Author's Note: Many thanks to wounded for coordinating this one and being a generally sunny and delightful person, as well as a crack beta; and to Avery and sosmitten for always making me look better than I am. And thanks to everyone involved in the VS8 project, and everyone who's read and commented all season. It's been a really fun season! Comments are love.
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"No, no, no," Rory said, shaking her head. "I am dead serious on this one, Mom."
Lorelai slammed her coffee cup to the table, sloshing the hot liquid over the sides. "Rory! I cannot even believe this is a conversation! You're being ridiculous!"
"I'm being ridiculous?" Rory asked, incredulous. She speared a bite of sausage with the tines of her fork and pointed it at her mother. " You're the one—"
Lorelai sat back, her hands in the air as though in surrender. "Hey, there, little lady, back off with the breakfast meat," she said. "I am simply saying—"
"Nooo," Rory drawled. "You are declaring, at, like historical, Jeffersonian levels, your adamancy on this particular subject. And while I hear you, you are still totally, completely wrong."
Lorelai started to speak when Luke arrived at their table, coffee pot in hand. He looked down at the girls sternly, his brow knit in consternation. "You two want to take it down a notch? You're starting to freak out the customers."
Lorelai rolled her eyes. "Luke, hon, I hardly think—"
"The non-Stars Hollow customers," he clarified. "What the heck are you two shouting about?"
Rory held out her cup for more coffee. She narrowed her eyes at her mother as she spoke. "Mom seems to think—"
"Know, Rory. I know," Lorelai interrupted.
Rory sighed and looked at Luke. "Celebrity Death Match. Sandra Lee versus Martha Stewart. To the death, mind you. Like, no holds barred, any tactic acceptable, down and dirty—"
Her mother sighed. "I think Death Match implies the level of seriousness, Rory." She looked up at Luke. "Martha Stewart versus Sandra Lee. My daughter? Yale graduate, published author? Is backing Sandra Lee." She snorted in disgust. "I mean, really. Can you believe that? Martha is totally going to cut Sandra. Martha is going to annihilate Miss Semi-Homemade, okay? Martha can make a shiv out of the leftover bones of last night's oven roaster," she said, looking at Rory. "Martha is devious. Martha is a convicted felon."
Rory shook her head, rolling her eyes. "Mom! I think you're forgetting that Sandra Lee is the queen of improvisation! She can turn cream of mushroom soup into almost anything!" She held out her hand and began counting off on her fingers as she spoke. "She can wield any kind of alcohol imaginable, which means she's capable of chemical warfare and lighting things on fire; she's not afraid to use something for which it was never intended; and she is a total, crazy, bitch. I think you underestimate just how far Sandra Lee will go to take Martha Stewart out."
"Rory!" Lorelai exploded. "Death is on the line! Martha is like the proverbial Sicilian here! You do not mess with her!"
Rory opened her mouth to protest when Luke waved his hand between her and her mother. "Enough," he said. "You either stop this or you take it outside. These people want to enjoy their breakfasts in peace." He turned to go, but paused to point an accusing finger at Rory. "And what are you talking about, are you crazy? Martha Stewart is the scariest woman alive!"
Lorelai patted his rear as he walked away. "You tell her, babe! Thank you!"
Rory slumped. "Bunch of savages in this town," she muttered.
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It was starting to get dark by the time Rory wiped her hands on her apron and took one last look around Weston's. She ran the mental checklist of closing tasks, and, satisfied that she'd finished them all, glanced at the clock.
Tearing off her apron, she grabbed her bag from behind the counter and scurried outside to lock the door. She took off at a run, yanking the elastic out of her hair, awkwardly combing it back with one hand as she jogged. She was breathless by the time she got to the curb outside Miss Patty's. She slowed and surveyed the crowd that had gathered there on the sidewalk: a long, haphazard line of town meeting regulars winding up the block. Rory found her mother loitering near the line, not in it, making her way to the front one conversation at a time. When she was only three people from the door, she paused and noticed Rory making her toward her mother. She waved cheerfully, calling to her.
"Hey, you!" She brandished a Luke's takeout bag. "I brought dinner for you!"
"My very own Meals on Heels," Rory sighed. "I'm starving, thank you."
Lorelai glanced at her sheepishly. "No problem. I ate your fries. And drank your milkshake."
"And ate half my burger?" Rory asked, peeking in the bag.
"Standing in line makes me hungry?" Lorelai offered, cringing. "You can blame Taylor for making us wait in the first place." She looked back at the restless people behind her. "You think I can get them all to start making sheep noises in protest?"
Rory rolled her eyes. "Why are we waiting?"
"Either there's a big announcement, or there's no announcement and Taylor's stalling." She looked at Rory quizzically. "Sweets, do you know you have flour in your hair?"
Before she could reply, Taylor cracked the doors to the studio and peered out, darting glances up and down the street. Lorelai elbowed Rory, calling out, "Hey, Taylor, can we get this thing started?" The heckling and grumbling that followed from the assembled crowd was immediate. As Rory ducked into the studio and followed her mother to a seat near the front, she could hear Gypsy chanting, "Taylor's a fat head! Fat head, fat head, fat head!"
It was several more minutes before everyone was inside, seated, and done complaining. Taylor paced the small stage behind the podium, worrying at the vee of his sweater vest and talking to himself. Lorelai slouched in her chair to whisper in Rory's ear.
"Why do I feel like he's going to start talking about Wapner?" she asked.
Rory snickered and went back to trying to comb the flour out of her hair.
The crowd was mutinous by the time Patty was able to prod Taylor to the podium. He stared balefully at the crowd a moment before speaking in somber, low tones. "People, I have an announcement. Now, normally, this is something we plan for, we form committees, we make agendas, we—"
"C'mon, Taylor, who died?" Andrew called.
Taylor covered his eyes with one hand. "It pains me to tell you this, but a major motion picture will be filming in Stars Hollow for the next two weeks." The crowd collectively gasped. "Location scouts from a very large, very well-known production company were in town last week." He bit the knuckle of his index finger. He began muttering to himself. "I should have known! No one wanders the town square with a clipboard this time of year except for a sanctioned member of a verified, commissioned—"
Babette got to her feet and shouted over the sudden cacophony of sixty people speaking at once. "Why in the heck are you blubberin', Taylor? Isn't this good? Isn't this like some kinda orgy for ya?"
