As Rory gazed out over the rows of desks, she was greeted by a dozen or so heads hunched over their finals, all except for one whose cool, liquid blue stare pierced into hers. Tristan was sitting at his desk, the collar of his shirt unbuttoned loosely in his obvious casualness. He didn´t seem at all concerned about the final in front of him, for his pencil was tapping a quiet rhythm on the desk as his eyes continued to burn into Rory´s. A month or so ago, after the whole Paris dating fiasco happened, Tristan and Rory had fallen into an unspoken agreement that they could indeed get along with one another. Rory was still surprised that she and Tristan could have a civil conversation with out biting each other´s heads off, but they hadn´t had any qualms when discussing an assignment, tests, or their plans for the summer. She could tell Tristan was trying to tone down his cocky and audacious attitude but it still often emerged, and that was when they engaged in the automatic banter they were so accustomed to. Interestingly enough, Rory found that heated banter to be energizing. No matter what she said, Tristan had a witty comeback ready and waiting to leave her mind racing once again. In a way, she could almost consider him a friend. Almost.
As he stared at her now in the stifling air of the classroom, his features were expressionless, not daring to betray his thoughts. Rory searched his eyes, trying to find a clue as to what playful barbs might be delivered from his sharp tongue that afternoon. Tristan had made it a habit to wait at her locker every once and awhile, and Rory had been more than slightly annoyed at first, but now she had come to expect his presence there, eager to see what kind of a verbal sparring match he would challenge her to that day. The fire in his eyes as he baited her had become enticing rather than something to avoid. Rory offered him a timid smile and watched in return as a smooth, confident grin curled up his lips. Rory jerked her eyes back down to the pencil sharpener when the handle caught and made a small chopping noise. She removed her pencil from the hole, eyes widening in shock when she realized that she had still been turning the handle while she was lost in thought. As a result, the pencil had been ground down to half it´s normal size.
"If the pencil will not sharpen Miss. Gilmore, then maybe you should sit down and borrow one from another student," Mrs. Roseman said sharply, looking up from her grade book. An amused chuckle floated over from Tristan´s direction, and he hastily looked back down at his final when the teacher shot him a no-nonsense look But the smirk on his face didn´t go unnoticed by Rory.
"I´m sorry, Mrs. Roseman." Rory passed Tristan´s desk on the way back to her own, and she discreetly swiped his extra pencil, taking it with her.
"You owe me."
Rory peered around the open door of her locker at Tristan´s triumphant smirk. "Hello to you too, and what makes you think that I owe you anything?"
Tristan leaned against the locker beside of hers, arms crossed casually in front of his chest. "I saw you take my pencil, so I think my generous offer deserves some kind of reward."
"You didn´t offer the pencil. I took it."
"You stole it."
"Are you that possessive of your pencil that you would rather have had me fail the final without one?"
Tristan laughed at that statement coming from Rory´s mouth, of all people. "You couldn´t fail anything, even if you tried to."
Rory slid her History textbook back into her locker, taking out the large notebook she would need in order to study for tomorrow´s final. She looked up at Tristan, seeing the admiration glistening in his eyes. "You´re that confident in my abilities, huh?"
"Well, your intellectual abilities. I have yet to experience every one of the abilities Rory Gilmore has to offer," he winked at her suggestively, "which brings me back to my original statement. I can think of multiple ways that you could repay me."
Rory took in the way Tristan´s eyes slowly scanned the length of her body. "And I bet those forms of repayment are not allowed on Chilton´s grounds."
He raised his eyebrow´s innocently and lightly shrugged his shoulders as if he didn´t have a care in the world. "Who said anything about Chilton? Now, off-campus..."
"You´re sick, Tristan.
"Oh yeah, I can´t eat or sleep. You consume my thoughts Rory so please spare me of this pain." Tristan jokingly covered his heart with his hands, like a heartbroken lover would in one of those sappy romance movies.
Rory welded the heavy notebook in her hand, hovering it to where when dropped it would conveniently land on his foot. "Oh, you´re going to be feeling pain all right."
Tristan took a step back, holding his hands up in a gesture of surrender. "So I guess that´s a no on the whole repayment issue?"
Rory packed the notebook into her book bag and zipped it closed. "It´s definitely a no."
"Okay, but I´m not giving up that easily." Tristan reached over to the wall, grabbing a piece of paper off it, and then proceeded to dangle it in front of her face. "Are you going?"
Rory snatched the paper from him, her fingers lightly grazing his. Tristan abruptly averted his eyes so she would not see the heat flaring in their deep blue depths from her touch. He swallowed past the lump in his throat, clenching his fist as his side in frustration. Why did she have the ability to do this to him and why did he permit her do it? Smooth, big man on campus Tristan Dugray never lost his cool around the opposite sex, but he already knew why this was different. It was her. Rory.
She paid no attention to his inner tug of war for she was intensely engrossed in the flyer. It was obviously hand-made by a student possessing extreme amounts of school spirit. The garish array of colors and bubble letters advertised the End Of The Year Formal being held at a prestigious convention center at Hartford tomorrow night.
"So, are you planning to go?"
