Chapter 25: Welcome Home
Disclaimer: Twenty-five chapters later and I still haven't magically transformed into ASP. I think I'm starting to lose hope. Hmph! This chapter contains a few direct lines from "I Can't Get Started." All good Gilmore Girls fans know which lines those are and thereby know I didn't write them.
A/N: See end of chapter.
Silent, Luke turned and walked back into the apartment.
Jess hesitated in the doorway. Luke hadn't exactly invited him in, and, frankly, the fact that he hadn't said anything or even really blinked was more than slightly unnerving. He watched as his uncle moved to the kitchen table and sat down.
After a long moment, Luke turned his eyes back to his nephew. He still didn't speak.
Slowly, Jess walked into the room. After swinging the door shut, he moved to the table and sat down as well. There was a long silence.
"Not exactly the warm welcome I was hoping for," Jess said at last, his voice sounding much louder than he'd intended.
"What are you doing here, Jess? What happened?" Luke asked, ignoring the comment.
Jess glanced around the room. "Nothing," he mumbled.
"Nothing? Two weeks ago, I went to New York, a city that embodies my own personal version of hell, and I asked you to come back. You laughed in my face. Now you're standing at my door in the middle of the night, asking me if you can come back? Forgive me if I misplaced my 'Welcome home' banner."
Jess tightened his jaw but didn't say anything.
"You're gonna have to do more than that to convince me, Jess," Luke stated, tired and irritated. "What changed?"
Jess struggled for something to say. Not sure what that something was, he remained silent, choosing instead to stare at the surface of the kitchen table.
Luke watched him for a second then stood up. "It's late. You can stay here tonight, but that's it. That's all you get." He walked back over to his bed.
Jess took a deep breath. "You were right."
Luke glanced at him. "Excuse me?"
Jess sighed. "You were right."
"Did you just say I was right?"
Jess shot him an annoyed look. "Yes."
Luke paused, processing the moment. Then, he smiled and walked back over to the table. Sitting down, he leaned back and folded his arms over his chest. "I was right," he stated proudly.
Seeing his grin, Jess rolled his eyes.
"Which part was I right about?" Luke asked, curious.
Feeling his pride slipping away, Jess tapped his finger on the table. Each word was excruciating to get out. "Pretty much everything."
Luke's smile grew impossibly wider. "Is that so?"
Jess looked at him. "Could you possibly be more annoying about this?"
"Yes," Luke stated honestly. "This isn't even close to how annoying I can be about this."
"Look, can I come back or not?" Jess asked irritably.
Luke chuckled. "Gee, Jess, I don't know."
Jess shot up out of the chair and headed for the door. "You know what? I don't need this. Never mind."
"I told you you're always welcome," Luke called after him. "I meant it."
Jess paused, one hand on the doorknob, and glanced at his uncle over his shoulder.
"Sit back down," Luke offered.
Slowly, Jess walked back over.
Once he was seated, Luke met his eyes, his face serious. "You're going to school," he began. "You're going to study, and you're going to do well. You'll work in the diner. You'll make a sincere attempt not to piss off the whole town. I realize that may be difficult given the fact that Taylor and Kirk are part of the town, but all I'm asking for is a little effort."
"You'll be nice to Lorelai," Luke added. "You'll be really nice to Rory."
Jess didn't respond.
"Fine," he muttered.
"You'll restrain yourself from commenting on my shirts, my job, and my home," he ticked off on his fingers. "Actually, you'll restrain yourself from commenting on any and everything about me and the life I've chosen to lead, period. When you get an A, and you will get an A, you'll smile and thank me when I put it up on the refrigerator. You will not take money from the till without asking. You will not put sugar into the shakers instead of salt and vice versa. You will not steal baseballs or gnomes. When I ask you where you're going, you will give me a straight answer. A 'huh' is not acceptable. Neither is an 'out' or a 'whatever'. You will—"
"You're really enjoying this, aren't you?" Jess interrupted.
"Look, you said yourself it's late," Jess stated. "Could you just write up a list of demands and give it to me tomorrow?"
Luke looked at him skeptically.
"I promise I'll read it," he vowed.
"Fine," Luke agreed. He stood and retrieved a set of keys from the top of the dresser. "You're opening in the morning, and by 'opening,' I mean unlocking the door and letting customers in not just turning the sign to open and waving at them while they wait outside." He threw the keys to Jess.
Jess caught them and slipped them into his pocket. "Huh, I always suspected I was doing that wrong."
"Go to sleep," Luke ordered.
Immediately, Jess stood and walked to his bed.
Luke watched him as he pulled back the blankets and kicked off his shoes. Then, with a small, proud nod, he flipped off the light.
x x x
"Morning, bride," Lorelai whispered, peeking her head around the door to Sookie's room.
Sookie stirred and opened her eyes. "Morning."
Lorelai held a small cup into the air. "I come bearing tea."
"Hand it over," Sookie requested, sitting up against the headboard.
Lorelai smiled and walked to the bed. As she handed the cup to her friend, she sat on the edge. "You have that bridal glow, just as I suspected."
