Virtual Gilmore Girls

Episode 8.17 "Parental Discretion Advised"
 by Avery and LulaBo


Authors' Note: Thanks as always to sosmitten (super-beta extraordinnaire) for all her hard work and general awesomeness, to the patient and very pretty VS8 team, and to our charming readers.  Comments are love.


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They had exhausted small talk about the inn, Rory's upcoming spate of odd jobs, and the diner by the time they'd made it to the main course. Lorelai looked from her father at the far end of the table to her mother at the other and kicked Luke under the table. He grunted in response, making Rory giggle and choke a little on a bite of prime rib. She sipped her water, red faced, as everyone else at the table stared.


"Are you all right?" Emily asked. "Would you like some more water?"


Rory drew a long breath through her nose. "Nope, I'm good. Went down the wrong pipe."


Lorelai tapped the tines of her fork against her plate. Emily gave her a hard look and issued an annoyed "Lorelai." Chastised, Lorelai put her fork down and crossed her arms on the table top, leaning forward.


"So, did we tell you about April's visit?"  she asked. "She's coming up tomorrow to spend her vacation with us."   

"Is she?" Emily asked. "Do you have any specific plans for her?"


Lorelai pretended to consider it. "Well, we're still trying to narrow it down, but so far we're leaning towards the heart tattoo instead of the four leaf clover, but it depends on which tattoo parlor has the better design, and we're just not willing to commit until we get a good look at the samples, you know?"   

Richard rolled his eyes.


"I think probably a hike or two if the weather holds," Luke said, ignoring Lorelai. "She's been wanting to go back to the science museum in Boston, too, so we'll probably make a day of it."


Lorelai nodded. "And after that, the kegger. You guys got your invitations already, right?"


"What are your plans this week, Grandma?" Rory asked.


Emily set her fork down and glowered at Richard as she spoke. "We'll be attending a dinner event for the humanities department. It was quite a surprise to hear about that engagement."


Richard paused, his fork hanging in midair. "I have not yet apologized sufficiently for that particular lapse of memory, it seems."   


"It's not that you forgot, Richard, it's how incredibly vague the invitation is!" Emily insisted. "How dressy  is it, how informal? How many courses? With whom will we be seated? Is a donation of any kind required—"


"It is a simple collegiate dinner, Emily," Richard sighed. "You needn't dress any differently than you are right now."


Emily's expression puckered. "For someone who teaches college-level courses, you understand so little it occasionally boggles the mind." 


Lorelai made no attempt to smother the smile on her face, watching her parents as though they were a tennis match. She speared a piece of broccoli and waved it over her plate. "So do they know to put you two at separate tables, or what?" Her parents both set down their utensils and glared at her. She shoved the broccoli in her mouth, leaning conspiratorially towards Luke. "Quick, you create a diversion while I sneak out the back."


"Luke, we just got The Planet Earth documentary series on DVD. You're free to borrow it if you think April would like it," Richard said. "It's quite interesting."


"Thank you, Richard," Luke said. "I think I'll take you up on that."


Lorelai pouted, shaking her head at Rory. "Okay, so I know it's not like I'm bringing my A material tonight, but this is ridiculous. Do I need, like, Whoopi Goldberg to communicate with the living now?"


Rory shrugged. "She's probably got nothing better to do."

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Rory rolled over and flailed her hand in the general vicinity of the alarm clock, which was emitting its usual pattern of panicked beeps.  Through bleary eyes, she saw the numbers 5:15 glowing red and evil in the darkness of her pre-dawn bedroom.  She kicked the blankets to the floor and whimpered as every sleeping muscle angrily protested her decision to sit up.  She dragged herself out of bed and exchanged her nightgown for jeans and a green long-sleeved Weston's t-shirt.  Still half asleep, she stood in front of the mirror and combed her hair into a ponytail, then threaded it through the back of her Weston's baseball cap.  She had to get moving if she wanted time for coffee— those cookies weren't going to decorate themselves.

She stumbled out into the kitchen to find Luke sitting at the table with a bowl of oatmeal and the sports section.  Bright-eyed and freshly showered, he looked like morning's international spokesman. Rory narrowed her eyes at him in mild disdain.

"Morning, sunshine," he teased.  "Oatmeal?" 

Rory grunted in response and walked straight to the coffeepot.  Upon seeing that a cup had already been brewed and poured for her in her favorite Yale mug, Rory's resentment toward Luke the Morning Fairy faded the slightest bit.

"Thanks," she managed after the first sip.  She took the seat across from Luke at the table, and snuck the style section out from under his newspaper.

"Hungry?" Luke asked.  "I could make you some eggs."

Rory shook her head.  "Eating before six AM is not of the Lord."


Luke eyed the bite of oatmeal that was halfway to his mouth, then shrugged and licked his spoon clean.  "How's it going at Weston's?"

Rory shrugged.  "It's okay.  The first twenty cookies are fun, but after that, it gets kind of mind-numbing."


"I think that's true of the first twenty anything," Luke commented. 

"I like doing the clover-shaped sugar cookies, because marbelizing is fun," Rory said, the caffeine kicking in a little.  "You take Royal icing and mix in some green food coloring, and then you use a toothpick to make swirly designs."

"What are you going to do after St. Patrick's Day?"

"Easter eggs.  I've seen a prototype.  They look very involved."


"Well, at least you're getting your feet wet with clovers, then."   

Rory sighed and took one last sip of coffee.  "Okay.  Off to realize my Willy Wonka dreams."


"Watch out for chocolate rivers," said Luke.


Rory shook her head and smiled.  "Mom has permanently burned her way into those synapses of yours."


Luke nodded mournfully.  "I could definitely use a good brain bleach."


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Rory was sitting on a bench outside Weston's, rubbing hardened icing from the tip of her nose.  At 8:34, Lorelai's car pulled up next to her.


"Hop in, my little Keebler Elf!"


Rory rolled her eyes and climbed into the car.  "I really let myself believe that today was the day you would finally run out of baking references."


Lorelai's grin widened and she wagged her finger in Rory's face.  "I've got enough of 'em to last through your inevitable promotion to Executive Pastry Chef."

Rory swatted her mother's hand away.  "Lucky me.  I'm starving, do you think Sookie will make me those lemon poppy pancakes?"

"She'd make you unicorn pancakes if you asked her to."


"Yeah, you probably shouldn't ask her to sacrifice a unicorn for your sick breakfast whims," Lorelai said.

"I'll scarf down some food and then be at your disposal," said Rory.  "I think I can finish the linen inventory, back up your computer, and start researching eco-friendly cleaning supplies before I have to leave at noon."

"Okay, first of all, don't scarf, you might choke.  And what happens at noon?"

"Bookstore shift, remember?" Rory said.  "And I'll be late for dinner, because after the bookstore I'm helping Mrs. Kim with spring cleaning at the antique shop."

"Yikes, how long will it take to dust a couple hundred old ceramic jugs?"

"With or without Mrs. Kim standing over your shoulder pointing out the spots you missed?"

Lorelai chuckled in sympathy.  "You do realize that all of your part-time and odd jobs combined add up to more hours than two full-time jobs?"

"Yes, I'm aware of the irony."

"Starting to understand why people go to college, huh?" Lorelai teased.

"I always thought it was for the beer," Rory said in mock epiphany.

Lorelai laughed, but it was short and perfunctory.  Rory looked at her sidelong, questioning.  "You okay?"

"What?  Sure, I'm fine," Lorelai assured her.  She pulled into her parking spot at the Dragonfly and flashed Rory a tenuous smile.  "Go get your pancakes, Betty Crocker."


