"Oh no.... no.... oh, come ON!" Luke muttered in disbelief, cranking the key in the ignition as the engine chugged and coughed, refusing to start. He let go of the key and put his forehead against the cold steering wheel.
Lorelai's eyes grew wide. "What's happening? Why isn't it going? Try again!" Luke shot her a look. She got his message, loud and clear. Trying to help, she changed her tone and spoke encouragingly to the truck, "Okay, so you want a little rest before you start, is that it? Not a problem." She stroked the dashboard soothingly with her gloved hand, "You can do it, I know it's really cold, but you're a good truck. A strong truck! I know you can start if you really try!"
Luke took a deep breath and rolled his eyes. Yeah, she's helping for sure now, he thought, but he didn't interrupt. He just gave the truck a little gas and tried again to start the engine. Lorelai started cheerleading to drown out the sound of the gradually-getting-weaker chugging, "Go, truck! Go go go! Truck, truck, he's our truck if he can't do it, boy... we're fu-"
"LORELAI!" He couldn't take it anymore. "You're not helping." It was obvious that the battery was too low to start the engine, and all the encouragement in the world - no matter how gorgeous the cheerleader - was going to change that fact. They were stuck.
They looked at each other. Lorelai opened her mouth to ask if he was going to try again, but the look on his face told her what she needed to know. Get comfy, folks, the truck is not going anywhere. With this realization crystalizing in the frigid air between them, they both let their eyes wander, dismayed, to watch the snowfall that was steadily blanketing the windshield. This was not funny.
Luke peered into the thick squall, wondering if the temperature was still falling. When they'd been driving up here, Lorelai had tuned the radio to a local station (so that she could sing along to the Christmas carols at the top of her lungs). Somewhere between "Jingle Bell Rock" and "Feed the World", he'd managed to hear something about a major snowstorm that was moving into the area. At the time, he hadn't given it much thought - they would get a tree and be back in Stars Hollow long before the storm hit. I mean, how long could it take to pick out a stupid Christmas tree? In retrospect, he smirked and shook his head. He should've realized that, with Lorelai, things hardly ever went as planned.
"Um, earth to Luke?" Lorelai gave his shoulder a playful little shove, "I hate to break up this romantic little snow-watching expedition, but I'm freezing to death over here! What's the plan?"
Typical. She expected him to have a ready solution for every problem tucked up his plaid flannel sleeve. It hadn't even dawned on her that maybe, on this one special occasion, he didn't have a way out. The temperature outside was already well below zero, and the inside of the truck wasn't much warmer. The cold was starting to prick at his feet inside his wool socks and workboots, and he was already starting to rub his hands together to keep them from going numb. What were they going to do? Good question, he thought. Very good question indeed. She looked at him calmly, expectantly, her confidence in his ability to handle this problem was resting comfortably in every facial feature. "Uh..." he hesitated, considering their options carefully. "Well, I think... uh, probably the truck is not gonna start. I mean, unless you've got an extra battery hidden under your coat, I think we can rule out driving home at this point."
She smiled at his joke, but still didn't *get* what he was saying. "So, you're gonna have to fix the battery?" Cars were not her strong suit.
"No... the battery is dead. You can't fix it when it's dead, unless you've got a set of jumper cables and another car to hook it up to." he deadpanned.
"So, we should find another car? That is NOT gonna be easy out here - I don't think we've even seen another car... or house, for that matter, since we pulled off Route 9 a few miles back! How about Plan B?"
Without a word, Luke opened the door and stepped out of the truck in the steadily-growing snowstorm. He slammed the door behind him, but not in time to stop a whirling cloud of snow from blowing into the cab and settling on everything inside, including Lorelai. She frowned at the cold blast of air, but also at Luke's sudden unannounced departure. What was he doing?, she thought. Should I pull the whatchamacallit so that that hood pops up? She started scrutinizing the various knobs and handles offered by the dashboard of the truck, trying to guess which one might open the hood.
Before she had a chance to start experimenting, the driver's side door was wrenched open again and Luke re-entered the cab in a flurry of white flakes. He was carrying something that looked like a small suitcase, and he had a large snow-covered quilt bunched under one arm.
"What's all this?" she quizzed, reaching for the case while Luke pulled his gloves off.
"It's a winter survival kit, what's it look like?" he grumbled, rubbing his frozen hands together. "Look in that box for some candles and matches, would you?"
Lorelai was already into the case, but couldn't help but find humour in his suggestion. "What are we trying to do, set the mood? Seriously, Luke, do you have extra batteries in this thing or what?" She rummaged through the box.