"Do I?" Sookie asked, her eyes lighting up.
"Definitely," Lorelai nodded.
"How are things going down there?"
"They're perfect. The flowers are beautiful. The cake is beautiful. Michel is being polite; in fact, it might even qualify as nice. You should get married more often; I really like this side of him."
"Sorry," Sookie apologized. "I think this is a one time thing."
Lorelai grinned. "I think so too."
"Is Jackson awake yet?"
"He's my next stop."
"Tell him I love him."
"Will do," Lorelai promised. She stood up. "Now you relax, enjoy your tea, and take in the moment. I'll be back to help you with your dress in a little bit."
Sookie nodded, and Lorelai reached down to squeeze her hand. Setting her cup aside, Sookie pulled her into a hug.
"I'm so happy for you, Sookie," Lorelai whispered in her ear. "No one deserves this more than you."
When they pulled away, Sookie wiped her hand across her eyes. "You have to go. You're making me cry."
Lorelai grinned. "I'm going."
x x x
Luke walked down the stairs and looked around the diner. He located Jess at a table, taking an order, and smiled. As soon as Jess turned to start towards the counter, he adopted a serious face.
"Hey," Jess greeted with a small nod.
"I see customers," Luke acknowledged, glancing around.
"Yeah, it looks like you were right about that whole 'unlocking the door' thing."
Luke grinned. "I'm right about a lot of things," he said smugly.
"Oh jeez," Jess moaned. "You know that if anyone asks, I'm going to deny that any of that ever happened."
Luke nodded. "I figured."
Jess handed the order to Caesar and then walked over to refill the pastry display.
As he moved the lid, Luke noticed it was spotless. "Did you clean that?" he asked.
"It was disgusting," Jess replied.
Curious, Luke looked around. "The counter looks shiny."
"You're losing it."
Luke peered into the surface. "I can see my face in this counter."
"Well, just don't make direct eye contact and you should be fine," Jess reassured him.
Luke reached out and touched the side of a nearby ketchup bottle. "That isn't sticky."
"I thought they were supposed to be sticky."
"That's a common mistake," Jess quipped.
Luke turned and looked at him. "You cleaned everything, didn't you?"
"It wasn't a big deal."
Luke seemed to consider his statement. After a pause, he spoke. "How long do you predict this will last?" he asked, referring to Jess's behavior.
Jess glanced at his watch. "I'd say you've got a few more hours."
Luke grabbed the pastry plate out of his hand and edged him out of the way. "In that case, why don't you head to the storeroom? It hasn't been reorganized in years."
x x x
Lorelai knocked on Jackson's door.
"Come in," he called, anxiety evident in his voice.
She frowned and pushed the door open. Immediately, she whistled. "Nice legs."
He turned away from the mirror to look at her. She had never seen him more distraught. "I look like Rory," Jackson whined.
"Look at me! What man in their right mind wears a skirt to his wedding?"
"It's not a skirt," she reassured him. "It's a kilt."
He didn't look amused.
"There's a difference," she defended.
"Not to me," he wailed, turning back to the mirror.
"You look great," Lorelai promised.
"I look like a bearded, Scottish cross-dresser."
"But a great-looking, bearded, Scottish cross-dresser," Lorelai clarified.
"This isn't funny."
Lorelai nodded slightly and walked over to him. "Okay, Jackson, so maybe the kilt isn't perfect, but you know what? You're getting married today. You're getting married to this great, beautiful, funny, amazing, perfect person who just moments ago wanted to make sure that I told her future husband that she loves him."
"She said that?" he asked, moved.
"Of course she did."
"You don't think she'll change her mind once she sees me in this?"
Lorelai smiled. "When she sees you in this, I think she'll be even more certain that she chose the right person."
Jackson nodded and peered at himself in the mirror again, tilting his head slightly. "It does kinda flatter my legs, doesn't it?"
Lorelai walked over to stand beside him and looked at the reflection. "You look better than most of the girls at Chilton," she agreed.
x x x
Rory smoothed down the front of her dress and glanced at herself in the mirror. In the background, she glimpsed her mother walking in the door.
"You look pretty," Lorelai complimented.
Rory turned around and smiled. "Thank you."
"Here, turn back around," Lorelai said as she approached. "I still have to do your hair."
Rory faced the mirror, and her mother immediately starting separating some of her hair out and turning it into braids.
"Are you nervous?" Rory asked.
Lorelai thought about it for a second. "Actually, no."
"Yeah, I'm not sure why, but I'm actually very calm right now."
"Good. You should be," Rory stated, meeting her mother's eyes in the glass.
Lorelai shifted slightly and smiled.
Rory dropped her eyes to the ground. "So I was thinking…"
"Mmm, this sounds serious."
"No, not really," Rory said quickly.
"Okay, what have you been thinking about?"
"If Paris and I win the election…"
"Which you will," Lorelai interjected.
"I think I'm going to go to Washington."
Lorelai nodded, unsurprised. "Yeah?"
