Virtual Gilmore Girls

Episode 8.10 "The More, the Merrier"
 by Jewels12 and genkichiba


Author's Note: Many thanks to the entire Creative Team behind this project, specifically sosmitten and Avery, for their invaluable guidance and support in writing this episode. And a special thanks to all the readers out there for their thoughtful words and encouragement.  



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"Pass me the tape?"

Luke shook his head and tossed the aforementioned item towards Lorelai. "Six rolls of tape and we're almost out. How does that happen?"

"We're wrapping gifts, Luke. And tape doesn't last like it used to." Lorelai taped the last corner of her box and slid it under the tree, an accomplished smile on her face.

"No. Especially not when you use a mile of it to wrap a CD," he muttered.

"A CD needs to be wrapped several times, otherwise it's too easy to identify. Everybody knows that."

Luke sighed. "Well maybe everyone shouldn't give CDs as gifts then." He stood up from his position on the floor and walked to the couch, collapsing into it. "How long have we been wrapping?" His words came out in one big yawn.

Lorelai studied the clock on the wall through tired eyes. "Too long. You ready for bed, hon?"

Before Luke could respond, his cell phone rang. He rose slowly from the couch and retrieved it from his back pocket. His expression hardened upon hearing the caller's voice; he began pacing the floor.  

Noticing Luke's appearance, Lorelai feared the worst. She moved to the couch to get a better vantage point.

Luke silently listened, his ear pressed to the phone. "Yeah," he agreed, his voice laced with anxiety. "From the 26th until the 2nd."

Lorelai restlessly tapped her feet against the wood floor. Another minute passed and suddenly Luke's face lit up. "I wouldn't mind," he said. He waited a moment before repeating himself, more sincere this time, "I wouldn't mind." His smile grew wider by the second. He glanced over at Lorelai and she knew instantly that April was somehow involved in the equation.

Luke nodded. "Sounds great. Take care, Anna." He replaced the phone in his pocket and walked back to the couch. "That was Anna," Luke said, sitting down next to Lorelai. "She's taking her mom to visit her sister in a nursing home for a few days and she thinks it would be best for April to stay with us for the extent of her holiday." His smile had slightly decreased in size, but his eyes still shone like hundred watt bulbs.

Lorelai squeezed his arm. "That is so great, Luke. I'm so glad that Anna is keeping April's best interests in mind."

"Yeah, me too," Luke agreed. He slid closer to her and sighed happily.

They were quiet for a moment, both of them closing their eyes and settling into the cushions.

Suddenly Lorelai sat up. "We need to make a Christmas Schedule!" she announced, completely startling Luke.

"A what?" he asked, clearly irritated.

"You know, like a chart of some sort to keep track of all the people we need to visit, and when we're going to visit them. Both our girls are going to be home for the holidays and we gotta to show 'em off as much as possible," she said proudly.

Luke smiled, rubbing his eyes. "Okay."

Lorelai removed a pad of paper hidden beneath a stack of magazines on the coffee table and began jotting down names. "We've got the Belleville family, my parents, Babette and Morey mentioned wanting to celebrate with us, Liz and TJ. Who am I missing?"

"And we're going to accomplish all of this on Christmas Day?" Luke asked incredulously.

"No, Christmas Eve," Lorelai stated as though it was obvious. When Luke didn't respond, Lorelai continued, "Most people have plans for Christmas Day, so we're going to make our rounds on Christmas Eve. Like a Pre-Christmas Christmas. We can invent our own holiday!" she said excitedly.

Luke stared at her in puzzlement. "You want to invent a holiday?"

"Sure. Frank Costanza did it," she reasoned.

Luke chuckled. "You're a very creative woman." 

Lorelai grinned, returning her concentration to the marathon-like schedule. "Thanks for noticing."

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"Luke, focus, please." Lorelai snapped her fingers, trying to capture his attention from her stool at the counter.

Luke's hands were full, carrying hot plates to hungry customers. He spoke to Lorelai through the side of his mouth as he breezed past her, "Breakfast rush."

Lorelai rolled her eyes. "Luuuuke, we need to finalize our holiday schedule. We're running out of time."

Luke returned from the table he was serving and slid behind the counter, pausing in front of Lorelai. "Fine. Show me the list."

Lorelai perked up in her seat, smiling victoriously. "Okay, here's what we've got so far," she said, waving the paper in front of him. "On Christmas Eve we have an eleven o'clock brunch at Babette's, afternoon hors d'oeuvres with Sookie and Jackson, and a candlelight supper with medieval entertainment at Liz and TJ's place."

Luke raised his eyebrows skeptically. "Medieval entertainment?"

"Your sister's words, not mine," Lorelai said. Averting her gaze back to the list, she continued, "We're having dinner with my parents on Friday, as per usual, and they've also invited us for dinner on Christmas Day."

"Dinner with your parents twice in less than a week? It must be Christmas," Luke said sarcastically.

Lorelai laughed. "So you good with the plan?"

Luke shrugged. "It's a pretty full line-up."

"Well, we're pretty popular people. But there isn't any room to stretch it."

Zach and Brian, who'd been quietly listening to their conversation, could hold themselves back no longer. Lorelai glanced up to see the boys bounding around the counter to stand beside Luke.

"Lorelai, seriously, that Christmas schedule of yours is bogus," Zach said.

"Um... okay?" Lorelai responded in confusion.

"Lane and I should totally be on that list."

"And me," Brian quickly added.

"Yeah, you too, dude. And the boys. I mean, what the heck? I thought we were like family," Zach said, his ego clearly bruised.

Lorelai and Luke exchanged smiles. "You guys are definitely like family," Lorelai said, "which is precisely why we didn't include you on the list." 

The guys scratched their heads, puzzled.

"We're going to be so rushed on Christmas Eve, that we'll barely have any time to spend at each house that we visit," Lorelai explained. "And these, uh, fleeting moments, won't do justice to people of your... um, quality. Quality people need quality time." 

"Quality people. I like that." Brian smiled, satisfied.

"Yeah, that's cool," Zach agreed. "So I guess we'll see you on Christmas Day then?" 

Lorelai nearly fell off her stool. "Or, you know... sometime after Christmas."

"Whenever, man. Just as long as we see you. Lane and the boys will be totally stoked," Zach said proudly, nudging Brian for effect.

"Okay, great. Now that we have that settled, maybe you guys can get back to work," Luke strongly advised.

"You got it, Boss," Zach said.

"Anything you say, Boss," Brian agreed.

Once the boys had given them some space, Lorelai stood up from her seat and leaned across the counter. "So, you're picking up April at 3:00, and I'll meet you guys back here around 4:30."

"Now that's a plan I can stick to." He smiled, giving her short kiss.

Lorelai turned and walked towards the door. "In the meantime, you might want to find a pair of tights," she said over her shoulder. "Liz said it's costume-themed."

Luke groaned.

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Rory slid her key card through the slot, slipped off her shoes and dumped her bag on the bed, collapsing next to it. The room service menu on the bedside table was screaming out her name. As she perused it, the thought of filling her stomach with the noxious items on the menu made her want to pack her bags and head right back to Stars Hollow. The past few months on the campaign trail had been harrowing at best and she looked forward to spending a few days at home with her family. She was also excited by the prospect of eating at Luke's diner. Her mind could easily conjure the taste of her last good meal under Luke's roof. Nothing in her current or past travels could compare.

Her thoughts were soon interrupted by the sound of her cell phone. Rory looked at the caller-id and smiled. "Hi, Grandma."

"Hello, Rory. I just wanted to finalize plans with you for next week," Emily said.

"Oh," Rory said, confused. "Didn't Mom tell you? I told her to let you know I would be coming home for a week."

