Spoilers: None
Summary: It's basically You've Got Mail, but pretend like you don't know that.
Rating: PG
Content: One kiss, a little innuendo, maybe a cuss word.
Pairing: R/T
Disclaimer: These characters belong to Amy Sherman-Palladino and the WB, yadda, yadda, yadda.
Author's Note: I sort of changed the title of a book called The Girls' Guide to Hunting and Fishing (by Melissa Bank) to suit my purposes. The song lyrics aren't mine, and I don't know who wrote them, but I used versions by Eva Cassidy and the Carpenters. This is the answer to a challenge from Caitlin, which I altered a little. Anyway, I know this seems rushed and out of character, so just ignore that. Also, thanks for the great feedback from my other stories. I really appreciate it, and I apologize if I didn't reply to your message. R/R, please.

The Gilmore Guide to Hunting and Fishing

by columbiachica


"...and I met this really great guy."

"Where?"

"Online. Everyone's like, don't go online, cause everyone's a serial killer or something, but I found Greg, and our third date's Friday night."

Rory tried to tune out the overheard conversation, but found that it was difficult, as both girls had loud, nasal voices. Obviously, the man the first girl had met hadn't heard her before their date. Berating the participants of the discussion for stupidity, Rory returned to her notes, but her gaze, of its own accord, traveled out the window. Outside, it was a perfect late summer day, beckoning the inhabitants of the library to some and enjoy it. Instead, Rory reminded herself that verbs didn't conjugate themselves, and returned to her work. Verbs were hard...but Harvard verbs were harder.

Rory was grateful when the girls left, but her mind couldn't resist wandering once again. Being the top of your class at Harvard was no small feat, but sometimes, Rory wanted to be those girls, popular party girls. She wondered what it would be like to be revered by your peers--or even just to have a boyfriend again. Dean and she had split in their senior year of high school, both knowing that the failing relationship couldn't sustain itself through the college years. Since then, Rory had been out on a few dates, but hadn't experienced a true relationship.

There was some shuffling when someone pulled out a book, and Rory immediately reverted to looking at her notes, guiltily.

***

Rory turned the key in room number 832, stepped inside, and dropped her keys in the bowl she kept on the tiny table just to the left of the door. Discerning that her roommate wasn't in, as she expected, Rory continued her routine, letting her backpack and laptop case slide down her shoulders to rest side by side against the tiny table. Crossing the room, Rory opened her side of the mutual closet, which was immaculate, and selected a pair of shorts and a tee shirt. Rory switched the lamp on her desk to on, then exited the room again.

The communal bathroom was at the end of the hall, and Rory walked to the middle, where her sink was, with the cabinet above that contained her toiletries. Rory brushed her teeth for exactly two minutes, then removed any trace of makeup from her face. Upon returning to her room, Rory locked the door behind her, shut off the lamp, fluffed her pillow, set the alarm, and climbed in from the right side.

Generally, Rory fell asleep instantly, but tonight, she was still awake when Sara bounced in at one A.M. Rolling over for the trillionth time that night, Rory pondered what could be keeping her awake, and finding no reason, Rory listened to Sara's unorganized rustlings until she was finally lulled into sleep.

Seven A.M. came much too quickly for Rory, but she slid out of bed nonetheless and got dressed, following her rigid morning routine. Sara said that this was some form of OCD, but then again, Sara was a design major. Every weekend morning, Rory got coffee and a bagel, then went to the library to slug it out with the books.

At one in the afternoon, her friend Christa came up, carrying nothing but her purse and car keys. "I think I told someone I'd marry them," Christa told Rory by way of salutations.

"Hi to you too," Rory answered. "You accidentally told someone you'd marry them?"

"Online. You know, all those crazy code things like LOL. Anyway, I think I put the wrong combination together."

"Why don't you just type it out?" Rory suggested.

"Uncool!" Christa chided. "Why don't you chat?"

"Christa, there are a million deranged rapists in the world. The idea that I could be telling one my innermost thoughts isn't really appealing."

Christa sighed. "You're so rational. Live!"

"I am living."

"No, I mean like adrenaline rush living."

"Well, I'll get my adrenaline rush when two-week grades are posted," Rory retorted.

"Oh, like it'll be some big surprise," Christa mocked. "I mean, it's not like you won't be at the top."

"Is this all you came here to do?"

"Pretty much. I was just going to grab a smoothie or something. Want anything?"

"Nah. I'm gonna keep studying."

"I'm going to look up cardiac arrest and see if I just experienced it there. Man, don't scare me and do something so out there, Rory." Christa grinned and jogged out of the library, waving over her shoulder.

***

When Rory came home at dusk on Sunday, she started her daily ritual, but stopped for a second to consider what Christa had said. Maybe she should go online. It wasn't like she had to give out her Social Security number or anything, right? A break in the routine was unusual for Rory, but to do something so drastic was another matter entirely. Still, she pulled out her computer chair and scooted up to the blueberry I-Mac sitting on the mutual desk.

The monitor buzzed, waiting to be used. Rory logged onto the Internet and signed into Christa's recommended chat room, where Christa herself was chatting someone up. Rory just watched for a while, then decided to trust herself and greeted the room. Immediately, Christa responded to her.

CHARISMA6: What are you doing?! Wow, are you ok?

HARVARD2007: Of course I'm okay. Why wouldn't I be?

CHARISMA6: You don't chat.

HARVARD2007: I thought I'd try it.

CHARISMA6: LOL

HARVARD2007: I thought that's how you got duped into marrying someone.

CHARISMA6: It'd be very modern to marry you.

HARVARD2007: Funny.

Rory looked back at their conversation, laughing at Christa's amazement. All of a sudden, a window popped up on her screen with Christa's name on it and a message in it.

CHARISMA6: This really cool guy just logged on.

