DISCLAIMER: No other shows in this chapter; all Gilmore Girls, which despite all I want it to be mine, it's Amy Sherman-Palladino's, along with Dorothy Parker Drank Here Productions, Hofflund-Polone and Warner Bros. Television. Yes, the market in this chapter mentioned exists in reality. All other products mentioned within are the property and trademarks of their respective owners, and no disrespect is meant or implied (yes, even the description of a certain busy train station. And after taking the Lake Shore Limited three times between Chicago and Springfield, MA, you really get to know how long that train ride can be. We're lucky we have wi-fi now. 2002...not so much for that. I do stand by my description of Springfield's (now thank God former) Peter Pan bus station in this; it was the first McDonald's I took one look at and decided was not for human consumption!). And finally, yes, Luke's reference to robot vacuums is correct; the iRobot came out in the 2002 Christmas season.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Hey! Look, I kept my promise! It's Valentine's Day. I last updated August 15th. That is less than six months, so ha, I updated before then! See, I can actually keep my promises. Though I never promised I'd keep my chapters light (another 58k words), so enjoy that aspect of this 'for me' quick update. Before we go into this chapter, once again there's another character introduction that I'm not going to spoil beyond one thing; picture said character as played by Leighton Meester. You'll see why later; this character and their introduction were an original part of my plan for the story after the early chapters, and I'm finally glad to introduce it in, and most importantly, flesh said character out in a believable manner, along with putting a spin on what was just a one-off that should have developed more. And we'll definitely see more of her as we go along here. We're also dipping back into the Hayden conflict, so strap yourself in for that one. Thank you to those who have continued to support the story for the years it has been up; reviews, no matter how long it's been since you read this, you're new to the story or you just found it again, are always welcome. I'd also like to thank James, who got in touch with me after the last chapter about a new Paris/Rory site he was starting with some archived Prory fic, art and some extended commentary about the relationship of the girls, both friendly and romantic. I encourage you to Google 'Project Pory' and check out what's up on that site. Pre-warning to you that the next chapter will be a two-chapter update because we're going into the big holidays, and there's a lot going on there that won't fit in one chapter for sure. Title of this chapter is taken from Sarah McLachlan's Good Enough.
RATING: R (sexual situations and allusions to mental partner abuse. Oh, and lots of having to acknowledge a certain football team that is in the same division as my favorite as...actually good. Ugh! It's for the character though.)
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

Longing With a Cherry Tomato on Top
By Nate

Chapter Twenty-Seven
It's No Good To Go Alone

 

Rory’s POV

If you would have told me at the beginning of this year that I wouldn't have a quiet and normal holiday vacation coming up, I would immediately denounce you as wrong. The winter break is usually my time to recharge, to get in 8-10 books before the end of the year. To just count my blessings and be glad for having a family, in whatever odd manner it is. And to focus on the next year and the pro-con lists to come for that, along with the pro-cons I need to finish for this year.

This, folks? It's not a normal year. Today was not a normal day.

And I hardly feel normal any longer. I'm coming off a day where I've felt nearly every emotion a person can have, experienced things that seem out of a melodrama, and nearly ended up in what God probably thinks is a repertory theater performance of an episode of 90210.

God has an odd sense of humor. And whoever God is, they need to realize I'm not really amused right now.

But somehow, I have a new friend that I never expected out of this. I also have a sense of what that thin line is between tolerance and outright hatred of a person. Finally, I'm thankful for those around Paris and I, who are helping to clear a path and supporting us in ways I never knew possible.

Going into the winter break, things could have gone downhill in many ways today, but somehow, they managed to all work in our favor.


Paris's POV

I hate early dismissals, with a vengeance usually reserved for other awful things in life. Like an idiot staying in the left lane for thirty miles. Or awful mall 'blown glass' kiosks involving dolphins and deer.

It always throws me off-kilter. I expect school for 7½ hours, no matter the occasion. But on the day before a recess, we lose two hours. Time is compressed. Learning is out the window for two days while we watch some film barely relevant to the topic. My father doesn't pay this tuition for me to sit quietly and watch bowdlerized movies recorded one February night off channel 8 or 20 off the worst VHS recorder Wal-Mart can offer. Yet there we all were, in biology, after the pop quiz from Thursday, watching a chopped-to-hell version of Jurassic Park taped off the television with commercials awkwardly edited out and the Sunday night anchor from NBC 30 making many awkward appearances, pleased as punch about her critical Sunday news story from May 7, 1995 on Corn Planting Days up in Canaan. What this had to do with biology I question whole-heartedly.

But I did catch up on reading, thank goodness. I was surprised that Rory indeed kept her promise and ramped down her teasing while I was in the worst time I have every month. No indulging her now-vocal period kink, she was content to just do her own homework. Lorelai helped me out Wednesday night by offering a soothing cup of tea which she said always helped her worst times, and it indeed calmed my nerves quite a bit. Both women were supportive of me, an abrupt change from my mother, who never wanted to talk about anything involving puberty or my hormones.

So unlike the start of this week, the last two days have been peaceful. I've found a rhythm to my new sudden nights of showering and sleeping. I also began to grow used to my airbed and slept well these last two nights, unlike the last few. No distractions, no Rory flaring me up, just sleep.

Oh, and my foot? Healing well. I needed for that to happen so badly. I stayed off it as much as I could as the both of us returned to the normality of a Chilton school day without any closet-pushing or threats of being taken away. There were still a few bad actors trying to bully Rory and I for our sexuality, but they were mostly the worst of the worst, people nobody bothered to respond to. If someone did try to start something, Madeline was suddenly right there to tell them to knock it off or she'd spread a rumor involving a sexually transmitted disease they had acquired from someone with ill repute.

That was usually enough to stop them. I was also back to my pitbull tactics and sarcasm myself, and I readily reminded anyone who came at me that the crutch I had wasn't only holding me up, but ready to keep anyone who attacked Rory and I at bay.

Of course, Rory was still there. After her takedown of Francie on Tuesday, those cronies of her had seemed to back off. We barely saw Francie outside of her rushing down the halls. We knew she was somehow scheming to return for a vengeance after the holidays (Taylor had told us in the aftermath of the Dean situation that he had turned down an assembly permit from her for her little 'threat' protest), but we were home free for the remainder of this school week. So all that was left was about four hours of 'movie days' and the one hour of independent study, where Charleston as expected gave both Rory and I's civil discourse essays an easy A+, as expected.

We did them ourselves, breaking apart on Wednesday; she did hers at home, I did mine at the library, and just in case I had the librarian on duty sign an affidavit as to my whereabouts. I admit readily it was odd to her, the Headmaster and Rory, but it was my hard-coded attempt to let him know that Rory and I as a couple would not mean that we would draft off each other. I'm serious about keeping our academic lives as separate as we can possibly keep them.

But soon, it was time for the moment I would usually dread the most; the bell denoting the start of winter break. It was that annoying little reminder that I had no school to keep me occupied for the next sixteen days. That I had nothing to do outside of voluntary reading and charity events.

This year? It was completely different. My calendar was cleared and completely blank. Anything I did from December 21 until January 5? It would all be on the fly. Unscheduled. Completely done without the benefit of advanced notice.

And it would mostly be in Stars Hollow.

The bell went off. Rory grasped my arm in an animated way and pulled me up.

"And we're free!" She exclaimed. "Winter break is here." Over where Madeline sat she was of the same mindset, coming right over as we gathered up our bags, unused the entire day.

"So, ladies. You've got all this time free, what are you going to do with it?"

"Relax. Sleep. Read plenty of junky books and watch too many corny Christmas movies and try to get this lady to provide commentary." She gave me a small look, which I shrugged off despite her little conspirital smile that she knows will eventually wear me down.

Madeline laughed. "Good luck. She's one of the few I know who makes us sit through all of the credits. And I remember when some guy was talking on his cell phone, she lectured him on etiquette and got the usher within moments."

"I mean inside," Rory clarified. "You know, like Mom and I do. We have Santa Claus vs. the Martians Sunday night."

"Santa Claus. Versus the Martians." I couldn't believe this was an actual movie title. "Is...is this a violent movie about a Santa who lands on Mars and slays innocent aliens?" Both of them gave me the oddest look and I realized how quickly that I should never assume things from a title.

"Paris, it's just a really bad movie. Kitschy as heck. It stars Pia Zadora." Madeline filled me in about the basics of the plot, and soon I had a grasp on it. "Remember, my brother had it on a few holidays ago when it was on MST3K?"

"I barely do." A little bit more conversation with Madeline, and we said our goodbyes, at least for a little while; I knew we'd see each other at least once before her West Coast trip later in the break. Rory and I gathered things from our lockers and headed out to the Jag; she was driving us back to Stars Hollow to let me relax.

Soon, I did indeed begin to let all the worries go away. No school, no Sharon, nothing to stop me. I have all this time to look forward to, and it was the best time to use it since I only had one senior year winter break. I stared at Rory as she drove the car effortlessly, tie undone and her school blouse open down a couple places. But she wasn't down to her tank top, much to my disappointed dismay. She looked beguiling to me, but I wasn't going to let my hormones control me at this point. I was thankful that everything was light, in every way possible, and for now, I was content to just sit back and wonder what we had planned. I didn't want to stress over this vacation at all. It was just a winter break, right? Nothing out of the ordinary...

...Except for sixteen days without any clocks or any kind of limits.

Yeah, I'm in uncharted waters right now. And I feel Rory's going to toy with me in so many ways over these two cold winter weeks.

I'm oddly turned on by that thought...


Rory's POV

If there's one thing I'm glad that Chilton and Stars Hollow don't share, it's their winter break schedules. The Hollow got out on Wednesday afternoon, so most of the kids were already on the way to their Christmas plans, or just finding other ways to keep occupied. Any awkward meetings I would have with my former classmates, they would have to wait until the new year to occur, thank goodness. This left Paris and I in the diner after we dropped our bags and the Jag at home, pretty much the only kids in there as we had lunch and heard from Luke about how he felt about Taylor's pleas to put a help wanted sign in the diner for a stockboy, no thanks to my ex deciding he didn't take well to competition.

"It's not that I don't mind it," he grumped. "One of those damned vacuum-cleaning robot pucks could do Dean's job better. He always packed buns on the bottom and he sucked as a bagger. But Taylor's in such a rush to get a new kid, and I don't understand why he doesn't just give his current people extra hours and wait until after the holidays to fill it. And then you have people mistaking me for asking for help when I'm not."

"He needs the position filled."

"I know."

"And he's renting your building," Paris pointed out. "Think of it as services rendered. You can always just ask him for $10 extra rent for 'advertising expenses'."

"And get called out at the town meeting for it?" Luke shook his head furiously. "No thanks. I'll keep the sign but--ugggh, it ruins the window too, he uses cheap crap store brand tape. Scotch is the only tape I allow on that window and now I have to clean that up."

"Then don't allow him to tape with the awful tape," I rationalized, with Paris nodding. "Luke?"

"Yeah?"

I looked around. "I feel responsible for this. Sort of."

"Huh?"

"Without Dean catching on Taylor wouldn't be asking you to put up a help wanted sign for him."

"Rory?" He poured more coffee for me. "Between you, Paris, I and the wall, Taylor was going to let him go after the holidays anyways. I don't usually like playing East Side Tilly, but..." He bent down close so nobody else in the diner could hear him. "He did several register audits last month after noticing his tills were going from off by $5 some nights to a lot more. About $40 was missing after five of his register shifts."

"Huh?"

"You know Taylor's religious about his registers; he's off by ten cents and he's railing against it at the next meeting. But after Dean worked they were way out of whack, and he couldn't trace it because he didn't put in cameras; he had only the mirrors in the market for years?" I nodded, remembering many a speech where Taylor rallied against security systems for 'adding phone traffic' to the town's phone network and only approved of them when assured by the state about false alarm rules. "Kirk quoted him a rate and he had them put in mid-month."

He looked at both of us, grave. "Dean worked register alone Saturday night and...your mom, you know how she went to get food and medicine for you, Paris?" She nodded. "After she gave him the cash for her stuff she left the store and almost tripped on her shoelace. She bent down to tie it and..." He looked around to make sure nobody was watching him.

"Lorelai hadn't seen Dean put her two twenties into the register drawer. He cupped them into his hands and when he thought she was gone, he slipped the cash into his apron. But she had bent down in front of the market window to re-tie her shoe and caught him in the corner of her eye. She was shocked, but of course with what went on with Paris, that was more important. She noted it and left a message for Taylor Sunday morning. She told me about it in confidence when she got her morning coffee.

"But Kirk had who he knew put in the cameras on Friday after hours without letting anyone else know; he let the staff know there were in at a meeting Monday afternoon, but for those two days, the employees had no idea. So with your mom giving him a heads-up--"

"He could confirm her testimony." Paris was in shock. "So that's why Taylor got on edge once he began his 'how could you betray me' act. To make sure he wouldn't get out of line."

"Yeah, he could have been escorted out quietly and again, Taylor was going to let him work through the break while he got a new employee quietly and had him only bagging and stocking without any cash duties. Unfortunately, your mother raised hell, Dean heard about it and what would have been just employee theft turned into battery on you. So either way, he was leaving with Officer Krueger eventually."

I kept shaking my head. "He was stealing. Why? Do we know?"

"I wish we knew." His gaze went towards Paris. "But for being accused of theft his parents sure are being light on him."

"Not a shock; they're Winnetka money." Noting where the Forresters came from, we were reminded again that they might live in a small town but their wealth compares to Paris's very easily. "They'll probably try to push for community service with him rather than jail and to have the school excuse his dismissal from hockey as 'personal issues' rather than from a morals violation." She took a gulp of her tea as she examined what she was told. "And that assault against me? Sadly, peanuts. They can cast it as 'boys will be boys' and easily say I instigated it, which is why I didn't bother with charges. He'll get into trouble later."

"Why did I ever love him?"

"You were young. It's out of your system and now you move on." Luke finished writing up the check and before I could take it, Paris held up her hand.

"I've got it." She smiled at him, handing him a $20, and he responded with a shake of his head.

"Telling you, kid, you'll regret it at the end of the month." He walked away towards the counter as I just smiled at her.

"You're enabling my coffee habit, you know. I feel like I should pay once in awhile."

"Oh, you will." Then she gave off a sensual glare. "It'll just come in a different form than monetary." I could feel her undressing me and I felt a pang of frustration through my body and...yeah, right where it shouldn't be in public. I gulped.

"Paris, not in front of the coffee and Danish," I mock-warned her. "They know what we're doing."

"So do Grumpy Bear and Colonel Clucker, but they seem to enjoy watching." I gasped, my eyes widening as her flirting flared hotter.

"You realize we're coming off learning my ex was stealing from his boss and you're talking like...this?" I scoffed. "I thought--"

"Because I'm allegedly out of commission I'd stop with the back-and-forth word foreplay? Not happening; school is over and propriety is out the window. I enjoy it too much, and frankly I'm a bit pissed you denied me a shirt-toss this afternoon." I was aghast, bringing my voice to the lowest whisper I could muster without damaging my throat and explaining why that didn't happen.

"It's 13° out there! Beneath this sweater, I'm carrying pencil erasers that would shame the illustrator of a Harlequin novel! I'm freakin' cold right now!"

"Y'know...I could warm you up." I was taken aback as she kept it up despite where we were, especially when she put her index and middle fingers together in a circling motion with a smirk she intended to come off as innocent.

"Oh my God!" I was glad I had just finished the gulp of my coffee because it would have definitely been down the wrong pipe. "Like I said, worse than Tristan!"

"What, we're pretty much adults. We can--"

"Not in town. Kirk could be listening!"

"Kirk is not here. Nobody is really, everyone's going to their grandmother's house, over the Connecticut and through the Catskills." She got up as I did, pulling her chair in. "Hey, it's OK. If you need to be physical with yourself, do it. I'm not bothered."

I raised my hands up in the air; how Luke wasn't hearing our voices, I did not know. "We should probably discuss this at home. In more detail. Because I have some...hang-ups, if you will."

"These hang-ups include fear of being tracked by your bank, or your postal worker blaring to your mother about certain purchases, don't they?"

I sighed. "You could say that. And this...sort of isn't helping." She brought me close, taking me in for a hug and realizing I loved her teasing, but usually I could bounce off her and work it all out. Not so much right now. "And I'll be in the same boat come the 12th."

"Think Birnbaum can work my cycle to match yours?" Paris off-handed. I rolled my eyes, pulling her off her stool.

"Come on, let's get out of here before Luke uses this as strike three and bans you for this on top of the probation for the defilement and brothel accusations." I guided her out of the diner, still feeling silly we were openly discussing sexual things in there. But it was the new normal for us; it was natural. We found so many things to talk about, but we're still both in the honeymoon part of this new thing. It's going to be talked about, so it's pointless to avoid it.

I closed my coat as we walked around the town square, looking at this year's winners in the snowman contest (sadly containing snow made with a machine), along with the Christmas display around the gazebo. Snow had fallen on Wednesday night into Thursday, finally giving a sheen of white that we hadn't really had in November. The Christmas tree looked much more natural and it all just came together, with Paris admiring it all ended up. Mom was going to be at the Inn late tonight so there was plenty of time for us to figure out what we could do. We talked about renting some holiday movies, along with getting some kind of takeout. While we were talking, the 2 p.m. Peter Pan bus from New Haven pulled in and let off a girl about our age with a few large bags. We didn't know what she was doing there but assumed her ride would be there within the next few minutes, so we continued to keep to ourselves.

We headed to the Gazette and picked up two copies of the holiday issue, along with a run to the pharmacy for more lip balm, a 2003 calendar for my room, and contact lens solution for Paris before we decided to make our way home for some time to relax. As we came back towards the town square, Paris looked towards it, and then back to me, worried.

"She's been there about fifteen minutes. Surely her ride should have come by now." Sighing, she wondered what to do. "She seems lost."

"Are you sure?"

"I mean it'll be busy soon, maybe it's just traffic?"

"Five days out from Christmas?" I took another look at her, and she kept looking left and right as she tried to keep one bag from sliding off the carrying handle of her rolling luggage. "Maybe I should ask. If she's looking for an address, she probably doesn't know where it is."

Paris shrugged. "I have nothing but time, honest." With that confirmation, I looked around the gazebo and square, wondering if there was a car that just happened to be off-street waiting for this girl. There wasn't. I crossed the street and headed her way as she looked down at the ground, wondering where her ride was.

"Excuse me!" I got her attention. "You look kind of lost." I moved about three feet away from her and she looked up. She was slightly shorter than me, with brown eyes and lightly curled brown hair, slightly hidden by an orange knit hat with a puff on top and the wording 'Bears' across it in dark blue. Letting out a sigh I could tell she was exhausted just from how little sleep she had seemed to get.

"Oh, hi!" She stood with a slight and exhausted slump. "Sorry, I just finished fourteen hours on a train, a few more in a cheap hotel, and now five more hours on a bus from New York to New Haven, and then another to get here. It's a pretty town just...way off the main line." She continued to ramble on. "I would have gone to Meriden on the train but no, it was easier to pick me up here in town. If only I knew where they were!"

"Where who were?"

"My boyfriend's family!" she exclaimed. "I told them the bus gets in at 2. Nobody here, and I tried to call them; nobody answered."

"Uggh, that sucks!" I shook my head, wondering if I could help this girl out more. I looked at Paris, who seemed sympathetic. "Do you have their address?"

"No...not the number. Just 'something-something' Peach Street. But there's also an Apple, Cherry, Pear, Blueberry, Lingonberry, Plum. You have so many fruit-named streets here, Sir Isaac Newton has a restraining order against this town."

"Yeah, I agree. They went a little...far on the fruit-naming of streets." I laughed. "But Peach..." I pointed in the direction. "It's a couple of blocks towards that way, past the purple Tudor house. Can't really miss it. It's about three blocks long though, twenty-one houses. So you'd need an address, really."

"I wish I had it. They tried to tell me in a phone call a couple nights ago but I was dead tired on the Lake Shore Limited. Two nights ago it was...well, it was Chicago at Union Station before the holidays as seen in Planes, Trains and Automobiles. And I barely had a moment last night at Penn Station. I was supposed to be in here last night but there was Metro North drama blocking all the trains north and the hotel sucked and..."

"You're ready for a warm bed, aren't you?" The girl nodded.

"I've lost one day of my vacation already. My mom wanted me to take the train, to see America. It's beautiful, but between then is a whole lot of hassle and shoulder stress."

"And you have no idea the address number."

"No, and I tried calling my boyfriend, his mother, his father before I got into town. Even their sister. Nobody is answering. I couldn't even get them to come into New York and pick me up last night."

Paris had heard enough and came towards us, feeling complete sympathy for the brunette in her own uniquely offended manner. She was shaking her head, fuming.

"You'd think if you made plans to sacrifice your Christmas they'd be there for you. God forbid your train delay last night inconvenienced their plan of lighting a diddly little plastic tree they picked up from the Ames closing sale with UL-uncertified lights and their tacky Hallmark-knockoff ornament collection, while Mama is still out looking for whatever sex crime they want you to commit upon Elmo's person as a doll this year, an item which has been sold out since November! Tough breaks, Junior, you're not getting one, be happy with some Pop-O-Matic Trouble! But yeah, that's more important than freezing your various intimate parts off in this weather and coming off a damned Peter Pan bus heading up to that skeezy building in Springfield they have the unmitigated gall to describe as a 'bus station', with a McDonald's the home office considers the worst in the entire company!"

"Whoa!" The girl was taken aback as I took Paris by her arm.

"Come on, we don't want to scare off the girl here and make her think everyone in this town is weird. She just hasn't seen her ride in fifteen minutes, that's all."

Predictably, Paris was glad to let her offense to the situation continue, and I was powerless to stop her. "Fifteen minutes too much, those pri--"

"Paris, stop!" I tugged her arm as she glared at me for breaking her rant momentum. "Sorry about that. Paris gets really wound up about the sad state of public transportation in this area of the state; Senator Lieberman’s office kind of gets scared of her letters. Ask her about the Hartford Line. Actually...don't." I laughed nervously as I hoped the next move wasn't this girl running away from us.

Paris calmed down, knowing she didn't want to offend, but still wanting the girl to understand she was on her side. "Sorry. Just been a long week. I needed to get that out and--"

"Wait, you said she was Paris?" The girl pointed towards her, suddenly stuck on something as she squinted slightly. "What's her last name?"

"Uhh, that's information I...probably shouldn't give out--"

"Paris...Gellar? I only know one Paris outside of Hilton." Again she pointed, while Paris felt out of sorts all of the sudden as she heard her last name.

"Yeeeeah?" She struggled to place the face.

"Paris?" She repeated the name, seemingly offended. "You don't remember me? Really?"

"I know a lot of people," she responded haughtily, as the girl pointed back to herself. "A name might ring a bell?"

"It's Beth. Beth Willke." She tried to explain, and for once, Paris was stunned quiet. "Remember, my father is your Uncle Joel, and Harry's brother. Your freaking first cousin. From Kenilworth?" She opened her arms as Paris took a minute to let it all register.

She went through several stages before finally, her face lit up and her eyes widened as her memory connected the dots and brought this girl back from her fuzzy memories and into the current reality.

"Beth? Really, Beth. Wha--Oh my God!" Paris opened up her arms as I pushed back in complete surprise. "It's been too long!" Her voice became wracked with emotion as she recognized a cousin she thought she would never see again. Beth dropped her death grip on her luggage and let it flop to the ground as both girls hugged tight, openly crying to my confused gaze. The last thing I would have expected was seeing Paris's cousin, who just happened to arrive today at the end of a long journey.

"You're so big now!" Paris exclaimed. "You were still just a little kid when I was eleven, but we were the same age. The pictures Uncle Joel sent don’t do you justice!" She laughed. "You know I and Daddy keep thinking 'we'll get in contact with Joel and Hannah again to get them to come here one of these days', but you've got your own life and--"

"I know. I've missed you so much, Par!" The two women pulled away, both of them now smiling widely. "This turned out to be a pretty damned happy accident to see you here!"

"Of all the gin joints in the world..." Paris sighed happily. "So you're out here all through the holidays?"

"I go back west on the 3rd. I had to cajole Mom into letting me out here, and then you know good ol' Dad. Worried as heck about me getting lost. I got here though." A laugh. "And I thought of contacting you, but I know Sharon..."

"Oh, let's not even get into that right now," Paris said, deflecting from something I knew would be expanded on eventually. "The great thing is, you're here." She nodded at me. "Sort of like a sister, if not related by direct blood."

"And broken up by seven years; you know how Lake Forest Academy is. Just as bruising as Chilton, but even more so."

"I don't envy you having to take on the best of Chicagoland. What's your GPA?"

"Eh, 3.874. Could be better, but I kind of slacked off earlier this year."

"And school choice?"

"Hoping for Harvard. But I'm not adverse to UW-Madison either by a long shot; their pediatrics program is top-notch. I could handle coming out east for Tufts or Alpert/Brown also."

"Glad you're not settling at all." I could tell that even with the years they hadn't seen each other, indeed Beth and Paris were definitely close to kin with each other. I was glad to see them meet this way, no matter how unexpected it ended up being, on a random Friday. "Harvard's still the ultimate goal I have."

"Gee, I'm so shocked by that." Beth rolled her eyes, knowing the statement was absurd on its face of Paris wanting anything else. "I'm surprised you haven't gotten 'Gellar ('07)’ tattooed somewhere."

"It's actually my...upcoming choice of ink." I could tell she hedged quickly to not spill her first tattoo. "I'm not going to jinx it though. Remember how Uncle Joel thought that the White Sox would win it in '93? He still regrets that."

"Every day. He hopes one day he can fill in that blank but for now...yeah, he's still holding out hope for the Good Guys." A smile before she directed a glance at me. "Hey, you haven't introduced me to your friend here!"

Shit! I didn't know what was going to happen; this was a coming-out neither of us had prepared for at all. We didn't know Beth until a minute ago, so this was new for the both of us. I felt flustered and wondering if she said the word, if Beth would swear at us...or worse.

Thankfully, Paris glanced at me, noticing that I wasn't comfortable and completely flummoxed. "Well, this is Rory. I'm staying with her here over the holidays. That's why I'm here." A nervous laugh. "She's my classmate at Chilton. Comes from old money in Hartford but her mom went in a different direction with her life; she only came in a couple years ago."

"Yeah..." I was relieved. Paris had gotten past the most uncomfortable aspects of the introduction with great coding. I let out my hand. "Rory Gilmore. It's really nice to meet you, Beth." She took my hand and we shook lightly, in a relaxed manner. She kind of shared a resemblance to me, but she had more of a Dutch/German look to her.

"Likewise." We went back to pick up her luggage. "I did have plans to see you, unsaid. But apparently things have been fluid according to your dad, and he wouldn't go into details."

"Yeah, it's been that kind of December." Paris wanted to deflect why she was in Stars Hollow as much as she could. "We're trying to settle things down. Been kind of a rough one. So he knew you were coming?"

"Dad gave him a heads-up. But I didn't think I was going to have time. Hopefully I'll be able to find some." I picked up her luggage and grabbed Paris's messenger bag to put around my shoulder as I could see Beth take another once-over of the square. She was growing frustrated with the wait, and I could tell she wasn't pleased. "You'd think they'd be here by now! I told them the bus would be here around 2, but something must've came up and they were running late. Did their freshly-cut Christmas tree have rodents in it?!"

"Maybe you should try calling one more time," I suggested, trying to think on my feet. "My house is two blocks south on Cherry. Maybe they could pick you up there and you could warm up while you wait." I looked around, cold breath surrounding me. "I wish we had a warming shelter around here."

"Oh gosh, I couldn't impose!" She held up her hands. "I'm just glad to be on solid ground at this point."

"But you could use a bathroom, right?" Paris gave off a smile towards Beth. "Come on, we're Gellars. I know you're holding it in with that to-and-fro bounce."

"I'm not. I'm fine." Paris let off a long stare. "Really, I am, I--"

"You are not. That bladder is a pee-filled tennis ball, isn't it?" She kept looking at Beth until she broke down, predictably, under Paris's gaze.


"I haven't gone since the hotel; the toilet on the train up was all full and the first thing the bus driver said was 'don't use the toilet, it's broken!'. You're right." She grumbled quickly. "Damn you, Paris."

"Just trying to save you from the UTI from hell, that's all." She moved a gloved hand atop her cousin's. "Rory's got a great house, nice bathroom. You can even change while you're there into something more casual."

"Well...I can't argue with that." She began to bring out her phone. "I just gotta leave him a message then."

Little did I know, that simple message would throw off our balance this evening so deeply that I would be in Providence if that was the reality…


Paris's POV

Rory told her she was at 132 Cherry Lane while Beth called her boyfriend, hopeful that he would finally pick her up soon. That way Rory and I could move on with our Friday after we made fixed plans to have a day with Beth sometime soon. She was still waddling to keep herself warm and her urine bladdered as she grumbled after the fifth ring.

"Crap, voicemail again!" Beth was clearly ready to let him have it as Rory and I gave each other a look of love before the voicemail tone let Beth speak.

"This is the fourth time I've called. I don't know what the heck you're doing, but I've found a couple girls who have volunteered to let me eat a snack and warm up. I'm going to be at 132 Cherry Lane, Dean, and you better be there soon--"

Oh shit!

There was a moment where in synchronicity, I could feel Rory's heart palpitations match mine. Her eyes dilated, the color from her cheeks beginning to drain away. Our adrenaline began to take over. The panic didn't even need to settle.

That one word. That one name. The both of us had to come up with a plan in the blink of an eye. To figure out what to do.

We also knew, a hard conversation was coming. Rory's new friendship with Beth could quickly become as rough as our first year knowing each other, or worse.

I had to lay down the law. Rory had never planned for this meeting. Nobody had. My mind reeled as I just let out the first thought that came to mind--

"BETH!" I just let out the words. "Hit pound, then 3! Hit pound, then 3!"

"What does that do?"

"Just do it!" I was hopeful she didn't know what it did, but dutifully Beth quickly obeyed the command, slowly typing in the two commands I issued and then holding up the phone back to her ear. I hoped that she had a lack of knowledge about voicemail commands like most people; thankfully she didn't.

"OK--oh, crap, I deleted--"

"Close the phone!"

"But I'll hang up--"

"Please!" My eyes were pleading with her as I looked over to Rory, still in stone shock. She looked towards her too, and something just connected in that moment. She closed the phone, wondering what was going on.

"Are you going to drop me off there instead?" she wondered. "Because if--"

I looked around, running on adrenaline. "Ummm, we're still going to Rory's house," I told her, unsure. "But, I need to talk to her really quick, alone." I pointed in the general direction of Cherry Lane. "Just head down that way, right at the rooster. Blue house with the gravel driveway."

"At the rooster?" She looked at the statue that defined that part of the square. "So that's what that is."

"Yeah. And don't call; we...we...we'll figure out a way to get a hold of him so he has to talk to you, thus the hang-up for now. Now go. We'll get your luggage." I handed her my keyring, a freshly minted copy of Rory's key upon it. The both of us exchanged a few more sentences and before I knew it, I somehow had killed the intuition for Beth to call anew and think of the bathroom first and warming up second. She left, briskly walking towards Rory's house, while I came back to my girlfriend, still wondering what the fuck just happened. I turned to see her, wondering if her next move was to either remain friendly or suddenly Scott Farkas her into a pulp in a snow pile at the hands of the tormented.

Rory panted, completely enveloped in a panic. The new information was burning in her brain and I had no idea how to tamp the fire.

"Rory...Rory, are you OK?" She looked towards me, struggling to respond. It took her a minute to find her words, which slid from her throat tightly.

"So...so...I guess you'll kick my ass to Mount Tom if I call your cousin a bitch? Which she isn't? At all?" She looked around the square. "Because that's what I planned for 'that bit--I mean, B-word, Beth'." She quickly halted, knowing I'd probably call her out for an undeserved profanity towards my cousin. "Not 'your cousin Beth'. Cousin Beth, who is dating my ex-boyfriend. Cousin Beth who called him...I can't even!" She looked down at my gloved hands. "The fates hate me. It's obvious."

"Maybe she meant Dean Witter III? The heir to the investment bank fortune?" My humor expectedly fell flat. "The guy from Quantum Leap who played the sidekick?"

