Episode 9.21
"Baby Danes's First Day... Ever"
by KinoFille and Once Upon a Whim


Authors' Note: Thanks to both sosmitten and Jewels for their painstaking work and commentary along the way.  We are super-excited to be able to write such a milestone episode, and we hope you enjoy it.  And a belated Happy Mothers' Day to Lorelai and all the other moms out there!

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Lorelai stepped out onto the porch, achy and tired as she shrugged away Luke's hand from the small of her back. "I can't believe you thought our kid was just a Pop Tart call," she grumbled as she made her way to the stairs.

"How was I supposed to know?" Luke cried, hurrying after her regardless of her snub. "It's two weeks early and that's what all the other calls have been about! And it's not like I didn't have other things going on."

Lorelai scoffed, but otherwise ignored Luke as she descended the steps. "Don't worry, baby," she assured her stomach. "On your birthday every year, when I tell you the story of you being born, I'll leave out the part about Daddy not caring and thinking that Mommy was just being neurotic."

"Would you stop?" Luke sighed, exasperated.

"And how your big sister," Lorelai continued as she pointedly eyed April's bike that sat abandoned in front of the garage, "made it here on her bike before Daddy deigned to get here in a car."

Luke flung the passenger door of the Jeep open violently. "I had to talk to Caesar!" he yelled defensively, even as he helped Lorelai into the car. "Stop turning the kid against me already! If you had called me when the contractions actually started, and not waited until they were close enough to go to the hospital, I could have been ready to leave now!"

Lorelai pouted. "What, just to get yelled at again? I was trying not to bother you."

"You weren't even ready anyway," Luke grumbled.

Petulant, Lorelai contradicted him immediately, "Close enou—"

"You told me that bag had been packed for a week already," Luke chastised.

"Hey," Lorelai yelped, "after wearing a freakin' tent for clothes this long, I'm sorry I couldn't decide on an outfit nice enough to bring our child home in! And what the kid's gonna wear, too. So I changed my mind a few times," she groused.

Luke glared knowingly.

Lorelai pouted, though eventually relented. "Fine, " she said with a scowl. "And I got bored and read the book that was in there, sue me."

"That's not packed," Luke pointed out.

"Plus, it's not my fault you're allowed to eat while I'm doing all the work at the hospital," Lorelai said, ignoring the eye roll from Luke as she did, "and that you put food in there and left it where Paul Anka could find it."

"He ate my stuff?" Luke asked incredulously.

Lorelai shrugged, keeping her expression purposely detached.

Luke turned to April, who had just exited the house lugging said bag, with the same incredulous expression.

April's gaze darted between her father and step-mother. And then she shrugged too.

Luke sighed in defeat. "April," he said tiredly, "go see if there's an apple or two, okay? Or granola bars or something. It's going to be a long night. Grab stuff for you and Rory too."

"Yes, sir," April chirped with a mock salute before dashing back towards the house.

"They have a cafeteria," Lorelai said snidely once April was out of earshot.

Luke rolled his eyes yet again. "I'm not going to leave to go to the cafeteria while you're in labor."

Lorelai snorted. "What, so you're going to eat in front of me when all I can have is ice chips and jello?"

"Lorel—" Luke started to admonish her, stopping short when he caught sight of Paul Anka racing after a bird in the yard. "Jeez, what's he doing out here?"

"Paul Anka!" Lorelai called out. "Go back inside!"

"April, you left the door open!" Luke yelled. "Paul Anka!"

As Luke ran after the dog, leaving Lorelai to sit alone in the car, she reached for her phone. Checking in with Rory, she figured, was better than just waiting for the next contraction. At least Rory hadn't tried to pass off the birth of her sibling as request for Pop Tarts. "Hey," she said when her daughter picked up, her tone much softer than it had been with Luke.

"Are you almost there?" Rory asked excitedly.

"Are you kidding?" Lorelai replied. "We're still in the driveway. Or I am," she corrected. "April's scavenging for food and Luke is chasing Paul Anka around the yard."

"Mom!" Rory yelped. "You have to get to the hospital!"

Lorelai chuckled. "Nah, took 26 hours to get you out. This is just more fun for the kid's birthday story."

"But I'm almost there," Rory whined, sounding panicky. "When will you be here?"

"No clue kid," Lorelai admitted. And seeing Luke heading back to the car, she hissed a "Gotta run" to Rory and hastily tossed the phone in her purse. "What now?" she asked sarcastically, taking in his less than pleased expression. "I don't need red vines. Or a nail file, I promise," she added.

Luke ignored her comments, gesturing back towards the house. "He's inside," he stated, obviously referring to Paul Anka.

"Swell," Lorelai shot back.

Luke's mouth opened immediately, as if he had a sharp retort of his own ready. But just as quickly, he clamped it shut again and looked away. After a moment, he turned back to face her, his expression softer as he pleaded, "Lorelai, our child is about to be born; can we please be happy about this?"

Lorelai's face fell at his request. "Ugh, I know," she admitted with a sigh, feeling horrible for treating him like that. "I am. I really am," she insisted, reaching out and giving his hand a squeeze for emphasis. Looking back up at him, she offered a small smile as a peace offering — a smile that only grew as Luke leaned in to press a kiss to her lips.

When they parted, Lorelai sighed again. "Having a small person trying to claw its way out of my uterus just has me a little on edge," she explained. "And fair warning here, it gets worse before it gets better."

Luke chuckled. "I'll deal."

"Okay," April piped up, approaching the car once more, "we've got crackers, apples, bananas, granola bars. And in case it takes a while and they let you have clear liquids, Lorelai," she added, "I grabbed those jello cups and cup-a-soup for you."

Lorelai shot April a grateful smile as the leggy teen made an awkward show of trying to haul herself into the back of the Jeep via the driver's seat. "I hope you did half as well with this kid as you did with that one," she said jokingly to Luke as he headed around to get in the car after April.

April appeared to have nearly strategized a plan for climbing into the Jeep when Lorelai blurted out, "Oh wait, the camera!"

"Is in the bag..." Luke finished skeptically.

Lorelai winced and tried her best to look innocent. "I took it out for my daily stretch mark documentation..."

April, who had put her maneuver on hold as soon as Lorelai spoke, backed clumsily out of the car. "I'm on it," she called, running back towards the porch.

"It's on the table next to the bed!" Lorelai called out. "Thanks, ba—" Her words of gratitude were cut short when she clutched her stomach, hunching over. "Oh great."

His eyes wide, Luke sprinted back around to the passenger side. "What?"

Clenching her teeth, Lorelai simply said, "Baby wants out."

"What!?" Luke gasped. "Now?"

Still partially bent over and rocking slightly, Lorelai shook her head vehemently. "Another contraction."

"What can I do?" Luke asked helplessly.

Still shaking her head weakly, Lorelai remained silent, just focusing on dealing with the contraction.

Eventually she felt Luke take one of her hands in hers, his other making its way to her back to apply gentle pressure. "It's okay, you've got this," he assured her. "Breathe."

Lorelai rode out the rest of the contraction in silence, and when it finally passed, she sat back up and let out a deep breath. "Oh God," she moaned, knowing what awaited her the rest of the night.

"You're okay?" Luke asked urgently, his face pale.

Lorelai nodded. "For now."

Luke eyed her, his expression dubious. "And it only gets worse?"

Lorelai laughed. "Welcome to the least fun part of baby-making. Didn't think about this when you sent your swimmers... swimming, did ya?"

"Jeez," Luke muttered.

Across the lawn, the front door slammed again. "Got it," April called, waving the small camera as she headed back towards the car.

"Good," Luke said, ushering her quickly to the car. "Get in and we're outta here."

With the three of them finally situated, Luke backed hastily into the street and sped away.

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As the Jeep's taillights faded in the distance, there was a rustle of curtains. Backing away from the window, Babette gave her walkie-talkie a good shake and tried the button again. "Twinkle toes, this is Half Pint. Do you read?" she said urgently. "Come in, Twinkle toes."

Static-y, but loud, Patty's voice rang out in the Dells' living room. "I'm here, I'm here. What is it?"

"The Hen and the Rooster have flown the coop!" Babette blurted out. She peeked out the window once more to confirm. "Repeat: the Hen and the Rooster have flown the coop. Looks like the chick is about to hatch!" she added conspiratorially.

"Oh my!" Patty cried, "Oh my... 10-4, Half Pint, I'm on it," she said, her voice crackling over the radio. "Over and out."

Babette let out a happy sigh, and peeked out the window again.

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Rory ran into the hospital lobby, out of breath, sweating, and in a state of panic. She didn't see any of her family as she quickly scanned the adjoining waiting area. In fact, she didn't see much of anyone except the bored-looking woman sitting behind the information desk at the far end of the lobby. As Rory got closer, she saw that the person behind the desk was not technically a woman, but a teenage girl, probably a student racking up volunteer hours, or, judging by the black eyeliner and the piercings, working off some community service sentence.

"Excuse me," Rory panted as she approached the desk.

"Canihelpyou?" the girl asked without looking up from her cell phone. Apparently texting and chewing gum at the same time was about the limit of her multi-tasking capabilities.

"Yes, I'm trying to find out if my mother has been brought in yet. She's in labor."

At this, the girl glanced up from her phone and looked Rory up and down skeptically, as if to say, "Your mother is in labor?" She didn't speak the words, though, only heaved a sigh and turned to her computer. "Name?"

"Lorelai Gilmore — I mean, Lorelai Danes."

The girl typed a few keys, clicked a mouse, and after a second shook her head. "She's not in here."