Lorelai made a face. "Thanks, Babette. It's going to take me years to scrub out that particular mental image."
She was drowned out by a chorus of "Yeah, Taylor!", "what gives?", and a general clamoring for information. Taylor, overcome, seemed unable to make the slightest effort to get everyone to shut up and simmer down. He could only flap helplessly, as though aghast at the prospect of the strangers invading his town. After a moment of stuttering incoherently, he ceded the floor to Patty and sank into a chair, his head in his hands.
"Luke is going to be so sad he missed this," Lorelai murmured. "He's dreamed of this day."
Glancing over her shoulder at the distressed Taylor, Patty tried her best to make sense of what scant details she had for the town. A movie studio had sent scouts to Stars Hollow; they liked what they saw; they would be filming in town for two weeks or possibly longer; they would be staying as locally as possible; they had all the proper permits and licenses; locals would be given the opportunity to audition as extras for certain scenes.
"Miss Patty, do you have any details about the movie?" Rory called. "Who's in it? What's it about?"
"All we know is that Katie Holmes is in it, sweetie. She'll definitely be here filming," Patty announced.
The murmuring in the studio grew louder and louder until, startling everyone, Taylor stood beside Patty and banged the gavel so hard the head snapped off and flew into the crowd.
"People! What kind of anarchists and dissidents are you? Have you no respect for order and the chain of command? What is wrong with—"
Patty gently pushed him aside. "Taylor's a little upset that the production company bypassed local control and took their business straight to the state legislature."
Taylor turned away from the crowd as though ashamed. "Local government has had absolutely no input and, well," Patty shrugged, "it seems that's how everyone wants it for the duration. They—"
"They went over our head!" Taylor shrieked. "Over my head!"
Lorelai's face contorted in a mixture of amusement and pity. "It's like seeing the Emperor without his clothes. Doesn't Katie Holmes produce a more enthusiastic reaction in men? Jumping on couches, flying to Italy? Although befriending Posh and Becks is pretty hardcore," she mused. "I wonder if she'll bring the kid with her. Maybe we'll make it into In Touch."
Rory nudged Lorelai. "I might be able to do something fun with this. Get another article out of the whole circus being in town. What do you think?"
Lorelai nodded. "I can't wait to see what you come up with. Or should I say I don't wanna wait?"
Rory stared at her. "You owe me another burger for that."
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Lorelai and Michel had been bumping into each other all morning trying to field requests from the production company for rooms and catering, juggle bookings for the spa, and to not kill each other. Lorelai was reaching past Michel to navigate the mouse when Tom ambled up, his expression dour. Lorelai matched his frown as she stepped towards him, crossing her arms over her chest.
"What's up, Papa Bear?" she asked. "Looks like someone ate your porridge without asking."
Tom sighed and scratched his beard. "Cute. We're gonna have to shut down the water for a bit."
Lorelai felt the blood drain from her face. They were booked solid for the next three weeks. They couldn't afford to have the water shut down for more than a few hours. "How long is a bit?"
"A couple hours," he said. Lorelai relaxed momentarily. "Every day this week."
Lorelai pressed her hand to her forehead. "Tom, we have a whole entourage arriving today, I can't—"
"I don't know what to tell you, Lorelai, we can't do the work we need to do if we don't shut the water down. It's a plumbing thing," he added. "If you want to give us a schedule, we can try to work to that, but I can't make any promises."
She ran her hand through her hair. "Okay, thanks. I'll get back to you today."
"Regarding what?" Emily asked. She had appeared beside Tom as though out of nowhere, the clack of her heels lost amid the noise of the breakfast buffet, the trucks arriving outside, and Michel abusing the telephone handset after one too many phone calls.
Lorelai cringed. "So you've finally had stealth capabilities added to your arsenal," she said. "That's unsettling." When her mother only arched an eyebrow in response, Lorelai dropped her shoulders like a chastised teenager. "Tom has to shut the water off for a while. For a few hours. Every day."
Emily turned to Tom for an explanation, which he repeated in a monotone that suggested he had no interest in staying to hear whatever was to follow. When he was done, Emily looked at Lorelai, her face puzzled.
"I don't see what the fuss is about, Lorelai. The affected rooms aren't even in use at the moment, and it's not as though you've so many reservations on the book you can't just shuffle new guests into the rooms that won't be quite so close to all the noise and dirt," she said.
Lorelai crossed her arms over her chest. "And you would know about our occupancy and reservations how?"
Emily lifted her chin, readying for battle. "Michel has made an electronic version of the reservation book available to me, given that I am now a fully vested business partner in this enterprise. He's even put it online. Apparently it's amazing the things you can do with Snoogle these days."
"Oh, really?" She could hear the shrillness creeping into her voice but decided she didn't care. She glared over her shoulder at Michel, who was sipping espresso and looking, in Lorelai's opinion, far too pleased with himself. "Michel? Are you Snoogling my mother?"
Michel looked up. "Gooooogle," he corrected.
"Okay, well, would you care to weigh in on this conversation? Since you're the one who made my mother a part of the concierge service, perhaps you'd like to confer about how best to handle the current situation." She matched her mother's defiant expression and continued, "Did your informant happen to mention that there's a movie filming in Stars Hollow for the next two weeks, which means that we're now booked solid for the foreseeable future?"
Emily adjusted her purse on her shoulder and began walking towards the coffee service in the dining room. "Well, obviously you're going to have to call and cancel. It does seem bad business at first, but the likelihood of these people ever returning—"
"You don't know the likelihood of anything," Lorelai scoffed. "Unless you've suddenly become Zoltar."
Emily continued as though she hadn't been interrupted. "—is slight, and therefore won't ruin any future relationship you'd need to maintain. It'll only be a week or two before the impacted rooms are available again, and as they weren't booked before this morning, it's not as though you'll lose any money on the entire process anyway."
"That's not the point, Mother," Lorelai said. "Not entirely, anyway. This is a business opportunity, and—"
"And so is the spa, and you're going to benefit from that far more in the future than you will on housing the few cameramen and production assistants who need to stay locally, rather than in one of the bigger chain hotels in Hartford," Emily said reasonably.
