Virtual Gilmore Girls

Episode 8.08 "We Gather Together"
by KinoFille


Author's Note: Thanks to wounded for being a great episode manager, to Jenepel and adina (aka Dreamer Forever) for the technical advice and eagle eyes, and to everyone at the Dragonfly community for their input. As always, this piece would be an incoherent two-page mess without sosmitten's patience, thoroughness, thoughtfulness, and all-around mad beta skillz.



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"All right, tell me one more time. What doesn't make sense?"

Lorelai ran her fork through the syrup residue on her plate as she looked out the diner's windows at the bright late fall morning. "Okay, well, he can bring a dead person back to life just by touching them, right?"

"Right," came Rory's voice on the other end of the line.

"And once he touches the dead guy he has to touch him again within sixty seconds or Corpse-y stays alive."

"And someone else has to die in the original dead person's place."

"Which is a whole other ethical problem we'll analyze at a later date. But that doesn't address my current burning question."

"Which is...?"

"Why can't Ned ever touch Chuck? He brought her back to life and didn't touch her again before a minute was up, so she should be permanently alive, right?"

"I'm sure there's probably a very complex metaphysical reason why he can't touch her, but the Occam's Razor answer is that the writers need a reason to keep Ned and Chuck apart until the show ends."

"I guess you're right," Lorelai sighed. "Stupid prime-time TV writers making us wait until the last five minutes of the very last episode to see the couple get together. Although I have to admit it was pretty cute when they kissed through the plastic wrap."

"You know, between the kissing through the plastic wrap and the using a wooden hand to pet the dog and the Jim Dale voice-overs and the Kristin Chenoweth, this show may be too quirky even for us."

"Well, the Chenoweth does come with her very own Sam's Club-sized vat o'quirky."

"Which is probably bigger than she is," Rory laughed. "Hey, so, why is Luke not having apoplexy over the fact that you've been on your cell phone in the diner for the last fifteen minutes debating the ethics and metaphysics of a television program?"

At that moment, a harried-looking Luke emerged from the storeroom a desperate Kirk hot on his heels.

"Get away from me, Kirk," Luke growled as he deposited a package of paper napkins on the counter.

"But Luke—"

"I think Luke's a bit distracted at the moment," Lorelai giggled to Rory in a whisper. "Kirk's been in here all morning."

"Oh, poor Luke," Rory laughed. "Is Kirk still trying to convince him to have Thanksgiving at the diner?"

"Yup. Apparently Mrs. Gleason's still giving Kirk and Lulu the cold shoulder over the engagement, and Lulu's parents are going to be stuck at her brother's in Dubuque or Durham or wherever for another week. Kirk's been following Luke around like a skinny, adenoidal Inspector Javert for the last ten days." Lorelai looked up to see Luke heading to her table, trailed by Kirk. "Oooh! Oooh! They're coming over! This should be good. Hang on and I'll give you a ringside seat to the Stars Hollow Dinner Theater Version of "Of Mice and Diner Men'." Lorelai laid her phone on the table so Rory could hear the hijinks that were sure to follow.

"Luke, please. If you don't have Thanksgiving here at the diner Lulu and I won't have anywhere to go, and I can't let her down on our first holiday as an engaged couple. What if she realizes she's tied down to a loser with no family or friends and decides to break the engagement?"

Kirk's voice had reached an unprecedented pitch of desperation, and Luke sighed in a way that only Lorelai knew meant that Luke was truly feeling sorry for Kirk. "Kirk, you have plenty of family and friends, and Lulu knows you're not a-" here Luke stumbled a bit-"you know, a loser. I'm sure you'll find somewhere to go," he finished in what for him passed as a gentle tone as he poured Lorelai another cup of coffee. "But like I've already told you every time you've asked me for the last two weeks, Lorelai and I are having a family Thanksgiving at her house this year."

"And I think you're being incredibly selfish," Kirk said, crossing his arms defiantly across his chest.

"Selfish? How do—I don't—" Luke sputtered. He looked at Lorelai for support, but Lorelai just stared at him, innocently batting her eyelashes. "I don't get why you're making a federal case out of this anyway, Kirk," Luke said. "I haven't even had Thanksgiving here in, like, two years."

"Actually, it's been three years," Kirk replied. "Two years ago you and Lorelai had Thanksgiving at the Dragonfly-and didn't invite anyone from town, I might add." Luke sighed, but Kirk went on. "Of course, last year nobody expected you to be in the mood to cook a big holiday dinner, what with Lorelai running off to Paris and eloping with Christopher and all."

Lorelai flinched at the mention of her ill-advised forty-day marriage, but Luke merely laid a reassuring hand on her shoulder. "Look, Kirk, I'm sorry your Thanksgiving plans aren't working out the way you wanted them to, but even if I wanted to do something about it—which I don't—I couldn't."

"Fine," Kirk said, drawing himself up to his full five-feet-ten-inches and 132 pounds. "But when you and your loved ones are chowing down on your cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie, I hope you're haunted by the vision of poor, sweet Lulu spending her first Thanksgiving as an engaged woman eating green mashed potatoes and gravy at Al's Pancake World." With that, Kirk turned and walked out of the diner in what he clearly thought was his most dignified manner.

Luke shook his head as he watched Kirk go, then turned back to Lorelai. "So, you want anything else?"

"Hmmm... Let's see," Lorelai mused, placing a finger to her cheek. "Pancakes... coffee... free floor show... Nope. I think I'm good."

"Okay," Luke nodded. He leaned toward Lorelai's cell phone, which was still lying open on the table. "Hi, Rory," he called. "Your mom has thirty seconds to wrap it up or I'm sending her outside. See you Wednesday."

Lorelai swatted Luke on the arm with a gasp of mock outrage as he turned to walk back to the kitchen. She picked up her phone to find Rory still giggling on the other end.

"Man, I miss that place," Rory sighed when her giggles had subsided. Lorelai thought she caught a wistful note in Rory's voice, but before she could say anything, Rory had moved on. "So, speaking of the great Gilmore-Danes Thanksgiving, how's it coming?"

"Everything's great," Lorelai smiled. "We finished most of the shopping last night. I convinced Luke to get the canned cranberry sauce instead of making the homemade—"

"For the 'thwack!' factor," Rory added.

"Exactly," Lorelai nodded. "Liz and TJ and the baby are going to be there, and Leona and Harry Helmsley, whom you might know by their aliases—"

"Mom," Rory warned.

"And April's flying in from New Mexico on Tuesday."

"I can't wait to spend some time with her. I feel like I haven't really had a chance to get to know her."

"You know, you could spend even more time with her if you weren't coming in so late on Wednesday and flying out again at the butt-crack of dawn on Friday," Lorelai mock-pouted.

There was a pause on the other end of the line, then Rory let out a frustrated sigh. "Mom, I've already told you, I have to cover Obama's big hometown holiday breakfast-slash-fundraiser on Wednesday morning, and the earliest flight I can get out of O'Hare is at 2:30. And I would stay over the weekend, but he's got another big appearance in Miami on Friday night that I should be at, since it's, you know, my job to cover the Obama campaign." This time there was no mistaking the tension in Rory's voice.

"Rory, hon... "

"Crap!" Rory cried, cutting Lorelai off. "I have to be downstairs to meet the bus in five minutes. It'll be kind of hard to fly out of Chicago if I never get to Chicago in the first place."

"Okay," Lorelai sighed, a bit uneasy at Rory's outburst. "Have a good trip, and in the meantime I'll make some ritual sacrifices to the Weather Channel Gods so you don't get snowed in on Wednesday."

"Word on the street is Jim Cantore's partial to white doves burned on a silver altar by the light of a full moon," Rory quipped, and Lorelai was relieved to hear her tone lighten a little.

"White doves it is," Lorelai smirked. "I love you, kid. See you Wednesday."

"Love you too, Mom."

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On Tuesday morning, the press briefing was more crowded than Rory remembered it being since she'd joined the campaign. She grabbed a cup of coffee off the back table and started working her way through the crowd looking for an empty seat. After a moment she caught sight of Darshana, who smiled and waved her over to the empty chair next to her.

"Morning," Rory said, plopping down into her seat. She looked around the packed room as she took a sip of her coffee. "Is it me, or are there a lot more people here than there usually are? It's like the whole press corps underwent mitosis overnight."

"The candidates always give the local press a lot more access when they're on their home turf, especially during a holiday," Meredith said from the row in front of them, rolling her eyes as if it should have been obvious to any moron who'd worked on a high school newspaper.

Rory ignored Meredith's jibe and turned to Darshana. "So, did you guys have a good time last night?"

"Yeah, we did," Darshana said with a warm smile. "You were right about Willy Wonka. The kids loved it. Tim did too, although he'd never admit it."

"It's hard to go wrong with Willy Wonka," Rory nodded sagely. "It's a classic."

"Oh, by the way, I brought you something," Darshana said, handing Rory a small, warm, foil-wrapped package.

Rory opened the package to find two small, triangular pastries. They looked like popovers, but the scent that wafted from them was more spicy than sweet.

"They're samosas," Darshana explained. "They're filled with peas and potatoes and spices. My mom taught me how to make them when I was little, but I may be a little rusty. I haven't made them since I started working on the campaign."

Rory took a bite of one of the samosas and rolled her eyes in ecstasy as she tasted the warm, savory potatoes inside. "Oh, my god, these are incredible!" she exclaimed. "Thank you so much. It was so sweet of you to think of me."

"You're very welcome," Darshana smiled.

"It must have been nice to spend time with your family and cook in your own kitchen and sleep in your own bed for a change."

"Yeah, it was—although Tim is such a cover hog that I almost missed having a big hotel bed to myself," Darshana laughed.

"Plus, you get to be right here with your family on Thanksgiving," Rory added, trying hard to keep from sounding wistful.

Darshana nodded, then looked at Rory closely. "You'll get to see your family on Thanksgiving, too," she said knowingly.

Rory saw Meredith's head prick up and a smirk cross her face. "Oh, sure," Rory said quickly, as if it was no big deal. "It's just that airports are such a pain on the holidays. You're lucky you don't have to deal with the headache, that's all."

"Okay, folks," called a tall, slim, woman that reminded Rory of a Latina, slightly younger version of CJ Craig. "We've got a long couple of days ahead of us, so let's get to it. First, the Senator's appearance at the Boys and Girls Club has been moved from 9:45 to 10:15. He'll be there for a half hour, during which he'll meet with two winners of the "What America Means to Me" video contest. At 11AM he has a staff meeting on environmental policy, after which he has lunch and a meet-and-greet with the Chicago area volunteers. This afternoon he'll tape an appearance on the Oprah Winfrey show, and tonight is the fundraiser at the House of Blues. Tomorrow morning is the holiday breakfast and fundraiser, hosted by Oprah and catered by renowned Chicago-area chef Rick Bayless. Any questions?"

