Title: The Good One

Author: Erin Kaye Hashet

Rating: Mm, we'll say PG-13

Feedback: EKHashethotmail.com

Spoilers: Through the end of the fourth season—see author's notes for details.

Summary: Maybe the world really is overrated. But it doesn't matter. To Luke, this is where his world, his life, and everything about him begins and ends, although he'd never admit it.

Disclaimer: Wishing and wishing won't make these characters mine

Author's Notes: This story marks a couple of firsts for me. For one, it is my first WIP. Normally I only write short stuff. This story will be seven parts, and while it's not yet complete, I have it all planned out. So, while I LOVE getting reviews (even flames are welcome!), if you make suggestions, I probably will not take them. No offense; it's just that I may have a different idea of where I want this to go than you do. Second, while all my stories have an L/L element, this is my first straight JavaJunkie fic, which is surprising because I'm a huge L/L shipper. I've never written one before simply because I have trouble writing Lorelai realistically—I just don't think the way she talks. So we'll see how this goes.

            For the purposes of this story, parts of "Afterboom," "Luke Can See Her Face," "Last Week Fights, This Week Tights," and "Raincoats and Recipes" did not happen. Parts did, though— you'll see what I mean in Chapter 3.

            I was involved in a debate on the TWoP forums (I'm Summer InA Bowl there) about whether Luke or Liz is older. In LWFTWT, Liz called him her big brother, so even in light of the picture in "One's Got Class and the Other One Dyes," I still say Luke is older, and he is in this fic.

            And one more thing. This is not a sequel to anything, but events from my stories "I Stayed," "The Daddy On the Bus," and "What He Wants," are all in here.

Okay, I'm done now. Enjoy.

The Good One

by Erin Kaye Hashet

Chapter 1

Family Comes First

Don't it always seem to go

That you don't know what you got 'til it's gone?

            The bus driver, Ernie, never let him off at his house. He'd been driving the bus since Luke was in first grade, and for the first few days of school that year, Luke had been dropped off in his front yard only to go running off. Finally, Ernie had yelled to him, "Hey, Kid!" Ernie called all the students Kid even if he knew their names. "Where are you off to?"

            "My dad's store," the little boy had said, sounding as excited as if he was going to Disneyland.

            Ernie had smiled at him. "Hop back on," he said. "I'll drop you off there."

            Luke was ten now, and Ernie still dropped him off at William's Hardware every day. His sister Lizzie, who was seven, usually got off at home or at a friend's house, but there was no place Luke would rather be than his father's store.

            The bells on the door jingled as he came in. "Hi, Dad!" he said.

            Bill Danes was taking care of some papers behind the counter. "Hello, Luke," he said without looking up. When he did look up he rolled his eyes. "Luke, didn't you wear that shirt yesterday?"

            "I like this one!" Luke replied with a grin, rolling up the sleeves of his Star Trek shirt as he went to join his father behind the counter.

            Bill smiled and ruffled his son's hair affectionately. "I will never understand why you feel the need to wear the same thing every day, you little Trekkie."

            "You need help with anything, Dad?"

            "Hmm." His father frowned, thinking. "Well, you can straighten out the boxes of nails over there."

            "Okay!" Luke went over and concentrated on doing so. Bill finished the paperwork and pushed the papers off to the side. Just then the phone rang.

            "Hello?" Luke heard his father say. "Yeah?...Okay, just let me take that down…Ah, geez, I'm out of paper." Out of the corner of his eye Luke saw his father kneel down to write down the order on the wall behind the counter. "Okay then…three hammers, Phillips-head screwdrivers and three boxes of nails in assorted sizes. Okay. Your phone number?...All right, I'll give you a call as soon as it comes in. Yeah. Okay, bye."

            Years later, Luke would keep that order up behind the counter, refusing to paint over it. He didn't know who the order had been for, but he always remembered the day his father wrote it down. It was what Luke considered the last day of his childhood.

            When Luke and his father got home, there was a familiar car parked in the driveway. "Mia's here!" Luke said.

            Sure enough, when they got inside, Mia Anderson, who ran the Independence Inn, was in the family room. She and Sheila Danes were best friends, and finding her there was not uncommon. "Lucas!" exclaimed Mia, getting up to hug him. "How are you, dear? Still wearing that T-shirt, I see."

            Mia was the only one besides his mother who was allowed to call him Lucas. "I like this shirt, Mia," Luke replied.

            "Oh, well, it's good to stick with the things we like," smiled Mia. "Guess that's why I can't get rid of you."

            Sheila stood up from the couch. She was a quiet, unassuming woman, remarkable only for her constant smile and unwavering optimism. "Lucas, dinner's ready," she said. "Will you go call your sister?"

            "Sure, Mom." He went into the hallway and yelled up the stairs, "Lizzie! Dinner!" He waited awhile, then yelled again. "Lizzie! Mom says come down here." Still no answer. Finally, he went up the stairs and threw open the door to his sister's bedroom. Lizzie was gluing popsicle sticks onto different-sized cardboard boxes. "Liz, get downstairs!" He tugged on his sister's arm.

            "Noooo!" Lizzie howled. "I'm making a popsicle-stick castle! I'm not done yet!"

            "You can finish after dinner. Come on, get down."

            When they got downstairs, Sheila and Mia were hugging goodbye. "So I'll be here at three tomorrow when they get off the bus?"

            "Yes," said Sheila. "Lucas usually gets off at Bill's store, but Elizabeth will get off here. Just stay here with her until Bill gets home."

            "All right," said Mia. She and Sheila hugged again, and Mia's face was serious. "Good luck with everything, Sheila," she said. "You take care."

            "Oh, I'll be fine," Sheila said with a calm smile. "No need to worry."

            As they sat down for dinner, Bill commented, "What was that about?"

            Sheila laughed easily. "Oh, I just asked Mia if she'd be here to be with Lizzie when she gets off the bus tomorrow."

            "Why?" asked Bill between bites. "Where will you be?"