"Are you sure?" asked Rory, her anxiety increasing in direct opposition to the girl's disinterest. "They should be here by now."

The girl shrugged her shoulders. "Don't know what to tell you. She's not in the system." As if to prove her point she turned the screen so that Rory could see it.

Rory gasped as she looked at the screen and pointed to the offending field. "Well, no wonder you couldn't find her. You spelled her name all wrong. It's Lorelai with an 'ai,' not an 'ei.' And it's 'Danes,' not 'Baines.'"

The girl rolled her eyes, did some more key-tapping and mouse-clicking, then shook her head. "Still doesn't come up," she said with another shrug. She picked up her cell phone and immediately went back to texting.

It was the second shrug that did Rory in.

"Listen here, missy," Rory hissed, leaning across the desk. "I'm sure that whatever marginally spelled and completely unpunctuated gossip you have to share with your 'besties' is, like, totally important, but my mother is in this hospital giving birth to my... sibling, and if you think I'm going to stand here while you blow me off because OMG, your BFFs have to know who got trashed and hooked up last night, you are sadly mistaken." She picked up the receiver to the switchboard phone and handed it to the girl. "Now, either you use the two working brain cells you have left to find out where my mother is, or I will make a call to whatever halfway house, outreach program, or alternative education facility placed you here and have your butt fired so fast it'll make your head swim. You get me?"

The girl stared at Rory, her mouth agape, then pulled up another screen on the computer and began dialing the phone. A commotion at the front entrance distracted both of them, and Rory turned to see Lorelai, Luke, and April hustling through the automatic doors. Rory had never seen Luke so pale and shaken, but her mother looked calm — a bit drained, but clearly in control of the situation.

"So far they're holding steady at about four minutes and forty-five seconds," April was saying, looking from her wristwatch to a small notepad in her other hand.

"See, Luke?" Lorelai smiled, squeezing his arm. "I told you we'd make it."

"Mom!" Rory yelped, running toward her family.

"Hey, kid!" Lorelai let out a grunt as Rory gave her an overly-enthusiastic hug. "Easy, hon. Remember, you don't start abusing the sibling until after it's born."

"Are you okay?" Rory demanded, pulling away. "What took you guys so long?"

Lorelai smiled reassuringly. "I'm fine. Jeff Gordon here got stopped for speeding five minutes outside of Stars Hollow," she said, squeezing Luke's arm again.

"It took him eight minutes and twenty-three seconds to convince the cop that his wife really was in labor and that he was rushing to get her to the hospital," April added, making another notation on her pad.

"The guy was an idiot, and he clearly needs to have his eyes checked," Luke ranted. "What, he couldn't see that you were having a baby? I mean, look at you! You're as big as a house!"

"Gee, thanks, babe," Lorelai said wryly.

"I didn't mean it like that," Luke grimaced. "I just meant—" he broke off when Lorelai tightened her grip on his arm, her face twisted in pain. "Is that another—"

"Oh, yeah," Lorelai panted. "This is the big one, Elizabeth."

April glanced at her watch, which to Rory looked like something used to compute the physics behind manned space travel, not a simple time-telling device. "Four seventeen."

"Mom?" Rory squeaked, her panic rising again.

Lorelai breathed through the last of her contraction and then put her arm around Rory's shoulder. "I'm sorry, hon. I know how wigged-out you get about this whole baby-comin'-round-the-mountain thing."

"It's okay. It's different when it's my own little brother — or sister," Rory said, surprised to realize it was true.

"Okay, the contractions are getting closer," Luke cut in. "We need to get you up to your room to let the doctors do... you know, whatever they're going to do to you," Luke finished, waving his hands in the general direction of Lorelai's protruding belly.

"That's my little birthing coach," Lorelai smiled, patting his cheek. "Okay, troops," she said, heading toward the elevators, "let's go have us a baby."

"Wait," Rory called after her. "Don't you have to check in at the desk?"

Lorelai shook her head as she punched the elevator button. "It's all taken care of. We just go straight up to the Birthing Center and have the baby in wood-paneled, flowered-curtained, classical-muzaked comfort."

"Oh. Well... good." Rory followed the rest of her family to the elevator, but she couldn't resist shooting the juvenile delinquent behind the information desk a dirty look before getting on.

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Lane scrolled through the new album's tracks on her mp3 player, wanting one last listen before they took the stage. It had been hard enough to convince Smasheasy to let Hep Alien have their first album's launch concert in the Stars Hollow Square, so she wasn't about to be anything but perfect in their debut. She dodged Gil and Brian and their air guitar renditions of the first number and grabbed her drumsticks for a quick run-through of her own.

Focused on the music, she didn't even hear Miss Patty yelling her name until the older woman was right next to her, grabbing her arm and shaking her. "Lane! Lane!"

Tugging out her earbuds, Lane stumbled backwards slightly in surprise. "Whoa, Miss Patty, calm down..."

Patty glared insistently. "Oh, we can't calm down now, sweetie." Leaning closer to Lane, she continued in secretive tones, "Lane, darling, what do you know about Lorelai?"

"Uh, Rory's mother, brown hair, about 5'9"," Lane replied with an amused — and confused — grin. "She should be here, if you have to talk to—"

"No, that's the thing, honey," Patty said. "We think she went into labor."

Lane's jaw dropped. "She did?"

"You don't know?" Patty asked in disbelief.

Lane shook her head, not believing she hadn't heard about this earlier.

"Nothing from Rory?" Patty demanded. "Luke?"

"No," Lane spluttered, still shaking her head. "I haven't talked to Rory. And I didn't work tonight; Zach and I were here setting up."

"Oh dear," Patty said worriedly. "Well," she added, her eyes darting about, "tell me if you find anything out, sweetheart."

"Okay..." Lane agreed reluctantly, not sure how Patty thought she'd be getting any news while on stage. She started to remind Patty of that, but she'd taken off at a speed that belied her size, and Lane could already hear her yelling at her next victim.

"Oh, Tillie," Miss Patty cried, "have you heard? Lorelai's in labor..."

Lane shook her head and grinned as she put her earbuds back in. But a moment later, she frowned. Reaching into her pocket, she yanked out her cellphone and scanned the screen anxiously for a message or missed call from Rory. When she found none, she quickly scrolled down to Rory's number, only to be interrupted by Zach.

"Let's rock dudes, we're on!"

With a sigh, Lane gave up on her phone call. But her face brightened as she grabbed her drumsticks and made her way on stage with the guys.

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"Okay, please tell them to call Rory as soon as they come in. Better yet, tell them to come straight to Hartford Memorial and call on the way. Thank you." Rory sighed and punched the 'end' button on her cell phone. "Still not home yet," she said to April, who had just finished her own call.

"They're not at the country club either," April said. "Cell phones?"

"Why not?" Rory agreed. What was one more voicemail? She dialed her grandmother's cell phone number, anticipating the recorded message yet again. And she got it. She sighed, waiting for the beep, and followed it up with, "Hi, Grandma, it's Rory. Um, not sure where you and Grandpa are, but just thought I'd try again. Bye."

She caught the tail end of April leaving an almost identical message on Richard's phone. "Still nothing," April said, shaking her head as she hung up the phone.

"Okay, let's try — Oh, wait, maybe this is them," Rory said as her phone went off again. She glanced at the display and shook her head. "Nope. Andrew." Rory shook her head, pressing 'ignore.' "How many does that make now?"

"Let's see," April murmured, going down her list, "Miss Patty, three from Babette, one Lulu, one Taylor, two Mrs. Cassini, East Side Tillie, Gypsy, and one very weird, out-of-breath message from Kirk. Plus, four unidentified calls with Stars Hollow numbers that we didn't answer." April shook her head. "It's really interesting if you think about it. Stars Hollow is like the literal embodiment of It Takes a Village. There's probably a really interesting sociological study to be done there."

"I'm sure there is," Rory replied, grinning at her step-sister.

April's phone rang its 'She Blinded Me With Science' ringtone once more. After a quick glance, April said hurriedly to Rory, "It's my Mom, I've gotta get this one."

Rory had to laugh as she overheard bits of the conversation. Anna was clearly concerned about the time and school tomorrow, which April easily countered, "No, Mom, it's Stars Hollow — the teachers probably knew before I did. They won't care if I miss tomorrow. I'll stay here with Dad..."

Rory missed what followed, her own phone ringing yet again. Checking the caller ID, she was happy to find a familiar number. "Sookie?" she asked.

"Rory?" Sookie squealed over the line. "Is Lorelai—? Oh, is it time?" she spluttered.

Rory laughed. "Yeah, and you've probably got the kids, right? But I know Mom wants you here if you can make it."

"I can't believe I missed your call!" Sookie wailed. "We were at the movies yesterday and you can't have your phone on and I didn't turn it back on—"

"Sookie," Rory cut her off with a chuckle, "It's okay. But can you come?"

"Oh! Yes, yes! I'll be there as soon as I can!" Sookie prattled excitedly. "Oh, wait, no," she corrected, sounding devastated. "Jackson's in Litchfield meeting some guy about some machine-y thing for the farm. I can't leave Wanda until he gets back," she continued. "She's sick and won't do well with a sitter..."

Rory cut in, trying to calm Sookie. "It's okay, Sookie," she said, "we'll be here a while."

"He should be back soon," Sookie promised. "I'll leave right when he gets home!"

"Okay, we'll see you s—" Rory stopped short when she saw April waving at her frantically with her phone to her ear. "Gotta run, Sookie, see you later," she said hurriedly. "What?" she asked April as she hung up her own phone.