"I know we had plans for this summer."
"Nothing that can't be rescheduled."
"Are you sure?"
"I'm sure," Lorelai said sincerely.
"I just think, well, maybe Sookie was right. I can't just sit around and mope."
"You can't just sit around and mope," Lorelai agreed. She fastened the band in Rory's hair and then rested her hands on her daughter's shoulders. "Finished."
They both looked into the mirror.
"It looks nice," Rory commented.
Lorelai smiled and kissed the top of Rory's head. "C'mon, kid. We better get downstairs."
Rory nodded and followed her out the door.
x x x
As Luke was wiping down a table, the bell chimed, and Kirk walked into the diner.
"Luke, I've got only ten minutes. How quickly can you make a ham on rye?"
Luke started back towards the counter. "I've never clocked it, Kirk."
"Well, you think it could be fast?"
"Yes, Kirk. Of all the sandwiches, I do believe the ham on rye is one of the faster ones to assemble."
"What about a patty melt? Same time frame?"
"Probably a little longer," Luke replied.
"Yes, I have to grill a hamburger," Luke patiently explained. "Whereas, with the other one, I just put the ham on the bread."
"What if I wanted the bread on the ham on rye toasted? Are we talking somewhere in between the patty melt and the untoasted?"
"Closer to the melt or closer to the—"
"Hey Luke," Jess interrupted, walking out of the storage room. "Do you want to come take a look at this?"
Kirk's eyes widened. "Jess?"
"Kirk," Jess greeted indifferently before turning his attention back to Luke.
"Are you a mirage?"
Jess ignored him. "So I just moved the pickles to a different shelf, and I know how much you hate chan—"
Kirk reached across the counter and pinched Jess's arm.
"Hey!" Jess said angrily.
"Of course I'm real," Jess retorted.
"I thought you left."
"Well, you thought wrong."
"But people said you left. People told me you left."
Jess rolled his eyes and turned to Luke again. "I also moved the cans of toma—"
"So you're saying everyone's been lying to me?" Kirk said, clearly upset.
Jess sighed. "I left, and I came back. End of story."
"But you did leave?"
"Jesus," Jess complained. "Is there something we can shove in his mouth?"
"What did you want again, Kirk?" Luke intervened.
He tore his eyes away from Jess. "I can't remember what we decided was fastest. How long does it take to make the ham on rye?"
"Peanut butter and jelly to go," he stated.
"Coming right up," Luke promised. He gave Jess a warning look as he walked back into the kitchen.
As soon as he was gone, Jess glanced at Kirk. Noticing something, he leaned forward to look closer. "What happened to your arm?"
"What do you mean?" Kirk asked defensively.
"It looks weird."
"Oh, that's just great!" Kirk whined, his voice high-pitched. "Nobody's going to see it, Kirk. Nobody'll notice, Kirk. They're all liars!" Immediately, he turned and hurried out the door.
Jess stared after him in slight shock as Luke walked back out holding a brown bag. The door slammed shut, drawing his attention in time to see Kirk run past the front window.
Luke sighed and put down the bag. "I just asked for a little effort."
Jess held up his hands in innocence. "I didn't say anything."
Luke frowned and pushed him towards the storeroom. "Sure you didn't."
x x x
Rory and Lane walked around the yard in front of the Inn, mingling before the wedding.
"Wow, that is actually really scary," Lane commented, eyeing the piano where Babette and Miss Patty were loudly singing off-key.
"Just wait until after the ceremony," Rory stated. "After a few drinks, the weeping renditions of 'Wind Beneath My Wings' start."
"And if we're lucky," Rory continued. "Kirk will join in and dedicate the B-52's 'Love Shack' to his mother."
"I've lived in this town my whole life, and I've missed all of this?"
"Your day has arrived, my friend," Rory promised. They headed towards the piano.
"Hey, is that Gus?" Lane asked, looking in the direction of Lorelai.
Rory nodded. "It is."
"Wow! He's a hottie."
"He is," Rory agreed.
"What's her secret?"
"What do you mean?"
"She consistently hooks up with hot guys while you and I are left with the drunken karaoke crowd. There has to be a trick."
Rory smiled. "She put in her time."
"I suppose that's true," Lane nodded.
Lorelai glanced over and caught them looking. She touched Gus's arm, drawing his attention, and they both headed over to the girls.
Gus eyed Miss Patty and Babette nervously before moving to stand on Lorelai's other side, putting her between him and the women.
"They already got to you, huh?" Rory asked, grinning.
"Miss Patty is particularly frisky tonight," Lorelai explained.
"She has excellent grip," Gus added. He turned to Lane. "I don't believe we've met." He extended his hand. "Gus McCullough."
Lane shook it. "Wow! Cool name. Very 'soulful, unemployed, acoustic guitar player'."
"Restaurateur, actually," he clarified.
"Oh, well, there's still time."
He looked at the drumsticks she held in her hand. "You play?"
"Depends on how you define play," she answered.
He opened his mouth to reply when the sound of a ringing cell phone interrupted him. He frowned and reached into his pocket. "Hello?"