            "Well," said Sheila, reaching for the salad bowl, "I saw my doctor today, and he wants me to go see someone at the hospital tomorrow. You know, just so they can run some tests."

            Bill frowned. "What kind of tests?"

            Sheila shrugged. "Oh, blood tests, that kind of thing. No big deal. I'm sure it's nothing serious." She changed the subject. "Lucas?" she said. "Pass the pepper, please."

            When Luke and his father got home from the hardware store the next day, Mia's car was in the driveway again.

            Bill frowned. "Mia's still here?" he said under his breath, but loud enough so that Luke could hear it. When they got inside, he said, "Mia! Sheila's not home yet?"

            Mia's face was more serious than Luke could ever remember seeing it. "She called and left a message for you," she said. "They're keeping her overnight."

            "What?" cried Bill. "Why? What's wrong?"

            Mia shook her head, looking troubled. "She didn't say. She just said not to worry."

            "Oh, that makes me feel better!" said Bill sarcastically. "What hospital is she at?"

            "Hartford Memorial, I believe."

            Bill let out a long sigh. "Thank you for taking care of Lizzie, Mia," he said. Then he called up the stairs, "Liz! Get down here! I need you to get in the car."

            Luke was quiet all through the car ride to the hospital. He was scared, but he didn't know what he was scared for. His mother couldn't be sick. She'd looked fine the day before. Anyway, if something was wrong, the hospital could fix it. When he was eight he'd broken his arm, and he was fine now. He kept trying to tell himself this, and still his stomach felt as if he'd swallowed something that didn't agree with it.

            They found out what room Luke's mother was staying in, and were told that she was resting. When they got there, Bill turned to his children and said, "You kids wait out here. I want to talk to Mom first."

            He closed the door, and Luke and Lizzie sat on the floor. Luke couldn't make out the actual words that his parents said, just their tones of voice. His father's voice kept rising but with the same intensity, as if he was more upset than angry. His mother's voice was calmer, but before long it sounded as if there were tears in it. That scared him even more. He'd never seen either of his parents cry. Then there was a long silence.

            Finally, his father came out. There was a strange look on his face. He closed his eyes, then let out a deep breath. "Go see your mother now," he said. His voice sounded strange, far away, as if was coming from a secret part of him.

            Nervously, Luke opened the door and approached their mother's bed. Lizzie slowly followed him. Sheila smiled tiredly at them. "Hey, babies," she said.

            Lizzie looked stunned. "What's wrong with your arms?" she asked.

            Sheila glanced at the bandages taping down pieces of gauze on her arms. "Oh, the doctors just needed to take a little blood so they could help me," she said.

            Luke bit his lip. "What's wrong with you, Mom?" he asked, dreading the answer.

            "Oh, I'm a little sick," Sheila said calmly. "But the doctors will help. Don't you worry, Lucas. I'm going to be all right."

            "How long are you going to be here, Mommy?" Lizzie asked, her young eyes fearful.

            Sheila's eyes misted over. "Come here," she said. "Both of you." They did, and she wrapped one arm around each of her children. "They're going to keep me here for awhile," she whispered, "just until I can get better. Okay? Then I'll be fine. Don't you worry. I'll be fine."

            But she wasn't fine. Sheila Danes had cancer that was already quite advanced. Word quickly got around Stars Hollow, and people rallied to do whatever they could to help the Danes family. Several people signed up to cook meals for them, so they'd have one less thing to worry about. Others offered transportation for Luke and Liz, or baby-sitting.

            The smell of hospitals was awful. It was a smell of false cleanliness, of too-sweet citrus floor cleaners covering up vomit stains. Years later, that was what Luke remembered most about the hospital—not the uncomfortable chairs in the waiting room, not the miserable cafeteria food they ate some nights that was only marginally better than the bad home-cooked meal it was replacing, not the way the doctors' shoulders sank defeatedly whenever the hospital staff looked at his mother's charts.

            Luke never said a goodbye to her that she would know about, or if he did, it was just a quick, "Bye, Mom," because he didn't think it would be forever. His mother was alone when she lost consciousness for the last time. She slipped into a coma without warning, and Bill, Luke, and Liz came to whisper their final goodbyes. Within an hour of those goodbyes, she was dead.

            It all seemed so unreal to Luke. This wasn't supposed to happen. Mothers weren't supposed to die. Not when their kids were only ten and seven years old. At first he didn't cry at all, just walked around dazed as his sister cried and his father threw himself into funeral arrangements and condolence cards and flower baskets came pouring in.

            It didn't hit him until the funeral, when he stood there looking at the casket and thinking, My mother's in there. His father, standing behind him, saw the change in Luke's thoughts and gripped his son's shoulder tighter. Luke closed his eyes and, finally, let the tears well up.

            The three of them changed after Sheila's death, and there was no use pretending otherwise. Lizzie smashed her popsicle-stick castle and refused to work on another one. Luke got quieter and barely talked to anyone, even friends and teachers. Bill lost the constant gleam in his eye that had told all of his customers that this was his life and he was content with it. Everyone could see it, and the atmosphere in William's Hardware was always different.

            After awhile, though, Bill started taking on independent home improvement projects for free. Customers who stopped by would mention a broken window or loose shingles that they had at home, and Bill would say, "Well, why don't I come down and take a look at that?"

            Soon, Luke was accompanying his father to these numerous projects in the hours that the store was closed. After about the third one, it got boring, and he whined to his father, "Why are you even doing this?"

            "Because," his father replied, "Mrs. Scott needs her doorjamb fixed, and you remember how she sent us that food when your mom was sick."

            "So you're doing this to pay her back?"

            "No," said Bill. "That's just what neighbors do."

            Lizzie was going to after-school day care at the elementary school now that there was no one there to meet her when she got off the bus, since she hated sitting around the hardware store. But after awhile, Luke didn't want to be at the store either. One day, he said to his father, "Can I have Ernie drop me off at home tomorrow?"