"Well, she did mention something of the sort, but I just wanted to make sure that you were still coming to Friday Night Dinner. We haven't exactly heard from you, so I wasn't sure if you had made other plans," Emily said pointedly.

"I'm still coming, Grandma. And I can't wait to see you and Grandpa."  

"Well it's not like we've been on your priority list lately. We just wanted to make sure that you haven't forgotten that we exist."

Rory took out a Twix bar from her jacket pocket and unwrapped it as Emily droned on about the proper practices of communication.

"Rory? Rory, are you listening to me? What is that crinkling sound? Are you eating something? I swear, every day you become more like your mother."

"Why thank you." Rory smiled sincerely.

"Now that she hears," Emily said.  

"Grandma, I'm sorry I haven't been in touch lately. Things on the campaign trail have been a little crazy. I promise to tell you all about it when I come home."

"Well make sure you set aside some time for us to go shopping. I need you to help me find something for your mother."

"I will, Grandma. I have to finish typing up this piece. See you in a few days," Rory said before closing her phone.

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Lorelai strolled jauntily into the Dragonfly kitchen, her eyes sparkling with youthful spirit. "It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas," she sang to the delight of the entire culinary crew.

Sookie giggled, grabbing her friend by the wrists and pulling her out of the kitchen to a less-crowded area of the inn. "So we're still on for Christmas Eve, right?" she wondered.

Lorelai chuckled. "Hon, things haven't changed since I confirmed that with you ten minutes ago. And twenty minutes before that."

Sookie giggled again. "I'm just so damn excited. I mean, all of us together, Rory, April, the kids... Luke," she said, dragging the last name out for emphasis.

Lorelai deliberately misinterpreted Sookie's tone. "You excited about seeing Luke, Sook?"

Sookie replied playfully, "Well, he does have a nice butt."

The two women openly giggled, unaware of the look of pure disgust they were receiving from Michel. He cleared his throat, prematurely interrupting their amusement parade. "Some of us are actually trying to work around here, and your incessant cackling is making the process extremely difficult," he said harshly.

"And a Merry Christmas to you, too," Sookie returned.

Michel glared at the chef. "Whatever," he spat, stomping away in a huff.

Lorelai and Sookie exchanged a look. "What's up with him?" Sookie questioned.

"Looks to be a severe case of Grinch-itus," Lorelai presumed.

And round two of the giggling commenced.

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Rory sat on the not so plush hotel bed with her computer on her lap and notes scattered about her. She looked at the blank screen and closed her computer abruptly, sliding lazily off the bed. She had only a few hours to finish up the piece and send it off to her editor before heading to the last campaign stop. Then, she was free to enjoy Christmas at home. She stood staring out the window and admired the beauty of the sparkling white snow. New Hampshire was full of small towns, not unlike the one she had grown up in. Rory knew that she was procrastinating. She had plenty of material to put together a dazzling piece on the day's events, but she lacked the desire, and more importantly the drive to do so.

"Maybe a change of locale will help me out," Rory said to herself.

She gathered up her papers and her laptop, slipped on her coat, and headed across the street to a local restaurant. She slid into a corner booth and fired up her computer as she waited to be served. A young woman with dirty-blonde hair and green eyes came up to take her order. She looked to be about Rory's age.

"What can I get you?" the waitress asked.

"I haven't really had a chance to check the menu, so I'll just have a coffee for now." 

The waitress tucked her small notebook in her apron and headed towards the counter. She filled a large mug with steaming coffee and placed it in front of Rory. Rory smiled up at the waitress and mumbled a quick 'thank you' before returning to her notes.

Three hours and five cups of coffee later, Rory was still mulling over her piece. Her brown hair was pulled back in a haphazard ponytail and her eyes looked like they were going to burst out of their sockets. She stared at the still empty computer screen and wondered what the point of this was. It wasn't a case of writer's block, but rather, motivation-block. She found herself dealing with boring everyday policy jargon rather than the dazzling political rhetoric she had been expecting. The campaign trail was nothing like she'd imagined it to be. Just as she was ready to pack up her stuff and return to the hotel, Patrick slid into the seat across from her.

"How's it going?" he asked.

"It's going," Rory replied.

"That bad, huh? It gets better you know," Patrick said.

"Yeah, I'm sure it will." Rory got up and started putting her papers in her bag. She closed her computer and said, "I should go. I really need to finish this piece and send it to my editor."

"Okay. I'll see you on the bus?"

"See you then."

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The phone at the Dragonfly reception area had been ringing off the hook for the last two hours. Normally, that would be good for business, but in this case, Michel had decided to boycott his responsibilities and let the phone fend for itself. In those same two hours, several guests endured the wrath of Michel's merciless tongue, including three innocent kids who were permanently scarred when he blasted them for fiddling with the fake gifts under the tree that stood in the foyer.

Lorelai exited her office just in time to hear the tail end of an argument between Michel and a six year-old girl. Lorelai quickly took the girl by the hand and found her a nice shiny lollipop to abate her tears.

"Michel," Lorelai said sharply when she returned to the front desk. "What is going on with you?"

Michel feigned ignorance. "I don't know what you're talking about."

"Well for starters, you've taken boondoggling to a whole new level," she said, her eyes shifting focus to the paper that was in Michel's hands. "What'cha got there?" she inquired, reaching for the paper. Michel made no attempt to pull it away.

"This is an order form," Lorelai pointed out unnecessarily. Perusing the form further, her eyes grew wider and her expression more solemn. "Iridescent dragonfly paperweights!" she shouted. "You ordered paperweights? At two-hundred bucks a pop?!" She shook her head, completely stunned. "Are you crazy?"

"We needed them," Michel answered simply.

Lorelai contorted her face in an attempt to comprehend Michel's rationale. "Oh, forgive me. I didn't realize we needed paperweights, what with all the hurricane winds passing through."

Michel scowled. "Why don't you discuss this with Sookie, and while you're at it, you can talk about all your other special holiday plans and laugh at all the adorable things that you're going to do together with your perfect little families." With that, Michel stormed off to another wing of the inn, leaving an open-mouthed Lorelai to stare at his retreating form.

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Lorelai attempted to balance the handful of bags she carried, as she opened the diner door. She noticed Luke leaning behind the counter, smiling broadly at his daughter. Lorelai made her way towards the counter and plopped her bags on the floor in front of her stool. She smiled at April and leaned over the counter to kiss Luke hello.

Lorelai turned to face April and gave her a big hug. "It's great to see you again, April."

"Hi, Lorelai! I can't believe it's almost Christmas."

Lorelai grinned. "I know. I love this time of year." She motioned to Luke, "Burger boy, what are you waiting for?"

Luke placed a piping hot cup of coffee in front of her and said, "You know I hate it when you call me that."

"That, my dear, is half the fun." Lorelai looked to April and received a smile of approval. "So, how was your flight, April?" she asked.

"It was okay. But the airplane food was gross."

"What about the peanuts? It's all about the peanuts."

"I don't like peanuts," April said plainly.

"You don't like peanuts? How can you not like peanuts? Everyone loves them," Lorelai replied.

"I don't," Luke said gruffly.

"Big surprise, Mr. Grump."

April shrugged her shoulders. "I guess I'm like Dad. I don't like peanuts."

"See, if I had any doubts she was your child, Luke, the weird hatred of peanuts proves that she is." 

"Are you seriously mocking what we eat? Have you ever noticed the crap you put into your body?" Luke returned.

Lorelai chuckled. "I live to mock you, buddy. So, April, are you ready for a Christmas extravaganza?"


