The next few days passed in a blur to Lorelai. She'd never been so exhausted at the end of the day before, and she practically stumbled alongside Mia every night, drowsily spooned whatever food Mia placed in front of her for dinner, and curled up next to Rory in the twin bed. She slept deeply and dreamlessly, awakened each morning by a gentle knock on the door and the wafting aroma of coffee coming into the room. As the weekend approached, she realized that she was starting to get stronger, feeling more alert and less bone-tired. She felt a new heft to her step, a new strength in her upper arms, that for the past few days had felt like limp noodles.
"All done," she announced to Nancy early Thursday afternoon, pushing her cart back into the supply room.
"Well, that's it," she replied. "I'll see you next week."
"What do you mean?" Lorelai asked, dumbfounded. "Did you get the weekend off?"
"Well, yes and no," Nancy replied, pushing her mop of black ringlets out of her face. "Mia is closing the Independence for the weekend. The storm looks like it's going to hit us dead on."
"Oh, she didn't mention that," Lorelai said. "I mean, I knew about the storm, but I didn't know it was going to be so bad."
"It'll be fine," Nancy replied nonchalantly. "A little wind and rain, maybe some trees will fall. It'll be fine. She said you were going to stay here for the weekend?"
"Yeah, she mentioned something about that," Lorelai said. Darting a glance around them to make sure they were alone, she shifted gears. "Hey, listen. Do you know Bill and Lucas?"
"Lucas?" Nancy repeated. "Oh, you mean Luke. Yeah, I've seen them around."
"I think they are staying here, too," she said.
Nancy looked her over and grinned. "Luke's kind of a hottie, isn't he?"
"Wait, what?" Lorelai said. She furrowed her brow, trying to remember what he had looked like. "Um, I guess so? I was just hoping they weren't going to be weirdos. I mean, I don't know them very well and I'll be spending the whole weekend with them."
"Definitely not weirdos," Nancy replied, smirking.
"Did you know Lizzie?" she asked, unsure why the topic of Bill's wayward daughter was so interesting to her.
"I knew her, yeah. Why?"
"I don't know, it seems like it's all shrouded in mystery." Lorelai tapped her foot against the floor. "Where's Mrs. Danes?"
"Oh, she passed away quite a few years ago," Nancy replied. "She was ill, I don't really know more than that."
"Oh," Lorelai said. "Sad."
"Yeah. Well, you don't have to worry. They're good people. And the storm won't be a big deal, trust me. Everyone is freaking out over absolutely nothing, you'll see."
Despite Nancy's flippant dismissal of the storm, the fact that Mia was closing the Independence for several days did not bode well to her. She wasn't a huge fan of thunderstorms to begin with, and the thought of being the sole person responsible for a baby in the middle of a hurricane made her feel like she'd swallowed a boulder. She hoped they didn't run out of food or water. What if they were trapped here for weeks? She hadn't breastfed Rory since she was a newborn, was it possible to re-lactate?
She tried to shake off her anxiety, and walked back to Mia's office. Rory was sitting on the floor, happily shredding a mountain of Kleenex tissues into strips. Mia nodded to her, the phone pressed to her ear.
"Thank you very much," Mia was saying, and she hung up the phone. She looked over at Rory and shrugged. "At least she's happy." Turning her attention to Lorelai, she gestured for her to sit down in one of the plush chairs in front of her desk. "I just spoke to Jun Kim," she said, as Lorelai sat down. "She said she can make a space for Rory. You'll need to go in and speak to her on Monday in person. She's going to fax the paperwork to me here and we can fill it out and return it. They have a sliding scale for tuition, so I think they'll be able to make it quite affordable for you."
"Oh, Mia, this is wonderful news," Lorelai said happily, the joy displacing a little of her anxiety.
"I think so, too," she replied. "Now, let's get you both settled in the room you'll be sleeping in tonight. I may have found some things for Rory that I want to show you, too."
After they had eaten dinner and sorted out the room situation, Lorelai was sitting in the foyer with Rory, helping her build a tower with some blocks that one of the cooks had given her, when she saw someone walk in out of the corner of her eye. "Hey," she called out, and Luke nodded in her direction.
