Virtual Gilmore Girls

Episode 8.02 "Nice Boys Bring You Coffee, Good Ones Bring You Home"
by Lula Bo


Author's Note: Thanks to Avery and sosmitten for being badass, awesome betas as always, and to jenepel and adina for their patience! Feedback is love.


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The Gilmores' dining room was silent, save the scrape and clink of silverware on china and the occasional, timid cough. Lorelai glanced up from her coq au vin, eyeing her parents warily as she reached for her wine glass. She took a long sip and closed her eyes against the empty chair across from her. Holding her glass loosely in one hand, she leaned her chin in her palm and took a fortifying breath.

"Did you know coq au vin means 'rooster with wine'?" she asked. "Kinda less appealing when you know it's supposed to be Foghorn Leghorn and not one of those corn-fed yellow Perdue chickens."

Emily lifted her eyes and set her mouth primly, her silverware poised over her plate. "Is there a problem with your meal, Lorelai? You used to love this dish, didn't you?"

Lorelai glanced down the table at her father, startled at the reminder, and Richard shook his head just slightly. Lorelai tossed her hair and affected her best smile. "I did—I do! I do, I like coq au vin a lot. The meal is great, Mom." She paused, because it wouldn't be polite to say she had just been making conversation. "Just weird things you pick up working around a chef all day. How much better was my life before I really knew what a lardon was?" She tucked her chin down and tried to hide her chagrined expression behind the curtain of her hair.

"And how is... Sookie?" Richard asked, swallowing thickly, after another long, silent moment.

"Oh, you know. Pregnant," Lorelai said. She sighed and took a sip of her wine. "We're busting our—" She stopped herself and cleared her throat. "We're really working hard to make things easier when she goes on maternity leave this time."

Emily smiled tightly. "Yes, you told us during drinks. I hope she's not working too hard? She shouldn't be on her feet so much," she replied, her tone curiously encouraging.

Lorelai blinked. "She's okay. No bed rest quite yet. She might be crazy, but at least her food's still good." Emily nodded, her eyes wide as though she expected Lorelai to go on. She said nothing, but continued tucking into her chicken. Lorelai pointed at her own plate with the sharp end of her knife. "And so is this. This is some good rooster with wine."

"I'm glad you're enjoying it," Emily replied. "I hoped you might. I know you like coq au vin," she said again. Another moment passed, and she wiped the corners of her mouth with a napkin. Her eyes met her husband's briefly across the table, and she turned to her daughter with set shoulders and a determined brow. "Have you heard from Rory lately?"

Lorelai swallowed a bite of mushrooms and onion, nodding. "Mm, got an email this afternoon. It seems like things are going well, she's getting to know people. She's got her own seat on the bus, she's finding her way around the places they're going. She's Rory, you know. She's always good."

"That's comforting to hear," Emily said. "Send her our love." She lifted her wine glass to her lips and paused before taking a drink. "Tell her we miss her."

Lorelai murmured in response and drained the rest of her wine glass. She pushed the remains of her dinner around the plate before her, hearing Foghorn Leghorn's stuttering I say I say I say in her head as she poked at a particularly fat thigh with the tines of her fork.

"More wine, anyone?" Richard asked.

Emily and Lorelai spoke in unison: "God, yes."

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There was not much near the hotel in—Rory squinted up and down the avenue, trying to remember where, exactly, she was this morning—Dubuque that screamed local flavor. She hazarded her chances at the deli just down the block, the Starbucks across the street, and when exactly she could count on the bus leaving. Harlan, their driver for the week, had been reliably seven minutes late for the past four days at every stop. She figured she had just enough time to sprint down the street, collect her coffee and her thoughts, and get her ass in her seat before the bus left without her.

She stood a moment in line, her money at the ready as she craned to see the deli's meager breakfast offerings. Just as she approached the counter, her cell phone rang in her purse. She fumbled to answer as she asked for a large black French roast and a chocolate muffin.

"Morning," she said. "Did you know on the road there's no such thing as a weekend?"

"Rough morning?" Lorelai asked.

"Haven't had anything other than those 'instant coffee crystals' they put in your hotel room," she lamented. The clerk behind the counter handed her the bagged muffin and an empty cup, pointing her to the line of pump-carafes on the adjacent wall. "Thanks, sorry. Thanks," she said to him, dropping the handful of change into the tip cup beside the register. As she tripped her way towards the coffee dispensers, she told her mother, "I should blame you for passing on your raging coffee addiction and subjecting me to mornings like this, but I'm too under caffeinated to engage in that particular battle."

Lorelai chuckled sympathetically. "Sorry, hon. But maybe I can make it up to you. Want to hear my great idea?"

"You had a great idea?" Rory asked, tucking the cell between her chin and shoulder. It was awkward, balancing the phone while trying to hold the cardboard cup under the coffee dispenser as she pumped it. She sucked her breath over her teeth as the cup grew hotter and hotter in her hand but persevered, her eyes on the clock over the door.

 "Don't sound so surprised, Miss I-Like-To-Have-Three-Great-Ideas-A-Day," Lorelai retorted. "I do, occasionally."

 "I told you that in the first grade, Mom," Rory sighed. "It's not like I have actively tried to keep it up in the last fifteen years."

 Lorelai snorted. "You lie, little girl. You have a journal for it and everything."

 Rory glanced out the window towards the bus, still idling several store fronts down. Four minutes, she thought. "I'm officially ignoring this argument. What was your great idea?"

 She could almost hear her mother grinning as she spoke. "I think you need to invent a teleportation device in your spare time."

 "A teleportation device," Rory said flatly. She stepped out on the sidewalk and began negotiating her way along the suddenly-crowded roadside. "In my spare time."

 "Yes. I figure that's the best way for you to attend Friday Night Dinners with me and your grandparents without disrupting your campaign schedule. See, great idea, right? Maximum benefit, minimum effort. You could just bloop-bloop in and out like Kirk." She paused. "Captain Kirk, not our Kirk. Don't ever do anything like our Kirk."

 Rory was breathless, nearly running as she replied. "Doesn't sound so much like 'minimum effort' to me as much as 'inventing a scientifically impossible vehicle for your convenience.'"

 "Hey, if the Time Lords can do it..."