April winced, covering the mouthpiece. "So what are the odds Dad and your mom want Aunt Liz and TJ here?"

"Uh... Here?" Rory asked, wincing as well.

April nodded. "She wants to check the energy of the room, or something."

Rory eyed the door to Lorelai's room skeptically. "Can't we just tell her the 'energy' is good?" she asked, using air quotes.

April shrugged and lifted her fingers from the speaker. "Aunt Liz? Um, we're not sure if Lorelai can have many extra visitors, but it is a very positive place, lots of good energy," she said, shooting Rory an uncertain look. "Oh, I don't know, we haven't actually been in the birthing room... Yeah, Dad's in with her right now... Well, I don't..." April placed her hand over the phone's mouthpiece again. "She wants to talk to Dad," she whispered to Rory. "Says she has some really important advice for him."

Rory hesitated, looking at the closed door to her mother's birthing room. "Well, I don't..."

April listened some more. "She says it's crucial to a smooth delivery."

"Okay..." Rory nodded. "Hang on."

Rory took a breath before opening the door, unsure of what she would find on the other side. When she walked in the room, though, the scene was much more calm — and much less gross — than she had thought it would be. The TV mounted in the corner of the room was on, but muted, and Lorelai lay hooked up to monitors and an IV as Luke sat next to her holding her hand.

"Hey, sweets," Lorelai said, smiling mischievously. "You decided to brave the big, bad birthin' room?"

Rory nodded, giving a wan smile from where she lingered in the entryway. "Luke?" she asked timidly.

Luke looked up, as if surprised to be addressed. "Yeah?"

"Uh," Rory stammered, "April's got Liz on the phone out here, and I think you'll want to talk to her."

A flash of panic crossed Luke's face as he spun around to glance at Lorelai again. "Oh, but—" he started to protest.

"Go," Lorelai cut in, waving Rory into the room. "Rory and I handled this by ourselves last time."

Despite uneasy expressions on both Luke's and Rory's faces, Rory found herself stepping out of the way as Luke headed into the hallway with an, "I'll be right back."

"So what's the haps on the outside?" Lorelai asked, seeming rather cheerful for someone in labor.

"Sookie should be coming at some point," Rory informed her, "but I still can't get Grandma and Grandpa. Were they going somewhere?"

Lorelai shrugged. "No idea." Smirking at Rory, she continued, "You can actually come in, you know. Believe me, there's plenty of warning before anything happens — the kid's not just going to come flying out at you."

Rory wrinkled her face at the visual, protesting, "Mom..." even as she obliged and hesitantly took a seat in the chair closest to the door.

Lorelai just laughed in amusement.

At a loss for what else one was supposed to ask in such a situation, Rory went with the obvious, asking, "How are you?"

"Well," admitted Lorelai, "I'm not going to be doing my tap and baton routine for America's Got Talent any time soon, but I'm still mobile if I want to be, so I don't really get to complain yet. Ask me again later," she added with a grimace.

Rory nodded, her gaze still drifting around the room. "Well," she eventually said, "is it maybe not as bad the second time?"

Lorelai let out an amused snort. "Labor is not like waxing, babe," she laughed. "You don't exactly get used to it. Although," she added after a moment, "I definitely have to say, Luke is much more receptive to me doing the whole swearing, ice hurling, and hand-breaking thing on him than the random nurses were with you. They didn't take so well to that part," she recalled aloud.

"The ice again? Already?" Rory laughed, shaking her head.

Lorelai frowned petulantly. "Hey," she said defensively, "I may have the dad around this time to do the hand-holding, but I'm still the one stuck squeezing the kid out, same as with you. And the ice bit is still fun — now I just get to pelt Luke and the nurses."

Rory frowned, muttering an absent, "Right." Until Lorelai's casual words, she hadn't even stopped to think how different it actually was for her mother this time around. But her thoughts were interrupted by the sound of the door opening behind her.

"Okay," Luke said as he re-entered the room, "I convinced Liz not to come down here tonight."

"Good?" Lorelai asked skeptically.

"Definitely good," Luke groaned. "There was mention of feng shui."

Both Lorelai and Rory giggled, but once Luke settled himself next to Lorelai, Rory stood, suddenly feeling the odd one out. "I'm just gonna..." she started awkwardly, "go try Grandma again."

Lorelai nodded. "We'll be... right here," she joked, making a point of emphasizing her still-very-much-rounded stomach. "Later, babe."

As Rory turned to head for the door, she couldn't help but catch a glimpse of Luke pressing a kiss to Lorelai's forehead as he asked, "You doin' okay?"

Rory let out a deep breath, pulling the door open just as she heard her mom assure Luke, "I'm good. I think all her kids will be adopted, though."

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"I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry."

"Luke," Lorelai panted, squeezing Luke's hand so hard he was sure she was going to crush it, "my hand to God, if you don't stop saying you're sorry I'm going get out of this bed, go over to that instrument drawer, pull out a speculum, and clobber you over the head with it."

"I'm so—" Luke bit off another apology as Lorelai squeezed his hand even harder. "I just hate to see you like this, and I feel like it's all my fault. I mean, if we hadn't... if I hadn't..."

"Dumped your swimmers into the deep end of my pool?" Lorelai choked out, her eyes still scrunched up with the pain of the contraction.

"Exactly!" Lorelai winced again, and Luke couldn't help himself. "I'm sorry."

"Yeah, well, you can stuff your sorrys in a sack, mister," Lorelai groaned. "If you'd thought of that about thirty-eight weeks ago I wouldn't be laying here feeling like Billy Blanks is shooting his latest Tae Bo video in my abdomen."

"I know, I know! Trust me, when this is all over I'm never going to lay a hand on you again," Luke promised desperately. "No sex at all, just simple pecks hello and goodbye — on second thought, just handshakes. No kissing at all. And absolutely no contact in bed. I'll even sleep on the couch if you want."

Lorelai let out a deep breath, the worst of the contraction apparently behind her. "Oh, puh-lease. You say that now, but underneath all the flannel and nobility and stoicism you're still a guy. Once I get rid of the baby weight you won't be able to keep your hands off me." She managed a wan smile before she flopped back on her pillow and closed her eyes with another exhausted sigh.

Luke couldn't help grinning as he reached to stroke her hair. "You're probably right," he said, running his fingers through her damp, messy curls. "Seriously, though, what can I do to help?"

"Short of some mystical fetal transfer where you end up giving birth for me? I'm afraid there's not much you can do besides bring me ice chips and stand there enduring the verbal and physical abuse of a crazy woman doing her part in the circle of life."

Luke thought for a minute, then his conversation with his sister back to him. "Liz says it's supposed to help if you have something to focus on. Something about transferring pain into positivity, or some crap. She said it worked for her when she had Doula. She also said music helps a lot."

"Music?" Lorelai opened her eyes and smacked her forehead. "Aw, man, I knew I was forgetting something. We have to send Rory and April home for some CDs."

"Lorelai," Luke sighed, rolling his eyes.

"Luke, come on," Lorelai said, struggling to sit up. "You know me. I need music to mark each major moment in my life. I have to have my own soundtrack. Besides, Liz says it helps."

"Liz also believes that burning sage rids a house of 'troublesome spirits,' so consider the source."

"Luke, please?" Lorelai pleaded.

Luke looked at his wife, pale and exhausted from the latest round of contractions that were leading to their child being born, and he knew he didn't have a leg to stand on. "Okay," he sighed. "I'll go find Rory and April."

"Yay!" Lorelai cheered. "I know exactly what music I need."

"What?" Luke asked. "Bono? The Bangles? Blondie?"


Luke looked at Lorelai in surprise. "Seriously? You want Barry White to be playing at the birth of our child?"

Lorelai grinned. "Actually, Mr. I'm-Never-Even-Going-To-Think-Of-Having-Sex-With-My-Wife-Once-The-Baby-Comes, Barry White's more present-at-conception kind of music. And while I love that your mind went straight to Get Down Soul Train, I was thinking of another, equally important Barry."

"What, you mean...?"

Lorelai nodded. "Mr. 'I Write the Songs' himself."

Luke hesitated, surprised that Lorelai would want such cheesy music playing during labor, then remembered a conversation he'd overheard between Lorelai and Rory years earlier — something about Barry Manilow being very big when Lorelai was very little. He also remembered finding the Greatest Hits CD still hidden under the floorboard when he changed the oil in Lorelai's Jeep a couple of weeks earlier.

"Okay, Manilow it is," he agreed with a nod. "You sure the CD isn't still under the floorboard of the Jeep?"

Lorelai gaped at Luke. "How in the world did you remember that?"

"Some things about you stick," Luke smirked.

"Well, it's not there any more, Smartypants," Lorelai pouted. "I took it out the other day to play 'Copacabana' for the baby."

"Because one of the first things you want our kid to learn is the story of a washed-up showgirl whose true love was killed by a gangster?"

Lorelai narrowed her eyes at him. "I thought we agreed weeks ago not to question the logic of the lady undergoing the seismic hormonal changes."

"My mistake," Luke sighed. "Okay, let me go tell the girls."

"Tell them to get your Buffett shirt while they're at it."

"My Buffett shirt? What the hell do you need my Buffett shirt for?"

"Because I need something to focus on to distract me from the pain, and nothing could be more distracting than the image of you wearing that shirt, singing along to 'Cheeseburger in Paradise.'"

"Fine," Luke growled. "I'll tell them to get my Buffett shirt."

"Oooh! And some Red Vines for after!"

