As always, love, hugs, and thanks to my bad-ass beta, the brilliant all things holy. This is an entry for the TWoP Ficathon, the Holiday Challenge round.
Disclaimer: Alas, alas. They don't belong to me. ASP got there first.
31 December 1995
The bell rings, signaling an arrival. Luke stands behind the counter, running through his receipts; he doesn't look up. This late in the afternoon, and on a holiday, he already knows who's come.
"So, what's the chance of you having some sort of special holiday coffee? You know, something out of the ordinary, something festive. Something like French Vanilla Hazelnut Raspberry Mocha-Choca-Peanut Butter Toffee?"
He keeps his chin tucked to his chest as he looks up, eyeing her warily. He says nothing, merely cocks an eyebrow. Lorelai sighs and sinks onto a stool, her arms on the countertop as she leans forward expectantly.
"You've got to get with the times, Luke," she tells him. "Can I get a plain, old, everyday coffee in the biggest to-go cup imaginable?"
He acquiesces silently, his movements deliberate and slow. She watches him, resting her chin on mittened hands. "You do realize that every other business in Stars Hollow is closed today? I had to go to Doose's yesterday or risk not having all the necessaries for the evening's celebrations. Do you ever take a day off?"
"You're not working today?" he asks, in lieu of answering.
She shakes her head sharply, smiling. She is all cream and roses today, her cheeks flushed with cold, an ivory knit hat on her head. He hazards a glance at her face, and her dark curls, swinging at her shoulders, remind him of someone else. He ducks his head and averts his gaze, his jaw clenched tightly, a sharp pain in his chest. She's peering over at the plate of donuts beside her as she speaks, doesn't notice that he's turned away.
"I worked over Christmas, so Mia let me have the night off, which is excellent," she says. She sips her coffee and winces. "Ooh," she breathes, "hot."
"You got big plans?"
She tilts her chin towards him with a puzzled smile. "What's with you and the questions today? You thinking of subbing for Letterman, or something?" He doesn't respond and so she spins her coffee cup on the counter, looks down. "Big plans. Well, if you consider eating junk food and watching old movies with two eleven-year-olds big plans, then yes, sir, I've got big plans."
She shrugs. "Yeah, well, it's something to do. What about you?"
Luke starts. "What about me?"
"What's the point in celebrating New Year's Eve? Midnight happens every night, night after night, without fail. What's the big deal about this particular midnight?" he asks, his voice harsher than he means it to be. He returns to his receipts.
"The big deal is that it's a new year, Luke," Lorelai tells him. "A brand new year—possibilities, my friend. Besides, it's tradition."
He raises his eyes briefly as he answers. "Traditions are overrated."
The bell rings again, followed closely by the chattering voices of two tiny girls with long hair, giggling as they approach the counter.
"Hi, Luke," Rory and Lane chorus, their faces alight with cold and laughter. He returns their greeting, nodding his head.
"Mom, Lane says she knows how to put the tent together, so can we sleep in the living room? Is that coffee? Can I have some?"
Luke can't help smiling slightly—the questions come in a rush, a breath, tumbling out as Rory hikes herself onto a stool and takes off her hat. Lane clambers up on the stool beside her.
"Yes, you can sleep in the living room, yes, it's coffee, and no, you can't have any," Lorelai says.
"What's the deal?"
"When I'm twelve. But it's a holiday!"
Lorelai heaves a sigh. "Well, it is contraband, but—here, tell you what. You can have half coffee, half hot cocoa." She looks at Luke. "They call that a mocha."
"You're not seriously going to let them have coffee?" he asks her. "You know what that stuff will do—"
Lorelai throws up a hand. "Please—do not make me go back to calling you Duke," she says. She turns to her girls. "Hey, while Luke makes your drinks, why don't you run back to Lane's house and get her stuff, okay? That way her mom doesn't have to bring her over later and we can get this party started." She watches them out the door. "Okay, make it twenty-eighty coffee to chocolate. And can we get some of these donuts to go?"
"Eating like this is going to catch up to you one day," he tells her.
"So, what are you doing tonight?" Lorelai asks, by-passing what is surely the start of a squabble.
