disclaimer in part 1

Examination
by Rebecca Carefoot
_ _ _

Part 3


Rory was busy putting the final touches on the French project due Thursday when the phone rang. She stepped over the piles of research and posterboard spread all over the room, and snatched the phone off the hook on the third ring.

"Hello?" she said.

"Hi, Rory."

"Dean," she said, smiling. "What's up?"

"I live in the house where nothing is ever up," he said. "I'm just watching tv."

"Anything I'd approve of?"

"I don't know. It's an old Nightrider rerun."

"So at least David Hasselhoff is clothed."

"But on the downside, he's still David Hasselhoff," Dean said. "What about you?"

"I am both clothed and not David Hasselhoff," she said.

"Well, one out of two's not bad."

"I'm working on a project for Chilton." She flopped down on her bed.

"Don't they ever give you guys a break?"

"Yeah, it's called summer vacation. It starts next week," Rory said with a grin.

"So I guess seeing you tonight is a no-go then."

"Pretty much," Rory said. "This thing is due tomorrow."

"Okay, what about Friday? We could catch a movie?"

"I don't know," she said. "Tristan's coming over to study with me. We should be done before prime movie-viewing time. But I'm not sure how fun I'll be after cramming miscellaneous factoids about Shakespeare and Dickinson for hours on end."

"Tristan?" Dean said.

"Yeah, he's-"

"I remember," Dean interrupted. "He practically assaulted me at the dance."

"He's nicer now," Rory said.

"And he has a thing for you." She paused. "Rory?" he finally said.

"Yeah," she said.

"The silence isn't very reassuring."

"Well, he *may* have a thing for me," she said uncomfortably. "But I was really clear that I only want to be friends, and he knows that and agreed that friends it is."

"Don't be naive, Rory," Dean said. "He's just biding his time."

"What is he a leopard waiting to pounce?"

"That's one way to describe it."

"Look," she said. "I have zero friends at Chilton right now outside of him. Zero. And for the past month, with a few slip-ups I admit, we've been getting along. And at the concert we really had fun, so I'm not going to apologize for being friends with him."

"The concert?"

"Yeah, we went to PJ Harvey last weekend."

"And you didn't tell me?"

"A lot of stuff happened while we weren't together," Rory said. "It's not like I was hiding it from you. I just haven't had time to get you up to speed on everything."

"Yeah, but it was just last-"

"What is the issue?" Rory said, her voice rising. "You have nothing to worry about. Tristan is my friend. End of story."

"I'm not trying to be a prick," Dean said. "But I don't think he sees it that way. I just don't believe he's over you."

"That doesn't matter," Rory said. "It's not his decision who I'm with. He could be in love with me for all the difference it makes. You don't have to trust him, just trust me."

"Okay," Dean said. "Okay, you're right." He took a deep breath. "Sorry about the descent into jealous boyfriendliness. I know I'm being irrational."

"The first step is recognizing you have a problem," Rory said, smiling again.

"I'll have to stop skipping my Irrationals Anonymous meetings."

"I hear they have coffee at those."

"Even more reason for the not skipping." Dean paused. "So now that I'm on the road to rehabilitation, can I see you sometime in the next two years?"

"Yeah, January 2003 is free," Rory joked.

"Or what about this weekend?"

"I want to," Rory said. "But finals are next week, and I really have to study. I've heard horrible stories about how hard these things are. People have lost limbs."

"You'd rather study than go to the movies with me?" he said.

"It's not really my choice. It's necessary."

Dean sighed. "I know. It just sucks. We're back together, and I never see you. *Tristan* gets to see you more than me."

"But as soon as school's out, you'll get to see me all the time," she said. "I'll set up a tent in your yard."

"Can we make a fort out of pillows?"

"Totally."

"And play cowboys and Indians?"

"I think we call them Native Americans now."

"And play cowboys and Native Americans?"

"What if I want to be the cowboy?"