Rory shook her head, thinking about the last time she had attended a dance at Chilton... with Dean. Those memories were ones she did not feel like dredging up nor mulling over the months that followed that night. Oh, she cherished them, but when looking back, she was ultimately forced to remember their three month anniversary date and the end of their relationship. Dean had been successful in avoiding her since then, and Rory had done the same. She wasn´t one to run away from confrontation, but sometimes there was no other choice. She didn´t know what could possibly be said to turn everything around and make things right between them, especially when the whole argument didn´t even seem to be justified. When she thought about the hurt look on Dean´s face when she wasn´t able to express her feelings for him, her heart ached.
Tristan´s impatient voice brought Rory out of her chaotic swirl of thoughts. "Oh, I haven´t really thought about going." She shoved the flyer back at him and closed her locker door swiftly.
In turn Tristan tucked the flyer into an open flap of Rory´s book bag. "I think you owe me a dance." A sly grin crept across his face as Rory turned to look at him once again, impatience written all over her features.
"All this over a pencil?"
He tilted his head to gaze at her mischievously. "You´re getting off easy. Imagine if you had taken my gold-plated ball-point pen."
That Afternoon at Luke´s...
Rory picked at the rim of her empty Styrofoam cup, pinching off round bits of it and adding them to the tiny pile on the table. Lane sat across from her, eating a cheeseburger and watching her best friend make mincemeat out of the cup. "Rory, after watching you make confetti for the last thirty minutes, I have the feeling something is really bothering you. So, what´s up?"
Rory glanced up, distracted. "Nothing. I´m okay."
Lane gestured to the ever growing mound of Styrofoam grounds. "That´s not okay. That´s almost like a form of OCD."
"If I start washing my hands profusely then let me know."
Luke was walking by, coffee pot in hand when he noticed the mess Rory was making on the table. "Remind me to only serve you coffee in ceramic mugs from now on."
"Sorry, Luke," Rory replied glumly but made no move to clean it up.
Rory used her hand to sweep the pieces of Styrofoam into a napkin and crumpled it up. She propped her chin on a hand and gazed out the window into the warm sunshine that drenched the streets of Stars Hollow. Summer was on the way, and the entire town was buzzing in preparation for the hot season to come. All the stores had chucked their wardrobes of winter clothing, replacing them with the fresh, light styles of summer, and hardware stores had added gardening supplies, bug snatchers, and lawn chairs to their displays. Normally, Rory would be inclined to join in on the festivities, but something just didn´t feel right. Something was missing, and it left a gaping void deep in her stomach, and she wasn´t sure when it would feel whole again.
"Can you believe that you´re finished with your first year at Chilton? That is such a huge accomplishment! Of course, we all knew you would blow them away over there so that´s not a surprise, you being the ultimate picture of all that is intelligent in this world. Rory, this summer is going to be so much fun... lazy days to do nothing but what we want to. Well, except when my mom arranges a meeting with another Korean suitor´..."
As Lane chattered on animatedly, Rory finally spoke up. "Technically, I´m not finished at Chilton yet. I have one more final in the morning."
"That´s nothing," Lane said waving her hand nonchalantly, "Piece of cake, right?"
"I´ve spent the past weeks studying for it, so everything should be okay."
"When you get back from dinner at your grandparent´s tomorrow night, why don´t we go to a movie and celebrate the end of the torture chamber, also known as school?"
Rory´s brow furrowed as she fiddled with her hands resting on the table top. "That´s the thing... Chilton is holding an end of the year formal tomorrow night."
"Oh, you should go." Lane´s dark eyes lit up excitedly as she brushed a strand of hair out of her face. "I know! You could ask Dean to go with you."
Rory winced, avoiding her friend´s questioning gaze. She had actually entertained that possibility on the bus ride home from Chilton, but had given up, convincing herself that a Chilton dance was the wrong place to hope for any kind of reconciliation. "I don´t think that´s a good idea."
"Why? Rory he still likes you. He would jump at the chance to go."
"I doubt that. Besides, if I go, I don´t plan on staying long, so it would just be a waste of his time."
Lane took the pesky strand of loose hair and clipped it back into her barrette. "I bet Dean wouldn´t consider spending time with you a waste." She teasingly made a kissing sound with her lips, but regretted the movement when Rory looked down at the table sadly. "I´m sorry Rory. I probably should never have brought it up."
"It´s okay. Dean and I can´t avoid each other forever, especially in a town as small as Stars Hollow."
"My point exactly. So, why don´t you ask..."
Rory interrupted bluntly, shooting a look at Lane. "I don´t think so, and don´t say a word about the formal to him. Please, Lane."
Lane leaned back against her chair. "All right, I won´t." However, the wheels were already turning in her mind, because she hadn´t promised anything.
On Friday afternoon, Rory trudged up the walkway to the Gilmore house, lugging her loaded down book bag behind her. She had finished cleaning out her locker and returning all of her textbooks, but she had brought home all of her notebooks from her classes that semester. She pushed open the door with her foot and stumbled into the hallway, slinging her bag at the foot of the stairs. Lorelai bounded into the room, ever-present coffee cup in her hand. "Hey smart girl! So, how does it feel to be finished with your first year at Chilton?" She wrapped her free arm around her daughter´s tense shoulders.