"Rory Gilmore, please," a voice ordered.
Surprised, Gus held the phone out to her. "It's for you."
"What?" Rory exclaimed. She held the phone to her ear. "Hello?"
"We've got the band!"
"We've got the band. I knew we had most of the academic clubs tied up, but band – they were the wild card 'cause believe me, if anybody's going to be truly scared of me, it's some artsy loser with a tuba tied around his neck."
"Paris, how did you get this number?"
"Oh, relax. I only need it this once. I just wanted you to know that we did it, we're in, welcome to the show!" Paris cheered before abruptly hanging up.
Rory lowered the phone and handed it back to Gus.
Lorelai narrowed her eyes. "Was that Paris?"
"Yeah," Rory answered, still a little shocked.
"God, that girl should work for the CIA. What'd she want?"
"I think we won."
"Wow!" Lorelai exclaimed.
"Congratulations," Gus added.
"You won the election?" Lane asked. "What does that mean?"
"I guess that I'm spending the summer in Washington."
"Lorelai, Rory," Emily greeted, walking towards them with Richard by her side.
Lorelai nudged Gus behind her and smiled. "Mom," she said. "Dad." They eyed Gus. "Hey, guess what!" she said quickly. "Rory was just elected as Chilton's vice-president."
The elder Gilmores turned to their granddaughter. "Congratulations," they said in unison.
Rory smiled a little. "Thank you."
"That's wonderful," Emily complimented.
"You'll make a dignified and classy politician," Richard added.
Rory blushed. "Thank you, Grandpa."
Emily turned her attention back to her daughter. "Who's that man you're hiding behind your back, Lorelai?"
Lorelai glanced at Gus over her shoulder. "Oh, wow! I didn't even notice. Hey there, stranger."
Gus squeezed her hand and stepped forward. "August McCullough," he said, extending his hand.
Emily shook it. "Pleasure to meet you."
"The pleasure's mine, truly," Gus replied. He reached out to shake Richard's hand. "Mr. Gilmore."
"So do you just hang around to protect my daughter's back from a strong wind?" Emily asked, appraising him.
"We've been seeing each other for a couple weeks now," he stated.
"Well, isn't that nice?"
"What do you do, August?" Richard interjected.
"Gus, actually. I own a restaurant in New Haven."
"Really? Which one?"
"I've never heard of it," Emily replied.
"Well, in that case, I'll have to get you a table sometime."
"Oh, hey," Lorelai interrupted, her voice desperate. "Michel looks really overwhelmed over there. We should probably go see if he needs some help." She grabbed Gus's hand and started to lead him away.
"You go, Lorelai," Emily stopped her. "We'd like to get to know Mr. McCullough."
Lorelai paled. "Actually, Mom, I can tell that Michel can't reach something, and well, Gus here is tall," she said, patting him on the back. "So I think we're gonna need his help."
Rory and Lane grinned at each other.
"Don't be ridiculous," Emily disputed. "Surely you have a stool."
"No, no stools."
"A small step ladder?"
"Nope, none of those either."
"In that case, your father can help you. He's very tall."
Lorelai glanced at her dad. "Yes, Mom, Dad is very tall, but…"
"Go help her, Richard."
"Oh, but," Lorelai protested. "Um, what about—"
"Go on, Lorelai," Emily prodded. "Before Michel has a nervous breakdown."
Lorelai sent an apologetic look to Gus, and he smiled reassuringly. "Take your time."
"Right, okay," Lorelai accepted, her shoulders slumping. "C'mon, Dad." As she walked past Rory, she leaned in and whispered, "Protect him."
"I'll try," Rory promised.
Lorelai gave Gus one last long look before trailing after her father across the lawn.
x x x
The diner bell clanged, and Jess's head shot up from his book.
An older couple walked through, and immediately he turned back to the pages.
"That bell rings a lot, you know," Luke stated, looking at his nephew.
Jess glanced at him. "Thanks for that profound observation."
"I'm just saying you're going to give yourself whiplash if you keep doing that."
"She's at Sookie's wedding."
"I don't know what you're talking about."
"Rory isn't coming in today."
"Did I ask?"
"No, but I thought knowing that might calm you down."
Jess looked at him like he had two heads. "I'm very calm."
"Oh, so that panicked racing you get in your eyes every time the door opens is just?"
"A figment of your imagination," Jess supplied.
"Right, right," Luke nodded.
"I couldn't care less if she comes in."
"Good because at some point, she is going to come in," Luke stated.
"She likes coffee. It's bound to happen."
"Great. Good for her," Jess replied, turning back to his book.
Luke watched him briefly. "She'd accept it, you know."
Irritated, Jess sighed and looked up from his book. "Are you still talking?"
"It can be easy, Jess."
"Just apologize. Tell her you know you screwed up, and you're sorry you were a jerk."
Jess rolled his eyes. "Whatever. I didn't do anything wrong."
