disclaimer in part 1

Examination
by Rebecca Carefoot
_ _ _

Part 4


Rory woke to the smell of coffee brewing. She opened her eyes and looked around, realizing she was on the couch. She squinted, trying to remember what had happened the night before. Everything was pretty fuzzy after Byron. She must have dozed off. She looked over at the table. And Tristan must have left. She clutched the blanket that covered her body. She thought she remembered Tristan tucking her in. And she had a vague sense of warmth at the almost memory. Happy, filling warmth. Weird. She looked up as Lorelai entered the room with two mugs of coffee.

"Hey, babe," she said. "You look happy."

"I must have had good dreams," Rory said.

Lorelai stepped carefully between piles of notes, and handed Rory one of the mugs. "It's like a library exploded in here," she said.

"It's our new carpet," Rory said. "Don't you like? It's both beautiful and educational."

"Beautiful is debatable, hon," Lorelai said, perching on the arm of the couch. "Though your handwriting is very nice."

"Too bad there are no finals in penmanship."

"How late did you guys stay up? I conked out around 11:30. Which, I know proves I'm an old lady, and a wimpy one at that."

"I'm not sure," Rory said. "I think we fell asleep some time during Byron. Or right after. I remember a little bit of Keats."

"Rory, promise me after you get done with finals, you'll stop telling time by reciting poet's names."

"Okay," Rory said, taking a sip of her coffee and snuggling deeper beneath the covers. "I guess Tristan left while I was sleeping. I don't really remember."

"Poor boy had to drive home at half-past Keats. I hope he didn't fall asleep at the wheel and hit a tree or something."

"Mom," Rory said. "That's not funny."

"You're right, bad taste."

"What time is it?" Rory asked.

"It's a quarter 'til Coleridge," Lorelai said. She returned her daughter's annoyed gaze calmly. "What? You started it." She looked at her watch. "It's 10:30."

"I should get up," Rory said.

"At some point yes, because I plan to use that couch for sitting on later and you're just not as comfortable as the cushions." She tapped Rory's leg. "Too lumpy."

Rory giggled. "I have a lot to do."

"Then do," she said. "Rise and go forth."

"Don't wanna," Rory said.

"And you call yourself a school nerd?"

"No, I don't."

"Oh right, that's what *I* call you." Lorelai grinned and shook her daughter's shoulder. "Get up and play with me!"

"I can't," Rory said, covering her head with the blanket. "I have to study." She hid under the covers until her mom started to grab at her ribs through the cloth, finding her most ticklish spot with ease. Rory yelped, and squirmed free, jumping off the couch. She ran for her room with Lorelai right behind her and closed the door microseconds before her mom reached it.

"I'll get you next time, you wascally wabbit," Lorelai called through the door.

"Run, run, run as fast as you can," Rory taunted. "I'm going to take a shower."

"Your rhyme sort of fell apart there at the end," Lorelai said. "Weren't you supposed to say something about gingerbread?"

"I was taking artistic license."

"Fair enough. Come get yourself some breakfast when you're out."

"I will do that without a doubt."

"Don't rhyme with me, it's disturbing, like that mirror game."

"That game I will admit is lame."

"Rory, you are annoying."

"And my perfume is cloying."

"I give up!" Lorelai walked away, stomping her feet against the ground in mock anger. Rory laughed as she opened her dresser to pick out a change of clothes.

*

Rory sat at the coffee table after breakfast and tried to concentrate on studying her notes on Keats. Her mind was refusing to cooperate, wandering away from the work, and she couldn't seem to focus. She grimaced at the page of notes and started over, taking a deep breath. She tried reading the words out loud, to force herself to pay attention. She tossed the paper down and leaned back against the bottom of the couch. What was wrong with her? She and Tristan had gotten so much done the day before, and now she was useless. She propped her head up on her hand, and thought about studying the day before. It had been fun, much more fun than studying usually was, but they'd been working the whole time. Maybe I'm just drained, she thought. Or Keats just isn't that interesting. She rubbed at her eyes and tried to start the page again.