HARVARD2007: Why is this thing up here?

CHARISMA6: I didn't want the rest of the room to hear this convo.

HARVARD2007: Oh.

CHARISMA6: Anyway, he's really nice. I bet he's hot.

HARVARD2007: It's just something about the way he spells, or maybe the way he types so accurately...

CHARISMA6: Shut up.

HARVARD2007: Ooh, touchy.

The window disappeared, and Rory found herself thrown back into the jungle. The new person's screen name was PJHARVEY2001. Rory had to like that name, PJ Harvey being one of her favorite singers, but what did 2001 have to do with anything? He and Christa were talking about some friends with strange, bordering on frightening, screen names. As she was reading along, Rory saw Christa say: "I think you should meet my friend."

PJHARVEY2001: Ok.

CHARISMA6: Hey, stop hiding.

Not knowing what to say, Rory typed, "Hey."

PJHARVEY2001: Hey back.

CHARISMA6: That's our stellar student here at Harvard.

PJHARVEY2001: How stellar?

HARVARD2007: Top of our class. But two week grades are being posted soon, so I don't know if the position still holds.

CHARISMA6: You babble and use big words even online. How is that possible?

PJHARVEY2001: LOL

HARVARD2007: Funny, funny girl.

CHARISMA6: PJ goes to Princeton.

HARVARD2007: Good school.

PJHARVEY2001: Almost as good as Harvard.

HARVARD2007: Almost.

CHARISMA6: Ditto.

HARVARD2007: I have to go.

CHARISMA6: Studying?

HARVARD2007: Something like that.

PJHARVEY2001: Chao.

HARVARD2007: Bye.

Rory logged off, amused at the results of her chat. Christa would grill her tomorrow--or tonight, if she felt curious enough to call. Whoever PJHARVEY2001 was didn't seem like a serial killer, but Rory reminded herself that you couldn't be sure. Only after she was in bed did Rory realize something: she'd climbed in from the left.

***

"What was that?" Christa demanded, running to meet Rory on Monday morning.

"I just wanted to see what you were so enthusiastic about," Rory defended herself.

"Well, what did you think?" Christa questioned.

"It was kinda fun. Who is that guy?"

"Cardinal rule of online chatting: you never, under any circumstances, reveal your real name. Sure, there are nicknames, like PJ, but no one ever actually tells you their name."

"So, if someone says their name is Ted Bundy, you hope it's a nickname?" Rory asked skeptically.

"Would Ted Bundy really give out his name online?" Christa countered, and Rory had to admit she had a point.

Christa reluctantly trailed Rory up to the grading sheet, posted outside the dean's office. Satisfied that she was at the top of the list, Rory let Christa talk her ear off about etiquette in the chat room. Rory didn't hear any of it; she was mentally envisioning the quiz in Spanish, placing the verb conjugation right after vocabulary, followed by the dialogue and spoken section.

"Hello to Rory!" Christa chimed.

"Hmmm?"

"Are you going online tonight?" Christa repeated impatiently.

"I don't know. I might."

***

Tristan threw himself carelessly in the computer chair and logged into the chat room, hardly thinking about what he was doing; he was so accustomed to the actions that they had become second nature to him.

Tristan liked college life. It gave him a chance to really get to know himself, outside the bounds of his parents' expectations. He had found a fantastic group of friends, and while he partied, he still did well in his academics, being a top ten student.

After high school, Tristan had taken a new perspective on dating. Once he was outside the snobby halls of Chilton, he found that his playboy attitude would do little to help him in the real world.

Chatting wasn't really a way to find a girlfriend; it was a way to talk to people who wouldn't care who he was. To his delight, he found that HARVARD2007 was on.

PJHARVEY2001: Hey.

HARVARD2007: Hey back.

PJHARVEY2001: In a good mood after your grades?

HARVARD2007: I am, actually.

PJHARVEY2001: Were you always the best?

HARVARD2007: Basically. I mean, I missed out on being valedictorian in HS because this other girl was really smart, and she probably deserved it anyway, and she won, but I was salutatorian...I'm going to stop now.

PJHARVEY2001: Good choice. How can you babble so much?

HARVARD2007: I guess my mouth transfers to my hand when I get into a chat room. It's like that movie, The Fly.

PJHARVEY2001: Ok.

HARVARD2007: I get it from my mom.

PJHARVEY2001: Now there's comfort. Not only one but two of you roaming the earth.

HARVARD2007: Continuing with the reassurance, my mother is even worse.

PJHARVEY2001: Oh God. Are you guys close?

HARVARD2007: Yes, very. How about you and your parents?

PJHARVEY2001: LOL.

HARVARD2007: I'll take that as a no.

PJHARVEY2001: No, we aren't. Any sibs?

HARVARD2007: No. You?

PJHARVEY2001: Yes, one younger sister.

HARVARD2007: Close?

PJHARVEY2001: No.

HARVARD2007: You're not really into family, huh?

PJHARVEY2001: Not my family. What about your dad?

HARVARD2007: We get along.

PJHARVEY2001: He and your mom still together?

HARVARD2007: Never were.

PJHARVEY2001: Oh. How old were they when you came along?

HARVARD2007: 16.

PJHARVEY2001: Wow.

HARVARD2007: Yeah. I better get going. My mom will be calling any minute. Can't miss that.

PJHARVEY2001: Don't go getting any ideas.

HARVARD2007: You have no idea.

Then, she logged off. Tristan chuckled. It was the most satisfying conversation he'd had online, mainly because whoever this girl was, was witty, and she seemed to care about someone other than herself. Why didn't these people ever come to Princeton?

***

Tristan talked with HARVARD2007 everyday online, about six in the evening. By the next Friday, he was hooked. He couldn't get through his day without talking to her. They had become close, in the technological sense of the word, meaning they knew everything about each other except for towns and names.

