AN: A mixed chapter of various characters this time. Thanks a lot for your reviews! It's great to feel your support. And do point out mistakes if you spot any - I haven't quite been up my game, I'll admit, still struggling with some other issues, but I like to keep this going as a constant, to have something to lean on during difficult times.

Chapter 51

July 5th, 2024

The car ride back from Provence was a tiresome one. Two and a half hours there and back, was more than the kids were really up to, getting restless in the car, hence they'd needed to make a stop in one of the local playgrounds to let them burn off some more energy. But thankfully that had been enough to have at least the three younger ones fall asleep on their way back. Any parent knew that the serene car ride was both a blessing and a curse, as the kids would probably have all the energy in the world after their late afternoon nap and not drop until dark.

While Rory was driving the Porche, Lorelai and the twins in the Porsche, the rest of the group had decided to ride with the nannies, putting the minivan into good use, which put Finn and G in the back seat, shoulder to shoulder. As Jess and Celeste, sitting in front of them, were up, they couldn't really talk much, despite wanting to, hence they texted, keeping the oral discussion strictly to the advancements on the real estate, which was going well and G was just now waiting for the construction inspection to finish their report.

The lavender field scene hadn't really been either of their cup of tea, despite the fields being pretty to the eye - but not so much as to spend more than twenty minutes there. But they'd felt tagging along either way, wanting to see the country from some other angles.

But as Finn sent over picture after picture of her that he'd taken, without her noticing, she was in awe. This was just phone photography, but Finn truly had a knack for it. There were a few of her just gently brushing her hand through the flowers or crouching down to smell them, wearing her light blue simple jersey dress that he'd caught flowing in the breeze. She'd never really seen someone see her as that before - noticing her little impressions, almost showing her imperfections as something pretty, and doing all that in a way that showed him seeing her for more than just the sexual way.

Finn hadn't really thought of it as anything much, but to G this was better than getting a bouquet of flowers or a compliment. Though theoretically this was both, just in a digital form, the vast fields of purple being the flowers in this.

It would've definitely been something she'd like to post on social media, but she knew that there were several in the group who would see it in that case. She almost wanted to do it anyway - claim that she'd asked someone to take the picture and they'd turned out surprisingly good. But not wanting to disturb their newfound bubble, she didn't dare to.

"Thanks," she mouthed, smilingly. Texting it just hadn't seemed like enough.

Finn slipped his hand to the side of his thigh, between them, observing the front of the van carefully, indicating he wanted to hold her hand. This may have been such an utterly juvenile thing to want, but that was how he was feeling. He knew this feeling - and it was certainly not just a crush or a fling. He was falling hard, and it had only really taken him a week of allowing himself these feelings, despite being a long time coming.

G hesitated, but by the pretence of looking for something in her purse, that was on her knees she brushed his palm, letting the hand linger a minute, before pulling away. She was almost getting sentimental, somehow all this hiding and missing of the other's touch seemed too much in that moment. It seemed so unfair.

She took a deep breath, and Finn could tell she was a little emotional, not quite sure of her reasoning.

"You okay?" Finn typed.

"Let's go out on a real date," G texted, not really answering his question. She was - she just wanted more of him than the situation allowed. She almost began to text that she needed to feel him, to not hide for a night, but retracted that text believing it didn't really need to be said, but Finn saw her type, and then delete it, leaving him wondering what more she'd wanted to say.

That day had already been long enough and they both knew that that same night would've been pushing it, not really allowing them to enjoy it to the fullest.

"Cannes? Tomorrow?" he asked, already thinking of ways of stretching that date into something longer than just an evening.

"Anywhere," she replied, not really caring when or where as long as it was soon.

"I'll to go to Cannes to 'meet some old friends'," Finn texted. He could nearly always pull that excuse - as realistically there was in every city at least one person he knew if not directly than through someone else, being as connected as he was. He could even pull the work card in most cities, his family's hotels being all along this coast.

"I'll think of something," she said, the thought sounding like a plan. Now all she had to do was to think of the least suspicious plan to use as cover, something that nobody else would want to join her.

Finn naturally didn't just stop there, already beginning looking up what was going on in Cannes that night - good parties, concerts, clubs, exhibitions and so on. He was a little disappointed in himself that he hadn't asked her - she always seemed to be one step ahead of him. His bravery in this stood in making sure he already booked the hotel though, even if it was a presumptious assumption.

They texted a little more, agreeing to be flexible based on G's excuse, both wanting to consider going for longer than just the evening and night. He wanted to take her out on the sea, among other things, hence requiring some extra time and a change of wardrobe. This was where the scheming got a little tricky - them having to think about bringing a change of clothes, also questions of transportation arose when leaving separately and Finn making reservations that were flexible. It was a lot of trouble for a date that should've just been fun and carefree.

