Episode 10.07 "Everybody Needs A Little Wiggle Room"
by Robinpoppins, DiehardJavaJunkie, & wounded


Authors' Note: A big thanks, firstly to Robinpoppins for stepping up and helping with the writing duties on this episode! Kudos to Jewels and sosmitten for their help as well! Hope y'all enjoy this one with all its "blast from the past"-y goodness!  

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Monday morning, Sookie fluttered her eyes open. Her body seemed to beg for some more sleep, but Sookie knew there was never enough sleep to be had in the Belleville house. She strained to see the time on her bedside clock: it was 6:30.

This was a strange occurrence indeed. The kids didn't need to be up until 7, but they normally would be squealing and crying by 6 a.m. Sookie let out a happy sigh, appreciating the unusual quietness. Sleeping in was a rarity in their home, and she was going to indulge.

She rolled over a bit, craning her neck to get a peek at Jackson whose back was facing hers. Sookie sighed. There was a time in their relationship when they'd happily take the small amount of quiet time in the house to steal a kiss, cuddle, anything. When they were still in their honeymoon phase, they would sneak out of bed early in the morning, gargle a mouthful of Scope, then rush back to bed—minty-fresh and in love.

She didn't know where it stemmed from, but Sookie felt a distance between them and wanted to bridge that gap.

She turned to Jackson, taking note of his forced stillness and shallow breaths. Instead of reaching out for him she rolled back over, and she too feigned sleep.

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With her laptop case and purse strung on one shoulder, and a cup of coffee in her other hand, Rory walked briskly into her office at the Courant. She expected the customary greeting from the receptionist at the front desk, but was surprised to find the desk empty. A few desks over, she spotted the receptionist in question, hunched over a computer with one of the copy editors, and chatting in hushed tones.

"I heard he cuts half of the administrative staff whenever he buys out a company," Rory managed to catch from Janie, the receptionist, as she passed the desk.

"That can't be true," the copy editor chimed in. "No owner wants to do their own filing."

"He probably kept all his secretaries," Janie said knowingly, pushing her glasses up her nose. "He's a shark, that's all I'm saying."

Rory weaved in between some desks, waving at two women from classifieds who were attempting to look busy by standing at the copy machine, but really using it as a front to chat.

"He's a fox," one commented, vaguely gesturing to the conference room where they appeared to be staring. "Think he's single?"

"Men that powerful never are," the other one remarked.

Rory shook her head as she passed them, avoiding that conversation at all costs. She glanced around the room briefly before rounding the corner to her cubicle, noting that very little work seemed to be getting done. Small groups of people, huddled in corners and around desks, were abuzz with chatter, and although that wasn't unusual, she sensed something was going on.

She entered her cubicle and dropped her bags onto her desk. As she unzipped her laptop case, Sandy, her cubicle neighbor, popped her head over the divider.

"Good, you're here. Come please," Sandy said with a gesture, her tone not leaving any room for protest. "I need to settle a bet."

Obediently, Rory abandoned her laptop on the desk and filed out of her cubicle, finding Sandy and Joe, another features writer, staring intently into the conference room window.

Sandy grabbed Rory's arm and pulled her in closer, earning a yelp of surprise from Rory. "Do you know that man?" she asked, pointing into the room where several well-attired men sat around the table in serious discussion.

"Lou?" Rory questioned, picking out an editor she knew in the bunch.

Joe snorted in response, and Sandy huffed. "No, not Lou. The one next to Riggins. Grey suit, purple tie."

Rory squinted as she scanned the room for the man matching Sandy's description, and then had to suppress a gasp when she realized who it was. "That's Mitchum Huntzberger," she managed to choke out.

"See!" Sandy said triumphantly, elbowing Joe in the ribs. "Everyone in journalism knows Mitchum Huntzberger."

"Well, forgive me for being clueless," Joe exclaimed, throwing his hands up in defeat. "I wasn't even a journalism major. I was just a chemist with a dream."

"You've worked here for seven years, you should know things," Sandy pointed out. "Huntzberger owns like twenty-five newspapers now."

"Sixteen," Rory corrected, not able to pull her eyes away from the conference room. "Give or take a couple. Five papers in Connecticut alone."

"Wow, really?" Joe said, his eyes widening. "This is big news, then."

"Apparently," Sandy stated, rolling her eyes. "Since our jobs are all on the line if he's buying the Courant. Did you hear that rumor about Stamford?"

"No," Joe said. "What about it?"

"Subscriptions are down nearly 25%, and I heard that Huntzberger was going to can 75% of the workers and concentrate on turning it into an online press. My friend over there said he's likely to only keep a few journalists in each category, and freelance everything else."

"That's pretty radical," Joe stated, frowning. "He'd never be able to pull it off."

"Hey, the guy can do whatever he wants. He has the money and the power." Sandy shook her head in disgust, and took a sip from the mug of coffee in her hand. "What do you think, Rory?"

"I..." Rory trailed off, her gaze lingering on Mitchum in the conference room. "I don't know. I should go back to work." She walked away from Sandy and Joe briskly, feeling immediate dread at Mitchum Huntzberger's presence in her workplace. She could hear Sandy and Joe arguing as she made it back to her cubicle. She sank down into her chair and let out a breath, apprehension apparent in her expression.

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That same morning, Lorelai—all dressed-up and ready for work—walked down the stairs and into the diner with Ellie in her arms. Ellie too was bundled-up and ready for a day at the Dragonfly.

