Title: Longing With a Cherry Tomato on Top | Chapter Seven | Connecting the Dots, Step by Step

Author: Nate

Pairing: Paris/Rory, alternating POVs between Paris and Rory throughout the chapter.

Inspired by: They Shoot Gilmores, Don't They?, now with 100% less Dean/Jess/Rory love triangles from hell and 97.5% more Paris/Rory heat!

Rating: R (just profanity in this chapter, it's more PG than R, but the next double chapter set will be back to R in no time).

Disclaimer: After 143,000 words of text for this fic, you'd think by now I'd own them? If I was paid at a $1 a word Paris and Rory would be mine in no time, but thus, Dorothy Parker Drank Here Productions, Hofflund-Polone, and Warner Bros. Television are the proud owners of them, not I. If anyone wants to help me out though, my Paypal account address is...just kidding ;)! I write for fun and non-profit, so I expect nothing in return but your reviews and criticism. All songs mentioned in the chapter belong to their respective artists, products by their companies, and any mentions of real streets in Connecticut are thanks to Microsoft Streets & Trips 2004.

Archiving: GilmoreGirlsSlash, Realm of the Shadow, aff.net and ff.net. Anywhere else ask first.

Author's Notes: Finally, after two months, I've finished this chapter (breathes sigh of relief)! I never thought I'd finish and I found it tough going for awhile, but after much encouragement driving me towards the goal of the later chapters, this is finally completed.

Once again, thanks to my kind girls, Raven and Cinn for their excellent job on betaing me once again. Also, thanks to whatever kind soul of an operator at BellSouth or Verizon told Cinn about a plan where she could get cheap internet access without having to give it up and having to get her fix at the library every now and then. Bless you!

Vix, without you and your many astute observations about subtext, I wouldn't know where I'd be, thanks for the fun IM'ing sessions I look forward to every night when I get home from work. Thanks also to Christina for her support with this fic.

To those of you who sent song suggestions with your reviews, thanks for the response. I was able to write most of this without song becoming a large part of the story, but I'll mention a few in passing. I just wanted to get a good idea, and you all helped me majorly with this since I probably couldn't DJ to save my life.

Finally, warning #8 ff.net readers; This is still femslash, and will remain so until the end. If you don't like the idea of two girls dancing together, then doing more than that, don't read the story.

Feeback: Please use Feedback Form

Paris' POV, 6:10am

I arrived in the makeshift parking lot of Stars Hollow High School around 5:45am, guiding my Jag effortlessly around the traffic cones and over the curb as I passed the fence surrounding the field and a couple volunteers guiding me towards my space with orange safety sticks. Since Stars Hollow is basically what the board of education would usually call a 'walking and school bus district', there had never been a need for a big parking lot, there was just enough asphalt for the faculty and the few students with their own cars to pull onto. But with the dance marathon, there were some relatives of town citizens coming in along with spectators, so they opened up the athletic field in back for parking.

Where at Chilton I'm thankful that I have a close spot near the door thanks to my position, my poor car that morning was going to be stuck among the Civics, Escorts, Sonatas and Envoys of the world. I was guided slowly to my space by the safety stick people, driving behind a brown pickup I swore had to be used to haul pig waste at one time. I kept myself calm though, listening to the 40s channel on my XM radio and trying to get into a time warp mood where it was 1943 and I was driving in a smooth and classy Studebaker roadster instead.

Of course, this being Stars Hollow, no one cared if I drove into the place in a 1978 Dodge Aspen, so my parking space, instead of on solid asphalt, ended up on the fringe of the baseball diamond's infield. When I stepped out, the heel of my shoe had to dodge the socket hole where second base would usually rest, and I stepped right onto hard, compacted dirt.

I was thinking seriously about complaining about my space to the attendant, but then I remembered who I was here for; Rory, who would probably admonish me if I went back to my sophomore year behavior and whined about 'small-town yokels', and that her town was very comparable to some places in North Dakota long left behind by the young. It really wasn't that bad of a town; I've just been so used to the cosmopolitan urban atmosphere where I've been raised. Summers in the Hamptons, winter breaks down in Florida, and spring vacations spent up in my daddy's brownstone close to Harvard where I built up my relationships with the school's faculty and admissions staff. This was just another interesting stop on the journey that has been my life.

I had on my jacket over my dress so those who were walking towards the building with me couldn't comment, and they were regarding me with little interest. Most of them were in the same 40's garb, with a few teens and adults here and there being anachronistic and in modern dresses and slacks. There was even one boy who thought that James Dean may have perfected his look on December 31st of 1949 and was trying to pass it off as correct for the time period. I wanted to call a few of those people out, but that might have been a little rude, considering I wasn't even related to anyone in this town.

When I walked into the small high school, I could start to feel my anticipation build up for what was to happen. The hallways were small, lockers perfectly lined up, clusters of 35 broken up by the occasional classroom or closet door, followed by 35 more lockers. The look of the building definitely said 'Hollywood small-town high school' all over, down to the ornate ceilings above with the old style frosted glass light fixtures hanging from the rafters.

I saw a sign directing all of us towards check-in and coat check, and had the information Rory had sent me last night about it in a text message on my cell phone. We were couple #131 according to the contest order, so I lined up with everyone else and waited patiently to check in, the foyer in front of the gymnasium packed with people.

I searched around the room, and squinted my eyes out towards the front courtyard of the school looking for Rory through the doors, but I couldn't seem to place her, since she wasn't the only one wearing a red polka-dotted dress. I'd count at least forty others in that building wearing something close to it, and as I moved up in line, hoped she was there. I couldn't shout her name out because the others in line were having casual conversation, probably drowning my voice out.

After about five minutes, I came to the front of the line, and grabbed my fine-point Parker ballpoint pen out of my purse after I took off my jacket and handed it to a man collecting coats. An older woman with curly blonde hair sat at the table, crossing off names on a list and handing out number tags to the contestants. Spectators were being herded into the other doors directed towards the bleachers, while us contestants were coming in from the right and onto the dance floor.

"Last name and number sugar?" the woman asked me, having sort of a beatnik-ish tone of voice.

"Gellar, #131."

She looked down on the sheet, marked off like a voter's registers with each page cut at the edge so she could easily thumb to the first letter of each name. The lady thumbed to the G sheet, and then ran her finger through the list until she saw G-E-L. "Is that L-E-R or L-A-R at the end?"

"With an A," I told her, getting a little antsy. So little time to prepare, and hopefully I'd be able to locate Rory's angelic face somewhere within the crowd. I stretched out my neck, looking for her as the lady at the table confirmed my information.

Then she noticed my distracted state, and asked what was up. "Are you looking for your dance partner?"

I nodded towards her as she handed me the clipboard so I could sign next to my name. "Yeah, she said she would meet me here--"

The woman became wide-eyed as realization hit her. "Wait, blonde, brown-eyed, little short, funny name...that's you!"

I was puzzled for a moment, why was she describing me this way? "Uh, yeah, that's me I guess," I told her, mumbling.

"Rory's sitting in the bleachers waiting for you inside, she wanted you to know that 'cause she thought you might get lost here, being from Hartford and all." The lady smiled at me, and I couldn't help but thank Rory for thinking things out in advance.

She handed me my tag and a safety pin, numbered with 131 so I could hang it off the front of my dress. "Good luck dear," she told me, and I walked into the small, cozy gymnasium where I'd be sharing the next few hours of my life with the girl I liked. I thought it was sweet that Rory had gone up to the woman and asked if she could go in early just so I could find her, because in that crowd I may have never been able to. I know if I was at a charity ball and had to search for my date I may have never found them at all.

I walked in and was immediately in awe with the setting; this gym had been untouched by time or renovation, something out of Hoosiers. There were ropes of balloons hanging above the dance floor, in all colors of the rainbow, along with an older scoreboard hanging on a far side of the wall. There was a temporary digital scoreboard towards the end line on the far side of the gym that read '24:00:00', but it didn't distract from the décor of the setting at all.

I'm not going to bitch about a single anachronism here, this town's done their work, I thought to myself as I brought my gaze over to the bleachers to locate Rory.

It didn't take all that long, and the moment I saw her from across the room, she saw me and got up from her seat as she talked to a guy at the refreshments table, sipping from a foam cup. I knew from first sight that was Luke, the diner owner she was talking to, and of course, she was drinking coffee.

There was twenty feet between us on that first look, but I'll just say this; even if that had been the first time I had ever met Rory and laid eyes on her, I would've been just as needy for her as I was in that moment, falling in love on first sight.

My mouth started watering as I took in the dress she was wearing. It was hardly what anyone in this modern age would call sexy, but the way she looked in it just made me want to sweep her off her feet right away. The red fabric was bright, and gave off this warm aura that I wanted to bask in. There was but a little skin exposed on her front, but that would help cool down my hormones a little.

It looked as vintage as the dress I was wearing, but what she was wearing, she could've just come back from a dressmaker's shop in Hartford circa 1943 in a time machine. It fit her slim figure perfectly, like a glove, and I was drawn down to her legs immediately. The skirt fell just a little below her knees, but I could tell that it would flare out and spin whenever we tried something daring.

My heart was beating so fast; it was then I came back to reality. I was going to dance with her, for such a long time. This wasn't just any other dance, where if I got bored I could take a break and recharge at the punch bowl as Brady McHotguy boasted about how wonderful he was and wore out the letter 'I' so much it fainted and begged for mercy from being used so much. I'd only have twenty minute breaks here and there to cool my heels, and then right back into the frying pan and the fire.

What if I fell down that first minute and got us disqualified right off the bat? If we bumped another couple as we danced and started a rivalry we really didn't want, or danced so much we eventually fainted and ended up in the hospital? What if I couldn't keep my hands off her, and in a sudden movement I moved in too close...


I was jolted out of those thoughts as Rory came closer to me, holding another foam cup of something. I looked up at her and shook the negative thoughts of the event out of my head as our eyes met.

God, I was right a year ago when I told her she was comparable to a Disney princess; she looked like birds really dressed her. Her hair had a rose decoration the same color as mine was, a light pink, as if karma was trying to nudge us together. I noticed her fingernails were sort of a cherry red, making my uncolored yet polished nails seem pale in comparison. She was smiling at me, a little bleary just as everyone else was from being up at such an early hour.

"Hi Rory," I told her as she gave me a nice once-over of my dress and I did the same. Her eyes raked over my frame, failing as I hoped to find a thing out of place or bringing down my beauty high, and then she told me that I looked really, really nice. I blushed and I told her that she was certainly no slouch in the beauty department either, there was a lot of nervous conversation going on to start out the morning.

She then handed over the other foam cup she held to me after we got over our nerves. She sipped from her cup, and I had a perverted thought about really wanting to be the lip of that cup. I swear I was giving her that same look Ally did towards Georgia as the other woman sipped the foam head of her cappuccino...

Thankfully before I could get into Charlie-Brown-eyeing-the-little-redheaded-girl mode or lick my lips, Rory decided to let me know what she gave me. "Uh, I didn't know if you'd drink coffee if it didn't have soy milk because Luke had to make enough to serve the entire competition, so he also made up a large pot of wintergreen tea. Is that OK, I can get you something else--"

My mouth thankful for any kind of fluid that didn't have Evian on the label (I think I drank my body weight in the stuff that day and a half before), I sipped the hot concoction, my nose basking in the sweet scent of the drink, and the relaxing vapors of the steam. It felt really good going down, and with the contained caffeine within, I could tell that recharging my synapses throughout the day with Luke's wintergreen tea was something I might have to start repeating every weekday.

After I gulped the tea down, I stopped Rory's ramble, smiling at her. "No, no, this stuff right here?" I pointed at the cup, followed by my stomach. "Hits the spot, that'll wake me up, though I did sleep from about six on until four this morning."

"I'm glad." She seemed relieved, playing a doting girl to my temperamental nature. "We have to go see the nurse for a quick physical, just something very routine to make sure we're both tip-top, she doesn't want to have any surprises befalling her."

"Turn my head and cough, walk a few steps, make sure I'm not carrying a benign form of the plague kind of exam?" I asked, and Rory shook her head.

"Come on, the line's building up," she told me, and took my hand so that we could get in the line. Thankfully the exam was thorough, yet brief and there was no use of a stethoscope, because if she had found my heart racing from the adrenaline rush of the event and being so close to Rory I might have been sitting in the bleachers just watching.

After finishing the exam, we went back over to the refreshments table, where Luke was standing sentry over the food and beverages. I told him that I loved his wintergreen tea (he poured me another cup as we chatted), and we settled those differences that arose in the heat of the Oppenhemier pursuit.

"I didn't really mean to assert that you ran a brothel," I told the guy, who would make a perfect model for a paper towel wrapping. "I just was a little intense that day, and for that I'm sorry Mr. Danes."

"Hey, its fine Paris, I've been called a lot worse by some citizens in this town, but the way you put it to me, and then Jess coming in and trying to push my buttons..."

"Yeah, he's a troublemaker. But from what I heard he's finally cooperating with you, Rory's been keeping me clued in..." Rory came over just then after retrieving her own number and safety pin pair. "...And here she is now."

"Hey, you two patched things up pretty quickly," she said as she handed me the piece of paper and pin.

"All it took was the wintergreen tea." Luke and I said our goodbyes, and my mind was able to focus on the reason she handed me her dance marathon number. "What's up?"

"Pin me please," she said with her innocent smirk. "I tried it myself, but I can't reach that far around my back."

Rory turned around, and somehow I kept my fingers unshaken enough to not jab the point of the pin through her skin as I threaded it through the paper of the number and the material of her dress. "There you go," I told her as I snapped the safety pin to place. Rory then turned around to face me, and asked me if she could pin my number to my dress.

Noticing that I had absolutely no material in back except towards the bottom of my spinal column, her pinning a number would be a little too close to home. I shuddered as my mind created that scenario, and with the only other option being pinning it to my front, I decided it was probably best to forgo the safety pin entirely, along with any help from Rory. Instead, there was thankfully a roll of black electrical tape on the judge's table. So I brought the number below my breasts and went to town, taping the number on somehow without Rory's help. I think I saw her frown a bit at losing possible contact with my bustline, but that was all forgotten as Taylor, overzealous with his use of the megaphone, called all the contestants out to the floor for the five-minute call.

"That's us," she said cheerfully, as she took my right into her left and we got onto the dance floor, ready to scope out the competition. I was in the mode I had been in so many times before with Rory; know thy enemy, and don't play into thy enemy's weakness.

Thy enemy that day for both of us; Kirk Gleason. Usually known as the town's bachelor, nerd, all-around geek, if it's a derogatory term for a nervous man like him, I could say it. But once he got on that dance floor, Rory had told me, that façade disappeared, and he turned into this dancing machine that would make Michael Flatley run away crying towards the woman who had borne him. He had won the competition for eight years straight, and this year was going for number nine. His dance partner was in it for the cup and the glory, and they were usually a professional who was on his team for the same reason some second-stringer from the La Crosse team of the CBA begged for a Lakers contract; to win. Rory told me that every year once the last couple was knocked out of the competition, he'd take the trophy around the gym floor to the strains of the love theme to Rocky.

Rory and I headed towards center court, and my eyes immediately met with Kirk's, a stern gaze that was telling him I wasn't here just for a little fun, I was here to win. I could care less about the whatever the prize package was, and Rory could keep the trophy, but I wanted to leave that floor in approximately twenty-four hours and three minutes declared the champion along with her.

Though of course the number one reason, that I wanted close contact with her for so long was shallow. Wasn't about to let Kirk know that though.

"Hey," he started, trying to get right into his mode of intimidation. "Good luck to you two."

Yeah, nice try there Gleason, I don't play nice. "Whatever," I said, brushing him off. "I have a feeling you'll be seeing Rory and I on this floor into the witching hours."

"Until you break a heel," he told us offside, reminding us both of how Lorelai lost her footing the last three years and stumbled to the ground in agony around the nine o'clock point. Rory didn't take the comment well and grimaced at him. I had to keep her calm, so I decided to move away from him.

"Trust me, we're different. Even if we have to ditch our shoes we'll still be here to stop your streak," she told him as we walked away and towards the judge's stand. I couldn't hear his response to her witty retort, but he was just a distraction.

I set a hand on her shoulder, trying to get her in the zone, so to speak. "Don't listen to him Gilmore, he's just bitter because he's never been able to parlay his titles into any kind of meaningful relationship." I smirked at her, and hoped she'd catch onto my very obvious and screaming hint that I hoped this day would turn into a lot more at the end. Rory laughed, and we settled down, preparing for the beginning of this whole ordeal.

A volunteer handed out yellow cards to all of us, and Taylor let us know the rules for those who needed a refresher course, but that I had down from the moment I accepted Rory's invitation. We had to stay moving and touching throughout, which meant there wasn't going to be any tossing your partner in the air allowed, or any other kind of wild move you'd see in Strictly Ballroom. The breaks would happen whenever Taylor sounded the scoreboard horn, lasting twenty minutes each, allowing us to recover. I could also take one individual ten minute break if I gave up my yellow card, kind of like a strategic last-laps pit stop in an auto race if we could keep it up into the late hours. That meant Rory and I were going to have to keep close eyes on each other's health and let the other know that it was time to yellow card out for a break.

With a minute to go, Rory and I met, exchanging direct eye contact and setting her hands in mine. She trusted me with her fate, in her town, at that moment. The last thing I wanted to do that day was be a major disappointment and stumble. God, I could already see the image of myself tripping on the volleyball pole socket in the gym floor and stumbling on my ass as the horn of doom sounded, Rory helping me up but not looking at me as I left town in shame.

My blood was flowing through my body so fast I could feel it in my veins, and despite not a smidgen of physical activity yet, my sweat glands were stirred up. I had prepared for that however, knowing I didn't have any material on the side to catch any drops, so I had to use a high-powered anti-perspirant. What wasn't helping however was Rory's proximity to me. It wasn't even six o'clock, and just the simple touch of her hands, they were getting me aroused. I felt stiff, nervous, and strange. What if this isn't right, I thought to myself as Rory's crystal pupils raked over my form, getting a sense of my curves and where to set her arms. Her fingers were bare, rubbing up against the ring on my right non-writing hand I received from my paternal Aunt Ingrid for my bat mitzvah.

She drew my attention, taking my focus off my worries for a moment. If she knew what I wanted to do at that moment, which didn't involve dancing with her, at least in the literal and academic sense, but in a bedroom definition, I swore she would've probably freaked. Thankfully my mind didn't telegraph anything, as she gave me a reassuring smile, bringing her left hand up and running a finger in my hair and along the petals of the flower in it.

"You ready for this Paris?" she said in a hushed voice as Taylor finished reading off a list of sponsors for the event. "Last chance to back out, you don't have to do this." Rory's voice wasn't in a mood of protestation, rather in a challenging tone. She then brought her hand down from my scalp, a finger lingering against the halter strap near my neck in a way that almost made me moan. She then brought the hand down my arm and back into my hand, leaving behind a building swath of goosebumps rising up from each millimeter of skin she touched, making the small hairs I had along the top rise. Her words worked alchemy in my ears and her breath tickled my nose, getting me back into the hyperfocus I had maintained since I asked Francisca to help me with an outfit choice Thursday night. A perfectly blended mix of triple-striped AquaFresh toothpaste combined with two cups of coffee was what I sensed in that one slight sniff of her breath as the minty taste of her went into my nose.

I swallowed down a last gulp of my wintergreen tea that I was swirling around my mouth to coat it so I could stay as hydrated as possible before the noon break, handing the cup off to a volunteer to toss. My lovesick side may not have been ready to go, but my empathy was. I wanted to help Rory win this, for her mother, for the town, and in a small way, for myself. Six years removed from my last recital on the stage of the Southington Civic Auditorium, taken out of my element so fast by my mother and pushed into a lonely existence devoid of all the fun I had in my early childhood. The only thing that came out of that so far was a need for Harvard so I could flee her influence, an aborted crush on a former friend and tormenter, and a rivalry that hopefully after this day, would turn into something more, maybe even love.

Rory wanted this. I wanted this. That was all that mattered in the end, no one else did.

I gripped her wrist tightly, looking right into her eyes, a confident smirk settling on my lips as I saw Taylor finish his announcement and prepare to depress the button on the scoreboard's control panel signaling the beginning of this ordeal.

"Oh yeah," I told her, my voice not wavering. "I'm ready, it's time to swing."

She smiled, relieved that I was ready to go. We took our place in the layout of the couples, our 131 number putting us towards the top of the east key lane of the basketball layout, right on the curve of the three-point line. In a way, this whole ordeal was going to be like a miracle shot from three-quarters of the court away, 185 couples, Kirk and his partner between Rory, I, and victory. Hopefully we could sink this shot at the title.

Holding our hands together, we both counted down with the crowd from ten to one that first horn signaling the beginning. It felt like ten minutes, but once Taylor yelled the words "And...GO!", then tapped his finger on that scoreboard horn button, things were under way. Right away one couple left, there just to continue a streak of 'appearances' at the dance marathon. It may have been just 30 seconds, but nonetheless it counted on the record.

We both got right to work, discovering that we were quite in sync with what we had both rehearsed for the last couple of days in our own individual homes. The first hour seemed to flow by in a fast adrenaline rush, Rory's hand imprints hot against my sides as we danced...well, the morning away. A time where I'd usually be in my pajamas cursing the state of 'educational' television as I found instead Trading Spaces reruns or some crap show on channel 30 about a haunted high school that looked awfully small to be one in actuality, was instead spent with my hands against her elbows, spinning around the hardwood gym floor, both of the skirts of our dresses spinning in the air as we danced to the sounds of remastered Benny Goodman Band music, recalling a simpler time where...sadly, Chilton was all-female and very exclusive, you had to be part of a select group of Hartford elite to even be considered for a slot in the school. If Rory and I lived back then, we would never meet, since her mother probably would have had to give her away after birth and been sent to a convent in shame for having an illegitimate child, and Rory would be stuck in the vicious circle of the foster system.

God bless you Gloria Steinham, for I now have a new and sobering appreciation for the women's liberation movement. Back to hopefully many more minutes of dancing with the girl of my dreams...


Rory's POV, 6:05am

When I got up this morning, I had expected Paris to be dressed to the nines, far from her normal demeanor because of the period dress we pretty much had to adhere to. There was a part of me honestly that was scared however, that she wouldn't take it as seriously as I thought she was, and she'd either come in a dress that looked like it came from the forties, but was bought off the shelf at Vera Wang the day before. I was also under the impression that she might get lost trying to find her way towards me, so I had Babbette ask her to come right into the gym and find me in there instead of waiting out in the front foyer near the ticket window hopeful Par would recognize me in the red sea of white polka dots.

