He was still outside when she left the Rich Man’s Shoe. She hadn’t expected him to be there, assumed he would be long gone in fact. The money Logan had left her for a cab was clutched in her hand as she headed out and practically walked right into that familiar beat up old car. Rory didn’t think twice about tapping on the passenger window.
Jess looked a little startled when he glanced at her. Truth be told, he had been lost in thought since he got there. Yelling at Rory hadn’t been the right thing to do and he knew it before he was hardly done with his riotous speech about the problems with her new life. It wasn’t his place to say she was wrong to live the way she did. He gave up the right to an opinion when he ran away to California, made silent phone calls, waited months to come back only to screw up again and again.
Coming here to see her, to show her he had changed, that he had done something decent with his life, it had made sense in his head. Jess hadn’t expected the boyfriend, he should have perhaps, but he didn’t. Now he was staring at the only girl he had ever loved through the dingy glass of the passenger side window, tears welling in her eyes that he hoped to God he hadn’t caused. Jess couldn’t breathe.
Rory didn’t know what she was doing exactly, but the moment the lock popped and the car door swung open, she climbed in without a second thought. They didn’t go anywhere, since neither knew where it was they wanted to go. The fact Jess was still here outside the pub was weird enough. Rory meant to ask what he had been waiting for, if he was hoping she would appear but that was probably too much to ask. Mostly she concentrated on not bursting into tears, until finally he spoke.
“Rory...” he began, but she felt the apology coming and couldn’t stand it right now.
“Could you just drive?” she asked him, eyes closed, tone flat. “I don’t care where, just please, take me somewhere that’s not here.”
Jess stared at her a long moment, but she didn’t move at all, eyelids still down, holding her breath until he reacted. He nodded pointlessly and pulled his seat-belt on.
“Okay,” he said softly, starting the car.
That one word stirred Rory into action. She put on her own seat-belt, opened her eyes to stare straight ahead out of the windshield as Jess peeled away from the kerb and drove on.
They went for maybe a mile, no more, without speaking a word. The radio played softly in the background, some punk track that Rory was barely hearing at all. Her mind was racing, replaying all that Jess had yelled at her in the alley, all that Logan had said inside the pub. They were both right in their own ways, right about her life and what it had become. She had been such a fool.
The realisation of it all had hit her hardest when Jess asked what the hell was going on. In that moment as he stared at her in absolute confusion and pure disbelief, Rory knew she had no answer to give. ‘I don’t know’, she had intoned, defensive, awkward, because it was the whole truth. She didn’t know what she was doing, what her life had become, where the hell she was headed from here.
Logan was a jerk. She told him as much and not just because Jess had said the same. The truth of it had hit her shortly after the first realisation pounded her heart like a hammer on an anvil. He was a jerk, more often than he wasn’t. He wanted to drink and party, never caring for the consequences. His education didn’t matter because his father would always employ him, pay for him, see he was taken care of. Rory didn’t have that luxury, she didn’t have anything right now, and what a fool she had been to let that happen.
Logan told her to go with Jess. He didn’t get the name right, but that didn’t matter much. He thought so little of Rory, he believed she could be won over by her ex so easily. It occurred to her that she had proven him right by getting in this car tonight, and Rory might’ve laughed if she wasn’t already crying so hard.
Jess heard her sobbing and pulled over just as soon as he could. He had no idea where he was, save for it was some dark street in Hartford, but that didn’t matter. Rory was sat beside him, one hand over her mouth as she rocked a little in the passenger seat, silent tears streaming down her cheeks. He felt sick.
When he lost his temper, it had seemed to be with Logan at first. Sure, the guy was a real dick and seemed to be going out of his way to push Jess’ buttons, but that wasn’t the real problem. It was the fact this was the person Rory had chosen to date since he left. At least Jess could understand the appeal of someone like Dean Forester. For all that he couldn’t stand the dumb oaf, he knew he was the nice upright decent kind of guy that every girl dreamed of. This Logan was a total jerk, a rich boy with no sense of the real world or what it was to live in it. Like Jess told Rory, this was the type the two of them used to make fun of with their Porches and snotty attitudes. Now she was dating Logan, living with the Gilmore elders, and had dropped out of Yale to host cocktail parties and luncheons for the frickin’ DAR? It made no sense. Jess barely recognised the girl he fell in love with more than four years ago, and the changes certainly hadn’t been for the better.
