The Precise Point Of Impact
I'll see you in Colorado.
You don't know that.
Yes, I do.
Rory drew the broom over the floor, carefully gathering sparkling shards of glass into a heap, glittering promises in a pile of trod-in dirt and crumbs. Behind her, Kirk and Miss Patty argued about who knocked over the glass, while Luke muttered menacingly and the March sunlight glittered off the broken glass and splintered into a kaleidoscope in her head.I'll see you in Colorado.
Broken glass, shattering along planes set down at high heats, a smokeless fire hot enough to turn solid to sluggish liquid, hot enough to glow, hot enough to kill. You don't know that.
Yes, I do.
Rory swept the last shard of glass into the dustpan. The sounds in Luke's Diner faded to the usual white noise, better than silence for solitude.
She had been in Star's Hollow for months, living under her mother's roof again, and she had never felt so alone. I'll see you in Colorado.
She didn't know how much longer she could keep this up.
"Both of you, enough!" Luke's shout startled Rory, pulling her from her white cocoon of noise. "The glass cost all of fifty cents! You each give me a quarter and I never have to hear about this again!"
Kirk protested, as he was Kirk and that was his nature, but Rory eased her shoulders back and walked careful steps to the garbage bin by the storeroom. The glass slid from the dustpan to the bottom of the bin, sparkle muted in the artificial light.
One piece of glass was like another, yet they all broke along different planes. A jigsaw puzzle shaped by a precise point of impact, glass to floor.
Rory set the dustpan and broom in the corner. Gravity held them there, held her there, glued desperately to a planet spinning so hard to fling them loose in the universe; fling them across the void, no air, no light, nothing.
It all came down to numbers in the end.
Rory washed her hands, twenty seconds under the hot water as demanded by proper restaurant sanitation guidelines, then went back into the seating area of the diner.
Kirk was gone and so was Miss Patty, the diner bright and airy and empty. For the briefest of moments, Rory was the only person left alive, then Luke stormed out of the kitchen, shouting over his shoulder to Cesar, and Rory was herself again. I'll see you in Colorado.
"Rory, can you clear the tables?" Luke asked as he passed her. "Someone
ordered too few onions and I need to get over to Doose's Market before the next wave."
"I'll clear," Rory confirmed. She couldn't look at Luke, knew what she would see; the same pity she saw in everyone else's eyes. 'Poor thing.'
'She had such a bright future.'
Some days, she hated them. Other days, she couldn't help but see the logic in their slightly-smug and self-centered words.
But on most days, Rory simply didn't care what the people of Stars Hollow thought of her. They may have watched her grow up, but they didn't know anything about her.
No one did.
Except... Jack O'Neill hadn't looked at her like she was a freak. He'd wondered if she was insane, Rory had seen that in his eyes, but he'd talked to her about the numbers. He might not have known it, but he had given her the greatest gift imaginable. He'd held proof in his hands that Rory hadn't lost her mind, had let her take the numbers, let her find the truths therein, and held out the promise of more.
And the promise, the lure, of learning more about Rodney McKay. I'll see you in Colorado.
She needed to find the man who might be her father. More than that, she needed those numbers. Even since that first day in the Yale library, when everything came together and made sense in a flash of light and the sharp pain in her head, she'd been looking for more. She needed to know more, to know everything.
Over the weeks, the headaches faded to almost nothing, but the understanding continued.
In the meantime, she swept floors and served burgers at Luke's, shelved books at the bookstore, helped Taylor with the account books at the ice cream parlor, anything to pass the hours until she could build up her courage to go back to the numbers.
Every time she closed her eyes, she was terrified she'd lose it all.
Every morning, she wished she could go back to the way things were, when she'd hid from the truth in numbers and relied on words to obfuscate and complicate things until there was no truth left in the world and it didn't matter because everybody lied.
But glass houses built on lies always fall down, shattering along planes shaped by a precise point of impact.
Kirk had left his customary seventy-seven-cent tip, and honey droplets spread along the table. Miss Patty had folded a five-dollar bill under her plate. Rory knew it was pity money, but still she pushed the five dollars and seventy-seven cents into her pocket (five hundred and seventy-seven was prime) and gathered up the utensils.
