|Its a Wonderful Stars Hollow Life
Author: Jmaka PM
This year's tale an unusual turn as Luke struggles with the holiday season.Rated: Fiction M - English - Angst/Romance - Luke D. & Lorelai G. - Words: 12,404 - Reviews: 4 - Favs: 2 - Follows: 1 - Published: 01-24-11 - id: 6682441
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Yes I know this is late. This just kept getting longer and longer. Every time I did a read through to post, I ended up adding to it because it became my refuge.
This is part of my Christmas in the Hollow Series. Most likely the last. The order is Elvira, Mistress of the Dark, Bad Santa, Three Wishes and then this story. You don't have to read the previous ones but you'll see how things progressed if you do.
With apologies to Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed. Frank Capra is probably spinning in his crypt over this one.
It's a Wonderful (Stars Hollow) Life
The deafening cacophony echoing out of the kitchen made Luke pause and look in that direction. "Cesar!" he yelled.
"It's okay," Cesar yelled back. There was a lesser clanging noise as Cesar cleaned up whatever catastrophe that occurred.
Luke let out an irritated growl and turned back to Miss Patty. "What'll you have?"
"Grilled chicken breast on wheat bun with lettuce and tomato," she replied, eyeing him appraisingly. "Hot tea with lemon to drink. You seem to be a little out of sorts, honey."
"Just busy, that's all," Luke said tiredly as he turned away and navigated his way through the busy diner.
Patty watched him go, slightly concerned. For the past few days, no longer, Luke seemed to be in some sort of funk and she couldn't put her finger on the reason why. He had a thriving business. He was happily married to Lorelai with two beautiful children in addition to the grown up girls, Rory and April. It was Christmas Eve and the Stars Hollow Annual Party was taking place this very night. Patty knew Luke had put up a show of being reluctant to play Santa again, but she knew he was secretly eager to do so for his children.
After putting in the order, Luke went behind the counter to set up more coffee. Zach came behind the counter from the opposite end carrying a load of dirty plates, bobbing his head and endlessly repeating the same five bars of music. He'd been doing it the entire lunch rush and it was driving Luke up a wall.
"Zach," he said, trying to keep his tone neutral, "do you have to keep doing that?"
"Sorry, man," Zach apologized. "I didn't realize I was humming out lout. I've been stuck trying to work out this transition on this tune I'm writing and it's stuck in my head."
"Yeah and now it's stuck in mine," Luke said darkly.
"Sorry, dude. I tend to fixate when I'm into my music." He plated a donut and headed back out into the dining area, unconsciously humming the same five bars. Luke gritted his teeth.
"Order up!" Cesar called. Luke picked up Miss Patty's order and delivered it. Just as he was making his way back to the counter, the diner door opened. Lorelai walked in holding his son followed by Rory, carrying his youngest daughter.
"Daddy!" Lorie shrieked, demanding his immediate attention.
Luke put an arm around Rory as he brushed a kiss on top of Lorie's head then went to Lorelai and gave her a peck on the lips before looking down at his sleepy son.
"Hi," he greeted her. "Here for a late lunch?"
"No," Lorelai replied as they sat at an empty table. "Just came for a quick coffee before we brave the mall on Christmas Eve."
Luke grabbed the cups and the coffee pot and poured their coffee. "You're going to the mall now? I thought you had everything for Christmas."
"We do, but there are always great sales on Christmas Eve," Lorelai replied. "We can be a part of the last-minute hustle and bustle and get some great deals."
"Deals on stuff we don't need?" Luke grumbled. "You've already spent way too much on the kids for Christmas."
"I didn't say I was buying things for the kids, Ebenezer," Lorelai shot back. "We're just going to look around."
"We don't need any more stuff," Luke said sourly. "We'll barely get all the gifts under the tree as it is."
"Stop being a Grinch."
The diner bell rang out again as Liz, TJ and Doula entered the diner. They stopped by Lorelai's table.
"Happy Christmas to all," TJ called out. "We're just making a quick pit stop before we go home and trim the tree."
"The town is so festive this year," Liz gushed. "We're going to put up the tree and then get ready for the party tonight!" Liz sidled up to Luke and gave him a hug. "Hello my Brotha. You all set to play Santa Claus again this year?"
"Daddy Claus!" Lorie chimed in.
"Oh, that is so cute!" Liz exclaimed to Luke. "Doula is looking forward to it too! I bet all the kids are! You're such a great Santa!"
"More like a great schmuck" Luke retorted tiredly. "I'd like nothing better than to stay home with my family than play Barco-lounger to half the town."
"Sounds like somebody's getting in touch with their inner Scrooge," TJ commented.
"Bah humbug," Luke replied. "Why don't you take a turn at being Santa this year?"
"Hey, I could do that," TJ agreed, "I'm a pretty easy-going guy."
"Luke, you have to be Santa this year!" Lorelai insisted. "Its Will's first Christmas."
Luke glared at Lorelai, knowing she was pulling out the big guns, using his fondness for his children against him. She gave him an innocent smile and his eyes narrowed. "Don't you get tired of emotionally blackmailing me?" he groused.
"Never, Burger boy," she smirked. "Or should I call you Burger Claus?"
"No, no," Rory interjected. "That's too much like Burger Meister, Meister Burger."
Zach walked by still humming the same piece of music. "Zach!" Luke barked.
"Well, does have the attitude for it lately," Lorelai observed.
Luke made an irritated sound and turned back towards the counter just as Taylor burst into the diner closely followed by Kirk.
"Greetings, all you wonderful citizens of Stars Hollow!" he declared. "How is everyone this fine Christmas Eve?" Taylor beamed and the townsfolk as they consumed their meals. "Isn't it nice to have a local business owner so concerned with the happiness of the general population of the town?"
"Looks like Taylor is still trying to gather last-minute votes to be Stars Hollow's Man of the Year." Rory commented.
"First ever, Man of the Year, young lady," Taylor corrected.
"You'll be a shoe-in, Taylor," Kirk chimed in. He was circulating the diner, passing out buttons with Taylor's picture on them. "Vote for Taylor."
"Wow, Taylor's even got his own cheering section," Lorelai put in. She looked over at Luke. "Want me to cheer for you?"
"I refused to put my name in. I do not feed into this town's mania, you know that," Luke reminded her. He turned to the preening selectman. "Do not campaign for your stupid, made-up award in my diner, Taylor," he warned.
"Just because you're surly and uncaring doesn't mean the rest of us have to be," Taylor waved dismissively. "There's nothing wrong with being sociable and concerned with the welfare of my customer base."
"That's why you'll win!" Kirk proclaimed.
"Shut up, Kirk," Luke ordered in an aggravated tone.
"You're not the boss of me," Kirk dared to reply, standing unnaturally close to Taylor.
"Don't forget to cast your votes!" Taylor called out. "There's only about an hour left to do so!"
"Who here heard me say no campaigning in the diner?" Luke said to the diner in general. A number of hands went up.
"Vote for Taylor!" Kirk yelled.
Zach whizzed by to deliver a plate, the same endless notes trailing in his wake.
Another crash sounded from the kitchen. "Sorry boss!" Cesar shouted.
"Enough!" Luke yelled. "You and you," he pointed to Taylor. "Out of my diner! Zach, for the love of God, pick another tune, any tune and Cesar!" Are you trying to put me out of business? He tossed up his hands in defeat. "I have had it! That's it! You people win! I'm leaving!" The whole diner went deathly silent in the face of his rant. Luke tossed his order pad and pencil down and stormed out of the diner.
