Chapter 3

June 16th, 2024

The dry and hot, but pleasantly breezy, air blew to their faces as one by one, or in the case of the little ones in sets of two or three, the family poured out of the sizable private plane. Family - that was what they could all be called - despite different last names, heritages and nearly all having at one point in their lives hated at least one of the other people in the group. But clearly that was by-gones.

The baggage handlers took care of their luggage and slowly but steadily the group went through customs that also checked their certifications. Getting to the other side felt like being given a licence to holiday.

They had quite a reservation made at the car rental, Edel luxury, and that was their next destination as they made their way to the small transfer bus that Rory had ordered just for them, a couple of luggage handlers making sure they had everything. As they rode the bus, large palm trees and a pleasant French-mumble on the bus stereo in the background greeted them, setting a much different mood than what they had left.

Thankfully all documentation was digital these days, Rory having already made sure it was all set to go - the car rental had copies of their ID-s, driver's licenses, insurance information and digital signatures, all that hopefully getting them away from the airport bustle in no time.

"Bonjour," a short Moroccan man, dressed in a vest-suit, greeted them. "The Huntzberger reservation?" he asked with a thick French accent.

"Oui," G replied nonchalantly, being the closest to the man, and pushed her aviator glasses up her nose and continued to pull her blonde hair up into a loose bun.

"Parlez-vous français?" the man asked, clearly a little too hopefully. But a French-man unwilling to speak English was really no surprise.

"Yes, but I think English would be appreciated," Celeste replied instead, gesturing towards the rest of the group. She knew most of them could handle some basic French, but she was almost doing it a little out of spite, seeing the man's slightly arrogant stance and the way he at the same time kept checking G out, which Celeste, feeling a little protective of G, noticed.

"Very well..," he exhaled dissapointedly, and grabbed the plastic envelope with their keys from his desk. "Follow me," he instructed and the group followed him to the parking lot.

"Here we have the EQV," the agent said, sounding an awful lot like Michel on his early days in the US to Lorelai, as he held out the remote to the minibus.

"That's for Eileen and Ines," Rory gestured towards the nannies. She'd rented a bus for them in case they were to take the kids anywhere by themselves one of these days.

"The Cayenne?" he continued, holding the remote to the electric Porsche.

Logan accepted the remote to their SUV for the holiday, and walked around the vehicle examining its state. He'd rented too many cars in his lifetime not to.

"And then we have a Vespa?" the man continued, gesturing towards the sage green scooter.

"That'll be me," G replied, accepting the very traditional looking key from the man. "What?" she glanced at Rory whom she noticed looking at her as if asking what the hell was she thinking. "I'll put my bags in the van - you'll see how much fun those small streets will be with the SUV," she explained smugly, teasing her sister a little. G rolled her suitcase towards the nannies' van. She'd be fine - within the two month there was likely going to be rain on only five of those, and if it really came to it, she could catch a ride with her mother or order a Presto, an equivalent of the former Uber that could be found in all major cities in the Northern hemisphere.

"Mini Cooper?" the Moroccan man continued to list.

"Over here," Lorelai accepted her remote to a special edition mini, making Leo roll his eyes at her, before heading over to pack their bags into the car in question. He was definitely getting to the age where hanging out with his mother was becoming a little embarrassing, but considering he still appreciated Lorelai's presence in his life a lot more than most teenagers his age, he only really complained in sighs or body language rather than actually saying it out loud. Despite everything - he was very excited to be there, having never even left the country before.

"And 430i convertible?" he asked, holding up the final remote.

Jess was clearly feeling a little confused, their family being the last one to get their car, but he really hadn't expected the car he'd secretly dreamed of. He was never one to flaunt cars or consider getting something fancier than he needed, but he did appreciate a fierce BMW, still driving his two-decades-old 5 series back home.

"Surprise," Celeste grinned, urging him to get the remote from the rental agent that was already looking rather bored with the group of Americans.