"Well, we have a crazy schedule ahead of us, including the always anticipated Friday Night Dinner, a breakfast feast at Babette's, an afternoon with Sookie and family, and dinner with Aunt Liz and Uncle TJ. The rest of the time is yours, to do with as you like."

April just smiled at Lorelai, saying nothing at all. Lorelai frowned at Luke and said, "You told her! I wanted to do the telling."  

"She beat it out of me," Luke said sheepishly.

"Party pooper. Anyway, I have to get back to the inn for a bit, but I'll meet you guys at my place later. Don't spoil any more surprises, mister," she warned, poking Luke in the chest.

Luke walked her to the door and kissed her goodbye. "Order some pizza for tonight. April will love it," Lorelai instructed before she left.

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Three days had passed, and Rory was now in South Carolina, the final stop before the holiday break. She had her suitcase open on her bed. The floor was scattered with wrapped presents for family and friends. At the time, pre-buying all of her Christmas presents seemed like a good idea, but now she was thinking she should have just hit the mall as soon as she got home. Rory sighed and neatly folded her shirts and sweaters in order to make room for the gifts. She looked at her watch and noted the time with enthusiasm. She was so looking forward to going home. 

The inconsistency of the campaign trail life was something that Rory could never embrace. Moving from hotel room to hotel room was not at all how she envisioned her career as an intrepid journalist. She missed home. She had traveled all across the United States, and still, Stars Hollow remained untouched in terms of ideal places to live. She missed everything about it; the people, the festivals... her mother. Being away from her mother was an inevitable part of the job, but she never realized how hard it would be. Finally, the wait was over, and Rory couldn't contain her excitement.  

Rory zipped up her suitcase and set it on the floor. She strapped on her tote bag, and turned off the lights before dragging her suitcase across the threshold.

When Rory made it into the lobby, she saw Darshana waving to her. Patrick stood behind her with his hands shoved in his pockets.

"Hey," Rory said with a glowing smile on her face.

"Hey. So are you excited about going home for Christmas?" Darshana asked.

"I am. You must be thrilled to see your family again," Rory said.

She grinned. "Yeah, I never get tired of it."

Rory reached inside her tote bag and removed a small package, handing it to Darshana. "I hope you like it," she said.

"I'm sure I will," Darshana said, pleased.

"Aren't you going to open it?" Rory asked.

"No, I'm going to wait."

Rory gave Darshana a big hug and said, "I'm gonna miss you. Take care of those kids of yours, okay?"

"There's no reason to miss me. We'll see each other in ten days," Darshana replied.

Rory looked at her wearily. "Yeah, I know. I just get weird around the holidays." Truth be told, a small part of her wished that she could stay in Stars Hollow and leave the campaign coverage to the experts.

Patrick walked up to Rory and smiled that golden smile of his. "Take care of yourself Rory."

She returned his smile. "I will. I have something for you." Rory took out another small package and pushed it towards him before hurrying to catch the cab that was waiting for her outside the hotel.

She waved at Patrick as the taxi pulled away.

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The paperwork piled atop Lorelai's desk at the Dragonfly was competing with Mount Everest. She temporarily stole herself to her office, determined to sort through some of it before the Discovery Channel decided to make a documentary about it. Her busy mind was all too soon interrupted by the obnoxious ring of her cell phone.

She glanced at the display, bobbing her head to Timberland's voice for a few seconds before answering. "Let me see ya strip, you can get a tip... " she sang into the phone. She could practically envision her mother's jaw dropping.

"Lorelai?! This is your mother calling... not the pornography studio."

Lorelai suppressed a giggle. "Oh, hey, Mom. What's up?"

"Honestly, Lorelai, your phone etiquette is an atrocity. I'm amazed that you haven't been reported for misconduct." Her voice was thick with indignation.

"It is amazing, isn't it," Lorelai playfully agreed, twirling a strand of hair around her finger, her legs propped on top of the paperwork.

Emily sighed. "The reason I'm calling you is to let you know that I ran things by Rory, and our plans have been solidified."

Lorelai wrinkled her brow. "What plans? Are you talking about our dinner plans? I already confirmed those with Rory."

"Knowing you, one can never be sure. I was just taking precautionary measures."

"Of course you were," Lorelai replied sardonically.

Emily pressed on, "Please try to get here promptly tonight, Lorelai. Richard and I haven't seen Rory in ages and we need sufficient time to catch up."

"There are other people besides Rory who will be in attendance, Mom. Please try to remember that."

"Fine. So we'll see you at 6:30 then." It wasn't a question so much as a statement.

"Great-" Lorelai began, hesitating when she heard a click on the other end. She continued conversing in spite of the circumstances. "Sure, I'll bring my porn star friends. You remember Mulva and Deloris? Yeah, they're back from Vegas. It'll be a riot." On that note, Lorelai hung up. She stretched her legs and headed for the kitchen and a much-needed caffeine boost.

Lorelai nearly collided with Michel as he stormed past her, griping as he went. She quickly entered the kitchen to resolve things once and for all.

Sookie greeted her with a guilty expression.

"What happened?" Lorelai asked sternly.

"He threw blueberries at me!" she shouted, on the defensive.


Sookie's eyes darted around. "I don't know," she said unconvincingly.

Lorelai wasn't buying the innocent act. "Sookie?"

She sighed, defeated. "I might have said that I didn't like Celine Dion's new song."

"Sookie!" Lorelai spoke accusingly, shaking her head in disappointment.

Sookie lowered her head. "I know. I'm sorry."

"Remember what we talked about before?"

"Yes," she agreed.

"And you're still on board?" Lorelai asked.

"Yes," Sookie repeated, a little less enthusiastically this time.

"Okay, let's get him in here and give him the news... before he breaks out the heavy artillery."

Michel entered the kitchen at that very moment, as if on cue. Lorelai and Sookie smiled silently, their expressions slightly awkward.

"You were talking about me," he knowingly accused the women.

Lorelai eagerly explained, "As a matter of fact, yes, we were talking about you, Michel. Sookie and I have a proposition for you."

"I'm listening," Michel said without a hint of sarcasm.

Lorelai paused for a moment, surprised at how cooperative Michel was being. "Uh, okay, um, Sookie and I have decided that we couldn't possibly celebrate Christmas without your company, so... " She nudged Sookie, urging her to take the reins.

Sookie obligingly continued, "So... we're inviting you to Christmas Eve celebrations at Jackson's and my place."

There was a whisper of a smile on Michel's face. He took his time in responding. "I suppose I might be able to rearrange some plans."

"I really hope you'll be able to make it, Michel. Jackson and the kids will be thrilled to see you," Sookie said.

"That's very nice of you to say. I appreciate the invitation," Michel returned genuinely.

Lorelai fought back laughter at the scene playing before her. There was enough cheese flying around to start a factory.

Michel gave a strange sort of nod to both women, then exited the kitchen, a noticeable grin on his face.

Lorelai turned to Sookie and patted her on the back. "You're a first-class kind of gal."

Sookie looked at her friend straight on. "You owe me. Big time."

"Just put it on my tab," Lorelai spoke over her shoulder, as she too left the kitchen and trudged back to her post.

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Lorelai stood in the waiting area of the Hartford airport and took another sip from the coffee cup she held in her hand. She'd been waiting for at least two hours, but that was mostly her fault since she had shown up a good two hours early. It felt like decades since she'd last seen Rory. She missed knowing that her daughter was only a short drive away. Lorelai looked up and willed the clock to move forward. Just as the weariness was threatening to overtake her, she saw a familiar wisp of long brown hair. She stood up from her seat and made her way through the throngs of people in front of her.

"Move it, daughter coming!" she said to no one in particular.

