Author's Note: Thanks so much to our awesome beta, Lula Bo. Thanks also to our readers for the enthusiastic support of our efforts as well as for the thoughtful and constructive feedback. We so very much appreciate it.
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"You're doing it again!"
"What?" Lorelai's face twisted into a perplexed frown.
"You didn't tell me you're in the diner," Rory admonished.
"Yeah," Lorelai said slowly, distracted by the sight of Zach and Brian careening around either end of the counter in a race to the ham and cheese omelet Luke had just put up. "Well... it's not like that's a big shock."
"Talking on the phone... " Rory coached.
"Well, Luke's in the back, so you can rest assured I'm not doing it to torment him. And it's not like Zach or Brian are going to say anything." She switched to pouty voice. "I just wanted to talk to my darling loinfruit."
Rory passed right over that. "Zach and Brian, huh? I still have a hard time imagining it."
"Well, it's gotten especially interesting." Lorelai lowered her voice to share the scoop. "You know that Lane's been starting back gradually for the last month?"
"Luke was grumbling that he wouldn't be able to keep them all on. He'd been putting off doing anything until after his trip to New Mexico, but now he's back and it's been a fascinating display of one-upmanship."
Lorelai thinks she hears Rory clapping her hands eagerly. "Ooh, tell me more,"
"Well, Zach, he's surprisingly speedy. You wouldn't think it, right? But Luke puts up an order and it's zero to super-waiter in 0.05 seconds." She grinned watching the two bandmates fall over each other trying to greet the pair of tourists who had just entered the diner. "And Brian is Mr. Courteous. No matter how many times I tell him it's ?orelai,' I'm always Ms. Gilmore. Ah, and now I'm out of coffee so you'll get a first-hand demonstration."
Lorelai made a small show of peering into her mug longingly. Moments later, Zach called from across the diner. "I've got it, Lorelai." He raced over, coffeepot in hand, pouring so quickly some of the coffee sloshed on the table.
"Oh, man. I'm sorry," he groaned, his whole upper body slumping in defeat. "I'll get that cleaned up right away."
"No need for that. I'm on it," Brian announced as he came up behind Zach. "Let me wipe that up for you, Ms. Gilmore." He smiled graciously. "Can I get you anything else?"
"Thank you Brian," Lorelai said sweetly. "You know, I'd love another danish."
"Of course, I'll get that right away," he answered, rushing off toward the counter.
Zach stood in front of her, looking glum. "Is there anything I can do for you?" he asked hopefully.
Lorelai glanced around the table, casting for an idea. "How about some sugar? For my coffee. And a teaspoon. For stirring."
Zach brightened. "You got it, Lore—Mrs. G."
As he scurried off, Lorelai whispered into the phone, "You get all that?"
"You are evil," Rory chastised and Lorelai could almost see her daughter's accusing finger pointing in her direction. "You don't even take sugar in your coffee!"
"I know, but you should have seen his face. He just wanted to help. I'll just throw the sugar packets in my purse with the rest of them."
"And did he really call you Mrs. G?"
"Yeah, he gets a little flustered about calling me Lorelai when Brian's around, and he's really not clear on the whole Ms. vs. Mrs. thing."
"Is Luke really going to... "
"Nah." Lorelai waved airily. "He's way too much of a softie."
"So if he supports the whole band, you think they'll have to credit him in their liner notes?"
Lorelai laughed. "Yeah, he's their sugar daddy. That right, sugar daddy? Or is it puff daddy?" she mused.
Rory gave a wry chuckle. "And on that note... "
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Lorelai washed down the last bite of her danish with the remains of her coffee,
then sighed, reaching for her purse. Before she had a chance to stand, Brian
appeared at her elbow. "More coffee, Ms. Gilmore?"
"Thanks, Brian, but as much as I'd love to sit here all morning drinking coffee, the expense reports are calling."
"Ah, I see," he said knowingly, though she wasn't sure he'd know what do if confronted with an expense report. "Well, you have a good day then."
Smiling grimly, she said, "I'll try."
Standing, she called toward the kitchen, "Bye, Luke."
Luke caught her eye through the opening to the kitchen. "Hey, hold on a second." He finished plating a stack of pancakes, then walked toward her, passing off the order to Zach. "Leaving already?"
Lorelai gave a weary groan. "I've got this pile of paperwork waiting for me at the inn that is the Trash Heap from Fraggle Rock. I swear it grows when I'm not there and soon it's going to sport glasses and act as my oracle."
"Ah," he said with amused understanding. "See you at lunch?"
"Not today." She lowered her voice ominously. "I'm having lunch with my mother. She's apparently seen an architect, which, considering that we haven't pinned down the size or scale or, well, anything about this project, seems a bit premature. But that's Emily Gilmore for you," she added with a grim smile.
"Are you sure—" he started, then shook his head. Dropping his chin, he looked up at her from beneath his brow. "Haven't seen you much since I got back from New Mexico."
Lorelai frowned guiltily. "I know. I'm sorry it's been so crazy. I'll make it up to you, I promise."
He cracked a reluctant smile and leaned toward her, his voice low when he muttered, "I'll hold you to that."
Lorelai wrapped her hand loosely around his upper arm, closing the space between them and pressing her lips to his, whispering softly as she pulled away, "You do that."
♫ ♫ ♫
Lorelai left the diner with mixed emotions and a third cherry danish stashed
safely in her purse. Paperwork, floorplans, and yet another meeting with her
mother made her dread the day ahead of her. But, she did have another danish.
That was enough motivation to get Lorelai through lunch, at least.
Lorelai did not have time to list more of the advantages of the danish, however, because something had latched on to her arm. She managed to get out a yelp of surprise before being dragged down the alley next to Doose's. She expected to meet a burly mugger or a zombie, but instead she was face to face with one Kirk Gleason.
"Lorelai." he whispered, slightly out of breath, "Oh good, it was you."
"Geez, Kirk!" Lorelai exclaimed loudly, clutching her heart, "Put some Tic-Tacs in your pocket when you sneak up on people like that. You scared me to death!"
"I'm sorry," he responded, still whispering, "I needed to discuss something with you in private and then I saw you walking down the street. I thought it was the perfect opportunity."
"Was it really necessary to grab me like that? I was about to beat you with my purse." Lorelai loosened her grip on said purse, realizing that her once glorious cherry danish was most likely smushed.
"I don't want Lulu to see us talking," Kirk explained, his eyes quickly darting toward the direction of the street.
Lorelai allowed her eyes to follow his, even though she had no indication of what Kirk was looking for. He leaned closer to her. She took a quick step back.
"Next time," she whispered back with a sigh, "calmly approach me in a public place and then ask to speak to me in private, please."
"I'll keep that in mind." Kirk still refused to meet her eye, staring down the alley with his brows furrowed.
"Wait a minute, why are we whispering? Why shouldn't Lulu see us? And isn't she at the school right now, anyway?"
"Yes, I think so," he confirmed with a nod.
"So, she wouldn't see or hear us talking because she is at the school right now," Lorelai pointed out.
Kirk shook his head. "I didn't want to take any chances." He became quiet, still trying to keep watch. She could almost see the wheels in his head turning. After a few excruciating moments, Lorelai broke the silence.
"Uh, Kirk? Was there something you wanted to say, or are we going to rumble?" Kirk quickly looked both ways down the alley and stepped even closer to her. Lorelai jumped back, pressing herself against the opposite wall. Terrific. Nowhere to run.
"Can I ask you a personal question?"
The very last thing Lorelai wanted to do was share something personal with Kirk.
"Oh, well, I-I don't know about that, Kir—"
"How did you propose?" he interrupted quickly.
"Were there flowers? I always pictured flowers."
"I, uh, flowers? What flowers?" Lorelai asked, words unable to express her utter confusion.
"When you proposed to Luke, were there flowers around?"
This woke her up faster than a triple shot espresso on a chilly morning. Images of pink and blue ribbons and surprise engagement parties in the town square flooded her mind. Oh, this was not good. This was not good at all. How could the town possibly think that she and Luke were engaged again?
"Whoa, whoa, whoa, what proposal to Luke?" she squeaked, finally able to put her racing thoughts into panicked syllables. "There was no proposal. Me, propose? That's silly. What do you mean, propose? I didn't propose to anyone."
"But, I thought you proposed to Luke," Kirk said, his brow scrunched even more.
"I didn't propose to Luke. There is no proposing going on. Luke and I aren't engaged. Raise your hand if you didn't propose to anyone," she raised her hand high and laughed nervously. "See, no ring. Not engaged. No proposal." Taking a cue from Kirk, she quickly glanced down the alley. "Did Patty put you up to this?"
"No, but, I... you proposed to Luke. You told me that you did," Kirk stammered.
"God, I wasn't sleep-emailing again, was I? I thought I had stopped doing that."
"You said before, when you and Luke got engaged, that you proposed," he attempted to clarify. It dawned on Lorelai that perhaps Kirk was not referring to her current status with Luke.
"Before? As in, before Luke and I got back together? That before?"