Everyday, he found himself anticipating the exchanges more and more, resulting in the addiction he now suffered from. CHARISMA6 was nice enough, and his other buddies were fine, but this girl had him captivated. Silly as it was, she was reminiscent of someone Tristan knew in high school...but he always banished that thought to places he hoped didn't exist.

Rushing home from class, Tristan clattered up the stairs, too impatient for the elevator. His computer monitor was already on, probably due to his roommate, and Tristan was thankful. Anxiously, he tapped his foot against the side of the chair leg until he was finally in the sanctuary of the chat room.

PJHARVEY2001: Hey there Harvard.

HARVARD2007: Hi PJ. What's up?

PJHARVEY2001: My IQ?

HARVARD2007: And you're making this a question because...?

PJHARVEY2001: I was wondering if you wanted a different answer.

HARVARD2007: Like?

PJHARVEY2001: My workload, my stress level...

HARVARD2007: Got it. Date?

PJHARVEY2001: Not tonight.

HARVARD2007: Party?

PJHARVEY2001: Considering. You?

HARVARD2007: Who are you talking to?

PJHARVEY2001: Hitting the stacks again?

HARVARD2007: When am I not? It's the four week grading period, remember.

PJHARVEY2001: How could have I forgotten?

HARVARD2007: You really should write these things down, PJ.

PJHARVEY2001: So that's what those crazy people in class are doing! Oh, hey, where's your friend?

HARVARD2007: CHARISMA?

PJHARVEY2001: The introducer herself.

HARVARD2007: She went to stake out a new chat room.

PJHARVEY2001: Bored?

HARVARD2007: I guess. Personally, I don't think she could bear my big words anymore.

PJHARVEY2001: Some people just aren't up to a challenge.

HARVARD2007: Apathetic procrastinators, especially.

PJHARVEY2001: Where did she go again?

HARVARD2007: Funny, Jerry Lewis.

PJHARVEY2001: I can't say anyone's ever called me Jerry Lewis before.

HARVARD2007: I'm so honored.

PJHARVEY2001: Are you going home to see your mom at any point?

HARVARD2007: My b-day's coming up. My grandma has a big party every year.

PJHARVEY2001: Talking is a no-go that weekend?

HARVARD2007: Pretty much. It's next weekend.

PJAHARVEY2001: I guess I'll have to find something to occupy my time.

HARVARD2007: When you find something as wonderful as me, let me know.

PJHARVEY2001: Aren't we on the little ego trip.

HARVARD2007: I have to get it built up before I go to my grandma's.

PJHARVEY2001: And as much as I would like to help you, my roomie's sharpening his knives.

HARVARD2007: Hold still!

PJHARVEY2001: You're cruel.

HARVARD2007: Just living up to the deal I made with your roomie. Bye.

And again, she was gone, and he'd have to wait until tomorrow to talk to her again. It was a melancholy thought, so Tristan moved for his roommate, who sighed in relief, and began forming a mental image of this girl.

***

Rory stepped onto the familiar front porch and drank in the friendly surroundings. After she had left for college, Rory began to feel more and more detached from Stars Hollow. Although she still loved these people, she was beginning to drift, and she knew their lives no longer entwined so tightly with hers; likewise, she had other things to worry about now than whether Miss Patty would gossip about her, or whether Luke was decorating this year, or whether someone had finally thought to bring matches to the bonfire.

"Hey, college girl," Lorelai cried, throwing to door open before Rory rang the bell.

"Waiting for me?" Rory teased.

"No," Lorelai retorted. "Just doing some laundry."

"Since when did the washing machine stay by the window?"

"Ooh, funny. I see college has really sharpened your wit."

"They try," Rory responded nonchalantly. "But really, I'm teaching them."

"I knew you would, babe." Lorelai put her arm around her daughter and drew her inside.

"Why does Grandma still insist on doing this?"

"Because she has nothing else to do, and only me to torture. It's no fun with only one person to torment," Lorelai theorized. "She said a lot of 'influential' families will be there."

"Oh no, not this whole Jane Austen matchmaking thing again."

"'Fraid so, kid."

"Argh." Rory sat down next to her mother on the couch, and listened to the details of town. Luke and Taylor in a fistfight, Miss Patty telling Kirk off in the store before kissing him and possibly putting him into intensive therapy (Lorelai's version). As she heard her mother's meanderings, Rory came to the realization that she was beginning to care less and less; that these people, once the center of her universe, were evading her, and she couldn't remember why she was so caught up before. And then she knew it was because she hadn't experienced anything more; college was making her cynical.

***

On Saturday night, Rory and her mother stuffed themselves, unwillingly, into party dresses and made the thirty minute drive to Hartford. Rory asked why it wasn't on Friday, and Lorelai shrugged. "I guess your grandmother malfunctioned, had a compassionate thought, and figured you'd be tired and want to rest."

"Very A.I. of her."

"I think so." The ride pressed on in silence, mother and daughter comfortably not saying anything, until Lorelai couldn't resist any longer. "Any guys?"

"No."

"Honey, tell me!"

"That's all there is to say. I'm not looking; they're not asking."

"Anyone you've been eyeing?"

"Yeah, the creep who's threatening to overthrow my position at the top of the class."

Lorelai sighed. "Dropping it."

"I appreciate that," Rory responded, then slumped against the door. Richard and Emily Gilmore's house looked as imposing as ever, and Rory was grateful that it was only a few weekends she had to endure. Much to her duress, however, she found the driveway full to bursting with fancy cars. Not again.

"Prepare to dive," Lorelai muttered into Rory's ear as they mounted the stone steps.

"Rory, dear, you look lovely," Emily cooed, opening the front door. Rory smiled, thanked her, and kissed her on the cheek. "Lorelai," Emily added chillingly.

"Mom," Lorelai replied in the same tone of voice.