"Susan," called a man Rory didn't recognize from the front of the room, "the National Weather Service has issued a Winter Storm Warning for the greater Chicago area from now through tomorrow afternoon."

At the words 'Winter Storm Warning,' Rory's heart sank. "So much for ritual sacrifices to Jim Cantore," Rory muttered, drawing a confused look from Darshana.

"Will the inclement weather affect the Senator's schedule at all over the next couple of days?" the man continued.

Susan smirked and shook her head. "Vince, you should know by now that the Obama campaign is like the United States Postal Service. Neither rain nor sleet nor winter storm warning will stop the Senator from his appointed rounds. At this point, all events are expected to proceed as scheduled." She paused and looked around the room. "Any more questions?" When no one spoke up, she nodded and clapped her hands together. "All righty, then. Schedules and information packets are on the table outside the conference room, and the bus leaves from the East entrance in twenty minutes. Yell for me or Justin Downes if you need anything else."

As the crowd dispersed, Rory slowly began gathering her things, trying to choke down the feeling of gloom that threatened to overwhelm her.

"You okay, Rory?" came Darshana's concerned voice beside her.

"Yeah," Rory said, fighting back the catch in her voice and pretending to concentrate on adjusting the strap to her computer bag. "Guess with the storm coming it's going to be pretty hard to get out of here tomorrow."

"Oh, you never know," Darshana said kindly. "It may stall over the plains and not get here until tomorrow evening-or it could even miss us altogether."

"Yeah, Rory, cheer up. The Great Pumpkin will make sure you get to spend Thanksgiving with Mommy somehow," Meredith smirked as she passed them. Rory blushed furiously and tried not to meet Darshana's eye.

"Come on," Darshana said, guiding her out of the conference room. "Let's blow Harlan's mind and be on that bus early for once.

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Lane stumbled into the apartment, loaded down with groceries. "Little help?" she called.

"I'm on it," Zach replied, coming in from the kitchen and relieving Lane of the heaviest bags. "So, did you get everything?"

"I think so," Lane said, following him back to the kitchen. "I got the green beans and the mushroom soup and the French's fried onions for the casserole, the butter and sour cream for the mashed potatoes, the brownie mix without the nuts, since Brian's allergic... "

"Good call," Zach nodded, placing a bag of onions on the counter. "Brian keeling over dead at the table on Thanksgiving would be a real bummer. Kinda rock-n-roll, but still a bummer."

"Oh, and I got those brown-and-serve rolls you like," Lane said, showing him the package."

"Oh, awesome!" Zach leaned over and gave Lane a kiss on the cheek. "Thanks, babe. You rock."

"I know," Lane grinned. "So, how long have the boys been down?"

"About fifteen minutes," Zach replied, placing cans of green beans and cranberry sauce in the cabinet. "You were totally right, by the way. They're way more into the Clash than the Ramones. I put on 'London Calling' and they were out like two little tiny lights."

"I told you. The other day Kwan was bopping up and down in his bouncy seat to 'Lost in the Supermarket.'"

"Oh, but P.S? Steve had a load in his diaper that would gross out that little chick in The Exorcist," Zach shuddered. "We cannot feed the boys any more of that organic baby food your mom recommended."

"Okay," Lane smiled. "Back to Gerber it is."

"Hey, speaking of the tiny maternal one, what time is she gonna be here on Thursday?"

Lane busied herself rearranging bags of frozen vegetables in the freezer, hoping that if she pretended not to hear Zach he'd forget his question.

"Lane? Babe? What time is your mom coming over on Thanksgiving?"

"Oh, um, I don't know," Lane replied, still not turning from the freezer. "We didn't really say a definite time."

Zach walked over and turned Lane around by her shoulder. "You still haven't told your mom you're making Thanksgiving dinner, have you?"

"Well... "

"Oh, Lane, that is so not cool!" Zach exclaimed. "It's two days before Thanksgiving. Your mom's already probably done all the shopping and chopping and tofurkey molding by now. When were you gonna tell her?"

"Well, we're eating at two, so I figured... about 1:45 on Thursday afternoon would be good," Lane joked lamely.

"Babe," Zach said, gently placing both his hands on her shoulders "you've been stressing over this for weeks, and I really don't see what the big ordeal is. Just go over there, say 'Hey, mom, no dis intended, but this year I'd like to put on the big Turkey Day fiesta at my own crib. Soup's on at 2:00. Be there or be square.' I betcha she'll even dig having a year off from doing all the cooking."

"Zach, this is my mother we're talking about," Lane sighed. "She's cooked nonfat, gluten-free, vegan Thanksgiving dinner every year since I was born. If I tell her that I want to cook my own Thanksgiving dinner-let alone one that's heavy on the animal and dairy products-she'll try to kick me out of the house again. And I haven't lived at home for four years!"

"Okay, granted. Your mom can totally get the whole intimidating vibe on when she wants to," Zach agreed. "But you gotta admit she's mellowed some over the last couple of years."

"Oh, please," Lane snorted. "My mother's about as mellow as Condoleezza Rice in front of the Senate Intelligence Committee."

"I'm serious, here. Who was it that arranged that kickin' church tour for us a couple of summers ago, thereby rescuing Hep Alien from the brink of rock-n-roll oblivion?"

"My mom," Lane said reluctantly.

"Exactly. And who gave her blessing for the mondo reception we had in the town square when we got married, even though it meant risking the potential wrath of the scary Korean granny?"

"My mom," Lane muttered.

"And who has been a totally rockin'-but not too hands-on-grandma to our two little dudes in there?"

"You're right," Lane sighed.

"Babe, you're an awesome wife and a kick-ass mom, and this Thanksgiving is gonna rock like the original Lollapalooza," Zach said, leaning down to kiss Lane on the forehead. "Now man-up and go talk to your mom."

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"Well, inside is good, 'cause it gets all warm and soaks up the juices," Sookie reasoned.


"But there is a school of thought that outside can be just as nice, and a real compliment to the main event. Plus, Alton Brown has a whole scientific theory on why stuffing cooked inside the bird is evil."

"Boy," Lorelai giggled, cradling the phone to her neck as she paced around straightening the kitchen, "who knew there were various schools on Thanksgiving stuffing?"

"Oh, we haven't even gotten to the whole oyster debate yet," Sookie exclaimed. "What's with the sudden interest in stuffing preparation, anyway?"

"Well, this is the first Thanksgiving I'm hosting for my family in my very own home," Lorelai said, moving into the living room and fluffing one of the couch cushions, "and even though Luke clearly will be doing most of the heavy culinary lifting I'd like to be able to contribute more to the proceedings than just standing around looking fetching in my cute new Marc Jacobs sweater."

"It is a cute sweater," Sookie agreed.

"It is, isn't it? But my point is that if I can't actively be part of the preparation of the Thanksgiving dinner, then I may as well have dinner catered, which sort of defeats the whole I'm-a-grownup-having-my-first-Thanksgiving-in-my-own-home-for-my-family thing I was going for."

"Wow," Sookie sighed.


"Nothing," Sookie said. "It's just that thing you said about being a grown-up making Thanksgiving for your family. I mean, I've cooked at Thanksgiving a lot of times, but this is the first time I'll be cooking at home for our family since the kids were born. I'm now officially a wife and mother making a holiday dinner for her family."

"Hey, you're right," Lorelai smiled.

"And here you are, hosting a family dinner for your family and Luke's family. It's like we really are grownups, you know?"

"We've come a long way, baby," Lorelai grinned, stacking the magazines that had been scattered across the coffee table.

"I know," Sookie giggled. "Next thing you know we'll be wearing pearls while we dust and baking cupcakes to take to the PTA meetings."

"Oh, I think the whole cupcake-baking thing will still be Luke's department," Lorelai chuckled.

"Yeah, I can't imagine Luke letting you near the oven. I guess he's got you locked out of the kitchen even as we speak."

"No, he hasn't!" Lorelai huffed.


"Well, only because he's not here," Lorelai admitted. "He's picking April up at the airport. He called a while ago to tell me they were leaving Hartford, so they should be here any minute."

At that moment the front door opened and Luke and April walked in, their cheeks glowing from the cold. "We're here," Luke called.

"Speak of the devil and his adorable prodigy," Lorelai beamed at them. "I'm gonna go, Sook. I'll talk to you tomorrow."

"Okay, sweetie. Give April a hug for me."

"Will do." Lorelai tossed the phone on the couch and walked over to give April a huge hug.

"Hey, Lorelai," April smiled.

"Hey yourself," Lorelai said, taking a step back to get a good look at the girl. "Holy crap, kid! I thought we agreed last time you were here that you weren't going to grow any more!"

"I know," April giggled, blushing. "I think my mom's going broke trying to keep me in new jeans."

"April, do you need new clothes?" Luke asked, concerned. "We could go to the mall tomorrow and—"

"Relax, dad," April smiled, walking over to pat his arm. "I was just exaggerating. I think I'm set on clothes, at least for the next few months."

"Oh, okay. That's... that's good," Luke said, looking a little disconcerted. "But you'll let me know if you need money or anything, right?"

"Yeah, dad, I promise," April replied, smiling indulgently.

"Hey, April," Lorelai said, "how's hot cocoa sound to you?"

"Like something I could really go for right about now," April grinned.

"Cool," Lorelai nodded, handing her the TV remote. "Why don't you get comfy, find a trashy reality TV show that'll drive your dad nuts, and I'll be back with the cocoa before you can say 'Real Housewives of Orange County.'"

"Okay, thanks Lorelai," April said, settling onto the couch.

"I'll come help you," Luke said, following Lorelai out of the living room.

When they were in the kitchen, Luke slumped against the counter and rubbed his hands across his face.

"So, what was that all about?" Lorelai asked as she rummaged in the cabinet for clean mugs.

"What was what all about?"

" 'You'll let me know if you need money or anything, right?'" Lorelai said, mimicking Luke's earlier words. "Since when are you Daddy Warbucks to April's Lil' Orphan Annie?"

"I don't know," Luke sighed. "I guess sometimes I still just... It's like I still feel like I need to prove that I'm a good father, you know?"

"Oh, hon, you don't have to prove anything to anyone."

"Yeah, tell that to Anna," Luke muttered.

"Hey," Lorelai said, coming over and looking Luke in the eye. "You don't have to prove anything to Anna. You're April's father and you have a right to her, and you have the legal papers to back you up."

"I know, but she can still make April think—"

"She can't make April think anything," Lorelai said, frustrated that Anna could still shake Luke's confidence. "April is a smart, mature girl who is clearly capable of drawing her own conclusions, and what's more she absolutely adores you."