"Well, the sadists that they call teachers over there wouldn´t be happy until they drew the last breath from your tired little bodies." Lorelai tapped her chin in thought. "What do you say we have a bonfire in the backyard conveniently using those notebooks of yours?" she asked excitedly, reaching into Rory´s book bag.
Rory grabbed her mother´s hand, stilling her plan of attack. "Nope, I need them so I can look over my notes before the fall semester starts."
Lorelai gave her a pouty look, sticking out her bottom lip in an attempt for pity. "Honey, it´s summer vacation. You´re supposed to forget stuff."
"For some reason, I don´t think Chilton will fall for the whole I got temporary amnesia over the summer excuse."
"No, but I could bop you over the head, and then there would be at least a little truth to it."
"I´ll pass on the possible head concussion thing."
Lorelai smiled brightly. "Just trying to help."
"I know." Rory wrapped her arms around her mother´s waist, resting her tired head against her shoulder."
Lorelai rubbed her daughter´s hair soothingly. "Isn´t it about time for you to be getting ready for that dance?"
"I don´t think I´m going." Rory´s voice was muffled from being buried in the soft material of Lorelai´s shirt.
"Not going?" Lorelai tilted Rory´s head up so she could look her right in the eyes. "We didn´t buy you that gorgeous dress yesterday for nothing. You can´t let that go to waste."
"I´ll just go with you to grandma´s."
"I don´t think so missy." Lorelai dragged Rory over to the couch, sat her down and then plopped down beside of her. "My mom already gave you permission to skip the weekly session of anguish and suffering, so you better run while you still can."
"But dinner sounds so much more promising," Rory replied quietly, leaning her head on the back of the couch.
"Dinner with the Addams family? All that´s missing is Cousin It. I know! Maybe he´s locked in the attic with the rest of the long lost relatives. Personally, babe, I would choose the dance."
"The Addams family or Paris Gellar and the rest of her cronies? I would rather face the first." Rory rubbed her weary eyes feeling as if they were turned inside out from all of the brain numbing studying she had been doing for finals.
"Oh, come on, Rory. Maybe you´ll meet the man of your dreams tonight." Lorelai batted her eyelashes, playfully mocking a flirtatious gesture. "I can see it now... you´ll meet his eyes across the room, the crowd will part, you´ll run to him, he´ll run to you, and then you´ll fall into a passionate embrace."
Rory shot her an appalled look. "I kind of want to stay away from that whole magic fairy tale philosophy."
"You never know. Just maybe there will be magic in the air for you tonight."
"That´s the least of my concerns. I´m not even going to be staying long."
Lorelai patted Rory´s leg encouragingly. "That´ll change. Let´s go turn you into the belle of the ball."
"Mom," Rory protested weakly as she was unwillingly dragged to her bedroom.
Tristan lifted his glass of punch and took a sip, grimacing at its sugary sweet taste. He set it down on an unoccupied table and resumed his dutiful watch over the doorways to the convention hall, searching, itching for even just a glimpse of her. He tugged at his tie with one finger, trying to loosen the constricting knot around his neck. Less than a minute later, he almost choked on a sharp intake of breath, but it wasn´t due to the tie. She was there. He had actually begun to believe that she wasn´t going to come. When that possibility had settled into his mind, the pain it caused had seared straight through him, especially when he knew it was reasonable that she could have been otherwise detained because of a date. Now, Tristan shook his head as if banishing those thoughts to a far away place, reminding himself that the vision in front of his eyes wasn´t a dream.
Unseen, he stared at her as he had countless times before, just taking in the true beauty that was Rory Gilmore. She was wearing a simple, yet elegant, creamy white dress that flowed over her slim curves to rest like a cloud just below her knees. The straps of the dress, made up of tiny embroidered rosebuds, trailed over her shoulders to intersect in a cris-cross fashion revealing a bare expanse of her back ,but not enough to be considered revealing. Her hair, arranged in loose, silky waves, cascaded down her back, while a few strands from each side were held back by a clip fashioned out of the same exquisite roses. Tristan drank in the sight of Rory with his eyes, unable to drag them away from the angelic figure in front of him. She was hesitating in the doorway, a picture of wide-eyed curiosity that was so characteristic of her. He watched her, all the bodies surrounding them forgotten, as she began to make her way across the room.
As Rory walked, she nervously smoothed the imaginary creases in her dress with her hands, eyes searching the room for anyone who was familiar. She didn´t have to look far; the figure stopped in front of her, a scowl on their face and arms crossed in an unforgiving manner in front of their chest. "Paris," Rory addressed, a weariness in her voice that she had long ago given up trying to disguise.
Paris appraised her coolly, her lips forming a mocking smile. "You shouldn´t be here."
Rory held her chin high, refusing to give into Paris´s endless tirade. "The invitations were addressed to all of Chilton´s students, so I have as much right to be here as you do."
"There´s a difference. No one cares if you´re here."