“I’m sorry,” he said releasing his seat-belt, leaning over to her side and placing a hand on her shoulder. “Rory, I swear, I didn’t...”
She broke completely the moment he was kind to her. She practically fell in his lap, sobbing like her heart would break and all Jess could do was wrap his arms awkwardly around her in the confines of the car and try to tell her everything would be okay. Rubbing her back, he spoke softly into her hair, words of comfort and apology since he was pretty sure he was the cause of all this.
“I should’ve stayed away,” he said, kissing the top of her head.
“No,” she told him, words muffled against his jacket.
Rory made herself sit up, sniffling hard, shaking her head to make the point she couldn’t form the words for yet. Jess reached out to tuck her hair behind her ear on instinct. Even tear-stained and devastated, she was still beautiful to him, still the only girl he could ever feel this way about.
“Jess, I’m not sorry you came here,” she told him, just as soon as she was able, albeit she was still sniffling, wiping her cheeks dry with the backs of her hands. “I’m really not, I just... I don’t know what happened to me,” she cried, fresh tears cascading from her eyes. “I don’t know.”
She repeated words said first in the alley when he asked her what was going on with her. Jess hadn’t understood at first, thought she was making excuses, covering something up. It had taken her defensive looks, folded arms, and downcast eyes to make him realise she really didn’t know what had become of her. He had made her see it, broken the spirit that had kept her going through this dark time. For that he had to hate himself, and because of that he had to leave. Jess had got as far as the car but no further. Leaving felt wrong when Rory was so hurt. He might have made her see she had made some wrong choices, but was it right to drive away and leave her to figure out the solution alone? She had a boyfriend to help her, but in Jess’ opinion, that jerk was half the problem. He certainly wasn’t here now when he might be needed. What did that prove?
“You wanna talk about it?” he asked, because there was nothing else he could say without the whole story.
Luke alluded to a rift between Lorelai and Rory, but nothing specific. The dropping out of Yale might have caused that, but on its own it just didn’t add up. Maybe the blond dick was at the root of it, but Jess knew Rory wasn’t usually so easily swayed that way. It had taken him more than a year to convince her he was a better boyfriend choice than Forester, and then she had to be thrown at him by her ex before it stuck. She wouldn’t leave Yale and her home to run away with Jess last year, and now she had dropped out and become estranged from her mother. None of it made even a lick of sense, not any of it.
Rory nodded her head in answer to his question, and Jess nodded back, taking a moment to look out of the window at where they had landed up.
“C’mon,” he gestured for her to get out of the car and follow him.
Rory wasn’t sure where they were going or why, but this was Jess, and she trusted him with her life. She took the hand he offered her and followed him wherever he planned to go. They went into a bar on a street she didn’t know and he deposited her in a corner booth before heading to the bar itself to order drinks. Rory tried to gather herself, reached in her purse for the compact mirror and gasped at the frightful state that met her eyes. She looked awful, bleak and messed up, like her life had become. It made her want to cry all over again, but no tears came. A glass arrived in front of her and Rory glanced up to see Jess looking down at her with a half-smile on his lips.
“Call it medicinal,” he shrugged, taking a seat beside her.
Rory picked up the glass and peered into it. Brandy if she wasn’t mistaken. She tried it once and hated it, but knew it was supposed to be good for shock and the like. Without another thought she downed the whole shot. It burned her throat and all the way down her chest to her stomach. She didn’t really expect it to help matters at all. Getting drunk never really helped Logan.
Jess watched Rory swallow down her double brandy with the slightest of winces. She never drank before, not so much as a sip, but they had been younger then. She might have only just turned twenty one a week or so ago, not long after Jess came of age himself, but she had been drinking a while, he was sure. College made a difference, and that idiot she was dating, he had no doubt.
“Rory Gilmore, practised drinker,” he muttered, smirking like it was a joke, proud enough when he saw her attempt a smile.
