Author's Note: This episode never could have come to fruition without the help and enthusiasm of so many people, from story conception to punctuation editing. For everything in between, I am indebted to my stellar beta/lead writer team of sosmitten and lulabo, who provided the absurd amount of codependent support that kept this thing going.
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Rory balanced the phone between her ear and her shoulder and leaned forward to brush her big toenail with bright green nail polish.
"Does it have sparkles in it?" her mother asked.
"And is it sea foam, or, like, full-on chartreuse?"
"What's with the third degree?" Rory demanded.
"Nothing! It's just fascinating. You usually pick colors that don't even look like colors... like that one we had to go out and buy because it was your favorite. It was practically transparent."
"It was light pink!"
"I believe the hue was called 'Rory Gilmore's Toenail.'"
Rory sighed heavily. "Don't we have anything to discuss besides nail polish?"
"It's just such a bold choice."
"That's the point. I wear closed-toed shoes all day, and then when I take them off at night, I don't know, I like it. The little surprise of having lime green toes. It's kind of a rush."
"Aw, honey..." Lorelai said, and Rory could hear the sympathetic tone in her mother's voice that was only ever there when she had made a particularly lame admission. "You're getting your thrills from cosmetic products? Aren't there bars or, like, billiard rooms in Middle America? Or moonshine, at least. I know there's moonshine."
Rory snorted and smudged her tiny canvas. "When you picture me on the road, am I mostly surrounded by turn-of-the-century farmhands in patched overalls?"
"There's also the occasional drugstore counter employee who is mixing you up a nice strawberry soda and refusing to let you pay for it."
"Ah, well, JoJo at Woolworth's sure is a gentleman."
"Okay, no more feeding my delusions. Tell me something about your life that does not have to do with nail polish. I want the dish on your young Bob Woodward."
"Well, he was much cuter than Bernstein."
"Only in your head, and only because Robert Redford played him."
"Regardless, the name 'Woodward' is more fun to say. So, any new developments there?"
Rory tensed. The banter had been familiar and fun and, if she was honest, a welcome distraction from things she'd rather not think about, much less discuss. She shrugged her shoulders as though her mother could see.
"No developments. He's still cute, and we're still friendly and flirty, and I'm still kind of disgusted with myself because I've only been single for, like, five minutes..."
She trailed off because she wasn't sure what else there was to say. The fact of her break-up with Logan still took Rory by surprise sometimes, even though it had been several months since they'd last seen each other. Whenever she heard something that would have made him laugh, her instinct was still to smile and file it away for him. Lately, she had been wondering when instincts like that finally fade away.
"Anyway, I just don't think the timing's right," she finished quickly.
"Hey, there's no harm in a rebound."
"Says the woman who accidentally eloped with hers."
"Ouch. All right, you may have a point."
"Sorry. Too soon?" Rory asked, wincing a little.
"Nah, it's okay. Ancient history."
"Okay, your turn," Rory said, eager to change the subject. "What are the goings-on back in the love nest formerly known as Stars Hollow? Things still disgusting?"
Her mom made a humming, pondering kind of noise.
"Still moderately disgusting. We've been braving Al's Pancake World a lot, lately. Luke claims no two entrees are alike, so we've been ordering the same meals for dinner for the past five nights to see if we can disprove it. So far, the thesis holds."
"And you were judging me for my nail polish thrills," said Rory.
"Well, April's visiting this weekend, before school starts back up."
"School!" Rory said wistfully. "It's so weird that it's almost September and I don't get to go shopping for pens and notebooks and stuff."
"I'm sure Stars Hollow Stationary is going to go belly-up as a result," her mother teased.
"Hilarious," Rory said dryly. "So, April's coming? That should be fun."
"Yeah, it should... shake things up."
Rory noted the slight trepidation in her mother's voice and sat up straighter, capping the nail polish and turning her full attention back to the conversation.
"What do you mean, shake things up?" she asked, concern edging on suspicion.
"Well, I don't know, things have been really good lately - disgustingly good, as you put it - and even though we've sort of talked through the April issues of yore, it's going to be interesting to see it play out."
Rory groaned with disdain. "Just look at us, creating boy drama where there is none. When did we become those girls? Between the two of us, I don't remember the last time we didn't have relationship issues to discuss."
"It's kind of pathetic," her mother agreed. "We are strong, independent career women! No more talk about boys or pedicures. Tell me, how is your career, career woman?"
Rory grasped for something new or exciting or, at the very least, something positive to share about her job, but she came up with zero.
"You know, Obama talks. People ask questions. I take notes."
"Nice story, journalist."
"How's the Inn?"
"Well, guests show up. I cater to their whims. Then they leave."
"At least mine had whims, which is only one letter off from whimsy."
"Considering we have nothing of substance to share with each other, should we hang up now before we have to hand in our Independent Career Woman badges?"
"I think that would be wise," her mother agreed.
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Tucked into a booth at a diner off the interstate, Rory surveyed the tables around her and pursed her lips in concentration. It was her turn to choose, and she had to do so carefully.
Finally, she pointed her index finger discreetly at a man and a woman across the room. Patrick followed her eyes, and she watched as his widened and sparkled. His irises were each hugged by a smoky gray ring. She had never seen anything like it before.
"You were right. You really can pick 'em," he told her, still focused intently on their new unwitting victims. The man, who had the most painful-looking hair plugs that Rory had ever seen outside an episode of Arrested Development, had ordered the seafood platter. It took up over half the table. His companion, a woman in a red sequined halter top and denim cutoffs, was eating what appeared to be a triple-decker peanut butter and jelly sandwich with the crusts removed.
"Go," Rory challenged.
Patrick cleared his throat and turned his attention back to Rory.
"And like I told you at breakfast, there's nothin' in this whole world like shellfish. I would eat shellfish morning, noon, and night. I would eat shellfish in my sleep, if it was physiologically possible. In fact, we're not leaving here until every single piece of shellfish in this plastic basket has been consumed, by me. No shell shall be left unturned."
Rory concentrated as hard as she could on not laughing, which was difficult, since Patrick's impersonation had caused his voice to come out sounding both deeper and thinner at the same time. She twisted her napkin in her lap and set about trying to outdo him.
"You want to know the only thing better than a peanut butter and jelly sandwich?" she began, in a singsong voice. "Two of them, smushed together on a plate. Peanut butter is like glue, but, only, like, edible. It's like that stuff they use to hold bricks together, you know, only... you can eat it and it smells fan-freaking-tastic. Maybe I should consider spreading some on my chest so that my blindingly gorgeous evening wear stops gapping out in this awkward fashion."
"No, no, that's what we in the industry call the money shot, darling."
"Of course, I'm an art photographer. I do tasteful nudes. Literally! Ba-dum-bum. Have a clam."
"Your drumbeat sound effect is uncanny, but I couldn't possibly pilfer from your basket of glory. You need your protein. Your scalp seems to be reacting quite strangely to the acupuncture session you had this afternoon."