Everyone exchanged worried glances before looking towards Lorelai. She and Rory shot each other concerned looks. Both Lorie and Will, picking up on the collective mood, were starting to squirm. Lorelai distractedly tried to comfort them both as Rory collected their things. They bundled up Lorie and Will and they too left the diner.
"I have never seen Luke lose it like that," Rory said in a muted voice. "Is something wrong?"
"I don't know," Lorelai replied as they hurried down the sidewalk. "He's been restless, but he says nothing is wrong. I chalked it up to his usual holiday attitude."
"This more than that," Rory said.
"Yeah and I am going to get to the bottom of it right now," Lorelai said determinedly.
They walked quickly and soon they were back at the Crap Shack, letting themselves in. Rory hung back in the foyer and waved Lorelai on while she freed Lorie and Will from their strollers. Lorelai entered the living room to see Luke pacing back and forth like a caged animal. She cut to the chase. "What's wrong?"
"What's wrong?" Luke repeated incredulously. "Everything is wrong! This whole town is driving me nuts!" He turned and stalked away from her, circling the sofa before ending up right in front of her again and began ticking off his grievances on his fingers. "Zach's method of songwriting is like water boarding; Cesar is determined to destroy the diner by any means possible and Taylor! Taylor and Kirk won't be happy until they've brainwashed every person in town to think like them!" Luke threw his hands up in the air. "I can't take it anymore!"
"Wow," Lorelai surprised at the vehemence of his outburst. "Calm down, babe," she soothed. She could see how frazzled he was. "Don't go back to the diner. Let Cesar and Zach close up." She tentatively reached out and stroked his arm like she was calming a skittish animal. "You've been pushing yourself too much lately."
As he seemed to quiet, she stepped closer. "Spend the rest of the afternoon with us," she coaxed. "Come shopping with us. We won't be out long."
Luke reared back from her as if stung. "You want me to go to the mall and shop on one of the busiest shopping days of the year?" He asked as if she were crazy. "You've got to be kidding."
"No, it won't be like that," Lorelai said. "Just some family time." Rory peeked around the entrance to the foyer, watching, cuddling both children closely.
"Which consists of me being dragged along to pay for everything or play pack mule, while you make jokes," he said snidely.
"Hey!" Lorelai said, offended by his tone. "You know better than that! I don't treat you like that! We're partners!
"Partners?" he snorted. "More like a punch line!"
Rory drew back as Lorie started to cry softly and Will whimpered in distress. Lorelai's eyes strayed to the foyer where her children cowered and lost her temper. "If you're going to sulk then just stay home! I don't need you to spoil the magic of Christmas for the kids!"
Luke gnashed his teeth at the guilt trip she was laying on him and heard his children crying, because of him. "Yeah that's right, it's all my fault! I'm a bad husband and father because I'm not willing to go into bankruptcy or subject myself to the lunacy of the season! I can't stand it anymore! Its times like this I wish I'd never been born!" He turned on his heel and rushed out of the house, his own home no longer a refuge.
Lorelai hurried over to where Rory stood wide-eyed, clutching two howling children. She wrapped her arms around the three of them trying to comfort them and they all huddled together, confused and fearful, trying to figure out what was wrong.
Luke deliberately stomped along the back streets of Stars Hollow were he was guaranteed little or no contact with any of the townsfolk. The last thing he wanted was to deal with some schmuck who would irritate the hell out of him by wishing him a Merry Christmas.
He found himself entering the town from a direction he'd never taken before but thankfully brought him to the rear of the diner. He carefully let himself in the back door and was about to head towards the stairs when he heard Cesar's voice carrying through the curtain.
"No Lorelai, he hasn't been back here." There was a pause. "Yes, I'll double check upstairs. Hang on."
Luke shrank back in the shadows and watched as Cesar chugged up the steps. He could hear him knocking, calling out his name and rattling the doorknob. Finally Cesar descended and went back through the curtain.
"No, he's not up there," Luke heard Cesar say. "Yeah, I'll tell him to call you if I see him."
Luke let out the breath he was holding. He knew he was being childish. He knew he would regret every last word he uttered once he cooled down, but at the moment, he didn't care. He needed some time to collect himself, to let go of his frustration and that meant some alone time, some peace for himself and those he loved, at least for a little while. He was better off not being around people, especially family because he didn't want to lash out even further. He noiselessly made his way up the stairs. He unlocked the door, eased it open and locked it again behind himself.
The apartment had mostly reverted back to his early bachelor days. There was still furniture, the beds and a kitchen table but it was clear the place was not lived in often. Jess sometimes used it if he came to town and didn't want to stay at his mother's house. He soft-footed it across the floor and eased himself down on his old bed, covering his eyes with his arm. Luke breathed deeply, trying to calm himself down and get to the root of what was really bothering him.
It was cold and getting dark when he jerked awake, for a second, unfamiliar with his surroundings. He wasn't sure how much time had passed, but Luke was suddenly seized with an overwhelming urge to get home to Lorelai. She would either be worried sick or ready to rip his head off for being gone so long especially with this being Christmas Eve. He swung his legs off the bed and prepared to sit up then froze.
His father was sitting on the couch.
"Dad?" Luke queried tentatively. He was glad he was still sitting down. He was sure he would've collapsed out of shock. His father looked solid enough, vital and healthy, as he had before he'd gotten sick.
"You can't really be here," Luke reasoned struck by a sudden fear. "Am I dead?"
William Danes looked at the man sitting on the bed. He gave him a cryptic half smile then shrugged. "Yes and no."
He wasn't sure what answer he was expecting but the one he got confused him even more. "What is THAT supposed to mean?"
William Danes stood up. "Earlier today you wished you'd never been born. You think it would be better if you weren't around."
"I do sometimes, especially after what happened this afternoon," he admitted quietly. He kept seeing how upset Lorelai and the children were and it was eating at him that he was the cause of it.
"The Powers that Be decided to grant you that wish," William stated.
"You think everyone would be better off without you. So, you never were born."
Luke snorted. "Yeah, right." But as the words were leaving his mouth he noticed subtle differences in the apartment. The couch was a different color and style and the curtains weren't like he remembered.
"I'm completely serious, Luke," William said. "You're here in a Stars Hollow that never knew you existed."
"That's crazy!" Luke ranted. "I'm right here! I don't know if I'm having a stroke or hallucinating or if it's all just a bad dream but I'm going home to my wife and kids. Lorelai's got to be freaking out by now."
"I don't think so," William said softly.
Luke gave him a skeptical look and stalked to the door, wanting nothing more than to leave the disturbing image behind. He'd dreamt about his father before, but never like this. He was a little upset with himself that his mind would play such a cruel trick on him as to conjure him up like this now.
Luke quickly pounded down the stairs and was through the entrance to the diner just as he realized the usual curtain that separated the front from the back wasn't there. He skidded to a stop and looked around.
The tables were gone. In their place were rows of hammers, screwdrivers, nails, pliers and any other type of hardware tool he could think of. It looked just like his father's shop, as he remembered it. Even the window that showed the interior of the soda shop was gone. As he gaped at the old hardware store, Liz walked out for the area that used to be the kitchen. She stopped short, startled as she spied Luke.
"Where did you come from? I didn't hear you come in," she said nervously. "Can I help you?" The sudden appearance of a stranger, who'd gotten so far into the store without her hearing him, scared her.