"Same thing I do every night," he says.
"And that is...?"
"Count out the till and clean the place up." He can tell by the look on her face this is somehow upsetting: she's pouting slightly and her forehead is creased with something resembling confusion, possibly worry, or disappointment.
"Alone?" she asks, her voice tentative.
He shrugs rather than answer. He busies himself pouring coffee and cocoa, adding milk and a touch of whipped cream to mask the fact he's poured only a few tablespoons of coffee into the mix at most. Lorelai watches him, feeling unaccountably sad.
"I'm sorry," she says, at length, "but it's a holiday. Even if you think tradition is for wussies, you can't be alone on a holiday. It's not right."
Luke places the pseudo-mochas on the counter and wipes his hands with his shirttails. "I'm always alone," he says flatly. "It's fine."
"It's not fine, you shouldn't have to—"
"I don't have to," he says. "I just do." His tone is clear: let it go.
Lorelai considers this a moment, following Luke with her eyes as he drops the remaining donuts in a sack for her. She tips her head to the side, studying him, scrutinizing his face. He looks, she thinks with a slight pang, absolutely terrible. He wears nights of sleeplessness on his face, mauve streaks under his eyes and hollows in his cheeks. Even his movements seem to waver slightly, as though his bones are too exhausted to work properly. If she thought he'd tell her, she would ask him if he's all right. Instead, she affects lightness as she rises and speaks.
"Well, if you change your mind, come by. We'll have plenty of food, there will be drinking for those of age, and I can't promise anything, but I believe Dick Clark will be making an appearance."
"Thanks, but—" he begins.
"Don't say no," she tells him, "just think about it."
When the girls return and the hot drinks are dispensed, Lorelai herds them outside again, holding the door open. Rory pauses on the threshold and turns around to wave at Luke. "Happy New Year," she tells him.
Lorelai trails behind Rory and Lane on the way home, Lane's bag over her shoulder and her pillow tucked under her arm. She kicks at chunks of ice on the sidewalk, sipping her coffee at intervals as she wonders if inviting Luke Danes to her New Year's Eve non-soiree soiree is a mistake. Now the invitation is out there, and when he doesn't come—which he certainly won't—he'll be obligated to explain himself the next time he sees her, and he'll only stutter awkwardly and turn red and she'll have to tell him that it's really no big deal, which it isn't, but that will only make it seem like a big deal, and the whole thing will cloud the atmosphere between them for the next month until they've found something else to feel uncomfortable about. But the hollows under his eyes and the startling matter-of-factness in his voice as he told her he's always alone wouldn't let her walk away without asking. She holds her coffee cup beneath her chin to breathe in the warmth, remembering the sudden, dull ache in her chest she'd felt for a split second as she studied his face.
But, really, she tells herself, it's not as though she's itching to spend her evening with someone who will show theatrical disdain for the food on her table, who she's not even sure likes her. Who, in all honesty, she's not always sure she likes. He can't answer a question, he doesn't laugh at her jokes, and his nutritional lectures, when he bothers to speak, are nothing short of tiresome. She didn't like him when she met him—he was judgmental and occasionally hostile—and wasn't above letting him know it. In recent years they've come to some sort of détente in their day-to-day interaction, so she considers it all ancient history and something that will eventually make her all the more endearing when he's learned to look back and laugh. Judging by his general, all-around surliness, he hasn't yet. But he's nice to Rory, and he makes the best coffee she's ever found, so she knows he's at least a halfway decent sort of person. Still, she thinks, he's the most silent guy she knows and his silence, especially directed at her, speaks volumes.
She shrugs it off as she picks her way up the front walk to her house, clicking her teeth and wishing she'd been a little more thorough when she'd kicked the pathway clear after the last snowfall. He won't come and she won't feel bad about it. And there's really nothing wrong with spending the evening with your best friend, even if your best friend happens to be eleven years old. The thought momentarily gives her pause and for a fraction of a second she regrets breaking up with Danny before the holiday season. But then she remembers that Danny has cow eyes and a tendency to really pucker up before going in for a kiss and she's over it.
