disclaimer in part 1

Examination
by Rebecca Carefoot
_ _ _

Part 6


Rory lay in her bed, the covers twisted around her, and tried to clutch the quickly fading tatters of her dream. The images, the touches, slipped away, disappearing like tendrils of mist under the light of the sun. The harder she tried to remember the face of the boy in the dream, the more the dream retreated from her, skittering away to the back of her mind. She gritted her teeth in frustration.

"It was probably Brad Pitt anyway," she said spitefully, and tossed the covers aside.

She stalked into the kitchen, and stared bleary eyed at the coffee machine. She went through the automatic motions of making a pot, then sat by the counter, watching the coffee drip against the glass. After spacing out for a few minutes, she decided a watched coffee pot would never finish brewing and sat down at the table. She closed her eyes, propping her head up with her hand.

"Coffee?" Lorelai said as she entered the room, her eyes closed, her hands outstretched like a blind woman.

"It's almost ready, Frankenstein," Rory said with a snort. Lorelai opened one of her eyes a crack to peer at her daughter.

"Fire bad," she said solemnly. Rory pouted at the table, scratching at a flaw in the slick surface. Lorelai dropped her arms, and gave Rory a curious look. "What's with the moping?"

"I'm not moping," Rory said.

"If you were a dwarf you would be Mopey," Lorelai said.

"That isn't even one of the dwarves."

"Sure it is, the eighth dwarf. You never saw him because he was too busy moping to go work in the mines."

"Well, if you were a dwarf I would call you Nosey," Rory said, not looking up.

"I suppose you could be Grumpy," Lorelai said speculatively. "Or Meanie." She tapped Rory on the wrist. "What's going on?"

Rory shook her head. "I can't remember what I dreamed last night."

"Neither can I," Lorelai said shrugging her shoulder. "Except that there was something about being captured by people who worshipped salad dressing. And bacon bits. I don't *think* there were any croutons." She clutched her stomach. "Let's go to Luke's!"

"I just *made* coffee," Rory pointed out.

"But did you make pancakes?" Lorelai asked. "Or waffles? Oooh, let's get waffles."

"Mom," Rory said. Lorelai pulled her up out of her seat, and dragged her to the counter. She poured her a mug of coffee, shoved it into her hand, and pushed her in the direction of her room.

"Get dressed," she said. "We're going to Luke's and you're telling me what's causing the long face."

*
Rory stared out the window at Luke's, her eyes half closed. She turned her head to watch as her mother returned from the counter. Lorelai sat down across from her, throwing a backward glance at Luke. "You'd think he'd learn not to get between Lorelai Gilmore and her coffee," she said. She held out her full cup and smiled.

Rory flashed a distracted smile in return. Lorelai gave her a thoughtful look. "So," she said. "We've got some time before the waffles get here. Spill it."

"Seriously," Rory said. "It's nothing."

Lorelai rolled her eyes. "I think I know when my daughter is upset. My own flesh and blood. Born of my own womb. Carried inside me for 9 months. Lived with me for 16 years. You think that doesn't give me some insight into your moods?" Rory plucked at her napkin, creating a stack of small shreds of paper. "Rory," Lorelai said. Rory raised her eyes, and met her mom's concerned gaze. "What's going on?"

"I'm just confused," Rory said.

"Me too," Lorelai answered. "Less vague, please."

"I guess..." Rory started. "I don't know how to explain it really."

"Well, make an effort," Lorelai said. "Or are you in the mood for twenty questions? Is it bigger than a bread box?"

Rory chuckled. "It's a problem. It doesn't have physical mass."

"Is it finals?" Lorelai said. "Chilton? Friends? Boyfriend? Family? You don't like the color the leaves are turning? You think Kirk looks more like an Evan?"

"All of the above," Rory said. "Only not the leaves or Kirk."

Lorelai studied Rory for a moment. "Okay, look. If you don't want to talk, I can understand that. Eventually of course, I will drag it out of you. But I'm willing to give you a couple hours to come out with it voluntarily."

"Thanks," Rory said. She tapped her fork against the table, absently staring out the window. Lorelai tried to stare with her, but exhaled loudly.

"I lied. Spill now!" she whined.

Rory shook her head, smiling to herself. "That was pathetic. I was thinking you'd last at least five minutes."

"I have no patience," Lorelai said. "It's a genetic flaw. DNA. Can't be helped."

Rory sighed, and hunched forward over the table. Her forehead wrinkled, she bit her lip thoughtfully as she tried to figure out what to say. "I don't think I can be friends with Tristan anymore," she finally blurted.

"But you seemed like you were getting along so well," Lorelai said.

Rory shrugged. "Yeah. I guess. But I just... I don't think it's a good idea for me to spend so much time with him."