When Rory made it past the gate to where her mother stood, the tears that she had been holding in started pouring down her cheek. She dropped her bag and hugged her mother fiercely. Lorelai shook with emotion, her own tears flowing freely.

When they finally separated, Lorelai said, "I missed you, hon."

"You have no idea how much I missed you," Rory replied.

Lorelai put her arm around her daughter and they walked together towards the baggage carousel. "I am going to pamper you so much now that you're home. I'm talking laundry, daily junk food provisions, movie marathons, and I'll even throw in the odd massage," Lorelai promised Rory

Rory laughed, as she stepped closer to the conveyor belt to wait for her luggage.

Lorelai stood back and admired her daughter from afar. She had grown so much in her time away from home. Not in height, but in wisdom and beauty. She was so proud of the woman that she'd become. Another stray tear slid down her cheek as she reveled in the feeling of reuniting with her closest friend.

Rory, with all her gear in hand, returned to her mother's side. Lorelai relieved some of the weight as they walked towards the exit.

"So tell me all about your exciting campaign adventures," Lorelai said.

Rory shrugged. "There's really not that much to tell."

"Come on, I want details. Let me in on the grit and the gore of the campaign."

"No grit, no gore. It's all pretty dry to be honest."

Lorelai looked at her daughter questioningly.

Rory frowned. "Don't give me that look."

"What look?"

"You know the look."

"I have no idea what you're talking about. So, you wanna wait till we get to Luke's or should we eat now?"

Rory smiled. "Do you have to ask?"

Lorelai kissed her daughter on the cheek. "Welcome home."

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Sookie stood in the kitchen with Wanda resting firmly on her hip. She could hear the sounds of Davey and Martha scuffling over a toy in the next room.

Sookie sighed. "Davey, Martha... don't make me come in there!" she shouted. The kids continued fighting, undeterred by their mother's tone. Sookie marched into the other room and tried to keep her son and daughter from mauling each other.

"Davey, you have to share with your sister. Remember what I told you about sharing?"

"I don't want to share with Martha. She's yucky."

Sookie put Wanda in her car seat that was currently in the middle of the living room and took the toy away from Davey. "If you won't share, then you can't play with the truck either."

"That's not fair!" wailed Davey.

"Go to your room," Sookie hollered in response. She took the baby out of the car seat and grabbed hold of Martha's hand as she went into her bedroom. Sookie sat on the bed and attempted to feed Wanda. Jackson was running about frantically, searching for appropriate clothing and toiletry items to take with him. Earlier that afternoon, he had phoned Sookie at the inn, informing her that his ailing mother had taken a turn for the worse. 

"Jackson, don't take that sweater. The colors look awful on you," Sookie told him.

"I like this sweater," he snapped back.

"Take those navy slacks... and that nice cream sweater. You look good in that."

Jackson huffed. "Sookie, I don't think it really matters what I wear in a hospital!"

Sookie frowned, realizing that she was being insensitive. "I'm sorry Jackson. I just... I hate to see you go. It's Christmas."

"I know," Jackson said quietly. "This might be my mother's last Christmas. The doctor said that her kidneys are on their last lap."

Sookie put the baby in her crib and held Jackson by his trembling shoulders. "It's gonna be okay, Jackson. We'll get through this. I'll hire a baby-sitter to help out around here. Just hurry home."

The sound of something smashing in the other room cut their conversation short. Sookie took off to prevent any more disasters.

"Uh oh. Davey's bad!" Martha said as Sookie entered the room.

"Davey, what did you do?" Sookie asked as she picked up the young boy. Her eyes lowered to the smashed glass at her feet and she sighed.

"I'm sorry, Mommy," Davey wailed.

Sookie made her way into the living room and got Martha and Davey to sit on the couch as she looked for 'Finding Nemo' in their video collection.

"Aha! I knew it was here somewhere," she said to herself before placing it in the DVD player.

She left the two kids and went back into the bedroom to put Wanda down for her nap. Jackson was zipping up his duffle bag when she entered the room.

"I wish I could come with you," Sookie said.

Jackson nodded. "Me too. I'll call you as soon as I get there."

"You better, buster!"

"Hey, at least you don't have to deal with my brother Bo," Jackson replied.

Sookie cringed slightly before smiling up at her husband.

♫   ♫   ♫   ♫   ♫   ♫   ♫   ♫   ♫  

Richard, Emily, Lorelai, Luke, and their respective daughters, sat together in the Gilmore living room. Richard and Emily made a fuss over Rory, tickled to see their granddaughter after many months apart. After a stern warning from Lorelai, Emily promised to make an equal effort with April. The conversation was moving along quite smoothly. Rory, with some persuasion, shared a few anecdotes from the campaign trail, and April talked a mile a minute about her latest school projects and her undefeated swim team. Luke and Lorelai looked on proudly, periodically exchanging smiles. When the conversation moved on to more festive themes, Lorelai took the floor and announced their Christmas schedule, listing every glorious detail.

Emily appeared utterly traumatized by the revelation. "Is this a joke?" she asked.

"I hope not," Lorelai returned.

Emily scoffed. "What are you, suicidal? Why on earth would you subject yourselves to that much excitement in one day?"

Lorelai rolled her eyes. "Some people actually enjoy excitement, Mom. I know it's a far-out concept. I wouldn't expect you to understand it. In fact, I'd be at a loss for words if you ever gave any indication of coming close to understanding it."

"Lorelai, dear, it is my firm belief that you will never be at a loss for words," Richard cut in, allowing the laughter to die down before continuing, "I think I smell dinner. Shall we?"

Emily shook her head. "Richard, we have maids that are paid to announce dinner for us. I don't know why you insist on doing so."

Richard carried on, ignoring his wife's nagging voice. "Follow me, everyone. I know the way."

The group made their way to the dining room and seated themselves at the table. Emily used the moment to draw attention to her newly acquired centerpiece, which was hidden beneath an elegant gold silk cover.

"I'm sure you're all very interested to see what's under here," Emily said, her hand clutching the edge of the cover.

Lorelai sarcastically responded, "I know I am."

"Totally," April agreed sincerely.

Emily beamed a satisfied smile. "Feast your eyes on this!" she said, proudly revealing the object of curiosity. There were stunned looked on every face. 

"It's... a house," Lorelai stated the obvious.

"Made out of the finest Belgian chocolates," Emily supplied.

"It's your house," Luke pointed out.

Emily nodded in approval. "That's a very good observation, Luke. You're right. It is our house." That admission seemed to clear up the mystery for everyone as they examined the miniature replica a little more closely.

"This is the rich people's version of a gingerbread house," Lorelai informed April specifically.

April smiled. "Very cool."

"The word extravagant also comes to mind," Lorelai said, directing her gaze at Emily.

"Well, you've never been accused of having good taste," Emily spoke condescendingly to her daughter.

Before Lorelai could muster up a response, dinner was presented: Roast beef with all the fixings. "Props on the segue, Mom," Lorelai lightheartedly complimented.

Emily stared at her with a far-from-amused expression.

The group quickly dug into the food, the conversation coming to a comfortable pause.

April was still focused on the centerpiece, thoroughly impressed by the construction.

"I'm glad you like it, April." Emily looked smugly at Lorelai.

"Yeah, it's amazing! Definitely the best one I've ever seen," April remarked.

"You can take it home with you, if you'd like," Emily offered.

Lorelai immediately interjected, "Uh, I don't think those things travel well, Mom."

Emily wrinkled her brow. "I don't see what the problem is, Lorelai. Marcelle and Fernando got it here in one piece."

"Paul Anka!" Lorelai shouted, relieved to have found another obstacle.

"Lorelai, lower your voice," Richard strongly advised. "Some of us are trying to eat in peace."