"Well, you know what they say. Trust a doctor to stick pins in your head... and you're... you might as well just... you're a real.... you know, what they say..." he trailed off, dissolving into laughter. He held up both hands in surrender, and Rory jabbed her index finger in the air at him, wild with triumph.
"You got me that time," he acquiesced.
She poked at a cold French fry with her fork, grinning. "I can't believe you dropped the ball on what could have been the best acupuncture/pinhead joke that LuAnn's Eats and Sweets had ever born witness to."
"What can I say. I caved under the pressure," he said. "Hey, are you done? Looks like the rest of our group cleared out a while ago."
Rory looked to the back corner of the restaurant, where four or five other reporters had been eating.
"What if the bus leaves without us?" Rory asked, alarmed before she could even think to play it cool. They were en route to Council Bluffs, Iowa, and the last thing Rory wanted was to be stranded on the side of Route 70. Besides, she'd been late more times than she could count, and Harlan had it out for her.
"You know," Patrick teased, "I can now say that I've met second grade Rory Gilmore. You know, the one who got left behind at the aquarium or the Museum of Natural History? Come on, it must have happened. There's no other explanation for this obsessive bus paranoia of yours. It's only getting worse, too."
She threw a ten-dollar bill down on the table and glared at him. "That just cost you the window seat."
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In April's corner of the apartment, Lorelai tucked in one side of a lavender bed sheet and then stopped to watch Luke try to cram a pillow into a floral pillowcase. She smiled at the struggle.
"You're doing that all wrong," she finally said.
"I think the pillowcase shrunk in the dryer."
"Give it to me," she instructed. He handed it to her and looked on in amazement as she expertly shimmied the pillow into the case.
"How did you do that?" he asked. "And why did you let me try to beat it into submission for five minutes?"
"I used to do this about six hundred times a day," she reminded him. "And as for the sitting-back-and-watching-you-suffer thing, what can I say? You look cute when you're frustrated, and even cuter when you're holding a pillowcase that's covered in little pink flowers."
He shot her a look of mock-annoyance, one she knew by heart: jaw set, eyebrows lowered, chin dipped just so. She leaned over the bed and pressed her lips to the corner of his mouth until she felt it relax into a smile. She handed him one corner of the comforter and together they spread it over the bed.
"If her flight gets in at seven, what time should I leave here?" he asked.
"Probably four-thirty, to be safe. Rush hour traffic," she reminded him.
"Right. Four-thirty. Maybe four o'clock, though, because you can never tell how jammed the terminal's gonna be, or what the parking situation is gonna look like. Maybe even three, you know, I don't want her to have to wait."
She tried to suppress a smile at his rambling, because she knew he would rather die than know how adorable she found his excitement.
"I bought tons of that sweet microwave popcorn, because it was her new favorite last time she was here. I hope she still likes it because I think it's disgusting. Do you like it?"
"Kettle corn?" Lorelai asked. "It's okay. I prefer my popcorn salty."
"And smothered in butter," he added.
"And smothered in butter," she confirmed, missing the sarcasm entirely.
He tugged at a corner of the comforter until it straightened to his satisfaction.
"I figured I'd wait to do the rest of my grocery shopping until she gets here, because who knows what she likes now." Luke shook his head incredulously as they walked across the apartment, from April's bed to his own.
"You wouldn't believe how fast she changes her mind about stuff," he continued. "I mean, one day she's obsessed with this girl Becky. Everything is Becky this, Becky that. And the next day- the next day, I'm not just using an expression- they're mortal enemies."
Lorelai nodded knowingly. "Girls," she said, as though the one word was explanation enough. Luke pulled down the covers on her side of the bed, the equivalent of opening her car door.
"Thank you, sir," she said, hopping in. She smiled as he smoothed the hair back on her forehead and kissed her right on the nose and then on both cheeks. He was in an exceptionally good mood, and her spirits were rising a little, too. They had just had an entire conversation about April without any of his old habits creeping up, without that knot in her stomach rematerializing. Maybe Rory was right -- she was just looking for trouble where there was none.
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Rory sat on the bed in her motel room typing furiously, her fingers attacking the keyboard with unusual fervor. Unfortunately, she was writing the same word over and over again. An entire paragraph, a good few inches of screen, covered with the word choice. It was the last thing she'd written before she got stuck twenty minutes earlier. She stopped typing and sighed. Choice choice choice choice choice. Bring on that Pulitzer, she thought.
When her cell phone rang, she was so anxious for a distraction that she answered without even checking the caller ID. A few moments past the pleasantries, and she wished she had let it go to voicemail.
"We could go through it line by line, but I'm not sure how productive that would be at this point," Michael was saying. "I think this is a tear-down."
"A tear-down?" Rory asked, hating the way her voice sounded: small and too high, like a child asking to come out of a time-out.
"It's just..." Michael trailed off. "Honestly, Rory, I feel like the pendulum has just swung too far in the opposite direction from where you were before. A few weeks ago, I told you your notes were too informal, your writing too colloquial, but now... I'm looking at ten printed pages here. Ten pages that say... well, I don't know what they say. I don't know if they say anything at all."
"Oh," Rory said, and as soon as the non-word left her mouth, she wished she could bite it back in.
"It doesn't even sound like you," he continued. "It doesn't sound like anyone, really. No one writes this way. No one writes this way because no one talks this way."
"What way?" she asked, grasping for something constructive to take from the criticism.
"Mannered and cautious. Stiff," Michael said, without even having to think about it.
"Oh," she said again. She stared miserably at the text glowing on the screen in front of her before highlighting it all. She hit the delete key, and watched it blink away.
"Have another crack at it, okay? I want a new draft by the end of the day."
"Yes. Okay. Yes, a new draft. Absolutely."
"Stop sounding as though you're about to lose your job. You aren't."
"Okay," she said.
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It was eight-thirty when Lorelai finished showering and dressing and bounded downstairs, ready for the largest stack of pancakes Luke could manage to assemble.
"You do know that pancakes are governed by the laws of physics, right?" he asked her after she verbalized her request.
"Not your pancakes," she said, smiling beatifically.
"You're a food flirt," he accused, giving her a brief good-morning kiss when he was sure no one was watching.
"Your pancakes are feats of culinary genius, miracles of engineering. Your pancakes are truly the only reason I am not still in bed right now."
"Well, that's a back-handed compliment," he told her.
She rolled her eyes teasingly. "That, and your prettiness, of course," she said, playfully indulgent. "If it was between you and an insanely tall stack of pancakes, I would choose you."
"Well, thanks," he said dryly.
"And then I'd ask you to make me some pancakes," she finished.
"I'll get right on that," he said.
He started toward the kitchen, but stopped and turned back to her with an apprehensive look on his face. She noticed, and tilted her head to the side in a silent question.
"So, listen," he began. "I was thinking, you know, about April coming..."
Lorelai felt her whole body tense. "Okay..."
"What?" he asked.
"What, what?" she demanded impatiently.
"You look... squinchy."
She shook her head and closed her eyes briefly. "Can you just say what you want to say?" she asked, surprising even herself with the sharpness of her voice.
He took a step back from her. "What is your problem?"
