Virtual Gilmore Girls

Episode 8.01 "Into the Great Wide Open"
by sosmitten

Author's Note: I apologize in advance for the length of this author's note, but there are some important things to say about this project. This episode may have my name listed as the author, but many, many people have contributed to its contents. Before we even began plotting out the individual episodes, members of the Creative Team spent weeks brainstorming season-long story ideas, Once we'd come up with a plan for the season, we attacked the individual episodes in the same way, so that by the time I set out to 'write' the first episode I had all sorts of brilliant ideas to start me out. It's been, and will continue to be, a wonderful (and challenging) collaborative process and it took everyone on the Creative Team to get us here.

 

I can't say enough about the awesomeness that is my beta/lead writer team: Lula Bo and Avery. They held my hand while we tried to pin down our collective 'voice,' and encouraged me when I didn't feel remotely clever. Thanks also to Jenepel for reading through and catching so many things I'd missed. Lastly, thanks to Tom Petty, for the title inspired by his song of the same name.

 

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Rory slid her carry-on under the seat in front of her and settled into her spot next to the window. She gazed outside for a moment but her placement over the wing afforded almost no view of the action on the tarmac. She turned to the book in her lap, thumbed the pages and tried to remember why she'd chosen this meaty biography, rather than a light work of fiction to bring with her on the flight.
 
Pulling her phone out of her purse, she began to dial automatically, but then closed it and dropped it into her lap.
 
She watched the sliver of baggage handler activity she could see and took another look through her book, but finally gave in, flipping open her phone and dialing before she could reconsider.
 
The phone rang three times before being answered and in the intervening moments Rory had time to wonder what had made her mother tuck her phone so far out of her immediate reach. When Lorelai did pick up there was a note of concern in her "Hey kid."
 
"It's Billie Newman," Rory offered brightly.
 
"Huh?" Lorelai asked, clearly confused.
 
"The reporter on Lou Grant you were trying to remember. You know," Rory teased, "the whole quippy reference thing is much more effective if you actually remember the reference."
 
"Sorry to disappoint," Lorelai retorted.
 
Rory sighed dramatically. "And all this time I've been looking up to you as a paragon of pop-cultural knowledge."
 
"Oh, didn't I tell you I've been faking it all these years?" Rory chuckled, relieved by the familiar back and forth. After a moment, though, Lorelai asked, "So, did your flight get delayed?"
 
"No. Why?"
 
"I thought you'd be on the plane by now."
 
"I am. We just boarded."
 
"Umm... cell phone?" Lorelai pointed out. "I know I violate the 'no cellphones in the diner rule' regularly just to see that vein in Luke's forehead stick out, but you're on an airplane."
 
"It's okay," Rory reassured her, "they haven't made the 'turn off all electronic devices' announcement yet. We're good for a few more minutes."
 
"If you say so, but if you get kicked off the plane, don't say I didn't warn—"
 
"Hey, Mom?" Rory cut in, suddenly conscious of the background noise on her mom's end of the line. "Is that music? Are you in the car?"
 
"Yeah," Lorelai answered, as though she didn't understand the question.
 
"You're in the car?" Rory confirmed, disbelieving. "As in driving home?"
 
"In the general vicinity of Stars Hollow, yes, that's the plan. I thought through the whole loitering thing, but I didn't want to attract too much attention from the K-9 units or Paul Anka would get jealous."
 
"Well, if any dog would notice it would be Paul Anka," Rory agreed. After a short pause, she continued, trying to keep her voice light. "But I'm just not sure what would have happened if I'd suddenly realized that this whole reporter thing was a mistake and what I really wanted to be was a meteorologist."
 
"A meteorologist?" Lorelai sputtered. Through her giggles, she asked, "Like Kimmy Live at Five?"
 
Rory scoffed. "Not a television weather girl. A real meteorologist, like the ones who figure out what the weather will be so they can tell the weather guys what to say."
 
"Oh, so like one of those people sitting at a computer in the background of the weather channel briefing room?" Lorelai teased. "Cause that just screams 'Rory' to me."
 
"Well, we'll never know, will we?" Rory asked, tugging at an imaginary thread on the belt of her shirt. "What if that had been what I'm really supposed to do and I realized it at the last minute, but you'd already left? There goes the chance for a career in meteorology." She was joking, she told herself, playing the kind of game she and her mother had amused themselves with countless times before.
 
Lorelai joined in dutifully. "I'm having a little trouble seeing the appeal of meteorology, actually. That's seriously the example that came to mind? With the whole all-you-can-eat buffet of choices: FBI agent, neurosurgeon—"
 
"Oh, so now you're mocking my hypothetical career crisis?" She hated the way that she could hear her voice waver.
 
"Rory, hon," Lorelai said gently. "You're going to be fine. This is what you've always wanted to do and you're ready to go out and do it."
 
"Yeah?" Rory asked.
 
"Of course," Lorelai said, full of confidence. "You're going to blow them away."

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"I'm telling you," Kirk insisted in a hushed whisper to the collection of townspeople gathered in the diner for their morning coffee, "they're back together. He opened up early for Lorelai and Rory this morning."
 
Miss Patty looked at him kindly. "Aww, Kirk honey, I think Luke and Lorelai belong together as much as the next person, but you need more conclusive proof than an early breakfast. After all that's happened..." She shook her head sadly.
 
"And after that song," Babette squawked, "if he didn't chase her down and smack one on her, I'm not sure what it will take."
 
As Kirk continued to make his case, Lorelai parked her Jeep across the street from the diner and exited slowly, passing a somber gaze across the square, as though cataloguing the memories. Kirk was the first to see her and he directed the other's attention out the window. "Well, well, well," he intoned knowingly. "Back again, I see. Yes, there's definitely something going on here." From the skeptical expressions on the faces of the townspeople, they clearly remained unconvinced, but continued gazing out the window with interest nonetheless.
 
[minor scene break] 
 
Lorelai glanced up briefly at the diner but hung back, reluctant to bounce in as she'd always been able to. Inside, she could see all the familiar heads bowed in conversation as Luke walked among them refilling coffee. She couldn't will her feet to carry her inside, only to be subjected to excited questions and sympathetic looks, so she stood, almost frozen, on the sidewalk. She saw Luke stop when he noticed her through the window, then watched him place the coffee pot absently on the counter and stare a moment out the window before walking out the door and across the street toward her.
 
