Author's Note: I am proud to present to the deserving masses our very first post-hiatus episode. Your patience, support and feedback are so appreciated! Thanks to the VS8 creative team, as always, and much love to my beta/lead writers, sosmitten and lulabo, who continue to live and breathe awesomeness.
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"Is it just me, or have we been spending an inordinate
amount of time with my parents lately?" Lorelai asked, handing Rory a pint of
Chunky Monkey before settling beside her on the couch.
"Well, we had last Friday night dinner, then Christmas, and now this Friday night dinner."
Lorelai gasped. "That's three times in one week! How'd they manage to wrangle that?"
"The holidays can be overwhelming," Rory consoled. "You had a lot going on, plus the Belleville Invasion. Don't blame yourself, just move on."
"But if I had noticed, I might have been able to talk our way out of it tonight."
"Yeah, right," Rory said through a mouthful of ice cream. She tilted the carton towards Lorelai, who dug in with her own spoon. "Besides, it's in the past. What's in the future, my friend, is the movie marathon to beat all movie marathons."
Lorelai nodded seriously. "We really have outdone ourselves this time."
The theme was "Least Convincing Antagonists," which Rory had thought of weeks ago while watching reruns in her motel room and feeling sorry for herself.
"Okay," Rory said, licking her spoon and grabbing the DVDs from the coffee table. "First, we have Val Kilmer in Top Gun—"
"I don't like you because you're dangerous!" Lorelai mimicked.
"That impression was uncanny," Rory deadpanned. "Next up, Tim Robbins in Arlington Road —"
"Are you happy in your godless suburban life?" Lorelai intoned.
"And to wrap things up, Julian Glover, who was possibly one of the lamest Bond villains of all time."
"You have shot your last bow, Miss Havelock!" Lorelai shouted with glee.
"We don't want any blood in the water..." Rory began, pausing dramatically. "Not yet!"
"We could keep this up for days," Lorelai said.
"True. Okay. I'm putting Top Gun on. Brace yourself."
Lorelai snorted. "Could've used that advice in 1986."
Rory pressed play and cuddled back into the cushions. "Hey," she said, grabbing the ice cream. "No hogging."
Lorelai pulled her legs up to sit Indian style and glanced at her fondly. "It's good to have you home, kid," she said, burying a hand in Rory's hair.
Rory grinned. "Likewise."
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Lorelai and Davey waited outside Miss Patty's studio for Martha's dance class
to be let out. They both watched in fascination as the clumsy toddlers
staggered around bumping into the walls and each other.
"Is it always like this?" Lorelai asked, unable to tear her eyes away from the trainwreck that was Miss Patty's Ballet Primer for Three and Four Year Olds.
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Rory sat at the counter at Luke's and grappled with a very pressing concern,
one that was becoming more urgent by the minute.
"So, have you decided yet?" Lane asked, jamming square white napkins into the metal holder.
"I can't make up my mind," Rory said. "Breakfast, or lunch? If I make the wrong choice, I'll spend the rest of the day dissatisfied and filled with remorse.
"Filled with remorse?" Lane echoed.
Rory tapped the menu with her index finger. "If I get pancakes when I'm in a burger mood? That is some high-level disappointment, there.
"Well, are you in a burger mood?
"I won't know until I bite into the pancakes, and then it'll be like, oh, oh, ew, spongy porous flour disc!"
Lane groaned. "Dude! You just totally ruined even the idea of pancakes, forever.
Luke came out of the kitchen and handed a turkey melt to Lane. "Corner table. Extra swiss, pickles on the side. Hey, Rory. Decide yet?
"Nope," said Lane. "See what you can do with her. I wash my hands of you, Rory Gilmore!"
Rory nodded her head dolefully. "That's probably long overdue.
"All right," Luke said, balancing his forearms against the counter. Rory knew this pose, Luke's patented I'm leveling with you stance. "What'll it be? Breakfast or lunch?
"Breakfast," Rory said quickly. "No, lunch! A burger. And fries. No, no, no. Pancakes, extra-crispy bacon, and rye toast.
"You got it," Luke said, turning to put in the order.
"Wait!" Rory called. Luke sighed.
"Having time off work really throws you off, doesn't it?" he teased. "Okay, I have an idea. It's a little out there."
Rory leaned forward and widened her eyes. "Keep talking, I'm with ya."
"All right. Burger, on rye toast, with extra-crispy bacon and some fries. Short stack of pancakes on the side, butter-no-syrup, because maple syrup and ketchup together is just too nasty even for a Gilmore to consider."
Rory regarded him reverently, pressed the tips of her fingers together as if in prayer. "You're a culinary genius," she said.
"It's not rocket science," he muttered, but a smile tugged at his lips. "Just got all your requirements onto one plate."
"And that's why they call you the people's hero, Luke."
"I'll go put this in," he said, waving the white order slip.
Lane took her break when Rory's food was ready, and the two of them sat at the table by the window, chatting and sharing the extra-large order of fries that Luke had provided. The pancake-burger combo was a huge success, and by the time Lane had to go back to work, Rory had eaten almost everything on her plate. She sat back and sipped her coffee, enjoying the bustle of the twelve o' clock rush. Luke's was warmth and stability and pancakes wrapped around sausage and tied together with bacon; it was safety and home and the sound of her mother's laugh. She had the fleeting thought that if she had someone to constantly replenish her with a never-ending supply of books, she might never have to get up from this table. Her cell phone began to vibrate in her pocket. She checked the caller ID — Michael — and then hit ignore.
"All done?" Luke asked, gesturing to her empty plate.
"Yup, it was awesome."
"I'm glad," he said. "What are you up to for the rest of the day?"
"I have some errands to run," she said. "And later this afternoon there's this lecture at Yale that I really want to go to."
"Sounds good," he said. "Well, I guess I'll see you for dinner, then. I better get back to it, things are kind of crazy in here today."
"Yeah... hey, Luke, how have you been getting along here lately, since Lane's been working so much less?"
"What do you mean?"
"Well, I know at first Mom said you were feeling overwhelmed with too many people working, when Lane came back and you kept on Zach and Brian, but now Brian's back in the real estate business and I was just... wondering, if you needed any extra help?"
"Extra help?" Luke asked. "Why, you know someone that needs a job or something?"
