On Christmas morning, Luke got up out bed, buttoned up his plaid shirt, fit his blue cap on his head, and went out to the dark house. Six o'clock wasn't exactly early by his usual standards, but he'd started sleeping in since he arrived in Nantucket, a fact that he hated and tried to remedy but never could. But today was Christmas and, as such, he had a very important job to do.
So at six-oh-five, while the rest of the house slept, he stood in the middle of the bright kitchen and looked over everything he'd bought at the store the day before, making a mental list of what needed to be cooked and in what order. He hated inactivity, had always felt antsy and out of sorts whenever he wasn't at the diner, so this vacation had been a little bit of a nightmare for him. He wanted—no, needed—something to do, and changing a few lightbulbs or tightening some screws wasn't going to cut it. Even if everything on this island was strange and unfamiliar (including the woman in whose house he was staying), this part—the cooking—was his domain.
A little while later, with the turkey already in the oven, Jess came shuffling in, his hair still wet from a shower. "Morning," his nephew said, heading straight for the so-called coffee-making contraption that produced more waste than it did coffee. Jess started making a cup and turned to Luke with one eyebrow raised. "Is it killing you to have to use this every day?"
With a snort, Luke reached under the counter and produced a french press. "Guess again."
"You've been holding out on me!"
Luke grinned, enjoying the look of indignation on Jess' face. "I thought you preferred the taste of boiled socks," he said all too casually.
Jess walked over and grabbed an apple from Luke's pile. "Karma's going to come bite you in the ass later on," he said, shaking the fruit at him before taking a bite.
"Hey, that's for the pie," Luke said, throwing a rag at Jess' head.
Jess put the apple back in the pile, much to Luke's chagrin. "Need some help?" Jess asked, his gaze flying over the counter.
Luke pointed with the knife in his hand. "Touch anything and you're dead."
Jess backed off, holding his hands up in surrender. "Okay, okay. No need to go all Gordon Ramsey on me." He sat down on a stool instead, sipping his coffee and staying the hell out of the way.
"So, now that you and Rory are together, you think you'll stay in Philadelphia?" Luke asked as he sliced the apples, cutting away where Jess' mouth had been.
"Yeah. I kind of have to, being that my livelihood is there."
"What about Rory and the baby?"
Jess bobbed his head with confidence. "We've got it figured out. We'll split the time between Philly and Stars Hollow."
"Ever thought about just staying in Philadelphia?"
"Nah," Jess said with a half smile. "Rory's life is in Stars Hollow; I can't ask her to leave. Besides, I'm pretty sure Lorelai and that quirky little town are her touchstones. Without them, she kind of loses herself."
"So you good with being third?"
"I'm just glad to be on the list at all."
Luke snickered. "I can't believe we're getting out of this vacation unscathed."
"Speak for yourself," Jess said. "I almost got voted off the island my second day here."
"Yeah, well, what can I say? You've always been a people person," Luke said with a grin.
"What I'd like to know is: How the hell did you, a curmudgeonly diner owner, and me, a punk kid from New York, ended up here in this fancy kitchen with these fancy people?" Jess asked, shaking his head. "In what universe would a girl like Rory ever give someone like me the time of day?"
"Chalk it down to one of the great mysteries of the universe, second only to the Bermuda Triangle," Luke said. He paused to look at his nephew, who was miles different from that juvenile delinquent who first stepped off the bus that day in Stars Hollow. He'd be lying if he said he wasn't proud of the kid. "I think Rory's lucky to have you," Luke said in a moment of unexpected honesty.
"Yeah?" Jess asked with one eyebrow raised.
Luke flashed him a smile. "Yeah."
Christmas lunch was served in the formal dining room. Luke and Jess set the table then called the Gilmore Girls in for the meal. As soon as Emily entered, she stopped and stared at the sixth place setting at the other end of the table. Then she turned to Luke with a small smile and a grateful nod and, to Luke's relief, never mentioned it again.
The meal was a success, most notably perhaps because he had insisted that Lorelai not help out in the kitchen. The turkey came out beautifully—not too dry or underdone—and his cranberry sauce made it to the table without issue the first time around.
After people had been eating for a time, Emily set her silverware down and rose out of her seat. In that moment she reminded Luke of a fading queen holding court for the last time. "I'd first like to thank you for traveling all the way to Nantucket to spend Christmas with me. It has been wonderful to have you all here."
"You're welcome," Rory replied with a smile.
"Yeah, Mom. It's been a great visit," Lorelai added.
Emily took up her wine glass and lifted it in the air. "I'd like to raise a toast, to you, Rory and Jess. And to you, Lorelai and Luke," she said, her eyes flicking around to the faces around the table. "May you stay happy and madly in love for fifty years and beyond."