♫   ♫   ♫   ♫   ♫   ♫   ♫

"So, Manilow CD, Buffett Shirt, Red Vines, Nutter Butters, and Entertainment Weekly," April read off her notepad as she and Rory stepped off the elevator.

"Don't forget the Bonne Bell Lip Smackers — but only if they have Dr. Pepper flavored," Rory added with a roll of her eyes.

"Your mom is an interesting study in contrasts," April mused as she and Rory walked down the corridor toward the hospital entrance.

Rory couldn't hide her amused grin at April's comment. "What do you mean?" she asked.

"Well, here she is, a forty-ish woman with a grown daughter, in labor with another child, and her tastes are more like those of a twelve-year-old girl's."

"Yep," Rory nodded with a grin, "that's pretty much my mom in a nutshell."

They passed through the automatic doors, and as they walked toward the parking lot Rory spotted a figure lurking behind the bushes that lined the sidewalk. She momentarily panicked that someone was about to accost them in the hospital parking lot, but then the figure moved into the glow of the nearby streetlight and Rory's expression went from panic to relief to indignation.

"Kirk, what are you doing in the bushes?" she called to the now-familiar figure. Kirk paused and stood stock-still, as if he thought that if he didn't move, Rory wouldn't know it was him.

"Kirk, if you don't come out of the bushes right now, I'm going to call Lulu," Rory threatened. "And I'll call your mother."

At that, Kirk came bursting through the shrubbery. "Please don't call Mother," he pleaded. "She already grounded me last week for not taking out the garbage. Not the garbage at her house, mind you. She grounded me for not taking out the garbage at Lulu's and my house."

"Why are you hiding in the bushes at the hospital, Kirk?" Rory demanded.

Kirk straightened his shoulders and raised himself up to his full height. "I was sent by the Stars Hollow Committee on Families, Pets, and Lawn Maintenance to observe and report on the birth of one Baby Danes, gender and first name to be announced."

Rory turned to April, who looked as disbelieving as Rory felt — if slightly more amused — then looked back at Kirk. "Kirk, you are not going to 'observe and report' anything about this birth. Mom and Luke are not Brangelina, and you are not Ryan Seacrest."

"But the town has a right to know about the arrival of their newest resident," Kirk pouted.

"And Mom and Luke will tell them about that arrival when and how they want to," Rory replied. "Now, I want you to go home, Kirk. Do you need a ride back to Stars Hollow?"

"No, thank you. My bike is chained up by the Emergency entrance," Kirk replied, all affronted dignity.

"Then get on it and start peddling, Mister." Rory turned and she and April continued down the sidewalk. "Crazy freakin' circus of a town," Rory muttered.

♫   ♫   ♫  

Kirk waited until Rory and April were out of sight, then reached into his Spider-Man backpack and took out the walkie-talkie Patty had given him — with numerous unnecessary warnings to be careful with it — and pressed the talk button.

"Twinkle Toes, this is Jughead," he called. "Come in, Twinkle Toes."

A burst of static came from the other end, then he heard Patty's voice. "Go for Twinkle Toes."

"The baby chicks have left the 4077th," he stated, still proud that he'd come up with the M*A*S*H reference as code for the hospital. "Repeat. The baby chicks have left the 4077th."

Another burst of static, then he could hear other voices in the background. Apparently, everyone had gathered at Miss Patty's studio — or "Forty-Second Street" — as planned.

"Ohmygod," he heard Babette screech. "You mean she already dropped the kid?"

"Did he say 'chicks' plural?" came Andrew's voice. "Yes! Twins! I win the pool."

After a few more seconds of confusion, Patty's voice came over the radio. "Uh, Jughead, we need some clarification. Are you saying the Hen has already hatched the egg?"

"Negative, Twinkle Toes. I was referring to Ror — to the other... um, chicks."

"Why did he say 'baby chicks?'" Mrs. Cassini demanded. "Rory's not a baby."

"And April's what, fifteen? Sixteen?" Babette added.

"People," Taylor's voice broke into the hubbub, "I told you this would happen if we didn't establish code names for all the participants before executing the operation. Now, I move that—"

"Okay, how about Chickadee A and Chickadee B?" suggested Patty.

"Roger, Twinkle Toes," Kirk responded. "But... uh, who's Chickadee A and who's Chickadee B?"

"Rory should be Chickadee A, since she's the oldest," said Patty.

Kirk nodded at the radio in agreement.

"Yeah, but April begins with an 'A'." Babette pointed out.

Kirk nodded at the radio in agreement.

"Oh, for cryin' out loud!" barked Gypsy. There was a rustle on the other end, and then Gypsy's voice came much closer. Evidently, she'd taken the radio from Patty. "Kirk, just call them Rory and April and be done with it. Rory and April have left the hospital, is that what you were trying to say?"

"Um, 10-4, Spark Plug."

"Don't call me Spark Plug, Kirk."

"10-4, Gypsy."

There was another rustling sound, then Patty was back on the radio. "Okay, Jughead, you just keep your eye on the Rooster and the Hen. We'll wait here at Forty-Second Street for word from you."

"Roger that, Twinkle Toes. Jughead out." Kirk switched off his radio and shook his head. "Amateurs," he muttered to himself.

♫   ♫   ♫   ♫   ♫   ♫   ♫

"Thank you, Taylor," April called over her shoulder as she and Rory walked out of Doose's.

"Yeah, thanks, Taylor," Rory echoed. "Jerk," she added under her breath.

"Tell your parents this is the last time I open the store after hours for them," Taylor called after the girls. "They should plan the timing of their life-changing milestones more carefully from now on."

As Rory and April headed toward the town square, she fished her cell phone out of her purse, pulled up her grandfather's number on the display, and listened — yet again — to her grandfather's voicemail. "Hi, Grandpa," she said after the beep. "It's me, still trying to get you. I already left messages at the house and on Grandma's cell phone. April and I are in Stars Hollow picking up some supplies for Mom, then we're headed back to the hospital. Just wanted to let you know. Give me a call, or just come straight out to the hospital. Okay, bye."

She snapped her phone shut. "My grandparents must be the only people left on the face of the Earth who actually turn off their cell phones when they're out."

As they worked their way through the crowd that had assembled in the town square, Rory spotted Lane and the rest of the band to the side of the stage tuning their instruments. Lane caught Rory's eye and immediately began jumping up and down and waving Rory over.

"So?" Lane asked excitedly when they reached her. "Tell me! Is it a boy or a girl? How's Lorelai? How was the labor? Is she exhausted? How's Luke holding up? What are they going to name it?"

"Whoa, whoa," Rory laughed, holding up a hand to stem the tide of her friend's questions. "She hasn't had it yet. She's still in labor. We just came back to pick up a few things."

Lane's face fell. "Oh."

"So, how did the show go?"

"It was awesome," Gil confirmed, grinning from where he was tuning his guitar.

"Dude, we rocked the hizzouse," Zach chimed in. "They totally dug us. We even get to do a second encore!"

"That's so great, you guys." Rory smiled. "Mom wanted me to tell you she's really sorry she couldn't be here. She was so excited to see you play again."

"Poor Lorelai." Lane frowned. "I still remember how hard my labor with the twins was." She turned to Zach. "Remember, babe?"

"Remember?" Zach chuckled. "Dude, she squeezed my hand so tight I thought I'd never play the axe again," he told Rory. "But she was totally rock-and-roll about the whole thing."

Rory was about to answer when her cell phone signaled that she had a text. She looked down at the screen, which simply said need. manilow. now.

She turned to find April, who had moved over to the amp and was listening in rapt attention as Brian explained in great and very technical detail how the equipment worked.

"April," she called. "We're being summoned." She turned back to Lane and gave her a hug. "Congrats on the show."

"Thanks," Lane smiled. "Keep us posted, and give Luke and Lorelai our love."

"Will do."

Rory said goodbye to the rest of the band and headed back through the square with April in tow. Before they reached the car, she'd received two more texts reminding her to bring the Red Vines.

♫   ♫   ♫  

Lane stood lost in thought as she watched Rory and April leave, feeling like she should be doing something for Lorelai. After all, she and Luke had been so supportive of Lane — and all of them — over the years, and this was such a big night for them.

"You okay, babe?" Zach asked, looking at her in concern.

"Yeah," Lane sighed. "I was just thinking that we should do something special for Luke and Lorelai."

"We could send flowers," Brian shrugged. "Isn't that what people do when someone has a baby?"

"Or those teddy bears with the mylar balloons," Gil suggested. "My wife got dozens of those when she had our kids."

"Yeah, but that's so impersonal," Lane said. "I mean, anyone can send flowers or a balloon."

"Okay, we don't want to go the impersonal route. I can dig that," Zach agreed, nodding. "So, what did you have in mind?"

"I don't know..." Lane trailed off, thinking over the possibilities. Suddenly, an old I Love Lucy episode she'd seen the first time she spent the night at the Gilmores' house popped into her head, and she got an idea. "We should dedicate our song to Luke and Lorelai."

"Awesome!" Gil cried. "'We'd like to send this out to two crazy kids bringing another life into the world.' The crowd will eat it up."

"Okay, so we do the whole dedication-from-the-stage thing." Zach nodded. "Totally cool. Now, what song do we want to send out to the happy couple?"

"How about 'London Calling?'" Brian suggested. "We've got that one down cold."

"And Lorelai does like the Clash," Zach added.

"No, guys, we are not playing 'London Calling' for a couple having their first child together."

"Why not?" Zach demanded. "Joe Strummer rules. May he rest in peace."