"Liz, what the hell is going on here?" Luke demanded casting his eyes around at all the tools then back to her. Random details about her appearance clamored for his attention. She looked tired—really tired like she hadn't been sleeping. Her hair hung limply around her well-lined face and her clothes were ill-fitting and a little ratty.
"Do I know you?" she asked uncertainly.
Luke looked at her sharply, his eyes widening. William walked up behind him. "I'm your brother, Luke!"
"Hey buddy, I don't know what you're smoking, but take it out of here," Liz ordered. "I don't do that stuff anymore. I've never had a brother. I was an only child, lived here most of my life."
"That's not possible," Luke shouted.
Liz backed up slightly sizing him up, fearfully.
"Luke," William said, "Liz doesn't know you. Its like I said, you were never born."
Luke turned on him. "Stop saying that!"
"Who are you talking to?" Liz asked suspiciously.
"Dad," he gestured towards his father.
"Who?" Liz looked alarmed. As far as she could tell the stranger was alone.
"She can't see me, Luke" William said.
"Look," Liz continued, "I want you out of here."
"Wait!" Luke said. "I'm just trying to understand. You said you've lived her here all of your life? What about Jess?"
Liz did a double take. "You know Jess?" She took in Luke's somewhat scruffy appearance and the pieces fell into place for her. She relaxed slightly. "You just get out? If you know Jess you must've met him on the inside."
"The inside of what?" Luke asked blankly.
"He's doing a three to five stretch in the federal pen on a GTA." Liz said tiredly.
"Grand Theft Auto?" Luke whispered, horrified.
"Yeah, Jess was always a little wild and it came back and bit him in the ass," Liz said sadly. "I tried to keep him out of trouble, but I didn't do so hot."
"No, that's not right!" Luke insisted. "You sent him to me! He had a rocky start, but he straightened out. He's an author now!" Liz backed up a step from him.
"An author?" Liz' eyes were huge. "I wish. I got pregnant with him when I took off to New York a long time ago. Jimmy ran off and I came back here, had Jess and looked after my dad til he died. Jess never had a good father figure and didn't really adjust to life here."
"He's an author," Luke repeated stubbornly. "He's doing great."
"Luke that didn't happen," William said soothingly.
The door chimed as TJ sauntered in. "Hey Lizzie, I'm back!"
"TJ, thank god!" Liz sagged in relief. "This guy is talkin' crazy and I want him to leave!"
TJ turned and regarded Luke. He slowly walked behind the counter. There was something different about TJ but Luke couldn't put his finger on it. "You tryin' to scare my old lady?" TJ challenged.
"Look TJ," Luke put his hands up placatingly, "this is all just a misunderstanding. Liz is confused."
"I don't know who you are pal, but I think you should leave now." TJ pulled out a wooden bat from behind the counter. He tapped the head of it in his free hand as he sized Luke up. "Normally, I'm a pretty easy-going guy," He advanced on Luke, raising the bat.
Luke dodged down an aisle as TJ followed. He'd never seen TJ look so menacing before and even though he was fairly certain he could take him, Luke decided to beat a hasty retreat. He scurried out of the hardware store with TJ hot on his heels.
TJ only gave a brief chase before he stopped on the sidewalk. "And don't come back!" he yelled.
Luke didn't stop until he reached the other side of the gazebo. He paused there, catching his breath and letting his heart rate return to normal. "What in the hell was that? Liz is running the hardware store?"
"Liz is an only child," William explained gently. "Her mother passed away and she had to grow up very quickly. She didn't have a big brother to rely on. There were times she was wild and that's how she ended up with Jess, but she had to accept responsibility and came back to Stars Hollow."
"But TJ," Luke went on, "he seemed meaner than he usually is."
"He was just being her husband, defending her honor," William explained. "He actually loves her very much."
Luke looked back towards the hardware store and was struck by the odd similarity of all the store fronts facing the square. This wasn't his Stars Hollow. The shops all had the same type and color of awnings, were all trimmed with the same twinkle lights in the exact same manner. Even the stores' signage was all the same. The repetitive storefronts looked weird.
"What is this, Stepford?" Luke wondered aloud then wished Lorelai was there because she could appreciate the reference.
"No, handsome, this is Taylorville," a new voice chimed in.
Luke turned around to see Miss Patty standing near him.
"Patty?" he questioned uncertainly. She seemed to look the same as before.
"Oooh, do I know you?" she asked flirtatiously.
"Um," Luke stammered backing away. "Yeah, sort of."
"Well I do know how to pick them, sweetheart," she batted her eyes at him and extended her hand. Luke backed away from her. "Don't worry, I don't bite—hard."
Luke snorted. "Usually you try to pinch my butt."
Miss Patty's eyes went wide. "Not out in public, that's for sure. I can't afford the fine." She looked him up and down. "That must mean I've entertained you before."
Luke's brow furrowed. "Did you say fine?" Something she said earlier suddenly struck him. "Did you say Taylorville? Isn't this Stars Hollow?"
"Oh, it was sweetie, but Taylor Doose successfully petitioned to have to name changed years ago."
"Taylor changed the name? But this is a historical town!' Luke protested. "It dates back to the American Revolution! How did he manage that?"
"Well, Mr. Doose owns most of the town, chairs most, if not all, the committees and he put the change through," she explained then sighed as she looked around sadly. "A lot of things have changed around here."
"How could the town's people let that happen?" Luke asked bewildered.
"People just got tired of fighting him," Miss Patty answered sadly. "And now, with all of his rules and regulations, most people are trapped here. They can't get through all the bylaws and stipulations that will allow them to sell off homes or close businesses and leave."
"No one challenged him?"
"No," Miss Patty said sadly. "We were never able to mount enough resistance."
William put his hand on Luke's shoulder. "You often called Taylor to task in town meetings, in business and around town. You didn't realize it at the time but you were instrumental in rallying the town to keep Taylor in check."
"Well I've always enjoyed sticking it to Taylor," Luke said as an aside to William, "but I couldn't have had this much of an effect."
"Who are you talking to dear?" Miss Patty took another step forward.
Out of habit, Luke backed up a step off the sidewalk and onto the snow. "No one."
"No, no," Patty immediately fluttered towards him. "You can't stand in the snow. Mr. Doose has strict rules about keeping the town square looking pristine. He says footprints in the snow take away from the storybook image and drive the tourists away." She looked around. "If they catch you, you'll be fined!"
Luke hesitantly stepped back on the sidewalk. "No one can walk through the snow? Not even kids playing? Taylor's turned into a dictator! What kind of town is this?" His voice rose demandingly.
"Is there a problem here?"
Both of them turned around to see Kirk rounding the gazebo, very nattily dressed in a very expensive suit and topcoat, exuding an air of smug self-importance.
"There's nothing going on here, Mr. Gleason," Patty interjected hastily.
"Mr. Gleason?" Luke echoed looking at Patty strangely. "It's just Kirk."
"That's Mr. Gleason to you," Kirk corrected authoritatively. "As Mr. Doose's second-in-command, you need to show me some respect." Kirk's eyes narrowed suspiciously. "And you are?"
"He's not from around here, Mr. Gleason," Patty explained quickly. "He's a new friend of mine," she offered.
Kirk gazed at Miss Patty. "Yes, I've seen how quickly you make friends. You haven't tried to lure visitors into that den of iniquity you try to pass off as a dance studio, have you?" Kirk took a step towards Patty who shrank back slightly. "You've been warned about this before."