Luke spends the rest of the afternoon and the early evening cleaning the diner. He does all the things he usually puts off: takes everything off the shelves and dusts, disinfects the seat covers, washes the floors, refills the ketchup and mustard bottles, the salt and pepper shakers, the sugar dispensers, replenishes his napkin supplies, and even inventories his stock room. He kills a handful of hours this way and heads upstairs to keep cleaning, but in the junk drawer of his kitchen he finds an empty film cannister that he knows doesn't belong to him and he suddenly forgets how to breathe. He sits at his table, his head in his hands, trying to force air into his lungs, trying to ignore the burning behind his eyes and the choking lump in his throat. It's then he knows it's going to happen again and he runs to the bathroom and drops to his knees. The only thought that crosses his mind as he retches is that at least he made it to the toilet this time.
It's been happening far too often—the fact that it's happening at all is disturbing enough, but the fact that it's happened repeatedly makes him feel like a child. He rinses with mouthwash, brushes his teeth, and rinses again, splashes his face with cold water. He stares at himself in the mirror, sees the circles under his eyes that no one's noticed—if someone has, she's been kind enough not to mention it. He scratches his jaw, runs his fingers over the stubble he's let become a permanent part of his look now that she's gone and there's no one to complain about how it hurts when he kisses her.
He kicks the bathroom door shut behind him and grabs his keys and his vest, wraps a scarf around his throat as he jogs down the stairs. It isn't the brightest idea he's ever had, he knows that, but at the moment it's all he can think to do.
After the second movie, Lorelai runs up the stairs to change. She pulls her sweater over her head and runs her hand over her stomach. She's eaten so much she's given herself a rounded little Buddha belly, and she's strangely proud of this as she slides a tank top over her head and wriggles out of her jeans.
"Wha-at?" she calls as she trips her way into a pair of faded gray pajama pants.
"There's someone on the po-orch!"
"Shit!" she whispers, yanking her hair into a pony tail as she bounds down the stairs. She crosses the living room at a jog. "We didn't eat all the pizza, did we?"
Rory shakes her head. "There are a few slices left. Who's here?"
When Lorelai pulls the front door open, Luke is standing with his back to her, his hands on his hips as he surveys her yard. She clears her throat and leans against the door, hugging herself.
"You came," she says.
He turns, startled. "Yeah," he says, looks at his feet. "You really should shovel your walk."
Lorelai laughs. "Yeah, like I even own a shovel, Luke," she says. "Are you coming in or not? It's cold out."
He seems to hesitate before he passes her and comes into the house. "I shoulda called," he says.
"Nah," she says dismissively. "Your timing is perfect. We just finished the second leg of our Bogie and Bacall marathon. You missed The Big Sleep and To Have and Have Not." He's standing uncertainly beside the couch, his hands jammed into his pockets. She sits on the arm of the couch beside him and looks up at him, batting her eyes. "You know how to whistle, don't you, Luke?" she says breathily. "You just put your lips together—"
"I know how to whistle," he says gruffly.
She rolls her eyes. "It's no fun if you don't let me finish. Anyway, you're just in time for Key Largo."
"No, he's not," Lane says. She's surrounded by a tangle of fabric and tent poles, and she looks at Lorelai over her glasses as she speaks. "We're vetoing you, Lorelai."
Her mouth falls open. "What?"
Rory drops to the floor in front of the television and pulls a video from the VCR. "We can't do another Bogie and Bacall, Mom. The Big Sleep didn't even make sense, and Key Largo is nine hundred hours long."
Lorelai opens and closes her mouth several times, indignant. "Okay, first of all, it is not nine hundred hours long, and no one thinks The Big Sleep makes sense. Even Raymond Chandler doesn't think it makes sense. That's part of its charm."
"We're overruling you," Rory says simply. "We're going to watch The Philadelphia Story," she says. Before her mother can reply, she says "If you call me professor, I'm going to riot."