"Mom, could you please stop watching the SciFi channel in the middle of the night?"

"Why are you so out of breath?" Lorelai asked. "Hon?"

Rory skidded to a stop just as Harlan had put the bus in drive. She looked at him pleadingly through the closed glass doors, gesturing with her coffee cup. The doors hissed as they opened for her, Harlan shaking his head.

 "Don't be late," he said.

 "I won't be again," she replied. "Thank you, really." With that, she dropped into the seat she'd begun to think of as hers and turned her face toward the window. "Had to run to catch the bus," she told Lorelai. "Just made it." She glanced around—the others were either listening to iPods, working on laptops, or dozing. "Give Grandma and Grandpa a chance, Mom. You'll get used to each other."

 "Oh, forty years of trying may prove you wrong there, sweets," Lorelai sighed. "Enjoy your coffee, I'll talk to you later."

Rory pocketed her phone and cradled her coffee to her chest, her eyes closed.

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 Even for a Saturday, the mid-morning rush today was particularly busy. As he navigated the front of the diner, Luke cast a dark look at Zach, who stood by the counter. He leaned on his hip, a pot of coffee in one hand, scratching his chin thoughtfully with the other.

"You gonna pour from that thing, or is it purely ornamentation?" Andrew asked, gesturing to the steaming coffee pot in Zach's hand.

 He poured, rolling his eyes. "Be nice, man. It's just coffee."

 Luke hurried past as Zach poured the coffee, his hands full of dirty dishes. He shouted something to Caesar in the kitchen, hitched his pants up at his waist, and started back towards the table windows to take an order.

 "Hey, boss," Zach called, trailing after him. "Got an idea for you."

"Kinda busy for ideas, Zach," Luke said shortly. "What can I get you folks?"

 Zach stood at Luke's elbow as two women ordered, followed him as he stalked back to the kitchen muttering ("another friggin' set of egg white omelets"), and put himself directly in Luke's path before his boss could get back to the dining area. Luke tried to elbow past him, but Zach danced there with him in the kitchen, not letting him by.

"I'm gonna pour that coffee over your head in two seconds, Zach," Luke growled. "It's busy."

 "It is, boss. Which is why I wanted to talk to you. Lane's not going to be back for another few months, I'm going on tour soon. I just think it's time we talk about you hiring someone else."

 Luke sighed heavily. "I think I can handle that Zach, when the time comes."

 "Time's here, boss! We have to get someone in here now! And I know just the dude."

 He stared dully at Zach a moment before ducking past him towards the counter. "Zach, I really don't want any of your 'dudes,' okay? I'll hire someone when I need to hire someone." He stepped out front, and his face broke into a wide smile when he saw who waited there for him. "Hey."

 Lorelai's grin was equally brilliant. "Hey, yourself." She perched on a stool at the counter, rested her chin atop her folded hands. "So."

 "So what can I get you?" Luke asked, leaning towards her.

 "I don't know," she said airily, casting her eyes upwards. "What can you get me?"

"Whatever you like," he returned.

 She smirked. "I'll take whatever's good."

 "Everything's good here," Luke said, cocking an eyebrow.

Zach rolled his eyes. "Dudes, come on. Lame."

Luke stood upright, crossed his arms over his chest. "Don't you have a job to do, Zach? Or are you ready to leave for that tour right now? 'Cause I could accommodate that if—"

"On it, boss," Zach said hastily. He lifted the coffee pot in his hand. "Coffee?" he asked Lorelai.

Luke waved him away. "That's decaf. I got a fresh pot here."

Lorelai thanked him and watched Zach saunter to the back of the diner. She turned her face back to Luke, shaking her head a little. "So..." she sighed. "That was flirting. We were flirting in front of Zach."

He nodded. "Seemed that way."

 "I hate to say it," she said, wrinkling her nose, "but he's not wrong. It was kinda lame."

 Luke passed a hand over his eyes, scratched his jaw. "Is that okay, flirting?" he asked.

"I think so," she mused. Her smile was chagrined. "We probably should do some more, though. Because, damn, we're rusty."

He crouched to her level, resting his forearms on the countertop. "Got some ideas about that," he said.

 "Oh?" she asked, mimicking him and leaning closer. "Ideas, huh? Better be good, because I was mocked for having an idea just this morning, and I feel the need to spread it around a little."

 Luke studied her a moment, and she flushed. "I'm not telling you what they are yet, I just thought..." He took a breath. "We said we'd go slow, but I figure it's about time for a first date."

 She snorted into her coffee a little. "'First date?' Luke, don't you think it's a little late for that? I mean..."

"No," he said affably, "I think we should. Fresh start, right?"

 It was Lorelai's turn to study him, and she held his gaze a moment before ducking her head, a soft smile on her lips. "Sure. First date. Why not? It has a nice sense of occasion to it." She pointed to the donut case. "Can I get a couple of those? And what do you have in mind?"

 "I'll take care of it," he said. "You want these to go?"

 "He'll take care of it," she remarked to no one in particular. "Sure he will. To go, please, I should be at work by now."

 He handed her a paper bag, winking as he said, "Save Thursday night for me."

 "Consider it saved," she replied, getting to her feet. "I'll call you later."

 Luke leaned over the counter toward her once more, staring teasingly at her mouth. After a moment, he pulled back. "Have a good day, Lorelai."

She rolled her eyes as she walked away from the counter, swinging the paper bag in her hand as she went. "Going slow," she muttered. "Check."

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 Her cell began to ring just as Lorelai pulled up to the Dragonfly and stepped out of the Jeep. She fumbled a moment to find it in her purse, the paper bag of donuts clamped in her teeth and her coffee held high in her free hand. She managed to extract the phone, flipping it open before she could read the caller ID or lose the call.


"Lorelai? You sound awful."

She wedged the phone under her chin and grabbed the bag of donuts in her free hand. "Thanks, Mom. And how are you today?" she asked, her voice falsely bright. "'Cause you sound terrific."

 Emily rolled her eyes. "You're always so sarcastic. I'm only calling to tell you I'll be at La Spiaggia all day, so I'll be unavailable if you need to speak to me for any reason."

 "Okay." She waited. "Thanks?"

 "La Spiaggia, Lorelai, it's a day spa?"