"Luke!" Lorelai called into the kitchen as she reached for a nearby baby chair, strapped Ellie in, and sat down on her favorite stool. "Coffee, no milk for me, and milk, no coffee for our daughter." She looked down at her baby girl. "That will change soon enough, kid, I assure you."

Luke exited the kitchen with a couple of breakfast plates in his hands, placing them in front of an elderly couple at the other end of the counter.

He walked back to his wife, leaning over for a kiss. "Good morning again," he told her. He did the same for Ellie. "No food?"

"Just a donut for the road," she told him. "Sookie's experimenting with a few potential omelet recipes for the menu, and I am her guinea pig this morning."

Luke nodded and proceeded to fill Lorelai's order while Lorelai tickled a giggly Ellie. "And today, we're going to eat lots and lots of eggs," she cooed. "And we're going to annoy our oncle Michel, and then take a well-deserved nap in Mommy's office!"

As Luke handed over a cup of coffee, warm bottle, and donut to Lorelai, the bell above the diner door jingled and in walked Jess, duffle bag in-hand.

"Jess?" asked Luke, walking around the counter and toward his nephew. He leaned in for a hug. "How are you?"

"I'm doing great," Jess told him, looking over at Lorelai and Ellie, and then back at Luke. "Just thought I'd stop by and see everyone for a couple of days."

"That's so nice," Lorelai said, hoping she sounded convincing.

"That's good to hear," Luke agreed, patting him on the back. "Have you seen your mother and TJ?"

"Not yet, but I'll be stopping by for lunch."

Lorelai got up to leave. "Well, Ellie and I are off to the inn. It was nice seeing you, Jess."

"Actually," Jess began, walking towards her, "why don't I take Ellie for the day? I can take her off your hands, get to hang out with my cousin a bit, and bring her over to Liz's so she and Doula can play."

"That's nice of you Jess, but I've got it covered," Lorelai told him, rebuffing his offer. She looked up at Luke, who didn't look too pleased with her.

"Jess has taken care of Doula a bunch of times," Luke offered, giving Jess a reassuring smile. "Ellie'll be okay."

"I do have a long day ahead of me," Lorelai admitted. "So I'd appreciate the help. Thanks, Jess."

"Cool," he said, bending over to pick up Ellie. She squealed with delight.

"Um, okay, bye then." She leaned down to kiss Ellie's head, gave Luke a peck, and waved goodbye to Jess, handing him the bottle as she walked away. "I'll see you tonight."

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Later that morning, Lorelai sat at the kitchen counter at the inn, sampling a few of Sookie's new egg creations. As Sookie stood over the oven, Lorelai complained with a full mouth about the return of Jess.

"And he just wandered into the diner, swooped in, and took my sweet baby girl!" Lorelai rambled, then looked down at the plate Sookie had just placed in front of her. "What's this?"

"Three-cheese and spinach," Sookie told her.

"Blech. Veto!" Lorelai said, pushing the plate away. "Next!"

Sookie sighed and took the plate away, substituting it with another option. "Apple, cheese, and cinnamon."

"Mmm," Lorelai uttered happily, digging her fork into the omelet eagerly and continuing. "So, now I'm not sure what Jess is doing with Ellie. He's probably helping her shoplift from Doose's for the first time. That's supposed to be my job!"

Sookie laughed. "It'll be okay," she assured her friend. "Hey, I have a question."

"Shoot," Lorelai told her, taking a bite of omelet. "Good, but needs more cinnamon."

"It does not!" Sookie said, reaching over for the plate, but Lorelai pulled it away.

"Your question?" Lorelai asked her, sampling another taste of the eggs.

"Right," Sookie said. "How long have you and Luke been together?"

"On-and-off?" Lorelai asked. "Almost six years, I guess."

"And in that time, have you and Luke ever experienced any problems, any distance?"

"Um, you were there during the Luke-Lorelai chasm of 2006, weren't you, Sook?" Lorelai teased, now able to joke about the low-point of her and Luke's relationship.

"Right! Sorry," Sookie said, remembering. "But recently, have you, um, lost interest in sex? With Luke?" Her last words were a whisper.

"With Luke, yeah, but me and my Latin lover Pablo are still going strong," Lorelai joked, but saw Sookie was serious. "A little bit after the pregnancy, but never a complete loss of interest." Lorelai looked at her best friend with concern. "Is everything okay, Sookie?"

"I don't know," she admitted. "I love Jackson, but lately, things have been off in our relationship. The sex is non-existent, and it seems all we focus on is the kids. It's like we've forgotten that we're a couple, or don't seem to care about the fact that we're a couple."

"You guys have been together for ten years," Lorelai reminded her. "I haven't been with anyone for that long, but things change after all that time. With three kids, it's normal."

"Is it?" Sookie asked, unconvinced. "I mean, what if it isn't just a dry spell?"

"What else could it be?" Lorelai asked, curious and concerned.

Before Sookie could say anything else, Michel wandered into the kitchen, calling for Lorelai's help in regards to a mix-up with the linen delivery.

Alone in the kitchen, Sookie sighed and took a pensive bite of the omelet Lorelai had abandoned. "It doesn't need more cinnamon!" she proclaimed.

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"And over here, advertising." Rory heard her boss' voice project over the top of her cubicle. She looked up from her laptop where she was attempting to pound out an article for her deadline the next day, and glanced around, knowing he was near her small cluster of desks.

"Here are some of our feature writers and editorial staff," her boss continued, somewhere in the vicinity of Sandy's desk.

She saved her article, then pushed her chair away from the desk and peeked around the corner, spotting several men and women in suits coming her direction, including Mitchum. Rory attempted to wheel her way back into her cubicle unnoticed, but one of the men in the crowd that she recognized smiled at her. She weakly returned the smile and stood, seeing Sandy walk out from her cubicle as well.