"Yes, that was what I was referring to." Relief instantly shone in her features and she retaliated for her previous frantic thoughts by punching Kirk in the arm.
"Man, you have got to stop freaking me out like this, Kirk! Heart disease runs in my family." Kirk rubbed his arm with a frown. "What is all this about, anyway?"
"I'm proposing to Lulu." His face almost had an expression.
"Wow, you're proposing? That's great, Kirk," she said with a grin.
"I like to think so, yes."
"When are you planning on popping the question?"
"As soon as I come up with a good proposal."
"Hence the reason we're here," remarked Lorelai.
"I have never proposed to anyone before. I checked some books out from the library, but I had a hard time visualizing the descriptions. I also Netflixed the episode of Friends where Monica and Chandler get engaged."
Kirk nodded. "In the end, Monica starts to propose to Chandler before he gets a chance. Which made me think about you. I remembered that you proposed to Luke, and maybe you would be able to help me. You have proposed before."
"Well, Kirk," Lorelai began with a shrug, "there isn't much of a story to tell. Luke is great, the moment was right, I asked him, and he said yes."
"That's it?" Kirk asked, clearly disappointed. Lorelai frowned.
"Yeah, pretty much."
"No flowers." Kirk appeared to be analyzing her words carefully.
"Hmm, that wasn't exactly what I was looking for," Kirk said with a sigh. "I just don't think your proposal is exciting enough for Lulu and I. We both have very vibrant personalities."
"I don't doubt it," Lorelai stated, biting her lower lip to suppress a giggle. She patted his arm supportively. "Hang in there. Sorry I couldn't be more help."
"Thank you for not hitting me with your purse."
"You're welcome, Kirk." She shot him one last smile, and left him to ponder her less than dramatic proposal.
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It was appropriate, Rory thought, setting out to find 'local color' with her
mother's phone call fresh in her mind. Having grown-up amongst the characters of
Stars Hollow, it shouldn't have taken her so long to figure out how to
personalize her pieces, how to give them that 'fresh perspective' that Michael
had been pressing her for.
She wasn't exactly sure what she was looking for, but there was an obvious 'main' street running through the small, not-exactly-rural, not-exactly-suburban town. It wasn't until she saw a sign for the 'Town Barber Shop' that she realized the name of the town had temporarily escaped her. Passing the barber shop, she noted that it had the stereotypical small-town style that she'd only ever seen in movies. She paused, considering and then quickly discarding the idea of trying to casually meet people there.
Next door, however, offered more possibility. The long, narrow storefront had a counter stretched along the right side and a few tables along the left wall. Glancing up, she saw that the letters over the door said only 'Town Restaurant.' She opened the door slowly, noting with a smile a sign advertising a harvest festival and parade the following Saturday, right next to a notice that listed the daily lunch special as a hot dog with baked beans.
The only customers in the place were gathered at the back: eight people, mostly men and mostly middle-aged or older. Rory settled quietly at the end of the counter closest to the door and watched for a moment, trying to determine the best way to introduce herself.
She didn't have to work to hear the conversation; the group was speaking loudly enough that it didn't take long to figure out that they were discussing floats for the upcoming parade.
"What's yours, Ed?" the youngest of the women needled the man seemingly at the center of the conversation.
"Probably not doing one," he said, brushing off the idea.
"Oh, he's just saying that," muttered the short, stocky middle-aged woman behind the counter, waving a hand toward his chest. "He's probably working on something in that garage of his. Remember the antique tractor hayride?"
"Or the one with his grandson's pot and pan band," piped in one of the men.
"It'll be something like that," the third woman said confidently. Seven pairs of eyes trained on Ed, but he just shrugged and they gave up their pestering.
The short conversational lull that followed was broken by an older man saying matter-of-factly, "Town meeting tonight."
Rory perked up, thinking that now she'd be able to get their thoughts about the campaign.
"It'll be a long one this time. Lots of stuff to get through," he continued.
"Honey, you know what you want?"
Rory jumped. "What?" She looked up to see the woman who worked the counter smiling at her. Close up, Rory could see the name tag that identified her as 'Doreen,' and her coarse, blond chin-length hair.
"Didn't mean to startle you," she apologized.
"Oh, I was, uh, looking at the specials board," Rory stammered, gesturing lamely toward the back wall as she tried to cover the fact that she'd been eavesdropping.
"Sure. Okay," Doreen said, sounding unconvinced. "Do you want anything?"
"Coffee?" Rory considered ordering something else, but having eaten her fill at the hotel's buffet breakfast, she shook her head.
Doreen fetched her coffee quickly and when she returned Rory decided that it was time to do what she was being paid to do. "So, are people looking forward to the town meeting?"
Doreen paused a moment, looked at her. "You here with the campaign?"
Rory nodded. "I'm a reporter for an online magazine."
Doreen nodded back. "Ah. Well, a bunch of us will probably go to Obama's shindig, but what they're talking about," she gestured back over her shoulder toward the group in the back, "is the town meeting we've got after that to finish planning for Saturday."
"For the festival?"
"Yeah." Doreen eyed her curiously. "How did you—"
"I saw the sign," Rory answered, pointing at the door. Then she nodded toward the other end of the counter. "Sounds like fun. Too bad we'll miss it."
Doreen lifted her eyebrows, staring at Rory a moment, and shrugged. "Just a silly tradition."
"Those are the best kind."
At that, the waitress gave a good natured chuckle. "That they are."
"So... " Rory posed hesitantly. "Do you think that they'd mind it I asked some questions?"
"Mind? They'd probably love it." She turned and called out, "Hey Ed, you all care if this young lady asks some questions?"
"Nah," he said, waving her over. "Are you one of them Obama people? You got questions about the campaign?"
"Well, yeah," Rory said, slipping off the stool and trying to manage her coffee, bag and notebook all at once. "But I'd love to know more about this parade too."
One of the women gave her a motherly smile, while the older man grumbled. "Too bad Obama ain't interested in the festival. Even after we invited him to participate, too. But instead he comes now, smack-dab in the middle of our preparations."
Rory hesitated, uneasy, but Ed shushed the man. "Easy, Walter. I don't think she scheduled it. Right?" The last he directed at Rory with a wink. "So, what do you want to know?"
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The second Lorelai reentered the Dragonfly after dealing with her distraught
gardener, she knew that something was off. Everything appeared normal: guests
were milling about, chairs were in the right positions, picture frames were
straight, and blood was not oozing down the walls. It wasn't until she walked
behind the front desk that she heard unnatural laughter. Curiously, Lorelai
picked up pile of mail and made her way to the dining area. Emily and Michel
were hunched over stacks of books and brochures at one of the tables, smiling
and flushed from laughter. They did not seem to be aware of Lorelai's presence.
Seeing her mother and Michel in cahoots made her very nervous.
"Michel, I am going to surveil the competition this weekend. I have booked a facial at the Pearl Day Spa, a massage at the Seaside Inn, and a seaweed wrap at the Hotel Congress downtown. Do you care to join me?" Emily asked sweetly.
"I would be delighted, Mrs. Gilmore," Michel cooed.
"Please call me Emily," Lorelai's mother stated with a chuckle as she warmly patted Michel's arm.
"Of course, Emily. I heard that the Seaside Inn offers a truffle facial. Très bon," Michel suggested, wiping tears of elation from his eyes.
Lorelai really needed another cup of coffee. Her conversation with Kirk earlier was one thing, but this was a whole new kind of crazy.
"It certainly sounds decadent." Emily muttered something to Michel in French and both began to giggle with glee.
"Oui, oui," Michel managed to get out between spurts of laughter. He looked up, spotted Lorelai, and immediately scowled. "Oh good, you're here."
"Hello," Lorelai said weakly, shuffling papers around to find a spot for her mail. Emily had also sobered at her appearance, and tapped her well-manicured nail on the table.
"You're late," her mother flatly observed.
"I know, I'm sorry. I had to go talk the gardener down from his ledge. Bulb issues. But, it looks like Michel was keeping you company."
"Yes," Emily confirmed. "We were discussing facials in your absence."
"Well, okay, let's talk facials."
"Someone needs to watch the front desk," stated Michel dryly, flipping through a brochure for a spa in Vermont.
"And you look like the man for the job, Michel."
"Fine," he sighed, and he slowly pushed back from the table and made his way to the front desk.
"We are finished discussing facials. We need to decide on floor plans today, Lorelai," Emily said sternly.
"Er, right, of course. Let's talk floor plans, then." Emily gave her a curt nod and opened up her purse to pull out several designs. While her mother arranged the papers, Lorelai took the opportunity to open her mail.
"Here are a few of the sketches that I had my architect draw up. This one," she said, pointing at the sketch to her right, "is my personal favorite. The rooms are arranged in an arc, with the front desk in the center. Structurally, I think it will fit the inn well."
"What about the rest of the designs?" Lorelai asked absently as she reviewed an invoice from her linen company.
"They are all quite good and could potentially suit the needs of the inn."
"Hmm, good," Lorelai commented. Her brow furrowed as she tried to figure out why her linen guy was overcharging her for towels.