He frowned. "Okay, for starters, this is a Chevy, not a flashlight. It doesn't run on double-A's!" She stopped her search. "The kit has stuff in it that we can use to try to stay warm, and there's flares in there if we see another car and need to signal for help." Lorelai just looked at him, blinking slowly.
"You're not kidding." she said. She turned to look at the snow-covered windshield as if it was listening to their conversation, her eyebrows so high on her forehead that they threatened to disappear into her hairline. "He's not kidding! He actually thinks that we're going to sit out here in this truck and freeze to death! By candlelight!!" She turned back to Luke. "Say that you're kidding, please, I'll do anything. You can fix the truck, you've gotta be the handiest person I know! Shouldn't we at least try?" Her eyes pleaded with his.
"No." he said flatly, taking the survival kit out of her lap and surveying its contents. "There is nothing to fix, that's what I was trying to explain to you before." There was no way that he could look at her while he said this. "We're stuck. I can't fix it, and we're just going to have to find another way out of this." He tried to prepare himself for her reaction when the truth finally sank in. He didn't look up, but he steeled himself for the shouting and raging that he was sure were about to come his way. One... two... three... here we go... he thought.
Instead, she just breathed for a minute. Bright white clouds of condensation billowed into the frosty air between them. Luke looked up, still waiting for the tirade. Instead, he saw immediately that she was scared. Her eyes were huge in her face, and her skin seemed paler than it had a moment ago. This was much worse than yelling - he was actually afraid that she was going to cry, and there was nothing on earth that he could think of that would make this situation worse than if she started to cry. Quickly, he put on his game face. He let a small smile play at the corners of his mouth, and he told her what he knew she needed to hear. "Hey, it's gonna be okay, though. We've got.. uh, pretty well everything we need right here in this box!"
He reached in and pulled out a Hershey bar, which he tossed playfully into her lap. She smiled, "Hey! You didn't tell me we were going to have *candy*! This was almost worth getting caught in a snowstorm!" She started unwrapping the chocolate immediately, while he continued his search for candles and matches.
While Lorelai went to work on the candy bar, Luke fished a box of six sturdy white candles out of the survival kit, along with a small box of waterproof wooden matches. A little more excavation revealed a set of two utilitarian wire candleholders. Before Lorelai was half done the chocolate bar, there were two candles glowing on the dashboard.
"Mmmmf" she mumbled appreciatively, nodding at the candles as she swallowed her mouthful of candy. "They're so pretty!"
"Actually, candles can generate a fair bit of heat in a small space like this." Luke explained, hoping to God that what he was saying was true. He glanced at the open box in his hand. And I've just used one-third of our entire supply, he thought to himself. Damn.
She offered him chocolate, which he surprised her by accepting. "You never eat junk food!" she gasped, "This must really be an emergency! In fifteen years, I don't think I've ever seen you eat anything unhealthy!" He answered by stealing another piece of chocolate from the wrapper in her hand and popping it into his mouth with a flourish.
"First time for everything, isn't there?" he quipped, and licked his lips. In spite of her warm smile, he could see that she was starting to tremble in the cold. He reached for the quilt beside him, and started shaking the snow off of it as best he could in the confines of the driver's seat. "I had this in the back, I was gonna use it to keep the tree from scratching the roof, but I think it might be more useful in here." He tried to pick a few pine needles off the quilt, "Uh, it's not really all that clean, but.." Lorelai didn't seem to find anything wrong with the quilt at all as she eagerly scooted across the seat toward him. He did his best to tuck the blanket closely around her shoulders and under her knees, but she started to object.
"Hey, Captain Lumberjack-guy! I know you're tough and rugged and probably completely impervious to the forces of nature in general, but if you think I'm gonna take this entire quilt while you freeze your family jewels off right in front of me, you really are suffering from some kind of hypothermia-induced delusion!" He smiled his relief. Not only was he glad to share the blanket, but he was glad to hear that she wasn't too cold to carry on her usual banter. He untucked the side of the quilt closest to him, and Lorelai cozied up beside him on the bench seat. With gloved hands, he clumsily arranged the quilt across both of them, and did his best to tuck it under his thigh and behind his back. "Much better" she said as soon as they were settled, "I don't suppose that you've got a space heater jammed in that box somewhere?"
"Unfortunately, no." he chuckled. "I must've left it at home with the portable hot tub"
"WHAT? Oh, NOW you tell me!" she giggled, "From now on, get it straight. I do not go on ANY trips with you unless you pack the portable hot tub!"
"Trips with ME?" he challenged. "It was YOU who dragged us out here, a hundred miles from civilization, so that you could get a stupid Christmas tree for your beloved inn, remember?"