"Gentlemen, these are a couple of our writers in this division, Sandra Miles, and Rory Gilmore."

A couple of men presented their hands to both Rory and Sandy. As the group began to walk again, Mitchum shook Sandy's hand. "Sandra Miles, nice to meet you," he said warmly. "I've been very impressed with some of the feature articles I've read this year."

"Uh, thank you," Sandy stammered, clearly taken aback by the compliment. She shot Rory a wide-eyed look.

"And Rory," he greeted, his voice brightening even more as he shook her hand, holding on to it a few seconds longer than he did Sandy's. "It's great to see you again. How have you been?"

Rory nodded meekly, avoiding glancing over at Sandy who was clearly shocked. "Great. Thank you for asking." Rory could hear her boss droning on and making more introductions in the distance, and the line of well-dressed men and women filed past her desk.

"I better catch up," Mitchum said, pointing to his group. "Tell your family I said hello."

"I will," she agreed. Mitchum gave her a friendly pat on the shoulder and quickly rejoined his group. As soon as he walked away, Rory turned to Sandy.

"Okay, when I asked you if you knew Mitchum Huntzberger, I probably should have clarified," Sandy said, grinning. "You really know him."

"He's friends with my grandparents," Rory offered in explanation, sighing.

"And so naturally you are friends with him as well," Sandy deadpanned, raising an eyebrow.

"I may have also dated his son."

"And the truth comes out!"

"I don't want to talk about it," Rory said with a groan, turning to go back to her desk.

"Hey, I'm not judging," Sandy clarified, following Rory into her cubicle. "I think it's cool. I've been a Mitchum Huntzberger fangirl for as long as I've been in the biz."

"Says the woman who was playing 'It's the End of the World as We Know It'," at her desk on a loop for the last hour."

"Doesn't mean I don't know what he's capable of."

"That's what I'm worried about," Rory said, frowning.

"Well, at least you have an in. You can put in a good word for me."

"I don't think having an in really matters in the long run. He's only going to keep the best."

Sandy gave her an appraising look. "Like you aren't one of the best."

"I don't want to get into this again. It was a week-long affair last time," Rory said, taking a seat on her desk.

"But the 'Sandy is the Best!' cake sure was good."

"Go back to work," Rory exclaimed, giving Sandy a slight push.

"Yeah, yeah," Sandy said, rolling her eyes. "But I want to hear more about this Huntzberger thing later."

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Rory escaped from her cubicle with a yawn. Her article had been completed and sent off to her editors, and she was taking a well-deserved break. Keeping busy in her cubicle for most of the day had allowed her the luxury of avoiding Mitchum, and for that, she was glad.

She trudged into the break room, making a beeline for the coffee pot, but stopped short when she saw Mitchum pouring coffee into a thermos. Inwardly groaning, Rory turned and decided to raid another coffee carafe.

"Rory," Mitchum said warmly, causing her to jump. "I didn't see you there."

She turned back around. "Hi. Sorry, just came in."

"You probably came in for this," Mitchum said, gesturing to the empty coffee pot apologetically. "I'll get another pot started."

"Oh, no, that's okay. I can make it."

"Nonsense, I used up the last of it. I need to make some more. Break room rules," he said with a grin.

"I, uh... It's just that I like it strong," Rory insisted, brow furrowed as she walked over to the cabinet and pulled out a Starbucks blend.

"Strong it is," Mitchum agreed, and he filled up the carafe with water. He took the blend from Rory, spooning coffee onto the filter. "I'm very impressed with your offices here. I bet you enjoy it."

Rory nodded, unsure of what to do with her hands now that Mitchum took the job of making coffee away from her. She leaned against the counter. "I do."

"There are some great ideas in op/ed. I'm thinking about adapting them and sharing with some of my papers."

She remained quiet, unsure of what else to say in his presence, nervously tapping her thumb against the lip of the counter.

"I haven't seen your grandfather at the club in awhile. I heard he was teaching again." Mitchum leaned against the counter himself as the coffee bubbled and percolated.

"He's been busy," Rory offered in explanation.

"I bet. I've been asked to teach some classes in the past, but I couldn't possibly fit it into my schedule."

They lapsed into silence as the coffee finished brewing. Rory bit her lip and looked down at her shoes; Mitchum fidgeted with his tie. Hearing that the coffee was finished, Rory grabbed a Styrofoam cup and filled it. Mitchum picked up the basket of assorted sugar packets.

"Cream and sugar?"

"Oh, no, thanks. I like it black."

He laughed. "I definitely respect that. You're a purist. Shira's got me hooked on those flavored creamers. Addicting stuff."

"They really are," Rory agreed. She took a slow sip. "I should probably go back to work," she said, gesturing in the general direction of her desk.

"Yes, and I should rejoin the masses. It's been nice talking to you."

"You too," Rory said with a small smile. "Tell your family hello for me."

"I definitely will. I'm sure they would love to hear that I saw you."

They exited the break room at the same time, turning in separate directions.

"Oh, and Rory," Mitchum called out, pausing and turning back around to look at her.

"Yes," she responded, anxiously gripping her cup.

"I've been reading some of your articles, and I like what I see. Keep it up."

With a short nod of recognition, Mitchum turned in the direction of the elevators and quickly walked into the hall, leaving Rory immobile in confusion.

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"Luke, can I get another cup of coffee, please?" Taylor asked without letting his eyes wander from the newspaper in front of him.