 Lorelai let herself into the kitchen, waved hello to Sookie. "And here I thought you were headed to the new Green Acres."

 "Well, I figured I would do some research, get some first hand experience of the local competition. I was thinking of taking notes, if you'd like to have some sort of list to go over."

 "What for?" Lorelai asked around a bite of chocolate donut. Sookie wandered over, her face a question mark; Lorelai shrugged, pointing a finger at her temple and rolling it in a circle. My mother, she mouthed.

 "For the spa, Lorelai!" Emily cried, exasperated. "Does nothing stay in your head? Is it just all air and cartoon cats up there, or do you retain anything? Perhaps you do, just not conversations with your mother."

 Lorelai closed her eyes and pressed her lips together a moment before she let herself speak. "Sorry, Mom, it just wasn't�I mean, it didn't immediately occur to me, what you might be talking about."

 "Sometimes I think you don't listen to a word I say," Emily sighed.

 "I do, Mother. Believe me, I do." She took a sip of coffee and drew a long breath. "Go ahead and take notes. Knock yourself out." She screwed up her face, preparing herself. "I can't wait to read them."

"Yes, your enthusiasm is overwhelming," Emily drawled. "We'll see you Friday."

 Sookie brandished the coffee pot beside Lorelai, offering to freshen her cup. "What was that about?"

 Lorelai glanced at her partner. "My mother has a new project."

"Ah," Sookie said, nodding. "Heaven help us all."

"Amen and pour the coffee, sister."

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Her editor had been nothing but nice since the beginning of the call, but Rory couldn't help slumping low in her seat in the hotel lounge, chastened and mute.

"So if there's nothing else, just keep sending those pages and we'll see where we go from there."

"Thanks, Michael," Rory said, keeping her voice as even as she could. "I appreciate the extra time."

"If you have any questions, feel free to give me a call," Michael said easily. "It's just fine tuning, Rory. We know you can do it."

They said their goodbyes, and Rory slouched even more where she sat. She poked at her lower lip with her forefinger, her brow knit in thought. She began flipping through her notes from the phone conference, scribbled on a legal pad in blue ink. She squinted, trying to read something she'd smudged with the heel of her hand while writing over the fresh ink. The voice at her shoulder startled her so much, she threw her pen in the air.

Rory looked up to see Patrick chuckling at her. They both bent to retrieve the pen at the same time, their fingers brushing as they reached for it. Rory withdrew quickly, nearly banging her head against his as she sat up again.

"Thanks," she said. "You startled me."

"No, really?" he teased. "I didn't mean to—saying your name didn't seem to cut through the Cone of Silence you were in, I should have realized. I was on my way out for some food, I thought I'd ask if you want some. But you look serious."

She rubbed her forehead absently. "I was just thinking, that's all."

He sat on the arm of her chair, crossed his arms and regarded her with an expectant look. "About?"

"I had a meeting with my editor about the notes I've been sending. I've apparently been going in the wrong direction with them." She sighed. "You know, of all the journalists I wanted to be growing up, I can't say that Carrie Bradshaw ever made the list."

"He didn't say that," Patrick said, laughing a little. "You're not serious."

"He may as well have!" Rory said. "My notes are too informal, too 'undergrad poli/sci blog.' And they're too girly."

Patrick shook his head. "Now I know he couldn't have said that."

"He alluded to a sense of naïveté and political awe in my writing. He basically called me a starry-eyed neophyte." She began to gather her papers and shove them into her carry-on tote. "He also wanted me to 'firm up' some of the writing, since it felt 'a little loose' to him. Which I understand—I mean, I know the things an editor has to say to get what he wants from a writer, but..." She shouldered the bag and sat with it on her lap a moment. Patrick said nothing, silently encouraging her to continue. "I don't know. I didn't think I'd be on the receiving end of that particular lecture. My writing is usually the one thing I can depend on, but apparently my style isn't cutting it this time."

Patrick stood and offered her a hand. "All right, soldier," he said. "Man up. It can be done. There's a reason you got the job, right?"

She tipped her head in agreement. "It's just discouraging. But you're right, man up. I'll just have to work harder."

"It's probably not a matter of working harder, just working differently," Patrick said. "I know I haven't been at this much longer than you have, but if you just want someone to take a second look, give you some feedback, I'd be happy to do it. I've been where you are—it sucks learning the ropes, you know? The sooner, the better."

Rory studied him; he seemed genuine and, more than that, friendly. She wasn't in a position to turn down friends, and if she was honest with herself, she was grateful for the attention and the offer. "You wouldn't mind?"

He spread his hands. "I offered, didn't I?"

She smiled at him. "Thanks. I appreciate it, really—I'll email you some stuff tonight, we can talk about it whenever."

"It's not like we won't be seeing each other," he said, winking at her. "I look forward to reading your stuff."

She thanked him again, and they went their separate ways: he, in search of tacos, she, to the elevator and her room. Rory watched the elevator doors closing, ready to put the day behind her.

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Lorelai sat in the center of her couch, her tongue between her teeth. Since Babette had taken her skein winder back, Lorelai had had to wind her yarn into balls by hand, which she could only do in the morning on odd days of the calendar or risk freaking Paul Anka out. It was also something she could do while watching TV, talking to Rory on the phone, and eating only the red and orange jelly beans out of the bag.

"So Luke still won't tell me where we're going, just to dress casual," she said. "Which tells me we are not going to any sort of period event, black tie gala, or any place Posh and Becks might hang out."

"Keep hope alive on that one, Mom," Rory laughed. "They are coming to America."

Lorelai paused to untangle a knot in the middle of her skein. "So tell me more about this meeting with Michael. How're you doing? On a scale of 'Sloop John B' to 'I Get Around.'"

"'God Only Knows,'" Rory shot back. "Patrick said he'd help me out and read some of my stuff, so I emailed him last night. I don't know what I'm expecting him to say, but more feedback can't hurt. I haven't seen him today, yet."

"Patrick, hmm?" Lorelai asked, grinning.

Rory rolled her eyes. "Stop with the tone, Mom. I don't even want to think about stuff like that right now. I'm concentrating on doing my job well."

"You can do your job well and have a social life, you know," Lorelai countered. "He's cute, right?"

 "Not the point," Rory insisted. "I practically just broke up with Logan, who asked me to marry him, if you remember?"