"I don't know," she said. "But apparently there is one, so why don't you just tell me what it is?"
He threw the rag he was holding down on the counter and glared at her. "Well, that's great. You're just going to jump there, huh? I thought 'starting over' meant a clean slate. I didn't realize I was going to be on the defensive all the time while you held your breath and waited for me to screw up."
"That's not fair," she said, raising her voice.
"You're right," he agreed, "It's not fair."
They regarded each other silently for a few minutes, suddenly acutely aware that the diner was full, and they were about one octave away from having a captive audience.
"Maybe we should talk about this later," Luke said evenly, his teeth gritted.
Lorelai grabbed her purse and stood up. "I guess you won't blame me if I don't take your word for it," she snapped, before stalking out of the diner and into a morning that was far too sunny for her mood.
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After a walk to try and clear her head, Rory returned to the motel lobby and made a beeline for the coffee carafe that was set up on a sideboard table. She took the first too-hot and crappy-tasting sip and noticed Meredith Newbury sitting in one of the green upholstered chairs, tapping her manicured fingernail against the armrest. She wasn't reading or writing or otherwise engaged, so Rory plastered on a friendly smile and approached her.
"Hey," she said brightly, taking the seat next to Meredith.
"Hi," Meredith said, shooting her the briefest of smiles.
"Waiting for a call?" Rory asked. She pointed to the phone in Meredith's hand.
"What? Oh. Yeah. My boyfriend. We were supposed to talk at eleven, but he had a meeting," she said, rolling her eyes.
"What does he do?"
"He's in imports and exports."
Rory nodded, but really had no idea what that meant. It sounded nefarious, the kind of businesses that mafia bosses used to conceal their illegal enterprises. She had seen The Godfather way too many times, she reflected.
"You must miss him a lot," Rory said, grasping for something to keep the conversation moving.
Meredith shrugged and laughed, tinny and hollow. "I guess. When we're together he's all possessive and jealous, and when we're apart, I am. But hey, that's love, right?"
It wasn't really a question, and Rory was glad, because if it had been, she wasn't sure how she'd have answered it.
"It's hard, though, isn't it? Being away like this?" Rory asked.
Meredith turned to face her. "What do you mean?"
Rory looked at the woman's cashmere sweater set and pearl studs, at her perfectly highlighted hair and four hundred dollar shoes, and she let herself believe, for a minute, that it was all a front. That this was a girl who needed a friend, just like she did.
"Don't you just wish you could have lunch with your mom, sometimes?" Rory asked. "Don't you just wish you could see your friends and sleep in your own bed?"
Meredith's eyes hardened and flicked over Rory from head to toe. Rory held her breath and waited, feeling completely vulnerable, like she'd just sliced herself open for a complete stranger. It was an entirely disproportionate response, but she couldn't help it. She felt like she was being studied by a cool, disengaged scientist in a lab.
"Your mommy and your baby blanket will still be there when you get back," Meredith condescended.
"That's not what I meant," Rory insisted, feeling her face flush.
"Man, you really weren't ready for this," Meredith decided, standing up. She grabbed her Chanel bag from its resting place on the floor and gave Rory one last disgusted look before click-clacking her way to the elevator.
"Well, that went swimmingly," Rory muttered to herself. She felt the impulse to call Lane or her mother and quickly drowned it with another paper cup full of abysmal coffee before trudging upstairs to tackle her second draft.
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Lorelai sifted through the mail at the reception desk as Michel stormed up to her, all pointy hair and melodrama.
"Lorelai, Sookie has absolutely ruined the entire infrastructure of this business," he declared. She sighed and put the mail down.
"You'll have to be more specific, Michel."
"She has scheduled her insipid cookie decorating class at the same time as my scrapbook workshop! The guests will be forced to choose between the activities, and since Americans will do literally anything for a cookie, all the meticulous planning I put into my craft hour will be wasted."
"A meticulously planned craft hour?" she repeated.
"Lorelai!" he whined, stamping his Italian leather clad foot.
"Okay, Michel? You can't stamp your foot at work. A modicum of professionalism would be nice."
"You are wearing a t-shirt with a silver unicorn on it, and talking to me about professionalism" he droned.
"If I say I'll talk to Sookie, will you promise not to come near me for at least an hour?" she asked irritably.
"With pleasure," he said.
She headed to the kitchen and plastered on a fake smile.
"Sook? Can we talk?"
Sookie was up to her elbows in crepe fillings, and shook her head violently.
"Not if it has anything to do with my cookie class. I had it in the book weeks ago, and I'm not canceling it!"
"Nobody's asking you to cancel it," Lorelai said, with as much patience as she could muster. She swiped a handful of blueberries from the earthenware bowl on the counter. "Just reschedule it."
"Absolutely not. My class has perishable ingredients that have already been ordered. Michel's has glitter and glue sticks and elbow macaroni. I'm not switching."
Lorelai rolled her eyes and threw up her hands. "You know what? I don't care. Let the guests choose between cookies and scrapbooking, or else figure it out yourselves."
"Hey," Sookie called after her as Lorelai turned to leave. "What's up with you?"
"Nothing," Lorelai sighed. "Just a crappy morning. I had a thing with Luke."
Sookie dropped the spoon she was holding in the sink and sat on a nearby stool, massaging her swelling ankles.
"A thing?" she asked.
"A spat," Lorelai clarified. She took a few more blueberries and popped them into her mouth one at a time.
"April? Maybe? It happened kinda fast. He started to say something about needing to talk about her visit, and I don't know, I just kind of freaked out on him."
"So you don't know what he was going to say?"
"Not officially, but I doubt it was 'Hey, when April gets here let's all link arms and sing campfire songs.'"
"Well, no, because that would be creepy," Sookie pointed out.
"It was just the same thing all over again, you know? The same start to the same one-sided conversation we had about her last year, and he had that same nervous face and he sounded like he was about to apologize for something and I'm sorry, but I did not sign on for that again. No way."
"Whoa, Nellie!" Sookie exclaimed. "Step back for a second. Things are totally different now, right?"
Lorelai crossed her arms. "Well, we've said they are, anyway."
"Oh, honey," Sookie said. "Don't you trust that things have changed?"
"That's the worst part, because I do. I really do," Lorelai admitted.
"Then you need to start acting like it," Sookie said sternly, in the kind of voice that would be completely annoying coming from a parent, but was oddly reassuring coming from a best friend. "You need to start expecting that things are going to work out the way you want them to."
Lorelai groaned. "You're not going to make me watch The Secret with you again, are you?"
"Jackson threw it out," Sookie lamented. "Believe me, if it was still in my possession, I'd use it to threaten you into getting Michel off my back."
"Forget it, Sook," Lorelai said, shaking her head. "He's completely wigging out and there's no way I'm talking to him about this. And is it just me, or does his accent get thicker when he feels affronted?"
"Definitely thicker," Sookie agreed. She grabbed the bowl she had been previously stirring and poured it into a large frying pan. "Maybe I'll just pretend I can't understand him."