Jess was speechless as he held the remote in his hand.

"All car and car seat instruction videos are found on the car computers - I hope everything is to your satisfaction," the agent said from the corner of his mouth.

"Merci beaucoup pour votre aimable service!" Celeste called out with a hint of sarcasm in her voice, as the man headed off, only getting the bare minimum tip, once they'd left, through the app.

Celeste was holding Oliver on her hip, the kid being still a little sleepy, as they walked towards their car that was a little further away from the rest. The boy, who had been a real miracle baby for them, was a spitting image of Jess - dark hair and eyes, even the upper lip, but his smile wasn't as crooked. The boy also had a very similar appreciation for Celeste's closeness and body, tending to be a little clingy, sometimes almost so much to make Celeste want to hide. This was one of those times - Oliver had sat on her lap through most of the flight and she was exhausted. She loved him dearly - it was just that every square inch of skin that touched the boy's skin felt like it was melting in this heat, but still - the boy just wanted her.

Evie was a lot more independent, being inseparable with Finny if anyone, even now instead of being excited about their car she was over by the Huntzberger's car that they were packing so they'd be ready to go, circling the Porsche, making Rory's head spin a little.

"You didn't need to do that you know," Jess commented, as they continued the few steps towards their BMW.

"I wanted to," Celeste replied. "You need this - you need to do something wild, something exciting, something that's a little bad for you, something that you wouldn't normally do," she added, almost sounding like Logan 20 years ago without knowing it.

What Celeste had begun to notice was the influence of the pandemic on Jess' creative streak. He was the kind that needed to go out and explore at certain intervals to stay fresh and creative. His booktours, while tedious and taking him away from his family, had been a prime example of that refreshment that he needed. Same with performers and travellers who would come to the store in Stars Hollow. And as there had been almost none of that for years, Jess had had to stare at the same sea of black boxes on his computer screen, unable to experience much of anything other than becoming a father for the second time over these past years that excited him.

Celeste could just see it - she could see him being bored and, truth be told, being a lot more boring to be around. Nothing seemed to excite him these days, he barely wanted to go anywhere and do anything. Jess was having the writer's block of a lifetime. He hadn't written anything since 'The Depth' which had been a book about Celeste's depression from his standpoint, which had turned out to be quite a seller. Thankfully, this trip had been years in the making, something he'd always promised Celeste he'd do with her, as it included a lot of emotional topics for Celeste, so it hadn't been a question whether he'd come or not.

Celeste had a lot of things planned, wanting to spruce up Jess' life as much as she could to get back that excitement she'd seen in his eyes when they'd first met. Sure, some of that disinterest might have just been the normal course of events, but Celeste refused to believe it was going to stay like that. She wanted to feel like she was his muse again, in more ways than one. She wanted to inspire him, and as a result feel more excitement herself.

"Maybe..," Jess sighed as he reached the car, having let the thought sink in a little. He didn't want to sound ungrateful, but to him the need for excitement was not quite as obvious. To him a topic that was much more prominent was that there had always been this difference between what he considered unnecessary indulging and what Celeste did. They came from very different backgrounds, one from eating instant noodles for breakfast, lunch and dinner and the other from a childhood of caviar and paté. Little by little, as Celeste had gotten her inheritance from her mother, a little extra besides the properties in France, these differences were beginning to show again. Sure, she didn't like to flaunt it and in their day-to-day lives nothing much had changed, but her attitude had. And this trip, this car, just like her need to redecorate their house each year with new textiles and accessories - god, he hated throw pillows by now - were prime examples.

"But you have to admit, it's kind of hot, right?" Celeste added with a wink, after repositioning Oliver on the ground with some objections. The car clearly had a draw for the boy, as he began circling it excitedly.

"Uh-uh," Jess mumbled, and with that he certainly couldn't argue. "Evie, our's is over here!" Jess called out to his daughter to head over, his low tone resonating well over the parking lot.