"I guess," Luke sighed.

"No guessing about it, mister," Lorelai grinned. "The little 'World's Best Dad' light shines in her eyes whenever she looks at you."

Luke smiled and placed his hands on Lorelai's hips, pulling her closer to him. "Thank you," he murmured, giving her a quick kiss.

"You're welcome," Lorelai said, looping her arms around his neck and leaning in to kiss him. The kiss was getting more heated than it probably should have, considering there was a minor in the house, when they were interrupted by the voice of said minor.

"Hey, Lorelai," April called, "isn't Rory in Chicago right now?"

"Yeah, she is." Lorelai, reluctantly pulled away from Luke, and they walked into the living room. "Why?"

"Well, the Weather Channel's announcing a Winter Storm Warning for the greater Chicago area," April said, pointing to the TV.

Lorelai turned to look at the screen, and sure enough, there were Stephanie Abrams and Mike Bettes spouting out phrases like "possible accumulation" and "lake effect."

"Crap," Lorelai muttered, digging in her purse for her cell phone. "Let me call Rory and see what's going on."

"I know, I know," Rory said, picking up on the first ring.

"Apparently, Cantore isn't as partial to white doves on silver altars as we thought," Lorelai wailed, walking into the kitchen so she wouldn't disturb Luke and April.

"Yeah, we probably should have gone with Marshall Seese and the fatted calf on the altar of gold," Rory quipped.

"So, how bad is it there?"

"Well, they're not quite ready to send out the St. Bernards with the casks of brandy yet. It's just started snowing really heavily in the last hour or so."

"Okay, that's good. And they haven't closed the airport yet, have they?" Lorelai asked, trying to stay positive.

"Not yet, but I got a travel alert thingie from Orbitz a few minutes ago telling me to prepare for major delays tomorrow."

"Well, at least a major delay isn't the same as a cancellation," Lorelai reasoned. "Even if you get here late, a late Thanksgiving is better than no Thanksgiving."

"I guess," Rory sighed.

"I still can't believe they haven't cancelled any of their fancy-pants campaign events," Lorelai cried in mock outrage. "Do they really expect people to risk driving through four feet of snow and ice just to eat some rubbery chicken and hand over a check? You know, I'm beginning to think the Obama campaign isn't as all 'down with the people' as they make themselves out to be."

"I think at this point they're more concerned about the money they may lose if they have to cancel the fundraisers," Rory said wryly.

"Well, I may seriously have to reconsider my vote," Lorelai pouted. "Anyway, my little Mara Liasson, what's the game plan?"

"I dunno, I guess the only thing to do is wait and see what happens overnight. Darshana says it practically takes an apocalyptic act of God to close O'Hare, so I suppose there's still a miniscule chance I could get out of here sometime tomorrow," Rory replied glumly.

"Aw, cheer up, kid," Lorelai said sympathetically. "We'll get you home somehow, even if I have to hire a dogsled and come get you myself."

"I know," Rory sighed. "Anyway, I'd better get going. I need to take a shower and get some notes down on the Boys and Girls Club appearance before I go down for the live feed from the House of Blues party. God forbid we miss a minute of the Candidate hobnobbing with the wealthiest two percent of the Chicago Democratic party."

Once again, Lorelai was taken aback by the edge in Rory's voice. "Rory, hon, are you sure you're okay?"

"Yeah, I'm fine," Rory said quickly. "I'm just tired. I'll check in with you tomorrow after the breakfast, okay?"

"Okay, I'll talk to you tomorrow. Take it easy, hon. "

"I will. Give everybody my love."

Lorelai hung up and turned to Luke, who had come into the kitchen and evidently overheard the last part of the conversation. "Rory all right?"

"I don't know," Lorelai answered truthfully. "She sounded more down than I've heard her in a long time."

"Maybe she's just stressed about the weather and getting home and all."

"Maybe," Lorelai shrugged doubtfully.

A few minutes later Luke and Lorelai came into the living room with hot cocoa and popcorn. April was on the couch, still absorbed in the Weather Channel. "You know, Lorelai," April said, accepting a mug of cocoa from Luke, "there's still a very good chance Rory could make it out of Chicago tomorrow. Winter weather patterns are notoriously unpredictable, especially in the Great Lakes region."

"That's good to know," Lorelai smiled.

"Of course, that could just be my wishful thinking 'cause I really want Rory to get here," April grinned ruefully. "I've really been looking forward to my first holiday with dad's whole family."

At April's mention of family, Lorelai and Luke exchanged a look and smiled.

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Lane trudged up the sidewalk to Kim's Antiques just as the sun was coming up over the roofs of the businesses along the town square on Wednesday morning. She took out her key and was about to place it in the lock, but thought better of it and knocked on the door, then stood nervously shifting her weight from one foot to another. After a minute, Mrs. Kim opened the door, and her look of annoyance and suspicion changed to surprise when she saw Lane.

"Good morning, Mama."

"Lane? Why are you here so early? Are you okay? Are the babies sick? Something happen to Zach?"

"Everyone's fine, Mama, really," Lane said quickly. "I was just out for a walk and thought I'd stop by for a chat."

"You were out for a walk at 6:30 AM?" Mrs. Kim asked, a hint of suspicion returning to her face. "You never walk at 6:30 AM."

"Well, today I did walk at 6:30AM," Lane said defensively, "and I thought I would stop and visit my mother. Is that okay?"

Mrs. Kim regarded Lane closely for a moment then shrugged. "Of course. Come in."

"Your timing is perfect," Mrs. Kim said over her shoulder as she led Lane into the kitchen. "I have just finished my morning devotions and the store does not open for another thirty minutes."

"Oh yeah, that's right." Lane nodded, pretending she'd forgotten all about her mother's morning routine. "You always have your devotions before the store opens. You said that it makes you feel calm and peaceful before the start of business."

"A quiet moment with God is the most important way to begin the day," Mrs. Kim intoned, motioning Lane toward a chair at the table. "Sit down. I have green tea and gluten-free soy muffins."

"Sounds great," Lane said brightly, taking a seat.

They were silent until Mrs. Kim had filled the tea kettle and placed it on the stove to boil then seated herself across the table from Lane.

"So," Mrs. Kim said. "You want something."

"What makes you think that, Mama?" Lane asked nervously.

"I am not a fool, Lane. You do not take walks at 6:30 in the morning, and you never voluntarily eat gluten-free soy muffins."

"Well, actually, Mama," Lane said, fiddling with her fingers, "since you mentioned it I guess there is something I kinda wanted to run by you."

"I thought so," Mrs. Kim nodded. "Very well. Tell me what you want."

"Okay." Lane let out a nervous breath then stood and started pacing the kitchen. "Well, first of all, Mama, I want to apologize for springing this on you on such short notice. I would have talked to you about it weeks ago, except, well, I didn't know to talk to you about it, and then I kept putting it off until I could figure out how to talk to you about it, only I never could figure out how to talk to you about it, and then so much time passed I was afraid to talk to you about it, except that I couldn't not talk to you about it, and then yesterday Zach told me I had to talk to you about it, so here I am."

She took a deep breath and looked at her mother, who was watching her impassively. Mrs. Kim didn't say anything, so Lane plunged back in. "Anyway, the thing is, Mama, I'm a grown woman. I'm twenty-three-years old, which of course you know because you're my mother, and I'm married, which I guess you also know, since you were at the wedding, and I'm a mother, which—duh!—you also know because you're the boys' grandmother. But the point is, because I'm a grown woman with a family, I want to start doing some of the things a grown woman does for her family. I'm not talking about cooking or changing diapers, which I already do, although Zach helps out a lot—he used to be kind of helpless, but now he's gotten quite good at it."

At this, Lane realized she was getting off track and losing her audience. "Okay, right. My point. Well, my point is that one of the things a grown woman does for her family is cook holiday dinners in her own home—which, of course, you know, since you've been cooking every holiday dinner for your family for the last twenty-five years, including Thanksgiving dinners. Which kind of brings us to my point, which is that I want to cook my own Thanksgiving dinner this year. I want to cook a real Thanksgiving dinner with a real turkey and real cream in the mashed potatoes and real butter on the rolls, and I know you always cook Thanksgiving, and I don't want to hurt your feelings, and I'm really sorry for the short notice, which I've already said, but I want to have Thanksgiving at my house, and I really hope you'll be there." Her rant over, Lane slumped back onto her seat, waiting for the onslaught of her mother's wrath.

Finally, Mrs. Kim broke the silence. "What time?"

Lane looked at her mother in surprise. "I beg your pardon?"

"What time should I arrive tomorrow?"

"What time... You mean you're coming?"

"Of course I am coming," Mrs. Kim scoffed. "My daughter has invited me to her first Thanksgiving dinner."

Lane sat for a minute in total confusion . "And... You're not mad?"

"Mad? Why should I be mad?"

"Well," Lane shrugged helplessly, "because you always cook Thanksgiving dinner."

"I always cook Thanksgiving dinner because no one else does," Mrs Kim snorted. "In twenty-five years, no one has volunteered to take over the duties of hosting Thanksgiving dinner. Certainly not your Aunt Jin," she muttered as an aside. "It will be a relief to have someone else cook for a change."

"Zach said you might feel that way!"

"Zach is a perceptive young man," Mrs. Kim said, standing to take the tea kettle off the stove. "Occasionally clumsy and often unkempt, but he can be very perceptive."

"Wow." Lane said, trying to wrap her mind around this turn of events. "You do realize this won't be a vegan dinner, right?" she asked anxiously. "I mean, there will be real meat on the table and there may even be butter in some of the vegetables."

"Of course," Mrs. Kim nodded, handing Lane a cup of tea. "That is why I will bring the tofurkey."

♫   ♫   ♫   ♫   ♫   ♫   ♫   ♫   ♫  

Lorelai looked from the pot of potatoes she'd just peeled to the garbage bowl (the one tip she'd picked up from Rachael Ray) containing the peels. "Somehow, I don't think there's supposed to be as much potato left with the peels as there is in the pot," she sighed.

She turned to Paul Anka, who had quietly been watching her attempt at culinary productivity from the safety of Rory's bedroom floor. "Whaddya think, Paul Anka, am I ready to be the Next Food Network Star?" Paul Anka merely let out a half-hearted whine, then promptly placed his head on his paws and went to sleep.

"Thanks for the support," Lorelai muttered. She took another look around the kitchen but was prevented from further attempts at "helping" prep for Thanksgiving dinner when Luke and April came in the front door.

"But I still don't understand why Kirk's mom isn't speaking to him," April was saying as she followed Luke into the kitchen. "Aren't your parents supposed to be happy for you when you get engaged?"

