disclaimer in part 1
*

It had stopped raining about a half hour before the concert ended. Their clothes were still soaked, cold, wet, clammy and intensely uncomfortable. But neither of them minded too much. They talked about the best moments of the concert as they returned to the car, almost skipping in their excitement, saying to each other, did you see... did you notice... I can't believe... Wasn't it incredible when... until they were almost out of breath.

Back in the car, Tristan turned on the heat, and they both sat shivering despite the hot air.

"There's a seatwarmer," Tristan said. "Just flip the switch there. The black one with the red design on it."

"Let's face it," she said, flipping the switch. "We're not going to be warm until we change our clothes."

"Well, it's going to be awhile before we get back, so try not to get pneumonia."

"I'll try, but no promises."

"Oh wait," he said. "There's a Wendy's."

"You have a craving for fries?"

"No, but some coffee would be nice."

"I can't argue with you there."

"It's a miracle."

"One more of those and I get to be a saint. I had my first miracle two weeks ago when I turned down a second piece of cheesecake."

"I'm just not sure that's what they meant when they wrote out the job description for sainthood."

"The standards are much lower now," Rory said. "It's because of el nino." He gave her an amused look. "What?" she said. "Everything can be traced back to el nino."

Tristan pulled into the drive-through and ordered two coffees. Rory cradled her cup in her hands, taking careful sips as he returned them to the highway.

"Thanks," she said.

He shrugged. "I was serious about that pneumonia thing. Coffee's good for fighting off lung diseases. I did a scientific study on it." He chuckled.

"Not just for that," she said. He glanced away from the road to give her a questioning look. "I mean for the concert and everything."

He shrugged again, uncomfortably. "It's no big deal."

"It kind of is," she said, looking intently at the Styrofoam cup in her hands. "I was really rude to you when you invited me, and then earlier today. And you still came with me, in the rain and everything. You didn't have to do that."

"So you were rude," he said. "And I was pushy, and took your yes for granted, and got you in Paris' bad column. So I deserved it. And it's not like I had anything else planned for tonight."

"I'm just saying thank you," she said.

"Well, then you're welcome." She nodded once at that.

"I actually had fun. It could have been a disaster, but it really wasn't."

Tristan nodded. "We didn't hit any icebergs or anything."

"Although we did almost drown." Rory grinned.

"It would have been okay," Tristan said. "I was a lifeguard one summer at camp. I know CPR."

Rory laughed. "Why can't we get along like this all the time?" she asked, half-joking. "What is it about Chilton that causes hostility? Is it asbestos or lead paint or something?"

Tristan just shook his head.

They rode in silence for a while, warming themselves with the coffee. Then Rory spoke softly. "Tristan?"

"Yeah," he said.

"Can I ask you a personal question?"

"Boxers," he replied. She looked at him with her eyebrows raised. He turned from the road to give her a little smirk. She let out a chuckle.

"Not that question."

"Go ahead," he said.

"You don't have to answer if it's too weird."

"Rory, you don't have to put a disclaimer on it, just ask the question."

"Why?" she said. "Why do you keep asking me out?"

"Because I want you to say yes." His hands tightened on the steering wheel, and his jaw jumped nervously.

"Yeah, but...it's a game, right?" she said, turning in her seat to look at him. "I mean it's a bet or a challenge or something?"

He sat in silence for a long moment, and she tried to think of a way to back them out of the awkward place they were heading. Then he finally spoke just one word, "no."

"Then--"

"I just like you," he interrupted. "That's all."

She sat thoughtfully, picking at the top of her cup with her fingernails. "You have a funny way of showing it."

"I'm not used to rejection," he said. "It doesn't bring out my best."

"I'm sorry."

He wrinkled his brow at her in confusion. "Sorry for what?"

"I don't know," she said. He nodded suddenly, his brow smoothing as though he suddenly understood. "No," she said, "I didn't mean it like that."

"It's okay," he said.

"I just-" she started. "I mean, there's Dean. And--"

"I understand," he interrupted. "You don't have to explain anything to me."

"I shouldn't have said anything."

"It would have happened sooner or later," he said.

"Yeah, but it would have been later."

"Well, now it's over with."

"And we can still be friends?" She made it a question. "If we're friends now that is."

He hesitated a moment. "I want to be your friend," he said. "But," he shrugged. "I have problems with not getting what I want. And I don't know if I'll be able to just..." he trailed off. "It's not that easy. I mean, we can try."

"Okay," she said. "That's good enough for me."

"But don't ever come to me with guy troubles cause I *will* slam the door in your face," he said.

"Right," she said, pretending to take a note on her palm. "I'll mark that down."

"And we're not going to, you know, hang out everyday and gossip or call each other everynight or any of that."

"Of course," she said. "I won't try to paint your toenails either."

"And I *may* accidentally call you Mary once or twice."

She rolled her eyes. "What is this," she said, "the Geneva Peace Accords?"

"It's just as historic," Tristan said in mock seriousness. "The infamous PJ Harvey Treaty of 2001. You should really try to remember everything about this important moment for posterity."

Rory snorted. "Remind me to call Winston Churchill later."

"Um," Tristan said. "Okay, but he's dead."

"That doesn't mean we can't stay in touch."

"Touching dead people is not cool, no matter what the peer pressure is telling you. That is what we call a bad touch."

"Gross," Rory said. "Now I'm going to be forced to get you back by describing this one time I watched them do a double bypass to this guy's heart on that hospital channel."

"Oh wait," Tristan said, "I think I saw that one. Was the guy bald with a really funny looking red nose?"

"No, that must have been a different guy. This one 's nose was normal, but he had no lips whatsoever."

*
When they reached her house, Tristan pulled into the driveway, and turned off the engine. He rested his hands on his legs, and looked over at Rory. She met his eyes, and the moment stretched awkwardly between them.

"I guess I'll see you at school," she said.

"Yes, you will."

"And I guess I'll have to talk to you, since you're now my only friend at Chilton."

"And I guess I'll have to answer you because it's my fault you have no friends."

"So that's settled." He nodded. "So, goodnight."

She opened the door, and he watched her climb out of the car. She turned to shut the door, then popped her head back inside instead. "Thanks again," she said.

"You don't have to keep thanking me."

"I know," she said, and ducked back out of the car. She shut the door, and walked across the porch, fiddling with her keys. She waved once as she slipped inside, and he waited a moment, just staring at the door. He fingered the ticket stub in his pocket, then brought it out, peering at it in the dim glow of the porch light. All the writing had disappeared, and the paper was half disintegrated from the water. He touched it lightly, reverently, then he tucked it in the back of his sunvisor. He started the car, and headed home, realizing when he was halfway there that she'd forgotten her PJ Harvey CD. For some reason, he was glad.

Rory snuck past her mom, who was asleep on the couch, and into her room. She peeled off her wet clothes and took a quick, but very hot shower, then changed into the lovely warmth of her flannel pajamas. She wrestled with turning her jeans right-side in, the wet material heavy in her hands. A soggy ticket stub fell from her pocket onto the floor, and she picked it up. She draped her wet clothes over her chair, and tucked the ticket stub into the side of her mirror. She grinned at her reflection, still excited that she'd seen PJ Harvey, still shocked she and Tristan had come to some sort of understanding. Then she hurried to the kitchen, sliding in socked feet, where she snagged a cup of coffee for her mom and headed back out to the living room to wake Lorelai and spill all the juicy details of her night out.

end

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