disclaimer in part 1
by Rebecca Carefoot
_ _ _
Rory put her math book back in her locker, and retrieved her English notebook. She closed the door and realized Tristan was leaning against the wall behind her.
"Hey!" she said.
"Hey," he said, slightly subdued. She looked at him more closely. His blond hair was more messy than usual, his nose was a little red, and his blue eyes seemed tired.
"You look terrible," she said.
"Thanks," he said, raising his eyebrows.
"No, I mean...are you sick or something?"
"It's just a cold," he said.
Her eyes widened. "Because of the rain?" she said. "Oh God! I'm so sorry."
"Don't be," he said, then turned his head aside to sneeze loudly. He swiped at his nose with the back of his hand. "I had a great time."
"Yeah, but I should have asked you in," she said. "You could have dried off or changed clothes or-"
"Geez," he interrupted. "How desperate are you to get a glimpse of me without my clothes on?" He smirked at her, but she ignored the comment.
"I didn't think," she said. "I feel so bad."
"Well," he said speculatively. "You could always make it up to me somehow."
She raised her eyebrows warily. "I don't even want to ask."
He snorted. "Your opinion of me is so flattering. Why is it you think everything I say is about sex?"
"Because it usually is," she said.
"Oh come on," he joked, "only eighty percent of what I say is sex related." He wiggled his eyebrows. "Of course if you *want* to make it up to me with sex, I'm not going to say no."
"Don't push your luck," she said, making a *get to the point* gesture with her hand.
"Actually, I was hoping you could be my study partner," he said
She looked at him doubtfully. "Studying. One person activity, remember?"
"Okay," he said. "I just thought there's a lot of material to cover, and two person studying means we could help each other out with weak spots." He placed his hand on his chest, and ducked his head. "Personally, I can never wrap my brain around Dickinson, and I have it on good authority that you aced that section of the course."
Rory's lower lip jutted as she considered it. "I guess it couldn't hurt," she said. "But I need to actually study. If this is a social call in disguise, save it for summer when my grades aren't on the line."
"This is totally professional," he said. "I get grades too you know."
"Right, I forgot," she said. "Thought you were just taking the classes for fun."
The bell rang, and Rory looked over at the clock on the wall. "I've got to go," she said.
"I'll talk to you at lunch," he said.
"Okay," she answered, and headed toward her science class. Paris stood in her way, and Rory narrowed her eyes. "What?" she said. "I thought you weren't talking to me."
"I'm not," Paris said.
"Then get out of my way."
"I saw you and Tristan together," Paris said.
"Well, we aren't invisible so I guess that proves you aren't blind. Congratulations."
"I just think if you're going to try to lie to me, you might want to make it a little less obvious," she said.
"What are you talking about?" Rory said in exasperation. "I have a class to go to."
"If you want me to think you aren't interested in Tristan, maybe the two of you should refrain from making out in the hall."
"First. We were talking. If you can't tell the difference that may explain your luck with guys. And second. As of yesterday I have a boyfriend, and his name is Dean. Does that sound like Tristan to you? No? Then why don't you take your foot out of your mouth and get out of my way." She brushed by Paris, knocking into her shoulder as she passed.
Paris huffed under her breath, looking down the hall to see Tristan standing outside a classroom listening. Their eyes met for a second, then they both looked away, and Paris moved down the hall toward her class.
Rory held her lunch tray uncertainly, looking for an empty table. She couldn't sit with Paris and the others, and she didn't know anyone well enough to just sit down at their table without being invited.
"This way," Tristan said suddenly behind her, and she shot him a relieved glance. She followed him to a half-full table. He waved casually at the people sitting at one end of the table, then they sat down at the empty end.
"Want me to introduce you to some people?" he said.
She shook her head. "Not really. We have a week left of school. What's the point?"
He grabbed an apple off his tray. "You're not missing much anyway." He bit down on the apple with a loud crunch, and Rory picked at the macaroni and cheese congealing on her tray. "You'd think the food would be better," he said swallowing his bite of apple. "I mean considering the cost of tuition."