"In most sane families, yes," Luke grumbled, "but the Gleasons are not exactly what you'd call a picture of mental health." He dropped a Doose's bag on the counter and gave Lorelai a quick peck on the lips. "Hey."

"Hey," Lorelai said, mimicking a 1930s movie gangster. "You got the moi-chen-dize?"

"Yes," Luke said, rolling his eyes, as he unloaded the bag, "we got the 'good' whipped cream, even though what we already have is fine and doesn't contaminate your food with flourocarbons—"

"I'm sorry, but spooning the whipped cream out of a tub isn't nearly as fun as squirting it out of a can, plus it doesn't look as pretty."

"—and we got extra marshmallows for the yams and the super-sized package of Twizzlers, although I don't know what Twizzlers have to do with Thanksgiving."

"They don't have anything to do with Thanksgiving," Lorelai smiled, grabbing the package from him and ripping it open. "They're for tonight."

"Of course, my mistake," Luke smirked.

"Hey, Dad, is it okay if go call Ashley now?" April asked, taking a bottle of water out of the fridge. "I've got free long distance on my cell phone and everything."

"Why do you need to call Ashley now—and who's Ashley, anyway?" Luke demanded.

"Luke," Lorelai said warningly, giving him a nudge.

"It's okay," April smiled. "Ashley is in my Geometry class, and she was going to the mall today with Caitlin, whose brother Brandon plays on a soccer team with this guy Scott, who's best friends with Evan Riley. Brandon was supposed to get the scoop on Evan from Scott at soccer practice on Sunday and pass it on to Caitlin in homeroom yesterday, and Caitlin was supposed to tell Ashley at the mall today, and Ashley is supposed to tell me when I call her."

"Oh," Luke said, shooting Lorelai a helpless look.

"Boy, you guys would kill at 'Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon'," Lorelai giggled.

"I know it's a little hard to follow," April said cheerily. "I was actually considering charting it out and trying to record some observations about transfer of information among adolescent social groups, but I was afraid I'd skew the data since I'm personally involved in the process I'd be observing."

"Of course," Luke nodded, still looking dazed.

"So, can I go call her?"

"Sure," Luke said slowly. "But don't be too long; dinner'll be ready soon."

"I won't," April agreed, pulling her phone out of her purse and disappearing into the living room.

"And call your mom sometime this evening," Luke called after her.

Lorelai waited for the inevitable explosion, and when it didn't come she looked at Luke in surprise. "Well, I must say I'm impressed," she smirked.

"About what?"

"Your adolescent daughter expresses active interest in a teenage boy, and you don't even bat an eyelash. It's like when the Incredible Hulk goes back to being David Banner."

Luke's eyes widened. "Wait, wait. That whole thing was about a guy?"

"Well, yeah," Lorelai chuckled. "She's using a very complex, time-honored adolescent system of communication to find out if this Evan kid likes her. What kind of 'scoop' did you think she was trying to get on him, his views on the effectiveness of the Kyoto Treaty?"

"Oh, my god," Luke sighed, sagging against a counter.

"Hang in there, Dad," Lorelai smiled, patting his arm. "In another few months she'll realize that the last person in the world she wants to discuss her personal life with is her father, and then you'll never have to hear about boys again."

"Oh, that makes me feel so much better."

"In other news," Lorelai smiled, taking Luke's arm and leading him to the other counter, "I have been hard at work getting us a head start on Thanksgiving dinner." She gestured proudly to the pot of potatoes and the accompanying bowl full of peels. "Ta-dah!"

"What did you do?" Luke asked, peering first into the pot and then into the bowl.

"I peeled the potatoes."

"With what," Luke snickered, "a butter knife?"

"Hey, are you mocking my attempts to contribute to the preparation of our first family holiday together?"

"No, of course not," Luke said, not quite able to hold back a smirk. "It's just that... "

"Just that what?"

"Well, I usually make the mashed potatoes the same day I'm going to serve them."

"I know," Lorelai nodded enthusiastically. "That's why I went ahead and peeled them today. Tomorrow you can just cook 'em up, and hello! Creamy, potato-y Nirvana."

"I know, and it was a good thought," Luke said, placing a hand on her shoulder. "But the thing is, now that the potatoes are peeled, they're gonna turn brown before tomorrow."

"Oh," Lorelai sighed dejectedly. "Guess Ina Garten doesn't have to worry about me stealing her job any time soon, huh?" She looked at Luke sadly. "I'm sorry. I just wanted to be part of the whole Thanksgiving preparation thing, you know?"

"I know," Luke said, kissing her forehead. "Tell ya what. We'll just make the potatoes tonight, and we'll re-warm them tomorrow. Mashed potatoes are always better the second day, anyway."

"Are you sure?"

"I'm sure," Luke said, kissing her again.

Just then the phone rang, and Lorelai jumped to answer it. "That's probably Rory," she said to Luke, picking up the phone. "I've been waiting for her to call me back all afternoon. Hey, my little snowbird," Lorelai said into the receiver. "What's the latest from the Great White North?"

"Still very white," Rory sighed. "It must have snowed another six inches while we were at that breakfast. We had to wait two hours for the shuttle, then it took us another three hours to get across town and back to the hotel."

"During which time you were careful to decline the offer of a sleigh ride from the tall, unusually pale woman who might want to fatten you up on Turkish Delight, imprison you in her castle, and use you as a pawn in her scheme to keep Narnia in her bleak, wintry grip."

"I wish all I had to do to get home was walk back through a magic wardrobe. O'Hare's closed until at least ten o'clock tomorrow morning."

"Yeah, I know. I've been watching the news—and even if I hadn't, your grandmother has made sure to update me on Chicago-area weather and travel conditions every time she's called this afternoon."

"Yikes. Sorry."

"It's okay, they're just eager to see you. As am I."

"I want to see you guys, too," Rory said softly.

"I know you do, sweets. Anyway, maybe you'll be able to get a flight out in the morning."

"I guess," Rory sighed.

"Okay, enough doom and gloom," Lorelai said, determined to cheer her daughter up. "Listen, you have folks to hang out with there, right? Like that Darshana girl? You said she was nice. And Patrick?"

"Um... yeah, sure."

"Okay, then, here's what I want you to do. I want you to round up your peeps, order a massive amount of decadent food from room service, and spend the night stuffing your faces and talking trash about Obama, your colleagues, and your bosses while you cheesy movies—charging the whole shebang to the campaign, of course. Take tonight to relax and have fun with your friends, then tomorrow we'll see if the airport has been reopened and go from there."

"Yeah," Rory said in a tone that was anything but convincing to Lorelai. "That sounds good. I'll do that."

"Good. Call me in the morning, okay?"

"Okay, I will. 'Night mom."

"'Night, hon. I love you."

Lorelai hung up the phone with a sigh. She felt Luke's arms wrap around her waist, and she gratefully pulled them tighter, enjoying the warm support of his embrace.

"So," Luke murmured into her hair after holding her for a minute, "You gonna help me finish these potatoes, or were you just going to leave me hanging?"

Lorelai smirked as she turned to kiss him. "I can guarantee I will never, ever, leave you hanging. C'mon, Spud Stud. Let's go get our carb on."

♫   ♫   ♫   ♫   ♫   ♫   ♫   ♫   ♫  

Rory sat down on her bed and began flipping through the hotel's limited selection of television channels. She'd been in her room working since she'd finished talking to her mother almost two hours earlier, despite her promise to spend the evening relaxing with her "friends." Darshana only lived a few blocks from the hotel, so she'd gone home to spend the evening with her family before coming back for a briefing in the morning. (The briefing was a last-minute addition to the schedule—apparently the Obama people had decided to take advantage of the captive journalists while they still had them.) Rory had thought for a moment of trying to track down Patrick, but in the end she decided that they weren't quite back to the "Hey, buddy, let's hang out!" stage yet.

After a few moments she turned the TV off again with a sigh. "Guess Project Runway reruns actually do get old on the tenth viewing," she muttered out loud.

She got up off the bed and began rummaging through the oversized suitcase in the corner, pulling out some of the books that had been packed at the bottom. She stood for a minute debating between Suite Francaise, The Yiddish Policeman's Union, and I Am America (and You Can, Too!). After deciding she really wasn't in the mood to read about the Nazi occupation of France or alternative histories of Jews settled in Alaska after World War II, she settled back on the bed with I Am America, briefly fantasizing about how much more fun the campaign would have been if those humorless stiffs in South Carolina had actually approved Stephen Colbert's candidacy. As she opened the book, she realized with a start that she couldn't remember the last time she'd had the time or energy to read for pleasure.

She had been reading for about fifteen minutes when her cell phone rang, startling her. She marked her place in her book with her finger, picked up the phone off the nightstand next to her, and answered it without looking at the display.


"Rory, it's Michael."

Rory sat up straighter on the bed, wondering whether this would be a happy Michael call or a torturous Michael call. "Hi, Michael," she said, nervously running her hand through her hair. "How are you?"

"I'm fine, Rory. Listen, I just wanted to tell you that I read your write-up on the House of Blues fundraiser, and I have to say I'm really pleased."

"Oh, thanks," Rory said, hoping Michael couldn't hear her sigh of relief. "I'm glad you liked it."

"I did. I think you've finally got what we're going for here."

Rory couldn't help frowning a little as she remembered how quickly she'd dashed off the piece. She hadn't had time to put as much depth into it as she would have liked, and to her it had ended up reading more like a Page Six column than a hard-hitting piece of political journalism. "Well... thanks," she said.

"You're welcome. Now, how are you coming with the piece on the fundraising breakfast?"

"I'm almost done," Rory said. "I just wanted to do a bit more research on a few of the guests who were there. I think there might be some interesting connections—"

"Don't worry about that right now," Michael interrupted. "If you have time later you can do a longer in-depth piece, but right now we just need to get a story posted on the event before it goes cold."

"Oh, okay," Rory sighed. "Sure. Maybe later."

"I know it's frustrating," Michael said, picking up on Rory's disappointment. "But you have to remember that we're competing with major news outlets in an environment where a news cycle has the life span of a fruit fly. Our priority has to be getting the information and getting it out there as soon as possible."

"Sure," Rory said. "I understand."

"Good. So, you'll send the write-up on the breakfast as soon as possible?"

"Will do," Rory said, slumping back into her pillows.

"Excellent. Thanks, Rory. I'll speak to you soon."

Rory hung up and walked with a sigh over to her laptop, which sat open on the hotel room table. She read through her story on the breakfast fundraiser one last time, and realizing it was as polished and thorough as it could be without the extra research she'd wanted to do, she sent it off to Michael. After hitting "SEND" she sat looking out the window, absently tapping a pen against the edge of the table. After a few minutes she roused herself and turned back to her computer. With another sigh she logged on to the New York Times website and began reading the day's top stories.