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Lorelai rang the doorbell at her parents' house with even less enthusiasm than usual. She had worked late and changed clothes in her office, she was bone tired, and she had spent most of the day deciding what she wanted to say to Luke, only for his phone to go straight to voicemail.
After shrugging out of her coat and joining her mother and father in the living room, she settled back against the settee with a perfectly chilled martini. She sipped it and answered her father's perfunctory questions about business, all the while aware of the strange, flustered vibe her mother was managing to send out while remaining perfectly and disturbingly still.
"Lorelai, what have you heard from Rory?" Emily asked, as soon as there was a lull in the conversation.
"Oh, she's still doing great. Making some friends, getting into the swing of things. She sounds good."
"Well, we certainly wouldn't know," Emily huffed.
"Emily..." Richard said warningly.
Lorelai took a long swallow of her drink before resigning herself to the question that her mother was expecting.
"What does that mean, Mother?"
"Well, the girl has called us once! Just to let us know she was safe, when she first arrived in Iowa. That was weeks ago."
"Well, Mom, you know, she's very busy," Lorelai defended. "She has a real job, with very rigorous demands, and an editor and a schedule and a... bus that always leaves right on time."
"A punctual bus driver?" Emily asked. "That's your excuse?"
"I think you know what your mother meant, Lorelai," Richard interjected.
Lorelai took a deep breath. "Look, guys, I'm really sorry, on Rory's behalf, that you're feeling out of the loop. But it's not like she's just away at school. She's working, she has a real, hectic, important job. It's what we all wanted for her. Right?"
Emily grunted, Richard harrumphed, and Lorelai stood to refresh her drink.
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For dinner, a small group of the press corps decided to dine as a pack in the first restaurant they stumbled across, which happened to be a family-owned Italian place. Rory had almost skipped out on it, but it was nice, sitting with a lot of people around a red and white checked tablecloth. It was nice to drown in the company of near-friends, of near-strangers, of people who looked at her without noticing that her smile wasn't quite reaching her eyes. Alone, but surrounded. She almost liked it. Everyone was trying to talk louder than the person next to them, like competing siblings around a kitchen table. The sounds and smells were comforting, but Rory's head was elsewhere. She twirled spaghetti around her fork into a fat beehive and half-listened to the story Rachael was telling about her disastrous honeymoon in Antigua.
When the check came, she realized she had barely spoken a single word since they sat down. Patrick caught her gaze across the table and gave her a mock-stern look, gesturing for her to hang back from the group as they made their way out of the restaurant.
"What's up with the Marcel Marceau act?"
"Just tired, maybe," she offered weakly.
He looked at her pointedly, not buying it, and with the almost imperceptible raise of his eyebrow, Rory was forced to admit that at least one person in this strange new life of hers could read her moods and cut through her bullshit.
"I talked to my editor this morning," Rory admitted.
"And I'm guessing from the Bambi eyes that it was less than awesome?"
She gave a humorless laugh. "Definitely less than awesome."
"I see," he said, with neither pity nor sympathy, but something closer to understanding. When they walked out the door into the cool night air, he took her elbow and pushed her in the opposite direction of the motel.
"I know just what you need," he said with a wink. She ignored the annoying little flip in her stomach and let him lead the way, smiling in spite of herself.
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"I just don't think it would kill her to pick up the phone," Emily said.
Her parents had been unbelievably one-note about Rory's correspondence failings all evening. The dinner plates had been cleared ages ago, and Lorelai was beginning to think that she might stab herself in the hand with a fork if dessert wasn't served in the next thirty seconds.
"Hey, want to talk about spa stuff?" she asked desperately.
"Don't try to change the subject," Emily said.
"Color schemes?" she enticed. "Advertising slogans? Seaweed wraps? That thing where they put hot stones all over your body?"
"You've been infuriatingly hesitant about this project all summer, Lorelai Gilmore, so don't think for a minute that you can use it to distract me from the issue at hand."
Lorelai slumped in her seat.
"Mom. I will talk to Rory, I will ask her to call you. Okay?"
"Please, don't do us any favors," Emily said, her voice both injured and sarcastic.
Lorelai inhaled through her teeth and shook her head. "Why don't you just call her, if you want to talk to her?" she asked.
"We wouldn't want to be a bother," Emily sniffed. "She's apparently quite busy, as you've made abundantly clear."
"It's more than wanting to speak to the girl, although of course I do," Richard added. "I just find it odd that she hasn't been in touch. Are you quite certain she's doing all right?"
"Yes, Dad, she's doing fine, I promise. She's getting used to the road thing, really. And she's making friends, I told you that before."
"No, Lorelai, I mean are you quite sure... well, are you sure she's doing all right, professionally?"
"What do you mean?" she asked.
"It's just... if I know Rory, one possible explanation for her reticence is that perhaps the work is more challenging than she cares to admit."
Emily nodded her agreement, but Lorelai sat up straighter in her chair and shook her head vigorously.
"No, Dad, come on. It's Rory. Everything she touches turns to gold, remember? Besides, she'd never be afraid of your judgment- she knows you reserve that for me," she said offhandedly.
"Lorelai, was that really necessary?" Emily sighed.
"Sorry. Old reflex."
Lorelai looked longingly toward the kitchen, hoping to draw dessert to the table by sheer willpower. Just as she was about to make a last-ditch effort to change the subject once and for all, her cell phone began to vibrate in her pocket. She checked the caller ID and saw that it was Luke.
"Lorelai, how many times have I asked you to leave that contraption in your purse?"
"Sorry, Mom, but I really need to take this. Excuse me for just a minute."
She got up before her request could be granted or denied and hurried to her father's study.
"Hey," she said, answering the call right before it went over to voicemail.
"Hey. I didn't interrupt dinner, did I?"
"Kind of, and thank you. Dinner's been over for what feels like days, but dessert is taking forever. Must be another souffle."
"Aw, geez," he apologized. "You shouldn't have left the table. They're gonna hold that against me."
"I didn't tell them who it was," she assured him. "Are you back in Stars Hollow?"
"No, April's flight was delayed, that's why I'm calling." He paused. "I know we're kinda mid-fight and everything, but I was wondering if you'd want to swing by the airport after you leave your parents'."
"Aw, are you bored? Haven't you found the frozen yogurt kiosk yet?" she asked.
"Just eat the souffle fast and come?"
"I'll do you one better, and see if I can skip the souffle."
"I don't want you leaving early if you're going to get in trouble," he protested.
"I won't 'get in trouble,'" Lorelai said. "What are they going to do, send me to my room?"
"Are you sure?"
"I think I can be there in twenty minutes. Until then, go peruse the magazine rack, okay? Catch up on your US Weeklies."
She returned to the dining room, mentally preparing her plea to be excused from dessert. It had to be polite, but without room for argument; vague, but not suspiciously so.
"Is it an emergency?" Emily asked.
"No, no, nothing like that. Luke's just at the airport and he asked me to come meet him."
"Is he going somewhere?" Richard asked, obviously intrigued at the thought of a man like Luke needing to travel anywhere, for any reason.
"No, his daughter's flying in tonight."