Once I got into the gym, I marveled at how beautiful the place was done up, each year the students manage to outdo the class from the year before who decorate the gym. The student council at Stars Hollow High worked deep into the night, leaving at one before everything was period and perfect. From the small touches, like the free throw lane on the basketball floor taped up and filled in so the key would resemble how it was when the school opened in 1941, to the checkerboard tablecloths at the refreshments table, and the nurse in 40's garb, candy-striped apron and all, not to mention the strings of balloons hanging from the rafters, everything was perfect. The digital time clock at the west end of the gym could easily be forgotten since I had on an antique watch passed down through my grandma's side of the family over the years substituting on my left wrist for the old Dean bracelet, now passing through Old Lyme on its way into the Long Island Sound, I'd just check that and with my superb time-telling skills, easily deduce how much time I had left.

I was getting nervous as I went to the judge's table after retrieving a cup of water from Luke in order to balance out my thirst with caffeine. Since I revealed my feelings to Patty yesterday, I was brainstorming what I wanted to do if Paris and I survived the twenty-four hours and managed to beat Kirk. There was no way in hell I was going to skip hand in hand with her parading the trophy around the sidelines of the gym floor to the strains of Gonna Fly Now. If we were to win, the celebration would be on my terms; calm and collected, thankful, and probably worn out. I clutched the jewel case I took out of the pocket of my dress and looked over towards Miss Patty, distracted by a very young blonde boy who was unaware that the older woman was looking at him like a strawberry creamsicle.

"Patty, I need a favor," I told her, and she kind of looked forlorn as I distracted her from the guy and looked towards me, but just for a moment, before she drew her attention towards me and appraised my dress.

"My Rory, you clean up very well. I think you're going to make all the guys jealous today!" She laughed, and thankfully we were both far enough away so that no one could hear what we were saying.

"Yeah, too bad I'm not partnering up with them," I said, before getting honest. "I'm kind of scared though, what if she's not into it?"

"Child, did you not say yesterday that she'd be good, why doubt it now?"

"But Kirk looks like tough competition this year, again." I rolled my eyes as both of us looked towards him, showboating with his redheaded partner as he threw her four feet in the air then caught her with arms right at the top of her back and rear.

"Don't stress yourself, we're not grading on style, but endurance. Between you and I though," she whispered into my ear. "I'd watch out for Taylor, he has a couple dirty tricks up his sleeve to thin out the crowd."

"Such a masochist that guy," I joked, and we both laughed as I handed Patty my CD. "If miraculously Par and I get to 5:57, play track ten for me please, it's a milestone song for both of us. I promise you right now I won't do a victory lap, by then the only thing I'll have in mind is getting to bed."

"Of course, Rory dear." She took the CD and scanned the back cover until she found what track ten was. "I agree, that is a very nice song choice."

"Thanks, wish me luck, this is for my mom, who couldn't be here today to try to topple Kirk, and Paris, who really needs a day of fun." I smiled at her, and she smiled back at me.

"I'll be rooting for you silently," and then she said goodbye and went back towards the judges' stand. I finished my cup of water, and went back to Luke's table to pour myself a hot cup of joe. We had a quick chat, and I warned him about who my partner was. At first he was surprised, but then I assured him that Paris wasn't going to be attitudinal in the way she was that day she came to town in order to milk the Rory Curtain for all it was worth for the Oppenheimer prize.

Because he had to use one of those large Bunn tanks to provide the entire community coffee, he didn't have all the tools to customize it so I couldn't get Paris her usual hazelnut with soy milk. However, I did notice another tank off to the side...

"Luke, what's with the other tank, extra coffee?"

"Actually," he said in his sarcastic but softie-type way, "Not everyone likes coffee as much as you and your mother do, some can't even take the stuff. Thus, I made up some wintergreen tea."

I thought to myself for a moment, wondering if Paris wouldn't mind that as a substitute for coffee since soy milk wasn't available. She had made it clear she loathed non-dairy creamer ("It never dissolves in the cup just right" she told me once), and Luke had those little mini-thimble packs of half-and-half in a bowl that would do a number on her stomach. I had a thought then and there of how her mouth would taste if she would drink wintergreen tea. I became lost in my thoughts for a moment as I basked in a hopeful future thought of her kissing me, the inside of her mouth tasting of a mix of tea and her beloved vanilla Velamints. I actually shut my eyes and went with it until I felt a strong hand shake my shoulder.

Luke had thankfully distracted me from the thought, and I quickly brushed off my inattentiveness due to a lack of sleep. I asked him for a big foam cup of tea, and he complied, handing me the cup, and then I sat down to continue a conversation where he talked about how he missed Lorelai's usual six dollar a day coffee habit. I'm sure he misses the company too, I thought to myself as I sipped the coffee as slow as I could so the effects would be spread through the six hours I'd be separated from it and dancing with Paris instead.

I was looking at my watch impatiently. 5:50am, it read back to me. I started to panic a little, wondering where Paris was. I knew she had to park in back by the baseball diamond and that she'd have a long line to deal with before she checked in with Babbette, but it wasn't supposed to take that long, was it? She said she'd meet me there, 5:45 sharp, with bells on. I even gave her all the information she needed so that she wouldn't run into any problems.

I started internalizing my worst fears into my mind; those which would bring us back to the enemies track. What if she thought I was joking and I didn't actually want to go, or she panicked herself and didn't want to attend? Maybe her mother found out and was sealing Paris in her room Rapunzel-style, her hair not long enough for me to climb...

OK, getting a little weird with the Rapunzel comparison there, but in my mind, anything was a possibility. She could've even accepted then decided to stand me up as revenge for what I did to her by trying to get her and Tristan to go out. Yes, I saw a mental picture of her cackling evilly at her desk, finally getting her just desserts at my expense.

I kept talking to Luke, trying to drown those thoughts out...

And then finally, Paris was twenty feet from me, looking around just as awed at the decorations as I was. She walked in, her head craning up towards the middle of the ceiling towards the frame the balloons were strung up around and the period-specific decorations throughout the gymnasium.

I squinted my eyes a little to get a clearer look at her through the dimmed light of the room, and felt my heart swell with pride, want, and desire. She was definitely in this for the long run.

She started coming closer, and I was able to start making out what she was wearing. It was a beautiful black dress, decorated all over with a pattern of red cherry tomatoes, only hammering home the theme of our first connection to each other; the salads. Never changing, the only thing I can say with certainty was routine in the time we knew each other.

What wasn't routine however, was how much skin she was showing off. As she came closer and closer, I kept my attention off of her, trying to keep my eyes appraised on a Rosie the Riveter poster off to a far corner. My face was looking towards there, but my eyes, fully on Paris.

The dress showed off her best attributes, her long legs, perfect-for-me stomach, and the breasts only she could have and somehow get a full rein on. It was a halter and the only thing my inner vixen was thinking was Man, it's gonna be hard to keep from undoing that back tie for 24 hours, ain't it Gilmore? I was right about her getting revenge on me; It was just a lot more sexual and unknowing than I expected. I swear to God she made me look like I was in the Order of St. Agnes, it's as if she was going to milk all this time so close together for all it was worth. My mouth watered and I was lost to comment.

She had no bra on; her best attribute was out there for me to ogle shamelessly and without any guilt, I almost flushed red, knowing she probably did this on purpose to either rile me up or to give me a bigger case of nerves. She was but ten feet from me, and there I was, my eyes hardly looking at her face at all, but down at her deep cleavage, at least five inches from the top until her dress' neckline flared back up again towards the other halter strap.

Paris then turned around in a twirl, giving me a look at her back, the dress plunging at least to the mid-lower section of it. Since she had a little more weight on her than I did I couldn't make out the curvature of her spine, but that was but a small nag, since the skin was nice and dark. Then my eyes finally drifted up towards her proud and broad shoulderblades, which had probably taken a beating over the years from having so much on them, clothes, backpack straps, emotional baggage. It was sort of a sign to me saying that with all the weight of her halter dress on her neck and nothing on her shoulders, Paris was sending me the message that she was free for the day; 'I'm completely yours'. I started smiling then as my gaze went up to her head and face; There was little makeup covering her usually flawless features because of the length of time she'd be with me, and just a smidge of red lipstick.

Her hair was elegantly done up, free from a ponytail, and every strand curled over, with a rose that matched mine in the left side. God, every date with Dean he threw whatever he had on, and when he helped me come out to society (debutauntally, not in the gay sense of course), even then the rental tuxedo screamed that he'd rather be tuning a car than dancing uncomfortably. But Paris Gellar, she never does things halfway, not even for social events. The only other time I recall her wearing a dress besides when I helped her with the Tristan situation and the Winter Formal was that long black dress she wore for my Hartford 16th birthday party, and even though she was there by force rather by choice, I still thought she looked very nice, unlike the rest of the girls there who were looking good just so they could get a guy they could take to bed that night.

That's what I admire about Paris; she'll always be her own woman, on her own terms, no matter how her mother might try to influence everything about her. I saw the beginnings of what I think is a rebellion that night she crawled in my window and apologized, and though I knew she had to lie to get here (thank goodness for the always handy 'Going-to-Boston' excuse when it comes to Mrs. Gellar), she's trying to be herself finally. Still neurotic, a little grating on my nerves at times and ready at will to provoke me into an argument, but Paris is proving herself to be as far from the girl I first met two years ago as can be.

She then found my attention, and I said her name, almost in shock and making sure this was the same girl I shared a desk with in two classes, indeed it was.

"Uhhh, you look very, very nice, I'm surprised, yeah," I said nervously, letting my mind speak for me. "I mean I didn't expect you in that dress, not at all, I mean you're usually very shy about wearing something like that and I thought..." I mentally slapped myself, trying to regain my words. "Anyways, not the point, you're looking beautiful today."

And you wonder why only Dean found you datable, my conscious rubbed in as she sort of laughed nervously, and I tried to regain my center. I was scared that she was going to call me Mary, but there was never anything to worry about.

"The birds got up early this morning and helped you out, didn't they?" Apparently she still recalled the conversation we had when she convinced me to become her VP, and I blushed as she complimented me. "Very nice dress and period-appropriate attire, makeup and demeanor Gilmore, I compliment you for going as full-tilt with this as you should have." Surprisingly yes, in Gellar's world that would be considered a compliment, so I smiled back at her.

"Thank you." I then gave her another silent once-over, my mind making heads and tails that this girl, no, woman was going to be my dance partner for the next hopefully twenty-fours. We both seemed to be giving each other attention, staring at each other. Then when I put the rim of my coffee cup to my lips to take a quick sip, her gaze moved from my eyes right down to my mouth. I gave her the foam cup of tea in order to see if that would draw her attention off. She clasped the cup in her hands half-heartedly, concentrating her eyes on my lips, maybe giving herself a few ideas. The slow seduction was continuing to work its magic, and it was almost as if I was back in her room Tuesday morning asking her to warm me up. If she only knew how much I wanted to feel her lips against mine instead of that Styrofoam.

Still, I had to keep her attention on the dance ahead, so I drew her attention from me and onto the tea. I let her know that Luke couldn't get soy milk, so that would have to do for a caffeine fix. I thought she wouldn't be enthusiastic about the substitution, but she sipped the tea anyways and found it very much to her liking. So much that we had to stop at Luke's table again after a quick nurse's exam to make sure we were fit enough for the next 24 hours, so she could pour herself another cup of the stuff, which helped her cause with Luke. Paris complimented his brewing skills and apologized for being too intense that late January day earlier in the year we stopped at the diner and she accused him of being a house of ill repute. Luke took it cool and easy-going, leaving me relieved that I could cross out one con on the small list I still maintain and plan to update tomorrow with anything I can find out about her.

Next part of the plan; more innocent touching. I had Paris pin my number on the back of my dress, and enjoyed the small little sparks her fingertips sent up my spine as she worked the dress material into the safety pin and slid it through. I felt her rub against the hook of my bra for a bit, and had to think about one of Dean's lamer makeout sessions in order to keep my legs steady. Geeze, what that girl does to me sometimes...

Unfortunately I didn't get to share the opportunity with her to pin the number to her own person. Due to her choice of dress, she couldn't pin it to her back, and I had a large feeling that she wouldn't let me dare pin the number on the only other place it could be pinned, below her breasts. So I had to imagine that instead as I watched her anti-climatically tape the number to the front of her dress instead, my body very disappointed and having to make do with another longing look down at her cleavage in her distracted state. This was about the time I started recalling all those lessons in basic science that what comes up, must come down eventually when it comes to gravity. I hope Paris tied the back in a very tight knot, because knowing her gravitational pull, I might be seeing more than her cleavage by say, hour number twenty.

"Alright everyone, five minutes to go, please head to your numbered positions on the dance floor, you'll find a taped 'X' with a Dyno label marking your number below your feet. You must stay on that spot unless Patty or I tell you to move for an elimination game or you make it into the final hours..." There was Taylor, blathering on and on about the rules of the marathon, so I took Paris' hand into mine and we took our place on the floor, a few spots down from Kirk. He was already looking at us with disgust, not about the concept of two girls dancing, but because he seemed to remember Paris back from her dancing days. Kirk had seen her when she was nine and had thought since she was a Harfordian, would never set foot in Stars Hollow to try to take his title. Paris had never met Kirk, but she regarded him as she did me the first time I stepped beneath the gargoyles two years ago, an enemy combatant.

Her eyes turned cold, as did his as they stared each other down like they were about to duel in the town square. Kirk's partner also had a stern look on her face, and I stared her down. Small, meek, thin as a rail, the redhead he was dancing with had all the makings of a professional dancer, without the charisma of one. I wanted one of them to stomp one another's feet so Paris and I could take this.

Kirk attacked Paris' heels, which I easily took as an attack on Lorelai the last few years. My eyes darted towards him as Paris defended me and told him we'd be bringing home the trophy this year. Poor little Rocky against Apollo Creed, I thought to myself with a mirthful smirk, thinking that this year would turn out a lot different. We both regarded the nervous man with caution, and she started giving him a steely gaze, screaming 'bring it on' towards him. They moved a little closer and I thought that was about the time I had to get them separated, feelings of loathing for his streak or not. She moved away herself though, and told him we would win barefoot if we had to. I laughed, but in the back of my mind knew that she was dead serious about the threat. If Paris had to, she'd find any one of Kirk's weaknesses and manipulate them into bringing us closer to victory circle.

As we saw the volunteer hand out the emergency yellow cards, she reminded me that Kirk's wins had never led to any kind of relationship for him, not even a groupie. She said this in a way I took as that after we won, we wouldn't drift off out of each other's lives and be able to enjoy the victory...and maybe even a little more than that. I laughed at her as Taylor went into TMI detail about the uses of the yellow cards that would give you a ten minute break if you held it up, describing an example where someone ate a few too many cold cuts and had a sudden urge to throw up on their partner's shoulder. I took my attention away from that, and looked at the girl I was about to hold in my arms for such a long time.

She stared at Taylor as he went on with his words, taking them in carefully and leaving me to gaze at her beauty. Honestly, not in my most romantic dreams did I think she could look that sexy, or sizzling in that dress. I mean to have less than 40 hours to not only practice, but put together a look, find a nice dress and the few embellishments she had on (no earrings or other jewelry to go with her look besides her birthstone Jewish star, a small ring on her right hand, and the pink rose in her hair), for another girl in her shoes, it may have been overwhelming. For Paris though, it was a challenge she relished to meet full on. When she came into that room, whatever she did to shine in my eyes, I could tell that it was all worth it. The idea for her to dance with me may have been nutty and off-center when I came up with it, but moment by moment I was under the impression that in the end it might all be worth it.

Taylor finished his speech and the countdown towards the last minute started, Paris' gaze shifting over from the community and towards me. Her deep browns looked into mine, and I eased my hands into hers, saying in a way that I trusted her. I found her to be sort of uneasy with the prospect, scared that I would be disappointed if we didn't get further in the contest. I saw the same scared little girl that she was around her mother; afraid of disappointment, cursed if the word 'lose' or any of its variations entered anywhere near her vocabulary. Her father never intended for her to be miserable in her own skin, but her mother wanted her to take Vince Lombardi's many axioms about how defeat was the worst thing in the world and never forget them. I hated Sharon for making her stone hard and impenetrable. Paris was going to have fun today, come hell or high water, and I was going to make her forget that this was a dance contest. Hopefully all this time would lead to revelations and surprises from her.

I rubbed reassuringly against her knuckles, getting to know more those same hands and fingers that I dreamed of every night. The slimness of them in my own palms was in stark contrast to Dean's thick, chunky fingers and hands, worn and scratched from all that auto work he did when he wasn't around me. The recollection of his scent, a mix of Skin Bracer and a harsher industrial equivalent of Lava soap used to make me swoon. Now all it did was bring Paris' scent to the forefront.

It was, light, much lighter. Orchids, vanilla and still a little bit of lingering incense-cedar wafting from her fingers, telling me she did at least a little homework with her pencil before she left. Dean was harsh-scented, yet kind to me, while Paris had a light scent, yet was harsh emotionally most of the time around me.

Only, she was starting to show humanity when I was around her, small touches that gave me hints and peeks at what lay beneath those layers Paris used to protect herself. She had put those shields up around her that one day in the shower and kept them strong the three days we were at odds again. But once she thought about it and came over to my house to lay with me in bed and confess, she dropped them and confided in me that she thought she wasn't beautiful. In her eyes, she was homely, dull, and not much to look at. She'd be a workaholic, content with her name in the newspapers and no one to come home to at night except a beagle and maybe a droopy fern once she got out of college. Before I started to push her, she seemed content to be an old maid.

I'm not going to let that happen though. These romantic feelings I have for her are too much to bear, and she had to know that in my eyes, there wasn't a more beautiful girl I knew in the world. So in a challenging yet kind voice, I asked her if she was sure she wanted to do this for me. I'd bow out of the dance and find a new way to get Paris' attention if she didn't want to do this, but I decided to swing her around to my side. I moved my left hand up into her curled hair, running my fingers through it in a reassuring way. It was as smooth in my hands as the tail of a horse, and my fingers raked over the petals of her rose.

I kept prodding her on as I brought it down to her shoulder, running my index finger seductively against one of her dress straps. I could see her eyes wander down as I slipped the tip of the fingernail against the material, scratching beneath. It was meant as a little warm up, and just maybe a little revenge for her behavior on Tuesday afternoon in the car. She coughed out a little breath, and I took it out and ran my hand the rest of the way down her arm. I told her she could back out if she wanted to, and as I clasped my hand into hers and Taylor finished his speech about who was sponsoring the event, I saw her smile at me, putting on her true game face as he had us go to our spots.

Then she told me she was ready to go with this all, even if the length turned out to be twenty-four hours. She had a confidence in her voice I never had heard before, even in our toughest debates with Hillside Academy. She was truly ready for this all, ready to go, and the swagger in her words when she told me that it was time to swing...that confidence created a tingle in my throat and stomach as her fingers twined around mine after we set ourselves up in our own little spot on the floor.

I gulped, and for a moment thought to myself, What have I gotten myself into? There Paris was, the girl of my dreams, looking drop-dead gorgeous in a vintage black dress that made her look so hot, and then mousy me, standing in front of her in something conservative. Her gaze was locked onto mine and raked over my slim footprint. I felt so unsettled, suddenly coming to the realization that I wasn't taking in realism for once, instead I had been thinking of an ideal when I came up with this whole idea.

For God's sakes, I flunked ballet, badly, and never proved myself to dance in much more than tepid middle school dances and that one Formal! Who was my partner? Only a dance champion coming out of a six-year retirement suddenly after I begged and pleaded with her to be my partner!

What was I thinking, in what world did I think that I would be able to go on for so long? That I would be a good dancer and that...

I stopped my self-ramble as Taylor started the countdown, and Paris brought me closer and flush towards her, taking my hands one more time as we looked towards the judge's table. She was confident, assured, and trying to bring me into that same state of mind. Just forget everyone else Gilmore, she seemed to be transmitting to my mind with her eyes. I'll be here to keep you on your feet all day and night.

Remind me next time if I have access to a time machine and can go through with seducing Paris again, that a game of Truth and Dare would be less strenuous than having her participate with me in a dance marathon. Thank you.

Anyways, Taylor sounded the horn, and I started finding my footing, right away surprisingly. All those web pages and books seemed to work from the get-go, and Paris went with what I was doing, letting me lead as she got re-used to dancing with someone besides herself. I kept a tight grip on her hands and we concentrated on getting our bodies moving, rather than getting right into competition with Kirk. The strains of the music started, and I got right into it, casting aside my fears and letting Paris guide me through those first few minutes.

Babette and Morey did their usual minute of dancing they do every year and dropped right out, saying they were exhausted and left the floor, causing Taylor to roll his eyes for not taking the dance seriously enough. I smiled at them and told them goodbye, then got back to the matter at hand. Only five minutes in and Kirk was getting a little cocky with his dance moves, so it was better for Paris and I to stay unaffected and just dance normally for the first few hours.

I'm still a little unsure of how close Paris will actually get to me today, and hopefully we can have some kind of meaningful conversation in the heat of competition. We certainly can't go this long without talking, and I need all the talking opportunities I can find since there's this little nagging fact that only five minutes in, I'm already yearning to be closer to her and feel a little...we'll say distracted. She's looking up at me through the haze of the Benny Goodman music, and I feel like any moment I'd want to drag her off the floor and--

Yeah, Rory, you're here to dance, and slowly seduce. Besides, it's too early in the morning to do something like that...

Paris' POV, 10:15am

Taylor and Miss Patty were easy on us in those first four hours, not doing anything to crazy to push couples out. The 2'x2' box we were in worked well, and I focused more on winning than I did of luring Rory further. Any odd touch would freak her out and cause her concentration to be shot, so I kept my hands on an even keel. No wandering, keeping them either at the sides just below her bra line, or if it was a little wilder, on her lower arms and elbows. She seemed to stay conservative with her movements too, not ready to be brave and set a hand on the bare expanse of skin on my back until a little later.