"I feel like I should be offended by that," Lorelai muttered. "I'm not saying you don't have a point. I'm saying my point is better. And that you don't get to make these kinds of decisions."
Emily smiled. "Yet." Lorelai stood fuming, her mouth agape, as Emily waved Michel over. "And what do you think, my dear? Jam in the lower-ranking film attendants, or devote all the time and manpower we need to have the spa open as scheduled?"
Michel didn't hesitate. "If the water is off, people will complain. The fewer people the better."
Lorelai narrowed her eyes at him and strode towards her office. "C'mon, Mom. We have a meeting with the decorator, again, because you've changed your mind about the lavender room, again, so we can table this for now." She glanced over her shoulder. "Michel, you're grounded. Comment card duty until further notice."
"What does that entail?" Emily asked.
Lorelai could hear Michel stamp his foot and issue a steady string of curses in French. "Typing up all the guests' comments and suggestions from the last six months," she said. "I feel better now."
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Rory had volunteered to be a pair of extra hands at Luke's as long as the production was in town, running deliveries, waiting tables, and helping with clean up when needed. She'd convinced Luke to make a few dozen sandwiches and salads she could bring to the set to drum up business for the next few weeks. She started to regret it as she struggled with the basket of sandwiches over her arm, bumping the door of the diner open with her hip. The bell above her jangled, repeatedly, as she struggled with the toy red wagon full of potato chips and packaged salads behind her, and Luke rushed to help her hoist it out onto the sidewalk.
He shaded his eyes and gazed across the street, an expression of contempt on his face. "Freakin' noise," he said. "If it weren't for how nuts this is making Taylor, I'd be a lot more pissed about the whole thing."
"And the tips," Rory added. "The tips are going to be good."
He patted her on the shoulder and pointed her in the direction of the town square. "You keep 'em. Caesar kept trying to put his phone number in under the plastic wrap of the sandwiches."
Rory snorted. "He knows Katie Holmes is married, right? And that she probably doesn't eat at all, let alone sandwiches?"
Luke handed her a small apron to carry the money in, telling her there was plenty of change if she needed. And, he added, if people asked to pay with credit, she could tell them where to put their cards.
"In your ever-grateful palm?" Rory laughed.
It took two ham sandwiches and three bags of potato chips, not to mention the promise of free pie for the security guard posted at the sidewalk to let Rory through, despite the fact that the production had called ahead and requested the meal. He gave her a pass and a warning: deliver your food, stay out of the way, and don't approach Ms. Holmes.
If the plethora of jobs she'd held in the past few weeks had given Rory any new kind of confidence, it was in her ability to go up to complete strangers and insert herself into the conversation without embarrassment, as long as there was food to be offered. She smiled as she handed out plastic-wrapped turkey on whole wheat, made casual small talk as she tried to find barbecue chips or the right salad dressing lost in the red wagon. When she approached a trio of PAs arguing over a page of script, she decided to inch out a little further on this new limb. She wasn't sure exactly what she was fishing for, what kind of article she hoped to write. If anything, it would have to be silly, emphasize the weirdness and audacity of a Hollywood production taking over her small town. And, she thought, if all else failed, she could probably get her mother to help her brainstorm an insane satire piece for McSweeney's; between the two of them, they were bound to hit on something mockable. Regardless of what the end product was, she'd talk to as many people as possible, trying any tactic she could for a decent angle or candid conversation. This was nothing she'd ever tried before, and while she felt a slight stir of guilt, a twinge that she was going just a step too far, she set her shoulders and decided. What the hell, she thought.
"Sandwiches?" she offered. "I've got salads and chips, also." The PAs glanced at her with mild interest. "From the diner across the street, the food is excellent. I've been eating there since I was ten, I can totally vouch for it."
"Oh, a local," one of them said knowingly. "Cute town."
"We think so," Rory said. Her voice sounded slightly different to her own ears, as though she were playing the part of Rory Gilmore, Small Town Local. It made her feel that they'd see her as the sock-monkey-making artist David Sedaris made fun of in "Twelve Moments in the Life of an Artist," but the notion didn't bother her as long as she got what she wanted. "We're all so excited you guys are here, you have no idea. I mean, we make everything a big deal in this town, but this is an actual big deal." She smiled brightly. "Do you know where else they were scouting before they decided on Stars Hollow?"
One of the PAs shrugged. "Pretty much every other town in Connecticut and Rhode Island that looks like this. I think it was the gazebo that clinched it."
"Not like they couldn't have built one," another added, his mouth full of salt and vinegar potato chips.
"Well, we're just so glad you guys are here," Rory simpered again. "What's the movie about?"
They all shifted uncomfortably. "You know. Romantic comedy. Small town girl, heading to the city," one said. "That sort of thing."
"No way! Wow," Rory said. "That is so interesting. So how did you guys get involved?"
The tallest of the three swallowed a bite of turkey and wiped his hand across his mouth. "Thanks for the sandwiches, but we should really get to work."
She held up her free hand, feigning apology, and moved on. She tried a different tack with the next group she approached, pretending to be slightly bored and unimpressed by the whole thing. She got only a little more information from them, as well as the sense that everyone on set was vibrating at a very high frequency. With the next person she approached, a woman somehow involved in set design, she returned to her "aw, shucks" routine and commented that everyone seemed so worn out; movie making must be so hard!
"Well, Ms. Holmes is producing, so there's some added pressure there," she said, shrugging. "That's how it is in this business, sometimes."
"I don't know anything about it," Rory said, widening her eyes. "Is this typical, what you guys have going on here? If you're not too busy to explain what you do, obviously. I'm just so curious about the whole production, and what you guys are doing here."
Just then she felt a heavy hand on her shoulder and turned, startled. The security guard, apparently through with his enormous lunch, steered her hard away from her target and helped her in the direction of the sidewalk.
"Excuse me?" she yelped. "I'm sorry, did I—"
"You been here forty-five minutes, girl," he told her. "I been watching you work the crowd. You deliver your sandwiches next time and go, you got that?"
She shook herself away from him, scowling. "I think that's a little uncalled for. There's certainly no need to assault me like that."