"And play cowpeople and Native Americans?" Dean laughed.

"Yes."

"Then you go do your Chilton thing, and I'll be gathering the supplies. Flashlights, stuff for making s'mores, blankies, pillows," he began to recite the list.

"I love it that you have a plan."

"Well, I try."

"I'll talk to you later."

"Okay."

"Bye." There was a pause. "Dean?"

"I hung up on you."

"Oh, my bad. Bye."

"Bye."

Rory hung up and tossed the phone onto her dresser. She settled back down to her project and tried to concentrate on translating a passage from Rousseau. After a few minutes she realized she had no idea what she was reading and looked up. She was thinking about them, Dean and Tristan, and she wasn't even doing it in French. 'Bad, Rory!' she scolded herself. Then she sighed and replayed the phone conversation in her mind. She had to admit it had been awkward; it was harder than she'd thought to just pick up where she and Dean had left off. Some things had changed. And she felt like both she and Dean were more cautious this time. There were barriers between them now, walls they'd built out of the pain of the breakup...and their timing wasn't helping. There were so many other things going on; she didn't have the time to work on their relationship. She grimaced and picked up the Rousseau. She reminded herself that it was only a week until finals were over. Then she and Dean would have plenty of time to figure it all out.

*

"Madam," Tristan said grandly, opening the passenger's side door of his car.

"I can open a door, you know," Rory said, dumping her backpack behind the seat. "I'm not incompetent."

"Ruin my grand gesture why don't you." She curled her lip in mock anger, and slid past him to the seat, strands of her hair clinging to his shirt. He closed his eyes, and jerked away. He took off his blazer, tossed it in the back, climbed in on the driver's side, and pulled out of the parking lot.

"So how did the French project go?" he asked.

Rory groaned. "I don't even know. I was so tired by the time I finished it that I have no idea what I was saying when I got up in front of the class."

"Don't worry," he said. "I heard rumblings that it was very impressive."

"Rumblings from where?" she asked.

"I never reveal my sources."

"What about your Chemistry project?"

"I kicked ass."

"And he's so modest too," she said sarcastically. "What doesn't this boy have?"

Tristan grinned. "Just telling it like it is."

He reached down beneath the seat, and she grimaced. "Eyes on the road please."

"Are you sure you're not an old lady trapped in a teenager's body?" he said. His hand emerged from beneath the seat, and he tossed a CD into her lap. "You forgot it the other night."

"My PJ Harvey. I can't believe I didn't even realize..."

"I've been listening to it," he said. "I hope you don't mind." He pressed the play button on the CD player.

"Of course not." Rory cocked her head as a CD began to play. "Space Lord?" she said with a grin. "I thought you hated this song."

"No, I hate this band. The song's okay." He grinned. "I just want to see you sing the part where he asks for his mommy."

She gave him a challenging look, waiting a moment for the chorus to begin and then belted it out, "Space Lord, mother, mother!" She bounced in her seat along with the beat. Tristan began to bounce his head with her and screamed out the line the next time it played. She noticed a woman staring at them from another car, and started to laugh.

"We're scaring the other motorists."

"Nah," Tristan said. "They're just amazed that we aren't in a famous band ourselves since we have as much talent as these guys."

"You overestimate your talent by a lot," Rory said. "But you're completely right about *my* talent." She grinned.

"Okay," he said when the song ended. "That's enough of that." He pressed another button on the player and a new CD started.

"Is this _Dry_?"

"Yeah, I bought a couple of the earlier PJ Harvey CDs."

"Wow, you look so much cooler to me now," Rory said squinting at him.

"Wow, you are pretty shallow."

"Yes, I am."

"I like it," he grinned. She laughed, and began to dance in her seat again, waving at the driver who was staring as he passed them.

*
Rory sat cross-legged on the floor beside the coffee table. Both the coffee table and the floor around her were covered with notes roughly sorted by subject. Tristan sat on the other side of the table, his head resting on one bent knee.