"Hey," he said, looking down to watch Rory as she attempted to place a block on the top of her unsteady tower. The whole thing fell down and Rory squealed happily and clapped her hands.
"She's going to be an architect," Lorelai quipped, starting a new tower as Rory began handing her the blocks that had scattered. "Or maybe in charge of demolition. Hard to say."
"I can see that," he said dryly.
"Where's your dad?" she asked, looking up. He was a hottie, she decided. A little unkempt, but handsome, with deep blue eyes, a hooked nose, and high cheekbones. His cheeks and neck were covered with a slight stubble that looked more like he had forgotten to shave rather than left it purposely. He wore a pair of faded jeans, a grey t-shirt tucked into them, and an open green flannel shirt. He had a green baseball cap perched backward over his hair, which was curling in the back.
"He's outside, checking on the shed again," he replied.
"Does he think it's going to hold?" The two men had worked several hours, ensuring that the small shed would be strong enough to withstand the wind and rain, barring any giant trees unexpectedly crushing it.
"Yeah, it should," he said, then his attention was caught by Mia walking over to them.
"Lucas," she said warmly, grabbing his hand and giving it a friendly squeeze. "Your dad is checking over that shed again, isn't he?"
"Yes, ma'am," Luke replied.
"I've told you to stop calling me ma'am," she chastised gently.
"Yes, ma- I mean, Mia," he replied gruffly, his cheeks tinged pink.
She held out a key and dropped it into his palm when he held it out. "You and your dad are in room 4." He nodded.
"We'll be neighbors," Lorelai said. "Rory and I are in 3."
He nodded silently, closing his fingers around the keys and heading up the stairs. Lorelai watched him for a moment, then turned her attention back toward her daughter.
For the first night since she'd begun her new career as maid, Lorelai was not completely exhausted when she fell into bed. Instead, she was anxious. She wasn't sure when the storm was supposed to hit, and her nervousness over the impact of the storm was causing her to feel fidgety and slightly nauseated.
Concerned that her restlessness might wake Rory, she slipped out of bed, tucking pillows all around her to prevent her from falling to the floor in the night. Quietly, she crept down the hallway and into the main foyer. It was dark, most of the windows boarded up already. She pressed up against the only non-boarded-up window in the foyer, looking out into the darkness. Some of the trees were fluttering slightly, but still no indication of hurricane-force winds. Sighing heavily, she turned and went to sit on the couch. She moved her legs up and hugged them tightly, resting her chin on her knees.
"I'm not afraid," she whispered to herself. "I'm not afraid."
"Lorelai?" she heard a voice ask softly, and she spun around quickly. Luke was standing in the entryway to the sitting room, dressed for bed in dull green sweatpants and a black t-shirt.
"Oh, it's you," she said, somewhat relieved. She didn't know how she would have explained to Mia exactly what it was she was doing down here, muttering to herself.
"Are you okay?" he asked, taking a few tentative steps toward the couch.
"I'm fine," she said flippantly.
"So that wasn't you I heard just now, telling yourself not to be afraid?"
Lorelai blushed. "Must have been your mind playing tricks on you," she said lamely.
"Can I sit?" he asked, gesturing toward the other end of the couch.
"Sure," Lorelai said, shifting over to make enough room. He stretched out his legs, his long body making the couch seem tiny in comparison. For once, Lorelai could see his uncovered arms. He was lean, but she could see some impressive muscles hiding under the taut skin. "Do you play sports?" she asked, her eyes returning to meet his.
He snorted. "Used to, why?"
"You're just all built like a football player," she said, waving her hand in his general direction.
"Hardly," he said. "I ran track and played some baseball. Don't really do either now."
"So what do you do?" she asked.
"Am I being interviewed?" he asked, an eyebrow raised.
She shrugged. "It's taking my mind off the storm."
