DISCLAIMER: Still can't claim credit for the show; Amy-Sherman Palladino still created it with Dorothy Parker Drank Here Productions, and Hofflund-Polone and Warner Bros. Television brought it to the world. All products mentioned within are the property and trademarks of their respective owners, and no disrespect is meant or implied.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: So...yup. Here I am again pleading forgiveness for a chapter that took just under a year and a half to update. I wanted to do so by Christmas, but I have going to school to go to IT network support, so I at least have the excuse this time of trying to earn an education which has kept this from being worked on less than I wanted to. But also having to put Paris through even more anguish pains me to write, and choosing whether a love scene was appropriate after this; I chose not to because of how sensitive and close what happens to both Rory and Paris in this chapter has affected them. Especially writing the scene with Paris's therapist, which for someone who hasn't needed one for a long time, was tough to write and present appropriately. I based Dr. Birnbaum's character on Marcia Cross since she is a real-life psychiatrist and it just made sense to show that Paris would have a long time relationship with someone who knew her in that manner. Other plot points I will discuss in the author's note at the end of this chapter.
Keeping the rest of this note short, I of course recommend that you watch How to Get Away With Murder (and not just because Liza Weil followed me on Twitter...ME! OK, maybe a little bit ;).). Besides Liza being such a mystery as Bonnie Winterbottom and torturing my pour soul at the same time, I really enjoy it so much, especially Laurel and Karla Souza, who just steals the show for me there (and yup, I ship Bonnie/Laurel, though wacky Bonnie/Asher comes in a close second for a het ship). It's awesome and don't let the haters get to you on that.
This chapter is dedicated to my former beta and longtime friend Danielle, who announced her engagement with her lovely lady over the holiday season and who I'm blessed to know. Here's to many happy years for them together, and since they're both fic writers...don't let anyone say writing fanfic isn't a worthy thing, ever. Chapter title comes from a lyric from Sarah McLachlan's "Home".
RATING: R (homophobia, antisemitism and rape threats, sexual situations, profanity, domestic and parental abuse, violence, along with a trigger for minor thoughts of suicide, emphasis on 'minor'. Also alluded descriptions of sexuality between minors, and yes...Dean bashing. You have been warned)
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

Longing With a Cherry Tomato on Top
By Nate

Chapter Twenty-Five
A Burden That Was Hers Alone


Rory's POV, 11:30 p.m.

You know what I've never told anyone?

That my first day at Chilton was a breeze compared to Stars Hollow High.

Yeah, you may look at that day and think, 'Rory, come on. Based on that day alone how could you ever fall in love with Paris, much less tolerate her without suggesting a fistfight at the flagpole come 3:15?'

Well, for one thing, it was all my fault. I should've looked where I was going when I destroyed her castle and it's totally on me for not paying attention. Sure, I one-upped her on the questions and came off as dense around Tristan, but at least it didn't end up with either of us at blows.

Also, with two years of hindsight behind me...it was a hot first impression.

Yes, you're looking at me as if I'm crazy, saying 'she intimidated you, that's not sexy'. But the thing is, she asserted herself, got right in front of me and told me it was on and I wasn't going to glide through like I did at SHH.

Also, when I got a glance of her legs as she picked up the pieces of her project, my mind, which I assumed was fully heterosexual, found it fit to make it the first piece of fantasy material for the memory banks where I hold my forbidden thoughts of Paris. I certainly didn't act on it then, but occasionally my dreams would be 'she's got great legs, doesn't she?'

Damn my dreams, but anyways...

Really, compared to the teasing for being the 'loner girl', the 'nerd', the 'prude' at SHH, my first day at Chilton was pretty much what I expected. But also certainly more anonymous.

So Tristan tried to make his moves. At least he knew the concept of personal space. Unlike much of the teasing I received at the Hollow, I could deal with all of this.

Especially the important thing; Lorelai was off limits. People knew I would throw down at Chilton if they dared made fun of it. But at Stars Hollow High, it was an everyday thing.

Why do I say this?

As one of the most intense school days of my life, I've definitely had things I don't want to face again. All of the emotions I felt today twisted me in so many directions, and I know now I have the iron stomach to deal with it all.

At the same time though, Paris and I have lots of support. More than we could ever know. Sharon Gellar may have ripped the control of our destinies out of our hands and tried to turn this day into a living hell that would have me never leave town ever again and keep Paris in the Manor forever, but we fought back.

I can't call it a victory yet; we'll know that as time goes on. But for now, Paris and I are strong. This day didn't make things worse at all.

In fact, it's more solid than ever.

Paris's POV, 6:00 a.m.

I wanted to hope for the best. That I would get to Chilton this morning and nothing would happen and it would be a normal Monday.

Except it wasn't. From the moment I woke up to a foreign alarm clock and realized where I was, it wasn't going to be normal.

Normal was gone. I struggled out of bed in a daze, slipping back into my wrinkled pajama pants as I slid out quietly from Rory's grasp, putting down my uninjured foot first before the other one. On the ground on what remained of the airbed, I found my sweatshirt and put it on, preparing to get ready as I crawled further on the ground towards my luggage to get a fresh uniform, toiletries and underwear.

Just enough light in the room to make out the bag, I slowly unzipped it, knowing Rory was on her own schedule. I cursed how I put together everything in the haste of packing as my blouse was terribly wrinkled, and I could tell my skirt needed a nice dose of Static Guard before I put it on. Gathering everything I slowly got up, grabbing my travel toiletries and meds....

Then I heard a soft yawn. I turned my head to find Rory slowly lifting her head off the pillow, her mouth wide open in a yawn and with the duvet barely covering her modesty...

OK, not really; the top of her breasts were very visible and I whimpered at the sight. Slowly opening her eyes, she smiled.

"Mmm, morning there," she said in a sleepy voice. "What are you doing?"

"Taking a quick shower, bag over the injured foot though." I propped myself on the door jamb before sliding the lock. "Unless--"

"Mmm, don't worry about me. I got in a shower at Sher's yesterday, you need it more than me." My mind ran a mile a minute looking at her and....

I'm going to need to figure out some way to get ready for school that doesn't involve wanting to ravish Rory senseless.

"Stop looking at me like that, Gilmore," I insisted, wanting her to concentrate on the day ahead, but she wasn't having that, sliding up in her bed.

"Like what?" She drew in her eyebrows, her innocence such a fašade at this point. "I just said good morning."

"In a way that suggests if you had different equipment, you'd have a certain problem to deal with."

"Are you admitting I'm the man here?" she teased. "Sorry to say, I don't play the gender game." She let off the sexiest little sleepy giggle I think I ever heard. "You're dealing with all woman here."

"Oh, I know." I opened the door. "Man, whatever I did to you...I do like having you flirt with me."

"Me too." I shuddered as I left the bedroom to get into the bathroom for the most awkward shower I would ever have.

I was so not used to having only a curtain rather than a door keeping me in, along with the bag protecting my injury. The curtain kept blowing in and I felt awkward not having my rails to grasp on to as I got through the shower. But it was what had to be done for now and I lived with it, even as the shower curtain took several opportunities to cling to my leg, much to my chagrin. I took my time on shampooing and cleansing under the knowledge I did have a seven minute maximum on my shower time. I had no thoughts except a hope I would be able to get back on both my feet soon, and that I wasn't looking forward to navigating with the one crutch.

Thankfully that was for two hours later. In the meantime I got my grooming and pill-taking routine in as well as I could get it before hurriedly dressing and coming out of the bathroom, where I found Rory preparing her breakfast, and seemingly mine.

OK, not really preparing breakfast, more she put two plain strawberry Toast 'ems in the toaster for me. I was surprised.

"Hey...how did you know I'm more of a Toast 'ems girl?" I asked, feeling a little awed that she knew my type of toaster pastry.

"Madeline told me once you have a hoard in the bedroom in case you get hungry during studying. Something about Pop Tarts coming in too many ridiculous flavors and the frosting being too hard to bite into?" I pecked her cheek and sat at the table. "I bought a box a month ago though you always had Luke's before when you slept over, but we're on a time crunch this morning."

"And an 'I can't be seen in public' thing. We'll let the Chiltonians deal with the weekend before we tell the town." I waited as the pastry heated in the toaster as Lorelai came into the kitchen racing for the coffee pot.

"Morning girls," she greeted as she swiped a throwback Strawberry Shortcake coffee mug from the expandable cup peg. "Sleep well last night?"

Well, this is the perfect way to start the morning. I whimpered. "I did...once I got into Rory's bed." Her eyes popped open as I stated why. "The bed burst." Damn it, Paris, that didn't help at all! I thought as I innocently quadrupled an entendre.

A pause and then a groan. "OK, that's way too much information--"

"And she was about to tell you why," Rory broke in softly. "Not...that. Paris had a horrible dream last night and somehow tore the mattress."

"Oh...oh God." Immediately she went from snarky to concerned, as she ran into the room to examine the damage. What had been the airbed lay in a formless heap below blankets and pillows on the floor next to Rory's bed as she tore away the fitted sheet to reveal a five-inch gash on the left side of the mattress. She looked up on bended knee at me. "Was it...Paris, what was it about?"

"Sharon and my accident," I responded shakily as I was jarred by the toaster popping up my pastries. "I...I think there's been regression I held back for so long. A bandage got ripped with everything that happened Saturday and...I...I can't..."

"No, don't. Honey, you tell me you're going into school a sobbing mess." The older Lorelai showed her deep concern for me. "Damn the thick ceilings in this house. I never can hear anything from Rory's bedroom."

"I...I'm shocked too." My mind fell away from the conversation suddenly, jarred by the knowledge of insulated ceilings. "I about rattled Rory half to death with my screams. But she helped me get back to sleep as best she could." I glanced at Rory, who had about the most neutral gaze she could offer before Lorelai offered her own unexpected but welcome interruption.

"Rory's room used to be a sort of makeshift recording studio for the old owner's son," Lorelai said, getting into a small sliver of history of the house. "His father layered the ceiling and walls in there, along with getting triple-pane windows and reinforcing the joists so squeaks couldn't be heard; he played with Babette, Morey and the troubadour from time to time before heading to a music school in SoCal. One of the curses of this house, but a girl like Rory wasn't going to have me pull it all out to disturb her studies, that's for sure."

"Yeah." Thank you for indulging your son's request, I thought to the former owner as I was relieved Lorelai couldn't hear Rory's dirty talk at all. "We talked and got to bed after it, so it worked out."

"That's good." We all looked at each other as she decided it was time to head into the shower. "You left enough water?"

"I did, in and out in seven minutes, so you should be good." A smile from her.

"Great, thanks." She looked towards the bedroom.. "Sorry again about your bad night."

I nodded, and as Lorelai went into the bathroom I drew my attention towards Rory, who was just about scarlet at her impossibly soundproof bedroom. I grabbed my Toast 'Ems from the toaster and placed it on a napkin as she just kept looking at me, wearing that tank top from last night just like she promised. I bit into it as she waited for the shower to turn on so she could go on the defense, but not before I could get my piece in.

"I knew the bedroom door felt heavy for a reason," I observed as I bit into the hot filling.

She responded by collapsing her head onto the table.

"I need my mouth washed out with soap." She looked up with her eyes barely peeking. "I never remembered the amount of insulation in there until just now."

"Well, she didn't hear it, so that's the important thing." I grimaced. "Unlike your grandmother's ceilings made of Contact paper."

She went from having her head on the table to banging it lightly upon it. "Oh God...do not remind me," she groaned out with her voice muffled. "I will never have sex like that again."

I snorted, moving over to her side and setting my hand on her back. "We all do things we're not proud of in hindsight. I should've thanked you for the date with Tristan, not walked out on you like that."

"Well, it turned out to be a bad bet. I should've been a bit more thankful on the night you came over that you bailed me out by confessing your 'feelings' for Jess."

"Why, because it proved that Dean was jealous?"

"Not only that...but that you found it the time in our 'bizarro friendship realm' that you could come to me for help without needing some kind of nefarious excuse to do so. It was the first time you came to me as a friend and we solidified our friendship. You came on your own volition, not because you wanted to undermine me or find something dirty underneath the perfect veneer of this town."

I raised my eyebrow up. "Seems like I found that dirt right in you."

"Oh, God, you're on fire this morning." She groaned, but I still knew the heart in her previous statement as I ate. "I try to compliment you and you're worse than mom when she goes on about Justin Timberlake."

"I guess we need to clean up the post-sex banter a little."

"Hey, I didn't say that. Maybe...sanitization?" Rory brought herself up and smirked. "Using the secret language we came up with when Jamie came around?"

I took in a deep breath. "We have a sex life, don't we? It used to be so simple, but now, we're a couple of crazy girls in love who can't stop thinking of each other. So much for the simple life."

"Simple's overrated." She looked at my face. "Paris, you..." She pointed at the right side of my lip. "A little fruit up there."

"A little fruit?" I wondered what she was playing at. "I'll grab a--"

I stretched over to grab a napkin from a holder she no doubt created (or tried to, judging from the terrible handiwork in clay painted yellow) in her elementary years, but she instead grasped my blouse at the sides and pulled me close for a lingering kiss to rid me of the cursed Toast 'Em crumb. Her breath was deep as she pulled me in and before I knew it we were in a full-bore kiss as I sucked in my breath at the tingle along my face and my chin. I felt lost. Thrown off. She had amazing strength, bringing me right into the moment without a pause. Her tongue edged up along my top teeth as I could sense the strong scent of the coffee she had drank.

I admit I fell into it. Forgot everything. Suddenly, nothing hurt as I allowed her to pull in further against me, and then actually allowed her gingerly onto my lap. I panted as I felt her against me, and then unprompted by any of my known emotions I placed my hands against her breasts.

"Paris..." she moaned breathily against me. I had always imagined them to be firm in my fantasies of her. The reality is much more amazing, and indescribable. Even through the tank and bra layers her nipples were very prominent and I let my fingers linger against each of them as the kiss became hot, torrid.

I felt a hand inch down my skirt on my injured side, feather light to move beneath my blouse. My breath became heavier. I could feel my lips plump from the long and lingering kiss she was giving me. I moaned into her touch, forgetting where we were and what time it was. We looked at each other, breaking apart for a moment as I nearly felt the need to tear down her bra and feel her up beneath the tank top strong with her pheromones and some form of Secret I could barely sense at all.

Her eyes were wide as she took me in, bruised, but strong and my eyelids were lowered as I felt the walls I usually have up, especially in a situation like this barely rising up. I could feel my lips cooling, layered with saliva as we broke apart with that little string of it between our lips. Her bra strap somehow lowered on one side with my ministrations and I felt a bit guilty.

But she wasn't. Instead, she was awed.

"Got it," she whispered, referring to the crumb. "And you." I felt a russet blush upon my cheeks as I turned away.

"A little complicated method to clean my face, Gilmore," I demurred with an innocent grin. "Also it doesn't usually take undoing my precise shirt tuck to do so."

"Oh, I know it doesn't. But my tongue, much better than a napkin. Do you deny that?" She slid off the chair slowly, and it was then I realized the exact position she sat in bunched up her skirt so my bared leg only met the cotton of her underwear, which she then took as an excuse to 'adjust' herself by sliding her skirt up to bare herself to me.

My mind wanted to scream at her we're in a kitchen! YOUR kitchen! With your mom about to finish her shower!

So despite all I wanted to do to continue this further, I did the chivalrous thing and slid her off my lap.

"Down there, lady. We have a whole day to face and I can't do it with my brain clouded with lust," I said as I could see her forming her lips into a needy pout. "Also, I have a half-hour drive ahead of me."

She harrumphed, obviously feeling disappointed rather than the usual surprise she expressed at going too far. "I just wanted to kiss you."

I laughed softly at her discomfort. "And you did. But I don't think Lorelai would appreciate us going at it full-bore when she came out of the shower."

"Yeah...I guess you're right." She straightened out her skirt and sat right back in the chair next to me. "I'm still trying to get used to this. I haven't been this consumed with love before." She whimpered saying the word, and I admit my heart skipped a beat at the implication. "Winter break needs to come already."

"I agree, but we still have to get through the next few days." I could tell she was still kind of thrown off and we found an unsteady bit of conversation before Lorelai darted out of the bathroom with a towel wrapped around her as she ran through the kitchen to get upstairs.

"Crap, crap, crap!" I could see Ms. Gilmore was a little flustered and...


Oh shit, I thought to myself as her teeth chattered briskly.

"I...didn't leave enough hot water, did I?"

"Five and a half...minutes then I became an icicle." She wasn't really mad at me, more a bit annoyed. "I thought it was up for twenty minutes but it's been varying between ten and fourteen minutes of hot water lately. I'm gonna have to have Luke look at it; it should recharge a little water between showers." Grumbling, she headed upstairs as Rory cringed at the tiny capacity of the water heater.

"I can usually get mine down in ten minutes but it's been declining lately, especially after we had to get the termite problem fixed and it was exposed to the elements. Just hasn't worked well since then."

"Yeah, that's not good." I shook my head. "Maybe I'll just take my showers before bed for now?"

"Might be for the best, I'm sorry."

"Well I'm just glad to still have a shower at all." Rory nodded and I hoped I didn't hit a sore point with her. "You know--"

"No...no, I do." Rory assured me it wasn't on me to worry. "This isn't going to be like the night of the sleepover, is it?"

"It already isn't." I laughed as I recalled the night. "Lorelai won't let you have Indian food."

"Smartass." Childishly my girl stuck out her tongue and I rolled my eyes, finishing my Toast 'Em as I began to focus towards what was inevitable;

Leaving Stars Hollow. Being out in the world again, with all the questions and concerns to come. Hopefully there won't be much and the both of us can go on with our days scot-free.

Then again, I expected Saturday to be the same. And if I know my mother, something is bound to happen.

Whatever it is, we both have to prepare for it...

Rory's POV, 8:15 a.m.

There's one thing I have learned so far today;

My first day at Chilton was actually kind of nice. Sure, Paris was a bit nosy and definitely brusque along with Madeline and Louise, and yes, Tristan may as well have already pictured me in graphic detail as the November 2000 layout in FHM, but I could deal with all that.

Seriously, I could. You look at that on the outside and wonder why I didn't just quit after Paris belittled me when I was late for that test.

I could've quit a few times, ran from Paris and just ended it all. Been content to go on and on in Stars Hollow High with a bright, but unexceptional academic file that would easily get me into UConn, but nowhere near Harvard. Eventually though, I dealt with what Chilton threw at me.

The Puffs? Shrugged that off. My position on The Franklin was rewarded with de facto co-editorship through hard work and long afterschools in the newsroom. And you know how I've dealt with Francie...

Well, so far it's been easy. Just a shrill girl who I just have to out-fox, out-plan and out-pro-con.

Going into the dining hall this afternoon however, I am so tempted to not be so nice. I can feel everything on my shoulders right now, l the entire student body with their eyes on us. Confused about what's going on, wondering why this is a big deal. Or on the other side, feeling like they were deluded into a vision they were blind to for so long.

I don't know how Paris truly feels. She's been so quiet, at the point of feeling guilt, welling up and being talked down to for how she is now. She's wounded, broken and I don't know why, but I expect her to just give up and say 'I don't want to do this any more'.

The sad thing is, I would let her. Despite how much love and affection I feel for her, this has been even worse than Saturday could ever be to her. With her mother Paris can easily face her down and not feel affected unless terrible things are said to her. It took her memories to bring her to anguish last night as she lived out the real nightmares held back by her brain for so long.

But now all I see is hurt. Shame. A loss of pride in herself, a need to rebuild her walls. She didn't ask for this, I didn't ask for this, but it's easier for me to deal with. I have the outside life, the love of a town, an open mother with an open heart, ready to take on all comers.

Paris Gellar has few allies outside of Miss Patty, Brad and Madeline, along with her nanny and therapist, and we don't know about Louise yet. They can only offer limited protection. I can only do so much.

But the fear I felt when she was reliving her mother threatening to kill her last night, her own personal Freddy Kruger, is just overwhelming.

As Paris pulled into the Chilton lot after a drive from the Hollow that she felt tenuous about because of her injured foot, she headed towards her usual parking space in the lot, not right next to the building, but a few rows down. She doesn't have a reserved space like you'd think; all student body presidents are offered a first-row spot with their position, but Paris chose to auction hers off to benefit charity to the regular student body, getting $2,000 worthy dollars for her various causes.

But everyone does know the space Paris chose, it's hers and not to be trifled with.

Not this morning though. Just as she made the turn to do her effortless zig from the parking path into the space, I noticed something off right away.

"Crap, Paris, stop." She applied her brakes with a squeak as she saw what I did.

"WHAT?!" she shouted, looking at the car in her space, then pounding the bottom of the steering wheel. "Come on!"

A large and obnoxious SUV was parked within half the space, taking up more space than needed. We didn't know who it belonged to, but whoever owned the SUV was trying to make some kind of point. Paris took a couple breaths for a moment before proceeding towards the back rows of the lot to calm herself.

"It's not worth it," I told her, and she agreed, grumbling that at least she would get a bit of exercise as we ended up near the tennis courts instead for the day. I helped her out of the car and brought the crutches out of the trunk, hoping that this day didn't, pardon the pun, get off on the wrong foot.

"Everyone knows I park there," she said as she struggled on the crutches, trying to remain calm. "I've parked here since I got my license."

"I know." I set my hand on her shoulder, looking around the lot and seeing instead of the usual 100 feet to the door into the Ambrose building, we had 300 feet.

It was going to be a long day as Par struggled with the crutches, hating how she had to walk. Hopping on one foot, pushing the crutch further, repeat on and on. I wanted to help her but I knew she'd be stubborn about it, so she grimaced her way to the door as I carried her messenger bag along with my backpack, making me feel like a teenage Weeble Wobble with a terrible counterbalance.

Thankfully we hadn't found any problems in the lot as I opened the door for her. But as we walked into the front foyer, we were both surprised to see Madeline in front of us, sitting on the bench, waiting.

I expected a cheerful greeting, a smile or a hug.

Instead, she came towards the both of us shaking her head, looking down at her hands and having a facial feature I never expected Madeline Lynn to share.

Concern. And a frown.

"Mads, what are you doing--" Paris tried to speak but she quickly guided us towards a different direction.

"I need the Franklin office," she said, softly, looking around. "Come on."

"What's wrong?" I asked.

"Can't talk about it out here, let's go before someone sees us." She grabbed my arm and without losing a beat we headed to the paper office close by, Paris fumbling for her keys to open the door as I grabbed them, opened the door for her and Madeline and went in.