            Bill looked at him in surprise. "Don't want to come here anymore?"

            "No," Luke replied. "I just wanna go home. I'm old enough. I'm eleven now."

            Bill shrugged. "All right, I'll make you a copy of the housekey. But what are you going to do when you get home?"

            Luke fidgeted a bit. "Can I—" he hesitated. "Can I cook something?"

            His father raised his eyebrows. "You can cook?"

            "Mom showed me a little," he mumbled.

            Since Sheila's death, they had mostly been having takeout or easy food like Spaghetti-o's for dinner. Bill wasn't quite the cook that his wife had been. "Well, Luke," he said, "I suppose it's okay. Just promise me that you won't burn the house down."

            Luke made good on that promise and also made salad and hot dogs for his family's dinner that night. "Excellent, Luke," said his father, and he smiled, which was becoming rarer. "You're quite the chef."

            Luke started junior high the following September. On the first day, two popular guys remarked sarcastically when they passed him on skateboards, "Nice shirt."

            Luke's face burned with embarrassment. Stupid Star Trek shirt. Why was he still wearing it? Only geeks liked Star Trek. When he got home he threw the shirt out. It was time to start saving up his allowance money for a skateboard.

            Finally, he had enough to get one. And that skateboard was with him just as much as the Star Trek shirt had been. After awhile he started to get good and could do different tricks on it. The boarders at school started to notice. "Hey, kid," one of them said to him one day. "What's your name?"

            He looked around to make sure he wasn't talking to somebody else, then said, "Luke."

            "Luke," said another one, "you wanna go boarding at the park with us today?"

            Luke couldn't quite believe it, and of course accepted. But he had forgotten that before he left for school that day, his father had asked him to pick Lizzie up from day care. Lizzie's friend's mom, who normally picked her up, wouldn't be able to do it that day.

            Luke spent all that afternoon skateboarding, and he was elated. He was finally cool in junior high. But that feeling only lasted until he saw his Uncle Louie heading toward him with Lizzie, who looked like she'd been crying.

            "Luke!" Louie yelled. "Where have you been?"

            Oops. Luke bit his lip. "I've been…I've been here," he mumbled.

            "You were supposed to pick Lizzie up from day care! Your dad sent me looking all over for you! Lizzie was standing there crying!"

            Behind him, the other boys were guffawing. Luke didn't even bother saying goodbye to them, because he knew he had just blown any chance he ever had at being popular. But he knew he'd have worse things to worry about when he had to face his father.

            The hardware store was about to close when they got there. When Luke's father saw him, his face hardened. As soon as he finished helping a customer, he strode over to Luke, grabbed him by the shoulders, and shook him. "Why didn't you pick up your sister like I asked you to?

            Stunned, Luke stuttered, "I-I-I'm sorry, Dad. I thought she'd be fine."

            Bill Danes set his lips into a straight line. "Get upstairs, Luke."

            Luke's stomach dropped. "But, Dad—"

            "Upstairs!" he barked, and Luke obeyed.

            When his father came upstairs, Bill took the chair from his desk and set it in the middle of the room. Luke tried to protest. "Dad, I'm sorry! I was just out skateboarding and I…I lost track of time!"

            But his father was already unbuckling his belt.

            "Family comes first, Luke," he said firmly, folding the belt over in his hands. "Always."

            When it was over his father went back downstairs to finish closing while Luke just sat there and sobbed. It seemed to take forever for his father to come back upstairs. But he finally did, and Luke looked up at him as his father stood there for a moment. Then Bill walked over, opened his arms, and wrapped them around his son wordlessly. Before he released Luke, he whispered, "Let's go home."

            The next day, Luke asked Ernie to drop him off at the hardware store again.

            Family comes first. In the years that followed, that would be the phrase that Luke most closely associated with his father. It was what his father said after tragedy struck again the next year, when Bill's older brother, Uncle Mike, died suddenly of a heart attack, leaving Luke's Aunt Linda and cousins Paul and Jim. Paul was a student at Quinnipiac and Jim would start college soon.

            Aunt Linda came to Luke's father a year after her husband's death, close to tears. "I don't know what we're going to do," she sobbed. "We don't have the money we used to have when Mike was alive. I can barely afford to pay for Jim's tuition at UConn, and that's a state school—Quinnipiac's tuition is going to be impossible, never mind room and board!"

            Without a word, Bill got out his checkbook. "What are you doing?" asked Linda.

            "How much is tuition at Quinnipiac?"

            Linda gasped. "Bill! No! What are you doing? I can't accept this!"

            "Then pay me back whenever you can," Bill replied.

            Linda sputtered, at a loss for words. "But…Bill, I have no idea when that will be! And it's way too much."

            "Look," said Bill, sounding slightly annoyed, "you wanna tell your kids they can't go to school this year? Paul's a senior, right? You want him to miss out on his last year and not graduate, or do you want me to loan you the tuition money?"

            Linda hesitated. "But what about room and board?" she asked. "I cannot let you loan me that much." 

            Bill shrugged. "So Paul can live with us for a year and commute. Quinnipiac's closer to us than it is to you."

            "Commute? He doesn't have a car!"

            "So he can use mine."


            "No, really. I never use the damn thing. I walk to work every day. Paul can use it and it won't make any difference."

            Linda sighed. "Bill…"

            "Say yes, Linda."

            Linda had tears in her eyes. "Bill," she said, her voice breaking, "I can never thank you—"

            "Oh, don't get all sappy on me," snapped Bill. "Just tell me how much money you need. It's for your kids."