 "I remember," she said dryly.

 "So I don't want to get involved in anything like that right now, it's too soon. Besides, he's a colleague, I just want to keep things professional."

 "You never know," Lorelai said. "The election's a long way off." She took a breath to continue, but it caught in her throat at the sound of her call waiting beeping. "Hon, I have another call, shoot me an email later today, okay? I want to know how things are going." Rory assured her she would. Lorelai fumbled with the phone to hop to the other call, nearly dropping it as she tried to find the "flash" button and ended up pushing most of the others in the process, as well. "Hello?"

 "Lorelai, good, you're home. I was hoping to talk to you today. What was all that noise before?"

 Lorelai pulled a face. "Hey, Mom. I was just on the phone with Rory, and my hands are full, so I had a little trouble getting over to you."

 "You were talking with Rory?" Emily asked, her tone slightly pitiful. "How is she? Is she doing all right on the road? Oh, tell her we miss her."

 "I will when I talk to her again, Mom. So how was the spa?" The moment she heard herself say it, she winced in regret.

 "Oh, I have so many ideas!" Emily enthused. "I really think we should sit down together and go over these things, there are just so many options! First of all, the service there was atrocious..."

Lorelai looked around the room, needing some sort of excuse. She had clocked her mother once, and she could go on interrupted for twenty-two minutes at a clip without stopping for conversational input. Paul Anka lolled at the foot of the couch, his paws in the air, and looked up at Lorelai with sleepy eyes. He had yarn twined around his nose and ears. She blew a kiss at him.  "You know, Mom, much as I would love to hear about that, Paul Anka's gotten himself all tangled up in my yarn and he's about to cut off his air supply, so I have to get him straightened out, and then I have to go to work. Why don't we talk about this later? I'll give you a call, okay?"

"But, Lorelai—"

"Asphyxiating asthmatic dog, Mom, have to go! Bye!" she trilled. With a sigh, she threw aside the yarn ball in her hand and crouched down beside Paul Anka, rubbing his belly with both hands. "Oh, Paul Anka. Your timing is even better than your namesake's."

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 Rory was close to dropping off to sleep in the middle of watching The Office finale on her laptop as the bus rattled along yet another stretch of Midwestern highway. There had been little of consequence that day, as the Senator was in Washington and the press corps were merely covering campaign events hosted by local political groups hoping to raise awareness and mostly, Rory noted, money. She had a handful of scattered notes collected on her laptop and an email due the next day to her editor with more thoughts on Obama's grassroots supporters. Karen and Jim were dorking around New York City together when Patrick slid into the seat beside Rory and gently tapped her elbow.

"Oh, hey," she said, sitting up and taking off her head phones. "How's it going?"

He shrugged with one shoulder, looking as tired as she. "Was it me, or was today one of those days that make you feel like the whole thing is sorta pointless?"

"Oh, I don't know," she replied, stifling a yawn. "There's something about small town politics that's sort of fascinating to me. It's a microcosm of the entire political machine, but each place has its own idiosyncrasies. And sometimes, they're named Taylor."

He nodded, and they were quiet together for a moment, watching the silent goings-on of The Office on Rory's screen. "So I got a chance to look at the pages you sent me."

She stiffened. "Yeah?"

"Yeah. You know, you're a good writer, you have a really unique voice. I thought about what your editor told you about tightening up the loose spots and making things a little more formal, and I, uh—" He paused, reached into the bag slung over his side, and produced a wrinkled packet of pages that looked as though he'd clutched them in his fist the entire day. "I made some notes for you. I think part of what he's saying is that the writing feels a little self-conscious."

"Self-conscious," she echoed.

He grimaced. "I'm sorry, that sounds terrible, but it's just—I went online last night and read a lot of your other stuff, what you wrote for the Yale Daily News and that online magazine last year, and your writing was really polished, but unaffected, you know?"

"You think what I'm doing now is affected?" she asked, unable to keep the slight note of panic from her voice. "Like I'm some poseur?"

He thought about it a moment longer than she was comfortable with. "Not a poseur, no, but... it doesn't sound like print reporting or the New Journalism, it sounds like you're trying to write from the inside of an exclusive circle, and that's not really what your publication's about, and it's not the way you write, and all that shows."

Rory averted her eyes. On her computer screen, Dwight was talking to the camera with a pinched, intense look on his face. "Oh," she said. "Well, thanks for taking a look. It's good to get specifics." She didn't avert her gaze from the computer; instead, she watched Pam give Dwight a strange, seriocomic nod. After a beat, she glanced back at Patrick. "You wrote all this down?"

Patrick, looking somewhat flushed, handed her the crinkled pages. "Here. I hope it helps."

She managed a half-hearted smile. "Me, too."

"I mean it," he said earnestly. "You're a good writer. It's just different than what you used to write—it seems like you did a lot of features, human interest stuff. There's a different focus here, that's all. You'll find your way into it."

She smoothed the papers he handed her. There was another moment of awkward, strained silence, during which Rory could hear the distant clack of someone else's fingers on a keyboard, the incomprehensible murmuring of a cell phone conversation, and the click and whir of the bus against the highway. "I appreciate the time you took," she said, at length.

"Sure," he said, getting wearily to his feet. "Not like there was too much going on today." He paused just before he returned to his seat a few rows up. "It's a new job, Rory. Your first one, too—it takes some time to get used to. Being on the road doesn't help, but at least there are people around who get it. It just takes time," he repeated.

He waved a goodbye, and Rory offered a small smile in return. When he was safely in his own seat, she shoved the papers into her bag without looking at them, backed up the show on her computer, and put her headphones on.

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It had taken Lorelai twenty minutes to tell Luke the story of her attempt to make brownies the night before, which was a quarter of the time she said it'd taken to make them. He sat back against the far counter, listening to her with a half-bemused, half-skeptical expression on his face.

"Why would you try to make brownies, again?" he asked.

Lorelai rolled her eyes. "Because, Luke, what if, during a life spent relying on Duncan Heinz and the kindness of others, I have been repressing my inner culinary genius?"

"Your inner culinary genius that makes exclusively brownies?" he asked.

"It's a very specific kind of genius," she said loftily. "But it is, unfortunately, also one I do not possess."