"Get in...get in!" Madeline was panicked, looking outside the window one more time before closing the door and pulling over the shades and blinds as we wondered why she'd need us in the Franklin office.

"What's going on, Mads?" Paris asked again. "You meet us at the door and--"

"This...this is what's going on." She reached into her blouse pocked behind her sweater and pulled out her cell phone, handing it over to me. "I swear to God, on my mother's grave I said not one word. My stepmother did not. Brad...he didn't either. But this morning I woke up to this."

I took the clamshell Nokia from Madeline and opened it up, worrying about what she was holding from us. I glanced at the letters on screen, then read the words of the text message upon it out loud.


We know about your friends. Prepare them for hell. Paris is gonna wish she was in Maine when this day's over, and Gilmore's a na´ve cunt.

I let out the last word with a shocked bite.

"There's another one. Scroll to the next message." I made my way to the other...

Also you and the animal mounter nerd. Say bye to your social standing.

I reeled back reading the last message. Both were unsigned. I glanced at Paris, who was clearly winded as I closed the phone and handed it back.

"She did it," I groaned out. "Madeline, this isn't a shock, we knew Sharon was going to play hardball."

"But I didn't expect it so fast at all. The last time this happened a few years back with another kid it took a few weeks to leak out. Mrs. G didn't even leave the jail grounds before she sent this to someone. I don't know who; their number isn't in the directory. But it's official; we're all on defense now."

"How did they find out about Brad?" Paris asked. "I never divulged a thing."

Madeline shrugged. "I expected it. There's a girl at your temple Brad turned down for a date and it just became convenient to load the cannon charge with that too."

She gave us a concerned glance. "It's already happening, the ugly things. I know some have probably slipped barbs into your lockers. Whatever strategy Sharon had with her lawyer during the divorce? Forget it, she's on her own, unhinged and she's on a full-court to make sure you flunk or flee Chilton, either of you. RTS knows and I talked to Norma before I did you; they can offer protection but there's only so much they can do."

Paris rested her left hand on a table, trying to hold off what I'm sure would be an ugly panic attack. "I...I don't know what to do."

"Be iron. Just try to ignore all of this, but I know it's going to be hard. I know I'm screwed when it comes to explaining Brad, but I have to do it. You two can either deny or just go on with life as-is. I suggest the latter to try to throw them off."

"I don't think it's going to work," I said.

"We have to try anything, Gilmore." She nodded and even though I felt strong on the outside and ready for all comers, the Rory of day one at Chilton was still there, knowing a massive reset button on my personality had just been reset.

"I guess I'm no longer 'Mary'," I stated grimly. "Ready to hear me called 'small town dyke' about 78 times this week, Par?"

I clutched her hand, knowing this was going to be the toughest eight hours of our high school careers. She looked down and I could feel her love course through me despite the struggle she felt in her soul, knowing her own mother was trying to make her capitulate to her demand to isolate herself in Maine.

"Only five days," she gasped out, unsure. "By then Duncan or Bowman probably will do a stupid pre-Christmas prank, right?"

"We can hope." Both of us looked towards the door, knowing by the end of the day how much we could endure. Madeline slipped in between us, offering us both small pep talks and hugs. She whispered into Paris's ear things I don't know about their friendship, then turned to me with an encouraging grimace.

"Remember how you were at the Formal?" she said.

"When I was a bitch?"

She nodded, patting my back. "Be that, but kill them with kindness. Paris is yours and she's depending on you to keep her safe; do it."

"What about you and Brad? And Louise?"

"It's handled," she said, releasing me, and that was it. A minute later we were outside the office, Madeline in front of us as we made our way to our lockers. If only for the use of the elevator Paris had this morning, I was glad to not have a stairway confrontation of any kind. The halls were crowded, more than usual as the jocks cranked down to wring out a passing grade in their classes before the critical mid-point of winter sports season where eligibility would be checked. I held my head down as Paris and I made our way to our lockers, nervous about what we would find in them. Madeline kept glancing at us, making sure nobody was about to confront us.

Finally ten minutes after parking, we were at our lockers. We sidled in, not finding anything written on them, and opened our locks up, winding the combinations hurriedly to unload our books. Things were somewhat normal as we opened up each of our lockers...

And as predicted, there were two or three notes on white notebook paper folded in fluttering out the door. I ignored them and let them settle at my feet, putting in my books and preparing my supplies not paying attention to Paris until...


I was startled back as I heard her yelling out.

"Really? Are you fucking serious?!" She collapsed right down to the ground in frustration, pounding the locker door again as she slid her back against it and slumped, red in the face.


"I fucking hate people. I fucking hate my mom." She held a hand to her face, grimacing as she remembered her mother's injuries. "I live my life. I do good. I don't do drugs or hang out with the wrong crowd." She handed over a wrinkled piece of paper. "This is what I am now. My life...is now an offensive playground taunt."

I took it, opening it up. In beautiful writing with an ugly message, was a threat intended to hit my girlfriend right in the gut.

I couldn't even read this one out loud. If I did, her ancestors would scream from the grave.


The words were so fucking offensive in that form, I couldn't even muster a response besides anger. I took one of my 'notes' and opened it up, expecting hate.

I wasn't disappointed in what those chickenshit letter writers tried to throw at me.

You're a useless twat and terrible reporter. Nobody's gonna take you becuz you eat Gellar out.

Another one was just as ugly.

Born from a whore...like mother, like daughter.

I didn't even want to read the last one, but I knew I had to. As I held Paris hyperventilating in my arms I took her other note, both of us in full-scale realization that we weren't going to be the quiet coasters we had been for years any longer.

An ugly masculine script appeared in Paris's last note.

I wish your mother would've killed you. Useless bitch.

And then my final one. A lovely little missive.

You won't get to February, Gilmore. Better watch out, better not cry...


"Fuck you," I gritted out, shoving the notes into a pocket of my backpack. Paris was still, white as a sheet. Rape threats were not going to get me.

Especially because my mom had to deal with them when her pregnancy was revealed, or they were a regular part of SHH life. I turned to her, helped her up and clutched her hand.

"Paris, we're going to get through this," I promised. "These...we tape up our vents."

"Rory...face it. We...we're moving targets. All we do is...this, and it's enough. Enough to bring this out."

"I know....I know." I wished I could kiss her, or hug her deeply, but this had to be enough. "Let's get to class." We both got up, just as one of our mortal enemies made an appearance.

Why did the gods curse us to still share a locker bank with Summer Sheffield? Tristan's ex was still strong, still loving every guy possible in school and making her academics low in priority. She glanced at us after turning her dial and opening her locker to throw her bag in, and gave us a side-eye.

"The hell are you looking at, Small Town?" I expected a slur next and squared myself up in preparation for one.

Instead she smiled at the both of us. "What? You two hooked up. Not a shock to me. Live your life, bygones, all that crap. Doesn't bother me." She closed her locker with a side shrug. "Just don't make out in front of my locker and we'll be good." She turned to walk away and I let out a bit of relief.

"At least we don't have to worry about her," I said, but Paris was still unmoving. "Hey..."

"I can handle the gay slur against me. Par for the course but..." She shook in my presence. "The 'K' word? A Holocaust taunt? How dare they. How...how do they even write that out and find it acceptable? A couple of my overseas relatives died in it!"

"I don't know. I wish I did." For being in this kind of situation, I was calm, unlike Paris. It was the exact reverse of our first day ever knowing each other. I helped her recover, locking the doors and knowing we'd need duct tape tomorrow to seal off the vents so we wouldn't get any more 'good morning notes' like this.

Our first class seemed like a mile away and we could feel everyone's eyes upon as we headed towards Econ. I hoped that it would go quietly but as we got to about four doors down from the class...

I firmed up. The sight of wild red locks trained in my eyes. Narrowed green eyes stared the two of us down, a couple of lackeys next to her. She was staring right at us, ready to charge as if I was wearing that certain irking color in front of her. We tried to evade, moving over the furthest left we could go.

"Block," I saw her mouth to the girls, one blonde, the other with black hair and having a large build. I knew it wasn't going to end with us passing silently. Paris seemed to shirk back behind me. I was honestly scared of her collapsing fašade, scared, limping behind me on her crutches.

God, how I just wanted to shoulder-block this bitch. Shove her down. But I was going to be the good little girl. The Mary. The one who told my future girlfriend that money makes people shallow and walked the hell off without a glance back, giving her shade.

I found the muscle girl in front of me, ready to bump into. To ire.

I wasn't having that.

Instead, I halted, knowing Paris would give me grief later, but I had to do this. Prove I was level with her. That we were equals. I widened my eyes, brought on a full force smile, and turned on the small-town charm full blast.

"Good morning, Francie." Her move was next, and I had her flustered. She squared her jaw, looked me over. I didn't look back at Paris. "Last week of school before winter break, hopefully it's good for all of us."

She nodded. "Good for me, you mean," she said, the haughtiness heavy in her voice. "Guess what, Gilmore? I have all the ammunition I need to take over now."

"Ammunition?" I giggled. "Why Francie, you cannot bring weapons into Chilton, what would the Headmaster say?"

"Oh, can the act, Farm Girl!" Not a flinch. "You and Paris. I know."

"I know you do; the friendly correspondence in our lockers told me you did." I dared her with a suggestion. "Did Sharon call you on the Bat-Line last night and offer you the inside scoop?" I didn't know what Paris was feeling as far as her reaction, but I sensed it was between an 'Atta girl' and 'I'm kicking your ass to Uncasville'.

Francie gritted her teeth, standing straight. "Whatever. Both of you better be prepared to give your goodbye speeches soon. Parting usually is such sweet sorrow, but in this case..." she moved close to my face. "It shall just be fucking sweet."

I shook my head. "My, oh, my, Miss Jarvis. Profanity in the Chilton halls? What would the Headmaster say?"

"Watch your back, girls. This is gonna be fun. Ladies, we're done for now." She snapped her fingers as if her girls were the Jets or something ridiculous. "And don't you dare look at my ass when I leave."

Like I would, you bony bitch, I thought to myself as they left us aside.

Soon, we had to break apart, me for Advanced Econ, her for Psychology.

"Paris, are you going to be okay?" I was concerned for her as I knew she'd be at the mercy of everyone, but I knew that her defensive side would also be out soon enough. She nodded, grimly taking in the situation.

"I have to be," she said softly. "I...I guess I'll see you in fourth and hope for the best?"

"If you need anything though, let me know." I broke apart from her, uneasy and knowing this was one time that I would be worried deeply the next few hours until we saw each other again. Hopefully the three periods we had apart wouldn't be too bad.

Paris's POV, 11:15 a.m.

Out of sight of a Gilmore for the first time in a day and a half, I hate to express this opinion. To know it's true. I should be completely above this, able to shrug it off.

But I'm not. For the first time since eighth grade when I had to prove I hadn't been cheating off a neighbor's paper, I was thrown off, unsure of how I could get through the day, much less all the threats being thrown at me.

I have no idea how to be myself any longer. I feel lost in the shuffle, my classes seeming to become a blur.

Thank God they were, at least the first three classes. Besides navigating the desk rows in crutches there wasn't much to navigate, as those teachers usually want us to sit up, pay attention and shut up. It was a perfect safety blanket to keep me away from the expected reactions. Nobody cared and the relief of monitored book work meant everyone was focused on their own grades rather than petty gossip.

What stuck to me though is that while Rory pretty much wants to face Francie in combat, I just want her to go away. I don't want to confront her, acknowledge her, even think that she exists. But Rory took her bait and I hate to say it, but I don't want her to.

I don't need her to protect me. I want to just go to class, be graded on my own merits and move on with my life.

That was before fourth period, however.

Fourth period, Russian Novels. Usually the dullest class of the day and where Rory's touches kept me sane through the entire endeavor.

However when Rory and I got to the classroom, there was an obvious change in the class, one that definitely noticed, especially in a class where the only challenge was trying not to fall asleep while you read or took pop quizzes apparent from a mile away.

That wasn't what got my antennae up though. I narrowed my eyes looking at what exactly had changed in the room.

For years upon stubborn years, Mr. Mercurio had the same layout to his room. A 6x5 desk setup, all the way to the back of his class, assigned by alphabetical order. It's how Rory ended up behind me. It was so telegraphed that Mercurio's syllabus, copied to a poor extent about seventeen times and typed out on a typewriter with copier spackle all over the place, told you what you needed to know.

Tara Garvey, who sat in front of me came in and also was thrown off. "No...this isn't right. This isn't that kinda class."

"You find it wrong too?"

"Yeah, my sister was in this class and...no, this is odd."

"What's odd?" Rory wondered.

"The classroom layout."

"It's not unusual--"

"Gilmore, this doesn't make sense. He's been 6x5 or 5x5 for years. Never in the round; the room doesn't work."

"Maybe he wanted to throw us off before the end of the year?"

"Not sure." We looked around the room, wondering what was going on, all of us students running around the class trying to figure out where the hell to sit. All of us grouped off according to Mercurio's seating chart, and now we didn't know what to do.

"I...I guess we sit next to each other?" The desks weren't designed for in the round at all, forcing us to wedge in.

Unless it was in a classroom designed for it, Chilton teachers never do in the round. Studies the Headmaster has promoted have discouraged it as promoting cheating and bringing students off-focus because they're looking at the front boards on an angle rather than straight on. Tara sat next to me to my right, Rory to my left, and everyone else came in and just took whatever seat they could find. Surely it wasn't a problem as the bell rang and Mr. Mercurio came right in the classroom, as usual more concerned for himself rather than his classes as I sensed the cigarette smoke wafting off from his suit.

Immediately he looked at us and squared his jaw, looking at us with unexpected anger.

"Mr. Moriarity, I told you to give out the seating chart!" he bellowed out. "I trusted you with one task and you could not handle it?"

Derek Moriarity stood up in the back of the classroom. "I'm sorry, I--"

"I really don't want to hear your excuses!" He headed to the room and grabbed a heap of sheets with a seating chart that seemed to have been done by a convenience store clerk guiding somebody to Foxwoods. "I asked you to provide this seating chart." He split the pack and handed them to the right-most people in each row. "Class, for the last few weeks, we will be trying something new. I have heard some rumblings that this class is 'boring', 'uninspiring' and 'insipid'."

And that's just from the teacher's lounge, I snarked internally. You should hear the actual students talk about this class.

"Well, that changes now. I have separated the troublemakers and the socializers in this new seating chart that will go forward to finals."

Suddenly, and without warning, he looked towards me.

And Rory. His eyes trained on us, together.

"For instance, the purpose of this class is to read and discuss the finest authors in Russian history, and the folklore behind it." I trembled as his tobacco-stenched form moved towards me.

I had never expected this to happen. Not from a student, much less a member of the faculty.

"Please proceed to your assigned seats." He pulled away, just in time for us to take our assigned seat papers.

I didn't even need to look at the chart much further to see what the problem was.

Every single teacher in every single class I've had since second grade has known if I don't have assigned seating, I prefer the second row, more to the left because of my writing hand. That doesn't ever waver. All the other kids know that too; they have never denied that seat to me, ever, because they know I will give them hell for it.

This seating chart?

Extreme right in the back row.

No big deal, right? Maybe just a throw off.

Except something clear stood out on that chart.

Lori. Gilmore. First row, extreme left.

His favorite student, the one who pretty much did anything for him? Middle seat, first row.

I prepared to move. To take my humiliation and remain silent, just letting the next four weeks of hell go by because I knew that he knew, the son of a bitch. Mr. M lived on humiliating us through gossip, and I'm pretty sure his pathetic bat of a wife told him once it hit the grapevine.

I got up...

"I'm not moving."

I heard a strong and pitched voice to my right. I darted my head. Surely I was just hearing things...

"Excuse me?" Rory crossed her arms over her chest as Mr. Mercurio heard her. "Miss Gilmore, I made this seating chart--"

"Most seating charts are made on the computer or using a page in your teacher's attendance planner. Not on a piece of notebook paper that looks like it was done in one period of passing time. They're usually well-planned and in theory, should stop troublemakers, but in this case, you have David Childs and Mark Wilke next to each other. They have 24 in-school suspensions between them in their Chilton careers, many of them together!"

She got up and pointed at the chart. "I'm sorry, Mr. Mercurio. I cannot see the board from your assigned seat. I'm asking for a new assignment closer to the front."

"You're not getting it, Miss Gilmore. This chart is final." He growled, almost snarling at her. "I don't care about what your eyesight is, as long as it can read a book. Now sit down, we have a lot of work to do."

She sat right back down in her unassigned seat. "I meant in your assigned chair."

Nobody had moved yet from their chosen seats, even David and Mark, who knew better than to take their desks together. Rory glared at him.

"Oh, so I'm a troublemaker, Mr. Mercurio? Is that why you're sticking me in the corner of the classroom?"

He shook his head. "It was the only seat I could assign which made sense as to how I wanted the order to go."

"Yeah, I'm sure that's it. Not a certain revelation I had this morning come out, didn't play into anything." She began to open her book and I could feel the tension building in the classroom as the small man glared at Rory. "Now we were on page 784, right?"

"Class, I have told you to move into your assigned seating. Please do it, now." He then did something that no teacher should ever do....

He closed Rory's book and took it from her, slamming the volume shut. "As for you, Miss Gilmore, if you're suggesting I have moved around the seating because of some whim, I have not."

Someone in the back raised her hand. "Lupe?"

"Then why were the desks still in a grid when I passed the room second hour?" The Latina questioned the chart herself. "I'm also in a position where I can't see the board; I could in my original assignment." She looked at both of us, then back to Mr. Mercurio. "Excuse me if I am wrong, but I find this chart reactionary and prejudicial."

"That's your opinion." He began to sweat. "I am going to ask you one more time; move to your newly assigned seats."

A few began to get up, afraid to move their assignments, but then from the right side, Lemon, who had just revealed her sexuality only last week, called for the teacher's attention.

"This is interesting; I'm behind Derek, who is a seven foot forward for the basketball team." Her small voice rang through the room. "Mr. Mercurio, I also disagree with my seating."

"If nobody moves, everyone will receive a zero for today's class!" he bellowed raising Rory's book up in his hand. "Now move!" He directed a look at Rory. "Young lady, I am not prejudicial!"

"I did not say that," she said sweetly. "I just want a different seating assignment."

"No..." he got up close. "You want to spend this class cuddling with your girlfriend! You do that off campus, but not here!" A group of gasps went up in the room. I stayed silent, wondering how Rory would handle this while feeling a sinking in my stomach. "Now move--"

"You're wasting class time, Mr. Mercurio," she responded with her trademark sugar and sass. "Maybe take in everyone's concerns about their seating and try again tomorrow. Now, we have a book to finish." She reached out her hand.

He didn't hand it back, his brows furrowed, everyone in class shocked that after an eon of having to suffer with this idiot, it was Rory Gilmore who was facing him down. "Mr. M, the book, please?"

Instead he turned around and rushed to the desk. I knew what he was pulling out.

"For God's sake, just start the lesson," Tara cried out. "None of us in this room care at all."

She was right. I'm sure at lunch we'd finally get the torrent of hate, but for now nobody was objecting to us sitting together.

"Miss Gilmore, for defying my authority you are being sent to the headmaster's office." I would have thought that would chill Rory and lead to a bunch of 'I'm sorry's and 'I apologize, sir'.

It wasn't happening.

"Nice, Mr. M. You're going to make Paris, who is injured and has to stay off her feet, move her seat again?" He wrote more on the sheet of paper describing Rory's behavior. "We're all comfortable here, why should we move based on a seating chart you created out of thin air?"

"Because I'm your teacher, young lady!"

"Really? A teacher? Who doesn't mind discriminating and giving into the gossip cycle?"

"Lorelai Gilmore--"

She got up, to my shock. "Whatever. I'm not expecting this from Ms. Caldecott, Ms. Peters or Dr. Eure. That you'd actually do this though? It's kind of low. We behave in your class. We contribute. This entire class has endured a semester with you and a syllabus that hasn't been updated since Ella Grasso was in the governor's mansion, and you're as stubborn as a mule."

"Ignore her, everyone. Move to your seats, now!"

Nobody moved, finding the whole move pointless. This was a desperate man being undone by an act of civil disobedience that I was sure would lead to Rory's expulsion in the next hour.

One side of me felt proud of her, while the other wondered if she would get into freakin' UConn at this point.

"Move. To. Your. Seats."

Tara narrowed her eyes at him. "They just got pushed out the closet by Paris's bitch of a mom and you want to make it worse?"

"And you just joined Rory in the office." He ripped out another sheet as Lupe got in.

"Just put the desks back like they're supposed to, this feels vindictive."

We were now watching a man break down. "You know what's vindictive? An F. Welcome to the Headmaster's office, Miss Mendez."

Rory smiled as she saw the domino effect happen. Tara and Lupe got up ready to follow Rory.

I decided to raise my hand.

"Are we actually going to learn something today?" I said in my irritated tone. "This nonsense about seating charts is ridiculous and frankly, I'm not moving because my foot aches and my next painkiller dose isn't for an hour."

"Ahh, wonderful, Miss Gellar. You can join the other girls now." My eyes opened up wide.

"I didn't say anything!" I barked out. "I'm just not moving!"

"Well you should've thought of that before you talked out of turn." Well, I couldn't really defend his side any longer if he was forcing an injured woman to move.

"My foot is immobilized!"

"So?" He went on writing up the slips to send us to the office. Still, nobody was moving. We also still had our seating charts and a united front of four girls...

Make that five girls. "You're an idiot," Lemon said from her seat.

"Miss Monroe!" She got up and laughed.

"What? You're being ridiculous, Mr. Mercurio."

"The only ridiculous people in this room are you five...why is nobody moving?"

"And that's officially five minutes of class time lost," Rory said. "Tomorrow we're all going to have to speed-read. Great. Really know how to do the time-management well."

"Miss Gilmore." He was seething, turning red.

"You're creating a seating chart with four weeks to go in a class where 1/30 of the students are actually enthusiastic about the material."

"Hey!" The student cried out, offended as Mr. Mercurio continued to make out the trouble slips.

"Nobody cares. This is a class we need to finish out our reading requirements, and you're offended because..." A dramatic pause. "...of a private matter. Ridiculous. And again, making a hurt girl like Paris get up? I don't think Dr. Merton would be receptive to this."

"Young lady..." Rory shook her head, grabbing her materials.

"I'm going, sir. I don't understand why, but your class, your rules." I began to slowly rise up too, feeling a little emboldened, though there was that part of me who hoped I still had a class to go to this afternoon. Her eyes drew towards the other 'punished' girls. "Come on, let's get this over with." They began to follow her as Lemon helped prop me up with anguish. I gave Mr. Mercurio a glare for this behavior, while at the same time scared for my grade because of this odd act of civil disobedience.