Pity might be abhorrent, but it was better than charity. In this, Rory was like her mother.
But Rory did not think of Lorelai while she was working. A mother's guilt and the worry suffocated, was based on nothing numerical, only on emotion, and some days Rory could not comprehend her mother's emotions. Lorelai lived in a world built on lies, a glass pedestal of happiness, where Christopher Hayden was Rory's father and Rory hadn't spent months lying to Lorelai about her paternity.
Rory could not throw those stones to knock down Lorelai's life.A jigsaw puzzle shaped by a precise point of impact, glass to floor.I'll see you in Colorado.
Rory placed the dish bin beside the dishwasher and wiped her hands on her apron, an unsanitary habit she had picked up along the way from Sookie. "Cesar, I need to make a phone call."
The cook never looked up from slicing tomatoes. "Go ahead, I'll deal with any customers that come in!"
He was always cheerful, even when the tips sucked, and Rory wondered if he knew something about life that she did not. "I won't be long."
The phone reached into the storeroom. After she closed the door, Rory reached into her pocket and pulled out the card Jack O'Neill had left with her that morning.
Before she could think about it more, she dialed the number.
"General O'Neill's office."
"Oh. Um, hi, I'm trying to reach the General?" She sounded like a child and she hated the feeling.
"General O'Neill is out of the office at this time."
Rory pushed the card back into her pocket beside her tips. He had sought her out, Rory reminded herself. "May I leave a message for the General?"
"You may. Your name?"
"Rory Gilmore. Rory is spelled--"
"Yes, Ms. Gilmore, you are in the General's schedule," said the woman on the other end of the line, her voice thawing slightly. "With what can I help you?"
Rory stood up straight. This call was her idea, after all. "This morning, I was discussing some numbers with the General, but after he left I thought of a better way to express the issue... I know, he said he's not good with numbers, but I thought if I could tell him then he could pass on the solution to whomever he has dealing with the mathematics."
"Of course. Please go ahead."
Rory closed her eyes, the numbers and equations and movement dancing in her head like dying stars. She spoke clearly and concisely, outlining the solution as precisely as glass shatters into shards. Less than fifty words later, she was done.
"Please let me read this back to you," the woman said. She repeated the solution, each breath giving the numbers life. "Is that correct?"
"Yes, thank you."
"Is there anything else?"I'll see you in Colorado.
"No, thank you."
Only after the woman hung up did it occur to Rory that she hadn't left a contact number. No matter, she supposed. If Jack O'Neill knew so much about her, more than ever her mother knew, then she supposed that he could find her phone number. ~~~
Lorelai was waiting when Rory got home.
"Hey kid," Lorelai said cheerfully as Rory hung her worn jacket on a hook. "How was the old grind?"
Lorelai had been the one to scream at her for hours when Rory quit her job at the paper and moved back to Stars Hollow. "Fine." Rory tried to remember details about work, something to distract Lorelai. "Kirk dropped a glass. And Lindsay and her mom came into the diner."
Why she had mentioned Lindsay, Dean Forrester's ex-wife, she didn't know. Lorelai's face fell. "How was that?"
Lindsay's mother, with a name Rory no longer bothered to remember, had looked at Rory smugly, ordered a complicated dish, then proceeded to talk loudly about how well Lindsay was doing for herself as a paralegal. The eavesdropping Cesar had burned the woman's burger on purpose and Lindsay had picked at her food, face red and never looking at Rory, and they hadn't left a tip. Afterwards, Luke had patted Rory's shoulder and told her not to listen to "those folks".
Rory honestly couldn't remember why it was important anymore. She'd slept with Lindsay's husband and nothing she could say would make that any less hurtful. The truth between them didn't need any words.
"Fine. Lindsay's doing really well as a paralegal," Rory said to Lorelai, a peace offering.
"Good," Lorelai said. She clapped her hands. "Do you want to catch a movie?"
This made Rory look around, confused. "It's Friday night."
"So we have to go to Hartford."
Lorelai waved her hand. "We can blow it off."
