory looked up at Lorelai, blinking away tears. Lorelai reflexively reached out to wipe Rory's tears but Rory flinched and hid her head again.
"Shh," Lorelai said, and squeezed Rory's shoulder once more. "There's no reason to cry. It was just a mistake. No one's mad."
"I just…don't like to be touched…unexpectedly," Rory said. She wiped her tears. "It's okay if I know you're going to but…I didn't realize so I pulled away. Sorry, I wasn't trying to be rude."
"No," Lorelai said. This was something at least. Rory was opening up and revealing something deep and personal. This was one step closer to learning why Rory ran away.
Did Rory's aversion to touches have to do with her running away, or was that just the way she was wired? Jess was wired like that, he'd never been abused but he still hated being touched. It made it hard for someone as cuddly as Lorelai to show her affection. But Rory didn't just dislike being touched. She flinched easily. Her eyes were always darting around a room, noting the exits. She was terrified of strangers.
Then there was yesterday when she had accidentally bumped into Michel and spilled coffee all over his new loafers.
"What is wrong with you, you stupid girl!" Michel had screamed. "Do you know how much I spent on these shoes? I imported them directly from France! And I did not pick them up on my last trip home. Non! I haven't had a vacation in months."
Rory had fallen to her knees, crying and covering her face protectively.
"I slaved away at that desk, for no raise, and wanted to treat myself and you ruined it. What are you going to do? Are you going to pay to have them cleaned? Hmm? Stop crying and answer me!"
"Michel, walk away," Lorelai had said.
Michel had opened his mouth to argue but Lorelai had simply pointed at the door. Maybe something in the way she had looked told him this wasn't a joke, but for the first time during his entire employment at the Independence Inn he had listened to her without a fight and left.
Lorelai had knelt down next to Rory and offered the girl a place in her arms. Wrapping Rory's head against her chest, she'd held the girl close, letting Rory's tears soak her blouse. They had sat like that in the middle of the lobby for as long as it took Rory to recompose herself. Patrons had snuck peeking glances at them while they walked by, but that stopped after Lorelai had sent bone-shattering glares in their directions and they'd all scurried away. When Rory had finally settled down and gotten up to go back to work they'd put the matter to rest, never to speak of it again.
But that was yesterday. Today, Rory was sharing more about herself and her past. Today, Lorelai could use her words for comfort.
"My son's kind of the same way," Lorelai said, trying to normalize how Rory felt. "He was a really fussy baby. If you wanted to snuggle then you were smothering him and he would cry until you'd go away but if he wanted to snuggle then he was going to cry and cry until he got his way…he was kind of like a cat that way. He always wanted attention, but only on his terms. And don't tell him I said this, but I don't think he ever grew out of that."
Rory smiled slightly. "Oh, I'll be sure to not tell him. I've only met him twice, very briefly, but that doesn't sound like something he'd want people to know. He's very…stoic, I guess."
"Look, I don't know what you're dealing with, Rory, but you're going to be okay. You've got me and Sookie now…just remember the rules about her cooking."
"And then praise some more."
Rory smiled then flexed her jaw. Finally, she asked, "Lorelai…can I hug you?"
"You can always hug me," Lorelai said. "You never need to ask."
Rory wrapped her arms around Lorelai's shoulders, this time without tears, and Lorelai knew this story was going to have a happy ending. It was going to be a long journey, though.
As the week went on Jess was back into his original Chilton rut. He was back to not comprehending anything. In one ear, out the other. It wouldn't matter, anyway. He was going to fail. He was going to flunk out and get sent back to Stars Hollow High, disappointing everyone in his life. His mother would hate him, his grandparents would resume the status quo of no contact, and his peers would ostracize him. He was a failure and he knew it. He stared at the window, contemplating how shitty his life was about to become.
Suddenly a loud bang caught Jess's attention.
"Huh?" Jess flinched. Mr. Medina was hovering over him, after having dropped a heavy textbook on Jess's desk.
"Mr. Gilmore, are you still with us?" Medina asked.
The class giggled. Typical high schoolers.