Lorelai gives in, pushes herself to her feet. "Luke, give me your vest. Get some food and sit down. You want a beer?" She tugs his vest from his shoulders and turns him towards the coffee table laden with food. "There's pizza over there—some pineapple and some meat deluxe-o and probably some pepper and onion." She pauses on her way to the kitchen. "Eat the pineapple, if you can stand it."
Lane rises and brandishes a tent pole. "Don't mock the pineapple pizza, Lorelai!"
She's laughing as she leans into the fridge for the beer and almost bangs her head against the freezer door when the phone rings. "I got it," she calls, reaching out for the phone on the wall by Rory's door. She wedges it between her chin and shoulder as she untangles the cord. "What's so funny about peace, love, and understanding?" she asks by way of greeting.
"I'm sorry, Mr. Costello, I'm looking for Lorelai Gilmore?"
She rolls her eyes and crosses the kitchen to rummage the silverware drawer for a bottle opener. "Christopher," she says.
"Your enthusiasm is sadly lacking, Lor," he tells her. "Come on, it's a holiday."
"No, really?" she says. She pauses. "Are you at a party?"
"Did you miss the holiday part?"
Lorelai leans back against the counter and presses a palm to her forehead. "Well, no," she says, "I've just opted to celebrate quietly this year. You know, lie around in my pajamas and get blind drunk listening to Patsy Cline and wonder what's happened to my wasted youth, fall asleep in a puddle of my own vomit and wake up to discover Jesus Christ as my savior."
"Ah, yes, the tried and true way to ring in the New Year. Done it myself many a time."
"Well, I like to go with what works," she says. "You having fun?"
"I'm talking to you," he says. "That's always fun."
She shakes her head. "Chris," she sighs.
"You having fun?"
"Oh, you know me," she says offhandedly.
"Yes, I do," he says, pauses. "Is Rory there?"
"Actually, no. She's at a rave somewhere in Hartford. I don't know exactly where—she packed a bag full of glow sticks and glitter eye shadow, got on a bus this morning, and told me she'd be back in a few days, so I'm assuming she's in the basement of an abandoned building hopped up on some sort of pills and dancing on a moon bounce. But really, at this point, it's anyone's guess."
"Can I talk to her?"
"Have you been drinking?"
"Lor," he says, and she can tell she's offended him, though she doesn't really care.
"It's a reasonable question, Chris. You're at a party, it's a holiday, usually that involves more than a few libations of the alcoholic sort, and I really don't want you talking to my daughter—"
"Also known as my daughter," he interjects.
"—if you've had more than a few specialty drinks," she finishes. "Now, I'm usually pretty good at gauging when you're three sheets, but it's been a while so I need you to let me know."
He sighs. "I have had exactly one and a half drinks, I am in perfect control of all my faculties, and I have no intention of ever speaking to our daughter in any state of inebriation unless it's at her wedding, by which point I hope she'd have a sense of humor about it. And that her mother would, too."
She doesn't tilt the phone away from her mouth as she calls Rory from the living room. "Your dad's on the phone."
Rory thunders into the kitchen, full speed, slightly flushed. She's grinning as she takes the phone from Lorelai's hand and shoos her towards the living room, an expression of mock crossness on her face. Lorelai backs down the hall, watching Rory.
"Hi, Dad," Rory says.
Lorelai strains to listen as she stands at the end of the hall, her eyes fixed on the corner by the refrigerator. She clutches a beer bottle in either hand.
"My friend Lane's here and we're watching movies. Yeah," Rory says, pauses.
Lorelai looks down at her hands, suddenly cold, and starts. She turns towards the living room and offers a bottle to Luke. He's on his knees, fussing with something on the pup tent, now fully pupped. He looks up as she puts the bottle in front of his face.
"Thanks," he says. He hesitates. "This okay, in front of...?"
"They're not drinking," she says, "you are. And unless you plan on getting—"she drops her voice to a whisper "—shit-faced—" and raises it again as she continues, "off one beer, I think you're set. Think of it like a grown up soda."
She hurries back to the end of the hall. Rory thanks Christopher for the tent, and Lorelai can't help but snort. She'd been floored Christmas morning when Rory opened his present, and even Rory had to spend several moments getting her bearings, trying to garner enthusiasm for such a gift.