"I know he does, babe," Lane said. It's just not... 'Congratulations on having a baby' kind of music, is it?"

"I guess not," Zach conceded. "So, what's your suggestion, wife-o-mine?"

"Well..." Lane hesitated, knowing how her suggestion would go over with the rest of the band. "I was kind of thinking of 'Havin' My Baby.'"

As Lane expected, the guys all groaned in protest.

"No way," Brian said with a shake of his head.

"Smasheasy would crucify us if we closed out the show with Paul Freakin' Anka," Gil said.

"I gotta concur with the guys, babe," Zach nodded. "'Havin' My Baby' is totally not rock-n-roll."

Lane looked at the rest of the band and shook her head. "I don't believe you guys. This is Lorelai and Luke. Think of everything they've done for us. Brian, who let us use her garage for band practice for two years before we got our own space?"

"Lorelai did," Brian sighed.

"And Gil, Luke hooked you up with the new meat supplier so you could save some money and hire more people at the sub shop, thereby allowing you to spend more time on your music."

"Yeah, that was pretty awesome of him," Gil admitted with a nod.

"And Zach, how many times did Luke let one of us work extra shifts when we needed the money — even if he didn't need the help? How many times has Lorelai babysat for us without asking for anything in return? Who got us our first hometown gig at Jackson's campaign rally a few years ago? These people have been there for us every step of the way, and you guys can't even swallow a little bit of pride and dedicate a song — even if, yes, it is slightly cheesy — to them?"

"Yeah, but 'Havin' My Baby?'" Brian groaned.

"Even if we wanted to do it, none of us know the song," Gil pointed out, "and we go back on in a little while."

"Actually," Zach began hesitantly, "there's a chance I might kinda know it a little."

Lane looked at Zach in surprise. "Really?"

"I came across it when we first found out you were having the little dudes," Zach said, his face reddening. "I might have listened to it a few times. A day. For about seven months."

Lane smiled and kissed Zach sweetly. "My little rock-and-roll softie. So, you think you can run us through it really quickly?"

"I can do better than that," Zach answered. With a sigh of defeat he pulled his iPod out of his pocket and began scrolling through the playlists. "There's a chance I may have kept it and I might possibly still listen to it every now and then."

Lane kissed Zach again. "You're the best, babe." She turned to the rest of the band, beaming. "Okay, guys, let's get ready to rock some Paul Anka!"

♫   ♫   ♫   ♫   ♫   ♫   ♫

Lorelai jabbed at Luke insistently with the edge of a book of crosswords. "Are these sports people?" she prompted. "I know they're not from the normal ET set."

Luke blinked hard, jerking himself out of the sleepy daze he'd fallen into given how late it was. "Who?" he asked immediately, feeling badly for having even started to drift off. Sleep wasn't a possibility at this point for Lorelai; he felt guilty stealing even a minute or two.

"'Darryl Strawberry or Tom Seaver, e.g.' Five letters," Lorelai informed him as she studied the other clues.

"New York Met," Luke replied automatically, with a yawn as punctuation.

Lorelai shook her head. "Nope," she countered, "starts with 'E'."

"Ex-Met then," Luke amended, leaning forward from his chair to peer at the puzzle.

"Ooh, yup, you're right. Thanks, babe," Lorelai said, shooting him a smile before scribbling in the answer. "And then this one is 'arms'..." she added to herself, filling in more boxes.

Luke pointed over her shoulder. "That one's 'amenity'," he pointed out.

Lorelai continued studying the clues, asking absently, "Which one?"

"Thirty-ni—" Luke started, only to be cut off by a whimper from Lorelai. The pen and crossword book fell to the floor next to the bed as she gripped her blanket and pressed her head back into her pillow with her eyes squeezed tightly closed.

Now a few hours into the process, Luke was getting accustomed to the signs of the more and more frequent contractions. He coaxed the blanket from her grip and replaced it with his hand as he lifted his other one to gently stroke Lorelai's forehead. "Okay, okay," he coached, "breathe."

Lorelai's eyes flew open, rage suddenly evident. "Stop telling me to breathe," she snarled through clenched teeth. "I've been doing it on my own since I was born, I know I'm supposed to breathe!"

His own eyes widening slightly, Luke sat back a bit, contrite. "Okay," he apologized. Lorelai was always a person with innumerable facets to her personality, he just hadn't expected them to be individually amplified in different contractions. There was absolutely no predicting when she'd just want to be held through them, when she'd be screeching through them, when she'd bite his head off simply for existing. He'd already been on the receiving end of a cup of ice that she'd violently knocked out of his hand when he tried to offer it to her, only to be practically dragged into the bed with her for the next one that she'd whimpered her way through, begging him not to leave.

Given that this one was more towards the violent end of the spectrum, Luke remained silent and just gave Lorelai's hand a reassuring squeeze.

Suddenly, Lorelai leaned forward, hunching over her stomach as she wailed, "Aaagh! God, kid, just get out already!"

For the millionth time already that day, Luke felt sick to his stomach at the sight of Lorelai in so much pain. "Jeez," he said, "God, Lorelai, I am so sor—"

"Would you stop freakin' apologizing?!" Lorelai screeched, gripping his hand even harder. "Seriously! It's not like I was fighting you off every time we had sex!"

Luke had to bite back an apology for apologizing. Instead, willing to risk a lapful of ice if it would possibly offer a little comfort to her, Luke reached for the cup of melting ice beside him. "There's still ice," he suggested, holding the cup out to her. "You sure you don't want any?"

"No!" she snapped, swatting at the cup.

Luke was just barely able to keep the contents from spilling, a sight that elicited a chuckle from the nurse who had just entered the room.

"You should have some, honey," she said to Lorelai. "Your IV is doing most of it, but we still need to keep you hydrated."

Her eyes wide and maniacal, Lorelai turned to Luke. "Gimme," she demanded harshly.

Not about to deny her, Luke quickly slid two small cubes into her mouth.

She immediately spat one forcefully in the nurse's direction. The other soon followed, this time towards Luke's shoulder. "I don't want the freakin' ice," she barked. "I just want the kid out!"

Looking barely fazed by Lorelai's actions, the nurse gave a slight nod and exited the room.

"Don't think I won't hit you with it next time!" Lorelai yelled after her before settling back down against her pillow.

Luke took Lorelai's suddenly more relaxed posture to mean they'd made it successfully through another contraction, even if the nurse hadn't. "Better?" he asked.

Lorelai let her head loll to face him. "Mm-hm," she replied, smiling wearily.

Luke returned the smile and smoothed her damp hair off her forehead gently, but also leaned in with a hiss. "Did you have to do that?" he demanded. "With the spitting?"

"You shoved it in my mouth," Lorelai snapped.

"You told me to!" Luke protested. "My mistake, apparently," he added just as Lorelai's obstetrician entered the room.

"Okay, Lorelai," Dr. Kravitz said with a smile. "How are we doing?"

"It's a regular party in here," Lorelai quipped with a roll of her eyes. "I was just going to tap the keg and start my pole dance."

The doctor raised an eyebrow in amusement as she readied her pen, poised to scribble something on Lorelai's chart. "I'm going to take that as a 'contractions are getting closer together and more intense'," she said, waiting for confirmation from Lorelai.

"Or that," Lorelai huffed, with Luke nodding vehemently just out of Lorelai's line of sight.

Dr. Kravitz made a few notes on the clipboard she held before she set it down and reached for some latex gloves. "Okay then. I'm just going to have a quick look," she informed them as she moved to the foot of Lorelai's bed.

Luke winced, still — after numerous pre-natal appointments and hours already in labor — not exactly comfortable with so many people poking around under Lorelai's gown.

A moment later, Dr. Kravitz had finished up. "Okay," she informed them, "things are actually progressing quite well. Looks like we're at about six and a half centimeters. Now," she hedged, eyeing the two of them cautiously, "I know we've put off the epidural this long, but at this point we're looking at your last chance. We really don't like to do them any later than about seven." Focusing her attention on Lorelai, she continued, "The anesthesiologist we had on hold for you is still available..."

Lorelai shook her head resolutely. "Luke wants natural."

Luke balked. "Well," he started, shifting in his chair, "originally, but..."

"Lorelai?" the doctor prompted.

The same head shake followed.

"That's fine," Dr. Kravitz allowed. "We won't pressure you. But, just to be clear, this is it. We won't be able to do it later, okay?"

"I'm fine," Lorelai claimed, though she wasn't entirely convincing.

Visions of the latest contraction and flying ice cubes fresh in his mind, along with speculations of what could still be to come, Luke cut in, "Lorelai, get it if you want it," he insisted, just wanting her comfortable if nothing else. "You don't have to prove anything to me."

"I'm fine," she repeated.

"But..." Luke trailed off, feeling defeated.

Across the room, Dr. Kravitz nodded. "Alright," she agreed. "But how do we feel about IV pain relief? A little Nubain to take the edge off the contractions?"

"That's still not natural," Lorelai protested. "Plus," she smirked, "Demerol is what got my other kid named after me." Turning to face Luke, she raised her eyebrows. "You wanna name this one Lorelai, too? If he's a boy?"

Dr. Kravitz let out a chuckle at the suggestion, which earned her a glare from Luke. Focusing on Lorelai again, he dropped his voice. "Come on," he assured her, practically pleading. "I gave up on natural at that stupid class. Get the drugs if you want them," he urged.

"Luke, you don't want them..." Lorelai repeated, though her argument sounded weaker than ever.