Admittedly, not everything was going rosy or perfect, at least if you were looking in from the outside. There was the occasional dirty looked doled our way from the odd couple or two, and some of the teens made fun of us, thinking that we were so desperate to get in the competition that we'd join together because we're dateless losers who couldn't get a guy to save our lives. Probably the same group of peers who made Rory beg to get out of the more pronounced cliquish and less bookish natures of the students who attended this school, and into Chilton. Kirk was trying to throw us off early by sweeping his dance partner off her feet and trying to get us to separate so Rory and I would be horned out of the competition. We rolled our eyes at him and did our own little spin move, a little more conservative so we could keep the harder stuff confined to whenever the judges directed us to go further or storing our energy past the sixteenth hour.

I wasn't ready to release Rory anyhow; she was going to be stuck with me no matter what. Eventually around nine I found an opening, and was finally able to place my hands against the small of her back. I had never been that close to her before; and I could feel her settle in against my palms. She made a sudden jerking motion as my fingernails scraped against the fabric of her dress, so I tried to release and move my hands back up.

"Uhhh, sorry, that feels like a nice place to settle your hands," she ranted out nervously. "You don't have to move them Paris."

"Are you sure," I wondered, truthfully. "This is pretty close and I don't know how Dean danced last year so I just want to keep your nerves calmed."

Her gaze moved away from the judge's stand and back towards me as she saw another record being spun. There was a sad, forlorn look in them, and it was then I knew I had hit something within, bringing back up her ex. I slowed down a little, the new song being a slower waltz that threw six fast moving couples for a curve and caused them to separate. Not three seconds later was the horn sounded anew. "That's it for 68, 115, 78, 154, 87 and 24, please clear the floor," Miss Patty projected through the sound system as the disappointed groans of those couples and the crowd filled the gym.

Maybe she was regretting breaking up with Dean was what I thought as she looked towards me, our feet moving in time with the music. Yes, I hated him, but that didn't mean the moment she broke up with him she developed the same loathsome feelings for him. For all I knew they were still good friends having fun together.

"I'm sorry," I told her, hoping that if I said something uncouth I could recover from that. "I didn't mean to bring him up--"

"No, it's OK, I knew it was going to come up," she conceded. "By 11:01 you'll already have outlasted him, but I've already had more fun today than I did last year. He was never really into the whole idea because I took him away from some important body welding time on the car he built me, I think he did this more out of obligation than to try to win."

"I won't talk about him again, I promise," I told her, moving my hands up so we could get more into the song and the dance. "He's been gone from your life four days and that's a very short time to let someone completely go. I know when Tristan left both of us it took me at least a month to recover from the fact that he was gone."

"Yes, but there's a difference. You had feelings for him that went truly unrequited, so to come into school one day and see another student taking his old locker, that confirmed to you things would never be the same. You at least knew him as a friend for the longest time, so you knew what made him tick, and even though he was pulled away from you so roughly, you had background with him, knew what he liked and didn't. With Dean though," she stopped for a moment, sighing as we turned around in the thinning field of dancers. "I never got a chance to really know him as just a friend. One day he was there, helping me with my stuff, and two months later I was kissing him in the market, before that sneaking around here and there so that I could see him since Lorelai wasn't receptive to him. He took me by surprise, being the first guy who was attracted to me, and from there..." she trailed off, trying to get lost in the song, not wanting to dwell on those memories of the past.

We continued dancing through the quiet strains of the Viennese waltz, my mind trying to connect with Rory's to decode what she wanted to say. I wasn't ready to say much either, because she touched on what I had with Tristan before the project debacle. It was true that I was very devastated that he had to leave and I was angry with him for fucking up things so royally, but still, thirteen years of friendly history cancels out about ten weeks of him being a total asshole in my mind. I may have thought in the past that what he did in order to use me as a pawn to get to Rory was awful, but I still like the boy. He will come back from North Carolina one day a changed man, or maybe stay down there and take that second chance he's been given and try to become someone who will be his own man, free from the constraints of the DuGrey legacy and Hartford tradition.

I was being truthful to myself however, about the turning point of my feelings that night. From then on, Rory did become my world, despite appearances to the contrary. Tristan was the only hurdle between a lasting friendship between us, and I had by then resigned myself to the fact Rory and I will be locked in a battle for valedictorian that's going to be decided by thousandths of a grade point, a very small margin. My burgeoning feelings for her have also changed another important facet of my life, and that is I hope that Harvard accepts both of us. Even if I never admit to her, it would be devastating next August to not be able to find her on that campus anywhere, having to settle for her grandparent's true wishes to attend Yale. I told her once that Harvard had a big campus, that even in our competition, we'd never see each other those four years in Cambridge.

Even if I couldn't say what I actually thought of her though, not having Rory at Harvard would leave a large void within me that I would struggle to fill if she didn't go. We had both gone through the rehearsal rigors for the interviews with admissions we'd have next month up in Boston, being very nervous about our responses. I actually wanted to slug the pompous idiot 'expert' at the seminar who had suggested with a snort that Hilary Clinton was overused on college applications when she asked. She might as well have been a single woman seeing as her husband hit on anything within a 1,000 foot radius until he finally got caught with Lewinsky.

I brought my focus back towards the girl I liked, seeming sort of sad in my arms. I hated that I put that look on her face bringing up the 'D' word, so I moved my hands back down towards her hands and smiled.

"Hey," I told her. "Dean was your first, your only for a long time, and the first boy who took an interest in you. I'll give him that; he was smart to try to take you off the market first chance he got." She softly laughed, and I continued on. "But you weren't going to be the love story of a lifetime, that was always apparent, so don't feel ashamed for yourself, taking the first opportunity you could to break it off. I never pegged you for the type to break it off with him that way, but if you felt it was better to cut it off with him completely for now, it was probably for the best."

"But what if he was, the love story of my life I mean?" She paused and bit her lip, and I almost stepped on her shoe in the shock of my attempt to end the questioning of Dean failing. I regained footing, and as the slow strains of the song continued, I had to be quick on my feet to think up an answer.

It seemed like she wanted to challenge me, hear my true feelings on what I thought of their relationship. I had seen them only a few times in action, the worst of course being that heart-straining makeout session he finagled her into as I watched from a second floor window the end of sophomore year. Our friendship went down in flames from another Tristan misunderstanding, and in a scenario that could only come from the pen of a Hollywood screenwriter, he pulled up in the front drive in his Hicksville Edition Ford Ranger to win her love. Of course she couldn't say no to a grand gesture like that, and I watched them below as they kissed, reunited again even though the jerk didn't deserve it.

There was a part of me that wanted to yellow card out of the question, get some space so I could regain my composure and talk my way out of it. But Rory seemed to await my response, like she would if Lorelai was in the same position I was. She probably didn't have much of a chance to talk to her mother about the sudden breakup in detail after she got home Tuesday night; since Lorelai was in Nashville she was leaning on me more for advice. Why not her best friend?

I deflected that off onto her. "Wouldn't you be more comfortable asking Lane this?"

Rory knew what she was doing, the answer already rehearsed. "She likes Dean though, that's the problem, she has to see him every day in school so she's not impartial to my position, and Mrs. Kim thinks he's a fine guy for me. Everyone's still in love with him except for me and my mother, Luke too. The town thinks of him as this cute boy I'm letting go. Though--"

I decided to give her the advice she really needed, not anything reprocessed through the town's gossip circle. "OK, you really want to know what I thought about Dean? Because I can't sprinkle my opinion with NutraSweet and mute it."

"Go ahead," she said as the music reached the bridge, and she pushed me close to her, moving her hands down to below my bra line and pushing me closer so I could hear her without some random townie catching the gossip and staring a circle where it would end with 'purple monkey dishwasher' suffixed to the end of what I said.

Took me a bit to find the words though. Her fingernails scraped against my spinal column as she found her bearings, and I had to move my hands to the same spot to bring her closer together. Really, a large distraction to keep your wits about when you hope that seam you're feeling against the heel of your palms isn't Rory's panty line. I kept my retort relatively intact however.

"Honestly, you've always deserved a lot better, I'd see him and thought he never deserved you. At first he went along with you, reading, being responsible and all those other cute things, but after awhile, you never talked about him all that much anymore at lunch. You'd tell me how the progress on the car was going and that you were still together, but once Jess came into town all you could talk about was how he was misreading your signals towards him and getting jealous. Heck, I'm surprised he was as muted as he was when he found out Jess accidentally crashed your car."

I ran my fingers against her back, trying to soothe out any anger she might have towards me. "I was always uncomfortable around him, especially when we did the project at Miss Patty's, I remember how much you really didn't want him there because of the tension you had with Tristan. The last thing I wanted going into the play was Tristan having a black eye, so I actually brought a canister of pepper spray every day Dean watched the rehearsals. I was not only afraid for Tristan, but in a way, for you." I felt weird being that honest with Rory, telling her the last thing I wanted was for her to get hurt. But also, knowing about the kiss at Madeline's party, I knew that Rory might try to be honest with Dean about what happened eventually. Dean's anger issues would still come into play, no matter that him and Rory weren't together during the kiss and there was good reason for both of them to keep it secret.

My blood still chills at the threat at the 2000 Winter Formal he made towards Tristan for eyeing Rory. Rory and I may not have gotten along then, but I'd never wish a guy who threatened physical violence on her or someone she knew, ever. I already had to deal with someone abusive in my life in my early years, my mother. I don't talk about it to anyone unless I can really trust them, because it was so wrenching. There was some physical abuse, the occasional open-handed slap on the face or hand and spanking behind my father's back (Daddy was always an advocate of timeouts and talking anger and feelings out, he always spared the rod), but most of it was emotional. Ever since Francisca and my father found out when I was ten it had gone down, but since the divorce, the rate of put downs from my mother was increasing again, though still not to the point it was in my early teens.

So in a way, I was scared for her, besides the obvious jealousy I had when she was with him. Which is another reason I'm scared to admit to her, if Dean finds out he's not going to be pleased that I honed into his 'territory'. I only hope if he finds out about this dance marathon arrangement he'll take it as platonic and not misread the signals.

I looked towards Rory, afraid that my opinion of Dean had changed hers of mine. But instead, I saw understanding in her eyes. She saw what I did though mine and understood what my position was. I wasn't going to tell her I thought she deserved someone much smarter than him, but I have a suspicion that his intelligence was a card in play as she broke up with him.

"It's OK Par," she said to me soothingly, "You're right, he never really was the one for me. I think really, I just took up with him because he was there, ready to love me, but I never could return the feelings. Even when I told him I loved him the last day of school, that was spur of the moment, there was just so much going on--"

I decided to cut her off because I got what I wanted, that she knew my point of view on Dean. We could always deal with the insider information at a later time, preferably without 600 other people surrounding us on the gym floor and sitting in the bleachers.

"Thank you, that's fine for now." I said it a little abruptly, but she knows when I try to end a talk, so she understood.

Rory nodded, somewhat relieved that she didn't have to go further with explanations. "You're welcome." We then brought our focus back on the reason we were on that floor, and started dancing anew...

Rory's POV, 7:38pm

Is it possible to think that the old Victorian mold of dating is very outdated these days? Because that's how I've always felt around Dean whenever we have gone out. It was always like a template that was created in 1875; all you had to do was replace 'night at the opera' with 'movie', and 'dinner at a restaurant' with 'McDonald's', update the clothing and change the mode of transportation from a horse and buggy to a car, and you had my nights with Dean. Except for the anniversary dinners (which as the months wore on became few and far between, he completely forgot about our 15-monther in September), he never did anything wild or out of place to try to win my love further than he did with what was expected. Add the fact that he created a scene at every dance we went to, and you wonder why I kept in the template all the time.

Let me tell you, it's only six and a half hours in, and I already feel like I've busted through and torn up the boring template that defined my love life for so long. I don't know how I've done it, but my legs are still solid, and I have a big smile on my face as Paris and I continue to surprise everyone in this little event. I can tell she's having fun too, and we're both enjoying coming together for this, she's putting all of her effort into doing her best for not only her, but also me.

God, not to be sappy here, but the reality of her fingers twined against my back, and my hands resting just a half-foot above the plunge in the back of her dress, it's so much better than the fantasy I had of this all the moment I broke up with Dean and this whole idea sparked itself in my brain. She's surprised me so much with what she learned ten years ago, and she's as graceful as a high-society girl can be. However, you can tell that somewhere inside of her lurks someone who loathes her own richie template, yearning to be free of it. There was this one set where we had to samba for a bit for example. The beat was going strong and I was going with what I had memorized from the webpage I read, going exactly with what the steps entailed and keeping with the white and black steps from the diagram. She seemed to know the steps too, and we kept up the dance in the memorized manner I was used to.

Then, all the sudden, the music swelled, and she released her grip on my right hand, then tightened onto my left. She forced me into this amazing spin move that seemed to deplete my oxygen for a bit, and my heart swelled as I felt myself twirl with her fingertips against mine. It wasn't something dizzying that went beyond a 270° revolution, but as her right hand caught my back, it was then I knew she was going to be my partner for a long time, smiling at me as I caught my breath.

It hasn't been all rosy, however. There are some people in the crowd, just as I suspected that are in shock that I, the town's golden girl, decided to invite another girl to dance with her instead of any of the other guys sitting in the bleachers in that gym, or even Chilton. There was this one boy, Carl Neufeldt, who is a total pig and used to make fun of my lack of a love life back in eighth grade, taunting me daily as I sat at my lonely table with Lane in the cafeteria with my Walkman and book. He always found any opportunity to make fun of me and called me a name I hate even more than Tristan's euphemism for me, 'Spinster'. Him and his friends kept pointing at us and making slurs about my sexual status. Paris was only too happy to use the opportunity to rub my neck and reassure me that they're a bunch of jackasses and that compared to Duncan and Bowman, they were only bush league.

I was barely focusing on the crowd however, to tell you the truth. They were like all the other tables in the dining hall at lunch; jumbled background noise I could care less about. Instead, as Taylor took things easy on us in these first few hours, Paris and I did something I never thought we would.

We talked about things beyond academics. Not that we didn't before, but Paris hadn't used the card I gave her to really talk about her life with no restrictions since I gave it her the Sunday morning we shared my bed. She was comfortable enough around me to bring up Dean, and though she thought she was getting a little too close to home by mentioning him in a bad light, I wanted to hear from her, what she thought of him without the pressure of keeping up appearances.

Hearing her say that she was scared of him last year during the play project, and that she was afraid he would harm Tristan and I...I had something drop in my throat as she said that. She sounded so grave, serious, affected by it, that even in that heated part of our relationship between truces, she was concerned about me. So concerned she wasn't gunshy about facing down a boy that had 100 pounds and a foot on her so that he knew damned well I wasn't a piece of property to be traded around between guys. Her admission was chivalristic in a way, and coming from her, showed that even in our worst times, she can't stand to see me out of her life.

I know how defensive Paris gets too well; it took a lot to push through her walls in order to get her more over these last few months. As I dance with her, I can feel them ease slowly away, and this...I can't help but define Par this way, but she's an older woman in a young girl's body. Her mother has defined her life, no matter how much she tries to pull away, and she's seen so much more than I ever have in my eighteen years, for sure. My mother got me away from the social pressures of Hartford and raised me to be a kind and smart girl. Paris however, she's had to live in the shadow of Hartford, and even worse, her mother. I've thought so many negative things about that woman, and I've never shared them because I was afraid she would be come defensive and try to explain away her mother's behavior with an essay-ish speech.

I'll get Paris alone in a room one day, and let her air out anything about her mother to me. For now though, I feel much more comfortable with talking to her about things that are light and don't cause that much controversy. That means staying away from the topic of Tristan and wondering if she still carries a flame for him. It's funny, the moment he left us a year ago, he seemed to fall out of our lives completely, and we've barely talked about him at all. Louise brings him up occasionally, but both of our gazes involuntarily darken upon impact of the first syllable of his name, and she shirks back in her chair, afraid to say any anymore.

I have to have closure about the topic though. It bugs me that she might still be thinking about him, harboring those old feelings and keeping them close to her sleeve. When I thought about her pros and cons two weeks ago, truth be told, he never entered my mind, but he certainly has here, with a vengeance.

Now though, there's this dark cloud of doubt over my seduction of her. I eased off a little, feeling as if I was getting too close to her heart. Paris can break like a toothpick and if I mentioned him, what would be her reaction? We were dancing together, in each other's arms, and that was something I wasn't ready to lose so quickly. Her fingers twined against my back, and I felt like I fit within her short form perfectly.

As the hours wore on and the contestants thinned out (don't ask Paris or I how we managed to stay in), the music went from stubborn all-40s to filter into 50s rock and a little 80s music inspired by 50s rock. Miss Patty had somehow convinced Taylor that playing his records over and over again would wear the crowd out, so he decided to appease her and open up the playlist a little more. That meant we got to dance along to a few modern hits, which kept us on our toes. Just as we were getting used to that Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy song, Paris and I had to switch gears and move onto grooving to some more calm ballads, like you'd hear in those Love Story-type movies from the 60s.

The hours wore on, and though we had a couple of breaks at noon and 6pm, I could tell that she was starting to buckle under the pressure. Paris was feeling sort of woozy at times, and I had to scream for a volunteer to deliver me a cup of water so I could splash it in her face and shock her back into the competition. We were also losing ahold of trying to avoid the tough questions.

See, after she asked me about Dean and whether we were back together and saw how unhinged I got, I was afraid to bring up the topic of the boy we fought over for the year he was in both our sights. Tristan remained a very little broached topic between both of us, and when I've tried, she tries to bring me right back into something else.

An example of that; During a quiet night in Washington in the dorm room we had a conversation out of boredom (it was that or watching the Orioles game on TV, and we both could care less about baseball). We were doing fine, talking about our childhoods without getting too deep within the angst of our individual situations; Paris with her genius starting to shine through and her parents fighting about her potential, and I with starting school and having the stigma going in of being a product of a teenaged mother. We went around those topics and talked about our happiest moments and funniest stories, just having a fun time all along.

Then I remembered the time she told me about the kiss on a dare Tristan gave her sometime in eighth grade when we chatted somewhat sort-of friendly at the Bangles concert. I thought it might be fun to compare our first kisses, so I told her about mine with Dean and how I thought it was wonderful back then. All the time of course, looking at her own pink lips and wondering how a first kiss with a girl might feel like. She laughed at how I stole a box of Argo accidentally fleeing from the scene and the comedy of errors that resulted from trying to hide it.

She likes hearing about it, I thought to myself. So when I finished telling my story, I eased right in.

"So Par, how did the kiss with Tristan come about?" Neutral, unaffected, at a high point, I thought it would work out well. But remember the conference room fight? It was a little less brutal than that.

She got this white look, and opened her mouth wide, struggling to come up with something to say, or avoid my query. Her lip sort of trembled, and it was then I knew I hit a sore spot.

"Uhhh, I need to run to 7-Eleven, we're awfully low on soda and gum," she mumbled as she abruptly got up from the bed, looking for her jacket.

"But it's ten o'clock at night, you don't know what's out there--" I said, ceding that the talk was done, but still concerned for her welfare.

"I have pepper spray!" she snapped out, and before I could stop her, she was out the door and gone, leaving me there alone. Once again, Tristan put the brakes on getting to each other more, and it took a couple more days of 'I'm sorry's and 'Let's just have some fun's before I got back into Paris' good graces again.

It was now about 7:30 on the dance floor, and I could hear her start to complain, mumbling about what a bad DJ Taylor was and how sore her feet were. My casual shoes seemed to be working fine, but she had miscalculated on her shoe choice, going with slightly high red heels she thought could make it 24 hours, but didn't even get through hour fourteen.

I tried to start soothing her, massaging her back with my hands as we danced, dancing closer to her, talking her through the history of the marathon and other things. I even started an impromptu mind-meeting session, going over from memory the notes in my head for one of our classes, because we both had premonitions that Mr. Mercurio was planning to spring a three-page popper on us first thing Monday morning to keep those of us slogging through War and Peace on our toes. Nothing seemed to work however, and her muscles tightened in my grasp.

"Rory," she groaned, fingers tight on my wrist. "Are you feeling tired yet?" This despite at least three cups of heavily caffeinated wintergreen tea going through her system at the time.

"No, not at all," I said with a smile. "Why, are you ready to give up and let Kirk win?" My streak of mischief was intended to bring Paris around, and once again, wake her up.

"Of course not, I'm just not used to being in a situation like this on a Saturday. Usually, I'm snoozing my way through temple because my rabbi is so dull." She laughed wryly, and I couldn't help but do the same.

"Father Daniels can be that way too, only it's on a Sunday," I commented back. "But at least it's good cardiovascular activity."

As I said that, her hands moved down to where my love handles would be if I wasn't already slim, and suddenly her mood seemed to brighten considerably. She got this dreamy little smile on her face, and Paris went into this sudden mode I never saw her in before.

"There are other wonderful ways to work out the heart," she reminded me, her voice cooing...I never thought she could coo, she was Miss Monotone all the time. "Some of them very sacrilegious in execution."

It was then the music changed over to the beat of a tango, just the kind of opening I had been looking for. However, Kirk and his partner had beat everyone to center court and started their exhibition, and Paris' sudden words stunned me too much to help draw us both into that same showcase position. Which was all good and well, since we moved to a far corner while everyone hooted and hollered at the 'sure thing' couple of the tournament. Better to be the dark horses and just win on good old-fashioned endurance than trying to overimpress.

"I didn't think you had it in you Gellar, go you with the Bible references!" I laughed and brought her closer.

"I have a million of 'em." She seemed to be getting more comfortable, and though she was still a little grumpy, she wasn't ready to take off my head.

Though a few moments later, I'd be regretting bringing that up.

"Figures, being around Tristan and all," I said offhand, thinking that the conversation would remain relaxed. However, once I said his name, she seemed shocked again and things were starting to resemble the same thing that happened when I tried to bring him up in Washington, she was horrified.

"Damn it, Tristan isn't that bad," she said to me firmly. "I don't care if you hate him, he was in my life for twelve years and we depended on each other, he was more than the frat boy he was around you!"

"I didn't say anything mean about him, I'm sorry--" I started panicking as I felt her grip on my waist fade.

"Save it, please, I don't want to talk about him." She gritted her teeth, and it was then I knew I hit a trouble spot, just like her mother.

"But you asked me about Dean earlier and I thought that it would be fine to talk about Tristan, we've barely talked about him since he left!" The music was blaring over the system, covering up our argument, or lack of it after she brought her dancing down to a slow shimmy, only a couple fingers in my hand.

She's not going to run away, please God, no! I wasn't even thinking of the dance; I hated when Paris averted something I brought up.

"I want my yellow card!" She told me firmly, without hesitation. "Get it out of your pocket Gilmore, I need some air!"