"Oh my God! A 66 year-old?! Ewww!” She shuddered as I realized just how awful my sudden throw-off of Dean Stockwell was. I trembled at my stupidity as she brought us back to reality. “There's only one Dean on Peach Street." Rory's emotions were warring. "I...I can't not tell her, Paris. I don't want to wreck a home I didn't have any part in demolishing. But he cheated on her. I was with him until November. I know they were together this summer." Her voice was tight and wracked with trying to figure out what to do. "I'm not dumb and I know that's what he was doing while I was in Washington having to deal with the feelings I had for you. I...I..." She looked at me, tears in her eyes. My heart broke for her. "I thought it'd be simple. I dump him, that's it. Done. I didn't know that she was the girl back in Winnetka." I knew I had to be on defense here. "Unless--"

I immediately held up my hand. "On my Nanna's grave, Beth and I just met for the first time since '96. I had no idea; we don't talk. We both have our own lives and our dads aren't chatty about our boys...or girls." I shook my head. "Sadly, Winnetka and Kenilworth; they're rich enclaves. Everyone runs in the same circles and LFA is a microcosm of the North Shore." I pushed her towards a bench. "I had no idea they ever knew each other. Even when I visited she wasn't into boys at all. I assume they met once she bumped into eighth or ninth grade and same as you, the relationship bug hit her in that moment."

The two of us sat down with Beth's bags leaning against my unhurt leg, along with my crutch. "And when you mentioned Dean was from there, I didn't care. Winnetka is just some town to me, like Avon, Wethersfield or Greenwich. Lots of money, cold relatives and perfectly nuclear families. We visited to see Beth, Uncle Joel and Aunt Hannah. Nothing more. I--"

"I believe you. Oh, God, do I." She moved her eyes slowly up. "I just...the chats. The grossness. And those pictures..." Rory nodded. "I didn't share this either. I have to now." A pause; I knew what was coming. She had probably seen Beth the same way she saw Dean. And fuck, that was a scary thought, knowing those AIM chats were dirty.

"Paris...she was merely indulging him. I promise you. I read through four days of chat logs. She never sent one picture his way. And most of what Beth said to respond to Dean's wanting to see her naked and participate in...acts with him?" A soft breath. "She kept telling him 'not until Christmas'. She wanted it to be special. And besides the teasing 'Deanie-Weanie' crap, the farthest she went was underwear color descriptions. Her computer was out in a study where her parents could walk in any time and she wasn't having it. So you can rest easy that way."

She went further. "I...do you think, she had--"

"I doubt it." I shook my head, knowing just by her GPA description alone that Beth wasn't ready for that decision before now. "Her mom is a strong moralistic type. She runs a respected oncology practice on the North Shore, and has complete admitting privileges to Northwestern, Rush-Presbyterian and UC and told her 'save it until you know they're the one'; my Uncle Joel was drawn to her that way and that's why he did the rare thing of taking her name rather than keep Gellar. There is no way that Beth let it go. She came out here because she thought her and Dean had something special. That it would be confirmed over this break before the realities of academia hit them." I shook my head. "I knew Beth closely until Sharon began to take an iron-fist control of my life after the spelling bee. That had been the slip of control. That I...challenged her."

After Lorelai had mentioned it as part of the testimony, I told Rory about the bee on Wednesday, and that if not for two girls I didn't know, I wouldn't be here today. After that, Sharon went from mostly unreasonable to completely unhinged, calling it 'my fault' that I had blown a word. I didn't know how to spell 'irascibility' because I had never seen the word in my life. Chicago and California vacations to see paternal relatives were over, and if they wanted to see me, it would be on her terms.

My family grew distant because of my one error in something I knew I had only an outside shot to win. I knew I wouldn't win the bee at all, that I would be minced within moments at the National when the Rebecca Sealfons of the world, with their home-schooling and limitless prep time, easily polished off half the word list. I had other interests and academics; winning the bee would just be unexpected bragging rights.

But with that, I lost Beth. I lost most of my relatives. The right to enjoy the sun of Los Angeles and the bustle of Chicago. Because I dared to forget one fucking word and misspelled it in public, I lost my right to relax.

And the day after, I was pulled from my dance school. The ultimate punishment. They were told that I had suddenly 'retired' under the excuse of my growing chest. But after she had been charged with what she did, I had been punished brutally.

That's why Louise almost lost her life that summer. Why Rory had to melt several layers of hurt, pain and hate to get at my heart.

Why my cousin could never see me.

"Paris?" I was too lost in my thoughts to realize that I had broken into another bout of tears and Rory was holding me by the shoulder. "Hon, don't cry. Please. Not because it's bad but the tears will freeze to your face." She brought me close as I let out a bitter laugh.

"I just...I..." I raised my hands. "It would be a lot easier on me if this stuff happened in control in Birnbaum's office, y'know?" I shook my head. "And now you're right in the thick of it and you...you probably hate--"

"I don’t. I really don't." She pulled me in for a hug, her hand circling my back in needed circles. "You're right, I don't know her. One bit. Before now she was just some Faith avatar named 'BWilBrzFan91584' reminding me to watch Buffy on Tuesday nights; she doesn't have her image on AIM. I had no face to connect and that's why I was in shock. I can't hate someone who doesn't know at all about my existence. She can't hate me. I'm just in shock because I wanted to just see this all go away. I never want to see that jackass again. I don't even want to think of what he's done, and now with the theft with Taylor..." A sigh. "Paris, I don't even want to be his friend any longer. There's no doubt. No 'staying friends with the ex' happening here. He not only tried to hurt you, but he also hurt my town by stealing from Taylor, and he can't do that. For me, it's pretty much like spitting in his face and doing something violent to him. And we need to hear Beth's side. If she knew about me, that's one thing. But my name should have registered like Dean's did for us right away. It did not."

I began to calm down, moving back towards my determination. "So, we're thinking subterfuge? That he snowed the both of you and now like the last twenty minutes of a Lifetime movie it's about to boil over?"

"Hopefully with less weaponry." We both got up, grabbing Beth's luggage. "Let's just hope Dean isn't looking for her yet. I figure we can get a half-hour before he starts up with the 135 calls he gave you a night when he was at his worst."

"Crap, don't remind me!" She shuddered. "I'm just glad I blocked him when I dumped him. I was tired of talking to him." With that, we prepared to wonder what would happen back at the house. Would Beth hate me for my interference, or grow to understand why?

Plus, I saw her eyes dart when she saw my crutch. I wonder what she assumes about my injury.

Either way, we're about to find out...


Rory's POV

I was nervous as I entered the house, Beth's luggage trailing behind me. We had come so close to having a confrontation with Dean we didn't even want, and I'm still shaking that this is what happened.

As Paris said, 'of all the gin joints in the world', and somehow the world of the Gellars (or Willkes) in Chicago had collided with my world, and in turn, that of the Forresters. I was still beyond shock. The two-block walk that usually only took two minutes felt like two hours the moment that name slipped from Beth's lips.

I wanted to hope it was another Dean. Hell, I would have taken a Denise happily. But there wasn't any doubt. I knew my maps of Chicago, and that Kenilworth and Winnetka are suburban neighbors. There was not any doubt that Dean and Beth bumped into each other in that area, even accidentally.

But it was also bringing back old questions, along with answers never given. Because Dean never really talked about his life back home in Illinois. I might have been able to get a bit out here and there, but in the two years I had known him, I didn't even know where he went to school.

That always struck me as weird. I'm open about talking about SHHS, even if I found it a hell to be in with teachers who made me feel like I was on a kiddie version of Jeopardy!, mercilessly sweeping the board that was their exams because they didn't cater to my intelligence. But I had no idea about him. None at all. Jess too, he would talk openly and colorfully about the schools in New York he attended that made Head of the Class look like Harper Valley PTA.

And even if I knew he was at Lake Forest Academy, it was just as private a school as Chilton. You can't even get in a bomb threat into the Courant involving Chilton; the crime must be pretty puerile and unforgivable to get any attention. Even Tristan's various stunts last year with Duncan and Bowman were unable to merit one sentence in the Courant or even the suburban newspaper where the DuGreys live. Not even the car on the roof. Lake Forest, I would imagine they bury things deep.

I didn't know if I wanted to unearth anything here. I was opening a Pandora's Box that could throw Paris and I into flux, along with Beth.

Coming in the house I set my luggage right next to the door, Paris following behind me. I found Beth in the living room, relaxed. She looked up at us, smiling.

"After that long without a proper bathroom, I was relieved to use yours. Literally, that is." All three of us laughed as Paris looked around.

"Hey, I'm going to change quick. Won't be long." She brushed her hand in mine and before I could respond, Paris was in the kitchen, then my bedroom to get out of her uniform. That left Beth and I alone, uneasily. The both of us not really knowing each other.

"I guess she beat me," I said, deflecting. I took off my coat and laid it along the chair as I sat down with Beth on the couch. "I'm sorry about Paris. I think when you tried to call your boyfriend again she figured it was a lost cause for now, thus not leaving a message." I didn't really want to say his name.

"She's still protective all these years. That never changes, honestly. Even if I've known the guy since I was 13." She settled back, crossing her legs. She had indeed changed, revealing the odd pairing of a Bears hoodie and a brown skirt just below her knees, paired with a pair of red Chucks and shockingly, only socks; she must have a strong resistance to the cold to go bare-legged. "I would not expect her to be in a small town like this. Paris finds Kenilworth to be insufferably boring; I'm sure if she was there visiting me now she'd have been begging for a drive or even for us to let her take Metra into downtown."

"All the libraries and the Museum Campus?" Beth nodded. "I would assume it would be a week trip for her just to cover all those before Buckingham Fountain, Grant Park and the Brookfield Zoo. The next week is the University of Chicago, and week three is just Loop architecture."

"You know her so well. I would call myself a 'normaler' version of Paris, which I know isn't a word. But she's definitely a one-of-a-kind girl."

"She...definitely is." I bit my lip. "Our first meeting was...fiery. We've only recently really become deep friends. Before then it took so much time, along with a summer in Washington to find our footing."

"So you know," she stated mysteriously.

"Know what?"

"You have to be persistent with Paris to be her friend. Completely understand her, indulge in her whims. She loves The Power of Myth, for instance. You know why?"

I knew more of the series than most people; I'd checked out the tapes at the library many times and re-watched it to the point that in 1999, Ms. McCutcheon, the librarian for Stars Hollow, made a snuck copy of the mini-series and told me that she had to allow other patrons to watch it, but I had it out too many times to the point of her having to replace the tapes. The comfort of Joseph Campbell and Bill Moyers about all of these stories helped build my love for reading. I shook my head, wanting to see why she brought it up.

"Do you know about the accident?"

I nodded, wondering where this was going. "It first aired a month after it occurred. She was just finally recovering movement in her arms after her bones and internals healed up and she was still touch and go, even a month after. I mean...this is the first long-term memory I had of us. My dad and mom helped Uncle Harry out a lot at that time and she was growing tired of watching summer repeats and reading those cursed Ayn Rand books offered by her great uncle Herschel, so the nurse turned on PBS." Her hands were animated as she went on about this new information to me. "She loved watching the stories, hearing about the myths. Paris was entranced; she developed a little attitude while she watched all five parts and refused to eat or go potty through all six episodes. She just loved it. Most educational stuff on TV, it insulted her. But this...it seemed to build her strength. She wanted to research more. She wanted out of that hospital bed and to go back to walking so she could go beyond what those men talked about." She paused. "In fact, she loved it so much she made Uncle Harry donate money because when it was over she couldn't watch it again. But she could...when he pledged $5,000 and had a tape guy at CPTV run off her own personal copy." She giggled. "And I remember what she told him...'Daddy, I love this show. I want this show. I want it whenever I want and if you get it to me, I will be strong again. I won't ever disappoint you again.' So, he did it. And I wonder if she still has those tapes."

"I do. They're in my luggage; I'm going to marathon it with her one night." Paris startled us as she came into the room, in loose corduroys and really surprising for her, a Pats shirt. She then stuck out her tongue at Beth, shaking her head.

"Still supporting Da Bears? Pity, Beth. You folks can still claim the Bears steamrolled and shuffled us in '86, but we're the team of the future." Beth tossed a pillow in her direction, which she caught with snappy reflexes. "See?"

"Ahh, come off it, Paris. The Bears aren't doing well this season--"

"They don't even have a stadium in northern Illinois right now, and that so-called replacement for Soldier Field is shaping up as a monstrosity! Should've just had those bastards in Chicago approve McDome instead."

"You haven't changed, ever. You'll die in Patriot blue with your dad, won't you?" Beth shot back.

"Gladly. Though I heard from my father you watched my MSG highlight reel."

Beth quirked up an eyebrow. "And here I thought crowd noise blocked profanity. You were so audible. 'Richter?! Can't feel a fucking thing here, you have no power! Keep letting that shit between your legs!' How did you not get thrown out?"

"New Jersey hockey fandom has its own rules of the road. Once the Whalers left...Devils fan for life." She flopped next to Beth. "Also I could tell one of the Garden guards was scared to stop me. I knew if he would touch me that I'd give the Dolans and Cablevision hell and regret." She redirected back to the previous topic.

"As for The Power of Myth, I still watch it when I feel the urge. Still love it. Still defines the fight I put up at Yale New Haven to get back to normal. Those myths helped me to realize I had to build my own myth and defy what my mother wanted to make me." She looked downward at her hands. "I honestly feel like that miniseries aired when it did as no coincidence and that it was perfect timing. I was struggling and just watching all of that, I soaked it all up like a sponge. I had to know more, get right back on the horse so I could spend all the time I could in that library. Shrug off all I went through in that car and become who I was meant to be, rather than what Sharon wanted." She moved her gaze up, meeting Beth and they smiled at each other, like they hadn't lost a beat.

I didn't want to ruin them, nor did I want to intrude on this moment. But now I knew that in our small little way, one of our favorite things in childhood would eventually have to be shared, together. And that in the cacophony of the aftermath of Sharon's attack on her, she still grabbed her Power of Myth tapes the same way she did her antique hairbrush, I knew what it meant now. That my love for reading was built through this thing on PBS, but for Paris, it made her who she was today.

Before I knew it, I was crying. Not even sobbing, just crying and not realizing it until Beth's glance went my way. I let those tears fall freely and she looked at Paris.

"Is...is there a reason she's crying?" Paris stared at me, surprised at my emotions.

"Because...she's watched it too. It's her favorite miniseries." She remembered the tale. "I watched it nice, complete and on cable the first time in my hospital bed and could reference the tape later. She struggled to pull it in on an antenna in her first place; WEDY from New Haven has always had a terrible signal. Rory watched it in fits and spurts when it was on TV over eight years until she moved into here and got a VCR where she could watch it in full."

I was taken aback; I remembered talking about it with Madeline a few months ago in a conversation after a new election poll she did with Louise, thinking that Paris was buried in paper prep because they asked about what the shed was like, thanks to a dirty trick Francie and Tom attempted to discredit me as VP where they shamed me for being a 'scholarship case'. I openly talked about how I was raised proudly and without shame, and both girls were able to help us with talking points that shot that point down, dead in the water. But knowing that Paris did listen to me during that even as she was fully buried in prep was heartening. I still even remember Mom's old TV, something she had bought on layaway and paid over a year; it was a dial TV and the antenna was awful, but we got the entertainment we needed, including 90210.

I composed myself and brought myself back into the conversation. "Sorry. Just, it's an amazing thing. Paris and I have to watch it in full one of these days, together."

"I promise you, we will." With a smile, I knew that so much brought us together, and that we definitely had a fight in this; we were so deep in love that we even shared favorite things like this.

The three of us continued to talk, Paris and I convinced that Dean would call any minute to let his girlfriend know he was ready. We kept an eye to Beth's phone, but in the meantime, we learned more about Beth, that she was deeply into academics like Paris, but with only the slight difference that she led the school's internal radio station instead of the newspaper, something she was proud of since it meant she was able to entertain and inform other students. She also had the good sports gene, excelling in girl's basketball while balancing a full academic schedule.

Really, there wasn't any reason I could find to hate her. Unlike the confessional in Miss Patty's where I thought she was some unattainable ideal, Beth Willke was just another student excelling and juggling the demands of having two monied names watching her every move, along with a boyfriend. A boyfriend we were able to evade talking about. But I had wanted out of my uniform the moment I got out of school, so I made an excuse to get up after about a half-hour.

"Sorry, it's just I'm never going to get used to this," I excused, with a smile. "You mind?"

"Not at all." Paris got up with me.

"I just need to talk to her too, we've got plans for later tonight and I want her help on what to wear. We'll be right back." If Beth showed any sign that she felt two girls going into the same room was odd, we didn't see it, and both Paris and I were soon in my room together as she shut the door. I expected us to talk about Beth--

That is before I saw her mood change from deep concern and shock, to something resembling unfilled desire. She turned the door lock and let that secret smile slide upon her lips. My breath caught as she got that determined gaze of lust in her eyes.

"Paris?" I whispered because I wanted to make sure Beth didn't hear us. It was of no use, and before I could realize it, her hands were at my sides, fingers hooking beneath my blouse and pushing me against the front of my desk.

"Goddamned real life," she husked. "After I got home this was the plan. To make you feel good. But we had to delay and..." Before I could even fathom it, she was close to me. "When I said I wanted that shirt off, Ror? I wasn't teasing you." A growl. "I was completely serious. And that Harlequin reference?" A hard stare, moving towards my chest.

With that, she made quick work of my skirt, pulling aside the clasp closure, then yanking the zipper down. She pulled me flush against her by the small of my back to let it fall to the floor.

Oh damn, she wasn't kidding about the wordplay at Luke's. I saw deep want in her eyes as her arms began to pull up my pullover sweater. She quickly tossed it to the other side of the room. I was in the blouse, right at her mercy, walking backwards and knowing where she wanted to end up. My hands braced the edge of my desk the moment my palms felt it, as my mind spun with what she'd do next.

"I'll reimburse you," she gritted out, and proceeded to tear open my blouse without any consideration for the buttons. She made hasty work of pulling it open, exposing the baby blue camisole beneath. I took off the blouse from my arms under her gaze, tossing it to the side, warming quickly.

And indeed, my reference to my nipples was on the ball. I could tell she was hungry, and for all I thought she was out of commission right now, she certainly wasn't letting her various conditions get to her right now in any way. Lust was overpowering every single one of them, and as her deep browns weighed upon my chest, I knew she didn't care that her cousin was in our house.

Thank God I had taken off my shoes and socks already when I got in. Because unconsciously, I had been building a case to look fuckable to my girl after school. My nipples were fully stiff, and I bit my lip sexily, the intentional choice to go braless for the last day before winter break a really great idea in hindsight, along with somewhat matching my underwear.

Our thoughts disappeared. I didn't even bother with any questions as I pulled her against me in a searing and hot kiss, an entire three days of cute girlfriendy kisses and consideration for her period ending at that moment. She was on for giving, and I was completely ready to receive. Her hot mouth against mine, teeth clashing without any ceremony as her right hand pulled up my cami, her left cupping my ass possessively. I moaned against her, that animalistic side of me which only seemed to display itself in the towncar was here now. I needed her, somehow.

From the back I felt her hand slide up, then she used it to pull down at the cami straps. Oh fuck! I let down my shoulders to hasten the fall of the straps. I fumbled from behind, feeling for my iBook and pencil cup to push them desperately aside. I moved the laptop until I was barely sure I wouldn't be sitting on it, but the pencil cup was a lost cause, falling towards the edge of the wall. "God dammit!" I let out against her tongue, right at the same time my nipples felt air as she rolled it down to my stomach, out of the way. She released for a breath, and then to toss her Pats shirt off to the building heap of clothing.

She wore no bra beneath, something I hadn't expected. I was in complete shock.

"Like I said, I can warm you up." She moved back towards me as I knew I wasn't stopping this. No fucking way. "And I'm not forgetting what you said. Especially after finding out your hand shower has...multiple adjustments."

I was giving her a once-over, mouth wide open as her body tempted me. Those loose corduroys? Beneath her long shirt, hiding the tempting waistband of her crème undies.

"Sooo, you found out." I challenged her. "I didn't know how long it would take you to realize that I chose that shower myself for...personal benefits." I took her at her sides, pulling her close to me. "Mom hates it. She won't use it; she kind of uses other methods in her bedroom and I'm leaving it at that. But I excused it as needing it to shave my legs and wash with something easier." My fingers slid down her mid-section, along her navel. "Wednesday night you took a half-hour in there and you were in a good mood when you crawled into bed. Now I know why."

My fingers circled around her pants button. "Also, I found That Unexpected Seduction in your messenger bag. Thought you could get it by me, eh, Par?" I tutted, shaking my head. "Plus I get the feeling you have a 'trouble essays' section in your computer documents ready for printing. While I wrote mine, you had that doc open with an occasional burst of typing on the keys, followed by a few more pages." The pleasing unsnap of the pants button was music to my ears. "You wrote just enough to make it feel fresh, didn't you?"

She looked up, then back down towards me. "I...I am always prepared?" A scoff. "Like I said, I get bored--"

"So you pre-write things. I have no issue with that." I smiled at her, a rush of blood moving ever southward. "I polished off mine during independent study Wednesday. Did a quick last revision at home. The rest of the time?" I made my own move to bring her close. "I did a little bit of letting my fingers do the walking. And by a little, I mean..."

I bit down on her lip, being deliberate and heated. "I fucked myself on your bed. I frotted against your pillow. Taking in your scent. Knowing that you slept there. Of course, had to put a towel beneath myself because my body doesn't know its own strength."

"I knew it smelled of you," she argued back. I slowly parted the teeth of her zipper. "And that book, in a 50's way, was very fucking hot to read. Even more so, illicitly, in the territory that is your home turf, the Stars Hollow Free Library."

"You got wet to it in a place I sit all the time. In front of the books?" I faked shock. "They're gonna judge you the rest of your life, Gellar."

"Let she who has sinned cast the first stone then. Let's see a book try to throw one." And there was that evil little smirk. She knew she was up to no good. "Come on, Susan. We've only got a little time."

"A little time?" With that, the pants went down. "I can make it work...Hester." She broke apart to work out of them, and there my girlfriend was, in seemingly unsexy underwear. My thoughts were in complete confusion; we had Paris's cousin, my ex-competitor to Dean just a couple of rooms away. And only moments ago, I thought Paris with a period would be fully off-limits, only enflaming me with her words.

She had churned my okay about sex at this time through her mind. I looked her up and down, a bit giddy that I was like this. Able to convince with her only a mere phrasing a few days ago, planting it in her brain stem that I wasn't going to let Mother Nature stop us. My breathing was short, knowing what was to happen. I brought her close to me, knowing we would be reaching another sudden milestone. I kissed along her cheek, down to her lips, giving her a slow kiss to ease her into what we wanted.

I felt her skin prickle, my hands sensing along her arms. She responded with a caress of my back. I rested my back against the wall, what little there was for me to do so. I prayed that my desk would hold out, even though I had stood on it several times to hang items on the wall above it. We fell into an easy rhythm, just falling into this quick little stolen moment, our breathing shared. She began to sweat in my proximity, deeply, dripping. I love seeing her like this, and her scent so fucking attractive. I can't get enough of Par. Never enough. She pressed against me, her body completely needy of my touch. I couldn't believe it.

I looked down, seeing her left hand in that little two-fingered manner she teased me with at Luke's. Those fingers closed in upon my right nipple and I took advantage of my position on the desk to open my legs, moaning as she tweaked and pulled softly at my areola, then the protrusion outward. My dampness was increasing as she dared, a few more kisses, even more teasing. Her lips upon my mouth, then down my chin, down my neck and then...

I suddenly felt the blood seeming to rush as she suctioned upon the right side of my neck as she continued to play with my breast to distract me. I was only feeling the incredible nipple stimulation, and my own touching myself to prime for her fingers. She lingered...before I knew it, I could feel teeth. I could feel suction.

I could...

"Fuck," I said. I hadn't even considered this moment at all. "Someone's getting possessive," I snarled, as the heat built between my legs. I closed them around her, daring her closer. I wanted a good fucking, and it was starting very nicely. My little wordplay earned a deeper bit of biting, more suction. I panted, my body completely lost to the power of what we were doing. She pulled from my neck for a moment, only to return again with a vengeance. I nibbled at her ear to further encourage Paris on, assenting my permission. Moving my ministrations along her scalp and her cheek, I begged for her not to stop, to go as deep as she wanted.

I felt fingers move along my stomach, down my navel, and soon her hand was cupping my sex, feeling me out. I trapped her against me; even as she was acting on her power, I was being very powerful myself. My back was against the wall, and now I know I was in a great position. She broke apart from her hold with her mouth, but only for a moment to bring me into a kiss as I wrapped my arms around the back of her neck.

"Par-Bear..." I gasped out between each kiss. "Make me fucking feel good. Don't stop." I dug my nails into her back, knowing exactly what I wanted. This wouldn't be a linger-tease kind of thing; the both of us knew what this was going to end up with. Our eyes met and we knew. She broke away and had me move my torso closer, my mound right at the edge of the desk.

She gave me a predatory staredown, looking down from my eyes all the way down, finding my lips parted and full, right down the middle within my panties. Her hand smoothed along each side within my panties. She showed no signs of needing pleasure herself; this was all about me. I pushed away a stray thought that she was putting too much pressure on her injured foot because that would have ruined the moment.

"Like I said," I whispered deeply, "there have been too many times this week I've been moments away from asking for two or three fingers in my pussy. I want that. Now." I stared her down, heated. This wasn't an out of focus moment where I fucked myself listening to her talk. I was aware what I wanted. I was going to get it. My body needed to feel it.

She slitted her eyes, and grinned slightly. "Yes, Madame Vice-President. I'd love to indulge your pleasure as your direct Commander-in-Chief."

FUCK! I almost came right there from her way with words again! Instead, she raised her hand up one more time, but this time to her mouth. She slid the fingers in, coated them with her tongue in saliva, and then purposefully moved them down my sternum, between my breasts and down my navel...

I threw my head back with a primal moan. I felt nice and lubricated already, but this was sexy as hell. With her other hand, she began to pull down my panties. I lifted my butt up to help her out as she went to the other side. They fell to the ground, leaving me naked but for an appendix of a cami doing nothing much at all.

Ceremony was done. I backed against the wall as far as I could, welcoming those fingers within me finally as she went right for my stiffened and slick clitoris. I had held back since Tuesday night about how turned on I had been and felt good I was able to admit I had to masturbate on Wednesday while she was gone. I shuddered as I felt her just outside me, making those little circles in a charging manner.

However, I still had to have consideration for company, so I kept my mouth shut as much as I could, letting gasps, groans and screams out slowly. There wasn't going to be much ceremony to this at all as I kept my legs wrapped around her. I lifted my rear off the desk slightly to give Par plenty of play space, which she used to her advantage.

I concentrated fully on pleasure, nothing but that. Glancing occasionally at my girlfriend, who was circling her fingers, her hand sliding in and out with fast strokes. I actually felt a bounce to my chest, something I didn't think was possible, but the aggressiveness of what was happening overpowered all. And there was Paris in front of me, complimenting me on my perfectly wet pussy and that my pelvic muscles were tightening nicely.

I kept a harsh grip on the desk as I moved up, my other hand bracing the wall. It was all just my own pleasure as I felt all my blood flow concentrate in one place. My heart was pumping at triple its usual beat and I had no focus. It was only me, guiding Paris towards my orgasm. I needed this and craved it, knowing I'd be stressed when real life returned. This was unexpected, but certainly needed.

The heat began to rise. She moved in close again, kissing, assuring me that I was going to feel this, that it would leave me without breath. I didn't doubt her words as she kept up her strokes while using her other finger to hook within my walls. Right there. I let out a moan that was so guttural I didn't even know I had it in me. Her hand inside of me. I loved the thought. I was getting off to it.

"I'm gonna fucking cum for you Par. I promise," I let out in a breathy gasp. "You're doing great, so damned...ugggggh! Hit that spot, just keep at it!" I encouraged her, words I would never say usually just falling from my mouth.

"When you fuck me, I feel amazing," was one of my confessions. Neck kiss, mouth kiss, chin and forehead; my face was all damp from her busses. Her other fingers holding me at my side, massaging me, open-palmed, especially upon my bared breast. She remained wordless, concentration fully on getting me into that amazing feeling. Her fingers slid in elegantly, still stroking my clit but moving towards that one great spot I knew always got me off. I ground against her with purpose to move things along. This was going to end up fast, uncontrolled and without any consideration to how it would make me feel the rest of the day.

Her fingers were hitting just…right…there. My mind was overwhelmed as her scent deepened. I looked down at her, just giving me pleasure without any regards to what she wanted or how she was feeling.

"You want--" She cut me off before I could say anything else. This wasn’t for her, but for me. My lower back fully against the wall, she was with me, every stroke, every little mewl, and every movement.

And then came the topper. What really got me off. Her thumb rolling my areola, soft but still very stimulating. The pad of her index finger stiffening it so much that it was making my vision fuzzy. Hitting one erotic spot below, one above. It was like a direct connection between the two spreading throughout my body. I wrapped my legs around her, trapping her within my walls, unconsciously grinding faster and faster against her. She responded with a hasty movement of her head down to my breast.

Just that movement forced my pelvic muscles to focus on just getting this done. It was all I needed. She looked up at me, looking for the small permission to latch on. I hurriedly nodded my head.

She did so, and it felt so powerful, primal. Downright carnal. Giving me all this pleasure and pressure in so many places. It was overwhelming. I felt the press of teeth to flesh, biting on my tongue so hard to hold back a scream. I was trapped, both physically and this other need to come.

"Fuck yeah...yeah..." How that word was becoming a regular part of my sexual vocabulary I had no idea, but it was there. I rode her hand, with that feeling rising, the anticipation and tightening. Paris inside of me, knowing me, it was bringing me to blissful tears. I looked up at my ceiling, the feeling of looking down any longer convincing me if I did, I would die in bliss; I wasn't ready for that yet.

Within a few more moments, I was at the edge. I felt suction and biting, as if drawing milk, and that took me over. The overwhelming need for a release I hadn't thought I needed took over and I let out deep gasps and grunts as the orgasm washed over me. The tightening of the muscles down there, the goosebumps I feel, and how my body suddenly takes on an entirely new consistency.

That's what I love about making love with Paris. Harried or languid, she knows me. She knows that I am surprisingly unhinged, unlike who I am to the rest of the world. And she has no problem with that. She loves to keep playing with my clit until it is physically painful to continue. The flush state of my body. How the only time I'm really profane is when I'm with her, like 'hot and pissed Rory' is the personality type I only share with her.

And she doesn't expect anything in response until we feel the moment is right. She wanted to tease and goad me in the diner into this moment. She got it, and more. And her mouth on my breast...

Man, I do want more of that. I really do. Her strokes began to slow down until her hand slid away from my sex. I looked down to begin to gather myself, and even that act is sensual.

Her hand was damp. And three or four little lines of my arousal kept an umbilical bond between us for at least a few inches before they retracted. Paris looked up at me. I closed my legs tight, my shyness trying to return because of my lips being fully aroused and plump, fully out there. We had no words, knowing this was just the most unexpected moment and we couldn't ruin it.

I stared up and down at her. The bruise on her neck has almost completely healed. Looking down, her leg is still purple, but the crutch is only being used for the toughest of steps now. Even like this, I have no thoughts of recoiling. She is beautiful and amazing, and just took me by surprise in a manner that if Dean did it, would have been male machismo knocking down my feminine wiles.

But that's both of us. I lingered, just sitting on the edge of the desk as she pulls herself away. I love this moment. That for the first time, school isn't defining us for now. We have time off to figure out how this works without the yoke of Chilton around us. I again look down--

And I yelped. I saw that ravished breast, now darkened from suction, nicely bruised and hardly pale any longer.

"Oh my God!" This was new. I slid off the desk, closing my legs together. It was divine, knowing this was our new normal. She pulled back with that little troublemaking smirk of hers.

"Have we learned a lesson here?" she purred. Slapping her hands on her thighs, she kept up that commanding 'warden's voice' of hers. "Don't deny me a shirt toss or I'll remove it for you."

I quirked my eyebrow. "Well...I know that now. But...I don't think I'll learn the lesson easily. You might have be...repetitive with that lesson?"

"I suppose I could do that multiple times." She took in a deep breath. "Love you. Sorry for the surprise, but I just couldn't start this break without letting out some freedom." A small laugh. "You OK?"