"Come on, Paris." Lupe took my other side. "We'll work this out." Rory came towards me and I felt a lump build in my throat as he shoved the slips into Tara's hand.

"Unbelievable," I whispered, scared of the trouble I was about to be in. Five of us, defying a seating chart.

Again, I repeat; a seating chart.

That'll look odd on the transcript...

Rory's POV, 11:45 a.m.

This had to be it. My third strike. After the deer incident and the Puffs initiation, this had to be the point Charleston cracked and just went off on me.

I was running on adrenaline the entire time I was taking down Mr. M for his seating chart. Definitely not logic.

I know that now as Paris is keeping a bit of distance from me. I could've let it go, but nooo, I had to play the hero, the Patrick Henry of seating charts. Give me my old seating chart position, or give me death.

Death seemed to be a viable option. Making an issue out of this was a bad idea. Us girls sitting there, looking at Ms. James as if she was the gatekeeper to Hell.

Yup, I screwed up things, big time. Just should've kept my big mouth shut.

Five minutes passed before Ms. James comes back out of the Headmaster's office after talking with Lupe, Lemon and Tara and getting their sides of the story. They all looked at us with a neutral gaze as Ms. James approaches us.

"Miss Gellar and Miss Gilmore, please go in," she intoned. "The Headmaster shall see you."

I heard Paris talking to Lemon for a moment, probably probing what's going on. She had no new clarity and limped to my side as we make the walk down the short hall to the office.

"Paris, I--"

She quieted me quickly. "Let's not right now." Her voice was stern as Ms. James opened the door for us, and we gazed in to see the Headmaster at his desk, the fire in the fireplace on a low setting as we walk in.

"Good day, ladies," he greeted us. I couldn't tell if he was angered at us or not based on his introduction. "Please, take a seat, the both of you." We did so, the both of us girded for some kind of suspension.

Well, Paris might have been a little different; she was probably making plans to go Amish. I wanted to be brave in that classroom, but at that moment I just felt like I should've probably clammed up.

The headmaster slid his chair forward and began to speak.

"So, I hear there was an incident this morning with you and Mr. Mercurio, Miss Gilmore."

I nodded softly. "There was, yes." Best not start a rant like I did the first time.

"I understand from the other girls that there was an issue involving a change in the seating chart given to your class and that you refused to comply with it."

"There was."

"And you chose instead of obeying this impromptu chart, to contest it on the grounds that it was ill thought out and retaliatory."

"You could say that, yes."

"And what would you have to say about it, Miss Gellar?" He looked in her direction. She was thrown off by the sudden direction of questioning towards her, but within a few moments she had been ready to answer.

"In what way? Personally, or guided by the emotion of the moment."

"Your own personal opinion."

She nodded, looking towards me. "Although I disagree with how my friend went about contesting the change in seating chart, I would have to say that I also did not agree with it, especially as I'm at an obvious disadvantage right now with this injury I have."

He crossed his arms and took a look at the both of us. "From my understanding of what is out there from my wife, there was an incident with your mother this weekend?"

"There was, yes." Her voice quivered slightly. "I'm not at liberty to discuss the details--"

"I actually do want to discuss that with you, as I received a withdrawal form from your mother that denotes that you will leave Chilton after the holidays and finish your senior year in a boarding school in Maine. However from a call your father made the moment I came in this morning, you do not have any actual intentions to withdraw from Chilton and I am to disregard the withdrawal form per the agreement made by your parents in the divorce. Is that my understanding?"

"That is, yes. I have no intentions of withdrawal from Chilton." Her voice found courage. "Now, or ever.  In fact, I intend to submit an emancipation form next week since I will be eighteen and able to nullify her intentions without any intervention."

"Excellent. Now that I have that issue cleared up, and I do apologize for wanting to bring it up now, Miss Gilmore, in that same call I received another request from Howard that we should be protecting you and Miss Gilmore due to those issues with your mother. While I'm not usually apt to deal with requests like this, your friend Miss Lynn also brought up the same concerns after seeing you both this morning, mentioning that your mother revealed that you and Miss Gilmore are in a relationship with each other."

"Oh God--" I gasped.

"Miss Gilmore, I assure you it was not to perpetuate gossip, but due to threats she had found out after this revelation, which resulted in Mrs. Gellar's arrest for assault upon her daughter. Frankly, I am particularly troubled."

He sat back, and I wondered if he was troubled by our sexuality. Paris seemed like she was going to faint right then and there.

"What troubles me is that your mother would intend to withdraw you from school, two days after harming you in a manner that frankly, sickens me. And now, it seems suddenly after I had passed Mr. Mercurio's classroom in second hour with his seating layout as it's traditionally been, he has suddenly seen fit to change his seating chart in the matter of two periods for what on the surface seems to be unexplained reasons."

This was it; we were either going to be suspended, or worse. He raised his eyebrow and gave us both a glance.

"After talking to the three other girls involved, and surmising from Mr. Mercurio's past behavior, I can only come to one conclusion."

You won't be going to Harvard, I thought, thinking we were both doomed.

"Your disobedience, in this case, was justified."

I nodded involuntarily, expecting to ask him for clemency.


"Mr. Mercurio has had a long history of discriminatory behavior against students who do not meet his political or social views. I cannot go into much detail about what he has done in the past due to privacy issues, but he has been on a probationary period the last five years for an incident that involved a Ukranian-American student and him throwing them out of his class violently after what I lightly term a tantrum for respectfully disagreeing with his views regarding the Tsarist and Soviet eras, and another incident where a slur was used in reference to a gay student. I also expected him to update his syllabus to contemporary standards after a meeting this summer, but judging from the comments of the girls, he continues to use the same antiquated lesson plan the Regents and I told him to end use of."

"But...we're still in trouble, right?" Paris asked. "We refused to take the chart. I know we're in the wrong."

"On the surface, you certainly are. And I still must assess some kind of penalty from that, which will be the failure of one pop quiz." Paris frowned, her mind in a panic about an A-. "However, since the action seems to have clearly been caused by this reaction to petty gossip, an inappropriate and frankly appalling seating chart where the instructor was just asking for a reenactment of an early violent classroom scene in Stand & Deliver, and his uncalled-for reaction against your objections, I will ask you both merely to write an independent essay about how civil disobedience is a concept that must be used in selective circumstances, and why it might not be appropriate in others. Four pages, double-spaced, by Thursday afternoon in my mailbox; an acceptable essay will make up the points lost in the failed pop quiz."

I nodded. "And a suspension, right?"

"What?" The headmaster shook his head vehemently. "There will be no kind of suspension or detention, Miss Gilmore, for either you, Miss Gellar, Miss Monroe, Miss Garvey, nor Miss Mendez. No marks will be rendered. You were given an appalling seating chart and rightfully fought it. And if God forbid, Miss Gellar was further injured for having to move, the school's damages for her injuries would have been for a preventable accident. We would have been 100% in the wrong and paid out any claim she might make. Clearly, Mr. Mercurio was being vindictive against the two of you and took it out on the entire class, and I cannot accept that as proper behavior from an instructor in this school."

He continued on. "I have already offered the other three girls this opportunity. You may withdraw from the class and use the period time for independent study for the rest of the semester. You will still receive the final exam as scheduled, but it will be rendered by an independent proctor rather than Mr. Mercurio. I will be letting him know he will not have further classes for an indefinite period due to this new incident, and that based on his past behavior and inactions, I will use my powers as the Headmaster to terminate his employment with Chilton Academy as soon as the union channels nullify his appeal; thank God we don't have a layered union that would drag this on for eternity."

"Sir, you really don't have to do that!" I said, surprised by how firm he was about this. "I don't want to have him fired."

"Miss Gilmore, one of the tenets a Chilton instructor must meet is respecting their students, especially their lives outside of the school. He has not done that several times in his career. I cannot accept having an employee do that, especially to the brightest students in the next graduating class. What goes on in the privacy of your homes is not any of our business, and as long as you are not being hoodlums or acting like total fools, I cannot judge you for your relationship with each other."

"OK." I could only take in what he said and try to understand it. "But you said Madeline was warned and--"

"And regarding that, I have been in contact with Ms. Peters, who you and Paris did divulge the information to before this...I don't know what to call it, except an inexcusable action by your mother upon her departure from the Department of Corrections last evening. She is aware of this, and you can be assured that any further malfeasance by students involving those puerile messages in your locker, such as what occurred this morning, it will not happen again. As for your parking arrangements, Miss Gellar, I have already ordered security to ticket and tow the vehicle that obstructed your space this morning. You may move your car back during lunch."

"That's all well and good...but...but..." she whimpered. "What about Francine Jarvis?"

"Again, appraised by Ms. Peters, Miss Gellar. You have my word that she will not be out of line. However, Miss Gilmore, I will warn you not to seek any kind of reprisal against her outside of parliamentary means within student government. Considering your verbal fireworks with her at the last meeting, consider this your 'bench warning'." I felt the serious tone burn through me. "Do not seek retaliation."

"No sir, I will not."

"Great." He looked at the two of us. "Really, this is what I've been looking forward to since the Regents dumped Cameron and brought me in. A real capital opportunity to show hate is not a part of Chilton. But enough about that; you are all in the clear, and hopefully this will be a non-issue in the future."

"And if it is?" Paris wasn't so sure.

"Paris...I am going to say this once, and only once to you. As editor-in-chief of the Franklin and the leader of student government, you have my backing. No matter who you love, I don't care, as long as you're level-headed, and in control. I'm not using my authority to force you out anytime soon."

With that, Paris relaxed a bit. "Thank you sir."

"Although, I will note one thing before you both depart." He shook his head. "Please, for the love of God, don't be like Mr. DuGrey and Miss Sheffield a couple years back. I don't care what sex you are, but keep your displays of affection private. I still haven't recovered from that knucklehead trying to defend sucking face in front of the entire student body."

"Trust me, you have nothing to worry about, sir. No PDA's from either of us." I blushed, knowing there was no way Paris would want a locker PDA on that level. We both got up. "Again, I do offer my apologies for what I did, sir. I assure you it will not happen again."

"Please hold yourselves to that promise then, ladies. Now, if there's nothing else here to be done..." Feeling the meeting was complete he began to usher us out of the room. Paris began to find her stride with her crutches and exited quickly with the weight on her shoulders, but not before the headmaster grasped my shoulder.

"One more thing, Miss Gilmore." I turned to him, wondering how he'd complete this lack of punishment.


"I did hear from your mother too, earlier this morning after a call to her workplace from Mrs. Gellar intending to 'make life difficult' for her and you," he said. "To put it lightly, she would 'raise hell' if I didn't handle this appropriately. As I've heard from your grandfather that she knows me as 'Il Duce', I felt it appropriate that I should probably regard this as you being like your mother."

"Indeed, yes." I chuckled. "I did get it from her."

"Let's not see you in here again until I give you a Harvard recommendation then, please. Behave, young lady." A smile. "Off you go." I left the office, feeling relieved, yet unsure as I came upon my girlfriend and the other four girls talking, relaxed and at ease.

Though I knew I was in a bit of trouble, it came off much better than it could have. Lemon motioned for me to come closer as Paris glanced at me with a neutral look.

"I felt...I don't even know how I felt, but it was empowering! If I would've done that in front of Francie she would've kicked my butt!"

"I may have done that, if I could kick you," Paris cracked. "But I guess you did the right thing, despite my disagreement." I approached feeling a bit apprehensive even if we dodged a bullet. "I was expecting expulsion. Or him to pass through the Milo Hall app anyways."

"Paris, you're not mad at me, are you?" I said, finally asking the question I held in since we were sent off. She was silent for a few moments, chewing on her answer. "I really am sorry I dragged you into this. Maybe--"

"This isn't how I wanted it to be. I know you didn't want it to be this way either. But...this is the right now and we've got to deal with it, even if you suddenly went off the deep end." She grasped my hand lightly. "I am mad. But it's going to pass, because you did the right thing."

"I don't feel like I did," I admitted. "It was stupid."

"You grew a backbone, Gilmore. That's what I've wanted you to do; to fight, to be an equal here, prove that you deserve to be here as much as us Chilton lifers have. It may not have been at the right time, but...you did good."

"If you're sure."

"I am." She glanced a warning at me. "Just please, the next time, don't make it this big."

"I just got into the moment. Too much." I could easily admit I could have handled it much better and we did get lucky. "Could've been worse."

"A bit." She was able to offer a small smile, a solace we had done right. "You could've called him 'Quippy'."

Lemon snorted at that moment, reminded of one of the moments I continue to dread to this day. I wanted to glare, but really couldn't muster it.

Because I was happy about one thing that came out of this.

"Paris, you realize what happened today, right? We finally got out of RN. We just have to rote read the books for the next few weeks and this nightmare of a class is over."

"I didn't even realize that." We left the headmaster's office, feeling a little lighter, and if still with the knot in our stomachs. "I don't care how it came, I'll take that." We were relieved, although still uneasy as lunch approached that our first few hurdles to being outed had been a bit less high than we expected.

But we both knew, uneasily, that there were still roadblocks ahead...

Paris's POV, 2:00 p.m.

The time seems to be drifting slowly. I don't know how to make much sense out of time right now. Sometimes it speeds up, but at other times, it slows down.

Most of the time over the last few weeks, that's been good. Because those are the private moments I spend with Rory. The ones I want to last much longer than they really are.

But then, there are these times. The portions of your life you wish you had never lived, that you wish you could just rip off like a bandage, or warp through like in Mario 2.

Funny how I remember that game and the entire three Louise and I spent playing through it. I treasure those moments spent with her, feeling less like an obligation and more like someone who knows me through the thick and thin.

Will I ever get that back with her? Can we get back to those times where we did more than tolerate each other for the sake of society?

I'm mad at myself. Holding massive disappointment. I remember my childhood, when Louise and I made all these promises to share anything, no matter what.

Regret just keeps settling in my stomach, making me feel unsure this is all worth the hassle and hurt of going through. This day has been confusing and a jumble and I don't know how to feel.

Except I know that not having Louise hurts me even more than my mother's disownment.

It's probably best to just recount all if it straight, or else I'll lose the thread too easily and go into dramatics over it all.


Coming out of the chaos of the Russian Novels situation I knew this day just was going to keep throwing hurdles at me. Even though I got off light with the Headmaster I still was feeling perturbed at Rory for dragging me into her conflict with Mr. Mercurio. We talked about it as we headed towards the dining hall.

"Next time, would you give me a little heads-up, please?" I plead with her. "We could have just approached him after class and made reasonable accommodations."

"Reasonable doesn't exist with him," Rory argued, glancing down. "He doesn't have any cause to be reasonable."

"I just don't like disrespecting teachers though. It's an awkward position, Gilmore; you don't see me arguing with Ms. Peters about every issue involving the Franklin."

"But what if she was opposed to something?"

"Then it's discussed rationally and we come to some kind of agreement."

"You're more idealistic than I am, Paris." She sighed as she opened up her locker and put her books in, exchanging them for her afternoon classes. "I was getting tired of him anyways, weren't you?"

"I was, yes. But I guess I'm just easier about handling teacher quirks." I hissed slightly as I felt my foot hit the flooring a bit too hard on a step. "I hope this heals soon. Not that easy navigating the halls when you have this lingering." Rory gave me an apologetic look, knowing I was tiring of the subject.

"I guess we can agree to disagree then." Getting our books the both of us headed for the dining hall and our usual table, and I was thankful for a good chair for at least a half-hour to sit in. Madeline had been kind enough to slide a spare chair next to mine to rest my foot. I sat down, handed Rory my ID so she could get my food with my account and sat in front of Madeline, who was waiting for Brad to appear.

"He's not going to come." She looked around the large room, worried. "Oh, what did I get myself into?"

"Why wouldn't he?" I didn't understand. "Madeline, Brad gets a social upgrade with you, it's--"

"No, not that." She leaned in closer so she could share her worry with me more privately. "Some of the lacrosse guys confronted him this morning and told him he's not good enough for me. Looked all threatening and stuff."

"So? They're out of season now, and complete idiots anyways. The lax bros are rejected football players, you know that."

"No, but you know Brad, he's got tissue paper skin. He wanted us to at least get to New Year's before he went public, and that got ruined."

I shook my head; nothing like the worry of Chilton's odd couple to make me forget my own woes. "Madeline, he'll be fine. You shouldn't worry about him, he can fend for himself."

"I know, but my dating history? Now that it's public the bets are starting to see how long this goes. My longest relationship was seven months. Seven!" She held up her fingers. "You know how it feels to have your dating life as a spectator sport?!"

"Thank God, no." Hopefully this dating life I had wouldn't even be listed. "You shouldn't be worried."

"I'm not. I just...I..." She groaned hastily. "I'm just scared of how they'll approach asking us intimate questions. Brad doesn't do that. He's not a kisser and teller!"

"I'm not?" It was then Brad slid in. "I definitely am not, for the record."

"Oh...um, Brad." Madeline glanced nervously. "I...I thought that you might want to...sit alone for today. You know, because of the things the lacrosse guys said?"

"What did they say?" He looked pensive as he grasped his milk carton and bent the flap back to open the container. "Besides acting like they always do?"

"Just...that." A moment of silence as they glanced at each other. "This is the first time we've been together since all of us got revealed. Stupid group texting. Stupid Sharon Gellar."

"How did your mother send out a text so fast anyways?" Brad wondered, asking me the question. "I thought she didn't use cell phones."

"She doesn't. But she probably had the Mohegan Man transcribe it for her." I bristled, knowing that's the only reason she finally get a cell phone, for...certain reasons. "Or had one of her DCW cronies send it out."

"Probably the latter." The red-haired boy smiled at Madeline. "I...I didn't mean to be late. Duncan and Bowman stopped me in the hallway."

"What did they want?" I asked.

"To ask if I had an STD check since Madeline...orally copulated with me." Just the term made all three of us cringe. "Of course they said something else less collegial. I told the truth, that both of us had been checked out and were clean."

Madeline rolled her eyes, shocked at her boyfriend's naivetÚ. "You know they probably meant that question as a joke, Brad."

"And then I told them the question and the assertion that you were of a low reputation was inappropriate, that I certainly do not think of you as an 'easy lay', like they had asserted."

Brad, please stop this before I hear about how you are unable to have children, I thought to myself as he went on, feeling like him even getting Dumb and Dumber any latitude at all was offensive.

"I didn't want to deal with them anymore so I tried to go around them. They refused. So eventually I had to ask them a question and shame them to pass, about their own sexual history."

A smile. "Duncan then asked how I got his results that he tested positive for gonorrhea. I didn't even bring it up, I didn't even know. He just made an idiot of himself and...there was a threesome situation with Jacklyn Gresse and Bowman now knows why he itches so much right now. Bowman threatened to kill him for 'giving him the clap', as he said."

"Oh my God!" Even I had to admit, that was sneaky, even for Brad. My mouth dropped open and Madeline delivered a soft elbow blow to Brad's side. "I knew those two were stupid but that's just wrong."

"God, am I ever glad I turned them both down last year," Madeline grumped. "They are literally the walking dead."

"Yeah, so I think with their being loud in the halls, we're both safe now. I don't think they'll come at me any longer, lest they reveal some other secret."

"Hopefully they can provide a needed distraction," I said. Madeline then asked me for details about what happened during Russian Novels and I told her in a compact manner. Both her and Brad were attentive and I felt like I had told the story well.

"So Rory just went off on him like after she hit the deer?"

"The deer hit her car," I clarified. "Remember?"

"I still don't believe it." A smile. "But at least Mr. M finally has a wake-up call. I don't think he'll be completely fired, not with his lawyer, but he won't be teaching his favorite subject ever again."

"I just want things to be normal soon," I said quietly.

"Paris, you've never been normal. Your Mensa membership at six pretty much proves that."

"I mean in the not-injured, not-scrutinized sense."

And as soon as I said that, the next curveball was thrown. The one I knew was coming, but hoped would be just like the reaction of my father, an 'I don't care' kind.

There she was, the girl who has been a part of my life since we were tots. We went through everything together, forced together by Hartford society but finding a bond all our own. I looked up to find Louise glaring at me with a stern look.

"Louise." Madeline started the conversation, but the hope that this would be a good talk quickly evaporated as she ignored Madeline and turned to me, eyebrows crinkled together.

"How the fuck could you do this to me, Gellar?" she gritted out. The emphasis in my last name suggested there was so much hurt. "We tell each other everything. Every single thing in our lives. But this is the thing you have to keep a secret from me?"

I let out a small wheeze, going with the line I rehearsed at least hundreds of times in my mind if my coming out wasn't under my control. "Lou, I was going to tell you--"

"Shut up!" The hurt in her eyes was too much to bear. "I fucking find out my best friend is gay not by her telling me, but from the gossip mill. It's low...damned low. You can't even trust the truth with me?"

"It's not that, you've just been--"

"Distant? Gone?" Louise's voice echoed as I slunked in my seat. I did feel low. Her eyes darted towards Mads. "For fuck's sake, Madeline, why didn't you trust me? We're the Triad, the Chilton Three. We're unstoppable. And suddenly--"

"It never came up!" Madeline shot back, her arguing voice making a rare appearance. "You've been gone lately and I couldn't tell you because Paris kept my confidence!"

"I wouldn't have told anyone, at all. Is this how much you both think of me now, having loose lips along with loose morals?"

"Stop putting yourself down," Madeline said.

"Says the girl dating nerd boy!" The brunette's mouth opened wide, in shock.

"If it was up to you I would've been five months pregnant by now! What's wrong with Brad?"

"Nothing...but I'm glad to know both of your loyalties lie with the Golden Girl now rather than me." She grimaced, turning her attention back to me. "Both of you are becoming goody-goodies and you're going to hate it."

"And what's wrong with that?" I finally gathered some shred of nerve. "At least I'm in a steady relationship. Can't ever say that about you."

Her eyes smoldered. My nerve had pushed me into a corner of saying something I knew that hurt and wounded Louise's pride. Like the Mary Stone crack to Rory, I knew it hurt. I wanted it to.

As Rory came to the table, my whole world shifted again.

"I wanted one with you," she hissed. "Thanks for never making it official; it made me realize I was wrong ever getting close to your heart." Rory hadn't been party to the conversation at all except for that last part and was only able to get in a spare "Louise" before the blonde reacted at her with fury, shoving Rory three steps back. We all were shocked and Rory was especially taken aback.

"Don't ever fucking talk to me again, Magdalene! Enjoy the prize I never had." She stomped off for another corner of the dining hall. Rory sat down next to me confused as the fireworks pounded in my head.