"There are guests in the living room. Lots of your classmates from high school," Emily called lightly to their retreating backs.

"Just what I need," Rory mumbled to Lorelai.

"I'm getting a drink," Lorelai said when she saw Chase Bradford and his new wife, leaving Rory alone to wander. Deciding to get it over with, Rory trudged into the living room where, as Emily had said, sat half of her class from Chilton--including Tristan and Paris. "Bummer," Rory whispered to herself.

"Hey, Mary," Tristan greeted her, standing up.

"Tristan," Rory ground out. They stared at each other in awkward silence for a few minutes as Tristan drank Rory in. She had hardly changed since high school, with the same intense eyes and fresh, clean complexion. "What are you doing here?" As soon as she asked the question, Rory replayed a similar scenario from high school in her mind, and almost cringed.

"I came solely to torture you, Mary."

"You are unbelievable."

"One of the few constants in the last three years." Tristan smirked, still his trademark. Rory rolled her eyes and tried to move past him. "What have you been doing since high school?" Tristan inquired, but Rory wouldn't sink to answering the question.

"Living in my mom's basement," Rory shot back, and once again attempted to push past him, to no avail.

"Honestly?" Tristan's face looked almost...soft and caring, but Rory wouldn't let herself look at him.

"Trying to forget people like you," Rory replied bitterly, and he let her past, shocked at her biting retort. On her way out of the room, Rory was cornered by Paris. "What the hell do you want?" Rory spat.

"You're still a jerk to him," Paris accused.

"Why do you care? The point of graduating high school is to move on, Paris! And here you are, three years later, pining for someone who doesn't even care! Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to find my mother." Paris acquiesced and stepped aside, allowing Rory to flounce out of the room.

***

Tristan drove back to his parents' house, discouraged. What was it about Rory that made him the biggest idiot on the face of the planet? He really had changed since high school, but when she came around, it looked like he hadn't changed since elementary school. Whipping the wheel around gracefully, Tristan bemoaned his performance at the party. How could he convince her he'd come a long way since she had known him?

It wasn't like he was going to see her very often--this was the first time since graduation--and he still made an ass of himself. What was wrong with him?

Tristan reflected on the girls he'd dated. There was Eileen in freshman year, but it was an affair that quickly fizzled out when they found out what the other's personality was like. That relationship provided what both had wanted at the time, but it was only a few months long.

He and Jill met about three months after he broke up with Eileen; it was a chance encounter, when she spilled her coffee down the front of his shirt. It too was short-lived, but Tristan had learned enough about dating and relationships to know that Jill would be a great friend, and they were still in touch.

Deirdre had been his longest commitment, lasting almost a year; then, she found someone else who suited her better, who was ready to get married and have kids, where as Tristan rarely even thought such thoughts. Pathetic as it was, he was still in love with Rory; she was the only person he wanted to spend the rest of his life with.

Shaking his head, reprimanding himself for being so pitiful, Tristan climbed into bed and shut off the light. He seriously needed to move on.

***

By Monday, he was so desperate to talk to HARVARD2007 again, he could barely contain himself. Throwing the door shut behind him, Tristan flung himself in the chair and practially vibrated with energy and anticipation. As usual, she was there.

PJHARVEY2001: Hey.

HARVARD2007: Hi!

PJHARVEY2001: How was your weekend?

HARVARD2007: Not too bad. The b-day party was grueling.

PJHARVEY2001: What happened?

HARVARD2007: Oh, not much. It was just snobby.

PJHARVEY2001: I hear you.

HARVARD2007: How about your weekend?

PJHARVEY2001: Boring.

HARVARD2007: Everything's boring without me.

PJHARVEY2001: The ego is in the building.

HARVARD2007: Well, what was built up on Friday is diminished, so I need to rebuild.

PJHARVEY2001: You're on your own.

HARVARD2007: That took me down a couple of notches.

PJHARVEY2001: After making a deal with my roomie about murdering me, you deserve it.

HARVARD2007: But obviously it didn't work, so I'm home free.

PJHARVEY2001: We'll see about that.

HARVARD2007: You seem kinda down today.

PJHARVEY2001: Well, my weekend was kind of a disaster.

HARVARD2007: What happened?

PJHARVEY2001: Oh, I made a fool of myself in front of this girl.

HARVARD2007: She probably doesn't think so.

PJHARVEY2001: No, I'm pretty sure she does. She hates me.

HARVARD2007: That's not true!

PJHARVEY2001: You haven't met her.

HARVARD2007: Tell me about her.

PJHARVEY2001: Well, she's perfect. You know, smart and beautiful. But I have been the biggest jerk to her.

HARVARD2007: Try apologizing. Or telling her what you just told me.

PJHARVEY2001: Think it'd work?

HARVARD2007: Take it from me.

PJHARVEY2001: Good tag line.

HARVARD2007: Remind me of it when I make my first George Foreman Grill rip-off.

PJHARVEY2001: I'll keep that in mind.

HARVARD2007: My roommate's eyes are beginning to pop. I better get off.

PJHARVEY2001: Thanks for the advice.

HARVARD2007: Anytime.

And with that, she was gone again, and it would be an entire twenty-four hours until he could talk with her again. Leaning back in the chair, Tristan wondered what would happen if he took her advice.

***

It was beginning to get cold again. The leaves were falling all over, and students could be seen jogging around in coats and sweaters. Summer was ending, and fall was finally taking over. Rory, for one, was glad. Autumn was her favorite season; it was just the right temperature for her corduroy pants and wool sweater.

Christa flew up to her, boundless energy pouring out of her. "Hey there, Webmaster."

"I thought it would be Pagemaster."

"Not since you've been spending fifteen hours a day online."

"Not fifteen hours--more like fifteen minutes," Rory corrected her.