She looked up as he approached, throwing him a sad smile. He seemed to know without asking what Rory's absence was doing to her. Taking a few more steps, he enveloped her in his arms automatically and she melted into the embrace, resting her head on his shoulder.
 
For long moments, he simply held her, running his hand comfortingly up and down her spine. Eventually she pulled back and he let his hands fall to his side as he ducked his head to meet her eyes. "You okay?" he asked.
 
"Yeah." She nodded slowly. "I am. She's going off to do exactly what she's always wanted to do. So it's good. It is. It's just..." She shrugged. "Different now. Like Little House on the Prairie without Laura Ingalls."
 
He just nodded in response, then gestured behind him. "Do you want coffee, or something? I can get..." His voice trailed off as she shook her head.
 
"No, I'm not— Hey do you..." The words came out in a rush. She took a deep breath and waved her hands, starting her thought over. "I'm wondering, and I totally understand if you can't or don't want to, since you basically spent the weekend throwing Rory the graduation party to end all graduation parties and you must be exhaust-"
 
"Lorelai," Luke cut in gently, "tell me what I can do."
 
"I was just wondering if Caesar and Zach could cover the diner today," she said tentatively.
 
"I'm sure they could. Caesar's here already and Zach's been bugging me to get some extra hours before he goes on tour, so he's coming in today too. What's up?"
 
"Do you think maybe we could, I don't know, get out of Stars Hollow for the day? I don't really know where—I don't have my Lonely Planet book for Connecticut handy, but I just think I want another day before I need to be here, you know?" She looked up at Luke, her lips quirked to the side in an uncertain plea.
 
He nodded. "I get it." Smiling as if an idea had just come to him, he added confidently, "I know what we can do."
 
"Yeah?" she asked, her eyes lighting up at his tone.
 
"Yeah. Zach should be here soon and I just have to get some stuff together, so we could go in a few minutes. How's that?"
 
"Well, aren't you Julie McCoy all of a sudden?" she teased. "Where are you taking me?"
 
He flashed her a devious smile. "You'll see when we get there."
 
Narrowing her eyes, she said, "Fine. You go gather your 'stuff'." She gestured with air quotes. "I should check in with Sookie. They don't really need me the inn, since I was going to be off rollercoastering with Rory, but I told her I'd stop by." She sobered for a moment at the mention of the cancelled trip, and Luke gave her a sympathetic smile.
 
"Well, I'll be back in a few minutes," he said, pointing behind him. Glancing up as he turned to go, he stopped suddenly and sighed. "Getting out of town is sounding better and better," he said, pointing at the diner window, where the faces of the entire clientele were pressed against the glass. One by one, they peeled themselves away and went back to pretending nonchalance until Kirk was the sole glass-squashed face among them.

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Rory watched out the window with nervous anticipation as her cab pulled up in front of the hotel. She paid the fare, then stood, surrounded by her luggage, and stared at the entrance.
 
The Quality Inn had skirted the whole hotel or motel question with the 'Inn and Suites' moniker, but it didn't look like any inn Rory had ever seen. It was a singularly unimpressive building, squat and sprawling, and like other structures she'd seen during her cab ride built in the horizontal rather than the vertical. For some reason she hadn't expected buildings in the Midwest to be as flat as the landscape.
 
The hotel grew no more intimidating in her few moments of standing there, so with a quick nod to herself, she picked up her bags and headed inside to the registration desk.
 
The clerk, a petite woman with a short cap of dark brown hair, gave her a welcoming smile as she approached the desk. "May I help you? Are you checking in?"
 
Rory returned the smile. "There should be a reservation, I think. Rory Gilmore? I'm here for Senator Obama's campaign." She paused and then added, by way of explanation, "It's my first day."
 
"Oh, are you with the campaign staff?"
 
"No, I'm with the press," Rory said, straightening, "Writing for The Critical Observer." The clerk smiled but gave no sign of recognition. "It's an online magazine," Rory clarified.
 
"Oh, okay. Well, the campaign is moving on this afternoon, but I can hold onto your luggage for the day."
 
Rory's brow furrowed in confusion. "This afternoon?"
 
"Yes, to the Twin Cities, I believe. If I heard the staff correctly."
 
"But I thought..." she started, but then paused and waved off the question. "Okay, I'll leave my bags then."
 
"Until you head out, there's a hospitality suite for the press set up in Meeting Room D, where you can get more information about your briefing," the clerk added helpfully.
 
Rory's questions faded at the word 'briefing' and she suddenly couldn't wait to be rid of her luggage and off in search of a story. "Hey," she asked, "there isn't, by any chance, some coffee in that hospitality room, is there?"
 
"Oh, most definitely." The clerk filled out the luggage claim tags and Rory held out her hand for them, eager to move on. As the clerk passed them over, she gave Rory an encouraging smile. "Good luck."
 
Pausing, Rory let out a grateful sigh. "Thank you."
 
Relieved of her everything but her computer bag, Rory headed confidently in the direction the clerk had pointed, glancing quickly at the names on the doors she passed. Predictably, Meeting Room D was the fourth one in the corridor. She entered the room to find a few tables on the opposite wall, bearing up what looked to be large containers of coffee and the remnants of two trays of bagels. A whiteboard above the tables announced a press briefing at noon in the Dubuque Room. Chairs were sprinkled liberally around the room, one of them occupied by a professionally dressed and coiffed Indian woman in her early thirties who was bent over a laptop. Two other slightly younger women were standing and chatting nearby with an African-American man in a smart suit.
 
The group stopped talking as Rory headed toward the coffee. "Hi," she said tentatively.
 
The petite blond one spoke first. "Hi." She narrowed her eyes suspiciously. "Are you... uh... new? I haven't seen you around before."
 
Rory nodded. "Yeah, my first day, actually."
 
"Ah." The woman nodded her understanding.
 