"What was that about?" she asked.

"Apparently she just heard you and Paris were a couple," Brad said.

"But at the end--"

As the food was placed in front of me, I realized not only did I not have a stomach for today's lunch of chicken fried steak with mixed vegetables, I had no stomach at all.

In the blink of an eye, I had lost my best friend. Madeline was stone still as she took in everything Louise had just said.


Rory wanted me to say something. I couldn't. I didn't want to. All of the things I held back. Everything that had caused Lou and I friction for the last few years.

I didn't want to face it. I wanted it delayed forever. The bubble I lived in, the happiness I was experiencing with Rory, I needed just another scrap of it before our cycle began anew.

"Paris, what did she mean by 'the prize'?"

I couldn't. I didn't.

I got up.

"I need some air. Don't follow me." I pawed at my crutches, fumbling for them as I stumbled out from the bench to make my escape.


"I'm not hungry!" I said, cringing as my bruised foot hit the floor before I was able to make a slow and ungraceful leave from the dining hall. Rory tried to go after me, only to be held back from Madeline. I gained some speed as I burst through the double doors and out into the foyer, through the halls. I hurt all over as I furiously felt the hurt within my chest.

I couldn't admit it. I was scared. Only three people besides Louise knew anything about this, and thankfully two of them are paid to know my secrets, while the other would have their blood spilled if they did. My heart raced as I reached the Franklin newsroom, fumbling for the key in my bag and unlocking the door. I needed my sanctuary, my peace.

After fumbling the main door closed I stumbled through the office before I opened up the door to the darkroom, closing it behind me quickly. The crutches fumbled to the ground with me as I collapsed next to a storage cupboard and let the tears fall, trying to figure out where the hell I put that Klonopin. I only needed to take my anxiety drugs only a few times lately, but looking in my bag for the vial I hoped I could get it. I located the bottle and poured two pills into my hand, swallowing them dry, the bitterness of the pills feeling like the perfect accompaniment to what had just happened.

Louise, I wanted her to know. Honest to God, I did. But not like this, not the way she stated it. On the surface it shouldn't have hurt.

In reality, I'm a crying and fucking slutty mess on the floor, feeling no better than Duncan or Bowman. My heart was hurting because in falling in love with Rory, I had to break Louise's.

In that moment, I thought maybe Sharon should have delivered the knockout blow and just killed me.

With that thought and for my own safety I hurled the Klonopin bottle and across the room for my protection. Remembering back to that day. That fucking day.

The last time Sharon had gotten to me and created a rift that I know now can never be healed. For the smartest fucking woman in Connecticut I can be pretty forgetful.

As I rubbed my shaky and shivering thumbs against the inside of my hands, the memories came back. The cold and hurtful memories that were becoming ever more familiar now.

For so long, the cold fašade I was able to maintain for years had been able to guard against the pain of Sharon almost killing me, of her abuse, the academic drills into the late hours. Of the divorce, her goddamned irrational redecorating, and how I'm a pariah on my maternal side.

I was always different, very different. I knew I could never be my mother.

Only a few years ago, I had held the heart of Louise Shelby Grant. We had been the happiest. The best of friends. I was about to take a step off the precipice and assert my love for her.

I may have saved her life, but I know the moment I rejected her, I had also crushed her soul. She hasn't been the same since. Nobody knew that. Nobody could ever know that.

And as I felt my head prickle with dizziness, I didn't care that I had the deep respect and love of Rory Gilmore. All I knew was that this wasn't something I could get past and it would probably turn her against me.

All I know is, my brain is fucked up if coming out meant the worst moments of my life were back out there for me to remember in detail, years after I had repressed or forgotten them.

"I'm sorry, Louise. I'm sorry..." I rocked back and forth, hoping the day would pass soon.

So much for a lack of dramatics...

Rory's POV, 2:30 p.m.

"What the hell, Madeline?" I felt her grasp me with a strength I had never known, holding me back from getting my fleeing girlfriend. "Let me go!"

"I can't!" I knew I was making a scene, but I had to get Par. Whatever Louise must've said to her was probably crappy. "Rory, you need to stay here."

"But Louise just attacked her! Some stuff about her heart and--"

"I can't." She took hold of my elbow. "Trust me, you don't want to see her now."

"And why not?" I shot a glare at her. "My girlfriend gets publically dressed down and you just want me to accept it? I should be going after Louise. That bitch--"

"Rory, calm yourself down!" She stood up and clenched me. "You're not going after Louise. After the thing you pulled with Mercurio you're lucky the headmaster was in a good mood today."

"But she hurt Paris--"

"I know...I know." Her serious glower told me I wasn't going anywhere. "Rory, you need to stay with me for your own good. If you talk to Paris now it's going to get heated, hurtful and she is going to cut you out. I know her. You don't."

"You're wrong, Madeline." I was pissed she would even say that. "I--"

"She had fifteen years she didn't know you. You don't know much about that fifteen years."

"I know that her mother--" She slowly sat me down as Brad moved over. I couldn't believe we were talking like this at a lunch table.

"I think we've well established Sharon Gellar should be awarded 'Cunt of the Century', but this is about Paris. Not about her mother...her. She's the one being hurt here."

"Yeah, by Louise." I scoffed. No one was going to throw slutty Biblical names at me.

"Nothing Louise did here today was her fault. Or anybody's fault." She got up, stern and totally unlike herself. "Grab your food; we're going to a study room in the library where no one can hear us."

"No...why would I do that?"

"Because I'm not going to play the school's Perez Hilton and spill everyone's secrets." I got up with Brad. "And I'm not going to defend you if you beat up my best friend. Now follow me and let's go."

"Madeline--" Brad spoke up and she reached over to peck his cheek.

"We'll talk later, Brad, promise. Don't take what Lou said seriously; she's hurting too much." He nodded and went back to his lunch as I tried to be obstinate, but couldn't. I didn't want Madeline to freeze me out; those scant few minutes at Formal she did were enough for me. I grabbed my bottle of Veryfine apple juice and sandwich and followed her to the library, stashing it so the staff wouldn't notice. I usually loved the library, but for now I didn't as for once, sweet Madeline was bringing me in line as a short and firm schoolmarm. She sternly reserved a second floor study room for us, and with a curt thank you to the librarian had me follow her up. We entered the room and she quickly drew the shade on the door and the window and had me place my heavy bag in front of the door.

"Mads, what is going on?" I said as I could finally get a word in edgewise. "Louise attacked her--"

"Bring in the temper now, Gilmore," she said, plopping down in the seat. "She did nothing of the sort."

"So you didn't see her call me in all but name, a slut?!" I felt offended she wasn't even talking about that. "What am I supposed to do, let it slide? I was taught to defend myself and--"

"Rory, the world isn't in black and white. This isn't Stars goddamned Hollow where Taylor's rule is law and all is calm, all is bright." She flailed her hand as she made her point. "I know you're under this fairy tale assumption that you've lifted Paris out of a world of hurt and hate and you're supporting her against her mean mother, but you have to remember who she is."

"My girlfriend!"

"No. Sit down."

"Whatever." I slid into the chair roughly offered at me and crossed my legs. "She's been telling me things--"

"Paris is hardly an open book. Not at all," she implored. "You got very lucky that she opened up to you within a couple years. It's been years since I've moved here from Seattle and I feel like I barely know her. What Louise did today was totally shitty, but it's been normal for their friendship for the last two years."

"So? I know Louise hates me. That's like the most open secret we have among us four. We tolerate each other at most."

Madeline sighed, shaking her head. "You don't get it, Gilmore. Not at all."

"What am I not getting? Because it was pretty damned clear when Par woke out of a cold sweat last night dreaming about the accident!"

"That's the problem though. She's finally happy and now it's the point where her mother is reminding her that she needs to hew to how she wants her to live her life."

"Umm, she's gone. Restraining order coming?"

"Mentally, you idiot!" she suddenly growled out. "Yeah, you can keep her safe from the dreams and the visions she's regressed but she still has to deal with them. They still come in her head, reminding her that Sharon is around the corner snuffing out her life. If you would've seen her Saturday night you would've known that. She had a feeling it was coming and there was nothing she could do to stop it."

"But she can talk to me." I tried to be rational, but...

I guess not everything can be explained.

"Ever since the accident, Paris has been seeing Dr. Birnbaum," she told me. "Her mother attempted to find a therapist who she could easily pay to hold Paris to her world view and hired this fucked-up guy that miracle of miracles, got his licensed pulled after it was learned he molested kids. Never Paris, thank God, but it was two years of crap advice that poisoned her mind. Then Sharon found Dr. Birnbaum. She followed along the first year or so, but then Paris would have phantom pains, visions, scary things she couldn't explain. It didn't take long for her to figure out that Paris's head really got fucked up from the accident and she'd take Sharon's money, but not fuck her up any further."

"But she said it was pain that only lingered a little while, only a bit of a hairline."

"She took a dashboard at 110 miles an hour. She's learned to push down her feelings and everything her mother did had combined into a mess that tells her not to screw up anything." She grasped at my hand, hoping it would calm me down. "Rory, do you realize what she does to face the day?"

"Get up and have breakfast?" I shot off, not even knowing.

"She has to make sure it's not her mom waking her up, much less in her room. She looks both ways when she wakes up, prays silently that she lives through the day and then goes through a minefield. She mentally tells herself not to cry, to show fear, or even any kind of emotion. Her mother doesn't have a key to her room, nor access to her bills, because she knows if she does a simple voice or signature impersonation puts her in danger. Paris...takes several medications to ward off pain and anxiety attacks, and varies in and out of anti-depressants and mood stabilizers. She has an inhaler at all times, even though she isn't asthmatic. And she burrows her hands into her shirts when she's in street clothes because she's afraid of her mom breaking her wrist. If anyone touches her wrists, unless you know her very well? It's game over, there's no forgiveness. I accidently did so once during a sleepover and she retreated to the bathroom after asking me what the fuck was my problem; trust me, she was justified in doing so.

"Rory...you may have fallen in love with Paris, but you're not dealing with a blank slate. She is on constant guard against her mother ruling her life. I know it scared her to know Sharon was out there last night. And because of that...remember that night you surprised her at the Manor after Thanksgiving?"

"I remember, I had to talk her into staying."

"This is why I'm leading you into why Louise dropped a Magdalene at you," she said calmly. "You need to thank your lucky stars Sharon got slobbered that evening and didn't even remember you sneaking out that morning. Thank every deity, because that meeting could've easily ended with you at the business end of a knife."

"Madeline, I think you're--"

I wanted to say she was exaggerating. The next five minutes where she described what caused Paris and Louise's cool attitudes towards each other gave me more clarity than I had ever had in my life.

At first I was outraged. Angry, even.

Not at Sharon. But at Paris. Because what Madeline told me, she had been holding back and may have smashed a few special memories I thought I would possessively hold for the rest of my life.

There were times where I told Madeline to shut up, but she continued. Even as my heart wrenched hearing it all, I knew now that indeed, fighting Louise would have ruined everything.

I do want to repeat what she said, but I know I can't. It has to be said only by Paris, never to be told to anyone else but between the four of us. That what I thought was an odd friendship between the three women was actually much more complicated than anyone writing a teen drama could ever come up with.

There were reasons Louise had for her anger, and good reasons why Paris ran. I would have made it worse by interfering, and Madeline asserted her right as a neutral party to keep us all apart from attacking each other.

By the end, when she got to when I came to Chilton, I knew much more than I would have ever thought about Paris Gellar and Louise Grant.

I also knew I was an amazing bitch.

"Madeline..." I was solemn. "I could not have known."

"Obviously you didn't by dropping the 'b' word multiple times." She paused and the room was silent for a moment as I sipped my juice. "I know you want to be pissed at the both of them. But you can't. Just like you had a crap life at your old high school, the same thing happened to Par long before she met you."

"What can I do though? She's going to think I have it out for Louise now."

"Do you?"

"Well...yeah." I threw open my hands. "I learn they almost did that and...God. Why can't I just be normal?!"


"I don't mean 'going back to Dean' normal, but...distant from Paris. Maybe this wasn't right."

"Sorry, girl. Can't take back an 'I love you' rather easily." She smiled. "You've already pissed off Mr. Mercurio and Francie too much for things to go back to 'normal'."

A pause. "Also, you never had a normal at Chilton. From the day you met, you and Paris were bound for each other, forever. It was inevitable. It's sad to say this and I know if it's ever heard outside of these walls it'll ruin my friendship with Lou, but..."

She came in close to my ear and whispered. "I'm glad Tristan was your only hurdle to Par. If it had been her you would've been gone the first day."

I shrugged it off. "You don't really mean that."

"You don't know how much I do." Her severe glance suggested she was being truthful about what she said. I was chilled and shivered. "Rory, I'm sorry I had to tell you all this, and I don't even know it all."

I shook my head. "No, I know it was tough. And seeing that happen today ripped a hole in your heart. It did in mine. But it'll have to heal because the past is prologue, right?"

"Prologue?" I forgot even with her new sudden academic aptitude that Madeline didn't know everything.

"You forgot that from Paris shoving Shakespeare into our brains?" I laughed as Madeline realized where the quote came from.

"Oh, right!" Her eyes lit up. "I just got it." She nodded and we came to realize that Madeline and I needed this. Away from Louise, Paris and Brad. "I'm sorry I had to hold you back."

"I'm not." I brought her in for a hug. "No matter what you think, you're the peacemaker here, Madeline. Thanks for doing what you did."

"You're welcome." The both of us kept the hug for a few seconds before Madeline released with the sound of the end of lunch bell. "But you know you have to talk to Par, right?"

"I don't want to. But it has to be done." I sighed, gathering up my bag and hoping the rest of the day would be free of drama. "I just hope she's OK." Both of us were nervous as we left the study room and left the library.

Paris wasn't at her locker when we came by, and we both assumed she had quietly shunted off to her classes after gathering her thoughts. Since we didn't share the next two hours it was easy to think that.

When she didn't come into Dr. Eure's class though, that's when I got worried. I expected her to walk in any moment, but after the bell rang I knew she wasn't going to come in, despite her wont of never missing a class.

I felt my phone vibrate, and flipped it open beneath the desk to read what was sent. A text from Madeline.

Worried now. U have to go after her.

I quickly tapped back a response.

You do it, Eure's going over test material for Friday.

I went back to taking deep notes, only to receive two sharp vibrations from my phone.

Ill take your silly notes, R. Go find her now!

And no, I wont put hearts over them, Paris will kill me :-P.

I looked at her, and I could tell she needed me to find her. I sighed, holding back annoyance, and raised my hand, knowing it was on me to make sure Paris was OK.

I raised my hand and Dr. Eure called my name to let me speak. "I wouldn't usually ask to leave during class but I have....female issues." A couple of immature titters from the guys as the teacher nodded and wrote out a pass for me. With my bag on hand, I fled the room, mortified that I couldn't just say I needed the bathroom, but I had determined that I would never use the bathroom during a class period unless absolutely necessary. Leaving the hall, I fled into a bathroom, closing the stall and wondering if a text to Paris would work.

Where are you? Madeline and I are worried.

I glanced at the phone screen, hoping for a response of some kind. The way she fled out she could be back in the hospital from breaking her foot for all I knew.

After a long minute I heard the message chirp go off and flipped it open for the response.

Dark room

That's all it said. Not even a period, or a consideration to fix her spacing error.

Yup, I was worried.

Be right there, I said, making my way towards the paper office. I was probably bound for another meeting with Charleston, but Paris came first. The door was open as I came in and I knocked on the darkroom door, the light blaring red above it. I didn't receive a response but presumed Paris was in no condition to really talk that much.

I didn't see her until a little bit into the room, right next to a cabinet, a small girl feeling the same way. Her bag was next to the door, and I picked up a CVS bottle at my feet.

"Don't...don't lose those." I heard her speak and set the orange bottle of pills on the darkroom counter before sitting next to her on the floor. She look crumpled and defeated, her sweater off and blouse wrinkled, unbuttoned a couple of places. She glanced up, taking me in as I approached her.

"I'm here," I whispered.

"You shouldn't be." She tried to turn away. "I...I don't even know what I can do. If I should just give this all up, or just." She couldn't complete her sentence, words fragmenting. "I'm...I'm not reliving. I don't want to."

"I'm not going to say anything or do anything, unless you want me to." I kept my hands in my lap, knowing a touch might be inappropriate. "You can't be afraid."

"I'm fucked up. I'm a slut," she said, trying to bring herself down. "You don't deserve me."

"But it's too late," I reminded her. "What's yours is mine now, Gellar." She looked up slightly, peeking her eyes through her fingers.

"She was right though. This...all this, it is a distraction. I cannot fulfill my destiny without pushing them away."

I kept my voice soft. "This is happening. Us, it is happening, and whether you like it or not, you aren't just going to push me away," I declared. "I know what your mom did isn't right. It's out of her hands though."

Paris took deep and shallow breaths, trying to calm herself. Her body continued to quiver as I tried to comfort her, keeping my hands at my sides. She was meek and quiet, worried about everything around her. She turned towards me just slightly, her eyes rimmed red from crying.

"If it was up to her, I would have been dead long ago. I'm just coming to grips with that. These dreams, slivers of my life suddenly coming out of hiding." Paris slumped back against the wall. "I was able to keep it all in and now this all happens and...it's a massive reset button. I've regressed." A frown. "I really don't like it and how it's tied to the love I have for you."

"But you're not dealing with it alone."

"That's the thing though, I am. I've been internalizing it for all these years, what I've done wrong."

"You haven't though."

"Rory..." Her voice softened, cracking as her larynx was still in recovery. "You have no idea how I've felt all these years. You only know me as this intense girl who runs hot all the time. You barely know about how I am the moment I leave school. All the pain, the struggle, hoping that a grade isn't the end of your world. Having to keep it all in, lest you're regarded as weak. I had a life before you that in that dining hall, came back to me and gave me a reminder that I push things down deeply." She glanced at me. "Grudges, I can remember. Maybe too easily," she said, reminding us of our former frenemy cycle.

"Madeline and I talked. After...she convinced me trying to kill Louise was not the appropriate course of action." I gulped out the words, still feeling alien to what the two of us had discussed. "Something happened, didn't it?"

She pursed her lips, her eyes going a bit wide. "Of course it did. Louise chewed us both out for not being told. It was expected."

"But...there was something leading up to why she did, right?" I tried not to be confrontational, but I knew my tone wasn't as calm as it usually was. "I just need to know what was leading up to it. At least your mom kept it private, but Louise didn't."

She shook her head. "I...I don't know if I can."

"You have to. We promised each other no secrets."

"But this was...this was just another in the long line of disappointments. I'm beginning to remember why I didn't even want you to push me to Tristan."


She rose her voice slightly. "I...I have experienced this before though. This is exactly why I did lash out at you, told you I hated you." Recalling that March day after the infamous date, her protective side came out. "It was because I knew where it lead, where it would end up. I mean, thank God Tristan was acceptable dating material. No need to get flustered about that."

A grimace. "If you know about what...what...Louise and I were doing...I suppose we go back to the beginning?" She licked her lips.

I nodded tensely, preparing for what was to come.

"Louise and I...we have a complicated friendship," she started. "Putting it lightly, of course. We go at each other like jackals and I disagree with her, she disagrees with me. But yet, we have our common ground. We've grown up with each other, been together for years."

"Only, that is the problem." Her voice went down. "We have been together."

And then...

"In nearly every sense."

The words were simple, but the image was stark in my mind. It didn't even take a mere second for the image to pop in my mind.

"You are...Paris, are you saying what I think you are?"

She nodded. "In eighth and ninth grade, we were just learning to be girls. I had gone through my stuff a year back and now she was too. And her curiosity was growing. To put it simply...we were best friends. Best friends know each other. I knew her and here she is, with this lusty voice developing and an entire summer with my mother off in Bermuda, my father in the Asia-Pacific, way too many hot days and after camp ended, no point to do anything else but hang by my pool. Swimsuits, lax supervision...hormones."

"Um, wow." I was trying to take it all in. "What are you getting at?"

"I'm saying that...before Louise became boy-crazy, she just was another girl trying to learn, and there was a spark between us that we've always had."

I don't want to violate Paris's privacy, so I won't say what she told me after that point; that's for her to discuss. But suffice to say, I am still her first in the true sense of the word. But she's certainly not new to being attracted to women at all.

I could say I was disappointed or angry. But I guess time and love has mellowed my want to react in an angry manner towards her for holding back this information.

Because as much as I'd like to deny it, I was the same way with the mystery girl at the pond. Sure, we didn't go as far as Paris and Louise did with each other or even were in any reach, but if I were to deny it, I was no better than her.

So I did so. She also didn't lash out, although she found that it happened so young a little hinky as we talked out our experimental histories that led to this point. It did hurt for a bit, but we both had to do so to find some kind of understanding between us as she talked more about Louise, finishing up just as the final period bell rung.

"Now you know then." She brushed my fingers. "I...I'm sorry I held it back. I just felt--"

"No. No, I see why," I assured her, going through the worst part of the story and why her and Louise have the antagonism they've had since I got there. "Have you told your therapist?"

"I'm going to have to, tonight. Thank God we don't have a paper or student body day today; I'm definitely not ready for either of those." She grimaced. "Usually I can flip the switch, but that isn't happening now."

"I wouldn't let you anyways." I had to broach it. "Did you want to talk to her sooner?"

"As in earlier than this evening? I couldn't inconvenience her, I usually see her at a certain time."

I shook my head. "This isn't a certain time. You've gone through three days of hell and you need your therapist. I think you should call her and we should go directly to her office."

She looked down at her fingers, wiggling them around to keep herself occupied. I know she was worried, and now I knew there was more to what Louise and her were than I had ever thought.

Despite her catharsis, I was nowhere near understanding what darkness she faced, not with anyone that I've ever known. This was all new to me. More than the coming out Sharon basically forced on us, having to deal with the demons Paris has warded off for the last few years only to see them come back had thrown the both of us off, and I knew that I couldn't abandon her now. I loved her too much to do so.

She took her phone out and opened the screen. "I hope she's not mad at me for doing this." She scrolled to an entry and dialed out a number, speaking to whom I assumed was the receptionist before she said hello to who I assumed was Dr. Birnbaum. She was calm but shaken on her side of the conversation.

"You heard too?" A pause. "I don't mean to ask this, but more issues came up today. I think I almost felt a need to relapse. Yes...Louise."

A few more details as the word spun in my mind. Relapse? Of what? I knew the term, but I didn't associate Paris with any kind of addiction at all.