"Mmmm, very. And loving you too." I still felt like jelly. "My uniform shirt isn't." I look at it crumpled on the floor below. Then I felt my camisole along my stomach as I approached her while she wipes arousal off her fingers with a tissue. "And my body..."

I suddenly was facing the mirror across the way. And there's no denying what is on the right side of my neck. My glare moved back to her.

"Oh God!"

"Hmmm? Just seeing that I marked you?"

I shook my head. "Paris, you branded me like a Texas steer!" I laughed deeply. "I just need the USDA to inspect me as 'top choice sirloin'!" Before her apology instinct could kick in, I approached her, leaving a small kiss upon her plumped lips. "Not that I mind. I do want people to know."

"I do too." She returned the kiss, a bit more deeply. My pelvis began a clutch as she slid the cami the rest of the way down my body. She then felt up my ass without shame within the material with an easy little grin. "So...we were coming in here to plan what we were wearing tonight."

"We were, but you used it as an opportunity to get up in my business." I flushed, knowing I was fully nude. "Oh God. I never used to be like this."

That earned me an eyeroll with a side of sarcasm. "We came naked out of the womb, Gilmore."

"I mean...well, I was shy. That's certainly not how I am around you now; I would have been embarrassed to tote this hickey around with Dean." I grabbed my underwear from the floor and rolled them back on as Paris put back on her shirt. "What, no bra?"

"I'll put it back on in the bathroom. For now though..." She stretched out her legs and sits on the edge of the bed. "I need entertainment. I need calming. I need to see you get dressed here, Ror."

"Oh, you do?" I laughed and began to try to find an outfit that will be comfortable, yet dressy with Beth here. The two of us talked as I got a bra back on and eventually I went with a blue floral she responded positively to. Paris is cursed by the limited wardrobe she has in her drawer and I told her we have to figure out when we can get some more clothes from the Manor. She kept the cords she wore before, but with a pink blouse instead.

She seems to be really loving the color pink lately, by the way. That comment Sharon made once has basically fueled her sudden want of wearing pink, red, and other colors that pissed that cursed woman off.

Eventually, we returned to talking about the elephant in the other room.

"So we ease her into talking about Dean, right?" Paris nodded affirmatively. "And maybe she doesn't blow a gasket when she realizes we're in a relationship?"

"I have no idea how she'll react. But Dean alone, that's going to be the thing we have to be careful about." She gave me a look, knowing I felt uneasy about all this, brushing my cheek. "Hey. Don't go soft on me, Gilmore. You did the right thing. You have been doing the right thing. It would have made me feel unseemly if we were together and Dean was still there and you were still dating him for appearances."

"But he tried to--"

"He won't. Again. I promise you." She gave me an assuring kiss. "After this, he's all history. But you can't hold back you knew him. You can't leave her in the dark."

I sighed. "I know. I just hate to break her heart and making you both feel awkward at family reunions if this goes wrong."

"Ror, all family reunions are awkward. Your paternal grandparents proved that."

"Oh God, you're right." I groaned deeply. "Thanks for the reminder."

"It'll be easier than that, for sure." She helped me up. "Now come on. We've gotta get this done. And after all this is done..." She moved in with a smile towards my ear, giving it a little blow that perked up my goosebumps. "Maybe you can have your way with this blouse too. Stop looking down it, by the way. You already know what my breasts look like!"

My eyes popped open; damn it, she noticed when she was putting her schoolbooks away I was giving her boobs a look! Also, the insinuation that I could have my way with her later?

"Well, I guess I can behave...as long as you stop gaping at my bare legs, Par-Bear." I directed a smirk her way as I unlocked the door. She was offended that I knew her snuck looks weren't innocent.

"I can't help it! You have long legs," she argued. "Your long legs mean I have to look at them!'

Mmm-hmmm, Blondie. You keep telling yourself that, but I know you sneak as many glances at my anatomy as I do yours...


Paris's POV

Coming back in the room, I was still flustered. How dare Rory accuse me of non-innocent glances at her legs! She has long legs and there she was denying that I only stared at them because of their length. I am offended...

At myself. For not hiding it better. For all the progress I've made in my flirting the last two months, sometimes I'm still at the base level of an eleven year-old boy adjusting his scrambled TV the right way to see tits on the Spice Channel. I'm still a bit obvious. But I've upped my game. I know for sure Rory wasn't expecting me to snap her up and make her froth on her desk, for instance. That took some guts, and planning.

Along with some nipple chafing. I'll say it now; I'm not a T-shirt person, and sitting in the living room for forty-five minutes in a Pats shirt braless trying to unload your seduction plan in a rushed manner proved that well.

Put the blame on Madeline entirely for everything that just happened. There she was at lunch, Rory getting her salad and Brad in the lunch line across the dining hall, and for some inexplicable reason, she was looking at him as somehow the equivalent of Brad Pitt.

"You know what I'm doing when I get to his house?" she said, dreamily. "I'm going to push him against the door, get his pants off and just go to town on him."

"Madeline Linda Lynn!" I was aghast. "We are in a common area! What if someone else hears us?"

"Ahh, come on. Tell me, you're not thinking the equivalent with your girl there. I saw you looking at Rory's butt when she got up."

"Hello? I am in my you-know-what, there is nothing I can do right now! I intend to hold that."

Madeline shook her head. "So you never had the 'break strip' at all?"

"Huh?"

"You know, when you don't have to go to school for a couple weeks. You don't take off your uniform in a sensual manner, get yourself worked up and have a lonnnng orgasm built up over a few days?"

"Hey! What you do in your spare time is none of my business," I retorted. "Besides, I have to get my clothes to the laundry service. They're impatient to get them."

"Uuuuuuuggggh, this isn't about the damned clothes, P! It's about you feeling good! You've never had a little self-roll in the hay after dismissal on the last day of school?! Or when winter break starts?"

"Why? My love life was pathetic to non-existent," I rationalized. "You and Louise always can find someone to finger you in dreamland easily! I've got--"

"Rory told me you fucked yourself when you won the election." I wheezed for a moment. "What? She needed someone to spill things to!"

"I know, but it's my love life. If I feel like feeling pleasure, I will." Madeline continued to stare at me in that way that suggested the topic still wasn't closed. "Mads? Look, I get it, you're going to give Brad a blowjob for lord knows why later today."

"Maybe you should do the equivalent for Rory," she said, no irony. "Get flirty with her. Show her how much you appreciate her for more than room and board. You got your bell tower fantasy done, finally. Couldn't have done that with anybody else."

I looked at Rory in line. "But she...she can be practical. And outside of a lock and solid walls, we have little privacy. Plus the...thing."

Madeline, bless her, just rolled her eyes at that. "Paris, I have done it with Brad, right at the worst time. It's not that bad, she's not going to care. Have a towel ready and plan to shower, that's all. You told me she's up to it, right?"

"Eventually. We're not there yet."

"But you can ease her into it. And that starts tonight. You've got an early dismissal, Ms. Gilmore's out of the house and nothing in your way but time. Face it, you have nothing stopping you. Leg's almost healed up, your neck is already looking better than it did Saturday and here you are, 'I can't do anything because there's an o.b. up my hoohah'. Bull!" She brushed off my self-made excuse like it was nothing with a scoff. "As long as you've got fingers and a tongue, the sky's the limit!" A laugh. "Plus...I saw Rory in the restroom. She had to adjust her sweater because..." Madeline whispered in my ear. "She forgot her bra. It's incredibly cold, and we've both seen her in gym class with that joke of an unsupportive sports bra she used to have before Ms. Miner called her out and made her get a new one."

I shook my head. "It's not even laundry day."

"My dear, she doesn't care if she's nowhere near laundry day. She's feeling warm, horny as hell and getting thrills where she can, and because of your self-suspension, your warm glares her way are turning her on. This isn't you dropping her off at home and heading to the Manor and her humping her hand off; the frustration she feels is only five feet from her on an Aerobed." I stared at her, my attention catching on these details Madeline was alleging. "Trust me, you get her being that locked door the moment you get home, she's wet and ready. Get her worked up. Also, I get the feeling because of her out-there nipples she's not going to get the blouse off right away in your car like she usually does, so play off that frustration. Show you want her. Be an aggressive lioness and pounce on her like 'RAWR!'."

"Geeze, do you want her too, Madeline? I swear--"

She laughed. "I'm just going with my natural observations of sociology here, Par. Get her alone like I am Brad when you get home. She's up for it. Your love for her should never be scheduled. This isn't a trig exam, but someone you could be spending the rest of your life with, and you need to take advantage of that." A pause, as she brought me close to her on the bench. "You two have an incredible and hot type of chemistry few couples have. An emotional connection that you know just smolders and doesn't seem to be going out any time soon. You finally chose to use a break for a break. Take advantage of that; you've got one last one before college starts."

"I mean..." I bit down on my tongue looking at Rory doling out her salad onto her plate. With the new knowledge I had one less layer to deal with later on, I couldn't help but feel carnal now. "You really think she's worked up and receptive?"

"She is. You keep undressing her with your eyes, hating that uniform. You want it off, don't you? All over that bedroom, her at your mercy on that small lil' desk. Tell me I'm wrong."

I shook my head, feeling flustered. "Madeline, do you think about us?" She sent a devious smile towards me.

"I've seen you in the buff too many times, girl, and Rory in the locker room?" Madeline gave off a happy hum that unnerved me a little, but at the same time, heartened me. "I'm all about Brad, trust me. But if I would define myself sexually. I couldn't really say it here to call it official. But I am definitely open to both women and men. Whoever loves me, whoever makes me feel good. And in a way, you and Rory happy together makes me feel like a spinny little third wheel pleased as punch."

I pondered what she had just admitted; I couldn't believe it. "So in the past, even with all the annoying things I've done with you. There's always been a thought of me being sexually alluring?" I let off a small, shy smile.

"Paris?" She brought herself close again. "If you and Rory ever asked me to share your company, I would never turn you down. You can be a frustrating friend and I don't know what you're talking about most of the time. But you are attractive. I have fantasized about you often. And you're damned loyal and only want the best for me. Rory's the luckiest gal and that's why I'm damned protective of you." She looked to see Brad and Rory approaching with their trays. "Don't ever forget that I love you, Paris. You're a great friend to have."

The way Madeline folded everything in just got to me. My pulse quickened and I couldn't help it. I grabbed her hand, rushing out something before our lovers got back. "The same, Mads. All, the same." I held it tight as Rory and Brad slid into their seats across from us. My heart was happily full. Even though I hadn't talked at all to Louise yet, Madeline was there for me, ride or die, and she made it abundantly clear in this rare bit of girl talk I indulged in.

I felt warm and happy. Not only that, emboldened. Rory sat across from me, and I knew for sure at that moment, I was going to mark her tonight. She didn't know it at the time, and outside of her wondering what we were talking about and my stumbled answer of 'oh, girl things, you know' that Madeline laughed at happily, she had no idea that I was scheming and planning in my head. I was hoping it would have been a lot longer, but alas...real life.

We had to figure out how to let Beth know everything. And I wasn't about to let this opportunity to see my cousin again go by. Coming out of Rory's bedroom (after a stop at the kitchen sink to wash my hands, of course), I found Beth looking in frustration at her phone.

"You were in there twenty minutes and he still hasn't called back yet. Did I do something wrong? Is he lost?" She shook her head, looking at the still handset. "At least I found something to watch in the meantime."

"That isn't something to watch, that's something designed to ruin your brain cells." I looked disapprovingly at the television playing an episode of Full House.

"Ease off, Par. Her entertainment over the last fifteen hours likely consisted of a book or a portable CD player."

Beth looked at her with dread and a half-frown. "Couldn't get it to work, unfortunately. I dropped it at Union Station getting it out of my coat, so I had to live with radio. The only halfway decent stations were east of Cleveland and west of Albany. I'm expecting an iPod from my parents but they wouldn't give it to me for this trip." She curled up and flipped off the TV. "Soooo...he hasn't called back. I don't know what else I can do."

"You can wait here all you want," Rory said. "We've got a couch in the sewing room if he and his family don't pick you up."

"That's very nice. But they'll come, eventually. Besides..." Beth wrinkled an eyebrow in my direction. "It seems like I'm breaking up a date night here." She smiled and...

I couldn't say a word. I didn't know what to say. I darted a look towards Rory, who was just as confused. Beyond my love bite for Rory, I hadn't thought of us being out there to Beth at all. Slowly I came up with an excuse, the cogs beginning to spin slowly.

"Ohhhh, uhhhhh...umm, I...I don't know what you're thinking. Rory and I, just friends. Totally."

"Yeah! Friends!" Rory butted in with the least convincing affirmation of non-gaiety in the history of mankind. "That's it, yeah. Totally friends."

"Oh yeah. All we are. Friends, just sharing a house because--"

Beth shook her head. "Paris, you can stop. You too, Rory. I already freaking know!”

"Know what?" Yeah, Rory isn't good at this 'not being a lesbian' thing at all, with no passion to her denial.

"I know Paris is gay. Daddy called Uncle Harry on Tuesday to warn him I was coming and Harry hoped I'd bump into you. He said he had a rough day, something about Sharon and a custody battle and he vented to his brother about it and told us about your weekend from hell." She turned to face me. "Paris, I could care less about who you love. I'm sorry I found out secondhand through my father, but come on. 'We have to choose stuff to wear?' Twenty minutes behind a locked door I happened to check? You're voluntarily living in a small town with a freakin' rooster statue?" A scoff, and then she opened up her hand, pointing at fingers. "You choose whatever just fits, you hate towns that feel like Bedford Falls come to life, you didn’t spend five minutes ranting about her like you do Madeline and Louise, and you're living with another girl, voluntarily."

She looked at Rory, then me, as she made her final 'thumb' point. "Finally, you were checking out your 'friend's' ass." She let out a hearty laugh. "Rory here is your girlfriend, isn't she? And judging from that deep blush in your cheeks the only thing you were in there choosing was how many fingers to--"

"OH MY GOD!" Let it be known that Beth can be kind most of the time, but even when she was younger, she was bold and unapologetic at times about gossip. "So...you don't care?"

Beth shook her head. "Oh God, P! My best guy friend, Marc is gay, out, proud and unapologetic. My best girl friend Elisa is bi. You think I'm going to have a problem with my three-month younger closest cousin being a lesbian?" A chuckle. "Not to mention Rory over there just impatient to get that uniform off; she was waiting for you!"

"Was not! I really wasn't!" Once again, Rory trying to be straight, but failing miserably. "I mean...it was a little surprising and I was...being teased by her all day!" She was all flustered. "You try going through a last day of school feeling like she was hungry for you from lunch on! I saw her and her friend Madeline talking from the salad bar. Madeline hinted on the way out of school that Brad was in for 'the night of his life' and I know those two, Paris and Madeline! They're evil! They scheme and plan and then--"

"Get you into a bedroom and leave a hickey?" She looked at Rory, dead on. Still smiling and smug as we were both flushed, not believing that Beth knew from the moment she saw me I wasn't boy-inclined by any means. "You gotta do what you gotta do."

"Awww, man!" Rory was flustered. "I guess I should ask. Did...did you hear us?"

She faced Rory, just holding back a deep laugh. "You swear too much when you make love."

"Fuck." Well, I guess we know now that her bedroom's sound resistance does have some limits. She let out a long breath, feeling a bit annoyed with herself. "I need to learn to not be heard."

"Didn't do it this time." She looked at the both of us. "I'm sorry. If I'm making you feel uncomfortable--"

"No...absolutely not!" I shook my head furiously. "I'm just glad it wasn't me having to spend a half-hour explaining this. As much as I'm a bit cross at Daddy for pushing me out to you and he will hear it from me, he did mean well." I didn't have any ill feelings towards him at all, though next time I do hope he makes sure I need to give him permission, even with his own brother. "Plus among the both of us, having to repeatedly come out is getting a little tiring."

Rory nodded. "It was. I thought Paris was pulling me into the bedroom to talk about how to come out to you." Glaring in my direction, she stared joking spears into me. "Obviously, I was incredibly mislead by her intentions."

I chuckled, feeling no regret. "Hey, when I want it, I'm going to get it." Beth smiled in my direction, feeling a bit heartened that she ended up in this situation in whatever way it happened.

"What happened to Tristan, by the way?" she wondered. "Has he changed? Still a troublemaker?"

"Military school, unfortunately. He left a trail of broken hearts at Chilton and somehow Rory there had immunity to his charms for the most part."

"It helped that I never had an interest in him at all. I had D--a boyfriend at the time and it just wasn't going to happen."

That caught Beth's interest. "So you tried the boy thing and it didn't work?" Rory shook her head. "I'm sure he was disappointed when you let him go."

Rory averted her gaze, beginning to know we were hitting that point of no return. "You could say that. There was...anger." I could tell she wanted to hold off on talking about this as long as possible, but she almost stumbled beforehand.

"He didn't accept you, then." Beth was known to get me to open up to her; she knew some of what happened with Sharon and I because I had trust in her. Here she was, doing the same to Rory. "That must've sucked."

"It...it did. I held it...back as long as I could but then he found out. There was a guy who's a nephew of my mom's friend and he kept antagonizing him for months. And there was an incident where I lost a trinket of his and he got mad because that guy happened to be over when I lost it. He assumed that I was his property. Kept calling me too many times to the point I had to unplug the phone at home. Really...I think that's when I began to question if I could ever be with a man." Rory's eyes looked at me, and she seemed stricken, almost stunned as she began to open up about Dean without mentioning his name. "And he even dumped me for a few months because I couldn't bear to say I loved him."

She paused. "And I didn't. I thought if I said it, that I would feel more for him. But I never did. I kept putting him first for so long, and your cousin was looking for any excuse to get me out of Chilton. And yet, even through all the anger, the arguments, and our competitive drives. I don't know. I just never felt like, 'I hate her and want nothing to with her'. She came over once when I tried to set her up on a date with Tristan. And here I'm helping who I think is my worst enemy, the girl who will bring me down, prepare for her dream guy, thinking that this will be it, it'll make her happy. We'll both be happy now; I made a friend, she gets a boyfriend."

I had no idea what was making Rory talk about all of this, completely unprompted. But it was another sudden window into why she chose me. I saw my girlfriend, looking at her hands, shaking her head and her voice becoming wracked with a sense of needing to have catharsis with me before she confided in Beth.

"But when I admitted the ruse the next day, she was rightfully mad at me. Because...I didn't know Paris's life. I had no idea what Sharon has put her through. How her father has been pushed away for so many reasons, and how Paris will think of her nanny as her true mother. And as she walked out of that room, screaming 'I hate you'...it...it..." Oh God, Ror. It's been a year and a half. I don't think that of you anymore! "It gutted me. It put a strain in what we had, and it was made worse when that little bastard tried to get me to date him, and the only thing I thought as I couldn't get the words out to say 'I don't fucking like him!' is that...Paris's heart. It's broken. Again. And I had to spend the next nine months getting near her good graces again like a hustler, doing all I could. Trying to be...trying to show that I never wanted to be that...that...that bitch again."

"Rory, stop." That wasn't me, but Beth.

"You don't understand. We've finally...after two years, found a friendship in love. I have spent so long...so unsure. Thinking I was weird. I didn't date. I had no interest. I wasn't ready and I was happy all alone." She shuddered, looking at me. "I was a fuck-up, doing everything wrong, and he treated me like shit because I deserved it, and I didn't love him. I couldn't, no matter how much the town said he was perfect. No matter that if I didn't date him I was stupid, that 'he's a perfect gentleman'. All these years I knew I was a lesbian, but I had no other heart to make me whole until I found Paris.

"It's overwhelming. I keep thinking this is all a dream. That I'll wake up one morning and Paris is telling me to fuck off, that she doesn't love me and I'm beneath her. That I'm back to being verbally abused...belittled...told I'm too fucking stupid to know when I feel like I'm ready to love!" She gripped the side of the chair and all I wanted to do is hug her and tell her this is all real. That I love her, forever. "That his goddamned jealousy broke my wrist in a car accident, and he almost broke Paris's with brute strength just a few days before! The worst thing; you know how she is about her wrists!"

"Paris?" Beth looked at me, alarmed, now understanding why I had on the protective wrist splint on my left hand. "What the fu--"

"Beth...she needs to get this out. I know her." I hated hearing all of this. Knowing it put us back in that pain of October where our stubbornness almost ruined us before we started. "Just let it all out, Ror. Think, process, focus. Think of me like Dr. Birnbaum right now."

"And I broke up with him right." Now in full-on tears, Rory continued. "He got jealous over my nephew over something idiotic, and I broke up with him. I should have done it when I knew. Months back, I knew he didn't love me. He loved himself. And he is a selfish jerk who thinks he can--"

"Oh my goodness!" Beth's voice caught in the back of her throat as she realized something. She began to breathe shallowly, her eyes on the coffee table. We hadn't even given a second thought to anything as Rory had grabbed the mail before she came in the door and set it upon the wooden surface. A copy of US Weekly laid atop of it, along with bills for Comcast and the electric bill for CL&P.

She looked up slowly, shaking her head. Beth trembled, as she picked up the Comcast bill, reading the name beneath the envelope window, having probably glanced it early on before we got back into the house after using the restroom.

"Lorelai...V....Gilmore." A pause. "I...I know a Lorelai."

"Beth--" I tried to interrupt, but only half-heartedly, knowing that we had to hash this out.

"Lorelai." She looked at the name again. "You know her, right?"

"I...do." Rory's voice was soft, and careful. She was scared to be yelled at.

"Is...is Lorelai your sister?" Rory stayed silent, as Beth's lack of an answer to her question began to help her connect the dots. "An older sister, she pays your bills, right?" Again, we stayed silent. "Because...I think I knew her."

I wondered where this was about to go. We both continued to hope that this wouldn't end in a police situation.

"Dean dated a girl named Lorelai after he left Winnetka. For two years. And I was fine with it; we're both in different places. But they broke up this summer." She didn't know what to say. "He said when he came back for the summer that he wanted to start things up again and he was sorry for leaving me all the sudden a couple weeks into sophomore year. We've been together since summer, long-distance." She looked at us. "You know him somehow, don't you?"

A pause. I needed to make sure before we went any further that a building hunch in my mind was correct. "Beth, I have one question for you."

"OK." She said it tightly.

I was slow, vigilant, and prepared to go into a defensive position to keep her back from Rory. What she said next could have been the spark to a puddle of gasoline.

"Before today. Have you ever heard Rory's name in your entire life as referring to a girl in Stars Hollow? In any other circumstance, did you know of her?"

She looked at Rory, and then looked at me. And then, she broke the floodgates open.

"No, I have not. Dean dated a girl named Lorelai. No last name ever mentioned."

At that moment, what was a tense situation would become even more charged. I looked at both women, and Rory gulped as she knew her own words could now anger Beth. This was emotional, and any drop in defenses, this would make our confrontation with Emily look friendly.

"Beth," she said, her voice barely heard over the room. "Dean never said the name 'Rory' to you once. In any way. Even accidentally."

A glare. "He's never uttered the name 'Rory'. Ever."

That was it. Confirmation. Rory's courage built.

"He only referred to his girlfriend here as 'Lorelai'. Nothing else?"

"Only name." A huff. "I don't know what the hell--"

"Because it's so funny that Dean would use my goddamned given name to refer me. Not funny 'ha-ha'. Not 'oh, we'll laugh about this at the 2053 Stars Hollow High reunion as a comedy of errors'. Not even in a way where it's a private pet name." Rory's emotions were in a different place as she felt an anger in her rising that quickly began to meet her venom for Sharon.

"Beth...I'm Lorelai Leigh Gilmore. 'Rory' for short." She rattled off her inspiration quickly. "My mom named me for herself in a fit of Demerol, incredibly kick-ass feminism, a need to rebel and a volley of ice cubes she tossed at nurses in the delivery room. She soon realized that she may have been a little hasty on her name decision, but thus, that's my name. But nobody except for her, her friend Sookie, my grandparents and the department of motor vehicles know me by that name. They know me by Rory, and that's it. Even Paris thinks it feels weird to call me Lorelai."

Rory approached Beth, her ovaries seeming to suddenly be hard as rock. "Dean asked me once if he could call me Lorelai. I told him 'absolutely not'. Not even in a teasing way. The name was off limits. As I told Paris in a bit of a fog once when she was getting me ired..." She brought the next sentence in a hard flourish, "...the name, is Rory. That's it. That's all he was allowed to call me. And what you're saying is, since he came to this town in September 2000, he's never once used the name 'Rory' to talk about me. Not even a slip of the tongue?"

"Not...once--" Rory stopped her cold. She was all worked up.

"He says he loves me. He fucking loves me. Yet he has the gall and complete disrespect to try to hide my motherfucking existence from you outside of 'Lorelai'?! Did he show you a picture of me?"

"No--" Beth was winded, thinking she was being attacked. I gave her a look that said 'let her work through this'.

"Wow. Not even a picture. I was just good ol' blank slate 'Lorelai'. No name. No description. Just 'that girl in Stars Hollow'. He gives me two years of his life, gets me back in the driveway of Chilton moments after I gave up on friendship with Paris in sophomore year because I'm an idiot. I let him sweep me into his arms and kiss me to the point Ms. Peters told me to take it off school grounds. He made me watch the Lord of the Rings more times than Peter Jackson did in post-production, to the point even a mention of that series makes me feel physically ill. He kicked the ass of my mom's friend's nephew to 'defend my honor', he made me go through a shitty Donna Reed cosplay thing because he's apparently Rob Becker and thinks he has to defend the caveman against that scary unknown that's feminism! And I gave him a handjob after my first big dance date, and despite that, he cries your name!"

"Rory!" OK, I didn't expect her to go that far.

"What the hell--"

"And I was with him until November, despite the fact I knew he was pressuring you into cybersex against your will, because he was too chickenshit to say to me 'we should break up, I still love Beth'. I spent nine months in a personal hell where instead of pushing to be with my girlfriend, I was still under this amazing delusion that he loved me. That I was his one and only. That he never thought of you any longer. Yet still, the moment he's confronted with the reality that his girlfriend is actually attracted to women, he sees fit to grab her girlfriend's tender fucking wrist in a checkout line and tell her she was dead, two mere days after her mother outed her in a way so violent she almost died. He wanted to kill Paris, Beth. He was at that step, and if not for a broomstick and a tackle, he might have done it because he wanted it both ways."

Her anger was at full force; she wasn't even caring about what the effects were. "He wanted both of us. He wanted to delude us both into thinking we were his one and only love, but the moment he got to Chicago, he told you he was single. He wanted long-distance. That 'Lorelai? Oh, she broke up with me for some 'punk' in a leather jacket'. But he was still with me. Completely. My heart was completely torn, deeply wanting of Paris. I found out in Washington away from him that I loved her. That I felt much more for her than I ever did Dean. It was physically hurting me to know that she was in the bed next to me and she would welcome me into it with open arms. But still, I did not cheat. I refused to make a move until I was ready and sure that I couldn't stop myself any longer. Even when I found out about you and him on AIM, I didn't say a word, because you don't do that! And now...you hate me. You fucking hate me so much that you want to bruise my face, pummel me for being the Stars Hollow ex and kept you deluded for two months!"

Rory continued to pace the room. I couldn't believe she was just laying it all out. "I love your cousin, Beth. With everything I have. It hurts to know that I caused those bruises. That her mom tried to kill her because of me. I just want Paris to be happy, and now we're in some fucked-up love triangle I want no part of where Dean has been a boyfriend to the both of us. And I'm sure he's treated you just fine, he's never mocked you for your academics, for wanting to pursue extra-curriculars, for...being who I am. Smart. Passionate. Open to learn. He's mocked me non-stop for it and he's never laid a hand on me, but it's all emotional abuse. Harassing phone calls. Hate of other men. And now, assaulting Paris."

She approached Beth. "So go ahead. Tell me to 'fuck off'. Tell me I'm beneath the love of your wonderful and witty cousin. That you're glad Dean tried to rip my shirt off when I tried to defend Par from his wrist grab and that I'm a massive bitch who deluded Paris into loving her. Go ahead. I'm Rory Gilmore, and I hope you know that name because I have hated since I found out that he was with you while he was with me, because you deserve better. I wanted to tell you when I found out, but you would have been pissed and I--"

It was then that Beth finally caught her breath. With Rory sucking all of the oxygen from the room, it was time for her to respond. She quickly held up her hand, getting up. I could see the fire in those brown eyes of Beth's as I knew the fireworks were going down.

I prayed that I wouldn't be breaking up a fight as she spoke.

"Well you're right. You are so right, Rory. I am pissed. Burning like hell." She returned fire with words I had never heard from her before. "I don't know you. I have no idea about why you and Paris love each other. I also have no damned idea why you're yelling at me like this--"

"Because I need you to see!"

"See what?"

"What Dean has done."

"Rory, let me finish, damn it!"

"But you're just going to tell me that--"

"I hate you? For telling me why my blood sister of a cousin is limping around and favoring her wrist? Because it was from a man I thought I loved?" She moved face to face with Rory. I did get up then, wanting to avoid confrontation.

"Girls, let's not--" Beth lightly pushed me back down.

"Sit, Par. You need to sit." They faced each other, standing, full tension in their veins and crossed arms. "So what you're saying is that since he left my school in September 2000, you were dating him. He treated you like shit. And he was double-dipping between the both of us?"

"Yeah, that's what I'm saying!"

"And you read an AIM chat where I was doing anything to stop his sad attempts at getting me naked?"

"Yeah?"

"And when he found out you were seeing another woman. That you were seeing Paris. My cousin. He physically harmed her and almost exacerbated her injuries?"

"Yes!"

She looked towards me. I again showed off the wrist splint. She faced back towards Rory, and I was scared they were about to attack each other.

"He was still in love with you when he was back in Winnetka and Kenilworth this summer?"

"According to his letters, yup. We still dated until November."

It was then for a long minute, a period of silence developed. They stared each other down, determining their motives. I was still shaken from Rory's spilling, and I knew we'd be dealing with the effects of this confession through the break, and beyond. I sat there, Beth and Rory, two important young women in my life. Hoping to hell they weren't going to be physically fighting with each other. I took deep, calming breaths, more for my sake than anyone else's.

The minute passed. Then a second. Then a third.

Finally, it was Beth who made the move. I eyed them nervously, ready to interfere with an open hand.

The words left Beth's mouth, with that full Chicago accent she hid most of the time putting hard emphasis on each syllable.

"That. Fucking. Cheat!!" She tossed the bill she held onto the table, hard. Her entire being was enflamed. "Wow, I thought he had changed. He promised he did. Still with you until you broke up with him, never had your last name and fucking deluding me into this 'one day we'll marry, Beth' nonsense?!"

She closed her hand into a fist. "But that's nothing here. Nothing at all; I don't give a shit what he did." Her eyes darted towards me. "He tried to break your wrist?"

"He...did."  My thumbs went along my hands to circle and stop a panic attack.

"And you saw this?" Rory nodded.

"Did you file charges?"

"Well, I didn't. I have enough going on with Sharon and that's so much to tell. But there's something else, and I can't say anything--"

"He was stealing from his workplace, Beth." Rory had to let her know. "I found out from my mom's friend who runs the diner today. He's got theft charges and--"

"Just like his three months at Lakeside Foods. Unbelievable." She was shaking her head, holding up her hand. "Rory, sit. Before I get to explain to my parents that I'm about to spend two weeks finding something else to do with my winter break, obviously we've been snowed by this asshole and we've got some things to hash out."

My eyes widened; mentioning three months at what I think was a local Winnteka grocery wasn't going to end well. Rory sat next to me, tentatively and a bit scared of Beth, understandably. The both of us were nervous about what she was about to tell us.

I shared a look with Rory, hoping this would be nothing.

Oh, how wrong we would be...


Beth's POV

When I got off the bus today, I had no idea what was in store for the next hour or two. Nothing in my life could have prepared me to see my cousin again, looking every bit as mature and amazing as I imagined her to be from 1,000 miles away. I expected to be whisked off my Dean to their house, never to see my cousin but for a bit of luck.

Instead, we were now preparing a break-up plan.

In public. Because Rory and I know how he can be. If I was pissed as she told us all that went down through the summer and up until her and Rory finally realized what they had, I knew I needed someone to see me break up with Dean.

Not for the safety of Rory and Paris. Nor my own safety.

Dean was done. He had snowed and ghosted a woman for the last time. This was beyond the last straw and now, a holiday trip was likely ruined. I was burning hot, angered and I was going to take him down like I was Brian Urlacher jumping the O-line and making Favre woozy as he ate a good serving of the Frozen Tundra at Lambeau.