Rory felt herself blush, the heat rising from her neck up to her cheeks. "No, no, I was just curious. Really. Just... making conversation."
Luke looked at her skeptically. "Okay..."
"Okay. Well, I'm gonna go. Errands to run, lectures to hear," she said.
Rory called goodbye to Lane and hurried out of the diner before she could ask any other stupid questions.
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"Martha, I think Paul Anka needs some time to recover," Lorelai said. Martha
had spent the past ten minutes brushing and combing the dog within an inch of
his life, and his fur glittered with barrettes: rhinestones and rosettes and
tiny plastic bows.
"Pretty?" Martha asked, still brandishing her grooming tools in each hand.
"Oh, he looks gorgeous," Lorelai assured her. "Like a little furry beauty pageant contestant."
If she didn't know better, Lorelai could have sworn that Paul Anka was glaring at her, unamused.
"More pretty," Martha said decidedly, handing Lorelai a polka-dot ribbon. "For the tail?"
The doorbell rang, saving Lorelai from responding and incurring the wrath of either Martha or Paul Anka.
"Door!" Davey screamed from his coloring post in the kitchen. He bounded toward the door at a dead sprint, as was his custom. Lorelai lifted Martha onto her hip and arrived in the foyer just as Davey threw open the door to reveal her mother, thirty minutes early.
"Hello!" Davey shouted.
"Hello, Davey," Emily said, offering the child a small smile before looking over his head. She regarded Lorelai with a far more grim expression.
"You're not dressed," she said.
"Well, you're a half hour early."
"Your shirt has tiny snowmen on it."
"Penguins with top hats, actually."
"Why on earth would a penguin wear a top hat?"
"Moxie?" Lorelai suggested.
Emily sighed heavily. "May I come in, at least?"
"Of course," Lorelai replied through gritted teeth. Dreading her mother's response to the state of the living room, she trailed as far behind her as she could.
"My God, Lorelai, it looks like a tornado came through here!"
Davey climbed onto the sofa and tossed a pillow at Emily, who caught it in surprise.
"That's your life jacket! Get on the boat, you'll sink!" he shouted.
"The... the boat?" Emily asked. She looked at Lorelai. "The child has peanut butter all over his face."
Lorelai set Martha down and wiped Davey's mouth with the corner of her shirt. "Sorry about the mess, Mom, Luke was supposed to relieve me at two, and I've been scrambling to keep them fed and entertained while trying to get at least the bare minimum of work done from home."
"Sharks! Sharks everywhere!" Davey yelled, as he sent another pillow sailing into the side of Lorelai's head.
"Does he have Tourette's?" Emily asked.
"No," Lorelai said, rolling her eyes. "We were playing shipwreck earlier. The couch was the boat, and the rest of the living room was the open sea. It was quite treacherous," she explained, "but we aren't playing right now, Davey. Go finish your snack in the kitchen, okay?"
"I'll get eaten by the sharks!" he squealed.
"Sharks!" Martha echoed, jumping back into Lorelai's arms in pretend fear.
The front door opened and closed. "Did somebody just scream 'sharks'?" Luke asked as he entered the living room.
"Davey is shipwrecked," Lorelai said, "and you're uncharacteristically and inexcusably late!"
"I know, I'm sorry," he said, his eyes trailing suspiciously to where Davey was treating the couch as a trampoline. "Jeez, how much sugar has he had?"
"I'm practically in pajamas, the house is trashed, I have to shower and change and be at the inn in fifteen minutes, I have three meetings this afternoon, the first of which is thirty minutes early and standing in my living room. We had a system, Luke! Mayday, mayday, mayday! What happened to the system?" she wailed.
"The system broke down due to a small grease fire at the diner," he said.
"A fire?" Emily exclaimed in concern.
"How big?" Lorelai asked, wide-eyed.
"No damage," he assured them. "Hey, Emily."
"Hello, Luke. Looks like you have your work cut out for you this afternoon."
He shrugged. "They're probably going to crash pretty hard in about thirty seconds from the looks of it," he said. "Davey, off the couch. Put the pillows back where they go."
Davey obeyed, although whether it was due to Luke's authoritative tone or the child's shortness of breath, Lorelai couldn't be sure.
"Can you take Martha?" Lorelai said. "She's very clingy today. I need to—"
"Shower, change, work," he finished, taking the toddler from Lorelai. "Go. I've got this."
"All systems go!" Lorelai cried, throwing her arms in the air. "I'll be ready in ten minutes, Mom."
As she ran up the stairs two at a time, she heard Luke ask, "What the hell happened to the dog?
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"Can I get you something? Coffee? Tea?" Luke asked Emily, after settling
the kids on the couch to watch a DVD.
"Lorelai said she'll only be a few minutes," Emily demurred.
Luke looked at her pointedly. "Shower, pick out clothes, put on clothes, take off clothes, find new clothes, realize shoes no longer match, find new shoes, hair, make-up, and three trips back upstairs to retrieve various forgotten items? Hate to break it to you, but you're looking at forty-five minutes, at the very least."
Luke watched Emily fight a smirk; not quite a smile, but close enough. She tugged at the hem of her navy wool skirt.
"Tea would be lovely, thank you. Are you sure the children don't need you?"
Luke shook his head. "When Dora's on, I can't get 'em to even look at me," he said. Upon making this statement, Luke recalled a simpler time (namely a week ago), when he was blissfully unaware of the name "Dora." Or "Little Bear," or "Spongebob," or "Arthur."
He expected Emily to wait in the living room for her tea to brew, but she followed him to the kitchen. He groaned inwardly. It had already been a long day, and he was staring down the barrel of a long afternoon with Davey and Martha. The last thing he needed was a one-on-one conversation with Lorelai's mother: he, walking on eggshells, and she, waiting for the crunch.
"So, Luke," she began, her eyebrow arched almost comically.
"Herbal or black?" he asked.
"Earl Grey, if you have it.
"We have it," he said. Inexplicably, Emily's eyebrow jumped again.
"We," she mused. And there it is, Luke thought.
"Well, Lorelai. Though she doesn't really drink tea, she keeps it in the house for me, and sometimes Rory.
"How long have you been living here?" she asked bluntly.