"You're sure? There's nothing going on? Well...OK. I'll be there as soon as possible. Yes, Rory is with me. Thank you, Doctor." A few more pleasantries, and she had ended the call, somewhat relieved.

"She said she'd see me right away; her schedule was clear." A glance. "Are you sure you want to come with me? This is going to be a pretty heavy session, Gilmore."

I grimaced, but was still sure I wanted to do it. "I know my mom and grandma think therapists are crazy and don't help--"

"Rory, take it from someone who's been there for years; they do." She rolled her eyes, cutting me off before I could make a counterpoint. "Yes, there are bad apples in the field who use it to pretty much dress down the lives of their patients. But if it was between an automatic admission to Harvard and having Dr. Birnbaum taken away...I couldn't imagine my life without her."

She straightened her blouse as I helped her gather her things. "I only have one requirement of you coming with me; don't argue with her. She is my therapist and knows me well, and I need you calm throughout this. That's why I didn't fight with Louise. There isn't a point, and what's done is done."

"But she--"

"No point," she repeated. "You mean well trying to defend me, but I haven't felt the need to raise my fist at anyone yet. I want that to continue."

I couldn't understand how after fleeing and being so dark that Paris could just push this all aside. Driving us to Dr. Birnbaum's office I still was confused as to all that went on between her and Louise. I'm sure I was going to learn more during the appointment.

I just didn't know if I was going to like, or agree with any of this...

Paris's POV, 5:00 p.m.

I know quite a few times I could have easily gotten into a physical fight. I've thought about it too many times.

But you know how I am with fights. My results with Sharon show that all the self-defense in the world doesn't amount to much. I'm still at not only someone else's mercy, but the curses of my own frame.

I wish Rory could understand that. For all of her irrational threats to manhandle anyone who has done wrong to me, I definitely do not want it to end up physical at all.

But that's light compared to what we've talked about today. We're still a couple trying to find our middle ground, and even if she has her fairy tale composition of how that's supposed to play out, there's still the realism I experience in my own mind. It was stark to see that on display in Dr. Birnbaum's office.

After ten minutes of waiting for the last patient to end their session, I felt ready, calm. Yes, I had my moment of darkness hiding in the darkroom for two periods and swallowing down pills to calm my nerves. But I wasn't going to let it overwhelm me because I needed the time alone to compress and think about how this would all have to come out.

Invited in, Rory felt like she was in another world entering Dr. Birnbaum's office. I had this feeling she assumed it would be all wood paneling, leather chairs and a medical library that looked at home on the set of Masterpiece Theatre.

Judy Birnbaum was not that way at all. Her dÚcor within a modern building just outside Colchester is comforting and warm. Even with the spare snow on the ground hiding the grass and the leaves long gone from the trees usually seen outside the picture window, her office is just what I need. It's a metaphor for how she encourages her patients to be open, to bare their souls to the world rather than hide away in a big leather chair underneath a bust of Freud. She had that kind of office in her first couple years when she was in a practice before she struck out on her own. I still remember when I was eight and she was almost victorious that she had been able to escape from there and into a place she knew everyone was more comfortable with.

The pale red-haired woman entered with a smile, taking a look at me as she sat down with notes in hand. "Good afternoon, Paris." She examined me up close as Rory gave her a nervous glance. "You must be Rory. I'm Dr. Judy Birnbaum."

"Umm, nice to meet you." Her right hand came out to shake the left Dr. Birnbaum offered her. "Paris has told me plenty about you." A strange look. "Of course, none of what goes under confidentiality."

"Paris isn't much of one to talk." I took my regular seat in the comforting leather chair to the left of my therapist, immediately feeling a little more at ease. I nodded at her response and began to compose myself for the time to come. Bless her for not giving a fuck about keeping exact appointments.

I hadn't faced a session this tough in at least a year or so. The last time I felt so rattled was at the end of sophomore year and trying to figure out where Rory stood in my life; even though we talked it out, Birnbaum made it clear that it was my decision as to what to do, something that took months to determine.

Dr. Birnbaum settled back in her rotating chair and reclined with her worn tablet case and my case file tucked behind it. She hadn't really referred to it in-session for ten years, but one day when she had forgot to file it with her I panicked thinking she was dumping me as a client. It had remained behind the tablet ever since for all the appointments since then solely for my assurance.

"So I'll be honest," she started, her voice and green eyes directed towards me. "I didn't expect you here quite this early, but on first examination, you look rattled, Paris."

I nodded. "I am." A push through the emotions. "As you probably can determine, my mother decided to hasten the coming-out process once she left the jail."

"Something I think we both expected as we spoke about before." She made some early observations within her shorthand on the tablet. "You surely weren't surprised by that?"

"Absolutely not. I had girded myself for it from the moment the pictures were thrown at me." Rory was wordless as we talked over the events of the weekend.

"Your mother does have the classic signs of authoritarianism and narcissism, the most prominent traits. I just didn't expect physical violence on her part out of it."

"It's not becoming. Thankfully I've held back and only share her non-physical temper. I don't know what I'd do if I ever felt physical." This back and forth about my emotions and dealing with Sharon's damage went on for a few minutes, Rory taking it all in. She couldn't find a natural in to the conversation, unfamiliar with the issues I had.

Eventually though we got to the nightmare flashback and I described it to her, and then allowing Rory to fill in the details about my state as she was awake for it.

"I...I didn't know what else to do. It seemed like if she kept sleeping she would somehow harm herself. I don't know how to deal with dreams like that."

"But how did it make you feel, Rory?"

"Scared," she said matter-of-factly, not understanding my therapist's MO.

"That is understandable." She made a note. "I'd like to find out more."

"I'm not sure you'd want me to do that."

''Scared is understated, a kind way to describe things. Going by what Paris said, she was violent in the dream, hurting."

"She...she did tear apart the air mattress," Rory sputtered out. "I didn't expect that since she doesn't grow her nails out long, but that's what happened."

"You heard most of the dream too."

Rory shook her leg, feeling nervous, like she was on a cross-examination. "Doctor, I know you want me to say everything, but I feel uncomfortable doing so. This is Paris's life I'm delving into--"

I glanced at her, sensing uneasiness starting to butt in. I knew Rory was wary of therapy and had to help her realize that in these sessions, I didn't care.

"Rory, I need to know," I pled. "We both need to know everything that went on. I have my view, but when you were watching me struggle, you had a view too. We need to meet somewhere in the middle."

This was nerve-wracking to be honest. What seemed like a good idea last night had become so much more complicated in the light of today's events. I wasn't sure what to think of everything going on.

"Honestly, I really don't want to pity her," she said. "But I...I am scared. Now that this is all real, it's tangible, it's not just...well it's not 'here's Paris, my mortal frenemy' any more, whose life I can dip into for a bit then leave when things get scary. I have to share in that now...that Sharon is abusive and...apparently," she glanced at me, "this has gone on since she was in the cradle. I come from a small town and a rearing where Lorelai would never do that. I mean when I found out today what happened earlier on..." She quieted, scared to say anything.

"Earlier on?" Dr. Birnbaum turned towards me. "Paris?"

"With Louise, when we were dealing with the start of puberty."

She nodded knowingly; over the years I had told her how the both of us had been close, but never the full story, scared it would get out somehow. "You told her?"

"I...talked to Rory after fleeing the lunch table and Madeline cooled her off; for the best because I'm in no mood for an epic flame war of words."


"But there, Sharon...she stopped it before it could go below the belt. She had full control and unleashed hell on me and for the longest time I was scared off relationships completely. If that happened with Louise, God forbid what she would've done if she caught me jerking Tristan off."

"Paris!" Rory's face flushed with embarrassment.

"Ror, it's true," I admitted. "That's why I was uneasy with the ask-out. If not for your pressure I would have rejected it because I knew what was coming. It was nervous for us both and honestly, some of that time was spent talking about our crappy parents and how they'd probably cringe at the sight of us both together. Of course my dad, he always just saw us as friends. But Sharon and both the DuGreys certainly did not. I didn't want that to repeat. It was never going to work out because the both of us were nervous as fuck trying to get through the night. And when I came home after finding out you arranged it...I was right. She found out. She harangued me for not him letting past first and cursed me out for my disinterest even if he had a mutual interest in just letting the night end."

I paused to let the next part sink in. "I still remember I was about to head up to my room and she told me that I might as well get my tubes tied, because the only legacy I'd ever had would be of a loser lesbo who didn't care about dating." I heaved out a breath to counterbalance the shortness I felt in my chest. "Like you with that one girl that time...it was a missed opportunity." I raised my arms, turning to Rory and making full eye contact.

"But with you, that was it. You met her once. Never again. I have to look at the first woman I loved daily, knowing how intimate I've been with her and knowing that will never happen again. That Sharon scared the fear of God into me, and made her so unsure of herself that she chose the sexual direction she did?"

"Paris?" Her curiosity perked up. "I assume you're talking much more about what you both have had than you did in the past."

"I am. I talked to Rory about it before I came here, but now I have to tell you because it's important now." I took in a breath, knowing that sharing these intimate details might cause me to go on a dark path. "We were young, adventurous, a long summer with lax supervision and frankly, both of us were hormonal messes without parental figures to turn to and a whole lot of questions about what we went through in sex ed. It had never been an issue before, and frankly I never felt an attraction to a boy or a girl. But we're together all summer with nothing to do but plan for the big Chilton, Country Day behind us, Madeline off in the west. It was just the both of us, alone and...we figure out everything by ourselves."

Everything about that summer is still clear. All the days in the pool or spent locked in our rooms, either together or through AOL chats. Somehow Louise's interest in puberty was more heightened than mine, likely even more. Her voice, which was formerly a squeak, just came through those three months and became that deep purr that makes anyone nearby collapse to their knees. Her first period came at the start of the year, and suddenly she went from incredibly flat to womanly within those six months between January and June. All the sudden my tomboy friend was blossoming into a beautiful young woman in front of my eyes.

And it showed. She asked my experiences about puberty, about what to do, how to deal with everything. Rather than her mother, I was the one to choose her training bra and demonstrate using a scientific beaker the proper way to use feminine products. Nanny was able to help out with a few aspects, but her Catholic upbringing of course made her shy on quite a few things that I had to fill in the blanks on.

"So it's the start of that August, we're in my room and she's expressing these feelings for one of those Backstreet Boys."

"Which one?" Rory's question left me confused.

"Umm...I'm going to say the pretty one? I'm not sure, but the one she felt attracted to isn't important." I continued on. "Basically, it lead us to discuss the feelings that we have. How we act on them. We talked about this amongst ourselves, and we're both girls, alone. I mean, we could ask one of Nanny's grandkids to help us, but, no, I can't. They're like family to me and I can't do that. So...it's just us."

Dr. Birnbaum wrote her dutiful shorthand out on her pad as Rory listened on as I described further what we did. The touching, the talking, trying to understand what puberty was all about. I came to the point where I feel things at a head.

"And now it's almost dark, after dinner, in my bed and we're looking at each other. Suddenly after hours of talking, swimming and reviewing everything we've gone over through the day...there's just this one moment. A bit of clarity where the only thing we see is each other. Of the feelings we've pushed off over the years as folly, and everything else is just this amalgamation of life experiences that has combined into this moment because we want to test things out. To figure out why we always see the guys kissing girls in films and shows, but one simple kiss between two ladies is enough to make people and groups go insane."

I wanted to be as matter-of-fact about this as possible. "So we just kissed. That's all we did that night, going with some forgotten scene on some 90's teen show as the impetus for beginning to be who we would be. The both of us, we didn't even think about attractions or beautifulness or how we fit together, it was just more 'kissing, let's try it'. And it was...nice. Really nice. I was surprised at how it felt to finally kiss someone in the context of sexuality and...I guess I could say I was glad it was Louise who did it for me, because as a friend it was the best course of action. We knew each other, and we were neutral. We couldn't break each other's hearts."

Here's where the complications came in. "But then the next few nights, I was confused as I slept. Where did my thoughts about an unknown boy go in my dreams? Why did it seem suddenly that I could sense Lou in them? The way she looked at me, how we touched, could talk for hours about everything and nothing. And making it worse, it was the time I began to shirk layers in sleep when I knew my parents or Nanny wasn't checking on me. I'd wake up in the middle of the night with my chest feeling sore for instance. I didn't know why, until I realized by nipples were in full arousal from a dream I had about Louise, brushing against my top roughly." Dr. Birnbaum shot a slight glare my way.

"Paris, keep it PG-13," she said with a small smile. "I know it's your life but..." I nodded, knowing that her files were probably a goldmine to the Letters in Penthouse column if they were ever seen. I toned it down, describing these sexual dreams and how I shared them with Louise, who was in her own confused state.

"She didn't understand them either. Basically we were confused together and our understanding of sex was so clinical, hardly romantic. How could it be? We read romance novels, the both of us, but there wasn't one where the girl ended up with another girl. We couldn't talk about this to our parents. And the Internet? Forget it, not with Sharon putting on parental controls at home that were so strict, the cook had to print off recipes calling for chicken breasts or meatballs on their home computer." I caught Rory sighing at that. "We talked about them, trying to understand. We fled to the library, sneaking through the sexuality section and reading books to understand what we were, but most of the books can be out of date or just think of homosexuality as pure perversion." I blushed, remembering one of those sessions. "That's where she got me in a quiet study room once and..." I whimpered. "Let's just say that she showed and told that I was hardly perverse at all."

I felt the confession releasing from my shoulders, some of what Louise and I experienced rolling off my tongue like an old wistful memory. Especially when we were at the pool or in our rooms alone. It was hardly romantic at times, very clumsy at others, like the time her elbow jabbed my breast when I found a pleasure point, but it was us, as friends and exploring, bending more towards love every day.

"And it was getting closer." My throat tightened as I began to feel it dry. I sipped at the water glass next to me as I knew what was next. "I swore we were getting to that exact point. Where we just knew that It was about to go further."

"So what changed?" Dr. Birnbaum asked. Rory remained quiet, neutral.

I had only gone through this in my mind, and with Louise. I knew it was going to be raw confessing this fully, that Rory might feel even more anger afterwards. But this was the place I needed to talk about it. I paused for a moment, encouraged by Dr. Birnbaum to take my time.

"I...I wanted to go further. So...did Louise. Two months of this and it felt right, that we needed to go further to...that step. I thought for sure that she would be the love of my life. That...I didn't have to yearn for Tristan or settle for a pawned-off guy from Sharon. Lou would be it. I was sure...so damned sure. I talked to her on the phone a few times...the conversations became quite...heated. And for sure, I was assuring myself that only Louise and I were privy to any of this."

I glanced at Rory, sure this was the breaking point. "You both have wondered in the past why I pay for my communications alone, why my line is private. This is exactly why."

I began to reel off what had happened that turned Louise and I from the closest friends in all of Chilton, to barely speaking to each other.

"Sharon...is a paranoid woman. It has been established as such, with our PI friend who followed us for the last couple weeks. She had come home a week early from her trip and a night out with the DCW girls. I had not known that because....because..."

I didn't want to tell this. I wanted to keep this held in, for the rest of my life. It was enough, spilling about the accident, but this was worse, much worse. I held back tears building in my ducts, looking down at my hands, shaking, retreated into the undone cuffs on my blouse and comforted by the material.

"Par." Rory lifted her gaze up at me. "You don't have to say anything."

"But I must," I gasped out. "Just...give me time." God, I wanted to retreat, back to a time where this was never an issue.

But it's here. I'm with Rory, I'm out of my mother's life, and we just got through a weekend I can charitably describe as rotten.

"I'll just say that the call with Louise was filled with...terms and we were doing...things." I paused, expecting Birnbaum to clarify we were having phone sex, but it wasn't happening, allowing me to continue without frustration. "At that time, unknown to me, Sharon had an SNET technician she bribed slip a two-line phone into her and my father's bedroom after hours, one he did not know about. And with that second line, she had it connected to the line I had for my own a since a year before."

"You know a parent is allowed to do that, right?"

"I understand that, Rory," I answered. "But the line was given to me by my father with the expressed purpose that my mother could not interfere with my calls; in the past she had drunkenly got on the phone and ruined many a call for me. She even ruined a couple of distant friendships I had in the past with threats that if I talked to them again, they would be sorry. He had the line installed as a completely private connection she was not allowed to listen in on." I took a couple deep breaths. "As I keep saying, there's a lot you don't know about me, or how my mother has controlled me in the past."

I continued on, as I could sense Rory was shaken up. "I was....well, I was touching myself and trying to be dirty with Louise, and here she was, listening in on us, the both of us unaware. We never knew at all and...and after we finished...." My throat tightened as I felt the tears force from my eyes. "I told Louise I loved her. Because I did. In more than the sense of our friendship, I felt deep and stirring love for her that she shared with me. And we began to talk of....of....going all the way. That we both agreed that this...this intimacy we were experiencing was much more than just what we felt, longing for boys. This is what we wanted, together, and yes I know it's stupid talking about that before starting high school and it was idiotic and--"

"It isn't," Rory tried to assure me. "Just take a deep breath and tell us what went on from there. I'm here. I'm listening, no judgment."

"Okay." I shook my head, trying to will myself further. "So I'm saying all this, and I don't know that my mother is listening in. I had no idea since she had the mute on her line, nor did I ever hear her enter the house. Louise and I think that she's still gone and we can do this without anyone knowing. But the way the house is, I would not have known Sharon had come home at all since she comes in through the back entrance and through the garage and for the next few hours, she plotted. Sharon just..."

I decide to just dive right in. "Louise gets to the house. I expect to greet her at the door and we're excited for each other. I hear her on the intercom, start flying down the stairs..."

"And then, she's there. Sharon, opening up the door for Louise, who is caught by surprise. The both of us are. And there's my mother, putting on the fake 'oh I just totally got here and wanted to surprise you' act. She plays along, letting Louise in and instead of going right to my room, she has to tell Sharon about her summer in the parlor and all this. I'm thrown off, I know something ugly is about to go down, but I can't say a word. I can't warn Lou at all because that would clue her in. Louise is just bored, I'm embarrassed, and I just want to pawn off an excuse that we're headed to the library or something so we can have our peace..."

I feel a hollow spinning in my stomach at the next five minutes as I know this is the point of no return. Where I'm finally letting go of even more of the ugliness of my past. Why I was fearful that Sunday night and even though Rory relaxed me into a calm state, it could've ended in a way that I would have never forgiven myself for causing.

"She stops Louise from talking by kicking at the table in front of her the moment she asks to head up to my room. It startles her, and her throat drops. She stares up at me as Sharon's voice goes from the fake tone she put on with you that morning she was blitzed out of her mind, to the snarl I only know...."

"You will not be going to Paris's room, young lady." My ears prickled high at the change in tone. "I'm surprised you didn't flee the moment you saw me, considering the puerile things you suggested my daughter do to you over the telephone."

I panicked, wanting to flee.  Louise got up, scared to death as my mother took a swig of her drink. "Um, excuse me, I have to go, I--"

Sharon kicked the table away and began to lunge at my best friend, tossing the tumbler to the ground, glass showering across the floor. "You insolent little bitch! How the fuck can you justify what you're doing to Paris?!"

"Mrs. Gellar, I can explain--" Louise stumbled around the room, but was cornered. My blood ran cold as my mother grabbed her by the shirt and pushed my best friend hard against the wall.

I hoped that was the end of that. That Louise will be able to flee with some kind of lecture. My gaze rose for a moment...


Sharon's right hand cut right across Louise's cheek, and the ugly sound echoed through the room.

"If you ever, and I mean ever, lay a fucking finger on my daughter like you have all summer again, I will crush them all with a hammer, and I will go to the police and get you up on molestation charges that'll send you to juvi and ruin your life."

"Mrs. Gellar, leave me alone!"

I wanted to flee, I really did. I hoped this is some kind of misguided attempt to protect me. I tried to flee the room to call 911--

"And don't think you're outta trouble here either, you sniveling little twat!" she barks at me. "It takes two to tango!"

"Leave her alone!" I plead. "She did nothing wrong, I--"

She turned back to Louise, sniveling and afraid to move. "There are plenty of men out there for you, honey. Go fuck one of them. Live your life like the little slut you are, Miss Grant." She spat in my best friend's face. "But don't you dare drag Paris into this sinful lifestyle." Louise attempted to wriggle out, but was stopped with an elbow against her collarbone. "If it was up to me you would've never met my bitch of a daughter. But no, Harry needed her to attend Chilton, 'it's tradition'. Yeah, some tradition, cranking out dykes like Notre Dame does draft picks." Louise was in a full panic, feeling dizzy.


"You ever fuck my daughter, I mean it. I will make up shit about you that'll end your life. And today? This isn't getting back to your daddy or mommy, 'cause if it does? I'll make sure, young lady that you're not gonna see your 15th birthday. This. Ends. Now." A growl. "Experiment with all the guys you want. Nobody will give a shit. But Paris has a plan, and you are not fucking up this gravy train for me."


Another harsh slap. I began to move closer...

"One move, Paris. One move, and I'll snap that goddamn wrist like a pretzel stick!"

"Leave her alone." I'm in full panic mode. "Beat me up! Don't pin it on her!" She ignored me, throwing more verbal abuse at my best friend.

"The only love you feel for my daughter deserves to be in the searing flames of Hell, you insolent bitch." I was freaking out now; the way Sharon had her knee lined up, just an upward push meant that Lou would feel a pain no woman should, ever. "Now, we will be at an understanding;  you fuck my daughter, you are fucked, Louise." Her voice had me in fear for our lives. "Now you're gonna go home, and you're gonna forget any of this happened. And if you can, maybe you can come back in this house again, but I'll tell you one thing; my eyes will be on you all the time now. You will not corrupt my daughter away from her destiny."

"Oh yeah, her destiny?" Louise spoke up, her voice filled with hate for the woman who borne me. "Where she's complacent, borne, and submissive to a total bore of a husband?"

"Absolutely." Another push against the wall. "I've been entirely too lax this summer."

Then, she did something that I could never forgive. Looking down at Louise's hip, she found a bulge in her jeans.

"Hand me your phone, young lady."


"Hand me your phone, now!" She pinned Louise against the wall by the throat, finding a pressure point nearby which caused her distraction. Reaching into her pocket, she took Louise's cell phone into her hand, then threw it down to the ground.

Before either of us could stop her, the components of the candybar Nokia were crushed beneath the weight of a Nine West pump.

"Ooopsy daisy. I didn't mean to do that!" Louise whimpered, scared to death of the slight woman threatening her life and limb. "No calling 911 on me at all when you leave here, sorry about that! Now...I'm calling you a cab. You're going home. You're going to say some homeless woman beat you up in a park and stole your phone. And you will stick by that story otherwise things get ugly. We're understood?"