♫  ♫   ♫   ♫   ♫   ♫   ♫   ♫   ♫  

"Over the river and through the woods

To Lorelai's house they go.

My folks know the way

To tense up my day,

But Liz is so mello-ow

Lorelai was about to launch into a second enthusiastic, if off-key verse when Luke popped a marshmallow into her mouth.

"You have something against my singing a traditional holiday tune?" Lorelai said, finding it hard to pout with a mouth full of marshmallow.

"It was cute the first fourteen times you did it," he growled. "One more time and you're eating dinner on the porch with Paul Anka."

"Holiday music is sooo overated anyway," Lorelai smirked, pulling another marshmallow from the bag.

"Hey, Dad," April called from the other side of the kitchen, "is this celery chopped small enough?"

Luke crossed over and looked over April's shoulder at the cutting board. "Looks good," he said, patting her arm, "but you might want to make one more pass through those bigger pieces."

"April, it sure looks like you inherited your Dad's cooking genes," Lorelai grinned. "All you need is a baseball cap and a couple of flannel shirts and you'll be ready to take over the family business."

"Pay no attention to the crazy lady with her mouth full of processed sugar," Luke muttered to April.

"I'm serious. You're like the Diner God and his daughter—like the Zeus and Athena of small-town dining establishments," Lorelai teased. "Hey, maybe you should re-name the diner 'Zeus and Athena's Diner.' 'Course, then you would have to turn it into a Greek diner... "

"Stop, I'm begging you," Luke sighed.

The phone rang, and Lorelai gave Luke a triumphant smirk. "Saved by the bell," she said, walking over to answer the phone. "Hello, and thanks for calling the Butterball Turkey Thanksgiving Hotline. For questions about turkey preparation, press '1.' For questions about treatments for the foodborne illness you contracted because you failed to follow our turkey preparation guidelines, please hang up and call the Centers for Disease Control."

"Hey, Mom."

"Oh, it's my little Adorable Snowwoman! How's it going?"

"I'm okay, I guess," Rory said dully. "I just wanted to let you know they're not going to re-open O'Hare until 6:00 to night, so I looks like I won't make it home at all."

"I'm sorry," Lorelai sighed. "But I guess we kind of figured that would happen when you called this morning and eight more inches of snow had fallen overnight, right?"

"Hey," Luke said softly, tapping Lorelai on the shoulder. "What did you do with the onions we bought the other day?"

"Hang on a sec, hon," Lorelai said to Rory. "I put them in the upstairs coat closet."

Luke just stared at her for a second. "Do I even want to know why you put the onions in the upstairs coat closet?"

"Because it would be ridiculous to put them in the bathroom medicine cabinet," Lorelai scoffed.

"I'll go get them," April giggled.

"Thanks, April," Luke said, rolling his eyes at Lorelai before going back to his work.

"Sorry," Lorelai said, turning back to the phone. "Minor dinner prep snafu. Now, where were we?"

"Boy, it sounds busy there."

"Yeah, substitute food preparation for medical emergencies and it's like an old-school ER episode around here. Luke's even letting me help make the candied yams."

"Under very tight adult supervision," Luke muttered.

"Gee, I'm sorry I'm missing all the fun," Roy snarked.

"Oh, puh-lease," Lorelai joked, thinking she might be able to tease Rory out of her bad mood. "This whole thing was clearly one of your brilliant schemes to get out of Thanksgiving at the Cuckoo's Nest. Whip up a so-called 'winter storm,' and presto! You get to spend Thanksgiving eating designer cranberry mousse with Barak Obama and Oprah. Not to mention that it gets you out of acting as a human shield between your grandmother and TJ."

"Gosh, I'm so glad you can find the humor in this situation," Rory snapped.

"Rory, come on," Lorelai chided. Luke gave her a concerned look, but Lorelai just shook her head then carried the phone into Rory's room and shut the door.

"Well, I mean, I'm stuck sitting in the lobby of my hotel halfway across the country from my home and my family, but hey, you've got Luke and April there, and you guys are having so much fun cooking and hiding onions or whatever. What do you need me for?"

"Okay, that's enough," Lorelai barked, finally losing her patience. "Now, I know you're bummed about being stuck away from home on a holiday. You've made it very clear exactly how bummed you are every time I've talked to you for the past thirty-six hours."

"Oh, I'm so sorry—"

"Hey! Not. Done. Talking." Lorelai sat down on Rory's bed and took a deep breath in an attempt to calm herself down. "Of course I'm upset that you're not here. It's our first big family gathering, and as jazzed as I am about the prospect of watching Liz try to convince my father of the virtues of hemp clothing, this day is going to have a big Rory-shaped hole in it that can't be filled. Believe me, if I could get Luke to teach me the technology behind those transporter machines on Star Trek I'd build one and beam you home myself. You know that, right?

"Yeah, I do," Rory sighed. "I'm sorry I'm being such a pain, Mom. I just miss ... everything."

"I know you do, hon," Lorelai said gently, "And I miss you, too. Like crazy. But this is what you signed up for, and if you really want to be Christiane Amanpour there are probably many more missed Thanksgivings in your future. And I have to accept that you're no longer the little girl—or even the brilliant Yale student—who's still tied to Stars Hollow by her mommy's fabulously sparkly, purely decorative apron strings. It sucks, but it's part of achieving the career you've been working for since you taught yourself to read the New York Times Op/Ed page."

"Even at age six I knew George Will and I had serious philosophical differences."

"That's what I mean. This was your dream when other kids your age were fighting over who was the coolest Ninja Turtle. And accepting that those big dreams come with sacrifices is part of growing up. For both of us."

"I know. You're right," Rory said softly.

"I'm always right," Lorelai smirked. "It says so on the needlepoint pillow I packed for you." She stood up and stretched, trying to work the kinks out of her neck. "Now, I have to get back out there, because dinner is in two hours, which means my parents will be here in ninety minutes—and besides, you know Luke is absolutely helpless in the kitchen without me. Are you going to be okay?"


"Are you sure?"

"Yeah, I'll be fine," Rory said with more certainty.

"Good. And you know, we may both have to grow up here, but you can call me anytime you need me. For anything. Even if it's just to complain about how the writer's strike is depriving us of new Jon Stewart."

"I miss new Jon. Although Repeat!Jon isn't a bad substitute."

"I know. Not-R-Kelly doing 'Trapped in the Men's Room' doesn't get old, even in repeat viewings," Lorelai smiled. ''Aw, kid, I love you, and I really do wish you were here."

"Me too, Mom."

"Call me tonight and let me know how the rest of the day goes, okay? And try to find something fun to do."

"I will. Happy Thanksgiving, Mom."

"Happy Turkey Day, hon."

Lorelai clicked the phone off and stood staring thoughtfully into space. After a moment, she sighed, pasted a smile on her face, and walked back into the kitchen.

♫  ♫   ♫   ♫   ♫   ♫   ♫   ♫   ♫  

As Rory hit "END" and stood up to return to her room, she noticed Meredith sitting on the banquette near the elevators, talking on her cell phone and giving Rory a condescending smirk. With a jolt, Rory realized that Meredith must have heard at least part of her conversation with her mother. She shook off the idea of looking for an escape route, drew a fortifying breath, and headed toward the elevator.

"You would not believe how far the level of professionalism has dropped on the press bus lately," Meredith was saying loudly into her phone as Rory walked by. She shot Rory a pointed look. "Some of these newbies still can't make a move without their mommies there to wipe their noses and pack their lunch boxes."

Rory punched the "UP" button on the elevator, determined at first to ignore the other woman's baiting. After a moment though, she turned back around, her jaw clenched and her eyes flashing.

"Hey!" she barked, walking back over to where Meredith was sitting.

"Hang on, Cynthia," Meredith said, rolling her eyes. She looked up at Rory with an expression that was equal parts innocence and smugness. "Can I help you?" she drawled.

"I heard what you said when I walked by just now, which I guess was the point since you said it pretty loudly."

"I have no idea what you're talking about," Meredith said, rolling her eyes again. "I'm in the middle of a conversation here, so—"

Before Meredith could finish her sentence, Rory had snatched the phone from her hand. "Hello, Cynthia?" she said, not waiting for a response. "Meredith has to hang up now. She's about to get her butt pounded by one of the cry-baby newbies."

"What do you think you're doing?" Meredith cried, grabbing the phone back from Rory.

"See, Meredith, for someone who thinks she's such a hotshot journalist, you always ask the wrong question. Let's try another one. Like, who do you think you are?"

"Excuse me?" Meredith demanded, crossing her arms across her chest.

"What gives you the right to pass judgment on what I feel or how I do my job or on my relationship with my mother or anyone else in my life? What makes you so superior? Do you think it's the little suits and the Chanel bag and the Katie Couric wannabe hairdo?"

"Okay, look," Meredith started, but Rory was on a roll.

"It certainly can't be your writing talent," Rory sneered. "'Cause I've read some of your stuff, and I gotta tell ya, honey, Helen Thomas you ain't. Your prose is graceless, your insights are shallow and generic, and you'd need onboard GPS to find an original thought."

"Hey!" Meredith cried, jumping up from the banquette.

"Now, I don't know why you've picked me to try out your Nellie Olsen impression on, and at this point I don't care. So, I miss my mom and I'm a little homesick. You know what? I'm not ashamed of that. I'm proud that I have a close relationship with my family and that there are people back home I care about and who care about me. My whole town threw me a going-away party before I joined this traveling freak show, and I'd rather be someone who has that kind of support and affection in my life than a cold, smug, shallow b—"


Rory felt a hand on her shoulder and turned to see Patrick and Darshana standing behind her, looking from Rory to Meredith in concern.

"Everything okay here?" Patrick asked, squeezing her shoulder.

Rory glanced at Meredith, who looked just as shell-shocked as Rory felt.

"Everything's fine," Meredith said slowly, staring at Rory. She picked up her purse and ran a hand over her hair. "Excuse me," she said, brushing past the three of them into the waiting elevator.

"Not that Meredith doesn't need taking down a couple of pegs," Darshana said when Meredith had disappeared behind the elevator doors, "but what brought all that on?"

Rory looked helplessly from Patrick to Darshana, then sunk down on the banquette and buried her face in her hands. "I lost it," she muttered. "I just totally lost it." She looked back up at them in shock. "I haven't gone off on another person like that since a deer hit me and I missed an exam my first year at Chilton."

"Now, that sounds like a story," Patrick grinned. He grasped Rory's elbow and gently pulled her to her feet. "How about we buy you a cup of coffee and you tell us all about it?"