"If that's what you want to believe then that's what you believe," Luke agreed. "But if you did do something, and you apologize, she'd accept it. Think about it; I'm gonna go take that order."
As Luke walked around the counter to the table, Jess watched him. Then, clenching his jaw slightly, he returned to his book.
x x x
"Oh, thank God," Lorelai exclaimed, finally locating Gus among the rows of chairs now full of people waiting for the ceremony to begin. "I thought for sure you were gone."
He smiled. "Your mother isn't as scary as you let on."
"She isn't?" Lorelai asked skeptically.
"No. I think I even got her to crack a smile."
"Of course she smiled. That's how she lures you in before she feasts on your heart."
"What about laughing? Is that a trick too?"
"You made my mother laugh?"
"I told you I can be charming. I can't believe you doubted me."
"My mother? Emily Gilmore? About this tall?" she said, holding her hand in the air. "Red hair? High society?"
"That's the one."
"Wow," Lorelai uttered in disbelief. "You made Emily Gilmore laugh. What did you say?"
"Something about you," he teased.
"Oh," she said, finally understanding. "That explains it."
He took her hand and pulled her down to sit on the chair next to him. "The important thing is I'm still here. I successfully met your mother."
"And with all limbs intact," Lorelai added. "Much better than the last guy."
Gus smiled and leaned over, kissing her gently.
Running her hand across the side of his face, she pulled away and sighed. "The ceremony's about to start."
"Then you better get going."
"You're really gonna be here when I get back?"
"Rory super-glued me to this seat."
Lorelai laughed. "I taught her well. Meet me by that tree after the ceremony," she said, pointing as she stood up.
"The chair and I will be there," Gus promised.
Lorelai grinned and hurried off to find Rory and Sookie.
x x x
Waiting for her mother, Rory scanned the crowd. She spotted Lane sitting beside Miss Patty and waved. A few rows away sat Kirk, Babette, and Morey. Her eyes trailed from one familiar face to another, then, slowly, on instinct, they journeyed away from the crowd to the trees on the perimeter, searching.
Finding no one there, her heart fell, and she kicked herself for imagining he would ever show up at a Stars Hollow gathering voluntarily. He was in New York, and it was time to face that. Steeling herself, she focused back on the wedding.
A second later, Lorelai appeared and handed her a bouquet. Side-by-side, they moved into place and started down the aisle.
x x x
Champagne popped, and the crowd laughed. Then, the sound of tinkling glass spread throughout the yard and grew in volume until the happy couple leaned in and kissed, resulting in whoops and hollers of approval.
Sookie and Jackson danced their first dance to "At Last."
For song after song, Emily and Richard waltzed around the floor, laughing and enjoying themselves more than they'd ever admit.
Lane chatted with the deejay and mercifully prevented him from playing his planned 70s disco medley.
Lorelai spent the night sitting on Gus's lap on a chair beneath a nearby tree.
And Kirk, as predicted, finally reached his champagne limit and crooned a serenade to his mother.
Rory took it all in, enjoying the happiness of her family and friends, only taking a brief break to borrow Gus's cell phone and inform Paris that she'd see her in Washington.
x x x
Accepting his offer to dance, Lorelai stood and took Gus's hand. As they headed to the makeshift dance floor, they saw Emily approaching.
"Your father and I are going home," she stated, her tone much lighter than usual. "The wedding was wonderful."
Lorelai hesitated, surprised. "Thank you."
"We've given our regards to Sookie. It was nice meeting you, Gus," she said.
"The pleasure was mine," he replied sincerely.
A silence fell.
After a long moment, realization dawned, and Gus turned to Lorelai. "I'm going to get something to drink. Do you want anything?"
"I'm fine, thanks," she smiled.
"Okay," he accepted. "I hope to see you again, Emily."
"That can probably be arranged."
"Excellent," he enthused. He bid her good night and headed towards the bar.
Once he was gone, Emily turned back to her daughter. Expecting the worst, Lorelai braced herself.
"He's very nice," she stated.
Lorelai blinked, speechless.
"Well-spoken, excellent manners, professional."
"He is… that," Lorelai agreed, flustered.
"He owns a restaurant. He shares your sense of humor," she continued.
"Uh-huh," Lorelai said hesitantly.
"He reminds me of that diner man. Luke, is it?"
Lorelai paused, cocking her head as if she hadn't heard right. "He reminds you of Luke?"
"If that's the Luke that works at the diner, then yes."
"In what ways could Gus possibly remind you of Luke?"
"I told you. He owns a restaurant. He shares your sense of humor."
"He owns an expensive restaurant, and he… wears suits," Lorelai disagreed.
"He is slightly more polished," Emily conceded. "But there are definite similarities."
"Uh… okay," Lorelai floundered. "I guess."
"Your father and I bought a painting last week."
Lorelai shook her head, confused. "Wow! Talk about non-sequiturs."
"We were in a gallery, and it caught our eye. Nice, clean lines. Interesting picture."
"O-kay," Lorelai replied cautiously. "You'll have to show me next Friday."
"We returned it," Emily stated primly.