"I'll be with you as soon as I can, Taylor," Luke barked, continuing to take an order from a table of five across the diner.

Taylor sighed heavily as he looked from the coffee mug to his right and back to the newspaper. Folding up the paper, Taylor scooted the mug to the far end of the table. As he glanced around the room to see where Luke was, he saw Gypsy and Andrew standing directly in front of him. He jumped.

"Must you scare me like that? Announce yourselves, for goodness sake!" Taylor grumbled, reaching for the paper again.

"Taylor, this is really important. We need to talk to you," Andrew insisted.

Taylor opened the paper and folded it over. "Look, this is my only free moment of the day—"

"Shut it, Taylor. It will take like, five minutes max. It won't kill you to talk to us," Gypsy replied.

Taylor rolled his eyes. "Fine. What can I do for you?"

"We wanted to approach you about having a town square wedding," Andrew started, looking to Gypsy for backup.

Taylor held up his hand. "Let me stop you right there."

"We haven't even finished telling you what we were planning!" Gypsy argued. "You won't even let us finish?"

Taylor shook his head. "Unfortunately, Stars Hollow has been hit hard by the economy and we simply can't afford to throw you a wedding in the square."

"You can afford to bring a photo recognition expert for celebrity doppelganger week so Stars Hollow can have the most accurate Facebook pictures, but you can't afford a DJ and some food for a wedding?" Gypsy questioned. "And you know how many other citizens got town square weddings? There's a book full of names going back to the 1850s!"

Taylor took a deep breath, needing a moment to compose himself. "To be fair—"

"Nothing about this is fair, Taylor," Gypsy snarled, placing her hands on her hips.

Taylor placed the paper aside and crossed his arms. "Is it fair that I've been approached on my lunch break by two people who seem to already have it in their heads that they deserve a wedding in the square? Is it fair that I've been sitting here arguing with you while I could be enjoying my time to myself?"

Gypsy took a deep breath and Andrew placed his hands on her shoulders. "Okay," Andrew started. "We get your point. We'll try back another time."

Andrew led Gypsy out of the diner, attempting to calm her down as Taylor reached for the coffee mug at the end of the table. He dragged it over to find that it was still empty.


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"All right, everyone, we're just about finished, but we have one more item on the agenda this week. If we all cooperate, we'll be out of here in five minutes or less," Taylor insisted.

"Since when have you attended a town meeting where the final item on the agenda takes less than five minutes?" Luke grumbled from the back of the room.

Taylor sighed. "Hence the importance of cooperation, Lucas. Now, I'm afraid I have some bad news."

"Uh oh," Babette croaked, turning to her right to glance at Sookie and Jackson.

"This doesn't sound good," Jackson echoed.

"That's why it's called bad news, people. Let's not delay this any longer. Unfortunately, due to budget constraints, we have to cancel the Firelight Festival this year."

The townspeople reacted immediately, firing all sorts of questions at Taylor and demanding an explanation. Taylor reached for his gavel in an attempt to bring the meeting back to order.

"Everyone needs to calm down. It's only one of many, many festivals we have every year," Taylor offered.

"Yeah, it's one festival, but it's not one of the crazy new ones you come up with every year," Lorelai started. "It's a town tradition!"

"You of all people should understand that," Jackson agreed.

Taylor sighed. "Look, I'm just as upset about it as all of you are. But unless you're planning on paying for this festival out of your own pockets, it's a no go. The economy's bad for everyone, including us, and we can't afford another festival. I'm sorry."

Miss Patty leaned forward in her seat. "Taylor, we just had three or four fundraisers. Where did all that money we raised go?"

"I'm sorry, Patty, but I'm afraid it's not that simple. The budget goes to more than just festivals. We have to devote our funds to many things in order to keep our beautiful town running smoothly, and right now the Firelight Festival isn't one of them," Taylor explained.

"That doesn't answer the question, Taylor. Where did all our money go?" Luke asked, crossing his arms.

"Something's fishy about this whole situation," Gypsy added. "He's being very vague. I hate vague."

"Just tell us, Taylor!" Kirk blurted out.

Taylor cast a disapproving glance in Kirk's direction, and Kirk immediately returned to his seat, his eyes turned toward the floor. "Look, I'm sorry to disappoint everyone, but we've already financially overextended ourselves. We simply don't have the wiggle room to include the Firelight Festival this year."

"Wait, we went over budget?" Lorelai asked. "You didn't say that before."

Taylor's eyes widened. "I didn't say we went over budget."

"You said financially overextended. It's the same thing," Andrew agreed.

Taylor sighed. "All right, fine, we went just a smidge over the budget for the Winter Wonderland festival, but ultimately, we don't have the money. It doesn't matter why, or how, or what we spent it on, but we're out of money, and we can't have the festival."

"Taylor, how much did we go over?" Miss Patty asked.

"That's not important. What is important is that we look forward. We have plenty of other spring festivals coming up, and we—"

"We deserve an answer, Taylor!" Babette argued.

As the townspeople fired questions at Taylor, he tried to calm them down enough to explain himself. He took the gavel and struck it against the podium. "Quiet down! I will try to get to everyone's questions as long as we remain orderly!"

"How much, Taylor?" Gypsy asked.

Taylor sighed. "Three thousand."

"Three thousand dollars?" Babette shrieked. "Taylor, that's not just a smidge."

"Lulu's going to be so disappointed," Kirk muttered. "It's tradition."

"You're darn right it is," Babette agreed. "Morey and I have been going to that festival for years."

"I've taken each of my husbands to that festival," Miss Patty added.