"I run a tight ship here," he said levelly. "I don't let anybody rock it, least of all some small town girl thinking she's Barbara Walters."
Rory gaped at him a moment before spinning on her heel and heading back for the diner. "Barbara Walters! Please. At the very least, Diane Sawyer."
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"And then he has the nerve to call me Barbara Walters!" Rory finished, reaching towards the donut display. "I mean, really. Like Baba Wawa ever went anywhere incognito."
Luke slapped her hand away from the plate of pastries. "You're as bad as your mother. If you're going to steal free food, at least be sanitary," he told her, handing her a set of tongs.
Rory twisted on her stool, talking at Luke as he hurried to a table near the back window. The lunch rush had just ended, and the entire place was a mess of dirty plates and used napkins, the floor littered with debris from tables being carelessly wiped clean.
"Luke, I was just kicked off public property in my hometown! And manhandled, too! I have some righteous indignation to work out here, and I get the very distinct impression that you're not listening to me."
Luke sighed and braced himself against the table. "You want me to go over there and kick that guy's ass? Because I'll go over there and kick that guy's ass," he said seriously.
She smiled and shook her head. "Nah. I mean, not that you couldn't take him, but I'm not done poking around yet." She squinted thoughtfully, and Luke resumed bussing the tables in the rear of the diner, whisking a towel across the top of each table as he went. "I may have burned all the goodwill on deliveries, but I can probably work that if I pretend that you threatened to fire me," she mused.
Luke grunted in response.
"I just don't know who to talk to, you know? It's not clear who's doing what, really, and I can't just go around quizzing people randomly until someone—"
Luke nearly dropped the container of dirty dishes on his way back to the counter, and he cursed as he tried to regain his balance. Rory picked at her donut, muttering to herself, and was on the verge of asking Luke another question when the phone rang.
"Yeah? Okay, how long?" Luke sighed at what he heard. "No, that's fine, but if you think you're gonna be later, you call, okay?" He hung up the phone harder than necessary and scratched at his stubble. "Zach's gonna be late. The boys are crappy, or something."
Rory giggled. "Croupy," she corrected. "I don't have to be at the bookstore for a few hours. I can help you clean up."
Luke looked at her askance. "You sure?"
"Yes. And I'll stop talking about the movie thing," she said, sliding off her stool. "You look like you're about to turn Lou Ferrigno green over there."
He handed her a bottle of surface cleaner and a rag, shaking his head. "Not at you." He glared at the window between the diner and Taylor's store. "Frickin' Taylor. All day long he's been creeping up to the window, trying to see the town square better. Tapping on the glass, trying to get me to give him updates." He raised his hand and held his forefinger an inch from his thumb. "I'm this close to pulling his head through the glass so he can get a better view."
Rory clucked her tongue. "Poor Luke. Can't even have fun with Taylor's mental breakdown."
He pointed at her. "You know what you should do? You should go into that store of his and steal one of those freakin' buttons."
"What freakin' buttons?" she asked.
He waved his hand in irritation. "They're these stupid pins he made up. They say something idiotic like 'Official Stars Hollow Resident,' or something. He's giving them out at the check out to 'select citizens' who have, according to that fascist, 'shown extraordinary devotion to the preservation of Stars Hollow's moral and historical integrity.'"
Rory glanced up from the table she was cleaning. "Those are some pretty specific details you've got there, Luke. How'd you hear about it?"
"Ran out of soy milk this morning—"
He made a face. "That's a whole other story. Anyway, ran out of soy milk, so I stopped into Doose's to get more, and Taylor's handing out these elitist buttons to whoever he deems worthy."
Rory smothered a smile. "You didn't get one, huh?"
He ignored her. "You go in there, you steal one of those, and you get yourself on that set. You show 'em what a real Stars Hollow extraordinary citizen is."
She grinned. "Thanks. I never thought I'd hear you promoting thievery for the town benefit, but it makes me a little proud of you."
"You should just go steal 'em all."
She started to laugh. "Go, Luke!"
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Emily was waiting for her when Lorelai emerged from the kitchen after a sneak break turned into a snack extended vacation. Lorelai shot her mother a dirty look.
"How long have you been standing there?" she asked.
"Long enough to hear the racket those men are making outside. I can't believe you're really considering letting people stay in—"
Lorelai held up a hand. "Mom, I just got sucked into a twenty minute conversation about the merits of the gooseberry, a fruit I can promise you I've never once in my life tasted or even heard of. Apparently, the gooseberry is a true berry, as opposed to most fruits we think are berries but which are really, botanically speaking, false berries. And while 'False Berries' sounds like a really good name for an emo band, in general, it's more information than I ever needed about things I usually only eat in pie or jelly form. Can you give me a minute?"
Emily followed her to the front desk in silence. Once there, she took a breath to speak.
"I have heard what you have to say," Lorelai said. "And while I appreciate that it's not the greatest situation, I think financially, with the spa opening, and with a long-range view to the future, it would be irresponsible to cancel these reservations. We will make every accommodation we can for them while they're here, but most of the time, the work will be done while they're filming, and as long as the sheets are clean and the water's running when they get back, I think we can manage."
Emily looked at her a long moment. "You've obviously given this a great deal of thought in the past—" She glanced at her watch. "—four hours. And seeing that I've never had one iota of influence over any other stubborn, hasty decision you've ever made, I'll keep the rest of my thoughts to myself."
"Wouldn't that be a first," Lorelai muttered.
Emily narrowed her eyes, proving herself as adept at withering looks as her daughter. "Shall we—"
A deafening clanking, followed by a series of small pops and the distinct sounds of water splashing cut off Emily's invitation. Lorelai glanced at her mother, and together they rushed towards the back of the inn. Lorelai skidded to a halt in the back hall, Emily knocking into her from behind. She stumbled, nearly falling forward into a fresh pool of muddy water.
She looked down at her feet, already feeling the water seeping into her twelve-dollar bargain sandals. "Oh, Chewy. I have a very bad feeling about this," she moaned.
Emily stepped back a few feet and began pointing at the workmen scrambling with tools and rags. "You, there, you. Tell us what happened. You tell us right now what happened."
One of them looked up, nonplussed. "Hit an air pocket in the pipe. We're working on it."