            Paul did move in with Luke's family that year. He was seven years older than Luke and they weren't very close, but here they were, sharing a bedroom. Luke had never been particularly fond of his room—his walls were bare and his possessions few—but he developed a new appreciation for it when it was divided in half. Paul was not the most pleasant of roommates, either. He was a laconic, serious, twenty-one-year-old who got up, went to school, came home, did homework, and went to bed. Before long, Luke was sick of being at home. He settled into a routine where he went to school, went to the hardware store, went home and ate dinner, and then went out. His father always let him go out because it was, after all, Stars Hollow. How much trouble could he get into?
            At first he just went skateboarding every night, but he soon tired of that and looked for other ways to entertain himself. One day, he looked at the gazebo in the center of town, across from his father's store, and got an idea. He stole several rolls of toilet paper and some Cheez Whiz from the grocery store, and headed for the gazebo. It wasn't the most original prank in the world, he acknowledged, but at the time he couldn't think of anything else, and he didn't have the heart to do any real damage. He thought he might write a message with the Cheez Whiz, but in the end he couldn't come up with anything clever enough to write.

            The next day was Friday, and when Luke was waiting for the bus, he heard people walking by chattering to each other, "Did you see what was done to the gazebo?"

            "Oh, I know! Who do you think it was?"

            "Could have been any of those young hooligans. Seems like there are more and more of them lately."

            "We'll have to bring it up at the next town meeting."

            Luke smirked. It was the first time he ever really felt contempt for Stars Hollow.

            When he got to the hardware store that afternoon, his father glanced at him, finished helping a customer, and said, "Luke, can I see you upstairs?"

            Once upstairs, Bill reached into his pocket and pulled out a little skateboard keychain. "Didn't you used to have one of these on your backpack?"

            Luke felt his backpack to find where the keychain normally was. It wasn't there.

            "Did you by any chance lose it last night?" his father asked evenly. "Like by the gazebo over there?" He pointed out the window to where people were starting to clean up the toilet paper.

            Luke couldn't meet his father's eyes as he nodded. He was afraid it meant another whipping. But when he looked up, his father was laughing.

            "Oh, Luke," Bill said, laying a hand on his son's shoulder. After a long silence, he said, "You doing anything important tomorrow?"

            Luke shook his head.

            "Well," said Bill, "I think we can afford to close the store for a day. What do you say we go fishing or something? Take some time off?"

            Luke shrugged. "Okay."

            "Great. Now," his father said, gesturing at the crowd by the gazebo, "get out there and help those people clean up."

            Liz wouldn't go—she said she'd rather go to her friend's house—but Bill and Luke put a "Gone Fishing" sign up in the window of William's Hardware and drove up to New Hampshire.

            At the lake, they didn't talk much and the fish weren't biting. The two of them just sat there, lazily dangling their fishing poles into the lake. Luke was beginning to wonder what the point of this was when finally, his father said, "Okay, so this wasn't the best day for fishing." Bill began to reel in his pole. "I think there's a ball and some gloves in the car somewhere," he said to Luke. "Why don't you go get them?"

            They ended up playing catch for about two hours. They still didn't talk much, but somehow it wasn't awkward. "You have a good arm," Luke's father said to him at one point. He threw the ball, but it sailed far past Luke, who went running after it.

            Bill raised his eyebrows, impressed. "Not a bad runner, either," he said, catching the ball when Luke threw it at him. "You start high school next year, Luke," he continued. "Think you'll go out for any teams or anything?"

            Luke shrugged.

            "Think about that," Bill said.

            Luke did think about it, and after awhile decided, What the hell. In December he went out for the winter track team at Stars Hollow High and was quickly put on varsity. He was only in tenth grade, but he was already one of the team's best sprinters and hurdlers. Almost immediately, he was respected in high school, and he became even more so after he made the varsity baseball team.

            All of a sudden girls who had never looked twice at him were drooling over him. "Butch" Danes had suddenly become Stars Hollow's heartthrob. Luke wasn't particularly crazy about that reputation. He honestly didn't have feelings for any of the girls at SHHS. Once in awhile he'd take a girl on a date, just so that people didn't think he was gay, but that was it.

            It was amazing, Luke thought, how easily you could become somebody else, even among people you'd known your whole life. He'd gone from a happy geek to a skateboarding loner to a popular athlete in the span of five years. He'd gone from "that Danes kid"—he knew townsfolk suspected him of vandalizing the gazebo but they had no proof—to Butch Danes, champion hurdler and pitcher. He didn't remember who had originally given him that stupid nickname. He hated it, but he just let people call him that because it was easier and it meant people wouldn't bother him.

            But all the people he loved were becoming someone else, too. His father was starting to come back, but he would never quite be the man he was before his wife's death. And Liz, who had been a cheerful, creative little girl before Sheila's death and a sullen, moody kid since then, was changing yet again. Liz started junior high the year Luke started high school, and that was the year he caught her smoking pot out by the garage.

            He whacked her arm and she dropped the joint, looking at him in surprise as he crushed it under his shoe. "Hey!"

            "Liz, what the hell are you doing?" he yelled.

            Liz laughed, as she had been doing more and more frequently lately. "Chill out, bro," she said. "Just a little weed."

            "Where'd you get that?"

            "Carrie's brother buys it from the garbage man."

            Carrie Duncan. Luke hadn't liked that girl the minute he laid eyes on her. Like Liz, she was only twelve, but she already dressed like a hooker and wore so much makeup that it was impossible to tell what her face looked like normally. And of course, that made her the most popular girl in school. She and Liz had several classes together, and she'd decided to pick Liz as her new friend. Carrie, Liz, and a couple of other girls had become inseparable.

            Luke pointed an accusing finger at her. "Don't you use that stuff again."

            "What?" Liz laughed an unfamiliar, stoned laugh. "'Sno biggie."

            "I see you doing that again I'll tell Dad!"

            Liz gave him a lopsided smile. "Okay, then, I just won't let you see me."

            He stared at her as she walked away. What had happened to his sweet little sister? When she was younger she'd been so smart, reading all the time, always doing some kind of art project. Now she didn't seem to care about any of that anymore, but she wasn't moody and angry all the time, either. She was laughing and running around everywhere with her friends—but not in a good way, Luke thought. She'd started drinking, smoking pot, coming home with suspicious marks on her neck. Her grades weren't anywhere near what they could have been. Just as he had, Liz was becoming a totally different person right before his eyes—a person he wasn't sure he liked.