With that, her parents raised their eyebrows at each other, causing Lorelai to wonder if they practiced stuff like that on the nights they ate alone.
"And he wants you there to greet her?" Emily asked. She sounded slightly impressed, and Lorelai nodded, trying to keep her smile at bay.
"I guess so," she said.
"Well, then, I guess you should go," Emily graciously relented.
"Thanks, guys," said Lorelai. "And I'll talk to Rory," she added quickly, and then slipped out of the room before Emily could change her mind.
♫ ♫ ♫ ♫ ♫ ♫ ♫ ♫ ♫
"I love beer in Council Bluffs," Rory declared.
"You love dollar draft night," Patrick corrected. "And I'm pretty sure that Council Bluffs doesn't have a monopoly on those. Didn't you just graduate from college? How are you so ill-informed when it comes to cheap boozing rituals?"
"I love jukeboxes in Council Bluffs," Rory said, skirting the question and jabbing at different buttons on the broken machine.
"Well you're easy to please, then, as long as you stay right here."
"Ah, but I can't. I have to go to other cities and write other crappy articles. The crappy-article-reading public is anxiously awaiting my next stiffly written, uninformative piece of green reporting."
"Someone's sipping from the pity punch," Patrick teased, grabbing her beer bottle and staring down its neck to inspect the contents.
"Sorry," she sighed. "Long day."
"He did a number on you, huh?"
"Why don't I write the way I talk?" she asked.
"Well, if you wrote the way you're talking right now, you'd be penning lyric poems about Council Bluffs and its cheap beer and broken jukeboxes."
"And would people rather read that?"
"I think I would, yes," Patrick said, pretending to think it over.
She smiled and gave herself permission to laugh the slightest bit. "You make me feel better without even trying to," she told him.
"Who says I'm not trying?" he asked. He flagged the bartender and ordered them another round.
"Why isn't this hard for anybody else?" she wondered, rolling the rim of the bottle against her bottom lip. He shrugged off her question and looked at her, hard.
"You're asking the wrong question. You should be asking why it's hard for you, not why it isn't hard for anyone else."
"I don't know why it's hard for me. I didn't think it would be. I thought it'd be tough starting out, saying goodbye to my mom and my friends and my life, but I knew for sure that once I got out here I'd just be doing what I was supposed to be doing. I'd be sort of... catching up to myself. Finally catching up to something, after all these years of running towards it."
Patrick played with the label on his beer and studied her. "But it's different and it's hard."
"Yeah," she said emphatically. "It's different. And it's hard."
"Because you had unrealistic expectations of yourself."
The way he said it made her back straighten, the easy tone, the familiarity with which he tossed the assessment out, as though there wasn't a chance in hell he could be wrong. It put her on the defensive.
"I don't know about that," she countered.
"You don't know everything about me," she said, and to her disbelief, he had the audacity to disagree.
"Sure I do. Grew up in a small town where people hug each other and leave their front doors unlocked, water their neighbors' plants without being asked to and stuff like that. Your mom raised you alone, so you didn't have much money growing up, but maybe you came into it later, or there was money somewhere else in your family, because there are some definite traces of blue running through those veins of yours. She had you young, your mother, really young. Your dad was in and out of the picture, mostly out of it. You'll probably never really forgive him for that, but if you ever do, it will only be because it turned out she was all you needed. You still adore her, miss her almost all the time not because you aren't ready to be on your own, but because you're used to her taking up more space in her life."
He paused briefly for a breath and a gulp of beer, and then continued. "You went to prep school, on scholarship, maybe, and graduated at the top of your class. You were on the newspaper there, or maybe the yearbook staff, and you were a star. You've never kicked a soccer ball in your life. You were reading Tolstoy before your wisdom teeth came in, even though you barely understood a word, and when you read it again in college you probably decided that you liked it better the first time," he said. At that, she tried hard not to smile.
"You dated seriously during your Ivy education, because you don't know how to date any other way. He was a pretty boy with a crazy trust fund. College ended and you stopped making sense together."
That was a freebie, because Logan's name had come up in conversation more than once between the two of them over the past several weeks. She considered telling Patrick that she'd be taking points off, but he was already talking again.
"You scored a job in journalism through connections, but it was a job that you honestly deserved. Now, you're in the middle of nowhere drinking dollar beers and getting more pissed off at me with every right guess. Correct me if I missed anything."
She felt heavy and light at once, short of breath. It made her think of that time in third grade when she had been rehearsing for a school play and Billy Murphy had accidentally shoved her off the stage, the short fall and crash landing that had knocked the wind right out of her. She felt like that, now: windless. She didn't know what to say, so she took a long swig of her drink.
"You're not transparent," he assured her. "I'm a reporter. It's my job to hear what people don't say."
♫ ♫ ♫ ♫ ♫ ♫ ♫ ♫ ♫
Lorelai sat beside Luke on the tiled floor of baggage claim, her legs crossed at the ankles. She had arrived almost thirty minutes earlier, and the only topic she had been brave enough to broach was the relative merits of several pop song ring tones. She held Luke's phone up in front of them as she scrolled through the "Top 20" section.
"You need something that will give you a little street cred," she told him.
"How come you're allowed to have just a plain old ring, but I need street cred?"
She pouted. "Because I have to walk around talking to guests all day long, and if my phone sang Sexyback the way it does in my happiest of dreams, people would look at me funny."
"Well, I think I'm all set on street cred."
She snorted. "According to who, Kirk?"
He elbowed her in the ribs and when she doubled over in fake pain, he hooked his arm around her and drew her closer.
"How about Smack That?" she suggested, resting her head on his shoulder as she continued to play with the phone. "Straight to the Bank? Golddigger?"
"No, no, and no."
"Picky," she accused. She kept scrolling idly through, peeking at his face out of the corner of her eye.
"So, hey," she began casually. "What were you going to say this morning before I jumped down your throat?"
He shrugged and shook his head. "I shouldn't have reacted the way I did."
Lorelai turned to face him, causing his arm to slip from her shoulders. She caught his hand in hers.
"No, Luke, this one's on me, I think. I just got so anxious, and I unloaded some stuff on you that I shouldn't have. Last night was so... refreshing, you know? Hanging out, joking around, helping you get ready for April. Being involved, I guess. I just went to bed really happy, and then I woke up and you looked nervous and said some familiar words and I flipped out. I'm sorry."
"Lorelai," he began, giving her hand a few comforting squeezes. "We've talked this to death, so I don't want to get into it again. But I just need to know that you know-"
"I know," she assured him.
"Good," he said.
"So, you can tell me. I want you to tell me."
He shifted uncomfortably, but she continued to look at him expectantly, encouragingly.
"It's just... I don't want you to take this the wrong way. I love being with you, and I want to be with you all the time, and I want the three of us to spend time together, too."
"I know that," she assured him. "I do."
"Okay. But, well, the thing is..." He paused before rushing through his next words. "I don't think we should sleep together when April's here. I'm just not comfortable with that. She's not a little kid, you know, she's impressionable and sensitive, and I don't think she'd say anything even if it did bother her, but even if she was fine with it, I just don't think it's appropriate."