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The only thing redeemable about Bradley International Airport was its location in Hartford. At the very least, Luke thought, he did not have to make the trek to Logan in Boston to pick April up for her school vacation. He would have, he knew, but his hatred of airports was only outdone by his hatred of golf courses, and the drive to Bradley was slightly less aggravating only because it was relatively nearby.


It took him twenty minutes to find the place he and April had agreed to meet, and he was glad that Lorelai had pestered him to leave a full hour earlier than he'd planned. She'd given him explicit instructions: to call when he got to the airport, to call when he found the right arrivals location, and to call when he actually had April in tow. The mandate turned out unnecessary, as Lorelai had already called him three times to find out if he'd been able to do any of it. He'd just managed to convince her that he was in the right place when passengers started filing into the baggage claim area. He leaned forward, peering at the small crowd bunching at the bottom of the escalator, and tried to find April amidst the others.

He craned his neck to see over the line of passengers shuffling past him. They slouched towards the baggage carousel, and Luke watched in dismay the longer he waited and April didn't appear. He was on the point of reaching for his cell to call Lorelai when someone cleared her throat beside him. He turned to the right; it took him nearly a full minute to register that the tall, slender girl beside him, decked out in a sleek wool winter coat and high heels, was his daughter. She was without her glasses, and her frizzy mop was now dead-straight, streaked with red. She wore dark, heavy eyeliner and long, jangly earrings.


April grinned up at him. "You know, you're very unobservant in public places like this. You're like a prime target for pick pocketing."


He could feel his face beginning to freeze in an awkward, panic smile, and his greeting of "Hey!" was a little too loud, too startled. He opened his arms for a hug, trying to get his bearings as he gave his daughter a slight squeeze. He couldn't quite meet her eyes—all the make up, her glasses gone—so he disentangled from the hug and began to lead her towards the baggage claim, his hand at her elbow. He kept quiet as they walked, which April didn't seem to notice. Between flying by herself, the new clothes her mom bought her for her trip back home, and how hard it was to choose what shoes to wear on the plane, she was supplying answers to all the questions he hadn't asked yet.      

When they finally got to the car, April paused long enough for Luke to get her gear in the cab and call Lorelai. When Lorelai asked how she looked, Luke glanced at April from the corner of his eye.


"She's taller," he said.


"You know," April began, "I actually did grow, like, four inches since the last time I saw you, so I'm totally starving all the time. But with the boots and everything, I'm like, seven inches taller than the last time you saw me."    


"Those are some boots," he replied.


"I know, right? Okay, so Mom had these boots in the store and they were on sale forever, and nobody was taking them because they're kinda on the small side, size-wise, so she finally just brought them for herself, and it's awesome because right now we're totally the same shoe size, but with the way I've been growing, we'll only be the same shoe size for a little while, so I totally had to borrow them while I was here because who knows if they'll even fit by the time I get back?"


Luke nodded as she spoke. "Your mom lets you borrow her shoes?"


"Well," she said, her voice dropping conspiratorially, "she doesn't technically know I took them, but I'm going to give them back the second I get home, so she won't mind."   


"April," he said sternly.


She held up a hand. "I know, I know. I shouldn't have." She rolled her eyes. "But seriously, Dad. My feet are going to get enormous, and Mom has the best shoes. I have to take advantage while I can! Plus, it's not like she's going to mind; she's totally cool about stuff like that."


Anna, cool, Luke thought, shaking his head. "You know her best, so I'll take your word for it. You should tell her when you call her tonight, just in case she's looking for them."


April rolled her eyes once more. "God, Dad, they're just shoes."


He swallowed hard. "Well, you are right about your feet. Everyone in my family has big feet."


"Yeah? That's cool. I wonder if that's a whole recessive/dominant gene thing? I'm totally going to have to ask the Biology Club advisor." She paused. "So that was Lorelai on the phone before?"


"That was Lorelai on the phone before," he said. "We're actually—I know the last few times you've stayed at the diner with me, but we're gonna stay at Lorelai's this week."


"That is excellent. Her TV is way better than yours."


"How do you know?" he asked.


"She told me!" April laughed. "When she answered your cell last week? And even if she hadn't, I could probably guess, because your TV looks like it came out of a Sears catalogue in 1983. Practically anything else would be way better than yours."


Luke glanced in his rear view mirror and slowed to let the asshole in the SUV pass him. After a moment, he cleared his throat. "Lots of stuff at Lorelai's is better than my stuff."


April laughed. "Well, duh, Dad. You're kinda into the whole Spartan lifestyle."


"And now that Lorelai and I are together—"    


"Which is awesome," April said.


"Yeah, it's... pretty awesome. And, you know, it seemed to make more sense to—I mean, it seemed like the right time, and—"


"Dad," April interrupted. "It's okay. I know you moved in with Lorelai."


His hands and face felt suddenly cold. "You know?"


April shrugged and toyed with a lock of hair. "Yeah, Mom told me before I left."


"Your mom told you?" Luke asked, unable to help sounding disappointed at this. "I'm sorry—that was something I wanted to talk to you about myself." He paused. "How do you—I mean, is that—do you feel okay about that? Staying at Lorelai's? Me living there?"


"Duh, Dad. It's totally awesome. I'm so glad you guys are back together. And, I'm sorry, because it's cute and everything, but the whole bachelor pad lifestyle? You're just too old to still live in a converted office. I was actually going to talk to you about it before Mom told me. It was totally time to get out of there."


Luke wasn't entirely sure how to respond to this and began to nod idiotically. "Well," he said, after a moment, "I'm glad you're okay with it."


"I am actually so excited—I mean, no offense, Dad, but there's a finite amount of interesting stuff to look at in your place. And? It's just so totally dark. Plus, Lorelai might let me go through her closet, which, don't tell Mom, is so much better than going through Mom's closet. All she ever has is stuff leftover from the store and I've so seen all that before, you know?"


Luke glanced over at this person sitting beside him, this sudden teenager with the heels and the new hair and the make up and jewelry. This wasn't the same girl he put on the plane last he saw her; he had no idea how to talk to her, to ask her about her new look, which, quite frankly, scared him. He drove home faster than usual, letting April pick up the conversational slack as he stewed in his own uneasiness and parental panic.   


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Shortly after Luke, Lorelai, and Rory had left dinner on Friday, Emily had called Miss Celine for sartorial guidance. The woman was in New York, however, crashing various Fashion Week parties and shows, and Emily was left floundering  on her own. She stood in the middle of her closet in only her slip, shoving aside the same garment bags and hangers over and over again.


She dialed, rummaging through the winter-to-spring set of dresses at the rear of the closet.


"Dragonfly, Lorelai speaking."


"Do you think burgundy is too subdued for a college function? Or maybe it's too drab. I have no idea what sort of color palate to work from for this, it's absolutely infuriating," Emily said, whining a little.




"No, Lady Godiva, Lorelai," Emily snapped. "Could you please give me a little help here?"


Lorelai cleared her throat. "Well, Mom, you have a stunning array of two piece ensembles, I think any one of them would be appropriate. If you're worried about the color part, go darker than your first instinct."


"You think so?"


"Well, it's better than wearing chaps," Lorelai said. "Or maybe it's not, I mean, it is a humanities function. Most of those women are going to be braless and wearing tents. You probably should have stopped waxing a few months ago—"   


"Lorelai, this is not the time for jokes."


Lorelai chuckled. "Mom, I think you're overthinking it. Anything you have will look nice as long as you don't go too dressy."


"How dressy is too dressy?" Emily asked plaintively.


"Anything that requires choosing between diamonds and lots of diamonds," Lorelai said.


Emily chewed on her lower lip. "Well, all right. Thank you."


"I'll talk to you later, Mom."


She stood in front of the eggplant section of her wardrobe, staring at the same three dresses for a half an hour before she gave in and reached for the phone again.




