disclaimer in part 1

Examination
by Rebecca Carefoot
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Part 10


Lane stood up from her seat on the bench as Rory stepped off the bus. She extended a cup of coffee to her friend, and Rory took it eagerly.

"Bless you," she said.

"Bad day?" Lane asked.

"You have no idea," Rory said with a sigh.

"Do you want to talk about it?" Lane asked. Rory hesitated. "Or we could talk about something else," Lane continued. "Like maybe why Dean was moping around the school all day like someone kicked his puppy."

"He doesn't have a puppy."

"You know what I mean."

Rory grimaced, and braced herself. "I broke up with him," she admitted.

Lane stopped in her tracks, and gave her an openmouthed, searching look. "You're not kidding?"

Rory shook her head slowly.

"Why?" Lane asked. "You just got back together. I thought that was what you wanted."

"So did I," Rory said. "But then..." she trailed off. "It doesn't even matter. It's over."

"It does so matter," Lane disagreed.

"Why?" Rory said.

"It matters because I'm your friend and when you do strange things like dump your boyfriend, who you've been dragging me through hell over with your moping and your mood swings," She stopped. "Which is not to say that I don't love you, mood swings included, but you have to admit I've been in the trenches. I deserve to know."

Rory groaned. "I hate logic." She took a deep breath. "Okay, you know I went to the concert with Tristan."

"Oh my God," Lane interrupted. "You dumped Dean for Tristan? Mean Tristan who calls you names?"

"No, not mean Tristan," Rory said. "Nice Tristan. We've been spending a lot of time together. Studying and stuff. And I started to realize I was...a little bit attracted to him."

"So you dumped Dean for Tristan," Lane said again.

"No!" Rory insisted. "I just started having doubts." She frowned. "Dean is a great guy, an amazing guy. He's cute and funny and really nice."

"Obviously, he needed to be dumped," Lane said.

"And all that should have meant I felt completely happy with him, right?" Rory said. "And instead I was thinking to myself, I wish I had run my hands through Tristan's wet hair at the concert."

Lane smiled. "The hair thing I get."

"I couldn't let things go on with Dean," Rory said. "If I was feeling doubts right after we got back together, when I should have been at my happiest, then something was wrong."

"Rory," Lane said. "I love you. But did you ever think maybe you're just physically attracted to Tristan. I mean, I'm attracted to Dave Navarro. And if let's just say for the sake of argument, Henry was my boyfriend, I would still be attracted to Dave, but it wouldn't mean I didn't want to be with Henry."

"No," Rory said. "This was different."

"Then this thing with Tristan is more than physical?" Lane asked.

Rory bit her lip, and paused, then nodded. "Yeah."

Lane shrugged. "Okay. I don't know what you're doing, throwing back a perfectly good guy. But I want your life for a while where my big problem is I have a whole line of guys to choose from."

Rory grimaced. "Tristan isn't talking to me." She paused thoughtfully. "Neither is Dean." She frowned. "There's no line."

"What do you mean Tristan isn't talking to you?"

"He blew me off at school today," Rory said. Her jaw clenched with anger at the memory. "Don't worry about it."

"I was right, he IS mean Tristan."

Rory groaned. "The whole thing is just a colossal mess. He was acting like an idiot." She shrugged. "There's a lot of that going around."

"You and Tristan," Lane said slowly. "I can't believe it.

"Look, I wasn't going to ask him out," Rory said. "I just wanted to keep being friends with him, and see where it went. And if something happened, eventually, you know," she motioned with her hand, "like in the future, then okay. And if it didn't then still okay. We'd be friends." She shook her head. "I swear I didn't break up with Dean so I could go out with Tristan. I told Dean that, and you can tell him that if he asks you. I just felt like things had changed between me and Dean. And even if Tristan didn't exist, this probably would have happened anyway."

Lane nodded. "I give you a hard time, but I get it," she said with a smile. "And I'm here. I'm your bud."

"My only bud," Rory said with an answering smile.

"Well, you only need one if they're really good," Lane said.

"In that case I'm covered."

"So what are you going to do?" Lane asked.

"Go to Disneyland?"

"You know what I mean," Lane said. "You told me Tristan's not talking to you."

"I'm not doing anything," Rory said. "I'm taking my finals. And after that I'll be free of Chilton for a couple beautiful months."

"You're not going to try to talk to him again?"

Rory shook her head. "Nope." She saw Lane's incredulous look, and chuckled. "Really. If he wants to come to me, he can. I did the seek him out and try to talk thing today, and he couldn't handle it. Now it's his turn."

"And if he doesn't come to you?"

"Then I know," Rory said with a shrug.

Lane laughed. "That was cryptic, oh knowing one."