There was an awkward pause, during which Rory started to hold out her hand, but stopped, instead saying simply. "I'm Rory Gilmore."
 
"And which publication do you work for?" asked the other woman, who was taller than the first with dark curls falling down her back.
 
"The Critical Observer," Rory answered, this time expecting their blank looks and adding, "it's an online magazine."
 
There was another pause before the man jumped in and offered, "I'm James, Miami Herald." It took Rory a moment to realize that he'd given not his last name, but his paper. By then he'd pointed at the blond woman. "She's Meredith, Kansas City Star." He then pointed at the dark-haired woman. "This is Rachael, Philadelphia Inquirer. And the woman over there who always has her nose in her computer is Darshana, Sun-Times."
 
He said the last with a teasing note in his voice and the woman looked at him with a good-natured glare before giving Rory a perfunctory smile. "Hi, it's nice to meet you."
 
"Nice to meet you too," Rory said, gesturing toward all of them. At a loss for what to say, she asked eagerly, "So, the briefing is in half and hour, right? Is that where we get the schedule for the day?"
 
"That's the idea," Meredith answered, her tone uninterested.
 
"Well, I'm just going to get a cup of coffee, but I guess I'll see you there." They all nodded politely, then James, Meredith and Rachael went back to talking and Darshana continued tapping away on her laptop as Rory made her way toward the coffee.

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"Lane!" Zach called from the living room of their apartment. "I'm gonna leave Kwan in the bassinet, okay? I told Luke I'd be at the diner by ten, so I gotta get going."
 
"I'm almost done here. Just give me a sec," Lane called back impatiently as she walked into the room, fastening the last of the snaps on Steve's outfit while he let out fretful cries. She caught Zach with his foot in mid-tap and a hurried look on his face. "You've been working a lot lately," she observed. "Do you really have to spend all the time before you leave at the diner? It kind of feels like you're gone already."
 
Zach stood still, staring at her dumbly, clearly taken aback at her frustration. "I just want to be able to stock up on diapers and wipes and all the non-perishable groceries before I leave," he said defensively. "And I want to leave you some extra money in the checking account so you can order take-out sometimes instead of always having to cook."
 
Chastened, Lane's expression softened. "That's... that's really thoughtful."
 
"I just want to make it easier for you," he added, gesturing feebly towards her while still holding Kwan against his chest. "You're, like, making this huge sacrifice to stay home with the boys so I can tour with the band."
 
"Well," Lane shrugged helplessly, "it's not like there are a ton of choices."
 
Zach crossed the room, cradling Kwan in his arms as he leaned in to kiss Lane. "It's not always going to be like this. I promise."
 
"I know." She sighed. "Go make some money."
 
He nodded, looking down at Steve, who continued to fret, and patted him on the head before depositing Kwan in the bassinet.
 
No sooner had the door closed behind Zach did Kwan, missing the warmth of his father's arms, erupt into tears.
 
Lane let out a long groan and scooped up Kwan with her free arm. Walking around the room holding both boys against her chest she whispered over and over, "It won't always be like this. Sometimes... Brian and Gil will visit."

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"Bridgeport?" Lorelai asked incredulously as they entered the city limits. "Out of all the possible destinations in Connecticut, we're going to Bridgeport?" Luke ignored her yet again and she frowned playfully, then sank back into her seat, letting out a long sigh. "The last time I was here was to pick up Rory from jail."
 
"We're not going to the jail," Luke said darkly.
 
"But you still won't tell me where," Lorelai pouted.
 
He just smirked. "You'll see when we get there."
 
It wasn't until they'd wound their way through much of the city that Lorelai caught a glimpse of the ocean, causing the synapses in her brain to fire, and suddenly it all came together. "Oh, Bridgeport. We're going to your boat."
 
Smiling softly, he gave a small nod.
 
Touched, she asked again quietly, "We're going to your boat?"
 
"Just thought you might want to see it," he said casually.
 
Only a few minutes later, they arrived at the marina, parked and headed down the pier, Luke carrying a small cooler. Lorelai followed at his side, asking continually, "This one? Is it this one?"
 
Luke shook his head good-naturedly then finally nudged her and pointed ahead of them at a sleek motorboat about twenty feet in length.
 
Lorelai bounded down the dock, taking in the roomy deck area and peering through the windows into the small but cozy-looking cabin. "Luke, it's beautiful." She scanned the outside of the boat, walking around to look at the back. "But." She looked up at him expectantly. "It doesn't have a name. What are you going to name it?"
 
"I have no idea."
 
"Well," Lorelai said excitedly. "Just wait until I get brainstorming. There's a whole world of possibilities."
 
"That's a truly frightening thought."
 
She narrowed her eyes. "Hey! I've very successfully named most of my belongings. And," she waved her finger toward his chest, "some of yours."
 
"That's exactly what I'm worried about." He gestured into the boat. "You ready to get on?"
 
"Definitely. Let's see what this baby can do!"
 
Luke stepped nimbly onto the deck, set down the cooler, and then reached out an arm to Lorelai. She moved gingerly but wasn't prepared for the way the boat tipped when her weight shifted. Losing her balance, she fell into Luke's chest and was saved from toppling over onto the deck only by his firm grip on her arm. She stood for a moment with her hand resting on his chest, the half-embrace feeling natural and awkward at the same time. She dropped her eyes from his intense gaze, saying brightly as she stepped away, "So, show me around. I want the grand tour of your yacht."

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Rory sat alone in the briefing room, three rows back from the podium. Taking out her notepad and three writing implements had occupied only thirty seconds of the twenty-five minutes left until the briefing. She'd pulled out her laptop long enough to determine that whatever wireless service the hotel might have didn't extend to this room. She spent a few minutes tapping her fingers against the plastic case, considering whether or not it would be appropriate to take notes on her computer during the briefing, but then snapped it shut and slid it back into her bag.
 
Having exhausted everything else, she sat back in her chair and took a few sips of coffee, remembering too late that this was coffee so terrible it was better downed in large gulps, helped along by more generous measures of sugar and cream than she had allowed herself. Disgusted, she placed it back on the floor, once again reduced to glancing around the empty room.
 
This time when she pulled out her phone there was less hesitation about pressing the single button to dial her mother.
 