Rory nodded. "I guess it goes to show school food is legally required to suck."
Tristan nodded and took another bite of his apple. "So when do you want to get together?" he said.
"I'm gonna say, sometime before finals start."
"Good idea. Now if you could narrow that down a little." He tossed aside the core of his apple. "I have a project due Wednesday for Chemistry."
"And I have one due Thursday for French."
"Well, finals start next Monday so that gives us the weekend." He leaned back in his chair and grinned. "Maybe I should just spend a couple nights at your house. We could share a bed. For warmth, you know." He started to give her a leer, but was interrupted by another sneeze.
Rory laughed. "How about we fly to the moon and spend the weekend there," she said. "Cause that's about as likely to happen."
"Well, I might be able to get my dad to loan me the rocket." Tristan mock frowned. "But booking the space station will be tough without reservations."
"Let me know how that goes," Rory said.
"So, Friday?" he said. "That way I can drive you home."
"You don't have to do that," Rory said.
"Fine, you can take the bus," he said, rolling his eyes. "Reject my car in favor of city transportation. Thanks a lot, Rory. I feel really great right about now."
"Well, you know how your car offends me. It doesn't go well with my outfit." She plucked at her Chilton vest with a grin.
"I've got a whole week to get it painted," he said. "What do you want, silver, black?"
"How about...orange with pink stripes?"
"And you think *that* will go with your outfit?" he asked. "Are you by any chance color blind?"
"Leave the car the way it is," Rory said with an exaggerated sigh. "I guess I can suck it up and ride in a red car, but just this once."
"Good," Tristan said. He glanced at his watch. "Are you going to be okay here? I have to go talk to Miss. Walsh about some extra credit."
"Sure," she said. "I was planning to go to the library anyway."
He clutched his chest. "Shocking. I think my heart just stopped."
"Shut up," she said cheerfully.
"If you insist." He sneezed again, this time a tiny choked snort of air. Rory grinned.
"That was the cutest sneeze ever," she said.
"That's cause I am the cutest thing ever," he said, jutting his chin at her. She rolled her eyes, and he smiled as he stood up with his tray. She watched him as he left the room. One hand in his pocket, he strolled confidently out the door nodding his head to people he knew as he passed them. She wondered what it felt like to be that confident, that fearless, that sure you belonged. She looked down at her half-eaten lunch and stuck out her tongue, then she gathered up her tray, dumped it and headed for the library.
"Paris, wait up," Tristan said, jogging unhurriedly to catch up with her as she headed for the parking lot. She turned, books clutched in her arms, and waited.
"What?" she said, her voice harsh.
"Why don't you give her a break?" he said. She curled her lip and started walking again. He kept pace, tucking a pencil behind his ear, and pulling off his blazer. He draped it over his arm, and reached up to loosen his tie. She glanced over at him, then spoke angrily.
"Begging on your girlfriend's behalf is really pathetic," she said. "It's not like you."
"She's not my girlfriend," Tristan said, unable to keep the bitter edge from his voice. "We both know that."
"Paris," he said. "She didn't lie to you."
"It was a mistake letting my guard down," Paris said. "It won't happen again."
He grabbed her arm, and she stared at his hand, her eyes wide. "It wasn't a mistake," he said.
"Why are you defending her?" Paris said, hoping he couldn't feel her trembling. "If she doesn't want you."
Tristan paused, his head bent in thought as he considered the question. He met Paris' eyes, and she caught her breath. "Because it's not her fault," he said. "I can't make her feel something she doesn't." He looked away, and muttered more softly. "And I can't change the way I feel just because she doesn't feel the same."
Paris blinked hard against too bright eyes, and pulled her arm away. "Is it worth it?" she asked softly.
He shrugged. "I don't know yet." They stared at each other in the moment of silence, sharing an unspoken understanding, both knowing what it felt like to be helpless under the crush of feelings unasked for and unshakeable.
"I'll think about it," she said, and hurried to her car.