He nodded, running a hand through his hair. "Well, I graduated from high school a few years ago. I've been helping my dad run the store since then. We've had some competition from the Home Depot that opened in Hartford, so he had to lay off a few employees."
"So, that's all you do? All work and no play makes Lucas a dull boy."
"It's just Luke, thanks. And there's not much else to do. I know you haven't been here long, but Stars Hollow isn't exactly a happening place."
"It seems really nice," Lorelai replied. "But really," she pressed. "No hobbies?"
He shrugged. "I try to go for a run every morning. Some Saturdays we have a neighborhood softball game."
"What about friends?" Lorelai asked. "A, uh, girlfriend?"
He smirked. "Yes, I have friends. I'm not Howard Hughes." He leaned back, crossing his arms behind his head. "And no, I don't have a girlfriend."
"Oh," Lorelai said. "Too bad for you."
"I'm fine," he said. "What about you? Where's Rory's dad?"
She snorted. "God only knows," she replied bitterly. Sensing that she didn't want to elaborate, he didn't press the subject. "So we've established that I'm not afraid of the storm, but why are you down here?" she asked.
"I was getting a drink from the kitchen when I heard the mutterings of a crazy woman," he joked, a teasing smile on his lips. Lorelai ducked her head, laughing. "How do you feel now? Still afraid?"
Lorelai looked out through the window. The night seemed serene still, the wind hardly ruffling the leaves on the property's trees. It was dark and misty, and the few outdoor lights were blurry beacons punctuating the foggy night. It seemed a little spooky, but not scary. "No," she said finally, smiling over at him. "I'm not."
Since the Inn was closed to guests that weekend, there wasn't any pressing need to wake up early. Lorelai relished sleeping in for a change, but once Rory stirred a few minutes after 7, she rolled herself out of bed. Talking to Luke the night before had eased her anxiety, and they'd only chatted a few minutes longer before they both went up to bed, where Lorelai fell asleep as soon as she'd laid down next to her daughter, who hadn't appeared to move a muscle while she was downstairs.
Lorelai and Rory were the last ones to arrive to the dining room, where Mia was setting up a simple breakfast buffet. Aside from Mia, the Danes men, Rory, and herself, there were a few other Inn employees who were staying to weather the storm. Lorelai waved hello to Rafael and Donna, and eased Rory down into the high chair that was set up for her at one of the tables. As she was loading a plate with fruit, pancakes, and bacon, she looked up with a smile to see Luke next to her, fixing up a bowl of oatmeal. "Gross," she said, peering down her nose at the lumpy brown stuff.
"It's good for you," he replied, reaching for a banana.
"Ugh, so not worth it," Lorelai grimaced, and Luke chuckled. He raised his eyes at the food she had piled on top of her plate. "What?" she asked.
"You're not going to feed that stuff to Rory, are you?"
"Yes," she replied archly, daring him to make another comment. He only shook his head, and went back to the table where Bill was eating an identical serving of oatmeal, minus the banana.
Lorelai returned to her table and handed Rory a piece of pancake which she devoured happily. "Here's some honeydew, baby," she said, spearing a piece of melon on a fork and handing it to the little girl. Rory picked up the fork and eyed the green fruit suspiciously. "It's good," she urged, waiting for Rory to take a bite. Her daughter looked at her, then lifted the fork to her lips. She took a tentative lick, and made a face.
"Unbelievable," Luke muttered, watching the whole scene play out.
"You stop," Lorelai groused playfully. "Come on, baby," she urged again. "Fruit is good. It tastes sweet, like candy." Rory gave her a wide-eyed look of disbelief, but took a tiny bite of the melon anyway. Mia sat down next to Lorelai with her own plate.
"Did you get some coffee, hon?" she asked Lorelai, as she spread her napkin across her lap.
"No, I didn't see it."
"The pot is in the kitchen," she said.
"Okay," Lorelai said. "Keep an eye on Rory?" Mia nodded agreeably as she speared another piece of fruit for Rory to try. Lorelai watched as Rory took the fruit readily, though she still seemed suspicious of it.