"Guess where I am?" she said cheerfully, as soon as Lorelai answered.
 
"Rory?" Her mother sounded far away, white noise partially obscuring her response.
 
"I'm in the press briefing room," she blurted, enjoying the sound of it.
 
"And you're talking to me?" Lorelai asked, sounding skeptical.
 
"Well, it hasn't started yet."
 
"Oh, I see." Rory could hear the teasing tone in her mother's voice, even through the static. "So you're sitting in there by yourself because you're ridiculously early and you don't want to look like a dork, so you called me. I get it. So apparently you got there okay. Is everything going well?"
 
"It's really good. I found the hotel, didn't actually check in because we're moving on tonight, but there's space here just for the press. I met a few people."
 
"That's great hon," Lorelai said with genuine enthusiasm. "I'm so excited for you." The last of her words were almost swallowed by the crackling from the phone.
 
"Where are you?" Rory finally asked. "This connection sucks."
 
There was a pause before Lorelai answered sheepishly, "I'm on Luke's boat."
 
"You're on a boat?" Rory asked incredulously. "Where?"
 
"In the ocean. Well, technically, I guess it's the Long Island Sound."
 
"You're on a boat," Rory repeated, having a hard time with the mental image, and at the same time taken aback by the fact that her mom was out boating just a few hours after her only child had left Stars Hollow for her first real job.
 
"Yep."
 
"With Luke," she added knowingly.
 
"Yeah, well, I just wanted to get out—" Lorelai's remaining words drowned in an impressively loud bit of static. "We should talk later," her mom said, the words enunciated loudly and clearly in an effort to do battle with the interference.
 
"Yeah, later," Rory said soberly. "Besides, this thing is going to start soon," she added as someone entered the room, headed toward a table in the front of the room and began shuffling through some papers.
 
"Okay, I'll talk to you later. Bye, kid."
 
"Bye, Mom."
 
Rory closed her phone, holding it in her lap. She'd known that her mom and Luke had begun something again but she'd been under the impression that they were starting slowly, and this seemed like the opposite of slow.
 
In an attempt to clear her head, Rory watched a few people trickle in and take their seats. After a few minutes, Meredith sat down across the aisle. Rory gave a small wave and the other woman nodded her recognition.
 
Several more minutes passed before the room filled and the spokesperson walked forward, tapping the sheaf of papers he was holding on the podium.
 
"Okay, well here's the update for today. Senator Obama has been meeting this morning with some donors, most notably Andrew Mills from Wilshire Foo ds and Fred Parker from Conrad Steel." As everyone around her started scribbling and tapping on their laptops, Rory realized with a start that she'd missed one of the names. She considered for a moment asking him to repeat it, but he'd already moved onto the next announcement. "After lunch, I know that a couple of you have arranged interviews—Newsweek and the Chicago Sun-Times, I believe." He looked into the audience, meeting the eyes of a couple of people, who nodded. One of them was the laptop woman Rory had just met in the hospitality room.
 
"Other than that," the man continued, "we'll be heading out this afternoon for the Twin Cities. The senator has a lunch tomorrow with the Minneapolis Central Labor Union Council and then will be speaking to a gathering outside the Mall of America as well as at a rally the following day at the Xcel Energy Center in Saint Paul. Any questions?"
 
Rory was so surprised that she didn't hear the question that followed or the response. "So we're not going to see him at all today?" she muttered quietly.
 
Someone behind her chuckled. "Not unless you've got several thousand dollars to donate to the campaign."
 
Rory turned to the speaker, seeing another of the reporters she'd met. Rachael, she remembered, from the Philadelphia Inquirer. "But wasn't there supposed to be a town hall meeting today? That's what my editor told me on Friday when I got the job."
 
"Must've been working off of an old schedule. Things got changed around last week. That happens all the time. You always have to check the current schedule." She was not unfriendly, but her patronizing tone gave Rory's confidence a quick, sound kick.
 
"Oh... well... thanks," she said, then turned back toward the spokesperson, who was deftly responding to one question after another.
 
"In a previous schedule Senator Obama was planning to meet with Mike Harley from the Minnesota Environmental Initiative. Is that meeting going to happen on this visit?"
 
"Is Senator Obama going to address concerns raised about the Health Care Reform Plan he announced on May 29th?"
 
"Is it true that the Teamsters Local 120 has endorsed Senator Obama?"
 
The flurry of questions only served to make Rory feel vastly uninformed. She wrote furiously as many of the questions and answers as she could, but her notes had numerous gaps she could only hope to try to fill in later. Almost before she realized what was happening, the spokesperson was tapping his stack of papers with finality and people began filing out of the room looking so calm and relaxed Rory could hardly believe they'd sat through the same brisk question and answer session.
 
The things she didn't know felt endless and overwhelming; she wanted only to find a corner to curl up with her notes, her computer and a cup of coffee somewhat less vile than the one she was holding.

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Frazzled and exhausted, Lane managed to find soothing words as she slipped a diaper under a screaming Kwan and began to fasten it. "I know you hate the nakedness, but it's okay. We're almost done, I swear." Finishing up, she snapped his onesie and pulled him into her arms, bouncing gently in an effort to calm him.
 
Just as Kwan's cries began to quiet, Steve's fussing kicked up a notch and Lane let out a groan of frustration. "Steve," she pleaded, "any amount of money if you don't get your brother going again. If money doesn't do it for you, I'll give you one free tattoo or mohawk, or whatever the "it" form of rebellion is when you're a surly teenager. Just please help me out here."
 
Apparently though, Steve was not to be swayed as his cries escalated along with his brother's. Sighing in defeat, Lane leaned over to scoop Steve out from under the dangling toy apparatus that was spread across the floor. "What am I going to do with you two? You're going to drive me to madness, or to country, and you know what your dad will say about that." Steeling herself against tears, she set her shoulders in determination. "Fine. We're going out for a walk, and if that whole fresh air and nature thing doesn't work its magic, I swear I'll be tempted to go the tranquilizer route, and that's so not a road we want to be headed down right now."