"Because Dean is jealous?" Lorelai asked. "Jealousy is a stupid emotion. Tell Dean to get over it, and eventually he will."

"I don't know," Rory said. "Anyway, that's not even it. There are other things. I just don't think it will work. I mean, I feel weird when I'm around him. It makes me uncomfortable."

"Knowing that he likes you."

"Yeah," Rory said. She brushed aside the vague feeling of guilt that rose with the small voice inside suggesting that it wasn't Tristan's feelings that were the problem. "I can't give him what he wants."

"But isn't that his decision?" Lorelai said. "If he thinks he can handle it, why can't you handle it too?"

Rory bit the inside of her cheek, and stared at her fork. "I just can't do it." She looked up, and Lorelai met her gaze sympathetically.

"Hey, your life. Your decision. I can't tell you what to do." She ducked her head and took a sip of coffee, not quite buying it, though she let the matter drop. She wondered what was really going on, but she had to trust Rory would come to her when she was ready.

"Right." Rory smiled weakly. "I'm the big decision maker."

*

Rory looked at her notes, chewing her lip nervously. She'd figured out which section Tristan had, and it was one she hadn't done too well on during the last test. She scanned the explanation in her math book and felt more confused then ever. Shaking her head, she slammed the book shut. She didn't want to think about Tristan, much less worry about seeing him to get the notes back. She'd made her decision, she just wanted things to be like they had been before. She just wanted to be happy with Dean.

She grabbed the phone and dialed Dean's number.

"Hello?" he said.

"Dean. It's Rory."

"Hey!" he said, his voice a combination of surprise and happiness. "Does this mean you're talking to me again?"

"Yep," she said.

"Has anyone ever told you that you suck at holding a grudge?"

"You want me to hang up on you now?"

"Nah," he said. "I like this particular deficiency. I'm just surprised. Good surprised."

"I figured you'd suffered enough," she said. "And I know you weren't the only one involved in the whole fight fiasco. Tristan wasn't exactly trying to get along either." She paused. "Don't get me wrong. I don't ever want you to get in a fight like that again. Not over me. Not because of something as stupid as jealousy. But it's only your first strike so I'm not going to hold it against you."

"What happens if I get three strikes?" he said.

"Firing squad or guillotine. I haven't decided yet."

"I'll just have to be perfect from now on," he said. "Thank God I'm not human."

Rory laughed. "Right, cause human boys are so beneath me."

"Since you're perfect yourself."

"Never made a single mistake my whole life."

"What about the time you dropped your books at school?"

"I met you, so not a mistake."

"Granted."

"Okay, Mr. Perfect. I actually can't talk. I just wanted to let you know I'm not mad anymore. And I'll definitely see you Thursday."

"Actually, it'll be Friday," Dean said. "You're not the only one with finals, you know. Ours go until Friday."

"Friday then," Rory agreed. "We can develop a plan to somehow completely avoid all finals next year."

"Drop out?"

"Cause I've always wanted to work at 7-11."

"Me too. You get free Slurpees."

Rory laughed. "Great, so now we have a plan. We can spend Friday doing things that are fun."

"Like what?"

"I don't know. Fun things. You can figure out the details."

"Fun details."

"Exactly. Now I'm going at the count of three. One."

"Four."

"Five."

"Fifteen."

"Three." Rory hung up the phone, and sat back, a small smile on her face. This was the right thing. This was what she wanted. Her glance fell on her notebook, and she stood up, her calm disappearing. She paced her room, tossing glances at her notebook, then at the phone. Finally she opened the door, and found her mom on the living room couch with a book.

"Busy?" she asked.

"Nope," Lorelai answered. She held out the book. "You know, I trusted Oprah to steer me toward great literature. Big mistake. I'd be more entertained watching Oprah's nail polish dry. Especially if they had one of those blowy nail dryers that make the whirring sounds."

"I guess Oprah's not right all the time."

"What next? Are you going to tell me Martha Stewart's linens sometimes get dirty? What is the world coming to?"

Rory smiled. "I know what will relieve you of your boredom."

"A pillow fight?" Lorelai asked eagerly.

"No," Rory said. "Driving to Tristan's house to get my math notes."

"What?" Lorelai pouted. "You need to reevaluate your definition of non-boredom."

"Come on," Rory urged. "He took them accidentally, and I think I really need them for tomorrow."

"Go get them yourself," Lorelai said.

Rory shook her head. "Not hanging out with him anymore, remember?"

"So what? You don't have to hang out, you just have to knock on the door, say...where are my notes? Take them and leave. No hanging whatsoever."

Rory whimpered. "Please just help me."

"I'm your mother," Lorelai said. "I'm not supposed to help you. I'm supposed to force you to do things for yourself and teach you valuable lessons." She smiled, then touched Rory on the back of her hand. "I'm sorry, babe. I'll go with you, but I can't let you off the hook. You have to deal with it. At the least, you should let Tristan know he's on your non-friends list again."