“I’m surprised you even recognise me,” she said, inhaling deeply and letting it out, pushing her hair back off her face with one shaky hand. “I don’t think I do anymore.”
Jess felt bad for making her feel this way. He knew it was better for her to face the truth, to take a long hard look at her life and really think about what had happened, but he wouldn’t have hurt her for the world, not again, not after everything. His hand covered hers on the table and squeezed. Her eyes met his and he shook his head
“You’re still you, Rory,” he promised her. “Still the same girl I... I met in Stars Hollow years ago,” he said, faltering a little when he almost confessed too much, made matters worse. “So you drifted off your path, it’s not the end of the world. It can be fixed, if you want it to be.”
Rory nodded slightly, turned her hand over to grab onto Jess’ fingers tightly.
“I’m glad you’re here,” she smiled bravely. “And everything you said, it was true. I was starting to notice things were wrong before but I just... I made excuses, I guess. Just kept telling myself everything was good, everything was how it was supposed to be, but I knew, I knew I was lying to myself. I just didn’t want to admit why.”
Jess wasn’t sure what he was supposed to say to her. He still didn’t know what had caused all this mess in the first place and hardly dare ask. If he had helped Rory see the truth of her life, that could only be a good thing, and yet he was stuck now, caught between a rock and a hard place. Asking her to explain was probably going to upset Rory more, but Jess couldn’t help her if he didn’t know. He took a breath and just asked.
“Rory, what happened?” he urged her to answer, eyes searching her face for the truth.
“I... I guess it started with Mitchum Huntzberger,” she admitted slowly, barely glancing at him. “Or maybe it was before that, with Logan and the casual relationship thing... I’m not sure anymore.”
It was as honest as she could be, because Rory really was baffled by her own behaviour. True enough, it was Mitchum’s words ringing in her ears that had finally shattered her dreams and made her believe Yale was pointless, that everything she had been doing for years now was a complete waste of time, but it had begun before. She spooled back through time and events unnumbered in her mind, back to before, when she met Logan, when she got back together with Dean. None of it made any sense, none of it was really her.
Sleeping with a married man, things had started to fracture right there, Rory knew. Her mother couldn’t understand her, and that ought to have been Rory’s first clue that things were coming apart at the seams. From there everything had snowballed, classes getting on top of her, thinking she could have a casual, mainly sexual relationship with Logan, letting the bond with her mother break down, allowing Mitchum Huntzberger to convince her she could never be a journalist. It had all begun so long ago, a little piece at a time, ever since she started Yale, ever since her heart had been broken.
“I’m such an idiot!” she laughed, a painful hollow sound that made Jess visibly wince. “I just let things get so crazy, I lost sight of where I was going and... and you weren’t here to tell me what an fool I was being,” she told him.
It wasn’t an accusation or complaint as such, simply a sudden realisation of how much she really had missed him, how much Jess had truly meant to her. It almost seemed complimentary actually, and yet he couldn’t take it that way, couldn’t allow her to pin all her life choices on his behaviour, his actions. He didn’t deserve that praise or that guilt to bear. He wouldn’t take it, couldn’t stand to.
“Rory, you’re smarter than that,” he told her gently. “You didn’t need me to tell you where you went wrong. You had to already know, I just... verbalised it,” he shrugged.
He was right and maybe that was the worst part of all of this. Rory did know things were wrong and had been for far too long now. She hadn’t talked to her mom properly in months. Her social calendar consisted of drinking, partying, and driving drunks home past midnight on a regular basis. Her work was for the Daughters of the American Revolution, hosting cocktails parties and Russian teas. Fund-raising was admirable, and playing designated driver was fine, but it wasn’t a life, it wasn’t her life, or at the very least it shouldn’t be.
“You wrote a book,” she half-smiled as she looked across at Jess. “All those talks we had about the future, me telling you all you could achieve and you acting like I was the crazy one. All the time, I had these dreams and I couldn’t understand why you didn’t, when you were so smart, even smarter than me...”
“No way,” Jess shook his head. “Nobody was ever smarter than you, Little Miss Accepted to Harvard, Princeton and Yale,” he teased her good naturedly.
She still blushed just the same, even after all this time.