"No, Mr. Gleason," Patty said, fear showing in her face. "You know I would never do that."
"Hey, take it easy on her," Luke defended. His hackles were rising at Kirk's strong-arm tactics. "She didn't do or say anything wrong." He moved towards Patty protectively. "I think you should leave her alone, Kirk."
"Well, you are not the boss of me," Kirk replied belligerently. "In fact, maybe I should run you in."
Luke laughed derisively. "I'd like to see you try."
"Be careful, Luke," William warned. "This isn't the Stars Hollow you knew."
Kirk lunged and grabbed Luke's arm, but Luke forcefully shook him off. Kirk made a second attempt and Luke shoved him so he went sprawling face first into a snow bank.
"Oh, oh," Luke mocked, "looks like somebody isn't staying on the sidewalks. Can't mess up snow. Maybe someone should report you to Taylor so you can be fined."
"You'll pay for this!" Kirk cried, his face covered with snow.
"Honey," Miss Patty caught Luke's arm and dragged him back. "You'd better get out of here before he calls up reinforcements." They both watched for a moment as Kirk ineffectually tried to right himself. "Go!" she hissed.
"That's probably a good idea," William chimed in. "You wanted to see Lorelai."
Luke blinked, remembering at the start of all of this, his desire to get back to Lorelai and the kids. With a nod to Patty, he turned and walked off. Miss Patty moved to help Kirk up but took her time so Luke could put some distance between them.
"This is too weird," Luke began as he walked down the street with William at his side. "I have to be dreaming." His eyes fell on his father. "Why would I dream that you are my guide through this awful nightmare?"
"It's not a dream or a nightmare, its real," William insisted. "I think you know why I'm here with you."
Luke hunched his shoulders slightly, remembering how he had been feeling, his earlier behavior at the diner and at home. "I have no idea."
"Really?" William pressed. "I think you do. This has been building up inside you for a while now. This year, for the first time in a long time, you brooded…"
"On my dark day," Luke murmured, finishing William's sentence.
"Back when you began dating Lorelai, things began to change," William observed. "The day wasn't as dark. You didn't go off by yourself. You remembered me more than mourned me. Each year you got a little better until this year." He eyed his son critically. "What changed?"
They spent a few minutes walking in silence before Luke came up with an answer. "Its Will," Luke said quietly. "It's been so great since he was born, but it's made me miss you even more than ever." His eyes were bright with unshed tears. "I see him growing up and I have plans to take him camping, show him how to fish, play ball and be a good kid—everything you taught me." He let out a shaky breath. "And it hurts me to remember all those times with you and that you aren't there to do the same with me and my son. You don't get to see what I've done with my life and how we are raising him. I wish you could have known him."
"Luke," William put his arm around Luke's shoulders, "I do know him. Your Lorelai said it best: I see all. I have the Luke screen on and I can watch it whenever I want. I'm so very proud of the man, the husband and the father that you've become. Don't mourn me. I may not be there with you to see the milestones of your life and see you with my grandson, but know that I am always with you." He gave his shoulders a squeeze. "Every time you see your son smile, it's me smiling at you."
Luke swallowed the lump in this throat and nodded unable to speak for the moment. They continued walking and finally turned on the street where their house was. Luke quickened his pace.
"You've got to see everyone," he said excitedly.
"Luke, they won't know you," William reminded him.
"No!" he said vehemently. "Lorelai and I have a love that goes beyond the scope of this crazy dream. Our relationship spans so many levels and is so deep that she'll know! She WILL know me!" he declared.
They came to the foot of the drive and Luke raced up to the front stairs. He skidded to a stop as he noticed how rundown and ramshackle the exterior of the house was.
"Lorelai didn't have you around volunteering to do the fix-it jobs around her house and she could barely afford to pay someone to do it."
"Oh god." Years of birthday chores, fixing doors, windows and porch rails flooded his mind. He vaulted up the steps and pounded on the front door. "Lorelai!" He rattled the doorknob and surprisingly found it locked. "Lorelai!"
The door suddenly swung open and Luke staggered back with a gasp.
It was Lorelai, but not his Lorelai. Gone were the fashionable clothes. The blouse and jeans she wore both had seen better days but were clean. Her hair was pulled back in a ponytail and she wore no makeup. Her eyes were sad and held none of the usual sparkle he was accustomed to seeing.
"Lorelai," Luke breathed.
Her brow wrinkled as she looked at him. "I'm sorry, do I know you?"
Luke's jaw dropped. "It's me! Luke! Your husband!"
Lorelai drew back suddenly afraid of the stranger confronting her, saying crazy things. She tried to shut the door in his face, but Luke stuck his foot in the door and pushed it back open. He entered the house and closed the door behind him.
"You get out of here!" Lorelai screamed at him, backing away, genuinely terrified.
"Lorelai, please," Luke pleaded. "I need you to calm down. If anyone can make sense out of what's happening to me, it's you."
She whirled and ran out of the foyer. Instinctively, Luke knew she was going for the phone and followed her. "Wait!"
His hand closed over hers as she snatched up the phone. "I'm not here to hurt you," he said putting as much sincerity into his voice that he could. "Lorelai, please, just talk to me," he begged.
He released her hand, trusting that she wouldn't call the police on him. Lorelai looked at him suspiciously and though she drew the cordless phone to her chest, she did not call anyone.
"You just want to talk?" she asked incredulously.
"Just talk," he nodded. "Please."
Lorelai skirted the far end of the couch and sat down. "I'll give you five minutes. Talk."
Luke breathed a sigh of relief, hoping that if they talked, Lorelai could help him make sense out of this crazy alternate reality. He sat on the other end so as not to scare her.
"So," she cleared her throat awkwardly. "You think we are married?"
"We ARE married," he insisted.
"Uh huh," her tone indicated she didn't believe him. "Do we live here?"
"Yes, with our two children," he focused on her intently. "Please believe me!"
Lorelai shook her head. "I've only been married once and not to you."
Luke sucked in a breath. Even in this reality he knew who it was. "Christopher? You're married to Christopher?"
It was Lorelai's turn to stare at him. "Was. We're divorced. We weren't right for each other. He turned out to be a spineless worm who couldn't even be bothered to support his daughter. He had his father's big-shot lawyers get him out of paying any child support when we really needed it."
"I've always hated him," Luke growled as he moved closer. "What about Rory? She did graduate from Yale?"
"Thanks to my parents," Lorelai nodded. "I gave up everything so she could have the best." She looked around her house. "This may not have been much, but I made it a home."
Luke looked around the living room at the second-hand furniture, the worn carpet and the flaking paint. "I don't understand. You have to be doing better than this. The Dragonfly is one of the premier Inns in the state!"
Lorelai's shoulders slumped and her eyes misted slightly. "There is no Dragonfly. We ran out of money during the renovation and couldn't raise the needed capital so we folded."
"No," The word stuck in Luke's throat.
"You weren't there to save the day and loan Lorelai the capital she needed to complete the work," William supplied. "Her Inn never opened."
"Oh Lorelai" Luke shifted closer, wanting to take her in his arms and comfort her.
"The Durham Group swooped in when the bank foreclosed, purchased it and opened it as their own property." Lorelai dropped her gaze to her hands clenched in her lap. "My dream…all gone," she sniffed. "What's worse is I took Sookie and Jackson down with me. She never forgave me."
"Oh my god," Luke said miserably. Lorelai didn't even have Sookie for support. He moved right next to her and put his arm around her.