Rory had gotten me angry, yes. But I held zero hate for her. She was just stating the facts, knowing that if she tried to IM me when she was aware I was back with him long-distance, I would have thought Dean was hacked. Or if she tried to contact me, I would have played jealous girlfriend and told her off.

Thankfully, I had never been physical with him. I never had felt up to the challenge and there were so many things wrong with what he wanted. I asked Rory to get me a Diet Coke in order to keep my throat from drying out, and for calming time with Paris. I told her I needed a couple minutes alone with my cousin, and she was happy to give us this time.

I turned to Paris, who seemed to be in better spirits than she ever has. She was going through all of this, going through all of these changes with so much grace. I had heard a few things since we last saw each other, especially about her mother, but I know Uncle Harry is scared of talking about her. We heard about the divorce from other Hartford relatives, that it sapped his energy and Paris was fighting like hell to keep our family whole while the Martinez-DeBartolos side was being complete leeches.

It was so wrought that we were about at O'Hare to go to Nanna Gellar's funeral two years ago, when he said we shouldn't come out. Sharon and her divorce attorney had made everything so heightened according to him, they decided on the smallest funeral possible so that they could get on with shiva, because that attorney refused the simple delay of the divorce proceedings after the new year.

I wish I was kidding; Sharon Gellar (fuck calling her 'aunt', she's never been that) is so self-centered, she refused to allow Harry to mourn his mother's death with his entire family. That was unforgivable.

Facing Paris, I knew we had to turn things down. Rory had been emotional and passionate. But I can't say that I blamed her a moment. If you see that your ex is doing hinky things, you'd react the same way too. Both of us calmed as we heard Rory close her door, presumably doing something else to give both Paris and I some time alone.

"So..." I stared out. "This is all happening."

She nodded, not looking at me. "You...you must think I'm a disappointment. I never meant for things to get this complicated. Or for you to be here and that you'd be...that Beth." She curled up on the couch to get more comfortable. "Rory told me all of this over the last few weeks and she had no idea, no reference that you were her."

"We're seeing that now." I sighed, looking around the room and the calming décor. "Oy vey, P. The fates would have never predicted this happening. You do have a passionate girlfriend though. I'll give you that."

"She's usually a lot more calm and friendly. But you got her at one of those points where I picked on her and got her pissed off." She stretched out. "She missed the bell once for a test and was late because, and yes, this is 100% true, a deer hit her stationary Jeep at an intersection. Came at it, antlers and all. I mocked her and called her a 'loser' for doing so and, oh boy, she let it all out at me, called me on my bullshit. And for bonus points, Tristan called her 'Mary' because she..." a laugh. "Well, she used to be pious and virtuous, completely innocent. She left the classroom and told him, 'by the way, the name, is RORY!' It about chilled my heart still and you saw that rare side of her. I completely assure you though, she would never raise a fist to me. And I'm done with the bullying. Completely."

I looked towards the room, and back towards her. "She unloaded a lot on me."

"She did." I hummed and brought myself back towards the topic.

"But once she mentioned Dean and your wrist..." I moved close, showing deep concern. "Paris, it's not okay. It never is okay for anyone to do that and the reason I say that is..." I summoned up all of my courage. "He's done it to me, too. Too many times."

She was surprised by my confession "But you just said--"

"That he wasn't physical? Not in the classic 'I have bruises and black eyes' kind of way." I had never pictured myself on the first day of a vacation having to confess what went on with my boyfriend. "He is emotionally abusive. I was able to push all that aside since June because he had been doing better in Winnetka with his family back. We re-connected and he had apologized for so many things, including how he left me all the sudden two weeks into the new school year. Talking about all this forgiveness, that he's changed, he understands the female viewpoint more...and he used those words." I blew out a long puff of air. "But since we went long-distance....I guess Rory hinted in that small chat what he did."

"So it is true then?"

"Hmm?"

She closed her eyes. "He sent you aggressive images. Including of...certain things?"

I was knocked back, not wanting to be reminded of that. But it was there.

"I told him to knock it the fuck off. I was looking over my shoulder constantly chatting with him, hopeful he didn't decide to send a pic from his webcam at that moment. I've quickly learned Windows shortcuts to delete that garbage and those chat logs. But there was much more than that. Rory was naturally tuned to see the worst in those transcripts, and I can't blame her."

My throat tightened, knowing tough truths were ahead. "This can't leave this room. Uncle Harry and my parents can't know, for now. I'll tell them, in time."

I paused. Not even my closest friends back home knew any of this. But Paris, like I said before aloud, was my blood sister. Circumstance and evil had broken that apart, but now it was back, full force.

"I told you about Marc. He's been my bestie--"

"Since you were eight." She smiled. "C'mon, I can't forget the kid. He took me to level 42 in Nintendo Tetris and beat me. I was exhausted after that game, and he was a sneaky little cheat at Mario Kart with Toad. I liked him and his encouragement of my trash talking."

"He's still like that; still very insufferable about his Pokemon skills." We laugh, and I know that Marc would love her for sure. "But like I said...I don't even know what to say about this. And now with you out, it feels a little more like I must cut ranks with him."

I seethed, describing what went on through this summer, into the fall. "We went to Chicago and had a spot for the fireworks on the 3rd of July. Marc came with me because he loves being in downtown. He's already got his dream ready to go; he's going to UIC to major in architecture with a focus on interior design and when he's done he'll be apprenticing with the best. He loves designing things, and he designed his entire bedroom around a unique and bright theme. So you know him; fireworks and skyscrapers. Beautiful. So I invited him. But it went against Dean's wishes because 'he was another guy'. Why did I hang out with him, he asked. Does he love you? So I told him, thinking it wasn't a big deal; he's gay. He has no romantic interest in me. There's nothing to be threatened about. You know how he responded to that?"

I had to look down. I couldn't stand to see Paris's eyes constrict as I told her. "Great, now I get to deal with a faggot wanting to fuck me." She gasped. "Yeah, great, right? So I strongly told him that he wouldn't be Marc's type anyways, and he was coming because he was my friend. He eventually relented after a small fight and I allowed him with me, but kept his distance from Marc like he was a leper."

This was the part that always got to me. "So our family gets our spot. Lays out the blanket, a wonderful dinner of kosher brats and burgers, small little Weber up and my sister Allison and brother Ozzie running around, having fun."

"Ozzie?" Paris knew about Ally, but not Ozzie, which didn't surprise me.

"He's three, adorable and my mom allowed Dad to name him, which she now jokingly considers 'her worst mistake'." I laughed, quickly explaining that he was named for White Sox legend Ozzie Guillen.

"Who am I to judge? I'm the type who would call a kid 'Marty' after my favorite hockey player."

"Of course you would!" Back to the subject. "So all of us are having fun and Dean has his arm around me on the blanket, it's a wonderful night and the park is filling up. Marc found one of his other friends, Clint and they're just talking among themselves about whatever. Marc then comes over to talk to me about the Cubs. Much to my father's annoyance, but it was fun. But then, Dean seems to get tired of it and asks him to leave so we can talk. Marc really doesn't want to, and being who he is...he was appreciating Dean's handsomeness. So he commented about it, very innocently, a joke I had no intent on taking seriously. He said to him 'you know, if Beth ever finds someone else, I'd definitely consider you, buddy'. That's it."

"I wouldn't take offense at that either. Tristan got a couple of compliments from guys before and was flattered, said he was happy to be thought of as an 'Adonis'." Paris knew where Marc was coming from, smiling. But we both dreaded what was coming next; her for having to hear it, me for saying it.

"I felt Dean still against me. He let out this little growl and rose up all the sudden and asked Marc what the fuck he just said. My friend suddenly reeled back and said 'whoa, it was a joke'. But...Dean wasn't having it. He took offense to it and before I knew it, he tossed me off his lap and made a move for him. Marc backed up and then Dean..." I shook my head, still re-living the moment nearly everyday.

"He was aggressive and angry towards Marc. Moved in close. And then he said, 'Don't think of me at all, you fucking cocksucker!'." The words burned off my tongue. "He tried to move forward and Marc backed away, standing. He tried to get up, and I had to stop him. I glared at him and told him to knock it the hell off, and then he spent three minutes going on about his fragile male ego, that he didn't welcome the compliment, and he would never fuck a guy. He actually used the word. Then Marc was at least twenty feet away and he said, 'yeah, you get back in that closet!' My mother heard and was offended as hell. She wanted me to dump him right then and there. But I couldn't." Shaking my head as I knew Paris would ask why I was still with him, I knew an explanation was needed. "Marc took no offense and just stayed away with Dean, because his thinking is if they don't change, just don't bother with them at all. He has been encouraging me to leave him though."

I then told Paris about the late night calls where I was expected to pick up, no matter how much homework or other activities I had at school, and that if I didn't he would get angry when I eventually did call him. How when I even mentioned a male name he flew off the handle, even if it was a family member. How my parents wanted me to break up with him, but I stayed because I liked Clara too much and didn't want to lose her from my life, and I thought he would improve.

"I...I don't know why I keep staying with him. He left Chicago and I thought I'd never hear from him again, but we struck it up through chat and then his dad needed to do stuff for the CNA home office in Chicago, thus the summer break. Dean had built a tower of lies for so long, but..." Rory came back out from the kitchen with a Diet Coke for me, which I took thankfully for a pause and a sip. She sat down across from us, having eavesdropped on the latter part of the Marc conversation.

I couldn't believe I was about to say this. What Rory had told me had burst a bubble of delusion for me, of all of my doubts about my boyfriend and his loyalty to me. But with his attempt to harm Paris, it was burst. I could not go on any longer with this man. His issues had built up in Winnetka, and apparently never improved in Stars Hollow.

"Rory, you said he transferred to your old school in mid-September, right?"

She nodded. "I found the timing weird; I went into Chilton around the same time but that was because they had to dot the i's and t's on my admission, along with how I'd be funded to get in."

I shook my head. "So obviously what I'm thinking now is that he got rejected from all the private schools in Hartford. Their processes and background checks worked, but your public school's didn't."

"SHHS is crappy at that. Why do you ask?"

This was going to make her even angrier, but I pushed through. "He was quickly rising through the ranks of the LFA hockey team. WCHA schools including Wisconsin, Minnesota, North Dakota and Denver were recruiting him for his skills; obviously I was drawn to him as an athlete. But towards the end of freshman year, he fell into a crowd that wasn't the best. Kind of like the sad sacks you would see in Ordinary People, but even more insufferable. His parents began to question his grades and such, and he was able to snow them for awhile. But he kept hanging out with them despite how terrible they were. I wouldn't even hang out with these washouts and I did my best to avoid them, but sometimes it was inevitable.

"So he comes back to school at the end of August. The school had just updated their athletic code to allow for random drug and alcohol screenings and I had read that doc, left to right, and it was pretty damned specific that it would be a 24/7/365 thing because Lake Forest Academy is a private school and can do whatever the hell it wants. I wasn't putting my eligibility for basketball in jeopardy and I reminded Dean this was coming when I first read the new code in July. I thought he had known. Come the fourth day of school, guess who gets the call to pee in a cup?"

Paris and Rory nodded, and Rory spoke up. "I was in freakin' varsity golf my sophomore year. I got drug testing and knew I couldn't skip it." Paris then mentioned her obligatory freshman tennis season where she also had mandatory drug testing.

"See?" I shook my head. "He gets the call, and does the test. Within two days the call comes back, and his test? Positive for marijuana and a banned anabolic steroid, along with a small amount of meth." Rory gasped in surprise. "But he wouldn't have been thrown out of school, just lost his eligibility for athletics and a week's in-school suspension. That's it. Then, his coach called him into a meeting to tell him this news. Anyone else would have just been apologetic and sorry about it."

Here came the tough part. "But not Dean. Not at all. He reacted in anger to the news about losing his sophomore year of hockey. From what I heard from another team member there was cursing and screaming in the locker room. Then, a confrontation. One which ended with the hockey coach's head bashed into a concrete wall. And blood."

"Oh my God!" I could tell Rory was flinching. I hated this.

"He had a concussion that forced him to go on medical leave until the first quarter of the season was over. Dean's reaction hurt the hockey team incredibly. There was no choice for our head of school; Dean's grades were right on the edge anyways and his freshman year had been filled with several fights in practice with teammates. If Dean wasn't expelled the coach would have probably been pissed to see him still in school."

"But, you said something about him stealing from another employer too," Paris said, reminding me of what had been brought up before. I tied it in.

"Yeah. He stole money from Lakeside. About $5,000 over that summer as a bagboy and cashier to pay off his dealers. That popped up just as the failed drug test did. And trust me, I was pissed. I wanted nothing to do with him after that point at all." I shook my head furiously. "But his dad is a bigwig at CNA; he just paid off the market triple what he stole to make the charges go away and was about to do the same with Lake Forest Academy to keep Dean in school. But they don't play that bribe game. Instead, LFA sent off a release to the other schools in Chicago about what had happened with the coach. The preps department at the Sun-Times picked it up with their suburban papers, not naming Dean publicly of course, because he was a juvenile. But you connect the dots and look at LFA’s roster and his name off it, you didn't have to say a word. Needless to say, Dean wasn't ever getting on the ice for a high school in Northern Illinois ever again, and the public schools sure the fuck weren't dealing with a violent kid who just got expelled for a dirty drug test. He could only go to school without pursuing sports, and his grades sucked."

"So Hartford is Insurancetown," Rory rationalized. "We have an equal climate and passion for hockey as Chicago does. Let me guess, his dad got a position here?"

"A favor was called in; his wife was pissed and thought Dean should take the punishment at home and had time in juvenile hall, but we live in Cook County; sending him to juvi there? White boy from a rich town; oh dear, Mr. Forrester couldn't have those mean inner city boys anywhere near his precious white son!" I faked shock. "So he finagled his way into a position in CNA's Hartford office, and called in a lawyer friend of his from there in order to muddle some records, some heartless idiot named Straub Hayden. The private schools here have their own investigative teams and quickly rejected Dean. Obviously, Stars Hollow didn't, got that lousy lawyer's fake intel and within only a few days, Dean was saying goodbye to me and moving to Stars Hollow, scot free and able to suit up thanks to the CIAC and your town's school ignoring all the evidence against him. I was glad to be rid of him at the time, but eventually with 900 miles and a year and a half between us, he was able to lure me back in with talk of reform and such."

I saw Rory's eyes widen as I spoke, especially when I mentioned Mr. Forrester's friend. "I'm...guessing you know him?"

"Unfortunately. I share half my genes with that asshole." She spoke as if she was bitter. "He's my so-called 'paternal grandfather' because him and his wife were embarrassed by my conception and regard me as a complete error who should have never existed."

I reeled back. "So basically your dick of a paternal grandfather brought us into all of this in the first place?"

"Obviously."

"Shit! Shit, shit, shit!" I stomped my foot on the floor. "Paris--"

"You don't want to hear how I feel about the Haydens, honestly. A black hole is the best place for them."

"Good answer." I sat down. "And the guy's specialty is maritime law, what the hell is he doing getting involved with a high school hockey player?"

"Who knows?" Rory spat out. "Just another reason to hate that clod." She looked at me. "And you stayed with him because of that past love, of wanting to reform him?"

"I did. I'm a right idiot for doing so. God, I really thought he had improved and was getting everything in order. He was only screwing up even more lives instead." I huffed. "And the worst thing? Poor Clara had to abandon her friends in Winnetka for the stupidity of her brother. They still ask me when she's coming back and I have to tell them that she has her own life in Connecticut now and they hate that; Clara at least had a happy summer being able to see her friends again. I hate that too. I remember the day the Forresters left and poor Clara, she was in tears because she had started fourth grade and only a few days in, she was off to some small town she never heard of in a state she hardly knew. That's the worst part of this all."

Rory shook her head. "I know. I've been with her and she doesn't make friends easily here, and her parents think of her as a red-headed stepchild."

The emotion was too much for me as Rory told me she cared for Clara. "Dean's father calls her 'the accident'. He tries to put a happy little laugh on it like 'we didn't expect her' no matter what Mrs. Forrester thinks, but he only wanted one child. When Dean and I were together, he treated her like crap and said she was annoying when she was just excited. You know that, right?"

"Definitely. She was a bit of a pain, but definitely not 'I'll break up with him because of his annoying sister'. I'm an only child and I can never understand how she feels." Paris, Rory and I looked at each other. "So all of this happened because he blew his hockey skills on getting in with an idiotic crowd."

"They were terrible people. Misogynistic. Obsessed with drugs. I'm just glad I never got involved with them. And he talked about a new bunch of idiots he hangs out with in this town. He doesn't describe them much, but--"

"Yeah, I'm sure he's smoking again. I had never been anywhere near drugs until I was around him. His friend Todd asked me if I wanted to smoke once and...now I know that I wasn't crazy when I tasted something odd on my tongue when we kissed." She looked ashen, pale, and I knew this was just as revealing as everything she told me. "He told me he didn't do drugs, but that explains the rage he has."

"And the strength in his arms." Paris shuddered, now knowing where that anger came from. "Tristan has grasped my arm a couple times for silly strength testing stuff, but I've never felt the pressure on my wrist Dean applied Monday night. It wasn't normal, at all. Like when Sharon goes for my wrist." Paris looked away from me as she described the situation. "And honestly when she went for Rory's shirt, I thought...I didn't want to say it, but I thought he was going--ugggh, I can't say it."

"In public?"

"He did." Rory took a deep breath, her arms wrapped together in front of her to bring us off that track and towards another observation. "I should also say, Jess's girlfriend, Shane, watched a hockey practice last month. One of the left-wingers on the team was trash-talking Dean and he took him into the boards. He ended up coughing blood onto the ice; he pierced a lung." I gasped with a hand to my mouth, taken aback. "It wasn't the coach who kicked him off the team, though. The rest of the team heard about us on Monday night and remembered an incident the ref hadn't ‘seen’ in a match against Pomperaug where he slashed another player with his stick and when the player appealed to the ref for a penalty, he took him to the ice. The other player lost his front teeth and the ref and coach looked the other way because they were buddies, and Pomperaug played the remainder of the match under protest. But Dean always played ugly; I stopped going to his matches after awhile when it was clear he wasn't playing hockey in the way Paris described to me was the right way. They voted to throw him off the team against that bastard coach's wishes, for their own safety."

The three of us digested this information, shocked we had let him off as much as we did. It takes a lot to get thrown off a hockey team, and Dean managing to get thrown off two of them for being violent to coaches, teammates and competitors? What the fuck had I ever seen in this guy? And even more, after he attacked my cousin for merely existing because she became Rory's girlfriend?

"God, we're not even close to talking about Sharon, and I'm petrified to catch up on that seven years of mess," I surmised. The three of us talked a little more, and I shared more of what had scared me about Dean, including his glee about violent films and blood, along with the many incidents of homophobia back home. Rory told me a few more, including the run-ins Dean had with this Jess guy and how she was scared to even tell Dean about a kiss she thought nothing of because her love of Paris had grown past the point of no return.

My cousin's heart was open to this young woman, and I understood why. She spoke intelligently, laid out all the facts and went over their history together as if she was a biographer knowing all of what Paris had told her about her. There is no doubt in my mind that these girls are deeply in love, and they'll fight to stay together.

But it also was clear that I'd have to take up arms with them to fend off Dean. I was fearful about what he'd do when I told him it was over. The great thing about the first breakup was that we had zero time to plan and rebel against everything and even with all he did wrong, my heart would have definitely overpowered my mind.

There were those incidents where he was physical though. Of small hidden bruises on my arms, of makeout sessions that almost hit that non-consensual point and I had to wrench out of his grasp. So many things I never told anyone else. I couldn't even tell these girls of all the rough times Dean and I went through, and of how I'm glad he's not discovered text messaging yet.

I'm scared for all three of us. This is going to be a situation none of us has prepared for. All thoughts of spending a wonderful holiday with Dean are over. Now it's about the protection of myself, and making sure he knows that attacking Paris is an attack on every single Gellar and Willke.

"Beth?" Rory called for my attention. "You...you don't want Dean to pick you up here, right?"

I shook my head, the thought of kissing the asshole making me retch and convulse, along with his parents being complacent in it all. "Maybe I can avoid his calls until after Christmas?" I snarked.

"Not going to happen." Paris and Rory glanced at each other, with Paris asking Rory the important question. "Lorelai's at the Inn all night?"

"Yeah, lots of stuff going on tonight."

Paris thought for a moment, and quickly figured out what to do. "You think she would allow us to sit in the lobby? We would have to explain the circumstances."

Nodding, Rory knew it wasn't going to be a problem. "I wouldn't see why not. It's public and they're fully staffed on bellhops. And Michel too."

"He'd think we were loitering though."

"As I said, we talk to Mom and the Forresters have to come in and...Beth, you were staying with Dean, right?"

"Yes. Eventually, in his bedroom. Sooo not happening now." I rolled my eyes as Rory consulted with my cousin.

"Paris, we need to call your dad. He knew Beth was coming and I'm sure..."

I wondered what they were up to. "You're finding alternate arrangements for me?"

Paris nodded. "You're already out here and we have a lot of time to catch up on. Let's turn this trip around." She smiled at me. "That is, if you're okay with it."

"I trust you," I responded, fully trusting of my cousin and her girlfriend's planning. "You girls know this place more than I do."

"You call your parents. I'll take care of Daddy." Paris got out her cell phone, while Rory pulled out the cordless from underneath her cushion and began to make a call to her mother as I watched them work on their plans...

RIIIIIING! RIIIING!

Oh, you have to be fucking kidding me! 4:35 p.m. now. Two and a half hours after I first stepped off the Peter Pan bus. Lookie who's on the phone finally. I glance at my phone caller ID.

"It's him." I look at both of them, expecting me to pick up the phone and make up something.

Instead, my hand hovered to the left, over the red button, and clicked it without a flourish. I smile at the both of them.

"Hos before bros." I put the phone back into my hoodie pocket and they go back to calling. I knew I was in no mood to talk to him, and I wanted him to feel what it was like to keep me in the cold for so long.

Thank goodness it wasn't the actual cold. But after this, I know one part of his anatomy that's going to go cold and turn blue, and laugh at the thought.

I barely know Rory, but I know already that Paris is in good hands, and with the help of Uncle Harry and Rory's mother, Dean is just about doomed here...


Rory's POV

I wasn't ready for this about three hours before. But I sure was now. I was ready to get this done and say good riddance to this jerk once and for all. I hated that my first night of vacation with Paris was going to be spent this way, but here we were.

This was probably going to not be fun, and I was ready for something to happen to me, Paris or Beth. But here we were, three girls ready to take a bastard on and turn his games completely around on him. I wasn't going to go down without a fight.

As I talked to Mom, I was angry and fuming at the ways he mistreated Beth. That she was under the same kind of verbal abuse I had been for the last two years, and the same types of pressure to be sexual on his terms. It was enough for me.

"So he used my name to hide your identity so that if she ever found out about you, she would think I was you?" Mom scoffed. "Which cockamamie Lifetime bigamy film did he come up with this plan from?"

"One where apparently he thought he could get away with palming you off as his girlfriend?"

"First of all, Mary Kay LeTourneau is not how I roll, kid. Remember, the guy in the South Park shirt?"

"My new daddy would have been only seven years older!"

"Your new daddy also made me feel like a cradle-robber! Ugggh, and he's not a fun Slap Shot hockey player either, but the kind that gets into 20 minute fights."

"You warned me; don't get involved with a hockey player. I cede to your advice now, Mother!" I looked at Paris talking with her father, and Beth reading US Weekly, looking up to track our conversations. "I know you don't see yourself as Mills Lane here, but we go anywhere else and a trash talk show breaks out, and I really don't want that in the town square."

"Oh gosh, I want it confined! The lobby is a neutral meeting place and honestly? I can get her a room. Mia is here--"

"You didn't tell me that!" My heart caught. "I love Mia but...another coming out. And she might be disappointed."

"Not likely. I doubt she'd be mean to you at all. She still sees you as a kid but she also knows that you're an adult now. You'll be fine." A sigh. "So Beth. Does she look like Paris?"

"She has her eyes and her cheeks, but most of her genes seem to be from her mom. Kind of...if they made the Gossip Girl books into a TV show, she'd be a great Blair, is how I'd describe her look." I whispered in Beth's direction. "Sorry, my mom is a nosy one!"

Beth shrugged. "It's fine, you have to describe me over the phone somehow. And we need to talk about those books!" I laughed and went back to the call.

"She's also just as passionate and Jewish as Paris. Chip right off the old block." Both of them rolled their eyes at me and I shook my head with a smirk as I talked to Mom more.

"And he's left her out to dry for three hours. Without an address. Some boyfriend!"

"I don't even know. And she's got a call waiting for--crap, her phone's ringing again. That's try number six in the last four minutes."

"Hopefully he's in an apologetic mood."

"Knowing him he thinks that Kirk has swept her off her feet and they'll marry later tonight."

"Y'know, that might not be a bad idea. She could be his new ingénue for A New Film by Kirk! It could be about the love he feels for a newcomer to town, but the angst he feels for the unfamiliar!"

"Mom, this is Paris's cousin! Do we really want to scare her out of town? With Kirk?!"

"One of us...one of us..."

"Just be ready in a half-hour, we'll be in the Jeep because she has luggage." Beth was laughing, her eyes wrinkling, and I could tell she seemed to have a bit of interest in this 'mysterious man'. "Great, she's going to want to meet Kirk now!"

"He always pops in at the oddest times, though he's still recovering from Sharon on Monday night."

"Still can't believe he tried to take her on. Poor guy."

"At least he tried his best. Even if his best was easily taken out with a weighted purse."

"Hey, Harold's about to call your mom!" Paris shouted, her head popping out from what I assumed was the sewing room. "He'll put her up for the two weeks, full freight."

"You're kidding!" I knew that an Inn room, over the holidays, was hardly cheap. "You heard that?"

"Oh yeah, I've been putting the reservation basics in while we've been on the phone. I'll talk to Harry and we'll get Beth squared away completely. She'll be safe here, I promise. She's got an upstairs room right next to the staircase."

"Mom...you don't have to do this," I said. "Honestly I'm sure Beth would be OK--"

"Mia offered me a sanctuary when my life was falling apart, kiddo. She's not the type to turn away someone who's been dealing with this crap like you have. Tell her not to worry, please?"

"Mm-hmm." I sighed deeply, feeling relieved that at least this would come together. "I know I don't usually do this--"

"You have all the time. You're the friend people count on, and you're doing your due for Paris and Beth. It's not the best, but you always stick it out for those you love." I heard Mom get emotional. "You could have just played dumb with Beth and let her go into the unknown with Dean and told Paris to go along with it. But you didn't, because you give a damn. I wish I had as much courage as you did when I left for the Hollow without letting Grandma and Grandpa know."

"Mom." I felt the need to cry. This was so much to take in and realize about myself, that I was going into danger, knowing what I was facing. "I have so much courage, but there's times I feel like I'm failing."

"You push through then. It'll all work out. You're a Gilmore. And you're with a Gellar. Our families are damned strong and one day, you'll be the matriarch of both families and your kids and grandkids will look back on this and think, 'man, Nana Paris and Gramma Rory are badasses'."

"Moooommmmm..." I didn't like to think of the future yet. Even with Paris. But I still cried. "God, I'm crying here!"

"Go on and get the girls ready. I'll have Sookie get a great dinner going and we'll all be OK. Love you, kid."

"Love you too, mom. Bye." I hung up the phone, feeling a bit more relieved about what was coming up. Paris hung up with her father and came over my way.

"It's set then. We'll be going to the Independence and you've got a room there until you have to leave, if your parents approve. And they better. I'm not ready to see you leave yet." She took in the sight around her of me standing and Beth still sitting, nervously wondering what to do as far as Dean.

"I'll be glad to stay, honestly. It'll be better to catch up with the family around here, even if it's just you, Harold and your nanny. She's still with you, right?"

"Oh, yes, loyal as ever. I'll have to tell you what she did last week, but the Sharon conversation...that's something for tomorrow or Sunday, sadly."

Beth knew Paris's feelings on her mother deeply and brought her in for a hug. "It's okay. Whenever you want to talk about it. I'm just glad she can't harm you for now." Paris gladly accepted the hug as I surveyed the luggage situation and began to bring the bags out to the Jeep. I left them alone for awhile as I packed the back of the vehicle for the short trip to the Inn, wondering what was going to happen when Dean got there. I knew I would have to hide with Paris while whatever Beth had planned to confront him went forward, but I felt uneasy.

It wasn't like Dean to just not pick up the phone. There had to be some reason he wasn't receptive to her messages. Or why he wasn't there at 2 o'clock. I didn't know what it could be, but it wasn't any of my business. The only priority now was to get Beth safe and sound at the Inn, and make sure that he wouldn't sweet-talk her into heading to his house with him. My heart ached for her and when I blew through with the rant as I unfurled everything earlier, I did feel unhinged, and out of it. I wasn't feeling like my regular self.

But at the same time, it was a massive relief to just let most everything out. To state that staying with him wasn't the best for her at all. And I hated to know that what he did here was just history repeating itself.

There was something else though. The mention of Straub had shaken me. That I was hearing his name in concert with Mr. Forrester getting a transfer from Chicago to Hartford was a massive shock to me. I know it was probably coincidence, and that jerk probably thinks nothing of me at all. But without Dean's troubles at Lake Forest, what would my life have been? Would I have put up that resistance to going to Chilton in the first place because he wasn't at Stars Hollow High? Would I have taken differently on that first day at Chilton?

And maybe, I would have regarded Paris differently in that scenario. Instead of coming in surprised that a guy was interested in me...would I have been caught by her immediately? Taken that anger she had over competition, along with the lust and tried to act on it rather than stretch it out like we did?

That dance too, would have been a lot different. I would have probably accepted Tristan's ask-out out of Grandma's need for me to have someone there, and that girl he took would be on the sidelines, and Paris...

I could have ruined it all. Oh God.

Maybe I did have to date Dean to figure out who I was really in love with. I threw the bags in the back of the Jeep as Paris came out, curious. She crutched her way to the swinging bench on the porch and plopped down.

"She's taking Dean's call alone," she said, as I came over and sit next to her. "Best not to hear either of us and he's thrown off." I sat down and placed a kiss right on her cheek without prompting. She noticed my worries immediately, shaking her head with that small smile. "What's on your mind, Gilmore?"

I shrugged. "Nothing much. Just thinking about what-might-have-been's. The past...without Dean."

"Basically if he kept his crap together, we'd be together sooner and he'd still be in the Windy City?" I nodded. "You want to chat a bit about it?"

"I don't know. I feel odd because we know these things never came true, and they can't now. We're past the point of that, so far now." I moved closer as she circled the small of my back, beneath my woolen coat. "Like...I always picture what could have been if after I broke the moat and either the teacher made you partner with me to fix it or gave you a full-on F without an incomplete, or you just accepted to get it done."

"Going right for that first day, are we?" With a click of her tongue, she dangled her legs. "I did it on my own anyways."

"But if you needed the help? Would we have gone to the Manor and without Dean there, found our calm center a lot earlier?"

"Hmmm, well, I have thought about it. And of course, corrupted it for the needs of my own pleasure." She winked at me, and I giggled and blushed, knowing I was very guilty of doing the same thing. "But you were in a different position then, Gilmore. You weren't assertive enough, and you hardly knew what to do with your hormones, much less how I reacted to you. I, of course, was still in full fixation mode with DuGrey. We were both unsure, I was scared shitless from Sharon and what she did with Louise. So I would say if we were there, Dean wasn't and I needed your help, we'd probably just have done the project, grumped about it and moved on. Sadly, time doesn't change that much from one direction to the other."

I bobbed my head, knowing despite the fantasy, the reality of what we were at the time likely would have won out. "You're probably right. Especially since I didn't even mention any guys that day, so nothing would have likely changed." I gave her something else to chew on. "But let's say that the Winter Formal went differently. Not with me accepting Tristan's proposition and either Dean afraid to ask me out or I refused. Also, Jacob unable to get your mother out of your 'I have a dateless daughter' bind."

"Well, there...I could see that much differently," she admitted. "Both of us going stag, grumbling about how boys suck and they won't go out with girls like us because we have brains, but not their FHM beauty ideal. You would've never been late after the dance and had your handy adventure on the mats at Patty's, and maybe we would have found some common ground."