Luke focused intently on the stove burners, willing the water to heat faster. "Oh, I haven't moved in. I'm just helping out with Sookie's kids.
"Mm-hmmm," Emily said, and Luke marveled at how a non-word could sound so judgmental.
"Do you take milk? Sugar? Honey?"
"Honey would be nice. So, what are your plans, then?"
"Plans?" Luke echoed weakly, reaching in the cupboard for the bear-shaped bottle of honey. Lorelai insisted on the bear bottle, even though Luke argued against its inferior squeezability.
"Well, it certainly looks like the two of you are planning a life together. You're here every night, cooking, cleaning, caring for Sookie's children. You have a system. You know where the honey is."
"Uh, Emily, no disrespect or anything, but isn't this usually the kind of thing you harass Lorelai about?"
She sniffed disapprovingly. "I do not harass anyone, young man, and I can't help it if nothing short of waterboarding can get my daughter to share even the smallest detail about her life."
"Yes, well... even so, I think maybe you should talk to her."
"I'm just curious. What are your plans? Moving in, sooner rather than later, I suspect? A wedding, maybe next fall? Little couch-jumpers of your own in the future?"
Emily said "couch-jumpers" like most people said "cockroaches." The room was feeling stuffy and hot, and her voice was droning on in that irritating knowing tone she had that made him want to knock the smugness right out of her. She was literally the last person on earth he wanted to discuss these things with — these sensitive subjects, these veritable landmines. To his extreme relief, the teapot whistled and Martha shrieked in some kind of brother-induced pain, and Luke found himself very eager to attend to both.
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"Luke?" Lorelai called, hanging her coat up and dropping her keys on the hall
"Kitchen!" She smiled when Davey and Martha lisped the word as his echo.
Lorelai walked into the kitchen to find the kids happily eating what looked like Luke's famous mac-and-cheese, with a side of string beans. She sat down next to Luke and across from Davey, who was creating a map in his food with the tines of his fork to illustrate an elaborate story he was telling his sister.
"Mmm!" she exclaimed. "Is this what I'm having, too?"
"You're having apple-glazed pork tenderloin."
"Oh," she said, trying to keep the disappointment from her voice. She really was a terrible person, she decided: her boyfriend prepared some fancy-sounding glazed meat, and all she wanted was the kiddie food that he had whipped up for her best friend's children.
Luke sighed. "With a heaping side of mac-and-cheese," he relented.
"God, I love you," she declared. "And you," she added, giving Martha's cowlick-disguised-as-ponytail a little tug. "And you," she said, reaching across the table to rub a bit of mac-and-cheese from the corner of Davey's mouth.
"How was the rest of your day?" Luke asked.
"Sigh," Lorelai said.
Luke chuckled. "That good?"
"My mother and I spent two hours looking at wallpaper samples before deciding that wallpaper is passe and that we should spend some extra money to do some kind of paint marbelization thing to the walls, which sounds awful, which made us fight, which was silly, considering the whole point is moot because we are already over budget."
"Sounds like a party," Luke said dryly.
"And yours? Besides the grease fire, how was work?"
"It was fine," he shrugged. "Nothing out of the norm. Oh, actually, though, Rory was in visiting Lane and she said something kinda weird." "Oh, is this about how she is strangely attracted to Dennis Quaid?" Lorelai guessed knowingly.
"How she watches the Barefoot Contessa to actually learn stuff, not just to mock the way she talks?"
"Can you please stop guessing?"
"Yes. What'd she say?"
"She asked me if I was hiring."
Lorelai gave a little laugh. "What?"
He shrugged. "She mentioned Brian quitting, and asked me if I needed extra help."
"She was probably just wondering out of concern for you. She's very thoughtful, you know."
"Yeah, maybe. It just seemed..."
Lorelai felt her neck muscles tighten, but she wasn't sure why. "It just seemed what?"
"I don't know," he admitted. "You're right. She's just a thoughtful kid. You hungry now? Everything's ready."
"Hmm?" Lorelai asked distractedly. "Oh, yeah. Sure."
While Luke made their plates, she half-listened to Davey's story and thought up a number of perfectly reasonable explanations for Rory's inquiry.
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Human beings should simply not be awake at six o'clock on a Sunday morning.
That was just fact, it was common sense. Rory had always been a fairly good
sleeper, something Lorelai had taken for granted. Unfortunately, the Belleville
siblings had apparently missed the memo. As Lorelai pulled on sweats and
grouched down the stairs after a bouncing-on-the-bed wake-up call a mere half
hour after Luke had left for work, she couldn't help but wonder at how in the
world Sookie and Jackson survived this special brand of inhumanity.
"What do you little monsters want for breakfast?" she asked, setting their choices in front of them: strawberry Pop Tarts, Peanut Butter Capn' Crunch, or frozen waffles.
"Cereal, please," Davey voted, knocking his ankles together in anticipation. Martha agreed, though at a slightly higher volume.
"Shhh, quiet voices. Rory's still sleeping."
"Rory! Rory up!" Martha exclaimed.
"No, Rory's sleeping. As she should be. As all human beings should be," Lorelai whimpered, placing a bowl of cereal in front of each child.
Rory's door swung open and she emerged in purple pajamas, her hair disheveled and her eyes bleary.
"Rory breakfast, Rory breakfast!" Martha squealed, celebrating her good fortune.
Rory glared at the little girl. "Rory's gonna eat you for breakfast," she said.
"Morning, sunshine," Lorelai chirped.
"No sun shining. Sky is dark. Floor freezing my feet."
"It's way too early for haiku, Rory," said Lorelai. She set a cup of coffee in front of her daughter and collapsed in the chair next to her with a mug of her own.
"Mm," Rory moaned with the first sip. "Okay. Slowly regaining language skills."
"I see full sentences in your future."
Rory took another sip, closed her eyes and sighed. "Okay. Ready to converse. Good morning, Mom and Davey. Good morning, Squeaky One," she said to Martha.
"Morning, Rory!" Martha said, offering her spoon.
"No, that's yours. Good lord," Rory said, turning her attention to Lorelai, "what on earth are you going to do to fill the rest of the day?"
"It's not today I'm worried about, it's tomorrow. One big stress fest."
"Why?" asked Rory, reaching for the Pop Tarts.