“I kept pushing you, and hey, in the end, it achieved something,” she smiled still. “You wrote a book, and what did I do?”
“You took a wrong turn, it happens,” said Jess definitely. “It’s not the end of the world, it can be fixed. Most things can be fixed if you really wanna make the effort.”
He hadn’t meant it the way it seemed to come out, at least Jess didn’t think he had meant it that way. Rory needed a confidence boost, a little encouragement to try and fix the problems that had popped up all over the landscape of her life. He wasn’t talking about their relationship, undefined and fractured as it was. That wasn’t what needed fixing right now, he doubted it ever could be, even if they both miraculously wanted it and were ready at the same time.
Rory couldn’t keep his gaze, that was all she knew. She was sure his double-meaning must have been inadvertent, but with Jess it was sometimes hard to tell for sure. Her eyes dropped to the table, observed their hands still joined, his fingers intertwined with hers. It hadn’t occurred to either of them to let go. She wondered if they had both been holding on in some way these past months and years, without hardly knowing it.
“The second year at Yale was harder than I thought,” she said then. “I, er... I met Logan and I’m not even sure what it was about him, he just... he was an adventurer, I guess. Risk taker...”
“Heart breaker?” Jess completed the phrase with a guess of where she was going.
Rory shook her head.
“Maybe a little,” she admitted, in spite of the negative gesture. “We’re just... we’re different types of people, and sometimes that works, but... but when I needed somebody to help me back on the right path, he just, he helped me wander further from it, and I don’t blame him exactly. I could’ve said no, I have my own mind, but... I don’t know, it probably didn’t help that it was his father that...”
She stopped talking too suddenly and Jess wore a frown as he tried his best to make her look at him again.
“His father?” he prompted, knowing this point had to be significant to the whole tale.
“Logan’s father is Mitchum Huntzberger,” said Rory, swallowing hard, lifting her chin higher but not really feeling the confidence she was putting on. “He owns newspapers all over the country. I interned for him for a while.”
Jess didn’t say a word, just sipped his beer and waited patiently for her to get to the point, because this wasn’t it.
“He said... he said I didn’t have it,” she admitted, eyes closed and expression pained.
It still hurt to say the words, to even think of them sometimes, and right now at her lowest ebb it was doubly bad.
“Didn’t have, what?” Jess shook his head, clearly not filling in the blanks so well on his own.
Rory couldn’t blame him, she wasn’t explaining well at all.
“He said I didn’t have what it takes, to be a journalist,” she explained.
Jess immediately exploded in a single scoff of humourless laughter.
“Bull!” he declared too loudly, something he only realised when half the patrons of the bar looked over, causing him to lower is tone. “Rory, you don’t have to listen to that crap. You dropped out of Yale because one guy told you that you didn’t have what it takes? That’s cracked!”
“He knows what he’s talking about Jess,” she shook her head. “He owns newspapers.”
“And Principal Mertin ran a high school!” he told her crossly. “You really think he would’ve pegged me for the author of a short novel? Not a chance! Rory, these people know their business but they don’t know us, they don’t know the people we are.”
He hadn’t meant to get this close, but somewhere in amongst the ranting, trying not to be too loud and attract attention, Jess found his face within an inch or two of Rory’s own. Any closer and she would go out of focus altogether, and it probably wouldn’t matter, because that would probably mean he was kissing her. The memory of moments like that made him want to back up and push forward all at once.
“Rory,” he practically whispered. “You are an incredible person. I knew that the first day we met. You’re beautiful, you’re smart, you don’t take crap from anybody, not even me,” he smirked slightly. “You’re a ridiculously good person, who I never did deserve, but you didn’t care about that. You see so much potential in everybody else but in yourself, you just... you lose sight of how amazing you really are,” he told her, free hand reaching out to her face, fingers running through her hair. “You remember that night in Stars Hollow, when we drove out for ice-cream, and you told me you wanted to be the next Christianne Amanpour?” he smiled as she nodded at the memory and leaned instinctively into his touch. “I would still drive straight at you screaming in a foreign language if I thought it’d help.”