"Oh, Rory, thank goodness. Now, your mother seemed to think this function would involve braless, hairy women and muumuus, but that may have just been her perverse sense of humor.  I'm at a total loss. What would you wear to a departmental dinner?"


Rory clicked her tongue against her teeth. "You can't go wrong with a skirt, a tailored blouse, and flats for things like that."


"Rory, please remember that I am not twenty years old."


She laughed. "I'm sorry, Grandma, but it's not like that outfit has an age limit on it."


"It most certainly does," Emily replied. "I suppose a suit would be appropriate..."


"Grandma, anything you wear will be fine, I'm sure. For the professors, it's probably just another work event and they'll all be wearing whatever it is they grabbed out of the closet that morning," Rory said.


Emily frowned. "Well, that's not terribly helpful."   


"Don't worry, Grandma. Whatever you choose will be great, okay? I really have to go, but call me after the dinner. I want to know how it went."


Emily said a distracted goodbye and continued staring at the contents of her wardrobe until Richard arrived an hour later. She'd only just decided to grab an armload of clothes off the pole and drive to Stars Hollow when he stepped into the closet and toed off his shoes. He undid his bowtie and laughed a little at his wife's expense.


"Emily, it's a simple dinner. You could go in what you're wearing now," he said breezily.


"Richard Gilmore, have you ever seen me go anywhere beyond this bedroom wearing only a slip? For heaven's sake."


Richard pulled her into a hug. "Consider it nothing more formal than a DAR luncheon, my dear."


"Are you sure?"


"I'm sure. I'm uncertain why you're so anxious about this—"


"Richard, these are your colleagues! I want to make a good impression!"


He kissed her cheek. "You always do, Emily."


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Rory scrolled through the list of titles on the bookstore computer.  "Sorry, sir, it doesn't look like we have that book in stock.  I can order it for you today, and it should be here by the end of the week," she offered.

"If I wanted to wait until the end of the week, I'd order from Amazon like everybody else," the man grumbled.

Rory took a deep breath.  Andrew had a nickname for this guy: Customer from Hell.  It didn't score any points for originality, but Rory could hardly argue its accuracy.
"Well, Amazon makes you pay for shipping," she said.  "And their sales staff isn't half as charming."

The man eyed her humorlessly.  "I'll be in on Friday to pick it up," he said warningly.

"Barring a U.S. postal catastrophe, "Modern Pirates of the Pacific Northwest" will be here waiting for you," she told him.

He gave her one last grunt before leaving the store.  The bell over the door jingled furiously as Customer from Hell was nearly barreled down by a strangely urgent patron.  Kirk, Rory predicted.

"Watch it!" CfH bellowed on his way out.

"Sorry," Kirk said, already halfway to the register.  Rory took a protective step backwards upon seeing Kirk's face, which was red, sweaty, and more intense than usual.

"Rory!" Kirk said, four decibels above the register for normal human conversation. 

"Can I help you, Kirk?" Rory asked calmly.

"I have something of great importance to speak to you about."  Kirk's voice wavered in the middle of the sentence, the way it did when he was really panicked about something.

"Can it wait?  I'm working, and Andrew's going to be back from lunch any minute," said Rory.

"No, I'm afraid it can't wait, Rory!  You've got your fingers in every pocket in this town, and I don't care if they are long, elegant, slender Yale fingers, they are not my fingers.  Do you understand what I'm telling you?"

Rory pulled a face at Kirk's creepy description of her fingers.  "Not even a little bit, Kirk."

"I want you to stop your carefully orchestrated plan to drive me out of employment in Stars Hollow!"

Rory raised her eyebrows and began organizing the day's receipts.  "Kirk, I have no idea what you're talking about."

"My people have been seeing you everywhere, Rory."

"Your people?"

"Well, Lulu and Mother."

"Ah, those people."

"At Weston's, at the Dragonfly, the bookstore, Kim's Antiques... even Miss Patty's!"

"I was only there for an hour yesterday to set up chairs for a recital," Rory said.  "The doors were closed!  How did you even know?"

Kirk was momentarily flustered.  "Don't you worry about it," he said.  "Just know this!  This town is too damn small for two eager, qualified seekers of part-time employment!"

"Kirk, I have to finish unpacking a shipment.  Can you... how do I put this... leave?"

Kirk nodded.  "I'll leave, but only because I have to.  I don't buy books because Mother says reading will ruin my eyes, and I don't work here." He took too steps to the door and then looked back at Rory ominously.  "Yet."

"Bye, Kirk," Rory called after him cheerfully.  "Freakin' loon," she muttered as the door slammed, turning her attention back to the receipts.   

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Luke had been unsure where to take April for dinner her first night back. Most of the Stars Hollow restaurants were out, as Saturdays were often theme nights and he'd never once been in the mood for that particular dining experience. In the end, he decided on the tapas restaurant in Hartford. It was far enough away that they wouldn't run into anyone from the town, and small, but not so small that sharing a table would mean knocking elbows. The food was decent, and the place wasn't so loud he'd have to shout to be heard. Mostly, he thought April would like it.


She said nothing when they stepped inside, only shrugged out of her coat and threw herself into her chair with a gusty sigh. When asked what she thought, she rolled her eyes and issued a noncommittal "fine" as she reached for the menu. She ordered a hummus platter and a diet Coke. Luke asked her if she didn't want something a little more substantial.


"Please, Dad. Eating meat is so totally barbaric," she said.


He thought about the lamb gyro he'd just ordered. "Well, it's certainly healthier not eating it, but I don't know about barbaric."        


She said nothing, only made a bland "duh" face in reply. Luke shifted in his seat. Though she'd been her usual bright, talkative self on arriving at Lorelai's, since they'd left the house for dinner she'd been surly and silent.


"Everything okay?" he asked. "We can go somewhere else if you'd like."


She shrugged. "It's fine."


"Are you sure you're okay?"


"God, Dad. I'm totally fine, could you leave it alone?" she said, sounding harried and nervous.     


Luke sat back in his chair, his throat tightening in dismay. "Sure."


While they waited for their meal to arrive, Luke tried to engage his daughter and pull her out of the funk she appeared to be in. She sat on the literal edge of her chair, slumped low with her chin to her chest and her arms crossed over her stomach, the expression on her face cloudy and annoyed. Luke tried his best, telling her about officiating Kirk and Lulu's wedding, though he felt like an awkward storyteller at best. When the food finally came, April sat up, heaving yet another of her apparently habitual sighs.


Luke decided to give up until he could ply her with dessert and attacked his dinner with a gusto he didn't really feel. He had the distinct impression this dinner was a test he was failing. April had never been so quiet or moody; she was, outside of Rory, the most self-sufficient  teenager he'd ever known, able to amuse herself with salt shakers if there was nothing immediately more entertaining around, including an inept conversational partner. Whenever he spoke to her on the phone, she usually had so much to say he couldn't get a word in edgewise. The sudden reversal of personality made him uncomfortable and sweaty; he ate his gyro without tasting it, racking his brain for something to say that might lift April's mood or at least get her talking again, even if it couldn't be her normal, pleasant prattle.


They were both picking at the remains of the meals on their plates when the repetitive drone of a pop song began blaring somewhere near by.


"You can stand under my umbrella-ella-ella-ella-ay-ay-ay-ay-ay—"  


April perked up, smiling broadly. "Thank God," she said, dramatically, digging into her coat pocket. "I've been waiting for this call forever!"




She'd already flipped the phone open. "Hey, bitch, what's up?" she drawled.


"April, come on—"


"No, she did not! That is seriously disturbed. I mean, we all knew she was a fat whore, but that is, like, beyond—"


"April!" Luke barked, surprising himself.