"Sorry, Dad. I just meant to say that we can't have chocolate in the house in case Paul Anka gets into it."

"Then keep it on a high shelf, Lorelai, or in a locked room. It's not rocket science," Emily barked.

"But, Paul Anka... "

"Lorelai," Richard warned.

"He can open locks... " she continued.

Richard gave her a stern look, deterring her.

Lorelai sighed, frowning. "Fine. You win."

"Good. I'll have Bethesda wrap it up for you," Emily said contentedly.

Dinner proceeded relatively smoothly after the great chocolate debate, and the party soon moved back to the living room for a nightcap.

Things finally wrapped up about a quarter of an hour later. Rory and April ventured outside ahead of Luke and Lorelai, giving April a chance to methodically compare the Belgian chocolate mansion to the genuine article.

"So, we'll see you for Christmas dinner then?" Emily asked, leaning against the door frame, an air of uncertainty in her voice.

Lorelai nodded. "I just hope there's room for us at the table. I mean, your next centerpiece has a lot to live up to. I'm thinking a Taj Mahal theme... possibly the Vatican."

Emily rolled her eyes, looking to Luke for support. "I don't know how you can put up with her."

Luke chuckled. "Thanks very much for dinner, Emily. We'll see you soon."

Emily smiled. "Good-bye, Luke." She paused, then added, "Good-bye, Lorelai," in an irritated tone. "Don't think that our spa project can be put on the back burner, Lorelai. It may be the holidays, but that's no reason to slack," Emily added as they walked away.

"Bye, Mom," Lorelai said with forced cheer.

When they were a safe distance from the house, Luke asked Lorelai pointblank about her beef with the Belgian creation. "What's the big deal?"

"I don't want that thing in the house. It'll be like a constant reminder of my parents' house. And every time I walk by it, I'll hear their superior voices judging me. 'Cause they'll be inside the house, mini-replica versions of themselves, always watching, always judging."

Luke gave her a dubious look.

"I'll have nightmares."

He smiled, wrapping his arm around her shoulder as they walked to the jeep. "We'll figure something out."

"I'm pretty open to the option of dumping it on the side of the road," Lorelai suggested.

"Remind me to stay on your good side," Luke teased.

♫   ♫   ♫   ♫   ♫   ♫   ♫   ♫   ♫  

"Happy Christmas Eve!" Lorelai, Luke, Rory and April said in almost-unison. Luke more or less grumbled out the words and Rory was a little slow on the uptake, but otherwise, it was high impact.

"Hey there, sugahs!" Babette greeted the gang on the other side of the door. "Morey! They're here!" she shouted indelicately, ushering the visitors inside.

Lorelai handed off the plate of lemon squares she'd been carrying to Babette, as they made their way to the living room. They were met unexpectedly by Miss Patty. She took in the scene before her with keen interest. "Oh, don't you make the perfect family picture!" she gushed.

Luke rolled his eyes.

Lorelai chuckled. "Patty, what a... " She struggled to find the appropriate word. "... surprise," she concluded.

"I hope you don't mind, but I decided to join you all for brunch. I just wanted to spend some time with these beautiful young ladies," Miss Patty said, pointing to Rory and April.

"Good to see you, Patty," Rory smiled, giving the dance teacher an awkward hug.

April followed suit, receiving her Patty hug for the season.

Patty beamed. "I just love the holidays!"

Morey finally entered the living room, joining in the celebrations. Babette hung by his side, adjusting his tie. Their clothing appeared to be a bit tousled. "Hello, everyone," he happily welcomed his neighbors. "Glad you could join us."

"Thanks for having us," Lorelai replied on behalf of her entire crew.

"Who needs drinks?" Babette hollered.

The heavy knocking on the door briefly interrupted things.

"Morey, get that, will ya?" Babette instructed, her hands weighted down with bottles of the most festive variety. "I got scotch, gin, vodka, rye, bourbon, rum and tequila!" she rasped. "What'll ya have?" she spoke to anyone and everyone.

"Babette, it isn't even noon yet," Lorelai argued, chuckling.

"What's your point?" Babette asked.

Lorelai pondered for a second. "My point is that I'll have a shot of each."

"Atta girl," Babette encouraged.

Without warning, Patty made a break for the kitchen. "I'm gonna need a big bowl!" she announced excitedly.

Lorelai and Rory exchanged horrified looks. "Oh no," Lorelai began, keeping her voice low.

"Patty's making punch," Rory finished.

"And this is a bad thing?" April wondered.

Luke cautioned his daughter, "Just keep back fifty feet and you'll be fine."

In that moment, Morey reentered the living room, Kirk and Lulu in tow.

"Oy with the poodles already," Lorelai groaned, much to Rory's delight. 0 "There're poodles here? Why are there poodles here? Where are they? Can I have one?" Kirk ran off questions like he was on speed.

"Calm down, Kirk," Lulu begged. "He's been like this all morning. It's the time of year I guess," she laughed.

"Yeah, that must be it," Lorelai politely agreed. "There aren't any poodles here, Kirk. That was just my sick attempt at humor." Rory covered her mouth to keep from giggling.

Kirk frowned, taking Lulu's hand as she led him to the couch. They sat next to Luke and April. Lorelai and Rory moved to a occupy chairs of their own. Morey retrieved three more chairs from the dining room and placed them in the conversation zone, sitting in one himself.

"What is that smell?" April asked once the musical chairs act was over.

"Smells like Teen Spirit," Lorelai said with amusement, winking at Rory. Her Nirvana phase was short-lived but not forgotten.

"Smells like mother's cologne," Kirk added. Everyone chuckled.

Luke turned to April and gave it to her straight. "What you're smelling is a hangover in a bowl," he explained.

April laughed. "Wow, that stuff is really strong."

Patty appeared then, a smug grin on her face. "It's rea-dy!" she sang. Her breath was enough to kill a camel. "Cups are beside the bowl. Help yourselves," she instructed.

"Morey! I need some height, stat!" Babette shouted from the kitchen. She was on her tip-toes trying desperately to reach an item in the top cupboard.

"You got it, babe," Morey replied, coming to his wife's aid. Patty took over the seat next to Morey's, a tall glass of punch in her hand.

Suddenly, another knock was heard at the door.

"And here I thought this was going to be an intimate gathering," Lorelai said.

Morey shuffled clumsily out of the kitchen to answer the door, fulfilling his duties as host to a tee.

Rory turned her attention to Kirk and Lulu. "So I guess congratulations are in order. Mom told me all about the engagement. You finally worked up the nerve, eh Kirk?" she playfully teased.

Kirk blushed. "I was waiting for the right moment," he protested.

"I have a bootleg copy of the whole thing on tape. It's yours if you want it," Gypy informed Rory, entering the conversation as if she'd been a part of it from the start. In her hands she carried a tray of tarts that she placed on the kitchen countertop.

"Heya, Gypsy!" Babette said with enthusiasm.

"Gypsy, I didn't know you were coming," Lorelai said.

Gypsy turned and properly greeted the other guests. "I like to keep people guessing," she replied.

Babette chimed in, her mouth half-full. "I tell ya, she makes the best butter tarts this side'a Bridgeport!"

Gypsy shrugged, sliding into the vacant rocking chair, her tomboy image permanently marred.

"A competent mechanic and a baker to boot? You really are the perfect woman, Gypsy," Luke joked.

"I don't bake!" Gypsy quickly defended. "I bake one thing, once a year. That doesn't qualify me as a baker."

"I love tarts!" Kirk randomly shouted. Lulu patted him on the shoulder.

"She's a closet baker," Lorelai continued pressing, receiving a few chuckles.

Before Gypsy could utter a frustrated syllable, Babette hollered from the kitchen, "Okay, gang! Come'n get it!"