"Oh, sure. Still talking to PJ?"

"Yeah."

"I told you he was cool," Christa gloated.

"Don't you think we're a little too old for the 'I told you so's'?" Rory asked her doubtfully.

"Never! Just because I'm twenty-one, it doesn't mean I can't watch Sesame Street and VeggieTales."

"Right, Christa."

"God, it's cold!" Christa complained. "I'm a California girl, here!"

"I guess I'm immune."

"Hmph! So, are you doing anything tonight?"

"Studying, studying and more studying."

"Interesting. What happened to your normal wild party?"

"Well, the beer froze, so I'm out of luck."

"Shoot. So, do you want to go grab some coffee later?"

"Sounds great."

'I'll give you a call later." Christa paused. "If I can get through."

"Ooh, funny."

Christa smiled triumphantly and ran to her car, clutching her stomach with both arms, which wrapped around to her back.

Nose red from the cold, Rory tugged and pushed until the lock finally registered that someone was trying to enter and relinquished its hold on the door. Gasping in relief, Rory jumped in the warm room and dunked her keys in the bowl. Her backpack and laptop case fell off her shoulders and she lined them up in typical fashion. In accordance with her ritual, Rory half-ran to the computer chair and signed into the chat room. She knew that obsessively chatting online probably wasn't healthy, but she was completely enthralled with PJHARVEY2001, whoever he was.

HARVARD2007: You're early.

PJHARVEY2001: Just the opposite of what I usually hear.

HARVARD2007: Let me be the first to welcome you to the realm of punctuality.

PJHARVEY2001: Do I get a little welcome basket?

HARVARD2007: Complete with address book and map of the city.

PJHARVEY2001: Wow.

HARVARD2007: I thought you'd like it. Hey, I've been meaning to ask--what does your screen name mean?

PJHARVEY2001: Well, PJ Harvey and I have a connection. I sort of bought tickets to her concert--five years ago now--and didn't go.

HARVARD2007: Why'd you buy them?

PJHARVEY2001: Crush.

HARVARD2007: That's so weird. I had this guy in high school buy the same tickets, and when he tried to force me to go with him, things took a very ugly turn.

PJHARVEY2001: Twilight Zone.

HARVARD2007: And beyond.

PJHARVEY2001: How's autumn?

HARVARD2007: The best time of the year!

PJHARVEY2001: Ditto.

HARVARD2007: I can't wait for Thanksgiving.

PJHARVEY2001: Ugh. It means I have to go home.

HARVARD2007: That's half the fun. My mom's the champ of grateful for's.

PJHARVEY2001: My mom's the champ of criticism.

HARVARD2007: It's always nice to be outstanding in some way.

PJHARVEY2001: It is at that.

HARVARD2007: I think the dorm's about to freeze. I have to go check with the RA. And I have to meet my friend for coffee soon.

PJHARVEY2001: Bye.

Rory logged off without further pleasantries and jogged down the hall, where the rest of the floor was gathered, whining. Rory didn't feel the cold they were describing; chatting with PJ kept her warm, corny as it sounded. Dreamily, Rory rocked back and forth on her heels. Whoever the girl was the PJ was obsessed with was really lucky. Rory settled the matter, then returned to her dorm, awaiting Christa's call while going over procedure for appendectomies.

***

Thanksgiving rolled around, and Rory enjoyed the reprieve it brought from school. Becoming a doctor was no small feat, and she knew that Sara hated it when Rory wandered in at three in the morning after studying, or going over a demonstration in her head. Lorelai even got frustrated with her ever-changing schedule, and her calls often went unacknowledged for several days, something that would have been unheard of in high school.

Luke was there when she got home, and Rory almost died with laughter at his hurry to get out, and the embarrassed look on his face. Lorelai's demeanor was greatly changed; she seemed distracted, always staring into space with a tiny smile touching her eyes. And then Rory knew; her mother and Luke had finally confessed their long-felt feelings for each other.

"Mom?" Rory repeated, waving her hand in front of Lorelai's face.

"Hmm? What?" Lorelai questioned, jumping.

"I said, is Grandma having a big thing again?"

"Yes. Friday. Friday at seven," Lorelai recited, sounding as though she had learned this by rote.

"Okay." Rory scrunched her face curiously, but let it slide. No point in badgering her mother, who wouldn't tell her until she wanted to.

Friday came much too quickly, and Rory found herself, once again, fussing with her hair in her grandmother's entryway. Lorelai hadn't even reacted to the digging edge in Emily's voice, an action that caused Richard and Rory to exchange suspicious glances.

As Rory had suspected he would be, Tristan was seated at the table, along with the Gellars. Groaning inwardly, Rory sat down in her designated spot, next to Mrs. Gellar and across from Tristan. She spent the entire meal being ogled by Tristan and glared at by Paris. All in all, Rory would much rather be studying than being the target of so many stares. Tristan's stare was the least hostile; in fact, it was almost...loving. Rory reminded herself not to get carried away and silently ate her meal.

After dinner, as most people were exchanging the final farewells, Tristan approached Rory. She raised her eyebrows in surprise and expectation. "I just...wanted to..."

"You don't have to apologize to me. As far as I remember, you don't have to bend down from the holy shrine to apologize to anyone." Rory's eyes bored into Tristan's, which she was astonished to find were mottled with hurt.

"Fine," he conceded. "I'll just go."

"Fine," Rory echoed.

"Good bye. Rory." He looked at her, his naked eyes brimming with hurt, and turned his back on her. Rory didn't know how to feel about that, so she just ignored the questioning feeling burning in her stomach and said her good-byes to her grandparents, tagging after Lorelai, an occupied look on her features.

***

HARVARD2007: Hi!

PJHARVEY2001: Hey.

HARVARD2007: What's with the long face?

PJHARVEY2001: You can't see my face.