"We had it appraised last week. It turns out it's a print."
"Uh… I'm sorry to hear that," Lorelai responded. Her mother didn't seem drunk. She'd barely seen her drink, but at the moment…
"The original has a slight imperfection in the paint consistency. That's how the appraiser knew. It's hardly noticeable, but the prints don't capture it."
"One should never settle for a replica, even if it is more polished."
Suddenly, it all made sense. Lorelai shook her head, amazed. "I'll keep that in mind."
Emily smiled. "You do that. I'll see you on Friday, Lorelai. Have a nice night."
As Emily walked away, Gus approached. "What was that all about?" he asked, wrapping an arm around her waist.
Across the lawn, she watched her mom entwine her arm with her father's as they headed towards their car. She glanced up at Gus. "It was nothing."
x x x
"My feet are killing me," Lorelai complained, shooting puppy dog eyes in Gus's direction as he opened the car door.
He smiled and scooped her up into his arms, then kicked the door shut with his foot. "My, you're such a big, strong man," Lorelai cooed in her southern belle voice.
He loosened his grip just enough so she thought she might fall. Panicked, she grabbed onto his shoulders, and he laughed.
"Fine, I won't mock," she said, her voice normal. He headed towards the door.
As they reached the steps, Rory pulled into the driveway.
"Wait, hold on," Lorelai ordered. Gus stopped and turned around.
"She's making you carry her?" Rory teased, walking across the grass.
"My feet hurt."
"Some excuse," Rory scoffed.
"He's scared of you," Rory corrected.
Gus chuckled. "That is true," he admitted, shifting her in his arms.
"Not so strong after all, huh?" Lorelai joked.
"On the contrary, I can do this all night."
"Oh, don't test her," Rory warned.
Lorelai grinned at him evilly. "Too late." She turned back to her daughter. "I need coffee."
"Me too," Rory agreed. "I can make some."
"No, I need Luke's coffee."
Rory glanced at her watch. "Isn't Luke's closed?"
"Tell him I'm going into withdrawal, and I'll die without it. He'll let you in."
"He'll want proof."
"Then tell him I'll bring a doctor's note in the morning."
"You think that'll work again?" Rory asked.
"I hate to interrupt," Gus said. "But I lied. I can't do this all night."
"Sorry, one more second," Lorelai apologized. "Just give it a try," she said to Rory.
"Fine. I'll try."
"And if all else fails, steal it."
"I thought I was supposed to avoid a life of crime from now on," Rory reminded her.
"Crimes committed for the sake of coffee are an exception," Lorelai explained. "To the house!" she ordered, pointing to the door.
Changing his mind, Gus set her on her feet. "After you," he said.
"You are so no fun," she whined.
He rolled his eyes and picked her back up.
Rory smiled and motioned her hand like a whip. "Wa-chish."
"That's nice," Gus stated. "Really, really nice."
Rory started back down the sidewalk.
"Hey, have you ever seen 'Creature of the Black Lagoon'?" Lorelai asked as they headed for the door.
"This already isn't as easy as it lo—."
Lorelai grinned and turned limp, her arms and legs hanging helplessly in the air.
The sudden change in her position threw Gus slightly off-balance. "See, now that isn't exactly helping," Rory heard him say as she turned the corner.
x x x
"You're sure you're okay with this?" Jess asked, glancing at his uncle as he surveyed the storage room.
"You did a nice job," Luke commended.
"It took a long time, so if you're just going to come down here while I'm sleeping and move everything back to how it was before, I'd rather know now, so I can chain you to a chair."
"You have my word."
"I'm gonna go lock up," Luke said. "You finished in here?"
Luke patted him on the back and headed back out into the diner. He was grabbing the keys out of the till when he heard the bell above the door chime. "We're closed," he said, looking up. "Oh, hey," he greeted Rory.
He glanced at the storage room, then back at her. "Wedding over?"
She sat down on a stool. "Yup."
"How'd it go?"
"Good. Very good."
"That's good. What can I get you?"
"Mom needs coffee."
"I should've guessed."
"If you don't have any made, it's fine. She'll just have to wait until morning."
"I just made a fresh pot for the last customer."
As Luke turned around to fill two carry-out cups, Rory drummed her fingers on the counter and glanced around the diner. It was always so strange to see it empty.
"Here you go," Luke offered, holding out the cups.
Rory stood and reached out to take them. "Thanks, Lu—"
"Hey Luke," a voice called. "What do you want me to do with these b—"
Jess stepped out of the storeroom, a stack of flattened cardboard boxes in his arms. His eyes met Rory's, and he froze mid-movement.
Rory's heart crashed down into her stomach.
They both stood, eyes locked, not saying anything. The air was completely still.
After a second, Luke cleared his throat and turned to Jess. "You can just stick them out back," he answered.
Grateful, Jess nodded and immediately walked past Rory and out the door, boxes in hand. Rory's mouth still hung slightly open in mid-word as she followed his path and watched the door close behind him.
"Huh?" she mumbled, turning her eyes to Luke.