"A tragic and shocking discovery," he replied. "Did you eat them anyway?"

Lorelai sipped her coffee. "No comment." She looked at him over the rim of her cup. "So this date on Thursday..."

"No details," he said, striding away from her to wipe the far end of the counter.

"I can't even guess?"

He looked over at her. "You want to guess?"

Lorelai closed her eyes in mock-thoughtfulness. "Does it involve animal, vegetable, or mineral?"


"I'd assume not Gilbert and Sullivan, either?"


Lorelai shook her head, smiling at him fondly. "Okay, so no hints then. Sniffy's?"

"Not Sniffy's," he said. "Fresh start, remember?"

She said nothing in reply, only grinned in a goofy way and tossed her hair over her shoulder, playing her finger around the rim of her coffee cup. His expression was just as smitten and unselfconscious, until the moment Zach stepped out of the kitchen and whistled at them both.

"You guys totally need to leave here right now or put some serious distance between you before this place erupts in sparkles and rainbows like the My Little Pony Rainbow Crystal Palace," he said.

"Familiar, are you, Zach, with the My Little Pony Rainbow Crystal Palace?" Lorelai asked.

He shrugged. "I got cousins. Speaking of which, boss man, my cousin Brennan would be totally rad for this job. He's kind of a dork, but I'm telling you, he will deliver."

 Lorelai snorted into her coffee. "I'm sorry, Brennan Butt Napkin Boy?"

Luke pointed at Zach. "You, do some work." He swung to point at Lorelai. "And you. Don't start."

"The butt napkin returns to Luke's," she laughed, getting off her stool. "See you tomorrow, boss man."

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It was hard to keep Sookie focused on the reservation book; as she and Lorelai sorted through the bookings for the next few months, she kept getting weepy and nostalgic for the last time they'd done this, before Martha was born. Lorelai kept reminding her they had time, but Sookie eventually retreated to the kitchen in frustrated tears at letting someone, once again, take over the kitchen.

"This is my kitchen! And I will not have tofu anywhere near it, okay? Because I can deal with soy, and edamame is actually quite tasty when you season it properly," she sobbed, "but tofu, Lorelai, I cannot handle the tofu."

She patted her friend on the back and walked her back to the kitchen. "Okay, sweetie. I promise. I won't let Michel bring that stuff into your kitchen."

"Ever again," she burbled.

Lorelai smiled tightly. "Although we may have to revisit soy-based cuisine in the near future, Sook, just to keep abreast of the times." She wrinkled her nose. "That, and my mother is an unstoppable force who wants to spend time with me, which I can neither avoid nor deny in good conscience anymore, so we may have to throw our aspirations away and embrace the Tofu Revolution. Probably before we're ready, but that is the nature of change."

Sookie wiped her nose with the hem of her apron. "What?"

"My mother," she said. "Her project." She rolled her eyes. "How do you feel about spas?"


Michel, walking past the kitchen, stopped with a gasp. "Spas! Who is discussing spas? Oh, please tell me you are over your ridiculous notion that country inns cannot be—"

"Keep walking, Michel," Sookie intoned.

He sniffed. "You are living in the past," he called as he walked away.

Lorelai shifted uncomfortably. "He might not be wrong. We should talk about it. Not now, but soon."

She was on the threshold to the kitchen when the hairs on the back of her neck tingled just slightly. Her whole body tensed a moment before she gave in, dropping her chin to her chest and shuffling through the dining room to the foyer. Just when she came into her mother's eye line, Lorelai lifted her head and plastered a smile to her face.

"Mom. You're here!" she trilled. "Who's home with baby Jane?"

"Do you know there's dust on your banister?" Emily replied.

Lorelai took a breath. "What can I do for you, Mom?"

Emily turned in a circle where she stood, halfway between the door and the stairs. "It is a small space. Best start in the back, I think."

"Start in the back for what?" Lorelai asked. "Mom?"

She brushed past her daughter, pausing in the hall between the kitchen and dining room. "This is really going to be a project," she mused to herself. "This space. This is an unusual space."

"An unusual space for what?" Lorelai asked, tripping behind her mother. She heard herself gasp when Emily produced a tape measure from the depths of her purse. "Mother, what are you doing?"

Emily glanced over her shoulder, crouched down with her tape at the corner of the hall. "Taking measurements, Lorelai."

"Oh, jeez." Lorelai ran a hand through her hair. "Mom, honestly? Now is probably not the best time to do this."

"And what is a good time, Lorelai?" Emily asked, drawing herself to her full height. "The twelfth of never, perhaps?"

"Woman's got the memory of an elephant," Lorelai said to the air beside her, crossing her arms over her chest. "It might just be better to do this during off hours. Or at a time when we've scheduled it."

Emily sighed. "Lorelai, if you don't want to do this..."

"Mom, no, it's not that I don't want to do this, it's that I don't want to do this right now. I just have a lot of things going on right now, and I think it might not be the best time to throw yet another new thing into the mix. Because the mixer's really full right now. Like, Paula Deen could not fit more butter in this mixer, Mom, that is how full it is."

"And what, Lorelai, is taking up so much room in the mixer? It seems to me that you'd have some time to fill now that Rory's gone, what with your trip being cancelled and—"

"Thanks for that reminder, Mom," Lorelai intoned, rolling her eyes. "Can we just talk about this later? Not in the middle of my work day?"

"Really, Lorelai, if your life is so full right now, how am I to know you're ever going to have the time to indulge your mother's silliness?"

Lorelai softened. "Mom, come on. It's not like that. It's just hard right now, with Rory being gone, I'm still trying to get used to her being gone, not just at school. And we have to plan for Sookie's maternity leave, and it's been busy here because of that, and just... everything. I just feel like I have a lot on my plate right now."

Emily did not look convinced. "Yes, that sounds terribly taxing. There must be something else."

"Nothing else," Lorelai said firmly. "But maybe we can talk about this later. And as long as you're here, you can talk to Sookie about that DAR brunch next month? She's made up a great tasting menu, I bet she'd love to go over that with you before you have the sample lunch next week." She paused. "Just don't ask her about tofu. She's not ready for it yet."