"I know I wouldn't have gotten an eyeful of the girls that night in the alternate reality while you ranted at me." I glanced downward despite her not having cleavage to show. "That dress...man, I hated the color. But it flattered you beautifully."

"OK, you gave me two scenarios, what about a third?" Paris moved into my space. "Last day of school. You make crystal clear that the only thing you invited Tristan to do was go fuck himself, and I actually got it through my stubborn skull." A smile. "You admit you like me?"

"As in...I want to be with you?"

"Exactly,"

I thought for a moment about all that was going on that day, including the thought that I did want Paris, though I was still quite shy about it. I looked at everything and soon, knew what I would tell her.

"I still hold that for the night Sherrie was at our debate. In that one, we try to be friends over the summer. We're cooperative, forget Tristan wants us both..." I bit down on my lip. "And maybe I get to see you in a swimsuit or hitch on the back of your Ducati?"

"We still go with slow burn then. I think that's what we're finding with most of these." She looked down. "Except after-debate. That's still fine wine and sex afterwards, in all of them."

"All of them. I agree." I examined her lips. "Though with Jamie. I love that dress. I loved seeing you put it on, and the underwear you had with it."

"Even if I ruined said underwear as we both banged ourselves." There's that dorky little laugh again, I love it so much. "So we both agree. We needed a 'guy test' before we went for this."

"Unfortunately, we did. But it made things so much sweeter." I could feel her body heat, and smell her deeply. It was like all that we had done to fuel ourselves to help Beth confront what we went through had spiked our libidos in some way. "Par?"

"Hmm?"

"What time did you want to go to bed? Did you have anything specific you needed to do tomorrow?"

She shivered slightly. "Reorganize my floppy disk and the file system on my laptop."

I moved closer to her, edging up on the swing until our legs were together. "You're turned on by my anger, aren't you, hon?"

She gasped, deeply. "Ror, I--"

"I saw you. That same look you had when I was unloading on Francie Tuesday. Don't deny it."

"Sooo, you don't want me to reorganize my file system?" She averted her gaze slightly as she blushed. "It can be pushed off to next week?"

"Or when we get home I can return the favor from earlier." I whispered it into her ear, making it feel forbidden. "You ended the détente of teasing by taking me in my bedroom. It's all your fault."

"Is it, now? I blame Madeline taking in your complaints regarding your forgetting a bra today."

"Now it all makes sense." I tutted as I knew Madeline wasn't going to hold back that information. "Also? Still feeling it." I winced as I could still feel the nips and pressure her suckling left behind. Paris just smiled and let out a small sigh.

"Next time, wear a bra."

"Well, next time...uh, don't be so alluring?" I groaned. "Dammit, I can't excuse myself here, can I?""

"Not being done." She pecked my cheek with the both of us laughing. "You nervous?"

"About Dean?" I shuddered. "A little, now that I know what Beth went through. She seemed pretty fired up once I told her."

"It's completely in her nature, though. A girl bullied her in third grade for having an odd way of pronouncing her 'R' words and she didn't take it at all; there was actual blood shed. She put in five years of her life into this relationship. She's done the same with her chosen profession and the classes she's chosen, along with basketball. Dean should have never pitted you both against each other."

"He shouldn't have. And now he's got us both angry, and trying to beat you up? Fatal." I seethed. "I just hope Beth knows what she's doing."

"I don't worry about her, Gilmore," she assured. "I worry about Dean and his masculinity being blown to utter shit." She directed a hard glance my way. "He was doomed with just us two in town. Her as a permanent 'ex' now? The guy's done for."

"Wow." I wanted to think Paris was exaggerating, but the way Beth began going off on him, I knew it wasn't an exaggeration. "Are you saying I should get a bag of Jiffy Pop going and enjoy the entertainment?"

"Kramer vs. Kramer will have nothing on this breakup, I guarantee you." At that moment, Beth came out of the house, a little more relieved.

"Just talked to my dad and talked down my mom from speeding down the turnpikes and thruways to pick me up...tonight." She seemed relieved that no Gellar relative was wanting to set land-speed records across the Northeast. "Uncle Harry's calling them back to give them all the particulars, the number for the Inn, and where they can Western Union me in some spending cash since I won't be having the Forresters give me room and board until the new year."

"Did Aunt Hannah give you the eighth degree?" Paris asked.

"As always. But completely meant in love. And she told me she was glad that I was ending it with him because she just always got a creepy feeling about him."

"The 'stop checking out my mom' feeling?" I knew exactly what she was talking about. "He'd wander his eyes on my mom here and there and 'accidentally' walked in on her in the bathroom once. She cursed him out to the point I had to talk her down."

"Exactly that." Beth shuddered. "All my luggage is in the Jeep?"

"All of it is in there." I pointed at the vehicle. "You're sure you're up for a couple weeks of Stars Hollow?"

"If Paris can handle it, so can I." She looked at Paris, then me. "Rory, thank you for being straight and not bullshitting me. If I would have gone in and found out all that happened with you two secondhand, I would have been pissed. And probably stayed with him to spite you against every gut feeling I had."

"But you would have broke up with him eventually."

"Eventually. But not tonight. My heart would have fogged my mind." She batted away some hair in front of her face. "Along with the cold. Cold and a warm fire. I would have put that off for cold after sitting on my ass in the town square for three hours on a cold Connecticut night."

"Soooo, my offer to come to my house to warm up helped?"

"Very much." She opened her arms. "Come on, let's take down this idiot. Friends?" She smiled, and I knew that this would all work out. I looked at Paris to get her consent to hug her cousin, and with her nod, brought her in, happily.

"As you just said, hos before bros. No matter how un-feminist that sounds." We hugged and then broke apart, determined to see this night through. "Come on, let's get this over with!"

"Alright!" I got into the Jeep, thankful I had warmed it up beforehand, but not before getting in a little eavesdropping on Paris and Beth as they lingered for a moment in the driveway.

"Man, I can see why you switched teams, P. You gotta good one. And her ass--"

"Elizabeth Leslie Willke!" She shrieked. "Are you seriously complimenting my girlfriend?"

"I'm complimenting your choice in women! That's all. Too bad she doesn't have a sibling though, I wouldn't mind knowing them."

"Oh my God!" I laughed as Paris's cousin intentionally joked with her. "You need to stop or your mom--"

"Will know her niece has great taste in women. Ehh." I saw in the rear-view mirror as Beth stuck out her tongue at Paris and my girl rolled her eyes. "Come on, it's all good."

"Girls, get in here, the heat isn't infinite!" I said with a quick opening of the door, giving a joking glare towards the new member of our 'girl gang'. "And stop looking at my butt, Willke!"

"You girls are no fun!" A pause. "Wait, you were earlier when I heard Rory shriek your name--"

"BETH!" Ooooh, she got the Death Glare!

OK, now I see why these two were cousins. If I'm glad for one thing, it's to see Paris know she has family that loves her for who she is and treat her in the way she should be. Bickering, laughing and giving each other funny looks. Paris and Beth were both definitely Gellars for sure.

In that they both loved my looks and wits was even better...


Paris's POV

"Look, I'm here. You can pick me up here. I was glad to have someone offer me shelter and--Wait, have you been outside today? I have! It's too cold to be out there for a long time and you--No, I'm not going to the town square! I'm warm now! Dean. What do you mean I should have called you?! I did so, nine times. Whatever, I'll be ready and--"

Beth looked at the phone as it suddenly disconnected. "Goddamn it!" She scoffed, flipping her cell closed with a loud clattering. "It's 5:45 p.m. now. He seriously thought I was going to stay out there for four hours? Does he think I'm one of those crazies that does the Polar Bear Plunge into Lake Michigan for the fun of it?"

"Polar Bear Plunge?" I didn't know what it was.

"A bunch of crazy people go into the lake on New Year's Day all around Lake Michigan for charity. Dad does it; he's done Muskegon, Chicago, Waukegan, Kenosha, Milwaukee, Sheboygan and Two Rivers over the years. How he hasn't died of hypothermia is a miracle of modern science. But at least his loss of mind control goes to a good cause." I felt cold just thinking of the concept of going into a frozen lake. "But again, all that time in the cold. I'd like use of my legs, thank you very much."

"Generally, use of your extremities is a defining feature of a human being." We approached the front desk, where Michel looked disinterested in the both of us, scoffing at the annoyance of having to lift his eyeline three inches.

"May I help you?" He barely glanced up at his paperwork, his eyes barely regarding either of us.

"Willke, Beth. I have a room for the next few days?"

"Ahh, yes, Lorelai informed me of you. A teenager alone in this establishment at Christmastime." He huffed, as if Beth was an inconvenience. "If you were looking to experience a hotel vis-à-vis Home Alone II: Lost in New York, you have the wrong hotel and we will not provide you a Talkboy to fool with my head and make me think 30's movies gangsters have invaded this establishment. Thankfully, that gold-obsessed blowhard Donald Trump does not own this place and will make no personal appearance to sell us on the atrocity he calls his hair care regimen."

"I promise I keep a clean room," Beth pleaded, as if she was afraid Michel would throw her out. "Sir, I have my own towels." He bent down to retrieve a keycard for her.

"There's no point, Beth. Michel has never offered a smile through his entire employment period." Even though I didn't mind this guy, it was kind of fun to bring my own special kind of good-natured mocking his way. "If he smiles during your stay, he has to give you the sheets and pillows for free if you want to keep them."

"And that will not happen, Paris. I am here to do a job, not provide you, your cousin, and your lady friend limitless entertainment." He brought out the sign-in book. "I will need your signature and a copy of your driver's license, young lady."

"Got it." She reached into her pocket, pulling out her card, along with her passport book.

"Still taking my advice?"

"Someone tried to use my name for a fake ID, having this is definite proof I am who I say I am." Michel took the documents and brought them over to the copier as Rory came over.

"You really need to copy her ID, Michel?" She shook her head. "She's Paris's cousin, I trust her!"

"I also trust the FBI's "Ten Most Wanted List" and the side of my Stop & Shop milk carton for information about missing children. She could be Mila Kunis for all I know and I would still need to verify that information."

"But she isn't Mila Kunis, you know this."

"She could pass for Mila Kunis."

"How could she pass for Mila Kunis?" I argued. "She never brought the name 'Mila Kunis' into this."

"But she might have recolored her hair, received a bountiful amount of plastic surgery, and decided on our quaint New England inn for a holiday vacation to avoid the glare of being Mila Kunis. I must confirm the information. However, this clearly shows you are Elizabeth Willke from Kenilworth, Illinois. Not Mila Kunis."

"Boy, nothing get past you, does it, Michel?" Beth snarked, earning a glare from the man. "Maybe I am Mila Kunis in elaborate makeup."

"Ha ha ha. I laugh." He handed back her ID and passport, along with the keycard, with complete dismay across his face "I am already annoyed with you for having the floppy-haired felon in this building for more than a minute."

"He won't stay long," she promised. "I'm not meeting him and taking him to my room."

"Hopefully you are not meeting him in that American football hooded sweatshirt." He gave the clothing article a glance of disgust. "The Chicago Bears are a miserable excuse for a football team, and are regularly embarrassed by a team named for a menial act of labor involving meat residing in a town uncreatively named for the color of the body of water it sits next to due to large amounts of algae that makes swimming in said water equivalent to diving into Nickelodeon slime."

"So, not a Packer fan?" She smiled at him, laughing at his overelaborate summation of Green Bay.

"I am a supporter of the Buffalo Bills, even as they have brought me years of misery watching their games."

"HA!" She pointed at him. "I got you to talk about football!"

"Michel is a Bills fan!" Rory's eyes brightened at the newly-minted morsel of information. "He does love football!"
 
"Girls, leave Michel alone!" I heard Lorelai's voice behind me and turned to face her. "Only I may mock him for choosing a heartbreaking football team!"

"As you do other things," he grumped. "I have checked in your guest, and with that I would like to go back to my book until I am needed again, Lorelai."

"Really cleaning up in those J.D. Power awards for customer service there, Michel." I snorted at the reference. "Go ahead."

"Now depart girls, before an inane Sweet Valley High fanfiction with giggling ensues." He made a waving motion as Rory smiled.

"He does mean well, I promise," she excused, as we moved into the lobby, her gaze focused on Beth. "You're a sight for sore eyes, young lady."

"Er, thank you." She tittered, nervously running a finger through a ringlet of hair. "I get most of my genes from my mother. The smarts are from Dad."

"Along with Paris's world-weary humor, I hear."

"I'm surprised she didn't recognize me on a rant alone." I sat next to Beth on the sofa on one side of the coffee table, with Lorelai and Rory on the other side. "I apologize for the intrusion into your night--"

Lorelai immediately held up her hand. "Paris? Unless it involves you making me voluntarily play hard-mode Trivial Pursuit with questions I couldn't even get with help, nothing to apologize for. I'm always happy to help. You've been through so much this week and this is just, hopefully, the final topper." She looked straight at me. "Please tell me it is."

"I really hope this is it. I'm getting worn out by surprises, court dates and impeachment attempts."

"Impeachment?" Beth perked up. "Did they find a dress with material on it?"

"Francie Jarvis," I answered, avoiding the other mention with elegance. "Remember her?" Beth's eyes immediately lit up.

"Say no more. I remember dealing with her a couple times when I was here. Still a bitch, always a bitch?"

"You got it. Tried to get us impeached for being a couple."

"There's a boyfriend-girlfriend running Lake Forest Academy student senate. Everyone knows you elect, they fall in love, tough!" She spread out her hands. "Did that red-haired Hydra really think she was going to take control of student gov?"

"That's what I tried to tell her," Rory interjected, "and yet she tried to portray Paris as a barely functional human being. Failed miserably, especially when I told her I'd make her life a living hell without actually having to say the words."

"As you should." Lorelai brought us back to the topic. "Much as I'd like to talk more about Francie, we've got Dean here in ten minutes and you and you," she pointed at both of us, "can't really be here."

"We can't." Rory needed further clarity. "But how do we watch if he does something?"

"I've talked to Michel already. Despite his usual disinterest, he will guard to make sure all is good. I'm going to be with him watching things, hopefully playing neutral observer. Though I'm expecting c-bombs and b-words to be thrown once Dean realizes that he's not leaving here in a quick minute, and not with you."

"He said his parents will help with my luggage," Beth said. "So I get to deal with them too. Hopefully Clara is here too so he won't swear or get violent."

"Just dandy." Lorelai rolled her eyes. "Sorry, I just don't have good experiences with Dean's parents. Brent has constantly mocked my living standards and Deborah, I barely get to talk to her because she seemed to get a Stepford chip installed in her brain the moment she crossed the state line from New York into Greenwich."

"Deborah is too complacent," Beth agreed. "And Mr. Forrester thinks his house should be run like it's 1958 and Dean's still The Beaver."

"Really, that bad?" I asked. Rory let me know how bad it was having that fellow as a parent.

"Clara wanted an African-American Barbie once to compliment her doll collection and her dad refused to buy it because it didn't 'look traditional', thus it was a waste of money. I bought it for her."

Beth confirmed his hidden racism and sexism. "Deborah has a $400/week household budget. Mr. Forrester has CEO money. Do the math."

"He has a mancave," Lorelai remembered, from a Patriots party Taylor made her go to once to 'welcome' the neighbors. "That's all you need to know."

"And I thought Dean was bad." I was aghast. "I see where he gets his values from."

"Or machismo." Lorelai looked at us all. "I figure you two can go in the kitchen or my office while Beth talks to him."

"Where's Mia, Mom?"

"She had to run out to Lowe's and Target for more decorations."

"Hopefully he'll be gone by then."

"We can only hope." She looked at Beth's hoodie/skirt/Chucks combo. "You were going to sit outside wearing that?" She let out a long breath of annoyance, wondering why her choice of clothing was being mercilessly mocked.

"I get it, okay?! I'm a heretic supporting the Bears!" She threw up her hands and growled. "I'm sorry I'm from Chicago and support their teams! But I'd also like to not have frozen boobs, thank you!"

"No, the skirt. I don't care about the shirt, or your shoes. You really didn't think of leggings?"

"Yes. I totally planned to freeze in the town square and--" She paused. "You're actually complimenting it, aren't you?"

"I am; you need to think of better accessorizing." Lorelai smiled at Beth as she quickly explained her fortitude to Chicagoland winters was stronger than most others. "You've got a good cousin here, Paris. A lot more receptive to my fashion ideas than you are."

"I'm warning you, she goes for cleavage outfits," I grumped, knowing offhand from a couple pictures of Willke family events. "I don't want to show that stuff off to a college counselor."

"Like to keep that confined to the bedroom or the car, eh?" Beth looked at the both of us with that comeback. I blushed violently, feeling suddenly exposed. Before I could respond in a likely angered manner, Rory caught quickly on and went in for me.

"Beth, it's not a bad thing. Plus, there's some things involving Sharon and shame going on. Sorry."

"Oh. I...I said the wrong thing."

"No, no you didn't." I had to assure Beth that I was growing in different ways, having to learn to how to get used to myself in positive terms. "I'm just still getting used to this idea of being wanted and able to indulge rather than hide."

"We really have a hash-out ahead of us, don't we?" She slid her hand atop mine. "She really did change you after the bee. I wish I had fought her and came to Hartford, but there's just only too much you can take before you give up on her. She's exhausting on a light day, but after Nanna died, she was beyond unreasonable."

"She almost killed me." There. It was laid out on the line for her to realize. "I was pushed out of the closet through PI monitoring, and she wrapped her hands around my throat." I worked through the hurt. "Then she pulled my blouse at the back and…and…"

"No…no. Oh God." She brought me into a hug. "Like I said, we're hashing this out once all this is done." A kiss on my cheek. "She is a horrid woman. But at this point, you're not defined by her, P. You are not going to be your mother's daughter."

"Sometimes I feel like I…am." I fell thankfully into Beth's hug, desperately needed the comfort of my cousin. And I transferred my own comfort her way. She would need it for sure in the next few minutes. The two of us talked a little more as Lorelai and Rory figured out things involving the Inn. Soon, it was nearly time, and we got up.

"Rory will be in my office with the monitors looking at the security cams in the lobby, while Paris will sit in the dining room and kitchen; she merely has a swinging door impeding her access here into the lobby. If we need the police, I will use the same signal I usually give Michel if we're being robbed or have to deal with a domestic violence situation."

Rory didn't know about the last thing. "You…signal Michel in that manner?"

"Regularly. The women's shelter in Waterbury sends some women and children here sometimes to room for a few days before they get transitional housing. It's as hidden as can be, but there are times where their partner finds out and we get to deal with it. It's too common, sadly."

"Oh." Rory took in a deep breath. "I'm glad Dean never got to that stage with me. And I hope he doesn't with you."

Beth nodded. "He won't. Not in public. But if he does, I do have self-defense training, so no worries."

I was still holding worries, but I wasn't going to tell her that. After a last pep talk, it was time to proceed. After last hugs with the three women, Lorelai handed Rory and I maintenance/housekeeping radios to communicate with so I would know if I had to head into the lobby. Lorelai went over how to use them, and with that and a last hope all was going to be OK, this was it. We hoped that nobody would have to intervene and Dean would just leave without much incident. I nervously sat at a dining room table with a rumpled Vogue, reading something about some kind of fashion I really didn't care about.

But it was a distraction, and that's what I need at this moment. I need Beth to be okay. I need closure for Rory.

Most of all, I need Dean to get the fuck out of my life…


Beth's POV

I had never been this nervous before in my life. This was a situation that could quickly go the wrong way, for all of us. I glanced at Michel on the other side of the room, who simply acknowledged his presence and my safety, with Lorelai next to him. I had known this only two years before, when Dean had left for Chicago and tried to make me promise that I wouldn't get involved with any other guys, of course hiding the details I would find out after he was long gone for Connecticut.

Rory had been lucky that her breakup with Dean was trouble-free, outside of her coming out. He had continued to call me in Connecticut to see how I was those first two weeks after he left. Too many times. Eventually I had asked my dad to get my personal line changed because after a month away from him, a 7am 'wakeup call' was no longer cute.

Why did I go back to him? Why did I believe he had turned this new leaf in life while dragging Rory and I along?

Most of all, why didn't I just leave him in the cold? He didn't learn my AIM address until last year when my mother accidently wrote it down in the family holiday card, along with hers and my dad's. That's the only reason we were back together, is that Dean persisted on AIM to follow me and I gave in, thinking it was harmless. He had surely changed, right?

This fall though, I had taken to being invisible all the time right around mid-October, only talking to friends who I knew were safe. After too many webcam pictures and disturbing fantasies, I had enough. I was tired of being perved on by him. The only reason I came here was because of Dean's father pressuring me to come out and have some fun and that Dean had completely changed. He was being looked at by hockey schools again and there was hope for his future. His grades had improved since LFA.

But I even have to wonder if that's true. Brent has money, and magically with a little 'contribution', that dreadful 'D' paper can easily become a 'C'. I had pushed aside my heart, and despite the years and years I loved Dean, I had found my breaking point.

I was exhausted. I wanted this to be over. I never wanted to see him again and most of all, I didn't want him to harm Paris ever again. That was the back-breaker for me. My heart could not stand to betray a cousin who we had been forced away in the aftermath of the spelling bee and what Sharon did to punish her.

My heart pounded in my chest as I began to feel nervous. At least I wasn't doing this chilly and tired as hell, just needing a warm furnace and a hot meal. The only thing I needed now was sleep, and judging from how much Rory glowed about the beds in this place, I was in for a restful night's sleep.

But there were two people I was also thinking of; Deborah and Clara. I have seen them for five years, and they don't say a word. Mother and daughter have been patient, and I've seen Brent take his wife roughly aside and tell her to stop being eager for gossip or just to talk to someone. Dean has roughhoused with Clara, seemingly in fun, but one time she was woozy after she was pushed into a wall playing basketball with a door-hung hoop and took his elbow to her chin. And they aren't ever allowed to speak at the dinner table, nor was I. Brent and Dean could bore us to death with work and sports stories, but God forbid Deb try to talk to us about her flower garden.

I guess I might be to blame a little here, staying with Dean despite all of what he's done to me, and now that I know it all, Rory. But I can't burden myself with that right now. This is the focus. Cutting him off and telling him it's over.

I took several deep breaths, looking around the lobby of the Inn. A beautiful harp was on one side of the room, and the interior of the room was well-appointed. This is a spot that I can see this town using as a social center. In the few hours I've been here, only knowing a few people, they've all been friendly. It's like Kenilworth, but it's less about appearances and just being plain friendly. I can see why even if Paris never thought of herself being here, this is where she might belong.

I was lost in my thoughts as I heard the door open. My head jarred towards looking at the entrance, and then I darted to see Lorelai and Michel getting ready to go. I saw Lorelai move farther in the corner by the reception desk, so that she could blend in. Back to the front door…

And there he was. In the past, my heart would have swooned at first sight of him. Instead, it felt dread, and instead of seeming to be happy to see me, immediately I caught a glare in his eye.

He seemed impatient from the first moment, rushing in, as Brent began to prop the door. I knew exactly what they were doing. Clara and Deborah rushed in.

"Come on, we've only got a few minutes," Brent bellowed. "Make this quick!" I was glad that my luggage was already safe and sound in my room. "Hello, Beth."

"Good evening, Mr. Forrester." It wasn't a moment after I got up before I felt Dean take my arms.

"Looks like you got here okay," he said, seeming to be friendly but hiding a bite in his voice. He forced me into a hug without much choice. "How was the trip?"

"It was fine." I held back trying to point out when I had gotten into town. "How are you?"

"Been a long day. I'm looking forward to getting home and having some of Mom's meatloaf and potato casserole." I looked up, and then right to Clara, who definitely did not agree with that choice of fine cuisine, shooting off a look of disgust. "Was the train good? Sorry we couldn't pick you up in New York or New Haven. Lots of Christmas preparations."

"Train was fine," I said, simply. He took my hand.

"Come on. Technically, I'm really not supposed to be here. I don't know why you didn't just wait at the library or something." I pondered his circumstances; had Lorelai banned him from the Inn? I'm pretty sure she did.

"A couple of girls in town told me this was more central. And I didn't have your address."

"I told it to you Thursday morning on the phone--"

"I was dead tired and half-asleep just outside of Sandusky, Ohio. Honestly, I was in a fugue state."

"The key was also under the doormat. You could have warmed up."

"I needed time to rest anyways."

"We should go." Brent said it like he wanted nothing to do with the Inn. "Beth, where is your luggage?"

"Oh, I know where it is." Lorelai raised her hand up. "I put it in my office so that it wouldn't be tripped over while she was waiting here. I'll call Albert to get it to you."

"Lorelai."

"Dean." The woman glared at him, as if he was of no use to her any longer. She lifted the radio up. "Al, get the luggage for Miss Willke, please."

 Out of the radio, I could hear Rory's horrid imitation of a male voice. "That's a big 10-4, be there in a couple minutes." It was dreadful, but got the job done, and gave the signal to the girls that he was here.

Meanwhile, I could hear Brent grumble that I was wasting his time, and that left us more time in here. I turned to face Clara.

"Hey, how are you--"

"Beth, you can socialize with her in the car. Dean and I will get your bags. Get going with Deb." He was being firm with me. I always hated it. "Come on."

"I just wanted to see how she was doing."

"She's fine. Now get in the car." The girl wanted to answer, but Brent silenced her. "Come on you two, we're delayed as it is."

"I'm staying until I have my luggage," I said, holding firm. "You never know. It can get lost."

"I'll make sure--"

"Just in case." I wasn't leaving until it was 'there'. I knew it wouldn't be. Brent rolled his eyes at me.

"Whatever. This place is always losing things and their staff is so disorganized."

"Brent, my bellhop is getting Beth's luggage," Lorelai insisted. "If she wants to make sure it's all there, I have no problem with it." A pause. "Now close the door, please. This place has utility bills too."

"I won't." Oh great, he was being petty.

"Close the door, Mr. Forrester," I growled. "Ms. Gilmore took me in even though this is a private establishment; after the time you all left me in the literal cold--"

Now Dean was getting into it. Crap. "Leave my dad alone, Beth. Sorry we forgot you." He said the last part as if he wasn't sorry.

"Really? Sorry? I called when I got on the bus at New Haven. I called when I got here. I called several times after." I was done with this 'playing nice' act. "I don't know if you had your ringers off or had a sudden carbon monoxide leak, but I texted and called to get ahold of all four of your phones--"

"I…I didn't have mine." Clara cut in. "I…had it taken away. Too much talking with friends." Deborah also raised her voice.

"I honestly had mine at home--"

Without warning, Mr. Forrester's voice cut across the room "Deborah!" he barked. "You were not asked a question." He pointed to Clara. "And young lady, you just lost your phone for two more weeks."

She rolled her eyes at him, hoping he saw it. Oh, he did. "And make it three." I looked towards Lorelai, who was appalled. Even Michel, who I was led to believe didn't show much concern on the job, was stark and shaking his head. I then saw him mouth 'he didn't' towards Lorelai, who then formed the lip reading of 'oh, he did' back at him.

"Ms. Gilmore, tell your luggage kid to make it snappy. She should not have ever had to be here. She was given an address and it's not my fault if her brain can't process numbers."

I should tell you that I've never had a positive relationship with Brent. At all. He just wanted me to shut up and be Dean's girlfriend and regarded my educational and athletic pursuits as 'distractions'. I was hoping Dean was going to step in and defend me, at least show a little humanity.

"Dean." I nudged him. "What's with your dad?" I asked it in a scoff, hoping it would get through and make him realize he was on the wrong side.

Then, with one simple sentence, I knew it wasn't.

"He has a point. You should've wrote down the address. But memory was never one of your strong suits, Beth." He made a move to mess up my hair, and let out a laugh.

Another look. I could see Lorelai being held back by a hard handhold by Michel. Deborah and Clara on the other side were quaking. And cold air was being let in and chilling the lobby quickly.

Before I could come back with fire at Dean though, an older woman came in the Inn in front of Brent.

"Lorelai, Michel, could you help me with these decorations? The tree is going be absolutely packed this year!" Her joy was infectious and without any introduction, I knew this had to be the mysterious Mia that Lorelai had talked about earlier.

Before that though...

"Young man, please do close the door. I do not pay Yankee Gas to heat the outdoors here."

"We were just about to leave, ma'am. However, that woman was incompetent and cannot run an inn well. She took in this girl because we were otherwise occupied and put her luggage in another room." I wanted to punch this man out, so much, and Dean wasn't raising his voice to his father in any way. It was angering as Brent pointed towards Lorelai.

"Excuse me?" Mia turned from me and towards Brent. "In what way is my manager 'incompetent' for doing her job by providing warmth?"

"She didn't have to. We gave Dean's girlfriend our address, but she couldn't remember it--"

"Again, it was 4am. I was on a train, exhausted!" I had enough. "And if you had been there as you promised, at two o'clock this afternoon, I'd be in your home right now."

"Stop yelling at my father!"

"He called me an idiot and just asserted Lorelai was incompetent." It was then that I knew Dean had no intentions of an actual apology. That Brent would turn my first night of vacation into a living hell.

Fuck it, I'm done. After seeing how they spoke to the women in their family, I knew any sense of kindness was gone. Brent and Dean were cold and distant men caring more about themselves than the women who loved them.

Finally, I let it out.

"Funny, that by the way. Lorelai seems a bit old for you to be her girlfriend, Dean. I knew there was bad blood between you, but not that much." I looked him straight in the eye.

"Beth, I--" Oh, here came the explanation.

"What's going on here?" Mia spoke up, wondering what she was walking in on. "Lorelai, were you dating this man?"

"Oh, she wasn't." I shook my head. "However, Dean, as we've reconnected, there seems to have been a few blanks you've failed to fill in, owing to my memory not being one of my strong suits." Oh, I loved sarcasm. I was loving this. I moved closer in, knowing that I was gutsing things being in his personal space. "Mainly, that you still had a girlfriend until November."

"Beth." Oh, he was beginning to wither. "Whatever you've been told--"

"Oh, about you dating a Lorelai and never mentioning her last name. Or that she goes by a nickname because she's named after her mother. Within my sight or earshot, the word 'Rory' upon your lips became like burning acid and you could not confess her name."

"Young lady--"

I raised a finger. "Don't you say a damned word, Brent!" I snarled towards Dean. "You really were under a delusion that somehow, in a town of this size, you could sugar-coat the fact you had two years with Rory Gilmore and you wouldn't be able to bump into her? Or I wouldn't? That you would begin to date me in July and pawned off a lie that you and her broke up over a letter, a long letter that she put more effort into than she ever had to? So you could feel free to date me and attempted to juggle two women as if you were in a Lifetime movie about a pilot with wives in different states?"

"I can explain--"

"I'm not done." I shook my head. "And you didn't tell Rory you were dating me. Not only that, you call me when I don't want to be bothered, you make me chat with you online when I'm trying to get schoolwork done, and then pressuring me to do things I'm uncomfortable with?"

Brent tried to lawyer his way into silencing me. "Young lady, that's slander!"

"Oh, it isn't. Rory shared with me she knew about us. That you were snowing me all this time that she was still with you."

"But we broke up in November,” he wailed, trying to use timing as an excuse. “So I've been truthful since then!"

"Oh, sure, now you're truthful. Now it's all hunky-dory because she broke up with you a month ago because she realized she actually liked someone else. She wanted them. And did not for a moment think about cheating on you by indulging her love for them. She waited until she was fully free to pursue what she wanted." I noted now that Deborah and Clara had not said a word, and not directed a hateful look at me, unlike the Forrester men.

"You realize she went and became a dyke, right?" He was angry now, and I looked back to see Lorelai mouthing 'you fucking asshole' at him. "That wounded my pride! She breaks up with me for a woman?! Did I not provide enough for her?"

"Obviously you didn't. But ohhh, we're not even done yet." I paused, moving closer and daring him to move closer. I was on fire now. "Remember that my memory 'isn't one of my strong suits'? Oh, you underestimate my memory, you jerk. Because you found out who she was in love with, and you were steamed. The moment you heard, you were going to make sure she was going to pay, weren't you?"

"Beth, you're on thin ice--"

"Whatever, Brent." I darted back up to Dean's hard gaze. "And you did. You tried to break her wrist when she was in the checkout line. For the very sin of dating 'your girl'. Wow, big strong man, there, attacking his ex-girlfriend's lover. Did it make you feel good? Powerful? Like a real man?"