The smell of the coffee brewing filled her lungs and she sighed happily once she entered the kitchen. She hadn't been inside the Inn's kitchen more than a few times, and it took some digging to locate the mugs. Once she poured the coffee in, she took a sip. And then another. "Damn," she muttered.
"What's wrong?" Luke asked, walking into the kitchen at that moment.
"This coffee," Lorelai replied, peering into the mug, looking as if she expected to find the Holy Grail inside.
"Is it okay?" Luke asked, and he looked worried.
"Okay?" Lorelai said, her voice pitching slightly higher. "This is the most amazing cup of coffee I've ever tasted in my life!"
Luke's expression changed from concern to smug. "Oh yeah?"
Lorelai took another sip. "Uh, yeah. I would marry this coffee. Have its coffee babies." Another sip. "Oh my god." She looked up to see Luke grinning. "Why do you look so pleased?"
He shrugged. "I made it."
She looked back down at her cup. "You made this coffee? Did you put magic in it or something?"
He laughed. "No."
"Well, then what's your secret?"
"Can't tell you," he replied, moving past her to fish some tea bags out of a canister.
"What do you mean? Did you not hear me? This coffee is seriously amazing. It's like my life had no meaning until I drank this coffee." He didn't reply as he poured hot water out of a kettle into a mug, placing a tea bag inside. "And you're making tea? Tell me you aren't drinking tea instead of this amazing coffee."
"I don't drink coffee," he replied, dunking the bag in and out of the hot water.
She gasped. "You make coffee like ambrosia and don't even drink it?"
"Do you have any idea what coffee does to your central nervous system?" he demanded.
"Uh, makes it very, very happy?" Lorelai guessed. He shot her a look, and went back to his tea. "So why can't you tell me your secret?" she said, moving to stand beside him, cradling the cup close to her nose to breathe in the intoxicating scent.
"I'll get it out of your dad, then," Lorelai said. Luke looked over, and something passed in front of his eyes that she couldn't name.
"It was my mom's recipe," he said quietly, and Lorelai felt her heart fall into her stomach.
"Oh, god, I'm sorry," she said softly. "I didn't realize."
He waved her off. "It's fine, I just… I'd rather you not mention it to him, okay?"
"Sure, you got it," she replied, nodding. She took a large gulp, and after swallowing it, she added, "I'm not done pestering you about it yet, though." Then she flounced back into the dining room, hearing his deep chuckle behind her.
It was several hours after breakfast before the rain and wind started picking up. Lorelai and Rory huddled in the dining room, away from the windows, with a selection of toys that Mia had rounded up from both charitable friends and neighbors and from the lost and found box. Among the treasures, Mia had gotten her hands on a Baby Chrissy doll in nearly mint condition, and Rory was besotted with it. She pulled on the doll's hair to lengthen it, and was filled with glee to learn that the cord on the doll's neck could shorten the hair again. There was also a train set, some Star Wars action figures missing a few limbs, and a My Little Pony.
A particularly loud gust of wind shook the boards on the windows and Lorelai jumped. Rory looked up, questioningly, and Lorelai gave her a shaky smile. "It's fine, baby, the loud noise just startled mommy," she soothed, but at the same time she looked around worriedly. At that moment, the power went out, leaving them all in darkness.
Rory crawled into her mother's lap and clung to her, whimpering. Lorelai made soothing noises and rubbed circles on Rory's tiny back, trying unsuccessfully to stay calm. She'd never really enjoyed storms as a kid, and now with all the changes she'd made so quickly to her own life, she was unable to control her own fear. She could tell Rory was sensing her apprehension, and soon the whimpers turned to wails. Lorelai stood up in the dark room, bouncing her daughter and trying to calm her, while at the same time shaking uncontrollably.
She walked back into the foyer, where Mia was lighting some candles on the front desk and Bill and Rafael were peering into the fireplace. Mia looked up when Lorelai walked in, Rory's cries alerting her to their presence. She walked over and held out her hands to take the baby, but Rory clutched at her mother. "Mama!" she shrieked, and Mia stepped back, looking sympathetic.