            Luke was a senior when he first heard his sister referred to as "Blowjob Liz."

            He grabbed the kid who had said it by his T-shirt and slammed him up against a locker. "What?" he yelled.

            People in the hallways stopped and stared. Butch Danes was strong and athletic, yes, but very serious and quiet, and never violent. This was indeed something to watch.

            The eyes of the freshman whose shirt Luke held were widening in shock and fear. "N-nothing," he stammered, the veins in his neck bulging.

            "Say that again!" Luke shouted.

            "I didn't—" The kid gulped. "I didn't say anything."

            "Yes you did!" he screamed. "You say that again! You said, 'Tonight I'll be getting it on with Crazy Carrie and Blowjob Liz.'"

            "N-no…" The freshman gasped. "No, I didn't."

            "Yes, you did!" Luke yelled, grabbing the kid by the shoulders and slamming him into the lockers again.

            "Hey!" Luke heard the voice of a teacher who was coming down the hallway. "What's going on here?"

            Luke let the kid go. "Nothing, sir," he said. "Just a misunderstanding."

            The teacher looked suspiciously at the freshman. "Tony?"

            Tony glanced at Luke, still looking terrified, and then back at the teacher. "Yes, sir," he mumbled. "Misunderstanding."

            "Well." The teacher narrowed his eyebrows. "Let's make sure there are no more 'misunderstandings' from now on, all right, Mr. Danes?"

            "Certainly, sir," Luke replied, forcing a smile. Tony quickly scampered off down the hallway.

            Stars Hollow High had just added grade 9 that year, which meant that he and Liz were going to school together now, and his status as a star athlete had done wonders for Liz's popularity. She was Butch Danes' sister and Crazy Carrie Duncan's sidekick, Blowjob Liz Danes, a title she either didn't know about or didn't mind. As of late, Luke couldn't stand going home. Liz's friends—Carrie, Anna, Jill, Rachel—were always there, drooling all over him. It was sickening. It was bad enough when girls in his own grade did it, but the freshmen were the worst.

            At the homecoming game that year, Luke sat in the bleachers with some of his friends from track. Stars Hollow High's team was awful, so games, even the homecoming game, tended to be social events more than anything else. Luke and his friends had poured vodka into their drinks—an iced tea for him—and were enjoying themselves much more than they would have otherwise. Luke didn't drink much, and when he did, he could hold his booze well, so he wasn't quite as drunk as his friends thought he was.

            "Heyyyy," his friend Jeff slurred suddenly. "Isn't that your sister over there?"

            Luke looked up. An obviously drunk figure was on the other side of the bleachers, walking on one of them and teetering dangerously from side to side.

            Shit. Luke jumped up and ran over to where Liz was inches away from falling. He grabbed her arms and pushed them down to her sides. "Liz, stop it!" he said. "You want to be killed? What the hell do you think you're doing?"

            Liz giggled drunkenly. "I'm fine, I'm fine," she said. "Relax. I was just having fun."

            Luke glanced over the side of the bleachers to the pavement, where Carrie and Jill were standing, laughing. He shuddered, thinking about Liz falling down there, and was suddenly very angry at Liz's friends for letting it happen.

            "Come on, Liz," he said firmly, taking her arm. "We need to get down."

            When they were safely on the pavement behind the bleachers, he yelled, "What were you thinking? Do you want her to die?" Jill was visibly as drunk as Liz was, so he directed his anger at Carrie, who seemed to be sober for the moment.

            Carrie laughed and looped her arm around him, as if he had ever given her an indication that he didn't want her to disappear off the face of the Earth. "Oh, Butch, Butch, Butch," she said. "Chill out, man, will ya? We were just having some fun."

            "You think seeing your best friend's brains splattered all over the pavement is fun?!"

            "Don't be such a worrywart, Butch," she said, smiling obnoxiously. "Live a little! It's the homecoming game. You're supposed to have a little fun." Carrie smirked. "You ever dare to live dangerously, Mr. Big, Strong Athlete?"

            Luke clenched his fists. Damn her, the stupid little freshman.

            "Oh, hey!" Jill giggled, pointing at two guys off in the distance. "Liz, there's Ryan and Jack."

            "All right!" cried Liz, and she and Jill ran off together.

            "So…" said Carrie, placing both hands on Luke's shoulders. "Who's your date tonight, Butch?"

            Luke just glared at her.

            "Oh, come on," she said. "A guy as gorgeous as you? I'd think you'd be embarrassed not to have a date."

            Luke felt his face growing hot. "Dammit, Carrie, you really are crazy," he growled.

            Carrie held up a 20-oz. Coke bottle that obviously had something else in it, too. "I was saving this for my make-out partner," she said. "What do you say you and I share it?"

            Luke was silent for a minute. What the hell, he thought. Might as well give her something to brag about.

            "Okay," he said, and he and Carrie descended beneath the bleachers.

            Luke graduated that spring. His grades were average at best, largely due to his spending more time at the hardware store than he was legally supposed to, but he was state champion in the hurdles that year, so he was still offered full scholarships to a few different colleges. He turned them all down to go to Southern Connecticut State in New Haven, where he could commute and still work at the hardware store. He was sick of being a star athlete and didn't want to deal with that all over again in college, not to mention the pressure of having to repeat his success in high school.

            "Are you crazy?" Liz said incredulously when she found out. "You have the chance to get out of Stars Hollow and you're not going to take it? You're going to just hang around here for the rest of your life?"

            Luke couldn't explain it. There had been a time in his life when getting out and seeing the world had sounded attractive to him, but that had been a long time ago, probably before his mother's death, back when he thought that he could leave and come back and everyone would still be there. But he knew now that that wasn't true. His mother wasn't there anymore. None of his friends from high school were there anymore—they'd all left for college and never looked back.