"That's the problem with Dickinson for me," he said. "It seems so simple, that I think I'm getting it, and then it turns out I completely missed the point because there's some deeper meaning I wasn't even looking at."

"That's what I love about her," Rory said. "She's got layers. Some people see her as writing these cute little poems, but really she's talking about some serious stuff like the unanswered questions of the universe."

"Okay, what about 'A Fly Buzzed,'" he said. "I know it's about death."

"Cause of that whole 'when i died' part?"

"That was my first hint," Tristan said. "But what's the point of the fly? Does it mean death is insignificant? Or is it saying that humanity is insignificant, and our belief in the significance of our own deaths is overrated?"

"How many times did you just say significant?" Rory said, grinning.

"Shut up," Tristan said. "You think of another word."

"Importance?"

"Shut up again."

Rory laughed. "I think that the second significance is more significant." She grinned and Tristan grimaced at her. "Because you have this solemn, grave moment with all the relatives gathered around to watch this crossing over to the other side. It's a big deal. And then there's the fly, which is this annoyance and-" The phone rang loudly, and she looked around, startled. "Just a sec."

She cocked her head, listening, then felt around a pile of notes, and discovered the phone shoved half underneath the sofa. "Hello?"

"Rory."

"Dean." She noticed the way Tristan's jaw clenched. He sat back, uncomfortable. She hesitated. "Just a sec," she said. She covered the mouthpiece, and looked at Tristan. "Why don't you go make us a pot of coffee?" He met her eyes, and she flinched slightly at the hurt she saw before he blinked it away. He rose gracefully and headed for the kitchen. She uncovered the mouthpiece. "Hey."

"Still studying?"

"Yeah," she said. "We're talking Dickinson, later we're gonna have a discussion about the Hapsburgs and whether Maria Theresa could have taken over the world if she hadn't had all those kids." There was a bang from the kitchen. She stared at the kitchen door and wished for x-ray vision.

"Uh, sounds like fun."

"And at some point there will be pre-calculus."

"Even more fun."

"Yeah, I hope I don't keel over from the excitement."

"That would be less fun."

"If that's even possible."

"And Tristan?" Dean said. "How's that-" There was a crash and then a whirring noise from the kitchen. She grimaced.

"Look, I've got to go."

"Right," Dean said. "Okay."

"I'm not blowing you off," she said. "Only I am. But I'll make it up to you."

"Don't worry about it," Dean said. "Give me a call when you're done."

"Great." She hung up the phone and ran to the kitchen. "What the heck are you doing in here?"

"I'm trying to make coffee," Tristan said, rubbing at the back of his neck absently. They both stared at the coffee maker.

"Well?" Rory said. "What's all the noise?"

"I uh-" Tristan said. "I've never made coffee." Rory's eyes widened, and her mouth dropped open.

"What do you live in, a cave?"

"No, there's a cook at my house. And there's a Starbucks a couple blocks away..." he said sheepishly.

"Yeah, but...this is just...sad."

He snorted. "Like not knowing how to make coffee is going to make or break my future."

"It's going to put a serious crimp in your career as a secretary."

"Right," he said. "But I'll distract my boss from my inability to make coffee with my stellar filing skills. And of course, my skimpy outfits." Rory put the phone on the counter and grabbed the coffee and a filter.

"Skimpy outfits can't get you everywhere in life. You must know this," she said.

"I think you underestimate the value of skimpy outfits."

"Just watch." She put the filter in the machine, then poured in the coffee. "Even a moron could make coffee," she said. "Not necessarily good coffee but..."

"Are you calling me a moron?" Tristan asked, trying not to notice the way his heart was pounding, or the nervous flutter in his stomach when she reached for the coffee pot and her arm brushed against his. She seemed to feel his eyes on her, and looked up from the coffee maker. She met his eyes, her movements slowing, then stopping. She shook herself a little, and filled the pot with water; sudden nervousness causing her grip on the pot to slip, she sloshed water over the side of the sink.