HARVARD2007: That's what you think!

PJHARVEY2001: Another encounter with...

HARVARD2007: What did you do?

PJHARVEY2001: I tried to apologize but she got all huffy.

HARVARD2007: Okay, huffy?

PJHARVEY2001: You got another word?

HARVARD2007: Angry? Upset?

PJHARVEY2001: Shut up.

HARVARD2007: So, what did she say?

PJHARVEY2001: I'm trying to forget.

HARVARD2007: That bad?

PJHARVEY2001: Worse.

HARVARD2007: Ouch.

PJHARVEY2001: Did you have a nice Thanksgiving?

HARVARD2007: Oh, it was all right. Grandma threw another party.

PJHARVEY2001: Tell me about it.

HARVARD2007: Did your parents?

PJHARVEY2001: No, I had to go to one.

HARVARD2007: Also fun.

PJHARVEY2001: It's lucky I didn't have a stroke from all the excitement.

HARVARD2007: Which would have made the party eventful.

PJHARVEY2001: You've never met me, yet you wish death on me.

HARVARD2007: Not death! Serious injury, maybe...

PJHARVEY2001: You're asylum material, you know that?

HARVARD2007: So I've been told.

PJHARVEY2001: How are the grades?

HARVARD2007: Still at the top.

PJHARVEY2001: Maybe you can embroider it on your lab coat.

HARVARD2007: There's an idea. M.D.--Perfect 4.0 GPA.

PJHARVEY2001: I'm sure the drunk frat boys would have a lot of respect for you.

HARVARD2007: If they could focus the lettering.

PJHARVEY2001: My roommate's loading his gun.

HARVARD2007: What caliber? Because I told him to use 9MM.

PJHARVEY2001: When do you two talk?

HARVARD2007: Duh. When you're gone.

PJHARVEY2001: I'm going now.

HARVARD2007: All the more opportunity.

PJHARVEY2001: Bye.

HARVARD2007: Later.

***

Rory logged off the Internet; it was definitely time to call her mother again. Lorelai complained constantly about the lack of phone time they were getting lately, and Rory used the age-old work excuse. Seeing the abandoned look in her mother's eyes, Rory knew she had to make more of an effort to talk to her mom at least four times a week.

The phone rang and rang until finally the machine clicked on. Unusual, Rory thought; usually, her mother was home and could locate the telephone in that many rings. "Hey, Mom, just me. Wanted to hold up my end of the agreement. Call me back. Talk to you later." Rory hung up the phone, nonplussed.

As much as she didn't want to admit it, PJHARVEY2001 was becoming one of her best friends. She told him everything, save for her name, high school, home town, etc. Once, she had thought those girls in the library moronic, but now, she could understand the desire to meet an online contact. Deep down, Rory knew he wasn't a serial killer or rapist of any sort, and she was burning to meet him. Maybe he was the person she had been looking for, a person to fill the void left with Dean. Someone to be her Luke.

The thing was, she had no idea about who this person could be. She knew he was a Princeton student, that he liked Leo Tolstoy and autumn, chocolate ice cream and coffee, "Friends" and "Seinfeld", "Monty Python" and "Magnolia". But she knew nothing concrete about his real life, the one you couldn't tell anyone online.

Still, she was hooked. Completely absorbed.

PJHARVEY2001: Hi there.

HARVARD2007: Feeling better?

PJHARVEY2001: The humiliation has died down a little.

HARVARD2007: Soon it will be a happy memory.

PJHARVEY2001: Yeah, after I drink my Jack Daniel's.

HARVARD2007: Hee, hee, hee.

PJHARVEY2001: Ok, who bothers to spell out "hee, hee, hee?"

HARVARD2007: I don't know. Who bothers to put it in quotation marks?

PJHARVEY2001: Hey, I've been thinking about something.

HARVARD2007: Don't strain yourself!

PJHARVEY2001: I think we should meet.

Rory sucked her breath in. This was what she had been hoping to hear for so long, and now, she was unsure. Then again, what could he do if they met somewhere public? Inhaling deeply, Rory wrote back, "Okay."

PJHARVEY2001: Great. Where?

HARVARD2007: Starbucks?

PJHARVEY2001: Ok, I'll just go search all the ones on the East Coast.

HARVARD2007: What about the West Coast?

PJHARVEY2001: Whoops, I guess I forgot about that half of the country. My bad.

HARVARD2007: How about on 12th and Faulkner in Hartford?

PJHARVEY2001: Friday, 5?

HARVARD2007: Good. Very good.

PJHARVEY2001: See you then.

HARVARD2007: Bye.

***

Tristan flopped on his bed with a sense of accomplishment. He had a sneaking suspicion about who HARVARD2007 was, and he was almost sure he was correct. It was Rory; he just knew it. When she talked about PJ Harvey, he had finally made the connection. After her birthday party at her grandparents', he was pretty certain. When she chatted with him after Thanksgiving, he was positive. Smiling in satisfaction, he switched his Santana CD on and dug into his insurmountable pile of homework.

Friday came around, and Tristan was so nervous, he found his throat constricting, turning into sandpaper, his mouth dry, all of the moisture transferred onto his palms. His knees shook, his breath was erratic, his eyes were too bright. And then, she walked in, wearing faded jeans and a sweater that alluded to her curves. She ordered a large coffee, and he observed as she inhaled the sweet aroma, then craned her neck to survey the cafe for any sign of him. Upon finding none, she sat at a newly vacated table by the window and stared wistfully out at the thick snow.

Tristan approached her and sat in the seat across from her. "What are you doing here?" Rory petitioned.

"I was--"

"Because I'm expecting someone," Rory interrupted.

"Oh? Who?" Tristan queried, playing dumb.

"Someone your wouldn't know."

"Yeah?"

"Yeah."

