disclaimer in part 1

Examination
by Rebecca Carefoot
_ _ _

Part 7


Lorelai held open the front door, and Rory went inside. She headed straight for her room and closed the door. Alone, she let her mouth crumple and the tears fall for a moment. Then she took a shaky breath and wiped her eyes. She stared at her strained face in the mirror, and carefully looked for signs of the kiss, somehow expecting to see a scarlet A branded on her forehead. There was nothing. She looked a little surprised maybe. A little sad. She brushed at her eyes again, and noticed the scrapes on her hands.

She hurried to the bathroom, and washed the slightly torn skin. She splashed some cold water on her face, and carefully patted her face dry. She braced herself, and opened the bathroom door.

As she'd expected, Lorelai stood outside the door, her arms crossed over her chest. She stepped forward and before Rory had time to step away, she was enfolded in a hug. She stood still for a moment, then reached up and hugged her mom back, resting her head on Lorelai's shoulder. Lorelai stroked her hair gently, and Rory tightened her grip, then stepped back. Lorelai let her go with a worried frown on her face.

"What happened?" she asked. Rory hesitated.

"He kissed me," she finally answered.

"And that caused all this?" Lorelai asked. "Crying? Running down the stairs like a crazy person? What are you not telling me?" She smiled a little and touched Rory's cheek. "You know secrets are against the rules."

Rory blinked back another wash of tears, and gritted her teeth. "I hate this," she said. "I don't even know why I'm crying."

Lorelai put her arm around Rory's waist and pulled her toward the sofa. They sat down together, and Lorelai put her chin on Rory's shoulder. "You probably do know," she said. "Maybe you just don't want to think about it."

"Maybe," Rory admitted. "He said I was afraid."

"Of what?" Lorelai asked.

Rory shook her head. Then she sagged against the sofa, and Lorelai sat up, pulling Rory's hand into her lap. "Of maybe having feelings for him," she said softly.

"Do you?" Lorelai asked.

Rory touched her trembling lips and blinked watery eyes. "I don't know," she said, biting back a choked sob.

"Oh, Rory," Lorelai said, pulling her daughter close. Rory curled up on the sofa, her head in her mother's lap. "Having feelings doesn't make you a bad person. It's not your fault."

"I don't want to have them," she said. "I want things to be simple. Like they were before." She sniffled. "I want Dean to be my boyfriend."

"He is, remember?" Lorelai said. "And yet, you're still lying on the couch, an emotional wreck."

"I used to know I belonged with him," Rory said. Lorelai rested a hand on her back. "I want to be sure again." She shifted. "I don't even know if anything could happen with Tristan. I don't even know if I want anything to happen. There's just this possibility. I can't stop thinking..." She trailed off, and Lorelai glanced over at Luke's toolbox with a thoughtful look on her face.

"I think I recall the feeling," she said with a smile.

"What do I do?" Rory said.

"You want to know what I think?" Lorelai said. "I think I can't tell you what to do on this one."

"Well, what's the point of having a mom if she won't tell me what to do," Rory pouted.

"You just want someone else to take the heat when this whole situation gets out of control and causes World War III," Lorelai accused.

"Oh course," Rory answered with a smile.

"You're the only one who knows what you feel," Lorelai said. "You're the only one who knows what's right for you." She stroked the length of Rory's hair. "Look. Just be honest with yourself, and everything will work out for the best." She tapped Rory's head. "But you have to really be honest."

"What are you talking about?" Rory said.

"Well, I know you want to pick Dean," Lorelai said. "He was your first boyfriend. You never really wanted to breakup with him. And you just got him back. Of course you want to stay with him. You said yourself you don't know if it would work with Tristan. So picking Dean is the safe thing to do."

"What does this have to do with lying and not lying?"

"The truth is," Lorelai answered, "neither of them is a sure thing. They're people not a science experiment. You can't predict the properties of how chemical x will react with chemical y here. The only thing you can know is how you feel. You have to take a good, hard look at yourself. Examine your feelings, and don't take the easy way. Take the right way."

Rory sighed. "It doesn't feel like there's any right way."

"Then pick the less wrong way," Lorelai said. "Think of it as another final. You have to study, and then you take the test. Make the decision. Give an answer. Bubble in the letter."

"Yeah, okay," Rory said. "I get the metaphor. You can stop now."

"Wait," Lorelai said, "just a couple more. You have to put an X in the box, punch out the chad, write the essay..." Rory shook her head and got up, heading to the kitchen to escape the continuing list. Lorelai followed her. "Hey, are you making coffee?"

*

Rory looked at the crumpled notes on her desk. She felt pretty well prepared for her finals. All that was left was another look at that section of math. She reached tentatively for them. They were just notes, but it was hard to look at them, to concentrate when the deep creases in the paper reminded her of that kiss.

She sighed. The most important thing now was to try not to think about it. To avoid Tristan at school. And to get through finals. After that, it was anybody's guess.

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