"Yeah." He leaned forward in his chair and rested his chin on his hands.
"This will be on the test, Mr. Gilmore."
Jess nodded and tried to focus on the teacher. Medina continued his lecture but it only took a matter of minutes before Jess was staring out the window again. What was the point of paying attention anyway? He was just going to flunk out so why put in any effort?
Before he knew it the bell rang again. Jess packed up his things. He hadn't taken a single note.
"Mr. Gilmore," Medina said. Jess hated how Medina said his name. All the teachers at Chilton addressed the students by their last name, it was more proper, but the way Medina said Gilmore sounded so snobby, like Medina was mocking him.
Jess swung his backpack over his shoulders and approached the teacher's desk.
Medina leaned against the front of the desk, looking down at Jess while they spoke. "You okay?" Medina asked.
Jess shrugged. Everyone had been asking him that a lot lately. Was his state of mind that obvious?
"That doesn't seem like a yes."
"I'm fine," Jess said. "A little annoyed at this line of questioning, though."
Medina gave him a sympathetic smile. "I'm just concerned about you, Jess."
Medina had dropped his first name. That meant this was serious business, right? This wasn't just a teacher talking to his student, this was a teacher trying to be a friend. Well, Jess didn't need any friends, especially not one who was his teacher. This concern was insincere, anyway. Medina didn't actually care how Jess was doing, he was just pretending to care because that was part of the job. No random teacher actually gave a damn about Jess's personal struggles, especially not the asshole who threw out his fresh pack of cigarettes last week. Yeah, Jess was still holding a grudge about that.
"You didn't take any notes today," Medina said.
Ah, and now the real reason Medina was taking an interest. He didn't want Jess screwing up the curve. "Maybe I've got an eidetic memory," Jess said.
"That you've just discovered?"
"Maybe I'd forgotten about it."
"Funny. Now I'm serious, Mr. Gilmore. I know I'm your teacher but I'm also here to guide. If you're struggling with something you can tell me—not just school work either. If there's something in your life that's bothering you we can talk about it."
Jess rolled his eyes. Confiding in a teacher about your personal issues was one step away from being a teacher's pet. If Jess didn't want to talk about his problems with his own friends, or even Lorelai or Luke, why would he talk to this asshat?
"I know you failed that essay," Medina went on, "but it's only one assignment. It's worth just a fraction of your grade. There's a big test coming up, it's worth twenty percent, so if something is distracting you let me know so I can help you through it."
"Thanks," Jess said, "but I don't need a Mr. Feeny to look out for me." He went out the classroom door. Medina called after him but Jess kept walking
The crowd of students were already starting to thin as everyone filtered into their classrooms. At the end of the hallway was Tristan. Shit. The last thing Jess needed after that conversation with Medina was to deal with Tristan. He couldn't explain it but the guy seemed to have a hard-on for Jess, and no matter how often Jess tried to ignore Tristan the idiot just never seemed to take the hint and go away.
Jess was about to turn the other way when he saw another student hand Tristan an envelope. Tristan quickly tucked it into his blazer and walked away. The other student, some dopey looking kid from their English class, walked in the other direction. Okay, curiosity officially piqued. What was in the envelope? Drug money? Nude photos? A birthday card? Suddenly Jess's interest in this school was renewed.
After Sookie's tomato soup fiasco Lorelai decided it was time to get Rory out of the inn. She'd been here a week already and as far as she could tell had never left the inn's premise other than the two times she came over Lorelai's house. It was time to meet the rest of Stars Hollow.
"Rory!" Lorelai called when Rory was pushing a maid cart through the lobby. "I need help for like a half hour. Got the time?"
"I was about to go on my break," Rory said. "I could push it back if you need me to."
"Yeah, go tell Donna to take hers first. I need an extra set of hands for an errand. You don't mind?" Lorelai didn't really need Rory's help, but Rory didn't need to know that. Mia used to do the same thing with Lorelai when Lorelai first moved in. They would go out on small little errands together that were secretly about showing Lorelai the town.