An entire spread of breakfast provisions stretched the length of the dining room table, for the visitors to devour. They lined up in an orderly fashion and piled their plates, returning to the living room to enjoy their meals.

The conversation remained constant, never faltering. Not even when Kirk spilled punch onto the crotch of his pants. In fact, that seemed to kick things up a notch. Gypsy's tarts were a huge hit. And she didn't mind the attention so much in the end. When the clock started pushing towards the 2:00 PM mark, Lorelai knew they needed to get a move on.

Luke, Lorelai and the girls made their rounds, and were escorted to the door by their gracious, albeit tipsy, hosts. "Thanks so much for everything," Lorelai said sincerely. "We had a great time."

"Go out and have fun, ya crazy kids!" Babette shouted. Morey waved silently by her side.

With the door closed behind them, Lorelai let out a chuckle. "Okay, can we please discuss Kirk's rendition of 'Little Drummer Boy' with Morey on the beat box?"

"Was he seriously using bacon as drumsticks?" Rory asked.

Luke and April laughed.

♫   ♫   ♫   ♫   ♫   ♫   ♫   ♫   ♫  

The travelers made it to the Belleville residence in great time, where they were swiftly seated by a preoccupied Sookie. She ran about frantically, tending to the kids while checking obsessively on the hors d'oeuvres heating in the oven.

"Sookie, hon, slow down," Lorelai pleaded with her.

With Wanda hoisted on her hip, Sookie continued to scurry about. "I just need to turn over the sausage rolls," she replied, her voice strained. Lorelai hurried into the kitchen, snatching Wanda from Sookie as she stuck her head into the oven. "And stir the b?rnaise sauce to put on the Beef Wellington," Sookie rattled on, removing her head from the oven and tending to the pot on the stove.

"Sookie!" Lorelai shouted.

Sookie kept right on multitasking, visibly undeterred by Lorelai's tone.

Lorelai grabbed her friend by the shoulder, forcing her to turn around. "Sook," she demanded, "what gives? You're acting like Richard Simmons on a Moon Pie high."

Sookie sighed warily.

"And I thought we agreed that you were going to keep the food simple?" Lorelai continued sternly.

"I know," Sookie frowned. "I just wanted it to be special." She dropped her chin to her chest and leaned against the counter.

"Sookie," Lorelai said reassuringly, "just spending time together is special. You and Jackson are like family to us." She paused. "Wait a minute... Where is Jackson?"

"New York," Sookie admitted, her eyes focused on the floor.

"New York?" Lorelai questioned, dumbfounded.

Sookie nodded, her chin quivering.

Lorelai set Wanda in her playpen just outside of the kitchen, allowing herself time to wrap her mind around things. Then she returned to her friend's side. "What's he doing in New York? Did Macy's have another Blowout Sale?" she said, trying to lighten the mood.

Tears began welling in Sookie's eyes. "It's his mother," she cried. "She's taken a turn for the worse."

Lorelai's face fell. "Oh, Sook. I'm so sorry." She immediately embraced her in a hug. They held each other for a long moment, Sookie's tears flowing without hesitation. Lorelai slowly stepped back and examined her friend. "Why didn't you tell me, Sook? You've been coming to work as if nothing was wrong. Who's been looking after the kids?"

Sookie sniffed, wiping her tears on her sleeve. "I had a babysitter for the last couple days." She took a heavy breath. "I just wish I could be there for him, you know. He must be a complete wreck."

"I'm sure he is," Lorelai agreed. "So why don't you go?"

"I can't go," Sookie quickly rejected the possibility. "What about the kids? Wanda would be okay, but Davey and Martha would go crazy in the hospital."

"We'll take Davey and Martha," Lorelai offered.

"It'll spoil your holiday."

"The more the merrier." Lorelai grinned.

Sookie smiled back, a tremendous load lifted from her shoulders. She latched onto Lorelai for another hug.

Once they separated, Lorelai took action. "Okay, let's turn off the stove. We'll wrap all this food up and you're going to take it with you and share it with Jackson. He'll love it."

"What about you guys? You must be starving!" Sookie argued.

Lorelai laughed. "Far from it, my friend. And we're headed to Liz's after this, so-"

Sookie interrupted, "What? You mean we aren't the main event? This is like Thanksgiving, 2002 all over again."

Lorelai shook her head. "Sookie? Focus."

Lorelai and Sookie exited the kitchen in perfect time to greet their business partner.  

"Michel!" Sookie said in the most joyous voice she could muster. "You're here!"

"Of course I am here. I said I was coming," Michel returned, blas?

Lorelai gestured for Michel to sit down, doing the same herself. Martha was seated comfortably on April's lap and Davey jumped into Lorelai's arms the moment her back hit the cushions. Luke smiled at the action.

Rory cautiously inspected Wanda in her playpen. The infant was sound asleep.

"Sookie, why don't you run upstairs and get yourself ready to go, I'll explain everything to these guys," Lorelai said.

Sookie nodded and headed straight for the stairs.

About twenty minutes later, Lorelai noticed Sookie descending the stairs, pausing mid-flight. She could see the sadness in her friends eyes, knowing that she was leaving her kids during the most family-oriented time of year. Sookie continued down and reentered the living room.

Lorelai gave her a nod, letting her know that everything was taken care of. She rose from the couch, handing Davey over to Rory, and summoned for Sookie to follow her into the kitchen.

"You all set?" Lorelai asked her friend when they found some privacy.

Sookie shrugged. "Yeah, I guess. I just feel so guilty, leaving the kids on Christmas."

"I told Davey and Martha that you were going on a little trip. They're both under the impression that it has something to do with the North Pole. You might wanna keep up that pretense." Lorelai winked.

"Ooh, very cool. Mommy's top secret mission to help Santa deliver all the toys." Sookie chuckled, temporarily forgetting herself. "Toys!" she gasped. "I forgot to tell you where Jackson and I hid the presents for the kids. Oh, and I have clothes and books and everything... I need to get it all together before I go."

"Sookie," Lorelai said seriously. "You need to go. Luke and I can find everything we need for the kids. Just point me to the presents, and then be on your merry little way."

Sookie visibly relaxed. "Okay. I can do that," she smiled. "Hey, have I told you how great a friend you are?"

Lorelai smiled. "Let's just call it even. Now scoot!" She hit Sookie's backside for effect.

In a matter of minutes, the presents had been located, Sookie's bags were gathered at the door, Wanda was bundled up for the cold weather, and a cooler of provisions was ready for the road. The guests gathered in the kitchen, allowing Sookie a moment to say goodbye to her kids. She hugged them tenderly, promising them she'd be home as soon as she could and instructing them to be on their best behavior. "Santa is always watching," she warned them.

Everyone huddled at the door for one last round of Sookie hugs. Even Michel reached out for some lovin'. Sookie, with Wanda cradled in her arms, stepped outside, as Luke loaded up the car. They all waved when she reversed out of the driveway. Then she was off.

♫   ♫   ♫  

Back inside the house, Lorelai crouched down in front of Davey and Martha and gave them instructions. "I want you guys to run upstairs and grab all your favorite clothes and toys and put them on top of your beds, okay?" The kids quickly nodded. "Ready? Go!" Lorelai commanded. The kids bounded up the stairs, giggling all the way. Next she turned to Luke. "Hon, I need you to call your sister and tell her that our numbers have multiplied. Make sure she's cool with it."

Luke nodded, snapping open his cell phone.

"And Michel," Lorelai caught him by the wrist before he snuck out of the house. "We're going to need to borrow your car."

"No!" Michel flat-out refused, stomping his foot for effect.