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Rory found it demoralizing that her only options for coffee at this particular stop were chains or gas stations. There was not a local haunt to be found at this hour, and the line at the Caribou Coffee she'd finally settled on was ridiculous. She was cutting it close, too, since Harlan seemed to have gotten his act together and could no longer be trusted to be seven minutes late. She thought he'd given up smoking, and it was perhaps the first time in her life she wished someone had the courtesy enough to keep the habit for her sake. As it was, she was cursing his newly turned leaf as she ran towards the corner where he'd stopped the bus, her shoes in one hand, her coffee in the other.

He gave her the stink eye when he opened the door for her; she was so out of breath, she couldn't properly thank him for letting her on or apologize to the other passengers for being the Late Girl yet again. She deposited herself in a seat, her face red, and rested her cheek against the window as she silently berated herself, her mother, and the accursed coffee addiction that ruled her mornings.

"It's really sad, witnessing the disintegration of a junkie."

Rory looked up, startled, to find Patrick looming over her seat, swaying with the motion of the bus. She squinted at him. "It'll be even more harrowing in the biopic based on my life when Sienna Miller tries to nail a New England accent," she said. She nodded to the paper bag in his hand. "Are you taunting me with sugar, now, too?"

"Less taunting than offering," he said. He gestured to the empty space beside her. "May I?" He waited, and at her nod, eased himself into the seat beside her. "I bring you peace offerings from the local patisserie. Ruthie's, it's called. The blueberry crumble will supposedly knock your socks off."

"Peace offering?" she asked, confused. "Patrick..."

He held the bag out to her. "I was condescending the other day, I'm sorry about that. It's not like I'm so experienced I can go around telling people what's wrong with their work."

Rory took the proffered bag with a smile. "Well, you weren't totally off-base. I read your comments. They were smart." She peeked in the bag. "Dear lord that smells good." He laughed. "I'm sorry if I seemed—if I didn't take it well, afterwards. This whole thing so far feels like my first year at the Yale Daily News, the hazing, you know? You write trial articles, and if they like the trial articles, they put you through this Hell Night and if you survive that, you get to write whatever they hand you. I feel like I'm still walking around with that stupid tri-corner hat on my head."

Patrick's brow puckered. "A tri-corner hat?" he asked.

 She felt the heat rise in her face. "Oh, it's a... on Hell Night? They make you wear a hat made out of newspaper so everyone else knows you're the little freshman trying to get a space with the upper classmen. I feel like it's still there and everyone can see it." She gestured towards the crown of her head and waved her arm broadly, forgetting the cup of coffee in her hand until she'd knocked it against the window. The loosened top came free and the contents splattered over her shoulder and neck, spraying Patrick as well. The liquid was no longer searing, but hot enough to make her curse and nearly rise from her seat when she'd realized she'd spilled nearly all of it down the back of her coat and a good portion of that over Patrick's right side.

 After a chorus of "sorry, sorry, sorry"s and some frenzied dabbing with paper napkins, Rory began to laugh. She pointed at her head again.

"See? Newspaper hat. Total freak spaz freshman." She sighed, smiling ruefully. "Sorry about your coat."

 "Eh," he said. "Dry-cleaning. At least you saved the crumble. And," he added, reaching across the aisle, "someone had the forethought to get you a second coffee, at least."

 "Pusher," she laughed, relieved when he chuckled, too.

 He sat beside her as she ate her breakfast, wanting to know more about this paper hat phenomenon. "Is this a competitive thing?"

"It's Yale," she told him, her mouth full of blueberries. "Morning beverage selection is competitive."

"Isn't it always?" he teased.

♫   ♫   ♫   ♫   ♫   ♫   ♫

The sidewalk was crowded as Luke and Lorelai shuffled from the restaurant with their fellow patrons. They stood together on the curb a moment, readjusting to the heavy humidity of early summer after the stifling, over-air-conditioned atmosphere of the club. Luke rocked on his heels, his hands in his pockets, letting the crowd thin around him. Lorelai glanced at him sidelong.

 "So that was really bad, right?" she asked.

 "Oh, really bad," he agreed.

 "He had to have been the most offensive comedian I've ever heard. I'm offended, he was that unfunny." She slid her arm through Luke's. "Do I look dumber? Because I feel dumber."

"Can't tell," he said. "Think I might have gone blind from boredom in there." He gently began to maneuver them towards the spot up the hill where they'd parked. "Count that one a bust, then."

 Lorelai leaned against him as they strolled, resting her chin on his shoulder. "Not the date—the date wasn't a bust. City Steam Brewery, a nice choice on your part. The food was good—"

"Beer was good," he chimed in.

 "The six layer chocolate cake was good, too. And the company was very good," she said. "It was just the comedy show that was bad. Did you see the sign in there for 'Take Out Your Town Night?' Two-for-one cover charge for whatever town they pick." She pointed at Luke. "And that is a secret that dies with us, for all the obvious reasons." He grunted in reply. "I think, as a rule, we should stay away from comedians in the greater Hartford area. Seems like a bad idea."

 Luke nodded. "I'm sorry, I just thought, you know, it was something different."

 They'd reached the truck, and Lorelai studied Luke by the light of a street lamp as he unlocked and opened her door. "Different than what?" she asked quietly.

 "Just different than before," he said. "You know, the stuff we used to do."

 Lorelai took his hands in hers, leaned up, and kissed his cheek. "You know, Luke, I don't really care what we did before. I don't care so much what we do now." Off his confused look, she conceded, "In the most general sense, I don't care what we do now. I'm happy just to spend time with you, I don't care if we're in matching Barcaloungers with knotty afghans and broken remotes like Edith and Archie. Hell, we could go bowling and wear matching shirts for all I care." She squeezed his hands. "Which is not to say I don't appreciate the effort tonight—I do, I really do. I just don't want to get bogged down in thinking we have to do anything a certain way, you know?"

 His eyes were soft. "I do know," he said. "Thanks for coming out tonight."

 "Thanks for asking," she said.

 Luke dipped his head, kissed her briefly. "No more comedians."

 Lorelai climbed into the truck, laughing. "No, but definitely more six layer chocolate cake!"

♫   ♫   ♫   ♫   ♫   ♫   ♫

As Luke pulled the truck into Lorelai's driveway, she was listening to yet another voicemail from her mother. She rolled her eyes for Luke's benefit as he rounded the cab to open the door for her. When she finally hung up, she exhaled shortly in annoyance.