"Luke's got a bank meeting in the afternoon, so I have kid duty, in addition to a staff meeting, and yet another spa meeting with your grandmother, not to mention the general upkeep of my business."
"I'll watch the kids," Rory offered.
Lorelai clasped her hands under her chin. "Really? Are you sure?"
Rory shrugged. "Of course. It's not like I have anything important to do. In fact, I'll watch them for the rest of the week. Sookie and Jackson said they'd probably be home by Thursday, right?"
Lorelai squinted, confused. "Yeah, but... I mean, not that I'm complaining or anything, because having you home is my favorite thing in the world, but... don't you have to leave, at some point?"
"Oh," Rory said, shifting in her seat a little. "Didn't I tell you? I was insanely productive this month. There was so much going on that I was able to stockpile a bunch of pieces right before the holidays, and so Michael gave me an extra week of vacation. Besides, there's not too much happening right now, so he can spare me."
"No," Lorelai said. "You didn't tell me that."
"Really? Weird. I guess I just forgot," Rory said. "Surprise!"
"Definitely, big surprise," Lorelai said carefully. She felt like there was something big they were both studiously avoiding, but she didn't even know what it was.
"But a good one, right?" Rory asked, the faintest glimmer of concern in her blue eyes. Lorelai's suspicion dissolved with her daughter's worried expression.
"Of course! The best surprise ever."
Rory grinned. "Really, I'd be happy to help you out. Davey and Martha can hang with me. Won't that be fun, guys?"
The kids responded enthusiastically, and Lorelai flashed her daughter a wide smile. The last thing she wanted was for Rory to feel unwelcome in her own home, and really, there was absolutely no reason not to believe her. She had always been conscientious; it made sense that she would be ahead of the game at work.
"That sounds great, sweets," Lorelai said. She pushed any lingering doubts from her mind and filled up the freed space with thoughts of a few more movie nights, a few more family dinners, a few more mornings of choosing clothes from two closets. A few more nights with her baby under her roof.
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Lorelai left the kids with Rory so that she could quickly shoot over to the
Inn to sign some paperwork. On the way, she flipped open her cell and
speed-dialed the diner.
"Luke's," came Zach's voice, always flat but cheery at once.
"Hey, Zach, is he busy?"
"Nah, he's around. I'll grab him for ya." Some shuffling, and then: "Luke, your lady's on the phone!"
Lorelai giggled at the sigh that Luke heaved into the receiver.
"What?" he asked.
"Is that any way to address your lady?" she teased.
"I need to seriously consider hiring a professional to answer the phone."
"Well, maybe you can ask Rory," Lorelai said, half-kidding. The words were out of her mouth before she could remind herself that her suspicions were unfounded.
"What does that mean?"
She exhaled. "I don't know. Probably nothing. She's just been home for a while. I have a feeling something's up."
"This is my fault, I made something out of nothing, Lorelai. I'm sure everything's fine."
"Yeah," she said, sounding halfway convinced. "Yeah, I'm sure it is. We just haven't had a lot of time to talk lately, with all the craziness around the house, and I guess it's making me a little paranoid. I'll feel better after we have some quality time. Speaking of which, would do mind terribly going solo on kid duty tonight? I thought maybe Rory and I could go out for a drink, just the two of us."
"No problem. I'll be there by eight."
"You're a gem," she said, grinning. "Now, say goodbye to your lady."
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When Davey and Martha both went down for naps (miraculously at the same
time), Lorelai took the opportunity to try and make her house look halfway
decent. Toys, books, games and shoes were strewn all over the living room,
dishes were piled in the sink, and pint-sized jackets littered the hallway.
Lunch was still half-eaten on the kitchen table, muddy footprints trailed over
the tile from the back door, and sippy cups were quite literally everywhere.
She didn't understand how the Belleville house wasn't just one great big heap of
"Lorelai?" Babette's voice boomed from the kitchen. Lorelai hurried out of the living room, where she had been kicking toys into one far corner, before Babette could wake the sleeping beasts.
"Shhh, shhh, kids are napping."
"Oh! Sorry, honey. Just came by to return the plate you brought over on Christmas. Morey and I love seeing you kids on the holidays."
Lorelai set the plate down on the counter and smiled. "Aw, we love it too, Babette. Tradition is tradition!"
"And it was especially nice to see all you kids together this year," Babbette added. "You know. All of you. Together."
Lorelai looked at her neighbor quizzically. "Right. Gotcha. It was very nice."
"I mean, you and Luke look so natural together these days. And with Sookie's kids around this past week, you can't blame a girl for daydreamin' about what your little babies are going to look like! God, they'll be gorgeous. Here's hopin' they have your eyes and his ass."
Lorelai didn't know whether to laugh or cringe. "Oh, God, Babette, we're not thinking about babies yet."
"Oh, I know, I know, the two of you are the traditional type. Me and Morey, we don't go in for that, but you two will probably want to do things in order. A wedding first. Maybe this summer! Ah, I can just picture you walking down the aisle with dahlias in your hair!"
Lorelai held both her hands up and shook her head rapidly. "Whoa, where is this coming from?"
"Dahlias are nice flowers," Babette shrugged. "I've always liked 'em."
"No, I agree, dahlias are beautiful, but the wedding and babies stuff... Luke and I are happy with what we have now. We're really not on the fast track to any of that."
Babette regarded her sympathetically. "Aw, honey, don't worry, it's only a matter of time before he pops the question. Or re-pops it, I guess."
"Honestly, Babette, it's just not as important to me anymore," Lorelai insisted. As she heard the words coming out of her mouth, she was surprised to find that they were true.
Babette's face fell, and Lorelai struggled to explain herself. "I guess I just mean that I know that we're permanent; I don't need a ring on my finger to believe that. I got so fixated on marriage last time, I don't want to do that again. It's a relief, really, to just be."
"Sure, sure," Babette said skeptically. "Well, I'll see you around, sugah."
After Babette left, Lorelai ran her hands through her hair, bewildered. She wasn't really sure what had just happened, but before she could figure it out, she heard little footsteps on the stairs. With the house only half-clean, it looked like it was going to be a Mary Poppins inspired afternoon.
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Lorelai and Rory were on their first drink of the night, a Lorelai special:
Shirley Temple with a shot of Grey Goose.