Rory said she'd be right back after she put her cart away and spoke to the other maid. When she returned she had switched into a hoodie. "Where are we going?" she asked.
"Kim's Antiques," Lorelai said and ushered the girl to the door. "Cute little antique shop near the Town Square. Have you visited any of the local shops?"
Rory shook her head.
"You should. There's some great stuff. And great food. Oh, food! Sookie's a great chef, but you're really missing out on the local cuisine if you don't try Weston's or Al's Pancake World."
"I liked Luke's pancakes," Rory said. They walked down the Independents Inn's walkway and reached the sidewalk. The town square was about a five-minute walk from where they were. They would have plenty of time to chat.
"Oh sweetie, Al's doesn't make pancakes. He does international cuisine."
Lorelai shrugged and refused to explain away the quirkiness of her town. It was more magical when you kept it mysterious.
They reached Main Street just as Miss Patty and Babette turned the corner. The two older, heavy-set ladies waved and power-walked over to them. As always Miss Patty was wearing a flashy and colorful wrap while Babette wore a casual sweater, which did nothing to subdue the striking look of her overdone, blonde perm.
"Is this the new maid, darling?" Miss Patty asked.
"Uh, yeah. This is Rory." Lorelai forced a smiled and glanced at Rory, who was blushing. Miss Patty and Babette always meant well, but they were such a presence and probably too much for a timid little mouse like Rory to deal with right now.
"Told ya!" Babette said.
Lorelai tried to quicken her pace and escape for the town gossips, but Miss Patty and Babette followed.
"I'm Miss Patty," Miss Patty said, "And this is Babette. How are you liking Stars Hollow?"
"Um…" Rory said, "…it's nice I guess. Everyone is just so nice and friendly—nothing like New York."
"You're from New York?" Babette asked.
Rory flinched and so did Lorelai. Rory had never said where she was from before. She was so secretive of her past. Such a secret slipping out was a good thing, though. It meant Rory was letting her guard down. She was feeling comfortable around her new neighbors. And maybe Lorelai could finally learn more about this girl. But not with Miss Patty and Babette around.
Rory stared down at her shoes and seemed to clam up again. Babette didn't seem to notice.
"Oh, the Big Apple. I'm from there, you know?" Babette said.
"I lived there for a while myself," Miss Patty said. "Danced on some off-Broadway shows. Bordered with this mean, old man and batty but sweet old lady."
Babette laughed. "Sounds like my folks."
"Well it's been nice—" Lorelai said, but was cut off by Miss Patty.
"Lorelai here is just the sweetest, right?"
Dammit, Patty and Babette wouldn't take the hint. As much as Lorelai loved them, their timing today was awful. Rory was starting to open up but Patty and Babette were going to scare her off.
Rory looked up at the two old ladies and hesitantly nodded at Miss Patty's question.
"I keep telling her that—and how she would be perfect for this great-nephew I have, but she won't bulge. Help me out a little, will ya?" Miss Patty winked.
"Miss Patty, stop!" Lorelai said, her attention now on the hypothetical setup instead of Rory. This felt like the hundredth time this conversation had come up. Why were these ladies so obsessed with her love life?
Miss Patty was terrible at taking direction—a terrible sign for a performer, by the way. They continued with their way too personal line of inquiry. "How about you, darling?" she asked Rory. "Are you single?"
Rory's face turned as bright as Sookie's tomato soup.
"That's a yes."
"You don't have a kid, do ya?" Babette asked. "Or are you pregnant?"
"Excuse me?" Lorelai asked, insulted for Rory. "You can't just ask people that, Babette."
Babette shrugged. "Why not? You had a kid when you moved here and became a maid at the inn. I thought maybe she was like you."
"Babette, that's way too personal."
"I don't have a kid!" Rory said, flustered.
"I'm not pregnant!" Her voice became high-pitched and her eyes began to water as they darted across the street.
Kim's Antiques was only a few blocks away, if they could quicken their pace they could get there in under a minute. Mrs. Kim wouldn't put up with this kind of nonsense in her shop. It would be their haven.