Rory just looked at her, that comment inwardly digging into her spine. Normally, Paris´s remarks bounced right off her, but for some reason this hurt. A year at Chilton, and they were still right back where they had started that first day. Not uttering a word in rebuttal, Rory brushed past the stubborn girl and headed for the glass doors to the terrace. Tristan, who had stepped nearer to the two girls, had witnessed the exchange, and he berated himself for the haunting sense of familiarity Paris´s words shrouded over him. They reminded him that he used to serve up those same caustic remarks, not caring if they bit or tore at Rory, a girl who had never done anything to make him treat her with such hatred in his voice. The truth was it had nothing to do with hate but everything to do with confusion and emotions Tristan had never let himself delve into so deeply before. Thankfully, it had seemed that they had moved past all those mistakes he had made, but he feared he would always regret the torment he had put her through. As he watched her slip out onto the terrace, he wanted nothing more than to let her know that he cared that she was there, probably too much. Paris looked on as Tristan waited a few moments and then followed Rory´s path out onto the terrace. No one saw the calm, unemotional mask on Paris´s face waver for a second before it returned to its normal state as she whirled around and stalked off.
The terrace, draped in hanging flower arrangements of lilacs, daisies, and many other assortments of colorful petals, wrapped around most of the exterior of the convention hall. It offered a sweeping view of the grounds and the rather large man-made lake that lay sprawled at the bottom of a small hill. Rory stepped over to the railing, breathing in deep gulps of warm early summer air. Why was it that anything having to do with Chilton often had a suffocating effect on all of those involved? The blaring music from the surround sound speakers set up on several stands did nothing to ease the throbbing pain in her head, not to mention the furiously dancing bodies of students celebrating the end of classes, eager to use anything as an excuse for partying and other sorts of mayhem. Needing to get away, Rory headed away from the crowd to hopefully what would be the solace of the lake; a place for her to have a few seconds alone. The sun was setting lower on the horizon, the sky awash with hues of burnt orange, fiery red, and pale yellow, pink, and purple, each layer being more distinctive than the next. The glassy, crystal surface of the lake was undisturbed except for the mirror replica of the sun´s colors, making it seem like a painter had dropped his palette into the waters and swirled the brilliant tones around giving new meaning to the term watercolor.´ Rory sighed in delight at the peaceful sanctuary, free from the burdens Chilton frequently imposed. The pounding beat from the speakers on the terrace could still be heard, but it wasn´t nearly as overwhelming as before. She reached a hand back and massaged the tense muscles in her neck, gasping when she felt a larger hand envelope her smaller one.
She spun around, reflexively jerking her hand from his. "Tristan... hey." He was gazing at her contemplatively, as if he had discovered something about her that she herself had yet to even realize. Rory fiddled with the strap of her dress, fumbling for it when it accidentally slipped slightly off her shoulder. Before she had time to react, two long, tan fingers slowly brought it back up to rest in its previous position, his hand brushing against her arm as he returned it to the pockets of his pants. Her eyes lifted to Tristan´s face, taking in the playful leer on his lips. "I could´ve done that myself."
"I´m sure, though what kind of a gentleman would I be if I didn´t help a lady in need?"
"One not in danger of experiencing the loss of several important body parts," Rory shot back, turning her head so he wouldn´t see the amusement creasing her features.
"Well, now we know where your mind wanders." He moved up against her, bumping her shoulder with his. "You really think about me that way? I´m touched."
"I only think about the ways I could cause you bodily harm, so I would wipe off that self-satisfied smile if I were you. By the way, where´s your date?"
Tristan ran a hand through his blond hair, the locks glowing like a halo in the final rays of sunlight. "As hard as it is to believe, even though girls were practically begging me to take them, I didn´t come with anyone," he jokingly explained, watching the annoyed way she rolled her eyes.
"Modesty has never been one of your strong points. Are you going to try to break a record by dancing with as many girls as you can in one night?"
"I´m only making room for one girl."
She snorted, a laugh bubbling up in her throat. "Only one? Now I know you´re insane."
Tristan took a step closer to her, his eyes taking in every inch of her face, as if memorizing her features in order to tuck those memories away in a place for safe keeping. "You still owe me a dance, Rory."
Startled, she looked up at him, her eyes automatically locking with his like two homing beacons knowing exactly where they truly belonged. He was holding out a hand to her, waiting expectantly for her to accept his offer. "We can´t hear the music down here," Rory insisted meekly, even though the first few strands of a slow ballad were drifting through the air from the terrace.
"Nice excuse, Rory. It´s just us down here. What are you so afraid of?" Tristan asked softly, his voice sounding deep and husky with built up emotion even to his own ears.
Rory found herself unable to move, no words came from her normally babbling mouth, for she had felt a twinge in her stomach at his almost whispered words. A twinge that she realized had made it´s presence known before, but she had chosen to pass it off as a simple nervous stomach or just to ignore it all together. A part of her was telling her to repeat this act of indifference while the other half wanted to give into these foreign sensations and step into Tristan´s waiting arms. They had worked through all of the taunting and torment he had inflicted on her. He had apologized profusely for putting her through hell. The least she could do was to show him once and for all that everything was in the past. They were friends now, and there was nothing wrong with two friends sharing an innocent dance to commemorate the end of the school year and what they had to overcome, both in classes and with each other. Yet, Rory´s arms still hung like limp noodles at her sides, unable to take his proffered hand.