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Having successfully found coffee that was not only passable, but actually quite good, and a comfortable chair within reach of an electrical outlet, Rory sat with her laptop on her knees and various notes spread on either side of her. At the moment she was going back and forth between the three Firefox windows she had open, each with multiple tabs: one dedicated to Obama himself, one to some of the Twin Cities Organizations that had been mentioned and the last filled with various blogs along the line of the one she was current perusing, "My Life as a Campaign Reporter." The sheer embarrassment of knowing so little about what her job entailed made her keep looking around to make sure no one could tell what she was reading.
 
Somehow, she still managed to be caught off-guard. "So, where did you find that?"
 
"Huh?" Rory asked, looking up distractedly from her laptop. Her eyes came to rest on a tall, lean, dark-haired guy in front of her and as she shifted slightly the papers she'd had propped up on her purse next to her slid to the floor. "What?"
 
He let out a little chuckle, but then leaned down to scoop up the papers. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to interrupt you. It's just, how did you get your hands on Caribou Coffee? The only place remotely accessible from our charming accommodation is that anti-Perkins across the street, and you certainly didn't get that there."
 
"There's some sort of business training over there," she stammered awkwardly, pointing toward another set of meeting rooms off the far side of the hotel lobby. "They apparently sprang for the good stuff."
 
His eyes widened in amusement. "And you just joined in with their training?"
 
She hesitated. "Well, they were at lunch," she confessed.
 
This time he looked at her with awe. "Not bad! So you have some sort of sixth sense that directs you to coffee?"
 
She lifted one shoulder in an offhand shrug. "I do have a nose for it, I guess."
 
"Good," he said, nodding. "Good to know."
 
He looked at her long enough that she wondered if he was waiting for her to officially introduce herself. "So..." she started tentatively.
 
"Is it your first day?" he asked, before she got a chance to finish.
 
She gave a small nod as she reached to get her papers from him. "Well, yeah, how did you—" Barely missing knocking her computer off her lap, she put out her hands to prevent any more of her belongings from falling down around her, and then said with a wry grin, "How did you know?"
 
"Just a hunch," he replied, his smile amused but kind. "I guess I recognize it. I was there a few months ago. I'm Patrick, by the way, Patrick Donnelly."
 
He reached out his hand again, this time for a handshake and Rory shook it. "Rory. Rory Gilmore."
 
"Well, I guess I'll see you around, Rory Gilmore, especially if you've got that good a nose for coffee."
 
"Yeah, I'll see you around." She answered his little wave as he sauntered off, gazing just a moment longer than was probably appropriate before shaking her head with a touch of irritation and burying herself in her papers again.

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"It's just sandwiches." Luke gave her a self-conscious smile as he began pulling stuff out of the cooler. "Sorry I didn't have anything more interesting to bring."
 
"Luke, are you kidding? If you hadn't brought me out here and packed a lunch, I'd be at home finishing off the leftovers from Al's foray into Bulgarian cuisine while watching Paul Anka eat tennis balls and trying not to think about Rory not being home. This is... " She paused, looked up and smiled gratefully. "Thank you for bringing me." He looked down, flushing slightly, and Lorelai went on, attempting to keep the mood light. "You know, I could get used to this whole boat thing."
 
Luke answered with a wry grin. "You still haven't used the bathroom."
 
"You have a point." She grimaced. "And damn you for reminding me! I was trying not to think about that."
 
He chuckled and Lorelai responded by tossing a potato chip at him. Just as she was about to launch another he gave her a contrite look and she leaned back in her seat and popped the chip in her mouth.
 
"So, hey. Whatever happened with your boat trip with April? You mentioned it wasn't happening and I've been so wrapped up in my stuff I didn't even ask. I'm sorry." She looked at him with a remorseful frown.
 
"It's fine. You had a lot of stuff going on." He shrugged. "But April actually got into this science camp this summer. It's run by the University of Chicago. It's really selective and it will be a great opportunity, so she really couldn't pass it up. They're going to spend time at the Field Museum and the Museum of Science and Industry and have classes taught by Nobel Prize winning scientists and stuff. But it's for six weeks, so we can't do the boat trip. I mean, at least not the one I planned, because she'll only be here for a couple of weeks after the camp's over." He shrugged again. "Maybe I can still take her out for a few days or something, but we'll have to do the big trip another time."
 
"Oh, Luke, I'm so sorry. I know you were looking forward to it."
 
"Yeah, well, she was really excited about the camp. And, well," he gestures vaguely toward her, "it won't be so bad to hang around Stars Hollow this summer."
 
This time it was Lorelai's turn to blush, but she recovered, saying lightly, "Really? You looking forward to the summer festival series Taylor's got planned?"
 
He grinned. "Yeah, that's really going to make my summer." They shared an amused smile. After a few moments he added, "I am thinking of going to visit April in Chicago for their parents' weekend."
 
"That sounds nice."
 
"I wasn't sure because I don't want to be the one dorky parent who shows up for parents' weekend, but April sounded like she wanted me to come, so... "
 
"Of course she'll want to see you!" Lorelai reassured him. "Plus, there's all sorts of cool stuff you guys can do together while you're there."
 
"Yeah?" He cocked his head to the side and looked at her. "Like what? Have you been to Chicago before?"
 
"No, I've never been, but Rory and I planned a trip there once."
 
"You did?" He asked, his brow furrowing. "Why?"
 
"We planned lots of trip we never took. It was one of our things. When Rory was little, we'd go to the travel book section of the library and just pick a spot. And then we'd spend the next week or two planning the perfect trip. Of course, we couldn't actually afford to go on any trips..." she smiled wistfully, remembering, "but we had fun planning them. Sometimes it was even more fun knowing we could be really extravagant, since we'd never be able to go anyway."
 
She glanced up to find him shaking his head in amazement, and she looked away shyly. "So do you remember anything?" he asked. "Something April might like?"
 
"Well, you'll have to get pizza while you're there."
 
He gave her a look of disbelief. "Pizza?"
 
"No, seriously. Chicago-style pizza. It's a thing. The original Pizzeria Uno is in Chicago."
 
"Pizzeria Uno? Why would I go to Chicago to go to Pizzeria Uno when there's one at the mall?"
 