The dark-haired girl with a pony-tail, wearing a light yellow, slightly vintage looking, ruffled sundress, came rushing towards them.

"Careful there, watch out for cars," Celeste called out.

The girl thankfully reached them safely.

"Is that our car?" Evie asked, pointing at the teal blue convertible in front of them. The girl was very outspoken and brave, but still a daddy's girl like she'd been when she was younger.

"That's right," Celeste replied, and opened the passenger door to transform the back seat into a carseat by inserting Oliver's weight and height parameters, which many mothers considered the best invention of the past few years.

"I bet this thing doesn't even fit our luggage," Jess noted, pessimistically.

"It does, I checked," Celeste mused as a response. She just hoped Jess' attitude would improve.

"Pink would've been much prettier," Evie announced, and repeated the same action on the carseat on the other passenger's seat herself, having the same system of Celeste's new Volkswagen back home.

As the car roared out of the parking lot, Celeste could tell Jess was at least enjoying the car a little, even if he was still a little humble and reluctant to admit it. But the way he pressed on the accelerator pedal, made it clear he liked its pull. Celeste didn't say anything - they had two months to get used to this.

The drive was quick, no more than 25 minutes, and Celeste was quite surprised that she remembered the way even with the new road construction that had taken place during the past 15 years, since she'd last been there. But the houses by the side of the road, the trees, while taller, the same slightly uneven road surface - it was still familiar. It was nostalgic for Celeste with a hint of sting, reminding her of everything she'd escaped.

The 16th century grand pillars by the driveway looked rather intimidating as they waited for the large black iron gates to open. They drove down the boulevard of Italian cypresses, their nostrils filling with the overpowering scent of the lavender that grew behind the row of cypresses.

"It's something alright," Jess commented, as he braked the BMW to a halt at the circular gravel driveway in front of the gorgeous, vine-covered, bastide. He'd seen pictures, naturally, the place having been rented out for a few summers already. Not many could afford this place, hence there had only really been a handful of rentals, but they'd paid generously enough to help keep the place in a decent shape, freshen up the interior a little and hire some help to maintain the place besides Sherry.

"Hey!" came a loud squeal of excitement as they saw Sherry approaching the driveway, killing the mood a little for Celeste. For a second she almost felt like she was visiting Sherry, but she then reminded herself that she really wasn't - it was hers.

The other cars, and also G's Vespa arrived, and it really wasn't a great surprise that Sherry hugged her daughter even before she'd had a chance to shut off it's engine and taken off her matching helmet.

"Oh my god, you look so grown up," was the overall mumble Celeste could heard from Sherry's and G's direction.

"It's good to see them together, it's been such a long time for them," Celeste commented quietly to Jess, as she was getting Oliver out of his carseat.

"Uh-uh," Jess commented and took their luggage out of the trunk.

"Mom, can I go look around?" Evie asked impatiently, already out of the car.

"Hold on, let's all go together," Celeste called, knowing there were pools and fountains in the courtyard where adult supervision was preferred. She could already see from the corner of her eye, the rest having pulled up and were stepping out of their veichles.

"Sorry, no porters around this place, but Lucien and Adreanna will be around a couple of times a week to clean, cook and do some gardening and pool maintenance," Sherry shared.

Rory continued to introduce the nannies to Sherry, who said she'd be willing to help out with the kids as well, unless she was in Paris, where she was going next week to check over the Paris apartment like she usually did a couple of times a month.

"Celeste, do you want to do the honorary tour or shall I?" Sherry asked.

"I'll try - fill in if there's anything I miss," Celeste said, and led the group through the alleyway to the courtyard where a magnificent view down a slope could be seen. The place held gorgeous fountains and a sizable infinity pool with a lounge area. A little further away an olive grove was visible and an outdoor dining area which was positioned under a heavy-looking stone-pillared outdoor kitchen. The garden was lush with roses, fresias and lavender - oh, god, how she'd missed that almost overpowering lavender.