The room erupted into chaos once again, and after several failed attempts to get the townspeople's attention, Taylor slipped out of the studio, unnoticed.

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That evening, after an awkward dinner in the cramped apartment, Luke had went to get some painting done at the house with Jackson's help, leaving Lorelai and Ellie alone with Jess.

"Be good," Luke warned Lorelai as he kissed her goodbye.

"Just call me Glinda!" Lorelai told him in mock cheer. "I'll see you later."

After bidding him goodbye, the evening was spent in silence. Lorelai sat on one end of the sofa reading a magazine, with a playful Paul Anka nipping at her feet, while Jess sat on the other end, playing with Ellie. After a while, even Paul Anka drew away from Lorelai, puttering over to Jess and Ellie, his tail wagging.

"Traitor," Lorelai muttered.

The television was on, playing a repeat of How I Met Your Mother, and Lorelai and Jess were both absorbed in doing their own thing.

That is, until Ellie seemed to get fussy. Jess looked over at Lorelai cluelessly. "She okay?" he asked.

"She probably needs a diaper change," Lorelai told him.

"Oh," Jess said, relieved. "I thought something was wrong. I'll change her."

"No, it's fine," Lorelai told him, getting up off the couch and reaching for Ellie.

"I really don't mind," Jess insisted.

"It's ok, thanks. Besides, you don't want to be stuck up here with us. Don't you have something else to do? Maybe see your mom and T.J., catch up with some old friends..."

"Are you trying to get rid of me?" Jess joked.

"Moi?" Lorelai asked, blushing at the accusation. "I just honestly think that you'd rather be out, instead of stuck here with us."

"Okay," Jess agreed half-heartedly. "I guess I can go see if Luke and Jackson need help."

"That's a great idea," Lorelai told him with a smile.

Jess nodded, stood up, grabbed his coat from the hook, and exited the apartment.

After he shut the door behind him, Lorelai let out a breath and jiggled Ellie in her arms. "Well, that went well!" she told her daughter, and then took her towards the changing table.

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Later that evening, Luke had enlisted Jackson's help to finish painting the house. The living room was left, and Luke and Jackson each took one side of the room, and were progressing nicely.

They didn't say much to one another—they really weren't a chatty pair—but during a beer break, Jackson seemed to have something he wanted to say.

"Hey, Luke?" asked Jackson tentatively, reaching for a few carrots in the bowl that sat between them. Luke was the only man, besides himself, who enjoyed a good crudité with his beer.

"What's up?" asked Luke, taking a swig of beer.

"Can I ask you for some advice?"

Luke looked up at Jackson and narrowed his eyes. "Uh, sure. I guess."

"Great!" Jackson was eager to express his marital concerns with someone, anyone. He figured -or hoped, really—Luke might have some answers.

"Sookie and I are having, uh, a bit of some trouble," Jackson began.

"Financial?" Luke asked, concerned.

"Um, no," Jackson corrected. "More emotional and, er, sexual."

"Aw, jeez," Luke let out, visibly uncomfortable. "I don't think I'm the right the guy for this..."

"It's just," he went on, "we don't seem to be connecting anymore, not talking as much, and the sex, well, it's been forever since—"

"Yeah, yeah, I'll stop you right there," Luke interrupted. "Um, there's no communicating at all?"

"Not unless it's about the kids or work," Jackson admitted, then sighed. "It just seems that we're... bored with one another, really."

"Listen," Luke began seriously. "Going through major problems with someone you love is rough. It's made all the more difficult and complicated when you brush the issue under the rug. Just sit down and talk with Sookie. I'm sure the root of the problem will pop up after that."

"Thanks, Luke," Jackson told him. "You're a good friend."

Luke put a friendly hand on Jackson's shoulder and then stood up. "Let's get back to work."

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"Keep it up," Kevin repeated, his brow knit as he sat back in the couch. "And that was it?"

"Pretty much," Rory sighed, leaning into the throw pillows against the arm rest, her legs in Kevin's lap. "I mean, the man was chatting up a storm before that, and then he just left. No explanation, no examples, nothing."

"Did you expect him to have a power point prepared?" Kevin joked, squeezing her foot.

"No!" Rory let out, frowning. "But a little direction would have been nice. I don't even know if the feedback is positive or negative."

"He said he liked what he saw. I think it's positive."

"To normal people, yes, but to Mitchum Huntzberger?"

"I really wish you would stop using his full name, I know who he is now."

"I just wish I knew what was going on."

"Me too, babe. I hate that feeling of not knowing if you'll have a job next year." Kevin rubbed her leg tenderly, shooting her a sympathetic grin.

"But it's not just me, it could be any one of my coworkers as well. At least I have a boyfriend to share the rent with and some money in savings. But Sandy? She has two kids and her husband is currently unemployed. And Allie is getting married next month and is paying for the wedding out of her salary. Oh, and Lynn, one of the secretaries, is raising her three grandkids."

"It'll work out," Kevin reassured her.

"But it might not, and we might all lose our jobs."

"Then I'll keep you away from any and all marinas."

Rory looked at Kevin and smiled. "Funny."

"I thought so."

"So you're saying not to worry about it?"

Kevin shrugged. "You won't know what's going to happen until it happens."

"I know."

"And either way, I'll be here."

"Good to know."

Kevin pushed Rory's feet off his lap and scooted closer to her. He pushed the hair away from her face and kissed her, and she leaned into him, sighing contentedly. "Need a pick-me-up?"

"What do you have in mind?" Rory asked, arching an eyebrow.

"You. Me. Chinese. Bowfinger. Oh, and the ability to let all your pent up emotions out by screaming 'gotcha, suckers!' as much as you want."