"But you'll need that for later, for an emergency..." I tried reasoning with her, but she was firm.

"I need some space, ten minutes away might calm me down." I looked into her eyes, and she pleaded with me for the card. She seemed to be angry, but yet, sad. Her doey eyes were forlorn, and I could tell through them that she still cared for Tristan, even a year after.

After a little hesitiation, I handed her the card, and we danced towards the judge's stand to hand it to Taylor. I could get my own ten minute sit from it, and maybe she was right, we needed some space.

"Ten minutes Taylor, I have to use the restroom and massage my feet," she yelled at him, and he nodded as he took the piece of paper and called me over to the sidelines. We walked towards the bleachers, and I held her hand tight, wondering if this was the last time Paris and I would be so close together. I sat down, and let her go, but before I did, I looked into her eyes, giving her a face that told her that whenever she was ready to let go, I would be there for her, open to any conversation.

She looked down, and I pleaded with her to use the ten minutes wisely. "Paris," I said, numb. "You'll be back, right?" Something right out of a novel.

Paris stared at me, and I thought I saw the beginning of a tear form. I might have been seeing things though, because I was focusing on her words more. "I can't promise anything Rory. If I'm not," her voice was strained and cracked, "I'm sorry."

And then, she left me, sitting alone on these bleachers. I watched her walk away from me and towards the front doors of the gym, unreadable through the swell of the dancing crowd, still about 100 couples strong. The door opened, and as she walked out, fate was the only thing guiding both of us again.

I brought my gaze to my hands, only minutes before held by the blonde girl. I can remember from memory her slim fingers wrapped around mine, and I feel a sense of disappointment swell over me.

I've failed her, and myself. She still has a large space in her heart for Tristan, and there's nothing I can ever do to overcome that. I've started to feel like I've misread every signal over the last month, and that I'll be stuck never letting these feelings out. I don't hate Tristan, but he's not my kind of lover. Too aggressive and cocky, and with an attitude that makes me sour. Paris can be acidic, but when she's nice...

Damn it, she can be really nice. As I sit here watching the minutes tick away, I can only hope I see her walk back through those doors at the end of the gym at 7:47pm and 23 seconds so she knows I didn't mean a thing bringing Tristan up except wanting some meaningful conversation...

Paris' POV, 7:52pm

My mother has from the age of three always to not show your hand, any sign of weakness when you run into a spot of trouble, no matter how things may turn out in the end. Sometimes the advice has turned out to be sterling, no skin off my hide and I didn't fold under the pressure, a few of my younger meetings with Francine Jarvis in the schoolyard of Chilton Country Day showed that I was the strong one coming out of it all.

Running out of that gymnasium a few minutes ago, however, that was a huge fucking bluff. I didn't have a good hand to make a big deal out of Rory bringing up the boy who's caused so much bad blood between us, Tristan. There was no reason at all to pull out my yellow card and take ten minutes away from her, or worse...forfeiting. Just thinking that in my mind, it's a curse word, it has the same venom to my brain as a few other choice words in the English vocabulary.

Paris Gellar was forfeiting her chance to romance and woo Rory Gilmore. She was forfeiting that gaggle of tingles from Rory's fingertips that was running through her system like Millstone Nuclear in the heart of the dog days of summer because she's a chicken.

She also ran all the way out of the gym and into the nearest empty restroom to start sniffling before anyone could see her at her weakest point in the seduction.

That's right, I cried. It wasn't that much, just a few shed tears, but as I shut that door, I let myself cry because I knew from the moment Rory handed me that yellow card, I was wrong, heartbreakingly wrong about her intentions. If it was clear my sense of humor had been darkened and frayed by years under the influence of Sharon Gellar, there's Exhibit A for you right there; me taking Rory's joke the worst way I could.

I could never admit defeat though; as my mother says, 'Gellars never admit defeat'.

Yeah, this coming from a bottle blonde and former secretary named Sharon Martinez-DeBartolo from a working class clan in Uniondale, New York, and who moved to Hartford in her teens thanks to her mother striking it lucky with one of the males of Hartford society. She became a Gellar only through marriage with my father, and the only thing she does is file her nails all day while sending money to her retired parents in Florida. Alimony's been a pain in my father's ass, and it takes almost Colombian-quality smuggling techniques to even get a gift from him through the Manor, Mother, and into my bedroom. Take the money and run, but wreck the daughter's hard-earned stuff, that's been my mom's attitude since the divorce went through.

Funny I never heard the defeat line from my father. Probably because he fought tooth and nail for any shred of reputation he could wring out of Mother before he had to give up.

But she's right; I wasn't going to admit defeat about getting that far in the dance marathon. When it came to the goal of gaining Rory's love through it though...I felt ready to cry uncle and give up.

I looked at myself in front of the sink in the mirror, wondering how I could've gone from carefree to bitch faster than my Porsche on a straight Iowa farmroad. She was just joking about Tristan and his habit of calling her Mary. Why did I take it so personally? What triggered within me to lash out at her like that and tell Rory to shut up and not bring him up again.

Truth be told, I miss him terribly, every day. He made my life interesting, a presence in it just about every day since I was three and we met in preschool. I grew to love him since he was the main dependable boy in my life. I couldn't help it that by the time I turned 13 and discovered the opposite sex, he became an obsession on par with that of my academics.

Yes, everyday I don't see him at locker 1832, since he left last November, my heart has been hollow in a certain place. But I can tell you with certainty that place is where only friendly feelings lurk, the place where that one special other in your life, that first, lived for a long time. Then one day, it's yanked out without warning because two inept jackasses convince that first special other it would be fun to commit burglary.

But you know what? Rory's taken the place entirely where his love used to be. Absence, instead of making my heart grow fonder of DuGrey, drew me closer to my former enemy, and vice-president, and I feel a connection with her I never have with Tristan. Her kindness, loyalty, trust and her spirit, Rory could have given up on me the second I told her to get away from me after she broke the ice...literally with her flying body into my castle project. But she stayed persistent, and even through force and many, many threats to bring her down, she still finds something to like about me. Something that was enough to get me in this farmtown gym and participate in a glorified hoedown with her.

Yet I still fumble the opportunity. Here, you wonder why my psychiatrist billed double when I was in therapy after the parental shit went down, Melfi and Soprano don't have anything on Dr. Judy Birnbaum and me!

I stood there, looking at what I had become in that mirror. I was supposed to be making her numb with desire, help her forget her worries, and instead I was in front of a mirror, watching myself cry and ruin my makeup somewhat in that hot little number that was turning many heads, including a certain brunette's.

"Why do you always screw things up?" I whispered to my mirror image. I said some things, admonishing myself for my behavior and giving MirrorParis a dressing down on par with some drill sergeants. "Who the hell are you, you have a girl ready to break down in that gym from your cop out, and all you can think to do is throw yourself a pity party? Come on, this isn't what the usual Paris would do, she would be on that floor heating things up, and kissing the everlasting life out of her!"

My conscience decided it was perfect time to chime in. OK Par, you're just going to walk out on Rory without any explanation about how Tristan still sort of effects you, but only as a friend? Come on, you can't get out of here, you might as well wear a hood on Monday and run chickenshit away from her each time she asks for an explanation. You love her, you think nothing of her! If it wasn't for your more reserved side, you would've screamed 'YES!' after she asked you on Wednesday from the top of Travelers Tower! For the smartest fucking girl in all of Central Connecticut you sure don't have a clue when it comes to earning love...

"But I do," I cried to myself, "I do like her, maybe even love her. I like Rory Gilmore goddamn it!" I felt at my weakest, crying into that mirror with an audience of just myself, knowing that the security of that restroom might have kept that secret. "But I don't know if can deal with it. This town, my social class, Chilton, Harvard, most of all my family what would they say? What would Rory say if I even insinuated I might have more than friendly feelings for her?"

"Dear, you won't know until you get the courage to rise up and go through with telling her that."

"I know, but..." Wait, that didn't sound like my dialogue, spoken or thought in my brain. That wasn't even my tone of voice. My eyes were transfixed to the mirror image, and it took a two-inch movement of my pupils to the left before I knew that there was another member of the audience. An older Latina woman of about 55 stood behind me in my gaze...

"Ms. LaCosta?" I stayed focused in the mirror, every part of my body paralyzed in fear. The woman who had saved my academic hide last year in renting out the hall to me for the project, and who was currently judging this competition, had come in unnoticed as I ranted on to myself about my state with Rory.

She knew everything; Miss Patty knew my secret, and the shame that was following me around just by keeping it to myself. Oh God, no! I thought in a panic, there was no way I could just shrug it all off as a joke or some kind of idiotic Method acting exercise. I was out in her eyes, confessing my want for Rory to a bathroom mirror, and unwittingly, her.

"Hello Paris," she started, seemingly unaffected. "I just came in here to ask what the matter was; you ran out of the gym awfully quickly."

I wanted to tell her that Rory said something wrong and I reacted the wrong way, but my acidic self put up my usual walls. "What do you care, I don't even live here, you have no reason to be concerned about me. I'm fine."

I saw her come closer towards me in the mirror, her flowery robe and bright dress apparent in the light, along with her face, worn by many a South Florida season. "You left Rory in the gym awfully worried and it seemed so abrupt, so it seemed natural for me to come in and try to soothe you."

"Well you can't," I said bitterly. "I suppose I should leave before you hop on your cell phone and spread the fact I have feelings for your golden daughter that go beyond those of a Midol ad scenario throughout the entire ZIP code. If you want a photo for the trashy story you'll have printed about me in the Gazette I'll go into my glove box and retrieve one." A little bitter, don't you think?

Where if this was Hartford she may have gone through with not only that spoken threat, but created an entire past untrue sexual history, instead Ms. LaCosta came even closer. She was still smiling, and it was unsettling. My mouth dropped as I realized her proximity to me. Instead of slapping me like the insolent young woman I was acting like though, she put her hands on my shoulders.

"Turn around dear," she asked.

"No, I don't have to Ms. LaCosta," I stated firmly. Maybe she'd go away if I didn't face her eye to eye.

However, she stayed stubborn. "You have that right in this nation, along with the right to pursue your form of happiness. When I landed at Ismoralda in '65 on a raft from Cardenas that was the one thing I came to America for; to be happy. If you feel happy with Rory, no one can tell you otherwise, and I'm certainly not going to because it is your life Paris."

I sighed, she wasn't going to be mean to me and fight my fire with fire, I had to concede she'd shoot down my brimstone with rainbows. "But I'm not supposed to be this way, and I'm sure that if I was back in the actual 40's, you sure wouldn't be as open to this as you are now. You've heard too much, and I'm honestly unsure if I can trust you with what was uttered to this mirror."

"You're right," she accepted, "you don't know if I'll go out there, get on the microphone and shout out that scenario of dread planted within your mind right now." She then turned me around, finally. "You also don't know though that I see through your bitter front, and inside, I see someone inside who resembles a raven-haired young mother who came here in October of 1985 with a one year-old in tow, looking to flee from her confining life and creating a new and free life for that toddler and her. That same girl kept her child a secret from everyone in this town except I and the owner of the Inn for at least three months, because she came to me looking for some kind of job, any job that would keep her and a child from having to move to a tenement garden in Hartford in shame."

I then brought my gaze up towards Ms. LaCosta, never realizing until then that despite the seemingly unconnected threads of Lorelai's first year in Stars Hollow and my current state, we had many parallels. "This girl was smart as a whip, could have easily gotten into any college she wanted to, and hid her secret life from her parents as long as she could. When everything went down, she gave it all up, the money, the guarantees, the high life, to become a maid in a small-town inn. She was ashamed of it at first, scared to show everyone that she was doing this as more than a Christmas-saving job, but as a lifeline for her and her child. But then, eventually she knew she had to come out and state that she was a teenager with a daughter. That day was Christmas 1985, and though she went into that town holiday party thinking she'd be run out with a pitchfork for bringing her child around and taking the few gifts that Mia and I gave her, you know who told her she was a bad role model?"

"Who?" I responded, albeit knowing the ending already.

"If they did we either didn't hear them or never were there to condemn her." She smiled into the mirror and ran her fingers through my scalp. "Hon, this town has seen so much over the years, marriages, deaths and scandals, the occasional crime that draws the news crews out to tell us small towns are going down the tubes. But I can tell you right now, that if Rory is more than a friend to you, you shouldn't stop yourself from telling her that just because other external factors stop you."

"How much did you hear by the way?" I finally wondered.

"Just enough," she told me. "But enough to tell me that you want her in your life, even if she might reject you. You came here just for her dear, didn't you?"

I nodded. "I was surprised when she asked me to be here since I haven't really danced in six years, and the fact that well...I'm wearing a dress, same as her." I finally started calming down, became less uptight and was able to laugh at myself.

"Yet look at you." She had me turn back around in the mirror and look at myself. "You look wonderful, you've managed to stay on your feet for at least 13½ hours and until just a few minutes ago, you were giddy with excitement, what happened?"

"Tristan did," I said bitterly. "You know, that boy who came in and out of the play last year? She mentioned him in jest and I went ballistic, throwing my yellow card at Taylor and fleeing."

"The fine specimen of male?" Ms. LaCosta got this look of astonishment on her face; sort of a eureka moment. "If I was forty years younger, he would be on my shopping list!"

There went my red face again; the lady sure knows how to call the guys. "For a long time I felt that way too, that he was the only one meant for me. Then he got into trouble just before the play, ended up in military school in North Carolina, and then..." I wandered off as she finished off my sentence.

"Thoughts of yours wandered towards thinking of 'my golden daughter', as you stated, as more of a friend."

"Took me a while, but by the time we got back to Connecticut in August, I was stuck thinking of her romantically." How I could be so candid and trusting with Ms. LaCosta I don't know, but I could feel this aura around her that she had seen it all, heard it all, maybe done it all. Hey, she lived on South Beach for God's sake, wouldn't put it past the woman. "I'm just very, very scared, treading lightly, afraid that someone's going to find out and that's it, Rory's not going to want to be around me anymore." My lashes lowered as I looked down at the sink. "Honestly, every time I've tried to push her away, eventually I beg her back into my life. Every instance for some inexplicable reason, she puts up with me and draws herself back into the mess that I am, she must have a sadomasochistic streak in her to have handled me for this long."

"You have a true friend then," she said to me, noticing my halter tie loosening and retightening the knot. "She's stuck with you even when other girls may have shunned you. Something's nagging her to stay with you; maybe you have a connection to each other that's even tighter than that of twin siblings. Whatever it is though, even if she doesn't think of you in the way you think about her, I can see Rory continue to support you and be a good friend. She's bad at making enemies, and has some awkward problems making good friends. It's clear that you, my dear, are a very abnormal exception to that rule. For whatever you do, no matter how much you grate at her last nerve, you pull towards her, and she in turn does the same towards you."

"So I'm not abnormal?" I asked.

"No, but you need to unwind that spring a little, get a little more daring on the floor, let her know that you mean business. I have to admit that I've tired of her drama with Dean and Jess, they were part of a template that seems copied from bad drama. You on the other hand..." She finished my knot, and with my frown slowly inching towards an upwards curve, "...will be a challenge to watch, stealing those glances, trying to wring something out of the innocent. I'm not about to tell anyone because I want this little secret of yours to age to a fine vintage, and I just have this small little feeling in the back of my mind that maybe she's bored with the opposite sex. And if things come to fruition, you'll be surprised at how well this town might take things. Because if they don't, I'm not going to stay silent and leave you to fight alone."

"Honest?" I was still a little unsure, until she turned me around and offered me her hand to shake.

"An oral contract, that I, Miss Patty, will be there for you if you're ever in doubt, or you just need a second ear offered for an opinion."

I felt like by doing this, I might be entering into some wacky tradition that I might be called on to return a favor for someday. Then though, it was just something woman-to-woman, a covenant that I could continue with my secret for as long as I needed to without any pressure. For all anyone knew, I did really have sore feet and needed to use the bathroom.

Alright, so after all that wintergreen tea the second part was needed, but my feet were fine, though I was cursing my choice of heels. Halfway through, they did hurt like heck, you can see now why I'm a loafers girl outside of school.

So I asked her for one favor before I decided that yes, I was ready to explain my sudden mood swing to Rory and get back to creaming Kirk's ass.

"Ms. LaCosta?"

"It's Miss Patty, we've had a close conversation and I've never been comfortable with the formal titles."

"Fine, Miss Patty," I corrected myself. "You won't tell Rory we talked, right? If she were to find out that I was talking about her this way...I don't think I could face her." I offered out my hand, and she proffered it.

"You have a deal hon. I wouldn't even think of sharing this because it's something that's very iffy to spread." We smiled at our understanding with each other, and though I swore I saw in her eyes she knew something that I didn't, I wasn't going to call her on it.

I thanked her, and after checking my watch and realizing that it read 7:46:23, I had to get back into the gym, and fast with only one minute exactly left.

"I have to go," I told her. "My girl...she's waiting for me out on the floor." I smiled funny, and nervously looked at Miss Patty. She just had her own funny smile on her face. "What?" I asked, wondering the reason as I walked backwards.

"You might want to pay attention Par. You're about to crash into--"

Just then, I felt my ass and head bump up against the doorpost, giving me a jolt and a nice bruise on top of my skull. I cried in pain for a bit, and she completed her sentence.

"--The door." She gritted her teeth as the minute started ticking down. "Better just start running," she then observed.

Of course, that led my gaze to my shoes, and the dress I was wearing, braless. "In this getup?"

Patty laughed at me and then jolted me back to the situation I was facing. "Unless you want to stay here, forfeit and see Kirk take home the trophy." My eyes immediately widened, that was definitely something I didn't want Rory subject to, again!

"I'm gone, bye!" I opened up the door, and thankful all that unneeded weight was off my shoulders again, booked it all the way in those painful shoes 450 feet from the east wing girl's room and back into the gymnasium, where that damned stubborn Taylor was standing at the table with his stopwatch at hand, salivating at getting to use his 'Airhorn of Elmination' on me.

Well not so fast there, buster. Rory was sitting on the table, anxious for my return and looking forlornly out at the crowd. I was thirteen seconds away from ruining her night. If that didn't swell my heart to double its usual spiritual size, the sexy little pout on her face pretty much sealed the deal that I had to make it back over.

I dodged couples in mid-swing or move, 'Pardon me' and 'excuse me sir, madam'ing my way through the dance floor. Still so close, yet so far away, I could hear a clock ticking in my head. 9, 8, 7, 6...

I had to resort to drastic measures to get back into the competition. I yelled out her name over the blare of the music, and in the snap of a finger, she was up like a light, turning her frown upside down and all that other romantic jazz. Making a long ten-second story short, we met back at our spot with one second to spare, and I placed my hand right on her back, dipped her low to the ground, then grabbed her hand and spun her right back against me, causing a very dramatic re-entry into this whole thing. She looked into my eyes, with a smile, and sighed happily.

"I'm back, I'm sorry, and I'm ready to talk," I told her, as we heard Taylor voice out his frustration over the PA system.

"Damn it, you got in under the wire Miss Gellar!" he yelled at me as Rory and I found our footing. "I was getting so excited and you had to go ruin my fun, why did I--"

Andrew, the owner of the local bookstore tapped him on his shoulder. "Taylor, you're supposed to be impartial and encouraging! Don't say anything else or else I'm taking over the mic and horns."

Rory and I laughed as we saw him put Taylor in his place, and after that, the world around us turned foggy as she spoke for the first time since I left her.

"Hey, you'd get here eventually," she told me. "But I understand where you were coming from there Par, I'm sorry if I brought up too much, too fast." She rubbed her free hand on my shoulder, and I quickly felt any tension left within fading.

"It's OK, we were keeping this in way too long. Tristan doesn't deserve to be ignored even though he screwed up, and though he was your personal pain in the ass and my swoon buddy, he made everything interesting." I sighed as she started listening. "Look, I didn't mean to go off on you, but since we're getting so close to each other, I suppose there are some things I should let you know about, clear the air about a few things."

"Well...alright," she uttered, somewhat nervously. There was something about her tone of voice that was cluing me in that Rory was expecting the worst out of what I had to say. That meant I had to use caring words and emphasis on what I was about to confess. We danced in each other's arms as she started to lean against me and lend her ear to me.

"First of all, if you think I'm still mooning over Tristan as that prince who will someday come on noble steed and bring me back to his newly acquired kingdom of Raleigh-Durham in a year or so, I'm not, Ror. I stopped thinking of him as more than a friend at least more than a year ago and God forbid if he ever came back I don't have plans to rekindle anything that isn't there. There's no point continuing to delude myself further since the date you sent us out on sophomore year made it painfully clear that we were incompatible romantically."

Rory smiled as she heard me say that, and dare I say looked more relieved than surprised. But that was nothing compared to the heated curve I was about to throw towards her. You don't have to, my conscience told me, but I knew that if I wanted to spark this relationship, I had to be completely honest with her. My hand against her back for support, I confessed to Rory that certain detail which happened two weeks before the date.

"By the way, do you remember that party you went to at Madeline's house the night after you broke up with Dean the first time? Where you did more recreational reading than dancing and your friend Lane met Henry?"

"Yeah," she told me, "that was a fun party..." Rory seemed to bite her lip, cluing me into her second sense about what I was about to say.

"No Gilmore, it wasn't fun, for you or I. I would've rather been elsewhere honing my vocabulary instead of monitoring Orangina, and the only reason you were there was to think about something else besides Dean, all that loud music would hopefully scramble your senses. Tristan wasn't having a hot time either, what with Summer playing with his heart like a toy. Both of you were having problems of the heart, and you somehow came together in the piano room, where after a rash of thefts of precious antiques from previous parties and some broken glass bells from Mrs. Lynn's tourism bell collection, Madeline and her mother decided to install a wireless security camera, which was hidden in a replica tin sitting on the bookshelf."

She didn't stop dancing, didn't stop me from going on. Rory just nodded and licked around her lips to recoat them in a nervous manner. "Okay..."

"As I was saying, you two were hurting, at a party neither of you wanted to be at in retrospect. You wanted to be at home with a pint of Häagen-Dazs watching Thelma and Louise while you recounted to Lorelai how much you wanted to cut off circulation to Dean's pelvis, while Tristan...well we both know where Tristan wanted to be. So you find yourselves in the same room together, both of you hurt, and numb. On the surface having what looked to be a healthy serving of sexual tension on par with several series on a certain young woman-targeting television network which shall remain nameless, you still loathed him, he still had an insatiable crush on you. However, you dropped your barriers enough to have an awkward conversation about science class or another class, I don't remember. All I know is that Madeline came up to me one day asking if I might want to see something on a videotape that had a perfect view of that piano and the surrounding room. She didn't say what was on it, just that it would give me ammunition."