"So here's the main building - we've got, what, nine-ten bedrooms here and we were thinking this for everyone with kids, Ines and Eileen, Lorelai and Leo. Leo can have his own room, as the rest of the kids will probably share with another kid - up to you who with whom. And to your left we have the guest house - G, maybe you'd like to stay there and there's room for Colin and her daughter when they arrived," Celeste continued.

"I'm at the guest house too," Sherry shared, hugging her daughter sideways.

"And then there's the pool house - who am I missing?" Celeste said and glanced at Rory.

"Finn?" Rory replied.

"He's only coming sometime next week and I have no idea for how long," Logan elaborated. "And Honor too," he added.

"Right, so he can stay in the pool house, but I think Honor would be more comfortable in the main house," Celeste added, little by little beginning to feel like the lady of the house in this place. It took some adjusting, certainly.

"Vikki and Paris are coming in late July," Rory added.

"There's room for them in the main house or guest house - their pick," Celeste added. "The pool bottom is a constant slope, the first 10 ft should be good enough for the kids," she continued. "The place is old otherwise, so expect squeaky floors and heavy doors, check the shower temperature before stepping into it, and do not remove the lavender from the window sills if you plan on keeping the windows open. There aren't many scorpions around, and they are generally harmless, but if you see any just don't let the kids play with them," she added, making Lorelai shriver theatrically at the thought.

"So - what else?" Celeste asked, having just finished explaining how the house was going to be locked when they were going to be out and where to charge the electric vehicles.

"Do we have food or do we need to go shopping? Anything else we might need?" Rory asked, practically.

"We have the essentials, but not much for dinner or the following days," Sherry explained.

"How about we go check out the rooms and then us two can regroup and think of a plan," Celeste suggested to Rory, just really wanting a slow down for half an hour after the bustle of the airport. Rory and her were still thick as thieves, probably knowing a lot more about each-other's lives in some aspects than their spouses did - they were each-other's guilt free unloading docks.

"Sounds like a plan," Logan replied on Rory's behalf who was already chasing down Leigh and Emma around the garden.

"I actually labeled the rooms, thinking of the kids mostly, but feel free to switch if you'd like," Sherry added her two cents.

They all headed to the direction of their rooms, curiously observing the magnificent estate that surrounded them. The place had such history and the details told a lot of it.

"Evie - do you want to share a room with Oliver or with Finny?" Celeste asked, as they reached upstairs, knowing Rory would totally be on board with either.

"Finny," was a quick response, she really should have needed to ask.

"Sure - the bunk beds are in here," Celeste opened the door to a light green room with built in bunk beds with lots of drawers. The way Celeste remembered this room was in dark wood instead of this more modern and lighter look, but it had always been the room for guests' kids rather than her and her brother. "Rory - Finny?! Over here!" she called out and soon the blond-haired boy came rushing.

Every once in a while Rory and Celeste pondered whether these two would ever hit the phase where girls, or vice versa - boys, would be too uncool to play with, but so far they didn't seem to care about any of it. Sleepovers were very common with the two, and the two would read out books to each other taking turns, both of them having learned to read before they were 5. The two truly seemed to have a world of their own. Secretly Celeste could already picture the potential heart aches during their teen years - one falling in love with the other while the other only thought of the other as a friend and things like that. God, how she hoped they'd be spared of that hurt. But that was what mother's did - they worried about the things they couldn't really control.

"Oliver, you'll get to choose - you can either stay with Emma and Leigh or if you want you can have a room all by yourself. The room has horses and everything," Celeste said, trying to make staying in his own room exciting for him, desperately hoping the boy wouldn't insist on sleeping in their room. She needed alone time, she needed the time and room to spend with her husband even more so.

"But I want to sleep with you guys," Oliver complained.

"Can you just look at the room, please. You're such a big boy already" she pleaded, hiding her sigh of dissapointment.