"What do you think, Lorelai?"
"They look great," Lorelai said as she jotted down a few sums in the margin of the invoice.
"Which one do you like?"
"Um, that one looks good," Lorelai said after a pause and a quick glance to the sketches in front of her. She pointed to one in the middle and looked over the invoice again.
"Are you even paying attention?" Emily asked, exasperated.
"Trying to, Mom." Lorelai wrote down a note to Michel on the invoice and set the paper down to focus on her mother. Emily looked frustrated.
"You aren't even listening to me."
"Yes I am," Lorelai sighed. "You liked the arc design."
"And which one is that?" Lorelai bit her lip. Drat, all the sketches looked the same. Lorelai took a chance and pointed to the one in the center of the table. Emily rolled her eyes.
"Is it really that difficult to pay attention at these meetings?"
"Well, Mom, today has been particularly busy. We are at full capacity right now. Two of our chefs have the flu, the gardener is very close to pulling out all the bulbs he planted last week, and my linen guy is overcharging me for towels. Frankly, I have bigger fish to fry." Lorelai thrust out her invoice in Emily's direction in an effort to reinforce her point.
"I should have expected this from you," Emily said sourly.
"What is that supposed to mean?"
"I spent three hours with the architect yesterday to get these designs. I had to cancel a DAR meeting this weekend to visit these spas. I drove for 45 minutes in traffic to get to the inn today and what do I get in return? A daughter who shows up late for a meeting that I worked very hard to plan. A partner who can't even set her papers down long enough to hear what I have to say. I thought you had enough business sense to be more responsible in this venture, but I guess I shouldn't have expected so much." Emily stared at Lorelai for a long moment and then began to collect the papers from the table.
"I'm sorry, Mom," Lorelai said, even though she felt more peeved than apologetic. "Show me the plan you liked again."
"We should reschedule. You obviously have better things to do."
"Michel can handle them for now," Lorelai said sincerely.
"Fine," said Emily after a moment. She pulled out the plan from the stack and began to discuss the finer points of her design with Lorelai.
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After half an hour in the little restaurant, having succumbed to homemade cherry
pie and listened to numerous stories about previous harvest festivals and plans
for the upcoming weekend, Rory had pegged this crew as townie hicks with no real
interest in politics. Even with a national campaign literally on their doorstep,
they didn't seem interested in talking about politics at all. Nevertheless, when
the conversation lulled between stories, she tentatively asked about their
thoughts on the presidential campaign, and Obama specifically.
Walter, the older man, tugged on his scruffy gray beard and muttered, "Well, I'm voting Republican, so I don't have much interest in listening to these liberals."
Rory glanced around the group and saw a middle-aged man in overalls nodding his agreement, but one of the women chuckled. "Well, considering where the Republicans have gotten us... " her voice trailed off as she looked pointedly at the older man, her eyebrows raised.
In response he just shook his head and in the exchange Rory saw traces of a good-natured argument that looked as though it had happened many times before. Walter looked over at Rory and clarified, "Don't get me wrong. Bush has done this country much more harm than good, but I'm not sure that means that a Democratic president is the answer. They have no more clue what to do about Iraq than the president."
"At least they want to try to get us out of there," Doreen protested, leaning across the counter on her elbows. "Some of those Republicans sound like they think we're actually being successful in Iraq."
"They say that," he replied, "but if you actually try to pin them down, get them to state a real plan, then they start to backpedal, talking about uncertainties and a long-term military presence." He shrugged and though Doreen glared at him, she didn't argue.
In the short silence that followed, the woman who'd been the quietest—Barbara, Rory thought, checking her notes—spoke up, "I really want to hear about Obama's health care plan. That's what we really need to be talking about—how to make sure everyone is covered—instead of figuring out new ways to get us into and keep us at war. At least the Democrats are talking about that."
"I just need to know more about what he's proposing though," said one of the other men who'd been mostly quiet, an African-American man in his thirties. "I know the single payer plan has got its issues, but at least it's simple. Obama says universal coverage, but it might not cover everyone, and it's not clear how much it's going to cost small business owners and all the rest of us if taxes have to go up to pay for it."
"Well, that's why I want to hear about it," Barbara said, nodding. "This whole town is mostly small business owners or employees who either don't have insurance or have to pinch pennies to afford it." She sighed, shaking her head. "My sister can barely keep their kids covered, especially since Billy got laid off at the bank and hasn't been able to find another job with benefits." She looked over at where Rory was writing furiously. "Are you sure this is helpful? We haven't exactly been raving about your guy."
"Oh, he's not 'my guy,'" Rory corrected. "I'm just a reporter covering the campaign." Seeing a few frowns around the group, she added, "I think he's raising important questions and it's great to see the party offering diverse political nominees, but as a writer I'm really focused on the issues people are concerned about during this election and whether or not those concerns are being addressed." She paused for a moment, glancing at the collection of people around her. "I just don't want you to be watching what you're saying about him. It's really helpful hearing what you all have to say about the issues."
"Well then, let's talk about education," one of the other men said with a grin. Rory had noted earlier that his name was Frank and that he was a history teacher at the high school.
"Oh, here he goes again," Doreen said, laughing, as Rory sat poised with her pen, ready to write.
♫ ♫ ♫ ♫ ♫ ♫ ♫ ♫ ♫
Luke exited the kitchen into the diner to find Lorelai collapsed on the counter,
her hair spilling down around her.
"Lorelai?" he asked tentatively.
"Coffee. IV. Stat," she moaned without lifting her head. To illustrate she lifted one arm and pointed at the inside of her outstretched forearm.
Lifting an eyebrow at her theatrics, he asked, "Long day?"
"The longest. First there's Michel."
"Right. Michel." Luke nodded, needing no further explanation.
"And my mother." Luke bit back a remark about bringing on your own misery as Lorelai went on. "And Manny. God love him, he's a great cook, but... " She paused, lifting herself up to rest her chin in her hands. "You know how Sookie is about her kitchen. How particular she is about her cooking."
"Yes," Luke said wryly. "I'm familiar with that."
Lorelai gave him a feeble grin. "Yeah. Well she's made Manny so paranoid he's been running everything by me."
He couldn't help but chuckle. "And that helps him how?"
Lorelai poked her lower lip out in a dramatic pout and glared at him. "But tonight," she went on, ignoring his question, "he's especially nervous because we're serving one of Sookie's signature dishes—some pork or duck something."
"And clearly you've been no help."
"Way to kick me when I'm down," she whined.
He gave her a contrite smile. "How about if I make it up to you by taking you to a movie? We could go see that one with the guy who plays that really annoying boss on that paper company show. I know you've been looking forward to that one."
"Wow," she said, perking up ever so slightly, "you're pulling out all the stops, aren't you? You can't stand him."
Luke shrugged. "It's fine. You want to see it."
"I do. I really do." She pursed her lips for a moment. "But I'm not sure that one is out yet."
"Well, in that case, I'm sure there's something equally annoying out that we could see," he said with a hopeful smirk.
She sighed, her chin falling heavily into her hands. "I think tonight I'd fall asleep in the bucket of popcorn. You'd wake me up and I'd have kernels stuck all over my face and butter in my hair."
He forced himself to smile through his disappointment. "Yes, I see the problem. That would be tragic."
She glanced up at him hesitantly. "Raincheck?"
He nodded. "Yeah. Sure."
"Okay. Well, I guess I'm going to head home. Are you going to come over after you close the diner?" she asked hopefully.
"I don't know. I'm opening up again tomorrow and I've got some paperwork... " His voice trailed off at her resigned nod. She slid off the stool, letting out a long sigh. "If it's not too late," he relented.
"Oh, good," she said smiling. "I'll leave the door unlocked for you."
"Don't do that," he protested. "What if I can't get over there? I don't want your door unlocked all night."
She gave an innocent shrug, adding a lilt to her voice when she responded. "Well then you'll have to make sure that you come and protect me from all the Stars Hollow hooligans and evil-doers."
♫ ♫ ♫ ♫ ♫ ♫ ♫ ♫ ♫
The town meeting wrapped up with a round of rousing applause and Rory glanced
around the crowd at the people she'd met earlier. Walter had come with Ed, but
had spent most of the time with a scowl etched into his features. As people
starting flooding from the town hall, Barbara caught Rory's eye and waved, and
Rory heard Doreen reassuring the townspeople that their festival meeting would
start as soon as they could get 'all these Obama people out of here.'
Seeing Rory, she held up her hand. "No offense."
"None taken," Rory said cheerfully. Pausing a moment, she went on, "Thanks for letting me hang out and talk to everyone this afternoon."
"No problem there," the older woman said with a laugh. "As you can see, we're always happy to talk. I hope it was helpful."
"It was," Rory assured her. "Very helpful. And hey, I hope the weather is fabulous for your festival this weekend."
The other woman nodded her thanks and they waved their goodbyes. Heading out of the hall, Rory bumped into James and Darshana on their way out to meet some of the other reporters for dinner. "You coming?" James asked casually.