"I can see you're working on it, what do you plan—"
Lorelai reached back and grabbed her mother's elbow. "Tom. We're gonna go find Tom, and we're going to discuss this. We're going to talk about how it happened, and we're going to talk about the damage, and then we're going to find out who I have to kill and if the mess around here will make it easier to hide the body."
"I'll help," Emily said.
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Rory had been watching Doose's from across the street for twenty minutes before she made her move. The front of the store was crowded, the lines three people deep and both registers running. She sidled in, grabbed a pack of Twinkies from a rack near the magazines, and, for good measure, that week's copy of Life and Style. A quick visual check of the counters showed that Taylor had the pins on his side, under his notoriously watchful eye. Rory mussed her hair and tried to look tired as she slid her purchases onto the counter. The bucket of pins was just to the left of the register, closer to her than to Taylor, but right in front of her.
"Life and Style, hm? Trying to keep up with this hoopla going on outside?" Taylor asked.
"I like to be apprised of goings-on in general," she said.
Rory made a show of yanking her wallet out of her purse, sending a pen flying through the air. She peered over the countertop. The pen had fallen behind Taylor and rolled to the very edge of the small space in which he stood, ringed as he was by the check out counter.
"Dang, that's my favorite pen. Would you mind?" she asked, gesturing.
Taylor, rolling his eyes, bent low to pick it up, and while his back was turned, Rory palmed one of the buttons and slipped it into her jeans pocket.
"This is just a regular ballpoint," Taylor whined. "This is your favorite pen?"
Rory shrugged. "I have the cap chewed up just right," she said, smiling broadly. "Have a good day, Taylor."
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"So your plan is what, exactly?"
Rory swallowed the last of her Twinkie and wiped her hand on the seat of her pants. "Go in. Be inconspicuous. Get people to talk to me."
Lane chuckled. "You need to think bigger, Rory. Red wig, fake mole, fake passport. Put them off with a little misdirection so you can really infiltrate—"
"And bring back the real Rambaldi device?" Rory laughed. "Poor Lane, stuck at home with the crappy babies. Croupy," she corrected herself. "I'm spending too much time with Luke."
"Well, I've got the binoculars out, so try to move distinctly and stay in my line of vision. It's the triangular area directly in front of the gazebo. If you can get people to face the apartment, even better. Zach and Brian are on their way back with Brian's telescope," she said.
Rory glanced up at the apartment and waved.
"Like that," Lane said. "But bigger. I can see the button, but I can't read it. What does it say, again?"
"'Proud Local Representative and Stars Hollow Expert.' When are you guys getting the DVR fixed?"
"Not soon enough," Lane intoned. "Make me proud, Gilmore."
Rory slipped her cell in her purse and squared her shoulders. She didn't have sandwiches or a little red wagon this time, just the five-inch, neon pink button affixed to the lapel of her favorite corduroy blazer. She tossed her hair and set her face in the most authoritative expression she could muster, preparing to walk right through the new, temporary gates and right into the town square. Maybe enough attitude really would get her past the security guard.
This one was new, bigger, and burlier. He wore mirrored glasses and a black tee shirt stretched too thin. She was over a yard away when he got to his feet to block her path.
"Help you, Miss?"
She smiled a shiny, plastic smile. "Well, I was actually hoping I could help you guys!" She fingered the button on her coat. "I grew up in this town, so I am a verifiable expert. I lost my first tooth in that gazebo." She frowned. "I fell down trying to chase a bird. It's an embarrassing story, but, you know. Local color! You guys need it, I got it."
"You are the sixth person to try to get in with one of those buttons today," the guard told her, unimpressed. "You want in, you audition to be an extra along with the three hundred other people lining up in Hartford. Until you're cast, I can't let you in."
Her face fell. "Come on! I'm a Proud Local Representative!" she told him. "And I really am an expert! Ask me about how the town was founded. Go on, ask me. I know both stories by heart."
He said nothing, his expression stony.
"I can get you free pie?" she offered. When this got her nothing as well, she turned on her heel. "Rats."
Her phone rang before she'd made it back across the street. "You call that trying? Get back over there and flash the man!"
"Okay, I am calling the cable company for you," Rory said.
♫ ♫ ♫ ♫ ♫ ♫ ♫ ♫ ♫
Lorelai drilled her nails against the desktop, and the angry noise satisfied the black mood she was in. The phone rang three times before she heard the familiar greeting: "Luke's." It wasn't in anyway a relief to hear, though it usually could temper whatever ill humor she was in when she called.
"We have a plumbing situation," she told him, skipping a greeting.
"So call a plumber," he told her.
She rolled her eyes. "I'm asking you to come down here. Maybe there's something you can do?" she asked hopefully.
"A," he said, "you didn't ask, and B, there's nothing I can do that Tom or any of his guys can't."
"Yes, but I would feel better if you came down here and took a look," she said. "If only so there's someone to stand between me and my mother when she says 'I told you so' and I proceed to go Jerry Springer all over her."
She could hear him musing it over, scratching at his beard. "I'll be there in fifteen minutes."
"I owe you," she said.
"Heard that one before," he muttered. "Don't expect to take it out in snuggles this time."
"My snuggles have premium street value, pal," she said. "Seriously, though? Thanks, babe. See you in a bit."
Emily leaned against the office doorjamb, her hand on her hip. "What could Luke possibly do that the workmen here can't?" she asked.
Lorelai didn't look up from pretending to flip through her date book. "You two working together, now? Going to double team me like some Jackie Chan, Chris Tucker duo from hell?" She raised her head. "Totally redundant."
"I don't see why we can't leave things to the professionals," Emily said, ignoring her.
Lorelai folded her hands and rested her chin atop her fingers. "Because, Mom, the professionals decided to recreate Old Faithful for people too strapped for time to drive all the way to Yellowstone."
Emily stared at her daughter levelly a moment before turning on her heel to go. "You ought to have a more level head in a crisis, Lorelai."
She was gone before Lorelai could find a good projectile on her desk.
♫ ♫ ♫ ♫ ♫ ♫ ♫ ♫ ♫
Rory sat on the curb outside Luke's, fuming over a cup of coffee. Eyes narrowed, she watched the security guard across the street. He looked bored. He kept shifting his weight from one foot to the other and massaging the back of his neck with his left hand. She decided he had tiny, pig eyes, and his arbitrary barring of the gate was an affront to journalistic freedom. And hometown pride. And the satisfaction of a long-held curiosity about what a gaffer really does.