"No, I like it. Lane and I were going to set it up in the living room and sleep in it because Lane thought she knew how to do it, but she didn't and we couldn't figure it out. It's okay, though, because Luke's here and he helped us get it worked out. No, Dad, it's great. It's pink!" Rory says. Lorelai smiles sadly, closes her eyes. "Yeah... okay, Wednesday. Happy New Year, Dad. Love you, too... Sure. Mom?" Lorelai shuffles down the hall and Rory holds the phone out to her. "He wants to talk to you."
She waits until Rory is down the hall and in the living room. "Hey," she says.
"You have a guy over?" Christopher asks, incredulous. "You have a guy over and you're busting me on a party?"
Lorelai slumps in a full-body eye roll, falls into a chair. "I do not have a guy over, Christopher," she says.
He cuts her off. "So you have a lady friend named Luke?"
"He's not a guy-guy, Chris. He's just someone from town, okay? He owns the diner where we eat, like, every day. He didn't have any plans and I just couldn't stand the thought of someone sitting home alone on New Year's Eve, and since Rory isn't known for her night owl tendencies, I was pretty much going to be in the same boat, so I thought, what the hell, might as well be miserably alone together as miserably alone by myself," she says. "So I invited him over, no big deal. Rory sees him every day, he's someone she likes, and it's not as though anything's going to happen with him. At all," she finishes. "God, Chris."
He's silent a moment. "Whatever, Lor. I'll call Wednesday, okay?"
"Fine," she says. "Later, Chris." She hangs up before he can wish her a happy New Year and takes a long pull on her beer bottle. She turns in her chair and to see Luke hanging back in the hallway. "Crap," she whispers. "Hi."
"Misery loves company," he says. "That's how it goes, right?"
She lowers her eyes. "I didn't mean to imply that you were miserable," she tells him. "Really. The thought never crossed my mind."
"So you were taking pity on me?" he asks, but his voice is flat and she can't tell if he's hurt, pissed off, embarrassed, or just curious.
She shrugs. "I wouldn't put it that way. There's just—people shouldn't be alone on a holiday." She pauses. "Well, I mean, you could be alone on Flag Day or Arbor Day or President's Day, but tonight's sort of a big deal and I just thought, wouldn't it be nice," she says. "In a non-Beach Boys lyrics sort of way," she adds.
He pulls out a chair and sits across from her, toys with the bottle she's given him. "I appreciate the thought," he says gruffly.
Lorelai raises her eyebrows in surprise and takes a sip of her drink to keep herself from saying anything too biting. "What made you change your mind?"
Luke clears his throat, looks at his lap. "Ran out of things to do," he tells her.
"Mom! Luke! You're missing the movie!"
Lorelai smiles wryly. "Can't miss the movie," she says, rising. She grabs him by the sleeve and hauls him out of his seat. "C'mon."
Luke sits through the movie, his arms crossed over his chest and his brow slightly furrowed. Lorelai's beside him on the couch. She steals glances athim throughout the film, trying to figure out if he's enjoying the movie, if he's even really watching it. She's got her legs tucked up under her and she reclines against the arm of the couch, her head resting on her arm. She's tempted to straighten her legs and plop her feet onto his lap, but it seems too familiar a gesture and she stays where she is. She can tell from the lack of giggling that the girls have fallen asleep, probably half in the tent and half out. She looks around the room, checks the time.
He's trying to ignore the fact that she's watching him, that she seems restless. He has no idea what's going on in the movie except that the tall guy's drunk and the other guy keeps giving him more to drink, which seems a pretty bad idea.He's not opposed to another drink, himself, but he doesn't feel comfortable asking and he doesn't want to wake Rory and Lane if they're asleep like he thinks they are.
Lorelai takes one more look at Luke from the corner of her eye, sees him shifting in his seat. She extends her leg and pokes him in the elbow with her toe. He turns his head sharply, a what-the-hell-you-doing look on his face. "Want another beer?" she mouths. The look doesn't change; he merely raises an eyebrow. She sighs, jerks her head towards the kitchen, rises. He stays where he is, the same look on his face. She rolls her eyes and waves for him to follow her.