"Who's a moron now?" he asked snidely.

She chuckled, relieved to find herself back on familiar ground. She poured the water into the machine, flipped the switch and replaced the pot. "Easy," she said. "It's just filter, coffee, water, and turn it on."

"I *am* a moron."

"Are you expecting me to contradict you?"

"Not expecting, just hoping."

"No dice, mister." She shifted her weight nervously. "Now we just wait. So back to the books."

"Right," Tristan said. He hesitated, then blurted out, "So you and Dean are back together?"

Rory twisted her hands uncomfortably. "Yeah," she said. "I didn't tell you because I thought..."

"It would be awkward." He stopped studying the tip of his shoe and caught the guilty look she was giving him. "Thank God you were wrong." He smiled at the blatantly false statement, and saw some of the tension go out of her shoulders.

"Yeah, what a relief." She smiled back. "It just... I mean, now that I know...."

"Rory, I'm a big boy," he said, his voice carefully casual. "And you're overestimating your own importance if you think seeing you with another guy is going to drive me off the deep end." She looked at him doubtfully. "And you think *I'm* conceited?"

"I wasn't doing it to be conceited," she said. "I just didn't want to hurt you." His lip curled up into a half smile, hiding the twisting of his gut as he fought the urge to kiss her or tell her Dean was a jerk or just bask in the fact that she'd shown even the slightest concern for him.

"Don't worry about me," he said. "I can take care of myself."

"You're right," she said. She looked away. "I uh...we should start on the Hapsburgs. I want to go over the War of Austrian Succession."

"Hapsburgs it is."

*

Tristan glanced over at Rory sitting next to him on the floor. Her head was bent over a piece of paper where she was working on a particularly difficult equation. Her legs were crossed, her knee millimeters from touching his. He could almost feel the heat of her skin, or maybe it was the heat of his own. He was burning up, flush with her nearness. He jerked his eyes from her face to the paper, but the rebellious orbs drifted away again, catching on the shine of her hair. He sighed.

"Help," she said. "I'm stuck." He looked at the paper again, his eyes scanning the neat columns of numbers.

"Look," he said pointing. "You just have to substitute x here."

She looked at it again. "And graph the fraction?"

"Exactly. You're going to ace this one."

"I'll settle for a B+," she said.

"Well, aren't you a rebel," he grinned.

"I just don't care anymore," she grinned back. "I could go on a rampage at any moment."

"There's a scary thought."

"Want more coffee?" she said.

"Sure," he answered. Holding up his hand, he jokingly made it tremble and shake. "I wasn't planning on sleeping for the next month anyway."

She jumped up and headed for the kitchen, stopping when the front door opened. "Mom," she said. "How was work?"

"Coffee," Lorelai answered. "Coffee!" She rushed for the kitchen, and Rory followed. "We had an entire contingent of Swedish businessmen at the Inn today. Do you know any Swedish? Of course not, neither do I. And talking like the Swedish chef just wasn't working at all, darn those muppets with their fake Swedishness. We had to communicate with hand signals, and I think I accidentally agreed to marry one of them and told another I owned seven cows."

"Sounds fun."

Lorelai poured herself a cup of coffee and cupped it in her hands. "Sweet elixir of life!" she said. "I love you." She stroked the bottom of the mug tenderly.

Rory laughed. "You and coffee seem to have taken your relationship up a notch. How is your Swedish fiancee going to feel about this?"

"He'll have to learn to love us both." She ducked her head and peered out the kitchen window. "Is that Tristan's car?"

"Yeah," Rory said.

"Nice. Is he still here or did you steal if?"

"He's still here. We're just finishing up with the pre-calculus part of the study decathlon. Next up is more English."