"Then I know that we can't be friends," Rory explained. "If he can't come to me, I know he really is mean Tristan like you said, or he's too scared, or stubborn to have a real friendship."

"So this is like a test?" Lane asked. "Don't you think we all have enough tests to worry about at the moment?"

"It's not a test," Rory said with a grin. "I'm just not going to start any conversations with him."

"Are you going to not test Dean too?" Lane asked.

"Dean asked me for time," Rory said. "That's the least I can give him."

They stopped in front of Kim's Antiques, and Lane bounced lightly on her toes. "Remind me not to complain about my lack of guys," she said. "I've decided it's all too complicated."

"Anything worth doing is complicated," Rory answered.

"Did you see that in a fortune cookie?"

"Actually, yes I did. Do you want the lottery numbers too?"

Lane grinned. "How many people get fortune cookies everyday? Like a few million? And all of them get different numbers, but they're all supposed to win."

"Better not think too hard about the cookies," Rory said. "Just accept their mystery, and don't question it."

"Not questioning. The best way to live."

"I've always aspired to be a drone."

"I've wanted to be a sheep myself." Lane darted a look at the store window and saw the curtains twitch. "I've got to go. Mom's watching."

"I'll call you tomorrow," Rory said.

"You better," Lane called, running up the path to her porch. Rory watched her duck inside, then continued her walk home.


*

Rory waited for the bell to ring and dismiss her from her last final. She'd finished a few minutes early, and now she had nothing to do but wait. Nothing to do but sag, exhausted and defeated. She'd seen Tristan in both of her first two finals today. He'd walked just a few steps behind her to lunch. And he hadn't said anything. Hadn't passed her a note. Hadn't even looked at her twice.

So that's it, she thought with a sigh. She was a little surprised at the strength of the disappointment that grew in her chest. She'd wanted to be right about him, about who he really was, who he could be. She'd believed she did know him, and she'd believed he was someone she wanted to know better. She'd thought she understood his actions, his sometimes harsh cruelty and his moments of kindness. She'd thought she could see past hurt and fear to something better.

But she'd been wrong.

He was mean. He was immature. He was arrogant. He was selfish. He was closed off. He was a big fat jerk.

And it sucked.

The bell rang, and she gathered up her things listlessly. She stopped by her locker one final time to clear it out, collect the pictures on the door, and the big binder she'd left. She headed for the bus stop, bypassing groups of kids hugging, exchanging phone numbers, signing yearbooks. She had no one to say good-bye to. She walked faster, wanting to escape the reminder of just how alone she was at this school.

She turned her head, watching two girls cry in each other's arms, and bumped into someone.

"Sorry," she muttered, glancing at the person she'd rammed. Tristan stared back down at her, and her eyes locked with his. They were very blue. Very, very blue. She waited for him to say something, anything at all. They stared at each other, all the end of school noises around them dimming, blurring. It was just the two of them, so close. The moment stretched, then snapped. His eyes slid away from her, he ducked his head, muttered excuse me, and brushed past her. She didn't turn to watch him go. She couldn't move for a moment, and then she started walking again. Running.

She said a prayer of thanks that the bus was already at the stop, and she ran up the steps. Safely in a seat by herself, she stared out the window and tried not to cry. She told herself she shouldn't even be upset. Hadn't she already known he was a big fat jerk? Hadn't she already known she was stupid to like him or want to trust him? She decided finally that she hadn't know. Not really. Not until then, until he'd looked her in the eye and kept walking.

Now she knew.

*

Rory slammed the door, but the rattling thud didn't give her any satisfaction. She stomped up and down a few of the stairs. She punched one of the pillows on the couch repeatedly. She gritted her teeth and swallowed a scream. She was hurt, and she was angry, and she was tired of being confused.

It had all been so simple when she'd had a boyfriend who was nice, and an enemy who was mean. She wished she'd never gone to the concert with Tristan. She never would have had to see him as anything but an annoyance. She...

She groaned, and flopped down on the couch, covering her head with the cushion. Maybe she could just lie there for the rest of her life. Most of her problems would disappear if she never moved. Sure, there would be new problems like having to use a bedpan, but she was willing to give it a try.

There was a knock on the door. She stayed where she was. No more getting up. Not ever. Another knock. She tossed the pillow aside and sat up. So much for that idea.

She rubbed at her eyes, and grumbled to herself as she walked to the door. Maybe if they had a do not disturb sign people would leave her alone to try out her slug on the couch idea. She pulled the door open, and froze, her hands suddenly numb, her heart beat pounding like a jackhammer against her ears. She stared at the hollow of Tristan's throat, and tried to figure out what on earth she was supposed to say.

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