♫  ♫   ♫   ♫   ♫   ♫   ♫   ♫   ♫  

"Zach," Lane called, rummaging through the kitchen cabinets, "have you seen the bowl my mom brought over the night she made us the wheatgrass soup?"

"The blue one with the praying hands painted all around the outside?"

"Yeah. I can't find it anywhere."

"I took it back to her on the way to work the next day, remember?" Zach replied.

"Are you sure? I don't remember you taking it back, and if it's still here she's going to want it back, and if I can't find it she'll just give me that look, like 'you can't keep track of a simple piece of china, what makes you think you can keep two tiny, helpless babies alive?' "

"I'm sure I took it back," Zach said, walking into the kitchen as he tried to tie his necktie. "Remember? We had to come up with a whole bogus story about how Brian came over that same night and bogarted all the soup so she wouldn't know we dumped it down the sink as soon as she split." He held out the two ends of the necktie. "See if you can do something with this, wouldja, babe?"

Lane looked in horror at the striped tie against the plaid shirt Zach was already wearing. "Zach, what is this? You can't wear this."

"You told me I had to wear a dress shirt and a tie today, remember?"

"Yes," Lane sighed, "but when I said that I assumed it went without saying that the shirt and tie should match."

"Well I'm sorry, but I didn't have those four gay dudes to help me pick out my clothes this morning. Anyway, your mom is not coming for me to give her a fashion show. She's coming to see you, to bond with the little dudes, and to get her grub on."

"And to pass silent-but-painfully obvious judgment on every one of my life choices."

There was a knock at the door, and Lane jumped. "Oh, god, she's here. Quick, go change your shirt." Zach turned to go back into the bedroom, but Lane grabbed his arm. "No, wait. If you take too long, she'll wonder what you're doing and why you weren't out here to greet her." She grabbed the tie out of Zach's hand and shoved it into a utensil drawer. "Maybe if you stay turned to your side she won't notice you're not wearing a tie."

"Babe, you're wound tighter than Ed Sullivan the night he had the Doors on. "Zach said, stroking her hair as he followed her to the door. "You have got to chill."

They opened the door to Mrs. Kim, who was carrying a large platter of what could only be tofurkey.

"Hello, Mama. Come in."

"Hello, Lane," Mrs. Kim said, stepping into the apartment. "Hello, Zach. That is a very nice shirt you're wearing."

"Why, thank you, Mrs. Kim," Zach smirked. He playfully nudged Lane on the shoulder, but the nudge Lane gave him back was anything but playful. "Let me take that plate for you, Mrs. Kim," he said quickly.

"Thank you, Zach," Mrs. Kim replied. "It should stay in the refrigerator until it is to be served; otherwise it begins to soften and lose its shape."

Zach shot Lane a look of distress. "Cool. I'll just go slip it into the ol' chill chest, then."

"Brian called to say he's running a little late, but we'll be ready to eat as soon as he gets here," Lane said, taking her mother's coat. "Would you like some tea in the meantime, Mama?"

"No, thank you, Lane." Mrs. Kim glanced around the apartment. "Where are the boys?"

"They're still taking a nap," Lane said as Zach came back in from the kitchen. "They should be up any time now, though."

Just then the sound of a baby's cries drifted in from the bedroom, followed immediately by the cries of a second baby.

"Do my boys know how to come in on cue or what?" Zach grinned at Lane. "I told you they're gonna make killer session musicians." He turned to Mrs. Kim, and Lane could swear he almost bowed. "Excuse me, Mrs. Kim. It' s my turn to assume diaper duty."

"I'd better go with him," Lane said to her mother. "It always goes faster if we each take one. We'll be right back."

"Very well," Mrs. Kim nodded.

Lane walked back into the bedroom, where Zach already had Kwan out of his crib and onto his changing table. "Hey, there, little buddy," Zach was cooing to the baby. "You ready for your big Thanksgiving debut?"

Lane smiled as she picked Steve up from his crib. "Can you hand me some diapers from the new pack?"

"Here you go," Zach said, keeping one hand on Kwan's belly to hold him steady and using his other hand to fish out the diapers. "Hey, you know, I think that new ointment must be working. This baby's bottom is now actually as smooth as a baby's bottom."

"I know," Lane said as she changed Steve. "Steve's all clear, too."

"You want Kwan in the turkey pjs or the pilgrim pjs?"

"Put Kwan in the turkey pjs. He likes the shiny 'gobble-gobble' on the front."

When they had finished the diapering and changing, they switched babies so they'd have equal time with both parents.

"Hello, my sweet boy," Lane murmured to Kwan, gently bouncing him up and down as began an improvised dance. She twirled around saw her mother standing in the doorway, watching the four of them thoughtfully.

"Sorry we're taking so long, Mama. Sometimes the boys like a little extra cuddle time when they get up from their nap."

"I understand," Mrs. Kim nodded, as there was another knock at the door.

"I'll get it," Zach said, hoisting Steve more securely on his hip. "C'mon, little dude, let's go see Uncle Brian."

Lane and her mother stood in silence, listening to the sounds of Zach and Steve greeting Brian.

"You and Zach have established a routine with the boys," Mrs. Kim observed.

"Yeah, I guess we have. It took a while to get there," Lane admitted, "but I think all four of us have the hang of it now."

Mrs. Kim stared at Lane for a moment. "You are a very good mother, Lane," she said softly. "I am proud of you."

Lane's eyes widened, and she bent her face to the soft curls on the top of Kwan's head to hide her grin.

"Thank you, Mama."

♫  ♫   ♫   ♫   ♫   ♫   ♫   ♫   ♫  

"Hey," Lorelai said to Luke as he pulled the turkey out of the oven, "do you think if I set all the clocks in the house ahead an hour and twenty minutes that it'll fool my parents into thinking they've been here all day and they'll leave early?"

"Why an hour and twenty minutes?" Luke asked as he spooned broth over the top of the turkey. "Why not just go crazy and make it a whole an even two hours?"

"Because," Lorelai said, rolling her eyes as if the answer were obvious, "if it's exactly two hours off, they'll know something is up. The subterfuge is less obvious with the random twenty minutes tacked on."

"Of course. My mistake. Hand me that platter on the table, would ya?"

Lorelai grinned as she watched Luke lift the turkey from the roasting plan onto the platter. "I gotta tell ya, watching you wrestle cooked game gets me kinda hot. It gives you this very primordial, hunter-gatherer vibe."

"Yes, I expertly took this bird down with one lethal stroke of my debit card in the primordial wilderness that is Doose's market," Luke smirked as he covered the turkey with a large piece of aluminum foil.

"Okay, I hid all the National Enquirers and In Touch magazines upstairs under your bed, I dumped the Sour Patch Kids out of the candy bowl and replaced them with the Godiva, and I made sure the calendar on the desk was turned to today's date," April said as she walked into the kitchen holding a ceramic PowerPuff Girls vase. "What should I do with this?"

"Rory's closet under the pile of old quilts on the floor," Lorelai replied.

Luke shook his head. "I can't believe you've got my daughter involved in your ridiculous mind games with your parents," he grumbled.

"Speaking of your parents, I think they're here." April called as she walked back into the living room.

"Are they driving a long black hearse with a skull and crossbones painted on the side and flames shooting out of the tailpipe?"

"No, it looks like a silver Mercedes."

"Same diff." Lorelai glanced at the clock and then turned to Luke. "See? I told you they'd be early."

"Just go let them in," Luke said, propelling her through the living room and into the entryway.

"Hi, Mom, Dad," Lorelai said after letting Richard and Emily into the house. "Glad you found the place okay."

"Of course we 'found the place okay,' Lorelai," Emily retorted. "We have been here before."

"Oh, yeah, of course," Lorelai laughed nervously. She glanced back at Luke and April, who were clearly waiting to take their cues from her. She turned back to her parents. "Um, Mom, Dad, you remember Luke of course."

"Of course," Emily replied, looking as if she'd just been told that her Saks card had been declined.

"Luke, I assume we have you to thank for the delicious aromas wafting out of the kitchen," Richard said jovially as he shook Luke's hand.

"Yeah, well, I had a little help," Luke said bashfully.

"I do make an awesome sous-chef, don't I?" Lorelai smiled brightly. "And this is Luke's daughter, April Nardini," Lorelai said, pulling April closer to her. "April, these are my parents, Richard and Emily Gilmore."

"Nice to meet you Mr. and Mrs. Gilmore," April smiled.

Emily gave April an appraising look, then smiled primly. "Hello, April. It's nice to finally meet you." She turned to Lorelai, her eyebrows raised. "Well, are you going to invite us in, or were you planning to serve Thanksgiving dinner in your foyer?"

"Oh! Right," Lorelai said, wondering how her mother could always manage to make her feel like an errant thirteen-year-old. "Come in and sit down. Luke, would you take their coats and put them on Rory's bed, please?"

"It's such a shame Rory couldn't make it home for the holiday," Emily said as they filed into the living room.

"I know," Lorelai said. "Next time we'll be more careful with our sacrifices to the Weather Channel."

"So, April," Richard said, settling himself onto the sofa, "I understand you're quite interested in science."

"Yes, sir," April nodded. "I've been doing my own experiments since I was six years old."

"And do you plan to pursue any particular branch of science as a profession?

"Well," April said, perching herself on the edge of an armchair. "For a long time I thought I wanted to go MIT or Stanford and study aerospace engineering or maybe biochemistry, but with everything I've been reading about global warming I've decided to look for a program that offers a combination of environmental science and public policy."

Richard gave April an indulgent smile. "And can I assume that, like many young people, your recent interest in environmental issues has been inspired by the work of our former Vice-President?

"Not really," April shrugged. "I've been recording my own observations on climate change for years. Plus, I don't really consider An Inconvenient Truth science. I mean, don't get me wrong, it's great that it got more people thinking about the environment, but it really waters down the science for a mass audience. If you read the primary source material it's based on, you see that the issues are much more complex."

"I see," Richard nodded, looking intrigued. "And you've read this primary source material?"

"About two-thirds of it," April nodded. "The rest of the research hasn't been published in English, so it's taking me a little longer to get through it because I have to translate it first."

Lorelai bit her lip to keep from giggling at the expression of surprise and respect that crossed her father's face. "Isn't it great, Dad?" she said, slinging her shoulder around April's shoulder. "Now we have two precociously brilliant young women in the family. Eat your hearts out, Jenna and Barbara."

"Yes, April, you're a very impressive young woman," Richard nodded. "You know, I have significant connections at Yale and throughout the Ivy League. If I can be of any assistance to you when the time comes for you to apply to colleges, don't hesitate to ask."

"Thanks, Mr. Gilmore," April grinned.

"I think we've got a couple of years before April has to start worrying about college," said Luke, ruffling April's hair as he came back into the living room.