"Maybe I should sit next to you so when the knowledge dribbles out your ears, it flows into me," Lorelai said, heading for the living room. Tristan stood up when she entered the room, and she nodded. "Tristan, I presume."

"Yes, ma'am."

"Good lord, boy. Do I look like a ma'am to you?"

"Uh..." he said. "No?"

"Good answer. Just call me Lorelai. Or Tiny if you prefer. I always wanted someone to call me Tiny." She extended her hand, and he shook it. She looked at her watch. "Are either of you interested in pizza, because I'm starving."

Tristan looked at his watch as well. "Maybe I should go?" he said, making it a question. He looked at Rory.

"No, it's okay," she said. "We still need to review the unit on Shakespeare."

"I've always thought pizza and Shakespeare are a perfect match!" Lorelai interjected.

"Nothing says iambic pentameter like melted cheese," Rory agreed.

"I can tell when I'm outnumbered," Tristan said.

"I'll call," Lorelai said. "You two can study until I get back, but then I'm going to need you to entertain me."

"We should get to work on that Two Stooges routine then," Tristan said to Rory as Lorelai returned to the kitchen to find the phone.

"Right, how does it go...I poke you in the eyes and slam you in the face with a pie?"

"And then I fall down the stairs and you kick me," Tristan added.

"What a genius idea."

"I thought you'd like it."

*

Tristan sat up suddenly, lifting his head from the coffee table where he'd fallen asleep. He winced at the sharp pain in his neck, and rolled his shoulders. He glanced at his watch, then looked around for Rory. She was asleep, her head resting on the table on top of her bent arms. He scooted closer and hesitated a moment, unsure whether he should touch her. He ached with the desire to run his fingers through the hair draped over her face, touch her full lips, slide his hand down the length of her spine. He shivered, and reached out, his fingers grazing her shoulder. She twitched, but her eyes stayed closed. He shook her gently.

"Rory," he said softly. She moved again, and he shook a little harder. "Rory, get up."

"Tired," she muttered.

"I have to go," he said. "It's late."

"Have to go," she repeated, uncomprehending, half-asleep.

"Rory," he said and gently pushed the hair off her face, tucking it behind her ear. "You need to get up. I know from experience that you're sleeping in the most uncomfortable position known to man."

"I was comfy," she pouted. She opened her eyes a crack, still dazed. "What time is it?"

"It's three in the morning," he said. "We must have fallen asleep somewhere after Byron. Or Keats maybe."

She sat up, wincing as her muscles protested. "Ouch," she said. She pulled herself over to the couch and curled up on it. "Better."

He smiled. "I'll see you on Monday."

"But what about Keats?" she said, her eyes half-closed again. "We didn't finish. And we didn't even start on Shelley."

"You can do those tomorrow when you wake up," he said, standing beside the couch. He reached over, pulled a blanket off the back of the couch and draped it over her, tucking her in. She snuggled under the covers with a smile on her face.

"Yeah, we can do them tomorrow," she said.

"We?" he repeated, his heart giving a sudden odd jump.

"Yeah, we should also do some French with the past parti-parci-partiple," she mumbled.

"Okay," he said. He bent over and brushed his hand over the top of her head. "Night, Rory."

"Night, Tristan," she echoed, her breathing already slowing as she drifted back to sleep.

He let himself out, and rubbed at his eyes, taking deep breaths of the chilly night air to wake himself. He slid in behind the wheel of his car and sat for a moment. Should he come over the next day or not? Would she even remember that she'd invited him? What did the invitation mean? It was almost as if she really did like him, really wanted to be around him. He crushed the thought, the hope that tried to blossom. She was just too tired to know what she was saying, and she'd be annoyed if he came and interrupted her private study time. He clutched the steering wheel, and closed his eyes, seeing again her sleeping face, feeling her hair under his hand. He'd come tomorrow, and if she hadn't meant it, she could kick him out. At least he'd have an excuse to see her again for a few seconds. That decided, he started the car and headed home.

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