"So no kid, not pregnant and single. Sounds like the package deal," Babette said when they reached the other side of the street. She and Miss Patty continued to discuss possible setups, despite Lorelai and Rory's apprehension. There were no stopping those two once they got an idea in their head.
"I think I have the perfect second cousin thrice removed for you," said Miss Patty.
"Oh, what about Jess?" Babette asked.
Miss Patty giggled. "Could you imagine? Lorelai's son and her new prodigy."
"They'd be the hottest couple in Stars Hollow," Babette said.
And now Lorelai got to feel mortified for a third person. Would Miss Patty and Babette not stop until they played matchmakers for the entire town? "Really Babette," Lorelai asked, "you're trying to fix Jess up too? Have you met him? Does he seem like the setup type?"
"Hey ain't exactly knocking girls away with a stick, Hon," Babette said.
"It's really okay, you don't need to try to fix me up with anyone," Rory said.
"It's the quiet, loner archetype that's the problem, right?" Miss Patty asked. "He's a cute boy, Lorelai, but you need to get him to be more social."
"Hey, don't knock it till you try it," Babette said. "Morey's quiet, that's my husband Rory, but oh, when he speaks boy does it make your heart go ba-da-boom." Babette smacked her chest three times when she said "ba-da-boom".
"Please stop," Lorelai said. "This is my son, you're talking about."
"I really don't need anyone to set me up," Rory said again.
The four continued to walk in silence. They reached Kim's Antiques walkway.
"What about Doose's new bag boy?" Babette asked. "Dean, I think his name is?"
Rory sprinted toward the store. Smart girl. Lorelai said goodbye to Miss Patty and Babette who turned back and continued on their original path while Lorelai joined Rory inside.
Finally, peace at last.
"What do you want?!" Mrs. Kim appeared on the sales floor and practically screamed at Rory. She quickly crossed the room until she was inches away from Rory's face.
"Um…" Was all Rory could say.
"Well?" Mrs. Kim barked. Mrs. Kim was a middle-aged Korean woman with a harsh demeanor and a no-nonsense attitude. Lorelai knew Mrs. Kim wasn't trying to intimidate poor Rory, she had no idea about the interrogation Rory just suffered from Miss Patty and Babette and this was just kind of how Mrs. Kim was, tough but fair. Still, Lorelai's motherly instinct kicked in anyway and Lorelai swore to pull the attention away from Rory.
"Hi, Mrs. Kim!" Lorelai said, as sweetly as she could. "This is Rory, my new maid. We're here to pick up the new inn order?"
Mrs. Kim looked over at Lorelai and then stared both customers up and down before finally walking away.
"Did I do something wrong?" Rory asked in a whisper.
Before Lorelai could respond Mrs. Kim shouted "Come!" at them. They both scurried to follow her path through the maze of furniture that cover the sales floor and found Mrs. Kim at the back of the store. Since Mrs. Kim and her family lived in the antiques store the backroom also contained their kitchen and dining room. The bedrooms were upstairs where no costumers were allowed.
In the dining room sat Mrs. Kim's teenage daughter, Lane. She looked as studious as ever while she read from a textbook and scribbled into a notebook. Round glasses framed her face and her hair, cut into a bob at the chin, was decorated with tiny barrettes. Lorelai liked Lane well enough. She had been in Jess's class since the first grade, but because of Mrs. Kim's aversion to boys, Jess, nor any other boy at school, had never really gotten to know her. Despite her outward appearance and her upbringing, though, Lorelai knew there was a rebel hidden deep inside this girl. Last year Jess started selling her burned copies of his favorite CDs, and then later giving them to her for free once he realized how much living under the thumb of someone like Mrs. Kim must have been like. Lorelai didn't see anything wrong with her son helping Lane find her inner rocker—a life without Bon Jovi isn't a life worth living.
"Lane!" Mrs. Kim shouted.
Lane stood up and at attention at once.
"Pack up Lorelai's order." Mrs. Kim handed the girl an antique cuckoo clock.
"Yes Mama." Lane looked down at the floor until her mother left the room.