Luke shook his head, insisting, "I don't care—"

He was cut off by a whimper from Lorelai as she squeezed her eyes closed and flailed around for Luke's hand.

"Good," Dr. Kravitz said, noting the onset of the contraction. "Lorelai," she instructed, "just remember to keep breathing."

The words had barely left her mouth when Lorelai let out one of the loudest and most disconcerting screams she had thus far.

Although pretty sure that at least part of it had been due to frustration over yet another breathing instruction, Luke was unnerved by the sound. "Would you just take the damn drugs, already?!" he yelped at Lorelai. He turned to the doctor, repeating the sentiment, "Give her the damn drugs!"

♫   ♫   ♫   ♫   ♫   ♫   ♫

Paul Anka trotted into the living room, pausing to sniff Rory as she rifled through Lorelai's CD collection. She heard April not far behind as she tossed Paul Anka's leash aside in the foyer. "Anything?" April inquired.

Rory sat back on her heels. "I don't think so," she sighed, eying the stacks of CDs she'd already rifled through. "Every 80s anything you could ever think of, but no Manilow. It used to be under the seat of her car," Rory said, shrugging. "For all I know it's still there and she forgot about it."

April rolled her eyes as she lowered herself to the floor next to Rory and reached for a handful of CDs. "So then we're here looking for what reason?"

"To let him out?" Rory offered, nodding in Paul Anka's direction.

April giggled. "I say ten more minutes and then we just take whatever we do have as a substitute. I don't want to miss anything," she said excitedly. "And maybe there's other stuff Lorelai will want us to do instead."

Rory eyed her step-sister skeptically as she set aside another few CDs. "Do what?" she scoffed, before muttering under her breath. "She's got Luke to do stuff for her and the baby."

Her muttering wasn't quite as quiet as she'd intended; a beat later, April replied with a slightly miffed "And you're pissed about that?"

Ducking April's gaze, Rory reached for more CDs. "No," she countered flatly.

"Okay..." April said, sounding less confrontational, but not at all convinced.

Both of them remained silent as they scanned through more CDs. Rory mentally kicked herself for having said anything out loud, and wondered if she should have tried to justify herself a little more. And, for all she knew, maybe April felt the same.

She held her tongue a minute or so more, but eventually the words made their way out. "I'm not mad," she spat out suddenly, "it's just..." She paused, trying to sound less stupid and more diplomatic. "I mean," she finally asked April, "what do you think of all this?"

Still digging through Lorelai's disorganized CD collection, April didn't even look up as she replied, rather nonchalantly, "All what? The baby? I'm happy."

"I know," Rory said hesitantly, "but... I mean, you're in the same boat as me..."

Finally April paused and met Rory's gaze. "I'm not sure I see where you're going here."

Rory took a deep breath and set aside more CDs. "Alright," she started, "I know it's ridiculous, but aren't you just the tiniest bit jealous that this kid is going to grow up so normally?"

April's brow wrinkled in confusion. "Wha — ?"

Rory hurried to explain. "Mom, Dad, dog, one big happy family? I know—" She hesitated. "I mean, I am happy for Mom and Luke, but... We didn't get that, you know? This kid will."

"I don't know," April said, looking thoughtful and shrugging. "I guess I didn't really think about it like that."

"Plus, there's me and Mom," Rory continued anyway, actually happy to be able to get some of her thoughts on the subject out. "Basically my whole life it was just the two of us. Now I'm on my own, and she's got a whole new family and kid."

April didn't reply, sitting instead with a pensive expression.

The silence didn't sit well with Rory as she went over her previous words in her head. "God, I'm horrible, aren't I?" she moaned, dropping her forehead into her palm. "It's so selfish. And it's dumb. Sibling rivalry is supposed to be an issue when the older kid is like two or something. Not mid-twenties," she finished glumly.

After studying Rory another moment, April said frankly, "I think it's okay to feel a little weird about it. It is a big change, I guess," she added with a shrug. "I didn't really think about that, but maybe because it's Dad and not my mom? It was always me and Mom too, but with Dad, I guess it's all still kind of new anyway? I don't know." She hesitated as a sheepish look came over her face. "Then again, I was a total witch-with-a-capital-"B" to your mom the other day, so maybe I'm not adjusting to this whole thing as well as I like to think."

Rory's eyes widened. "Really?"

"Yeah," April nodded. "I mean, I apologized, and I think things are okay now, but I was really mean to her. I told dad it was because she kept distracting me from getting work done, but I think I'm realizing that I was just sublimating my ambivalent feelings about having a new brother or sister." She looked at Rory and shrugged. "I guess we both have a lot to get used to here."

"I guess," Rory agreed, realizing that April was in almost the exact same situation that she herself had been in when Sherry had been having Gigi.

"But look at it from the other way," April piped up again, jarring Rory from her thoughts. "Maybe once the baby is old enough to have actual coherent thoughts beyond hunger, wet diapers, and general crankiness, it'll be just as jealous of you."

"What?" Rory asked, looking up from the CDs she'd just grabbed.

"Maybe the baby will be jealous that you got your whole childhood with Lorelai to yourself," April pointed out logically. "You guys are so close — age and everything else. Now your mom and my dad are actually kind of old to be having a kid, so it's totally going to be different."

Rory let out a deep breath with a "Huh."

"Plus..." April added hesitantly, "I mean, not that it matters, but without Dad, I had even less father time when I was little than you did. I think I'm fine. I'd like to think we both turned out pretty good anyway," she said, gesturing to the two of them, "so I don't think it's necessarily better that there's going to be two parents around, but maybe we should just be happy for the baby either way."

"I know..." Rory admitted. And she was happy for her mother and Luke. She was. "You're completely right."

After another moment, April giggled. "Plus," she said, "we definitely did have it good with just our moms. Don't forget, this kid has a whole life with Dad being majorly over-protective to deal with! That is going to be rough!"

Rory laughed at the truth in April's words. A moment later, she looked up again with a smirk. "Hey," she prompted April. "Your mom didn't come re-arrange Mom's medicine cabinet, did she?"

♫   ♫   ♫   ♫   ♫   ♫   ♫

At the hospital entrance, Sookie practically growled, her nostrils flaring as Kirk shuffled back and forth in front of her. "Kirk, let me past you," she warned.

Kirk shook his head vehemently. "Only if you promise to come back with exclusive behind-the-scenes information," he declared. "And if you could just take this voice recorder for an interv—"

"Kirk!" Sookie shouted, cutting him off. "Get out of my way. I'll put celery in your next tuna sandwich, I swear to God!"

Kirk paled, stammering a protest immediately, "B — b — but you know I'm allergic," he whined, stomping his foot. "I'll break out in horrible hives!"

Sookie was just about to take advantage of Kirk's tantrum to slip past him when she heard from behind her, "Sookie? Kirk?"

"Richard, Emily..." Sookie greeted the Gilmores, stunned to see them just now coming from the parking lot. "I can't believe you're just getting here," she exclaimed.

Emily rolled her eyes. "Please don't remind me," she said. "One would think that in situations like this, leaving a mobile phone on vibrate would hardly be intrusive to others."

"Emily," Richard chided, "theater regulations are such that all phone devices were to be turned off. Even vibrate would have been impolite."

Lips pursed as she ignored Richard, Emily turned back to Sookie. "Now, how is everything going, Sookie?" she asked.

"I don't know any more than you," Sookie admitted. "I just got here too. Jackson went to look at the farm thing, and then he had to wait, and then the guy, and the talking about peat moss, and the—" She paused, taking in the incredulous look Emily was giving her. "He didn't get home until a lot later than he thought he would," she summed up contritely. "And," she added, in a slightly more sour tone, "he left his stupid cell phone at home when he left."

"Well," Richard interjected, "then what are we waiting for?"

"Kirk won't let me by," Sookie said, frowning once she saw she'd lost her opportunity to slip by him.

Emily set her jaw and eyed Kirk. "Kirk," she warned sternly.

"I'm sorry Mrs. Gilmore," Kirk apologized, "but Sookie and I were just—"

"Young man," Richard cut in, his booming voice matching his stature, "my daughter is upstairs giving birth to my grandchild." He took a step closer to Kirk. "Do you really want to be standing in my way?"

Sookie giggled at Kirk's utterly petrified expression.

"N — no, sir," he stammered, as the trio made their way into the hospital. "But..." his voice trailed off after them, "at least take the tape recorder!"

Sookie, Emily, and Richard quickly made their way to the elevator, following directions that Rory had left in many, many phone messages. Once in the elevator, Sookie could barely contain herself. "Oh, this is so exciting, isn't it?" she gushed. "You must be so excited. I'm so excited," she squealed. "I'm so excited for Lorelai. And Luke!" she added. "Aren't you excited?" she bubbled, turning her focus to Emily and Richard.

Emily smiled at Sookie, answering with a serene "Why, yes, I think we are."

"It must be so much better for Lorelai than last time," Sookie continued exuberantly, "and so different...." After a thoughtful pause, she addressed them again, "It must be really different for you too, isn't it?" She didn't, however, wait for an answer, for the elevator doors opened and she spotted just who they'd been looking for. "Oh!" she exclaimed, taking off down the hall. "Rory!" she yelled. "April!"

Behind her, Richard and Emily looked rather taken aback as they exited from the elevator. Richard responded numbly, "Yes, quite," as they took in the sight of Rory, April, and Sookie being greeted happily by a weary Luke, who had just stepped from Lorelai's room.

A moment later, Rory caught sight of them, yelling past Sookie, "Grandma! Mom will be so glad you guys made it!"