Rory pursed her lips thoughtfully. "I think I'd like to get started on my article while everything's fresh in my head."
"Okay," he said doubtfully, "you sure? We could bring you back something if you want."
"Nah," she answered, shaking her head, "I'll just grab something on the way back to the motel. But thanks for offering."
"Okay," he said, turning to go. Darshana gave her own little wave before following him down the few, short steps to the sidewalk. Rory watched them for a moment before heading in the opposite direction, feeling more energized about writing than she had in longer than she liked to admit to herself.
♫ ♫ ♫
Rory ran through the article again, making minor revisions here and there and
giving the ending a tweak before sitting back and letting out a satisfied sigh.
It hadn't been until she'd started writing this article that she'd been able to
admit to herself that Michael had been right. The other things that she'd
written had been amateurish and even, lately, redundant. But this was different
—more intimate and personal—hopefully just the kind of local color her editor
was looking for.
Setting aside her laptop and unfolding herself, Rory got up, stretching as she walked the short distance to the window and gazed out at the sleepy street. Though it was only just past nine, nearly everything was closed. A block or two away, Rory could just make out the sign for a local convenience store, but her desire for a congratulatory pint of Ben and Jerry's was not enough to overcome her laziness, especially considering she'd changed into her pajamas as soon as she'd returned to her room.
On an impulse, she grabbed her phone and dialed her grandparents. She'd been lax about keeping in touch with them and this would be a perfect opportunity to get back in their good graces. Pacing the room slowly, she listened to the phone ring. Emily answered matter-of-factly, but when she realized her granddaughter was on the phone, she brightened. "Rory?"
"How are you?"
"Well, we're fine, of course. But how are you? We haven't talked in so long, we've been worried that you've been working too hard."
It was that tone of voice that managed to sound both concerned and critical all at once, but Rory ignored the implied guilt and answered happily and, she realized, honestly, "Everything's going really well. We're in—"
"Oh, wait," Emily cut in. "We've got to get Richard on the line. He'll want to— Richard?" she called, clearly moving through the house as she spoke. "Richard?"
"Yes, what is it, Emily?" Rory could hear the slightly impatient tone in his voice.
"It's Rory. On the phone. She called to talk to us."
"Well, why didn't you say so?" he asked with interest. "Let me pick up the phone in my study."
"We can talk on your speakerphone. Rory, we're going to use the speakerphone," Emily said quickly. "Just give us a moment."
Chuckling, Rory answered, "No problem, Grandma. Take your time." She listened to them fumble around and after a few moments, heard her grandfather's voice through the phone. "Rory, are you there?"
"I'm here. How are you Grandpa?"
"Very well, thank you. But how are you? How is your work on the campaign trail?"
Rory cheerfully recounted the last few stops, ending with the highlights of her visit in Philadelphia. "I'd rather be in Philadelphia, right, Grandpa?"
He laughed and she went on. "But how are things for you two? Anything new?"
"Well, your grandmother is spending a great deal of time on this spa project with your mother," he offered. "She's all a-flutter about it. Facials this and massages that."
"So you're enjoying the project, Grandma?" Rory asked.
"Yes, I think that we've managed to settle on a floor plan, so we'll be able to get the construction details worked out and start building in a few months," Emily answered eagerly.
"So it's going well?"
"Oh yes, we're making good progress, though your mother is so hot and cold sometimes," Emily complained. "She makes it very difficult to tell if she's even interested in this project."
"Well, you know, it's been really busy for her since Sookie had her baby," Rory explained. "She's probably just feeling a little stressed."
"We are meeting to go over more design details tomorrow, so we are making progress," Emily conceded.
"It's great that you're working with Mom on this. I'm glad that you two are spending time together," Rory said genuinely. "And that she's having dinner with you both."
"It's been very nice to see your mother regularly," Richard agreed. He paused a moment and added. "And Luke as well, once or twice."
Rory smiled at the voluntary acknowledgment. She'd always thought her grandfather and Luke would get along given the chance. "That's good to hear. Well, I should give my article another look, but it was really nice to talk to you."
"And you as well," Richard returned. "Thank you for calling us, Rory."
"Yes, thank you for keeping in touch," Emily added. "We're so looking forward to seeing you in a few weeks for Thanksgiving."
"I know! I can't wait to come home for a visit. It will be so good to see you."
"Yes it will," Richard said. "Take care of yourself until then, and have a good night."
"Yes, good night, Rory."
Flipping her phone closed, Rory held it for a few moments before exchanging it for the TV remote and stretching contentedly out on the bed.
♫ ♫ ♫ ♫ ♫ ♫ ♫ ♫ ♫
Luke pulled into Lorelai's yard and cut the engine. He'd tried to finish up as
quickly as possible, but had been frustrated by the couple who'd been lingering
over what was clearly first date coffee. Glancing up, he saw light in an
upstairs window and paused, smiling. He crossed the yard in a few strides and
frowned only briefly at the unlocked door. Turning on entering, he flipped the
lock on the door with a grimace and pulled off his shoes before heading
Dim light spilled into the hallway, as if from the bedside lamp Lorelai read by at night, and he opened his mouth to announce his presence. When he rounded the corner, though, he saw that the light was not from the lamp, but from the bathroom. And that Lorelai was not up waiting for him, but fast asleep, her face mashed into the pillow. He let out a long slow sigh, his shoulders drooping. Slowly and mechanically he trudged through his nightly routines before stripping down to his t-shirt and boxers and slipping in beside Lorelai.
She didn't even stir.
♫ ♫ ♫ ♫ ♫ ♫ ♫ ♫ ♫
After waking up from a restful sleep, Rory read through what she'd written the
night before. A few adjustments were made and with a click of her mouse, she
sent her article zooming through cyberspace. Any second now, it would appear in
Michael's virtual mailbox. She wondered if he would read it right away. In fact,
she wanted him to read it right away,
Satisfied that her article had arrived without any complications, she got up from her hotel bed and made her way into bathroom to finish getting ready for the day. She caught her reflection smiling in the mirror as she picked up her mascara wand. For the first time since walking out of that airport in Iowa, Rory felt giddy. Her article was good. She knew it was good and she was pretty confident that Michael would think the same. She had found that elusive angle that had been plaguing her since she arrived on the campaign trail and now she knew she could take on the rest of her assignments with gusto.
Checking her watch, Rory exited the bathroom and gathered her belongings. Breakfast in the conference room downstairs would be over in ten minutes. If she was lucky, there would still be coffee and pastries for the taking.
Exactly three minutes later, Rory rushed into the conference room, nearly knocking over a potted plant in her haste. Quickly correcting herself, she attempted to regain her composure as she made her way to the breakfast table. Darshana, Meredith, and a few other reporters she recognized were huddled around the coffee machine in light conversation. Confidently, Rory picked up a bear claw from the table and squeezed between Darshana and well-dressed man named Scott.
"Good morning," she said cheerfully. Rory picked up a mug from the stack and poured the last bit from the pot into her cup. She turned around and smiled to the group.
"People are thirsty this morning, huh?" Darshana smiled, but the rest of the group remained silent at her intrusion. "How is everyone?" She received a chorus of fines and goods, and took a sip of her coffee. "Hey," she began, attempting to jump-start the conversation again, "I found a great little place to eat yesterday, if anyone is interested in getting lunch before the bus leaves later today. It's only a few blocks away and the hot dog special sounded tasty. I would also recommend the cherry pie. I think I had three slices."
"Three slices?" questioned Scott, eyes wide with disbelief.
"I don't hold back when it comes to pie." A couple of the people in the group laughed and Rory grinned. She looked down at her watch and said, "I think I'm going to go find my seat. See you in there."
Rory left the group and picked up another bear claw for later. As she walked toward the door she heard Meredith whisper, "That's the most I've ever heard her speak."
"Someone wrote a good article last night," commented Darshana and Rory couldn't help but chuckle to herself.
♫ ♫ ♫ ♫ ♫ ♫ ♫ ♫ ♫
"I'm starving and I need to eat something that will give me a lot of energy,"
Lorelai declared as she rushed into the diner. Luke looked up from his task of
sorting receipts at the sound of her voice and she plopped onto the stool across
"And hello to you too," he muttered as he leaned over the counter to greet her. She placed her hand on his cheek to prolong the kiss, and pulled back before they were on the receiving end of catcalls from Miss Patty.
"What do you recommend?"
"For energy? Try a salad."
"I don't think so," she stated, clearly disgusted. "Salads make me sleepy."
"Salads make you sleepy," Luke repeated in a disbelieving tone.
"I think it's the lettuce," Lorelai clarified. "There's something in it that makes me sleepy. Hey, is there tryptophan in lettuce?"
"Hmm, are you sure about that? As far as I'm concerned, you are trying to con me into eating a salad by convincing me that it won't make me do a decent impression of Rip Van Winkle."
"Well, you know me," Luke said with a shrug.
"I think I want french fries. French fries cooked in taurine."
"You know, the stuff they put in Red Bull. According to the can, it improves performance, and increases endurance and concentration."
"Do you have any idea what that crap does to your kidneys?"