Mrs. Kim returned to the sales floor, leaving Lane alone with Lorelai and Rory. Lane immediately slouched and smiled. She was such a different person when her mother wasn't around. No longer intimidated into obedience Lane showed her true self, relaxed and friendly. "Hi Lorelai," Lane said. She put the cuckoo clock down on the table and offered her hand to Rory. "I'm Lane."
"Rory," Rory said, staring at her feet once more. She was shaking like a leaf. So much for all the progress they had made.
"She's a new maid at the inn," Lorelai explained.
Lane nodded and got to work on wrapping. She pulled out a long sheet of protective paper and wrapped the cuckoo clock inside.
"Are you okay, Honey?" Lorelai asked Rory.
Rory blinked and nodded but it wasn't very convincing.
Lane stared at Rory before going back to wrapping. "Was it Mama? I know she can be scary but…well, there isn't really a but." Lane frowned.
"I think we could have dealt with Mrs. Kim if not for the interrogation we both just suffered from Babette and Miss Patty," Lorelai said.
Lane's frown got bigger. "They still trying to find you a husband?"
"Oh, they're looking for one for Rory too, now. Jess was on the short list, by the way." Lorelai put her purse on the dining table and started rummaging through it.
"Can't imagine Jess ever going on a setup. How is he, by the way? We miss him at Stars Hollow High.
"No you don't," Lorelai said. She finally found what she was looking for and pulled it out. "But I'm sure you miss the new Smashing Pumpkins CD." She waved a gospel music CD case in the air.
"Oh, you're the best!" Lane cheered, just loud enough for Mrs. Kim to not hear.
Rory grabbed the CD from Lorelai before Lane could. "I think you have the wrong CD," she said. "This is called Melodies of Gods. The Smashing Pumpkins' new album is called the Machines of God, not melodies. I…I think this is religious music too, not alt. rock."
Lorelai and Lane shared a look and giggled. If their deception worked so well on Rory then it would work on Mrs. Kim too. Lane took the CD and opened it, showing a burned CD-ROM. "Lorelai and Jess burn me music because Mama won't let me have the 'Devil's music' in the house. The case is a decoy."
"Oh. That's…really smart," Rory said while she blushed.
Lane put the CD in her backpack then went back to wrapping Lorelai's clock. "So Rory, if you're a maid does that mean you're out of high school?"
Rory looked like a deer caught in headlights. She looked between Lorelai and Lane before finally saying, "Uh…uh…yeah…I'm eighteen…graduated last summer."
Lorelai frowned. That was the opposite of convincing. Lorelai and Rory had intentionally avoided the subject of Rory's age but now it was clear she was under eighteen. Mia had been so good at feigning ignorance regarding Lorelai's age during Lorelai's first few months in Stars Hollow. Could Lorelai still do the same for Rory even though the ruse was so obvious now?
"It's too bad you're not a few years younger," Lane said. She didn't seem to notice Rory's lie. "Nothing interesting ever happens at Stars Hollow High."
"I'm interesting?" Rory asked.
"You're new. That's interesting."
Rory smiled and Lorelai's heart fluttered. She put her worries about Rory's age aside for now. A friendship was blossoming before her eyes. This would be good for both girls. If Rory and Lane became friends it would mean Rory would get out of the inn more, and it would give Lane a connection to the world outside her mother's watchful thumb. Plus, since Rory was a girl then Mrs. Kim might even approve of their friendship, as long as Rory really wasn't pregnant, that is.
That was a lot of ifs, though, and if Rory really was younger than Lorelai had first hoped than she wasn't sure she could keep protecting Rory inside the inn. Her real family could track her down one day and drag her back to God knows what. The trouble she was running from could find her again. Once more, Lorelai had to ask herself if she was making the right decision by harboring Rory. It was right for Lorelai when Mia did it, but Rory was a different child with a different set of problems. Lorelai didn't even know what those problems were yet.
"We could still hang out, you know, if you wanted to," Lane said. She handed the wrapped clock to Rory.
Rory was beaming. "I would love that."