Louise shook her head. I saw Sharon raise her knee up.

"We better have an understanding, or else the Grant family line? It ends now. I will call your parents. I will tell them that you were drugging my daughter and attempting to coerce her against her will, and while you recover from having your cunt bashed in, Sarah Lawrence will never come close to having you."

She whimpered. "OK, OK! I'm sorry, Mrs. Gellar!"

"Are we clear?"

"We are! We are!" Louise looked at me, I looked at her.

I knew that this would tear us apart forever. We'd never have the closeness before that point in our lives ever again.

"You can still talk to her at school and study. That is it. If I ever see or hear you make a move again...I hope you know how to fucking swim with cement shoes." She pushed away Louise, who tumbled to a heap on the floor as I knew it was time for me to take my licks.

"I'll call the cab, you wait outside, now." I attempt to get a head start on Sharon as she sends for the cab, but it's fruitless. Fran is gone. Daddy is nowhere to be found. This is a punishment I take alone. With one last glance at the love of my life after Sharon tosses the receiver harshly on the cradle, I'm pulled out of the parlor and into the dining room, where I take a battery of ugly abuse and profanity that scares me so deep in the closet I'll never come out of it.

Much of it is in blackout mode. I can't remember, I don't want to remember it, and it's going to come out in dreams soon. I can't even picture it, beyond having to tell my father when he gets back that I fell down some stairs heading into the wine cellar and it hurt terribly.

He never knew what I had going on with Louise. My mother made sure of that by reminding me so many times she put me in this world and she could also remove me from it. I was too scared to tell, too afraid of what my mother could do to me...or her.

Until this afternoon in the dining hall, Louise and I had never mentioned our aborted romance ever again. We couldn't. We'd look at each other, I'd remember the harm my mother caused in her, and I quickly reeled back. It's created this ugly hole in our relationship that I don't know can be repaired. We can cover it up with all of the snark we volley at each other, but in the end, it's going to result in us being fully torn apart.

I'm dreading it. It's my longest friendship, and it was ruined because we felt this thing for each other that seemed tangible and real.

I had finally let it all out, why Louise and I are so antagonistic to each other, yet remained the best of friends for so long. It hurt to let this all off my chest. I had kept it silent, sucked it all up for three years.

"Harold...he doesn't even know any of this. None of it. And it should have been the last straw. I should have said something. But Louise and I...we couldn't. Both of us would be taken to the stocks if we admitted this, or God forbid, cast Sharon in a bad light." I sunk into the chair, guilty, feeling like the worst person ever.

"The worst thing is that Louise was right. I broke her heart." I couldn't see anything as tears fogged my eyes. "She dressed me down for giving up on the idea of anything else. By falling for Rory, I let it be known that she was replicable. But I don't feel that way. It's time. New people. A different kind of love...deeper, more formed. And I have to live with this guilt forever."

I couldn't look at either Dr. Birnbaum or Rory. What I had just told them about how Louise and I were torn apart was hard enough for anyone to deal with, but as a lover and therapist?

Then one more realization...

"You...you are going to have to report this, aren't you?"

I looked up to see Dr. Birnbaum nodding, sipping her cranberry ginger ale and taking a hard gulp. She slid her finger from the pen and took a deep breath.

"That's but a secondary concern, Paris. I'm more concerned for your health than how your mother regards you and Rory, or Louise, and certainly it doesn't look like it, but I think there's something going on with Louise that is causing the reaction that happened this afternoon." Rory was silent as Dr. B delivered her view of the situation.

"We've already talked about this, that having this relationship is healthy and is helping you open up."

"All well and good, but it's causing these blackouts I've pushed down to reappear!" I wanted to rationalize this somehow, throwing my arms askew and shrieking across the room. "Isn't there some way we can stop them?"

"Not really," she admitted, to my exasperated whimper. "You know we've been leading to this breakthrough for years, Paris. It needed to happen."

"It should happen, but not before my last semester of high school." A pause. "I...I'm sorry. I know I shouldn't be saying these things, but you know how I am."

"Too well." She tapped her heel on the mat beneath her chair. "This is not optimum, I know, learning the truth about certain people and finding out things about yourself you never wanted to know. This is progress, so much."

"But surely you need to prescribe something for me. I...I am not feeling at my best lately."

"Frankly I am not ready to change you from your medications, Paris. I ethically cannot if we're seeing this kind of progress, and you know how uneasy I am about any sleep medication prescription."

"I'm just asking for a small bit of Ambien, or something equivalent--"

"And we tried that already," she reminded as I slowly calmed myself down. "If not for your staff in the garage you would've driven your car in your sleep a couple of times and you were dazed on it while awake." I nodded in understanding. "Despite what you might think, you and Rory have a good connection and she was there for you last night. She'll be there for you again. I think for at least this month, we try to manage everything you're going through, and Rory can be your backstop."

I wanted to object, but Rory interjected in.

"I can definitely do that, Dr. Birnbaum. All I've been thinking about with Paris is helping her and calming her. And I really don't think she needs more medication; is that an artifact of Mrs. Gellar's influence?"

"I'm unsure I can share anything about that, Rory. Unless Paris would like to." I nodded.

"Sharon was definitely an influence," I shared. "I do have to take a battery of pills, as you know now. But I'd really rather not take them."

I turned to face Rory, seeing deep concern. I hadn't looked at her since I started telling her and Dr. Birnbaum about Louise, but she definitely was worried for me. "We're all going to help. I'm sure Madeline and Lemon are sure to give you any help you need too."

I shook my head. "This is just all too new to me, you know? I've always had to help myself or come in here to understand where I was at."

Dr. Birnbaum calmed me further. "You have more support now. Don't forget about your father and your nanny, who have gone above and beyond for you in all of this. I promise you, you are not going to be alone in fighting your demons, Paris. Rory has proven her worth, and I really think that we're making some good progress here." She looked over her notes and we continued to talk about the last few weeks, trying to understand things.

Looking them all over in the open, I think I do know why Lou feels how she does, that she felt as if she was being replaced.

I understand. I wish I didn't have to, but it's why she was so angry towards me. As we went over it all and Rory got in some of her own fears and concerns, this is something that I have been dreading ever talking about. If I could take the abuse Louise and I suffered in that afternoon to my grave, I could have easily done so. It literally broke the dynamic we held for years as she feared for her very life to go to the Manor after that very day.

I could make other assertions about why Louise is the girl she is today, but I could easily be wrong about why that is. Until her and I can talk, and if she ever does want to talk to me again, there's so many unknowns in how we will define who we are to each other in the future.

All I know is, my heart has been broken two times in my lifetime from romance, and both times involved Louise confessing her love to me.

On that afternoon before she was forced to drop her pursuit out of fear for her life, and this afternoon in that dining hall.

That's the truth; Tristan was a mere fracture of my heart. I could get over it. But losing my best friend is too much to bear.

I can only hope as we finish out this session that Rory thinks no less of me than she did this morning, before we were ripped from the closet and out into the open of being out at Chilton.

All I can think now is how distant forgiveness in any form towards Sharon now seems to be...

Rory's POV, 6:45 p.m.

This has been the toughest day of my life.

I have nothing to compare it to, literally nothing. Even having Straub and Francine shame me for my existence is nothing compared to how tired and exhausted I am.

The therapy with Dr. Birnbaum ended up going better than I considered. I know much more about the complexities of how she feels about Louise, and I no longer feel anger or pity at how they interact with each other.

Rather, I feel that Louise was protective of Paris. Staying away after Sharon nearly killed her, of trying to keep their friendship strong, but life and love getting in the way for both of them. I should feel bitter jealousy at the image of Louise touching my girl in the ways I expected were solely mine.

But I can't. I know it's the past now. Louise will not try to steal Paris from me because of so much going on with their friendship that I don't know if it can ever be recovered. I want them to be friends again, and the 20-minute phone conversation with Madeline on the way to Bed Bath & Beyond to get Paris a stronger bed showed that. We all want the old dynamic, minus our past hostility, in full force.

It's going to take work, though, on all of our parts. And more importantly, Louise has to come around, but I don't see that happening just yet.

Paris felt lighter with all of the burden off of her of having to keep that all in, and we both expressed how we definitely need more of these talking out sessions. Being able to get out my own frustrations about Dad and Grandma in a neutral venue, without judging or the usual sarcasm from Mom, Sookie or Lane shot my way, it felt awesome. It was just what I needed, to hear Dr. Birnbaum express that eventually they'll either come around or I'll have to break them from our lives. Where Paris had to breakdown over how Sharon almost killed her best friend, I didn't need to do that to express my own feelings, and she explained that my 'be the better woman' strategy was working for the best, and that it should continue as I come out further.

Not that I needed that advice from what occurred tonight once I got back into town. With a comfy air mattress Paris paid a premium price (and the extended warranty) for, Paris and I hoped for a quiet night of homework and relaxation as we came back into the Hollow.

I can't always get what I want. About 6 o'clock, I got a call from Mom just as we finished picking up some take-out for later on. I answered cheerfully ready to relay how our day went to her, but she quickly stopped me before I could go further.

"Kiddo, I've got some good news and bad news." Her tone was worried, and I felt a sting go through my neck at hearing it.

"Ummm...good news first?" Paris gave me a glance, perked up and wondering what was going on.

"Well, the good news is that Sharon is headed back to jail on a disorderly conduct charge, though of course I expect the bail to be laughable again and her out in minutes."

This isn't going to end well, I thought. "And that must connect to the bad news, right?"

"It does." A pause. "She came into Luke's around 5:15pm, perfect timing for me to be confronted as the 'scum of the earth' for taking Paris in and deciding to out you both to those who were in the diner, including Luke, Jess, Shane and Kirk, and before that to East Side Tilly, who decided to blare it to everyone else. Let's just say it got uncomfortable, a saucer and mug with hot coffee in it were tossed in my direction...oh, and to top it all off, your favorite ex just happened to stop in and get told too."

I could only respond one way. "Excuse my language here, but...fuck." Paris could hear it all too.

"And guess who gets to head to Hartford Family Court in the morning to try to defend Harold allowing me to keep Paris in Stars Hollow?"

"Wait...she wants Paris back?!" My eyes bulged out. "That better not happen!"


"Mom, you're going, right?!"

"Of course I am--"

"Because if whatever they call a judge forces her back to the Manor, I will raise hell. I mean it!"

"Rory, calm down!" I could feel my heartbeat racing; Dean knew now. And I was scared.

"Mom...does Lane know? Please tell me--"

"Hon..." The news was delivered somberly. "Sadly, Mrs. Kim happened to be there to get some tea. The term 'deviant daughter' and 'prohibited' happened to be used. Lane was back at the shop, but...you may have to face up to not seeing her for awhile."

"Oh God. I wanted to tell her. I had everything planned out, it was going to be neutral and I...." Paris immediately settled her hand against the back of my shoulder and brought me close. "This sucks."

"Fucking sucks. Go ahead and use all the profanity, hon." I felt hurt, in pain. I missed Sharon, thank God, but now I had a probable angry ex-boyfriend and shunning best friend to deal with back in town. "But I do have a bit of good news out of this."

"Taylor's taking down the display at the video store?" Paris snorted at the memory.

"Well...you're good with Jess and his girlfriend. They kind of shrugged it off and Shane kinda wished you showed an interest in her, so...yeah, all laughs there. Kirk...hilariously flustered and wondering how he deals with Paris in the future. And Luke...I would have never thought it from him." A laugh, and then Mom told me that as Sharon threw her shaming tantrum, Luke 'aw geeze'-ed his way through it all and was embarrassed, before finally just going off on her.

"It was pretty awesome, kid. I'd do the Luke voice but it's so long. But basically he finally heard all this and said 'Frankly I don't care what your daughter and Rory are doing, as long as she's being kind and loving her. Sure, the brat might be a bit annoying and I'm still getting bordello jokes months after her assumption of what goes on upstairs from here, but Rory's a good girl, and if she likes her enough to be in love with her...well I can't stop them, and I won't. And hell, your daughter tips well, even specifying that tips go to Caesar in back; nobody I know does that. So whatever stuff they do in a bedroom, I don't care. I know Rory, and I'll have her, gay, bi, straight, or whatever term those same-sex relationship folks have this week to describe themselves. If that includes Paris, well, I guess I can grow to like 'er, but I sure the hell hate you.' And then she threw the stuff at me and Jess brought her to the ground while we waited for the cops to come and arrest her."

I was relieved about Luke. Of all the coming outs I had to do, I didn't know if he was going to accept us or not, but at least in his own way, Luke was...well, he was Luke-like in accepting me. "So I'm still welcome in there?"

"It was never in question. Although he almost got beaned by Sharon's purse; I think she had a brick in there, we weren't sure." She sighed. "I'm sorry this happened. We did--"

"Mom, I almost expected this. Just another layer of fun onto this godawful day." I then relayed Chilton, Louise and the therapist to her, though not getting into the details of why Louise got mad at her since Paris wasn't ready to spill about that either, though I was allowed to tell her about the other previous abuse in an edited form. I could hear Mom fuming angrily on the phone about that one.

"This sure has been a crap week and a half then." A scoff. "Well, hopefully they don't even consider sending her back; it would be a big waste of time considering how many days until she's 18 and the state is powerless to keep her there."

"I hope so too." I sighed. "So I'll probably have Dean to deal with? Because I did plan to stop at Doose's for some stuff."

"At least Taylor's there tonight, so it's controlled a little." I nodded, knowing I just wanted to get this over. I got off the phone with Mom and saw Paris smile for the first time since this morning.

"What?" A little laugh. "Paris, you--"

"I know, my mom's being a menace. Not breaking news." She wrinkled her nose. "I saw Shane one day at the diner...I can admit I found her a bit attractive."

"Paris!" I let off a bizarre half-smile/frown combo in reaction.

"What?!" She raised her arms. "I have hormones, and she apparently does too if she finds you hot!"

"That's what you got out of this, that Jess's girl has the hots for me?" She nodded, and I lightly shoved her arm. "Perv."

"Come on, Pollyanna, you expected me to be the only one getting wet over you? Face it, you're attractive."

"Aw, man!" I really wanted to get back to figuring out the Dean and Lane thing, but damned Paris had to distract me. "Also, I don't think I want to know how Jess imagines us."

"Better that than 'damn it, she stole my future cousin from me.'"

"Don't remind me. God, that kiss was all kinds of awkward." I smiled. "Plus I had you on my mind too, which didn't help that much."

"Hold on a moment!" She almost seemed to squeal at my awkward confession. "I called to tell you we won, you're kissing that boy and you have me on your mind?"

"It was completely G-rated, I assure you!" I tried to assert that was the truth, only to fail miserably at her glance. "OK, maybe, PG-13? You were sweating out the results literally and I was drawn in and the scent was taunting my nose and somehow my mind was like 'oh let's kiss Jess, see how that feels and damn it it's awkward because Par and thoughts of how to celebrate were still in my frontal lobe!'"

"See, I knew it! You weren't just my VP out of obligation, you were drawn to me." Her tone was almost teasing, fully victorious. Her laugh filled the small confines of the car and I blushed violently as her hand brushed against my thigh. "You were hoping to go to Washington to test out this 'Paris is cute' hypothesis throughout the summer, weren't you?"

"Well...I..." Time for another confession, this time much lighter. "After Sherrie and that one scary thought when you shoved Brad into the locker that I wished you did it to me, I did begin to feel that pull and...." I grimaced. "I knew there wasn't going to be anything happening in D.C., but yeah, I wanted to see if I could survive a summer with you unwittingly before I began a sexual pursuit of you." I felt heated. "Also, I didn't want you to be disappointed in me. Again. After I screwed up the victory invitation...I had to make you happy."

She took in my words, nodding and then giving me a knowing smile in return. It took her a minute to respond before she moved in for a loving kiss, thankful for the privacy glass as she let her lips linger on mine for a minute or so before a slow release. A small moan emanated from her throat as she pulled back, keeping that slight hold on my thigh.

"I'm sorry I'm running both hot and cold today. But it was heartening to hear how much I mean to you, even when you're sucking face with Rebel Boy." Her deep browns were clear in my eyesight and I knew that this was the right thing to tell her at that moment, rather than linger on the ridiculous notion of Sharon getting her back. I couldn't let her think of that, at all.

"I'm sorry I was a massive bitch to Mads today," I responded back. "I guess...I am officially that girl. The one who defends you, hell or high water."

"It's a nice thing to know. Especially in therapy today; thanks for just listening and taking it all in."

"Always." I began to feel the tension build up, the one that I really didn't need at this time of day, and where we were, in the parking lot of a Tuesday Morning. "Par?"


"You move those fingers up any higher," I gasped, "I'm gonna grab your hand and force it up my panties."

That got her to quickly slide the hand off my thigh with a scoff. "Unbelievable. That gets you hot, just my touching your thigh?"

I shook my head, my voice filled with lust. "God, no. Just looking at you right now is getting me turned on."

"Beaten up and on crutches?" She shook her head.

"Not at all...just the thought of being able to call you mine," I intoned. A tinge of possessiveness tugged at me. "We went through hell today, but it lead to heaven with you."

OK, that might have been a bit much, as I got the eyeroll from that line, but it still made Paris bite to direct the conversation elsewhere, avoiding a public indecency charge.

"I just wanted to say again that I'm thankful I can tell you things, even if they end up hurting."

"You mean Louise?" I shook my head. "I'm madder that you didn't tell anyone you were both beaten for that find-out than anything you two did that summer." I looked down at my fingers as I tried to hold back the anger that I felt about Sharon. "I know you and she have had a tough time lately, and now I know why."

"But I'm always going to love a small part of her. You know that."

"I do, just like that shrinking part of my heart still yearns for Dean. He was my first relationship, the dip in the water. Louise was yours but until today, you had it on good terms. I promise you though, I don't want you and her to be in the past tense. I want you two to reconcile your friendship and I refuse to be in your way at all. Unless she does something physical, I'm neutral in all this and just want you happy again."

"You...you really mean that?" Her voice rose slightly. "Even though?"

It was the truth; all the anger was gone that she hid it from me. "I hold all my trust in you," I said, looking up. "I wouldn't have risked taking on Mr. Mercurio today if there was a doubt in my mind this was the wrong thing."

She grimaced. "Still suicidal though."

"But we're out of that class now, never to read those long tomes again. It was worth it."

"Well, when you put it that way." A small laugh, and then a quick stolen kiss. "You know what we can do in that hour on independent study now, right?"

"Study up for our other classes?" Oh boy, there was the knowing smile.

"We can study, sure. But I'm looking forward more to massages with...fewer layers. Deeper, more relaxing." Her breath fluttered against my mouth.

"Private study room with the shade drawn?" A nod, and I shuddered. "I'm wound up enough getting through your sweater and blouse."

"You do have to make it up to me later tonight," she intoned as her voice filled with lust. "After we get this airbed together, we should probably test it for sturdiness."

"Oh...definitely." I wanted to avert my gaze, but it was proving hard as I imagined my girlfriend beneath my hands, stark and bare. Judging from Mom though, we had a couple of obstacles to get over before we could even think of relaxing massages.

"Let's get the Dean situation over with," she said, right on my wavelength. "The less I have to deal with that cheating bastard, the better I'll feel."

I can admit easily that I am worried about his reaction, since Dean isn't exactly the paragon of patience, and holding this back for so long? I could easily be in the wrong here.

At least I know Luke and Jess are on my side. Even if one of them is trying to deal with a gay me, and the other...

Yeah, again, I don't want to think about Jess or Shane or their reactions. Paris has me wound up enough herself!

I knew this wasn't one of the best ideas ever. I should have just gone right home.

But it's all done. It's done, thank God, and hopefully I'll begin to see the last two years sexually as just the sexual equivalent of the Patriots exhibition season, as they stomp all over the Lions or...that's really the only 'this team is bad' comparison I have. Not much of a football fan.

I'm beyond tense; I'm feeling like anyone except Paris, Madeline, Brad and Mom on this entire day were conspiring to take me down, make me give up and cry uncle. I could have avoided the market easily, just sent Mom to get things.

But then he would've just went off on her. No, this was my life, my decision. I found out I was attracted to women and tried to let Dean down easily even with all he did beforehand, so I had to do all of this, and it was hard.

Much harder than I thought.

We needed to buy Paris her special soy milk, which she missed to a point that made my want of coffee seem slight in comparison. Her brand is sold in smaller markets, so Shop-Rite wouldn't work.

Taylor stocked it and Mom bought it for Paris's Thursday nights. But we were now out, so the trip was needed, no matter how much we dreaded being in there.

I parked the car, helped Paris out onto her crutches and we headed into the market, hopeful that there wouldn't be a confrontation. My fingers were crossed that he was on a break in the back and we both could get out unscathed.

Actually, that's how it worked out, at first. We came in the market and began to head towards the back...

"Young lady."

Oh, crap. There was Taylor at the register, his eyes directed at the both of us.

His greeting was directed at Paris.

Double crap.

"I would like to talk to you about some news I happened to hear this afternoon from East Side Tilly."

She looked confused. "Who is East Side Tilly?" Not a surprise, but I was at least a bit relieved it was her who was doing the gossip mongering, and not Babette. Certainly not Miss Patty, who managed to keep my confidence for so long.

"I...I'm going to go get the milk." I knew it was best to let Taylor rant out, and Par nervously agreed with me, taking the brunt of Taylor for me.

I listened to the conversation as I made my way towards the dairy case, the blaring Christmas music stuffing out parts of the conversation.

"I would like to say--"

"What? I'm not sorry I won that contest with Rory, sir. You put me through a torturous night of dancing."

"But to have a romance with her? You realize that she has no experience or role model to pair with having a relationship with you?"

I leaned in closer as I headed down the small aisle, away from the music speaker above it.

"I do not have to answer to you, or this town. You cannot outlaw our relationship, nor force me out."

"I wasn't saying that--"

"You just questioned if I had good intentions or intended to ruin her life and this town's! Frankly, Rory's private is absolutely none of your business!"

"It is when she's this town's biggest hope--"

I heard her voice raise. "Let's just lay it down here, pal; I'm her girlfriend. I'm doing nothing illegal, you're not going to call a town meeting, pillory me, carry milk cans, or make me bale hay or whatever you folks need me to do to prove my virtue to her. I'm here until I can go home again and you have no legal authority to stop me from doing whatever I want with Rory. Understand that, sir."

"Miss Gellar, I am not questioning anything, I'm just concerned--"

"For God's sake, I know! I know I will face a damned pitchfork mob if I break her heart! I will not do that! Now leave me the heck alone, let me get my milk and accept my money--"

"Is there a problem here?"