"Add some ice cream and I'm sold."

Kevin grinned and pulled Rory in for another kiss.

♫   ♫   ♫   ♫   ♫   ♫   ♫

Around midnight, Jackson crept into the house, trying to be as quiet as possible. He and Luke had a lot of painting to do that went on until late; with Sookie likely asleep, he figure a discussion was best suited for another night.

He still had no idea what he wanted to tell Sookie, and no clue how to broach the subject.

Once at the top of the steps, Jackson slowly pushed open the door too the bedroom. The room was dark and the light from the hallway illuminated his wife.

As Jackson pulled off his jacket and looked around for a pair of pajamas, he heard the sheets wrestle on the bed.

"Jackson?" a sleepy Sookie asked. "What time is it?"

"It's after midnight," he told her.

"What took so long?"

"There was just a lot of painting to do," Jackson explained.

They stared at each other in the silent room. Jackson figured this would be the perfect time to bring it all up, to sit and discuss, but he could feel himself chickening out.

"Listen, I'm sorry I woke you up," he told her. "Go back to sleep. I'll come to bed in a sec."

Sookie just nodded and snuggled back into bed and rolled over. Jackson sighed, frustrated, and grabbed a t-shirt before heading to the bathroom.

♫   ♫   ♫   ♫   ♫   ♫   ♫

"And now," Lorelai said with dramatic hand gestures for Ellie's benefit, "Locke is not really Locke, but Not-Locke, or I guess people are calling him Flocke, is using Locke's body to get what he wants. Make sense?"

Ellie, seemingly not paying attention to the story her mother was telling her, banged a teething ring against the high chair. The ring slipped out of her fingers and fell to the floor with a clatter, and Ellie's face twisted as she let out a whine.

"Yes, that's right," Lorelai praised as she picked up the teething ring from the floor and wiped it off with her shirt. "When Jack cries in the jungle it's called Jears."

"Please tell me you aren't still trying to tell Ellie the story of Lost," Luke groaned as he approached the table. He patted Ellie on the head as he passed by the high chair, then refilled Lorelai's coffee mug and set down waffles on the table.

"Seemed like a good idea two hours ago when she wouldn't go back to sleep. I think I'm losing my voice. Do I sound hoarse?"

"Sounds good to me," Luke said gruffly, refilling the mugs on the table behind Lorelai.

"What if the same thing that happened to Julie Andrews happens to me and I can't sing anymore?"

"Then God help us," Luke deadpanned, pulling out a chair to sit next to Ellie.

Lorelai cut into one of her waffles. "You're grouchy."

"Long night."

"How was painting?"

"Long." Luke sighed and rubbed the bridge of his nose. "Can I ask what happened with you and Jess last night?"

Lorelai's nose wrinkled. "Can I say no?"

Luke rolled his eyes. "Lorelai."

"Hon, I know what you're going to say."

"Do you?" Luke said, leaning into his chair.

"I'm your wife, and Jess is family, and we should play nice."

"That's the gist."

"I'm working on it, babe. I really am."

Luke let out a breath, placing his arm on the back of Ellie's high chair. "I know."

"I just..." Lorelai trailed off, setting down her fork. "I don't know. We just haven't spent a lot of time together. I don't know how to talk to him."

"I know that too. He's not the same kid, Lorelai. You might find some things in common that you didn't have before."

"Yeah, I'm starting to see that."

Luke reached across the table and wordlessly took Lorelai's hand.

She smiled. "Like I said, I'm working on it."

"That's all I ask."

Lorelai's phone rang from inside the purse and she picked up her bag and began to dig for it. "Drat."

Luke scowled and pointed to the "No Cell Phones" sign, then rolled his eyes when Lorelai saw this and answered the phone anyway.

"Hello? Michel, it's early. This better be good," Lorelai answered, looking at the clock on the diner wall and seeing it was 7:00. "Ugh, I'll be right there." She hung up the phone and frowned.

"What's up?"

"Delivery screw up, and Michel's irate. I have to go Jack Bauer this. Got Ellie?"

"We're good," Luke said, picking up Ellie from her high chair and giving Lorelai a kiss on the forehead.

"I'm sorry about the Jess thing."

"I know you are."

"You sure know a lot, Mr. Wizard."

Luke grabbed Lorelai by the sweater gently and pulled her in for a kiss. After a few moments, Lorelai pulled away and grinned, seeing that Luke was smiling too.

"Go to work," Luke said, giving her a small push to the door.

"Aye, aye," Lorelai responded. She kissed Ellie on the cheek and walked out of the diner.

♫   ♫   ♫   ♫   ♫   ♫   ♫

Rory walked into the conference room with her laptop and a cup of coffee, and spotted a seat next to Joe, which she hurriedly snatched up.

"Heard anything?" Joe asked in lieu of a greeting.

"Just rumors. You?"

"Not much. But I've been doing my Huntzberger research."

"Maybe no news is good news," Rory offered with a shrug.

"And you call yourself a reporter."

Sandy came into the room in a flurry, sinking into a seat next to Rory, and dropping her notepad on the table with a thud. "What have you heard?"

"Well, that new version of 'We are the World.' Apparently, the music community is unaware that Michael Jackson is dead," Rory said.

Sandy and Joe glared at her.

"Too soon?"

Sandy looked at Joe for an explanation, and he shrugged in response.

"It was a joke, guys," Rory explained. "And a bad one, I guess."

"Sorry," Sandy said, letting out a breath. "I just want to know if I still have a job."