Rory ducked her head. Her hands itched for her computer, wanted to re-read just one more physics paper by Rodney McKay. "We have obligations," she reminded her mother, and drifted down the hall to her room.
Once inside, Rory carefully counted out her tips and placed them in a jar on her desk. Once a week she deposited her money in the bank, minus the rent money she left in her mother's drawer and which Lorelai steadfast refused to touch. She'd saved up almost five hundred dollars.
Enough for a plane ticket to Colorado Springs. I'll see you in Colorado.
You don't know that.
Yes, I do.
"I get it," Rory said to the room. The room didn't answer, a childish shrine to the twenty-one-year-old girl who went into the world to make a name for herself. Shaking her head, Rory went to shower. She had to hurry so they weren't late for dinner.
She didn't look in the mirror.~~~
The drive to Hartford was, as usual, painful.
Rory looked out the window and watched the light play through the early spring darkness and thought about breaking glass.
"So, um, how was your morning?"
Morning. Jack O'Neill. He knew her father and knew about her and knew her
and he wanted her.
At Cheyenne Mountain.
Where the Air Force did probably not conduct tests on deep space radar telemetry.
"Good. Good." The customary pause of three seconds, then, "Mrs. Kim said she saw you talking to someone in the park?"
Good girls didn't talk to strange men in parks. "Yes."
"Who was he?"
Lies tripped off her tongue so easily these days. I'm fine. Christopher Hayden is my father. You know who I am.
"He was new in town, asking about the Firelight Festival."
"Oh." Another pause. "He wasn't trying to--"
"To what?" Rory said sharply, turning her head. She felt brittle like broken glass, too sharp and too dangerous and cold to the touch. "What do you think he was trying to do?"
Lorelai bit her lip and was silent, and Rory wanted to scream. In the past, Lorelai would have yelled at her, engaged her in an argument, but now she held back. He's waiting to see me in Colorado.
Rory folded her hands on her lap the way her grandmother had taught her, and looked away. He's going to give me everything I need.
"I'm worried about you," Lorelai finally said.
"We have had this conversation before."
"And there was no resolution then, either."
"Damn it, Rory, you quit your job and come back home, frittering your days away working crap jobs and spending time on that damned computer--"
Rory briefly considered offering to move out, but that wouldn't solve anything and would only work Lorelai up to a greater outrage.
"--And this isn't you!"
"You don't know that." The interjection was a ripple in the pond.
"I do! I know you and I know you're better than this!"
"Who are you?"
Lorelai was momentarily shocked into silence. "What the hell does that mean?" she finally sputtered out, changing lanes a little too fast. "I'm your mother--"
"Underneath all of that. You're my mother and Sookie's friend and Grandma's daughter, but if you weren't any of those things?" Rory clenched her fists, feeling bones shift painfully. "Who are you?"
"No, you can't do this," Lorelai said too quickly. "I'm always going to be your mother, that's a large part of who I am, and regardless of the years I spent trying to escape my mother's house, I'm still stuck in that life too."
Rory had her answer about her mother, but unfortunately she had none for herself. Her life was built on lies and all she had left of truth was the numbers.
And Rodney McKay.
And even he may be a lie.
"I love you, Mom," Rory said softly. "And I do appreciate what you've done for me."
Lorelai took the Hartford exit. "You're..." Her voice stuttered off. "You're okay, right? You're not in any kind of trouble? You're not sick or--"
Rory unfolded her hands and laid her left hand over her mother's on the clutch. "I'm not sick and I'm not dying and I'm not in any trouble." Lorelai's hand was cold. "Nor, contrary to popular town opinion, am I crazy."
Lorelai briefly squeezed Rory's hand before gearing down at a light. "Taylor's going to be upset, he'll lose the pool."
"He'd never let a crazy person near his money," Rory said distantly. "He does like to exaggerate."
Rory wanted to smile, but the remembered feel of crumpled paper under her fingers stole her breath away.~~~
Emily and Richard Gilmore were seated when the maid ushered Rory and Lorelai into the living room. "Rory, Lorelai," Emily said with forced cheer. She leaned forward in her seat. "Richard, the girls are here."
"Yes, Emily, I can see that," Richard said dryly. He folded his newspaper and got to his feet. "Well, what can I get everyone for drinks?"