"Beth--"

I was literally toe-to-toe with him now. "I bet it did, even when Rory love-tapped you were it counted. But you made a fatal error, Dean Forrester. One that made me saw that asshole who had to flee the North Shore when he didn't get his way and sent his coach into early retirement."

There was so much stress and hurt in what I said next. "That woman whose arm you tried to break? Paris Gellar? I'm her first cousin." I turned slightly, knowing Dean could attack me at any moment. Deborah and Clara were in shock. Brent was suddenly a bit weaker. Lorelai and Michel, along with Mia were looking on, unsure how to react.

He didn't say a word, giving me a firm look colored with loathing. I felt free to continue.

"That's right. You decided, because you couldn't bear to know my family because they got in the way of my vagina, to attack my cousin. Not because of who she was, not because she wronged you, but simply, because she claimed something rightfully as hers and your homophobic ass couldn't bear it. Two days out from almost being murdered by her own fucking mother because of who she loved, you were intent on completing the job for that woman. You couldn't bear to see Paris happy because Rory loved her, so in that checkout line, instead of being the higher man, congratulating them for their newfound love and letting them both be happy together, you tried to send her to the hospital."

"Beth--"

"You had no goddamned idea that I was related to Paris; you barely give a shit about my family. But even if you did, I'm sure you would have done the same thing. You snowed me for over a year, insisting that Rory was the distant past soon. And to top it all off, I almost would have frozen my ass off this afternoon waiting for you. Where the hell were you, Dean? What was more important to you than your girlfriend?" A scoff. "Come on, I'd like to know."

"Christmas shopping. Like I said--"

"We were in New Haven. At the courthouse." We all turned our attention towards the other side of the room, where Clara's voice was soft. Immediately, Brent tried to stifle his daughter from speaking.

"And you get to stay in all winter break now," he said, offended. "You know what I said."

I watched as Clara's voice gained strength. "And I don't care, Dad. I wanted to go off with Mom somewhere. But you can't bear the idea of me being more than three miles away."

"Young lady--"

"I spent the second day of my winter vacation in a miserable courthouse in downtown New Haven because my brother is an idiot, again."

"CLARA--" He was about to come towards her, when he felt a tug on his arm. We didn't know who it was at first, until she spoke up.

"Young man, you will let your sister talk." Mia stared him down before turning to Brent. "And you will show the respect to your daughter that she deserves."

"Don't tell me how to raise my kid, lady. Stay out of this!"

"I will not. You're in my establishment. It's my business! And calling my manager incompetent and wiping out 10% of my monthly heating budget isn't an endearing trait." She directed her gaze towards Clara. "Go ahead, young lady. You're safe. Unless the missus has an issue with it?" Deborah simply shook her head and touched Clara's shoulders.

Clara took a breath and let out what kept the Forresters from picking me up. "Dean was in court. He was in court yesterday. But now he's in court again today. Dean was angry about being kicked off the hockey team, so he almost beat up his friend Kyle, but the vice principal, Mrs. Norton, stopped him."

It was then that Deborah spoke up. "I'll take it…from here." Almost quiet, she finished it up. "Dean swore at her to get off him as he tried to break up the one-sided fight with Kyle, who was angry about what he did at the market, and he snakebit her arm. Her wrist was sprained and she suffered a concussion from bumping her head against a concrete wall. So he now has a new assault and battery charge to answer to in addition to the thefts from the market he pulled to support his bottomless pot and steroid habits." I held back a gasp as everything settled in; more violence, more pain.

That could have been me.

"Deborah!" Brent tried to move closer. "You weren't supposed to--" Michel came over to restrain him.

"You will not attack a woman while I am here!" he cried out, accentuating each syllable. "Mr. Forrester--"

He ended up shoved towards the staircase. "Oh, get the hell off of me, you fucking faggot!" Everyone in the room outside of Dean shrieked in shock. "Beth, come on, let's go!"

I reeled back from him. "Absolutely not!" I looked at Clara. "Did he get suspended?"

"He'll probably be expelled after the new year--"

I suddenly found myself holding back Dean. "Stay away from me!"

"Dean, get the hell back now!" Deborah cried. "It's your fault, face up to what you did!"

"I did nothing wrong at all. You stupid bitches, ruining things for me!" Michel got up, finding a second wind. He whipped off his sportscoat to a waiting Mia.

"Please take my coat. I paid too much to have it ruined in a silly scuffle like this." That moment of amusement caught us off-guard before he moved towards Dean, who was trying to take my arm, which I now knew from both Paris and the vice principal's experiences would leave me in for a world of hurt. I averted and had to take a header to the floor while giving Michel enough room to tackle him down. Without any previous indication of his strength, Michel single-handedly took him down in front of the coffee table and made sure to grab his arms while Lorelai grasped the handset of the desk phone for dear life, knowing no signal for the police was needed.

"Mia, should I?" Mia nodded her permission and she dialed out to 911. Brent wanted to intercede, but Deborah held him back.

"There's no need for this! Get off my son!" Michel looked back up at him.

"I will not. Your parenting is pitiful, sir. And my superior here informed me of the theft he pulled on the grocer while working for him." The African-French-Canadian man glowered at him. "I do not take too well to being called a faggot, nor to your son injuring the financial state of our town."

"Taylor made it up!"

"For God's sake, I saw him pocketing money, Brent!" Lorelai cried. "Sorry, this situation is bonkers, get over here, quick!" she said to the operator on the phone. This was not how I wanted to be introduced by the town. Meanwhile, I wondered when Paris and Rory would come out, but knew it wouldn't be soon. Brent attempted to make his way to stop Michel's restraint of his son, only to be stopped by Mia.

"Get off me, you bitch." He tried to shove the innkeeper, but she stood her ground. "I'd like to get to my son!"

"To protect him, not to make him face responsibility." She backed him into the corner by the staircase. "You will stay here, and you won't threaten this young lady or my employees any further."

I shook my head, looking down at Dean. It was time to just end it.

"Sorry to say, but my luggage is already upstairs, idiot. I wasn't going with you after I learned what you pulled and how you snowed me for two years. We're over, and I'm not pulling a Felicity and following you to the ends of the earth." I took another daring step, a shoe right at his nose. A challenge.

"But you fuck with my family? You fuck with me. The moment you tried to break Paris's arm, you lost me, because my blood bond with her is thicker than our love ever was. I hope your hand makes a fine partner, because that's the only comfort you're getting from now on."

Sadly, he decided not to acknowledge his now single fate. "Your cousin is a bitch! I hope she ends up dea--"

"Mr. Forrester," Michel said strongly, "I have learned several techniques involving you losing consciousness from certain knockout pressure points on your body. I would not take that statement further, or I shall pursue them. That is, if I have your mother's permission." He looked up at Deborah and Clara, in shock. Clara was burrowed against her mother's stomach.

Deborah nodded, then brought her gaze towards me. "Beth--"

I knew what was coming. "I know, you hate me. I'm banned from your life."

"No…no. Not at all." With Brent and Dean cornered, she felt open to speak. "I knew what he was doing. I told Dean many times to stop, but his father overruled me. And now, we're back to square damned one with him after his first start over after Winnetka and Kenilworth." She let out a frustrated huff. "We'll talk later. You're fine."

I knew there was more to the story that I'd find out over the coming days. But for now, it was just a countdown before the police entered the inn. A red-haired woman in a brown officer's uniform with a nametag saying 'Krueger' entered, with Lorelai coming over to acknowledge her with a shake of her head and full sarcasm on display that they had to chat again.

"Angela, again. We really must stop meeting like this," she snarked, looking down at Dean and Mia still holding back Brent. "Of course, we wouldn't if Dean would control himself."

"Great, again." She sighed as Michel got up for the slight moment while she bent down to restrain him with handcuffs. "Mr. Forrester, this is our second meeting this week and your second night in our lockup, but you aren't as witty or funny as Otis Campbell to have around, sadly."

"Shut up--"

"And here comes the part we're becoming familiar with. Dean Forrester, you are under arrest for disorderly conduct, and you have the right to remain silent..." She began to read his Miranda rights and after a minute, finished up. Mia got her attention.

"His father tried something too. Since Lorelai restricted Dean from the property, I'd like trespassing charges filed. He thankfully held back on attacking this young lady and almost attempted to assault my concierge. Of course, both men do not realize that Michel spends an hour at the gym daily."

Michel just nodded. "I am proud of my figure. However, I am also proud of my fitness and deceptive strength that comes with it." Officer Krueger finished up with Dean, who remained completely silent, before going towards Brent, also for disorderly conduct. Lorelai came towards me, concerned.

"You're OK?" She offered open arms to me. Despite being an almost complete stranger to me, this woman had become as fast a friend to me as did Rory. I took the offered hug thankfully, surprisingly okay about all that went down and not feeling any sadness or anger at everything that happened.

It was just...over. That's what I wanted since I learned the deception. No more being afraid of his anger. Or having to be afraid for my friends. This was all over now. I still ached to hope that Deborah and Clara were OK. Eventually they came over and again told me they understood why things had to happen. But honestly, they seemed relieved, because at least for one night, the overpowering Forrester men wouldn't be there. I would talk to later, hopefully, but I was just ready to relax.

Eventually Office Krueger got Dean off the ground, while another officer came in to pull Brent out and do the rights read. As Dean was pulled out of the Inn he tried one last volley with me.

"You're not going to find a better man than me!" he opined, and I just rolled my eyes at him. I let off a little smirk and let off my parting shot.

"Says the boy just taken down by the man he thought he could down in one punch because 'ooh, he likes guys and has a snobby French voice.'" I shrugged and looked at Michel, who was entertained by my assertion of his strength. "Don't call or message me again. Goodbye, Dean!" With that, Officer Krueger led him out to the waiting squad, and that left Lorelai, Michel and me in the lobby, along with Mia. I was immediately apologetic as I closed the door and let the heat return to the room.

"So...I'm sorry that was my introduction." I hoped they weren't throwing me out. "I am not usually that exciting. I'm Sense & Sensibility boring, not very exciting and--"

"Beth?" Lorelai smiled. "You're Paris's cousin. Not taking anyone's crap runs on your side of the family. I believe we're not going to see ninjas or the Chicago Mafia coming in to get you. You're all good."

"Except for the Bears fandom."

"Yeah, you're being bold with that."

"Got it." A laugh. "Thank you, Michel for--"

"No thanks needed, as long as your demands are reasonable," he said, his haughtiness returning as he finished straightening out his tie. "I do not like making a regular occurrence of having to defend you from floppy-haired ruffian thieves."

"It will not be a regular occurrence, rest assured." At that moment, Paris came out with who I thought was a chef, munching on what seemed to be a delectable chocolate chip cookie.

"He's gone, right?" The chef tossed around a spoon to-and-fro in her hand as Paris quickly ducked away from it to the chef's deep chagrin, and she spoke up with a squeal in her voice.

"Oops, sorry!" She went back to us. "Who would have thought it was Dean bringing the most drama to this town? Secret girlfriends, robbery, Michel getting medieval?" She gazed at Michel. "Didn't think you had it in you, Frenchie!"

"I didn't either." Paris was amusingly between bites of a cookie Lorelai likely wished she was eating herself. "Oh God! You're absolutely sure this is gluten-free? Sure doesn't taste like it!" Her gaze was on the chef, unbelieving that it was true.

"Special flour I got from a supply store in Annandale-on-Hudson across the state line. They clear outta the stuff right away so you haveta snap it up before it runs out!"

"Hey! You promised me I could taste-test first!" Lorelai pouted at her chef. "I'm on the payroll here!"

"Well she was in the kitchen and they were going cold quick, like Dean's love life. Had to get someone to try them." Paris finished off the cookie, sticking out her tongue at Lorelai.

"Sorry. First come, first serve!"

"Hmmmf! I give you food and shelter and this is how you repay me? I'm offended!" She wrapped her arms around her chest to look serious, before Paris pointed at the kitchen door.

"She made three dozen; I had three, she had one. Go nuts." Paris rolled her eyes with a smile and cleared out of Lorelai's way as the serious woman suddenly took the attitude of a young girl in a Japanese anime show.

"I forgive you!" She laughed and headed into the kitchen as the chef looked at her, shaking her head.

"Lorelai loves her cookies." She looked at me. "I'm Sookie, by the way."

"Paris's cousin, Beth." I calmed as Paris swallowed her bite of cookie. "You heard everything?"

"You did great, B. Couldn't have been any prouder of you for standing up to Dean and Brent like that." She brought me in for a hug. "I felt the need to intervene but I knew you had it handled better than I could, especially with a bit of a limp going on."

I was proud to be her cousin in that moment, and fell deeply into the hug. We talked a little more, seeing Mia go into the office, likely to talk to Rory about all that was going on, along with Sookie. Michel went back to his book and eventually, Rory and Mia came back out of the office, while Lorelai came out of the kitchen, sated and happy, despite what should have been a dreadful thing; a gluten-free chocolate chip cookie. Somehow, Sookie had found the right balance of ingredients to make it better than a regular one, as we would later taste.

The night's calmed down considerably now. Mia didn't have any issues with Rory dating Paris, and had a feeling about it, while Paris and I talked a little more about filling in the blanks, though not about Sharon as we had a great dinner in the dining room that Sookie made us with little to no notice. I was thankful to be away from meatloaf and potato casserole and instead had country-style pork chops with broccoli and rice and a peach cobbler on the side. After subsisting on fast food the last two evenings, a delicious home-cooked meal was just what I needed. Afterwards, Rory could tell Paris and I needed a little space and after showing me to my room, said she would head home and meet Paris there, giving us an hour time to catch up.

It was a good, well-needed talk, where she caught me up on her academic aspirations and dreams of cancer research and oncology, and I told her about what I was hoping for beyond what I said earlier. Before she left for the evening though, she shared something that was worrying.

"I just...there's something going on with Lou."

"Louise?" She nodded. "Yeah, you told me she wasn't happy about you coming out."

"She wasn't. And I don't understand why. But over the last few months, there's something else going on." She paused, letting out a slow breath. "She's been distant, barely reachable. I can't often talk to her as much as I used to. And it was too abrupt that she stopped talking to me after finding out about Rory. Completely out of character."

"Yeah, I remember when she was younger. She always found guys...and girls, cute and such." I remember Louise very well. She was sexually aware long before she should have been, but she was also whip-smart; it wasn't her parents or siblings introducing her early. She was always just plain smart and ahead of her age, just like Paris. "She would have made some kind of remark about you and Rory being sexy. It's weird."

"But it's not just that." She set her hand atop mine. "I haven't told Rory this. Because I don't want to even think about it and Rory...well, she's been playing my number one defender."

She looked around the room, hopeful there weren't any bugs, which I knew, but thus, this is my cousin. "Beth...she hasn't looked like herself. Louise looked...gaunt."

"Gaunt?" I wanted to confirm that she meant what she said. "Like she's ill?"

"I've seen her getting out of chairs and walking. It's slow and methodical. And her face. I don't know how to describe it because she's tip-top at makeup. But it's more layered than usual. Like, I know nothing about makeup outside the basics, but she has more blush and foundation on her cheeks." She looked up. "Then there's her hair. I haven't touched it in a long time, but to my eyes it seems...thinner. And I'm worried."

"That she's ill?" She nodded. "And this started around the pregnancy scare you and Madeline came out to hide from her parents a few months back?"

"Yeah." Her voice was filled with worry. "She had all the symptoms of morning sickness. I thought she was. Mads thought she was. But Louise assured me that it was just a bug and obviously I didn't find her lying at this point and with child. Her doctor wouldn't say anything, but since then we don't know how her health is." A pause. "And we've had our blow-ups. I know how we behave. It's unlike Rory in the past where I hold a grudge and it opens up after a bit in public. We keep our fights private and usually we're solid sisters. We went through all that shit with Sharon. We have each other's backs. But the day after Sharon revealed I was with Rory, and Louise confronted us in the dining hall...nothing." She wrenched her eyes closed. "It's almost like she's disappeared of the face of the Earth."

"Maybe she's just trying to take it in and she needs time," I assured her. "She had a pretty big bomb dropped on her, P."

"But she would have said something by now. And like I said...she looked abnormal." A pause. "And she hasn't even really talked about her love life since September. She's usually open about her dates. All the sudden, it's silence."

"You'll know soon enough," I assured her, circling her back in an assuring manner. "Your friendship survived Sharon. It'll survive this."

"I don't know." With a sigh, Paris knew she was laying this on me. But we had always been each other's secret keepers going back to our younger days. I knew a few things she went through and that we were forever linked by that. "Don't tell Rory." She crossed her pinky with mine, and I linked mine together.

"Anything you need. Always come to me, P." I swore to her that I would remain her confidante, and that I knew the next week would be filled with plenty of conversation between the two of us. This winter break had turned from me gushing about a guy I loved, into a reminder of why I loved my cousin deeply.

Paris was the sister I truly never had, and that was true of her too, despite the circumstances of Uncle Harry's past. I was comfortable in a bed in a beautiful inn in New England, my cousin only blocks away. This would be a trip I will want to remember forever, and I hope that Paris and I can make new memories, while I build new friendships...


Rory's POV

Now finally, my winter break can start.

That's what I was thinking as I settled down after a mixed night out, dealing with Dean and his jealousy and bonding with Beth. I was ready for a relaxing night of films and books...

Yeah, my innocent side was thinking of those two things. My inner vixen though, couldn't help but feel curious and worked up.

I have to admit, this anger I felt for Dean? It feels good to let it all out, but it also winds me up into a frustrated state. I keep getting turned on, and I sense Paris drawing closer to me because of it. Even when we were finding out about who Beth was, I admit that I was glad to have the distraction of Paris stripping me out of my uniform and winding me up, if only for a bit.

But that was before I got pissed, and Beth did too. Now I had all of this energy and now I'm noting one of the disadvantages of moving from workmanlike lingerie to the new stuff from the Secret and other places I've been wearing as of late. But more than just that.

I'm more aware of how turned on I get. Of the 'Argentine temper' passed down through Mom, Grandma and her ancestors. That I am passionate in so many ways, and I'm unable to separate that. I had never let it out previously, because before, I was complacent. Stuff was easy. School was easy. Dean and his love were easy. I didn't have to fight for it.

But now, I'm different. I have to fight for Harvard. I have to fight for Chilton.

And now, I have to fight for Paris and her love, no matter how many hurdles that comes with. No matter that I had a month to prepare for all of this outside of my mom and Mr. Gellar's reactions, everything is starting to close in and the pressure on us is starting to build. We can easily self-destruct at love like we had our friendship in the past.

But Paris and I have now adapted. We aren't breaking apart just because of a miscommunication, like we often did in the past, and we're building a strong relationship together. This is a foundation we're building, and tonight, I did have to convince her cousin that I was going to be there for her. That Dean could have easily broken us apart, but all three of us bonded, together. Beth knows I'm there for her like Paris is, and that I was ready to get out there and fight off Dean if she needed me to, even though she handled him and Mr. Forrester quite well herself.

We have things being thrown at us. Louise, Sharon, Paris's past, and the nightmares and holes now being filled as she recovers from the abuse and neglect she suffered. And there's always that fear I know she has, that a relationship with me will strip Harvard from her. That's not going to happen, but I know it's on her mind.

I planned out my homework itinerary for the winter break while I waited for Paris and Mom to come home, but I remained distracted by my thoughts. Of how seeing Paris with family now rallying around her made me see her differently now. Beth had proven in a mere afternoon that she was still deeply bonded to Par, and that she supported her all the way, with not even one negative thought about her sexuality. That Harold didn't even blink, and Beth's parents didn't care about this shift in planning and they knew she would be able to take care of herself. It was awesome to me that we're all strong women, having each other's backs.

But there were other thoughts. That sudden spark where Paris closed the door and acted on her flirting from Luke's. Good lord! I'm still shocked she didn't sneak me into the storeroom and have her way with me right there! I completely expected it and I know we're trying to figure out our middle right now. But while we do...man.

I licked my lips thinking about how much I now enjoy physical contact. Just being taken by surprise like that, being flustered up and having all your senses perk as your girlfriend tells you, in public, how hot you are and how insatiable she is for you. That's always what I wanted to feel. Going back to reading my lesbian pulp, especially when I first found myself drawn towards girls, it feels odd that now, it's all real. I don't have to hide it. Nor do I have to replace it with how society requires me to feel about men.

I love to know now that I can rub my legs together, and it's fine. Paris enjoys that I feel that way about her. I don't have to feel weird about my arousal, being too wet or feeling ashamed that when I get excited, it shows. It's OK. She doesn't mind. And Mom is seeming to be cool with it, outside of the usual check on us to make sure we're okay. We haven't been caught nearly naked since the first time, though the free use of the lock has a lot to do with that.

Eventually, they both get home, and Paris was in a very good mood. I hugged, then kissed her, wondering what was about to happen for the rest of the night. Mom came in the room behind her and after a couple of minutes to get coats off, we were about to settle down for a bit of television before going to bed.

I was quite anxious about the going to bed part, since I kept gaping at Paris looking overly delectable in her cords and her sweater. I was shamelessly looking at her as she made her way around the room, putting some things away while talking to her father on her cell phone about Beth and what happened tonight, all good, thankfully. With that, I began to prepare a little bit of sneaky fun. Maybe a little bit of getting close to her, then a bit of touching on the small of her back, followed by, if she gave me permission, a bit of a butt grab--

It was then the doorbell rang. Which was odd; we had eaten at the Inn. There was no pizza delivery to be received. I looked around the room.

"Mom, did you order anything from Joe's?" I screamed up the stairs, as Mom put on her own pajamas.

"No! I don't know who that could be!" It could be Louise or Madeline, for instance. Or Lane coming back early. I panicked as I screamed I'd get the door.

I opened the door to a small and slight woman in a heavy green Celtics coat. I had no idea who she could be.

"Are you Lorelai Gilmore?" she asked me. I looked around, hoping there wasn't trouble coming.

"Ummm, Lorelai Leigh, or Lorelai Victoria?"

"Lorelai Leigh."

"Yeah, that's me."

Suddenly, she pushed out a white envelope at me. "Consider this letter served. Have a nice evening."

"What is this for--"

"Take the envelope, ma'am." I was incredibly confused.

"No. I'm not going to take it!" I looked at the envelope. "Not until you tell me what this is for."

"I'm not at liberty to say. Take the envelope or the respondent will be told you refused." I huffed for a moment, trying to hedge on what she would say next. "And the respondent will just deliver anew tomorrow."

"Fine, whatever." I took the envelope from her hand with a glare of annoyance. "Have a good night." Without even a second thought, I closed the door, turning around to face Paris.

"I heard the word 'served'. I know that word too well from my parents." She tried to grab the envelope from me. "Rory, what the hell was that?"

I didn't even know. "Someone giving me a letter?"

"Well we know that. But why?" She bit her lower lip. "You're not in legal trouble, right?"

"Am I? Is the deer from two years ago gunning for punitive damages?" I lifted up the envelope to examine what was in it in the foyer light. "Or is it Harvard with an--"

"They don't do before-Christmas early admissions. I'd like that to be true, but it's not that." I was shaking, scared of what was in this envelope. I hadn't even looked at the address yet. "Rory, let's sit down."

"I can't! I'm ready to relax and suddenly I have someone serving me a letter and--" She took the letter from my grasp. "Hey!"

"Sit, and we'll read!" She was firm with me. "Rory, whatever it is, we'll tackle it, together and--" She looked at the front of the envelope. "Oh, you motherfucker!"

"What?" I became startled with her sudden change in tone. "Par?" Her gaze was firm on the envelope as I took a seat on the couch, with Lorelai coming down.

"What's going on, girls? Publisher's Clearinghouse is outside?" Paris turned her eyes towards Lorelai. "Paris?"

She lifted up the envelope, taking a couple of breaths. "I...I...sit with your daughter, Lorelai. I need to read this before I let you know anything."

"Paris, it's my letter," I said. "I should look at it first--"

"You should. But this is something that needs to be screened." She gave me a deep look of concern. "Please. I wouldn't usually do this, but I have to."

"Is it Dean--"

"No. Thank God, no." She paced the room as Lorelai sat. "But if you were to read this without any context...as your girlfriend, I'm taking an executive action. I'm reading first and then giving it to you. Then you can do what you must. Please."

I took in her words, how concerned she was for me. I didn't know what was in that letter, but I knew whatever it was, it was chilling Paris so much she was scared for my reaction. And after blowing up at Beth today, I think I had to be calm and deliberate here. I nodded back at Paris.

"Okay." Mom sat next to me, just as curious about the letter, but not saying a word as Paris looked at the address on the front, then sat down and opened the envelope. She pulled out one page of paper residing in the envelope, and quickly began to scan its contents. It was quiet and tense as both Mom and I wondered what was so bad that she was intercepting this letter before the either of us had a chance to read it. She scanned it with her eyes, moving left to right. I could hear some mumbling, a couple of curses. Then a bit of a snarl as she seemed to get to the end. It was slow and deliberate, reading that letter. Soon, she lifted her eyes up.

"Well, thank God it isn't what I feared." She tossed the letter face-down onto the coffee table.

"What did you fear, Paris?" Mom said. "Is the letter threatening? Is it from Sharon--"

"Not from Sharon. I'd be on 911 right now if that was the case." Her gaze was stern. "It was a letter from the law firm of Lindfield, Burnham, Morano and Hampton, LLP."

Mom seemed to immediately recognize the familiarity of that name. "Hampton...as in...Roland Hampton?"

"I know their letterhead like a three year-old knows Elmo's World. It's Roland Hampton's firm." She grimaced. "The same Roland Hampton my mother has employed for divorce and family law."

"What are they trying to do now? Rory had nothing--"

"It's nothing to do with my case or Sharon at all. But I guarantee you, I am boiling pissed right now." She pushed over the letter. "You're good to read the letter, Rory."

"What does it say?"

"Oh, I'm going to let you read it aloud for full impact. You and your mom? What they have down in this? Even my mother wouldn't dare pull this with me."

I regarded the face-down letter nervously, wondering what it was. Was it that I was adopted? That I had committed a crime in my sleep? I had no idea. I looked at Mom, nervously.

"You mind?" She shook her head.

"Oh, I'm curious now what this asinine law firm is pulling with us now." With that, I lifted up the letter, finding a sheet of paper with a blue letterhead and stark typewriter-like type. I looked at it from a distance, not considering the words at all. I gave a look towards Paris, and then Mom. I felt a lump in my throat as I began to read the letter.

"Here it goes," I said, hoping by the end that Officer Krueger wasn't behind the front door waiting to arrest me.

December 19, 2002

Dear Miss Gilmore,

"OK, good start." At least they got my name right. Further on...

This notice is to inform you of the consequences of your ill-advised outburst at your father, Christopher Peter Hayden, the evening of December 14, 2002.

I looked up at Mom, who gasped deeply upon the mention of Dad's name, combined with the phrase 'ill-advised'.

You informed him at that time against his objections of your pursuit of a lesbian relationship with another woman and refused his considerate demands to end this farce.

I quirked an eyebrow. "Farce?" I went on with the letter.

As you have not, this is written notice from the counsel of the Hayden family that under the Will and Last Testaments of Straub Gregory Hayden and Francine Nancy Bauerheim Hayden, you have violated the contractual morality clause contained in those documents, risking your claim to any and all assets your grandparents wish to deed to you.

And with that, I just decided to stop and barrel through a bit more of what this document had to say.

Additionally, your immoral pursuit of this relationship with one Paris Eustace Gellar is unwise for your future in Hartford society, and we must warn you of the effects this will cause. Although we are not involved in your application to Harvard University, the Haydens will pursue all avenues possible to discredit your pursuit of admission into that school, or any other universities within the Ivy League or the Seven Sisters, if you do not end this relationship within moments of receipt of this letter.

I had to stop there. As I read the letter, the incredulity of this note began to raise my voice a little in pitch. Were my paternal grandparents trying to write a letter to me, but they had no idea how to write a letter to a child, so they used their law firm to do so? Mom was aghast at the tone of the letter, and well, Paris...

"I have to say, this is a new one. Go further, Gilmore. It only gets better from here." So I did.

Let it be known as you are the heiress-apparent to the considerable Hayden fortune, you will be giving up a vast amount of financial security and benefits in the future for pursuing such a lurid romance.

"They stole this from a Jane Austen novel, didn't they? Or Gone with the Wind." Mom was heated. "Lurid? Heiress-apparent? Oh, this is rich!"

"It is, but let's read on, shall we?" I said. By now I'm sure they expected me to be in a heap of tears and on the way to the Hayden home, begging for forgiveness.

After the next line though...

You will be assured a fortune in the tens of millions of dollars, along with the luxury of pursuing your journalism degree merely as a pleasure rather than as a daily drudgery.

Note the tone I read that in; not in a serious tone. Nope, that was completely gone. Now I was reading it as if I was Howard Hughes going off the deep end, especially the end.

"Oh yes, journalism." I swooned like a Southern belle, overdramatic, the back of my hand against my forehead with fingers wiggling. "Such a drudgery. All that ink. Those repetitive stress injuries. Learning all of those keyboard shortcuts. Running around getting stories in four-inch Louboutins. And all of that writing and editing and drafting. My God, I am glad this is such a pleasure of a career, rather than a daily drudgery! Le gasp!" I was getting a laugh out of this now; an angry one, but a laugh nonetheless.

But the next sentence...so wasn't funny.

This family has already been scandalized enough by the rash and ill-informed decisions of your mother, Lorelai Victoria Gilmore.

I seethed reading the line, and Lorelai was furious.

"Oh, I can do much rasher, I promise you." She balled up her fist. "Having a kid? Rash. Deciding not to abort her? Ill-informed. They've got some balls!"

It is up to you whether you decide to take leave of this situation and live up to the standards of the Hayden family, along with the potential you have as our possible heiress.

"Ha!" Now I was back to feeling like unloading on these two. "You basically wished I was never born! Now I'm good enough to have your money? Make up your minds!"

If you do not feel you can do this, this is a final notice that you will be disinherited completely from the Hayden family and their fortune, along with the loss of title as heiress to the estate.

"Not that I haven't felt that way since the day I was born," I snarked, moving on to the next line, reading it over-dramatically.

You will also not be allowed on any Hayden properties, and any attempts to approach your grandparents will be answered immediately with a charge of trespassing.

"Same here, pal!" This so-called 'letter' was a literal joke! Through their lawyers, Straub and Francine were calling me an asshole and a dyke, but had no guts to actually say the words, instead choosing to hide it under a whole bunch of legalese.

The next line though? Oh, it was an attack, it was on now!

This will include any attempts to interact with your half-sister if she survives her current in-utero state and is given life.

I looked up from the letter, at both my mom and Paris. I loved that they were trying to use the law in a twisted way, to deny me the chance to see Gigi. As if they were a robot.

"I...I...I cannot wait to read this to Sherrie. I really can't. I wonder if she got this letter and...yeah." I was laughing now. Oh, I wanted to get to the end so fast. Here came the next line...

Consider your choices from this moment out very carefully, Miss Gilmore. Your life's path will be determined by how you regard this letter.

That was rich to me. My life's path could change if I decided all the sudden to dump Paris and decide that hey, heterosexuality was fun! That I'd rather be rich and miserable than lower middle class and happy. I snorted laughter as the formal tone never went away.

If you wish to discuss this matter further, please do not hesitate to contact me, or Mr. and Mrs. Hayden.

Sincerely,

Horace Lindfield, Esq.

The letter ended. I read out the lawyer's name with complete and utter sarcasm. I tossed the letter to the table and just shook my head at what just happened.

"Mom?"

"Yeah?"

"Paris?

"Yeah?"

I smiled. "Did my paternal grandparents...did they just...did Straub Hayden, a man who called me a 'humiliation', have a lawyer write up a letter saying that I'd be disinherited from his and Francine's will because...because I told my dad I was a lesbian? And because he didn't take that well, he just went crying to his grandparents to do so?" I looked at the sheet of paper again. "I am not hallucinating that letter, right? They just wrote a letter, through a fucking lawyer, telling me to stop being gay or I don't get money when they die."

"They did, kiddo," Mom answered. She found it all too odd, even for her, to believe.

"And they threatened my Harvard acceptance." I scoffed. "Can they do--"

Paris cut right in. "How much involvement have they had in your life, Ror?"

I thought on it for a small moment. "Ten minutes last year, about two weeks in my first two years of life?"

"They'll be laughed out," she assured me. "I have more fears about my mother and Harvard. He went to Princeton. Francine didn't even bother with school. They can't do a damned thing, so don't even panic."