I could see her lip get sort of shaky, and her body tighten in my grasp. So far I had done well setting things up, now I just had to go through with the rest of the story and hope Rory still respected me. "Go on," she beckoned with a very shaky and strained voice.

I told her all about what was on the tape, and about how I reacted to what was on it. At first she had this look of fear to her and it seemed like in my arms, she was turning white. Rory was scared, and I tried to make her understand that there was nothing on that tape that was a surprise to me. I knew Tristan liked her, she didn't, and in the end once I got to the climax of the film, the kiss, that I didn't feel a thing. I was emotionally numbed and shocked from what I saw, but there was no anger that I ever felt. I kept trying to make it clear to her that the only two people who were at fault that night, were not in that room. Dean and Summer were both idiots for letting good love pass them by, and she seemed to understand I didn't hold any bitterness for her or Tristan at all.

As I finished describing what I had seen on the tape, I felt Rory relax in my grasp, and saw her color return to her face. I was thankful that she was taking such a revelation so well, and I had poured my heart out to her in such a way that made me feel like I could trust her with a confidant with my own secrets. I tried my best to make sure that this revelation was the final straw that told her she could trust me with anything she held close to her heart, including secrets, and I would not tell them to anyone.

Finishing what I had to say, Rory asked the important question I had been expecting about the cassette. "Uh, where is this tape you watched now?"

"Oh, it's currently probably eating the ozone layer above New York City since I burned it in my home incinerator in front of Madeline and Louise while I scolded them that if details about your kiss with Tristan ever got out, they'd be getting some natural blue eyeshadow courtesy of my fist." I laughed and she finally let out an easy breath. "There isn't a copy floating out there at all, only the five of us know what happened in that piano room--"

"Along with my mother," she added. "I kind of panicked about whether he'd spill about the kiss during the play scenario so I asked her if I should let Dean know. She told me to keep my mouth shut."

"As well Lorelai should, I didn't need my Romeo carted out to Hartford General with double broken kneecaps. But honestly, I kinda had fun seeing you squirm as he hinted about the kiss. He didn't tell me about it, but I knew what he was talking about the entire time. I did make him Romeo in a last gasp at saving him from falling deeper with Duncan and Bowman, but it didn't work, so I'm sorry for that too."

"What about the date though? You said you handled our kiss just fine, but the setup went too far." She was nervous on that topic, and had totally called me on that. So I answered her in the most honest way possible.

"That did bruise my pride, but back then I thought you'd be gone by the end of the year and I'd never have to see you again. I'm really sorry for telling you that I hated you for setting me up on the date, because although I seemed happy coming back into the classroom the morning after..." I hesitated for a beat, reading her eyes as we swayed across the floor. Her blues were warm, caring, understanding completely. "He wanted you Rory, not me. It was a noble attempt to try to make my dream of dating him come true, but there were no sparks during dinner, and the movie was spent going over some class notes in my head rather than gauging the exact moment he'd stretch his arm across my back and place his hand on my shoulder. The kiss at the end of the night was just as dull, I didn't feel a thing, a swoon, or a drying of my mouth, nor any urge to invite him in under the pretense of coffee and offer myself to him. Everything I did to you after that, until we went onto our second friends track? I was trying to find a spark with Tristan again, a reason to try to find something to hate about you."

Then, I closed my eyes and came the closest today to admitting what I really felt for her, running my hands against the bottom knuckles on each of her hands. I could hear her breath shallow up, the air around us start to stiffen. The sounds of a song from the Dirty Dancing soundtrack played over the loudspeakers, and what minutes ago may have been another end to a friendship, turned out to end well in my favor, it finally felt nice to get everything out about what I had thought of Tristan over the last year.

By this point, my voice had started breaking, and I felt myself swoon as I pushed the idea of Rory and I together further in our intimate dancing circle. "Rory, if you hadn't been here for me, to stop me from going bat crazy over an A- grade or these wacky Franklin ideas I come up with that are bad in actuality, or going along with me to become my vice president and just listened to my mother all the time instead of my heart and gut feelings, I wouldn't be happy at all. I look at who I was in September two years ago, and I can't believe how much of a bitch I was to you, no one ever offered to help me with something they screwed up, be it a project or an assignment, because they were too scared to even broach the question. You asked anyways, and I refused. Even after all that and trying to shut you out cold, you stay with me. You could've become a Puff all alone, but you demanded that I get in with you or else you wouldn't join at all. Finally, you love to tease me about being so high-strung and obsessed with tests, being good natured about it and telling me to ease up. In the end though, no matter what I've done--" This point in the conversation would be about where I lost all composure, and softly cried, blinking back tears that were going to come anyway. "You still like me. I'm still your friend and you're my best friend. And for that, I'm forever grateful to have you in my life, Rory Gilmore." With that, I collapsed onto her shoulder, and just cried like I never did before, joyful tears that expressed how thankful I was for that small-town brunette right then and there.

Thank God no one really saw it and we were buried deep in the crowd, a slow dance was the perfect time to just let it all out. Her hand was rubbing my upper back, and I heard her soothing voice, telling me everything was going to be OK and that it was fine to cry. I let myself go, letting two years of torn emotions, broken and reformed loyalties and misunderstandings formerly buried, bubble to the surface. I had been honest with her about Tristan, and in turn she understood. There was no second-guessing, no questioning, just a smile and a reassuring shoulder to cry on. We both kept our feet moving, and when I looked towards the judge's stand, I saw Ms. LaCosta in her chair. She was smiling at me, and her confidence in Rory forgiving me and listening to my side of the story was right on target.

There's still about ten hours of this literal song and dance to go, and I'm in it for the long haul now. If I had to do it again, use my yellow card to gain a little space and perspective, I wouldn't change a thing. Because even in my worst moments, Rory's loyalty to me is unwavering, and through this night that fact is becoming crystal clear.

All I need now is more clarity on whether she likes me further than she lets on...

7:59pm, Rory's POV

I remember when I had those feelings for Jess before I kissed him at Sookie's wedding, how conflicted and disloyal I felt to not only my mother for ditching her graduation to see him, but how crappy it must've been to Dean that I was going behind his back to pursue something with him. I look back on that now and think of myself as crazy for doing that, skipping school and jeopardizing everything just so I could risk my life to see that boy. It was crazy back then, and it still is now.

But an infatuation was guiding me, that maybe, just maybe I wanted Jess instead of Dean. His brown eyes, rebellious demeanor and his dislike of authority was the reverse of the way I led my life, and I found myself in bed sometimes thinking about him and how he would do things. That's why I went down there, love doing something funny to my system and making me think that for one day, I just needed to be in his gaze and see if he felt the same for me. Jess caused things to happen within me Dean never stirred, and I became a cat, curious as to what was on the end of that string dangled before me.

Once I kissed him though, I felt...what should have been happiness and fulfillment from obtaining my goal of kissing Jess, but instead turned out to be far from that. A sense of nothing took over my body in front of that pond on the Inn grounds, and from there, I realized a conclusion my brain had arrived at nine months before, but I refused to believe.

Jess and I; like Mac and DOS, we'd never work together. I had the bright outlook on things, the many open windows leading to different programs and images along with the bright colored cabinet holding my thoughts and dreams. Jess ended up being the C-prompt; an empty shell who was stubborn, always needed to be told what to do, and with thought processes that could use a few more megs of memory, he'd always stay in that leather jacket, a 'beige box' if you will. He never expanded his horizons, always expecting to be bailed out of trouble. He was always unchanging, sour, and unreliable; pretty soon he'd break and lose it all. The kiss got my attention alright; and it screamed out in a blue screen 'Danger! Danger! Turn back now, you might be in for a world of hurt if you go beyond this.'

So as I comfort Paris, what term could I use to describe her in an electronic device sort of way? And how the heck did I get on this mind track in the first place? Oh well, I got it now; she's like a cell phone; at first she seemed to have only one purpose in talking, that is in living out her dream of attending Harvard. As the years go on though, she loses the extraneous weight and pressure that came with the first mobile phones, and every six months she gets a new feature. Let's just say that when I came to school two years ago, she was the basic model that did little more than was supposed to. Now with me in her corner, she's developing new features, like actual emotions, thoughts and feelings, able to have empathy for others and communicate her feelings in more ways than she ever though possible. Use the cell phone analogy with text messaging, a camera in the handset, instant messaging and that chirpy walkie-talky thing you find on some of them, and it fits perfectly.

Enough of that though. My point is, Paris is really surprising me tonight. She runs away by using her yellow card and for ten minutes I'm stuck in the bleachers, praying she'll come back. In the meantime Jess and Shane had come over to check up on me before they left on a date to see some band in a grungy New Haven dance hall. They both looked very nice, and as more days go by, I can't help but think I made the right decision in letting Jess go. He's pleased with Shane and starting to occasionally smile, while the wild blonde seems to have reined herself in around Jess, who carries on the proud Danes monosyllablotic tradition. I talk to them for a bit, trying not to mention where my date was. I got into some quick music conversation with them before they had to go, and I appreciate that I can be myself around Jess without having any romantic feelings interfere anymore.

I watched the clock on the scoreboard nervously, counting the minutes before Paris and I were called out. She was talking a long time in there, and I saw Taylor almost salivate at getting to throw us, couple #131 out of the event. There was only so much I could do, so I could only hope she was straightening herself out.

By the time 7:46:53 hit, I gave up hope. There were less than thirty seconds to go, and even she had no way of making it from the bathrooms at the far end of the gym wing and back into my arms in that small amount of time. Not with her shoes and body type, I thought to myself as the lighted number switched from 6 to 7. 13:47:23 was good enough for 56th place; at least we'd get in the top 60...

Never count Paris Gellar out until zero hour though. Ten seconds later, I heard a rough shove of the gym door, and saw a flash of black, blonde and red tomato rush through it and into the room again. My eyes widened at the sudden tornado and her rough, yet formal shoving through the crowd to get to me.

Down to seven seconds, and I finally heard her confirm who she was.


Her voice was rough and strained, I couldn't stand there and hope she came to me; we had to come each other. So desperate to keep myself in the game, I ran through the crowd, counting down the seconds in my head. 16, 17, 18, 19...

We were headed for a collision course at the 131 'X' on the floor as the end digits on the board lit up and changed to 20. Three seconds, fifteen feet between us, a lump in my throat forming. The skirt of my dress was rising in the air, and I'm sure quite a few contestants got a quick glance of the back of my legs as I stretched out my arm, I could hear the click of the electric circuitry of the wall board in my mind as that end digit went to 1...

My right hand was taken by her long and svelte left, time seemed to stand still as we locked eyes again.

Click, 21 becomes 22.

I felt her slide towards the tape mark, and my back fall towards the gym floor as she shoved me down a little. Paris had something planned as I felt her body move close to mine. She stretched me out, causing me to spin about 450° and then bringing me back towards her, only to overshoot on purpose, where I found out her right arm was ready to brace my back. She caught me, and I found myself with quite the eyeful of her cleavage...

Click, 22 becomes 23...

Her smile matched mine; we were again Paris and Rory, dance partners. She brought me back up and into a regular kind of dance as we didn't hear the expected 'Airhorn of Elimination', but a disappointed Taylor instead cursing out Paris for making it on time.

We both laughed at this, and as she explained that yes, she was sorry and she didn't mean to turn Tristan into an issue again, I didn't expect much more than that, just an apology and a resumption of the dance.

Once again however, she surprised me, and just like that, she admitted what my heart had been hoping for since those first days this summer we spent straddling the Mason/Dixon line in that Howard University dorm room. Tristan was just a friend, always going to be just a friend to her, and she had no intentions of resparking the crush again. My heart was relieved and relaxed...

Until she admitted that the kiss I shared with him? She knew about it from the day after the dance, thanks to Madeline's spying...I mean security system, which had a hidden camera placed on a high shelf in the room somewhere, directed dead center at the piano bench. From there, I expected her to lecture me about my stupidity and why I'd be so weak and do something like that, along with the inevitable 'you knew I wanted him too, I don't care if your hearts were broken, I have first dibs' speech.

Paris relieved me though; she knew I didn't go in there hoping to seduce Tristan, that I was just trying to forget about what happened with Dean the night before and that my mind wasn't all there, I was looking for comfort. She knew I didn't enjoy the kiss and the feelings that came with it, so I tried to reassure her by telling my side of the story before she stopped me and told me she knew exactly what I'd say, and she was right.

I felt relieved to say the least, along with a growing respect for her. She didn't use the tape for blackmail material, and refused to use it to bring me down, rather she'd compete against me for her grade rather than win by a knockout blow. Coming from a girl I associated from day one with bringing me down, Paris' sportsmanship when it came to our grades was another thing I had learned about her that day.

We kept talking about Tristan for a bit, asking why she still had a problem with the date with Tristan I set her up on, yet burned the tape. Of course, the crush won out, for awhile at least. As DuGrey started on his downward spiral, her heart, filled with his love previously, was being wrung out.

But when she admitted that during that date, she didn't feel a damned thing for him at all, even in a deep kiss, I didn't know what to say. I wanted to celebrate that fact, but doing that would be rude and idiotic. My mind wrapped itself around an image of Paris and Tristan at her door kissing, watching her from a third person point of view and seeing Paris remaining unresponsive to Tristan's apparently 'magic mouth'.

She had never felt sparks for Tristan when they kissed. To Paris, the swirling in her stomach, shaky mouth, loss of all rational thought and feeling, heightened senses in her fingertips, that sudden response to stand on one foot and lean in closer...that was still an alien feeling to her. She was admitting as much to me, and for her to say she felt nothing for the boy she chased for years and years, I realized something.

I had experienced all of that when it came to Dean. She was wise beyond her years when it came to book learnin' and the mannerisms she acquired by being a part of Hartford society. When it came to love however, she was still a relative novice. What advice I had told her when it came to that date with Jamie was light and might as well have been a mulligan. She had never experienced real love, hell, Paris had never even been kissed.

I mean sure she had been kissed, technically. But not a real kiss. The kind of kiss that makes you crumble to the ground, lose your breath, yearn for more. As she talked about the way the date with Tristan really went, I had this long look at her full lips as we danced, my lashes lowered so she wouldn't clue into my gaze. My yearning to show her how to kiss started to build up, and though I wouldn't do it in such a public place, things became even more clear besides the crush I was holding for her mind, body, and heart.

I wanted to show her how to really love, not just infatuation. If two years with Dean has taught me something, it's what mistakes not to make in the course of a relationship and how to keep the flame burning. There were times I stayed with him only because of a sudden sweet gesture he made, but I don't want to have to depend on those when I pursue this. When she's around, like right now, just her presence changes my thought processes from far from normal. I compete to not only complete a goal I set for myself, to facilitate Lorelai's wishes, but to gain Paris' respect.

There was a part of me that knew Paris wasn't brain-dead when it came to showing love; but it wasn't her forte, and while she'd excel in a few places, most of her idea of romance was a large question mark. A part of me feels that my role is changing from seducer to teacher, and Paris' is going from seductee to the student.

God, Rory Gilmore, the Sapphic Love Instructor? Imagine if I put that on my business card later in life!

As I thought of this, the conversation seemed to be fading, and Paris seemed ready to break down in my arms. As she said she was thankful I was in her life, tears started falling and her grip started to fade, so I propped her back up and had her rest her head against my shoulder. Paris started crying, and moments later, I found my hand on her back, massaging it as I tried to help her let out all her tears. Thankfully she had rubbed off her eye makeup during the six o'clock break so she wouldn't have dark streaks down her cheeks, so anyone who looked in would think we were just dancing close.

There were a few couples around us looking at me funny for letting her lean against my shoulder, but an eyeroll and a shift towards a far corner of the gym remedied that so I could ease Paris back into a calm mood in relative quiet.

I soothed her with words, my voice taking on a maternal treble. "It's OK Par, it's fine," I told her, trying to resume the conversation stopped from her breaking down. "It's good to get this out, I'm not mad at you at all and don't think of you as weak. You're a very tough girl and I'm just as thankful for you in my life."

"Really?" she said through a sob. "This isn't a fib, you're not using this as an opportunity to try to find my Achilles, my weaknesses?"

"I wouldn't lie," I told her honestly. "You don't know how nervous I was after you left on the date, hoping you'd get those cues right and ease off the index cards, and I was hoping that Tristan would see you as more than a classmate for the first time. I enjoyed helping you get ready, and the reason I helped you was because I felt extreme guilt over the kiss. I mean I had good luck with Henry and Lane, so I thought I could work the same magic with you and Tristan." Her chin felt so soft against my shoulder, and the dark corner of the gym, still visible to Taylor, made our surroundings somewhat romantic. The gym lights around the periphery of the gym floor were turned off with only the middle bank of lights on, spotlighting tracks on each side of the gym. We were behind one of the riggings, so very little of the light came towards us.

I swayed her back and forth, giving her a little more of a break to calm her down. With Unchained Melody playing, the scene felt romantic. I kept telling her softly things were OK and I was relieved she knew about the piano room kiss, not thinking of the boy who used to be in between us at all as I had her wrap her arms around my back as I did the same. My fingers were in line with the plunge of her dress, and she found the courage again to place her hands in line with my waist. It took a few more moments for her to take her head off my shoulder, but once she did...

My breath caught, and I was overtaken with her beauty. Her expressive browns glistened from the cry and little light flowing into her pupils, and they were wide, looking into mine and forming this moment I'm not about to forget anytime soon. Her lips glistened in the little light, and her skin was subdued. I just loved how her mixed heritage of German and Spaniard genes, along with her Jewish heritage came together to form such a beautiful girl. She has the Germanic features in her nose and mouth, the full lips, nose and subdued ears, but her mother's Spanish ancestry was good for at least one thing; her skin is so smooth and perfect, so dark. I admit, I love it when Paris tans, because her body is made for it and she doesn't burn easily. Madeline and Louise have admitted as such; they tan at a booth and still have much envy for Par's simple beauty regimen and how she can go from pink to olive in but a few half-hour sessions.

I can't help but look at her; my mouth dries as the slow guitar and violin from the current tune pick up at the bridge. She's looking at me with this look of longing I've never placed before, and she mouths out a thank you for my caring words and action. It feels like 'the moment', the time to slowly go in and bring her closer.

I do, pushing her closer towards me as she does the same, we're becoming drawn to each other again, the magnetism that's given me the cues before off the chart as her breasts press against my chest, and I can feel her abdomen deflating and inflating against mine. We're so close, in dimmed light, her face perfect.

"You look beautiful tonight, Paris," I whisper to her, my lips plump and needing. I struggle to regain my breath; it's almost as if I needed her kiss to go on further.

She nodded back at me, her own mouth opening. I haven't felt this way before, this is so right. I don't want to rush into this, I just want the moment to carry itself, because I want this to be perfect. Fireworks, oohs, ahhs, a swooning soundtrack in the background.

"Sometimes you're very peculiar Gilmore," she tells me in her seductive monotonic murmur, as her nails play with the material on the back of my dress. "I have to admit however, when I'm with you, I do feel the way you say I am." Her face moves closer and closer, the moment is so perfect despite there being ten hours left and my surprise if we win possibly being ruined if I go through with it.

I wanted it, I wanted it so bad I could almost feel orchids digging into my back, her perfume getting to me and making me remember back to Mr. Medina's marriage proposal. Only instead of daisies, I visualize Paris and I in the middle of the Inn lobby, bunches and bunches of purple, pink and yellow orchids all over the place. I prepare to bring her into the kiss slowly, my tongue against the ridge of my lower lip, she didn't seem scared to move closer and closer.

I could hear her breath, heartbeat, the flow of her blood through my system as we continued to sway. We were but mere centimeters from each other, the moment was perfect, nothing had to be acknowledged and we were about to breach that bold white 'friends and lovers' line that shouldn't be crossed unless we both thought it was the time, the place, and the moment to do so...

Then just as I was about to close that last distance, I found my new arch-enemy at 7:57:15pm in Taylor Doose, and his need to torture us until the cows come home. All the sudden, the loud scoreboard horn went off, and where moments before I would have been claiming Paris as more than a dance partner, the moment that fucking horn went off, she jumped about four feet backwards in the other direction.

"Oh, now what?!" I complained as she yelled "For the love of God!" towards Taylor as I got a quick grasp on her left hand to not only keep her from falling down, but keep us in the contest. The moment was lost, and though I wanted to shed tears, I couldn't because I had just helped Paris settle down, I didn't need to go through her having to take care of me.

Besides, it was time for the one thing every year I dreaded...

"Ladies and gentlemen, get into a single file line along the basketball sideline behind the red tape, it's time for the Runaround!" Crap on a cracker, how in good conscience could he do this right after Unchained Melody and my almost-kissing Paris?!

"Runaround, what's that, what's a runaround? Rory, I need to know, please tell me, does it involve sudden death?!" The poor guy had made Paris panic like a chicken in the yard right after it has its head cut off, and as we raced to join the building crowd at the red line, I quickly ran it down for her.

"He promised us all he wouldn't do this again this year, but basically he has us run around the gym for five minutes in a game where all the couples dance around to one of those bad school square dancing record songs. If we don't make it past the red line when the horn sounds we're out of the contest, I'm so sorry, and I would've warned you if I knew he would've sprung it on us!" I held her hand tightly for dear life as we got behind Kirk and his partner, and Paris wasn't above holding back her feelings.

"What a prick!" she shot out. "I thought I liked him, but you're right Rory, he's an old anal freak."

Kirk looked towards us and tried to defend his former employer 7-10 times over, I forget the exact number. "Hey, that anal freak hired me when he didn't have to and he organizes this marathon every year young lady, so show some respect--"

The anger over not kissing Paris at a brim point, I cut Kirk off before he goaded Paris into a shoving match. "Whatever, put a sock in it Gleason, you're gonna be here late anyways so what do you have to complain about, we're trying to beat you!"

Thankfully this shut Kirk up, and we heard the needle drop as Taylor prepared to start the runaround. A horrible and awful song came out of the speakers, the kind you find buried way down below in the record racks at the Bethesda store because no one knows who composed or played the song because they were embarrassed to play it for infamy in the first place.

"Everyone, ready on your marks...get set...and go!"