"I can't believe you like this," Rory said, puckering her lips. "It's so sweet."
"It's not an everyday drink," Lorelai defended. "It's a special occasion drink."
"Should I be alarmed that you have an 'everyday drink'?"
"Doesn't it taste like your childhood?"
Rory rolled her eyes. "No, Mom, it tastes like your childhood."
"Ah, that's right. I was grenadine and vodka; you were chocolate milk."
"I'm ordering the next round. Dirty martinis," Rory said.
Lorelai raised her eyebrows. "Dirty martinis! Look what the reporter's life has done to you. You want a big fat cigar with that?"
"Nah, I've been trying to cut back," Rory joked. She took a long sip of her sugary drink and swallowed quickly, although she had to admit, it was growing on her.
"Speaking of life on the road," her mother said casually, twisting the stem of her long-gone cherry. "How's everything going? Things have been so hectic, it's been ages since you've really filled me in about work."
Rory immediately felt warm all over, and hoped that her cheeks weren't betraying her. She shrugged. "The hours on the bus are long, and not my favorite thing in the world, but I think my writing has improved since I started." There, she thought. Not a single lie.
Lorelai nodded. "I guess I didn't even think about how tough of an adjustment it might be," she admitted, eyeing Rory carefully for a reaction. "I know you've been keeping that part of it to yourself, and I've let you do that because I thought it was helping you deal, but I want you to know that if you ever want to talk to me — about anything — I'm here. That part of our contract is never going to change."
"Yeah, I know," Rory said. Lying to her mother was never pleasant, but it had never felt this dishonorable before. This time, she wasn't doing it to protect someone, or to shield Lorelai's feelings, or because she knew deep down that she was right and her mother was wrong. She was doing it because she was weak; weak and afraid. Afraid to admit out loud that she wasn't cut out for something they both wanted, and afraid of how her mother's face would fall, just for a split-second, before she reeled herself in.
"If you have a crappy day, I want to know about it," Lorelai continued, dropping her chin to seek eye contact. "Got it?"
A crappy day, Rory marveled. She tried to remember if it had ever been about just one crappy day.
"Got it," she said. "I like your earrings. Where'd you get them?"
Lorelai looked confused by the abrupt topic change. "What? Oh, Liz made them."
"Great color for you."
Rory flagged the waitress and ordered two dirty martinis. She raised her almost-empty glass of ice and red liquid towards her mother.
"Drink up, Mom," she chided.
Her mother smiled, and it almost reached her eyes. Rory knew she was very close to being off the hook. She went in for the kill.
"So, talk to me about the spa. How's working with Grandma?"
Lorelai groaned. "You got about four hours?"
"I'll keep the drinks coming," Rory grinned.
♫ ♫ ♫ ♫ ♫ ♫ ♫ ♫
"Try balancing them like this," Lane called in Davey's general direction,
holding her fingertips together to form a right angle. Davey and Martha were
building a fort on the landing with couch cushions, a broom, and every blanket
in the Gilmore house. Rory and Lane sat on the couch with the twins, giving
structural suggestions but mainly staying out of the way.
Davey looked over briefly, then proceeded to stack the cushions as high as they would go in one big tower.
"Gotta hand it to him. He has a vision," Lane said. She squinted. "What's going on with his hair?"
"Oh, yeah, I got bored earlier and gave him a faux-hawk," Rory said.
Lane nodded. "Looks kinda bitchin', actually."
"I thought so."
Steve whimpered from his position in Rory's arms. She was holding him as well as she knew how, which was to say: not very. After settling Kwan in the crook of one arm, Lane reached over to readjust them.
"There," she said, amused. "Now he can see. The kid's a big fan of sight.
Rory giggled. "I'm marginally learning impaired when it comes to babies. I think it's because I never babysat. Most girls babysit, you know? But it just never occurred to me."
"That's because this entire town babied you within an inch of your life until you were, like, in college."
"True," Rory mused. "Plus, my mom had dibs on Friday and Saturday nights."
"Well, I wasn't allowed to babysit, either, so this whole kid thing has kind of been a trial by fire ordeal," Lane admitted. Kwan reached for her nose, and Lane kissed his fist, making him giggle.
"You've definitely passed, if that's the case," Rory assured her. "You're an awesome mom, Lane."
"Thanks," Lane said sincerely, looking at her friend with tired eyes. "It's really hard, but sometimes, when they're both sleeping at the same time, or Zach comes home and they get all excited, I just feel like... I can't explain it, just, full. Brimming over. I just kind of look around and can't believe it's my life, you know? Do you ever feel that way?"
Rory shifted in her seat. "Not really."
Lane smiled at her in a way that Rory really tried not to see as patronizing. "Well, you will."
"Yeah," she said, casting her eyes back to Steve, who was remarkably no longer squirming. This was the longest that Rory had held a baby in her entire life, she noted, and she wasn't totally sucking at it. Steve almost looked happy. Well, he looked indifferent, she corrected herself, but it was close enough.
"Check us out," Rory said brightly. "For two chicks who never babysat, we run a halfway decent daycare center."
Lane laughed. "Seriously. Although that fort is probably never going to happen."
"Oh, never," Rory agreed. "But they'll keep trying until one of them pinches the other. By my calculations, I think we have another ten minutes."
"It's awesome to have you back," Lane said. She leaned her head back against the couch. "Sometimes I'm too busy to remember how much I miss you, but then when I see you it all comes back."
"I know," Rory agreed. "It feels good to be home."
"So how long do I get to keep you for? Another couple days, at least?" Lane asked hopefully.
Rory tilted one shoulder up. Lane's enthusiasm was infectious: she was the only person in Rory's life who had a wonderfully selfish vantage point. It was so comforting to talk to someone who only wanted her to stay for as long as she possibly could, and it was refreshing not to have to pretend that Rory wanted anything different.
"I've got some time off," Rory said. "At least another week."
Lane squealed, and Kwan clapped his hands in a Pavlovian kind of response. Steve followed suit, and up on the landing, Davey and Martha threw their arms up and cheered just because everyone else was doing it. Rory laughed at her fan club.
"We have to hang out every day you're home," Lane vowed. "Ooh, except tomorrow. I've got work in the morning and then doctor's appointments in the afternoon."
"Okay, Wednesday then.