Lorelai shot up and away from him. "Don't touch me. You come in here talking all weird that we're married! I don't know you! You're trying to get me to lower my guard to take advantage of me!"
Luke stood up, his hands raised in a placating manner. "No it isn't like that. Lorelai, calm down—"
"Mom?" Rory's voice called as she opened the front door. "Mr. Gleason is out here asking if we've seen a strange man in the neighborhood."
Lorelai darted away from Luke's outstretched hands. "Rory! Run!"
"Lorelai wait!" Luke cried as he started after her.
Lorelai quickly herded her daughter out the front door. "He's in here!" she yelled as they ran out onto the porch and down the steps.
Luke skidded to a stop in the doorway. At the foot of the steps stood Kirk. Two policemen were standing behind him. Lorelai and Rory had taken refuge behind them.
"That's the man!" Kirk cried out imperiously. "Take him into custody!"
Luke recognized Coop coming up the stairs. "Why don't you make this easy on yourself and come on out, pal," he said.
Luke retreated back into the house instead, slamming the door and twisting the lock.
"I think you better run for it," William advised.
He hurriedly made his way through the kitchen and was out the side kitchen door and down the steps as the cops came round the porch.
"There he is!"
Luke ducked through the trees, running as fast as he could. He ran away from the house, grateful he was running on a carpet of pine needles so they couldn't track him. He could hear the sounds of them searching and see the flashlights in the distance. He gave them a wide berth as he changed direction to head back to town. He paused behind some bushes. William was still with him.
"Oh god, everything is all messed up!" Luke declared. "Everything is all wrong! This can't be the way things turn out for them!"
"It is Luke," William replied. "They didn't have you there, if they had, it would have made all the difference in the world. But you wished you'd never been born."
"I take it back!" Luke announced. "Please make it stop!"
Suddenly Luke saw the flash of police lights and took off running. He couldn't let them catch him. He ducked between houses, ran for cover until he eventually made it back to the town square. He hid in the alley behind Doose's Market and watched the cop cars drive by, obviously looking for him. He sprinted to the next alley behind the diner and came to the rear door. He turned the handle and it was miraculously unlocked. He cautiously made his way up the back steps to the apartment, just hoping to be able to hide out while he decided what to do next.
Luke eased himself into the apartment, looking around warily, making sure no one was there. He realized William was no longer with him. He was alone. He walked over to the bed and collapsed onto it. He threw his arm over his face hoping to blot out everything he'd just seen. There had to be a way back, there just had to be…
Luke suddenly jerked awake and sat up. It was cold and getting dark. Outside he could hear the bell ringers in the square ringing out a Christmas carol, the chimes of the bells slightly off. The sound stopped for a moment, only to start again, still off beat.
Luke looked around the apartment, noticing the couch was once again the color he'd chosen as well as the drapes. With a flicker of hope he charged out of the apartment and pounded down the steps. He burst through the curtain and was in the diner.
"Luke!" Cesar said shocked. He was standing behind the counter. "Where did you come from? You weren't up there when I checked a while ago! Lorelai called looking for you!"
"I know Cesar," Luke replied. "I'm headed home right now." He looked around at the deserted diner. "Close up and go home. Enjoy your Christmas!"
Luke shot out of the diner and was running down the sidewalk, calling on his track skills to get him home as soon as possible. He ran past Miss Patty.
"Luke!" she called after him. "Where've you been? We've all been looking for you! Lorelai's been worried sick!"
"I'm fine, let everyone know I'm fine!" he yelled over his shoulder and remembered the party. "We'll see you at the party!"
Luke's long legs ate up the distance and a few short minutes later he was galloping up the steps to their house. He burst through the unlocked door. "Lorelai!" he yelled. He ran into the living room.
The sight that met him was almost identical to the one he left. Lorelai was holding Will; Rory was holding Lorie and both children were crying. Luke could see the Lorelai too, was freaking out.
"Luke!" She hurried to meet him.
"I'm sorry," he said as he put his arms around her, "I am so sorry."
"I was so worried! I couldn't find you!" Rory came over and eased Will from her grasp and cuddled both children as Luke pulled Lorelai closer to him.
"I'm so sorry," he repeated into her hair. He felt her clutch at him then her hands clenched into fists. "I'll make this up to you, I swear. Be mad at me as you want. Beat me up, it's okay. I was a fool and an idiot and said a lot of stupid things that weren't true!"
"Don't you ever do this to me again!" she cried, burying her face in his neck.
"I won't, its okay," he held her close and looked over towards Rory. Both young children were settling down. He extended his arm and Rory came forward with the kids and he enveloped them in the embrace. Gradually Will and Lorie settled down.
Lorelai pulled back from him. "I'm sorry. I wasn't taking you for granted. We are partners."
"Shh," he quieted her. "You have nothing to apologize for. This is all my fault."
"What happened?" Lorelai asked. "Where did you go?"
Luke knew he needed time to mull over what he experienced and what he thought it meant before he really talked about it. "There's so much," he explained. "Can you give me time to process it? Can we talk after the party?"
Lorelai gaped at him. "You want to go to the party?"
"I have to. I'm playing Santa," he reminded her.
Lorelai looked at him sheepishly. "When we couldn't find you, I called Jackson to see if he would fill in."
Luke let his family go and stepped back. "Well, call him back and tell him he's out of a job." He smiled at Rory and gently tweaked Lorie's nose. "Who am I" he asked her.
"Daddy Claus!" she exclaimed. Luke grinned.
He looked at the clock on the wall. "We don't have a lot of time." He eased Will from Rory's grasp and brushed a kiss on his forehead. "Where are my elves?"
Rory handed Lorie off to her mother. "Just give me ten minutes," she said, making a beeline for her bedroom.
Lorelai stood watching him. "I don't want to force you to do this. I know something is bothering you and you won't tell me."
"You aren't forcing me to play Santa," he replied. Seeing her bemused look, he went on. "I promise I will tell you all about it, but for right now, we need to get a move on. C'mon Mrs. Santa's sister!"
Lorelai called Sookie and Jackson, letting them know Luke was there and that he would be Santa at the party. They hurried upstairs and quickly got their children ready, Lorelai taking care of Lorie, dressing her as an elf while Luke playfully wrestled his son into a little red Santa sleeper complete with Santa hat. By the time they got the kids ready and back downstairs, Rory was waiting for them. She kept both children entertained while their parents got ready.
Lorelai kept throwing nervous glances Luke's way as they each dressed, almost as if she were afraid he would disappear. She got ready in record time for her. As Luke was adjusting his beard, he watched her put on the finishing touches, catching his breath as the sparkles on her face and shoulders seemed to enhance her ethereal beauty.
"Ready?" he asked when she finished.
"We don't have to go," she repeated.
Luke smiled at her. "I want to go," he stated.
They headed downstairs and donned their coats. Lorelai and Rory got Lorie and Will ready while Luke warmed up the car. In no time, they were parking in front of the diner and joining the throng headed to Miss Patty's.
As they made their appearance, Luke ducked his head in embarrassment. For once, their children were not the center of attention as the townies gathered around them. He was bombarded with many inquiries of concern over his afternoon meltdown. He tried to gamely shrug them off but Babette and Miss Patty, as well as a few others, would not be deterred.
"I'm tellin' ya, sugah, I ain't never seen such an uproar in all my life!" Babette squawked. "People were spreadin' out in all directions tryin' ta find ya!"
"I've always wanted to hunt you down, darling," Miss Patty said silkily before her expression turned serious, "but not like this!"