"Well, that's just an example. There's another place that's supposed to be the bestóGino's or something. I'm not sure of the name right now, but we could look it up. And she'd probably love Navy Pier. It's sort of an outdoor marketplace crossed with a carnival. And if you're feeling like you need a little culture, there's a really good art museum. And, of course, there's always shopping on Michigan Avenue." She grinned.
 
"Shoulda known there'd be shopping on a trip you and Rory planned."
 
"Yeah, well I'm sure we can find a bunch of things for you guys to do, if the stuff they've got planned for the parent's weekend is lame."
 
"Sounds good."
 
She shrugged. "Glad to help."
 
"I know," he said, his voice full of meaning.

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By the time Rory got her luggage back from the front desk, the bus had pulled up to the entrance of the hotel and some of the press had begun to load. She handed off her bags to the driver, who stowed them underneath the bus, and then she climbed the stairs into the coach. She eyed a seat a few rows back, but then hesitated, remembering her mother's advice and continued toward the back of the bus. About two-thirds of the way back, Darshana spoke quietly into her cell phone as she tapped her perfectly manicured nails on the back of the seat in front of her.
 
Continuing past her, Rory headed toward a group of women, recognizing Meredith and Rachael among them. Taking a breath, she walked toward the group, trying to capture Rachael's eye as she chatted animatedly with the rest of the women. Rachael looked up briefly but didn't acknowledge Rory, and reluctant to force her way into the conversation, she dropped herself into the next empty seat instead.
 
Rory slumped against the side of the bus, resting her head against the cool window; the vibration of the engine starting up a few minutes later barely registered. As they made their way out of the city, the sky stretched out in front of her, wide and blue over endless cornfields, the rustling leaves of the young plants brilliant green in the sunlight.

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"Oh my god! Could you bring this thing in any slower?" Lorelai asked, fidgeting restlessly.
 
"Excuse me for not wanting to put a hole in my brand new boat," Luke said gruffly. When he turned to glance at Lorelai, though, he gave a knowing chuckle. "Oh, I see, someone needs to go potty?" he teased mercilessly.
 
"Bathroom," she corrected. "And yes, as if you can't tell."
 
"I told you to use the head." He pointed a thumb toward the cabin.
 
She looked over at him in horror. "You mean that glorified Mason jar in that teeny, tiny cubicle?"
 
"It's a portable toilet." He glanced over his shoulder at her as he steered the boat around the end of the dock.
 
"I know. Portable. Meaning you take it out of the boat and," she screwed up her face in disgust, "clean it."
 
"I'm failing to understand the problem. I didn't ask you to clean it."
 
"And it's a good thing," she said, pointing her index finger at him. "But the fact that it needs to be cleaned means that we're, you know, carrying it around."
 
He let out a sputtering laugh, actually cutting back the throttle and turning in his seat to stare at her in amazement. "You know you're being ridiculous, right?"
 
"What are you doing? Your parking spot is right there!" She pointed at the vacant slot. "What are you waiting for?"
 
"It's called a slip," he said with a smirk.
 
She waved frantically toward the dock. "Well, pull into it already."
 
Letting out an exaggerated sigh, Luke turned up the throttle again and set up the boat for the turn into the slip. He carefully slid the boat into the space, the plastic bumpers hitting gently against the dock.
 
Waiting for him to step off and steady the boat, she asked impatiently, "Where did you say the bathroom was?"
 
"Inside the store at the marina," he answered, pointing.
 
The words were barely out before Lorelai jumped off the boat and went in search of a fully functional bathroom ó sewer lines included - relieved to find one that was both empty and clean. When she returned to the boat, she was considerably more comfortable. Luke greeted her with a raised eyebrow. "Better now?"
 
"Much, thank you," she answered guiltily, self-conscious now that the emergency was over.
 
"Well," he said matter-of-factly, "I hope you get over it."
 
"Get over what?"
 
"The fear of the portable toilet."
 
"I'm not afraid!" she answered indignantly. "I just prefer to have my waste flushed away so that I don't have to think about it anymore." She lifted her head to meet his eyes, her lips pursed thoughtfully. "Why?"
 
"Why what?"
 
"Why do you care if I get over it?"
 
He gave a nonchalant shrug. "Can't go on an overnight trip if you won't use the head."
 
"Oh," she said softly, stunned. "Overnight trip? You want to take me on an overnight boat trip?" The thought of 'overnight' with Luke both warmed and unnerved her at the same time.
 
He looked for a moment like he was sorry he'd brought up the idea, embarrassed even. "I don't know, maybe sometime, it might be nice," he stammered.
 
She watched him for a moment, then smiled gently. "That does sound nice."

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Staring out the window, her senses dulled by the monotony of the landscape, Rory barely heard the greeting. "Hey, I was wondering if you were on the bus."
 
"Huh?" she asked, turning toward the voice. For the second time in just a few hours, she found herself caught off-guard by the undeniably cute reporter, Patrick.
 
She caught a hint of a smirk at her surprise, but then he smiled warmly, gesturing at the seat next to her. "May I?" At her nod, he sat, then asked teasingly, "You're not hiding from me, are you? Ducked down behind the seat like that?"
 
"Just taking in the beauty that is the 'amber waves of grain'," she says, grinning. "Or, to be exact, green, though that definitely doesn't have the same ring to it."
 
"Well, if you can still use 'beauty' in the same sentence as 'grain', you clearly haven't spent enough time in the Midwest."
 
"You've got me there. I've never been west of Pennsylvania."
 
"Wow," he said, seeming for the first time surprised by something she'd said, rather than the other way around. "So you just decided to make up for that by traveling all over the country by bus? Interesting strategy." He didn't really give her a chance to reply, instead tipping his head forward and eying her seriously. "So, how'd the first day go? Was it everything you hoped it would be?"
 
"Let's see," Rory said, ticking off on her fingers as she described her day. "I got here successfully with all of my luggage and without getting lost, I met a few people and it's possible that a couple of them don't think that I'm a fool." He frowned, opening his mouth to protest, but she kept talking. "Oh, and I scored the comfortable chair next to the outlet."
 