"Well, what was I supposed to do? Chop down an eighteen-foot pine tree alone, and load it into your truck all by MYSELF?"
"Noooooo. I was thinking maybe you could just BUY a tree at the damn tree lot in front of Doose's like everyone else in town!" In spite of the lighthearted jokes that started it, this exchange was starting to heat up.
She turned on him. "Are you saying I'm cheap? I am NOT cheap, pal. You have no idea how much money it takes to start an inn! The permits, the construction, the renovations... and Sookie's kitchen was no bargain, let me tell you... and you have the nerve to sit there and blame ME for us being stuck out here? All I wanted to do was drive up to get a FREE Christmas tree, and YOU drive us out here in your broken-down old truck that is obviously not even road-worthy..."
"Not road-worthy?? There is NOTHING wrong with this truck, Lorelai, and you know it! The only reason that the battery went dead is because YOU had to keep the headlights on the whole time you were picking out which tree you wanted AND the whole time that *I* was chopping down said tree AND the whole time you were sitting in the cab of the truck while *I* loaded it into the back of the truck and tied it down..."
They were talking over each other now, bickering at full throttle in way that they seldom had in the past. The snow was falling faster and thicker all the time, and the candles on the dashboard were already starting to burn lower. On the surface, they couldn't seem to find anything to agree on, but deep down they were both thinking the same thing. This isn't going to work, and we're in real trouble.
The argument died down almost as quickly as it had flared up. Their eyes met, and somehow the tension just drained out of the equation. Lorelai smiled her apology, and Luke's expression softened in response. This wasn't helping, and they both knew it. Without a word, Luke took Lorelai's hands between his own, and began rubbing them to try to keep her warm. They looked at the candles glowing on the dash, both silently willing the stubby white cylinders to raise the ambient temperature by just a *few* more degrees. Lorelai couldn't stop herself from shivering, and Luke began to realize that he could no longer feel it when he wiggled his toes inside his boots.
Just then, an image flashed into his head from a trip he'd taken up here with Nicole back in early October. She had wanted to do the typical New England tourist thing and drive out into the countryside to admire the fall foliage. Luke had finally agreed, even though he couldn't understand why the trees out in the middle of nowhere were any more attractive than the ones in Stars Hollow, and they'd packed a picnic lunch for the occasion. Unless he was mistaken, and he knew this area pretty darn well, they'd spotted a small hunting cabin just off the main road a little further up. He racked his brain to remember exactly where it had been. Was it still in one piece? Did it have a door? A chimney? There was no point in leaving the cab of the truck for a fallen-down ruin with three walls and no fireplace. Dammit, think Danes, he told himself. Lorelai's shivering was getting worse. Although she was trying to hide it, her teeth were beginning to chatter uncontrollably. He didn't think either one of them could last much longer like this.
Luke concentrated on his mental image of the tiny hunting cabin. Yes, it had a door that could hopefully be fastened shut against the wind. A chimney? He couldn't be sure, but he thought that he'd seen a stone chimney running up the side of the cabin. He breathed a quick silent prayer that the chimney was intact, and that some resourceful family of raccoons hadn't decided to take up residence inside the flue. On the dashboard, one of the candles flickered at the very bottom of the wire holder. It sputtered twice, and soundlessly went out. There was less than an inch left of the other candle, and as far as Luke could tell, the inside of the truck wasn't getting any warmer. With Lorelai shivering at his side, he made his decision. There was no other choice.
He briefly and urgently described his plan to Lorelai, and she nodded her agreement. She didn't know if the cabin would be any better than the truck, but it couldn't be that much worse, and she trusted Luke to make the right decision. If he had said they should trudge into the woods and find a cave full of bears to shelter with, she would agree because she knew that he would never put her in harm's way. Yesterday, she would've told anyone who asked that she would trust Luke with her life. Today, she didn't hesitate to prove it. Luke quickly gathered their remaining survival kit components, latched the box closed, and wrapped Lorelai securely in the quilt. The two shared a look, and used the opportunity to offer each other wordless encouragement.
"Stay with me" Luke said gruffly, "The last thing I need is for you to get lost out there".
He opened the door into the driving snow, and anything that Lorelai said in response was lost to the biting cold wind that whipped around them as they faced the storm head-on. Her gloved hand slipped through his arm, and he held her close at his side as they stumbled away from their meagre shelter. This was the right decision, he told himself. He would find the cabin, he would light a fire, and they would wait out the storm. Everything was going to be fine. It had to be. She gripped his arm and followed him into the swirling whiteness. She believed in him, and he would never forgive himself if he ever let her down.