Luke turned to his wife, sure he was the luckiest man in the world. With a smile, he clinked his glass to Lorelai's then leaned over and dropped a kiss on her lips.
"And to my great-grandchild," Emily continued with a glimmer in her eyes as she smiled over at Rory. "I know this child will grow up surrounded by love."
"Hear, hear," Jess said.
"I only wish he or she would have had the honor of meeting Richard. Oh, he would have spoiled that child rotten."
From beside him, Luke caught a glimpse of Lorelai swiping at her cheek. Quietly, he reached for his napkin and handed it to her.
"Which is why I need to step up and spoil the child for the both of us," Emily said with a nod.
Everyone's heads snapped up in attention.
"What do you mean?" Lorelai asked.
"I've decided to sell the house," Emily said simply, as if she was talking about something as mundane as taking a walk around the neighborhood instead of moving two hundred or so miles away.
Luke patted his wife's back when she started choking on her wine.
"My time in Nantucket has come to an end," Emily said. "I feel it's time to move back home."
"To Hartford?" Rory asked.
"To Stars Hollow."
It was Luke's turn to choke and Lorelai's turn to thump his back.
"You want to move to Stars Hollow?" Lorelai asked, her eyes wide with disbelief. "Or did you mean to say Bars Mallow? Because I hear that town's great."
Emily gave her daughter a sardonic look. "No, Lorelai, I'm not planning on moving to a fictional town that sounds like an overly sweet alcohol drink."
"But why Stars Hollow?" Rory asked.
"To be closer to my great-grandchild, of course. I wasn't there when you were growing up. I missed your first step, your first word. I was never given the opportunity to be a grandmother. I've always regretted that," Emily said, sadness lining her face. "But now I have another chance. And I promise you, I'm not going to waste it. Time is too precious, life too short."
Luke and Jess exchanged a look of dread, like two men tied down to the tracks while a freight train came bearing down on them at full speed. Only a costumed hero could save them from The Emily Express, and Luke was definitely no Superman. So, in a move that took even himself by surprise, he did the only heroic thing he could: He smiled at his grieving mother-in-law across the table, and said, "You can stay with us."
"When you break bread with the Gilmores, there's always a chance you'll lose an arm or a leg or your self-esteem," Jess said as he sat in the armchair later that night with Rory on his lap. "But it's never not entertaining."
Rory finished writing in the new book she'd given him—a Kurt Vonnegut—before giving him her attention. "I've always thought meals at the Gilmore house should be classified as a contact sport."
He chuckled, rubbing his hand up and down her thigh. Then he slid his palm upward, coming to rest on the soft swell of her stomach.
Rory set the book down and looked down at his hand before meeting his eye.
"I think it's nice she wants to be there," he murmured, holding her gaze. "This child is going to grow up surrounded by people who care."
She covered his hand with her own. "Yes, she will," she said, smiling at him in a way that made the breath hitch in his throat.
He thought of that day before the wedding, when he'd gazed at Rory through the window, wishing he could go back to the past so he could undo all the stupid things he'd done. And now here they were, a few short months later, with another chance at a relationship. Only this time, Jess was bound and determined not to screw it up again.
"Thank you," he said in a wistful voice. He cleared his throat. "For my new books. And more importantly, for the thoughts that went in them. They are literally the most thought-full gifts I've ever received."
"It's the least I can do."
"Unfortunately, my gift for you is not here. It's in Stars Hollow."
She fixed him with curious eyes. "Did you have it delivered?"
He pulled up a picture on his phone and handed it over with a healthy dose of trepidation. He still wasn't sure if he'd done the right thing, if she'd think he had overstepped his bounds, but it was too late to turn back now.
She looked at the picture for a long time, her lips unmoving, her face revealing nothing. "What am I looking at?" she finally asked.
"Your house," he said, turning the phone sideways.
Her eyes flicked up to his then turned back to the picture, enlarging parts of the image to get a better look.
"It's a bookshelf that takes up the entire wall. See? I had them build a few cabinets down there for extra storage."
She looked at him with wide eyes. "This is in my house? You had this bookcase built? In my house?"
"Do you like it?"
"It's perfect! It looks exactly like what I'd imagined." She turned to him with eyebrows knitted. "How did you know that's the bookcase I wanted?"
"Your mom may have steered me toward your Pinterest board. But she made sure I understood that you're definitely not a pinner, even if you have dozens of boards with that very bookcase pinned several times."
She shook her head, chuckling softly. "I think it's finally time to come clean." She held out her hand. "Hi, I'm Rory and I'm a pinning addict."
"Hi, I'm Jess. And I'm addicted to a pinning addict."