Tristan almost betrayed himself, but inwardly grinned. "Who?"

"A guy."

"So far we seem pretty similar."

"Well the similarities end there."

"Yeah?"

"Yeah."

"So what's so different about this guy?" Tristan catechized.

"He's nice. And sweet. And he has a sense of humor. And he's sympathetic."

"Sounds like a dreamboat," Tristan quipped.

"Go," Rory ordered.

"I'm leaving." Tristan stood and began to turn away. "I hope he comes," Tristan wished sincerely.

"Thank you," Rory replied, just as soberly. She nearly smiled, then caught herself, leaving him with a vision of her bright eyes and soft mouth.

***

Rory waited and waited, but PJ never showed. Giving up at seven, she left, after consuming colossal amounts of coffee. During the drive home, she reproved herself for putting her faith in an anonymous ghost from online. When she got into her dorm, Sara had left a not saying she was going to her boyfriend's for the weekend, and Rory couldn't resist the urge to go online to see if PJ was there.

He was.

HARVARD2007: What happened?

PJHARVEY2001: They closed the Interstate.

HARVARD2007: Really?

PJHARVEY2001: Yeah. I'm sorry.

HARVARD2007: No, that's okay. Gave me a chance to catch up on coffee consumption.

PJHARVEY2001: Well, I'm glad it was beneficial.

HARVARD2007: Yes, indeed. I mean, my hand's shaking compulsively and I don't plan on sleeping for the next month, but I am indeed enlightened.

PJHARVEY2001: Who needs Billy Graham for that?

HARVARD2007: I should start a new branch of Christendom.

PJHARVEY2001: I think it'd go over real big.

HARVARD2007: I could even run infomercials with inspirational music.

PJHARVEY2001: If you can con someone into writing songs about coffee.

HARVARD2007: I can talk anyone into anything.

PJHARVEY2001: Really?

HARVARD2007: I'm beginning to regret that comment.

PJHARVEY2001: I can't see why. Except for the fact that I can blackmail you forever.

HARVARD2007: Yeah, no big deal.

PJHARVEY2001: Any plans for Christmas?

HARVARD2007: Uh...

PJHARVEY2001: I still have to start my shopping.

HARVARD2007: Procrastinator.

PJHARVEY2001: Well, what can I say? I like being crushed by the masses in the mall.

HARVARD2007: And I thought it was only me.

PJHARVEY2001: Now you have a partner.

HARVARD2007: I better call my mom and solidify plans.

PJHARVEY2001: Sorry again.

HARVARD2007: Don't be.

Rory ended the discussion right there, fearing she would betray her real feelings, which consisted mainly of hurt and pain. She really liked this guy, and she knew that the Interstate being closed wasn't his fault, but she couldn't help it. She had been stood up. And it hurt.

Closing her eyes, Rory lay down on her bed and listened to the wind until she was lulled into sleep.

***

Christmas break was coming up, and Tristan felt the undeniable need to tell Rory that he had been PJ all along, that he was the sweet guy with a sense of humor, that he loved her. But somehow, he couldn't. He knew that when he saw her at the Gilmores' annual holiday parties, he would be a jerk, as was his instinct around her, and she wouldn't believe him when he told her.

PJHARVEY2001: So, plans?

HARVARD2007: Snotty rich people.

PJHARVEY2001: I didn't realize that was a verb.

HARVARD2007: Sure, it's pretty much universal.

PJHARVEY2001: Ah.

HARVARD2007: You?

PJHARVEY2001: Snotty rich people.

HARVARD2007: I like how you think.

PJHARVEY2001: I thought you would.

HARVARD2007: I probably won't be able to talk for a while after today. I'm driving home, and then onto the parties.

PJHARVEY2001: Okay. How about we talk the day after x-mas, about three? That'll tide me over.

HARVARD2007: All right.

PJHARVEY2001: Well, I guess I better start the drive. The roads are looking bad.

HARVARD2007: Yeah, I better do the same.

PJHARVEY2001: Until the 26th...

HARVARD2007: Until then.

And then she was off again. It was like the endings to the songs on his Moby CD: abrupt and with little warning. As he had said, the roads looked miserable, and he knew it was time to get started. Tristan locked the door and ambled leisurely down the steps and out to his Porsche. When could he tell her?

***

Have yourself a merry little Christmas
Let your heart be light
From now on our troubles will be out of sight

Here we are as in olden days
Happy golden days of yore
Faithful friends who are dear to us
Gather near to us
Once more

Through the years
We all will be together
If the fates allow
Hang a shining star upon the highest bough
And have yourself a merry little Christmas now

Rory listened as Karen Carpenter's angelic voice filled the room, a relatively modern song for her grandparents. She recalled the look on Emily's face when Luke had come with Lorelai, smiling at the trapped expression Luke got. Lorelai dragged him off to a corner where they could mock people unheard.

"Hey, Rory," she heard over her shoulder.

"Tristan," she answered without turning.

"Did Dreamboat show?"

"Why?" Rory asked, spinning.

"No reason. You just looked really anxious."

"No, he didn't. The Interstate was closed."

"Oh." Tristan gazed gently into her face for a few seconds before she refused to meet his eyes and returned to the refreshment table again. Lorelai and Luke were still giggling. Rory was happy for her mother, who was newly ecstatic. Luke made her joyous, and Rory knew that her mother would no longer be at her beck and call. Which she could handle. Right? Right.

Rory wandered around the party, politely telling the details of college life to courteous inquirers, not seeing Tristan's gaze fixed on her. She didn't tell the people about the grueling schedules, the lack of sleep, the pressure to be at the top, the belligerent patients she dealt with--they were too innocent for that.

When she got home, Rory told Lorelai and Luke to go to the diner. Both looked abashed, but followed her advice. Flipping onto her bed, Rory surfed through her CD's to find something suitable, and finally settled on Eva Cassidy, her favorite jazz singer. She turned to "Fields of Gold" and let Eva's light voice drift over her.