Tristan laughed quietly at the way Rory´s brow was furrowed in concentration. "You know Rory, sometimes you think too much." He gently gripped the baby soft skin of her forearms with his hands, slowly bringing her arms up to circle around his neck. His fingers then ran tantalizingly down the skin of her arms as his hands came to rest at her waist. Rory´s eyes widened at the sudden, unexpected goose bumps that popped up on her neck as he pulled her body closer to his.
"Tristan, I think..."
"Shhh, don´t talk."
Two very different people
Too scared to get along
Til two hearts beat together
Underneath one sun
One very special moment
Can turn a destiny
Rory felt herself beginning to relax against Tristan´s warm, firm body, letting the soaring symphonies of the ballad wash over and through her soul. She was surprised at how she and Tristan seemed to fit together, like magnetic puzzle pieces that had been kept apart for far too long.
And what some would say
Could never change
Has changed for you and me
Tristan´s hands caressed the silky material of her dress as he brought them up to span across her back, the thumb and forefinger of his left hand fingering one of the embroidered roses on the straps. The sweet, fragrant scent of her coconut shampoo had his senses reeling as he rested his cheek against the top of her head.
Cause it´s all, It´s all in the way
you look through your eyes
And when all is said and done
All of the fear and all of the lies
are not hard to overcome
It´s all in the way you look at it
That makes you strong
We were two
Now we are one
Rory felt his fingers grazing the bare skin of her back causing tremors to cascade like a waterfall through her body. All of these surfacing sensations as well as their origin were baffling to say the least, but she chose to block everything out except for the peaceful rise and fall of the music.
We are two very different people
So much to overcome
So why care for one another
When there´s so much to be done
Cause sometimes it´s necessary
Just look how far we´ve come
You could say my friend that it´s the end
Or a new tale has begun
The lyrics seemed to speak from deep within Tristan´s heart, for the words could not have been more similar to their situation than if they had been written for them, and for them alone. He glanced down at Rory´s head resting on his chest and the way her brown waves trailed across the front of his sport coat. Smiling tenderly, he brushed a tendril out of her face, tucking it behind her ear.
And one moment in time
Is all the time we need
Just to make a difference
To make it better for you and for me
If you just believe
Rory could feel Tristan´s heart begin to pound out a swift rhythm against her cheek, and she blinked in perplexity to find that her own palms were slightly sweating. It had to be the romantic ballad that was creating all of these reactions in her, because it certainly couldn´t be the young man who was holding her so closely, almost as if he never wanted to let her go. She and Tristan were friends, nothing more. They couldn´t be anything more. They wouldn´t be anything more, she corrected herself... they both cared about other people. Dean. Summer.
Just open your eyes
Yet, the bearers of those names seemed so far away at that point, so unreachable for the both of them. Rory raised her eyes to Tristan´s, only to find him already staring at her intently. She dared herself to meet his never-ending gaze, almost giving into the challenge to get lost in his clear blue depths and then trying to find her way back out.
"Ask me something, Rory."
"What?" She managed to squeak out.
"Just ask me something. Anything to get my mind off what I really want to do right now."
"Do I even want to know?" she asked, laughter tingeing her voice, grateful to be able to make light of the serious mood that descended over them.
Tristan didn´t join in on her amusement. His eyes examined Rory´s, as if looking for acceptance that she wasn´t quite ready to admit.
"Well, are you going to tell me?"
He hesitated for a moment and then decided to take a chance, throwing all caution to the wind. "Rory, I want to kiss you."
Kiss you, Tristan finished her sentence, repeating the desire that he had long ago grown tired of not having fulfilled. Since his lips had joined hers that night at Madeline´s party, he had been waiting until the opportunity arose when he could once again feel the smooth skin of her mouth moving against his, and now looked to be the perfect time.
In that moment, Rory looked deep into his eyes and held back a gasp at the intensity she saw flickering in their swirls of color. She shook her head slightly, refusing to give into what she saw there, not because a part of her didn´t want to, but the fear and confusion she felt consume her very being held her back. Tristan´s gaze was penetrating into hers, and he was going to allow nothing to distract him from the breathtaking girl in front of him, the one who had stolen his heart and held it permanently locked up in her possession.
He placed his fingers gently over her lips, silencing her quiet murmurs of his name. He leaned closer, his warm breath tickling the side of her cheek as he whispered in her ear, I don´t believe I told you how beautiful you look tonight. As he pulled away, his mouth nuzzled her earlobe, sending shivers down Rory´s spine which she tried valiantly to ignore. Over Tristan´s bent shoulder, Rory´s glazed eyes cleared and focused on a figure standing on the terrace, obviously watching them with great interest. She felt her heart stop and then restart when she recognized the person´s features and the expression of hurt swimming on his face.
Tristan was cupping Rory´s porcelain cheeks in his hands when he noticed that it wasn´t him she was staring at so intently. Her attention was aimed at the terrace, and he felt her stiffen like a steel rod at his touch. She uttered a single name, but it was a name that made Tristan´s heart shatter like ice. Yet, he told himself that he could have possibly imagined it, that finally being here with Rory had caused his mind to turn upside down and distort all of the information it received. The lightheadedness from being this close to her most certainly was affecting his balance. Why couldn´t it make words garbled as well? His theory was proved undeniably wrong when she repeated the whispered, indisputably familiar name.