So that's where Paris and I are now, in the middle of the crowd trying to stay on our feet as we both try to will time faster so this whole stupid ordeal ends. At least I'm doing it with her and still in the game, and in retrospect, kissing her in a public venue, be it in a dark corner of the gym, was better stopped in the long run than if we had gone through with it. If I do it in privacy later though, we'd be able to talk it out rather than have some awkward things go down in the aftermath. Paris is struggling to stay on her feet, and she's hopped on one foot for a bit, then the other so she could take off her shoes and chuck them towards the bleachers since they were hurting her feet, she wasn't prepared for this at all. Thankfully there's no rule against barefoot dancing, so the only thing I'll have to worry about for the rest of the night is not stepping on them. I only hope she respects me in the morning if we get through this all.

Speaking of which, if we do get past 4am, there's now way she's going to drive home to Hartford in her car, I will not let her go drowsy and with sore feet. This of course, sets up interesting possibilities for Sunday morning into the afternoon, keeping her in Stars Hollow. Looks like I have some more motivation to keep her in the game...

Paris' POV, 1:40am

I've always hated the slumber parties that Mads and Louise throw occasionally, and after a begging session and an impassioned plea to Sharon to force me to go, I ended up attending. Yes, I like my friends and I'd wear the bridesmaid dresses for both of them, even if it will end up being multiple times (And in wedding announcements, Louise Shelby Grant, followed by multiple other surnames we can't possibly fit in this article, 65, of Hartford married her 17th beau this Saturday afternoon...), but I hate slumber parties because they've never done any slumbering at all. They'd keep me up and by the time Monday rolls around, I have a heavy sleep hangover that can only be cured with a triple-shot espresso with a few drops of Jolt cola to spike the caffeine grammage to a triple-digit level.

I don't take well to routine being interrupted. I usually go to bed every night except Saturday at 11:20pm or earlier, right after the channel 3 weather segment on their 11pm newscast (Wiseass sportscasters and water-skiing squirrels insult my intelligence). On Saturday I get a little wild and stay up until 12:45am, just before the last two skits of Saturday Night Live start and kill the rest of the show. By midnight on Saturday my eyelids are heavy, begging to be rested, and it takes pure adrenaline to keep my eyes on my computer screen as I put the last completing touches on my schoolwork, and in the background the wonderful comedienne Tina Fey sparkles in her Weekend Update segment.

As I was saying though, something out of the ordinary, and my sleeping schedule takes a few days to readjust. After a Madeline/Louise slumber party, I fall right into my bed when I get home and sleep until my mother yanks me out of bed and forces me to accompany her to whatever social ego-stroke she's found to hobnob with the Hartford elite, where she hopes my interest in a boy gets piqued and I set up a date with one of them.

Never has happened of course, you should know that from Vance Beardsley II's four-year sojourn to get into my pants. Of course, the odds that it will happen are pretty slim right now, considering I outright admitted my infatuation with Rory suddenly to Ms. LaCosta a few hours ago.

I'm still feeling wide-awake tonight though, completely aware of my surroundings. It's as if karma is again at work trying to make me see how important Rory is in my life, keeping my eyes wide open. It could have something to do with having to dance barefoot though, since I chucked my shoes off into the bleachers during that Roundabout thing Taylor roped us into. Rory and I came within moments of being eliminated at the end of it and only by widely striding across the line with my feet before that infernal horn went off again and 52 couples behind the line got taken out of the competition, did we stay in. Please tell me what I saw in respecting Taylor Doose the few other times I visited the town. I thought he was a good authority figure, but nineteen hours into a contest he's warding over, he's become a pain in my side.

Rory however...is single-handedly keeping me sane. I would've left long ago if someone like Brad was my dancing partner because we're always at each other's throats, and not in that David/Maddie Moonlighting unresolved sexual tension way either; I just don't like him. There was a part of me who thought I'd be inexperienced and wouldn't make it through the evening, but there I was, still on my toes, relatively awake.

I was also still spinning from almost giving into temptation and kissing Rory before the horn went off for Roundabout. We were both in this dim corner of the gym, and after I finished crying myself out from admitting she was so important to me, I found myself looking at her and finding the right moment to silently let her know my feelings. I thought she looked at me the same way, as I felt my body attract against hers. Her slim form against mine, hands lower against each other than any point in the endeavor; everything about the scene was perfect and I could feel her ease into me, until Taylor's horn shook me back into reality with a huge shock in my system. I jumped back abruptly from her, and though I really, really wanted the kiss, maybe it's better to wait.

For one thing, it was in a gym packed with people, and for another, I don't know how she feels. If I kissed her then, she might be embarrassed and run away. Or worse, I'd end up her newest Georgia Porgie, making her bawl as past memories came to mind and she fled from my grasp. Every first kiss it seems with her, she runs away, confusing the heck out of the recipient, and it takes a bit to make sure that the kiss was for better or worse.

I have a feeling I'll kiss horribly, so I better not. I want her to stay with me, and if she doesn't want to kiss me, I'll have to accept that. So I just try to get out any information through the dance I can push out of her, and in turn, she probes me for more answers to my mystery, my life, what makes me tick. The artificial barriers we've kept up around each other, the distrust in the past that can be compared to the epic battle of AT&T vs. MCI to keep things secret so one doesn't get an unknowing leg up on the other, those are gone as the night goes on, and we find more space with every half hour to spread our dancing out on the floor. At 7pm, we were still stuck in our intimate box above the three point curve. At 1am, we have almost the entire east free throw circle to ourselves. In the last hour the town's ambulance crew has been bouncing back and forth between the town clinic off Constellation Circle on the north side of town and the high school as several couples couldn't take the stress anymore and fainted to the ground below. A few did it gracefully, but more often than not a hard thump would be heard as a head, nose, or rump hit the hardwood and Ms. LaCosta asked out the paramedics once again to bring them to the clinic and treat them for exhaustion and/or dehydration.

The thing with Rory and I however, we conserved our energy and didn't try to do too much, only going for the risky moves when Kirk was trying to hard to impress the crowd. In the meantime, we kept on dancing with the pace of the music conservatively as we kept talking and talking to make the hours go faster. It felt so wonderful, and the Tristan topic opened up a whole avenue of possibilities.

"Who really was your first kiss?" I asked her, and though she tried to play coy and avoid the question, eventually she relented and told me that back in third grade, a boy in her class named Ty Verona had a huge crush on her, and it was Valentine's Day. Her box, being the class smartie, had enough valentines, but not enough to be considered a big haul.

"Ty was different though," she remembered. "He made this homemade card with elbow macaroni, lace borders, practiced cursive, and multiple layers of construction paper, for a boy his age it was well put together and he did it all by myself. So I thanked him after school, and because I was in a giving mood, I decided why not, I'll kiss him."

"Was it a nice introduction into the world of boys?"

"He wanted to only give me the valentine, not anything more. I kissed his cheek, and he ran away screaming 'Gilmore just kissed me, ewwwwww, yucky!' I tried to apologize, but I guess since I got what he wanted wrong, he decided he didn't like me anymore. It wasn't really a kiss to remember, but a nice and funny memory." Her eyes darted towards me, and I became the deer in the headlights. "I have a feeling your first kiss wasn't Tristan though, you never said he was Gellar."

"Yes I did, I--" A few moments later, I remembered that I had never said that. "I guess I didn't." I rolled my eyes and prepared for my humiliation. "I'm warning you now, you laugh and after this is over I'll be wearing a Stop and Shop bag on my head to school Monday morning."

"I will not," she insisted. "Can't be any worse than my story."

"It's awkward though."

She smiled at me. "I felt awkward telling my story, so go ahead and spill, you have a fellow weirdo dancing here."

"Fine," I said, sighing and relaying the details of my first kiss. "A boy I used to know, Clarence Norwood was playing doctor with me when we were five at my home. We were good friends back then and were, let's just say curious about how things ticked. He had the stethoscope, I was the patient, and well...you know how patients are dressed with doctors."

"So a nightgown?" She answered. I nodded back.

"Care Bears, I had a phase where I liked those infernal toys back then." I rolled my eyes and continued. "We were in my playroom, and he was asking if I was hurting somewhere, so I said I had a painful tooth. My first teeth were starting to come in and push out the baby teeth, so I was raking it in with the tooth fairy. Instead of playing dentist though, he asked me if it really hurt. I said yes it did, and then he told me, 'My mom kisses boo-boos and it makes me feel better'."

"A few days earlier I had seen a movie on television with French kissing, so I was interested in how it felt, which is why I said my tooth hurt. Moments later, he was bending down, and I told him to rub my sore tooth with his tongue. So he did that, we started kissing..."

"Even back in your younger days you were smart, suckering a boy into Frenching you." She laughed, and I finished the story.

"We did that for a couple of minutes, and it felt really good. At least until Mrs. Norwood came in and saw her son on top of me, his hand on my leg trying to brace himself and my cries of 'More please Clarence, cure my pain!'. You can only imagine how it looked to Mrs. Norwood, and after tearing Clarence off of me, she lectured him and told him not to copy his 'lecherous daddy'. I cried that I started it and we were just playing doctor, but she had none of it. After that, I never saw the boy again and got grounded by Mother for three weeks. Figures that I'd get the only boy I really ever kissed in trouble and lose him."

"Paris, you little harlot!" she said to me, a bright beaming smile and hearty laugh coming from in-between those lips. "I can see it now, a little you in pigtails...'Clarence, my toof hurts, kiss the pain away and make it feel better!'." She went into hysterics, and I had to admit, though I was flushing a beet red shade after sharing that tale, it felt good to do that. "Oh my God, that story just made my year...and I just thought of a new nickname for you."

"Four year-old whore?" I thought aloud.

"No, Par-Bear, because you like the Care Bears, and Bear rhymes with Par, and it rolls off the tongue so nice." About this point I wanted to be in a hole somewhere because my respected and beautiful name was turned into a rhyme on par with that of a nursery rhyme. I mean Par-Bear? My first thought was of utter disgust with the name, it sounded like something Puff Daddy came up with for his newest discovery to add to his stable of rappers, it sounded so dumb coming from other voices in my mind.

Leave it to my imagination to turn a joke from Rory into a quick flash of something that made me remember why I was in this damned gym in the first place. Us, together in her bed, talking like a couple of girls in love in very subdued voices, her hand playing with my hair as she told me "You're my Par-Bear." Then me closing the distance, saying something really romantic and wouldn't be caught saying at my locker to her between classes, with the thought degenerating into something dirty in a rapid space of time.

Oh dear, I thought to myself, she found a pet name for me. Rory was the only one I'd let call me Par in the first place, and I was probably an exception to cutting her name from 'Lorelai the Third' to 'Rory', all the way down to 'Ror'. I couldn't come up with anything to rhyme with that just then, but where a few weeks ago I might have thought of something else to quash the thought, I thought her naming was very cute. God, I'm turning into a lovesick sap, I think I need to read a little Machiavelli later to balance things back out!

"I guess I'm flattered," I told her, looking both ways to make sure no one heard her use of the name. She had this smirk on her face that was turning me into jelly, but I had to stay a little firm. "But just keep that name confined to the both of us in a room alone, will you? I'd like to keep the Le Pitbull thing going in the newspaper office."

"Consider it done." She rested her hand against my back, and leaned into my shoulder a bit, yawning lightly. "What time is it again?"

"About 10 minutes after one."

"I thought it was later, like around 3:30, I knew I should've taken advantage of that last break and refueled." Her eyes seemed a little heavy, and from what I remembered from the midnight break, she didn't really do that much except stretch out her feet and ate a sandwich from Mrs. Kim's food booth, along with me. Not a good decision in hindsight and we should've eaten the hot beef sandwiches offered by Gypsy instead. Mrs. Kim's food was the very definition of roughage, 'egg' salad sandwiches not actually made with actual eggs, but the egg yellow substitute that comes in milk cartons and doesn't actually taste all that eggy. Rory and I ate it though, desperate for any sustenance we wouldn't find in a glaze-coated doughnut.

Then I remembered what she didn't have on that break...

"Wait, you forgot to have coffee?"

"After midnight it's counterproductive to drink, and in my experience caffeine does strange things to my tummy at night." She blushed adorably, and felt kind of bad for her.

"You're going to be up with me late though, and if you did get sick you still have your yellow card."

"True, I guess I didn't really think much about things except feet sore, belly needing food." Rory then yawned a little deeper, and her eyes weren't wide and bright like they usually were, instead worn out, with the dim gymnasium lighting and her biological clock getting to her. She's probably stayed up late with Lorelai many times, but at least then she was on a couch not expecting any physical activity. Here though, tiredness would be deadly.

With our position on the free throw line, and 13 couples still in, the focus from the crowd was less on us, and more on the experienced dancers in the room. After a 22/20 couple found their shoelaces untied and took a tumble together, that left Rory and I, a young 18 and older 17 respectively, the youngest two still on the floor. Taylor wasn't keeping an eye on both of us, preferring his pony in Kirk and his partner to cross the line, along with two other duos he hoped would at least place and show.

Rory was looking pretty tired, and I was getting unsure she'd be able to make it without some help. The yellow card was still in her pocket, but I told her earlier to keep it until at least 4:30 so we could get a good awake shot at winning it all since I thought Kirk would pull his out at 3:30, and his partner shortly thereafter.

My concern for this hour though was getting her through the hump in hour nineteen, where most metabolisms usually give out and succumb to slumber. I made it just fine through consuming nothing but high-carb foods from the deli platter and dessert tray in the break at 6pm, but Rory without Luke's hamburgers and chili fries is like taking away whatever illegal bodybuilding substance Jason Giambi uses to pound baseballs into the right-field seats at the Stadium; it put her at a competitive weakness. All that cheese and Angus beef usually keeps her charged up into late, but without her usual dinner, Rory was sluggish and tired.

I looked at her, she seemed resigned to the fact she'd slump down soon and come to eye level with my cleavage a couple feet down my body. She hummed the song playing to herself to try to keep her brain stirring, but that wasn't doing much at all either. Hey eyes struggled to stay open, synapses misfiring and wanting to give into sleep.

She did look lovely though. I looked down at her as she settled against my sternum, struggling to keep herself bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. I remembered back those few weeks before when I drove to her house to apologize, and ended up sleeping with her in bed; I watched her for ten minutes as she closed her eyes and fell into REM. She looked so precious, innocent, a girl uncaring about what her life has been. She smiles in her sleep and occasionally tosses and turns towards the cold side of the pillow, her brown hair spread all over. Of course, her being Rory she never snores, but instead softly exhales and inhales as her brain winds it's activity down for a few hours. It was then I realized how much I wanted that scene to be repeated in the future, for a few minutes later I settled against her and fell asleep without worries or fears inside of me.

"Rory?" I asked softly, and she immediately tried opening her eyes wide.

"Honestly, I wasn't falling asleep, I promise." She was in a panic and tried to hide it, but I wouldn't accept her excuse. So I brought her closer to my right shoulder, threading my fingers through her locks and soothing her like she had me in Russian Novels.

"Shhhh, it's OK, I'll keep you propped up, go ahead and catch a couple of winks," I gently said, trying to ease her against me. Her voice was a little tired, but still full of thoughts.

"But I can't fall asleep, I'll lose..."

"If Taylor comes by I'll rub my hand against your side to wake you up, and if you really start to nod off I'll do something a little more extreme." Oh yes Par, signal that you really want her to fall asleep so that the only way to make her more awake than coffee through an IV is to squeeze your hand around the area of her rear.

Not that all this time spent getting to know her back has tempted me to get ahold of her ass. I promise you I've never thought about that in one of my dreams of her, honest.

Alright...maybe a little, in the heat of the moment I think of her backside and how it would feel cradled in my hands, but now I said too much so back on topic, she brought her retreating gaze up. Though she has four inches on me, her head is at my level, meaning that she must be hurting a little in her back from bending down.

"Really?" She smiled up at me, the word coming out a little lustful, at least to my ears. I brushed that off as just her voice being tired and her being unable to control the treble and pitch of it.

"Yeah, promise, I'll keep your feet moving."

Then she said something to me that, if I hadn't been having a hard crush on her for the last year, still would have turned my stone heart soft.

Her lashes lowered, and she settled a little lower against the top of my bosom. Gripping hard against my upper back, she let me sway her into the music.

"Thanks," she moaned out. "I like it when you're being gentle; it shows that you have a true heart under all this stuff Par."

Shortly after that, she closed her eyes, left any way I might have to answer her in the air, and I started soothing her into a temporary slumber. I was numbed by her words before she closed her eyes that she thought of me as maternal. I never could picture myself that way though, what with the crappy job my mother's done on me. This is one of the reasons I numbed myself around boys; I can't handle the pressures of sex to begin with, and knowing its true purpose, to procreate, scares me to death. When I was twelve, I tried to babysit for a neighbor, but after two gigs I gave it up after being overwhelmed. The child I took care of was under a more casual style of parenting, and bringing in the daughter of someone who rode her child hard, wasn't a good idea. I tried being stern and tough, and ended up feeling like I was mean instead, making the poor boy cry when I asked him to eat his veggies, otherwise I'd take away his Game Boy and not let him watch Pokemon for a punishment. I gave in and let him eat only a little, but all that confirmed to me is Sharon got damned lucky I didn't become an out-of-control teenage girl; another kid may have rebelled very early from her influence.

That she is my mother makes me scared to have a child. What if I become my mother, treat my kid as if their only purpose is to claim prestige for our bloodline or live out things in my childhood I couldn't do? For the longest time I cared about no one but myself, my grades, maintaining the Gellar legacy, and hoping nothing would get in my way.

It's funny how in the space of 26 months you go from that to longing for the love of a girl you were convinced was to be seen as an enemy. Rory was the reverse of what I am; a girl who cares, doesn't hog the glory, loves her parents and her town, and doesn't throw a tantrum when things don't go her way, picking herself right up and hoping for the best next time.

Yes, I'm not including the day she went off on me during the Shakespeare test in that description. If you slept in a chair with a tabletop as your pillow, overslept, found a deer deciding to go all Pamplona on your bumper at a four-way stop, then found you didn't make it in time for the test, you wouldn't exactly be flowers and sunshine either, would ya? After multiple iterations of that story, and finally seeing for myself antler marks in the door of her mom's Jeep, I believe her, why would she make up a lie so elaborate in the first place? Besides in retrospect, looking disheveled, tired and sort of annoyed, along with her yelling at me after I quipped she was a loser...sometimes I egg her on just so I can get another lovely dose of that sexy attitude the fair Miss Gilmore doles out occasionally.

She's laying against my chest right now, and to all the world she's just breathing into it, taking in each and every note of the romantic song as the late night minutes go by. The temperature outside is unknown, but I assume that it's getting below 45° since the loud boom of the heating system just kicked in over us on the ceiling above, blowing warm air below. Her arms are hooked against mine to keep herself braced, hands just below the bottom of the exposed back of my dress. I'm looking down at Rory, nuzzling against the soft rayon material and think to myself how lucky I am that I've gotten so far in so little time. She looks so beautiful, at ease with herself, trusting my fate in my accommodating hands. I run a hand through her hair around where her hairband comes together, the brown strands like silk. It's losing a bit of the curliness it had through the day and most of the night and returning to its naturally smooth texture, however the rose she came with, stem buried deep so it doesn't fall out, is sticking in there stubbornly.

I feel the rise and fall of air in her diaphragm against my other hand, currently on her back. The music is soft, the atmosphere easy going, and everyone would kill Taylor if he tried the Roundabout so late in the evening. Taylor is giving me a suspicious look, but I've hidden Rory's face and kept her feet shuffling enough to throw him off. Meanwhile Kirk and his partner continue to try to impress despite the fact it is a timed competition, and everyone in the crowd (all 55 of them, come on, it's 1:20 in the morning, who could sit through 24 hours of a dance marathon? Paint-drying has more drama than this!) still looks at them as if they're going to win the whole thing.

If there's overtime for this and we aren't out by six, Rory and I are still going to be in this. Hopefully she's getting a few minutes of good rest, enough to last her until 4:30am and our break. For this moment though, I'm humming along to a song from the late 90's being played since Ms. LaCosta has decided to take over the music stand and spin the tunes. The chorus of the songs seems appropriate, I remember it as being by Nina Gordon and being a slight hit a few years ago on the radio. It's such a soft song, and the lyrics describe how I feel dead center in my heart...

Gleaming in the dark sea,
I'm as light as air,
floating there breathlessly,

When the dream dissolves I,
open up my eyes,
I realize,

That everything is shoreless sea,
A weightlessness is passing over me...

It doesn't feel like I'm in a public school's gymnasium anymore, sharing the same floor as the basketball teams and required gym class kickball games. There's just myself, dancing to the beat as Rory nuzzles deeper into my neck. All I can see around us is darkness, almost a scene out of those movies where the only light in the room is a small spotlight highlighting the both of us on the floor. She's so beautiful, and I can't help but mouth the chorus of Tonight, and the Rest of My Life to myself.

I feel so light,
this is all I want to feel tonight,

I feel so light,
tonight and the rest of my life...

There's only four hours and forty minutes to the end, but I could stay like this forever, being Rory's personal pillow. If only she knew what everything she's done in the last few weeks has been do to me, what thoughts I've had of her and I.

I can feel it in my bones; we're no longer friends anymore, in that normal sense that's defined by Webster's Dictionary as 'one attached to another by respect or affection'. No, this is going beyond that, into something unknown, a space between that and confidant. Fights no longer break us up for long periods of time, and a sense of absence overtakes us both when we stray away from each other. Rory's uneasiness around me before, which kept her from taking what we have away from the brick and limestone walls of Chilton Academy, is long disappeared, never to come back.

Tonight I've learned something about myself; if there was a choice between Harvard and Rory, I'd choose her, every time. There are no doubts about that, and as the song says, soothing Rory is something I want to do not only tonight, but for as long as I live.

Hopefully Rory knows that...

Rory's POV, 5:54am

It's funny how you can remember those important moments in your life where things you knew were dependable, suddenly they've either changed for the better, or for the worst. In my life so far, it's small things, like the moment I read in the newspaper that ABC decided to pull My So-Called Life because of low ratings, leaving those entire plot holes open forever. The summer day in 1998 I taught the team I had been rooting for since my mother bought a small kid's jersey for me, the Hartford Whalers, were moving to North Carolina. A girl in my sixth grade class had been diagnosed with leukemia a year before, causing the entire town to dedicate an entire festival to her so they could send her up to Farber in Boston and hope she'd be able to get into remission enough to resume her life.