Lorelai almost laughed, and she would have, if his face hadn't been so searching and anxious.
"Of course we're not sleeping together when she's here," she said. "You think I'd be down for sleeping in your bed in your one-room apartment with your teenage daughter?"
"Well, when you put it that way..."
His face had relaxed and was approaching a smile. She grinned at him and pushed that almost-smile right over the edge.
"Silly boy," she said, resting her palm against his rough cheek.
They heard the cry before they saw April, hurrying around the baggage carousel with unchecked exuberance. Luke and Lorelai scrambled up from the floor and watched the girl careen towards them, a blur of flailing arms and long legs and straightened dark hair.
She crashed into Luke full force, knocking him back on his heels. Lorelai looked on as they hugged and then separated, Luke holding his daughter by the shoulders and taking a good long look at her.
"What's that stuff on your face?" was his first question.
"Eye shadow and lip gloss?" April responded tentatively.
He looked at Lorelai. "Hear that? Eye shadow and lip gloss."
"I think she looks great," Lorelai said, offering April a tentative smile. "Welcome back, sweetie."
April tripped slightly over one of her suitcases as she switched positions to embrace Lorelai, squealing a little as she did so.
"I didn't think you were coming with Dad to get me," she said.
"I decided to keep him company."
"I'm really glad you're here," April told her. Her voice was serious enough to convey that 'here' meant more than just the airport pick-up.
Luke shouldered April's three enormous bags and grunted comically as they made their way to the parking lot.
"God, what do you have in here? Didn't you leave any make-up in the drug stores?"
"Da-aaaadd," said April.
Over his daughter's head, Luke winked at Lorelai, and any traces of doubt were extinguished by that simple gesture.
♫ ♫ ♫ ♫ ♫ ♫ ♫ ♫ ♫
"Okay, so explain this to me again. The guy is just on YouTube standing in his kitchen talking about different kinds of muffins?"
Rory fumbled with the key card to her room, putting it in upside down about four times before trying it the other way. When the door swung open, she gasped like she had just won the jackpot at a slot machine. She giggled at herself, then at Patrick.
"Nooooo," she drawled. "You don't get it. It's funnier than that. I don't get why you don't get it."
"Because you're describing it very badly," he told her. He tripped over a pair of her heels and landed on the corner of the bed. "Oomph. Did that on purpose."
She giggled again and sat next to him, opening her laptop where it was charging on the nightstand. "I'm gonna show you," she said definitively. "I'm gonna show you why it's funny. This thing takes a long time to turn on. So long to turn on. That hourglass takes so long to fill up."
"You're wasted," he accused, dragging the word out to at least three syllables.
She gasped. "Am not!"
"I'm slightly buzzed," she countered.
Rory leaned back against the pillows, but misjudged the distance and ended up lying down with her feet dangling off the side of the bed. She turned her head to face him.
"You're completely drunk," he said, with finality.
"So drunk," she agreed. He laughed and scooted over to lie down beside her.
"Bed sucks," he said.
"Won't matter. You're drunky drunk."
"So are you," she countered.
He made a noise as though to contradict her, but then simply shrugged his shoulders and grinned. He looked like a little boy when he smiled that way, Rory thought. She wanted to count the freckles on his chin. Earlier there had been three, but now it looked more like nine. They had multiplied. The thought made her giggle again.
"You're a giggly drunk," he told her.
"I haven't been this drunk in forever," she said. "Since, like... forever. This drunk? No. Not since Lane's bachelorette party, probably."
"Sounds like a good time."
"It was," she said, transitioning from giggly drunk to morose drunk. "My mom threw it. Threw it? Threw up?"
"Your mom threw up?"
"Someone did," she said. "Don't remember. It was awesome."
Patrick laughed. "You just said awesome weird, you said it like this: ahhhsome."
"I miss her," Rory said, ignoring Patrick's last observation. "I miss both of those hers. They're really good hers."
"You wanna know something? I think this is what lonely feels like. I thought I felt it before, but I don't think I ever did."
"Lonely? Oh, it feels kind of like shadowy inside and all hollow, like your own feelings just kind of like echo, you know, like this: whooooooooo," he said solemnly.
"Yes!" Rory agreed, elbowing him gently in the ribs. "It feels exactly like that."
They sat there for a few moments in silence. Rory watched the stucco on the ceiling turn in circles, like spin art.
"What did we come up here for?" Patrick asked after a little while. Rory thought hard. Then she burst out laughing.
"I have no idea," she said, gasping for breath.
Patrick turned on his side and poked her in the shoulder. "You have a funny laugh," he said. She stopped laughing abruptly when she suddenly noticed how very close his nose was to hers.
"But you stopped," he noted.
"Mmhmm," she said. With no direction from her brain, her hand had found a home for itself in the crook of Patrick's elbow.
"I'm sorry you're lonely, Rory," he said, dropping a kiss on the tip of her nose.
"Not so much right now," she said softly. She closed her eyes and pressed her lips to his. Her head was spinny like the ceiling and his mouth tasted just like hers. Her lips felt a little numb and she could barely tell they were kissing at all until she felt his hands under her shirt, caressing her bare stomach, inching towards her bra.
"Not so much right now, me either," he said, the words muffled against her neck.
Then they stopped talking for a good long while.
♫ ♫ ♫ ♫ ♫ ♫ ♫ ♫ ♫
When Lorelai arrived at work that morning, Sookie was waiting for her at the desk with a steaming mug of coffee.
"Morning!" Sookie chirped.
"I'm not refereeing for you and Michel," Lorelai warned, accepting the coffee.
"I'm not asking you to!"
"Oh. Then what's with the welcome?"
"Can't a girl loiter around the reception desk for forty minutes, waiting to bestow upon her best friend a delicious mocha latte?"
"Yes she can!" Lorelai declared after the first sip. "This is awesome, by the way. Thanks, Sook!"
"Feeling better today?"
"Much, thanks. It was the most ridiculous concern, on Luke's part, and the most ridiculous response, on mine, but we're fine now. I met him at the airport last night to greet April, so she's here and safe and she looks great and she still likes me, which is key. Today he's taking her out on the boat, and then tonight we're going to make dinner at my house."
"That's great, honey!" Sookie said, genuinely happy for her friend. "See, I told you."
"You did," Lorelai agreed.
There was a pregnant pause.
"So, you like the coffee?"
Lorelai eyed her suspiciously. "Yes."
"Can I whip you up some breakfast? French toast? Something lighter? A scone, maybe? Apricot raisin scones!"
"I'm not refereeing for you and Michel, Sookie!" Lorelai repeated.
"Fine! He's out of his mind, though! He's recruiting, Lorelai. Last night he called guests on their cell phones to advertise. That's cheating! I don't have access to that kind of information!"
"Michel!" Lorelai called. He scuttled around a corner and approached with an innocent expression on his face.
"Don't call guests to plug your scrapbook party."
"Scrapbook workshop!" he corrected indignantly.
"Whatever! You can't call people on their private phones! They aren't professionally obligated to listen to you whine, unlike the rest of us."