Dean. As if suddenly remembering where she was, Rory looked up at Tristan, pressing her hand lightly on his chest in order to step away from him. I have have to go. Tristan experienced an unwelcome sense of déjà vu as he watched her turn and run toward her ex-boyfriend waiting for her on the terrace. He slumped down onto a bench, feeling the weight of pain return to its home, settling firmly over his body and coating it in a wave of sadness. Once again, Rory Gilmore had walked out of his life, taking his heart with her. Burying his face helplessly in his hands, he greeted the sensation that Tristan Dugray had long ago grown accustomed to feeling with a less than pompous reception. He was alone.
Rory hurried though the grass, being careful not to trip in her heeled shoes and refusing to look back to the spot where she knew Tristan was standing, watching her turn her back on him yet again. She pushed him to the far reaches of her mind, disregarding the twist she felt in her stomach at the flash of hurt she had seen cross his face. She brushed if off, insisting that she had nothing to do with the sudden void that had filled his eyes at the mere mention of Dean´s name, and that there had to be something more pertinent bothering him. Instead, she scanned the crowd of students on the terrace, her eyes locking on Dean´s. He allowed himself to exchange glances with her for a second before shaking his head in frustration then turning to go back into the convention hall. Rory dodged around the dancing bodies, ramming into shoulders in her haste and muttering short apologies. She found Dean in the lobby, heading toward the doors that exited into the parking lot, and she clutched onto the thin material of his shirt, stopping his determined retreat. Dean, please wait, she pleaded, hating the desperate tones that emerged in her voice.
He turned to face her, a mixture of hurt and anger laced with a small amount of disgust, written across his features. Just leave me alone, Rory. His voice bit at her, stinging deep within the core of her chest. You obviously haven´t missed me even half has much as I´ve missed you. You´re too busy cozying up to that asshole. His gaze hardened when he thought about the way Tristan had been holding Rory tightly in his arms, almost as if she were already his.
Rory increased her taut hold on Dean´s shirt, begging him with her eyes to listen. You don´t understand. Tristan he´s she hesitated, taken aback by the notion that she was no longer sure exactly what Tristan was.
Tristan´s what, Rory? Dean practically growled, spitting the name out like it was a disease scientists had no hope of finding the cure for.
Rory brought her hand back down, wringing her fingers nervously in front of her. He´s my friend.
Dean scoffed deep within his throat, not believing that Rory couldn´t see what had been right in front of her. He hadn´t wanted to see it for himself, but he was no longer able to deny the way Tristan had been looking at Rory, like he could have devoured her right there on the lawn. Looks like there are more than friendly intentions on his mind.
No, Dean, just listen to me. This is our last formal at Chilton before summer vacation. It was nothing more than a dance. That´s all.
Dean noticed the way her eyes wouldn´t quite meet his, giving the impression that she was shielding something from his gaze, something that she herself couldn´t even begin to comprehend. He collapsed onto one of the plush couches, his stomach turning over when he felt her moving to sit beside of him and taking his hand in her own. He ran a hand through his hair, sighing deeply at the range of emotions this innocent girl was able to put him through. I really miss you, Rory.
Rory´s lips turned up in a small, reserved smile, her complicated feelings not allowing her to offer him anymore than that minuet piece of herself. I miss you too. How did you know about all this anyway? Her hand gestured to the expansive array of students dressed in formal attire, moving about the lavishly decorated convention hall.
Lane told me.
Rory almost laughed when she thought of her best friend´s scheming albeit good intentions. I should´ve known she would do something like this.
Dean felt a twinge in his stomach at the twinkling sound of her laughter as it worked to fill up the hole that had formed due to the absence of her voice. What he had come to tell her though could serve has the fuel to make their relationship whole again and grow stronger, or it could eventually destroy what they had completely. Only time would tell. Rory, I´m going away for awhile.
His statement startled Rory, her eyes jerking away from their intense study of a small wrinkle in her dress. You´re going away? Where? Why?
Despite his sense of unhappiness, Dean forced a chuckle at the round of questions she threw at him, those which were so typical of her. The world never ceased to be a wonder to Rory, and every questioned answered became a gem in a land of diamonds waiting to be discovered . He feared she would be none to pleased with his explanation, but she deserved to hear the truth. I´m going to be spending most of the summer at my grandparent´s house back in Chicago. I won´t be back until August.
I haven´t had a chance to see my grandparents all year. I just can´t stay here and be this close to you he cleared his throat, trying to ease the lump that had formed there, knowing you don´t feel the same way that I do.
Rory squeezed his hand, entwining her fingers through his. I do care about you, Dean. I was hoping we could spend some time together this summer so that we would maybe be able to work things out
As he looked at her slightly downcast gaze, he knew what she said was true, but something just didn´t seem right between them anymore. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a shiny object resting in his palm. I want you to have this.