There was a knock at the door, and she eagerly seized the interruption. 'I'll get it!" she called, and rushed for the door. She opened it, and faced Tristan, who was running a hand through his hair and gazing off at the gnomes in Babette's yard. He turned to face her.

"Hey," she said, her eyebrows contracting in puzzlement. "What are you doing here? Did you forget a notebook?"

"Uh, no," Tristan said. He held up the thick notebook that was tucked under his other arm. "I brought my notes on Shelly and the past participle."

"Okay..." Rory said, still confused. "Why?"

"Oh," Tristan said awkwardly. "Well, you invited me back last night."

Rory gave him a lost look. "I don't really remember anything from last night."

"Not even our fabulous make-out session?" he said with a leer. She snorted. He kept a nonchalant half-smile on his face, despite the disappointment, and shrugged his shoulders. "That's okay," he said. "You were pretty out of it." He turned. "I'll just get out of your hair."

"Wait," she said. He turned his head toward her and waited. "You drove all this way."

He dismissed it with a wave of his hand. "I needed a break anyway. It's a nice drive."

"Yeah, but..." Rory said. "If I did invite you..." She opened the door wider. "You should... We can just go over a few..." He raised an eyebrow at her broken sentence fragments.

"Maybe you should add an ending to one of those sentences," he said.

"I don't want you to have driven all this way for nothing..." She trailed off.

"Are you inviting me in?"

"I guess I am." Tristan smiled. "Only because I do want to go over the past participle," she added quickly.

"Of course," he said. She stepped back from the door, and he entered the house with a triumphant grin.

Rory led him back to the table, a flutter of excitement twisting in her chest. She shuffled through some of the papers to find her French notes. He sat down on the floor, and she sat next to him, her face heated and prickly. She brushed at her forehead with the back of her hand. Was she sweating? She dropped some of the papers in her nervousness, then stood up. "Uh, wait here a sec," she said. "I think I left some of my French notes in my room from when I was working on my project before, my project from Thursday, the notes on Rousseau and some..." She realized she was babbling and shut her mouth with a snap. "Stay here." She turned and hurried to her room, closing the door behind her. She leaned against the smooth wooden surface, and put her hands to her heated cheeks. What was she doing? What was wrong with her?

Tristan stared at her bedroom door and fiddled with the smooth white bead lying in the hollow of his throat. He'd never seen Rory react that way to anything before. She'd seemed completely rattled. If it was anyone else he'd have said she was attracted to him. But it was Rory, and she'd never been attracted to him. He hoped he hadn't upset her by springing himself on her. He was still slightly surprised she'd even let him in. Maybe it was something else entirely. Like she was freaking about finals. Or one of her friends had... He turned his gaze on the notes in front of him. Whatever it was, it was none of his business. He was just here to study. Completely pure motives. Right.

Rory pulled her hands away from her face. "I'm just surprised," she muttered. "I didn't know he was coming." A tiny voice inside her whispered that she was glad he had, and she batted it away. Of course she was glad, they'd made a good study team the night before. She looked at the French papers on her desk and grabbed them. She took a deep breath. It's just Tristan, she reminded herself, then opened the door and returned to the living room. He looked up when he heard her returning.

She smiled and held up the notes. "See."

"Wow, notes!" he said. "I haven't seen anything like that before."

She laughed, looking at the papers spread out anywhere. "Yeah," she said. "They're endangered. The last of their kind." She hesitated, then took a seat at the head of the table rather than sitting beside him along the side. "Right," she said, not meeting his eyes. "Let's get started."

*

"What about this verb?" Tristan asked.

"It's irregular," Rory answered.

"I can see that."

"What do you want to know then? It's divorced. Has three kids."

"I'm not trying to write it a personal ad. How do you conjugate it?"

She looked at the paper. "Okay, it's just like this one." She pointed to another verb.

Lorelai bounced down the stairs, and they both looked over. "Hi, Tristan," she said. "I didn't know you were coming again today."

"Neither did I," Rory said, giving Tristan a teasing smile.

"Just think how lucky you are to get such a wonderful surprise," Tristan answered.

"I'm blessed," Rory said.