            His father understood. Bill had rolled his eyes a little when he learned that Luke was passing up a free ride to college, but Luke could see in his father's eyes that Bill knew the importance of having someplace to go home to. Of keeping some things in your life constant because it was all you could do when everything was changing. Of figuring out what worked for you and sticking to it. It was why Luke drove to New Haven every day, sat in class, and got up and went home without ever talking to anyone, and why he worked in the store and did homework every night without fail. Bill, too, had adopted a steady routine after his wife's death, and Luke was his father's son.

            Luke wondered sometimes how Liz would have turned out if their mother was still alive. Liz and Sheila had been close, and Liz had changed the most by far after Sheila's death. But Liz, in many ways, was very much Sheila's daughter, and had inherited their mother's optimism. Unlike Sheila, though, Liz focused her optimism on the idea of getting out of Stars Hollow. "Not going to be stuck as some dumb townie for the rest of my life," she said. Luke wasn't sure if that was a veiled insult, but he didn't doubt that Liz meant it.

            For all her hoping, though, Liz didn't do much to further her dream of getting out. She was just barely passing all her classes, which infuriated Luke to no end. Liz was a smart girl, but Luke often wondered about her common sense. Maybe she'd have more of it if she still had a mother around to talk to about things, but for now she was off all the time doing God-knew-what with Carrie and company. Apparently that was "cooler" than getting a grade higher than D in her classes.

            One day during Luke's junior year of college, Bill said to him, during a quiet moment while there were no customers in the store, "You know I went to the doctor today, Luke."

            Luke looked up but didn't say anything.

            "They want me to go to the hospital tomorrow," Bill continued, avoiding eye contact with his son. "They need to run some more tests." Bill finally turned his head and met Luke's eyes. He was quiet for a long time before he said it. "There's a possibility that it might be…cancer." Bill's eyes were studying his son's face carefully.

            Luke stood rooted to his spot on the floor, blinking. "Okay…" he said, for lack of anything else to say.

            "I just wanted to let you know," Bill said. "So you're not surprised if it turns out that's what it is."

            Luke slowly nodded, trying to process this information. "Thank you," was all he could think of to say.

            Later, Luke was grateful to his father for warning him in advance, because Bill Danes did indeed have cancer. The rest of Luke's junior year passed in a blur as his father went into the hospital, got chemotherapy, lost his hair, grew thin and weak. But Luke didn't have much time to think about it. He was too busy trying to stay in school and keep the store going, which was hard to do. His father was in the hospital so often that there were many days when the store had to be closed, and they were losing money because of it.

            Liz wasn't much help. Whenever Luke would yell at her to lend a hand, she'd look away and say, "I can't deal with this," and go off to get drunk with her friends. If he thought about it enough, Luke could understand the way she acted but couldn't relate to her at all. He was still holding onto that lesson he'd had whipped into him years ago, and throwing himself into taking care of his father and the store was the way he dealt with things, trying not to think about the fact that he could very well be orphaned soon. Liz's approach was the complete opposite. She threw herself into anything that wasn't helping out, because that was what took her mind off her father's illness. As much as Luke tried to understand her, to justify her behavior in his mind, she infuriated him.

            But even with all her previous behavior, he was shocked when two days after Bill Danes, frail and sickly, had endured stares and whispers at the Stars Hollow High football field to see his only daughter graduate from high school, a note saying, "I'm off and I'll call you when I get there. Love, Liz," was left in place of his sister and all her things. Bill's remission had barely started and the hardware store was making less money than it ever had. When Liz left, Bill was visibly shocked. As if the cancer didn't make life hard enough for him, losing his daughter seemed to make him lose the little concentration he already had.

            It made Luke violently angry to think about it. He kept waiting for Liz to call, finally, but the one time she did he wasn't home. She apparently just told her father that she loved him and Luke and didn't know she would be home. She left no number for them to call. Luke was sorry, because he was dying to talk to Liz and chew her out: God damn it, Liz! What the hell do you think you're doing? Dad might be dying and you're killing him faster! Why can't you ever think about someone other than yourself?

            But he would gladly have given up the chance to yell at her if he could have just had her at home again. As angry as he was with her, he was still clinging to the belief that family came first. He just wished Liz would, too.

            The people of Stars Hollow were helping Luke and his father out as much as they could, but nothing changed the fact that Bill's cancer was back and he wasn't getting better, and the hardware store was failing rapidly. Luke was trying his absolute best not to think about it, but it was hard for him to forget that cancer had consumed both his parents in twelve years. What were the odds? he wondered sourly.

            Liz finally called again, and this time she left a number with a New York area code. Bill talked to her on the phone in the hospital, his smile happier than Luke could remember seeing since before he got sick. Bill hadn't sounded angry at all. He'd just told Liz that he loved her and hoped he'd see her again soon. Maybe that was what melted Luke's anger, because when he did talk to Liz there was none of the yelling he had planned on. Instead, he just got choked up and rasped out, "Liz, come home soon."

            "I will," said Liz. There was a long silence that sounded to Luke as if Liz wanted very much to apologize but knew it couldn't possibly make up for anything at this point.

            He hadn't said goodbye to his mother, but thankfully he'd had time to learn from that mistake. On the last day his father was conscious, Bill reached for his son's hand and said, "You take care of your sister, Luke."

            Luke felt the lump in his chest rising, and only managed to get out, "Okay."

            Bill smiled sadly. "You always were such a good kid," he said. "I love you, Luke."

            Luke swallowed the lump as best he could. "I love you, Dad."

            He was holding his father's hand when the machine flatlined. Luke just closed his eyes as the noise of the machine rang through his ears. He gripped his father's hand fiercely, kissed it, and, with some hesitation, finally let it drop.

             The funeral arrangements served the same purpose as taking care of the store had served before Bill's death. Luke threw himself into them so that he didn't have to think about what had just happened. While he was in the middle of planning things, Liz called.