"I detest you both."
"Aw. That's sweet. Now let's find some work for you to do."
Just then, Mr. Toskavitch from room eight descended the staircase with a newspaper tucked under his arm, blissfully unsuspecting. Sookie jumped in his path, producing an elegantly decorated sugar cookie that she must have been hiding in her pocket.
"Hello, good morning, sir! Would you like to learn how to decorate cookies with intricate and colorful designs in a few easy steps?"
"Um, well... not really."
"Do you have a wife or girlfriend or daughter?"
"I have a daughter," he admitted, eyeing the front door.
"I'll teach you how to decorate cookies like butterflies! I bet she likes butterflies!"
"Sookie," Lorelai said, trying to keep the warning in the most cheerful voice possible.
Michel chortled in satisfaction and cut Mr. Toskavitch off again as he headed for the exit.
"Have you ever made her a memory book?"
"Michel," Lorelai said through gritted teeth.
"What is... I don't even know what that is," the man said helplessly.
Michel looked at Mr. Toskavitch scornfully. "Do you even pretend to love your child?"
Lorelai all but leapt in between the two of them and put her arm around the guest's shoulders, leading him towards the front door.
"All right, Mr. Toskavitch, you enjoy your morning. Do you know where you're headed? Luke's diner is in the dead center of town and has delicious breakfasts, and as an added bonus, it is far away from anyone with a vested interest in your afternoon plans. Take this map!" she said, ushering him through the door. "Have a lovely day!"
She turned back to glare reproachfully at Sookie and Michel.
"Stop harassing the guests," she admonished. "Or I'll cancel both stupid classes!"
They gasped in unison. "You wouldn't!" Michel cried.
"Oh, wouldn't I?" Lorelai threatened, grabbing her coffee and Sookie's demo cookie before absconding to her office.
♫ ♫ ♫ ♫ ♫ ♫ ♫ ♫ ♫
Rory woke up because someone was shining a flashlight in her face and bouncing up and down on the bed. When she opened her eyes, she realized that the burning light she had mistaken for a flashlight was just the morning sun dappling in through the slits in the blinds, and the bouncer was just Patrick, quietly tying his shoes at the foot of the bed.
The first few times she tried to say "hello," her mouth moved but no sound came out. Her throat was hoarse and her tongue was heavy and thick. Her head felt like it was stuffed with wet cotton. There was a pain like snapping rubber bands at her temples. And yet, when she finally found her voice, she was smiling.
"Hey, you," she said. She was surprised that she didn't feel at all shy; only happy and warm and a little sick.
She felt more than a little sick when he turned around and she caught her first glimpse of his face, which was drawn, his lips pursed in a tight line. There was something unidentifiable in his eyes. Guilt, maybe, or regret.
"Hey," he said, managing a small smile. "How are you?"
It was such a strange question, the kind of thing acquaintances barely remember to ask one another at the post office. The kind of question you can only answer one way.
"I'm good," she said carefully. "You?"
"Good. Good," he replied. He shifted uncomfortably.
"You're up. Dressed," she noted.
"Yeah. Listen, Rory..."
Her stomach churned a little faster and she squeezed her eyes closed for a minute. She really couldn't believe that she was about to hear this speech, this horrible speech that featured prominently in about a hundred different movies she'd seen over the course of her life. Part of her wanted to chime in like those lithe Hollywood heroines, halt him with a heavy-lidded "Don't," or no, it was "Please don't." But another part of her thought that there was a small chance he wouldn't do it if she didn't help him.
"Rory. I'm really sorry."
"What for?" she asked, pulling at a loose thread in the white sheet.
"Last night. I didn't know... I didn't plan it. It just happened."
"I know," she said. "I was there, too."
"Yeah, I know. But I'm sorry. We're friends, and it's a mistake, to mess something like that up. We're just starting to really get to know each other, you know, and then this happened... this shouldn't have happened." He searched her face desperately. "Right? You agree?"
"Sure," she said. She hoped it was more convincing than it sounded to her ears.
"Yeah," he said, standing, obviously relieved. "I figured we'd be on the same page."
"Right. Same page," she repeated.
"It was great, last night," he offered, and she wanted to hit him for it. "But it was just... well, you know. You just broke up with someone, I just broke up with someone... I thought I was over it, but I guess... I'm not."
He spoke casually, as though it wasn't the first time she was hearing about this recently-ended relationship. She immediately wanted to know her name, her vital statistics, why it ended, if he loved her. She immediately wanted to know a million things that were suddenly and painfully none of her business.
"Are things going to be weird, now?" he asked. "I don't want things to be weird."
The question had an obvious answer, but again, there was only one appropriate response.
"No," she assured him, the best that she could. "Nothing's weird."
"Good. I'd hate it if we couldn't be friends."
"Me too," she said, focusing on a spot on the wall just above his left shoulder.
When he left, seconds later, she slunk down under the sheets and blankets until all she could see was white.
♫ ♫ ♫ ♫ ♫ ♫ ♫ ♫ ♫
The phone rang at the front desk and Lorelai answered it, having been stationed there while Michel set up for his workshop in the library.
"Dragonfly Inn, Lorelai speaking."
"Lorelai, it's your mother. We've decided to put together a care package for Rory."
"Well, that's very nice of you, Mom. Did you call just to report the headline, or can I help you with something?"
"I wanted your opinion on the contents, but if it would be too much trouble to put your sarcasm aside for a few moments..."
"Consider it aside. So, what have you crammed in there? Hit me with it."
"I'm not going to pretend to understand a word you just said."
"The package, Mom. What are you sending her?"
"Well, I've got a lovely arrangement of dried flowers... I thought they would travel better than fresh. And I'm putting together an assortment of gourmet cookies, cakes, jams and jellies. We're also sending her some spending money, of course, and a beautiful new set of pens. But I was wondering if you could think of anything else she might like."
While Emily had been speaking, Sookie had passed glumly by en route to the library, carrying a tiered serving tray of iced Bavarian sugar cookies. Lorelai craned her neck and tried to see what she was up to, to no avail.
"Other than jams and jellies and cash and pens? I think that covers all her interests, Mom," Lorelai said distractedly.
"Well, if you think of anything else..."
"I'll call you. Listen, work is really busy right now--"
"All right, all right. Be sure to call if you think of anything else to add! I want this package to be so huge she'll need help carrying it."
"Sounds like quite a treat," Lorelai quipped.
She hung up the phone and walked cautiously towards the library, where she was shocked to find Sookie and Michel bent over the craft table he had set up. There wasn't a guest in sight, but Michel was quietly instructing Sookie as she applied what appeared to be foam duckling cut-outs to the cover of a photo album.
"We'll do the ribbon binding next," he said.
"And then the rick-rack trim!" Sookie said gleefully.
Lorelai hesitated to enter the room and disrupt the pleasant moment the two were sharing. And then, almost before it began, it was over. She backed away quietly, and their bickering echoed after her.
"Sookie! You are getting crumbs in my glue!"
"I am not, you old crone."
"Your highly caloric treat has compromised the integrity of my work station."
