Ben & Jennifer: Summit of Love

updated 10/06/2003 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 10/06/2003 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Nine days after Jennifer Lopez and Ben Affleck failed to show up in Santa Barbara, Calif., for the most anticipated wedding of the year, the pair were spotted at a Dodge dealership in Hinesville, Ga., 21 miles from Affleck's secluded 83-acre Hampton Island estate on the Georgia coast. After selecting a new pickup truck, Affleck wrote a check for $36,000. "They were strictly business, like any other couple buying a car," says the salesman. The only reminder that the pair aren't quite like any other couple was Affleck's request for dark-tinted windows—presumably a bid to hide from the eyes of the world.

Good luck. After they blamed the media for the postponement of their Sept. 14 nuptials, then took a week-long hiatus from each other by traveling to separate states, Lopez left her home in Miami Beach and flew to Georgia on Sept. 19 to join Affleck and ponder the future of their relationship. "She's there, they're talking," says a Lopez pal. "They aren't getting married, as far as I know, but they're together." On Saturday they cruised the Savannah Mall—Affleck, 31, shopping for a gun at the Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World store, Lopez, 34, buying shoes at Foot Locker. When they next stepped out on Sept. 22, Lopez was not sporting her 6.1-carat Harry Winston engagement bauble, but the duo chose a venue guaranteed to stir speculation: the Liberty County courthouse, where firearms—and marriage—licenses are issued.

"They were here just to thank us for our cooperation" in arranging security around Affleck's $7.1 million estate, says Sheriff J. Don Martin, 64. But Affleck was also aware that "reporters would think they were getting a marriage license." Lopez apparently did her part to reinforce that notion. After leaving the building before Affleck, she waited for him in his Range Rover. Kina Lucas, 36, a state employee, says that when she rapped on the window, Lopez lowered the glass. "Te casastes? (Did you get married?)" asked the Panamanian-born Lucas, who went on in Spanish, "To hell with people. Go with what you have in your heart." At that point, says Lucas, Lopez replied in English, "We did it." Asked if there's any truth to that, a source close to Affleck scoffs, "Don't be naive." Indeed, as Affleck left the courthouse, he told a PEOPLE reporter, "We're not getting married. I'm getting a hunting license."

At this point, any scenario is conceivable. When Lopez left Miami Beach, escorted by a bodyguard and assistant, she left behind an entourage (maid, cook, girlfriends) and word that she would return. Four days later a source reported, "She will stay in Savannah until she departs for L.A." Jen and Ben, says this source, "are back together—for now."

Jill Smolowe
Jeff Truesdell and Steve Helling in Hinesville, Linda Marx in Miami, Elizabeth Leonard and Todd Gold in Los Angeles and Elizabeth McNeil in New York City

From Our Partners