I grabbed the milk just as I heard another voice come in the conversation.

"Oh, shit." I didn't want to curse in Doose's, but that was the point that my ex decided it was time to interject in. I tried to race down the aisle but stayed distant, knowing Paris could get this one.

"As long as you have paper bags, I see no problem," she responded. "Rory's picking up soy milk, Chicken in a Biskit and pantyhose for me. Oh, and a box of ob." A pause, and a definite bite to her voice which suggested Dean was beneath her, which I'll admit made me swoon.

She scoffed, as if dealing with a 'rube from the sticks', even though Dean was from Chicago's North Shore. "I'm sure you've purchased your ex-girlfriend tampons if she desperately needed them in the past as the love of her life."

I was relieved to spend a little more time in the back of the store, and snorted as I remembered the one time I asked him to make a feminine needs run during a heavy period which he absolutely refused to do; I ended up having to swipe one of Mom's maxi pads and make the trip over myself even with my extreme loathing of them.

"Well I have a problem with you," he responded back as I hoped I picked the right hosiery color from the No Nonsense display. "You convinced Rory to dump me so you could sway her to fall in love with you."

"She's in the store here and can hear you."

"Good, I want her to hear me." God, I loved that whiny voice once upon a time. Why?! I was exasperated as I found her oddball cracker indulgence that tasted like neither chicken nor biscuits. "She was wrong to let me go."

"Oh, I think she was just right in her decision. She made it on her own and had her own agency in choosing to do so."

"She's not a part of the FBI."

You're kidding me. You don't know what that means?! I screamed internally, before forgetting this was Dean who said it.

"OK, if you didn't understand; she chose to break it off from you. I didn't care if she did or not before that first time we kissed. I didn't even say I had a crush on her; she made every single move, you simpleton."

"According to your mom you acted like a wanton slut." Welp, so much for Dean not going below the belt. "You begged for her to dump me so you could brainwash her with whatever you call sex and take away Harvard from her."

"Again, you realize Rory is here, right?" Paris wasn't going to give him the rope he was gladly providing himself. "She knows what she did and she can respond to every one of your accusations."

"But what about your poor mother?"

"My poor mother?!" She scoffed loudly. "I'm on crutches, you dimwit! She nearly choked me to death!"

"Well, maybe you deserved it. Mothers do know best." It was taking everything I could not to knee him in the crotch as he intentionally tried to piss Paris off. I knew he was saying this to try to anger her. Still, I knew she could face this down.

"Are you listening to yourself? Again, I never interfered for a moment with your relationship." Taylor headed towards me.

"I told him to just stay quiet, but he didn't listen," he whispered to me. "Sorry about the questioning Rory, I just--"

"I know, Taylor." I knew he meant no harm and just was playing concerned townie, a test Paris passed easily. "I'm not mad at you."

"I just have to talk to the checkout girl on break over there," he said, pointing towards Heather Hawley near the produce case. I nodded and let him go, as Paris and Joe Fournier who was at the checkstand, hoped bluster was his only move.

Sadly, it wasn't to be.

"Never interfered in my relationship? Remember March, when you got all whiny about your stupid A- and asked Rory to tutor you? When you said you were there to meet Jess?"

"Again, no interference."

"You're an idiot! You definitely did interfere by being there!"

Well, this was getting interesting. I wanted to hear what was next.

"I wanted help from my best friend, that's all."

"And because of that I couldn't do anything with my own girlfriend."

"There was a whole couch in there for you two to cuddle--"

"You know exactly what I mean," he cried. "If not for you, I--"

And that's when I had to move in. I raced to the front, threw the items on the belt and tried to hold back my anger at exactly what I knew he was getting at.

"I was definitely not in the mood at all," I hissed out. "How many times that week did I say I was looking forward to being alone?"

His glance directed my way.

"Come off it, you had planned that night off--"

"To do laundry and eat Indian food, which definitely isn't the sexist food ever!" I argued. "At that I was right in the middle of my cycle so there was absolutely no way I was doing...that!"

Paris laughed. "You really thought you were going to get it? Did you not notice the big-ass pajamas and how much food she had?! I'm no lady's woman but even I wouldn't have made a move on Ror that night!"

Despite how big a hole he had dug, Dean still tried to gain some ground. "It's not funny!" Paris continued to laugh and I had a smile myself.

"Oh, but it is because you went caveman on Jess when nobody would have been interested in me that night!"

"So, I read wrong?!" He said, offended.

"You were reading the wrong book! I was ready for you so many different times but you didn't even look at me."

"But why go lesbian?"

With a scoff, I attempted to end the conversation. "I'm not talking about this anymore except to tell you this; you snooze, you lose!"

"Well excuse me for missing the signs of your horniness!" Joe almost flung the scanned crackers across the checkstand into the front shop window hearing that. Paris pinched her temples in embarrassment.

"For the love of everything, please stop now, you idiot."

"And why not tell me? You could've just told me--"

And that's when I had to interject. "Oh yes, judging from Todd's garage filled with about seven year's worth of Maxim, Hustler and Low Rider posters, I could have told you I was done because I'm gay because you'd totally take that well. Or tell me that I should've gone with Madeline instead because in your eyes she's hotter." I threw up my hands and brought out the nuclear option.

"Besides," I responded, feeling absolutely smug, high and mighty, "you seemed pretty satisfied with stroking it to Beth's dirty talk anyways."

Joe dropped the milk carton onto the scanner, where it dully rang up and barely kept together. He shoved it to Dean, who haphazardly threw it in the paper bag without a care in the world.


I nodded. "I did, 'Deanie-Weanie'." I put on my best smile. "Next time, learn how to sign off your IM application. Not that it matters; I was intending to take the high ground but you're going with the 'Paris is a bitch' track I expected. I knew for weeks before I ended with you, expecting you to turn it around. Didn't happen." Joe totaled up the groceries as Paris attempted to hand over her debit card to him.

That's when Dean made a fatal move, grabbing at Paris's hand and attempting to pull her towards him. She dropped her crutches to the ground and almost fell; I had to quickly maneuver to keep her steady.

"HEY! Keep your hands off me, dickhead!"

"No, I'm going to fight for Rory!" he said desperately. "This is just a silly little phase for her!" Paris tried to pull away but his grip was...

"Get your hands off her now!" I cried. "Her wrist is hurting and very sensitive!"

"Not until she tells me this is just a plan to beat you at Chilton and literally screw you out of your dream school!"

"It isn't!" She began to hiss. "Please," she pleaded. "PLEASE!" He grasped it tighter. She began to struggle as I damned well knew Sharon flashbacks were flooding her mind. "Don't do this!" She panted as he tried to twist her arm and I got scared.

"Knock it off, dude!" Joe attempted to make a go at him but was shoved off to the side.

"Take my girl, brainwash her. You might be smart but you're really stupid!"

"Dean, stop it!" His eyes turned towards me.

"No, not until you decide to stop being a dyke, this isn't you Rory!"

I could hear Heather and Taylor coming back towards the front; there was no way they had a chance to get here that fast. Not with Paris crying out in pain.

"Let her go, now!" I raised up my hand and made a defensive move towards him, feeling stupid I didn't have my safety mace on me.

"I didn't cheat! Beth was just sending me naughty messages I didn't respond to!" He began to Indian burn her arm to the extreme and I knew one more wrong move and that tender wrist of hers would snap with his strength.

I grit my teeth, took in a deep breath, closed my eyes and...

I don't believe I did it, but I swept my left leg up, and let him have it! I seethed as I finally let it all out.

"THERE WAS A PICTURE OF YOUR HAND ON YOUR DICK IN THE CONVERSATION, YOU FUCKING IDIOT!" I had blanked it out because I didn't want it to be true, but it was. I deluded myself a few more weeks after seeing what I could easily report as child porn out of revenge, but didn't out of the goodness of my heart.

It's gone. Paris collapsed to the ground taking back her wrist immediately and favoring her right side as Dean howled in pain, everyone looking at him in shame from my confession. It was all out there now, the second most important reason for ending it with him. I didn't want to have it end this way, nor did I want us to end this badly. Thank God Heather and Taylor got there just in time.

Dean got up with his face red and tried to make a lunge at me, grabbing my blouse, which popped a few buttons. It was then that Miss Patty happened to enter the store out of the corner of my eye.

"Shut up, I did nothing wrong, now you're gonna be sorry!" I expected the worst as I cried out for help.

Miss Patty quickly got behind Dean and grabbed him beneath his arms before restraining them behind his back. Heather still had her broomstick on her and took a hard whack at his shins to trip him down. As they both took him to the ground, Taylor ran around the register to put his foot down at his back to subdue him completely. Paris and I panted in a heap on the floor, the both of us shaken, but still feeling overwhelmingly powerful.

"Stay the hell down," Heather said roughly as she motioned for Joe to grab some duct tape beneath the register. Taylor looked up as us, both frightened and concerned for our well-being.

"You girls OK?" We nodded, catatonic as yet another come-out went violent.

"I'm getting real sick of this," Paris whispered between sobs. "I didn't--"

"You didn't," I assured her. "You didn't do anything wrong." After tossing over the tape so Heather could bring Dean's hands together while Miss Patty kept his legs down, Joe grabbed the phone to call 911.

"Ex-boyfriend just tried to lunge at a customer and her girlfriend, we stopped him. Yeah, they're shaken up...an EMT?" I was unsure but Paris nodded her head furiously, hoping her wrist and hip took no more damage. We both backed away towards the service desk in the corner where Heather gave us some water as Taylor expressed his disappointment with a boy he thought could take over the market someday, doling out a strong oratory towards his now former stockboy.

"Absolutely inappropriate. Not only attacking Paris, but trying to assault Rory? I'm going to see to it you're going to have to cross several state lines to ever be employed again, young man!" He severely reprimanded him. "And you can expect me to rush through any protection order these girls might need using my government powers; you get within 1000 feet of them, you will be sorry!"

He cursed at his boss as Miss Patty sat down next to us after being reassured by Taylor and Joe that they had him in hand.

"Girls, I--"

I was still in a panic. "I know, Sharon decided to try to stir crap up, you didn't say anything. She's been at it since Saturday morning." I looked towards Paris, in a ball. "I'm just glad this is over."

"I know." Concerned with Paris, she opened up her arms, which Paris slowly took as a sign Patty wanted a hug. She accepted the offer graciously, though trembling. "Thanks for getting behind, I don't think Taylor would have been able to stop him, even with Heather and Joe."

She held Paris close. "I was appalled with all that heinous woman had to say about Paris, her own flesh and blood. Your mother witnessed it all and Babette had to hold her back from shoving a high heel high up her nose." I wrapped my jacket around me, feeling emotional.

"I'm sorry, I thought--"

"I had a feeling this would happen and I kept watch across the street. I had to hold back Jess and Luke from coming in and turning this into a Wild West scene."

Speaking of the devil, both of them entered the market at the same time. Jess looked down at his mortal enemy and resisted the urge to kick Dean while he was down, going with sarcasm instead.

"Sad scene here." He looked at Dean for a moment with that cocky little smirk of his, earning a glare back. He decided silence was best as Dean getting his ass kicked by me was much better payback than anything he could've said.

Luke came towards me and before I could react had me in a bear hug.

"I saw everything through the window, I thought he was going to hurt you both!" I felt the scruff of his beard on my face and began to cry.

"I'm alright, Luke, seriously, I'm fine. I...I'm fine." I took in deep and shallow breaths, realizing that we both could be in the hospital right now. I held his head at the back of his cap, feeling so much comfort.

"I'm sorry I was scared to come out to you."

"Don't ever be," he said, gruffly being that father figure I needed in this moment. "This town is going to defend you and that girl or there'll be hell to pay, I mean it." I let out sobs of relief as both of us felt the love of a town we were scared was going to shun us. I glanced to see Taylor, ever the perfectionist, inventory the damaged rack of bagged candy on the floor, along with a Courant and magazine rack, shaking his head.

"The distributor's going to have my head on this," he said as Paris let go of Miss Patty, immediately concerned about his fiscal well-being. "I just bought this hardware a few months ago."

"How much?" she said, reaching for her messenger bag.

"Paris." I quickly stopped her. "Insurance has come to small towns; Taylor will be fine." I smiled at her as Luke and Jess surveyed Dean with Heather and Joe. "You really don't have to get out your checkbook for every little bit of damage."

"But I want to help--"

"I know. If he needs your help he'll ask, but we have other things to deal with now."

"Yeah." Paris and Luke shared an uneasy glance, her red-rimmed eyes pained with a fear of another person not accepting her. "Please tell me I'm not banned from the diner for defiling Rory's virtue."

He was irritated for a moment, but then blushed. "Aww, geeze..." He took off his cap and spun it around in his hand. "You will be if you ever use the word 'defilement' again," he joked, shaking his head. "Seriously, just treat her well and we'll be fine, and no more calling my place a bordello?"

"I thought we were expanding, Uncle Luke!" Jess grabbed a bottle of Pepsi from a cooler to a cold stare from his uncle. "What? Gotta admit, Smartie here's a lot better than this dolt." He looked down at Dean, who just gave up and counted the minutes until the police got him; so many witnesses would prove he couldn't get out of this.

"Jess," she said, finally relaxing. "I think as long as you provide me wintergreen tea, I'll overlook any illegal activities your uncle here might have." Another glare. "Of which there are none." Luke grouched for a moment before facing her again, taking the jibing well.

"Just...take care of her. And don't let Lorelai use you to get more coffee, I'm onto her."

"I'm sure you are." Paris left that hanging as a policewoman and her male partner came in to examine the scene, along with an EMT who went right to Paris.

Dean tried to cut ahead of her. "Hey, I got my balls bashed in--"

"You did not," I said wearily. "I didn't kick that far in." I hesitated, knowing that Mom was going to be even more protective of us in the next few weeks.

The EMT examined Paris carefully, putting her through an entire battery of tests to make sure everything was working fine. She suggested that she wear a wrist support until everything healed up, and Taylor happily offered one he had in the health aisle for free to us (along with the rest of our purchases), and outside of more bruising on her hip, she was good to go, and so was I as Officer Krueger took down our statements, but not before Taylor quickly put out a 'help wanted' sign, while Paris was just worn out from all the physicalities she had gone through in this short and wearing process.


"Great," Paris said, shaking her head. "I went from never having involvement with the legal system to having two cases of assault to deal with and my damned mother trying to Rapunzel me back into her clutches via family court."

"We'll make it easy on you, hon," Miss Patty promised, "you're definitely not alone here."

"I'm just tired of being hurt, emotionally and physically. And I'd love to take a day off, but I'm stubborn."

"Tomorrow will be fine," I said, moving close and setting her hand on my back. I moved in close to speak intimately. "When we get home we're going to talk to Mom, then we'll pump up your new bed and I'll give you a sorely-needed massage."

"Can I wear your shirt?" she whispered. "The big Harvard tee t I've seen you in which bares your shoulder and smells like you?"

"Whatever you want, Par-Bear." I forgot we were in public, but she completely shrugged off the drop of the pet name. "I promised you I would defend you if it killed me. Nobody's allowed to hurt you, ever."

"Ror..." she brought me close in. "I'm sorry if this is causing your life to fall apart."

I shook my head, grasping her tightly. "It's only coming together, I promise you. Coming together, not apart." I kissed and nuzzled her shoulder. "We're learning whose there for us, and we gotta good circle, hon. You're no longer alone."

I want to believe that, even as I've lost very important people. And I'm not even going to go near Lane's, lest Mrs. Kim do something like toss holy water at me or something. I know I've screwed up on plenty of things today, and Paris did too, but we also did a lot of good. Especially after our appointment with Birnbaum I certainly knew that even with all the pain we're going through in this hellish process, a lot of good is coming out of it too.

I think being with Paris saved me too; imagine me being in the wrong place and wrong time as Dean and Todd maybe toked up. No Harvard for me there!

Plus it felt really good to get him right in the jewels, what little there were. I'm going to giggle every time I remember doing that for the rest of my life, and Paris gives me a funny look as she knows that's what I'm thinking.

"You are immature, Gilmore," she said disapprovingly.

I stuck out my tongue in response. "You're not the one who had to look at pictures of their intimate parts without any warning. Or actually hold it." I winced, still in denial I had ever let him off manually.

That very image made her gag. "On the other hand...." Her eyes went wide and she shook her head. "Feel free to laugh about it all you want."

"Trust me, I'm glad I never have to experience it again." I felt a little more relaxed, and even though there is the definite possibility Paris could be sent back to Sharon tomorrow, it's in the back of my mind because we have everything talked out, the worst of the outing is over, and there's only a few days before winter break.

I'd rather have this, with Dean gone forever, than still being stuck with him as he tries to woo Beth behind my back...

Paris's POV, 10:30 p.m.

There's only been a few times in my life where I've completely felt out of my body.

Not in the way I've been lately, where my damned wrist has suddenly become my personal Achilles point and I just want to get out of the way of the negative thoughts of hurt drowning me.

This time, I am relaxed, at ease with myself, mind turned off, all my worries melting away in a fog of a lack of self-awareness where I'm only focused on how I feel and how I can carry that through.

Tension building up through the day is about to be released. I'm not paying mind to any medical advice and I have control of my fate as the small fingers of my girlfriend trail around my spinal column, along the curve of my ass and try to help my body focus off the bruises I suffered earlier at Doose's.

I want this all to be over, just need it to go away. But there's a few more steps before that's going to happen. The first is trying to settle into life with Lorelai, who welcomed me home with a hug I tried to shake myself out of, rather unsuccessfully. The tall woman shook her head as she took in my condition while Rory brought in the boxed air bed.

"It sucks that wasting the hot water wasn't the worst moment of the day." I grimaced as Rory's mother just held me there, a slight woman just needing everything to go right. "And that it wasn't the worst in mine."

"My mother sucks, doesn't she?" I mumbled.

"She sucked when she dissed you for going to the Bangles, and she sucks even worse now." She helped guide me to the couch, where I fell into a thankful heap against a perfectly-placed throw pillow.

"What exactly happened?" I wondered.

"She came in, called me by name, and attempted to pull a soap opera maneuver to get me into a catfight," Lorelai said, hissing out the words. "I don't usually swear in public the way I did to her, but she was just throwing all this stuff at me and insulting Rory and it got to me. I didn't care what she said to me, but it was what Rory got that boiled my blood." I noticed she was still in her work blouse, wrinkled up, while her skirt had a longer slit that when Lorelai left this morning. I gasped.

"I'm so sorry. Was the tearing from--"

"Not from her. I had to duck behind Luke's counter when she grabbed a customer's dishware and began to hurl it towards me. Professional skirts aren't known for having the same properties as yoga pants, you know." She growled. "She basically threatened to get some high-powered politician to get the health authority to condemn the Inn and arrest me on trumped up charges, which just sounded insane, and Luke...poor Luke. He didn't expect any of this lunacy at all."

Rory came back into the room, the torn blouse gone and...

I had to bite my lip. The sneak stole one of my maroon tank tops!

Not complaining, mind you, but on me it was tight. On her? Jennifer Beals, move over with your bare-shouldered self!

"I'm sorry about Paris's mom." Lorelai snorted at the assumption Rory had to even entertain an apology.

"Kiddo, she was out for blood; the police found her with a Nordstrom's credit card improvised into a shiv. Thank God she never got close to using it."

"I've had enough of this day," Rory said. "Louise lashed out, I almost get expelled, Sharon and Dean get violent."

"Luke called me as you were on your way home. I can't believe that jerk would try to hurt Paris like that!"

"I'm mad at myself for sticking to my guns and going in there anyways. At least he'll be the butt of jokes at the school tomorrow, if he ever goes back. Just took a whole lot of stress of Jess."

"Might be good for him. No enemy, no reason to slack off except Shane, and well...teenagers being teenagers." Lorelai laughed as Rory slid next to me on the couch, stretching her arm around my back. She looked at the both of us, and then towards the wrinkled summons on the coffee table.

"She tossed that at me before the attempt to 'old lady at McDonald's' my flesh with coffee. I can't believe I actually have to go and defend my non-record of interaction with the DCF just to keep you here. It's a few freaking days and you're 18. You don't have to care about the rule of the court. Yet they still are allowing this."

"It's not surprising because she wants to dry my father out of money through any means possible. He just can't ignore something like this or I do have to go back to her by default. I really don't want to." I was stricken with rage and hurt. "I've taken enough damage over the last three days and I've just had enough." Rory slid her fingers along the small of my back. "Please don't hold back, Lorelai."

"I wouldn't think of it, hon. I'll be there fighting for you tomorrow and if it comes down to getting you somewhere to hide, I'm sure your dad has that covered too, and I'm sure your nanny and driver will be there in the gallery rooting us on. You're down to eight days and I'm sure you have your Chilton emancipation on the ready, right?"

"Just have to sign it, but I can't turn it in until--"

"Your dad will run it right to Charleston at his home on Christmas and it'll be swiftly approved, his guarantee." I felt my heart stutter. "He called him tonight after I told him what happened here and the man's had enough. Sharon's not only banned from the Chilton campus, but Bitty's doing her damndest to blacklist her from society life altogether. DCW hasn't lifted a finger yet, but I can tell you their New Year's ball is in danger of being hosted at the AMF bowling alley if they don't take action soon."

I shook my head. "This is..." I shivered, wondering why I hadn't even thought of tapping into this well of caring long beforehand. "I thought everyone was going to hate Rory and I. I held these feelings back for so long and...and I'm finding support. I can't believe it." I leaned my head against Rory's shoulder, her touch giving me so much comfort. "And this town...Miss Patty went right to my aid and the rest of the kids in the market, Jess and Luke too."

Lorelai nodded. "Harry says your relatives on his side heard the news too and have been nothing but supportive. A few were saying it was about time you broke free and I know you aren't close to them, but you have so many people who care for you. And even though I know Louise is being cold to you, she's gonna come around. You always have to hold that hope close to you." I didn't tell her anything about what I told Rory in therapy beyond the basics, but it was enough.

Still, I needed to turn the topic around. "But...Lane. When you said Mrs. Kim pretty much shunned you off. She can't really do that, can she?"

"Strict Seventh-Day Adventist. She's probably grilling her to make sure Rory never expressed an interest in her."

"Good luck with that," Rory said, worried. "There was never any moment. Not even a try at kissing or playing house with me as the husband. I honest to God have never had designs on her. I hope she knows that." She bit her lip. "I'm worried more she thinks Paris is a replacement, a window into becoming a boring member of society."