She laughed at the phrasing and cried at the sweetness of it all. Jess always thought he didn’t deserve her, but he was wrong. Right now more than ever she didn’t deserve him to be so kind to her. Sure, he did his fair share of screwing up in their relationship, but she hadn’t exactly been an angel either. Since then things had gotten so out of control. She did care for Logan, she probably did love him on some level, but whatever had kept her with him so long was falling away piece by piece every day since she dropped out of Yale. He wasn’t what she needed, what she truly wanted in her heart of hearts. That guy was sat here now, across a sticky table with his dark eyes fixed on hers and his fingers in her hair.
“Jess...” she all but whispered, swallowing hard the very next moment and wondering what in the world she had been planning to say.
It was maybe the stupidest thing to do right now, and they both knew it, and yet there was no resisting the temptation. Rory leaned closer until her lips touched his own. He didn’t stop it from happening, Jess wouldn’t have known how if he wanted to, and he truly didn’t. The brief kiss was familiar and exciting all at the same time. It was over as quickly as it began, in the circumstances it kind of had to be, but that was okay.
“It’s late,” said Jess, deliberately backing up a little. “I should get going. Er, you need me to drop you off at home?”
Rory opened her mouth to answer then closed it again. It would make sense for Jess to drive her back to the Gilmore house, and yet she couldn’t let him. Right now, the state she was in, the feelings he had evoked in her with one simple kiss, she would wind up doing something stupid. Something beautiful and wonderful, but ultimately wrong. Dragging Jess into her bed was not the way this night should end, not after everything.
“No, thanks,” she smiled in spite of herself. “I have money for a cab, and you have a long drive home to make as it is,” she said sensibly.
Jess nodded his agreement as they both got up and headed outside into the cool night air. Rory took a deep breath in and felt the world become anew before her eyes. She could do this, she could fix what had gone wrong, she was sure of that now. Jess said she could do this alone, but she really had needed him to give her a push, or maybe just to promise her there was never a time when he wouldn’t be there to catch her when she fell. Somehow, some way, he always seemed to be there right when she needed him.
“It was good seeing you again, Jess,” she said as they turned into each other. “I’m so glad you visited, and I couldn’t be prouder of you for writing that book.”
“Like I said, read it first, you might hate it,” he rolled his eyes at her continued enthusiasm for a novel she had yet to finish, though he was smiling all the same. “Take care of yourself, Rory,” he said seriously then.
She nodded her agreement, accepted the kiss on the cheek he gave her, and didn’t say another word as she watched Jess climb into his car and drive away.
6 weeks later...
“More Christmas cards?” asked Lorelai when her boyfriend came in from he cold with a large stack of mail in his mittened hands.
“Oh yeah,” declared Luke, shivering all over. “All the terrifying baby pictures and holly jolly sentiments you can stand, and then some,” he shook his head. “I swear I don’t know what it is with these people...”
Luke dumped the cards on the coffee table as he went through to the kitchen, and Rory picked them up from her place on the couch, chuckling at all the grumbling from her mother’s boyfriend. The laughter stopped when she got halfway down the stack of cards and found an envelope addressed solely to her in handwriting she knew in a second. If Luke had seen this one he would have commented, she was certain.
Tearing open the envelope, Rory pulled out the card from within. It wasn’t a photograph of anyone’s baby or even a Christmas tree, just an street scene of Philadelphia in the snow, a simple postcard apparently. Smiling at the odd way of sending her a message, Rory turned over the card and read the breif message written on the back.
It is not a question of who’s going to let me, it is who is going to stop me ~ Ayn Rand
Hope everything turned out okay.
Rory’s smile grew wider as she took the card to her bedroom and pinned it on her corkboard. In the background she heard Lorelai and Luke playfully bickering, as Paul Anka barked for their attention. She glanced around at the room she called her own and then back at the postcard from the man who helped her realise what she needed to do to fix everything in her life that had gone awry.
“Everything’s fixed,” she whispered to herself, immediately turning to grab her cell and dial a number she had got from Luke a while back but never dared to use yet.
It was a shame to realise she was being diverted to voicemail, but in a lot of ways that was probably easier. Without introduction or preamble she left her message.
“Thank you, Jess” she smiled widely. “Everything is fine now, all fixed. I honestly couldn’t have done it without you.”