Some of them are just wacky, like when Taylor thought putting in a traffic light was a good idea. The crosswalk sign for dummies, along with the defective timer and no real need for a stoplamp days later, so that when he pulled it out things were back to normal. Those few days it was in though, Stars Hollow was agog with this weird talk about how a traffic light would turn our nice little town into the next Bloomington, Minnesota, complete with replica of the Mall of America and international airport. Funny how technology, even from the early part of the 20th century can change a town all the way in 2001.

I think the memory of this town, at least for the year 2002, will be the dance marathon where the unthinkable happened.

Pigs and penguins are currently flying outside on the town square, the devil himself is trying to warm up the underworld since the temperature suddenly plunged, and there's this weird sense of change in the air of my little corner of the world. I can hear Howard Cosell's call in my head, changed around a little to fit this event where we just went through the shock of our lives.

"Down goes Gleason! Down goes Mondrawski! They're both down on the ground separated and in a state of utter shock, the gym is under a state of pandemonium right now. I can't believe, what I just saw!"

It's unbelievable; seven minutes ago, Paris and I were on the floor, trying to outstep the hell out of Kirk and his dance partner, Carrie Mondrawski. Things had become even more heated between the four of us after the 4:30am break Paris and I yellow-carded into. Within about a half hour the third to last couple was off the floor under the strict orders of the nurse, leaving Paris and I, along with Kirk and Carrie as the last two couples standing on the floor. Within moments, things became more heated.

Miss Patty took herself out of the DJ booth, leaving Taylor free to play his 'last hour' mix disc, a platter filled with some of the toughest dance moves and songs he could come up with and honed over the years from many of Kirk's wins. Each year was tougher on the tootsies, each dance a complex number of steps and beats that had to be timed just right so that you didn't get the thumb. After the comfy resting up against Paris I took for about a half hour a few hours before, we got right back to business, trying to keep our endurance and adrenaline high, and errors low. She found her way back into her shoes during my yellow card break, and from there focused on keeping things right.

Her experience started to shine through in this last hour as I saw her turn from her normal mild-mannered and academic self, into the dancing equivalent of a rowing instructor. "1, 2, 3, 4, and left 2, 3, 4, come on Gilmore, follow my lead, don't stray from the script!" was her rallying cry, as Taylor found songs that were faster, full of sudden shifts in tempo and could throw off even the most professional dancer, which Carrie just happened to be. She and Kirk stayed in the game as we watched them navigate the slippery slope, trying to keep the focus on things.

The first 22:50? Child's play compared to what we had to deal with after 4:50am. Swings, complicated steps, loops, all were in play as Paris tried to keep my head in the game. I found my skirt spinning around like it hadn't before then, while her modus operandi seemed to try to keep her chest reined in. I made sure to help her retie the knot in back so it wouldn't suddenly fall out mid-move, something that made me tingle from the movement, yet I had to keep my game face on so I tried to make sure that it didn't show.

Secret's protection was quickly fading as 23:15 on the clock hit and we both started sweating like we never did before. Paris' face was coated in perspiration, which dripped relentlessly from her forehead, and made keeping a good grip against her side a challenge because her underarms were doing the same thing. I wish I could say I was glow-free, but in the stress of swings and moves that made my heart pump blood like it never could I ended up with my own sheen of sweat. Our hair was all soaked up and heavy against our heads, so as a consequence I had her pull out my hair tie, leaving what was curly hair when I came in the gym so many hours before slowly going straight right before Paris' eyes.

Kirk and his partner kept trying to outdo us and go off-script, as he tossed Carrie in the air and caught her on the fly with an arm just in time, the crowd still there applauding wildly with each new attempt to usurp our 'slow and steady wins the race' style of dancing. By about 5:20, the fur started to fly, along with the trash talking.

"Looks like you and your partner are too chicken," Carrie yelled towards Paris. "C'mon blondie, what's stopping you from making your gal fly?"

Paris somehow reined herself in from that crude blondie insult, gritting her teeth and going on. "I don't want her to fly, we're in this to win, not impress a select few town individuals. Didn't you get the memo; I was a state dance champion back in my day."

"Says the woman dancing with the offspring of two left-foot Gilmore!" Kirk shot back. "Guess we can't blame the heels this time, just Rory's complete lack of any dancing experience. Face it Paris, she's coasting along on your long gone glory days!"

My eyes widened; I was no glory hog, all I was hoping for was a little bonding time with Par! That she was good back when she was ten helped my choice in making her the Astaire to my Rogers, but it certainly wasn't the only factor in play, very low on my list. Before she could say anything, I jumped in.

"At least I'm not paying my partner cash to dance; without the green you'd be solo Kirk!" I stopped the thought, letting it hang in the air. It would've been bad form to take the talking into territory where I called Carrie a glorified escort, plus she didn't seem the type to be like that.

"Hey, if you were offered $1,000 for showing up, you'd do it!" Carrie let me know of that.

"My father makes $1,000 just walking into a room," Paris piped in, "and his skills won't go away if he say...breaks an ankle." Ouch, score a point for Par on that one; way to wound the girl's pride! She smirked at Carrie, who looked as if she wanted to invent a move with Kirk that would be right at home in the WWE by tossing his body at us while holding on to him.

"Leave the nice lady alone," Kirk whined, "she's done nothing to you two!"

"Except to keep us from winning," I told him. "You win this every year, can't you let someone else take the title for once? You're like the Lakers of competitive small-town dancing, some of us don't like you sucking the drama out every single year!"

The argument went on for a few minutes over the blare of the music, until Miss Patty finally felt that Kirk was egging us on enough and told him and Carrie to move back to their side of the line while we stayed on ours. The music continued to speed up in tempo, and Paris at times felt like this was a very tough challenge for her.

"Rory, next time you ask me what's harder, a brain-scrambling admissions test or a 24-hour dance marathon, remind me that at least the admissions test only challenges the mental rather than physical fitness." Her face was beet red and she looked to be in the first stages of exhaustion. She seemed to be burning off any calories from the tea and food and any minute, I felt she would collapse. However, the nurse was keeping an eye on everyone and hadn't found a reason to declare her medically unfit to continue.

The crowd became a blur; there weren't many left and most of them were random people in the town I didn't know that well at all; some outsider kids looking for a different after-midnight place to hang out at besides the Route 70 IHOP, older citizens who want to recall the good old days, a couple of writers and photographers from out of town newspapers looking for an odd story to fill a couple pages in their accent sections. It was a real cross-section of oddities sitting in the crowd, with very few recognizable people I knew mixed in. No Lane though (she went to bed after selling her last non-egg sandwich at 11:30), and thankfully no sign of Dean, or his buddies. This time he was the one trying to avoid me after Jess' threats and the finality of my speech breaking off the relationship. I'm thankful for that because with Paris scared for me around him, I didn't want to have to face him so soon, and especially when I'm trying to sort out my loving feelings for the girl in my arms.

I started thinking about Paris' physical condition, and in the rush of wanting her to be my dance partner, happened to forget one important detail; what would she do after the dance?

Being 5:30am, I couldn't fathom sending her back home in her car. She looked ready to fall asleep any minute from her screwed-up biological clock, shoulders slumped, her small body weighing a lot in my arms and that burden directed down towards me. Though she kept a tough façade, it was obvious sleep was fighting her for attention.

"Par, are you staying here in town after the competition?" I asked, my voice tired.

Her answer, ten minutes removed from the bicker-down with Kirk and Carrie, was slurred and made her sound more Rocky after ten rounds than intelligent private schoolgirl.

"No, I figure we'll celebrate, and then I'll hop in my car and go home."

"You sure you're fit to drive?"

"Of course, I'll live. The roads are empty enough anyways."

That wasn't a good enough excuse for me to back off. She was clearly tired, and I couldn't live if I ended up taking a panicked call from Louise asking why the hell she was watching footage of a maroon Jaguar crushed as if it was an accordion into the back of an SUV on channel 8's Sunday morning news, the blue 'HVD BND' letters of her license plate in the shot's foreground. That, and her Boston trip excuse might not hold water if her mother happened to come home from San Diego earlier than expected and found her daughter in a vintage ball gown.

Most importantly, the sense of dread that came with Paris coming into Stars Hollow has long disappeared, the crush I have for her moving into the stage where you can't stand the weekends and weeknights you spend away from the object of your affection. This dance has been a close bonding experience, and I would be thankful if she'd be able to spend a few more hours with me...

Even if we were sharing a bed, asleep. The off-the-cuff sleepover we had in February, she found herself on the couch and woke up a grumpy Gus, not being used to sleeping on such a thin surface with only a throw pillow to rest her head on. A few weeks ago though, my small bed was just enough and led to a surprisingly peaceful sharing of the bed between Paris and I.

"I don't want you on the road back to Hartford, you can stay with me," I suggest aloud. "You've been up for at least 25 hours straight, most truck drivers would have their heads on a platter for keeping themselves up that long since they have to sleep every twelve hours. Par, you'd be insane to think you're OK enough to drive."

This led of course, to another problem altogether, which was surprising coming from the girl always prepared for any scenario of dread.

"I'd like to, but there's a problem. There was a small part of me that didn't think we'd get this far, and I didn't expect this invitation, so I didn't bring anything to sleep in."

If the pleasure center of my brain wasn't overcharged with all those hours dancing with Paris before, it was on red alert after she told me that. I expected her to at least have something in the back of her car to wear, thinking of almost any scenario that might happen. Hell, if there was a chemical explosion a few miles out of town, she might offer me a gas mask.

No, I didn't forget what she was wearing. Or to be fair, the lack thereof that wasn't on her person. No bra beneath, the only other thing besides the essentials of dress and undies she was wearing was her jacket before she came in.

Oh God! my conscience butted in. She'll have to sleep in the nude, and after all this touching and my hormones on overdrive. I took myself out of my thoughts for a bit, and the look on that mug of hers brought me right back in. Damn it, there she goes with her little serene smile that haunts those dreams I don't share with anyone, keep yourself together Gilmore!

I think she was realizing the ramifications of my offer as she got that look where you knew she was about to come up with a plan. My mind felt dizzy, wishing to connect with her ESP-style to figure out what she was coming up with.

"Rory, I couldn't do that to you, I'd be imposing," she told me in a caring way. "You need a day off after dedicating yourself to this dance for the last few days--"

Get her back! My mind was screaming, mixing in with a heated image of Paris and I on my bed as I helped her untie the back of her dress, then her doing the same with the zipper in my back. Mind you, trying to think of unzipping Dean's fly in a dream once freaked the everlasting daylights out of me, but the very idea of Paris and I, in a bed together after an event like this, I felt ready to ask Taylor to play a tango and for myself to submit to her, willing to do anything.

Once again, my mother is the moral center in my life, and the very thought of doing things too fast, in my own house where I couldn't even fathom even kissing a boy unless it was on the porch, made me reel back 180° from the thoughts enflamed.

"Actually it'll be fine, I'm sure my mom won't mind if I borrowed you some pajamas, honest. I just care that you get home safe and sound, and driving home at this point wouldn't be an Einstein-class decision by any means. We're both tired and ready to plop, so we'll agree to disagree and you'll just stay over."

"But my--"

"Your car will be fine Par." I knew what she'd be asking and went through the statistics all over again. "It's Sunday and they do plan this in advance so that parking is for two days, not just until six this morning. If they did that, there would be so many crashes pulling back onto Roscoe Street from the field caused by sleep deprivation."

"So whenever I get up to go home and walk back here," she asked, trying to wrap herself around this concept. "My Jag is still going to be near second base, untouched, clean as a whistle and ready to be driven home?"

Paris, oh Paris, I thought to myself. I just want to slap you silly sometimes. This isn't Hartford, where everyone ignores the wailing of your car alarm because in the end, it probably went off just 'cause some guy brushed the bumper on the way into work. There's only two ways in to the heart of town; north and south, and you can depend on a few souls to see that a short blonde girl isn't speeding back north towards the capital city, no one here could steal your car if they tried.

Still, I didn't want to start a silly argument over the fate of her automobile. A compromise was needed instead.

"Tell you what; I'll ask Miss Patty if she'll bring by the car to my house, she lives only a couple blocks away and doesn't mind walking."

"I don't know." Paris seemed a little iffy about the prospect of her wheels in the hands of someone she didn't know.

"Par, she's fine, trust me. She was my field trip bus driver from first to fourth grades, and we went in some pretty bad weather to the pumpkin farm, New York, Providence, wherever we had to go. She's still sharp on the road and I assure you that your car won't have one single scratch on it after pulls onto the front drive."

She still seemed a little unsure about this whole thing I came up with on the spur of the moment to keep her home. We were still dancing vigorously, the music sort of loud, her mind probably wrapped around the ramifications of accepting an invitation to my house, wearing clothes that weren't hers and probably sharing a bed with me.

It was time to get a little devilish, not to mention adventurous. My right hand was perched just above that unsaid line near the plunge of her dress, a few inches where I felt that telltale bump that no one had ever breached I'm sure.

"I'm sure I can trust Ms. LaCosta," she went on, "but my mother is going to expect me home, I have to figure out how to tell her that Boston was fine and I found a good sorority--"

I slid a couple fingers down the small of her back, letting the nails graze against the smooth skin contained. I gauged with the heel of my hand where the rayon material ended and rounded those fingers around her back. Already, her thought processes were falling apart from that simple action.

"...Because, well, you know Rory, it's important to..." She beated for a moment, trying to find her words again. "You know how important the Puffs were, so finding the right house in Cambridge is important."

As she rattled on with her talk about housing, I looked up at her and innocently smirked, just as I found the exact tip of the end of her dress plunge. My fingertip probed around it, teasing between sliding beneath the dress or not.

"Oh yes, I know how important housing is, those dorms are really, really small." Another topic to my advantage. "If we shared a dorm room there, we'd almost have beds separated by only mere feet, maybe even on top of each other, a bunk arrangement. Thus, it's your best interest, as a fifth generation Harvard attendee, to procure the best housing situation you can find. The right sorority will guide you through the rest of your life, get you into that cushy metro editor's slot at the Times, won't it?"

I could see her throat swallow in my gaze, I was thankful to Taylor for letting up on the music a little bit. "Uh, yes," she spat out as my fingernail slid against the lining of the plunge. "You hit the nail right on the head, sorority connections...very important."

"See, you already know enough about it to spin a false yarn that you were in Boston by memory," I said, my voice getting more slow and seductive. "Would you rather spend this day getting home after that long drive, your feet sore, eyes red and worn, warring over what to tell your mother?"

I slid in the other three forefingers into the plunge, and felt the soft skin hidden beneath that dress in my grasp. Paris coughed out, probably in shock as I kept the sway and the charade going, that my hand was falling into the back of her halter from the effects of sleep.

"Or Par, would you rather walk the few blocks back to my home, where I'll provide you with pajamas, a nice warm place to sleep without the threat of your mother going on some insane tirade about how much that guy she met at Mohegan Sun pleases her, and best of all, some nice company to go with it?" I licked around my lips with my tongue, turning on the charm to eleven.

My fingers drifted a little lower, her heartbeat speeding up in my grasp. She never knew how to really love before, and it's my goal to show her how it's done. A couple inches here and there as I went forward with my explanation about why she should stay, along with a promise that she could even look over my class notes while she was over, which I protected like the Coca-Cola recipe, for a couple classes she wanted to get a leg up on. She never usually asked for them, and we had an unspoken accord that my notes were for my eyes only, and in turn, I wouldn't look at hers.

"Come on Paris, please?" Flattery hadn't made her move, maybe begging would.

Just to make sure though, I found the hand in the back of her dress just brushing up against the waistband of her panties. I didn't intend to go further, just enough to tease her, clue her in.

"Oh, fine," she gasped out, oxygen seeming to having problems flowing into her mouth. "I'll stay here, if only so you don't have to worry about me driving." Mission accomplished, I slipped my hand out, but still feeling a little on top of the world, kept it right there above the fabric of her dress.

"Thank you," I said simply. "Now don't we have a dance marathon to win here? Kirk's looking a little off-center, isn't he?"

We both looked towards him, still going with his wild dance moves with Carrie, in stark contrast to my closer style with Paris. If only he realized how silly he looked with that professional dancer. I shook my head, while Paris laughed softly.

"I think we can take 'em. They can't go on forever, can they?" We resumed the contest, and for twenty minutes, it seemed like those two just might go forever. The music sped up once again and there was the distinct possibility that all four of us could go into overtime. Paris was still tired, but able to dance unwinded. Everything seemed to be smoothing out towards one of those dance-offs where the first to miss a part of a choreographed step would be a loser. We went on, pushing and pulling into each other, continuing to clock-watch nervously. It was a contrast in styles, and I couldn't tell you honestly who might win the whole shebang around 5:30am. Kirk and Carrie both looked exhausted, but not ready to give up the fight. I felt my heart tighten up with each new move, the web site-taught dancing long gone and both of us improvising on a moment's notice. The crowd started coming back into the gym after napping for a bit, if you could call it a crowd. It was less of a throng, more of a light scattering across the seats. Oh, what I do for the pride of the town, a large trophy that'll barely fit on our mantle, a cash prize of $100 for each partner, and a gift certificate sampler courtesy of the town's chamber of commerce. Thank God Paris didn't ask about the prize package, she'd be insulted by how little they give us for lasting so long.

Which at exactly 5:47am, we learned were now the proud owners of. We honestly thought Kirk would beat us, Paris and I wore at our breaking points, hair soaked, legs like jelly, minds worn from figuring out the appropriate dance for each song. It was one of those 'let's swing for the boys' songs, and Paris and I were at a weak point since she never got into that aspect of swing dance. Carrie and Kirk had practiced this dance each day for the last week, to this same song. We figured it was a walk in the park for them, and as we twirled around the floor to stay alive, we were prepared for overtime with Kirk and his pro dance partner.

Right at the end of the song, however, was where Kirk's dream of another title was quashed. He had to twirl his partner away from him in a 360°, then twirl her back towards him until his free hand rested against her back. This was something I had dreamed about doing with Paris, and did in a slightly easier 180° variation about five times through the course of the contest. Seemed really easy, didn't it?

He got the first part right, but the rest shall live in the infamy of our town's archives. Kirk, instead of staying in the place where he had been dancing for most of the night, decided to pull off the move in the most slippery and dead part of the hardwood floor.

'The Spot', as the Minutemen basketball and volleyball teams called it, was legendary in bringing down the best players of both sports down on their feet, at least twice in the 80's one player on the Minutewomen basketball team ended up sprawled and with a strained ankle. No one in this town can forget the regional championship of '77, where Jake Vaughn, who was on his way to a guaranteed spot with UConn, ended up slipping on that same spot, which was missed by the waxer the day before because The Spot is depressed at least ½" from the surface of the floor. He fell to the ground in a crumple, shattering his Achilles and ankle at the same time with a hollow thud, along with the town's state championship title hopes. Since then the custodians took card to manually wax The Spot, and every gym teacher lectures us to be careful around it in action.

The Spot ended up claiming a couple a victims this morning.

Kirk prepared to twirl Carrie back, and then without warning, like Tuesday noon when Paris got up from her seat too fast and slipped in that slick spot on the classroom floor, his shoes were in The Spot. Pulling Carrie back shocked his body, and within moments, he found himself trying to keep his balance. His shoes started to separate, and both Paris and I happened to witness the whole incident. His shoes slipped around a little bit, and he found his feet farther and farther as he tried to keep his steadiness.

Dealing with that, and a returning partner, proved to be his undoing. Carrie came back towards him at a good clip, her momentum unable to come to a dead spot. I can pinpoint the exact moment where the crowd went from cheering, to absolute dead silence as the svelte redhead's body hurtled towards Kirk. He slipped again, outstretched his arms, nothing worked. Paris and I kept dancing, unable to decide fate because the decision to go on was now fully in Kirk's hands. If he steadied himself, and finished the move, it would be a morale killer, the crowd would want Kirk and Carrie to win. If not, that was the end. The situation could go either way, and I hoped he could get his footing.

The left foot was up in the air, and his right was slipping now. Carrie was only inches away from him, starting to scream his name. Everyone's eyes were on him to keep that right foot planted on the ground, somehow...

I could hear the slip the moment that other foot left the ground. From there, gravity completed its ugly game, playing out the scene where Kirk fell to the ground, hard on his butt, as Carrie found her grip on the hand of her partner fade. Her body in motion, with no force there to stop it, the twirl continued unabated, from a 360°, into a 450°, until the momentum ran out, and with a hard tug, she found her contact with Kirk, gone. She fell to the hardwood outside The Spot ready to crumple to the hardwood, giving up and bracing her shoulder with her hand. Kirk and she were looking eye to eye, and if you saw the scene closely, you could see the reaction to the end wasn't positive.

They were separated, on the ground, and not dancing. The three rules of dance marathon had been broken, like a sports dynasty. Paris and I continued dancing, making sure if some outside force had interfered, that if we weren't dancing, would be disqualified. She was in just as much shock as I am, so the only thing we could do was take our minds off.

Ten seconds later however, Taylor got a ruling from a volunteer ref watching Kirk and Carrie in their square. The young man gave the thumbs down, and with Taylor shaking his head in sadness, prepared to announce the unthinkable result of the 43rd Annual Stars Hollow Dance Marathon.

"Ladies and gentlemen," he said gravely, as if he was reading the bulletin denoting the death of a president. "Couple number 67, Kirk Gleason and Carrie Mondrawski aren't making contact with each other, dancing on their feet, and have fallen to the ground. This means that they are out of the competition for failing to stay on their feet."

The words I never expected to hear at all in my lifetime were next to be spoken. "That means only couple 131, Rory Gilmore and Paris Gellar, are the only two who remain. They have continuously danced, except for mandated breaks, for the entire time. With a time of 23 hours, 48 minutes and 7 seconds, they are the winners of this year's Dance Marathon, congratulations girls."

I could've fainted right there on the floor. Somehow, I, Lorelai Leigh Gilmore, the girl that sports and proper physical fitness forgot, had won the town's most coveted competition, fair and square. That trophy, sitting on the judge's table currently, would soon become my property, for me to treasure.

Then I looked towards Paris, still dancing in a trance. No, it's not mine, I told myself. It's ours. Paris and I won this. Without her I was rowing a canoe with only one paddle. She deserves this as much as I do.

For the first time in a few days, dancing went right back into the dusty memory banks, and the mega-watt smile and attitude I have when I earn something was out there for the world to see. I didn't let go of Paris, just stopped, expecting her to also stop.

Maybe she went deaf all the sudden, because she was still swaying to the music being faded out. I think she has that syndrome she had when the moderator announced we won the debate against Hillside, since she was still in hyperfocus mode.