Rory opened her mouth to beg, but saw the resolve in Lorelai's face. She sighed. "I'll call and make sure he's home."

"That's my girl."

*

Lorelai stood behind Rory on the doorstep of the DuGrey mansion. The house was huge. Two stories. Slate gray. A large stone statue of a naked woman with a pitcher under her arm stood at the edge of the porch beside one of two graceful columns.

"I think she's giving me the evil eye," Lorelai whispered with a nervous glance at the sculpture.

"Her eyes are stone," Rory pointed out.

"Yeah, but I can still recognize the evil eye when I see it," Lorelai said. "She totally hates me." Rory rolled her eyes, and Lorelai nudged her with an elbow. "Hurry up and ring the bell before she tosses that pitcher at me."

Rory hesitated with her finger over the doorbell, then pressed it and took a step back. After a moment the door swung open to reveal a tall, older man, dressed in a tuxedo, complete with tails. Rory gaped at him for a moment, until he raised a cultured eyebrow.

"Yes?" he said, snidely British.

"Oh, I'm Rory Gilmore," she said. "This is my mom. Lorelai. Actually I'm Lorelai Gilmore too. We're both Lorelai Gilmore."

"We have a reservation," Lorelai said, cutting into her daughter's babbling with a smile.

The man pretended not to have heard her. "Master Tristan is expecting you," he said, stepping aside.

"Master Tristan?" Lorelai mouthed silently behind his back when he turned to lead them into the foyer. Rory waved her away, and tried not to stare at the gleaming expanse of black marble floor, and the spiral staircase that curved in the middle of the room. The handrails sparkled silver. In the center of the staircase's wide spiral was a silver lattice that reached up to the ceiling, twined with brilliant crimson roses like bright splashes of blood against the black.

"Anyone ever try to slide down that bannister?" Lorelai asked.

"No," the butler said, not cracking a smile. He looked at Rory. "Follow me please, miss." He headed for the stairs, and Rory looked at the spiral doubtfully.

"Are you sure it's not just for decoration?" she said.

"It's quite safe," he answered.

"I'll just wait here," Lorelai said. "In Gattica." Rory gave her a look of fearful pleading, but she waved her daughter onward. "It's okay," she said. "I'm sure Jeeves doesn't bite. What's your real name, Jeeves?"

The butler frowned slightly, but answered the question. "Niles, ma'am."

"And do you bite, Niles?"

"No, ma'am," he said stiffly.

"See," Lorelai said. Rory sighed under her breath and followed Niles, watching her step and keeping a firm grasp on the railing. She had to admit it was pretty, but she could picture herself pitching over the side with only a thorny rose bush to cushion her from the marble and shuddered. She'd take a nice, normal staircase any day.

After a moment they reached the second floor, and Niles led her along a length of hallway to a closed door. He motioned to the door, then returned the way he'd come, leaving her alone in the hall. She thought for a brief, insane moment about turning around and running back down the stairs. It wasn't too late. With a sigh, she knocked on the door instead.

Tristan pulled the door open and stood before her in a black t-shirt and worn jeans. His hair was rumpled, and his feet were bare. It was the first time since she'd met him that she didn't feel like he'd stepped out of a catalogue. Casual suited him, and she found herself smiling at him before she'd realized what she was doing.

"What?" he said.

"Nice house," she answered.

He shrugged, reddening slightly. "Whatever."

"It's very..." Rory paused. "Dramatic."

Tristan snorted. "That's one way to put it. My mom decorated it. She'll probably get tired of it in a couple months, and have the whole thing redone again."

"You don't like it?" Rory said.

"It's like a magazine picture or a design exhibit," he said. "It's nice to look at, but living in it's a bitch. Those stairs are a pain in the ass. Literally. One of the maids fractured her tailbone."

"Ouch," Rory winced.

"Tell me about it," he said. "Anyway, come in. I have your notes on my desk." He stepped away from the door, and Rory followed him into the room. She looked around curiously while he shuffled through some papers on a polished black desk with silver handles. The room was at least twice the size of hers. The bed was against one wall, a king sized sea of red: red sheets, pillow cases, and comforter, offset by a black headboard. Black bookcases stood on either side of the bed, most of the shelves filled with hardback books. A large screen TV and some expensive looking stereo equipment filled a black lacquer entertainment center opposite the bed. Several framed pieces of abstract art hung on the walls. One of them seemed to be a canvas painted completely black, and another was a jumble of black geometric shapes on a white surface. The carpet was an immaculate white. The entire room was oddly bare, and abnormally clean. The only things that indicated anyone lived there were the papers spread all over the bed, and the stacks of books and notebooks on the desk.

"I take it your mom designed the room," Rory said.