            "I'm sorry I'm not here," she said. "There's just been so much going on, you know, and I'm trying to figure out what the best time would be to see Dad and—"

            "Dad's dead!" he snapped, surprised to find tears suddenly springing to his eyes. "Dad died yesterday and you weren't here!"

            Luke thought the silence on the other end of the phone would never end. "Oh, my God." Liz sounded stunned. "Oh, my God, Luke, I'm sorry—if I…if I…"

            Luke didn't have the energy to argue. "Just be here tomorrow," he mumbled, and hung the phone up.

            "He was a good man, your father."

            Luke lost count of how many times people said this to him during the wake and funeral. Such a little thing shouldn't have comforted him so much, considering that he'd just lost his last surviving parent, but it did. More people had shown up at his father's wake than he had expected, and every one of them was devastated. He couldn't even keep track of all the stories people were telling him about his father. It amazed him that his father had helped that many people in his lifetime.

            Luke didn't cry at all throughout the whole funeral proceedings. Too much was clouding his mind. How would he take care of his father's will? Would the hardware store ever climb out of debt? Who the hell was that guy standing next to Liz?

            "This is Jimmy," Liz told him, her odd eyes swollen with guilty tears. She noticed Luke eyeing her enlarged stomach and added, "We're pregnant."


            "We're married, too. Probably should have mentioned that first."

            "Jesus, Liz." Luke rubbed his forehead, feeling a headache coming on.

            "I'm sorry I didn't tell you," she said. "But I figured…with Dad sick and everything you had to worry about it wasn't a good time."

            "Yes, and now that he's dead I have absolutely nothing to worry about, so yeah, now's a much better time," he snapped. "Thanks, Liz, for your incredible consideration, as always."

            When he calmed down, he talked to her about Jimmy more civilly. "Where did you meet him?"

            "He works at this hot dog place in New York."

            "Hot dog place."

            "Yeah, well, it's a respectable job."

            "If by respectable you mean 'not a crack dealer like Terrence Ryan.'"

            "Oh, will you stop? I didn't date Terrence for that long. And hot dogs are not crack."

            "They've got all kinds of toxins that cause disease later in life."

            "Luke, what is with you? You never used to be such a health freak. Lighten up."

            Luke had never been a particularly unhealthy eater, but his father's death had made him want to eat healthier. It was strange. It wasn't as if his father had had bad eating habits, but seeing how cancer had claimed both of his parents at such young ages, somewhere subconsciously it made sense to him to do anything he could to prolong his life.

            Luke exhaled. "Okay. So you met this guy at a hot dog place, and now you're married and pregnant." Luke didn't want to know which had come first. "Now, do you have a job?"

            "At a jewelry store." Liz fiddled with the earrings she was wearing. "I like jewelry, and I wasn't bad at art, you know? Maybe I could start making my own."

            "You weren't bad at school, either, Liz. If you'd just stay in one place long enough to get stuff done, you could go to a good school, get a better job—"

            "School's boring. And I like the job I have."

            "Liz, you are going to have a kid to support soon! You can do better than a job at a freaking jewelry store. Would you grow up and be responsible for once?"

            "I got married, didn't I?" Liz glared at him, turned on her heel, and walked away.

            Luke didn't like the looks of Jimmy. If he were to be honest with himself, he would say that he simply didn't trust his sister's taste in men and frankly wouldn't have liked any guy she brought home. But Jimmy didn't seem like the brightest crayon in the box, and worse, didn't seem all that thrilled to be married to Liz. And he was going to be the father of Luke's first nephew. Great, Luke thought. That's just great.

            After Liz and Jimmy went back to New York, Luke had about a million other things to figure out. The hardware store was his now, but it was failing miserably. It had been closed so much when Bill was sick that people had pretty much just stopped going there and brought their business to the hardware store in the next town over. He'd also made up his mind to sell his father's house. It would hurt to see the only home he'd ever lived in sold to some random family whom he'd have to see all the time because it was, after all, Stars Hollow, but it would hurt more to keep living there. It was too big, and it felt so wrong to be living there alone. He kept expecting to see his father, and then the hurt would start all over again. He had to get out of there.

            There finally came one day where he knew he had to decide what to do for sure. He was looking around his father's office, feeling a sense of comfort he no longer got in his house. He thought, I could live here…

            But what about the hardware store? It was failing, and besides, Luke didn't have the passion for the hardware business that his father had. He knew what townspeople thought of him—Bill Danes' crabby son—and he didn't want to become a poor replacement for his father. Could he turn it into something else then?

            Well, I can cook, he thought, and decided the store would become a diner.

            Months later, the diner was up and running, the house had been sold, and Luke had moved into the apartment upstairs. He had put the money from the house toward turning the hardware store into a diner. He knew that the people of Stars Hollow weren't thrilled about the idea. Bill had always been something of a constant in their town, and Luke would never be able to live up to that. They knew it and he knew it. And why did they need a diner, anyway? They already had Weston's and Al's Pancake World and Teriyaki Joe's and a million other places to eat.

            But the diner had started up, and according to his patrons, his food was great and his coffee was better. It didn't take long for word of anything to get around Stars Hollow, so soon the whole town was going to Luke's Diner.

            Luke had established a comfortable little routine that gave him a sense of calm. With his father's sign still up outside and all of his father's things still on the walls of what had been his office, Luke could pretend that everything was normal. That he wasn't totally alone in a town full of smiling, sunshiney, peachy-keen people whose biggest worry was that the latest town festival would be rained out. That the people in his life didn't keep dying or disappointing him. It brought him a sense of order in the same way taking care of the store had before his father's death, and the way arranging the funeral had after Bill's death, and the way planning the diner had after that.

            The order was disrupted one day when Liz called him, sobbing hysterically. "I got fired," she wailed. "I got fired and we're getting evicted!"

            "Whoa, whoa. Hold on a minute, Liz. Let me take this somewhere else." Luke moved the phone away from the crowded diner. "Okay. Now, how did this happen?"

            Liz sniffled. "I got caught with pot and they fired me from the jewelry store."