In the kitchen, she hands him a beer and hoists herself onto the countertop. "God," she says. "Remind me never to do any breaking and entering with you. You're terrible at reading signals."
"I don't think that's going to be a problem," he says.
She plays with her beer bottle a moment. "Listen," she says, "I really am sorry about that thing on the phone before. I didn't mean to imply that you're, you know, repellent, or anything like that."
"Gee. Thanks," he says.
She winces. "And again, sorry. It's just—it's just Christopher. He knows just how to get me on edge."
"Rory's dad," he says.
Lorelai nods. "Rory's dad. Christopher."
"Are you guys..." he says, waving a hand.
She laughs. "God, no. Well, not anymore. That's all—that's something better left alone right now." She takes a drink. "I don't really want to talk about it."
"Right. Sorry. Sure. It's none of my business," he says quickly.
Lorelai shrugs, slides off the counter. "It's no big deal. Hey, you want some popcorn?" She pauses. "Too loud. I've got tater tots."
"You're offering me tater tots?"
She grins. "Oh, man, I love 'em. With lots of ketchup, they're a downright delicacy."
"Your loss," she says lightly. She locates a cookie sheet and pulls a bag from the freezer, empties it onto the tray, fiddles with something on the stove. She sighs. "You know, maybe I'm just being thirteen, but I hate that he's at a party and he called and he knows that I am here and therefore not at a party or on a date or doing anything resembling a social activity." She leans against the refrigerator. "Don't get me wrong, I have no desire to be anywhere but where I am at the moment, but it would be nice for him not to know that I am where I am at the moment. Terribly mature, I know, but there you have it."
He doesn't know how he's supposed to respond to this, so he takes a drink and nods his head.
"I mean, I could be somewhere else, hypothetically," she continues. "I just choose not to be."
"And where else would you be?" he asks wearily.
"Really?" she says. "Actually, nowhere." She sighs and slumps to the floor. "Sookie's at some chef gathering with other chefs doing chef things so there's no going out with her, and Danny's history, which I'm thankful for, but it's short notice finding someone else to take me somewhere crowded to get blitzed. And really, with those as my only options, here's looking pretty good."
How he's gotten into this conversation is beyond him, and though he doesn't want to know, he thinks he's supposed to ask, so he does. "Who's Danny?"
She makes a face. "Danny the laundry guy from the inn. He works for the service that does our linens. We went out for a couple of months."
There's a pause and by now he's figured out what's expected of him. "And?"
"And it was nice while it was casual and then he wanted it to be more than casual and that's not what I'm looking for, so I killed it dead," she says. "It was a necessary action, so I took decisive measures. Thence, Danny is no more."
The oven beeps and she rises, slides the cookie sheet in and sets a timer. "What about you?"
He sits up straighter, grips the bottle in his hand. "What do you mean?"
She hops onto the counter again, tucks her hair behind her ears. "I mean, Mr. Evasive Maneuvers, what about you? Are you seeing anyone?"
"No." His voice is tight, his eyes downcast.
"Why not? Were you also recently released from some unpleasant romantic entanglement?" she asks, her voice wheedling.
He clears his throat, fairly jumps out of his chair. "No," he says, and his tone is a warning, low and throaty.
Lorelai looks away. "Oh."
Luke stands in front of the sink, his hands on his hips, as he stares out the window. "Your frame is loose," he tells her.
He points. "The window. The frame is loose. Causes a draft. I can fix that for you."
Lorelai smiles and vaults off the counter. "Thank you. That would be really nice of you. Rory wouldn't have to plug up the bottom of her door every night anymore."
"Please tell me you're joking," he says flatly.
"Wouldn't you like to know?" she asks. "Tater tots are done. You sure you don't want any?" He only looks at her. "You don't know what you're missing."
"Preservatives, fat, oil," he begins.
"Tasty, tasty, tasty," she says. "There's all sorts of stuff like the window that we're discovering every week. New house and all. The tub upstairs drips and there's a railing loose in the banister and shall I go on, because I could." She hands him another beer when she reaches into the fridge for the ketchup bottle, grabs one for herself.