She walked the little girl around the room, trying to let herself be distracted by the men getting the fireplace ready to be lit, to no avail. She felt Luke's presence beside her before he spoke, and she turned toward him.
"I like to cook," he said.
Lorelai stopped mid-bounce, surprised. "What?"
"I like to cook," he repeated. He lifted his eyebrow, and she could just see a smirk on his face in the dim light. "You asked if I had hobbies?"
"Oh!" she said. "That explains the coffee."
"Yeah." He shrugged. "I have some old secret recipes," he said, with a wink, "but I also like to experiment."
"What kind of food do you cook?" she asked, interested, as she resumed bouncing.
"A little of everything," he replied. "Nothing too fancy, not like what Mia serves here at the Inn." He sighed, looking as though he were being held at gunpoint and being forced to say these things. "I've been trying to figure out how to make tortillas."
"Make tortillas?" Lorelai asked, dumbfounded. "But you can buy them in the store, in nice little flat circles."
"Yes," he replied patiently, "but the fresh ones are really better. You have to believe me."
"I believe you," she replied with a smile. Suddenly, she realized that Rory had stopped crying, and was now asleep on her shoulder. "You were distracting me," she accused Luke, who smiled widely, lifting his hands in surrender.
"It worked, didn't it?" he asked.
Lorelai grinned. "You're a good friend," she said sincerely. "Now, what else do you cook?"
Once the storm died down, Mia sat everyone around the blazing fire and handed out bowls of soup she'd warmed on the gas stove in the kitchen. The power was still out, and the silence outside was eerie. Lorelai set her own bowl aside, blowing carefully on the tiny plastic bowl that Mia had prepared for Rory. She offered spoonfuls to the little girl, who eagerly slurped up the soup, making happy smacking noises. "Soup," she said, pointing at the bowl, and Lorelai smiled proudly.
"Yes, baby. Soup," she said. She looked up, and saw Luke watching her intently across the haphazard semi-circle they had all formed. She fed Rory all the soup in her little bowl and some from her own, and every time she looked up, she met Luke's stare. When Rory had finally eaten her fill, she crawled over to sit in Mia's lap, and Lorelai was finally able to feed herself.
"Your food must be cold," he said, and she looked up to see that he had moved to sit next to her. "You let her eat first," he observed.
Lorelai shrugged. "It's what moms do," she replied matter-of-factly. She paused, then she chuckled sardonically. "Well, that's what moms should do," she amended. "Can't say I've ever had my mom put me first in anything." He kept his eyes on her, watching as she spooned more lukewarm soup into her mouth. "I'm sorry," she said, her eyes moving to her bowl, "about your mom."
"Not your fault," he said lightly, but she noticed how his easy posture had stiffened slightly.
"Well, it can't be easy, hearing me badmouth my mother who is very much alive when yours is not."
He shrugged. "She wasn't perfect, either."
"No," she said quietly, her gaze darting quickly across the room, where Bill was inspecting the fireplace again. "But you still miss her. Both of you."
"We do," he replied. He turned back to her. "Want me to warm you up another bowl?" he asked.
She grinned. "Why thank you, kind sir," she said. He picked up the bowl from her hands and walked into the kitchen, disappearing into the shadow at the edge of the firelight.
The following morning, Lorelai picked her way through fallen branches toward the potting shed. She was surprised to see Luke there already, walking around the outside of the shed, testing various supports and shingles. "Hey," she said, as she approached him.
He looked up, surprised. "Hey," he replied.
"Checking to see if there's damage?" she asked.
"Yeah," he said, shoving his hands into his pockets. "Looks good. The improvements we made held out. We just need to bring in some furniture and it'll be ready."
"Good," she replied. "Thank you."
"No big deal," he replied. He cleared his throat. "Listen," he began, and Lorelai looked at him. He was looking down at his feet. "Um, I know it's gotta be hard, raising a kid alone. I mean, my sister is doing it and she's a mess. We keep trying to get her to come home, but she's too proud, you know? And she just wants to do things her way, which involves a lot of guys and drinking, and some… other stuff." He paused, looking up at her. "I know you're not like that, you've got a job and Mia said you had some child care lined up, and I think that's great, really. But, if you need someone, like a… like a partner, I would…" He dropped his gaze again, and kicked the ground with his boot.