            Luke exhaled. "God damn it, Liz! You're pregnant! You can't be doing that stuff while you're pregnant! And said you were going to quit!"

            "I wasn't  smokingit!" she cried. "I just had some of it in my bag! And they fired me, and we didn't have enough money for the rent this month, so we're getting evicted!"

            "Okay, okay. Calm down." Luke rubbed his forehead, trying to think. "Can you take the bus to Hartford?"

            "I could take it right now, me and Jimmy."

            "Okay. So I can come pick you up there, and…you guys can stay with me. It'll be a little cramped, but it's just until we figure something out."

            "Really?" Liz's voice took on a hopeful, relieved tone. "Oh, Luke, you're my hero! Thank you so much!"

            "Thank me after you find a permanent place to live."

            Liz was extremely pregnant by then, and less than a week after she and Jimmy arrived, she gave birth. Liz was ecstatic, and despite his concern about the kind of life the kid would have, Luke felt a lump in his throat upon seeing Liz holding Jess. "He's so perfect," Liz said, tears shining in her eyes. "And look, he has Dad's face. Don't you think he has Dad's face?"

            He really did. Luke hoped to God that Jess would turn out more like his grandfather than either of his parents. Especially Jimmy. Luke's dislike of him was growing by the minute. The first time Jimmy had held his son, he had worn an uneasy smile reminiscent of someone trying to politely laugh at a joke he didn't find funny. "Wow," Jimmy had said. "He's, uh…he's really something, isn't he?"

            The day Liz and Jimmy had come to Stars Hollow, Luke had gone out and bought a bassinette, a changing table, and a car seat for when the baby came. He was sure that had started the gossips of Stars Hollow talking, so he'd been careful to make sure he said, "It's for my sister's kid." But in the car on the way home from the hospital, Luke suddenly realized that he'd forgotten something.

            "Do you have any diapers?" he asked Liz.

            "No," she replied.

            "Well, this kid is probably going to need to be changed at some point. Diapers would probably be a good idea." Luke glanced at his brother-in-law. "Hey, Jimmy," he said. "Why don't you go get some diapers? I'll let you off here and you can meet us back at the apartment."

            "All right," said Jimmy quietly, and Luke pulled over and let him out. He wanted to see what Liz did when she was at home with her son, and Luke frankly didn't trust Liz and Jimmy enough to leave them alone with Jess.

            Back at the apartment they waited and waited, and Jimmy didn't come back. "Think he got lost?" Liz asked softly.

            "From Doose's? How could he? This is Stars Hollow we're talking about."

            "You think he's hurt or something?"

            Luke sighed. He glanced at the bassinette, where Jess was fast asleep. "I don't know. How about I go look for him and you wait here?"

            Jimmy wasn't at Doose's, nor was he anywhere in the town square. Luke closed his eyes and counted silently as his blood slowly started to boil. If that asshole abandoned my sister and my nephew…

            The next day they called the hot dog place Jimmy worked at in New York. They hadn't heard from him, nor had any of Liz and Jimmy's mutual acquaintances.

            When they finally did hear from Jimmy it was through a letter with a Santa Monica postmark and no return address. In it, he said that marriage and fatherhood weren't for him. He wanted a divorce.

            Liz was, to put it mildly, depressed after Jimmy left, and started complaining that Luke didn't have enough alcohol in the house. As much as Luke sympathized with her, and as much as he was willing to cheerfully rip Jimmy's head off for how he had treated her, she was grating on his nerves. She didn't have a job and she was taking up his space. And Jess was constantly screaming and crying, which was driving Luke insane. God, are all babies this noisy? he wondered.

            After a couple of months had passed, Liz started complaining again that Stars Hollow was too small for her, and finally one day, with no preamble, she announced to Luke, "I'm moving out."

            Luke looked at her in surprise. "What? Where?"

            "Back to New York."

            "I didn't even know you were looking for a place."

            "I wasn't. A place came to me. Carrie called me, and she's looking for a roommate in the city."

            "So you're going to expose your kid to the horror that is Carrie Duncan?"

            Liz gave him a look.

            "Will you have a job? You'll have to pay for this apartment somehow, you know."

            "Carrie says the pizza place she works at is hiring."

            Luke exhaled a long, slow breath. "Liz," he said finally, "can you just promise me something?"


            "Can you promise me that whatever you do, any decisions you make, will all be made with your son's best interests being the first and foremost consideration?"

            "I do, Luke! I'm getting this job to support him?"

            "Just promise me."

            Liz sighed. "Okay…I promise."

            She was gone the next day, and a few weeks later was the Firelight Festival. Luke stood alone inside the empty diner, sorting through bills and watching people walking about in the town square. He was suddenly overcome with an overwhelming sense of nostalgia. He remembered that his mother had loved this festival, had exclaimed over how beautiful the fire looked, had grown misty-eyed upon hearing the story of the two lovers who had founded the town. His father had hated the festival and had rolled his eyes at it the way he rolled his eyes at any town function, but he had still gone to humor Sheila, and after her death he had continued to take Luke and Liz there, despite their protests, as a kind of tribute to their mother.

            Luke went outside, took a cup of punch, and wandered around by the bonfire. This was the first time he had ever been to the festival alone. He looked around at all the people who would be going home to their happy houses and families, because that was what people in Stars Hollow did. But what would he be going home to?

            Back at his apartment, Luke looked around and missed his father more acutely than ever. Before, he had been too busy trying to take care of things to feel the horrible, empty ache that he felt right then. His parents were gone. Liz was gone, and she hadn't called in two weeks. For the first time in his life, he was truly alone, a miserable desert island in the tranquil bay of Stars Hollow.

            Luke threw himself down on his bed. Then he buried his face in his hands and cried.

To be continued…

A/N: Don't worry, things will get happier in Chapter 2. As I said, I've never done a WIP before, so we'll see how I do with updating. I will do my best to get the next chapter up as soon as possible.

Lyrics by Joni Mitchell