"Actually, Dad, it's never to soon to start thinking about college," April said. "These days if you're not on track by the eighth grade you're pretty much screwed."

"Oh." Luke shot Lorelai a panicked look, but she just smiled sympathetically.

"Lorelai." Lorelai turned to see Emily, seated on the couch next to Richard, staring daggers at her. "Were you going to offer us a drink before dinner, or should we have brought our own?"

"Oh!" Lorelai said, startled at her mother's attitude. "Oh, yeah, of course. Drinks. Well, as you can see, we don't have the traditional Gilmorian Drink Cart of Hospitality and Alcoholic Oblivion, but I think we might have a jar of that stuff I made in the still this morning." Emily didn't crack a smile, and Lorelai let out a defeated sigh. "Would you like your usual martini, Mom?"

"If it's not too much trouble," Emily simpered sarcastically.

"Scotch, Dad?"

"Yes, please. Neat."

Not wanting to leave Luke and April undefended against her mother's limitless resources of polite humiliation, Lorelai rushed through making the drinks-almost knocking over a whole bottle of Vermouth in the process. By the time she came back into the living room, Liz, Doula, and TJ had arrived, and Luke was awkwardly making introductions.

"There's the little girl," Lorelai squealed, handing off the drinks to her parents and walking over to where Liz held the baby. "Hello, Miss Doula," she cooed, stroke the little girl's hair. "She's getting so big," Lorelai said, smiling at Liz. "Is she walking yet?"

"She just took her first steps last Friday," Liz beamed, "but she's still doing a lot of pulling up on things."

"She pulled down a whole stack of my back issues of Pro Wrestling Illustrated yesterday," TJ added proudly. "My girl is strong. And smart too. Did you know she can already tell the difference between Hulk Hogan and Dog the Bounty Hunter? That's not easy even for some of us grown-ups to do, am I right?"

"Oh, you know what?" Liz said, lifting Doula's bottom to her face and wrinkling her nose. "I think our strong, smart little girl needs a pit-stop."

"Bathroom's upstairs and to the right," Lorelai nodded.

"So, Emily," TJ said, taking a seat next to Emily on the sofa, "I gotta tell you I can definitely see where Lorelai gets her hotness from. I bet you can still get the boys up to full mast when you walk into a room, huh?"

"TJ!" Luke growled.

"Don't get me wrong, Luke, the only woman in the world my boy is salutin' is your sister-no offense Emily-"

"None taken," Emily replied sardonically.

"And Dick knows I'm not hitting on his lady, right Dick?"

"Um... Yes, of course." Lorelai was relieved to notice that her father seemed more ready to burst out laughing than to pound TJ into the ground for besmirching his wife's honor.

"I'm just statin' a hereditary truth. Loreai's smokin,' her mom's a fox, her daughter's a babe. This family has a very hot gene pool."

"As opposed to the very shallow one he comes from," Luke muttered under his breath to Lorelai.

"So," Lorelai chirped brightly, "who's up for a rousing game of Bop-It before dinner?"

♫  ♫   ♫   ♫   ♫   ♫   ♫   ♫   ♫  

"Wait, let me get this straight," Rory said. "Iced tea, lemonade, Coke, cranberry juice and eggnog? All together? And I thought I had an iron stomach."

"Donnelly family rite of passage," Patrick shrugged. "Whichever cousin could keep the most 'Barf Juice' down longest got first crack at the wishbone and got to dictate what went in the barf juice the next year."

"That's really disgusting, Patrick," Darshana said, her nose wrinkling.

"True. But it did strengthen my system for many long weekends on Rugby Road once I got to UVa," Patrick smirked. "Plus, I don't think my barf juice story is as disturbing as Rory wearing a Pilgrim outfit to raise funds for—what was it again?"

"I can't even remember," Rory grinned. "My town held fundraisers at the top of a hat. In fact, one year our mayor actually dropped his hat in the lake and we held a fundraiser to buy him a new one."

"So, Rory, are you feeling better now?" Darshana asked. They'd been sitting in the hotel coffee shop through two cups of coffee apiece, and the three of them were sharing a large hot fudge sundae.

"Yeah, I just can't believe I made such a fool out of myself. Again." Rory sighed as she finished downing her coffee.

"Yeah, but you were a very articulate fool," Patrick grinned. "I think 'You'd need onboard GPS to find an original thought' was my favorite line. Succinct, evocative, and a timely reference."

"Oh, god," Rory moaned, dropping her head to the table. "You heard that? Who else heard that? Everyone, right? Everyone heard me go off on Meredith for no reason, and from now on instead of being known as Clueless Girl I'll be known as Psychotic Girl. People will start hiding their pet bunnies whenever they see me."

"It's not that bad," Darshana said, passing the sundae to her. "You had a bit of a meltdown, that's all. It happens to everyone. You're just stressed because you can't get home for the holiday and you miss your family."

Rory lifted her head off the table and looked at Darshana balefully. "Great. Not only am I a nutjob, I'm an immature, homesick nutjob."

"There's nothing wrong with being homesick on a holiday," Darshana said.

"Of course not," Patrick added, scooping out a spoonful of the sundae.

"Then how come I'm the only one at this table who almost took a co-worker's head off because she misses her mommy?"

"Well, this time I'm lucky enough to be home for the holiday," Darshana smiled. "But I guarantee I'll be feeling the same way you are if something comes up and I can't get home to spend Christmas Eve with my kids."

"I know you will, and I really don't mean to be such a whiny baby about the whole thing." Rory sighed, staring down into her coffee cup. "The thing is, it's not really about not getting home for a holiday. I mean, I was away from home last Christmas and I was fine."

"Then what is it?" Darshana asked kindly.

"I just... I've been wondering if I'm really cut out for the whole life of the reporter on the road, and I think that being homesick just exacerbates it. And vice-versa."

"Everyone goes through that, Gilmore," Patrick said. "My first month on the road I threw up in the toilet on the bus every afternoon."

"Yeah, and I called my husband in tears every night for two weeks."

"That's very nice of you guys to say, but I'm not just talking about nerves or about being homesick or a lack of self-confidence—although, yeah, that's all part of it. It's just that all my life I thought I wanted to be Christiane Amanpour, you know? I wanted to travel the world and see things and write about them. And now that I see what's involved in that life—what I have to give up—I just... well... I'm just wondering if this is what I want anymore." Seeing the blank, helpless looks on Patrick and Darshana's faces, she shook herself and shrugged. "Anyway, I'll figure it out somehow. So, Darshana, I'll bet you can't wait to spend Thanksgiving with your kids."

"Yeah, I'm really looking forward to it," Darshana smiled. She glanced down at her watch. "Speaking of my little monsters, I'd better get going if I'm going to make it home in time for dinner. Rory, you're welcome to come with me if you want," she said, sliding out of the booth. "We'll have plenty of food, and my parents will be monopolizing the kids so they won't drive you too crazy."

"Hey, what about me? How come Gilmore rates an invite and I don't?" Patrick cried in mock outrage.

"Okay, fine, you're invited as well," Darshana said, rolling her eyes good-naturedly.

"Thanks, Darshana," Rory smiled, "but I think I'll just hang out here."

Darshana looked doubtful. "Are you sure?"

"I'm sure," Rory smiled. "It's a very nice offer, but you should be spending your holiday enjoying your family, not playing mommy to a homesick colleague. I'll be fine."

"I'll be fine too," Patrick said, melodramatically putting his hand to his head.

"Well, at least I'm leaving you both in good hands," Darshana chuckled as she slipped on her coat. "Happy Thanksgiving, guys."

When Darshana had gone, Patrick turned to Rory with a smile. "So, what are we going to do to salvage this holiday?"

"Well, I've been thinking," Rory said. "Back home, Luke—he owns the diner in town and he's my mom's... well, anyway, every year he would hold a big Thanksgiving dinner for all the people in town who didn't have family or couldn't get home to be with their families on the holiday."

"That's very nice of him."

"It is," Rory nodded. "Although he'd die before he'd admit it. Anyway, I was just thinking that there are probably a lot of people from the press corps stuck here. Maybe we can get everyone together and have a big orphan's Thanksgiving right here."

"Right here in the coffee shop?"

"Sure. Just close your eyes and pretend the cheeseburgers and fries are turkey and stuffing."

"And the tuna salad is cranberry sauce?"


"See, Gilmore? You are a writer. You have a gift for creating images in people's heads."

♫  ♫   ♫   ♫   ♫   ♫   ♫   ♫   ♫  

"I'm not sure, but I think TJ actually licked the mashed potato bowl clean," Luke said, dropping an armful of dirty dishes into the sink. 'Oh, and your mother would like her pie heated, please."

"Of course she would," Lorelai sighed. 'Oh, did Liz say if she wanted milk in her coffee?"

Luke rolled his eyes. "Only if it's soy milk." He walked over and began stroking Lorelai's arm. "So, today's going pretty good so far, huh?" he asked hesitantly.

Lorelai grinned up at Luke as she placed a slice of pumpkin pie on a dessert plate. "Well, my father hasn't challenged TJ to pistols at dawn, and my mother hasn't sent Liz or April screaming from the house in hysterical tears, so I'd say the day has been a resounding success." She couldn't help letting out a sad sigh as she leaned against Luke. "I just wish Rory could have been here. It's just not the same without her."

"I know," Luke said quietly, moving his hand to her back.

"On the bright side," she said, smiling up at him again, "I think we've proven that it's much more than a hunch that this group could somehow form a family."

"Oh yeah?"

"Absolutely. You, me, your perfect daughter, my flawless daughter, my insane mother, your loopy brother-in-law... "

"Now, there's a match made somewhere other than Heaven," Luke chuckled.

"But it's kind of a nice thought, our whole family together like they were today. I think we have a pretty cool family, you and me."

"We do, at that."

Lorelai turned her face up to kiss Luke, but was stopped when she saw her mother standing in the kitchen doorway.

"I just came to see if I could help with the dessert," Emily said, her face impassive.

"Thanks, Emily," Luke said, clearing his throat nervously. "I think we've got everything covered here."

"Yes. I can see that."

The uncomfortable silence was broken by TJ's enthusiastic cry from the living room. "Whoop! Interception! First down, Jets."

"That official obviously needs to visit his optometrist," came Richard's equally loud voice. "There was clearly pass interference on the play."

"Nuh-uh! It was a legit interception. Face it, Dick, Dallas is going dooooown!"

"I'd better get in there before they break something," Luke muttered, beating a hasty retreat.

"Who knew Dad was a Cowboys fan, huh?" Lorelai said after another uncomfortable moment of silence. "So, mom, have you had a good time today."

"Yes, fine," Emily said coolly.

"That's good," Lorelai nodded.