Lane winced. "Wednesday is Mama Kim day. The only payment she accepts for free weekend babysitting is an entire day with me and the boys both at her disposal."
"Yikes," Rory said. "Thursday, then. I think that's my last day of babysitting duty, anyway. Oh, crap," she remembered. "I'm bringing my car in for service that afternoon. What are you up to Thursday night?"
Lane snorted. "I'm working until six, which means I'll be in asleep as soon as the boys are."
It was a strange feeling, Rory thought, sitting next to someone you knew so well, but feeling completely out of touch with her life. There was a huge chasm between their experiences now. Rory knew deadlines and lonely motel rooms and how to write a good lead. Lane knew the pain and joy of childbirth, the struggles and comforts of marriage: love in all of it's messy incarnations. Rory focused on the familiar cadence of Lane's speech, on her eyes and nose and chin, the delicate features that she knew by heart. By doing this, she could almost ignore the great white void that stretched between them.
"We'll figure it out," Lane was saying. "Don't worry, we'll find time."
Rory smiled. "I know," she said, half believing it.
♫ ♫ ♫ ♫ ♫ ♫ ♫ ♫
Luke took advantage of the mid-morning lull to do some inventory in the store
room. In the middle of counting jars of dill pickles, Zach ducked his head in.
"Hey, boss, phone call for you. Some old dude."
Luke sighed. 'Some old dude,' in Zach-speak, could mean anyone from age 35 up. It could be his banker, his baker, his candle-stick maker. And honestly, for the love of the sweet little savior, he really needed to stop thinking in nursery rhymes. Martha's books were all seared into his brain.
"Might wanna work on those message-taking skills," Luke grumbled. He followed Zach out of the store room, repeating the number 39 in hopes that he wouldn't lose count, and grabbed the phone from where it was resting on the counter.
"Luke's," he said.
"Yes, hello, Luke! Richard Gilmore here.
Luke cleared his throat and instinctively loosened his collar. "Hi, Ri — Mr. Gilmore."
"Please, call me Richard."
"All right... Richard."
"Ah, much better. Well, Luke, I expect you're wondering why I'm calling you this afternoon." Before Luke had a chance to confirm or deny, Richard continued. "I'm calling to invite you to dinner this Friday. I have some Lusitanias I've been dying to smoke. Just been waiting for the right dinner companion.
"Oh, well, thanks, Richard. Is there anything... special, about Friday?"
"Just for you working folks! I couldn't tell it from a Tuesday, these days. Why? Is there an occasion I'm forgetting?"
"No, no, it's just, I've been coming with Lorelai to dinner every so often the past couple of months, and this is the first time I've gotten such a formal invitation."
Richard paused just long enough for Luke to wonder if Richard had honestly not noticed his presence at all of those dinners.
"Well, I just wanted to be sure you were coming this week, and in the future, for that matter. Family is important. I think it's high time you started thinking about entering the fold in earnest, as a matter of fact. Do you understand what I'm saying, son?" Richard asked meaningfully.
"Uh... yeah. Sure. I'll see you Friday, Richard," Luke said, furrowing his brow.
"Friday it is.
♫ ♫ ♫ ♫ ♫ ♫ ♫ ♫
Lorelai tapped her pen against her desk and listened patiently as Emily
expounded on the tricky business of steam room layout.
"It's not a huge space, so we really need to work with it," she said. "Corner benches, bleacher-style seating. I've seen moist broom closets masquerading as steam rooms, and we certainly don't want that."
Lorelai wrinkled her nose. "You've seen moist broom closets?"
"We should really just take pen to paper and map this all out."
"That's what we paid the architect for, Mother," Lorelai sighed, pinching the bridge of her nose.
Emily scoffed. "Those blueprints were merely a suggestion, Lorelai. Do you always jump at the first option you're given? Is that how you run your business?"
"I'm just saying," Lorelai said, with all the calmness she could muster, "that we're breaking ground in less than three weeks, and giving Tom new plans now would seriously set us back."
"It would just be minor adjustments," Emily argued.
A quick knock on the door came as a very welcome interruption. Rory ducked her head into the office, right on time, like the angelic little thing she was. Lorelai knew that there had been a reason she had a child: timely diversions.
"Hope I'm not interrupting," Rory said, shooting her mother a teasing smile.
"Rory! Of course not. Is it time for tea already?" Emily asked.
"Oh, yes, this meeting just flew by," Lorelai quipped. She stood and let her shoulders slump. "God, I need a lemon square like you wouldn't believe."
On their way out the door, Lorelai's cell phone rang. She groaned.
"You two go find a table, I need to take this. It's the decorator."
"Tell her that we changed our mind on the lemongrass paint, we want the celery swatch. And don't forget to get the number of that wholesale lighting place."
"Decaf for Grandma," Lorelai told Rory, shooing the two of them out of her office.
♫ ♫ ♫
Five minutes later, Lorelai hung up the phone desperate for sugar and
caffeine, in no particular order. She stopped at reception to check in with
Michel, then headed for the dining room. Right before she reached the corner,
she overheard something that made her pause.
"Yes, your grandfather and I had dinner with Warren Hardmore, one of the publishers of the Courant, and he was telling us that things must be finally heating up on the campaign, with the primaries right around the corner. He said that up until now there hasn't really been all that much to cover."
"It has been a little sparse the last month or so," Rory admitted. "Once you've written about one town hall meeting, you've kind of written about them all."
"Yes, Warren said that starting right after Christmas, the pace completely changes. I told him our girl wouldn't have any problem with that!"
Lorelai noted a hint of discomfort in Rory's laugh. "Yeah, I'm sure it'll be fine."
"Are you sure that editor of yours knows what he's doing? He can't be very efficient if he's being so lax about your assignments! It's almost New Year's, for goodness sake. Not that I'm in any hurry to see you go, but you'd think he would want as many hands on deck as possible right when things are getting interesting."
"Well, I guess he's still working on a game plan or something," Rory said. Lorelai rounded the corner and stared straight into her daughter's eyes while she finished her story. "He said he would call me when he needed me."
Emily chattered on about how nice it was to have Rory with them while Lorelai placed her napkin in her lap, slow and deliberate, not shifting her gaze from her daughter for a second. Rory's face was cast down and her cheeks and neck were flushed bright pink. Lorelai was almost impressed at how Rory managed to evade eye contact through two cups of tea and a raspberry scone.