"Well, my kidneys aren't doing anything to help rev me up, so they don't get to complain." Luke sighed and Lorelai grinned cheekily.
"Do you have a more realistic order than taurine french fries?"
"Um, I guess fries cooked in regular oil, if that's all you're going to give me," Lorelai said somberly.
"I'm not giving you fries by themselves."
"You could give me a chocolate milkshake to dip them in. Would that make you happy?"
"That's disgusting," Luke lamented, glaring at Lorelai sternly.
"Don't scoff. It's sweet, it's salty. It's the best of both worlds."
Luke rolled his eyes yet again, but then relented. "You want a burger with that?"
"Sure. That combo should do the trick." Luke jotted down her order on his notepad, and tore off the sheet. He handed it to Caesar through the window and returned to his position across from her, leaning across the counter as Lorelai looked up at him expectantly.
"What are your thoughts on dinner?" he asked softly and Lorelai pondered this a few seconds.
"Well, I never thought about it before, but I guess I would have to say that I am pro-dinner."
Luke smiled in spite of himself and squeezed her hand. "I meant dinner tonight. I was thinking that maybe we could go to that place in Hartford that you like so much."
"Aw, I wish I could, but I have to work late tonight."
"Really? Why?" Luke asked, clearly disappointed.
Lorelai looked at him sympathetically."The night manager somehow caught the flu that is going around the kitchen staff and I have to be at the front desk until Michel gets done with his cooking class."
"Michel is taking a cooking class?"
Lorelai nodded. "Mostly because of Manny. He decided that the next time Sookie ?rops one,' as he so sweetly put it, he wants to be prepared to take over the kitchen. Only, he needs to be able to cook to do so."
"Sookie would never let him take over the kitchen."
"Yes, but think about what will happen when Sookie finds out. It's much more fun this way."
Luke tried to smile at the legendary argument between Sookie and Michel that was sure come, but all that he could focus on was the fact that Lorelai had rebuffed his efforts to spend time with him. Again. He didn't blame her entirely; he knew that Sookie's absence and the spa project added scores of items to her already hefty to-do list. He certainly wasn't a needy person, but he missed her and being this close to her without being able to spend quality time with her was frustrating.
Lorelai noticed the disheartened expression on his face, and affectionately rubbed his hand. "I'm really sorry about this, babe."
Luke nodded slowly. "I know. I understand that you're busy right now. We'll get together when we get together."
"Hey, how about this," Lorelai began, eyes bright with possibility. "Netflix sent me Wedding Crashers yesterday. Considering it's been on my queue for two years, I think it's time that we finally break down and watch it. I'll bring it over after work."
"I don't know," Luke said skeptically. "I have to open tomorrow."
"See if Caesar and the Wonder Twins can open. Brian and zach would probably love the extra work."
Luke wanted to say no and suggest that they set time aside for the weekend, but the expectant expression on her face was enough to make him cave.
"I'll ask them."
Lorelai grinned eagerly and squeezed his hand. "Then it's settled. I'll bring the movie, you get the Milk Duds."
"I don't like Milk Duds," Luke reminded her, but before he could come up with another appropriate food choice, Lorelai's order was up.
♫ ♫ ♫ ♫ ♫ ♫ ♫ ♫ ♫
After their morning meetings, Rory joined Darshana and the rest of the regular
group for lunch before they packed up and left for the next town. They went to a
small caf down the street from the hotel and commandeered a table for ten in
the back room. Rory decided that her chicken marsala was nothing to write home
about, but the garlic mashed potatoes were tiny bits of heaven. When she
mentioned this to Darshana, who was seated to her right, the older woman laughed
appreciatively and insisted that they order another side to share.
Rory was a little surprised by how comfortable she felt with this group of people. Even though she had been traveling with them for a few months, she was still intimidated by some of them and found striking up a conversation nearly impossible. But today, she was arguing with Scott about Faulkner, and sharing potatoes with Darshana. Rory even felt like she was bonding with Darshana. After thirty minutes of deep conversation, she knew the names and ages of Darshana's three children and what her husband did for a living. Apparently, a good dollop of potatoes made the woman especially chatty.
"Isn't it hard to be separated from your family?" Rory asked with a mouth full of cheesecake after dessert was served.
"Oh, of course it is. I miss their company constantly. But, my husband and I made a deal."
"Tim and I got married right after college," Darshana explained. "I already had a job lined up, and my husband was supposed to attend law school. But, he thought he should wait a few years before finishing school and insisted he get a job to help save money. I said no, and told him that I was perfectly happy working for us while he pursued the career he wanted. I was already set. I had a husband and a job that I liked and I wanted him to be able to find the same happiness. So, we made a deal." Darshana held out her hand, as if the deal she made with her husband literally sat in her palm. "If there was ever anything career-related that I wanted to pursue," she continued, "he would make it possible for me, just like I did for him. The opportunity to come on a campaign trail had come up before, and it was something that I wanted to do, but the timing was never right. When this job was offered to me, I was going to turn it down. I wasn't ready to leave my husband and kids for an unconfirmed amount of time. But, Tim wasn't going to allow me to back down. He reminded me that he was settled in his law firm, and that our children were all in school, and it was my turn. He told me that we would find a way to make this long distance situation work. And, well, here I am." She laughed lightly, and Rory smiled. "It's tough and I won't tell you how many times I've wanted to quit and go back home, but I love this job. I love being here. I love the atmosphere and the people. Even though I had to make some sacrifices, doing something that I love almost makes it worth it."
"I can't even imagine," Rory said, now in awe of the women next to her. "I don't have a husband or children waiting for me, and I still miss home like crazy."
"Who do you miss, Rory?" Darshana asked. Rory looked around the table. Meredith and a man at the end of the table were animatedly discussing health care. Rory wiped the corners of her mouth with her napkin apprehensively.
"Who don't I miss? My mom, my town, my grandparents, my friends," she confessed with a nervous laugh. "But, mostly my mom. She's part Wonder Woman, part cheerleader and my best friend. I just wish she was here sometimes." Rory frowned and picked up her fork to play with the remaining raspberry sauce on her plate.
"Then you know exactly how I feel," Darshana said, patting Rory's hand with a sympathetic expression on her face.
♫ ♫ ♫ ♫ ♫ ♫ ♫ ♫ ♫
When Luke noticed that Lorelai was dipping the last french fry into her
milkshake, he made his way back to the counter. Kirk was a few seats down from
her, furiously poring over a book called "An Idiot's Guide to Proposing."
Lorelai watched him with an amused expression on her face as she began to pack
up her things.
"Heading back?" Luke asked her.
"Yeah, I've left Michel alone with the kitchen staff too long. He's going to need a break. Manny makes him cranky."
"What time do you think you'll be here tonight?"
"Um, not sure. Michel didn't exactly tell me when his cooking class got out."
"Give me a rough estimate, then."
"I don't have a good estimate. Michel didn't tell me a time," Lorelai said cheerfully.
Their respective jobs generally required a certain level of flexibility when it came to making plans, but Luke was hoping to get a specific time from her today. "Just ballpark it, Lorelai. Nine o'clock? Ten?"
"I honestly don't know, Luke," she said, turning exasperated. "Will you accept half past the time Michel gets there? Because, honey, that's all I can give you right now."
"What do you think about me proposing to Lulu on a bungee-jumping excursion?" Kirk piped up from behind his book.
"Didn't work out well for Hilary's boyfriend on Fresh Prince," Lorelai commented.
"What do you think, Luke?"
"I think that I was having a conversation with Lorelai," Luke said to Kirk, annoyed.
"So, that's a no?" Kirk asked after a beat.
"That's a leave me alone, Kirk."
"I don't think it's a good idea," said Lorelai evenly. "Could be messy."
"I'm going to cross it off the list, then."
"Good... Hey," Lorelai said, turning to Luke, "I think I left a couple of cans of Red Bull in your fridge. I may need a quick fix later on."
"The french fries and the milkshake didn't do it for you?" Luke asked, still irritated.
"Oh no, I feel great now, but when my grease and sugar high wears off, I'm gonna need the taurine. It's all about the taurine, babe."
"Hey, Lorelai. Can I have Rory's number?" Kirk asked before Lorelai walked into the back.
"Why do you want my daughter's number, Kirk?"
"Logan proposed to her, right? I thought that hearing about how he proposed would give me some ideas."
"How about I ask her and get back to you?" Lorelai suggested, unwilling to subject Rory to Kirk's questioning. "I'm going to get my Red Bull now."
"Do you have Rory's number?" Kirk asked Luke when Lorelai had left the room.
"I'm not giving you Rory's number."
"Do you happen to have Logan's number?"
"No," Luke stated impatiently.
"Then maybe you can help me. The book says that women like to be reminded about the extent of your feelings for her when you propose."
"Well, Kirk, if the book says it, then it must be true," Luke replied sarcastically as he took out a rag to rub down the counter.
"So, you think I should do that, then?" Luke audibly sighed.
"I doesn't matter what I think, Kirk."
"You are a very good friend of mine, Luke. Your opinion matters to me."