 "Okay, guilty as I am of leaving epic voicemails when the occasion calls for it—"

"The brownie-baking adventure of the other day count as an occasion? 'Cause I seem to remember you leaving a voicemail for Rory that went on the length of an Oliver Stone movie," Luke interrupted.

"I'm telling you, my mother has me beat," Lorelai said. She led the way to the porch, pulling Luke behind her by one hand. "She has undertaken this spa thing like Sisyphus. Except knowing my mother, she'll get it to the top of the hill and send it right down the other side, bowling me over right with it."

 Luke snorted a little. "You're surprised?"

"By Emily? Never, and yet, always," she sighed. "I don't want to think this is a good idea, because it involves working with my mom, but... there's a reason Michel's been talking about spa services for three years, and now she's got me thinking about it, and I can't help but think maybe she had a good idea."

Luke's expression was skeptical and supportive at once, as only Luke's could be. "Well, you'll figure it out," he said. "You usually do."

 "Or fake it," she told him, rolling her eyes ruefully. She paused, one hand on the door. "Do you want to come in for coffee? Or tea, since you don't drink coffee. Except, I probably don't have tea. You could come in for boiling hot water, but I fail to see the appeal in that. I do have the remnants of a really bad batch of brownies, if you'd like."

 "Evidence of you baking?" Luke asked, cocking an eyebrow. "I might have to see that."

 Lorelai turned as if to open the door but stopped herself. She turned to him, her face puckered with worry. "Is this going to be weird? For you, I mean?"

"What?" he asked, puzzled. "You, baking? Yeah, that's weird."

 "No, you coming in after a date. To the house. Is that going to be weird?" she asked. "Because if it's weird, I totally understand that. It won't be weird for me, because I live here, but I don't want it to be weird for you. I don't want you to feel like you have to come in if it's going to be weird."

"It's not going to be weird," he said, his voice low. "It's okay."

"Are you sure? Because I totally understand, and I don't know if maybe we should talk about it being weird..."

 "Honestly, Lorelai," Luke said, "it's weirder standing out here talking about why it'll be weird to go inside than it would be just going inside."

She smiled uncertainly, but unlocked the door and led him inside. Paul Anka, sitting on the landing to the second floor, lifted his head and sniffed the air.

"Hey, Paul Anka," Lorelai cooed. "Luke, I assume you remember Paul Anka," she said formally, gesturing towards the dog with one hand as she closed the door.

"Vividly," he said flatly.

 "Paul Anka," she continued, "you remember Luke."

 Paul Anka's ears perked, and he wagged his tail vigorously as Luke stepped into the living room and took off his coat. Lorelai followed suit, hanging them both on the coat rack in the hall. She babbled a moment about hot water and lemon, wine or beer, really bad brownies. She started towards the kitchen more than once, turning as though she'd forgotten something, and began an awkward dance in the hall as if she was unsure which room to be in or how to stand still. Luke rested a hand heavy on her shoulder and drew her into a tight hug.

 After a moment, she breathed into him, let herself relax against him. "I'm glad you're here," she told him.

 In reply, he only kissed her.

♫   ♫   ♫   ♫   ♫   ♫   ♫

The morning press gathering was held in a small event room off the lobby of the hotel. Rory had been up hours already, crafting the email due to her editor. She gave it one last perusal, the coffee she'd just purchased from a nearby donut shop held loosely in one hand. Her laptop perched on her knee, she blew lightly into the cardboard cup through the plastic lid, and her breath produced a small whistling noise that made her smile.

 "Someone's after the worm this morning."

 She squinted at Patrick over the edge of her computer screen. He leaned on the windowsill, the midmorning light streaming behind him almost garishly. He pointed at the paper bag of pastries on the seat beside her.

 "Maybe just the good junk food," he said.

 Rory sipped her coffee and shook her head. "A homemade donut is not junk food, I'll have you know. As far as I'm concerned, it's haute cuisine."

He lifted his chin, indicating her computer. "What're you working on?"

"Oh, same old," she smirked. "Trying to craft the perfect 'I had to wonder' pun for my editor in the spirit of Carrie Bradshaw."

 "You're not careful to start showing up on time, Harlan might start aiming puddles at you," Patrick laughed.

 "Better a cold puddle than a hot cup of coffee, maybe," she said. "I'm sorry I spilled all over you yesterday. And also, for the babbling about the hat and everything, that must have sounded really stupid."

 "Don't apologize," he said. "I think I get it."

 She paused to send the email to her editor, her hand shaking just slightly with caffeine and nerves. "I just want to do well�I want to be good at this, and I don't want to feel like everyone else knows how green I am and thinks I'm a loser who can't keep up." She shut the laptop and picked up her breakfast, pinching the edges of the paper bag with fretful fingers. "But I appreciate you being so nice about it."

 He sat down in the empty seat beside her, rifling in his own laptop bag. "I actually have something for you," he said. He handed her a badly folded newspaper hat. "We can have a ceremonial burning of the Hell Night hat, what do you think? I bet I can borrow Harlan's lighter for a few minutes if I can guarantee you'll make the bus on time."

Rory laughed, turning the hat in her hands. "Thanks, but... you know, I don't think I need it. I got over wearing it the first time, I'll get over it again." She looked at him; his eyes were friendly, crinkled at the corners in amusement and confusion. "It does make me feel better that your hat's worse than mine was," she said.

 "Well, whatever gets you through," he chuckled.

"Amen and a donut to that," Rory said. She opened the bag to him, and he sat beside her as he accepted one of the pastries inside.

♫   ♫   ♫   ♫   ♫   ♫   ♫

Luke was nowhere to be seen when Lorelai reached the diner Friday morning and sat herself immediately at the counter. While she waited, she sipped a cup of coffee and picked at a donut; when her cell phone rang, she cast her eyes around guiltily before answering.


 "I was beginning to think you'd stopped answering your phone entirely."

 Lorelai blew a ripple over the surface of her coffee. "Good morning, Mom. I got your messages last night, I was going to call you back."

 "You were?" Emily asked. "Did you actually listen to the messages?"