"Very different," Emily murmured.

♫   ♫   ♫   ♫   ♫   ♫   ♫

Lorelai sagged back against her pillow, breathing her way through the tail end of another contraction. Luke could tell the labor was really starting to take a toll on his wife, but the painkillers seemed to be taking some of the edge off — not to mention making her more than a little loopy. Before this most recent contraction, Lorelai had been serenading Luke with 'I Can't Smile Without You' and rambling something about Manilow, Bette Midler, and 1970s New York bath houses. Now, however, she simply lay back against her pillow, her eyes closed, softly humming along to 'Somewhere in the Night'.

"How you doin'?" he asked, pushing a sweaty lock of hair off her forehead.

"I'm great," Lorelai responded with a goofy smile. "How you doin?" she added.

Luke smirked, having been around Lorelai long enough to get the Friends reference. "I'm doin' fine," he said.

"No, you're not," Lorelai giggled. "You hate hospitals. Turn green. Almost puke. Surprised you haven't run screaming yet."

Luke smiled at the long-ago memory. "Yeah, well, maybe I'll try to stick it out this one time."

"Hey, come here," Lorelai whispered conspiratorially, motioning him to bend closer. When he did, she whispered, "We're having a baby."

At Lorelai's words, Luke felt like his heart would burst and he couldn't help grinning. "Yeah, I thought I heard something about a kid coming." He bent and pressed a kiss to her forehead. "Have I told you how proud I am of you?" he said, not even trying to hold back the emotions that almost choked his voice.

"That's because I'm made of awesome," Lorelai smiled dreamily.

"Yes, you are."

"And totally hot."

"Well, that goes without saying."

Lorelai's head lolled in Luke's general direction and she squinted at him. "I'm sorry I spit ice chips at you."


"And cursed at you. I'm sorry I spit ice chips at you and cursed at you."

Luke nodded, stroking her hair. "I know."

"And almost broke your hand. I'm sorry I spit ice chips at you and cursed at you and almost broke your hand."

"Hey, you're having our kid." Luke smiled, dropping another kiss to the top of her head. "I think I can take a little abuse if it means getting to meet our kid."

"Our kid." Lorelai grinned, a little more alert now. "Our kid. We're really doing it, aren't we?" she said, squeezing his hand. "We're getting the whole package."

"Yeah." Luke smiled and squeezed her hand back. "The wrapping paper may be a little goofy, but yeah. We're getting the whole package."

♫   ♫   ♫   ♫   ♫   ♫   ♫

Rory and April hurried back down the corridor to the Birthing Center, April working her iPhone in one hand as she balanced a tray of drinks and coffee in the other. Rory was carrying coffee for herself and tea for Luke, while April carried her soda and coffee for Sookie and Emily and Richard. They reached the waiting area outside of Loreai's room, where Sookie and Emily and Richard sat waiting. Sookie was on her cell phone with Jackson — who was apparently up all night dealing with a squash crisis — and Richard sat placidly reading The New York Times. Emily sat with a magazine open on her lap, tapping her foot absently and looking back and forth from the clock on the wall to the closed door of Lorelai's room. Everything seemed quiet otherwise, which Rory supposed was a good sign.

"Here you go, Mr. Gilmore," April said, handing him a cup of coffee.

"Thank you, my dear," he said, looking up with a brief smile before turning back to his paper.

"Mrs. Gilmore, yours has two sugars and a splash of half-and-half, just like you asked," April said, handing her the second cup.

"Thank you, April." At the tension in Emily's voice, Rory turned and studied her carefully. She knew her grandmother wasn't always the epitome of the calm, cool, and collected society lady, but she couldn't remember her looking as anxious as she did at the moment. She supposed that was natural — after all, she was trying very hard not to freak out herself.

"Anything yet?" she asked.

"No," Emily said with a sigh. "I think there was another contraction right after you left, but it's been quiet for the last few minutes."

"Okay, then I guess I'll take Luke his tea." Rory nodded, relieved to have missed the worst of the latest contraction. She placed her coffee on the table and turned to the door of the birthing room, taking a deep breath to steady herself before going in. She had just enough time take in the fact that Luke was sitting on the edge of her mother's bed rubbing her back when Lorelai scrunched up her face in pain and emitted a loud groan. Rory dropped Luke's tea on the nearest flat surface and scurried out room to the waiting eyes of her grandparents, April, and Sookie.

"Rory, is everything all right?" Emily asked worriedly. "You don't look well at all."

"Everything's fine, Grandma," Rory replied as she dropped into a seat next to April and took a long, grateful drink of her coffee. "Guess I'm really not big into the whole baby-comin'-round-the-mountain thing, even if it is my little brother. Or sister."

"I wholeheartedly concur," Richard said, turning back to his newspaper.

♫   ♫   ♫  

Rory woke with a start and glanced at her watch. She saw it was 4:15 in the morning and was surprised she had slept for over an hour. She shook her head groggily and realized that sitting and waiting took as much out of a person as running around taking care of errands. On the seat opposite her, April sat engrossed in her calculus textbook, and Sookie was equally busy making notes in what Rory recognized as her menu planner. On the loveseat under the television her grandparents sat dozing, her grandmother's head leaning on her grandfather's shoulder. Rory stood up and stretched, then walked over and gently removed the reading glasses that had slipped down her grandfather's nose and placed his bookmark in his copy of Fathers and Sons. She turned to Sookie, who looked up with an encouraging smile.

"How you holding up, kitten?" Sookie asked, using the nickname Rory hadn't heard in years.

"I'm okay. I'm just worried about my mom." She glanced at her watch again. "Is it supposed to take this long?

Sookie shrugged. "Everyone's different, sweetie. Davey went quick — like, Boom! Pow! Hello, little baby! But Martha took fourteen hours, and my friend Janet Turnbull was in labor for sixteen hours."

"Sixteen hours?" Rory breathed. Lorelai had always talked about being in labor for twenty-six hours with her, but she'd thought that was (mostly) a joke. She hated the thought of her mother being in pain for so long.

"Actually," April said, looking up from her book, "it's not totally unusual for a woman to be in labor for as much as twenty-five or thirty hours."

"Oh, my God!" Rory gasped.

"But that's at the outside," Sookie said quickly, shooting April a look. "Don't worry, I'm sure your mom's gonna be fine."

The words were no sooner out of Sookie's mouth when they heard a drawn-out, tortured groan from the other side of Lorelai's door.

"Sookie?" Rory whimpered.

Sookie patted Rory's hand. "It's okay, honey. Sounds like the pushing has started, that's all."

"Yeah, well, the pushing sounds really bad," Rory retorted.

"It's not fun, that's for sure," Sookie chuckled. "Maybe you'd feel better if you went in and checked on her."

"Uh-uh!" Rory cried. "I'm not going in there while all the... you know... stuff is going on." She looked at Sookie pleadingly. "Would you go check for me?"


"Yeah." Rory nodded. "You're her best friend, and you've already been through it all, so you won't be so..."

Sookie smiled sympathetically. "Freaked out?"


Sookie nodded, then stood up and gave Rory's hand another reassuring squeeze. "Okay. I'll be right back."

As the door closed behind Sookie, Rory's grandparents both stirred.

"What's happening?" Richard asked, looking around blearily.

"We think there may be pushing," Rory replied. "Sookie went in to check."

"Pushing is good," Emily said with a satisfied nod. "That means it's almost over."

A second later, Sookie came out of the door shaking her head ruefully. "Oh, boy," she muttered.

Rory ran to Sookie and grabbed her hand. "Boy? It's a boy?"

"What?" Sookie looked at Rory in confusion. "Oh! Oh, no. No, I was just saying 'Oh boy,' you know, like 'Oh, jeez,' or 'Oh, wow.'"

"So, it's not a boy?" Richard asked.

"It's not anything yet," Sookie replied, shaking her head. "But it will be very soon. There was definitely pushing. And panting. And stirrups."

Rory dropped back onto her seat, overcome with the idea that her baby sister or brother would soon be in the world.

The next minutes passed in a blur of pacing, waiting, and everyone turning toward the door every time they heard Lorelai cry out or the doctor order her to push. Finally Luke came out of the room, his face glowing and looking like he wasn't sure whether to laugh or cry.

"It's a girl!"

Rory yelped and jumped up to hug Luke, followed closely by April.

"Oh, this is so great!" Sookie squealed, tears running down her face. "Another girl! She can play with Martha and Wanda, and maybe when she and Davey get older... well, who knows!"

"Congratulations, my boy," said Richard, shaking Luke's hand. Emily came to stand by her husband, and Rory could see there were tears standing in her eyes.

"How is Lorelai?" her grandmother asked.

"She's great," Luke said, unable to keep the grin off his face. "She's amazing. She's just..." he trailed off and shook his head, as if he couldn't find the words to express how happy he was. "They're cleaning up right now, then you can all come in." He glanced back at the door. "I'd better get back in there."

"Wait, wait," Richard said, fishing in his jacket pocket. "Every new father needs one of these," he said, pulling out what Rory knew was one of his prized cigars and handing it to Luke. "Congratulations again."

Luke smiled and nodded, clearly overcome, then squeezed April's shoulder, gave Rory a wink, and walked back into the room.

After Luke left, Rory collapsed back into her seat in a daze. April sat next to her, beaming.

"We have a sister," April breathed.

Rory began grinning as the reality set in. "Yeah. We have a sister."

♫   ♫   ♫  

Around the corner from Lorelai's room, Kirk pulled out his walkie-talkie and began edging toward the other end of the hall.