She stared at him with a furrowed brow, her mouth hanging open. "Excuse me," she said into the phone. "What? Dad, I'm on the phone here, okay? This is serious stuff." She shook her head and returned to her conversation. "So what are you going to do? I mean, I would totally—no, that's awesome. She totally deserves it, she's a complete skank."


Luke leaned over the table. "April," he hissed. "We are in a restaurant. Other people are trying to enjoy their dinners. Get off the phone."




"Hang up the phone," he said, his tone brooking no refusal. "Hang up the phone or I take it away from you."


She rolled her eyes. "B, I'm going to have to call you back. My dad is being totally and completely impossible. No, I'll—dude! I'm only going to be gone a week, it's not like—I will call you later. I will, I'll call you when we get back." She looked directly at Luke. "Hopefully my dad will have the pole removed from his ass by then."


Luke gaped at her a moment. She tucked the phone back in her pocket and stared back defiantly. "Well, I'm off the phone," she said.


"I'm glad you can be so gracious about it," he said. He waved for the check. "Are we gonna have to have a talk about this?"


"About what?" she asked, slouching again.


Luke removed a few bills from his wallet and slapped them to the table more force than he'd intended. "You don't speak to me like that, got it? You don't speak to me like that, you don't speak to your mother like that, you don't speak to Lorelai like that. You don't speak to anyone like that."


April twirled a lock of hair around her finger and studied it a moment. "Whatever."




"Fine, Dad. It's fine. I'm sorry I said you had a pole up your ass."


Though the apology was anything but sincere, Luke decided not to push it. "Let's get out of here. We'll stop at Westons' on the way home if you feel like dessert."


April teetered on her boots when she got to her feet. "Whoop-de-doo, Dad. That sounds swell."


Back in the truck, Luke decided to brave the waters again. "So how are things going at school?"


"You know," she said. "Fine."


"What are you studying now?"


She turned pointedly to the window. "Stuff."


"What kind of stuff?" he asked.


"Basic physical science. The honors classes in that school are kind of a joke, but you know, whatever. I'm working on some independent study experiments. I'm so past the point of falling objects, I basically had to design my whole curriculum."


"Well that sounds interesting," Luke said hopefully. "What sort of experiments?"


She looked at him askance. "It's kinda complicated."


"Try me," he said, smiling a little.


"Well, there's this one that's pretty cool," she began.


Luke felt the tension in his shoulders easing as she talked all the way back to Stars Hollow.   

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Rory trudged through the front door and hung up her coat in the hall.  "Mom?" she said.

"Kitchen, Mrs. Fields," Lorelai called.  "I hope you're hungry."

Rory found her mother at the kitchen table, surrounded by at least fifteen white take-out cartons.  "Oh, for the love of General Tsau himself!  That is a lot of food."

"I ordered from both Chinese places," Lorelai admitted.

"Why?" Rory asked incredulously, taking her seat at the table.

"Well, the sesame chicken is better at Golden Cheung, but you like the egg rolls from Golden Yeung.  Now, both places have equally good fried rice, right?"

"I guess," Rory said, spooning chicken and broccoli onto her plate.


"Exactly what?"

"You're not sure the fried rice is equally good.  Neither was I, after thinking about it for a few minutes.  Then I became obsessed with the idea of a blind taste test, and the dual restaurant take-out was sealed."

"You're insane," Rory said.  She grabbed an egg roll and took two gigantic bites.  "You have no idea how long two hours can feel when you're trapped in an enclosed space with Mrs. Kim and constantly terrified of breaking something."

"Have some lo mein," Lorelai said, dumping half a carton onto Rory's plate as a consolation.

"Where are Luke and April?" Rory asked between mouthfuls.    

"He took her out for some daddy-daughter time.  They should be back in about an hour."

"Good.  I want to spend some time with April before I barricade myself in my room with my article notes.  Speaking of which, I'm going to start the coffee pot so it's ready when we're finished eating.  I am so tired, I swear, I could sleep for a week," Rory said as she stood up and started making coffee.

"Mmm," Lorelai said, twirling noodles around the tines of her fork.  "Speaking of the article, how's that coming?"

"It's going pretty well," said Rory.  She added water and pressed the button on the coffee machine, then returned to the table as it began brewing.  "I'm getting pretty excited about it, actually.  I really had no idea that I had this much to say."

"That's great, sweets," Lorelai said.  She opened her mouth and then closed it.  "So, do you think you'll try to publish it?"

Rory shrugged.  "Hopefully.  I guess I'll wait until I'm finished, see what it turns into."

"And when will that be, do you think?"

"When will what be?"

"When do you think you'll be finished?"

Rory put down her fork and sat back in her chair.  The air was charged with tension, and she had no idea where it had blown in from.  "I don't know, Mom.  Why?"

"Well, I guess I'm just wondering what your plans are."

Rory rubbed the back of her neck.  She was dead tired, and in no mood for this particular minefield.

"Mom, don't, okay?  Not tonight."

Lorelai raised her eyebrows.  "Don't what?  Don't ask you questions?  Don't express concern?  God, Rory, I've been walking on eggshells about this for weeks, and now you're decorating cookies and counting pillowcases and dusting Thomas Jefferson's end tables, and I think I deserve to be let in on the plan."   

"The plan," Rory echoed bitterly.  "Well, Mom, I don't have a plan right now.  I'm planless.  And you know what?  I kind of like it."

Lorelai took a deep breath.  "Rory, we don't have to argue.  I just... I'm worried about you.  You don't seem to be thinking about your future.  I feel like you had one career experience that didn't work out, and then you just gave up."

"Mom, it's only been two months!" Rory cried.  "I would have had this time after graduation, if the Obama job didn't cut my summer short."

"But you would have been looking and applying places and, I don't know, being responsible, thinking about certain things."

"Things like what?  Job security, health insurance, a 401k?" Rory scoffed.

"You say that like it's nothing, like I'm being crazy," Lorelai snapped.  "Those are legitimate concerns, Rory, grown-up realities."

"I'm twenty-three years old.  I'm not worried about a 401k right now," Rory said, unable to mask the contempt in her voice.  "Since when are you so fixated on material wealth, anyway?"

"Oh, give me a break, Rory.  Spare me the bohemians dancing on the table.  I guess it's easy to be laissez faire about this stuff when you have a trust fund safety net.  This is exactly why I—"

"I can't believe you just said that," Rory said, stunned into coldness.  "That's a horrible thing to say."  She pushed her chair back and headed for her room.

"You hardly ate anything," Lorelai said, frustration in her voice. 

In response, Rory slammed her door.  It was the gesture of a fifteen-year-old, but it was oddly satisfying all the same.


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Emily knew the moment they arrived that she would seem to the rest of the crowd a dowdy leftover from the Jackie O. generation. Richard, in his suit and tie, seemed unbothered to be more formally dressed than most; she felt self-conscious and stupid in her cream colored two piece, her smart new heels.   She hissed in her husband's ear as he led her to their table.


"I'd be more appropriately dressed if I'd planned for a football game!"


He tut-tutted that she looked beautiful and no one would very much care anyway.


"Yes, that's a comfort to me, Richard."


They had been seated at a table with one of a droning professor of American Studies obsessed with a nineteenth century poet from Connecticut who he'd spent his career researching, his dull wife, and a professor of fiction sporting ripped jeans, fatigues, and a red bandana. He wore John Lennon glasses and had a wiry gray goatee. He'd been regaling Emily with the details of his Vietnam protest literature course, which he'd petitioned the department for despite its early low enrollment. During the first week of the semester, the class had doubled in size and he was considering adding a unit on the Black Panthers. Emily nodded politely, picking at her limp salad and sipping lukewarm white wine.