"Don't forget finding the coffee. You've got a real talent for that," he added, playing along.
 
"You know, as proud as my mother would be about that accomplishment," she said sardonically, "I'm not sure it's one for the autobiography." She turned to find him looking at her with understanding.
 
"So, that good, huh?"
 
She started to wave off his concern, but at the warmth in his expression, she gave a half-hearted shrug. "There's just a lot." She hesitated before going on. "There's so much I don't know. It's hard to keep up."
 
"Yeah, I'm still trying to get used to that," he commiserated.
 
"And I'm not even sure what to write about. My editor told me to take some time to 'get my feet wet,' whatever that means, but then he wants bi-weekly notes and longer articles every couple of weeks."
 
"That sounds pretty much like what I do. I just summarize the significant meetings and appearances and any important policy decisions. And then write more in-depth pieces that focus on a particular political issue."
 
Rory thought grimly of all the gaps in her notes, wondering how to judge which things were 'significant' and 'important.' She knew that he was trying to make her feel better, but it was only making her feel more inexperienced. "I'm sure I'll get the hang of it soon," she said, pushing away the uneasiness. "But enough about my day. I never even asked who you work for."

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Lane breathed a sigh of relief as she finally got both boys settled down to sleep. Though the walk earlier had tempered the boys' distress, there really hadn't been a moment all day during which she'd been able to relax. Now, all she wanted to do was collapse on the sofa and fall asleep to a rerun of How I Met Your Mother. Pulling a mug and teabag out of the cupboard, she filled the teakettle and leaned back against the counter as she waited for the water to heat.
 
The kettle had barely begun to whistle when the front door opened and Zach walked in carrying a takeout bag from Luke's.
 
"Oh, you brought food! You are my hero," Lane exclaimed gratefully.
 
His response was matter of fact. "Thought you might be hungry." Pausing a moment, he ducked his head to look her in the eyes. "You look tired. Did the boys treat you okay today?"
 
He looked so concerned that she thought about telling him what her day had really been like. But he was wearing that earnest 'Zach' look, the one she now knew immediately preceded a thoughtful, but often ill-conceived, plan to make things better. And in this case, any such 'plan' would surely involve him reconsidering the opportunity in front of him.
 
"No," she reassured him, "they were good." Changing the subject, she gestured to the bag. "I am really hungry though."
 
He nodded as he started pulling food out of the bags. "I had Caesar make up fresh fries right before I left, so everything should still be hot."
 
"Yep, definitely my hero."
 
Zach blushed, so to save him further embarrassment, Lane asked about his day and he told her all about Kirk's stranger than usual behavior. And she just smiled, determined to enjoy a quiet moment alone with her husband while they had the chance.

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Luke pulled the truck up in front of the diner and Lorelai hopped out, spotting Sookie on a walk with Martha in the stroller. "Hey, Sook," she said casually.
 
As soon as she had her friend's attention, Sookie's eyes went wide and she gestured animatedly between Lorelai and the driver's side door, where Luke was getting out of the truck. "You didn't tell-" she admonished.
 
"Sookie!" Lorelai whispered loudly as she walked over to the stroller.
 
"But—but—" Sookie stammered.
 
Thankfully oblivious to Sookie's excitement, Luke called over from the driver's side, "Hey Sookie." Then he looked at Lorelai and pointed to the bed of the truck. "I'm going to take this stuff inside and put it away."
 
Lorelai nodded and Sookie mercifully kept her commentary quiet until Luke was inside. The moment the door swung closed however, she turned back to Lorelai. "You're back together? That's where you were today? With Luke? I ran into Kirk earlier and he wanted to know what the scoop was with you and Luke and I told him there was no scoop." She shot Lorelai an accusatory pout. "How could you not tell me there was a scoop?"
 
"There's barely a scoop. A Baskin Robbins sample spoon maybe."
 
"But the song," Sookie crooned, swaying dreamily, "and that party, and now you spent the day together." She grinned conspiratorially. "Where did you go, anyway?"
 
Lorelai gave a sheepish smile. "We went out on his boat."
 
"His boat? The new one?"
 
She nodded.
 
"Aww," Sookie sighed. "Reunion date on the boat." She nudged Lorelai with her elbow, winking. "If the boat's a rockin', don't come knockin'. So, on a boat, huh?"
 
Lorelai flushed at Sookie's suggestion and quickly corrected her. "No, not that. We were just hanging out. Talking," Lorelai clarified. "I'm not even sure 'date' is the appropriate term."
 
Sookie narrowed her eyes. "But you are back together, right?" she asked anxiously.
 
Lorelai paused, then gave a little nod. "Something like that."
 
Luke chose that moment to emerge from the diner, prompting a shy glance from Lorelai and a rather obvious exit by Sookie, who wore a gleeful grin.
 
Once alone, the silence fell abruptly over them. Lorelai hugged her arms tightly against her chest, biting her lip as she focused just to the right of Luke's shoulder. She could see him shifting, unsure whether to bury his hands in his pockets or rest them on his hips.
 
He gave a nod toward the diner. "Do you, uh, want some coffee?"
 
"I think I need to..." Lorelai shook her head distractedly as she pointed in the general direction of her house, "get home to check on Paul Anka. He's been alone a long time today."
 
"Okay. Well, I could—"
 
"Is this—was this a date?" Lorelai asked, cutting him off.
 
He seemed dumbfounded by her question. "I don't know, was it?" he asked uncertainly.
 
"I think." Lorelai hesitated before going on. "I think that it shouldn't be." She caught a flash of wariness in his eyes and went on quickly. "I want to date you." She paused again. "Although, honestly, dating doesn't seem like quite the right word after everything..." Her voice trailed off and she grimaced uncomfortably before recovering. "But whatever we call it, I want that. With you."
 
He ducked his head in a quick nod and she finally met his eyes, returning his soft smile. Taking a breath, she went on, "I just think, we've barely talked in a year. And I thought we should, I don't know, get to know each other again. I mean, for all I know, in the last year you got hooked on Harry Potter and sucked into some internet forum. And you spend your evenings debating whether or not Dumbledore is really dead, if Hermione should be with Ron or Harry and about which side Snape is really—"
 
He interrupted her by cupping his hand gently around her elbow. "Lorelai, it's okay. We've got time."
 