"Yeah, me too," Joe agreed. "I have mouths to feed."

"You're single, Joe," Sandy admonished. "Talk to me when you have two kids."

"Hey, I have a dog."

Sandy crossed her arms in anticipation of a rant. "That so doesn't count. You know my biggest pet peeve is when people compare their pets with someone else's kids."

"I hate sitting between you guys," Rory sighed.

"Why?" Joe and Sandy asked in unison.

Before Rory could offer an explanation, their editor walked into the room. "Sorry I'm late, everyone." He took a seat at the head of the table, set down his Blackberry and laptop, and leaned back into his chair. "Any problems this week?"

The room remained silent as Rory's coworkers shot apprehensive glances at each other. Sandy nudged Rory's arm hard, and she rubbed it, shooting glares of offense to Sandy. A man in the corner broke into a coughing fit and got up out of his chair to get a glass of water from the cooler.

"I'll take that as a no," Rory's editor continued, picking up a stack of papers, straightening them, and then handing them to the person on his right to pass around. "Before we begin this week's assignments, I just want to clarify something."

"This is it," Joe whispered to Rory, making the sign of the cross.

"I know there have been a lot of rumors going around this week. I've certainly heard some whoppers. So, let me clear some things up." He cleared his throat and picked up a small notepad on the table. "One: Yes, I do listen to Fergie, and no, I don't see anything wrong with that."

A couple people chuckled nervously. Sandy wrote "THIS IS SLOW TORTURE!!!" on her note pad and passed it over to Rory.

"Two," he continued. "We are not going to become an internet-only press. I don't know where that rumor came from, but it's not going to happen any time soon. And three: The Courant is not being sold."

Rory let out a breath she didn't know she had been holding in and sank back into her chair. Her heart was pumping wildly and she closed her eyes as she let relief sink in. When she opened her eyes, Sandy caught her attention and gave her and Joe a small fist pump. She looked around the room and noticed a few smiles in the group.

"Hope that helps quell some of the rumors. Let's get back to assignments."

Her editor continued talking, but Rory wasn't paying attention, replaying the stress of the past few days in her head. Sandy passed over another note, this time to Rory and Joe.

"Celebratory lunch?"

They both nodded. Joe leaned over to Rory. "You okay?" he whispered.

"I'm good. You?"

"Never better," Joe said. He leaned back in his chair and crossed his arms.

Rory opened up her laptop and ran her finger over the mouse to bring it out of sleep mode, a small smile crossing her face as she once again focused her attention on work.

♫   ♫   ♫   ♫   ♫   ♫   ♫

Lorelai entered the apartment from the diner and she quietly shut the door behind her, setting her purse on top of one of the boxes. As she toed off her heels, she spotted Jess on the couch, watching TV with the volume low. He turned as she maneuvered around a couple piles of boxes, and put his finger to his lips, nodding to the couch. Lorelai approached the couch from behind, looked down, and saw Ellie sound asleep next to Jess. Carefully, she picked Ellie up, allowing her head to rest on her shoulder, and carried her over to her crib. Ellie let out a murmur of protest as Lorelai set her down in her bed, but she stretched and immediately fell back asleep.

Making her way back to the couch, she stepped over Paul Anka's rump which was peeking out from under the coffee table, and took a seat next to Jess. "Hey," she whispered.

"Hey," Jess returned, picking up his bowl of cereal from his lap, eating a spoonful, and returning his concentration to the TV.

"Sorry you got stuck with babysitting duty again," Lorelai said, resting her feet on the coffee table. "I got called into the inn early, and Ellie got up with Luke for some reason. He said she crashed right after I left."

"No problem," Jess shrugged. "I offered."

"Oh, well, thanks."


They lapsed into silence as Jess munched on his cereal. Looking at the TV for the first time, Lorelai's eyes widened as she realized what Jess was watching, a slow grin crossing her face. "The Sunny Side Up Show, huh?

Jess shrugged again. "Can't go a morning without Chica and Kelly."

"Wow, I guess I never pegged you as a PBS Sprout kind of guy."

"It grows on you." He paused, set his cereal in his lap, and looked at Lorelai. "Where else could I get my Wiggles fix?"

Lorelai let out a snort, raising her brow at Jess. "Sorry, just picturing you getting up and Wiggling."

"I watch it more for the suspense. Always have to know if Jeff is going to fall asleep this time."

"Well, you're welcome to change the channel now."

"I can't. Dragon Tales is coming up."

"Ooo, my favorite!"

"Are you sure Ellie is the one who likes Sprout?"

Lorelai shrugged, mimicking Jess' inflection. "It grows on you."

"Huh," Jess offered instead of a laugh.

Kelly and Chica began singing the birthday song, and they both turned their attention to the TV. Wordlessly, Jess picked up the cereal box and passed it over to Lorelai. She took it, opened the flap, and poured out a handful, popping a couple flakes into her mouth.

After a few moments, Lorelai handed the cereal box back to Jess, and he poured some more into his bowl. "So, uh, Luke said you were working on something new."

Jess took a bite of cereal. "It's nothing big. Just a couple short stories."

"That's great, Jess."

He tilted his head. "Keeps me busy."

"I'd like to read them. You know, when you're finished."

Jess opened his mouth to say something, but hesitated. "Okay," he responded after a moment. "I'll send you and Luke a copy."

"I'd like that."

The opening bars of the Dragon Tales theme song filled the room, and Lorelai reached for the cereal box on the coffee table, singing along under her breath.

"If you're going to sing, I'm going to have to change the channel."

Lorelai smiled. "Hey, it's catchy."