"Yeah, bro, you gave us all one hell of a scare," Liz added.
Luke held up his hands in surrender. "All I can say is I am very sorry," he apologized. "I can promise it won't happen again!"
"So where'd ya go?" Zach questioned.
Luke looked over at Lorelai who was hanging on his every word. "It doesn't matter. I'm never going there again." As everyone exchanged puzzled glances, he said loudly, "Isn't it time for the kids to see Santa?"
The studio was suddenly filled with the sound of excited children clamoring in agreement. Luke winked at Lorelai before going up on the stage and sitting in the massive chair. Almost immediately the children lined up.
"This might not be fair," she apologized to the line of children as she plopped Lorie into Luke's lap.
Luke smiled down at his daughter as the camera flash went off. "And what do you want for Christmas, Lorie?"
"Daddy Claus!" she cried throwing her arms around her father's neck. Luke held his precious little girl close, thanking god he was there, hugging her.
"Well, you've been a good little girl this year," he said in a mock-serious voice. "I have plenty of presents to leave for you tonight." He hugged her again.
"Thank you, Daddy," she said in a sing-song voice.
Rory stepped up to take Lorie from Santa's lap. Immediately Babette was there to take charge of the little girl. Lorelai eased Will into his father's arms then perched on his knee. Luke eyed her expectantly.
"You aren't going to tell me you're pregnant again, are you?" he said quizzically.
"No buns in the oven this year," Lorelai said snuggling closer. "What makes you ask?"
"Well, there is a precedent." Luke looked down at his son. Will was eyeing him skeptically then let out a howl.
"Aw, Will its Daddy," Lorelai soothed, smiling at him. "Don't make him sad, we just got him back."
"He's fine," Luke assured her, holding his son. "We're okay aren't we buddy?" He gently jostled him. Will stopped fussing and regarded his father seriously as the camera flash went off. "You've been a very good boy."
"He's only 5 months old," Lorelai interjected. "He hasn't been around long enough to be bad."
"He's still a good boy," Luke insisted.
"The best," she agreed. Although Will had settled down, he still wasn't sure about what was happening. "C'mon, Will," Lorelai cooed to him. "Give Daddy a smile."
"No," Luke said, preferring that Will give him his own smile, not be coerced into it. "Let him be." He cuddled his son. "It's okay." He smiled at them both.
Once Lorelai took Will and gave him to Babette, she efficiently handled the line of children, keeping a close watch on Luke to make sure each child spent enough time with Santa, but didn't wear out his patience. She was surprised how Luke handled child after child with nary an eye roll or complaint.
After the last of the children had had their turn with Santa, Luke sat back and observed the crowd, waiting. They stared right back at him. He and Lorelai exchanged a glance then he looked back at the crowd. "Well?" he asked.
"Well, what?" Miss Patty arched an eyebrow at him.
"The past two years, every loon in this town took a turn on my lap," he said without any rancor. "Don't tell me you nut jobs are bucking a tradition," he rolled his eyes at his own folly of encouraging them.
"Well, sugah," Babette piped up, "since you put it that way." She climbed up on the stage and immediately the line formed behind her.
Townie after townie paraded up on the stage and had their turn. For the most part, Luke managed to display an extreme amount of tolerance, even when Miss Patty put her arms around his neck and laid her head on his shoulder to pose for her photo with Santa. He listened, occasionally gave a gruff response or and eye roll that had everyone laughing.
Luke looked over at Lorelai as the TJ exited the stage. "Is that everybody? Last call!" she declared.
Seeing there was no one else, he motioned her over. "It seems like we're missing somebody," she told him.
"You, maybe? Santa's lap?" he inquired.
"I'd rather talk about today instead," Lorelai countered in a worried tone.
Luke nodded his head. He knew it was time to tell her what was going on with him and what he experienced. He didn't like seeing the worry on her face. "Let's step outside."
Lorelai cast an eye towards her children and seeing they were in good hands with Rory, Lane and most of the other women of the town, followed him to the door. As they opened it, Taylor walked in, resplendent in a tuxedo, carrying a trophy with protective tape over the faceplate.
"Why are you dressed like a penguin, Taylor?" Luke asked.
"I'll be announcing the Stars Hollow Businessman of the Year award. It's an auspicious occasion." Taylor realized they were leaving. "You're not staying for the announcement?"
"We'll be right back," Lorelai assured him. They exited the studio.
"Just what we need to see," Luke shook his head. "Taylor giving himself an award."
"Never mind about Taylor," Lorelai waved her hand. "Talk to me."
Luke opened his mouth to reply and noticed her shiver. "C'mon. Let's get out of the cold." He led the way to the diner, unlocked the door and led her upstairs. He took off his hat, wig and beard, setting them on the kitchen table. "I'm not sure where to start," he began.
"Start when things first started bothering you," Lorelai replied taking off her elf hat, putting it beside his. "I've been thinking the whole time you were gone and I realized that you had a dark day this year. Maybe not like the previous ones, but it was dark nonetheless. Why?"
Luke drew a breath and talked. He told her about this year's dark day and how he'd been feeling. He told her about coming back to the diner after they'd fought earlier. He made sure he covered every last detail of what happened to him when he woke up and found his father. Lorelai listened without comment. Luke watched her expression change from initial concern to astonishment then horror and finally smiling gently at him with tears in her eyes.
"Oh Luke," she went to hug him only to have the Santa belly get in her way. She pawed at the belt and undid the coat before putting her arms around him to release the padded stomach. She tossed it behind her and stepped close, sliding her arms inside the open coat and pressing her body flush against his. She buried her face in his neck.
Luke felt her tremble in his arms. "Hey, its okay. Its over," he said softly.
"I don't know what I'd do if I lost you," Lorelai confessed quietly.
"I feel the same way," he said then lowered his lips to hers.
"You're everything to me." Lorelai returned the kiss fiercely, letting him know with every fiber of her being how she felt. She pulled back and laid her hands flat on his t-shirt clad chest. "I don't think you realize how much."
Luke looked at her quizzically. "When I first met you," she began, "it was all about the coffee."
"Junkie," he said tenderly.
"I couldn't resist it," she admitted. "Then you had to go and add the best cheeseburgers."
Luke stroked her back. "Had to keep you coming back didn't I? I was hedging my bets."
Lorelai leaned her head back to look at him, her eyes sparkling. "Don't get me started on the Danish." She slipped her hands up and eased the coat off his shoulders.
"What are you doing?" Luke asked. He was pretty sure what she had in mind, but he wanted to be sure.
"Hedging my bets," she laughed. "Telling you how much I love you."
"Telling me or showing me?"
"Then can I add how much your daily appearance in the diner served to improve my mood?"
"Of course it did," she said in an amused tone. "Especially when we were fighting." His t-shirt came off next.
"Well, you did call me Duke for a year," he pointed out as he lifted her dress. "And let's not forget Ranger Bob," he shuddered at the name. He pulled the dress over her head, smirking as he remembered she couldn't wear a bra with this dress. Her pale pink nipples were already hard peaks, anticipating his touch.
Lorelai kicked off her jingle shoes, the little bells ringing merrily then eased off her tights and panties. She stood before him completely naked, little shivers of pleasure rippling through her body and his heated gaze touched her, making her blood race.