Lorelai's heart started racing. She'd only known this man for a week, and he was proposing to her? "Are you asking me to marry you?" she asked softly. He nodded, not looking up. "I need to sit down," she mumbled, falling to the steps in front of the potting shed.
"I don't mean to make you uncomfortable," he said quickly, "and I'd have no, you know, expectations. It would just be help, with Rory, someone to pick up the slack and stuff. Like a good friend."
"Wow." She looked at him, and he met her gaze. She could see how sincere he was, and it made her melt. "That is seriously, truly, one of the greatest offers anyone has ever made to me," she began, choosing her words with care.
"But you can't accept," he muttered, dropping his chin.
"No, I can't," she said, "but let me tell you why." He looked up, and waited for her to continue. She took a deep breath. "Chris–that's Rory's dad–he asked me to marry him, too. But I said no. Because we were 16, we're too young. I mean, I'm only 17 now. I didn't want to get married just because of Rory. And it was the smart thing to do, because he almost didn't even come to the hospital. We were about to be discharged when he finally showed up." Luke's jaw dropped. "I know, it's crazy, right? I mean, I have to protect my kid, and I knew that Chris wasn't ready to be a real dad. I mean, his parents wanted me to…" she trailed off, unable to even say the words out loud.
"Get rid of her?" Luke supplied quietly. Lorelai nodded, feeling tears prick her eyes. She wiped them away, taking another deep breath.
"But Luke, I'm 17 and you're, what? 18?"
"Almost twenty-one," he said.
"Twenty-one." She sighed. "I can't ask you to give up your life for me." He moved to sit next to her.
"It wouldn't be giving up my life," he replied. "It's the right thing to do."
"Being dad to someone else's kid?"
"I'd love it if some guy offered that to my sister," he replied honestly. "I'd know both her and Jess–that's my nephew–were taken care of."
Lorelai looked at him, and smiled. She bumped his shoulder with her own. "You are going to make a great dad and husband to someone someday." He smiled back.
On Monday, Lorelai walked into town as fast as she could. She only had a small window of time in order to meet with the staff of the nursery school at the church, and she didn't want to be late. Mia had used her clout as a local businesswoman in order to secure that spot for Rory, and if she was going to keep her job, she needed this to work out. The church wasn't too far from the town square, and she could see the gazebo out of the corner of her eye. Beyond that, she saw the sign for Williams Hardware, and smiled to herself.
Entering the church, she walked down the carpeted hallway, peeking in each room, trying to find the school's office. Five doors down, she saw a bronze sign indicating Kim's Parochial School.
"Jun Kim?" she asked, stepping into the small room.
"Ah, Mrs. Gilmore," said the tiny woman with a friendly smile. "Come in!" She gestured to one of the folding chairs in front of the desk. She picked up a sheaf of papers as Lorelai sat down. "Mrs. Bass tells me you have a one-year-old daughter?"
Lorelai nodded. "Yes, her name is Rory. Actually, her name is Lorelai, but I'm Lorelai, so that would be confusing. So her nickname is Rory."
The woman looked up, clearly puzzled, but then returned her attention to the papers in front of her. "So, I just wanted to go over the paperwork with you. You seem to have forgotten to fill in some information. What does Mr. Gilmore do?"
"Oh, there's no Mr. Gilmore," Lorelai said. Mrs. Kim's head snapped up.
"No Mr. Gilmore?"
"Uh," she said. "Well, my father is Mr. Gilmore, but he isn't Rory's father. That would be some twisted Days of Our Lives stuff right there."
"Oh." She saw the pursed lips, and Lorelai's heart began to sink. "Ms. Gilmore," Mrs. Kim said lightly. "I'm not sure if you know, but this church feels very strongly about the traditional family and–"
"But I'm engaged!" she blurted.