It was the start of what should be a beautiful friendship. Hopefully, Rory's past wouldn't catch up to her to put an end to it.
As Jess's classes ticked by his interest in school continued to wane. He had given up on lunchtime studying. What was the point? He was never going to pass, so he might as well get some reading in. Black Flag blared through his Walkman while he read Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?
Concentrating on his pleasure reading was difficult too, though. Usually when Jess was stressed he could immerse himself in a book and forget about his issues. Today, that wasn't so. He put the book aside and observed his classmates. Paris was seated with Madeline and Louise, the later who were forgoing their lunches and swapping a bottle of nail polish. Apparently, Paris and Louise had made up after their confusing fight over Jess. Tristan was seated with a couple of cute girls who were fawning all over him. And then there was that guy from English who have given Trisan that envelope. They were in a few more classes together and Jess was pretty sure his name was Brad. They had never spoken before.
Brad got up and left the lunch room. Jess didn't know why he followed. The creepiness of his actions only increased when Jess continued to follow him into the restroom.
Brad was at the urinal but Jess stood by the sink, not willing to steep so low as to pretend he had to pee. He waited until Brad washed his hands before he said anything.
"You okay?" Brad asked before Jess could work up the courage to speak.
Jess crossed his arms and leaned against the sink. "I saw you hand Tristan an envelope today. Money?"
Brad's eyes went wide and his face became pale. "I—I—are you going to report me?"
Jess shook his head. "Just curious…drugs?"
Brad dried his hands on some paper towels, which he then used to wipe his forehead. "Why, you looking to buy?"
"Like I said, just curious. I didn't realize Chilton had a seedy underbelly…makes the place kind of interesting."
"Well sorry to disappoint but Tristan isn't dealing drugs."
Why did Jess's heart sink at that news? It wasn't like he was looking to score, he just wanted to discover the dark side of Chilton…right?
Or maybe there was something darker inside of Jess. Maybe the pain he kept buried for so long was itching to come out and each day it got harder and harder to keep it buried. Maybe when he thought Tristan and Brad were up to no good there was a brief moment of relief. Finally, he could have something to help keep that pain numbed for just a little longer.
No, he just wanted to watch the shit storm that Tristan was caught up in. Yeah, that was the story he was going with.
"Well, then what was the money for?" Jess asked.
"Who even said it was money? You didn't see what was in the envelope, right?" Brad's eyes darted toward the door.
Jess stepped in front of Brad's view of the exit. "You wouldn't be acting so cagey if it was just a congratulations card. Tell me what's going on."
Brad bit his lip and looked at his shoes. Whatever this was it was weighing heavily on Brad's conscience. Still, Jess wasn't sure if he could get Brad to crack. He wasn't exactly charming the guy right now.
Just then the bathroom door swung open. Tristan entered and looked back and forth between Jess and Brad. "What's going on?" he asked. The door swung closed behind him.
"The jig is up!" Brad said. "Jess knows. Or at least he knows enough."
Tristan took a couple of very definitive steps towards Jess and stopped just a few inches away from his face. "Oh yeah? What's that?"
Jess knew Tristan was trying to intimidate him, but Paris was the only person in the entire school who could pull that look off while wearing a sweater vest.
"I know Brad's paying you for something. Just don't know what, yet. I've ruled out drugs."
Tristan laughed and backed away. He swung his arm around Brad, who looked uncomfortable with the friendly gesture. "You actually thought for a second that sweet, innocent Brad could be involved with drugs? He was giving me test answers for the Shakespeare test."
"Tristan!" Brad said.
"It's cool," Tristan said. "Who's the scholarship student gonna tell? Hey, I would have cut you in on the deal too, I know you're not making the grades either, but Brad's probably out of your price range."
Rage boiled inside of Jess. He was wrong about Tristan. Tristan didn't think they were the same. Tristan thought he was better than Jess and everyone else in this damn school. They were all just some sort of playthings for Tristan to mock. Jess took a step toward Tristan, ready to take a swing, but Brad stood in front of him, snapping Jess out of it.
