disclaimer in part 1

Examination
by Rebecca Carefoot
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Part 8


Rory finished writing out the last equation and started to check her work. Just a moment later, the teacher asked them to put their pencils down, and Rory obeyed. She sat back, relieved to have finished her first exam. So far, everything was going according to plan. Tristan had been so easy to avoid, she wondered if he wasn't avoiding her as well. Of course she would have to see him in her next period, since they had the same English class. But she planned to sit as far away from him as possible. And because they had extended periods during exams she wouldn't have to worry about going to history or any of the other classes she shared with him.

The bell rang and she gathered up her things, passing Paris on her way out the door. The other girl gave her a thoughtful look, but Rory ignored it. If there was one thing she didn't need, it was another lecture about how much Paris hated her. Especially since, for the first time, she couldn't truthfully say she had no interest in Tristan whatsoever. She dropped a notebook off at her locker and headed to English, getting there just seconds before the bell. The class was full, the only empty seat on the front row beside... Rory sighed. Tristan.

She took the seat, and kept her eyes on Mr. Medina as he gave a brief explanation and began handing out the exams. She started working on hers as soon as it was placed in front of her, breezing through the first few questions on Shakespeare. She came to a short answer question on Dickinson, and froze, her mind suddenly blank of anything but Tristan talking about 'A Fly Buzzed.' She glanced at him before she could catch herself. He was bent over his exam, chewing on his lower lip and squinting as he tried to remember something. He looked up, his eyes meeting hers, and she quickly looked away, refocusing on her test.

After a few more questions, she was in her own world again, her concentration unbroken by anything but figuring out how to word her essay.

She finished with just a few moments to spare, and turned over her paper. Tristan was still working on the last answer. He ran his hand through his hair, pulling on the strands as he thought about the question. Her chest ached, and she turned away, frightened when she recognized the feeling she'd had the first time Dean had walked with her past the cake shop. She gritted her teeth and rolled her pencil between her thumb and forefinger. She wasn't going to think about it. Not yet.

The bell rang, and Mr. Medina began to collect the exams. She hurried for the door as soon as hers was handed in. She ate a quick lunch outside, and took her science book to the library for some last minute review.

She set her books down on one of the tables, and sat down. There were a few other students who'd had the same idea. She looked around at the heads bent over open notes, and recognized Paris at one of the far tables. She quickly ducked her head, and held her book up to hide her face. She peeked out from behind the book, but Paris seemed too absorbed in her studying to notice Rory. Relieved, Rory put the book back down on the table, and opened it.

She'd read through most of the 8th chapter when she realized someone was standing next to her. She looked over, and sighed a little when she saw Paris standing next to her chair with one hand on her hip. Rory raised her eyebrows and waited.

"I just wanted to tell you that I'm going to give you the music column next year," Paris said bluntly, her voice slightly lowered but still too loud for the library. Rory looked at her in confusion, then at the people around them who were staring in annoyance.

"Um...what?" Rory whispered.

"And don't read anything into it," Paris said. "I'm not your friend. And I'm not doing it for you. It's for the good of the paper. I want the paper to be really great while I'm editor, and you were right about Louise. She doesn't know anything about music."

"Well...thanks," Rory said, her forehead wrinkling.

"Whatever," Paris said. "I have to go get a good seat for my next final."

"Good luck," Rory said. Paris didn't answer as she strode out of the room.

Rory stared into space, unsure what to think. Finally she smiled. Even if she and Paris were never going to be friends, she was glad to have an assignment that fit her for the paper. She wondered where Paris' change of heart had come from, but decided it didn't matter. If Paris wasn't going to actively seek to make her life miserable, then maybe there was hope for next year.

*

When she stepped off the bus in Stars Hollow, Dean was waiting at the bus stop. He smiled at her, and she smiled weakly back.

"I thought I'd surprise you," he said.

"Mission accomplished," she answered. He pulled her close, and lightly kissed her. She relaxed into his embrace for a moment, enjoying the comfort, then closed her eyes and pulled away.

"Bad day?" he asked.

"Not so bad," she said. "There were a few good spots."

"Still mad?" he asked.

"No," she said, shaking her head emphatically.

"Then what's up?" he asked. "You're acting a little weird."

She hesitated, unsure what to do. She hadn't planned on making any decision until after finals. But she couldn't just pretend everything was okay. She couldn't lie to him. But she didn't know what the truth was, outside of the fact that she was confused. She stared up into his eyes, and he waited, a puzzled look on his face.

"I'm sorry," she said.

"Why?" he asked warily.

"I think we made a mistake," she blurted.

"I'm going to need you to be a little more specific," he said, his puzzlement deepening.

"I really missed you," she said. "You know, after..."

He nodded. "I know, me too."

"I love being around you. And I love talking with you," she said. "And I hated it that you weren't in my life. There were so many times I wanted to call you or go with you to the movies or just hang out."

"Rory, what is this about?" he asked.

"I think when," she stumbled. "When we broke up, I lost a friend. We made a mistake. We shouldn't have stopped talking like we did." He opened his mouth, and she hurried on. "I know, we were both really hurt, and it was too hard to be around each other. But-"

"Rory," Dean said. "Are you breaking up with me?"

"No! I don't know," she said. "Tristan kissed me."

"What?" Dean said, almost a yell. "I told you, didn't I? I told you he was just waiting for a chance to-"

"I sort of kissed him back," Rory said. "Just for a second." Dean's eyebrows contracted. "I don't think it's fair for me to stay with you, when I'm...confused."

"You're breaking up with me for him?" Dean said, his voice raw with hurt.

"No," Rory said. "No. I'm breaking up with you because of me, not him. I don't even know if I'm going to be friends with him again, much less anything more. I don't even know if I really want to start something with him. But I know..." She stopped. "I know, that it's not like it was before between you and me. I'm not...*sure* anymore. And I won't lie to you."

Dean stood silently, his head bowed. His jaw jumping. Rory reached out to touch his hand, and he jerked away.

"Please," she said. "I need you in my life. I just don't think I can be your girlfriend anymore."

"Why did you even get back together with me?" he asked. "I don't understand..."

"I told you," she said. "You were just gone from my life. Completely. And I needed you there. I care about you, and I have fun with you, and I missed you. I just didn't realize that I was missing the friendship more than anything else."

He shook his head, and backed up a step. "I don't know. I don't think... I don't think I can..."

Rory felt tears fill her eyes, and blinked them away impatiently. "I'll understand," she said. "If you don't ever want to talk to me again." She gritted her teeth against the tears. "But I don't want to lose you again. I don't want to go through that again." She turned her head. "Would you rather I had lied to you?" she asked. "Pretended everything was okay?"

He took a deep breath. "No," he said finally. "I have to go."

"Wait," she said and grabbed his arm. He pulled away gently.

"I need a couple days to think about this."

She nodded. "Okay."

"Thanks," he said softly.

"For?"

"Being honest with me," he said. "You don't tell me what I want to hear. And it sucks," he said with a bitter smile. "But I appreciate it."

She choked on a soft laugh. "Anytime."

He nodded, and walked away, his hands in the pockets of his jacket. Her legs tensed; she wanted to run after him, take it all back, return to the comfortable status quo. But it was too late. She tried to tell herself she'd done the right thing, but all she felt was horrible and empty. She kicked at the sidewalk and started walking home, feeling the distinct need for some ice cream and a talk with her mother.

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