Rory scrutinized the thin leather strap and the silver medallion dangling from it, shimmering in the dim lights of the lobby. It was identical to the one he had given her before, but there was no possible way it could be the same one. She had given the other one to her mother along with the rest of the box of memories in order for it to be disposed of quickly.
Dean took her hand in his, tying the make-shift bracelet around her wrist. As if sensing her unspoken question, he spoke up, I made you a new one. I hope it will symbolize a new start for us when I get back. I still love you, Rory, he added, almost as an afterthought. When she said nothing, he glanced over at her, her silence imitating that of the night they had broken up those months ago. Dean stood up hastily, yanking his hand out of her grasp, needing to get away. You still can´t say it, can you?
Rory stood up on shaky legs, not knowing what to say that could offer him even a little bit of comfort. Dean, I´m not sure where my feelings stand right now, but I do know that you mean a lot to me. Why do I have to say I love you´ for you to understand that?
Dean shrugged his shoulders irately. Just forget that I said anything about it. Being away from each other will give you time to figure out what you want who you want. His eyes flitted over in Tristan´s direction where he hovered in the doorway, an unreadable expression on his face.
Rory rubbed a hand over her forehead, more confused now than ever before. Who I want? Dean, what are you talking about?
Dean leaned over, awkwardly placing a chaste kiss on her cheek. You´re a smart girl. I´m surprised you haven´t already figured it out. With that, he pushed open the door and headed out to his truck, leaving Rory standing in the lobby, arms hugging her torso in apprehension. The music from the dance floor seemed to fall on deaf ears as she lifted her wrist to bring the bracelet Dean had given her into her view. Feeling like a dead weight was attached to it, her arm fell lifelessly to her side. As she made her way to the door, a quiver of movement out of the corner of her eye had her looking up to meet that familiar piercing, cerulean stare. Tristan was studying her, oblivious to the people swirling in their dances around him. Rory was like a deer caught in head lights as she met his soul searching gaze. The twinkling bulbs that had been strung across the pillars reflected in his eyes, serving the way a lighthouse would in the uncharted sea of mystification and emotional torment that descended over them. Both were caught in their own personal tug of war, neither knowing who would win. Rory broke the stream of electricity between them and heaved open the door to the parking lot, leaving all that Chilton embodied behind for the summer, a part of her knowing that she would actually miss the reassuring familiarity of its students, especially one in particular; a tall, blond enigma who suddenly seemed to have a way of bringing her stomach on a free fall course all the way to her knees.
Rory dragged open the front door to her house, slamming it shut behind her, the sound echoing through the stillness of the air. Her mother had borrowed Sookie´s car to drive to Hartford in order for Rory to use the Jeep, and she had yet to return home. Rory walked down the hallway, the click and whir of the refrigerator reverberating hollowly in her ears. She reached her room, collapsing on her bed, arms stretched out loosely above her head. She would have given anything to have been greeted by Lorelai´s quirky wisdom as the silence of the house dripped over her, like a dense fog on an early fall morning. She twisted the strap of Dean´s bracelet around her wrist, the leather lightly scraping her skin. Something that used to placate her just by simply knowing it was there, now seemed to hamper her like clipped wings would to a bird that wanted to fly free. A breathless yelp escaped her mouth when the impatient knocking on the door startled her out of her useless analyses of the occurrences that night. She scurried out into the hallway, flipping on the light as she peered into the wavy glass on the door, seeing nothing but the harsh light reflected back at her. Rory squinted, barely able to make out a tall outline, sharply contrasting against the dark, inky blackness beyond. She unlocked the door and pulled it open, revealing Tristan, fist raised, prepared to pound on the door yet another time. He had shed the frivolous jacket and tie, clad only in his black slacks and white dress shirt, cuffs loosely rolled up, baring an expanse of his muscular forearms. He stood there looking at her, the characteristic smirk replaced with an aura of concern.
Shocked did nothing to describe Rory´s reaction to seeing Tristan Dugray standing on her front porch. At night. In Stars Hollow. Looking like there was nowhere else he would rather be. Tristan? What are you doing here?
He expertly maneuvered around the open space between her and the door, turning around to face her. You looked really upset when you left the dance. He didn´t bother telling her that he had followed her home or that he had spent the past thirty minutes sitting in his car, intensely focused on the lit window that could only be her bedroom, waging an internal war on the pros and cons of confronting her here, tonight.
I wasn´t upset. I´m just tired.
He surveyed her pale face, noticing the dark, purplish circles under her eyes from lack of sleep. What had happened to his vibrant Rory, the one so full of life? It had been sucked right out of her, and he had a good idea just who had stripped it away. So you and Dean are back together, it was more of a statement rather than a question, and he hoped she didn´t notice the automatic wince created by saying those words.
Rory fidgeted with the bracelet almost in habit. No, he´s going away for the summer to Chicago. He wants us to have time to work things out, to take a break.
Tristan tried to stop the surge of relief that swam up through his veins but knew it was impossible to cease it. Though one look at Rory´s defeated expression spoiled his temporary bout of celebration. So is that Dean´s claim over you while hes gone? He asked, gesturing to the leather strip of bracelet, trying to keep the jealousy out of his voice.
She shot him an indignant look, cupping the bracelet protectively. Dean isn´t like that. He isn´t like you.