"You're not going to tell?" Brad asked.
Jess blinked. Deep breath. In and out. He promised Lorelai he wouldn't get into fights at Chilton. He couldn't risk getting kicked out of this school. "Do you really think I'm a tattletale?" he finally asked.
Normal coloring returned to Brad.
Tristan smiled and reached over to put his hand on Jess's shoulder. "See, told you Gilmore would make the right decision."
Jess stared down at the hand. Tristan's nails were perfectly manicured. "Get your hand off of me before I break your fingers."
Tristan laughed but at least he obeyed. "You're a riot Gilmore, you know that?" He exited the bathroom.
Poor Brad was still shaking. The system wasn't fair from the start. Not only did these rich preps have every advantage since childhood but they were also buying test answers. How could Jess compete at this level? He didn't stand a chance if he played by the rules.
"What is your price range?" Jess asked.
Brad's eyes bugged out again. "No, I can't get involved with another person. Please. This has gone too far as it is. Tristan, Duncan and Bowman, now you? I was only trying to make a little extra spending money and it just got out of control. Now I can't get out of it. Tristan owns me. He knows if anyone finds out I'll get expelled."
"Isn't that mutually assured destruction?" Jess asked. "He'd be expelled too?"
"He doesn't care. His parents would just buy him into the next school. My parents wouldn't be able to do that. They had to scrimp to send me here."
Jess felt a pit in his stomach. Brad was like him, just another average kid from an average family among these rich assholes. Brad probably had a bright future ahead of him as long as people like Tristan didn't destroy it. Or people like Jess.
"Look, I'm not going to tell anyone but…but I'm new. I'm behind everyone else. It's not a level playing field…you know what that's like, right? To be at a disadvantage." Jess couldn't believe he was playing the class card like that. "All these rich snobs have had every life opportunity afford to them. I'm just trying not to lose my chance. Just one test, Brad. Help me get through Medina's test and I'll never bring this up again, I swear. I just can't afford another F."
"And what happens when the next test comes around?"
Jess wasn't sure. If people like Tristan always had the answers then it wouldn't matter if Jess studied; he'd always fall behind the curve.
"The mutually assured destruction doesn't apply to me, Brad. I have no skin in this game…yet. You want leverage on me? You want a way to guarantee my future silence? Then give me the test answers." It was blackmail and Jess didn't like the taste of the words in his mouth, but he had no other choice. This was the only way he could stop himself from flunking out of Chilton.
"I gave the answers to Tristan already," Brad said. "I can't get another copy. It's too risky. You'll have to work something out with him."
"You didn't keep a copy for yourself?"
"I'm not a cheat!" Brad said. "I never looked at the answers either."
Jess shook his head. This kid was just too pathetic. He sighed and left the bathroom. Tristan had already gone back to the lunch room. How was he ever going to convince Tristan to let him in on the deal? And could his conscience take this much deceit? Was he really this morally bankrupt? Jess was almost afraid of the answers to those questions.
Content warning: PTSD.
The scene in question contains a moment when Rory has a PTSD reaction. The reasons why is not cleared, but it happens after she is being yelled at, and she cries and protects her face. It also contained references to other PTSD-like reactions that Lorelai has noticed Rory having.
For those who chose not to read the scene due to that moment here is a summary of the scene, which is the second scene of the chapter. Rory and Lorelai are having lunch in the kitchen while Sookie prepares lunch. Rory accidentally insults Sookie's soup, causing Sookie to freak out over her food. After Lorelai calms her down she speaks to Rory about making sure to always praise Sookie's cooking. Rory is upset that she upset Sookie and when Lorelai tries to give her a comforting touch Rory flinches. Rory tells Lorelai she doesn't like to be touched unexpectedly—though she is fine with affectionate touches when she sees them coming. Lorelai then recalls an incident from the previous day when Michel screamed at Rory over accidentally spilling coffee on his shoes and Rory fell to the floor, crying and covering her face. Lorelai comforted Rory at the time. In the present Lorelai comforts Rory again and the scene ends with a hug.