"Hurry up there Santa," she encouraged him as he worked off his boots then she continued on. "The way you and Rory took to each other really drew me in though." He struggled out of his pants as she went on, "Once I got past that 'No Trespassing' charm of yours and got to know you," she paused as he removed the last article of clothing and came to her and took her in his arms, "I was completely hooked. All of the other stuff, the coffee, the food, became unimportant and are just minor things now compared to having you as my husband,"
"I'd always hoped you'd want to be with me," Luke said in a husky voice. "I dreamed about it, but now that its real and we're together, what we have surpasses those dreams in every way." He nibbled on a sensitive spot on her neck, a spot he knew well and felt her melting in his arms. "I love you, Lorelai."
Lorelai ran her hands up his muscular arms and over his shoulders. "I love you so much, Luke." She tugged him in the direction of his old bed. "And now I want to show you,"
Luke eagerly followed her to the bed, his hands caressing her hips, his mouth nuzzling her ear. They slipped beneath the blankets and began a mutual exploration of each other. Hands and mouths glided over familiar territory and though they had danced to this loving, seductive tune many times before, their lovemaking was never perfunctory; it was still a source of wonder, of discovery.
Lorelai arched up from the bed as Luke's tongue slowly, roughly, laved her nipples in turn, lavishing each with his full attention. She gasped and trembled as his hands moved lower and he explored her womanly softness, drawing purrs of delight as she in turn nipped at a vulnerable spot on his throat. Her own hands staked their claim to his body and she caressed his broad chest, tweaking his nipples before trailing her hand down his belly and lower still to grasp his pulsating shaft.
"Lorelai," Luke groaned.
She stroked and fondled him as he played with her clit. The only sounds in the rooms were ecstatic whimpers coupled with hitching moans of gratification.
Finally when they couldn't stand it anymore, Lorelai pulled Luke down on top of her, opening herself up, offering herself up to him. He drove into her, his entry bringing sighs of relief from both of them and they moved together, slowly, savoring each other until they couldn't help themselves. Lorelai locked her legs around Luke's waist surging upward to meet each stroke, both rushing and tarrying towards the sweet release, reveling in every moment.
As Luke exploded inside her, Lorelai let out an intelligible cry, clutching Luke tightly as they writhed as one, drawing every nuance of pleasure to its fullest.
When Luke finally raised his head, her eyes were sparkling; she noticed the elation in his passion-darkened eyes. He leaned down to kiss her, placing tiny kisses on her lips coaxing a response until she kissed him back fully.
"God, that was wonderful," she said dreamily. "I'm glad we took this time to talk and be together."
"I'm glad too, but I can't believe we just left our kids at the party," Luke said guiltily
"Hey, we both needed this," Lorelai pointed out. She snuggled close to him laying her head on his chest, perfectly content. "And that was an amazing experience you had this afternoon. Thank you for sharing it with me."
"You think it really happened? Or do you think it was all a horrible dream?"
Lorelai shrugged. "All Dallas references aside, I don't know. Call it whatever you want. Something happened and let's leave it at that."
"Why do you think it was my dad? I'm not sure that makes any sense," he said trying to look at things practically.
Lorelai hugged him more tightly. "It makes perfect sense. It's only natural you think about him now that you have a son. He's been the biggest influence in your life," she reasoned.
"Next to you," he stated, his arms tightening around her.
She drew back and looked up at him. "Well I do make a good impression," she said with a laugh. "I gotta say though, its sounds just like that movie."
"It's not like that movie," Luke disagreed as he gently stroked her back.
"Yes it is!" she insisted with a little laugh. "I'm married to Star's Hollow's answer to Jimmy Stewart!"
"God forbid," Luke said fervently then a thought struck him. "If I'm Jimmy Stewart, that makes you Donna Reed."
Lorelai pouted. "But I can't cook!"
"At least not in the kitchen," he quipped, running his hand over her naked bottom.
"Oooh, I'm a dirty Donna Reed!" They both chuckled. After a moment, Lorelai let out a reluctant sigh, knowing they both needed to get back to their children. "We should probably get back."
Begrudgingly, they both rose and Luke flung the blankets back over the bed in a haphazard fashion then turned to retrieve his costume.
"Oops," Lorelai giggled and she attempted to smooth down her wrinkled dress. "We should have been more careful." She eyed the crushed fabric of Luke's pants as he tried to shake them out. "Everybody will know what we were doing."
"Hopefully they'll have dimmed the lights and we can just pick up the kids and go," Luke replied.
They repaired their appearance as best they could and headed out, pausing at the car to dump off Luke's padding, beard and wig. As he tried to toss the hat in too, Lorelai snagged it and placed it firmly on his head. "Don't go slacking off now, Santa."
He just shook his head at her and followed her to the studio. "Crazy lady," he muttered.
As Luke slid open the door they were surprised to see people just milling around, having conversations.
"There you two are," Miss Patty came to a halt, returning from what appeared to be another punch bowl run. "We were wondering where you too got off too." She noticed their rumpled clothing. "Looks like someone's been very naughty," she observed. She batted her lashes at Luke. "Any chance I can get on that list?"
"No chance, Patty," Lorelai said firmly, stepping between them. Patty chortled before moving away.
Luke placed his hands on Lorelai's waist and gently pulled her back against him. "Thank you," he whispered.
"Just staking my claim," she retorted. "You only get to be naughty with me:"
"Meaning we can be naughty again later?" he asked hopefully.
"Tis the season," she pointed out as he released her.
Sookie and Jackson wandered up. "Hey, you're back. Everything okay?" she questioned.
"Everything's fine, Lorelai assured her, "but what's the deal here? We were sure the party would be going full swing by now and everybody would be dancing."
"It's Taylor," Sookie waved her hand towards the stage. They could see Taylor pacing back and forth impatiently. "He's supposed to announce the Businessman of the Year but Kirk hasn't shown up with the results yet."
"That's who's missing!" Lorelai exclaimed.
"Taylor is ready to blow his top," Jackson put in. "He's holding up the party. People are going to start leaving soon if he keeps this up."
"We're probably going to get the kids and leave," Lorelai agreed.
"Oh, can't you stay a little longer?" Sookie begged.
Luke shrugged. "Since the music hasn't started yet we can stay a little while longer. I don't want the kids' eardrums to be blasted out."
"Oh, I've taken care of that," Lorelai assured him. She scanned the crowd, "Where are the kids? Rory?" she called out loudly over the din.
A few moments later, Rory worked her way out of the crowd and headed over towards them, holding a wide-awake baby in her arms.
"Uh, did you lose something?" Luke asked looking for his baby girl.
"No, it just takes Lorie a little longer to crowd surf," Rory smirked at him as she handed Will over to him.
Another minute passed and the crowd parted and Lorie toddled forth clutching Jess' hand.
"Jess!" Lorelai exclaimed.
"I didn't know you were coming in," Luke said in surprise as the pair slowly baby-walked up to them.
"Liz called me when you went MIA this afternoon," Jess scowled at him reproachfully. Luke colored slightly. "She was pretty worried, so I thought I'd come up for a few days and make sure you weren't pullin' a deadbeat Dad."
"Hardly," Luke snorted. He and Jess exchanged a look. "Everything's okay, really."
"Cool," Jess nodded. "Is it okay if I stay at the diner while I'm here?"
"Er," Luke hemmed. "Sure. But I'd sleep in the single bed if I were you."
It only took a few seconds for Luke's words to sink in. "Ah jeez," Jess complained, suppressing a shudder. "I kinda thought after two kids the honeymoon would've been over for you two."
Luke colored more brightly and even Lorelai fought back a blush. "Never," she said with conviction.