She looked down at the phone again. "I still don't get how you managed to do this. You've been with me this whole time."
"Your mom helped me get in touch with Tom and gave him the keys to your house so he and his guys could start working on it while you're gone."
She frowned. "But that must have been before Mom and Luke got here. So you've been planning this for a long time?"
"I couldn't think of anything else to get you," he said with a shrug.
"You didn't have to get me anything. But thank you," she said, bending down to drop a quick kiss on his lips.
He held his hand to the back of her head and drew her down for a longer kiss. "Rory," he whispered after they pulled away.
He looked up at her, keenly aware of his palm against her belly. "When you think of that scene at your house, in front of that bookcase, do you see me in it?"
She blinked down at him for a long, quiet time, her blue eyes flying all over his face. "Yes. I saw you there the moment you painted the scene with your words. I want you there… with us."
Jess couldn't stop smiling if he tried. "Then that's where I'll be."
Early the next morning, Rory awoke to a flurry of text messages from her mother.
Rory peeked at the phone through barely open eyes and typed a reply. I'm awake now. Can't imagine why.
Were you in the middle of something? her mother wrote.
It's seven in the morning. What could Jess and I possibly be doing apart from sleeping soundly?
I get many things done before seven, if you know what I mean.
Ew. Just no.
Just get decent and meet me outside before I start using emojis.
Okay, okay. Rory tried to disentangle herself from Jess' arms without waking him, to no avail.
"Where you going?" he mumbled, his eyes still closed as he tried to draw her back into the hollow of his body.
For a moment, she was tempted to just stay in bed, surrounded by warm skin and hard muscle, but she knew her mother would hound her until she relented. "Mom needs me," she said instead, pressing a kiss to his forehead before pulling away.
"Hurry back," he said and rolled onto his stomach.
Rory ventured out of the room in her pajamas, closing the door behind her, and found her mother waiting at the end of the hall.
"What?" Rory asked her. "What could you possibly need at this ungodly hour?"
"Come on. I want to show you something," Lorelai said, taking hold of her hand and dragging her through dark the house. "Hey, what time are you and Jess leaving for New York?"
"We're planning to leave around one, so we have a little bit of time," Rory said, following her mom through the house. "How about you?"
Her mother shot her an annoyed look over her shoulder. "Well, we were supposed to leave tomorrow but Luke suggested we stay a few more days."
Rory stopped, her mouth falling open. "Luke did what?"
"I couldn't believe it either. For a second I wondered if the real Luke had been abducted by aliens and replaced with an equally hot but less grumpy clone," Lorelai said. "But he said he wanted to stay and help Mom get the house ready to sell."
"I can't believe it."
"Neither can I." The two stopped at the mudroom at the back of the house. "Get your coat and boots on. It's cold out there."
"This had better be worth it," Rory grumbled as she reached for her coat on the hook. At the last minute, she changed her mind and grabbed Jess' coat instead, slipping her arms into its long sleeves and enjoying the way it wrapped around her like one of his hugs. "Luke is not sick, is he?" Rory asked, as she tied on her boots.
"In the head? Yeah." Lorelai smiled, as she pulled a cap over her head. "He said he felt for her. That he went through something like it himself after his dad died, like he'd lost his identity and needed some time to find it again."
Rory sighed. "That Luke. He's just a giant teddy bear."
"He really is," her mother replied before leading the way out to the wide backyard, their boots crunching in the snow as they made their way toward the edge of the cliff.
"So why are we out here again?" Rory asked, burying her hands inside the coat pocket and staring out at the dark grey sky.
"Because of that," Lorelai said, pointing to a spot in the distance.
"What?" Rory asked, squinting into the dark waters below. "Is it a pod of whales?"
"No. There," Lorelai said, taking hold of Rory's chin and tilting her head up.
"Oh," Rory said on a breath when her eyes caught on the dark line of the horizon that was beginning to glow.
And on that cliff, mother and daughter stood in stunned silence as beauty unfolded around them, as the sun began to rise and cast a golden gleam on the waves that were rolling in to shore.
Rory's chest swelled with emotion, tears stinging her eyes. "Mom?"
"Yeah?" Lorelai asked, her cheeks glowing, her eyes absolutely luminous.
Rory opened her mouth to speak, to try and describe the light radiating inside her, but no words came out.
Lorelai wrapped an arm around her shoulder, nodding. "Me too, kid. Me too."
Thank you so much for reading along and for leaving reviews and comments! I have enjoyed reading each one, almost as much as I enjoyed writing this story.
I have two more books planned in this series, but that will be updated at a slower rate to give me a chance to work on my other projects.
If you'd like to read more of my work, my books are available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, and iTunes.
Again, thank you for all of your support! Writing this story has been an absolute blast.