He set a cup in front of her. "Why don't you stay here and drink your coffee? I'll go drop this off with your mom."
Still shell-shocked, Rory nodded. "Okay."
"Okay," Luke agreed.
It wasn't until he was out the door that Rory realized what he'd said, where he was going, and what was waiting for him when he got there.
x x x
"Mmm… God, you're good at that," Lorelai moaned, tilting her head back against the arm of the couch as Gus massaged her feet.
He smiled and ran his hand up her calf, inching forward towards her.
The doorbell rang.
Gus frowned. "Who could that be?"
Lorelai swung her legs off the couch and stood. "It's probably Rory."
"She rings the doorbell?" he asked, confused.
Lorelai smirked. "Would you want to accidentally walk in on us?"
"Point taken," Gus agreed. As Lorelai went to get the door, he leaned back against the couch and closed his eyes.
Lorelai glanced back at him as she pulled the door open. When she turned back, she startled. "Luke?"
"Lorelai," he nodded.
She looked at him for a second before slipping outside and pulling the door closed. "What are you doing here?" she whispered.
"I'm bringing you coffee."
"Since when do you deliver?"
"Why are you whispering?" he asked.
"Because… it's… night," she said weakly. "People are sleeping. Where's Rory?"
"At the diner."
Lorelai frowned. "Is there some 'Freaky Friday' thing going on that I don't know about?"
"Jess is back," Luke said simply.
"What?!?" Lorelai exclaimed, forgetting to whisper.
"He came back last night."
"Wow, for good?"
"For as long as he wants," Luke clarified.
Lorelai nodded. "So Rory knows?"
"She just saw him. I figured I should let them work out… whatever they need to… work out," he said uncertainly.
"Which is why you now deliver," she confirmed.
He nodded but continued to hold the cup. "How was the wedding?"
"It was beautiful. Everything went smoothly. Everyone had a good time. Jackson had to wear a kilt."
"Oh yeah? That must have been something."
"It was. Oh, and when the wind picked up, you should've seen him start to panic. We thought for sure he was heading for a Marilyn Monroe moment."
"I'm sorry I missed it."
Lorelai smiled and met his eyes. "Me too."
They both fell silent.
Luke glanced at the door. "Is there any chance I could come inside for a minute? I don't know how long Rory and Jess are going to be, and I don't really have anywhere else to go."
"Oh, um," Lorelai replied, struggling for an out. "Actually, the place is a mess. It's a disaster. We, uh, couldn't find Rory's shoes earlier, so we had to tear the whole place apart. There are clothes everywhere. There's nowhere to sit down. Our unmentionables are out in the open. It's not a pretty si—"
Luke watched her, eyes wild and mouth moving a mile a minute. Abruptly, he reached out with his free hand and slowly guided his fingers across her lips, zipping them shut.
Surprised, she closed her mouth and stared at him.
"I wish I would've learned that trick earlier," he whispered.
Lorelai looked at him quizzically.
He took a step forward, letting his hand drift down to graze her upper arm. Her eyes shifted to watch as his fingers danced almost imperceptibly across her bare skin. She shivered and turned her eyes back to his. Then, leaning in, she let her hand fall on his cheek and started to draw him closer.
"Lorelai," a voice called. The door swung open.
They both jumped back.
Gus looked from her to Luke, not picking up on their awkwardness.
"Hey," he greeted. "I'm Gus." He extended his hand, and slowly Luke reached out and shook it.
"Ah, the man with the coffee. You are a very important part of their lives."
Regaining her composure, Lorelai looked at the cup in Luke's hand. "Speaking of which…" she prodded.
"Oh, yeah, sorry," he apologized. "Here."
She took the cup, her fingers nudging against his. He jerked away and let his hand fall to his side.
After another awkward silence, Luke pointed his thumb over his shoulder. "I'm gonna go," he stated, avoiding Lorelai's eyes.
Gus smiled and wrapped an arm around Lorelai's waist. "It was nice meeting you, Luke."
Luke nodded and turned to walk away.
"Hey Luke?" Lorelai called, needing to say something.
He paused but didn't turn around.
"I'll see you tomorrow."
A moment later, he was gone.
x x x
Numb, Rory sat down on the stool and waited.
Jess took his time. He'd known he'd see her eventually; Luke had pretty much shoved that fact down his throat earlier that day. But for tonight at least, he'd thought he was safe.
As he walked back around to the front of the diner, he saw her through the window. He'd heard the diner bell chime after he'd gone outside, and he'd hoped it had been her. No such luck. He watched her for a second. She didn't move. She was just sitting at the counter in a blue, silk dress, looking more beautiful than he'd ever seen her. He tried to hate her for it.
Taking a deep breath, he stepped inside. At the sound of the bell, she glanced back and met his eyes again.
"Hey," he said, his voice cold.
She looked away.
Closing the door, he walked behind the counter and picked up a rag.
She watched him intently as he busied himself with wiping things down. Then, softly, she spoke. "What are you doing here?"
"I moved back," he said, nonchalant.