"Jughead to Twinkle Toes. Come in, Twinkle Toes."

When there was no answer, Kirk stepped onto the elevator and went outside to get better reception. Once out in the parking lot, he tried again.

"Jughead to Twinkle Toes. Come in, Twinkle Toes. Twinkle Toes, this is Jughead. Come in, Twinkle Toes."

Finally, Patty's woozy voice came over the radio. "Wha...? What time is it? Kirk, is that you?"

Kirk shook his head in disgust. Clearly the lightweights back at Forty-Second Street had fallen asleep on the job. No wonder he had no problems outlasting everyone at the dance marathon every year. "Affirmative, Twinkle Toes. This is Jughead. The Hen has hatched the egg. Repeat. The Hen has hatched the egg. Baby chick is reported to be female. Estimated time of hatching: 4:39a.m. Eastern Daylight Time."

"Oh! Oh!" Patty cried, clearly more alert now. "Wake up, everybody! The Hen hatched the Chickadee! I mean laid the egg! I mean — oh, screw it. Lorelai had the baby! It's a girl!" Kirk could hear a scattering of sleepy whoops and cheers, and then the Town Troubadour went into his rendition of 'Isn't She Lovely?'

Then Taylor's voice broke into the commotion. "Simmer down, townsfolk. Simmer down. We still have one more order of business to take care of in Operation Hatch an Egg. Patty, as official record keeper of the operation, it falls to you to declare the winner of the birth pool."

"Okay, gimme a minute." Kirk could hear Patty rustling through some papers, then more rustling as she apparently grabbed the radio back from Taylor. "The winner is Mrs. Cassini! She bet a girl born at 4:29 a.m."

"Hah! Bite me, Tillie!" Mrs. Cassini crowed in the background.

"What about the name, Kirk?" Babette screeched.

"No confirmation on the name just yet, Half Pint," Kirk responded. "However, based on past trends, it's likely to be 'Lorelai.'"

"Good work, Kirk," Patty said. "Now come on back to Forty-Second Street and give us all the details."

"10-4, Twinkle Toes. ETA by two-wheeled vehicle, one hour fifty-seven minutes. Jughead out."

Kirk put on his bike helmet, adjusted his reflective knee pads and vest, and made sure the flashing lights on his Sketchers were in working order. He was halfway to his bike when he stopped and turned back to the hospital entrance, deciding he'd pop back in to the hospital gift shop and pick up one of those bears for Lulu.

♫   ♫   ♫   ♫   ♫   ♫   ♫

Once the fuss of the birth itself was over, along with cleanup, Lorelai's first attempt at breastfeeding, and an abbreviated visit from utterly exhausted grandparents and Auntie Sookie, Rory and April had ducked out of Lorelai's suite to walk Emily and Richard to their car, leaving the Mom-Dad-baby trio completely alone.

From where she lay tired and sore in her bed, Lorelai gazed over at what was possibly the most precious thing she'd ever seen. In the chair just next to her, Luke cradled their tightly swaddled daughter, looking every bit the proud papa. She couldn't help but smile, and reached out to adjust the tiny pink cap on the baby's head. "I know I should be completely exhausted right now," she said quietly, "but there's absolutely no way I could sleep right now."

Luke looked up, his face weary but happy. "I know what you mean."

"We've been up all night — which would have normally done me in anyway," Lorelai joked, "plus working to get her out. I should be dead right now. But I can't stop looking at her. I feel like sleeping would make me miss something."

She'd just been rambling, but as soon as the words were out, Luke shot her a guilty look.

"Sorry. You want her back?" he asked. "You should take—"

Lorelai tried to protest, the sight of Luke holding their child possibly better than holding her herself, but to no avail. The bundle of blankets and baby was back in her arms almost immediately. "Hey there, sweetie. Hey, little Pop Tart," she cooed, already having adopted the nickname in honor of Luke's phone rant the night before, much to his chagrin. "You're so lucky that Mommy and Daddy are fighting over holding you right now. In a few days when we're already on diaper change five million, you're not going to be quite so popular."

Luke just chuckled and inched his chair closer to the bed.

Despite her words just a moment before, a yawn eventually escaped Lorelai's mouth. She smiled sheepishly to herself, then turned to Luke. "Babe, what time is it?" she asked.

Luke glanced down at his watch, blinking tiredly as he read the time. "About twenty to seven," he informed her.

"Oh!" Lorelai exclaimed quietly as she shifted her gaze back down to her daughter. "Happy two-hour birthday, baby girl," she whispered, jiggling her ever so slightly. "What do you think of your life so far, huh?"

Luke snorted at Lorelai's antics, offering for his daughter his own interpretation of an answer, "I think she probably is tired and thinks her mother is talking too much."

Lorelai ignored him with a wide smile, stroking the baby's soft cheek as she coaxed, "No, she doesn't, do you? No." She glanced wickedly at Luke before continuing, "And with any luck, in a few years, you'll be just like Mommy, and Daddy will have two of us talking to deal with."

Reaching up to brush a stray lock of hair from her face, Luke assured Lorelai, "I hope so."

Lorelai grinned, holding his gaze for a moment before she shifted her focus down once more. "You know, Ellie," she said, her eyes bright as she spoke in an intense 'story-telling' tone, "it was just an hour ago that I was lying in this exact position, only with an even bigger stomach. And I was swearing like a sailor on leave—"

"Jeez," Luke groaned, rolling his eyes.

Ignoring him, Lorelai kept going with a wide smile, "So there I was in labor, freaking out your biggest sister, and breaking Daddy's hand, and still screaming and swearing. So what do they do? Ice chips. I still don't know what they're for," she told the unimpressed Ellie, "but spitting them at people was even more fun than just pelting the nurses."

"Lorelai..." Luke tried to protest weakly.

"Shhh," she hushed him sternly. "So," she continued to the baby, "even though I still think it's very much like doing the splits on a crate of dynamite, the more I do this, the more I get that whole 'most meaningful experience of your life' thing."

She felt Luke's hand pry hers from near Ellie's feet, his fingers twining through hers. She glanced over at him and gave a smile as she squeezed his hand. But the happy tug in her heart didn't stop her from turning back to their daughter and continuing her story. "Anyway," she gushed, "so there we were, at almost five in the morning, and finally the doctor could see your head." As she heard herself say the words, she frowned, her nose wrinkling as she realized exactly what she was saying. "4:39 in the morning," she repeated, using their still-clasped hands to give Luke a less than gentle arm tug. "She is so your kid," she sneered playfully at him.

"Rory was born early," he contested, scoffing.

Lorelai pouted. "Yes," she relented, "and I still hold that against her."

"Hold what against who?" the 'who' in question asked from the doorway. Rory made her way back into Lorelai's room with April, having already seen off Richard and Emily.

"Nothing, nothing at all," Lorelai giggled. "April," she asked, "do you know what time of day you were born?"

April paused thoughtfully as she made her way to a chair next to Luke's. "Um," she eventually said, "pretty early too, I think. Maybe 5 or 6 something?"

"See," Lorelai said, dropping Luke's hand to poke at him, "it's just as much your doing as mine."

That elicited another eye roll from Luke, as well as bemused glances between Rory and April. "Okay then..." Rory said as Lorelai gestured for her to take a seat. Gingerly sitting at the foot of Lorelai's bed, she peered over at her new sister. "How's she doing?" she asked.

"Perfect," Lorelai replied, recalling with a smile when Rory, not too long ago, had gotten to hold her sister for the first time. "A little worn out by my mother, though," she added, more for herself than Ellie.

Rory smirked as Luke shook his head and April giggled. "Mom," she admonished.

"How are Ferdinand and Imelda, anyway?" Lorelai asked.

"Good," Rory replied. "Grandma said they'll probably be back in the afternoon, after everyone catches up on sleep."

"Sookie too," April added. "And she said she'll try and make sure Kirk doesn't show up again tomorrow."

Lorelai groaned, already having heard of his crazy antics downstairs. "Thank God," she muttered. "You have no idea what you're in for with that one living in our town, kiddo," she warned Ellie, who responded only with a yawn.

"No kidding," muttered Luke in agreement.

"So," April said, steering the conversation away from Kirk, "we have something to show you guys."

That got Lorelai's attention away from Ellie. "Ooh, a present?" she squealed.

"Sort of," Rory chuckled, reaching into her bag. "From Lane and the guys."

As Rory fiddled with her laptop, April explained, "We told Lane that you were upset about having to miss the concert, so when we told her why you were missing it, I guess she convinced the guys to do this."

Apparently satisfied with what she'd pulled up on the screen, Rory made her way to the far side of Lorelai's bed. Lorelai inched over to allow Rory to sit next to her, and Rory placed the computer on Lorelai's legs and gestured for April and Luke to huddle closer as well. "They obviously didn't have a name yet, since you didn't either," she said, "but this one's for you, Eleanor. And you guys," she added, smiling over at Luke and Lorelai as she clicked on the 'play' button.

A fuzzy video began to play, and Lorelai could just make out Zach shouting, "This one's for Luke, Lorelai, and their new little dude or dudette!" followed by the intro to 'Having My Baby,' albeit with a distinct Hep Alien spin to it. "Oh my God," she laughed, "Paul Anka..." Her voice trailed off as she let herself get caught up in the lyrics.

She might have still been sore and it might have still been early in the morning after a very long night, but with three daughters squished into her bed and Luke in a Buffett shirt stroking her hair as they watched that video, she couldn't think of any place she'd rather be.






To be continued...  




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