"I'm going to the store, blessed girl," Lorelai broke in. "We have nothing to eat in this house but a half-full jar of jam." She shoved her keys into her pocket. "Try not to spontaneously combust while I'm gone."

"We'll try," Tristan said.

"But no promises," Rory finished.

"If you must combust, do it outside," Lorelai answered. "I don't want you to get any scorch marks on the couch." She grinned and disappeared out the door.

"Your mom is really great," Tristan said once she was gone.

"I know," Rory answered with a nod.

"My mom..." he stopped. Rory waited, her eyes on the side of his bowed head. "...isn't like your mom," he finished lamely.

"No one's mom is like my mom," Rory said.

"Yeah," Tristan agreed, flashing a small smile. "But my mom is-" There was a knock at the door, and they both looked over in surprise. Rory jumped up.

"Mom, your keys are in your pocket," she called. "Did you forget your-" She pulled open the door and stopped abruptly when she saw Dean on the doorstep, his hands behind his back. "Dean," she said, surprise in her voice.

"I know," he said. "You told me you were too busy this weekend, but I brought you this." He pulled his hands from behind his back and offered a cardboard holder with four hot cups of coffee from Luke's. Her eyes widened.

"Oh! Thanks. Thank you. Really. This is so nice of you." He leaned forward and lightly brushed his lips to hers.

"You're welcome," he said, then smiled. "So can I come in? Just for a second or however long it takes to drink a cup of coffee?" She opened her mouth. "You have to take a break sometime," Dean urged.

She closed her mouth, then opened it again. She half-turned and looked behind her, then turned back, utterly confused.

"You do realize no sound is coming out of your mouth," he said.

"Uh..." she started. "Well, we're kind of busy."

"We?"

"Tristan is here."

His jaw clenched, and he stared at her hard for a moment. "You guys are studying again?"

"Yeah," she said.

"Well, I brought four cups," Dean said. "So there's plenty for all of us."

"Okay," Rory said uncertainly. She stepped back from the door, holding the coffee against her chest. Dean ducked his head as he passed through the doorway, and she led him to the living room. Tristan was already standing by the table, having heard some of the conversation, with his arms crossed over his chest. He and Dean locked gazes, sizing each other up with hostile glares.

"Tristan, Dean," she said, waving a hand at each of them in turn.

"We've met," Tristan said, his throat tight.

"Let's pretend you haven't," Rory said. She handed each of them a cup of coffee, and put the last one of the table. They stood awkwardly for a moment. She motioned for Tristan to sit on the couch; he shook his head.

"I'll stand."

She took a small sip of coffee. "So..."

"That's a lot of dead trees," Dean said, looking at the piles of notes.

"That's Chilton," Rory said.

"No tie today," Dean said snidely, looking at Tristan.

"Not today," Tristan agreed, narrowing his eyes.

"Uh, how about those...Yankees?" Rory said. They both looked at her, smiling slightly.

"Yankees?" Dean said. "Have you ever seen a baseball game?"

"Of course I have," Rory answered defensively. "We like to look at the tight pants."

"Maybe we should go to a game sometime," Tristan said. "I was planning to go to New York for a couple weeks this summer anyway." He smirked at Dean, and the other boy's face heated with anger.

"Why?" Rory asked. "Do you like to look at the tight pants too?" Dean grinned, then stopped when he saw Rory smiling at Tristan, and the smile he was returning.

"A play then," Tristan said. "I'll bet there's something you'd like on Broadway."

"Forget it," Dean said. "She can see through your crap."

"And she can speak for herself," Rory interjected.

"I know that," Dean said. "But he's-"

"Inviting a friend to hang out with him," Tristan said, raising his eyebrow. "What's the big deal, Dean?" he asked, his tone mocking.

"Why would you even want to be friends with this guy?" Dean asked, his voice rising as he turned to Rory and gestured at Tristan with his arm. "He's an asshole."

"You going to try to tell her who she can hang out with?" Tristan snapped, taking a step closer, his hands by his sides. "Mr. Boyfriend's so insecure he can't even handle her hanging out with other guys."