"What about Gigi though?" I was sure they could do something on that, being her grandparents. "What if they--"

At that moment, the phone decided to ring on the table. The coincidence? Wayyyyy too eerie.

"If this is who I think this is..." Both women looked at me with interest as I decided to just throw the call on speakerphone without a thought. "Hello?"

"Rory? It's Sherrie."

It was, indeed, her. "Hey!"

"I have a question before I go forward; did you have a process server deliver you a letter tonight?"

I nodded. "I did, and you're on speakerphone right now." I looked at everyone. "Why?"

"Oh, you did too?"

"Mm-hmm."

"Did it, perchance, say that if you didn't give up an 'immoral pursuit' of your girlfriend, not only will you lose your title as heiress to the Hayden fortune, but you will never meet your sister?"

"That it did. It said that in your letter too?"

"I think I got carbon-copied onto what was probably one of the most petty air-quote 'legal notices' I've seen in my fifteen years as an attorney." I heard rustling paper in the background. "So you're serious. You got served a temper tantrum under the cover of a legal letter."

"That I did." I considered my next words carefully. "Does this mean--"

"Rory?" A pause. "You're Gigi's sister. You can see her whenever the fuck you want. The word of this joke of an 'attorney' is overruled by me, as the mother of this child." Oh, here came the Mass accent, full force as she mocked the letter herself. "If she survives her current in-utero state and is given life. Yeah, this fucker will never know childbirth. He talks about my daughter like she's some kind of fucking Pinocchio thing that comes to life when a fucking fairy sprinkles dust on it! This letter...if this was sent to a judge they'd be spending three months in fucking lockup for contempt of court. This is utter contempt for you!"

"I just read it," Paris said. "I read it before Rory did because my mom's law firm wrote this garbage up. My lord...this is dickish, even for the Haydens!"

"Lorelai, just warning you in advance, next time I get on the phone with Chris, it's going to be nasty. You're Rory's mom, but you better not be--"

"Oh, he's done! He's so fucking done," Mom proclaimed. "I didn't think he could be this petty. But he's a Hayden. Not a shock!"

"You know what I had to do? I had to go downstairs to get the letter. Asshole server refused to come up and said he'd get me arrested if I didn't!"

Paris was steaming angry! "Damn! What the hell? You're seven months in a dangerous pregnancy!"

"I know! But I just wanted to say again Rory, ignore this garbage. You're welcome here, any time. So is Paris. I want you to be Gigi's sister. And I will get that legally enshrined. Though I don't really need to because before I called I checked with the Mass Bar site, and none of these idiots have standing in the Commonwealth to practice law. So they just sent a letter that in the eyes of our state, has as much legal standing as a joke on a Popsicle stick."

"They didn't even check before writing that?"

"I suspect Straub and Francine just threw in whatever bon mots they could and hoped they'd scare us both. You aren't scared, are you Rory? If you are--"

I was pretty confident. "The only thing I'm scared of is that anyone actually hires this clown car of a law firm. My mom described Hampton as unprepared and a pompous ass."

"Oh, I know. I had to deal with him when I interned in New Haven for another firm, and he was awful even then. He might have somehow become a state 'legal legend', but that's only because the older blowhards can stand him." I laughed out loud and knew that this letter was plenty of hot air and bluster, with nothing behind it. "I feel embarrassed that I even had to call you about this."

"Have you seen Christopher at all since last week?" Lorelai asked. "I'm sorry if I'm asking at a bad time."

"You're not." A pause. "He came in a couple times this week, but didn't speak to me. I suspect he's out right now wining and dining clients. But...I'm actually good. Having a good night in alone with some pay-per-view and I was talking to some friends when I got the letter. I...I did hire the maid and midwife to come in and check on me. And Devon and my mom have been over several times this week. Bless freakin' Ian though, he went ahead and decided to lay down the gauntlet and be my Lamaze partner!"

"Oh my God! He didn't have to do that!"

"He did. He finds it relaxing, kind of shares the breathing techniques with me. It makes him feel even more like family too." I could hear she was much happier than she was last Saturday. "You gave me a good kick in the ass, Rory. I was intent on just suffering alone whenever Chris didn't feel like playing daddy. But I've got people in my corner. I didn't know that before last week."

"I'm glad." I felt a little bit easier about Sherrie now, knowing she wasn't struggling. "I'm sorry it took my coming out to do it, though."

"Eh, better that than anything else." A smile. "And I heard Paris in there earlier. You treating your girl well?"

Paris was flustered a bit, but still engaged. "Mmm, yeah. She's been really helping me."

"Oh, I'm sure she has. She was anxious to get back to you last Sunday. I hope you're healed up, by the way."

"Getting there." Paris directed a stare at me. "I'd like to thank your brother for encouraging my girlfriend to come home in a Bruins shirt, by the way. I'm a Devils fan for life, but...seeing her in that shirt was a sight for sore eyes."

Sherrie laughed. "I'm sure it was. Happy to help." We went on to talk for a little while about a few further things, including whether she'd be fine for Christmas. She assured all of us that the family was coming to her apartment for the holiday, so there was no need to worry for her. It was good to know Sherrie was doing well as I hung up.

But that still left what I had to do as far as responding to the letter. I knew I had multiple options to do so, but all of them still led to one place; the Haydens hating me.

"I can't believe they would think that money would convince me to dump you. That anything would." I looked down at my feet. "What a bunch of jerks."

"What are you doing then?" Mom asked. "Do you think they can be talked down?"

I knew that wasn't happening. "You know them more than I do. They didn't want to see me for eighteen years. Now they want me to become a society robot." I needed Paris's advice. "If you had this sort of ultimatum, say from your grandfather, what would you do?"

"I know he wouldn't because he's a good man. But if I'm thinking of the jerks of Hartford, they wouldn't usually do this. In a regular situation where someone's being a jerk to their parents, they don't show their hand, because that clues off everyone else waiting for the inheritance and it's all vultures atop the dying, and no one wants that. When they get to the will reading, it's then they get unloaded on. Lorelai, remember Jack Holton?"

"He slowly abused his mother for years and years but kept up a façade that she was well-treated until she died."

"And he tried to fake a new will. But Mrs. Holton had a secret will ready to go before she died and it was then the public realized he was abusive." I understood. "Yeah, this isn't normal behavior for anyone in Hartford society, Rory. Not by any means. Nobody changes their will just because of grandkids revealing their sexuality."

"They really don't?"

"No, they don't. As much as they'd like to, that's lawyer's hours that must be billed, along with other things like time at the safety deposit box, clearing things up with other lawyers, moving funds around with financial planners, and that risk of an outside party involved being informed through a leak or even worse, they telegraph something to the IRS they really didn't want the feds to find out. It's an exercise most people only ever want to go through once, and if it changes, it's only because someone in the will died unexpectedly before them. This was Straub and Francine burning money just to be jerks to you, plain and simple."

"And all because of who I love." I couldn't imagine their pettiness and greed, and how it influenced them to just change the will the moment Dad told them about the weekend. I didn't like that this was happening, and despite how absurd and unfocused the letter was, I didn't think that this changed much. I was still the humiliation, and there was nothing I wanted to do to change that. I love Paris with everything I have, and that's not going away.

"They...they did include their return address," I said, noting it was on the front of the envelope. "I should--"

Paris stopped me with her hand. "Think on it." She sent a serious stare towards me. "I know you want to burn them at the stake. I do too. But for tonight, let's let that letter lay here and forget it; you can come back to it in the morning. If they get a response on Monday after you post it tomorrow, that's too soon. Let them sit on their miserableness."

"But Sherrie is going to--"

"I know she's calling them and telling them off. She's not the main subject of the letter." Paris asked Mom to move over so she could sit next to me. "I know you have a stinging response ready to go. And when you write it up, they won't know what hit them. But..."

Bringing down her voice, she moved closer. "You just had to deal with your ex-boyfriend again. A few hours ago. And I had to deal with him. Again. A few hours ago. My cousin did too. Rory, I know you're finding a feisty streak here, and I do love you for finding your courage. You can't let it consume you though. Like you said yourself, these so called 'grandparents' only cared about you for the most minimum of time. They mean less than nothing in your life to you, and you should cut them off. But, you should also think of your own health." Mom didn't stop Paris from bringing me close, head to head and her hands on the small of my back. "I fell in love with you because of your kindness and your open heart. You showed that to Beth today, and you gained a new friend in her. You refused to ever let me get you down, even when I was being absolutely petty and cruel. Because you saw that I did have something for you. That I respected your competitive drive, that at least let you have a peek at my heart."

Before I knew it, Paris let some tears fall. "You saw that little sliver and snuck right in, because in nearly everyone, you've seen that you can make a difference. And you have in my life, in more ways than I can ever describe. It is incredibly rare when you can't see that, Ror. And I love that about you. And I'm not going to let those two, who have kept their hearts closed to you from the moment you were conceived, try to cloud you at all." I felt her even breathing, and her heartbeat, setting my thumb on her wrist. "Your heat and your passion, that defines you. But it should not consume you."

"I...I am not." I took in all of her words, consumed by them. "They attacked Mom though."

"Rory, they attack me all the time. It's not a new thing, at all." Mom kissed the back of my neck. "I didn't let them get to me in 1984, and I'm not going to start letting them do so now. But Paris is right; if you want to unload on them, you have my complete permission to do so. But think on it and just make sure you have the most elegant takedown. Have Paris help you out with it so those two know for sure you don't give a fuck what they think about you."

"You both...you really want me to this?" I didn't want to be mean, but I knew I wasn't happy. I just wanted them out of my life. "Even if it means damaging things with Dad further." I slid out of Paris's grasp to see Lorelai agreeing.

"Whatever crawled into him...I know the goal in life is to respect your elders. But he's been unreasonable." She stopped for a moment to compose herself. "I...I actually called him on Tuesday afternoon after we got out of court. Sharon mentioned in court she called him to congratulate him on his rejection, and I asked him why he wouldn't accept you at all. I wanted to give him that last chance to redeem himself and think he was just shocked. That little corner of my heart still in love with him."

She let the confession settle in. I wasn't mad at her, and I knew she wasn't seeking him back out. "He said...that he agreed with Sharon. That you two should not be together, and that it's unnatural, I should have stopped you both and laid down the law, Rory's heart will break, Paris is a bitch, which he did say, by the way."

"And you answered with?"

"I asked him how Sherrie was doing. He asserted it was none of my business. And then I asked him how having a parent belittling you and being abusive in some way helped their child."

"Mom--" I interrupted her, but she felt she needed to make the point.

"Kid, he broke too many promises to see you. He refused to live his life on our terms and went on his own. He's never hit you and only now is he being verbally abusive, but only acknowledging you at holidays or when he's in town and being a bare minimum parent? It is, in a way, abuse."

"And he comes to town these few times under the cover of seeing you as her daughter." Paris broke in the conversation with her own observation. "Insidiously within a few hours it turns into him flirting with Lorelai here and then before you know it, you're struggling to keep his attention." She glanced at Mom. "Please tell me if I'm wrong."

Mom didn't even hesitate. "You've hit it right on the head, my dear. You used to be his daughter, but lately, you're merely an excuse for Dad to remain in my life. That's what I thought after you called and told me what happened. I'm sure somewhere in there he loves you, but...he sadly loves me more. And that shouldn't even be a fucking thing."

The both of us had evaded the truth for years on this. I always wanted Dad to make us a regular old family, and for years I held on to that ideal. But over the last few years, Mom and Paris were right. The Haydens, Dad included, never saw me as a daughter or a granddaughter. To Dad, I was merely something which allowed him to keep tabs on Mom and interfere in her life on a whim. To Straub and Francine though, it was clear that they were looking for any excuse to finally disinherit me so they could prove to their friends that they had been 'nice' to me over the years when they didn't do a damned thing to get to know me.

But it was definitely Dad who was on my mind. He didn't care about me. And now that he was 'stuck' with Sherrie because she was having his second child, I didn't see Gigi at this point getting much more love from him than I did.

"I wish he'd just love me, period," I admitted. "I don't feel like I'm passing anything down from him but genes. I have no respect for his parents and I should feel horrid for that. But I don't. I have no guilt now." I raised my hands in the air. "All they had to do was get to know me, but they couldn't spare a minute to do that. I can't think anything of them except after this note, that they hate me. They see me as a literal waste of their time, money, resources and love." It was dawning on me that I definitely had a thesis for my letter.

"Guys...I know what I'm writing to them." I was determined to get it out, but I would still wait on it. "I'll need your help, Par, to get the right tone. But I definitely know now."

"You want them to know the hurt you've felt through eighteen years without them, right?"

"I do." Back to Mom. "If I'm mean--"

"Rory." She didn't even need me to spell it out. "You are not to blame. I love you for who you are, and if those short-sighted assholes can't see that you have become an intelligent and kind young woman, they don't deserve a minute of your time. But I only have one more question for you. And you need to be completely honest here." She phrased it in a manner where I couldn't get angered. "If you lost their money--"

"I have never given a microsecond of thought to their money," I said honestly. "I don't want to be their heiress. I don't want to marry a jackass in order to get more money. I will not be their robot. Grandma knows this too well already and Straub and Francine...it's not happening." I had thought on this all through the conversation. "Even if they had died a week before and never found out about Paris, I would have done one of two things; refused the inheritance, or donated it all."

"Rory--"

"I don't need their blood money, Par. They never got to know me, so why should I care about their wealth? Straub is in international maritime law, which means he's likely involved in blood money from diamonds and the ivory trade, since Liberia is a common ship registry used by cruise lines and other types of ships to slack and cheap out on things, something called a flag of convenience. He literally has enabled people to hide crimes and taken money out of people's pockets. I don't want that on my hands. That's enough to help me steer clear."

"I would have never known that," Paris admitted.


Mom put in her piece. "Oh yeah, it's the main reason my father can't stand him at all. Straub is a known racist who uses...certain terms for people in other countries. I heard him once use the n-word when I was a kid and called him out for it and he lectured me. 'Young lady, you will not criticize my use of language.' I told my father, who almost clotheslined him for what he said. Paris, just trust us both; he's a complete and irredeemable asshole. And his wife? Well, remember how the Avon Oaks club was whites-only until the early 90's unsaid, but enforced through hidden means? She put up the resistance to opening up the club to anyone. Francine resigned from Avon Oaks the moment the vote to revoke their rule finished."

"Thank goodness for Oakenwood," Paris said, mentioning the club my grandparents and her father was a part of. "They never bothered with any of that. We got invited to Avon Oaks after they opened up the club, but my father refused because the rules might have been loosened, but the same hateful people were mostly there."

The talk about the letter continued a little while longer, with Mom expressing support for anything I wanted to do, and Paris offering all of the help for me to polish the letter. We also talked a bit about his subterfuge with Dean as Mr. Forrester's lawyer friend, and that was beyond the pale for Mom, who wondered how else they secretly ruined my life in many ways. I was relieved to have their support, along with Sherrie's, and I knew that I wasn't going to take on Straub and Francine alone. I knew tomorrow after that was going to be a relaxing day for Paris and I, and I put up no resistance at all when she asked if she could spend Sunday with Beth. I liked her, and wanted them to have an entire day where they could hash out all that they missed over the last few years.

Paris was soon in the shower and I was in my bedroom preparing for bed. It had been a long and tiring day, and I was glad that it was almost over. I just wanted a quiet last day of school and maybe some fun with Paris, but it had turned into a lot more than that. I was just ready to calm down, relax, and like Paris said, put the letter aside until she helped me out with it.

I looked around my room for a moment, seeing that it had changed from what it had been last Friday. It was a bit more cluttered, Paris's school stuff next to mine on the desk, her messenger bag next to my backpack. Next to my bed, her airbed, along with a bag of clothes which she assured me would be washed when someone stopped for them tomorrow and they dropped off more for her. My drawer being her drawer now, along with her hairbrush, hairspray and spare makeup.

I lingered as I undressed around the room, tossing my dress into the hamper. My room suddenly felt different from how it used to be. It had been a refuge to read, away from the world, and for the last couple of years, away from Chilton and the kids who judged me at times. Paris couldn't come in here and as I fell deeper for her, I tried to hold off those feelings by refusing to think about her in my bedroom.

But then she started giving me rides, and that line began to blur, until it completely disappeared. She began leaving her own pens and pencils here. I found little notes along the margins of my notebooks she made as we studied. The blotter on my desk started to have some of her own calendar events, as if she was using mine as a place to put auxiliary reminders of things she had to do.

It was odd; a month ago we still had separate houses, separate bedrooms. Even in Washington in the same dorm we still had our own spaces. But now, this is a bedroom I know intimately. That I thought I would never share, be it with a girlfriend or even a sibling. But here we were, sharing a room.

And it turned out fine. Much better than her likely stuck in a lonely hotel room, fearful to go out into the night of downtown Hartford. She's here, living with me, trying to keep her life together, and outside of losing space at the side of my bed, a drawer, and some privacy...we've made it comfortable. Living with Paris, much to the chagrin of my sixteen year-old self, wasn't a nightmare. Not at all...

"That hot water is disappearing more...aw, crap!"

Well, for the most part.

Paris walked into the room after finishing her shower to me thinking.

In only my underwear.

Oops.

Though...

"Paris, you're only in a towel!" She was in a fluffy and long dark red bath towel she had brought from home. "What if Mom--"

"Relax, she's upstairs for the night. I'm economizing so I can reuse this at least a couple more times. I also like to be totally dry before I put on any clothing." She closed and locked the door. "Meanwhile you're just in here thinking on your bed in panties."

"Well...I got distracted. I was just thinking that we've been able to live within four feet of each other for nearly an entire week. Five days in, no issues so far and..." I caught her gaze. "Hey, eyes up, blondie!"

Paris giggled shamelessly. "You're genetically blessed. Be glad I'm staring." She sat down next to me, the bed bouncing a little as she settled herself down. "And so far, so good. Though you've been doing the sleep-talking more than I have."

"It's a bit mortifying, still not over it." I laughed nervously, glad that the door was locked, but flustered a pajama shirt or robe was nowhere to be found. I glanced up and ran my fingers through her damp hair. "Umm, you want me to brush this? I kind of feel like doing so." I always felt nervous about brushing her hair, but I found myself drawn to doing so.

"Of course." She glanced down. "But don't bother with a shirt. If that was your intention to also grab one."

Crap, she saw right through it. I tried to redirect. "I...I could grab you a shirt also."

"Mmm, that isn't going to happen, Gilmore. We have no school day or early wake-up time to bother with. I haven't really slept in the nude since last Friday into Saturday. I'm not putting anything on but underwear."

I was struggling as I got up to get the brush from the desk. "But you're still in--"

"I am. It's a light one, thankfully."

"And I--"

"I mean you could if you want. Your bedroom, your body, your choice." I was barely listening to her, drawn towards small drips of water down her cheeks and her nose. "But the idea of you pressing up against me as you brush my hair topless sounds lovely."

I was beginning to get into it as she kept looking up. "It does, doesn't it?" I moved back onto the bed, spreading out her hair. I felt goosebumps along my arms at the simple action, then I found myself unconsciously smelling her scalp. Her simple shampoo, strong and present, like it was every morning in the car. I inhaled it as I began the long and slow process of brushing the tangles and loose hair from her mane. "I don't...usually think nearly nude, you know this, right?"

 "But it led you to think of me as attractive. Nude thinking is great; my best grades have come from pondering in the bathtub."

"Like the castle with the moat?" I wondered.

"Like that." A laugh. "I should have just borrowed a damned cart from A/V, but stubborn me, I'm going to carry it down the hall."

"I'm glad I broke it then. Gave us something to bond over forever," I confessed. "But I hate that she gave you the incomplete. I said I broke it!"

"Mrs. Roebling's always been strict. I...I am sorry about--"

"Nope, not accepting an apology. We needed that day, Paris. The best friendships are built off some kind of conflict and competition." I kept taking little sniffs of shampoo as I concentrated on full strokes with her amazing brush. "Like I said earlier, I wouldn't change anything about that day."

"Except for Tristan calling you Mary."

"Except for that." This was so calming, and amazing. Paris remained still as I brushed everything out and I parted the hair towards each side of her scalp. I felt myself tingling as I went forward, just lingering, taking it slow. The back of her neck, bared to me.

And surprise that nobody had commented on what she did earlier.

"Nobody said anything about my hickey," I mentioned. "You left it and...I don't know what's going on."

"Because we just love each other," she soothed. "I left my mark, or else everyone was just distracted, I suppose. But it's there, isn't it?"

"Yeah..." Oh God, I loved looking at her skin. I kept the slow and languid brushing up. "God, I love your hair."

"I love my grandmother's genes for giving it to me," she said. "When Nana was alive I would spend time doing this exact same thing. Even into her late 70's she kept an impressive length up. I once had mine down to my coccyx, but now when it gets below my waistline I lop off seven inches and donate it to Locks of Love. Past the bra line it gets to be a bit of a hassle, especially when I want it in a ponytail."

"I want to see you grow it farther than that," I confessed. "A lot of hair to just brush...and brush...and brush." I moved my mouth closer to the top of Paris's right ear. "Though I've had other dreams."

"Hair-related dreams?"

"Mmmm, I have. Of it being like a pageboy cut. Short and sweet so I can grasp the back of your neck. Muss up your hair like you're a soccer player who just scored a goal for her team." I gasped, surprising myself by letting this out, but still continuing to brush her hair as it reached a drier state. "I dream about all of you, Par."

"All of me." Her body let off an unconscious shudder, which startled me for a slow moment. "I assume my glasses are now part of these dreams."

She got me. "I had a go with the sprayer last night thinking of you in them." I felt a bit of shame...only a bit. "They make you look smarter, focused...hotter, if that's how I can describe it."

"It's a good description." I heard her let out a slow breath, and felt it fall from out of her lungs and into her throat. "Ror?"

"Yeah?

"I feel the bristles of the brush...against my back. It's wonderful. Sensual. Sofffft."

"How soft?"

"Perfectly soft. And I can feel your fingertips along my spine. You're not hiding them very well."

"I am not." I knew I was being daring. "Your legs are shaking."

"They are."

"Are they crossed over?"

"You want them to be," she gasped out, a creak in her voice. "Ror?"

"Hmm?"

"Say if I were to cut my hair higher. Would you still brush it?"

"I would, undeniably." I let the confession free easily. "Are your lips touching?" I dared to say. "Did you work them full as you took your shower? Thinking of me?"

"Oh fuck..." I was getting to her, I was sure.

"Nothing to stop you. I have no objections. I...I love doing that too. But denying myself until I'm dry. Getting myself into such a state of arousal...either coming into my room in a loose old t-shirt and laying right on my bed."

"Or...you slide on your underwear, knowing that you're fully swollen. And as I drive you to school, you work to and fro in your seat. Build some friction. Maybe 'accidently' turn on the air on high so it blows up your skirt and in the corner of my eye, I glance."

"So you know."

"For three months, I have." Her voice had this indescribable seductive curl to it. "You do it at least four times a month, especially when you're at the peak of your cycle. In October you were so lost one day in the shower you lost track of time."

"Mmm, I did." I remember exactly. "I got a shirt from the dirty pile, I was so disorganized."

"And you had Blackie on...it wasn't even laundry day. If Charleston had have caught you, you would have been in big trouble, young lady." She laughed. That sexy, dorky throaty laugh.

"I came out with the skirt half-zipped up, barely clinging to my waist and my shirt unbuttoned four places, apologizing like hell. I was so sorry to be so late."

"We had done paper work the night before and I was low on my anti-perspirant. I used as much as I could. But it wasn't enough, was it?"

"You were still strong that morning. Very strong. So much even your shampoo didn't cover up your pheromones." I could see her leg, shaking vigorously. "And I saw you glancing as I adjusted my clothes in the car. But not your usual 'just get this done' glare. It was more of a 'take your time'."

"And I did...I...did." I knew where this was undeniably going. I wasn't stopping it, as Paris brought things even more forward. "I was damp beneath my underarms, late myself. Because I never got to a deep sleep that night."

"Oh, you didn't?" I probed further, being completely innocent. "Had I done anything to influence this state of restlessness within you?"

"Mmmm, you know what you did. Don't you?"

"I may have an idea." The strokes were slower, as my fingers were now wandering her back down to the edge of where the towel tied. "You had a glance down my uniform shirt during that paper work. I hadn't known until you mentioned it before leaving. You said...'Gilmore, we have a uniform code for a reason, and it isn't to show off your décolletage in such a blatant manner'. Usually you'd be all bitter and angry about it if I was showing my boobs off to some guy. But..." I spoke through a small opening of my mouth, the back of her ear brushed with my breath. "I was the only one in the room."

"And the ride home was tension-filled," she recalled. "You un-did the shirt right away, to my consternation. Bra visible in my eyeshot. I saw lace."

"I was warm that day. Maybe...even warmer than when we were down to tank tops that June day." I began to dispense with the brushing. I was circling around her spine, teasing the towel knot. "And you kept on your damned jacket. I had no idea how much you were sweating."

"I was stubborn. But tight all around. I...I..."

"Couldn't wait to touch yourself."

"I could not." Oh God. Confessions. I was living for this. "I rubbed my legs together every opportunity I could while you were in the Jag. By the time I pulled into the driveway, I was just a complete bundle of nerves, nothing else."

"And then..." I licked my lips. "I undid my belt. Reached over. My uniform shirt was untucked, only a couple of buttons holding it against me." I dragged two knuckles along the base of her neck. "I had to get my backpack and...you were looking down my blouse without a choice in the matter. My amazing breasts and my navel, on full display."

"I was still, trying to excuse it with a re...quest to place your bag up front from now on." She was beginning to lose control. "I was saying this into your chest."

"Thus, it was ignored. But I was dizzy now. Your strong scent, registered in my mind. Oh God. Primal. Amazing. Feminine." I traced moles around her back into various patterns. "I was so distracted that instead of throwing the backpack across my arm...I threw it out the car door. To the ground."

"Another struggle." Her voice was so deep, no longer hiding the intoxicating lust she was able to keep out of view. "Ooops. You dropped it. And you had to pick it up or else I might run over your bag accidently. So I sigh and wait and..."

"I unknowingly present my backside to you," I tried to say. She wasn't having that.

"Your ass was in my face." Yup, that was what happened. "Tight as a peach."

"It is a fine ass if I do say so myself," I said proudly. "And I'm guessing I didn't present you with all skirt material."

"Your Static Guard sadly failed that test. Along with Summer's Eve." She was struggling to speak now, the leg bob getting faster. "And I had to hold back the fact I knew you were rubbing your legs together on the drive home."

I sighed happily. "I was wet."

"Aroused in a way I had never known was possible. And your butt is wiggling as you grab your top-heavy bag, and I'm looking at it, knowing I did that. That my scent was turning you on."

I continued the story further. "I finally get the backpack and I must look damned silly with a loose top and skirt not staying down. But nobody's there. Mom's at the Inn. And I want to invite you in, but--"

"It's already 8pm. Not that night. I had a half-hour to go to get home. I had to get home, we had worked too late."

"And I had two hours of Econ homework ahead of me. Damn it." I wrapped by arm around her, the brush now at my side. Her hair, fully done. But I wasn't finished, and neither was she. "I had to go. I hoped you would get home safe."

"I did too. I wished you goodnight. The two of us lingered for an uncomfortable moment, knowing we both were turned on. But we couldn't say a word. It was wrong. Odd. And I couldn't stay at your house that night; too much to do."

"You wanted to ask me to sleep over. But it wouldn't come out. So you asked me to take care of myself."

"But...not in the normal manner. It sounded...seductive in my brain. Too seductive. Kinda slutty?"

I nodded. "Like it was a dare. And...so I did." I whispered the rest. "I took care of myself. My nipples were hurting as I slid my key into the door. My pussy was pounding. My eyes were watering, and I felt like I couldn't walk. I had to take care of myself. I had to."

"How...long...did you take care of yourself?" she wondered. I nipped at the lobe of her ear.

"Two hours. I never even got my crap out of the bag; it was thrown into the foyer, not to be bothered with." My hand moved in front of her, sitting atop her thigh. "I didn't even bother eating. I had to sate this hunger. That smell, stuck in my nose, your every curve, your words, your closeness and how you give a shit about me in that school, out of all the girls."

My throat tightened as I described my self-defilement. "The skirt went off first. Then the blouse. I drew the shade, blared some Natalie Merchant because it was what was in my CD player and I had no time for mood music. I needed to get this out. I hadn't had a come in two weeks. I had promised myself I would stop thinking about you. But you were turned on, weren't you?"

"I...was." I flirted even more with the edge of Paris's towel at her legs.

"I yanked down the cups of my bra. I couldn't take it off. The wet panties came next, with my shoes and socks. I didn't even need a full goddamned song to reach my apex for my first come. I was that worked up. Didn't even need two fingers. Just a soft circle of my thick clit..."

"Mmmm, that's all?"

"Oh yeah, that was it." I wanted to feel her. "Me, on this bed, legs open, playing with my clit because I can smell you. I feel like I can taste you. "Ophelia was a cyclone, tempest..."

"...A goddamned hurricane." Oh my God, she knew it. "Your common sense, your best defense, lay wasted and in vain." The way she said it tightened me further up.

"I spilled over, thinking of you. My Ophelia, as I screamed as loudly as I could muster." This was tensing up. I inched the towel further. "I had dampness beneath me. Upon my stomach. Dripping down my hands. What I did in that closet in Washington...nothing."

"You were hardly sated though. You continued." She purposefully pushed up as I looked down her body. "That first orgasm opened something up."

"I wanted more. I held off. Grasped my bra, unsnapped it. Took it off. Walked around my room, stark naked, sticky. Looking at the wet bed. Oh God, how am I gonna explain this to Mom? But I wouldn't. I didn't care. I grabbed a towel and put it where the spot was. And once again, wound myself up to the memory of your scent. I traced my index finger down my midsection, down between my breasts. Across my navel, through the trail leading below my waist. I looked at myself in the mirror, imagining that my hand was yours, from behind."

"And you watched yourself, saw your nipples go stiff." Her beautiful voice soothed me. "Your eyes, going feral. I imagine you cursing my name into the mirror, those passionate cries barely held back by the music. Your throat dried as you worked your clit, throbbing, needy...and your eyes are slightly closed, imagining that hand."

"Yeah..." Further...I started to feel the dampness increase. "I opened up my legs, to see how I glistened. I had looked at myself close before, but never in such a completely wanton way. I kept thinking of you, on that hockey pitch after we took each other down...a drag of your hands along my stomach and...accidently lower."

"Pushing against the bed..."

"Your softness against mine...I imagined you that way." I was being blatant now. Very much so. Feeling around her legs, knowing that what I wanted was within reach. "I circled and worked myself off, fucking my hand, trying to keep my fingers steady against my clitoris. Yeah...it was perfect. So damp...so hot."

"You come...again."

"I...do." I had just found it. "This time I just know...it was so worth it. I look so well-fucked. I know I need this feeling more. It's a drug. I can't stop. And I do it again...watching myself...humping my pillow."

"My favorite," she hissed, just as I neared where my fingers wanted to go. "It forms just the way you need it."

"Right how I needed it. And I kept going...and going...and going...time disappeared. The album ran out of music. I'm just thinking of you, your scent, your essence. And then before I know it..."

A small laugh. "I'm at your door and your mom failed to wake you up. It's 7:10 in the morning and we have school in a half-hour."

"I had literally fucked myself sleepy." The thought seemed absurd on the surface, but it was true. "And here I was, on my bed, stark and naked with a pillow below my certain parts and I thought for a moment you were coming in to make my dreams come true. At least, until you swore at me to 'get fucking dressed and showered Gilmore, my perfect attendance streak isn't going to be ruined by your lack of sleep!'" And so I did and I swear to God, you smelled the same as you did the last night." I nipped her ear. "But even headier, if that's possible."

"Rory?"

"Hmm?"

I felt a hand atop mine, guiding me closer. "That's because I was wearing the same clothes as the night before. I never made it home."

Then, I felt my heat hammer in my chest as she went further with her sudden confession.

"There's that little park at the end of Plum Street?" I nodded. "I somehow was able to maneuver the car so I could park there and...I made my own puddle." My pussy tightened up. "I reclined the driver's seat as far as I could and took myself to town. Felt myself up. I was so over-sensitized, and so drunk on lust. I couldn't leave town without defiling myself."