Her brother used to love the room, though thankfully the wallpaper had been changed now from the nautical theme. Not that reminiscing about the settings in which her brother had grown up in and what he'd grown up to be, was anything she wanted - she desperately wanted to forget the man ever existed, but she tried to take the room without it's former character, having from the distance decorated the room with just Oliver in mind.

"But can I go to the pool after?" Oliver said, thankfully already having other things on his mind. Celeste knew that that debate of where he was going to sleep was far from over, but at least the boy, once asleep, tended to be a heavy sleeper and could be moved to his own bed even after falling asleep in the parent's bed.

"Absolutely, but just go check the room out first, five minutes" Celeste urged and watched the boy explore the room with green equestrian toile wallpaper. The furniture in this room had also been completely changed out but Celeste had attempted to maintain a certain vintage feel to it. The beige rustic bed and dresser certainly worked for the room, and the walls and dresser held numerous antique toys and objects like old rackets and a chess board which were mostly decorative. She helped her son unpack his suitcase, placing the items in the dresser, and positioning his favourite stuffed toy in the center of the bed. She also opened up the window to let in some fresh air.

Glancing out the window she could already see the nannies outside, opening up the sunshades by the pool, clearly having been around children long enough to anticipate their interest towards the pool as their first priority.

"We'll be just across the hall," she said, "but if you want you can go see what Ines is up to, she's by the pool" she added, putting Oliver's swimming trunks on the chair by the bed so he had them ready to go.

The boy really didn't need much else and already began to change himself out of his shorts and t-shirt.

"Ines!" Celeste called out the window, suddenly recalling that she'd never been allowed to do stuff like that in this place - yell out of the window like some commoner, and frankly the act felt liberating in itself - she didn't need to answer to anyone anymore. "Oliver is coming down to the pool. Can one of you come get the towels from the foyer, there was a whole pile of them, and make sure he has sunscreen on!" she instructed.

"Sure thing!" Ines replied friendlily, and headed back towards the house to get both Oliver and the towels. The nannies were getting a free holiday and additional pay for the two months, with the condition that they had a full 24 hours off each week to rest and explore the area by themselves. But there were plenty of adults, and Honor was coming too, so they were going to be fine since none of the kids were babies anymore.

By the time Celeste left the room, reminding Oliver to be careful, she was almost run down by Emma and Leigh, already in their bathing suits, rushing downstairs as well.

"Careful on the stairs, girls," Celeste called after them, knowing one of the steps was a little tricky.

Jess was already in the room labeled 'JC' with a post-it and was already unpacking their belongings.

What Celeste hadn't expected was the burst of emotion that she experienced once she stepped into that room, that used to be hers. Sure, there was a better and bigger bed, like the rest of the house's dark wood furniture had been changed into lighter tones but still mostly the classical kind. She'd kept the crystal chandelier and matching wall lamps. The floor to ceiling arched window overlooked the side of the house, and the olive trees and the guest house. Boy, did this bring back memories - her first romances, weeks in this place with just her brother, the nanny and the housekeeper, long strolls on the beach promenade in the city, dinner parties outside that lasted half the night and so much more.

"You okay there?" Jess asked, seeing Celeste, with tears in her eyes, taking in the room.

"Uh-uh," she replied, with a slight whimper.

Jess wrapped his arms around her and held her for a moment, clearly she'd needed it.

"I didn't know how much I'd missed this..," Celeste replied.

That answer stirred something in Jess. Choosing him and the life they had had taken her away from all of this for almost 8 years. While he knew she'd done so willingly at the time and he knew she loved him and their family, a little part of him couldn't pretend he didn' think on occasion that perhaps she regretted at least a bit of it.

AN: And what kind of a estate description of mine would be complete without a visual? So here you go: Sotheby's Sale Bastide Saumane De Vaucluse (84800) but I'm not using the original location (so if they are near Nice they have a bit less of the view than place on the pictures).

Also it's funny how it feels a little like writing sci-fi - I get to make up inventions for the future. Fun!