"I moved back," he repeated.
Straightening, he faced her and leaned his back against the counter. "Luke begged me."
"Oh," she replied.
"I have to close," he stated. "Did you need something?"
She stared into her cup and didn't speak.
"That wasn't how things were supposed to go in New York."
He folded his arms over his chest. "Sorry I ruined your plan."
She brushed her hair behind her ear and nodded. "It's late. I should go." She made a move to stand up but stopped when he spoke.
"One day you're sitting on the bridge telling me you love Dean and that you'll always love Dean," he explained, his tone surprisingly even. "And the next, you're coming to New York and telling me that you broke up with Dean and you miss me. What was I supposed to think?"
She looked at him. "I did miss you."
"Well," he shrugged. "I'm back now. Problem solved."
She sighed. "I still miss you."
"I don't know what you want me to do about that."
She turned her gaze back to her cup. "Were we really never friends?" she asked, her voice small.
He fixed his eyes on her. "I don't know."
She nodded, accepting his answer. There was a long silence.
"I wasn't in love with Dean," she admitted. "I mean, I think I was, once, but that day on the bridge when I told you I loved him, I knew I was lying."
He didn't respond.
"And I was wrong when I made it seem like you were the problem in New York. Like the reason we couldn't be together was some sort of issue you had. Like it wasn't my fault. You gave me plenty of chances, and I know I waited too long."
When he still didn't speak, her eyes finally drifted up to lock with his. "I'm sorry. For everything." He gave no reaction. She stood, leaving her cup on the counter. "Welcome home."
He watched her walk towards the door.
"We were friends, Rory," he stated, stopping her.
She turned to look at him.
"What exactly did you think was gonna happen in New York?" he asked.
"I don't know."
"It seemed like you had some sort of idea," he encouraged. She hesitated for a second, and he moved around the counter, stopping at its edge. "I want to know."
She shrugged. "I guess I thought I'd go there and see your life and know exactly what to say."
"But you didn't?"
She made a small noise in her throat. "Obviously not."
"I acted like a jerk," he stated.
"You had every right."
He nodded. Then, after a slight pause, he spoke. "Try again."
He took a deep breath and searched her eyes. "Just try again. Pretend we're back in New York."
She considered his request. "I would have been standing closer," she ventured, looking at the space that separated them.
He took a few steps forward and stopped in front of her. "Better?"
She nodded. "Yeah."
"Well," she admitted. "I pictured us in front of this beautiful graffiti wall."
He smirked. "We'll use our imaginations."
She steadied herself. "Honestly, I don't really know what I would've said."
"What did you want to say?"
She ran her eyes over his face, thinking. "There's really only one thing I should've said that I didn't."
She exhaled. "Come back."
Before the last word had fully escaped her mouth, he kissed her.
She returned it instantly, running her hand into his hair to hold him in place. He pulled her forward until she was flush against him.
When he finally pulled away, she opened her eyes and smiled.
He smiled back and moved forward to kiss her again.
Before he could, her face fell, and she stopped him. "Jess."
He braced himself for the worst. "What?"
"I have to go."
When he started to tense and move away, she added quickly, "To Washington DC. In two weeks. I told Paris I would. I didn't think you'd come back, and I hated being here and being reminded of everything, and it seemed like the right decision, but now… Maybe I can still say no… or get really sick… or…"
"But I don't want you to think…"
"We'll figure it out," he whispered against her lips. Before she had time to argue, he deepened the kiss.
She trailed her fingers down his face and pulled away. "Welcome home."
He smirked. "You already said that."
"I know," she admitted. "Welcome home. Welcome home. Welcome home."
A/N: Yes, those two little words up there; they do mean 'the end.' "Defending Bjork" has reached its conclusion, folks. I sincerely thank every single one of you who read all or parts of this story and particularly those of you who took the time to post reviews and tell me what you thought. It has been one of the best writing experiences for me, despite the occasional blocks and hair-pulling. There are so many people who deserve acknowledgments, it's not even funny. Shannon: My goodness, this fic wouldn't even exist without you. Who'd have thought that challenge almost two years ago would've led to such a massive thing as this? I can't thank you enough. You are awesome and a brilliant writer. I hope you get back to it soon. Elise, Ali, Lia, Marissa, Leigh, Kat, and Sidney: You're my girls. Thank you for all of your support and encouragement. Stars Hollow Lits – Past, Present, and Future: You all rock. What an amazing group of people… and all brought together by a mutual love for a television show. Thanks for assuring me daily that I'm not a sucky writer and for just being you. Eve, Kim, Heather Nicole, Elise, Kat, & Ali (yes, again): In addition to being thoughtful and very entertaining, your writing always makes me want to try a little harder. Thanks for that. And, lastly, Sarah: There aren't really words to express how much you mean to me and how great I think you are, and this is coming from someone who always has more than enough words. You're my favorite.
If I forgot anyone who I should have remembered, I apologize. Know that it's not because you mean less but because I've been sitting in front of this laptop screen for two days straight, and I think I'm as fried as it is.