Lorelai whined, "C'mon, Michel. We didn't really get to celebrate here at Sookie's, given the circumstances, so I think you should come with us to Liz and TJ's. I'm sure they'd love to see you."

Michel huffed. "I don't want those spawns of Satan in my vehicle," he said. "They'll ruin the upholstery."

"Well, how about the big kids ride along with you, and Luke and I will take the little ones in our car?"

"Fine. I'll keep track of the gas I use."

Lorelai shook her head and walked over to Luke to get the scoop.

"So, what's Liz saying?" Lorelai wondered.

Luke chuckled. "Liz says, and I quote, 'It's groovy like gravy'."

Lorelai smirked. "I love that woman."

More laughter was heard from the staircase as Rory and April helped the little ones down, miniature suitcases in hand. Rory took Martha and Davey outside, Luke and April gathered up the remaining necessities and the Christmas gifts, hidden inside garbage bags, and they too headed outside. Lorelai and Michel were the last to exit, locking up as they went.

"On to phase three," Lorelai said with forced enthusiasm as she trudged to the car.


♫   ♫   ♫   ♫   ♫   ♫   ♫   ♫   ♫        "Oh, wow! This is so cool!" Liz said, beaming. She was delicately clad in a Victorian-esque ensemble. The house was decorated with candles in every corner, providing a distinctive ambience. TJ nodded his head in agreement, his tights making another timely appearance. "Yeah, there's some serious craftsmanship going on here. And believe me," he said, nudging Luke for confirmation, "I know craftsmanship." TJ knelt down to get a better view of the Belgian chocolate creation. Luke rolled his eyes. "Seriously, though, this is one hell of a hostess gift," TJ acknowledged.  "Well, we were glad to do it," Lorelai said, winking at Luke. Liz draped her arms around Luke and Lorelai, personally escorting them into the living. "Oh, you guys, I'm so glad you're here... together." She emphasized the final word. Luke and Lorelai grinned. The kids were already settled around the living room, various toys entertaining them. Doula rested in her neighboring crib. Rory and April were in the middle of a heated conversation with three interesting characters dressed in period clothing. Michel was massaging his temples. TJ entered then, set to make the appropriate introductions. "Fred, Arnold, Nancy," he interrupted, "Let me introduce you to... The Von Trapp family," he chuckled, visibly impressed by his comedic hyperbole. He glanced at Michel. Pointing his thumb, he added, "And here's the old butler." Michel scowled at TJ. Noticing the less than friendly look he was receiving, TJ reiterated, "What, would you rather be Liesl?" Liz laughed nervously, urging her husband to take a seat. "Fred, Arnold and Nancy are friends from the Renaissance Circuit," she needlessly pointed out as their attire was a dead giveaway. "I am just so freaking happy that we could all celebrate here today," she remarked. "I seriously cannot believe that there are like thirteen of us under one roof." Everyone seemed to glance around, unaware of the head count. "Yeah," TJ agreed. "I made a table for the occasion." Liz nodded. "It's a great table." Lorelai noticed Luke gulp nervously, certain that he was questioning the stability of the structure. She moved to another topic. "So, Liz... when we spoke on the phone last, you mentioned something about medieval entertainment?" Luke narrowed his eyes at her. "Oh my God, yes!" Liz shouted. She looked to Fred and company for further explanation.

Fred obediently took the floor. "Arnold and I have choreographed a jousting match for your pre-dinner amusement."

Michel let out a strange sort of yelping sound.

TJ cleared his throat and bellowed, "To the field!" He rose from his chair and led the way, indicating for the guests to follow him

"Someone's gotta stay back and look after the kids," Liz reasoned. "I'll have my hands full in the kitchen."

"Please tell me you aren't cooking," Luke said to Liz, a look of innate fear on his face.

Liz chuckled. "Relax, bro. I took a cooking class. It's all covered."

Michel suddenly spoke up, "I'll look after the children."

Lorelai's jaw dropped. "Don't you mean, spawns of Satan," she blasted.

Michel laughed nervously. "That was a term I used affectionately. I... love... children," he said, struggling to get the words out.

Lorelai knew the exact angle Michel was playing. Choosing the lesser of two evils, she supposed. "All right, Michel. But if anything bad happens, you come and get me immediately, understand?"

Michel nodded, exposing a relieved smile.

TJ was at the door, growing impatient. "Let's get a move on, people! We're losing our light!"

Rory and April made their way outside, with Luke, Lorelai and Nancy close behind. Fred and Arnold were already outside preparing for their battle. Lorelai walked up to Nancy. "So what's your role in all this?" she asked the petite woman.

"I play the princess to be awarded to the victor."

Lorelai smirked. "Oh. You got a favorite?" she pried. Luke walked up beside them and temporarily stole Lorelai away.

"Are we seriously doing this?" he protested.

"Oh, come on, I think it'll be fun. Plus, it'll give me a taste of what I was missing while you were on the inside." She grinned.

Luke groaned, his past coming back to haunt him.

♫   ♫   ♫  

Exactly thirty-seven minutes later, the guests returned inside. TJ, Fred and Nancy were chanting for the victor, Arnold, who was decorated with a golden sash for his efforts. Luke, Lorelai, Rory and April had stunned looks on their faces.

Liz shouted from her post in the kitchen, "Huzzah!"

"Huzzah!" her renaissance friends returned.

"You guys timed that perfectly. Dinner is ready," Liz said with a level of pride in her voice.

"All ye gather around the table that TJ hath built," TJ declared.

Luke and Lorelai checked on the kids, who were wrapped around every limb on Michel's body. And although he wore a displeased expression, Michel wasn't making any attempt to move from his position.

"Now I can fully appreciate the notion of a 'Kodak moment'," Lorelai poked.

Michel sneered.

Luke bent down and inspected Doula in her crib. He softly rubbed her little hand and kissed her forehead. She was still sawing logs.

Lorelai smiled at Luke's actions. "Help me get the kids to the table?" she asked.

"Okay," he consented.

Michel was struggling to walk with the kids, now clinging to his calves. Lorelai tickled Davey free, and Martha, after receiving one 'I mean business' look from Luke, let go without a fight. Their group was the last to seat themselves at the massive table.

With everyone situated, Liz took the floor. "Dinner is served!" she said, glowing. She placed a heaping casserole in the center of the table, adding three more salads and a basket of rolls.

Another round of 'Huzzahs' filled the room.

The casserole was a yellowish-green hue, with lumps of what appeared to be raw flour throughout. The green salads were dressed with an original blend of ketchup and Soya sauce. The jello salad was melting before their eyes.

Luke filled his plate with rolls.

The other guests tried to stomach the food as best they could in order to appease their host.

The kids gave up after the first bite. Lorelai loaded their plates with rolls. That inspired a mad dash, as guests clawed at the basket, trying to get their hands on the one and only edible item on the table.

Liz seemed perplexed by the scene.

"Did you make these rolls, Liz?" Luke wondered.

Liz shook her head. "Pillsbury all the way." Everyone sighed in relief. "But I made the rest of the food," she unnecessarily confirmed. "Man, you guys really like rolls."

Michel managed to eat half a roll before he grunted in disgust at himself.

A little while later, the roll basket was picked clean, the Jell-O had melted into oblivion and the salads remained virtually untouched, much like the casserole.

"Well, we've got tons of leftovers. I can send you all home with some," Liz happily informed her tablemates.

"No!" everyone shouted in unison. Lorelai continued, "Um, we just meant that you and TJ should keep it for yourselves. We all have, um... our own food."

"O-kay," Liz said, not entirely persuaded. She rose from the table to begin the cleanup. Doula decided to cry at that precise moment, waking up from a lengthy slumber. And Davey and Martha added to the fun by running around the table in a game of tag.

