“Rory, will you slow down a little?!” Lorelai called to her daughter. “We’re not going to be late, I promise.”
Immediately she said it, she checked her watch, only to realise that maybe she just told her impressionable eleven year old a big fat fib. It wasn’t deliberate. Lorelai really had believed they had time to spare, but apparently not. Maybe it would’ve been better if she got out of bed the first time the alarm clock rang, maybe even the fourth time, maybe even when Rory came and shoved her for the ninth time and asked her to move herself already. It didn’t matter. They were in sight of the school now and everything would be fine. Lorelai had no worries about Rory getting on just fine at Stars Hollow Middle School. The kid was smart, clean, polite, there should be no problems. Lorelai couldn’t explain then why her heart was beating a mile a minute as she hurried after her baby girl towards the school.
“Geez, I swear one day I’m gonna figure out how you ever got so fast!” she muttered as she followed Rory as far as the steps, grabbing at her wrist before she could completely get away. “Not so fast, missy,” she told her.
“Sorry, Mom,” said Rory with a bashful smile, “I just can’t wait to see the place. The classrooms, the library, meeting my teachers and all the new kids.”
“Hey, I’m glad you’re excited. Never been so happy about anything,” Lorelai assured her. “But, y’know, Mommy’s feeling the nerves here. Everything is just changing so fast and you’re growing up and... and I’m having a little emotional moment,” she realised too late as tears came to her eyes.
“Oh, Mom!” Rory gasped at the sight of her mother’s upset, throwing herself at her to give her a big hug. “It’s gonna be fine. I love that we moved here. I mean, yeah, I know I cried a lot when you said we had to leave our old place, but Stars Hollow seems nice and I just know school is gonna be fine.”
“Stars Hollow seems nice?” asked Lorelai, pulling out of their hug but still keeping hold of her daughter yet. “Hon, we only moved into the place three days ago, and you barely left the house yet,” she smiled fondly. “You can’t know if a place is nice that fast.”
“I have a good feeling,” Rory grinned widely. “You know I’m never wrong about this stuff.”
“That’s right. You got your ‘good feeling’ skills from your Momma,” Lorelai smiled right back, pressing Rory’s nose like a button and making her laugh. “Okay,” she said then, clearing her throat and straightening up. “Back pack, books, 2B pencils,” she reeled off.
“Yes, yes, and yes,” Rory dutifully checked off the list. “Also, lunch money, gym clothes, and emergency lip gloss.”
“That’s my girl,” Lorelai sighed, finding it hard to believe this was in fact her baby girl, growing up so fast.
It seemed like only yesterday when she born, saying her first word, taking her first steps. For eleven years, Rory had been raised in a converted potting shed behind the Independence Inn, with help from the owner, Mia, and many of the staff. Lorelai had worked her way up from maid to waitress to assistant manager. Enough hard work and she planned to be running the place before long. Now she and Rory could at least afford to live in their own home, albeit it needed some work done yet. The point was, they were doing okay, the eleven year old who had read more books than most adults, and her twenty seven year old mother who had grown up in double-quick time, out of pure necessity.
“Okay, so...” Lorelai began her goodbye to Rory, only to be interrupted by a yelling that started up somewhere behind her.
“I’m not goin’ in there! You can’t make me, and I’m not goin’!” yelled a dark haired boy of around Rory’s age.
A man presumed to be the kid’s father dragged him by the straps of his bag towards the school.
“Wow. He’s really glad to be here,” Lorelai muttered sarcastically.
Rory peered around her mother at the scene just as the rambunctious kid slipped out of his back pack with plans to run. The man with him just hauled him back by the arm and told him no, even as the contents of the boy’s bag spilled out onto the pathway. It was instinct for Rory to rush over and help, especially when she saw precious books tumble to the ground. Lorelai went after her daughter and between the two of them they picked up every fallen item.
“Jess, stop!” the man hauling the kid around said firmly, practically tossing the boy onto his feet right in front of Rory.
For the first time since the Gilmores saw him, he stopped moving and yelling both. The kid who was apparently named Jess just stood and stared a long moment at Rory. She got back to her feet, dusted off the three books in her arms then held them out to him.
“Hi,” she said as she did so.
“Hi,” he responded in kind, taking the books from her.
Lorelai looked over at them with a little amusement when they said nothing else.
“Hi,” she threw in herself looking first at Jess and then at what she presumed to be his father. “I’m Lorelai Gilmore, this is my daughter Rory,” she introduced. “We’re new in town.”