Getting through the rest of the day at work had been a challenge. Lorelai's
thoughts constantly wandered to Rory, to how weird she was being, to the various
possible explanations for said weirdness, to the inevitable confrontation they
would have when she got home. And now she was home, trudging up the porch
steps, pushing open the door, taking off her coat. Davey and Martha were sacked
out on the couch in front of The Incredibles. Lorelai greeted them and
received distracted waves in return. She walked towards Rory's room, and
through the open door she could see Rory's back, seated at her desk in front of
the computer. She knocked lightly on the doorframe.
"Hi," Rory said, without turning around.
"Hi." Lorelai walked over to the bed and sat down. "How were the kids?"
"They were fine. They're watching a movie."
"Are you going to look at me?" Lorelai asked.
Rory reluctantly turned to face her. "Look, Mom, I know what you're thinking, and you just don't understand the situation."
"What am I thinking?" she asked, genuinely curious. Lorelai really didn't know what she was thinking, or if she was supposed to be thinking anything at all. Rory was a grown-up, technically, and if she was being weird and shady, then maybe Lorelai just needed to roll with that, give her the space to work things out.
"You're thinking you caught me in a lie."
"Damn straight. You feel like shedding some light on that?" Lorelai asked crisply. She never had been any good at that "space" thing.
"I wasn't lying," Rory said quietly. "Not really. I really did get a lot of work done before I left."
"And how about what you told Grandma? That Michael's just going to call you when he needs you?" Lorelai asked skeptically.
Rory shrugged. "Fine. That's not the exact truth."
Lorelai threw up her hands in frustration. "What the hell is going on, Rory? Why are you still home?"
Rory's eyes flashed and then went hard. "I'm sorry, I didn't realize me being at home was such an inconvenience for you."
"Oh, knock it off, Rory, you know that's not what I meant. You're here longer than you said you would be, and I want to know why."
"Did it ever occur to you that maybe I'm staying because of you?" Rory snapped.
"You've got Sookie's kids, you've got work, you're stressed out with Grandma's project. The house is a total disaster, you're so busy you barely have time to eat. You're in way over your head. You need my help, Mom. That's what we do. We show up for each other."
Lorelai closed her eyes and tried to rein herself in before she said something she would regret. Her skin was so hot it felt like it was actually burning. It wasn't just the way that Rory was turning the tables on her, or even how she was exploiting their unique relationship. It was also the fact that her daughter was still lying to her. She could feel it.
"Do not — for a single second — condescend to tell me when I need your help," Lorelai said through gritted teeth.
"Mom—" Rory protested.
"No. I deserve a little more credit than that. I've been taking care of myself, and of you, since I was a child. I am a thirty-nine year old woman, and I can certainly handle my own life. You're making excuses, and I won't listen to them. You know what? If you have some legitimate reason for not going back to work, that' s fine. And if you don't want to tell me what's going on, that sucks, but it's fine, too. You want to know what isn't fine? Blaming it on me."
"I'm not blaming it on you," Rory yelled. "I'm explaining why I feel like I shouldn't leave right now."
"Don't try to play the martyr with me, Rory," Lorelai snapped. "It's way too Emily. You're better than that."
"You're impossible. I can't talk to you when you're like this," Rory said, grabbing her jacket. "I'm going out."
The sound of the front door slamming was completely predictable, but Lorelai still winced.
♫ ♫ ♫ ♫ ♫ ♫ ♫ ♫
Spaghetti for dinner meant that both kids ended up wearing marinara sauce,
which in turn meant immediate baths. Lorelai had both hands in Martha's wispy
strawberry blonde hair, and was working up a nice lather perhaps a bit too
"Too hard!" Martha cried, wiggling her head away.
"I'm sorry, baby. Don't squirm, you'll get soap in your eyes."
From his perch on the closed lid of the toilet seat, Luke gave her a sympathetic glance. "It'll all blow over," he promised.
"You don't know that," she argued.
"Yeah, I do. You guys get into these things all the time, and you always figure it out."
"Not like this. I was furious, she was defensive... she was lying, Luke."
"And there's got to be a reason for it. Give her some time, she'll come to you."
Lorelai grunted. "I really hate it when you're rational. Martha, sweetie, put your head back." Martha tilted her chin to the ceiling and closed her eyes. Lorelai filled a plastic cup with warm water and rinsed out Martha's hair, slowly and rhythmically. This was both of their favorite part.
"I really lost it," Lorelai sighed.
"You were upset," he shrugged. "Davey, don't splash. Here, play with this." Luke grabbed a plastic comb and tossed it into the tub. Davey dove for it like it was found treasure.
"Yeah, but I totally wigged. What if she doesn't come home tonight?" Lorelai panicked.
Davey took to splashing again, as was his way, so Luke grabbed a towel and held it open for him. "Come on, out. Don't give me that look. You knew this was coming."
Lorelai smiled a little as she watched Luke towel Davey dry and help him into the pajamas she had left folded next to the sink.
"Prunes!" Davy announced proudly, holding out his fingers.
"Very impressive," Luke said. "Go pick out a book." Davey ran out of the room. "Just one!" Luke called after him.
Lorelai squeezed a warm washcloth over Martha's back. "Hey. Come here," she said to Luke. He looked at her suspiciously, but did as he was told.
"Lower," she instructed, pointing to the floor beside her. He knelt down, and she gave him a lingering kiss.
"You're great," she said, by way of explanation.
"Yeah, yeah," he groused, but then his face softened. "She'll be home tonight," he said, tucking a stray hair behind Lorelai's ear.
"I'm going to sleep at the diner, so the two of you can have some privacy."
"Thanks," she said. "I hope we don't need it."
Martha looked up at them through long wet lashes, obviously bored by with all the talking. She lifted her feet up out of the water, inadvertently splashing Luke in the face.
"Prunes!" she declared. Luke swiped his shirtsleeve over his eyes, and Lorelai tried not to laugh.