"Next fall," he said, "I'm thinking of tackling some Elizabeths. The Poetry of Elizabeths. You've got Queen E One, you've got Barrett Browning, Miss Liz Bishop—"


Emily gasped. "Oh, I love Elizabeth Bishop! '"Deny deny deny" is not all the roosters cry,'" she quoted. "Oh, she's marvelous."


The professor looked at Emily over his glasses as though seeing her for the first time. "I think she is! She was quite an interesting broad, too."


Emily smiled archly. "That's certainly one way to put it. Who else would you include in this Elizabeth class?"


Beneath the table, Richard laid his hand on her knee and squeezed, encouraging her on.


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Luke sat at the foot of the bed, toeing off his boots as he watched Lorelai go through her nightly rituals. She made sympathetic noises while he regaled her with the story of his disastrous dinner.


"It was like she was a completely different kid," he said, feeling helpless.


Lorelai sat beside him and put an arm around him. "Oh, hon. She is."




She ran a hand through his hair. "Luke, she's a fourteen year old girl.   She's a different person every other minute of the day. She's a landmine of contrary emotions, and you're just going to have to hang on and try to keep up." She smiled ruefully and tugged on his ear. "It's going to be a very challenging and occasionally unpleasant decade, but she'll come out the other side relatively unscathed."


Luke looked at her in despair. "A decade? Be serious."


She held up one hand. "I am totally serious. You have two things going for you."


"Yeah? What are they."


She kissed his cheek. "Well, first, patience is one of your many virtues, and second, your other half is an expert in both being a fourteen year old girl and raising a fourteen year old girl. I am a savant in female adolescence, babe." He studied her a moment, and he was just about to reply when she pulled back, sat up a little straighter. "Do you hear that?"


He listened. "TV's on."


Lorelai made a face. "Loud, too."


He kissed her quickly. "I'll take care of it."


April had the TV on a modeling show with the volume cranked. She was sprawled on the sofa in her pajamas, the sleeping bag open and littered with pillows at her feet. She was laughing when Luke reached the bottom of the stairs, eating straight out of a box of Girl Scout cookies.


"I mean, who does she think she's kidding in an outfit like that?" she asked, her voice pitched high and her tone mocking.


Luke watched her, striking his best disapproving dad pose: arms crossed over his chest, chin tipped back, feet planted wide. "April."


She ignored him. "It's so totally disgusting. I mean, everyone knows she's just doing it to make you jealous, and that is like, so low and—"


"April," he said, louder this time.


"And, I mean, the party she's having at the end of the week? Totally a ploy, too, she's just begging—"


"April," he said.


She looked over at him with a disdainful expression. "Yeah?"


"It's time to get off the phone."


"I will, I just—"


"Time to get off the phone," he said again. He stepped towards the TV. "And time to turn this down. There are other people in this house who have to get up early tomorrow for work, people who are trying to sleep. Let's just keep the volume low, okay?"


"Sure, Dad, whatever," she said. She turned away. "So is anyone going? Because if I were home, I totally wouldn't go. It's just so—"


Luke took three long strides and stood over his daughter, holding out his hand. "What did I just say?" he asked, hating the phrase even as he spoke it. It was so far up on the disapproving parent scale, it made him feel like an asshole.


"Dad, I will get off the phone just as soon as I'm done with my conversation," she snapped. "God. Look, I'm turning off the TV. Okay? Done. No big. I will see you in the morning."


Without thinking, Luke leaned over his daughter and plucked the cell phone she held from her hand. April made a sound he'd never heard issue from a human being before, a high-pitched, pissed bellow.


Luke put the phone to his year. "April will call you tomorrow."


April watched in horror as he hung up and was on her feet before he'd put the phone down on the coffee table. Her voice pitched to an unintelligible level. "I cannot believe you just did that! Do you know who that was? Do you know who that was? I cannot—I just got in and now I'm going to have to start all over again and I can't even—I hate you! I didn't even want to come on this stupid trip in the first place! They only just started—and now I'm stuck here, and you're ruining everything and I hate you!" she wailed. She stared at him a moment in black anger before bursting into tears and stomping to the bathroom.


He called weakly after her and got only the slamming of the bathroom door in reply. He sat on the couch, his hand in his hands, and felt like an overbearing cave man. He heard Lorelai's step on the stairs and leaned into the gentle touch of her hand on his shoulder.


"She'll come out when she's ready," Lorelai whispered. "She'll have a good cry, come out here, fall asleep, and you can make it up to her in the morning." She took his hand and pulled him to his feet. "Come on, let's get you to bed."


"I feel like a dick," he told her.  


She squeezed his hand. "You're not a dick, you're a dad. You've just never had to discipline her before." She led him to the bedroom, directing him towards the bed. "Come on, babe. You should get some sleep. You'll need your strength for round two in the morning."


"You think she'll even want to talk to me?" he asked.


Lorelai crawled into bed beside him and curled up at his side, her head on his chest. "Well, there's a fifty-fifty chance. She might wake up sweet as buttercream frosting and pretend the whole thing never happened, or she'll wake up a fire-breathing dragon ready to burn down the entire house."


"I'd really rather not deal with a fire-breathing dragon," he said dryly. "I hope—I mean, I don't want her to hate me for trying to—"


Lorelai shushed him. "You can't take it so personally, babe. She didn't really mean anything she said, and she'll cool off eventually and apologize."




"Trust me," she said. She reached for his hand again and laced her fingers with his. "People who hate their parents don't take the time to tell them, they just reach for the nearest available weapon."   


Luke snorted. "That's comforting."


Lorelai turned off the light and squirmed closer to Luke until he put his arm around her and held her tightly to him. "Comfort is what I'm all about, babe."  

♫   ♫   ♫   ♫   ♫   ♫   ♫   ♫   ♫  

"Eggs, Rory?" Luke asked.

"Yes, please."  She grabbed two pieces of toast and started to butter them on both sides until she noticed her mother, across the table, doing the same thing.  Rory dropped the toast onto her plate, suddenly not in the mood for it.

Lorelai tapped her fork against her plate and studied Rory closely.  Rory, for her part, continued to ignore her.

"So, are you going to see your old friends while you're here?" she asked April, who was being unusually quiet.

April's eyes shot daggers into Luke's back.  "I don't know.  I'll have to see if I'm allowed to socialize."

Luke walked over to the table with the egg pan and scooped generous helpings onto Rory's and April's plates. 

"Time to get some food in that mouth of yours," he said to April.  He sat down next to Lorelai and stared at his surly daughter as she began to eat her breakfast, reluctantly and with attitude.

"Where are you working today, Rory?" April asked, twisting in her chair so as little of her face was visible to Luke as possible.

"The bookstore in the morning, and then back to the antique store for the last day of cleaning," Rory said quickly, careful to avoid her mother's gaze.

"How's the bookstore?  It must be nice to be an adult and have a job and not be constantly at the mercy of other people's rules," April said pointedly.   

"Uh, yeah, it's not bad.  The discount doesn't suck, and today I'm doing inventory, which basically means looking at lots of books all day."

"Sounds possibly un-hideous."

"Possibly," Rory agreed.

"Well, make sure you're careful doing inventory," Lorelai broke in.  "Wouldn't want you falling off any ladders.  Your eight dollars an hour aren't going to go very far to pay the medical bills."

Luke looked at Lorelai strangely.  "That's... that's some real nice advice, there, babe."   

"Yeah," Rory said through gritted teeth.  "Real nice."

"Just looking out for you," Lorelai said with a saccharine smile.  "Luke, remember when you wouldn't let me in the back room because if a sack of potatoes fell on my head, your insurance didn't cover it?"

"Uh, yeah.  That still stands, actually.  Why?"