On the seat in front of them, Jess was once again scribbling something into a notebook, having switched the random pocket book to an actual notebook by now, still preferring pencil on paper to digital options.

"So what's the next crazy thing you aim to drag me off to?" Jess asked Celeste quietly, with curiosity, as she finished replying to a couple of bookstore-related e-mails. The store was on a holiday, but sometimes some inquiries still came in, Celeste having adapted the rule only to reply to them when in a situation of not really being able to do anything else, such as in the car or on the train.

"I have some ideas up my sleeve," Celeste replied in a low chuckle. "But seriously - you know it's not about crazy and extravagant, right?" she added.

Jess wasn't sure he did. He knew she'd been bored back home, and he'd been a homebody, to put it simply. But so far it really had seemed that what she wanted was to do things that were a little out there, pushing their boundaries - both physical and emotional ones.

"Uh-uh," Jess mumbled, writing down some notes, after they'd just passed a couple of hitchhikers. The sight had become almost extinct in the States, but here this actually reminded him of the time when he'd done it quite a lot when he'd been broke and alone.

They were driving through a hilly area, a vast valley to their right and a near-vertical cliff going up the hill, signs warning them of falling rocks. The vegetation around here contained a lot more pine in contrast to the palms at the coast, which created a much more beachy feel.

"Anything you'd want to do while we're here?" Celeste asked, hopefully. She really wished that all this had awakened some drive to discover and explore, not just in the fictional world of that notebook of his.

Jess thought for a moment. He was a pretty low maintenance guy, he would've been just happy for the change of scenery - which this no doubt already was but ever since Celeste had mentioned it he hadn't quite gotten an image out of his mind. He wasn't sure if it was just for him, but if she was asking him - he could certainly suggest things he liked more than casinos or restaurants where he'd have to watch carefully how he ate.

"Well?" Celeste urged, impatiently.

"Two things that I can think of right now," Jess began, and Celeste sat a little bit more upright to really hear him. "I'd kind of like to go to Italy, I know we didn't really plan on it but it's right here - some hours that way. I've never been, and maybe there's something more of my heritage than can cancel out the image I have of Jimmy," he explained in a whisper not really wanting the entire car to hear. He had in fact been looking into his family tree a little. And while he didn't really plan on meeting anyone, the relation being too distant. He just liked to get a feel of the village that was supposed to be where generations of Mariano's had lived before they'd travelled across the ocean. He hated how 'American' something like that was, but more and more he too was adapting to the flexibility that trying out things just once, couldn't really hurt him as an author.

"We could totally do that...," Celeste replied excitedly. " We should probably bring the kids though. It's their heritage too," she added, for a second the thought of going to Italy just the two of them seeming like an amazing one, but for their first holiday already the couple of days apart was enough for the kids for now, Oliver still being a little clingy since they got back earlier that week. Sure, perhaps they could steal a night away or something, but not something like this.

"It doesn't have to be anything long," he added, knowing that the village he had in mind was only really some 6-7 hours drive away.

"We could even see if we could drop by Colin's or something," Celeste discussed.

Colin had never been Jess' favourite person, but being a person who was still not really used to throwing money to the wind on a whim, he knew that it probably would be a good idea if he put his personal preferences aside.

"And the other things?" Celeste inquired.

"I was actually thinking about trying diving… or just snorkeling or something," Jess said. It was strange how when he'd lived in California he'd almost been too cool for all things beach related, and really hadn't experienced those things at all.

"Done and done," Celeste replied, victoriously, feeling glad that her husband was finally up for something, and took his hand.

In the Porche driving behind the van there had been a vast silence for a while now.

"You know, I never imagined you with three kids. I always picture you having just one, like me. I know it's self-centered of me, probably, but so be it," Lorelai exhaled, after having been half forced to be quiet for the half an hour it had taken Emma and Leigh to fall asleep in the backseat.

Rory was driving, but thankfully the the car had driving aid on and the road was pretty calm and following the minivan meant she didn't really need to focus a whole lot about where she was going.

"I never imagined myself with three either," Rory sighed - she'd pictured two, but definitely not three under two. They'd had a similar conversation about five years ago, just before Rory had been due with the twins, but then the relationship between her and her mom had been even rockier. Now it was just subdued - certain topics being off the table, Lorelai controlling her tongue a little better, and Rory having learned that she needed every bit of help from her mother when it came to her kids she could get. Nannies were nannies, they could be really good ones too - playful, caring, qualified and coming highly recommended - but deep down she too wanted her kid's childhood to reflect at least some of those values she herself had gotten from her mother's upbringing. She was just still looking for that balance - both with the kids and in herself.

"And I also never imagined you with a son," Rory added, turning this around on Lorelai instead.