 "All four of them," she answered brightly. "Yes, I'm coming for dinner; no, I hadn't considered a color scheme yet; yes, I think earth tones are soothing but incredibly overdone; and while I've never given it much thought, it makes sense that most spas would offer their own skincare and bath lines from a business perspective, but I think that's a little outside of our reach."

 Emily narrowed her eyes. "Why are you in such a good mood?"

 "Well, I'm talking to you, Mother, that always puts me in a good mood."

 "Are you on some sort of herbal supplement right now?" Emily demanded. "You are unnaturally pleasant this morning."

"Thanks, Mom," Lorelai said, rolling her eyes. "You know, I was just going to say the same of you. Did you want to talk to me at all or were you just calling to harass me out of my unnatural pleasantness?"

 "You are coming to dinner tonight, then," Emily confirmed. "Good, because there are some things I really wanted to discuss with you about this spa that I went to—"

Lorelai kicked the toes of her boots against the counter as she listened, waiting for her turn to speak. The curtain to the right fluttered, and Luke stepped out, still fiddling with the cuffs of his flannel. She grinned and immediately turned her back to him, hiding the cell phone behind her hair.

"Sorry, Mom, I have to go, there's no cell phones allowed here. I'll talk to you tonight at dinner, okay? We'll make plans then."

"But, Lorelai—"

"Bye, Mom!" She snapped the phone shut in her hand, and when she turned back to the counter, Luke was standing before her with his arms crossed over his chest and a knowing look on his face. "What?" she asked, affecting nonchalance.

He rolled his eyes as he walked away. "You're not fooling anyone," he said, but he squeezed her shoulder as he walked past.

Zach refilled Lorelai's coffee cup. "You guys are about this close to being a Disney special," he told her.

She gave him the stink eye. "My Little Pony, Disney specials... Zach, just how many cousins do you have?"

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Zach waited until Lorelai had left to approach Luke again. His boss was running through receipts at the counter, but smiling. Taking the rarity it was for a good sign, Zach stood beside Luke and waited, nodding as though they were already deep in conversation.

"I'm not hiring your cousin, Zach," Luke said. "Brennan's lost me business before."

Zach ran a hand through his hair. "Oh, I know, man. I just told his mom I'd put in a word for him. I was really hoping maybe you could hire Brian—he just got laid off from his job at the real estate office, and I know it would help Lane out a lot to have him close by, help with the boys and all."

"Brian?" Luke echoed. He thought on it a moment. "I guess, yeah. If he can stop tripping over his feet long enough."

"He'll work it out," Zach assured him. "And listen, Luke, if it's not asking too much..."

Luke sighed, but looked up at Zach with a tired, wary expression. "I told you I'd keep you guys covered under the health plan as long as Lane plans on coming back, Zach, don't worry about it."

"I know, and we appreciate it," Zach said quickly. "I just wanted to ask you if you could keep an eye on Lane for me while I'm gone. You know, check in on her now and then. She won't say she's overwhelmed, but I know she is, and I think just someone offering a hand every once in a while would make her feel better. She'll never take it, but just having someone ask, I know it'd make her feel better. It'd make me feel better."

Luke softened. "No problem at all."

"Thanks, boss."

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Lorelai shut the jeep door with her hip and shouldered her purse. "Rory, I cannot overstate how impressed you should be when a man voluntarily brings you breakfast."

"Mom, stop!" Rory hissed. "It's not like that, okay? I don't need anything more complicated in my life right now than a friend. And at least he knows how weird it is being the new girl."

"The new girl, huh? I'm glad he can share that experience with you," Lorelai said dryly. "Listen, I'm about to go in for dinner, I'll call you later tonight?"

"Say hi to Grandma and Grandpa for me."

Lorelai rang the bell and smiled at the maid who took her coat. She took the martini her father had ready with thanks, and when she sat herself on the chaise with Rory's greetings and a declaration that the kid sounded good, her parents rolled their eyes at each other and stared.

"What?" she asked. "I can't be in a good mood?

Emily pursed her lips. "Something is different in your life and we are not leaving this room until you tell us what it is."

Lorelai gaped a moment. "I don't know what you're talking about!"

 "You've been dodging my calls all week—"

"Mom, come on, you can't say that's new."

"—saying that you're too busy, you have too much going on in your life right now to even discuss the business proposition your mother has so thoroughly laid out and is waiting to share with you, you're so happy right now you're practically a cartoon character—we're not stupid, Lorelai, we know something's happened," Emily finished. "We'd just like you to tell us what it is."

Caught, Lorelai flushed and darted her eyes between her father and mother before she set her martini down and gathered herself together. "Well, since you insist—Luke and I are... we're seeing each other again." She took a deep breath. "Luke and I are back together."

 Richard got up to refresh his water glass, and Emily patted her hair absently. "Is that all?" she asked. "We figured that out days ago, Lorelai. We'd rather hoped you'd taken up some kind of sport."

Lorelai furrowed her brow in confusion. "You knew? How did you know? Why are you so blasé about this?"

"Oh, Lorelai," Richard said, shaking his head. "It was obviously bound to happen, given your history together. We've accepted this would come sooner or later."

"I'm surprised it's sooner," Emily muttered.

"Hey!" Lorelai cried.

"So this is what's keeping you from discussing the spa?"

Lorelai fidgeted. "No, I just... are you sure you really want to go into business with us, Mom? Doesn't it seem like a lot of work? What if it doesn't work?"

"Nothing ventured, nothing gained, Lorelai," Emily said firmly. "If that's all that's stopping you, you're more ridiculous than I thought."

"Aren't you—" She stopped herself, sought the most diplomatic way to phrase her thoughts. "We might butt heads, Mom."

Emily rose and began to make her way towards the dining room. "I expect we will, Lorelai, but if you don't immediately always assume I'm wrong..."

"I could say the same to you," Lorelai said, trailing behind her.

"—then things will likely go... well, not smoothly, but we can manage." She pointed to Lorelai's chair. "Now, if you're agreed, we'll discuss this at a later point. The dinner table is no place to discuss business."

Lorelai stood, her hand on her chair, and screwed up what courage she could. "I guess we're agreed."

"Good. We'll talk about it first thing Monday morning." Emily placed her napkin in her lap. "Now, tell me what's new with you and Luke."

Lorelai pressed her hand to her forehead and took a gulp of the wine her father had just poured. "Oh, Lord."

To be continued...


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