"A martini would be great, Dad," Lorelai said. "How about you, Rory?"
Rory sat carefully on the couch across from Emily, smoothing her dress with broken-glass hands. "Anything is fine."
"Come now," Richard chided. "Rory, we have a fully stocked bar, and if you leave me to my own devices, I may get creative."
Rory remembered Richard's first heart attack, and his second, and wondered when he would die, and if he'd mind that her whole life had been a lie. She swallowed against the sudden grief in her throat. "Do you have any red wine?" she asked.
"I do have a very nice vintage, opened and breathing for dinner," Richard said. He handed Lorelai her martini. "I'll be right back."
Once Richard left, the living room went silent. Emily looked between Lorelai and Rory. After a minute, Emily said, "How are things at the Inn, Lorelai?"
"Fine, thanks, Mom," Lorelai said.
"And Rory? How are you?"
Rory kept her attention focused on Emily, not letting her gaze drift to the lights shining through the glass. "Fine, thank you for asking."
Emily glanced at Rory's dress. "I do wish you would let me take you shopping," she said. "Your wardrobe has taken a downwards turn since you got back--"
"Mom, don't," Lorelai interjected quickly. "You've asked before and Rory said no."
"Lorelai, be serious! The child is wearing clothes I wouldn't put on a dog and I can't understand why you won't let me buy her a few things!" Emily exclaimed.
"Oh, my god!" Lorelai set down her martini. "It's Rory's choice!"
"She's becoming more like you every day!" Emily's voice wove through the lights, as Rory's eyes drifted up to the overhead lamps. "Refusing to take gifts, refusing to look to her future properly, throwing away her education and her chances in life to work in the service industry in a two-bit town!"
Rory rose to her feet and left the room. Emily and Lorelai didn't need her as audience for this particular argument.
Richard was in the dining room, carefully pouring a glass of red wine from a decanter. "Just in time," he said, as Lorelai lit into her mother. He winced. "Here."
"Thank you," Rory said. The wine was a lovely red colour against the brilliance of the glass.
"You're welcome." He hesitated, then laid his hand on her shoulder. "I like your dress very much."
He sounded awkward and nervous, but Rory could hear only truth in his words. "Thank you, Grandpa," she said. She took a sip of wine. The flavor slid over her tongue and offered promises of oblivion and Rory couldn't remember the last time she'd gotten drunk. "There are worse things to be."
"I beg your pardon?" Richard asked.
Rory tilted her head back to look up at him. Sometimes she forgot how very tall he was. "What Grandma said. If I'm to be like anyone, it's..." Rory let her voice slide to a stop before she denigrated her own mother's achievements. "If I'm to be like anyone, then I would like to be a person like Mom."
Richard's face softened, and he squeezed her shoulder. Rory knew what he had heard, and wished she could have said it better, had said it right
She wasn't like Lorelai, and wasn't like Christopher, and wasn't like anyone at all except herself, and that wasn't worth anything in the grand scheme of things.I'll see you in Colorado.~~~
The argument was shelved until halfway through the meat course, when Rory swallowed her third bite of chicken and laid down her fork. "I'm going to Colorado," she said when the conversation hit a lull.
Lorelai dropped her knife. Emily exclaimed something, Richard mumbling, and Rory couldn't breathe.
"I'm leaving tomorrow," Rory said, not sure if anyone was speaking but it didn't matter because she couldn't hear anyway. "Just for a road trip."
"What the hell is in Colorado?" Lorelai demanded. Her voice was breaking into a thousand tiny shards, ripping Rory to shreds.
Rory laid trembling hands on the tablecloth. "A change of scenery. Something different. I've got enough money saved for a plane ticket."
"But..." Lorelai shoved her chair back, threw her napkin on her plate, and stormed from the room.
Emily watched her daughter go, then placed her own napkin by her plate. "I will be right back," she said, giving Richard a look.
Richard cleared his throat. "Well. This is certainly a surprise," he said to Rory.
"I need something different," Rory heard herself say. "This... I just don't think that staying in Stars Hollow is what I need right now."