"Right?" Lorelai exclaimed, watching her volume.

"I guess life just has its ways," Rory commented.

"I never imagined Luke with a daughter," Lorelai added, referring to April.

"And now he has one of each," Rory said. "How is April, anyways - haven't heard from her in a while?" she asked.

"She's alright, as far as I know. Luke said she'd make it to Stars Hollow later in August sometime, which is good - he misses her," Lorelai explained, going into the fact that she didn't fully understand what April did for a living, nor fully did Luke.

"Do you think it really was a mistake that I didn't go back to NYU after having the twins?" Rory asked after several minutes.

This was a subject that Lorelai had not expected Rory to bring up. It had been years ago, and her reaction to Rory's decision had not been the best one back then. But it had really just been that - a reaction. And Rory had never discussed the topic with her again, and she'd just accepted that decision.

"Honestly, honey…," Lorelai began, picking her words. "I might have thought it back then - I always was a little sceptical, and I don't even mean the timing. I'm not saying it was the right thing to give up that careerpath but staying with the kids was totally the right thing to do, you just don't get that time back. And considering what happened, it was totally the right thing," she said, referring to the pandemic. "But maybe I did feel like you threw the towel in too easily, maybe? Does that make sense?" Lorelai inquired, not wanting to hurt her.

Rory gave that thought a moment - it had been in fact a decision where she'd given up the control to her kids, to other people's expectations - and these hadn't even been the people closest to her. She'd done what the society had assumed of her. She'd done what the kids had at that point wanted from her - as much as babies consciously wanted anything. She just wasn't sure it had been the best decision for her. She wasn't sure if she regretted it - probably not - as with the pandemic it had been the decision that enabled her to live with a lot less stress than there would have otherwise been.

"I've missed seeing that drive in you, you know," Lorelai admitted, humbly, hoping she wouldn't cross a fine line that their relationship was balancing on. "I don't think it was just that decision… and I guess for a while I thought these things had to do with Logan, getting married so quickly, all that sneaking around, but looking back - I'm not so sure," Lorelai said, her statement reflecting some of her initial scepticism on Logan considering how things had worked out.

"I tried doing things for me and things didn't work out," Rory said, Logan's first proposal still in mind. She'd tried making it on her own - sure she'd done alright, but she'd crashed and burned anyway. "I tried doing things for others - and still, I just…," Rory sighed, and pulled up to the side of the road, unable to hold her tears back. She'd tried being selfish, not thinking of others, but that had only made her feel worse. None of it had gone as she'd planned. The devil fools with the best laid plans - Rory thought, recalling Neil Young's quote.

Lorelai glanced back at the kids, who were thankfully still sound asleep.

"Oh, honey," Lorelai said, unbuckling her seatbelt, and hugged her daughter. "Shh...," she tried to sooth her.

Rory tried to pull herself together, not wanting to wake the kids.

"But isn't failing because you took a chance better than because of something that you just let happen to you?" Lorelai said.

"You never failed. I happened to you at the worst time and you succeeded, why can't I do the same?" she whimpered quietly, speaking about her mother having her at 16.

"Do you really think I've never felt stuck? I just hid it well from you, and later - with Luke too…, the path isn't straightforward. It's not about picking a route and expecting it to just go up from there. You just need to remember you are the key to your own happiness," Lorelai speaking, that sentence actually resonating with Rory more than she knew. Lorelai didn't know about any issues between her and Logan - and frankly it was just now that she was beginning to worry that perhaps she wasn't entirely happy, her earlier question about why she'd wanted to do Wild having already sparked her curiosity.

They continued their journey some minutes later, Lorelai deciding to take the wheel, letting Rory calm herself. Rory felt embarrassed for having broken down in front of her mom like that. But giving up the wheel at least gave her some time to reflect. She'd been giving up control left and right - she was like a leaf moved by each wind, constantly adjusting, steered by some outside forces.

Lorelai kept glancing over to her daughter, worrying about her. She didn't like seeing her like this. She hadn't liked it years ago and not now. She wished she could just shoot some of that inner courage Rory had had back when she'd been a teenager back into her. She'd had an inner flame, somehow real life had just put that out.

"You're a great mom, Rory. You're good at what you do - with your talent and your name you have the potential to make it in whatever you set out to do. You just need to believe in yourself," Lorelai said, for the first time admitting that the Huntzberger name actually gave her something she hadn't been able to give her.

It wasn't even so much about the career anymore, Rory feeling like she'd surely find something she liked - it was a matter of trying things out again. But it was deeper than that. And her mother was right - she needed to believe in herself that she could forgive herself for what had happened, nearly happened, with Owen, she needed to believe in herself that she could plan something as simple as a date that Logan would appreciate without second guessing herself. She needed to believe that she would feel better once she stopped feeling sorry for herself.