"Get your sticky hands out of my bead box at once."
♫ ♫ ♫ ♫ ♫ ♫ ♫ ♫ ♫
Rory stood outside the convention hall where Senator Obama's speech would begin in about forty minutes. It was times like these when she wished she smoked. She knew all about lung cancer and emphysema, but she had arrived over an hour earlier than necessary and needed something to do with her hands.
All day, she had diligently been avoiding any thoughts about the previous night or Patrick, but that was all shot to hell when she saw him approaching. He was half a block away and all dressed up, wearing that periwinkle tie she liked so much. Without thinking, she frantically searched out her cell phone from her purse and held it to her ear.
"Yeah. Yeah, I know," she fake-conversationed. "Nothing really. Just waiting for the speech to start... what are you up to?"
She had her head down and continued to ask questions into her phone when he passed her on the steps. Right before he reached the doors, a horribly high-pitched noise sounded right into Rory's ear. It took her a moment to realize that it was her phone, ringing. While she was supposedly on it. She quickly looked up, praying that Patrick was already in the building, but he was looking back at her curiously.
Not knowing what else to do, she pressed the send button and accepted the call.
"Hello?" she asked, her mind a fog of humiliation.
"Rory? It's Michael. Listen, I got your draft."
Rory felt her throat close up a little bit. "And?"
"And, it's far from perfect, but I'm seeing progress."
"Really?" she asked, trying hard to mask her surprise. It wasn't even a compliment, exactly, but it was close enough.
"Yeah. I know you've got a speech to cover in a few minutes, but call me at the office tomorrow morning so we can go over some of the specifics. I particularly like the way you handled the introduction. It's dynamic. I'd like to see more of that throughout."
"I can do that," she said.
"All right," Michael said. "Until tomorrow, then."
"Bye," she said. She slapped the phone shut definitively and her expression was somewhere between a smile and a grimace as she steeled herself and entered the hall.
♫ ♫ ♫ ♫ ♫ ♫ ♫ ♫ ♫
"Are these alphabetized?" April called. She was in Rory's room, perusing the overflowing bookshelves.
"By author, then title," Lorelai replied. "And color coordinated wherever possible."
"That's so cool!"
Lorelai snorted. "That's one way to describe it." She handed three glasses to Luke, who filled them with ice and put them on the table.
"She has The Hot Zone! I love the Ebola virus. The CDC completely fascinates me."
Luke raised his eyebrows at Lorelai, and she tried not to laugh.
"Yeah, well, let it fascinate you while you help set the table," Luke said good-naturedly. April wandered out, already reading, and sat down to absently fold the napkins.
A few moments later, Luke carried a pan of chicken francaise over to the table.
"Ready to eat?"
"God, yes," Lorelai said.
April, looking a bit queasy, finally tore her eyes from the book.
"Someone's insides are turning black and liquefying," she said in a small, disgusted voice.
"And if you eat your vegetables, that won't happen to you," Luke teased, spooning broccoli onto April's plate and ignoring her unamused glare.
♫ ♫ ♫
After dinner, Luke, Lorelai and April settled down in the living room to play Monopoly. Halfway through the game, Lorelai remembered why it had been so long since the last time she'd played.
"You know why this game sucks?" she said. "Because it never ends."
"Well, usually it ends with you getting cranky because you're losing and flipping the board so that all the pieces go flying and we have to stop playing."
"Two times, that happened!" she said defensively. He chuckled and patted her knee.
"Don't worry, Lorelai," April said. "I'm about to clean you out, and then Dad's got like no properties at all because he's hoarding his money, which is the lamest strategy ever!"
The phone rang then, and Lorelai took the opportunity to stretch her legs. She bounded over to the hall table, leaving Luke and April to their trash talk.
"Board Game Torture Lair, how may I help you?"
"Rory!" she exclaimed. "Hey babe, how's it going?"
"Okay," Rory said. Lorelai heard a thinness in Rory's voice, which was enough to set off her mom radar.
"Just okay?" she asked, concerned. "What's the matter?"
"Oh! You owe me for Park Place!" April crowed loudly.
"Okay, okay," Luke grumbled.
Lorelai placed her hand over her other ear. "Rory?"
"What's all that noise?" Rory asked.
"Oh, Luke and April playing Monopoly," she said. "It's getting heated. I'm the shoe."
"Naturally," Rory said.
"Are you sure you're okay, hon? You sound a little down."
"It's your turn, Lorelai," Luke called. She waved her arm at him and pointed at the receiver, mouthing the word 'Rory.' He nodded in response.
"I'm fine, Mom," Rory said. "Just tired. It's been a long day. Go back to your game, though, we can talk later."
"You're sure you're just tired?"
"I'm sure," Rory assured her. "Go kick Luke's ass. And tell April I said hi."
"I will. Oh, hon, hang on a minute. Can you do me a favor and call your grandparents? They've been interrogating me about you nonstop."
"Are they mad?" Rory asked. "I haven't been calling as much as I should."
"You've been busy," Lorelai said. "But I do suggest you call them tonight. They feel a little slighted, I think."
"I'll try harder," Rory resolved.
"I think you'd better, especially if you don't want the front desk of whatever budget motel you're staying in to be bombarded with Harry and David fruit baskets that cost more than the management team's salary combined."
"Love you, Mom."
"Love you too, sweets. Goodnight."
She hung up just before April attacked Luke for the three hundred dollars he was withholding from her. Lorelai held the phone against her heart and laughed as Luke pretended to tear up the fake bills and April squealed in protest.
♫ ♫ ♫ ♫ ♫ ♫ ♫ ♫ ♫
Rory flipped her phone closed and tried to keep her mother's voice in her head for as long as she could. Love you, sweets. As she repeated it in her mind, the phrase lost all meaning, and with it, all of its silly comfort. She laid back on the bed, thinking of Stars Hollow and of their house, the warm living room full of people and laughter and love. Her room was white and quiet and empty, the bed tightly made: hospital corners.
After a few moments of feeling decidedly sorry for herself, she sat up and dragged her computer out of her bag. She stared at it with grim resolve and waited for the machine to power up, trying to block the fuzzy, choppy memory of playing this same waiting game with Patrick the night before. By the time she pulled up a blank Word document, she felt a new wave of determination and attacked the keys with growing confidence.
She flashed back to a moment she hadn't thought of in years, when she was seven years old and Lorelai, who had needed a minute to herself, sat her down with paper and a pen.
"Write me a story," Lorelai said.
Rory examined the blank page, the whiteness of it, the vastness of it.
"Anything you want. Write about school. Write about Lane. Write about monkeys."
"I don't know anything about monkeys," Rory panicked.
Lorelai smiled encouragingly before giving her the golden ticket.
The screen filled quickly as Rory's words flowed steadily from mind to fingertips. The simple act of it was as effortless as breathing, as warm as a hug. When she was finished, she sat back and scrolled up to the first line to re-read her masterpiece. It wasn't quite as imaginative as "My Day With The Monkeys," but it was close.
"Dear Grandma and Grandpa," it began.
To be continued...
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