She let out a sigh of relief. "Okay. Good. I just want to get it right this time."
 
"He nodded. "So do I." He narrowed his eyes a bit. "For the record though, I have never visited a forum."
 
Lorelai chuckled. "That's reassuring."
 
"I have read the books, though," he admitted.
 
She stared back at him in shock. "You have?"
 
"Yeah, April loaned me her copies. She said they were required reading. Said I needed to get caught up before book seven came out."
 
"Ah, of course." After a brief pause she pointed toward her car. "Well, I should get going."
 
"Good night then. I'll see you tomorrow?" he asked hopefully.
 
"Definitely," she said without moving. A moment later, the silence stretched between them awkwardly. Deciding quickly, she rested her hand on his chest and leaned in for a quick kiss. "Thank you for today," she whispered as he placed his hand over hers and squeezed it gently. "Good night."
 
She'd only just begun to pull away when a blinding white flash exploded over Luke's shoulder. "Aha! You two are back together," she heard Kirk call triumphantly, his shape resolving behind Luke as her eyes recovered. "I've got it all right here," he said, brandishing his camera. Returning the camera to a pouch hanging off his belt, he pulled out what appeared to be a walkie-talkie and spoke into it quickly, "Operation barnyard report. The rooster has caught the hen. I repeat, the rooster has caught the hen. Digital evidence to follow."
 
Lorelai covered her mouth with her hand, unsure whether to laugh or cry out in horror. Luke just shook his head, glancing back at her, before turning to Kirk and asking brusquely, "Does your girlfriend know that you're skulking around taking pictures of other women when you should be taking her out to dinner?"
 
Kirk's eyes went wide as he scurried off. Luke turned back to Lorelai, still shaking his head, and all she could do was shrug in amusement.

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Rory woke to find the bus no longer on the highway but instead maneuvering through city streets. It took her a minute to remember that they'd been headed for the Twin Cities and another moment to remember that Patrick had been sitting next to her.
 
"Morning,' he said jokingly as she glanced groggily in his direction. Lifting an eyebrow, he added, "You were completely out."
 
She laughed uneasily. "Yeah, it was a pretty busy weekend. I got the job Friday night and spent the weekend shopping and packing and hanging out with my mom. And the town threw me this party yesterday and we got up at the crack of dawn this morning. So, not a lot of sleep this weekend."
 
The bus had just pulled in front of the hotel and stopped. Patrick stood up and passed Rory her computer bag from the rack above the seats. "Your town threw you a party?"
 
"Well," Rory hesitated, embarrassed. "Apparently it started as this whole graduation reenactment thing, but then when I got the job my mom had to cancel that party, so the town..." Her voice trailed off at the skeptical look on Patrick's face. He waited for her to move out of her seat, then followed her down the aisle. "You know, the more I try to explain this, the more absurd it's going to sound, but it would make more sense if you'd ever been to Stars Hollow."
 
"Stars Hollow?"
 
"Yeah, Stars Hollow, Connecticut. It's where I grew up." She could hear a melancholy note in her voice and covered brightly. "The festival capital of New England."
 
"Sounds entertaining," he said, chuckling as they exited the bus and went to gather their luggage from underneath.
 
"That's one way to put it," she said wryly.
 
A few minutes later, having checked in and dragged their luggage to the elevator, they stood waiting. "Well, good night," Patrick said. "I guess I'll see you tomorrow."
 
Rory smiled. "I get the impression we'll be seeing a lot of each other, and the other forty people on the bus."
 
"Yeah, you got that right." He grinned. "Nice to meet you, and welcome to the beat."
 
She cocked her head to the side. "You too," she said warmly. "And thanks." She stepped onto the elevator and the easy grin he flashed her as the door closed put, she thought, a satisfying cap on the day.
 
By the time she'd reached her room however, the loneliness and uncertainty had caught up with her again. As soon as she unlocked her door and stepped inside she dropped her bags into a heap on the floor and let out a long sigh.

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Lorelai pulled up to her house and turned off the car, pausing a moment before getting out and plodding up the steps. The boat trip had been a nice interlude, a way to delay this moment, but she couldn't stay away forever.
 
When she opened the door of the house Paul Anka padded over with a reproachful look. "I know," she said apologetically as she followed him through the kitchen and let him out the back door. She leaned against the porch rail while he did his business then patted him lovingly as he passed her on his way back into the house.
 
Walking inside, she saw him sitting in Rory's doorway and gave him a sad smile. "She's off in the real world. It's just you and me now, buddy." Smiling to herself, she added, "And maybe every once in a while, Luke."
 
He turned toward her so deliberately he almost seemed to understand her, but then he plodded off to curl up on the sofa and Lorelai was left staring forlornly into Rory's room.
 
Remembering the earlier call, Lorelai pulled out her phone and prepared to dial. Once Rory's name came up on the display though, she hesitated, and after a long moment of consideration, snapped the phone shut. Glancing around the room once more, she spotted the "World's Greatest Reporter" cap that her daughter had left behind. Picking it up by the brim, she held it out in front of her, smiling proudly. With a satisfied sigh, she finally turned toward the living room, putting the hat on backwards as she joined Paul Anka on the couch.

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Rory had occupied herself by 'moving in' as much as was appropriate for a two-day hotel stay: her garment bag was hanging in the closet, her overnight bag was in the bathroom, her various power cords had been located in preparation for charging their respective pieces of equipment, and all of her notes were strewn across her bed. She glanced over at her computer, where the multiple Firefox windows still taunted her.

She picked up her phone and pressed the button that brought up the most recently called number, watching her mother's name flash across the display. She hesitated with her finger hovering over the call button, unsure she could muster the excitement that her mom would expect to hear. Closing her eyes, she pinched the bridge of her nose while she snapped the phone shut and reached for the AC adapter.

Rory stared at her computer with grim determination, settled down on the bed amongst her papers and pulled the computer onto her lap. She checked the first name mentioned in her briefing notes and then opened a new Google search window.

 

To be continued...

 

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