"If that's what you want." Richard stood and left the room, but was back in a moment, checkbook in hand.
"No," Rory said immediately. "I'm not asking for money."
"I know." Richard sat back down and took out a pen. "I'm not offering you a gift, I'm offering you a loan. Against your trust fund."
"Rory, be sensible. You may have enough for a plane ticket, but you need money for housing and food and a return ticket." He filled out the blanks on the check. "When you turn twenty-five and have access to your trust fund, you can pay me back for this at the same time as you pay me back for Yale." He handed Rory the check. "Yes, I know full well that you had planned to pay me back from your great-grandmother's trust fund."
One thousand dollars. He had given her a check for double what she had worked so hard for over the past months. She wanted to give it back, to run from this house with its easy money and promises of perpetual lies.
There was pity and there was charity and there was pride, and there was being stuck in Colorado with no way home.
Her skin felt dirty as she folded the check in half and laid it beside the plate.
"Thank you, Grandpa," Rory said, making herself smile. Everyone had their price, and Rory had just found out what she would sell herself for.~~~
Lorelai called in sick to work the next day to drive Rory to the airport in Hartford. In spite of the kind gesture, Lorelai didn't appear to be speaking to her daughter, and they spent the drive in silence.
Lorelai parked the car in the short-term lot and walked beside Rory to the check-in desk, then to the baggage check.
Wondering if the silent treatment would ever end, Rory fingered Jack O'Neill's card in her pocket and thought of seventeen ways to say goodbye.
"Okay, here's the deal," Lorelai said suddenly. She planted herself in front of Rory and crossed her arms over her chest. "I think just deciding to go off to Colorado without a game plan is stupid and reckless and yes, even a little crazy."
Rory wanted to agree with her. Wanted to, but she needed to go. She needed to find the people who'd put those broken numbers together, find the man who might be her father, find something that would make her whole life be less of a lie.
"And I don't know what's up with you and I wish you'd tell me, but maybe you need to do this." Lorelai took a deep breath. "Do you have your cell phone?"
"If you need anything, at all
, call me. I don't care what time of day or night, I'll be there."
Rory shifted her backpack up on her shoulder and stepped closer to her mother. The arms she wrapped around Lorelai were too thin, too sharp, but it was all she had. "I love you, Mom."
"I love you, babe." Lorelai's hugs still made Rory feel safe, even after twenty-four years and so many lies. "More than anything in the universe."
Rory let go first, pulling away reluctantly. "I have to go through security," she said, scuffing her feet and feeling four years old. "I'll call you when the plane lands."
"You'd better." Lorelai touched Rory's cheek. "I know Grandpa gave you an insane amount of money last night--"
"Whatever. The check's in the bank, right?" Lorelai dug into her pocket and pulled out a twenty. "For a magazine or chips or something."
Rory frowned at the bill. There was a slight ink stain in the corner she remembered. "This is from the rent money I left on your dresser."
"Do we have to have this argument in the airport?" Lorelai asked. "Seriously?"I've been lying to you,
Rory wanted to say, but the words stuck like glass in her throat. "Thank you," she whispered.
"Don't be stupid," Lorelai said, hugging Rory again. "It's just a twenty."
"I'm doing this for a reason," Rory said against Lorelai's shoulder. "Promise."
"You always have a reason," Lorelai said. "Now." She pulled away again. "Get thee to security. You can tell me all about it when you come back."
Rory pocketed the twenty. "Take care of Paul Anka," she said, suddenly loathe to leave. "You know how much he likes those early-morning walks."
"And when you go into Luke's next, order a burger with brie cheese on it. Lane's getting everyone to do it to pester Luke."
"Come on, pestering Luke is a Lorelai specialty," Lorelai said. Her eyes were beginning to mist up. "Now go, before I turn into a blubbering mess."
Rory turned and walked away from her mother towards the security checkpoint. For the first time since she'd learned that Christopher Hayden wasn't her biological father, she thought, maybe, she would have a chance to figure out some truths about herself.~~~
Before she boarded the plane, she telephoned General Jack O'Neill and left a message with his secretary that her connecting flight would be landing in a few hours in Colorado Springs, Colorado.