Tristan rubbed the back of his neck with his hand, and ducked his head, keeping his eyes on the papers he was shuffling. "Yeah," he said. "I have some stuff in the closet, but she doesn't like to have things screw up the theme out here."

Rory nodded. "I have a friend with hidden stashes of CDs under her floorboards, and a little mini-room hidden in her closet." She glanced around the room again. "I guess it's sort of you in a weird way."

"Why?" Tristan snorted. "Because it's clean?"

"Yeah," Rory agreed. "Your cleanliness really stands out. I bet you take a shower every single day."

"You've been thinking about me in the shower, huh?" he teased. He turned to her, and Rory fought the blush that crept up her neck. An awkward silence stretched between them, and he stared at her, wondering where the witty comeback was. Finally, he held out the papers. "Here."

Rory took the papers from his hand, and stood for a moment, her mouth suddenly dry. "Look..." she started, just as he said, "Well..."

"Go ahead," he said.

She took a deep breath and kept her eyes on the papers in her hands. "I really had a good time studying with you," she started.

"Me too," Tristan said with a smile.

"But I..." she started. "I can't do this anymore."

"Study with me?" Tristan said.

"Do anything with you," Rory corrected.

"What?" he said, his voice soft.

"It's not you," she said. "I mean it. I just...thought we could be friends even with all the," she motioned with her hands, "this between us, but I was wrong. It's uncomfortable for me, and I can't-"

"Don't even bother," Tristan said coldly. "I don't need your excuses."

"Please," Rory said. "I just think it's for the best. I don't want to hurt-"

"You are a liar," Tristan answered, his face heating with anger. "You're not afraid I'm going to get hurt. And this isn't about my feelings for you. When you found out about how I felt, you were the one who wanted to be friends in the first place."

"I know," Rory said, "but I didn't realize..."

"This is about YOU," Tristan interrupted. "Because you are a coward."

"What are you talking about?" Rory said, allowing her own anger to grow in response to the attack. "Yeah, this is about me. It's about the impossible position you put me in. You know I don't feel anything for you, but it's like you put all this pressure on me just by being around me. I can't deal-"

"Lie," Tristan interrupted.

"It is NOT a lie!" Rory yelled.

"You're afraid!" Tristan said, not quite yelling, his voice sharp with intensity.

"Of what?" Rory spat. "You have no idea what I-"

"Of this," Tristan said, and grabbed her by the arms. He pulled her closer to him, and pressed his lips to hers, hard. Her fingers clenched around her notes, and she responded to the kiss, her free hand tangling in the spikes of his hair, as he twisted his fist in the fabric of her shirt. Her heart pounded, thudding against her ears, and she couldn't feel anything but his lips on hers, the pressure of his fist against her ribs. She felt like she was falling, a mix of intense adrenaline hyped panic, and utter joyful freedom. Then she jerked away, panting for breath, her knees weak. "You're not afraid of my feelings for you," Tristan said softly. "You're afraid that maybe you'll feel something for me." She made the mistake of meeting his eyes, and was swept under for a moment as a part of her shivered at the words, the heat in his gaze. Then she turned and ran for the door, pulling it open and dashing down the hall.

She careened down the stairs, not caring that the steps were slick and steep. She slipped and skidded down several steps, skinning her hands and knees, but she pulled herself back up and continued to run. When she reached the bottom, she stormed through the foyer. She heard her mom call her name as she hurried out of the house after her fleeing daughter. Rory climbed into the passenger's seat of the Jeep, rubbing at her lips with the back of her hand. She felt wetness on her cheeks and realized she was crying. She quickly dried her eyes on her shirt sleeve, and stared out the window as her mom climbed into the car and started the engine.

"Did you get the notes?" Lorelai asked for lack of anything better to say. Rory held up the crumpled handful of paper, and Lorelai nodded. "Do you want to talk about it?" she asked.

Rory shook her head no, and carefully kept her gaze on the bushes outside, trying to keep her mind completely blank, to forget the feel of his lips on hers, his hands touching her arms, brushing her side where he'd grabbed her shirt. She swiped at another tear, and smoothed out the papers on her lap. She didn't even know why she was crying. It wasn't like she knew him that well. And it was obvious that she'd been right. They couldn't be friends. Not anymore.

She took a shaky breath. Now, all she had to do was convince herself it was worth it.

*
Tristan grabbed a lamp off his desk and threw it against the wall. It littered the white carpet with a spray of glass and ceramic shards. He shoved all the papers and books off his bed, letting them flutter and thunk to the ground, then he threw himself down on the mattress. The anger that had fueled him began to fade, leaving the underlying hurt exposed. He was choking on hurt, hurt pride, hurt feelings. His chest ached with wanting. And with loss. He turned his head to the window and wished for impossible things.

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