"Not going to happen," I said firmly through my scared voice. "If I ever become Sharon, I give you permission to shake me out of it." My mind spun various ways to get Lane alone and tell her how I felt for Rory and how I did not intend to interfere, and I know during winter break it's going to have to occur. I don't know how or when, but I want it clear that I'm taking Rory with Lane, and Lane should be a part of my life, bitterly religious or not.

All of us continued to talk as I expressed more about the abuse I suffered with Sharon, to Lorelai's shock and fear. My father later called to tell me Dr. Birnbaum and Dr. Merton were dropping everything to be in line to testify that I shouldn't have to go back to Sharon, and Madeline did so too to catch up on the day in more detail than her earlier call with Rory listening in. I isolated myself in the sewing room in order to tell her about the session from earlier, and in a matter of weeks Mads has done a complete 180░.

"She abused Louise too?"


"No wonder she lashed out like she did; it wasn't towards you, but losing the security blanket. It opened a wound that festered in your friendship for a long time." She took in a deep breath. "She banned me from the Grant estate and when I tried to text her earlier I found out she changed her number; it wouldn't go through."

"Oh, God." I tightened my fist, feeling sad about it all. "There's something more going on. We would've fought this out and had a volley of words and snark, Mads. Not this time. She got out her piece and left me to pick up the pieces."

I looked up at the ceiling. "It's not just my coming out that's affecting her. Something is deeply hurting her. It's happened--"

"Since we came back from fall break," Madeline finished. A pause. "Paris, you remember the scare?"

"You don't think she did, did you?" I didn't want it to be true. "There's just no way that she ended up doing that again." I parsed my words carefully, because I didn't think of Louise having low intelligence.

"I just don't know. We barely talked since then, and that's not even accounting for Brad and me. My door is always open to her." A sigh. "I am going to try to find out."

"But I don't want you to be hurt. You've been closer to her than I have since Sharon found us. If she isolates us both, it's over. We're permanently losing a leg of this friendship we've held for years and years."

Madeline was solemn about how she saw things. "I really do think she's at home, hurting like hell and not knowing what to do, just like you. She's lost, because she saw the hope you'd come around one day, but the reality is there and you fell for Rory and it's massive to her. She was scared shitless when Sharon beat her and she's held that in for four long years and whatever's been making her sour, it's not been helping." I heard her tone soften, tears obvious in her voice. "We're not the Chilton Three without her, and as much as I hate to say it, Rory is not a replacement."

"It's honest. She isn't. Her life is good and even with all this support and everyone trying to defend me from Dean tonight, I still need that normalcy. I need Louise calling me a bitch in a completely harmless way and feeling kind of the way we did when Rory came to Chilton. Less the 'I'm going to utterly destroy you' part."

"I hope so. And to tell you the truth, I don't think she's mad about Brad at all. Even he said so; he expected more rage from her but it was just subdued."

"I sensed that too." I cricked my neck, feeling in pain. "I'm not usually into heavy religion, but pray for me tonight. If I have to go back to the Manor and face her, I don't know how I'll deal."

"That bridge won't be crossed," Madeline promised to me, just like Ms. Gilmore. "You hang in there, Par and let Rory calm you down. And tomorrow at school is going to be better. It's all out, you have Mercurio out the door and now you just have to face down Francie at the last student government meeting before break. Take it out on her, all on her. She's going to get nasty and you just need to channel all that rage you feel towards your mom, Dean and Rory's dad towards her."

"Not Carrie rage, I hope. I'm not good with pig's blood or whatever they used in that sequel with her look-a-like a few years back."

"Rage with words. Fighting for your and Rory's reputation. We need you there to finish the term as student body president, especially the RTS. I would quit if you were forced out, and I'm sure I can get a few more to do the same." I felt my strength return. "I love you, Par, especially now that you're more relaxed and happy being with Rory. And yes, the month in isolation was exactly what you needed to make sure this was iron-tight. But now, you're out. You need to go into that meeting tomorrow and the Franklin and remind them you're Paris Fucking Gellar and you won't be pushed around. You have scars, but right now they're building character. Many fear you, and many want to be you. That's who you are. All you do is love another woman now, so what is it their business what you're doing in the bedroom?"

The way Madeline said it made me feel almost primal, like it was time to stop my sulking and self-pity. I had to prove I was all in on this, and that nobody was going to stop me.

She was right, I couldn't just back down and retract. Being the way I am got me through life, so many obstacles. Without finding sarcasm, I'd probably be washed out waiting for Bowman to pitch fucking woo towards me and become his idiotic trophy wife. When my mother motioned across her throat while I was in the ICU, I wasn't goddamned scared. Not for a minute. My brain patterns read 'it's going to take more than 100 mph into a barrier to shut this life down, bitch'.

I'm not done. I'm far from done. Things are talked out, plans have been made. Whatever the fuck my mother wants to do with me, I have to defend myself, and Rory. If she wanted a wilting flower, there are many other girls in that school.

But she chose me, ride or die. I have to fulfill my end of the bargain. I have to be strong and not let anything stop me.

"You're damned right, Madeline," I said. "Sharon lowered my defenses and weakened me since then. I can't give up." I smirked. "My mother isn't going to get me down any longer."

"Or anyone else."

"Nobody else." I felt good. "This has been great."

"It has." Madeline felt much better about making this call. "I'll be blocking your space out tomorrow morning, by the way. It won't be swiped again."

"Thanks." I suddenly felt both powerful and...oh dear. "I...I think I have to go." I let my voice go light. "Rory took that top that makes me look good for bedroom wear."

"The maroon tank?"

"Mmm, yeah."

"Paris, is that an 'I don't care if I'm hurting' suggestion?"

"Might be." A pause. "It is."

"Go take advantage of Sharon making you lock Rory's bedroom door. And do kiss and tell."

"Bite me, Lynn." I laughed as I hung up the phone, knowing she wouldn't take the surface insult seriously. Feeling much better about myself after all these talks, I knew there was something I had to do...

"Paris, don't forget to shower! I don't want to be Chilly Willy in the morning!"

OK, two things I had to do; damned thimble-like water heater, but I was glad for Lorelai's teasing reminder. Rory had stepped out of the house to talk to Babbette and Morey about security and such while I took my shower, and by the time I got out I felt even better despite having to bag up my foot. I ended up in my blue silk pajama pants with Rory's Harvard shirt, and headed towards Rory's room to find my girlfriend had long finished that conversation, and finished up both blowing up my luxury air mattress with the included electric pump, along with making up the bed for me.

That shirt of mine still was taunting me, baring her right shoulder, along with hanging low enough to bare her cleavage to me. Her eyes were wide as she looked me up and down, bringing her knuckle close to her mouth.

"Good shower?" she cooed suggestively, patting the bed down.

"Really good," I responded. "Great talk with Madeline too."

"Close the door, all the way." A smirk. "Security, you know."

I nodded. "Yes, for 'security'." I shut the door softly until the closer clicked satisfyingly, along with the slide of the lock. I bent down towards her, whispering.

"The security of our coming screams being muffled by these walls." I ended up with a blush spreading on Rory's cheeks, bringing out her freckling full-force.  "I do feel really good right now."

"I know, you feel better after taking to Madeline. But as for actual security, Babbette's got everything handled and if your mother comes back, she won't get near the house."

"Is it wrong that I'm hoping for her to take a long vacation with the guy she has from Mohegan Sun to the Caribbean?"

She shrugged, dumping cold water on that very quickly with the reality. "Uhh...she kinda ruined the 'leaving the country' thing with your assault and the trespassing tonight. No sane judge is going to let her keep her passport."

"So we're stuck dealing with her in the state of Connecticut for awhile?"

"We are." She patted the mattress again. "You should've just got this one to begin with. It's so much better and very thick."

"Let me feel." I bent down gingerly and sat on the AeroBed next to Rory. Still not my bed by far, but compared to what the last one felt like, this was downright heavenly, thanks to the pillow top cushioning. "Yeah, I won't be tearing this apart in nightmares."

"You will not have nightmares tonight." She moved close, sliding her hand into mine. "And the day is over. We'll be looking at this one in the rearview now."

"I never want to go through any of this again. But I'm going to make one bold declaration."

Rory knitted her eyebrows together. "What's that?"

"If I wasn't on crutches I could've totally kicked Dean's ass." She gasped, but then thought about it for a moment.

"You know what? You could've. But now he's in the past, out of a job and now we just have to wonder if Beth is coming for Christmas so he can be embarrassed."

"What's funny to me though is he was more enraged that you chose me rather than our sexuality. He threw off the usual barbs but otherwise it was as caveman as he's always been. I claimed you, so now he has to beat me up." I sighed, troubled but not exactly surprised by any of it. "Not that the reasoning matters. Expecting civil conversation out of Dean is akin to expecting Arafat to suddenly think Israel's the bee's knees. He called Tristan 'Dristan' for goodness sake! I have a father who is among the top people in the pharmaceutical industry and even he forgot that product!"

"Paris?" She smiled. "You're stressed, aren't you? Too much on your mind?"

I demurred, realizing that I was just overthinking everything today. "Maybe a little."

"I think it's time for that massage." She slid off the bed so I could lay on it.

"You really don't mind?"

"Absolutely not." I watched her head towards the vanity to retrieve the bottle of Dove lotion atop of it. Unconsciously I let out what seemed to be a mewling sound at the sight of her rear in her Harvard sweatpants paired with my top. I still couldn't believe she had already swiped it; I hadn't even taken it out of my luggage yet. "Rory?"

"Hmm?" She came towards me as I lay down on the bed.

"Any certain reason you were going in my luggage and ended up wearing that?"

"I meant to tell you before, but you and Mom talked and then you got in a shower. I kind of let go of one of my dresser drawers and put your clothes in there."

Where I thought she had her own ulterior motives for stealing one article of clothing, I suddenly had an understanding why. She continued on as I felt stunned and speechless, looking at the large suitcase next to the closet emptied out and opened wide.

"I just don't want you to think you're just a guest on the way, living out of your suitcase. For now this is your home, and you should be treated as such. Like a roommate." She pointed towards the large drawer in the bottom of her dresser and opened it up. All of my afterschool clothes were logically laid out next to each other, followed by uniform skirts and underwear. She then moved to the closet, where she pointed out the space she had made for my blazers and sweaters, all hung on a row on the wooden hangers I kept them on.

"I know you want to keep things neat. Suitcases certainly aren't that, so I took your clothes out, along with your toiletries and organized everything. You didn't see your stuff on top of the dresser, for instance."

I did now. My antique hairbrush, passed through generations of my family, sat on the surface, along with my expensive hair supplies and my other beauty needs. "All that happened was when you were out of the room, I got distracted by the top, got a little wistful, and now I'm wearing it. " I nodded up at her. "So if you want me to take it off...I can." An audible wink seemed to come with that message.

"Uhhh, thank you." I hesitated for a moment before smiling up at her. "I really was content with working from my suitcase."

"I know, but this is kinda....it's making it not just a silly thing anymore, you know?" Rory held my hands. "Dean never came into this room unless the door was open. I couldn't and didn't ever want to make it that official because I was never ready and really, that cheap bracelet we threw in the river was my only 'official' sign for him. I was ready to make that call with you, because you've put all of your trust in me. I know you at your most awesome best and your sad and angering worst, and I can't really afford to make it official with jewelry, so in my way...you have a drawer and you should know you're always welcome in this room, day or night."

She bent down on her knee and I felt numb. I knew she wasn't going that far, but the statement she was making, it was deep enough to bring me to tears, again.

"Paris, will you take this drawer and make me the happiest girl?" I shook my head at the silliness and absurdity of the gesture, but it's just as damned good as a promise ring.

"Of course." We hugged, happily, finally, one thing right about this day.

I have my own drawer. I shouldn't have been this excited about having a small dresser drawer, but it was seriously enough. I was aglow at being this far, this deep with Rory, and knowing that I would probably never be able to lose that drawer. It was all I needed; her acceptance of me as I was, rather than just the stereotypical bitch she expected to be stuck with her the rest of her life.

Our noses touched as I found her fingers moving beneath the hem of my...ahem, her shirt. She smirked at me and I felt that now-familiar surge of blood heading towards my sensitive tissue. She bit my lower lip with her teeth and released with a hard tug.

"Can't give you a massage with your shirt on," she husked, a finger sliding against my flesh. I panted, realizing her intentions with a murmur.

"You sure you want to do this?" I said.

"I am if you're up to it. If you're really sure you won't hurt." I shook my head, ready to wince when she hit a sore spot. Her fingers purposefully slid along my stomach, taking it in as she moved northward from there. She looked up at me, sensing something making me feel a bit shaken. "Umm, if your mom...in some bizarre circumstance, does somehow get you back. Is there something you want me to do?" I didn't know why she was bringing it up now, except for my being relaxed.

"It's not going to happen," I implored, firm in my belief.

"But say it does. Should we plan to stick it out somewhere until--"

"Rory." I wanted to keep her calm, focused on keeping these fears far away that are infinitesimal at coming true.  "If, and that's only if, my mother somehow barrels through a domestic violence charge, an assault charge, an attempted battery charge, disturbing the peace and anything else my staff, my father and Lorelai will state to the court tomorrow, we will figure out everything then. But not now. I'm just going to handle it the same way I do tomorrow; face up to it, hope for the best, but prepare for the worst."

"I just don't want to lose you." I could hear the small, afraid Rory coming back out as the strong front she's put on since she found out about Sharon began to dissipate. "I would never forgive the court if they did that to you."

"I'm out of harm's way, I promise you. I'm done putting myself in danger." I pecked her forehead. "I'm not going back for a second round with Dean, and though your dad doesn't want to cross my path I don't want to deal with him either." My resolve was firm. "The worst is out of the way. I'm bruised, but I'm here."

"I know...I know." I hated what all of this was doing to her, throwing her mood in all kinds of directions, but she had never known anything like this before. For someone going through all of this, Rory was damned powerful in making sure she was in control. She smiled softly, lifting up her shirt off of me, her eyes landing upon my healing neck, fingers caressing against the disturbed flesh. "We are here," she gasped out, heavy emphasis on the one word. "And you're still stirring up all of my emotions."

I nodded with a whimper as she slowly tipped me back on the mattress and I went with her motions to end up on my stomach. My head was against the pillow as she pulled aside my hair to have full access to my back. I sighed as I began to let all the tension from this entire convoluted day eke out from my person, closing my eyes and just taking in the senses of both the cool lotion being applied along my back and the circling and kneading motions Rory did to massage me.

Even with the little bit of area she could secretly cover in RN, she knows all my stress points too well. The top of my shoulders, stressed from my messenger bag and having to support my chest at almost all times, along with the underside of my arms, which I seem to clench together without my knowledge, fabric pressing against the sensitive skin to irritate it often. I could hear her shallow breathing, an assurance she was hardly neutral in this massage. I imagined her above me, struggling to keep her composure and heat pooling within her modesty, all the rules her mother set aside in the beginning nearly all eradicated. She could take this as far as she wanted to, and I trembled in the knowledge that one wayward finger could change the direction of this massage without as much as a warning.

In honesty, I could barely contain my excitement. The near-quickie at the breakfast table this morning still deeply apparent in my mind's eye, only my modesty keeping us from having it out right there. That I was edging Dr. Merton's advice was enough, but that I wanted more sexual pleasure from Rory. It's a good problem to have, but it's still sort of a problem.

The massage went further and I felt my mind blank, at ease. She really was not going to push me unless I encouraged her so I was left to be content in feeling all the stresses of this day melt away. My mind had stuck all day on Francie's directives to end me, the rape threats and wishes I was dead. No matter how rhetorical I did feel the latter were, they were out there and I did have to cope with them.

In this way, they felt distant. Rory's weight against the back of my legs. Her whispers of how she feels about me and that she wants me weak and knock-kneed at the sound of her voice.

I am. Her voice and her actions can pierce my heart like no other thing and I feel deeply loved and trusting of her.  The relaxation I felt was so needed that I ended up not needing any kind of release. I just eased into the mattress and let her guide me towards the rest I know I desperately need. Eventually we both disrobed and now she spoons against me, protective, completely ignoring her own bed to calm my soul and keep my mind away from the bad dreams.

Tomorrow is going to be another day that I'll want to forget, and even more so if somehow Sharon gets her way with the court. But at least Rory has proven to me through her actions, words and courage that I cannot give up on this love in any way. In my worst moments I have wanted to, but she's pulled me back to make us see another day.

I hope I get to see a few others after that...

Lorelai's POV, 11:30 p.m.

I've never lost custody of anyone. There hasn't been a moment where someone has brought me up on child neglect charges, even at my poorest and most stuck in the garden shed. Everyone has helped me take care of Rory and eventually there was no need for DCF to even look after me.

I haven't spent one food stamp in my life, taken WIC, or hurt Rory in any way. I could never bear to even lay a hand with her, a legacy that goes back to Trix. While everyone else wasn't sparing the rod, her experiences with punishment as a child influenced my father and my mother  to never do the same. I've been able to pass that on through to my daughter and never hit her.

And yet, here I was trying to figure out how the hell to tell a judge in Hartford family court that it would be silly to put Paris back with Sharon.

Fucking bitch. I can't believe she's pulling out this trump card even as she almost scalded me this afternoon. Her ugly words have echoed in my mind hours after that confrontation.

"Admit it, bitch. You're a failure in life. You not only fucked up your own life, but your dyke daughter is fucking mine now in more ways than one."

I was strong in front of the officers and the community. But it took me ten minutes to call Rory because I was in tears, hurting because this cruel woman is trying to strip away the first happiness Paris has known in years; the first true love she's ever experienced.

It's only eight days. 192 hours that Sharon Gellar would have left to force her daughter to give up her ways. On the surface it looks absurd the state would even consider placing Paris back into a home situation where the woman who borne her is unbalanced and scary.

But it's the state, and they can be paid off. Even with Harold Gellar's attorneys on our side I know they're going to try to drag us through the mud; he informed me that he's making sure Paris's wonderful staff is coming armed with every single damned green card and immigration paper they can get their hands on so that an INS deportation defense can't be used to shame them shut.

I might be overreacting. I might be getting a judge who takes one look at the charges and finds it hilarious.

There are judges out there though. Ones who knew me and have spread gossip that I'm the shame of Hartford, taking in a new shame, and God forbid that mistake is repeated again.

I have to fight for Paris to stay, tooth and nail. The only thing I want to have to worry about the next eight days is about how my boiler can hold up to heavier shower use, not whether my daughter's girlfriend is on her way to Yale New Haven Med in critical condition.

I'm going to try to sleep, but until I know for sure I can keep Paris safe and secure, I don't think I'll truly rest...

Rory's POV, midnight

Paris is sleeping so much better tonight. I'm relieved for it as I hold her close, relaxed after my deep massage of her, spooning her close.

But while she can sleep, I cannot. I keep fearing this somehow might be my last night with her.

It might be an absurd thought and you're probably thinking I'm crazy. But I'm worried. Paris is still going to school tomorrow; that's inalienable. We don't have to attend her custody hearing.

But if I leave without her? I'll feel hurt. Because we've made so much progress today. I never expected to know her this deeply, so thoroughly.

I can't dwell on these thoughts, I know. Paris will fight any movement towards Sharon. I know she will; she's got a garage staff ready to go full-on Cannonball Run to get her out of the state for the eight days if she needs to, and a nanny who thinks of her as a blood daughter.

God, if Sharon wins custody, I am not going to be happy, and that's putting it mildly.

I love this girl with everything I have, and I've shared more types of emotions with her in the last few weeks than anyone in my lifetime. I can't let her go, and I won't.

I want to relax, but after Paris fell asleep, a text hits my phone. I wonder who it is, and the name is familiar.

I hasten out a breath; it's Lane. A chain of messages follows, and I know for now there won't be a response.

But, there's hope.


Heard abt u & Paris. Can't say much bc Mama might hear these keytones. Sad you could not tell me. She decided we leave early 4 R trip 2 Torrance in the morning. We will talk on the 29th, but can't say anything now. Don't respond bc Mama. Lane

It's definitely vague. I cannot call her for obvious reasons. But Lane seeing her west coast family in Torrance, California over the holidays will give us cool-down time.

But I'm thankful to hear from her. Somehow, in some way. I'm sure she's grounded for the mere sin of associating with me and I don't know if this meeting will end with her asking me to go to some kind of conversion therapy, but it's definitely not a 'goodbye', but a 'see you later'.

At heart, I'm an optimistic person. That was tested today, and I somehow passed, if a little bruised.

As I fall asleep on an AeroBed with my girl, I know it's going to be tested even more tomorrow, and I've got not only Paris's custody thing to deal with, but whatever bomb Francie decides to toss at me to defuse. She's going to do something and Paris and I have to play defense against her.

The slogan "Failure is a part of life, but not a part of Chilton" has never been so true as it has been now. Except Chilton in this case, is Paris. I cannot fail her.

I have to show her that my love for her is more important than anything else I know right now...

Part 26

Ending author's note - There you have what I've been trying to touch on about why we haven't seen Louise at all in this story yet except to be very biting and sarcastic; she's going through turmoil and she feels Paris, a girl she loved until Sharon literally locked away her heart from her, is shunning her; at least that's what we know so far. This part of the story I know is going to get my usual 'stop focusing on the Gruesome Twosome' contingent that just wants to be in their little Prory heaven. I will repeat again; Madeline and Louise are Paris's friends. They need to be elaborated on. I'm not writing a fic where I'm pairing off one of them with Jess or Dean to make things easy and hetero-compartmentalized, and I don't want them to be easy. Shelly Cole and Teal Redmann played them so well and with hidden vulnerabilities that were never touched on, and I am going to continue to have Madeline be the supportive one while we find out more about Louise.

Then there's Lane. I didn't want to make that easy either, and I didn't want artificial conflict or a left-field love triangle put in between her and Paris at all. I feel in any part of the show there's no more than a platonic relationship between Lane and Rory and I definitely respect that, especially with Lane's upbringing as 7-DA; she might not agree with the stricter interpretations of her religion, but she has a basic and moral idea of how she feels for the ones she does agree with. I went through the same church process when I was younger with a more poisonous 'independent' Baptist congregation, and that's the last time I went myself, but I definitely believe that religion has to play a role in how Lane reacts to Rory's sexuality, and it's important I do show that. One thing that will not happen though is that I'm not going to have Paris and Lane in conflict forever; I don't do stories with artificial conflict, and I'm not starting now.

I hope you enjoyed the story in your own way even if you object to some of my character portrayals, and I'd love to hear your thoughts, no matter how you reacted; my Twitter is always open, along with with my Tumblr ask box.

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