"Don't go spreading that around."
"Do you think I should give her flowers?"
"Girls like flowers," Luke said with a shrug, knowing that Kirk would not back down until Luke gave him some direction.
"Where should I propose? Can I do it here in the diner?"
"I don't know about that."
"Oh, and I was wondering... " Kirk leaned forward and dropped his voice. Is it wrong for me to expect sex after I propose?"
"Geez, Kirk!" Luke exclaimed, knocking over a salt shaker in pure shock. "I really don't want to be having this conversation with you."
"I assume that you and Lorelai had sex after you got engaged," Kirk said, not missing a beat.
"I don't want you assuming anything about my sex life with Lorelai!" At just that moment, Lorelai walked back into the diner with a can of Red Bull in each hand. She smiled warily at Luke, who was blushing furiously.
"Probably the wrong point to walk into that conversation," Lorelai said, sending an amused wink in Luke's direction. "I'm off."
"Okay," Luke said and Lorelai leaned in for a quick goodbye kiss. Luke returned the kiss apprehensively, knowing that they still had Kirk's attention. "So, tonight?"
"I'll ask Michel about the time and I'll give you a call later," she said.
"Thank you. I'll see you later, then."
"Yep. Bye hon." Lorelai sent one final wave to Luke as she crossed the diner. The bell above the door chimed and she walked out.
"Would you be willing to bake the ring into a pie for me?" Kirk asked, pointing out a passage in the book to Luke.
"Beat it, Kirk," Luke said wearily as he pitched Kirk's book across the room.
♫ ♫ ♫ ♫ ♫ ♫ ♫ ♫ ♫
After nearly two hours of lunchtime conversation, the number of reporters at the
table was dwindling. Many had mentioned the fact that they needed to pack before
they departed that evening and left the table twenty minutes before. Three men
were at the other end of the table heatedly discussing USC football and their
loss to Stanford the week before. Rory and Darshana were at the other end of
the table chatting and laughing energetically. The topic of choice was Stars
Hollow and Rory was explaining why Al's Pancake World did not serve pancakes.
When she had finished telling the story of how Al invented his famous chicken
chow mein sandwich, Darshana looked down at her watch.
"Oh," the older woman exclaimed. "We've been here for over two hours. I need to go back to the hotel. I promised my eldest that I would help him with his homework when he gets home from school."
"I didn't realize it was that late," said Rory. "I wanted to grab another order of that cake you had for dessert before we hit the road."
"I truly admire your iron stomach," Darshana said with an amused expression. "I will see you on the bus. It was nice talking to you today, Rory."
"Yeah, it was nice talking to you too. Bye." Rory answered as Darshana waved and left the table. Rory flagged down the waitress and ordered the cake she had sampled earlier for dessert. When the waitress left, Rory looked up and saw Patrick enter the room. He took in the disaster area that was the table and Rory's presence and gave her a small, uncomfortable smile.
"I guess I missed lunch."
Rory nodded, feeling self-conscious about being left alone with him. She had to admit that he looked nice in his blue dress shirt and loose tie but instantly chastised herself for allowing her thoughts to drift where they should not. "Yeah," she said apprehensively. "A lot of people left to go pack."
"And you?" Patrick asked, burying his hands deep inside the pockets of his tan pants.
"I'm waiting for my to-go order."
"Ah. I guess I'll just go grab something from the burger place across from the hotel, then," he said with a shrug.
As he turned to leave, Rory called out to him. "Wait!" Patrick turned and Rory felt herself blushing. She patted the seat that Darshana had just vacated. "Why don't you stay? I could keep you company, if you want. The food's good and if you have a burger you'll miss out on the wonder that is the garlic mashed potatoes." Patrick appeared to be weighing his options as he looked around the restaurant and Rory discovered that she had been holding her breath, waiting for his response. Finally, he pulled out the chair and sat down next to her.
"How have you been?" Patrick asked after a long pause.
"Good, good. You?"
"I've been good too." It wasn't until that moment that Rory realized how much she missed talking to him, even if it was a conversation of small pleasantries. She had missed Patrick's company and his friendship more than she cared to admit and she hoped that they could go back to the relationship they had before.
Clearly unaware of her thoughts, he smiled as he reached past her to grab a menu. "Garlic mashed potatoes, huh?"
"I guarantee that you will not be sorry."
"I'll hold you to that." He opened the menu and began to scour the contents. At a loss for something to occupy her time while Patrick decided on a meal, Rory was looking around the restaurant when she spotted something across the room. A grin crossed her face and she tapped Patrick on the shoulder.
"What do you think?" she asked, pointing at a table against the far wall. A couple of elderly women were arguing loudly and vivaciously about bingo winnings. Confused, Patrick stared at the two women for a few seconds before it dawned on him. He turned back to Rory, a lopsided smile on his face.
"Gilmore, I'm disappointed in you," he said, pretending to be grim.
"Too easy?" she asked casually.
"I think you underestimate my ability. How many weeks have we been playing this game?" He pretended to look hurt and Rory laughed.
"Fine," she relented. "Old man, two tables over, with the bowler and the pipe. Go!" Patrick rubbed his hands together vigorously and launched into his impression.
♫ ♫ ♫ ♫ ♫ ♫ ♫ ♫ ♫
"Hey," Lorelai called as she walked into the empty diner. She watched as Luke
abandoned his job of placing chairs on top of tables, and turned toward her. She
jutted out lower lip in an expression of disappointment, "Aw, you're closed?"
"Yep," he replied as he meandered past tables to her. "It was pretty empty, so I flipped the sign about 20 minutes ago."
"Did you already clean the grill?" Lorelai asked as she leaned in for a kiss. "I've been craving your chicken sandwich for the past four hours."
"And here I thought you might be craving the attention of the diner owner."
"Silly man," she purred before pressing her lips to his. "It's coffee, pie, and then diner owner."
"Of course," replied Luke as he rolled his eyes. "Go upstairs. I'll fix your sandwich."
"That gesture alone may give you second ranking."
"Over pie? I'm touched." He kissed her one last time and she followed him behind the counter.
"I'm going to call Rory. I haven't talked to her all day."
"I'll be up with your sandwich in a few minutes."
"Mmm, don't forget the fries, stud." Luke shot her a half-smile before disappearing into the kitchen. Lorelai pulled out her phone from her purse and pressed the speed dial as she trudged up the stairs.
"Hello you," greeted her daughter cheerfully after the third ring.
"Hello you. How much do you love Mommy?"
"On what?" Lorelai crossed the apartment and dramatically flopped on Luke's couch.
"On what you did."
"I can't believe that your love for me has conditions now. Being on the road has changed you. What happened to my little girl?"
"What did you do, Mom?" sighed Rory.
"I'll tell you what I didn't do. I did not give your phone number to Kirk."
"And why would Kirk need my phone number?"
"Let's just say that Kirk Gleason is officially looking for proposal ideas."
"Kirk's going to propose?"
"All signs point to yes."
"Well, it's about time. He's been with Lulu for three years, right?"
"Four, actually," Lorelai corrected as she toed off her heels, each landing with a loud crack on the floor below.
"Wow. If Kirk's getting hitched, there's still hope for all us singletons."
"Or it's the fourth horseman of the Apocalypse. Take your pick."
"I prefer my glass half full outlook, thank you very much."
"May I comment on your exceptionally chipper mood tonight?" remarked Lorelai after a short pause. It suddenly occurred to her that it had been awhile since she had heard Rory sound so perky.
"Is it really that unusual?"
"Uh, well, no. I guess not," Lorelai back-peddled. "You do sound very happy about something, though."
"I'm waiting to hear feedback on my latest article. It was brilliant, if I do say so myself." Lorelai could practically feel Rory's grin over the line and couldn't help but smile herself.
"Ah, there's the modest girl I know and love."
"I'm really excited to hear what Michael thinks about it. I believe I took all the feedback he has been giving me since the beginning and turned into something is finally going to like."
Finally going to like? Since when had this Michael guy not liked something of Rory's and why was this the first time she was hearing about it? She had to admit that Rory had seemed off during a few of their conversations, but Lorelai had attributed it to Rory adjusting to her new environment or feeling homesick.
"Oh... well, I'm sure he will, sweets," Lorelai heard herself saying before she could come up with a way to ask Rory about her job.
"I hope so," replied Rory and Lorelai shifted to lay on her back as their conversation continued.
♫ ♫ ♫ ♫ ♫ ♫ ♫ ♫ ♫
Luke stood outside the door for a moment, listening to Lorelai's animated
conversation with the person he assumed was Rory. He sighed heavily, then turned
the knob. Lorelai sprawled lazily on the couch, twirling a strand of hair around
her finger. She looked up at the sound of the door closing, smiling and lifting
her fingers in a half-hearted wave. Luke gave her a curt nod and pulled a beer
from the fridge. He twisted off the top and leaned back against the counter,
taking a long draw from his beer before setting it next to the sink. The sharp
sound of it hitting on the counter startled him.