“Luke Danes,” the mystery guy said shortly, taking the dropped back pack from Lorelai’s hands and stuffing the contents back into it. “I run the diner in town. This is my nephew, Jess. He’s new around here too, just recently came to stay with me for a while.”
“Oh, that’s nice,” she nodded. “It is nice, isn’t it?” she checked, actually starting to wonder.
Maybe Jess’ parents had died or something awful like that. Something must’ve made him so angry and rowdy, Lorelai thought. Rory was never so badly behaved, not even coming down off an epic sugar high!
“It’s... fine,” said Luke awkwardly, then casting his eyes to Jess and Rory who still stood staring at each other.
“You read a lot?” he heard the little girl ask.
“Some,” Jess shrugged, pushing his unruly hair back off his face. “You?”
“Yeah, some. A lot,” she corrected with a smile.
“Me too,” he admitted then, returning the expression.
“Well, isn’t that something,” Lorelai said, turning her attention from the kids back to Luke. “Two happy little literati we got here.”
She wasn’t sure what was going on with this Jess kid, and honestly, her introduction to his bad behaviour didn’t thrill her, but maybe he just had it rough. If he liked to read and had the potential to be a good student like her Rory, that was a good thing. Besides, Uncle Luke was kind of hot...
“Which grade you in?” asked Jess then.
“Sixth,” Rory answered immediately. “You?”
“Same,” he agreed.
A minute later, Jess was grabbing his bag from Luke, zipping it up tight, saying goodbye and moving away. He and Rory headed for the steps, and Lorelai was just going to yell to her daughter, asking where her goodbye kiss was, when suddenly Rory came pelting back to her. She reached up until Lorelai leant over a little and then kissed her cheek.
“Bye Mom,” she smiled, before rushing away again.
Luke looked at Jess a moment and the kid looked back.
“See ya, Uncle Luke,” the boy gave a half-hearted wave.
“See ya later, kid,” he smiled a little. “Have a good day!” he added as an after-thought.
Jess didn’t mind so much. Uncle Luke wasn’t so bad, this he told Rory as they headed up the into the school.
“So, where’s your Mom and Dad?” asked Rory curiously. “I mean, my parents were never married,” she went on to explain fast, just in case Jess thought she was about to judge. “I see my Dad sometimes, but I live with my Mom. We’re best friends.”
“I don’t know my Dad,” Jess shook his head. “And my Mom... She didn’t want me around anymore.”
“Oh,” said Rory, not knowing what else she was supposed to say really. “Well, at least you have your uncle. I’ll bet he’s glad you’re here,” she smiled sweetly.
Jess just shrugged non-comittally and kept walking. They headed for the classroom where a kindly teacher waited to greet them. She seemed pleased to see her two new students, both starting just one term after the rest.
“Now you must be Lorelai Gilmore and Jess Mariano,” she smiled down at them.
“Yes, ma’am,” Rory replied with a nod. “Except, most people call me Rory.”
The teacher, identifying herself as Miss James, seemed totally fine with the nickname and ushered her two new students into the classroom. She talked to them about the school and their schedules, as the rest of the class filed in and took their usual seats. Neither Jess nor Rory turned around until Miss James told them they should.
“Now, Rory, how would you like to take a seat next to Lane?” she pointed, and the small Korean girl half way down the room raised her hand to assist. “And Jess...”
Miss James didn’t get a chance to offer him a seat, just watched dumb-struck as he followed Rory and sat himself in the seat on the other side of the aisle without a word. It didn’t matter. He was sat in a previously empty seat and hadn’t made a fuss. Miss James decided just to let him be.
The lesson began with a long explanation about the book they would be reading this term, and the teacher had Rory’s rapt attention for a while, until a ball of paper landed on the desk in front of her. It could only have been Jess who tossed it there. Opening the paper in her lap so as not to be spotted, Rory read the words scrawled in pencil on the page.
You want to come to Uncle Luke’s diner after school?
Rory smiled, looked at Lane, then to Jess, and finally back to the teacher. It was nice to make new friends so fast. She liked Stars Hollow already. Still, she was mindful of getting herself into trouble by passing notes. She watched Jess until he looked her way and then nodded her response to his question. He smiled so wide just knowing she was agreeing to be his friend, Rory had a feeling it was more than that. They were going to be the very best of friends, forever. She just knew it.