She took one last swig of coffee and got to her feet, brushing her hands over the seat of her pants. She turned to bring the cup inside and saw Taylor pacing the walkway in front of the store, muttering to himself. When he produced a tape measure from one of his sweater pockets, she decided she'd rather not know. She told Caesar, who was manning the diner in Luke's absence, that she was taking a quick break, and started her first lap around the square.
There had to be an alternate way in, she thought. She'd lived in this town long enough to know the gaps in the shrubs and which trees you could walk between and which held the cranky squirrels or the birds with the highest accuracy rate. On her second lap, she decided that she could possibly sneak in behind the gazebo, but given that most of the filming was taking place in the gazebo itself, she'd probably be tossed out on her ass before she could say "little Joey Potter."
On her third, and she decided, last time around the park, she saw Babette lounging on a bench with Lulu and Gypsy on either side of her. Babette waved to her, shouting, "Honey! You should see the food they got in here!"
Rory laughed. "How did you get in?"
"Some guy told me I could come in if I stopped talkin'!" she hollered. "Fat chance!"
"Think you can help me out?" Rory asked. "I'm trying to do an article, I think!"
"Sorry, sweetie, you gotta have a badge! I'm hanging onto this one, someone said tomorrow they're gonna have a barbecue!" Babette called. "Tell 'em you're Katie Holmes' body double!"
She waved, shaking her head and smiling, and Babette returned to chatting with the others. She lingered, trying to decide if she'd accomplished anything today other than make Tom Cruise's Most Wanted list. The whole day suddenly seemed embarrassing. She turned to go back to the diner, shuffling her feet. She passed a trio of students leaning against a lamppost, two of whom were flipping through the pages of a manuscript while the third smoked. Rory nodded her head as she passed.
"Hey," the smoker called. He was short, with close-cropped hair so blonde it was nearly platinum. "Luke's?" he asked, pointing at her tee shirt. "That place have good coffee?"
"The best in town," she told them. "And I say that as a caffeine junkie, not just someone wearing the tee shirt."
He looked over at his friends, another guy and a girl, both roughly Rory's age. They both had the same look about them, olive skin and sloe-black hair. Even their crooked smiles were similar. The smoker gestured towards Rory. "She says this place has decent coffee."
"Just plain coffee," she added. "Luke doesn't do anything that requires special machinery."
"I'll take anything that doesn't taste like steel marinated in a tar vinaigrette," the girl said.
Rory pointed in Luke's direction and left them to their script. As she approached the diner, she saw Taylor just outside, his tape measure in hand as he studied Luke's walkway.
"Taylor, what are you doing?" she asked wearily. "You know if Luke sees you anywhere near his place with a tape measure he'll send out the hounds, right?"
Taylor put his hands on his hips. "I'll have you know, young lady, that I have Luke's best interests at heart, here."
"Which would probably only piss him off," Rory said. "What are you doing?"
Taylor tried to affect nonchalance, raising his chin and speaking in an airy, yet aggrieved, tone. "I am cordoning off the sidewalks."
"I've been through the permits and assorted paperwork filed for this so-called production," he said. "I have read them all thoroughly, several times. Nowhere in any of their documents, not the A157—"
"Taylor," Rory interrupted. "The Great Illustrated Classics version, please? This has been a very long day."
"They don't have permission to film on sidewalks, in alleys, or on any footpaths leading directly in or out of the town center," he said. "I am putting up a perimeter. Just watch them—"
She interrupted him again. "Don't cordon or perimeter anything by the diner, please. You'll have to talk to Luke if you want to do that."
"You think Luke will want these hooligans traipsing around in front of his business?" Taylor began. Rory could see him ramping up for a speech, and rather than interrupt again, she simply waved her hand and continued inside.
"I want my button back!" Taylor roared.
The diner was empty, save Caesar, who was lounging at the counter, reading Rory's cast-aside copy of Life and Style. She poured herself a cup of coffee and let him read a story about Heidi Montag's handbag collection for toy dogs until the bell over the door rang. The three students she had just met filed in, taking surreptitious glances as they wandered to a table and sat down.
Rory got to her feet. "Regular, I'm assuming?" she asked, and they chorused an agreement.
"Are you Rory? Do you know there's a guy out there demanding people rip a button off your shirt?" the girl asked.
Rory cut a glance to the front window. Taylor turned and pretended to be walking away. "We're looking into sending him to Dr. Phil. He has boundary issues," she said. "Can I get you guys anything else? Pie?"
They declined the pie and sat quietly chatting. Rory resumed her seat at the counter with her idea notebook. She wasn't really brainstorming, just doodling her name in different styles, wasting time. She wanted to go home, write this day off, check her email, and watch America's Next Top Model reruns on MTV. She could feel eyes at her back, though; she shifted in her seat, looking over her shoulder.
The girl grinned her lopsided smile again. "I'm sorry," she said. "I heard you saying before, you're writing an article about the production? Do you work for the local paper?"
Rory shook her head. "I'm just looking to build a portfolio, I guess," she said. "It's not often stuff like this happens around here, I figured why not."
"Feel free to ask us anything," the girl said. "I'm pretty sure no one actually knows we work on set."
Rory sat up straighter. "Really?"
She brought the coffee pot over and spent the next half hour talking to Zodi, the girl, her twin brother Jamie, and their smoking friend Kyle. Zodi explained they were mostly production assistants, but their nominal job was to film behind-the-scenes footage for the DVD and a making-of documentary that would eventually air on HBO. None of them seemed terribly impressed by the production itself, but they answered Rory's few questions about the daily operations and provided a few anecdotes about the various weirdness of working on a set. She scratched her notes on the back of her draft, messy half-sentences and words underlined three or four times.
"So what do you guys do when you're not following people around on set?" she asked. "Is that your primary job?"
Zodi rolled her eyes and sat back, cradling her coffee cup to her chest. She shot a look at her brother, who tapped a knife against the tabletop. "We're trying to make a documentary," he said. "We're kinda struggling with the funding right now. That's why we took this job in the first place. Kyle's dad knows a guy who knows a guy, they helped us get this gig so we'd have some cash to get us started." He paused. "Kinda makes Zodi nuts."