"Oh, no reason.  Just, you know, memories," Lorelai said innocently.

"Hey, Mom, speaking of memories, remember when you begged, borrowed, and stole to start your own business, the very same year your one and only daughter started her freshman year at a private university?  And remember how you barely had enough money to finish the construction, and had to take a pretty sizeable personal loan?  Remember how you were eating Cheerios for dinner?  You must have had loads of health insurance and stock options then, huh?"

April and Luke gaped at Rory in total confusion while Lorelai flushed red with anger.  "Are you finished eating?  Woudn't want to be late for work, now."

"I'm gone," Rory snapped, getting up from the table so quickly she nearly knocked over her chair.


♫   ♫   ♫  


The kitchen was silent after Rory's departure. Lorelai said a quick goodbye moments later, slamming the front door on her way out. April put her fork down and watched Luke as he cleaned out the coffee pot.


"Dad? Is there any bacon left?" she asked, her voice tentative and low.   


Luke looked over his shoulder at her. "I thought eating meat was barbaric," he drawled.


She shrugged sheepishly. "Well, it is in New Mexico. Here it's just part of a hearty breakfast."


Luke turned the gas on under the cast iron skillet and threw a few more slices of bacon in. "It'll be a minute."


"Can I have some coffee?" she asked hopefully.


"Not you, too," he groaned.


She smiled. "Okay, just juice then."


He poured her a glass of juice and sat at the table beside her. "Listen, April. I'm sorry about last night, taking your phone away."   


She shifted in her seat. "Thanks. Sorry about the whole, you know. The thing."


"You got me worried about you, kid." He rested his elbows on his knees and leaned forward. "I've heard you say some stuff that just—it doesn't sound like you. It doesn't sound like the April I know."


Stalling, April took a long sip of juice, squirming a little under her father's gaze. "I've just... I made some new friends, that's all. They're not like the friends I had when I lived here. And everything is fine, Dad, really. School is good and Mom and I are good, and I'm really glad to be here, I am. I didn't mean that, last night, what I said about not wanting to come. I'm totally psyched to come home and hang out with you and Lorelai and everyone. I just—I'm finally fitting in with the really cool girls at school. I never really fit in before, and I really like that I do. That's all."


Luke got up to turn the bacon over. "I think that's great. I just hate to see you changing who you are, being something you're not for the sake of fitting in."


"I'm not changing who I am, I'm just you know, fitting in."


"And like I said," Luke replied, plating the bacon. "I think it's great you have friends and you're fitting in." She interrupted before he could go on.


"I know, right?" she said, taking the plate from him. "It's so awesome." She smiled. "I'm so glad you get it, Dad. Like, it's so not a big deal, really, to anyone else, but it's a big deal to me. But no worries, seriously, Dad, it's not like it's getting in the way of my grades or anything."


"I appreciate that," he said. "But I think—that is, when you were talking on the phone—"


She rolled her eyes, yet again, he thought. "I know, Dad, it sounds bad. But I don't mean any of it, it's just talk. It's not like it's—"


Luke groaned in exasperation. "It's not just talk, April. You should think about how you'd feel if someone—"


"They do talk that way, Dad! Everyone talks about everyone else, that's the way high school is. That's what it's like having these kinds of friends." 

"Then maybe you shouldn't have these kinds of friends," Luke told her. "That's not who you are, talking like that about other people, being mean."


She finished her juice. "No, but I told you, it's not like it means anything."


He stared. "You really believe that?"


She shrugged again. "Well, yeah."


Luke got to his feet and carried the last of the dirty dishes to the sink. "That's it. You and I are going out today, we're going to go hiking, and you're going to knock off this crap right now."


"Geez, Dad, way to—"


"Go get dressed, we leave in fifteen minutes."




Luke pointed at her. "Fifteen minutes, I want you ready to climb Everest if that's where I decide we're going."   


He could hear her grumbling all the way down the hall.


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Emily and Richard took a late breakfast, thanks to their dawdling at the dinner the night before. Richard read his paper, sipped his coffee, and murmured occasionally at the headlines therein. Emily ran through the appointments in her planner and nibbled her toast.


"Richard, please don't forget the symphony dinner on Thursday. We should have your tux pressed."


"Mm," he grunted.


Emily looked up at him, considering him over the rim of her coffee cup. "You know, despite the absolutely appalling menu, your dinner last night was quite the event. I rather enjoyed it."


He lowered his paper. "I'm glad. It seems you're rediscovering your passion for poetry."


"It is nice to remember such things every now and again," she admitted. "Though next time we attend something like this, I'll have to prepare myself a little more. I should also have my new pinstriped pants hemmed."


"Better do it before next Tuesday," Richard drawled from behind his paper. "We've been invited to a potluck."


"A potluck?" Emily cried, her voice breaking.     


Richard laughed, dodging bunched napkins and the occasional breakfast-food missile.

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"Sixty-five, seventy, seventy-five," Mrs. Kim said, counting bills into Rory's hand.  "I thank you for your work.  You're a hard worker, Rory.  I used to think it was all boys and inappropriate television programs up there," she gestured to Rory's head, "but you turned out... all right."

"High praise, Mrs. Kim," Rory teased.  "Thank you."

Lane burst through the door, a twin on each hip.  "Mama, we're here!"

"I am right here, Lane, you don't have to shout."

"Sorry, Mama.  It's a shouty kind of day.  Kwan's in a funky mood and Steve is entertaining himself with poop fake-outs."

"I do not know what you just said, Lane, but give me my grandsons.  You visit with Rory.  We will be in the kitchen."

"Rory!" Lane cried, seeing her for the first time.  "How goes the spring cleaning?"

"Spring cleaning done, weeks before spring, as usual," Mrs. Kim cut in.  "Only way to run a business."  She took the boys from Lane and headed for the kitchen.

"I can't believe you survived," Lane said in hushed tones.

"It wasn't so bad.  Your mother has mellowed over the years," Rory noted.

"Yeah, she's just mad about Saffron," Lane said, rolling her eyes.     

"Question: what's a poop fake-out?"

"Bad gas that smells like poop and causes diaper droopage."

Rory wrinkled her nose.  "Sorry I asked."

"So, sit, sit," Lane said, gesturing to a walnut Eames chair that Rory had just finished dusting.  "Tell me about your glamorous, poop-free existence."

"Not so glamorous.  I have six million part-time jobs, I'm running on close to zero caffeine, oh, and my mother and I are gouging at each other's eyes at every opportunity."

"What?  You're fighting with Lorelai?" Lane asked, concerned.  "Why?"

Rory slumped in her chair and crossed her arms.  "Because she's made of evil."


She sighed.  "Because she's suddenly on my case about the weirdest things, health insurance and savings accounts and 401ks."

"That doesn't sound like Lorelai," Lane said.

"I know!  It's like she's channeling Suze Orman.  It's grating."

"Well, what is she saying?"

Rory rolled her eyes.  "Oh, really complimentary things.  Like how I'm a slacker who has no direction or professional drive because I have a nice cushy trust fund to fall back on."

"She didn't say that," Lane gasped.  "The trust fund part?"

"Oh, yes, she did," Rory said glumly.

"Well, she didn't mean it.  She was probably just angry."

"Yeah, I know, but what was she so angry about?  I mean, so what, I take a couple of months off?  Lots of graduates have a lull period before they find the right job.  I jumped before, and I jumped into the wrong thing.  And it's just so frustrating, because now, for the first time in forever, I feel actually really good about the way my life is going.  I mean, obviously, I don't want to be frosting cookies for the next three years, but the article I'm writing?  It's going so well.  It's like, I finally remember how much I love writing, and why I love writing.  The day jobs are a small price to pay for that."