He watched Lorelai wrap up her conversation and flip the phone closed. Setting it on the coffee table, she cocked her head to the side and looked over at him. "You okay?"
"You're kind of," she hesitated, scrunching up her face in search of the right word, "stompy."
"Stompy?" His raised eyebrow wasn't amused.
She had picked up something in his tone, because her reply was cautious. "You just seem like you're upset about something."
"It's nothing," he said tersely.
This time she arched her brow skeptically. "Doesn't seem like nothing."
He didn't answer, but her gaze was stubborn, almost uncharacteristically so. Finally, he huffed out a frustrated breath, retorting in a low voice, "Surprised you noticed."
Her mouth fell open slightly and she stared at him with wide, confused eyes. "What did I... ?"
He paused for a moment before answering, pushing off the counter and taking a few steps toward the couch. "It's been two days since we've had more than a five-minute conversation," he answered, unable to keep the irritation from his tone.
"Oh," she said softly, dropping her eyes as her hair fell across her face, blocking her from view. "I know, and I'm sorry. It's just... things at the inn... " Her voice trailed off, as if that were explanation enough. When he didn't respond, she looked up and added, "With Sookie gone... "
"And your mother," he pointed out.
"What about my mother?" she asked defensively.
"I just... I don't understand why you would want more stress right now." He crossed his arms across his chest, letting his beer bottle dangle from his hand.
"It's not—" She paused at his dubious gaze and let out long breath. "Okay, it is, but I need to do this."
"Why?" he asked. "Why now?" He punctuated his question with a wide swing of the arm holding his beer. "You've never even talked about expanding. Does the Dragonfly even need a spa? I don't understand why it is so important to you."
"I don't know... I think." She bit her lip, shrugging. "It's important to her."
It wasn't at all what he'd expected her to say and he eyed her skeptically. "Not to be blunt, but that doesn't usually factor in so strongly."
"I know," she said quietly, as if surprised herself by the revelation. "It's just," she started, "she doesn't have much that's hers. And she's never really wanted a project like this... with me." He didn't know exactly how to respond, so he stepped up behind her and rested his free hand gently on her shoulder. Her head dropped against his hand and they stood there for a moment, quiet. Only for a moment however, because she tilted her head back toward him, grinning. "Besides, this is better than the alternative."
"My mom and I planning the next fundraising ball for the Society for the Preservation of Boring Books and Ancient Manuscripts."
He smirked. "Which I'd have to attend with you, no doubt?"
"Of course. So really, I'm saving you," she said generously.
"Ah. If only I'd known."
The brightness in her smile faded. "I'm so sorry. I've been completely out of it." She took his hand in hers, pulling him around the back of the couch and down next to her. "I just... I think that it's important. To her. Does that make any sense?"
"Yeah. I get that." He smiled encouragingly then gestured her towards him with a nod of his head. "C'mere," he said, wrapping his arm around her and pulling her against his chest.
♫ ♫ ♫ ♫ ♫ ♫ ♫ ♫ ♫
Lorelai hurried out of her office, flagging Michel down even before she reached
the front desk. "Oh, good. Michel, you're here."
"Just where, exactly, did you think that I'd be? This is the only place safe from that neurotic mess of a man in the kitchen. He's been going on all morning about some sort of pomegranate sauce for the pork."
Lorelai gave a puzzled frown. "Pomegranate? Really? Is that the one that's filled with little red seeds, or... " she mused curiously.
"Is that what you came out here to ask me?" Michel asked, managing to sound impatient even as he drew out every last syllable. "I really am terribly busy this morning."
His voice snapped her back into reality and, blinking once, she rushed through the instructions on her mental checklist. "If anyone calls about the housekeeper position, find out how soon they can come in for an interview." She kept talking as she shuffled through the files she was holding. "Oh, and get contact information: home, cell, e-mail."
"Oh thank you, Lorelai, for being so specific," Michel wheedled, "because I've never spoken to interview candidates before. I would be completely lost without your instructions." He flipped a page in the notebook lying on the front desk. "These are exactly the kinds of details that are beyond the scope of the inn manager's job. I'm grateful—"
Irritated, Lorelai cut him off. "Well, good. I'm glad I'm being clear then," she said sharply. "If you think that it won't be too taxing, why don't you sketch out a possible interview schedule for me as well." Without waiting for him to answer, she gathered her files against her chest and turned, taking only a few steps before she nearly collided with her mother.
"Mom! You're here!" Slowly, one of her forgotten to-do list items niggled its way to the front of her mind and she repeated, "You're here."
"Well, now that you've confirmed my existence, perhaps we can finally sit down and discuss color schemes."
"Mom. I don't know if... I'm sorry."
Emily's expression tightened. "If you're going to cancel a meeting, the least you could do is call before I drive all the way to Stars Hollow. It's simply common courtesy." She shook her head disapprovingly. "Sometimes it seems as though you have no interest whatsoever in this venture."
"No, Mom," Lorelai insisted. "That's not—" She stopped and took a calming breath. "Look, you're right. I should have called, but the head of housekeeping quit last night and we're booked solid for the next two weeks, so we really need to find a replacement, like, yesterday. I'm probably going to be doing interviews all day, so... "
"How many have you scheduled?" Emily asked abruptly.
"How many interviews have you scheduled?" she repeated. "Honestly, Lorelai, are you sure that you don't have some kind of hearing problem?"
Lorelai let the criticism go, giving her mother a suspicious look as she said slowly, "The interview times aren't completely firmed up yet, but I should have four candidates coming in between now and lunch. And calls are still coming in."
"Well, why don't you schedule a second set of interviews this morning, to get them done more quickly."
Lorelai stared back at her mother, mystified. "Who's going to do those?"
Emily looked affronted. "I will do them."
"You?" Lorelai sputtered. "You want to do interviews for my head maid position?"
"Why is that so preposterous?" Emily demanded. "I've certainly hired my share of maids."
Lorelai gave a quick nod of assent. "And then some," she said, drawing a glare from her mother. "Look, Mom, you've definitely got the hiring thing down, but this isn't a house. I mean, this position oversees the gardeners as well as deals with our laundry vendor."
"All things that I am completely comfortable with," Emily assured her, "but if it would make you more confident in my abilities, I could certainly sit in on the first interview with you so that I know what you're looking for, what kinds of questions you're asking."
Lorelai just looked at her mother, eyes narrowed. "You're serious."
"Yes, Lorelai, I'm serious. Do you think that I'm so at a loss for wit that I'd resort to personnel humor?"
"Umm... well. Huh." Still a little thrown at the concept, Lorelai paused. Tapping her foot nervously, she finally asked, "I'm looking for a long-term replacement. You do know that you don't get to fire this person a week from now, right?"
♫ ♫ ♫ ♫ ♫ ♫ ♫ ♫ ♫
Stuffed into a drab meeting room with the rest of the press corps, Rory typed
notes furiously on her laptop during their first meeting of the day. It was a
new day in a new city and there was new information for all the reporters to
take in. Patrick sat to her left, a computer also propped up in his lap.
Occasionally, he would lean over and whisper a quip in her ear and she had to
try not to laugh out loud. Suddenly, her purse vibrated at her feet and she
"Geez," she whispered to Patrick, "I hate it when it does that."
"I hope that's your cell phone," he said with a grin. Rory elbowed him in the ribs and he let out an audible grunt. One of the reporters in front of them turned around and shot them a menacing glare. Patrick smiled apologetically. Choosing to ignore the reporter, Rory rifled around in her purse and managed to extract her phone from its depths. Michael's name flashed in the caller ID.
"I need to take this," she told Patrick.
"Don't worry, I'll catch you up." Rory thanked him and stood up as quietly as possible. Unfortunately, they had decided to sit in the middle of the row and Rory had to squeeze past a series of legs and briefcases, apologizing profusely as she went. Once she made her way to the edge of the room, she rushed to the exit and managed to answer the phone before it went to voicemail.
"Hello," Rory said quietly as she looked for a place to sit.
"Rory, it's Michael. Hope I didn't catch you at a bad time."
"Oh no, no. Not at all. We're taking a break right now," she lied.
"Great," he said and Rory thought he sounded distracted. She could hear him rustling paper on the other end of the line. "Listen, I wanted to talk to you about the article you sent in yesterday."
"Oh, okay," Rory said, attempting to mask her excitement. She found a loveseat in the lobby and sank into it.
"I saw some definite improvement in the writing, but I have to tell you, I didn't love it." Rory's heart sank, and her face fell. She slumped in the chair and began to rub the bridge of her nose.
"Oh... um, really? Can I ask why?"
"Frankly, I didn't understand why you chose to write about the people from the town. The focus seemed off. There was hardly any mention of the senator's activities. And I couldn't help but notice that there was a little criticism about Obama's campaign."
"What does that have to do with anything?" Rory snapped before she could stop herself. She heard Michael sigh into the mouthpiece.
"Don't get me wrong, I am certainly not against using an unbiased perspective. I'm not trying to question your journalistic integrity, but maybe you should keep in mind that we are a left-wing publication." Rory nodded, even though Michael could not see her, and despite the fact that she completely disagreed. "And, what was all this about the parade? I felt that part was completely unnecessary."