"Paris?" I asked her.

"You're not supposed to stop Gilmore, we have to win this." Yeah, hyperfocus mode. Oh dear.

"We won, you can stop now, this is the end. Kirk fell down, he's knocked out."

Still nothing from her, she was still trying to get back into the song.

I hated to do it, but there was only one way to let her know it was all over...

I pinched her side. No, wait, I didn't, it was more along the small of her back, though come to think about it where I pinched her was much lower than that...

OK, fine, I pinched her right on the ass! Not so far in it would be noticeable, but enough to say "Hello, out of la-la land here!" Yes, I took her case of space-head as another good opportunity to clue her into my desire for her, and yes if I had to do this all over again I'd probably take the same course of action.


She had this funny, yet sort of pissed look, ready to chew me out.

"What the hell is wrong, why did you--"

So I put on my best happy face, and gave her a refresher course on what happened moments before.

"Uh, we won, it's not a dream. Those two really are down on the ground, and the contest is over."

She did a take, then another, making it a triple moments later. She went for four, looking at me, then the fallen competitors. It was as if that moment was a dream in her head; that fall didn't happen in her view at all, everything was still normal. After the fifth take, the realization dawned on her.

"So we're the winners?" she asked, puzzled. "That's it, no more dancing, Kirk's streak is dead, and we've broken it? You're sure about this?"

"Yup," I said proudly. "And it's all thanks to you Paris. Without you here, I may have been sitting in those bleachers over there for hours and hours."

She was in a state of shock and excitement, all at the same time. Her smile widened as she realized it was over, relieved and pleased with her performance. She still couldn't believe it; winning a heated competition with someone she regarded from our first meeting as the enemy.

"We won," she said, repeating it again. "We won, we're the champions." Her grip on my hands tightened, wrapping herself around the fact. "Oh my God, I've never had to work so hard before for a victory, and here we are, it's at the crest of dawn, well not even since astronomical sunrise isn't for another 43 minutes at 6:32, so it's still technically nighttime here, so why would I say it's almost dawn when it isn't, I mean come on, it's not dawn unless it's sunrise." She looked at me, then blushed. "I think I'm acting a little rambly, aren't I?"

"But your point was?"

She quirked one of her eyebrows up, making it look like I was asking her the stupidest question in the world. "The point is, we won Rory."


"You know how I feel right now?"


She pulled me towards the bleachers, and fainted right onto the wood seat, bringing me down with her. "I never want to do this again as long as I live. There has to be a better form of female bonding than killing my feet from the inside out by doing nothing but dancing for at least 23 hours."

"But you're happy we won, right?" I tried to clarify.

Paris nodded affirmatively, and smiled. "Of course, in the end it was worth it. This means we can retire from the dance marathon undefeated."

"Good, because I think already after all of this," I took off my shoes and let my toes stretch out for the first time in what seemed to be at least a week. "I won't be defending the title next year. I got what I wanted out of today, you had a fun time, and we'll be getting a nice shiny trophy to symbolize that fact."

"How about a bar of Johnson's foot soap instead? That seems a much more appropriate symbol." she moaned, anguished in pain. Her feet had taken much of the abuse between the both of us, I wouldn't be surprised if she would swear at her saddle shoes before she left for school on Monday.

"It's part of the gift basket," I told her. Just then, our competitors interrupted our conversation. Kirk was still wincing from losing the contest, while Carrie seemed to try to avoid any eye contact with anyone in the gym. Not that anyone outside of here knew what she did down in New York.

"Paris, Rory." He acknowledged both of us, not sounding very sour. We looked up at Kirk, and prepared for a tantrum. None ever came.

"I'd like to thank you two for being very worthy competitors, you both beat me fair and square. Though I won't be having a new trophy from 2002 to join the other eight residing in my case, also known as a corner of my bedroom, this was the finest effort by far someone put up against me. Everyone else tried the professional route through the years, but despite that, my partner and I for the year still won before 5am. I didn't know Paris beyond her role as your tormentor and that interviewer when I added the Curtain to the video store, along with that glance at you in competition in your younger years, and have to admit to you ma'am that your element of surprise kept things interesting this year. When I fell minutes ago, I was disappointed we wouldn't be dancing overtime, all four of us, but somehow, you two managed to win a hard-fought battle. I congratulate you," he pointed at both of us, "Rory Gilmore, Paris Gellar." He then bowed, which gave Paris this 'what the hell did I get myself into here' look on her face, as I laughed and thanked him back.

"Carrie, anything to say to the champions?" He ceded the floor to her, thinking she'd thank us too. Apparently, she came from the dance school where a defeat ended your career.

"Yeah; bite me. You said this was a guaranteed victory Gleason, instead my ass is creamed by two high-schoolers with novice experience, what the hell..." Kirk turned away, wanting to flee his partner. "Where do you think you're going mister, you have a lot of explaining to do, what's my daddy going to think when he hears that I lost in some barn dance in the middle of nowhere--"

Kirk covered his ears, ignoring Carrie as we both recuperated and talked about how we felt after such a wonderful and cathartic victory. The Gilmore dance monkey was off my back, Paris was even closer to me than before and most of all, I had made much progress trying to build a relationship with her.

There was only one thing to do before we went back to my house and recuperated from this day filled with twists and turns...

The last dance. I just hope everything goes off without a hitch...

Paris' POV, 5:58am

I'm still in shock over this. Never in my wildest dreams did I think that on my first try, with a little rust on my shoulders from being inactive in dance for a little less than seven years, that in an endurance competition with a girl I used to regard with scorn, but now who I only want to love, we survived and won the whole shebang. Usually the afterglow from a victory wears off from me after a few hours, since I usually knew coming in I'd win no matter what.

This win's gonna stay with me for quite a bit longer though. I had to work my ass off to get this far, and there were a few times through the day I was absolutely convinced that was it, and I'd give up. That drama around 7:30 with the mention of Tristan almost killed Rory's hopes for victory, and had I turned away at that time, I might have been in my bed, trying to create a distracting dream from the harsh reality of leaving her behind at the moment she really needed me.

Thank God for Ms. Lacosta though. Without her encouragement and empowering responses to my fears, there's no doubt that I would have pushed my feelings permanently away from my heart and went back to hardly regarding Rory, partly in shame because I didn't try to go for the goal, and the other part as a sheltering mechanism. I didn't want her to know how much Tristan got to me.

Twenty minutes later, after being told to get out there and let her know he was nothing but a memory, Rory and I got so close to closing that gulf between us and having our first kiss. She looked like she'd give in to me, and I was prepared to submit to her. Things got in the way, but after that, things were a lot less draining on me. We talked about everything under the moon, gave each other those boosts we so desperately needed in those late hours, and she got her revenge on me, her fingers finding their way beneath the plunge of my dress, just as I did with the hemline of her skirt in the car Tuesday afternoon.

Let me tell you, her touch alone on my bare skin almost made me overheat, then faint. Rory may seem to be this mousy innocent girl who you think is the perfect angel that never gets adventurous. You would be dead wrong about that stereotype, Louise's whack-a-mole flirting style is tame compared to Rory's subtle touching, mooning looks with those enchanting eyes, and the nervous mannerisms she uses to distract me from the fact her index finger is running against the exact top of the waistband of my panties. She kept sliding her hands up and down my body all night, there is now not an inch on my back that has not gone untouched by the fair Lorelai Leigh.

We went into this dance as competitors, hoping to have a little fun and getting to know each other more through the intimate closeness we'd share. But tonight...pardon me, this morning (What do you call the time between 5 and 7am anyways, really? You can't call it twilight because that's reserved for dusk. Whatever...), we're leaving Minutemen Gymnasium champions.

I still can't believe it. We're both girls who abhor physical activity, and who don't take well to the spotlight at all. We were both inexperienced, and in all honesty I was better at solo dance than I ever was with a partner. I also had this nagging sense that I was there to fill a role, be where Dean or Lorelai might have been if Ms. Gilmore wasn't currently in Music City, or Dean if he hadn't overreacted about how Jess helped Rory squelch the sprinklers.

Then she reassured me about that by instead of saying I, that we won the competition, together as a team. We both contributed 50% to our efforts, and that exact mix of fiery want to win, respect and admiration for the traditions of the past, and not going Namath going in, being overcocky and saying we were guaranteed to win, that helped us towards victory. I wasn't in this for the prizes, the glory or trying to use this as an excuse for an ego-trip. I'm just trying to be the best friend I can be to Rory, wanting to be there for her, trying to earn her respect and admiration.

In time though, I hope this has taken another big step towards earning her love. She's still playing coy and elusive, hinting at feelings here and there, but not saying outright that she wants me. Come on though, it's obvious; we're getting closer and closer to each other, on a collision course towards something that's scary to me, something I've never known in my life. I'm scared shitless that I could be wrong.

But my gut is telling me to enjoy the ride and that the best is yet to come.

Rory and I get up in the awards staging area at the far end of the gym, with a small crowd gathering around us, including a few competitors who got up from their cots in the hallway to watch the awards ceremony. We sat in a couple of wooden chairs set up at the end of the stage, waiting for our shot in the spotlight as Taylor hands out the more minor ribbons and awards that go with the final minutes. Best sportsmanship does go to Kirk, who though talks some good trash in the heat of competition, admitted at the end that even though he fell, we fought a good fight with him. He wasn't taking the trophy home with him this year, but unlike some certain professional athletes, he admitted he was human in the dance world.

It felt good to sit for an extended period for the first time in hours, and I felt relaxed as Rory and I watched the awards being handed out. Wildest move, funniest elimination, goofiest costume, all of them were out there to be won, a great way to end the night.

I did start to nod off a little bit towards the middle of the ceremony, thinking about the day ahead for me. Which meant a lot of sleep, but not in my own bed. Rory kept insisting I walk over to her house and sleep there, because I thought I'd just leave after we stopped dancing. I could drive home to Hartford, I kept insisting, but she got all maternal on me, and maybe a little...domineering. That's when she started sliding that pesky hand of hers under my dress.

Which then froze my mind into her being dominating in other areas. Bedroom areas to be exact. I lost all my thoughts and despite my pointing out all the arguments I could against staying with her, she eventually made me relent and I'll stay with her after we leave. I mean I shared a bed with her only three weeks ago, what can happen? It's just two girls sharing a bed together, innocent as can be.

Except that one of them has a fierce crush on the other. What happens if my sleep talking just happens to flare up again? I tape recorded myself in slumber a couple weeks ago just for kicks, then had to blush and bring out the cassette eraser because my talking was...off-color to put it kindly. Amazing how profane I can get when sleep overtakes me, not to mention sexually charged.

But that's something for another time. Rory tapped me on the shoulder to get my attention.

"Par? That's us." She smiled at me, and I looked up towards the end of the trophy table, where the 4½' marvel that is the trophy stands proud, the base with a gold plate, awaiting the carving of our respective names into it.

"I still can't believe it," I said to her, as if the whole thing hadn't hit us yet. "We won." We got up together and walked to the other side of the stage, both barefoot because no sane winner would keep their dancing shoes on even through the ceremony.

Then, as we came to the X where we had to stand, she took my hand and wrapped it in mine. We both shared a silent look, her gaze unreadable to me, yet could I see a little bit of longing in her eyes? I don't know, but it is almost 6am, so she could be laughing at my tiredness for all I know.

We sat off to the side as Taylor, from what I heard, gave the same speech as he did every year. You know, the kind of civic can-do speech that can easily be cut-and-pasted together. Just replace 'wonderfully talented dancer from New York, along with the can-do man who will do it all' with 'a disciplined hard working girl from the richest part of Hartford, along with the girl we all know, love, and pray will make us in Stars Hollow proud one day', and you basically have what Taylor said to the crowd. There was a scattering of clapping in the crowd, who were just waiting for us to say our own piece since it had to be a little different. There really wasn't that much to say with both of us, honestly. Because I didn't know most of these people I just thanked the organizers, Taylor and Ms. LaCosta for putting on a good event, and then smiled at Rory as I told her she was wonderful as my partner.

I think my short minute-long words killed the crowd, because they started surprisingly thinning out before Rory got to the stage. There weren't many left at all as Rory almost repeated verbatim my same speech, except a thanks to her mother who was still in Nashville and wasn't there to congratulate her quite yet. By the time she finished, only about 30 people were left in the gym, and in the background I could hear engines being started and tire squeals from the temporary parking lot out back. Taylor then introduced us both as the champions, and handed us the trophy.

Rory took the left side, I took the right. Here I was expecting a simple little cup, but this thing was huge. I guess it has 2 inches for every hour of the dance, because it was as tall as where my stomach was. We didn't dare lift it higher, afraid we'd break it, but I loved all the embellishments on it. There was a gold-flecked figure of a couple dancing on the top in the place resided usually by that little guy holding the ball or implement used for the particular sport the award was being given for. It was nice, but too much for such an event.

"Rory? Please don't take this the wrong way, but you can have this thing," I told her, grunting as we set it back down onto the table. "Even my mansion doesn't have a display case for something this big!"

Rory laughed, and then called over Ms. LaCosta, telling me to take a second and stay standing. They walked over to the other side of the room, and Rory whispered something into the older woman's ear. I also saw a CD jewel case in Ms. LaCosta's hand, but couldn't make out the titling or picture on the cover. They whispered to each other for a few moments, and I was unable to decode their conversation. What were they about to do?

Was she about to tell Rory my secret? Maybe give her a heads-up? I started getting nervous about what they were telling each other, and had a large fear that I was about to be outed.

After talking things out, Rory came back towards me.

"Hey Par?" she asked me, bringing my heartbeat into a hard thump. Oh God, she did tell Rory I liked her, what am I going to do?

There was only one thing I could do, and that was face the music. Timidly, I said "Yeah?" to her question, and prepared for a life without her...

"I hate to ask this after such a long day, but it's tradition for the winners to dance to a song of their choosing at the end. Would you care to dance with me?"

I sighed in the biggest relief of my life; Rory didn't know, she was just talking to Patty about the song she wanted to play during the last dance. She smiled, and I gave her my hand.

"As long as it isn't anything out of the grunge rock or rock-rap genres, yes, I'd be honored to." We walked out to center court beneath the painted minute man logo, as I took in the room around me.

The crowd was thinning, only 23 diehards still on the floor, as the banks of gym lights across the ceiling were turned off, leaving only the side lights along the sidelines aimed towards the circle in the middle. We stepped into the spotlight, hand and hand, and my curiosity was piqued as to which song she chose for us to dance to. Before everything was in either the hands of Taylor and Patty, we were at the whims of whatever they wanted to play. I looked up towards Rory, who looked even more beautiful than when I walked in the gym 24 hours before. Her makeup had long faded, her hair was out of its artificial curl and once again fell down her shoulders. She had taken the rose out after the end, as did I, but that did nothing to ruin her beauty.

Her lips, they were pink, ready to be kissed. But that was for another time. I was going to savor this moment for the rest of my life. Patty took the microphone and introduced our last dance.

"Usually, the winners in the past have done a few laps around the gym after the trophy presentation, and then did a last dance in the center of the floor. However, we all know how humble and quiet, even in victory, Rory is. So instead of the usual lapping the field to a song found on an arena rock album, she told me she wanted this song played, had she won. She says it's very special to her, and that it's a song that brings up the most beautiful memories, thoughts, and dreams she's ever had in her life. Congratulations again girls, and cherish this moment in the spotlight before the end of this year's annual dance marathon. Andrew, if you'll press play for me dear..."

I looked at Rory in my gaze, coming closer towards me. The way she looked to me was determined, as she brought a hand up to my face. She brushed a few stray hairs that were blocking my line of vision out of the way, running her fingers down my cheeks as if to communicate we shouldn't pay attention to anything else. There were no words needed, nor any need to communicate what I was thinking right then.

Andrew hit the CD player's play button, and the notes blared out of the speakers immediately told me what I was about to dance to. The song where everything started, where I had those first thoughts to the contrary, telling me that Rory was meant to be less of an enemy, more than a friend. The familiar and soothing recorded voice of Susannah Hoffs started giving me the moment I've always visualized in only dreams, but was now a sudden reality. Rory smiled and moved close to me, enveloping me with her arms, as I did the same. I fell into the moment as the lyrics started...

Close your eyes, give me your hand, darling, do you feel my heart beating; Do you understand?
Do you feel the same, or am I only dreaming? Is this burning, an eternal flame?

I felt stinging goosebumps along my arms as the verse was sung, all my defenses against her fall as her hands rubbed the middle of my back. She may have had the same dream I did, because the moment in my mind was an exact xerox of this moment. Everything around us was fading away, my awareness for her on a high level. All this wooing, subtle flirting, the fleeting touches shared since the beginning of the school year, they were starting to come together in this moment that was making me melt in her arms.

I believe it's meant to be darling, I watch you when you're sleeping, you belong with me
Do you feel the same, or am I only dreaming? But is this burning, an eternal flame?

My eyes were heavy with sleep, as were hers, yet my senses were hyper, coursing through my veins at a rapid rate. She was so close to me, mere inches separating us, and I could take in the essence that was Rory Gilmore. She smells of vanilla, her skin soft and smooth like velvet. I closed my eyes, wallowing in these feelings. Her nails scraped against my back softly, and she mouthed the words of the song out, trying to keep herself in rhythm with the music. Opening my eyes back up, I recall that night in the theater in New York, where she caught me bobbing my head along to this same band. I wasn't even aware that I was, until she turned towards me and gave me this knowing smirk. That was the first time I dropped my boundaries around her, and though I firmed up seconds later, I felt a charge of excitement that she noticed that.

Say my name, sun shines through the rain, of all life so lonely
Then come and ease the pain, I don't want to lose this feeling...

God, it's so funny how life works out in mysterious ways. I swear to you if someone had come up to me a week ago, told me that Dean would be a part of Rory's dating past two days later, and that I would not only be thrown into the role of replacement for him, but win it all, I would have thought that was as crazy a prediction as President Bush resigning after having a torrid gay affair with his staffer; impossible and never to happen. Yet here I am, in Rory's arms, falling for her even deeper and more insatiable for her with each time she says my name. She makes me proud to have it, something Mother has never done in my seventeen years. Without her, I'd be the 'bitter little hag' she described me in during the heat of our argument in that conference room.

Whatever Rory's feelings for me, I feel like I'm the right place in her arms, on this floor, after a day of the most earned victory both of us have ever attained. Anyone can talk really fast and bend arguments back to squash a competitor's point to win a debate, or get that right mix of facts and entertainment packed into 24 pages of broadsheet print to be distributed to 1,250 fellow peers every week. But it takes so much more than that to win at a dance marathon like this. You need that right mix of physical prowness, mental planning, and most importantly, perfect chemistry with your partner. The first two might be perfect, but if you two fight like the Lockhorns, forget about it, you fucked yourself over. You need that right mix of 'I can't stand you sometimes, but yet, I can't stand to be away from you' in order to succeed.

If this entire day has foreshadowing, I can predict with utmost clarity, that Rory and I will be very close for years and years to come. And God willing, we'll be closer than friends. The cues are there, I just have to finish solving that Ovaltine decoder ring rebus that is Rory Gilmore, and whether she has her own eternal flame for my love...

Rory's POV, 5:59am

For the last five days, ever since that idea in my head that asked me to consider using this dance marathon as an opportunity to woo Paris further, I've felt like I've been on a roller coaster. There were times I wanted to change my mind, call her and say not to come on Saturday, and each time those I killed that thought by remembering how far we've come. In 10th grade if I'd asked her, she would have turned her back on me without an answer then walked away. Then there was the Tristan thing midway through, which only served to confuse me further into thinking that she still had a torch for him.

She didn't, and I was wrong. But I'd rather that she got all that anguish out rather than keep it bottled in. I know she has so much on her plate to deal with, and I hope that as I try to get closer to her, she tells me more.

I can tell with her in my arms now though, that the fears I thought she had before of us are fast disappearing. I saw her in the corner of my eye, with a glance of fear across her face as I took Miss Patty aside and made sure she knew my plans for the last dance. There was a fear in them that I want to read into more closely so I can find out what she was thinking. She kind of paused before I asked her to dance, probably thinking something other than what was in my mind.

That's not what's on my mind, however. We're both in center court, at the same time, together, swaying closely to a beautiful song that didn't have a particular memory to go with it until that night in New York when she stayed still as a statue, entranced with the meanings hidden in the notes.

Close your eyes, give me your hand, darling, do you feel my heart beating; Do you understand?
Do you feel the same, or am I only dreaming? Is this burning, an eternal flame?

I love the swell of the music, the harmony, the feel of Paris against me as her nose nuzzles against my left ear, while I mouth the words silently. I never knew how right, how close this moment could be in my dream. It's so intimate, like I can feel the berber of my bedroom carpet below my feet, the door closed, Eternal Flame playing softly on my CD clock radio. Almost everything about this day I could imagine happening managed to come true, but it's far from over. We still have the ride home thanks to Miss Patty, because I sure wasn't about to carry that trophy seven blocks home while both of tried to keep each other propped up so we didn't fall asleep in the middle of Walnut Street.

Say my name, sun shines through the rain, of all life so lonely
Then come and ease the pain, I don't want to lose this feeling...

The song continues the two of us languishing in the spell. She's about as close as she can get to me without it being construed as sexual and Paris feels very warm. I run my fingertip along her pulse point; it's beating at a very rapid rate. I hear her softly moan, she's totally fallen for this song. The chorus starts, then she whispers softly in my ear.

"Ror?" The name is said with nothing but passion, and I feel goosebumps as her one-syllable nickname for me tickles me in just the right spot.

"Yes Par?"

"This was by far, the best day of my entire life. Thank you for inviting me to participate, along with the wonderful song choice."

"It's your favorite, isn't it?" I questioned her, rubbing along her spine.

"The best." I nod, and get back into the very slow, yet sensual last dance.

My flame for Paris, it was confirmed tonight, burns stronger than before, you can see the sparks a mile away. Today is the day, it just has to be. I'm going to make this sleepover the best nap Paris Gellar has ever had. No barriers are stopping us now, there's no one to interfere, and plenty of time to act.

The hard part, getting along with each other for an extended period of time, awake, is over. There's no need to make a list, gather facts, comparison shop or figure out anything. I like Paris with all I have. I just hope she feels the same, because this is no dream. She's my flame, and I'm not going to let anyone snuff her out anytime soon...

And Then Rory Kissed Me... Nate Gilmore Girls Main Index