Zodi shrugged. "It is what it is. It's a job. You do the job, you get paid, if you're lucky, you might make enough to go out and make the art you want to make, if that's your bliss. And if you don't, you take another job and keep working 'til you do. I get it. It's a pain in the ass, but everybody has to do it at one point or another."
Rory considered this. It was true, and it was something she felt she was trying to figure out every day, how to do that exact thing. "What would your documentary be about?"
Kyle had a short, barking laugh that startled Rory so she nearly dropped her coffee. "I think at this point it's mainly about Zodi's obsession with Oprah."
Zodi threw a napkin about him. "It's about parochial and private schools in Africa. Rural children being pulled from village schools and sent to private institutions at the expense of who, and why, and what happens to them afterwards. We've had contact with a few families who are willing to let us film over there, we just need to get the funds."
"Plane tickets are mad expensive," Jamie said.
Rory picked up her pen again. "So, what are you hoping to find out? What do you want people to know?"
"You mean why's it important?" Zodi asked.
Rory considered this. "Yeah," she said. "Why is it important?"
Zodi took a breath. "Well, it's actually interesting how we came to this idea..."
♫ ♫ ♫ ♫ ♫ ♫ ♫ ♫ ♫
Lorelai paced the hall, waiting for Luke to emerge from the flooded area with his assessment. Emily was seated in the corner, flipping idly through a magazine from the library.
"This is taking up valuable time that could be used to—"
"Mom, I beg you not to finish that sentence, we've only just barely stopped having that conversation," Lorelai moaned.
Luke stepped into the hall, shaking water from his boots. Lorelai clasped her hands under her chin and looked at him hopefully. "Well?"
He lifted his hat and rubbed his head. "Well," he said.
"It does appear we have one out there, yes," Emily offered.
"Tom's right," Luke said. "He's going to have to refit the pipe, and—"
"Luke, babe, it's not that I don't appreciate the whole Home and Garden commentary here, but faster would be better," Lorelai interrupted.
Luke looked at her darkly. "What they had to do was a big job before, now it's a bigger job. They're going to have to shut the water off. It's going to be noisy. It's gonna stink. You probably should stay out of Tom's way and let him do what he needs to do."
Lorelai's heart sank. "But we can keep the rooms on this side the building open, right? I mean, it's not like the water has to be off altogether, right? Right?"
Luke's expression softened. "Well, it's a burst pipe, Lorelai. You turn the water on to this side the Inn and it's going to keep flooding. It's gotta stay off until the whole thing's fixed."
She could feel her mother smirking behind her without even turning to look. "It can't stay off," she said. "I have people coming."
"I'd tell 'em to go somewhere else," Luke said slowly. "Unless you're ready to install some sort of bailing system—"
"Yes!" Lorelai gasped. "I am more than ready to install some sort of bailing system!"
"Lorelai," Emily intoned. "You wanted Luke's opinion and he gave it. He thinks these rooms should be closed off for the time being. I think you should make your phone calls before people are stranded without somewhere else to stay."
"There has to be another way," she said, desperate. "Luke?"
Emily stalked past, shouldering her purse. "You do remember that the captain of the Titanic died, don't you, Lorelai? Good night, Luke, I'm sure I'll see you tomorrow unless you're able to reason with her tonight."
Luke watched Emily go, and when she was safely around the corner, Lorelai smacked him lightly on the arm. "You just had to take her side, didn't you?"
"I didn't know there were sides," he said. "I thought you wanted to know about the plumbing."
She threw her hands in the air. "That captain was just trying to do his job." With that, she headed for her office, muttering to herself.
♫ ♫ ♫ ♫ ♫ ♫ ♫ ♫ ♫
The Lorelais sat curled up on either end of the couch, snacking from an economy-sized bag of popcorn.
"I mean, I'm not sure what their ultimate goal is, but it sounds like a really interesting project. It brings up all sorts of questions about education, government versus local control, all that," she said. "I just really envy them, going to Africa to pursue this. It just seems so—I don't know, it's just such a massive commitment to something they don't even know is going to succeed."
Lorelai nodded absently, flipping past Bravo for the ninth time in her quest for something new to watch. "It does sound like a Meryl Streep movie in the making," she said. "Might be a nice subject for an article. Young auteurs, throwing caution to the wind, all that. And for what?" She grinned. "I just wrote your pull quote."
"A decent effort," Rory said. "And they're not entirely throwing caution to the wind. They are trying to save up before they go. They're making preparations."
"Yeees," Lorelai said slowly. "But they still don't know the outcome. It's pretty dicey."
Rory shoved a handful of popcorn into her mouth. "I just think it's really admirable that they feel that strongly about it. About the subject, about making a film, about trying to say something. To feel so compelled to document something, to commit it to the medium you love, that you fly twenty hours to a place where you don't know anyone and just go for it? That sounds so amazing to me. Having such a passion for something like that, it's just inspiring."
Lorelai studied her daughter a moment. "It's good to hear you sound so excited. But don't get so inspired you go to Africa, okay? I just upgraded my phone, and that's a two year contract to my current plan. You can be passionate in Duluth. You could probably be passionate in Canada, but only between Vancouver and Quebec."
Rory threw a piece of popcorn at her. "Has anyone ever been passionate in Duluth?"
Lorelai smiled wickedly. "Oh, the stories I could tell. Let me just say that's a Meryl Streep, Bridges of Madison County kind of movie, not Out of Africa, Silkwood Streep."
Rory scooted down on the couch, curling up and kicking her mother under the blanket they shared. "See, now you're just talking gibberish. Put on Jon and Kate."
"Plus Eight!" Lorelai finished. "Cool." She paused. "If you ever have six babies at once—"
"Yeah, never gonna happen," Rory laughed.
♫ ♫ ♫ ♫ ♫ ♫ ♫ ♫ ♫
The lights were still on in the bedroom when Lorelai made her way up to go to bed. Luke was snoring lightly, sleeping with a magazine open on his chest. He was still dressed, but his bare feet hung over the edge of the bed. Lorelai smiled and gently took the magazine from him before trying to ease his feet onto the mattress.