"Unnecessary?" Rory questioned numbly. "The point of the article was to show that there was more to the town than their opinions of Obama."
"And I understand that. But the comments about the parade made the article read like a piece of fluff. I know you have a features background, Rory, but I didn't hire you to write feature stories."
"Then, maybe I don't understand what you want from me, Michael," Rory said in frustration, the words burbling out before she could remind herself that she was talking to her boss. She heard more rustling.
"You told me told me that you wanted a fresh perspective and a little local color. You said that my pieces were dull and redundant. I thought I fixed all of that. I found a new angle, I gave you local color. I did everything you asked. Maybe I just don't have a clear idea of what you want me to write about."
"Maybe not," Michael said after a long pause. "You're getting there, you just aren't there yet. But, we'll talk about this more later. I'm sure you have to get back to your meeting soon."
"Yeah," Rory said shortly, still not sure that they had resolved anything.
"How about this: We'll still run the article provided that you make some changes. I'm emailing the story with my suggestions right now. You call me during your lunch break and we'll talk things through, okay?"
"Okay," Rory relented as she stood.
"Talk to you soon, then." And he hung up before she could get another word in.
As she turned to walk back to the conference room, she saw Meredith standing by the bathroom door, which was directly behind the chair she had been sitting in. She was watching Rory with a smile on her face and Rory wondered if Meredith had heard the entire conversation. Meredith fell in step with Rory as they both made their way back to the meeting.
"So, that was your editor?" Meredith asked before they reached the door.
"Hmm," Meredith remarked with a knowing grin. She looked Rory up and down before they both walked inside, giving Rory a short nod. "Interesting, very interesting," Meredith said, more to herself than Rory. They both returned to their seats and Rory began to wonder if maybe Meredith was a little impressed with her. She made a mental note to tell Patrick about her encounter with Meredith later.
♫ ♫ ♫ ♫ ♫ ♫ ♫ ♫ ♫
Luke had just handed a check to a customer at the counter when the bell above
the diner door chimed. He was surprised to see Lorelai and her mother walk
through the door, both adorned with smiles.
"Hey," he called out to the two women, failing to hide the shock from his voice.
"Hey you," Lorelai responded. She led Emily over to a table and Luke walked out from behind the counter to meet them there.
"Hello, Luke," she said primly. Luke quickly pulled out the chair for her and she brushed off the seat with her handkerchief. He rolled his eyes at Lorelai, who was attempting to hold back a laugh.
"Coffee?" he asked both ladies. Lorelai nodded enthusiastically.
"No thank you, Luke, but I would like an iced tea," Emily responded.
"Coming right up." Lorelai followed him to the counter and took a seat on one of the stools. After he poured Lorelai's mug and Emily's cup, he squeezed Lorelai's shoulder in greeting.
"What are you doing here?" he asked.
"Obviously following the love," she teased cheerfully.
"No, I just... I didn't think I'd see you today. You seem to be... "
"Delightful? Adorable? Oozing of general awesomeness?"
"Happy was what I was going for."
"Yes, well, that too," she smiled at him and he couldn't help but smile in return, "We replaced the maid."
"Hey, that's great." Luke picked up Emily's glass and they both walked over to the table. Lorelai took a seat across from her mother.
"And, we decided to throttle back on the spa plans a bit," Lorelai said, almost casually. Emily nodded to confirm.
"Oh, really?" asked Luke incredulously.
"It's still going to happen," Lorelai assured, "but on a much more realistic time frame."
"Lorelai is a very good boss," Emily remarked, "but even God took a day off."
"Oh, well, I think that's great," Luke said, stunned by Emily's remark. "Can I get you something to—" but Luke did not finish that thought. Instead, his eyes drifted out the window, and his brows lowered. "What the—" Luke began as he stared out the window in disbelief.
Lorelai turned in her seat and saw Kirk walking up to the diner, lugging a large boom box and dragging a long, orange extension cord behind him. Upon reaching the sidewalk, he stopped, fiddled with a few of the buttons on the boom box, and music flooded into the diner. As nearly all of the diner patrons turned towards the window to see what was going on, the shuffling of their chairs and stools was a cacophony that almost drowned out the music. Kirk picked up the boom box from the ground and began to lift it over his head.
"No way," Lorelai said in both disbelief and amusement. It appeared that Kirk had finally found his inspiration.
"You don't think... " Luke asked Lorelai, unable to tear his eyes away from the scene.
"Oh, I think," Lorelai confirmed.
"Think what?" Emily asked, baffled by what was unfolding.
"I think that Kirk wasn't satisfied by any of our ideas and decided to rip off a movie instead." If her answer only served to confuse Emily any more, her mother made no mention of it.
"What's with the boom box?" rasped Babette from the table she shared with Miss Patty.
"It looks bigger than he is," Miss Patty commented.
"Look, his arms are shaking," Gypsy pointed out with a wicked smile. "Where do you think he found a boom box so big?"
"1989," Luke muttered under his breath. Lorelai grinned in pure elation.
"It's like that movie," piped up Andrew, who was sitting at the counter.
"He's even playing ?n Your Eyes," Lorelai said with a laugh. "Oh, Kirk."
Kirk's face began showing signs of strain. His jaw clenched, and beads of sweat dotted his forehead.
"Lulu!" he screamed over the music. "Lulu, I love you!"
"Oh my God!" Babette yelled, "He's proposin'!" She gripped Patty's arm in anticipation. The rest of the diner hummed with quiet murmurs of realization.
"You would make me the happiest man alive if you would be mine forever," Kirk continued, unaware of the commotion in the diner. Then, Kirk suddenly looked panicked, glancing down at pockets while still holding up the boom box over his head.
"Uh oh," said Lorelai.
"What?" questioned Emily, still watching the scene in utter disbelief.
"The ring's in his pocket. He has to put the boom box down to get the ring out."
"He really thought that one through," Luke deadpanned, only to be immediately shushed by Lorelai.
Kirk appeared to reach the same conclusion from outside of the diner. He lowered the boom box and reached into his pocket. Pulling out the velvet box, he got down on one knee.
"Atta boy, Kirk," Lorelai cheered quietly from her seat.
"Lulu, will you marry me?" The diner burst into cheers and applause. Kirk was grinning ear to ear, ring in his hand and boom box at his side. Only when the diner quieted, did anyone realize that there was a problem.
"Lulu?" Kirk called again. This caused everyone in the diner to look around the room in order to see Lulu's reaction to Kirk's very public proposal. Lulu, however, was nowhere to be seen.
"Uh Kirk," Lorelai called out, "she's not here."
"She's not?" Kirk yelled back. The diner was silent. Peter Gabriel's voice faded out as the song ended.
"We don't see her," Babette confirmed.
"She was there when I left," Kirk exclaimed, still on bended knee. "We were eating lunch right there." Kirk pointed to the empty table in front of the window.
"You don't think she ran out the back when she realized what he was doing?" Emily asked, and Lorelai was surprised to hear a hint of concern in her mother's voice.
"I think we would have seen her, Mom," Lorelai pointed out.
"Oh my God," cried someone from behind the counter. Everyone collectively turned their chairs to see Lulu, a hand clasped over her mouth and her eyes welling with tears.
"Where did she come from?" Andrew asked Gypsy.
"She must've been in the bathroom this whole time," Gypsy replied.
"This is going over well," Luke snidely commented to Lorelai.
"She's right here, Kirk," Babette yelled and she pointed out Lulu's position.
"Lulu?" Kirk yelled again when he finally spotted his girlfriend.
"Yes, Kirk?" she asked tearfully. Miss Patty sniffed and wiped her eyes with the scarf from around her neck. Babette patted her friend's arm supportively. Kirk, perhaps finally realizing that the music had stopped, pressed a button on the boom box and the song started again.
"I love you, Lulu. Will you marry me?"
"Yes!" squeaked Lulu quietly. Kirk waited, not hearing a response.
"What'd she say?" he asked the rest of the diner.
"She said yes, Kirk," Gypsy supplied. Kirk looked relieved.
"Don't just stand there," Babette said to Lulu, "Plant one on ?m!" In a daze, Lulu crossed the floor and walked out of the diner. Kirk got up from the ground and met her halfway. Lulu kissed Kirk, and the diner cheered once again. Lorelai caught Luke's eye and saw that he was smiling.
"I'll be damned," Luke said, shaking his head.
"I guess that means Kirk is getting married."
"Looks that way." Luke rubbed Lorelai's back affectionately. He looked out the window again and immediately shut his eyes. "Aw geez!" Emily and Lorelai both followed Luke's gaze. Emily gasped. Kirk and Lulu were heatedly kissing, sprawled out on the sidewalk.
"Your town," Emily said to Lorelai, shaking her head in disgust.
"My town," Lorelai replied with a wide smile. Luke looked down at her with pleading eyes and she offered, "Shall we close the blinds?"
"God, yes," said Luke, and they left Kirk and Lulu to celebrate in private.
To be continued...
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