"You seem to have had a very good time yourself today."

Lorelai couldn't help smiling. "You know what? I have. It's been a good day."

"Yes," Emily said coolly.

Lorelai rolled her eyes as she plated another piece of pie. "Okay, mom, I'm full of turkey and the tryptophan is about to kick in, so how about we bypass our usual twenty minutes of emotional cat and mouse and you just tell me what whatever it is I've done that's got you looking at me like that?"

"I just think it must be convenient for you to be able to replace one family with another one so quickly."

Lorelai gaped at her mother in shock. "Gosh, you know, I'm sure I reminded Luke not to put the hallucinogenic mushrooms in the stuffing this year, but he must have forgotten. Do you think you can come down off your trip long enough to tell me what you're you talking about?"

"I'm talking about you fawning over April and that baby," Emily said, her tone suddenly bitter. "I'm talking about you waltzing around here today like you haven't a care in the world-as if your only daughter isn't stuck halfway across the country by herself on a holiday and you don't miss her."

Lorelai put the pie server she'd been holding down on the counter and folded her across her chest. "First of all, if I've been 'fawning' all over April, it's because she's a terrific kid and she's Luke's daughter, and I'm thrilled that I'm finally getting to know her."

"Oh, I could tell. 'Isn't April special?' 'Isn't she just as smart as Rory?' 'Oh, just throw your coats on Rory's bed. It's not as if she's here to use it anyway'" Emily said, clearly thinking she was mimicking Lorelai.

"Is that what you think? That I'm trying to replace Rory with April? Mom, that's insane, even for you. Rory is my daughter, and of course I wanted her here. I was looking forward to all of us being together today. I wanted you and Dad to meet Luke's family, and I wanted Rory to get to spend time with April and Doula. It's the first real family holiday Luke and I have had together, and I'd have given anything if Rory could have been here."

"Well, you certainly wouldn't know it from the way you've been acting today."

"Why, because I didn't walk around like a Sicilian widow wearing black and crossing myself every time her name was mentioned? Rory didn't die, Mom, and she's not some poor little Dickens character standing out in the snow with her nose pressed to the window while she watches our warm family holiday celebration. She's a grown woman whose professional responsibilities include traveling, and circumstances beyond anyone's control have conspired to keep her away from home on a holiday."

Lorelai gripped the counter with both hands and took a deep breath before continuing. "Of course I miss Rory, Mom. I miss her, and it scares me and makes me sad to know that things are changing and they'll never go back to the way they were when she was growing up." She took another breath, fighting back the tears that had welled up in her eyes. "But she has a chance to do what she's wanted to do ever since she was a little girl, and as hard as it may be for me, I have to let her go so she can take that chance. That's what parents do. They give their children space to grow up and become their own people."

"Something I never did for you, of course," Emily muttered bitterly.

"I didn't say that."

"Didn't say that?" Emily cried. "You've been saying that for more than twenty years. You were smothering in that house. We never gave you any freedom. You never got the support you needed. You—"

"That's enough!" Lorelai shouted, slamming her hand on the counter. "I have had a very nice day, despite the fact that Rory's not here, and I am not going to let you ruin it now. I'm happy, Mom, for the first time in a long time. I would really, really like you to be happy for me, but if you can't, then—" Lorelai broke off, knowing she'd probably gone too far.

Emily studied Lorelai for a moment, her gaze like stone. "Fine," she said, then turned on her heel and walked out of the kitchen.

"Mom, wait," Lorelai sighed, following Emily into the living room.

"Richard," Emily said, "It's time for us to go."

"Mom, come on... "

"Emily, is everything all right?" Richard asked, looking at Emily with concern.

"Yes, I just feel a headache coming on."

"Aw, Emily, c'mon." TJ whined from his spot on the couch. "At least wait until half-time."

"You know, Emily, I think I have some white willow bark in my purse," Liz said. "It'll knock that headache right out."

"No, thank you," Emily snapped. Taking a breath, she said more calmly, "I would just like to go home and lie down."

"Very well," Richard nodded, looking unconvinced. "I'll get our coats."

"Mom, please," Lorelai said, stepping toward Emily.

"Luke, thank you very much for dinner," Emily said, ignoring Lorelai. "It was very nice meeting you, TJ, Liz. April, good luck with your studies."

"Well, Happy Thanksgiving to you all," Richard said, coming back into the living room and placing Emily's coat around her shoulders. "Thank you very much for having us, Lorelai."

"Mom, I'll call you this week, okay?" Lorelai said as she and Luke walked Richard and Emily to the door.

"Fine," Emily replied, not looking back at Lorelai.

When they had gone, Lorelai slumped against the front door and gave Luke a sad smile. Luke smiled back and reached out to stroke her hair.

"You okay?" he asked softly.

"Oh, you know how it is," Lorelai chuckled ruefully. "Nothing like a family to ruin a holiday."

♫  ♫   ♫   ♫   ♫   ♫   ♫   ♫   ♫  

"Oooh! The rookie from the Miami Herald makes a valiant attempt at a late-stage comeback, but his shot was clearly outside the bounds of the salt and pepper shakers. The score is now 14-12 with the fierce competitor from Philadelphia serving for game point. She's been having a little trouble with her backspin, so let's see how she does this time."

As she had been for the past hour, Rory giggled at Patrick's running commentary on James and Rachael's bagel hockey game.

"Wait," Rachael said, picking the rather dilapidated bagel off the counter. "What's my out-of-bounds again?"

"The napkin dispenser," Rory replied.

"You know, I think they're really starting to get the hang of this," Patrick grinned at Rory. "You are an excellent coach, Gilmore."

"It's a bagel and a counter," Rory said, blushing. "It's not exactly like teaching someone how to play cricket."

"And yet, who knew that a simple bagel and a diner counter could provide so much enjoyment for a bunch of over-educated, over-ambitious adults," Patrick shrugged.

Rory smiled as she looked around the coffee shop. A dozen or so members of the press corps were crowded into the booths and tables at the front of the restaurant, talking and laughing over plates of fries, onion rings, and burgers. She couldn't remember when she'd ever seen this particular group of people so relaxed, and it made her feel good to know she'd had some part in giving her colleagues an enjoyable afternoon.

"Hey," Patrick said, nudging Rory's shoulder. "Look who decided to join us."

Rory looked up to see Meredith, freshly coiffed and made-up and dressed in her customary black suit, slip into a booth next to the woman from the Richmond Times-Dispatch whose name Rory could never remember.

"Looks like your apology worked," Patrick observed as Meredith met Rory's eye and gave her a brief nod.

"Like my mother always told me, never underestimate the power of a well-constructed apology written on Garfield stationery."

"Yesss!" Rachael cried from the counter. "15-12, my game. C'mon, James, how about 2 out of 3?"

"How about I buy us couple of hot dogs instead?"

James and Rachael walked off to find a waitress, and Patrick turned to Rory with a smirk. "You know, they say that those who can't do, teach."

"Oh, 'they' do, do they?"

"They do."

"Is that a challenge, Donnelly?"

"Do you accept the challenge, Gilmore?"

Rory grinned and picked up the bagel. "Bring. It. On."

♫  ♫   ♫   ♫   ♫   ♫   ♫   ♫   ♫  

"Tell me again why we're out strolling around in the freezing cold when we could be curled up on a warm couch in front of really pointless reruns?" Lorelai asked as she and Luke walked through the town square.

"We're walking off the twelve tons of food you ate."

"So why don't you have April out here getting exercise, Bela Karolyi? She ate at least as much as I did."

"First of all, nobody ate as much as you did. Second, April's home studying."

"Studying on Thanksgiving," Lorelai sighed, looping her arms through Luke's. "Sounds like something Rory would do. How did we get such freaks for daughters?"

"Just lucky, I guess," Luke said, nodding at Lane and Zach as they helped Mrs. Kim to her car along with what appeared to be a large amount of leftovers.

"Hey, I'm sorry if my parents put a damper on things today," Lorelai said as they approached the gazebo. "Sometimes inviting my mother to a festive occasion is like inviting Michael Richards to perform at the Apollo."

"It's okay," Luke chuckled. "I think Liz and TJ balanced out the scale as far as nightmare relatives go."

"Is there really a Hooters Man of the Month Award?"

"If there is, I'm sure TJ will do everything he can to win."

Lorelai's cell phone rang and she smiled as she fished it out of her pocket. "Hey, hon," she said, sitting down on the gazebo steps. "How are you?"

"I'm good," Rory said, and Lorelai had to admit she did sound marginally brighter. "We got a bunch of people together and had our own little makeshift Thanksgiving, and I even taught a few people how to play bagel hockey."

"Aw, look at my little Julie McCoy."

"And then I beat the pants off every one of them."

"Aw, look at my little Mike Tyson."

"So, how about you? How was your day?"

"Oh, you know. Turkey. Football. Fleeting matricidal urges."

"Aw, Mom, I'm sorry. What happened?"

"You know what? It doesn't matter." Lorelai smiled up at Luke. "It's a day for thanks, and I'm thankful that my beautiful, talented daughter is discovering her inner Wayne Gretzky and that my hunky fella here is about to take me home and feed me and his adorable daughter turkey-stuffing-and-cranberry sauce sandwiches, even as he manages a two-fer rant about our eating habits and the exploitation of Native Americans."

"And I am thankful for my vivacious-if-slightly-manic mother and my killer goal-blocking moves."

"At least we have our priorities straight."

"Yup," Rory said, letting out a yawn. "Well, I'm gonna take my ill-gotten bagel hockey winnings and go to bed. I managed to get a 6AM flight for Miami tomorrow."

"At least you're not bussing it from Chicago to Florida."

"Only because they were expecting the press corps to be off for the holiday and meet up with the bus again in Miami," Rory chuckled.

"See? One more thing to be thankful for. Well, since your flight is leaving at the butt-crack of dawn I'd suggest you blow your bagel hockey winnings on the world's largest cup of coffee when you get up in the morning."

"Either that or a majority share in Apple stock. G'night, Mom. Happy Thanksgiving."

"Happy Thanksgiving, babe."

"Were you serious about eating again?" Luke asked as he helped Lorelai up from the gazebo steps.

"You know I never joke about holiday leftovers," Lorelai smiled as she took his arm and directed him back toward the house. As they passed Doose's, Lorelai gasped as she saw Kirk and Lulu walking down the other side of the street behind a grim-looking Mrs. Gleason. Lulu smiled and waved at Luke and Lorelai as they passed, but Kirk, evidently still miffed at Luke, pretended not to see them. "Aw," she said, tightening her grip on Luke's sleeve. "Looks like the Great Pumpkin worked a Thanksgiving miracle."

"God bless us one and all."








To be continued...
















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