"Yesss..." Now I was wishing I could close my legs together. "Blouse undone?"

"Didn't even get it off. I played with myself beneath my skirt and the jacket. That waited until later...when I checked into the Econolodge off 84."

"Hmm, I don't know if I believe that," I said, faking skepticism. "You're seventeen, you couldn't get a room easily."

"I could if I threw in a free $100 'tip' to bump my age ten years." My fingers were right there now. "I fucked myself to sleep too, left some pretty damned dirty bed linens behind; I never got the light on in my room."


"So you felt yourself up in the dark?"

"I also ripped the underwire in my bra. Couldn't be a 'me' story without that." I winced. "I was overwhelmed. My scent, your scent, It was too much for me to just set aside and I had to devote the night to just basking in those feelings, even if it ended up just building more frustration."

I smiled slightly. "And that's why your hair was a mess; you were still dreaming of me that morning and avoided the snooze as long as possible before reality set back in for both of us." Another kiss, this time to her cheek. "And we didn't get that scent of being 'turned on' gone until you finally dropped me off at home and got to your wonderful private shower."

"That, we did not." She took in some breaths, and I just listened to her in silence, knowing the story had finished and it was time to face up to the story foreplay we did leading to where it usually did. I didn't mind the tension building up, just taking in her damp flesh, those small little sounds of relaxation from her throat. The scent of her hair, herself...just, everything.

And we were here. In my room. Dean hopefully shamed out of our lives, forever. Paris's cousin back. And most importantly, she's recovering, fast. The hell she went through Saturday will stick in her mind forever, and we will both deal with it the rest of our lives, no matter the fate.

But physically, she wasn't needing her crutch as much. She took her shower without a wrap around her foot, which was now merely bruised, with everything set back into place. The worst of the physical injuries from Saturday were gone, though we had to work around.

And her vocal strength had returned. I came home on the train Sunday evening to a young woman weakened by her mother, convinced she was doing the wrong thing entirely. She had been chilled the day before, threatened with her very life, just for loving me. She had been able to hide all that hurt for years and years behind heavy curtains of sarcasm, through a screen of being non-chalant. She had been broken when she got to Birnbaum's.

I know she's doing better. But this is going to be the time where she needs me the most. There are going to be more holes filled in her memory of those traumatic events she blocked out through heavy cramming. And we will have fights. But they're never going to get as bad as they used to be, now that we realize our frustration with each other was based on our attraction to each other.

I kept my chin on her shoulder, being quiet, taking in this moment. Her breathing, my breathing, our own heartbeats, not quite synchronized, but just slightly apart. This was perfect; we had beat the odds. We were together a month, and had survived five days living together in a small space. Most of all, he mother had not returned.

But there was something hanging. A warm feeling, in our stomachs. The spark of her surprise earlier was still catching my breath--

"I know what you want." Her voice broke through the cloud of my mind and I was rattled by how deep it was.

"Hmm?" I said it like I was an incredible dork. Rory! My fingers stood right by it.

"I don't know what it is about you being here. If my body isn't wound up in knots trying to hide it or I just trust you more." Her fingers laid atop mine. "It might just be...your aura soothes me. I mean, I don't believe in all this new-age claptrap, but it's definitely possible."

"Sooo...you know." I let my voice creak, failing to play it of as innocent.

"I do. Right now, I'm feeling your breasts pressing against my back. We're on the same bed. You're not moving away from me because I smell sexy to you. Finally...I'm feeling only this small little sting in the back part of the front of my foot."

"You're up to it, then."

"I might be." I heard a little smile. "But the question is, you're sure about this? I'm not at my best right now."

"We could talk just a little bit more." I wanted to stretch this out more before we fell into the inevitable. "Lay down. Even if this bed is too tight."

She understood; I wanted to ease us into this, make ourselves feel more comfortable. "A towel beneath?"

"Not a totally terrible idea." I smiled. And that's what we did. I had a beach towel in the closet that was perfectly sized. After untucking the covers and placing it in the perfect position, I turned out the ceiling light and put on the dimmer table lamp next to my desk, with Paris beckoning me into the small bed so I could spoon into her.

I realized at that moment this was our first real and true lay-in with each other, in the sense that we had planned it. I lay down right next to her and it immediately felt right as she wrapped around me, still a little damp from the shower, but mostly dry.

"So we wanted to talk," she started, her hand settled on the small of my back. "It's still around 10:30 at night. I'm used to being asleep by now."

"Me too. But we've been pretty busy since last week, sadly. I think this is the first time we've been in bed without having to work around an injury outside after Thanksgiving. You're sure you're healed up?"

"Getting there." She seemed nervous, still afraid she'd say something that would have me toss her from my bed. "I'm sorry if Beth threw everything off--"

"Oh man. Don't be." I shot off a smile of understanding. "I'd rather know that Beth wasn't going back to him now. That she understands how we felt and went through. And now you two can bond again; you already seemed to be back how you were when you were kids."

"We were. It didn't feel like we lost a beat." She sighed wistfully. "I heard her in the kitchen and she blew him out of the water."

"That's what I heard too. I'm relieved that she never gave up her v-card to him, either."

"I'm not going to say that it was a smart decision to date him. We all have our odd crushes. Me with Tristan, Madeline with Brad, you with Gabrielle Carteris and Cindy Crawford--"

"Hey!" I faked indigence. "I will have you know that Ms. Carteris was very thankful for my fan letter to her!"

"Oooh, this is new. Your little kid crush involves a letter?" She laughed deeply, touching my nose to tease me.

"And an autographed picture. I wrote that she was inspiring and smart and she thanked me for my viewership of 90210. She shocked me by responding to what you'd look back at as a 'travesty of cursive'."

"And then the mystery girl when you were ten. You honestly never had a crush on anyone at your old school. None at all." I could tell how much she loved probing.

"Well.." I hesitated telling her, but it wasn't like she was going to question it. "Do you mean someone my age? Does it have to be that?"

"Certainly not."

"Then...I'd say my fourth grade teacher. Mrs. Hawthorne. She was kind of...remember Miss Honey in Matlida?" She nodded. "She was that for me. My kindred spirit who never stopped my out-of-grade range book reports. I was able to do one on Catch-22, for instance. I tried it the year before with my third grade teacher Ms. Litton, but she told me 'young lady, only off the reading list'. She was incredibly attractive too and it was right around the time I was becoming aware of who I was. She treated me with respect and always taught the class in an intelligent way."

"Is she still there?"

I shook my head. "She got a great opportunity in Virginia and moved down there. I still get a note here and there from her. Including one last year...where she talked about her partner of nine years. Which kind of helped me along, because it showed she could be out and fulfilled too."

"That's...that's really nice." Paris smiled softly. "See, we can make it. It just takes talent and refusing to hew to those who stop you." She stroked my forehead, playing with my eyebrows. "I'm sure she was quite attractive, too."

"Very beautiful woman. Blonde...brown-eyed...kind of firm about executing her lesson plan." I chuckled. "And there were a couple times where she wore outfits and...I spent the class daydreaming about her. I didn't understand why, but I just blanked out and stared at her, not breaking eye contact. She had on this white top with a blue wool skirt and she caught me before I could leave the classroom. She asked if there was anything wrong. But there wasn't. I just had this thing about looking at her. I nodded, and nodded, and then she moved to get something out of her desk drawer and I could see a bit down the top. And I didn't know why, but she was...quite blessed. I caught on that. And we talked, and I just could have listened to her longer than I did. Then I went home, did my work, ate dinner and went to bed." I looked down. "This bed, in fact. We had just gotten an apartment, my mom and I, and I had only had my own room for a year. And here I am, going back to daydreaming before bed, and...um, can I say that I ended up with...a certain emission that I discovered when I woke up?"

"You certainly can." With a sigh, she continued to stroke at my cheek, keeping her ministrations unexpected. "Awkward the rest of the year?"

"Not really, no. I was still confused, she was plain-spoken and such. It seemed to be one-time event where my hormones worked out. I mean...she was older than me. I had no idea what sex really was. But I still had this massive crush on her and..." I trailed off, shaking my head. "Honestly, I still...kinda do." I felt weird stating it in present tense. "She's still in my dreams."

"In your dreams, eh?" Oh, she was adding that sexy bit of fry to her voice. "Am I in there with her, perchance?"

"Oh my God!" My eyes widened. "Well, um, er...what would your reaction be?"

"Well she has a partner. So I know she won't steal you."

"And if I told her she was in said dream as a teacher at Chilton and I had it in my head in the thick of the field hockey unit, how does that color things?"

"Classroom dream? Office dream? Ride home after a late night at the Franklin dream?"

"Well...she was also a swim coach at the high school. So it was..." I bit my lip, heated. "...a 'late night abusing the swimming pool key privileges, her in an athletic bikini, you in a sleek one-piece, me in a dorky swimsuit you both wanted off me as things heated up and nothing on but the lights in the pool and underwater kissing was involved' kind of dream."

"I love your dream id, then." Her breath shallowed. "It ended with just us though, right?"

"I...went down on you in a hot tub as she watched." Damn it, I was flushing deeply. "And I had really damp covers when I woke up. Like...I had to race down to the basement and get the wash in right away. That bad. But...she eventually disappeared. I think even in the dream world, she knew her purpose was limited."

"Just the way I like it. I'm not very good at sharing." She laughed as her fingers spidered along my underbelly, flirting with my underwear. "Par--I'm supposed to be working you up."

"I'm priming you, just how I need you. Flared up and charged for me." That hand began to move lower. "I'm plenty worked up. Actually, kind of sore. It's something I haven't felt before."

"Really, now?" I pondered what she had just admitted. "So you don't usually feel wound up during your time?"

Paris shook her head. "No. I'm easily able to block it out. Though Dr. Merton experimented with my birth control regimen just after I came back in August, honestly. I felt out of sorts in July and didn't know why. But she seems to have found a perfect mix that's made things easier." She noted something. "I've needed the medium size in the past; the most absorbent a couple years back. This time though, I've only needed to deal with less than a regular flow. It's really weird, like my cycle knows I'm in a relationship and to cool it down."

"So...it's become easy?"

"Well, in my sense, my regular might be incredibly abnormal for you, so not 'easy' in the sense that I'm a damned commercial girl with clear blue liquid instead of blood. I've wanted to experiment with a menstrual cup, eventually, but that's a few months of acclimation. Now my cycle is a far cry from when I had to battle my own body to get to school a few days every month." I nodded, knowing this was something important to her. "And I'm certainly going to say this; my anger at you that first summer? When that last day of school came along, I was on it, but I have no excuses for what I did--"

I quieted her with a quick kiss. "Par-Bear...past is in the past. I'm not going to let you excuse it away. I pissed you off. We said things we now long regret." I circled her hipbone with my hand. "And whatever is working for you, I'm so happy. I don't want you to be in pain and I'm not going to ever make you feel uncomfortable. I couldn't bear it."

"I know, but I have to just say it aloud to someone. I...my clock used to vary. It would be 24 days one month, and then for a couple months I didn't even get it because of a regimen with my mood enhancers that threw everything out of proportion. Birnbaum beat herself up over it for a year." I nodded to understand and know her more. "I'm used to routine, and it's taken seven long years to find that sweet spot."

"Seven?"

"Calibration. You do it with tires, and sometimes you do it with your reproductive system." She smiled. "Face it, we both have abnormal body chemistries."

"That we do. I'm the first that can admit that." I sighed, sadly. "I remember when I got my first one. July of '95, Mom and I were taking a break from figuring out how we were going to fill the house and such, and it was a really warm day. We went to the local pool and I was having a great time swimming and going down the water slide. It was a great day…until I…I...I still feel embarrassed about it."

She knew without even asking. "You were in a pool and..." She shook her head. "Oh, it didn't."

"It did. I thought I was dying as I felt the pain below my stomach and the...well, it was brutal and I felt like I was in JAWS. I shuddered as I ran out of the pool and ran for Mom, screaming I was going to die and that I needed to go to the hospital because I was losing blood." I still felt jabs in my stomach at the memory. "Thank God our class hadn't had the Playtex video played in school yet and no kids were nearby to tease me for closing the pool for the day. It...it was horrible." I felt a hand in mine.

"And it was so early. You weren't even near eleven yet," she said. "At least mine was when it's expected."

"I was the first in my class," she admitted. "And it was an awful feeling. I...I was lucky mom was there and I didn't have the nurse trudge most girls have. And mostly I got height in those early years; I didn't really develop elsewhere until the end of 1998, so it wasn't like I was suddenly womanly right at that point. And I only had pain those first three months, not like what you had to go through by any means."

"Still sucks though. No matter what." She blanched, feeling deep sympathy for me. "I'm so sorry you had to go through any of that."

I still felt more for her. "What you've gone through, it can't compare. Is...is it the type of thing where pregnancy is going to be high-risk for you?"

"It might be. I'm almost afraid to ever end my birth control."

I nodded thoughtfully, knowing how hard this was for her. "Well I can say right now, if you don't want to stop it, it's your body. If you feel that you function better with it than not, then you should do it." I took in a breath, feeling this was the time to confess another thing I hadn't to anyone, only to Paris. "When Mom said I should go on birth control after the Formal, I didn't start it right away. I felt like I had to spite her. I got the prescription to calm her down, but honestly? I didn't take it for the first three months."

She was surprised. "Wow. I would have thought--"

"I was stupid though," I argued. "I thought I didn't need it because I wasn't having sex any time soon. I wasn't going to do anything with Dean and especially after that first break up. But then the piano, and Tristan..." I took in a slow breath. "After the date I set up with you two and you swearing me off, I thought about it. What would have happened if I did more with Tristan at that piano, didn't run away? if God forbid I got back together with Dean and we had ended up in bed together? I was putting myself at risk, and for what?" A shake of my head, and a rueful groan. "I was never in deep, unyielding love with him. And Tristan...there's another can of worms."

"So you refused it, and then thought different."

"I did. I just looked at that compact and realized, I was putting myself at risk by not doing so, and I was being stubborn. I didn't take the pill in this asinine way to make a point only I knew about. It was risky, and once I did start, I felt ease with myself. I'm not in line to repeat my mother's life. I'm going to graduate and go to college."

She nodded, seemingly understanding the pressure role I was in. "I do have a question for you." I felt fingers along my back, drumming my spine. "Did you consider that not taking the pill was due to your sexuality? That internally, you just knew 'I'm never going to do this with a man'?"

"You mean...I didn't take it because I'm wired to love women." I crinkled my eyebrows.

"Yeah, that." I pondered her words; I had never really thought about it myself in deep, intricate detail. In spare thoughts, yes. But never up close. It took me a minute to sort my thoughts and go back to the file of that pro/con list back there, forever residing within my brain. But it was still there, still in hurried and barely legible handwriting.

"It.." I averted my eyes downward towards the blanket. "It was a slight con. And pro. On the list." A pause to remember the writing. "My con was 'maybe it'll ruin feeling down there'. Like it was going to alter my entire body chemistry and...change it to kill the pleasure I got from my own touch, and would stunt what I'd feel with a partner. And I didn't really want that, as odd as that sounds. But I feel no difference at all. I just have less fear in life. I...I'm still sexual. And certainly not numb." I let out a bit of a chuckle. "Not very numb at all."

"Hardly." She hummed happily. "So we found our own way to how we make ourselves and our bodies work."

"We sure did." I began to feel settled, comfortable. More than comfortable, and so much that...

I gnawed on my lower lip, hoping that what I was about to say wouldn't be received with disappointment. An inhale of breath, and I let out what I had to say.

"I...I know I said I don't mind. At all. But um...I'm feeling more in a 'I want to talk' mood than the other thing, and we still have--"

She broke into my monologue softly. "You just like feeling 'warmth on warmth' and that's good enough for you." With a nod, I affirmed what I was thinking. "You just want to continue to talk tonight?"

"I mean we talked about my teacher crush, but I'm really feeling like...like we don't need to be intimate? And honestly when we can be fully active again...I want to hold to both words. I...I just want to wind you all the way up, feel you wrapped around me and having to catch your breath, full stamina and I'm okay. I really am." I felt good saying it. "And I mean...I don't know if you object, but if we're in the same bed and I need to take care of myself. That's okay, right?"

"As in, touching yourself while I sleep."

"I'm trying not to be that blunt, but...yes. Not that I have thought of it. I don't know how bothered you'd be by it."

"As long as your elbow isn't jabbing my back three seconds and you're not as loud as Sally Albright in a delicatessen as you reach fulfillment, I foresee no problem with that arrangement." She looked at my, shyly. "And coming off this afternoon, it might be the best course."

I knew this was a good place to turn the topic. "I...I just need to say this." I reached over to turn off the lamp, comfortable to take the conversation where we needed to, but knowing that sleep was coming soon. "I am so glad you do have supportive relatives, and family. I just...I always thought everyone in your life outside of your father and nanny was...like your mom. Completely awful."

"I don't want it in that state again. I...I've let my academic aspirations overpower things a bit, and I accepted my mother forcing my closer relatives away from me, like Beth. We have talked in the seven-year interregnum, but as you could sense, barely. I forgot how much of a partner in crime she is for me." I felt fingers along my back. "How about your family? Outside of the grandparents and some odd cousins I barely hear about yours."

"Not much to tell. I know a few relatives on Mom's side," I admitted. "But both Grandma and Grandpa were only children, so they were literally the hopes of their families. As for the other side, a whole lot of selfish idiots. A couple in jail, actually. Christopher actually has a sister, Caroline, four years older than him and was the 'rebel' of the family. She took her college admission as a literal sign to leave Hartford for a school as far away as she could get. Caroline went to Boulder and is the chief of surgery and maternity in a rural hospital in the Oklahoma Panhandle; she dumped her last name the moment the last tuition checked cleared. We have talked a couple times, and she's as far from the same as my father and Straub and Francine as possible."

"She gives a damn."

"Definitely. She feels like she makes a difference where she is because of where her hospital is and who she has to care for." Paris smiled in the dim light of the room. "You like knowing that?"

"I don't want to hate an entire family, honestly, so I'm glad you have someone on that side you like sharing genetics with." A sigh. "I've never actually admitted this. Remember Jacob?"

"The infamous Winter Formal 'date'?" I nodded. "Who tried to get with me even as you were falling apart?"

"The same." She paused, considering what she was about to say. "He said something as he drove me home in shame that evening that I really never thought about until last year. It was something I pushed aside with a 'whatever, shut up' and put in the back of my mind. It wasn't true, at all."

"Couldn't be that bad."

"It was to me, for a long time. I mean, I know...I've always been tuned differently as a woman. That I still had the crush on the hot guy, but I have this magnetic need for competition, to always top someone. But it was only on the one guy. And Jacob knew that and wondered if Tristan would go for me and dump that girl and make my dreams come true. But...he saw something different as the night went on."

She was stark still, staring at me. "He just said...'you have a thing for that girl, don't you? That's why you just went off on her without thinking about the circumstances of me as your escort. You wanted to prove somehow that you were attractive, and that's why you tried to pawn me off as attractive. But then it fell apart because you wanted sympathy from her. You looked into those eyes, and you fell apart. Whatever bluster you had to show 'hey I have a hot guy here', it disappeared.' And then he pointed out that what I thought was an aggressive 'stay the fuck away from me' stance..." A pause. "It wasn't that. At all. Damn my cousin for his wish to be a sociologist. Because he caught on to what I was doing."

I smirked, breaking her observation. "You were presenting. As you said earlier on the porch...ugly dress color." I licked my lips. "But a hot body beneath it."

"He...actually said something just like that." A gasp. "Rory, have you been--"

"Par, I haven't spoke a word to Jacob since that night." I shook my head. "Or seen him. But it was true. Your aggressive stance to me has always been more of a thing that burns my blood up." I curled a couple fingers beneath her underarm to send some goosebumps up her arm. "Even on that first day and I was too naïve to believe you would ever be a rival for my affections, I went over my first day in my mind. Over and over. All the mistakes I made, how I pissed you off, why the hell Tristan thought I was cute and how even after my profuse apologies to you for the project, it wasn't enough. You didn't like that I was going to be that thorn in your side for the remainder of Chilton and you had competition now. That's why you got in my face and proclaimed you were going to make my life a living hell."

I knew I was finding a calm in her. Only a few days ago, she would have deflected and said she didn't mean any of it and apologized if I took offense. This time though, I found silence, and understanding. She knew I wasn't angry with her, just using that day to make the point. Thus, I could continue.

"You made it something else though. As I lay in this bed after that first day, going over everything, I should have been thinking 'oh, she thinks she's giving me a living hell? I'll give her one myself'. I should have been mean and vicious, cutting. Meeting your every insult. But like I've said in the past, my heart doesn't do that. It has enough crap to deal with involving my grandparents on both sides and trying to get a good education under my circumstances."

I took a long breath. "I dealt with it with the kids in Stars Hollow, and I would handle it for you. I would enjoy being your rival, taking you on. But there was something else." I stared at her, knowing exactly what I wanted to say. "I knew there was something there. On that day. I didn't know exactly what, but it was a feeling that you weren't just going to be content just taking me on from the sidelines. You were going to challenge me. Try to take me down. And I could have just taken the hint that one day I missed the test. But...that first day, I fell asleep. And there was something in the front of my mind. It kept me up an hour later than usual."

"What's that?"

My breath was steady. "I was...struck by your pheromones. The sheen on perspiration on your face. Your scent, and...well you definitely know now. Your voice. Before, my rivals at SHH were people I never saw. We never shared classes, and if they did they shoved me off because they didn't care to know me. I was too ahead of them and they...they were content with sharing the glory among the six valedictorians they award every year like a participation trophy to satisfy helicopter parents." A lick of my lips. "But you were real. Tangible. In flesh and blood, in full, unrestrained passion for your education. I finally didn't have to prove my worth to just Mom. Or my grandparents. Or the town."

I felt my heart pouring out. "You were...my rival. I had someone to race. To top. To respect and figure out 'how does she stay on top?'. I could see what you did, how you worked the system. I had a drive now; I had to prove you wrong and show you I wanted your attention. That I knew where you were coming from and..." I let my voice hitch as emotions built within it. "It wasn't just 'I'm at Chilton now, let's finish and go on to Harvard.' At SHH, getting through the school years for that goal, that was it. Because the school sucks. Outside of Lane, it was awful for me. Chilton has its sore points, definitely. But in that night, in this bed, going over that first day, I just knew. This wasn't it. You were in my life, for better or for worse. And my heart just had this feeling."

Here came what I wanted to say, the most, for over two years, since that first day. "Remember how I almost didn't go? Because of Dean?" She nodded. "As Mom drove me home. Even through all the crap you put me through that day, and what Tristan did, along with the moat?"

With a quiver, I let myself confess.

"I know I fell out of lust that day with Dean. I just knew we weren't going to have a long time together. Because...because..." I slid close against her, our lips mere millimeters apart. "I just felt this need to be close to you, Paris. If it was natural magnetism or some other draw. I went over and over on that drive home to the Hollow and for the first time, I was excited. There was the dread that you'd intimidate me, but I could match wits with someone now. Challenge them and...there were so many damned times in that year where I wanted to tap out. Tristan being a jerk, that test I overslept for, Dean trying to start something with Tristan..." I wandered off, trying to build my reserve. The emotions were building up to the moment that was the turning point.

"I...I remember when you said you...you hated me. After that date." I could feel her tightening at the mention. "When I came in that room I felt like everything was going our own ways, you'd be happy with Tristan, I could move on with whatever I had. But it didn't go how I expected at all. I didn't understand anything about it and you just stomp out of that room after saying that and all Tristan said...I know you think it's a moment that shouldn't have any effect on me, but it did. And I just sat in that classroom a few minutes longer, hoping that you two were just kidding with me. That you were OK with it. But you didn't return. You didn't come back. I looked towards that door, wishing and hoping you'd come back, realize I meant well. That I...I..." I felt a couple tears ushered out, without any kind of urging. "I broke your heart. The reality of the date was you and Tristan...didn't work. And I had been wrong. So wrong and...I hated myself for it. I will never forgive myself that your heart broke that morning."

I thought that would push open the floodgates. I'm glad I opened things up to her.

"You are my challenge too," she admitted. "Always have been, always will be. And we are past that stage where we want each other to fuck off or take a leap or whatever. We are not going back to that stage in our lives, ever again. I want you to understand that." Her other hand was against the back of my head, caressing my scalp. "That day, that date. There are multiple reasons we would have never worked out. So many of them."

"But...you were excited for Tristan."

"I was. But I'm also terribly pragmatic, and realistic. I had as much of a shot with him as the Maple Leafs do at winning a Stanley Cup. And...my heart wasn't in the date. It really wasn't."

She said something I could have never expected her to admit.

"My heart was...I guess I can say this now." A pause. "I had more fun at your house raiding Lorelai's closet than of anything else that occurred that evening. And last year's little sleepover?" I nodded. "It was cathartic as hell for me. Because under all that cover about Jess, what I said, I knew it was a lie. But I wanted to protect you from Dean, and I finally got to face him down. And I loved it. Because he never deserved you and...honestly? My heart was with you. And I had to leave that classroom because..." There was a nervous silence between us for a long minute, as she seemed to think about what to formulate and say. "I...I didn't know who I was then. That I even felt any kind of attraction to you, much less any other girl. But there was that evil little voice inside of me, the one that Sharon encourages to keep me chilled. It said I'd never be good enough for anyone, and I should be content to be a dateless and frigid loser. So I contented myself with all of that, until the ask out with Jamie. Then...everything flowed back. My internal longing for you? No longer something I could just contain because you were helping me get ready, brushing my hair, helping with my makeup. And you chose that dress." A sigh. "I honestly would have wore anything else in the world because it was too flattering to my bustline, but there you were in my head, urging me to try it on."

I was giddy as she brought up the dress; I had barely acknowledged that I did at all, wanting Paris to stand out on her own and hiding the choice I made from myself all these months. I pointed out the garment as we had a shopping day in Tysons Corner in July, displayed on a mannequin at Hecht's, and I encouraged her to buy it for something nice to wear if she had some kind of social gathering. The pink went with her cheeks and the way it just seemed to form to her when she came out of the dressing room; I admit, I was thankful she did not decline to buy it. That it would play a role in that night of the date and my later thoughts in the closet, I had never fathomed. It still turned me on to know how close and heated we were that evening, even by ourselves.

"Mmmm, I do think it was a wise investment," I declared. "And...I heard you on the phone to your laundry people yesterday, suggesting it could make a re-appearance if you get stuck attending a holiday party?" I felt her up, the emotions still built up, from the conversation. "It's coming here tomorrow?"

"It...could be," she gasped out. "But I'm only dragging it out for a special event." I pouted at that note as she sing-songed a taunt my way. "No trying to rewrite history by us being in the same exact situation. For one thing, I know you won't fit in your own closet."

I sighed. "I could try."

"Don't try it, Gilmore."

"That...feels like a dare." I drew myself closer. "And we've come so far since that day with the date with Tristan. We're not afraid to show affection any longer. Drawing each other out. Body to body, secure with each other and just admitting things like we've known each other for years. And honestly? It does feel like we have. I just get this feeling in my stomach that we knew each other a long time ago."

Paris denied it. "Do you really think that? Through what form? Reincarnation? Like you got born, so I did too because we're chasing each other through time?"

With a laugh, I stretched out to turn off the light at her side and then moved to have her spoon against me. "I'm not thinking that elaborate. There was that year before Mom and I came here where we probably vacillated into each other's orbits as babies, if only for a little bit. I can actually believe it."

She seemed to consider the possibility, coming to a decision quickly. "We have to ask Daddy or Lorelai. I mean, it is possible. It's also possible that I bonked your head with a rattle on your soft spot in an attempt to take you out before we ever got here." She loved teasing me, and I couldn't help but laugh deeply.

"Ahh, so that's why my head always felt weird. It was you!" She slid into the spoon easily, her foot no longer seeming to bother her. "Sorry, it didn't work," I husked out, very comfortable with her against me.

"Damn it." A chuckle. "I am glad we're together, even if it took some struggle to get here."

I nodded, pressing the tip of my nose against hers to nuzzle it. But I had one last thought to finish the conversation.

"And we'll stay that way. I promise. This won't be ending any time soon." Paris nodded, taking a couple of beats to sum up her feelings.

"I'm pragmatic about most things, but this loving you...I'm holding a deep optimism about it." She let out a small chuckle. "Damn you for that, Gilmore."

I shook my head, comfortable and happy. "I will happily take that damning, Gellar." It was time to settle in and finally let ourselves go for a deep 12-hour sleep...

That she's getting. It's now about 2 a.m. and I still haven't really gotten to sleep. But not for awful reasons or worries keeping me up. Just going through, digesting the day, wondering if there's something new around the corner.

Beth of course, had thrown me off deeply. But now I knew, Paris wasn't just her kind dad, Francisca and an awful mother. There were more people behind her than I ever thought, and it lifted a large burden off my back. I am Paris's number one defender. But I can't do it alone. Neither can Madeline, or hopefully one day again, Louise.

Hearing Beth in that other room eviscerate Dean for his lies, his attitude and his behavior was cleansing for me. She did what I had been afraid to do for the longest time; face him down, in that patented Gellar manner, despite her Willke-ness (that's a word, right?). I'm going to be chortling at her bon mot that Dean's hand will be all he can get for a long time to come. And if she can help everyone else on Paris's paternal side of the family come around for her, my girlfriend will have no issue being who she is; strong, loyal and deeply passionate.

But there are the thoughts of what my paternal grandparents are doing. That my father would have the gall to go to them, play the victim card and actively try to discredit me in society life is a pettiness that despite how angry I am at them, does make me sad. I did nothing wrong to them besides exist. Why did it matter when that existence started, and how it affected their lives and their ancestry? And why should who I love play any role in how they dole out their money upon their deaths?

Honestly, I don't want to be a heiress. It's coming from Grandpa and Grandma for sure, but there I at least know Grandpa will be there to keep me from going off the deep end of society life and will keep me grounded. Whatever Grandma has planned for me, I'm not going to be a DAR robot. But I also just want love and acceptance from my full family. That it isn't coming, and instead Straub and Francine chilling me with hurtful legal language, just feels like an arrow to my soul.

But I'll get over it. Brush myself off and continue on. Because my ardor for Paris overpowers all of that. But more than that, my love for my sister.

I don't care that she'll be from another woman. That child is my sister, and I won't abandon her, and I'm sure the hell going to make sure that the disfunctions of the Hayden family get nowhere near Sherrie and Gigi. If anything has come out of this month besides how I feel about Par, knowing that Sherrie needs my support as she learns how to raise my sister is enough to help me fight for what I want.

I went into all of this kind of in a blur a few months back. I knew I wanted something with Paris, whatever it was. But that mostly just her, and that I didn't consider anyone else. That's how I went into things with Dean. You can see how well all of that worked out.

But this...it feels different. Something's shifting around. I'm not only finding my identity and my courage, but I'm ready to expand my horizons. At the heart of it I'll always be the small-town girl with an amazing mother, but I'm also ready to get to know Paris's family in full. It's time to stop hiding and being scared, and beginning to embrace who I am, fully. Everyone else be damned.

There is one odd feeling, though. I haven't been able to trace down where it came from, or why. But with Wednesday coming up...well, she doesn't mention the day at all and has me clam up on any mention of it. It's an important day for sure and if she's being superstitious about not mentioning it...well, I won't either. Even in my own head.

Whatever goes on that day though, there will be changes, beyond a number and the addition of certain rights. That's when we'll know if Sharon is willing to push things aside, or if she's going to get worse. Hopefully it just be a quiet day, with presents, a filling meal, and another year wiser for Paris.

Then again, nothing has gone to plan the last few weeks. For once, winter vacation is going to be more than relaxing; it's going to prove how deeply I care for Paris, and how I'll show that to her.

I just hope it all goes well, fingers crossed...

To Be Continued

Ending author's note - Please don't take this as me being all 'marijuana is the plant of the devil' with all that's going on with Dean. I don't do any drugs (and I can handle a couple of drinks a month, at most), but I'm of the pro-legalization mindset. I just don't like the idiots who get way to into it to see the forest from the trees, and I could definitely see Dean having gotten into trouble for using it rather easily and Rory not even going near the stuff. Also, small digression; Dean couldn't have been from Indianapolis, Kansas City or Pittsburgh, could he? He had to be from Chicago and make me write a rabid Bears fan and have Michel mock the Packers. It's all Dean's fault, truly ;).

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