Jess rolled his eyes and picked up the remote.

♫   ♫   ♫   ♫   ♫   ♫   ♫

Taylor walked across the town square, approaching Miss Patty's. In an attempt to calm the citizens down about the Firelight Festival situation, Taylor had decided to call an emergency meeting. He glanced at his watch.

"Thirty minutes until everyone gets here," he said to himself. "I just hope everyone has gotten over this whole festival budget thing."

Taylor opened the door to the dance studio to find that it was already full. Miss Patty was standing at the podium and Kirk was standing to her right.

"Patty, Kirk, what on earth do you think you're doing?" Taylor gasped. "You're having a meeting without me?"

Miss Patty sighed. "Taylor, we have something we'd like to say to you."

"Patty, if this is about the festival—"

"Taylor, sit down," Miss Patty said, more forcefully this time.

Taylor took a seat and Miss Patty continued, "These are the charts that show what the budget looked like for this past year. The Winter Wonderland festival's budget is right here, in the green, and how much we spent is over here in the red."

"How did you get access to this?" Taylor interrupted.

"It's on the website," Kirk answered. "On the homepage of starshollow.com, it has a link to the budget for the year and what everything goes to."

Taylor crossed his arms. "When was that authorized?"

"December 12, 2006. Statute 446 B dash 5. 'All citizens of Stars Hollow shall hereby be informed of all activity regarding the fundraisers and festivals portion of the town budget.' You wrote it, Taylor," Miss Patty said. "Kirk, hand him a copy of the agenda."

Taylor accepted the packet of paper. "You made copies of the agenda?"

"They made copies of the agenda, they put charts in here, and they made a list of all the budgets for all the upcomin' events. Taylor, you're spendin' a ton of money that we don't have!" Babette said.

Jackson nodded in agreement. "If you cut out the Saint Patrick's Day four leaf clover hunt and the Groundhog Day festival, we can manage to have the Firelight Festival."

Taylor sighed. "But people, don't you understand? Those are both new festivals that could be long-standing traditions! They will draw people to the town, and we'll nearly double our budget for next year!"

"Taylor, we're not attached to the new festivals. We love the Firelight Festival," Lorelai argued. "We keep telling you that's tradition. We don't want to start new traditions if we can't keep our old ones too."

"I'm sorry, people, but we have to do what we have to do," Taylor insisted.

"So, what, our happiness doesn't matter at all? In some sort of weird and messed up way, money isn't the only thing that keeps Stars Hollow going," Gypsy protested.

"Gypsy's right," Kirk agreed. "Lulu and I were very much looking forward to this festival, and this puts quite a damper on our spirits. This may affect people's work performance, which will affect the town financially. Tourists won't come because we're unhappy people."

Taylor raised his eyebrows. "Well, that's quite a stretch."

The townspeople began to reply to Taylor all at once, and Miss Patty struck the gavel against the podium. "Everyone, we have to wrap this up. Look, Taylor, you don't have to permanently table these ideas. Just until next year. Budget better for next year and keep the more important festival."

Taylor flipped through the packet. "Do I have to decide now?"

"Yes, Taylor, you do," Miss Patty insisted.

Taylor glanced around the room at the various charts and looked back at the packet which held the same data. He sighed. "Fine. We're lucky we haven't put any non-refundable deposits down on any of these festivals we're canceling."

The townspeople cheered at the announcement. Miss Patty adjourned the meeting and Taylor watched as the citizens filed out of the studio with smiles on their faces.

♫   ♫   ♫   ♫   ♫   ♫   ♫

Sookie sat at the kitchen table that evening, dinner cleared off the table, and the kids playing in the living room. Jackson was working late again—a common occurrence in recent weeks—and Sookie was finding few opportunities to see her husband, let alone talk to him about what they were going through.

She was still unsure what the problem was, really. She felt distance, but she still longed for Jackson and desired to fix things. Sookie still loved him, that was for sure; she just wanted to know if Jackson felt the same way, and if he was willing to make things work.

But what if he didn't?

Sookie heard the front door open and shut, followed by a chorus of "Hi, Daddy!" coming from the living room.

Jackson walked into the kitchen and saw her sitting at the table. He seemed to stop and think before walking to her and giving her a kiss on the forehead. She could feel the cold from outside on him.

"How was your day?" he asked as he walked over to the oven and peered into the pot of stew that Sookie made for dinner.

"It was good," she told him. "Yours?"

Jackson shrugged. "Same old, I guess. Oh, your zucchini order won't be in for tomorrow morning, but you'll have them by the afternoon."

Great, he was talking business to her, Sookie thought.

"Jackson," she told him, using her "serious discussion" voice. "We need to talk."

Jackson's body visibly stiffened, and he didn't turn away from the stove to look at her. "Yeah," was all he said, sounding as if he knew what was coming.

Before Sookie could tell him to look at her so they could talk, Martha came running into the kitchen in tears. "Mommy, Davey won't let me play with his toys!"

Davey came rushing in behind her. "They're my toys; why do I have to share?" he whined.

Sookie and Jackson went into parenting mode, putting aside their issues for the moment. Again.

"Son," Jackson said in his stern voice. "In this house, we share. We don't act selfish. Apologize to your sister, and go to your room."

"No!" screamed Davey, running out of the kitchen. Jackson ran after him.

Sookie sighed and picked up a crying Martha, rubbing her back. "Come on, honey. Let's go play with your toys."

At least their co-parenting was intact, Sookie realized.

Maybe things'll look up tomorrow, Sookie thought hopefully, taking her daughter back into the living room.




To be continued... 




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