♫ ♫ ♫ ♫ ♫ ♫ ♫ ♫
Immediately after storming out of the house, Rory realized that she didn't
really have anywhere to go. She couldn't just burst in on Lane anymore with no
notice; she and Zach were probably eating dinner, or getting the kids ready for
bed. Her grandparents weren't really an option, since she didn't want them to
know what was going on. Luke's, which had felt like such a safe haven a few
days ago, was now obviously a partisan establishment. So she drove in circles
for a while, and then parked in the lot behind the high school and started
returning phone calls.
Patrick was first on her list, having left several messages in the past couple of days. It barely rang once before his voice barked into her ear.
"Where the hell are you? Are you okay?"
"I'm fine," she said. "I'm in Stars Hollow."
"Is your mom okay? Is she sick? Hurt?" he demanded.
"No, we're both fine."
"Then what the hell, Rory? What's going on? We were worried when you didn't show on Thursday!"
She sighed, counted the nubs on the steering wheel. "I'm not coming back," she finally admitted. It felt surreal to be finally saying it out loud.
She unloaded on him, going into great detail about everything she had merely hinted at before: how she felt like this job was just not right for her, how doing well at something wasn't quite adding up to being happy, how being transient and away from her family for long stretches of time was just not what she wanted. He listened patiently, and interjected with a few protests every now and then, until he seemed to realize it was futile. Her mind was made up.
"Did you tell Michael?" he asked.
She winced. "In a voicemail.
"Ro-ry," he chided. "That's beyond childish. That's borderline infantile."
"I know," she groaned. "I know, and I'm dodging his calls now because I can't believe I was such a coward. It's humiliating. He probably wants to murder me."
"Probably," Patrick said, matter-of-fact.
"Hey, thanks for the support," she snarked. "Your sympathy is overwhelming."
"Who said I was sympathetic? I don't agree with this choice at all, but it's yours to make, it's your life. I just...
"I just think it's crappy timing. With the caucuses and the primary coming up, he'll never have time to find your replacement."
She sighed. "I have to go back."
"It's the right thing to do," he said.
Her stomach twisted at the thought, but she knew he was right. "If Michael even wants me to," she added.
"An infantile quitter of a reporter is better than no reporter at all," he teased.
His tone softened. "Seriously, Rory. I've never heard you so sure about something, so I'm gonna trust you on this. I hope you know what you're doing."
"Just the opposite, actually," she said.
After they hung up, Rory took a few moments to steel herself, then hit the speed dial for Michael.
♫ ♫ ♫ ♫ ♫ ♫ ♫ ♫
Rory got home a little after ten. The living room was dark, but the kitchen
light was on. She found a note on the refrigerator, in Luke's messy
handwriting: "Rory's dinner top shelf." Succinct and to-the-point, but it made
her feel the tiniest bit better. She had been planning on going right to bed
and talking to her mother in the morning, but with the absence of Luke's truck
in the driveway, she had no excuse to put it off. She walked upstairs and
paused outside her mother's door. It was open, just a crack, and Rory could
tell from the soft yellow glow that the reading lamp was on. She knocked once
and pushed the door open wide, but stayed safely outside the room.
"Mom?" She had been going for calm and rational, but her voice came out small and thin, a little girl waking up from a nightmare.
"Hey," her mother said. Rory searched her face, but she couldn't find the resentful anger that was there earlier. In its place was something softer, a complicated map of concern and hurt, of remorse and hope.
"Can I come in?"
"Of course you can." Lorelai lifted the corner of the blanket: an invitation. It was a small gesture, but Rory's eyes welled with tears as she climbed into the bed, a sanctuary in every sense of the word.
"You want to tell me what's going on?" her mother asked, turning on her side and propping her head on her arm.
"I quit my job," Rory said. "I've been wanting to for a while, maybe forever. It's just... not what I thought it would be. Or maybe I'm not what I thought I would be."
Lorelai closed her eyes and exhaled. "Why didn't you tell me?
"I don't know," Rory shrugged. "We both worked so hard to get me there. I guess I didn't want to disappoint you."
"Damn it, Rory," Lorelai said, in a weary tone. "How many times do we have to go through this? You can't hide from me when you're floundering, okay, that just ends in... stolen yachts."
"I know. I'm sorry."
"I mean, here I am thinking that everything's swell, and you're seriously unhappy! That's not normal, Rory, you can't do that. You need to talk to me, no matter what."
"Okay, okay. I'm sorry. I just... I really wanted it to work out, Mom," Rory said, her voice trembling a little. "I thought that if I just worked a little harder, hung in there a little longer, then something would click and everything would be okay." Lorelai reached out and ran her fingers through Rory's hair, and that was all it took for the floodgates to open.
"I don't know what to do," Rory confessed, her words practically indecipherable behind sniffles and sobs. "I quit my job on an answering machine. This great opportunity comes along and the only thing I learn from it is that I don't want to do the one thing I've been preparing for my entire life. How do I come back from that? I had one dream, one, and it turned out to be the wrong one. I feel so lost, Mom, I don't fit there and I don't fit here..."
"Hey, hey, stop right there. You will always fit here," Lorelai said sternly. "Always. As for the rest... we'll figure it out."
Rory cried for a while, in her mother's bed, her face turned into a pillow until she had to come up for air. Her eyes were a little swollen, her nose a bit stuffed, but she felt lighter. A tightness in her chest that she hadn't even known was there contracted once, then released. Lorelai rubbed her back in concentric circles until Rory's breathing evened out.
"You quit on an answering machine?" Lorelai finally asked.
"That must have gone over well."
"Not so much. I called Michael today and offered to come back for a while. I'm meeting up with the campaign on Wednesday to work until the New Hampshire primary or he finds a replacement. Whichever comes first."
"That was very brave."
"He's pissed as hell and highly motivated to get rid of me. His words." She shook her head. "Oh, my God. I quit my job. What am I going to do? I have no plan. I'm planless!"
"Hey," Lorelai said, palming the back of Rory's head. "It'll be okay."
Rory saw a familiar look in her mother's eyes. It was the I'll take care of you look, the you're safe now look, the let go look. She figured that if they were going to regress, just for tonight, they might as well go all the way.
"You promise?" Rory asked, a smile tugging at her lips. How many times had she asked this question? How many small calamities had Lorelai hushed away and made better with just two little words?
"I promise," her mother said. Even though Rory knew that they were both too old for this kind of thing, it sounded every bit as comforting as she remembered.
To be continued...
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