Is that such bad thing? He took a step closer to her, the self-assured smirk working its way back onto his lips.
Unlike you, Dean doesn´t view girls as possessions. He doesn´t move on to a new flavor each month to boost his status with buddies who do nothing but joke over their recent conquests, Rory snapped, hands placed objectively on her hips.
Tristan felt the indescribable ache begin in his stomach as her verbal attack sunk in. Yet, this was different then their usual banter. Rory seemed to be pulling at something from deep inside of herself, something that was bewildering and frightening to her, and she was fighting it with everything in her reserves that she had left. Tristan had a feeling that the solid wall she had built between them was slowly dissolving, and it was turning Rory´s normally stable world into a whirl wind of clashing emotions. A little bit more digging and maybe that barrier would have an opening big enough for him to step right through it. Things change, Rory. People change.
She didn´t back down from her warrior stance. So now I´m supposed to believe that something has made you change?
More like someone.
Rory quirked an eyebrow at him, his words only puzzling her more. Well, then who´s this magical someone? Ill have to take time to thank them for doing the impossible.
He didn´t answer her inquiry, his attention once again focused on the bracelet, appearing to him as if it were a handcuff keeping her under lock and key for Dean and away from him. Every time you look at that bracelet, it´s going to remind you of him. In a flash decision, he took her wrist in his hands, swiftly untying the leather strips and letting the bracelet fall to the floor in a distressed heap.
Rory alternately looked from the small mound of leather to Tristan´s eyes, meeting hers ever so calmly. What are you doing?
She reached out her hand, intending to scoop it up, but Tristan beat her to it, sliding it into the close confined pocket of his slacks. Getting rid of a distraction.
Rory put her hands up to her throbbing head, feeling as if a vice, intent on squeezing it into pieces, had been incased around it. You are so complicated! One minute, you are incredibly cocky and unbelievably self-absorbed, and the next, you´re looking at me like that. Her diatribe was suddenly cut off when she saw that his cobalt eyes were burning into hers, like liquid fire intent on melting every fiber of her being. There was also something else glittering in their depths, a hint of promises of things to come.
Like what, Rory? Tristan questioned innocently, his acute gaze never wavering from hers.
Rory´s knees quivered like congealed Jell-O as she frantically searched her mush-filled brain for a way to answer him. I don´t know. Like like you are right now.
Like you´re special? He couldn´t prevent the small smile from forming onto his mouth, making his eyes glisten with a seemingly all-knowing capacity.
Rory leaned back against the sturdiness of the wall, the coolness of it soothing her clammy palms. Well, I guess.
Have you ever thought it´s because it is impossible for me to look at you any other way?
His statement drifted into the folds of her mind, but, at that point, she failed to even allow its possible meaning to register. What are you doing here, Tristan?
Tristan shook his head in honest disbelief. If you still haven´t figured it out, then we´ve got a long night ahead of us, Rory.
She stepped away from the wall, moving over to stand right in front of him, intent on getting her point across once and for all. I mean, there were at least a hundred girls at that dance who would give anything to be with you right now, yet you´re here, arguing with me.
Tristan tilted his head to gaze at her inquisitively, his chin lifted confidently. Just a hundred? I was thinking more along the lines of the entire female student body.
Why are you here, Tristan?
He emitted a brief, mirthless laugh, finding it difficult to believe that an intelligent young woman, like the one standing before him now, after all this time, was not capable of even grasping onto one of the thousand hints regarding his feelings that he kept throwing at her. You really don´t get it, do you?
Rory raised her eyebrows at him, her voice suddenly serious, possessing none of the fire from before. Obviously not. Just make me understand.
As he stood there, staring at Rory, her cheeks flushed rosily from their heated dispute, lips shining from the barest bit of lip gloss, he wanted nothing more than to make her understand, but it was in a way neither he nor she was ready for. There would be plenty of time for that if he had anything to do with it. Tristan shoved his hands into his pockets, fisting his hands in the cotton, keeping himself from reaching out and taking her into his arms and showing her exactly what he meant. Instead he settled for words, because when things pertained to Rory, words sometimes spoke louder than actions ever could. Do you really want to know why I´m not with those other girls right now? Why they don´t mean anything to me? Why they never cross my mind because there is only one who consumes every thought that I have? It´s because they´re not you, Rory. And if you still don´t know what I mean, then I think you owe it to yourself to find out.
And in that moment, after Tristan´s words had left his lips, Rory´s mouth snapped closed, silencing the bite of the infuriated retort that had been on the tip of her tongue. With the clarity of his eyes burning into hers, he turned and headed down the walkway to his car. In the middle of the yard, he looked back at Rory where she was standing , gripping the side of the doorway with one hand, as if holding on to a lifeline. I´ll be seeing you this summer, Rory. You can count on it. She continued to look off into the distance long after his car had disappeared into the evening mist, rooted to the spot, lost in her own corner of the world.
The door had been opened, but would they walk through it as one, or would they go their separate ways? Only time could provide the answer to that inevitable query. One thing was for certain in the midst of all that was occurring in Stars Hollow on that warm early summer night; Rory Gilmore was no longer confused.