He grunted awake. "I'm not sleeping," he said blearily.
"I know, babe. You're wide awake," she told him. "Why don't you get undressed and under the covers so you can be not sleeping more comfortably, okay?"
"Mmpf," he said, rubbing his face with the palms of his hands. "You going to sleep?"
"In just a minute," she told him. She went to the bathroom and began searching for floss. "What if we cut the room rate? You think we could still book people in those rooms if we did it at a prorated price? The cost of the room minus the cost of water?" she called.
Luke pulled the covers back on the bed. "Seriously, you want to talk about this now?"
"Seriously, what are we on Grey's Anatomy now?" she retorted. "I'm not ready to give up on those rooms."
"Lorelai," Luke groaned. "If I admit I was sleeping, will you let me out of this conversation?"
She came to kneel on the bed as she flossed, trying her best to look pleading and pathetic as she did. "Come on, Luke, it's doable, right? It's not such a crazy idea?"
Luke threw his flannel in the hamper and hung his head, standing there exhausted in his jeans and bare feet. "I love you, but it is such a crazy idea."
"Lorelai, you're running the risk of making people sick, okay? That's not just well water, there's sewage and wood that's drying out and—"
She climbed off the bed, sighing heavily. "Fine, whatever. Take her side."
Luke watched her stalk back to the bathroom and close the door. "Can I go back to sleep now?" he asked plaintively.
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Rory had arranged to meet Zodi, Jamie, and Kyle in the morning for another interview before they had to be on set. When she arrived at the diner, they were picking at the remains of their breakfasts. She grabbed a cup of coffee for herself and slid into the empty chair at their table. She flipped to a new page in their notebook and asked if they could explain again how they knew what they wanted to film, how they got started.
It was a brief story; Zodi had read something on a wire service that piqued her curiosity, and after a little research and a lot of wheedling, had gotten her brother and friend involved as well. She shrugged. "I just felt like this was something I really wanted to talk about. It was something I thought more people should care about, you know?"
Rory nodded her head emphatically. "I totally understand."
"You must have the same feeling when you're working on a story," Jamie added. "An idea just strikes you and you go with it. You gotta ask yourself, what do you care about?"
She answered the rhetorical question without thinking. "Everything."
Kyle chuckled. "Us too."
Zodi tapped the table with her index finger, all enthusiasm and earnestness and, Rory thought, sentimentality. "But this is the great thing about this story—and I think every good story—it's about this one thing but so many other things. It's about education and poverty and health care, it's about the future of—"
Jamie yawned. "Can it, Zodi. It is way too early for that."
Rory smiled a little and ducked her head, slightly embarrassed for the other girl. Zodi sat back and flicked a crumb in her brother's direction. "One thing is never just one thing. You can always make it bigger, connect it to something else," she said. "And I'm done, J, so stop looking at me like that."
Kyle began fidgeting with a pack of cigarettes, rattling his chair a little. "Guys, we should probably—"
"Yeah," Jamie sighed. "Time to make the doughnuts."
Rory got their numbers and email addresses before they went. She sat at the table a long time, lost in thought, until Luke rousted her to ask if she wanted something to go with the cold cup of coffee at her elbow.
♫ ♫ ♫ ♫ ♫ ♫ ♫ ♫ ♫
The inn was quiet for the first time in days. Lorelai wandered toward the back, thinking that the absence of clanging construction noises was either very good or very bad. She found her mother deep in conversation with Tom, but as she got closer, she understood that they were talking only about the best fertilizer for heirloom roses. She cleared her throat just before she reached them. Tom's expression didn't change, but Emily's face hardened just slightly, as though she were steeling herself for another battle.
"We called everyone we had booked in the drought rooms. Everything's settled. We'll keep them closed," she said. She held out her hand, pleading a little with Tom. "Sooner is better, okay? At least so we're back on schedule with the spa, because I'd hate to lose any more reservations because the expansion's made reservations impossible for the foreseeable future. I know you guys are trying, but I am begging: I do not want my inn to turn into the next Big Dig, okay?"
Tom nodded and took off. Emily smirked sidelong at Lorelai as they walked to the kitchen. Her silence was pointed.
"Say nothing," Lorelai told her.
"I do say nothing," Emily replied. She paused. "Sometimes, I am right."
"Sometimes, I could kick you," Lorelai retorted. "I may have been a little overly optimistic, that's all."
"That's all?" Emily balked. "Lorelai—"
She stopped and grabbed her mother by the elbows. "Mom, I am ceding the issue to you. You were right. I was misguided. Please, for the love of God, don't rub it in. Rubbing it in is all well and good at dinner when you're making fun of my broken heel or the bad dye job or whatever other thing I've done this week that you told me not to, but when it comes to this place, I need you to be graceful and calm, and I guarantee you, when you're wrong and I'm right, I will do the same, okay? That is the only way this is going to work without voodoo dolls or intervention via a reality television personality, okay?"
Emily gently shook her arms loose. "You handled Tom very well back there. I think you've made the right decision," she said, after a moment.
Lorelai breathed a sigh of relief. "Thank you, Mom. Would you like to join me for some coffee?"
"That would be lovely," Emily returned. "Now, maybe we can talk about the curtains in those closed rooms, given that we have the time."
Lorelai pinched the bridge of her nose. "Oh, mother Mary give me patience."
"What was that?" Emily said.
Lorelai started humming "Let It Be" and gestured for her mother to follow to the kitchen.
♫ ♫ ♫ ♫ ♫ ♫ ♫ ♫ ♫
The production company had not been gone a half hour before Taylor was back in the square. He first ascertained that all major landmarks were there and untouched. He took a slow lap around the square, noting anything in his head that needed touching up, replanting, or perhaps a decorative floral fringe. Satisfied, for the most part, and with his mind full of improvements, he stood in the center of the gazebo to gaze out at town's small center, his pride and joy, his domain.
His face crumpled when he saw the square in its entirety and all the beautiful, fresh spring grass: flattened, trampled, torn, ripped up at the roots. His hands balling into fists of rage, he closed his eyes. His howls of pain and anger could be heard all the way down at the Chat Club.
"Damn you, Katie Holmes! Damn you!"
To be continued...
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