"We all know you're not about friendship," Dean said, leaning forward. "We all know what you really want from her."

"Hey," Rory said. "I'm standing right here."

"I'm a better friend to her than you are," Tristan said. "Where have you been for the last two months?" He lifted his chin at Dean, and the other boy let out a slow breath through his nostrils, his teeth clenching. His hand balled into a fist, and he put his coffee down on the table. Tristan raised his eyebrows and did the same, a challenging look on his face.

"What are you doing?" Rory asked, her voice sharp with panic.

"She's never going to want you," Dean said. "She's too smart for that."

"That's between me and her," Tristan said, taking another step closer so that he and Dean were chest to chest. He looked up into Dean's face, his eyes snapping with anger.

"You can buy her things," Dean taunted. "And you can sit around and talk about your school work or whatever. But you're never going to get to her. You understand me?"

"Worry about yourself," Tristan spat back. "You broke up with her once already, and you're calling *me* the asshole."

Dean's teeth ground together, and he pushed at Tristan with both hands, sending the smaller boy backward a few paces. Tristan flung himself back at Dean. Dean staggered, and the two of them twisted, grappling against each other. They banged into the table, twisting again, fists flailing against each other's sides.

"Hey!" Rory yelled. "HEY!" she screamed at the top of her lungs, her voice turning raw with the volume. They paused, breathing hard, fists clutching handfuls of shirt material. "Stop it!" she said, her voice a loud mix of anger, annoyance and disbelief. "Get out," she said flatly.

"Rory," Dean said, releasing Tristan. "I'm sorry. But you saw how he-"

"Get. Out," Rory said, her voice dangerously calm. She pointed at the door. Dean looked like he was about to protest again, but after a look at her face he backed toward the door. She turned her gaze on Tristan, who was gathering up his notes, and glared until he also hurried toward the door.

"Sorry," he muttered, before slipping outside.

She went to the window to make sure they weren't just taking the fight outside, then sat down on the floor, her eyes wide and staring. She'd known they wouldn't get along, but she'd hoped to at least avoid a repeat of what had happened last time. Instead, they were typical males, fighting like dogs over their territory. As if she was their territory. She pounded her fist against the wall.

"What's going on?" Lorelai asked as she came in the door a moment later. "I just saw Tristan's car as I was walking home. Did he leave?" She entered the living room to see Rory sitting on the floor. She hurried over. "What happened?

Rory looked up and shook her head, her jaws still locked tight with anger. "Dean came over," she said.

"And you brought him in here with Tristan?" Lorelai asked. "Oh no. Testosterone poisoning?"

Rory nodded. "I can't believe them. They were arguing over me like I wasn't even there."

"Well, who needs 'em," Lorelai said. "You've got me." She smiled, sat down on the floor next to Rory, and put her arm around her daughter. "And ice cream."

Rory cracked a tiny smile. "Chunky Monkey?"

"And..." Lorelai paused dramatically, "...Cookies and Cream."

Rory smiled wider.

"Don't worry about it too much, babe," Lorelai said, running her fingers through Rory's hair. "They're boys. This is how they are. They'll come crawling back, and after a suitable period of time punishing them and making them grovel before you, you'll forgive them." Rory rested her head on her mom's shoulder. "And of course, you will never put them in the same room again. It's like those fighting fish. They have to be alone in the tank or else they fight and then they eat each other."

"Ew," Rory said.

"You having a mental image of Dean gnawing on Tristan's severed leg?"

"I wasn't until now," Rory said, rolling her eyes.

Lorelai stood up, and extended her hand. "We can't let the ice cream melt, now can we?" Rory grabbed the hand, and Lorelai gave her arm a quick pull that brought her to her feet. "Who has time for silly boys anyway," she said. "We still have to work on your plan for total Chilton domination."

"Right," Rory said. "And figure out why they call it the Thirty Years War."

"See, way too busy for worrying about Dean and Tristan making fools of themselves." She wrapped her arm around Rory's waist and the two of them went to grab the shopping bag from the entryway. "Hey, I've been meaning to ask you, what color was George Washington's white horse?"

"Grey."

continue