Lane nodded.  "That's great, about the article.  I knew you'd find your voice."

"Well, I didn't," Rory admitted.  "And it sucked.  The relief is so huge, and I'm so happy in so many ways, and it just sucks that she wants to take that away from me."

"Do you think maybe she isn't trying to take anything away from you?" Lane asked in a small voice.  "Maybe her concern is coming from a real place."

"A real irrational place," Rory said stubbornly.

"Maybe," Lane conceded.  "But it's not like Lorelai's familiar with the post-college lull period that you're describing.  As natural and normal as it might be, she never experienced that.  So maybe it's scary and foreign for her, to see you without a plan.  She's had these very specific, real-life goals, big and small, since she was sixteen, you know?"

Rory thought about it for a moment.  She was still angry, and unwilling to let her mother off the hook completely; she had said some really hurtful, untrue things.  But she had to admit that Lane had a point.

"Yeah.  Maybe.  She didn't have to be so confrontational about it, though."

"Yeah," Lane agreed.  "And you probably didn't have to be so defensive."

"I hate it when you're wise," Rory complained.

"I know, it's weird.  I'll try to stop," Lane promised.    

They chatted for a few more minutes, reveling in the rare freedom from husbands, babies, and busy work schedules.  Sometimes it took Rory by surprise, how she and Lane had managed to survive immeasurable change, distance, and periods of time when they had hardly had time to talk to one another.  She was struck by a pang of love for her best friend, a combination of nostalgic fondness and a current, pressing gratitude.  Hanging around with Lane made her a better person, and Rory was determined not to take that for granted.  The thought prompted her to consider other things, places—okay, people, she relented—that she'd been known to take for granted.  She walked down Peach blindly, her eyes and fingers busy tapping out a text message to her mother.


♫   ♫   ♫   ♫   ♫   ♫   ♫   ♫   ♫  

When Rory arrived at Luke's, Lorelai was seated at a table in the dead center of the diner.  She waved cautiously; the expression on her face plainly said I'm only sorry if you're sorry, so give me a sign.  Rory approached the table and hesitated for a moment before sitting down.


"Thanks for meeting me," she said.


Lorelai shrugged.  "You know me.  I have to eat every forty minutes, anyway."

Rory gave a slightly uncomfortable laugh.  "So, nice table," she said lamely.

"Our fighting table was reserved, so I had to sit at the make-up table."


"Luke takes reservations?" Rory asked, surprised.  The fighting table was in the far back corner, where they could raise their voices slightly above the normal register.  It was where they sat when they were indulging their stubborn streaks. 

Lorelai looked down at her hands and then back up.  "No," she admitted.  "I chose the make-up table.  And I ordered us the make-up special: burgers, double cheese, double bacon."

Rory's uncertainty melted away.  "You did?" she practically gushed, acutely aware of how insane they were for the weight they gave to something as inconsequential as seating choice.


"Yeah.  I don't want to fight, Rory," Lorelai said, her tone earnest. 

"Me neither!  I want us to understand each other, and then forget the whole thing."


Lorelai nodded.  "So, do you?  Understand me?"


"I think I do," Rory said.  "Listen, Mom, I just want you to know that I know how important responsibility and independence are.  I guess I haven't been acting like it lately, but that's because I never thought you'd doubt that about me.  I mean, I'm the girl who started rolling coins in kindergarten.  The girl who has a crate full of filed receipts for every dress, book, and toothbrush I've purchased since 1998."

Lorelai smiled.  "The girl who paid her first credit card bill twice by accident."

"Exactly.  I know how important it is to support myself and be in control of the rest of my life.  I'm just not ready for the rest of my life to start, like, tomorrow, you know?  I'm not just biding my time, Mom.  This article I'm writing... it's really, really important to me.  It's made me excited about words in a way I haven't been probably since The Daily News.  I feel like you see my time at home as a way to delay my career, my life.  But really, it's bringing me closer to figuring out what those things are going to look like."

Lorelai covered Rory's hand with her own.  "I get that, babe.  I never in a million years want you to think that having you in Stars Hollow has been anything less than a perfect daydream realized, for me.  But I don't want you held back, by me or this town or anyone else.  You're going to have crazy professional success.  I want to make sure you still believe that."


"Oh, I believe it," Rory assured her, only half facetious.

"The 401k stuff... I do think that's important, and I do think you need to be thinking about it," she continued.  "It's one thing to be responsible when you're a kid and don't have much at stake, but your place in the world is changing, and it scares me that you don't seem to recognize that."

"And it scares me that you could think, even for a second, that I'm some spoiled trust fund brat," Rory said, the memory of her mother's words still sharp and wounding.   

"Oh, honey, I was angry, and I never should have said that.  Of course you aren't.  I'm so sorry," Lorelai said, chagrined.

"Mom, I will get a 401k.  I will have health insurance, and good credit, and a solid savings account.  I will have all of those things, I promise you.  But not today, all right?  Today, I'm sort of happy being twenty-three years old and not having to base my decisions around that stuff, for probably the last time in my life.  You know," Rory said, "I have a little bit of wiggle room here that you never had.  But just because I don't have a child to support, doesn't mean I take these things lightly."


"I never compared you to me," Lorelai protested.  "Never."


"You didn't have to," Rory said.  "Mom.  You know I think you're amazing, don't you?  I mean, I don't say it nearly enough.  But you know I'm kind of astounded by you, right?"

"Stop it," Lorelai said, shifting with discomfort.  "I don't want you to think of it that way.  I only did what I needed to, and I have no regrets."


"Exactly.  You did what you needed to.  That's what made you into who you are now.  And a lot of who I am right now came out of being told every single day that the world is mine to have.  You insisted, from the time I was old enough to process it, that I was going to have more opportunities, more chances, more room to breathe.  So now, please, Mom, let me have it," Rory finished.

Lorelai looked at her for a long time, blue eyes bright with tears.  "Keep writing, little girl," she said.  "You know how to drive a point home, that's for sure."

Zach arrived at the table with their order.  "Lunch for the Gilmores," he announced cheerfully.  "Things look pretty heavy over here, dudes.  Hope it's nothing extra pickles won't fix."

Rory wrinkled her nose.  "We hate pickles," she said.

Lorelai picked up a pickle slice with her thumb and forefinger.  "This is what happens when Luke takes the afternoon off.  It's utter mayhem."

"You don't like pickles?" Zach asked, astonished.  "That's like, I don't know, man, not liking banana peppers or something."

Lorelai raised a skeptical eyebrow.  "What's a banana pepper?"

"Oh, Lorelai," Zach said, laying a hand on her shoulder.  "You're in for a very special dessert, lady friend."

He shuffled back behind the counter, and Lorelai looked at Rory with fearful eyes.  "You're eating my banana peppers."

"If I do, will we be cool?" Rory asked hopefully.


"You and me?  Always.  Except..."

"What?" Rory demanded anxiously.

"You got more fries.  Switch plates with me."

"No way!  I have, like, twelve jobs.  I need the sustenance."


At that moment, Kirk came bursting through the diner door.  He made a beeline for their table, and Rory almost laughed at her mother's terrified expression.


"Lorelai Leigh Gilmore, please sign here!" Kirk said, slamming a computer print-out on the table.


"I'm sure I'll regret asking, but what is that?" Lorelai asked.


"It's a contract that limits Lorelai Leigh Gilmore's professional endeavors to businesses and services other than those listed here."


"The movie theater, the beauty supply store, Kirk's Diner (seasonal), pianist, real estate trainee, dog walker, wrapping paper sales..." Rory said, skimming only the top of the list.  "Kirk, this is endless."

"Three pages in total, front and back.  Sign by the 'x,' if you would."