"I could take care of that stuff for you," he tells her, picks up a tater tot and examines it.
Lorelai looks up from the plate that she's liberally covering with ketchup. "Seriously? Because that would be so great, Luke. I mean, you don't have to, obviously—"
"It's nothing," Luke says. "Just let me know what you need." He pauses. "And don't make me regret the offer."
She grins. "You mean by exploiting you mercilessly? Oh, don't worry, I will."
They stay in the kitchen a while longer, drinking, not talking, Luke examining the window while Lorelai makes her tater tots dance on her plate. She tries to watch him without letting him know she's watching, wants to see if he really looks as unhappy as she thought he did earlier. He won't let her read him, though, and it's highly annoying. She pops a tater tot in her mouth and checks the clock.
"Ooh!" she cries. She slides off the counter and grabs Luke by the wrist. "Come on. It's one minute to midnight."
He follows her down the hall towards the front door. "Where are we going? Should we wake—"
Lorelai waves her hand. "Not necessary. And we are going to open the door and welcome the new year in."
She reaches for the doorknob. "That's what we do—it's good luck. And way better than throwing confetti."
"And less messy," he says.
"Exactly," she says. She waits a long beat. "Is it time?"
Luke checks his watch. "Ten seconds." Lorelai stands on her toes, her expression utterly gleeful as he counts the ticks of the second hand. "And... now," he says.
She swings the door open and they are both met by a blast of frigid air. Lorelai hugs herself and shivers, but she's smiling like a giddy ten-year-old. "Happy New Year," she says.
"Yeah," he replies.
Lorelai rolls her eyes and reaches for his vest and scarf, grabs her coat off the coat rack and slides her feet into a pair of tennis shoes. "Let's go outside."
"It's freezing out, and you're not dressed for—"
She's already on the porch, looking at him over her shoulder. "Shut the door behind you, okay?" She claps her hands and wraps her coat tightly around her. "It's snowing!" she gasps. "Even better. Snow on New Year's is a good sign."
"How so?" he asks, zips his vest up to his chin.
She glows with cold and delight as she bounces down the stairs and stands on her lawn, shaking her hair out of her ponytail. "Because I say it is. Take a moment, Luke, let the grump go, and think of something happy."
Luke shoves his hands in his pockets as he comes down the stairs. "Something happy, huh?"
Lorelai turns to look at him, dips her shoulder and smiles brightly. "It's going to be a good year," she tells him. "I can feel it."
He feels a tightening in his chest, his eyes sting. For a moment, he almost believes her. He looks around the lawn. "I'll shovel the walk while I'm here tomorrow," he says. "After that, you're on your own."
"Luke, forget the chores for a minute and bask in the goodness that is snow on New Year's Day, okay?" Lorelai says, laughing. "You know, I don't know why you came, but I'm glad you did."
"I told you why I came," he says shortly.
"You ran out of things to do? Please," she says. "I'm not asking you for the real reason, or anything, I'm just saying, I know you don't like me and it must have taken something big to get you here, but I'm glad you're here because this has actually been nice."
Luke swallows thickly. "I like you fine," he tells her.
She can't help but laugh a little. "That's very sweet of you," she says.
"Thanks for inviting me."
She nods. "Any time," she says. Impulsively, she puts her hand on his arm and pulls him down towards her, kisses his cheek lightly. "Happy New Year, Luke."
He casts his eyes down, shuffles his feet. "Happy New Year," he says.
Lorelai drops her hand. "Wasn't so hard, was it?" she teases.
"Nah," he says. He jerks his head away from the house. "I should get going. I'll come by tomorrow, fix that window."
"Thanks, Luke. Good night."
Lorelai stands on the lawn a moment longer, watching the snow fall as Luke trudges down the walk and towards the street. He turns at the end of the drive, waves slightly, and she smiles, returns the wave, bouncing on her toes. She thinks he'll be okay eventually; for tonight, she just hopes he gets some sleep. And that, she thinks, she'll know tomorrow. She takes one last look around before heading back inside, still smiling softly to herself.