You'll remember me
When the west wind moves
Among the fields of barley
You can tell the sun
In his jealous sky
When we walked in fields of gold

So she took her love
For to gaze awhile
Among the fields of barley
In his arms she fell
As her hair came down
Among the fields of gold

Will you stay with me?
Will you be my love?
Among the fields of barley
And you can tell the sun
In his jealous sky
When we walked in fields of gold

I never made promises lightly
And there have some that I've broken
But I swear in the days still left
We will walk in fields of gold
We will walk in fields of gold

Rory felt Eva's voice invade her mind as she let the words embody her, a solitary tear dripping down her cheek. It was a beautiful version, her favorite song. She contemplated her life: Lorelai and Luke, Stars Hollow, Harvard, Christa, PJ, Tristan, Paris, Lane, Dean. And though this was not a Christmas song, Rory knew it was every bit as sentimental. And she was certain of something: she was in love with PJ, one of the few people who made her feel carefree lately.

I never made promises lightly
And there have been some that I've broken
But I swear in the days still left
We will walk in fields of gold
We will walk in fields of gold

Many years have passed
Since those summer days
Among the fields of barley
See the children run
As the sun goes down
As you lie in fields of gold

You'll remember me
When the west wind moves
Among the fields of barley
You can tell the sun
In his jealous sky
When we walked in fields of gold
When we walked in fields of gold
When we walked in fields of gold

By the time the song was over, Rory was asleep, dreaming of the described landscapes in Eva's song.

***

Tristan was nervous. How was he going to tell Rory? Here she was; he hadn't had any time to think; he'd have to wing it.

HARVARD2007: Hey, PJ.

PJHARVEY2001: Hey back.

HARVARD2007: So, how was your Christmas?

PJHARVEY2001: Surprisingly decent.

HARVARD2007: High praise.

PJHARVEY2001: For my family.

HARVARD2007: That's sad.

PJHARVEY2001: You're lucky to have such a nice family.

HARVARD2007: I am at that.

PJHARVEY2001: Hey, I know I totally stood you up last time, but I'd like to try again.

HARVARD2007: Deal.

PJHARVEY2001: New Year's Eve.

HARVARD2007: I'll be at a party.

PJHARVEY2001: I'll meet you after.

HARVARD2007: Where?

PJHARVEY2001: By the big tree. Hartford Square.

HARVARD2007: You're on.

PJHARVEY2001: I'll be there.

HARVARD2007: Good.

PJHARVEY2001: Later.

Rory didn't say anything more, just logged off. Tristan smiled. He would surprise her.

***

For auld lang syne, my dear
For auld lang syne
We'll take a cup of kindness yet
For auld lang syne

It was a blur of sparklers and candles; people hugging and welcoming the new year; auld lang syne blasting from TV's and the stereo; cider being spilled and toasted. Rory was passed around the room, hugging the anonymous inhabitants. Her mother was sloshing cider dangerously in her glass, which hardly held any after being spilled so many times. Luke nearly crushed Rory, then slugged her on the back affectionately.

Should auld acquaintance be forgot
And never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot
And days of auld lang syne?

And then their eyes met. And Rory knew. Their murky depths were suddenly clear, pristine ice crystals. In slow motion, he leaned down, his lips grazing her cheek, sending shots of electricity through her. She remembered the look on his face when he tried to make amends; the way his eyes searched hers, asking, always asking for something. She vividly recalled the expression he held that day in the Starbucks, loving, caring, knowing. His face when he asked about the dreamboat. And she knew.

For auld lang syne, my dear
For auld lang syne
We'll take a cup of kindness yet
For auld lang syne

And then, as quickly as it began, it was over.

***

Rory sprinted to the tree in Hartford Square, the last night it would be up. Tristan was already there, leaning against a pole, his figure illuminated in the pale light emitting from the light post, silhouetting him against the velvet night sky. Rory's breath came capriciously as she studied his form. How come she hadn't figured this out before?

After scrutinizing him for several unending moments, she walked up and began talking. "I know. I know everything. That day at the Starbucks...you didn't stand me up. That party...you were going to tell me. And I want you to know that I'm sorry for being so awful to you. I didn't know. But I'm glad it was you."

Tristan listened to her speech, unmoving except for the twinkle in his eyes, which Rory noticed. Her own eyes glistened with intoxication, her whole face aglow with happiness. He could hardly comprehend that she was here with him, standing here, telling him how she was wrong. "I know," was all he said, and her eyes reached a new level of brightness. And without speaking, he drew her into her arms, and they slow-danced to an inaudible tune, both their bodies moving to the same beat. Rory, exhausted from the strain of life, rested her head on Tristan's shoulder, knowing she was safe.

Tristan pulled her closer, sighing into her hair, noticing how she fit into his arms: meant to be. It had taken him a long time--six years--but she was here, because she loved him, because she knew him. Her head lolled against his neck, burying her troubles in him. Every movement she made, every sound, was permanently embedded into his memory. He would remember this night forever.

The unheard song ended, and the dancers stopped moving and broke apart just enough to study the other's face. Rory's eyes seemed to be begging him to kiss her--now--and he did just that. Taking her cheeks into his hands, warming the cold porcelain, he slowly bent down, feeling the heat radiating off her soft lips. This kiss wasn't the trite kiss shared in tenth grade, but rather a warm, close, loving one that sent warm tingles down both participants' bodies. Tristan caressed her lips with his own, showing her how he felt, tenderly stroking her freezing cheek. Rory slid her hand inside his coat, molding him to her.

And that was how they welcomed the new year, kissing, dancing in front of the twinkling tree, two people completely immersed in the other. And Tristan knew it would be the best year of his life.

end

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