Rory looked from Kirk to Lorelai, then pushed the contract back across the table.  "Sorry, dude.  Not happening."


Kirk looked physically injured by her refusal.  "You have to," he begged.

"First of all, I'm not signin' nothin' without a lawyer," Rory said, invoking a Law and Order persona.  "And secondly, I think a little healthy competition is just what this town needs."

Kirk gaped.  "Competition?"

"Let's face it, Kirk, people have been seeing your ugly mug in every corner of every local business for the past ten years."

"That is true," Lorelai confirmed thoughtfully.


"I, on the other hand, offer these employers a refreshing new face to put behind their counters—"


"Her face is extremely refreshing," Lorelai agreed.


"A set of long, elegant, slender Yale fingers to wrap around those dog leashes and tickle those ivories."   

"You don't even play the piano!" Kirk yelled.

"Yet," Rory warned.

Kirk let out a disgruntled squeak and grabbed his contract off the table violently.  "This is not over!" he vowed, backing out of Luke's slowly and deliberately. 

As the door slammed closed, Rory giggled.  "That was fun."


♫   ♫   ♫   ♫   ♫   ♫   ♫   ♫   ♫  


It had not been the easiest hike Luke had ever taken. He'd checked the AMC website and decided to take April on the Steep Rock/Hidden Valley hike. It wasn't a long hike, seven miles tops, and April hadn't complained once the entire trek. She hadn't said much of anything, only speaking when spoken to, drinking water when forced, and giving peevish answers when Luke asked her if she was doing okay, did she need to stop, how were her feet. The silence didn't feel pointed, and whenever he glanced at April, she seemed thoroughly absorbed by her surroundings. Luke let himself relax and enjoy the time outside, sharing the quiet of the woods and views with his daughter.


When they returned to the truck, parked outside the Washington Depot town hall, she hauled herself into the cab and asked for a fresh bottle of water.


"That was a really nice trail," she said, almost dreamily. "I have so many hypotheses to bring to Biology Club right now."   

Luke handed her the water and cut a glance at her sidelong. "So you weren't giving me the silent treatment that whole time?"


She chuckled. "Not on purpose. I was just trying to soak everything in. I might want to write up the trail for the Biology Club. Spring here is, like, so different than it is out west. I wanted to remember everything."   

He threw the truck in drive and pulled onto the main road. "So you had a good time?"


"Definitely," she said. "And I'm totally starving. Can we stop somewhere?"


"Sure," he said.


"For burgers?"


"Trying to get it all in?" Luke asked, grinning.


She looked at him with a chagrined expression. "Cool girls don't eat meat," she said. "So I'm a vegetarian, at least back there."


"You don't have to be a vegetarian just because everyone else is," he told her.


"Well, duh," she teased. "It's just easier to go along with it. Like everything else, you know? Dressing a certain way, talking a certain way... I don't know, it's just easier." She paused, toying with the label on her bottle.


"But do you like it, even if it's easier?" he asked, genuinely curious. "Are you happy?"


"Some things I like," she admitted. "I like the clothes. I like feeling pretty. All the make up and the earrings and stuff, that's fun. It's nice, not being the freak with the frizzy hair and the huge glasses who wears bunny rabbit sweatshirts to school every Friday. I really like not being the total weirdo anymore. I hate the heels, though. My feet are, like, so messed up right now. But most of the time I don't mind it. And the other stuff..."


Luke waited for her to continue.


"I mean, I like my friends, most of the time," she said, after a lengthy pause. "I wish they wouldn't give me such a hard time about how much I like studying and science and stuff, because it's not like I'm going to do bad at school just because they think it's nerdy. Even if I look just like everyone else, I'm still going to be different like that. They don't care so much as long as I don't talk about it. And they don't see me at Biology Club or doing my homework at lunch or something." She shrugged. "Sometimes I really like hanging out with them."


"Why would you be friends with people who you only like some of the time?" Luke asked, confused. "Why be friends with people who give you a hard time about who you are?"


"Because I wouldn't have any friends at all if I only wanted to hang out with people who were nice all the time," she told him. "No one's nice all the time, especially the girls at my school." She stared out the window. "I'm not even nice all the time anymore."


"And you're okay with that?" Luke said doubtfully.


She picked at her jeans. "Well, I don't know. I'm starting to think it'd be easier if I just didn't say anything sometimes, when girls start getting mean." She looked levelly at her father. "I don't want you to think I'm a bad person or anything."


Luke reached out and smoothed her hair. "I don't think you're a bad person. I just know you're a better person than you've been behaving like the past few days."


"Yeah," she said softly. "I just want them to like me. I want to keep being invited to stuff. It was really hard moving out there, and it's just starting to feel normal."


"You can still fit in without calling someone else a fat whore," Luke said, stumbling on the words. "Or saying your dad—"


April groaned, cutting him off. "Please don't finish that sentence," she said. "That wasn't my best moment. I'll try to be—well, I can't say I'll try to be nicer, because everyone will totally walk all over me, but I can try to be not quite so mean all the time."


"You think that's enough of a compromise?" Luke asked. "Why not just be yourself? I think you're pretty cool."   


She laughed. "Thanks, Dad. I appreciate it, but it so doesn't count coming from you. I'll just do the best I can."


There was a note of wistfulness in her voice that tore at Luke's heart. He gave her a firm pat on the shoulder, assuring her that was all she could do, wishing he could do more, that he could storm into that school and tell every fourteen year old girl what she was missing, making his daughter change to fit their standards. Turning his kid into someone else because it was less painful than being who she was. He wanted to put April under glass, preserve her as she was, keep her from ever, ever changing.


"So," she said, breaking his reverie. "Did I tell you about Biology Club? Because it's so totally cool. It's me and, like, four other people, and our advisor is so cool. We meet before school, so none of my friends really know about it, but it's still totally awesome. We meet every Wednesday, and..."


Luke let her talk all the way about to Stars Hollow, recounting each and every meeting of the club in as much detail as she wanted.


♫   ♫   ♫   ♫   ♫   ♫   ♫   ♫   ♫  


Rory sat on her bed Indian-style, boring anxious holes into the back of her mother's head.  Lorelai was sitting at Rory's desk, in front of her laptop, scrolling through the first incomplete draft of the article.  It was pure torture, this waiting.  Rory had never liked being in the room while her work was read, but nothing had ever felt so heavy with importance.  She had never had so much emotion hinged on one person's reaction before.

"My God, you read slow!  What are you doing, translating it to French?"

Lorelai twisted in the desk chair to smirk at Rory.  "You need to le chill," she said.  Then, after a beat:  "That means "chill" in French."

"You're taking forever," Rory whined.

"I'm almost done!  Ten seconds," Lorelai promised.

It was more like twenty-five seconds, but when Lorelai turned around again, her eyes shone like beacons of pure, unadulterated pride. 

"You're a genius.  I raised a genius."

Rory blushed.  "Stop.  Tell me what you think, really."

"I think that I am genetically linked to a living, breathing literary artist.  I think that in hundred years, people are going to be all, "Fitzgerald who?  I read Gilmore, exclusively.'"


Lorelai walked over and sat next to Rory on the bed.  "I think you're going places, kid."

"Really?" she asked, excitement creeping into her voice.

"This is good, Rory.  It's on the verge of greatness.  You're on the verge of greatness."

Rory rested her head on Lorelai's shoulder.  The hollow of her neck was achingly familiar; it was a gesture that felt simple and ancient and true.  She knew that a mother's praise was the most biased kind there was, but she also knew that never in her life had Lorelai given her false hope.  The truth, she understood, lay somewhere between "good" and "great"; between "promise" and "genius."  It was a line that Rory felt almost ready to walk.








To be continued...  





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