Luke and TJ exchanged a look. "We'll look after the cleanup, Liz," TJ quickly volunteered himself and Luke.

"And me!" Michel begged to be included, desperate to separate himself from the ensuing chaos.

"Cool," Liz smiled. "Knock yourselves out." She left the men in the kitchen and led the party to the living room.

Lorelai stayed behind so she could keep an eye on the boys. She craned her neck, trying to hear their conversation in the kitchen.

"Man, I have never craved a cigarette so badly in all my life," TJ muttered, his hands busy beneath the soapsuds. The children were still running, using TJ as an obstacle.

"You smoke?" Luke questioned, placing a few glasses in the cupboard.

"Nope," TJ admitted. He looked to Michel, the official dish-dryer and asked, "You got any kids?"

"Do I look suicidal to you?" Michel returned.

Lorelai chuckled. She was pretty much drained at this point of the evening. There was only one thing she knew of that helped to perk her up in any desperate social situation. "You got any hard liquor in the house, TJ?" she asked, interrupting the male bonding session.

TJ frowned, turning to Lorelai. "How could you even ask me such a thing? I'm a changed man. I don't have anything in my home that could potentially harm my child."

"Top cupboard?" Luke inquired.

"Yeah, behind the Fruit Loops," TJ confessed.

A few minutes passed and Lorelai's cheeks glowed just a little.

The conversation in the kitchen had moved on to more serious topics. Michel was reminiscing about his deceased chow. "Paw-Paw and Chin-Chin would run around the house, so excited, because they knew it was time for their weekly massage and facial." He laughed, recalling the memory. 'Now Paw-Paw refuses to have his treatment. It brings back too many painful recollections for him. His therapist says that it will take time for his wounds to heal. It just isn't the same with one chow," he finished, his eyes moist.

"Man, you're a real downer," TJ said.

The boys finished with the dishes shortly after and TJ led the remaining guests to the living room, where he took a seat next to Liz. Rory and April sat right across from them. April was sharing a story about the now infamous, Evan Riley, her first major crush. Lorelai noticed Luke stiffen upon hearing the words 'total hotty,' slip from his daughter's mouth. She chuckled. 

When the converation came to a pause, Liz stood from her position in the living room, "Who's ready for dessert?"

Silence took over the house. Luke mercifully spoke up, "Liz, it's getting pretty late. I think maybe we'll head out." His comment received the thumbs up from Lorelai, Rory and April.

"Yeah... we should get a move on as well," Arnold spoke on behalf of his grateful friends."

Liz wrinkled her brow. "Oh, that's too bad. I made tiramisu." The ingredients she used would have to remain a mystery.

Moments later, the renaissance crew had departed, and Luke and Lorelai had piled the little ones in the car, returning to the house to see Rory and April saying their last goodbyes to Liz, TJ and Doula.

"Thanks so much for coming, guys. We definitely have to do this again next year," Liz said, hugging Luke and Lorelai simultaneously.

Without confirming or denying the plans, Lorelai and company managed to leave the premises, waving as they walked. Michel was already huddled in his car, honking his horn impatiently.

"So long, farewell, auf wierdersehen... " Liz and TJ sang from the open door.

Lorelai chuckled. "Homeward bound," she directed the fleet.

♫   ♫   ♫   ♫   ♫   ♫   ♫   ♫   ♫  

The party had moved back to Lorelai's house. Michel was kind enough to drop the girls off, then he split.

April and Rory sat on the couch in front of the television clutching their stomachs.

"How are you holding up?" Rory asked.

"I'm okay," April said.

Rory groaned. "I haven't been this stuffed in years. Not since my mom and I ate four Thanksgiving dinners."

"You ate four dinners?"


"How'd that go?"

"Not bad, considering my mother and I are champion eaters."


"I'm impressed." April laughed. "So you must be looking forward to covering the primaries," she said, switching topics.

Rory shifted in her seat uncomfortably.

April continued, "Personally, I'm swinging towards Clinton. She's an advocate for women, and I like her take on energy independence and global warming."

Rory nodded, amused by April's commentary.

"Obama's right on her tail, though. Plus, he's got the 'Big O' backing him and that certainly doesn't hurt."

"Yeah, Oprah's hugs should be worth a few votes," Rory finally contributed.

"I guess you're probably sick of talking about campaign politics," April reflected.

Rory shrugged. "I don't know. Maybe I am. It's just not the exciting world I thought it would be, you know?"

April nodded. "No, I can imagine it gets pretty redundant after a while."

They were quiet for a moment, allowing the sounds of the television to interrupt their discussion. "I'm going to see if Mom and Luke need any help. You wanna come?" Rory asked.

"No, I'll stay here."

Rory went upstairs and watched Luke and Lorelai smiling over a sleeping Davey and Martha. The kids were tucked snugly into the air mattress bed that Luke had found in Sookie and Jackson's house.

"They're not so bad," Lorelai said, nudging Luke.

"Yeah, they look kinda cute in that thing," he remarked.

She sighed, smiling up at Luke. "Today was a crazy day." 

Luke chuckled, moving a stray hair and tucking it behind Lorelai's ear. "That's putting it lightly."

She nodded.

"But you were amazing," he said.

Lorelai grinned, gripping Luke's arm. "Love you," she told him.

"Love you too," he returned.

Rory allowed the couple some privacy and returned downstairs.

"That was quick," April said.

"They don't need me up there," Rory replied, sitting down next to April. "Everything's perfect."

♫   ♫   ♫  

Lorelai and Rory sat together in the living room on Christmas morning, downing a well-earned cup of their favorite beverage.

"Do you know how long you'll have the kids for?" Rory wondered, grateful that they were good sleepers.

Lorelai shook her head. "No finish line in sight, hon."

Rory sighed, contemplative.

"It's like I woke up as a star of a new reality show... 'Instant Family'. Taking everyday people and throwing them into a real-life version of The Walton's," Lorelai rambled. "I mean, how do those people do it... you know, the ones that have like six kids at once?"

"Sextuplets," Rory supplied.

"Yeah... makes you think twice about having sex."

Luke chose that precise moment to enter the room. He eyed both women suspiciously.

Lorelai nodded to Luke. "How do you feel about sextuplets?"

He raised his eyebrows. "About the same way I feel about the bird flu."

Both Lorelai and Rory giggled.

"Oh my God!" Lorelai said suddenly, grinning mischievously. "Oh, this is too good. We're having dinner with my parents tonight."

Luke and Rory nodded in obvious agreement.

Lorelai continued, "We should totally drop the kids off, and then make a run for it. After we install the hidden video camera of course." She smiled a wicked smile.

Luke and Rory shook their heads.

There was a thud upstairs, then the wailing came. Lorelai immediately reverted to mother-mode, enlisting Luke for assistance.

Rory excused herself to make a phone call. With her cell phone in her hand, she slipped on her jacket and stepped outside onto the porch. She paced back and forth, her stomach churning with uneasiness. Then finally, she dialed the all-too-familiar number. She waited for a beep, and left message. "H-hi, Michael... it's Rory." She swallowed nervously. "Um, the reason I'm calling you... on Christmas day... Well, I'm in the middle of a family crisis... and I just wanted to tell you... that I won't be able to return to work after the holidays. I just really need to be home... for my family. I hope you have a great Christmas," she finished lamely.

Closing her phone, she took a deep breath, composing herself before returning inside.

Luke, Lorelai, April and the kids were all gathered around the tree, waiting eagerly for the ceremonies to begin. Rory quickly joined them, crouching beside her mother. Luke played the role of Santa, distributing the gifts, while the Christmas carols played in the background.









To be continued...
















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