"I'll take care of that tomorrow," Luke murmured, embarrassed.
Jess shook his head at his uncle but he was smirking. He leaned over. "I don't know about your old man, kid," he said to Will.
"Don't listen to him," Luke said to the boy.
The door to the studio slid open. "I'm here!" Kirk proclaimed
A murmur of "Finallys!" ran through the group and Kirk maneuvered his way towards an irate Taylor.
"Kirk what took you so long? You should have had those votes tallied hours ago!" Taylor said in exasperation.
"I recounted three times to make sure the results were completely accurate," Kirk explained meekly as he headed to the stage. "I knew you'd want to be sure of the final results."
Taylor snatched the envelop Kirk was holding. "Fine Kirk," he said dismissively. He stepped up to the microphone. "People! The results are in!" He waved the envelop for all to see. "Alright, without further adieu, I'm here to announce this Stars Hollow's first ever Businessman of the Year! This award goes to a business man who cares about the community…."
"Can't he just announce his name and get it over with?" Sookie asked.
"Someone who is always there to lend a helping hand…" Taylor was puffing up proudly.
"This is over the top even for Taylor," Lorelai quipped.
"Get on with it," Luke yelled. "Christmas is gettin' closer Taylor. We all have lives here."
"Fine," Taylor sniffed prissily. "The award goes to," he ripped open the envelop and read, "Luke Danes?" He gaped at the results in disbelief.
"What?" Luke said.
"Huh?" Lorelai said.
"Yah!" Several people called out.
"How could this have happened?" Taylor demanded. "Luke's name wasn't even on the ballot!"
"Well, you did leave a space for write-in candidates," Kirk informed him.
"I demand a recount!" Taylor ordered.
"That's why I recounted three times, Taylor," Kirk replied matter-of-factly. "You weren't even close."
"Luke's taking advantage of this afternoon's drama to steal the award!" Taylor declared.
"Pretty much all of the voting was over with before Luke went missing," Kirk put in.
"Kirk!" Taylor turned on him. "Shut up!"
Luke turned to Lorelai. "You did this!"
Lorelai shook her head. "Don't look at me. I told Rory I was going to write your name in. That's all."
"Well Liz was sitting nearby," Rory added.
"Hey, I wrote in your name, but that was it," Liz said.
Lorelai nudged Luke. "I think a lot of people wrote you in," she said. "As gruff and grumbly as you are, people still love you, hon."
Luke grumbled under his breath and Lorelai playfully grumbled right back at him.
"Speech, speech!" Babette called out.
"Well, seeing as Luke doesn't like participating in town events," Taylor began, trying another tactic.
"You do love sticking it to Taylor," Lorelai whispered in his ear as she took Will from his arms.
"This one, I'll participate in, Taylor," Luke said with malicious glee.
The town cheered him on as he headed to the stage. Luke mounted the platform and stepped up to Taylor. He was trying to hide the trophy behind his back. Luke plucked it out of his hands and ripped the protective tap off the face plate. It read: Stars Hollow Businessman of the Year: Taylor Doose.
Luke thrust the trophy back at Taylor. "I want this fixed, with my name on it and delivered to the diner on Monday, Taylor."
"But," Taylor sputtered.
"And you're paying for it," Luke stated firmly.
"Taylor, whatcha tryin to pull?" Babette bellowed, challenging him openly. Several townies murmured in agreement.
"Fine, I'll get it fixed," Taylor conceded.
Luke stared them down at the assembly, glowering at them, but they were unfazed. "I don't participate in these crazy town events. You're all nuts," he paused as he looked down at his feet for a moment. He swallowed the lump in his throat and looked up at the group waiting for him to continue. "Thanks."
He left the stage amidst deafening cheers making his way back to Lorelai. Taylor immediately left the studio in a huff. Lane's band began setting up.
"You should have asked if get a crown or something," Lorelai suggested.
Luke retrieved Will from her arms. "More like a dunce cap," he countered. "Can we go home now?"
"Can't we stay for one dance at least?" Lorelai said in a wheedling tone.
"The noise, their ears," he protested.
"I told you I had it taken care of." She turned to Rory and nodded. She immediately handed Lorie off to a protesting Jess.
"You'll be fine," she assured him.
Rory headed over to wear their coats were hung and rummaged around in the diaper bag before returning. She returned to her little sister. "Remember what we told you about the music?" Lorie stared adoringly up at her. Rory placed a pair of fuzzy pink ear muffs on her ears. She turned with a second baby blue set in her hands and approached Luke. He drew Will closer, protectively.
"Don't let her do it," Jess urged with a chuckle. "They're going to revoke both your man cards"
"Hush," Rory admonished him. She looked up at Luke. "Okay?"
Luke let out a sigh of resignation. "Okay." Rory gently put the ear muffs on. Jess immediately handed Lorie back to her.
"Aw, you look so cute!" Lorelai exclaimed.
"Oh man," Luke shook his head. "I'm sorry buddy," he apologized. "I'm just looking out for you. You won't hold it against the old man, will you?"
Will looked up at his father and kicked his arms and legs with glee, his face split with a huge smile.
"Oh Luke," Lorelai gasped, thinking back to what he had told her.
Luke leaned over and brushed a kiss on his son's forehead. "Thanks Dad," Luke whispered, blinking back the tears. He closed his eyes and hugged his son close. Lorelai gently rubbed his back. Jess and Rory exchanged confused looks. Rory looked a query at her mother but she just shook her head.
Luke raised his head and smiled at everyone, treasuring the moment surrounded by his family. The warbled sounds of the band tuning up broke the spell. They all looked towards the stage as Hep Alien settled in and the lights began to dim.
"Take the kids for a dance or two?" Lorelai asked. Rory nodded as Lorelai handed over her youngest daughter.
Luke looked at Jess. "Oh come on," Jess complained. "At least give me the bigger one. I'm afraid I'm gonna break him."
"Oh suck it up," Rory ordered.
Jess grudgingly, yet gingerly, took Will. Luke put his hand on Jess's shoulder and squeezed it. "Jess, thanks," Luke said simply.
"Wait til you see my babysitting rate," he shot back as they headed over to the chairs lined up against the wall.
The song "All I Want for Christmas is You" started up and Lorelai tugged Luke onto the dance floor.
"Even with all the drama, this has been an amazing day," Lorelai said and she moved into his arms and they slowed danced. "You were a great Santa this year."
"About that. Is it okay if this is my last year being Santa?" he asked.
Lorelai drew back from him slightly. "You don't want to do it anymore?"
"Not for the town," Luke explained quickly. "Let's let some of the other dads have a turn. I'll just do it for our family. Kinda of like a private Santa," he reasoned.
"Is that anything like a private dancer?" she teased gently.
"Stop." He rolled his eyes at her.
"Luke, you can do what you want," she laid her head on his shoulder. "Personally I like the idea of having my own private Santa."
He nodded his head in acknowledgment. "Yep, dirty."
"That's my Santa," she agreed. They danced in silence for a minute before she spoke up again. "You, know as grumpy as you can be, with everything that happened to you today and as happy as you are now, I really think you should say it. Even it I have to pry it out of your mouth."
"What? I love you?" Luke questioned. "I've got no problem saying that."
Lorelai gave him a "duh' look, but her smile was brilliant. "No, not that. "You gotta admit, it's a wonderful life."
"Not gonna get me to say it," he vowed then drew her closer, "but it is."
A/N: I still may do some re-writing, I'm not sure of the flow,